The Hero's Apprentice

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Ch. 15 The Duel

When Drey awoke she saw Walter was half dressed doing push-ups on the floor. She knew what they were and were called because Walter always stretched and exercised each morning when they had first met. And she still hadn’t decided if she wanted to adapt the strange but obviously effective training. She ordered Walter back into bed, and Walter replied not until he had done sixty. Drey waited till fifty-nine then surprised Walter by pouncing on him wrapped in the bed sheets. Walter instinctively rolled and pinned her to the floor.

“Maybe we should do this every morning?”

“Then go on your run and hurry back.”

Walter was shocked and happy at the suggestion. It was true he wanted to make their honeymoon memorable. And Drey had made it so by granting him the thing that always helped him clear his mind. His meditative jogs. Walter had done it since middle school, and now he did it like breathing. He thought his deepest thoughts. Vented pent up emotions on these runs. They usually lasted a good hour, and always Walter came back wishing he could do it a little more.

“You should come with me.”

“And you’ll need a good soak when you get back. I’ll get things warmed up for you when you get back.”

“You’ll be alright without me for an hour?”

“I’ll sleep in, and maybe try some push-ups if I get bored.”

“Sounds good, I’ll be back.”

Walter ran barefoot and very fast that morning. He was living in the moment like Walter had said a few hours before. It didn’t matter now. Time was immaterial, and it only served to make the present possible. The past built the possibilities of the now, and the future was uncertain for the most part. Walter thought about the things he hadn’t done yet, but that had already happened for other people. He came to the conclusion that that didn’t matter either. Parents saw their children make the same leaps and mistakes as they had. And the elderly predicted the future accurately because it often repeated the past anyway. Right now Walter was running on the soft earth, not the concrete slabs of home that was bad on his legs and felt unnatural. Walter loved this place. Clean, and alive. Alive because the earth, plants, and animals moved like the air and water. Always changing, giving and taking equally. Not like when the industrial revolution had tried to speed things up, only for it to cause a void down the road that someone else would pay for. Though sometimes drastic change occurred too. That was precisely what had happened to Walter. His world had been switched for another. And now he had been warned that it was going to change again. And through it all he was still supposed to enjoy it somehow. Walter loathed his old life. He had not enjoyed it. Not enough change had occurred, and yet now he didn’t want his current situation to change. He wanted it to endure forever. If it did though, how would anyone else find happiness? You couldn’t just unhinge yourself from reality and live in a state void of suffering. You’d also cut yourself off from joy and peace.

They were big questions. How to love change and continuity in the same moment? Two seemingly contradictory things that both had the potential to bring one happiness or misery. Walter had hated the perpetual repetition of modern life. And was thrilled without measure when he had found himself here in Ando. He wanted to be here forever. At the same time the changes brought anxiety, the possibility of horrible things that would ruin the perpetual bliss. And then Walter remembered the chess board. If Walter kept moving, the game would never end. Pieces would move around, and there would also be pauses as each player decided what to do next. There was no way the game could be fun if both players left the board unchanged. An unchanging state was certain to get boring. Walter knew that, and at the same time, a random chaotic change every second would be just as frustrating. So life needed the opposing forces. They were both good, pushing each other, complimenting each other. Neither one above the other. The perfect union, the circle of perfection.

And then there was Drey. He’d change for her, and he’d also endure for her. Both would bring happiness. They’d do it together, and the changes would become like the running. Like breathing, a constant flow of energy like a river. Sure there would be slow areas, pools, and drop offs. But always the water would be going somewhere. Walter couldn’t stay in one place. He’d have his routine life in the town one season, and at times go into the wilderness on a journey where the danger was unknown and things less predictable. That was life. That was happiness. Places to go, places to return to. And that was the answer. The past was the enduring portion, the future the changing piece. The present located directly in the middle where it should be. If one spent too much time in the past or future, then misery was the only option. And now that Walter had traveled through time, he could be happy anywhere, any when.

Walter hurried around the town of Peor before finally coming back to the inn almost spent. When he got up the stairs to the room he realized he had run without his shirt. And promptly grabbed it off the floor by the bed and started using it to wipe the sweat from off his face. Drey had made the bed while he was gone. And called him from the bath in the next room. Walter wasn’t sure how he’d wash his clothes, but that wasn’t the present situation.

Several hours before then far away Rye had noticed the energy had vanished and was enraged when he couldn’t locate it. Rye had had almost enough of this and had to control himself to not use any magic. He still needed four days minimum before he could even consider finding and confronting either Cro or Walter. So he continued reading, and preparing the binding spell. Trying to get the runes right. Trying to anticipate how to use it when the time was right. When the energy came back and stirred the air, Rye almost thought he should try and go to it and subdue it then. But what if it was a trap? Rye had a feeling it might be Walter, but it was so much more powerful than the last time he had sensed him, and it had only been a few hours since he had escaped with Cro. Maybe Cro had masked his full power? Maybe Walter had vented again like before? Rye could only guess. But he still was sure the best guess was that it was a red wizard. Maybe an orange. He’d know soon. Assuming it didn’t disappear. Rye synced with it and was surprised when it turned out to be circling the town of Peor a few hours later. All that while Rye had gathered strength and knowledge on the legends. Mutton Hollow had been mentioned. Giants, and a few wizards by name like one called the green hero. Rye had heard of this wizard. He was one of the ones who disappeared during the last wizard war and was presumed dead or bound by some spell that made him seem to not exist. That was the answer Rye needed. For he hoped by some fluke to get Cro and Walter to end up wherever there was for those old fossils who had gotten tangled in their own magic. Rye had no intention of getting tangled in his spells. That’s why he was doing all this research and review. There would be no mistakes. Any obstacles would be stopped dead in their tracks. And Rye would have everything back the way it was two days ago.

For Walter and Drey, the day involved Cro inviting himself over to duel Walter. Cro won, but Walter had managed to maintain most of his magic while making Cro juggle his own magic and eventually use it on himself in ways that made him faster, invisible, and what seemed bigger when Walter got winded. Cro seemed proud of himself. And then spent a good long time teaching Walter all the spells he had used to win. Cro said he was sure Walter would win the next duel they had. That would turn out to be true. After training, Drey found that her parents were beginning to recover. She would have loved to introduce Walter but there was still a slight chance of the jester fever spreading to them. And Cro also suggested that it was time to deal with Rye. By the end of the day if possible. Walter concerned that Cro was not at full strength, but Cro assured Walter that using magic on himself was not so costly as he thought. Only desperate wizards employed offense. Which was why Walter had done well to use his opponents own offense. But Cro had topped it by using it in a way that resulted in Walter trying to use offensive spells instead of protecting himself from Cros’ large invisible foot. Cro reviewed the strategies of hexing an opponent, hexing ones’ self, and the surrounding environment. All three strategies needed to be used to win. Favoring one left openings that could be exploited. That final fact proved to be very helpful to Walter.

Drey wanted to go with Cro and Walter, and she held onto Walter for a very long time before Cro intervened. Walter requested that if something happened to him. Cro was to put Drey somewhere where Rye couldn’t find or get to her. Walter said he’d try to do the same if it turned out Rye had subdued Cro. Cro seemed confident he could take care of Rye. But he was also well aware that Walter might not be so fortunate. The question was whether Walter ending up in the past was a weapon employed by Rye, or a strategy of either Walter or Cro to get an upper hand somehow? Cro had no way of knowing, so once again had to consent to just waiting and seeing what happened, until enough knowledge was available to access an action to take.

Walter then proposed that he would fight Rye on his own and weaken Rye enough for Cro to finish the job. Walter further conveyed that if something happened to him, Cro could wisp Drey away and then take his place. If Cro went first, while it was true Walter might successfully assist afterwards, it would be pointless if Rye took Drey hostage. Cro refused to comply with his plan. But Walter insisted that one of them had to protect Drey or at least some other wizard that Cro thought could keep her safe or take on Rye. Cro was defeated. He knew Walter was right. If Drey got hurt Walter would get reckless, or worse there’d be no reason to even kill or defeat Rye. He’d stay and guard the princess. The same he’d always done for all the years. It seemed so unfair to Cro. When was he going to know how Walter ended up teaching him? And how long would Walter be gone before this duel with Rye ended? Cro knew he was going to miss all of it. And his only hope was that Walter was going to show up years or moments later and finally clarify all this business that had haunted Cro since he was a boy. Cro hated being old, the time with Walter had been great. And now he was leaving again just like he had before. And worse, this Walter still didn’t have a good excuse for him to wait. Then Cro realized it was Drey. Cro felt more foolish than the time he had talked back to Walter. Of course Drey. You’re so concerned with your own desires that you forget that Walter has wants too. Not just any wants, one that is gonna have him fishing you out of a river, teaching you magic, and doing all sorts of crazy stuff just so that you and Drey don’t die until much later. Fine master. I’ll keep Drey safe, very safe in fact. And when you get back you’d better tell me every second of what happened from the day you were born to the moment you come back telling me that you don’t have to travel through worlds and time anymore. Cro put himself behind Drey and Walter who held hands tightly, and the group began walking back towards Ando. The plan was to pick up Rye’s aura, and see if he met up with them. If not they would walk all the way to the academy where Cro could sense that Rye had something waiting for them. All the while Cro drilled Walter on charms and how to counter them, use them to his advantage, and modify them into completely new spells if the duel ever got that heated. Walter got the answers right several times over the long walk. All the time looking at Drey who looked back at him. Knowing that each glance might be the last one for quite some time.

Rye sensed the trio approaching, nearing him. And worse. He felt Cro and Walter serving, replenishing power as they marched closer and closer to the academy. He sensed Drey as well. It was tempting to probe but Walter and Cro were on the alert and he’d be wasting time trying to probe when they could attack his own mind at any moment. Rye figured Cro and Walter wouldn’t use magic to reach him, They were walking precisely because they were plotting while getting to the battlefield. A battlefield he was going to control as much as possible. They might know it was a trap. But knowing danger doesn’t make it any less real or less possible to get caught in it. Rye knew his spell was incomplete, but it would still test the resolve of anyone who tried to escape it. Rye had a few hours before they got here, and he was really only concerned about one other aspect of the spell. Who it would target? If it targeted one person then it would be two against one. And if it targeted two, it would be one and two cripples against him. So Rye thought he’d go the extra mile and make a spell that affected all three people. Three cripples verse him. It would be entertaining. For awhile anyway cause Rye knew all magic was escapable given enough time and study. And his binding had some very concrete rules attached to it. The victim would be his. He’d steal their magic, or worse use it to modify and strengthen the binding. It was perfect. His opponent would be trapped, and while they were trapped he would grow stronger and slowly bind them more and more until it was just a matter of Rye not getting lazy at replenishing himself and adding a few additional rules to the binding as time went by. A prison that reinforced itself each day. Became harder to climb out of each time an attempt was made. No prisoner would persist, they’d quit, realize any escape plan would be erased the moment Rye made his regular rounds.

But who would Rye enslave? He couldn’t enslave all three of them, casting a spell on three would weaken the effects, Cro would escape for sure, and Walter had a chance, Drey would be trapped forever. That would certainly affect Cro and Walters’ ability to fight. At the same time though, Cro was the yellow class, beating him would advance Ryes’ status, and then it would be a novice who had a mere two days of training. What could Walter have possibly learned besides a few beginner spells that might tickle because he’d throw so many that eventually Rye or Walter would exhaust their power? That was the problem. If he bound Cro, Walter would have reserves and might just survive enough to beat Rye down long enough for Cro to come back with a vengeance. So Rye decided it would be Walter. The gold mine had to be removed or it would fuel the war too long. Cro would be annoying but not something Rye would be unfamiliar with. Walter was the unpredictable enemy. And one Rye admitted he may or may not know how to fight. It would be best to test his spell on Walter and if it worked, then victory would be easier. If he wasted it on Cro, Cro had a higher chance of nullifying it and coming back. It was all efficiency. He would challenge Walter. Walter would either refuse and lose power, or accept, and Cro would have to watch or jump in and then he’d be weakened. Even better if Drey intervened and found herself under Ryes’ knife. So the binding would choose Walter. He was the reason behind all this business anyway. So why waste energy on someone Rye was only slightly upset at? Better to get to the root of the problem and chop away.

Rye also noticed that the magic he had sensed was shrinking, almost as if it were trying to wait till the fight was over. Rye was very puzzled. He’d never heard of a wizard who suppressed his power and used it till much later. Except Walter, and that was more because of circumstance than choice. Still Rye decided he would try and do it himself and see what he could accomplish with it. He just hoped Cro hadn’t been that clever in all his years of study. It was almost noon when Cro, Drey, and Walter reached the duel grounds of the academy. Rye came out and before issuing a challenge realized his opponents and himself were both dying for a bite to eat. Oh well! The winner would get to eat lunch, and the loser would be trapped somewhere where being able to eat would be the least of their problems.

“You’ve been busy Walter.” Rye jeered.

“As have you Rye.” Cro darted in.

“Rye is there something you want? Cro said you were in rage and so we went away to train. I’d like to think it was just overprotection on Cros’ part.”

Walter always preferred reasoning with people, and it was always a supreme frustration when he found that the person was either ignorant, stupid, or beyond reasoning capabilities. Walter only hated the third vice because the other two always sorted themselves out in ways he let time deal out instead of him. Unreasonable people did the strangest and most unbelievable things at times.

“Yes Walter I am in a rage. I had hoped to send you home by the weeks end. But I have great news. I am ready to send you home now.”

“I’ve decided to stay here if that’s alright with you. Cro has consented, as has Drey.”

“That depends on why you want to stay.”

“I want to be with Drey, Cro too, and you if you feel we can learn from each other.”

“Learn from each other? You seem to think that you can teach a green class wizard when you have no extensive training.”

“I’ve given him the rank of green for now.” Cro spewed.

Rye was devastated to hear that. Walter had green class in just two days. This was an insult to Rye even if one of his teachers had sanctioned it.

“Really, then I suggest a duel Walter. I will test your skills, and if you beat me there’s no harm done. You only change colors if you win and move up, or lose and move down. Most wizards for that reason avoid fighting their own class. We want to improve and the only way is to beat a superior or senior student.”

“Terms?” Walter inquired.

“Whatever do you mean?”

“To the death? Till one of us surrenders? Till Cro calls time? Rye was upset that Walter knew the three kinds of duels. This was a disappointed. Time might be enough. Death would reveal his intent, and Walter would decline killing, even if it weakened him. And if Rye tried to attack outside the duel, Cro would end it all. Drey had two men guarding her. It took Rye a moment but he did something irregular.

“Till one of us surrenders or Cro calls time. No killing will take place.”

“Cro had hoped it would be time cause then he would make it five minutes. But if Rye or Walter never surrendered, time calling became meaningless. It was a clever loophole on

Ryes’ part. If Cro called time, it would be a tie anyway, and the match would continue. Cro understood it was going to be a battle till one of them surrendered, they both surrendered, or he somehow convinced the spells that there was a decisive winner. Cro would be time keeper, and at the same time the duel would have him be referee to an extent. Now he would just have to see what Walter did. Please don’t agree Walter, let Rye win, he’d fall for it, and he agreed not to kill. He wouldn’t dare break that vow or he knows I’ll kill him instantly. Just hope Rye isn’t so tainted that he’d actually take Walter with him to his grave.

“I accept with one additional rule.”

Rye was all ears, what could an amateur possibly do with an additional rule that would be so important to him that he’d make it a part of what was going to be his final moments in Ando?

“One of us either gets to attack first or gets fifteen minutes after the first attack to do a counter.”

Rye was wild. That was an impossible decision. If he attacked first he might win. But if his first attack failed, Walter would get fifteen minutes to do something truly nasty that would certainly be the most powerful spell in the duel. Head start or a chance to recover. Worst was Walter had accepted the duel and now if Rye declined the modification, it would put Walter in a situation to decline without violating any rules, and he could go free from this battle altogether. Or Walter could simply pick a new modification that would certainly be in his favor, since Rye had declined a fair one. Rye would be handicapped. Rye was full of greed though, and so he decided quicker than any other wizard in the history of dueling.

“Very well Walter, you shall get the first blow, and I shall get fifteen minutes afterwards to do whatever counter I choose.”

Cro was nervous. What would Walter do to get things started? And worse. What would Rye do in fifteen minutes or less? If Walter didn’t have a plan, Cro would certainly have to leave with Drey, and then Walter would be alone. The opening spell would decide everything, especially if Walter had any chance of winning against Rye who Cro knew enough of what he was capable of.

“Ready Rye?”

“Ready.”

“HEK, PUQ 7.”

Neither Cro or Rye understood the spell but Rye was amazed when it latched onto him and he couldn’t even read its meaning before it hit him. Rye got up. No muscles restrained, no memory loss, no injury. What had Walter just done to him? Didn’t matter if all it did was knock him over there was nothing to fear. Rye began writing his own runes.

“Hourglass Rune, Travel Rune, Attack Rune, Protection Rune, Luck Rune, Completer Rune.”

Walter understood the runes of Ando but was blurting out their English meaning. Cro realized what was going to happen and prepared to take Drey away. Rye was sending Walter back home, and in a moment would modify the terms so that Walter would have a very hard time if any chance of getting back. Walter was calm. Cro hadn’t understood his spell and then realized he had used the runes of his world. Would that work? It meant only Walter knew the spell, and if he anticipated Ryes’ intent, he could use it to take control of it. So there was a spell that Walter knew, a spell both Walter and Rye knew. And all that was left was to see what happened when the spell tried to wisp Walter away.

“Hour glass rune, Travel Rune, Joy Rune, Luck Rune.”

This time Rye understood what Walter had said as his own spell latched onto Walter. Rye suddenly realized what Walter had done. He had just reiterated his own spell. Only it was a defensive one, no attack rune had been inserted. Ryes’ own binding Walter to his own world had a protection merely to insure Walter didn’t die by magic. But Walter had also said those strange words. Rye understood, Walter had used those ghastly merchant runes, and whatever he had said, there was no telling how it had changed the spell or was going to affect him or everyone there. Suddenly Rye realized he was being bound. How? It took a moment but Rye realized that it was his own spell binding him along with Walter. No! Walter wouldn’t. Would he? Bind them both? No! He’d never let Drey go. Unless he expected Cro to save him. Cro would do it. Nobody would come for Rye. Rye wasn’t gonna quit just yet. The binding was supposed to take Walter to his world and make him remain stuck by using his own magic to create barriers. Walter had somehow managed to bind Rye and now he was gonna go somewhere. Unless Rye could guess the first spell. He had to assume he was going to Walters’ world as well. He’d be stranded, at a disadvantage, but at least he’d be able to get free somehow. But that was just it. Rye had Walters’ runes, but no clue what some of them were. Walter knew, he would get free too. No! He’d get free first, Rye would be guessing and failing, regenerating and trying again while Walter took sweet steady time getting back home. Well not really home, but Walter felt at home here and that made Rye mad as ever. As Rye prepared for the spells to take effect he thought about the hour glass rune that Walter had added to the spell. They now had two of them. Where would they end up? No way to tell without the first spell Walter had used.

Walter could feel himself being dragged as it had happened just over a week ago. He looked at Cro and Drey and smiled as he prepared to vanish until he would get a chance to see them again. Before Rye and Walter vanished, another spell was cast. No one had time to see who or what it was. But it hit Cro and Drey who vanished upon impact. And with that spell cast, the battlefield was completely empty, except for another Walter wearing armor and a sword with a different staff, and a Rye who hadn’t shaved in a long time.

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