A Little Refresher

Thea and Jon returned to Hell to find Gath speaking with Gerard. Gerard walked over to see his little niece.

“Hello my little Darkling, you grow more beautiful with each passing day.”

She giggled loudly as he planted a loud kiss on her chubby cheek. He gave her nose a tweak and another kiss before turning his attention back to the couple. He raised an eyebrow at Thea.

“Gath has told me your nightmares persist.”

Thea nodded and explained her and Jon’s strategy to deal with them in the interim.
 
“Jon’s portals will allow me a temporary sanctuary against my brothers’ attacks, but running away to Earthside is not a viable long-term solution. Evan and Nash are looking into some high-level Faye protection spells and devising a permanent enchantment for me similar to those Jon wears.”

Gerard gave an amused snort when Jon proceeded to lift his shirt to show off his abdominal muscles along with the protection runes Nash had tattooed on him. Thea chuckled at Jon’s display while pushing his shirt down.

“Jon, stop showing off. It seems Rage is not as inconsequential as we thought. His minor skills have given Black Heart a previously unknown opening in our defences. At least we understand the source of the magic, and if it is as we suspect, Evan’s archive of the darker arts should give us some badly needed information, as well as how to counteract it–”

They were interrupted as Gaia came running towards them, her wooden practice sword bouncing on her belt. Her sword lesson from Gerard was due. Wanting to emulate Thea in every way, she’d begged and pestered her parents for so long that in the end it was easier for them to say yes then be subjected to her incessant pleading. Thea was flattered.

She also loved that Gaia treated Darcuna as a little sister. She loved to hold here and sing to her as she slept. Thea usually let the girls play together, but this time Gerard reluctantly turned away from Thea and Darcuna and gave Gaia a stern glare.

“Part of our agreement was you would do as you were told and already you are late for your lesson. Come along, we have much to cover.”

Thea stopped them. She passed Darcuna to Jon.

“I am out of practice; I believe I too would benefit from what Jon calls a refresher.”

Gaia gave an excited squeal before grabbing hold of Gerard and Thea’s hands to drag them to the exercise field. Gerard gave Thea a covert glance of amusement.

Jon looked down at his daughter as her face contorted. His eyes watered at the sudden stench. Darcuna giggled again.
 
“I swear you only do that when Mum leaves just for my amusement.”
She blew a raspberry at him, and he shook his head and laughed.

“Ok little Miss Stinky, I need to fix this or one of us is not going to survive. Either Thea kills me for leaving you in this state or I die from the fumes.”
 
Holding Darcuna at arm’s length, he started towards Gath’s hut, mumbling to himself.
 
“Maybe the gargoyle can help…”

                                                                                                     ***

Gerard looked to his younger student.
 
“Gaia, I know you want to learn to fight as Thea does with two swords, but for now I think you should practice with one. Much like the adage about learning to walk before running. I think you should learn to use one proficiently before you try and wield two. If you wish to be accomplished, you need to master the basics before moving onto the more advanced techniques. But today’s lesson can be useful to the advanced swordswoman as well as the novice. Today is about observation. Careful observance of your adversary’s movements is crucial. The smallest details will express their next actions, and if you can read them, you will know exactly how to counter them.”

Gerard turned his attention to Thea.
 
“Thea if you are ready.”

Gerard and Thea squared off as Gaia watched enraptured from a short distance away. Before they began, he erected a barrier between them and Gaia as a safety measure. Thea reached for her swords and they materialised in her hands. Gerard gave her one of his cocky smiles so reminiscent of their first lesson. He winked at her, and Thea felt just like she was back on that day again, by the lake as her mother watched. And like that day, Thea reacted a moment too late and found herself staring up at Gerard. She gave her head a shake and grinned at her mentor.
 
“Enjoy that, old man; it will not happen again.”

She laughed out loud at Gerard’s expression of mock offence. He wasn’t so old that he couldn’t laugh at himself and he smiled back.

“There are always things to learn, Thea; don’t be so sure I taught you everything. Old swordsmen are old for a reason.”

He advanced on Thea with his long sword, and Thea brought up one of her twin blades to deflect it away. Gerard tried to lock her weapon before Thea brought up her other blade and then used them both to scissor Gerard’s steel and push him back. He was impressed at her progress.
 
“You have improved, but don’t leave yourself so open. Let me demonstrate.”

With a flick of his wrist he cast a spell and she went sprawling back. Gaia gasped and Gerard called a stop so he could explain the lesson to them. He walked over to help Thea back up onto her feet.
 
“Never assume anything. A foe will not hesitate to use everything at their disposal; so, it is fair to say magic will be a real threat. If you use both swords to block, an opponent can use that opening to strike with either magic or even a simple dagger. Never give your foe the chance to use your own manoeuvre against you. Now that you are aware of the fact, let’s start over.”

Thea nodded, and again they brought up their blades. Their steel clashed for several minutes before Thea saw Gerard ever so slightly lower his shoulder; she knew he was preparing to cast. She raised a shield in time to block his spell. Then taking advantage of his momentary confusion, she released her weapons and ran towards him, closing the gap between them to counter his sword’s length. She brought up her knee and knocked the wind out of him with a kick to his abdomen. Standing over her mentor, she looked down and gave him a cocky smirk.
 
“You and Jon have the same reveal before you cast. I mentioned it to him but it is interesting to know you share that trait.”

After catching his breath, Gerard laid his head back and roared with laughter at her observation.
 
“I see you really have been practicing. Was this all a ruse to humiliate me in front of Gaia?”

Thea gave him a playful grin while she helped Gerard up. He nodded to her.
 
“So now that we are both warmed up, let’s try again.”

They stood face to face with their swords up. This time Thea made the first strike and Gerard parried. Their blades collided; each other waiting for the other to use magic first. Usually the problem was, to cast one had to lower their sword and if the cast failed and the opponent blocked the spell, it would leave the caster vulnerable. Thea took a slightly more uncommon approach.

Her Dragon magic allowed her to shield without releasing her swords, so when Gerard raised his sword to strike, she raised an earth shield and his blade bounced off it. Dropping her swords, they disappeared back into her tattoos and she launched herself at Gerard. Then as she sat atop him, she conjured a ball of Hellfire in her hand.
 
“Do you yield?”

Gerard portalled out from under her, and then Thea felt his blade under her chin.
 
“Never forget your opponent’s advantages as well as their weaknesses. You got overconfident and it cost you.”

Thea pushed the blade away.
 
“You tricked me; no other has your skill. It would be impossible to fight someone who has that ability.”

Gerard offered Thea his hand to help her up again.
 
“That is not true, even I can be beaten.”

He raised his shirt to show Thea a thin scar between his ribs. It was white and almost invisible with age.
 
“My teacher saw how I used my talents with portals to jump around and avoid his blows until he took a moment to observe me and recognised a pattern to my movements. He could see where I would emerge, and when next I appeared, his sword slipped between my ribs. Then using his remarkable skill to heal, he mended my wound, but left the scar as a reminder. I had thought I was too smart, too strong, to be bested and I almost paid the ultimate price for that arrogance. I share that important lesson with you now so you won’t pay a price for your pride. Watch, learn, act.”

Thea nodded then caught Gaia as she ran to her. Thea held onto her and looked down to give her an encouraging smile.
 
“It seems even I still have lessons to learn but thankfully you are discovering them with me. We should both be grateful to have such a wise and patient teacher.”

Gerard leaned over and gave Thea a kiss on her head and then a gentle squeeze to Gaia’s shoulder.
 
“It’s good to know you understand and are absorbing your training.”

As Thea stepped aside, he gave his attention over to Gaia.
 
“Now, Gaia are you ready?”
 
                                                                                                     ***

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