Welcome back. We last left our hero in his new home of Lion’s Arch training with none other than Loren Michael. His challenge – to destroy a practise dummy. What other trials must Pocket face in his quest to slay The Shatterer? After an extended break here is the next, extended length, chapter of A Knights Tale!
Chapter Four - Leveling with Loren
It was past sunset when Pocket decided to stop. He looked up at his practise dummy which still had its arms, hat and scarf in place; it was heavily damaged but looked nothing like his teachers. Loren had left at noon with instructions that they were to meet up the next morning at dawn. Most of the other gladiators had either left for home or were now in the Main Haven Inn. He could hear their merry singing and it vexed him. How could they all be so much stronger than him? He sat down on a haystack and felt the tiredness run up his legs and into his arms. They cramped as he nestled his head between his knees. Someone called out to him, "Hi". Pocket kept his head down and sniffed at the air, it was an Asura. He looked up to find the Lionguard soldier Loren had asked him to study earlier. "My name is Zarra", she stuck out her hand. It took Pocket a few seconds to stop gazing into her eyes before offering his own. She continued, "I've been watching you practise all evening, is everything OK?" Pocket grew nervous, "Err... Yes I'm fine, I've been watching you too", Zarra blushed as Pocket replayed what he had just said in his head. "Um what I mean is that I was watching you earlier... when you were fighting, not like just watching you for any other reason." He felt like burying himself back in Blackgate Quarry and was frantically thinking of a way to make an excuse to head home when Zarra asked "You're training to be a warrior aren't you? It's not common for an Asuran". She was right, although they were extremely agile the sheer size and strength of potential opponents was why there were so few Asuran soliders, and why their armour and weapons were usually augmented with enhancements. "Our unique physiology means we can't fight in the same way as Charr and Norn… or Humans". Pocket sensed a tinge of superiority and jealousy laced in her voice, was she referring specifically to Loren? "You need to use your agility and low centre of gravity to your advantage. Throw your entire body into attacks rather than just your arms". Zarra walked over to one of the dummies and drew her mace, she was still well out of striking range when she launched herself towards the pirate striking it flush in the chest. The dummy rocked backwards violently. "See?" Pocket shook himself out of his self-imposed trance and mustered a weak "Thanks" accompanied by a goofy smile. She returned a smile of her own. "Anyway I'm heading home, see you tomorrow"? He nodded and kept doing so as he watched her walk away. His momentary bliss was replaced by pain the further away she got and then it was just him and dummies again. As he walked out into the main square to head home a breeze blew through the training area and rustled the dummies. It caused their arms to creak, mocking Pocket and his inability to dismember them, the sound hacked away at him. He paused and then turned to walk back to the practise area. There was no one else around and as he stood in front of the dummy the sound of the cackling grew louder all around him. He shut his eyes to blank out the sound, balanced himself on the tip of his toes and drew his axe.
"Pocket wake up! Have you been here all night?" He opened his eyes to find his face buried in straw. He was lying face down in a haystack still in the practise area. He groaned with pain as he sat up and saw Loren standing over him, his eyes gave away the big smile on his face hidden under his mask. "You did it!" Pocket looked over Loren's shoulder to see hats, scarves and wooden arms strewn all over the ground, he barely managed a smile before fainting back into the hay. "Hey wake up! We still have training today!" Loren grabbed Pocket's arm to drag him up and saw the bruises on his hands. "Wow he really must have been here all night", he thought for a moment, swiped Pocket into his arms and made for The Gangplank bridge.
Pocket came to in an instant as ice cold water hit his face. "Zarra!" he shouted as he sat up. "Who's Zarra?" "Umm... nobody. Where are we?" He looked around to find them at a beach front restaurant just west of Moran Memorial; it was named 'Istaea's Sammich Bar'. Loren pointed to a sandwich and drink on the table in front of him. "They will make you recover quicker and relax, today you get the day off." Pocket let out a long deep sigh, "Oh, and one more thing”, Pocket's ears flicked upwards. “In two months’ time you will have to face and defeat a member of Knights Templar in battle before you can proceed with your quest”. Pocket was wide awake now, “What?! I only just managed to defeat a dummy and now you want me to...” He was interrupted by an angry Loren, “Damarus’ orders! You’re a Knight in nothing but name right now, if you’re going to continue your mission you’ll have to enter The Mists where you’ll face other warriors who aren’t made of hay and wood and won’t stand there and wait for you to learn how to defeat them!” His words stung Pocket, he clenched his fists and the bruises on his hands flared with pain, he clenched harder and resisted it. Loren was right, there would be no time for rest and every day spent training was a day The Shatterer spent terrorising Ebonhawke, the resting place of his father. Loren was pleased at his response. "Now that you're awake let's talk about your skills. You seem to be on the way to mastering your weapons but they alone won't be enough. As a warrior you must begin to learn skills that will help you in battle. Training on practise dummies will help but the amount of experience you will gain from fighting others will be much higher". Pocket sat in silence and listened as Loren described the many types of skills he would have to master and the enormity of facing Loren in battle dawned on him. They finished their food and Loren handed Pocket a Grandmaster Training Manual. "Read this, it covers everything I just mentioned and more”. Pocket grabbed the book, jumped off his chair and made for home. "Don't you want to know who your opponent will be” enquired Loren. Pocket already knew, further he knew it meant that he and Loren would no longer be training together. He stood still for a moment before turning to face his teacher, "I'll see you on the battlefield!” Loren smiled as Pocket broke into a sprint back home.
Pocket awoke the next morning with the Training Manual book still in his arms. He had slept through the whole day and night. As he got out of bed he was amazed to find that his aches and pains had all gone. He surveyed the bruises on his hands and found that they had completely disappeared. "Wow those sammiches really are super effective" he thought to himself and he jumped down the stairs and outside into the cool morning. He jogged to Fort Mariner and arrived between the practise area and mini arenas. Pocket remembered the last time he was here, he already missed Loren. "Hey Pocket over here!" It was Zarra. He walked over and joined her on one of the arena walls. "I saw the dummies, did you do that?" She asked. "Uhh yes, thanks to your help of course" he said sheepishly. "Wow I didn't think you would be mad enough to stay up all night". Pocket considered telling her about what has happened, but that would mean telling her about his father, the dragon and the Knights Templar, it would have to wait for another time. "Listen, I need to ask a favour, I need your help... again" Zarra noticed the change in his tone and nodded for him to continue. "I was hoping I could train with you, If that wouldn't be too much of an inconvenience?" He waited on her answer and Zarra put him out of his misery. "Of course! But on one condition, you won't hold back". Pocket was confused. "You are a lot stronger than you know Pocket, promise me that when the time comes you will fight without hesitation". Pocket still couldn't understand, he considered himself harmless in his current state, "OK I promise" he conceded. “Good then let’s get started”.
Zarra led him down to the beach and into a small shallow cave. "OK before anything else we need to sure up your defence. I want you to block my attacks with your shield" before Pocket could set himself she unleashed an attack with her mace and he just managed to raise his shield in time to deflect it. The blow was aimed at his head, surprised he looked to Zarra whose eyes returned a stern glare through her helmet. The second attack he was ready for and blocked it easily, Zarra unleashed a combo of blows and again Pocket held firm. Confident, he prepared himself for an attack of his own but just as he was about to counter with his axe he went numb. A few seconds passed before he came to his senses and he looked at Zarra puzzled. "If you're going to last even one minute in a real fight the first thing you will need to learn is resisting attacks that stun or cripple you". Pocket was sure he had blocked but before he could clarify what Zarra had said she landed the same hit and dazed him, this time his knees wobbled and as he struggled to stay standing her third blow caught him flush in the face and sent him crashing backwards into the sand. Ironically, it was only then that it hit him - she was applying conditions on him! He had read about this last night in the training manual Loren had handed him. He stayed down and recalled what he had read, as a warrior he could master a ‘Shout’ that would cleanse the conditions being applied on him by Zarra’s attacks. In practise all he would have to do is clear his mind and literally shout the words to trigger the skill. He got back to his feet and beckoned Zarra to continue her attacks. She rounded on him immediately, Pocket read her attack rotation and blocked easily, he waited patiently and sure enough she delivered the same blow that sent him into a daze. Everything around him slowed and his head scrambled with thoughts and words, he saw Zarra teeing up her next attack as she slowly pulled her mace back behind her head. He tried hard to visualise the words in the training manual. They were a blur and he focussed hard to try and read them. Zarra’s mace was now heading towards him, it had cleared her shoulder as the words began to solidify in his mind. “Shake it off!” he sprang back into reality and dodged her attack just in time. The follow through of her mace made her stumble and she was vulnerable, this was his chance! The fact that he had triggered a shout skill surprised her but he paused and she managed to raise her defences again, he couldn’t do it, he couldn’t attack her. They stood staring at each other for a few seconds before she broke the silence, “You promised you wouldn’t hold back!” she lamented as she dropped her weapons to the floor. Pocket could hear the disappointment in her voice, “I’m sorry but I can’t do it, I don’t want to hurt a friend”. She glared at him, “if you can’t attack me you’ll never become a warrior”, she picked up her weapons and headed back towards Fort Marriner. Pocket collected his thoughts and shouted after her to wait. “Meet me back here tomorrow, and be prepared to fight!” she said angrily before disappearing around the corner.
They did meet the next day, and every day after that for the next 8 weeks.
As he now sat alone in the Main Haven he reflected back over his training with Zarra, things were different now. He felt he belonged in Lion’s Arch and amongst the gladiators, but most importantly he now believed in his ability to fulfil his destiny. He had not seen Loren since that day at Istaea’s Sammich Bar. He passed the practise dummies and the beach on his way home and wondered where the battle would take place or how he would find Loren. He consulted his Infinity Ball as he lay in bed but it hadn’t worked since Ebonhawke, he ran the vision through his mind again and again until he fell asleep.
He awoke earlier than usual the next morning and carefully prepared his armour and weapons. He opened his door to find a note on the floor. “Pocket, meet me in Tenanera's Pit on the beach outside Fort Marriner – Loren Michael”. He was nervous now, as he walked towards the beach it dawned on him that he had never seen Loren fight before, he was fast and deadly accurate with a bow – he remembered as much from their first meeting in Lion’s Arch. He also knew how proficient he was with an axe and that he was a Ranger, but he couldn’t recall ever seeing any of Loren’s pets before. That changed as he approached the beach and saw Loren, and for the first time a large black wolf standing next to him. He took deep breaths as he walked towards the arena. He stepped over the wall and stopped five paces short of Loren, he could hear the panting of the wolf which was now circling Loren’s side of the ring. Pocket looked directly into it’s eyes only breaking contact when Loren finally spoke. “Hello Pocket. It’s nice to see you again, this is Canis Lupis”. “Hi Loren, It’s been a while, I have missed you”. Loren gave a short smile, “There will be plenty of time to catch up afterwards Pocket, but only if you can beat me, make no mistake I am the obstacle you must over come, otherwise our paths go in opposite directions” he had set the tone for the upcoming battle. Pocket needed no further clarification, he drew his axe and shield and flipped backwards to the edge of the arena in one motion, “ready when you are!”.
Loren drew his bow and in a flash launched a barrage of arrows at Pocket who curled up into a defensive stance behind his shield. The arrows deflected in all directions as Pocket inched closer towards Loren. He sniffed the air continuously to check on Loren’s and Canis’ location. All of a sudden the wolf appeared to his right and Pocket parried it’s attack with his axe knocking it back, he threw his axe towards the beast and there was a loud clang as Loren threw his own axe at Pocket’s to block it. This was Pocket’s chance, he was close enough now and launched himself towards Loren to try and stun him with a shield bash but he just missed as Loren evaded backwards with his lightning reflexes. They were hardly apart and as Loren landed he readied an arrow, Pocket knew he was in trouble, Loren was too fast, he tried to raise his shield in time but Loren’s point blank shot hit him flush in the chest and pushed him backwards. He steadied himself as the cloud of sand and dust began to settle. There was a moment’s pause as both fighters assessed the situation. Loren conceded that Pocket was proficient enough with his shield to defend any range attacks with his bow, had he been anything other than an Asura he may have been able to target his feet but the shield was large enough to cover his entire body giving Pocket the advantage. He stowed his bow and withdrew one axe and then another. Pocket peered over his shield flicking his eyes between Loren and Canis. The adrenaline pumping through his body had calmed his nerves and he waited for Loren to make the next move. Loren flung his axe towards Pocket and it flew just past him, missing his shield. But something was up, there was no way Loren would miss an attack like that, as Pocket tightened the grip on his shield the axe pathed back toward Loren like a boomerang, it was fast and Pocket couldn’t dodge it fully as it struck him on his cheek, cutting him and causing him to bleed. Loren's attacks quickened as he bagan to hurl multiple axes at Pocket, each causing more and more cuts to his body. This was going to end quickly unless he could do something about this assault. He waited for a brief pause in her attack and then launched himself into the air spinning to avoid the axes flying through the air but was met by Canis who was fiercly guarding the area in front of Loren. As he landed Loren sensed this moment as his chance for victory and summoned roots which erupted from the ground and entangled Pocket tightly, things were getting worse! Canis and Loren rounded on him landing multiple strikes. Despite Pocket's attempts to shake off the roots they would not disperse, he had no choice but to hack them down, but how long could he survive this attack? The cuts to his body weakened him severely and for a moment the thought of defeat ran through his mind...
He played things through in his head, he would get another chance surely? Damarus would understand right? Maybe. What about Zarra? All those weeks spent training, would she? There was a chance. But how about his mother Zipp, who watched her son leave after tearing their family in two? As his mother she would forgive him for sure. But this wasn't about any of those people, this was about the Dragon and his destiny. The whole of Tyria might forgive him for failing now but would Pocket himself be able to? The answer was no, he would fight! As he came to his senses he remembered his training, he hadn't even had a chance to show everything he had learned. He didn't want to wait till after the battle to show Loren how much he had grown, he would show him now, he would win!
Pocket threw his shield towards Loren, it had the desired effect as he paused momentarily to gaze at Pocket confused by his gambit. It gave him just enough time to hack away the last of roots. He began charging towards Loren who had once again drawn his bow and aimed a rapid fire of shots straight at Pocket. But there would be no turning back now, Pocket dodged the first attack and the second, he knew dodging the next few would be impossible, they landed in Pockets thigh but he pressed onwards enduring the pain flowing up his leg. It grew excruciatingly as he lept into the air, Loren was taken back by the frenzy in Pocket's movements, he was moving quicker than he had ever seen him and then in mid-air he stopped dead still. There was a flash of red energy from his chest and it flew through his arms and legs causing them to arch backwards before lanching him in a rage towards Loren who braced himself. In a flash Pocket unleashed a devastating slash with his axe right to Loren's midrift. The axe lodged itself into Loren and the force with which it hit caused them both to crash through the arena wall and land in the sand. There was silence.
When Pocket came to he brought himself to his hands and knees and surveyed the area. Canis was nursing Loren who was lying motionless. He crawled over to him as tears began streaming down his face. He had won, but at what cost?
Check back next week to learn of Loren's fate and follow Pocket into The Mists for the next chapter of A Knight's Tale: Forged by the Fists of Grundlebad!
A Knight's Tale - Chapter Four - Leveling with Loren
by Pocket on Jun 18, 2013 at 07:59 PM}