Khyrmin’s dungeon was rather small and quite stable. That meant it was easy to explore a floor, and it wasn’t likely to change much from day to day. That was important, because I was going in alone. I always needed to know a quick escape route, and since the blackness prevented seeing the layout I had to know my way by heart. Beyond that, I also needed to head back to the entrance every time I defeated a metal spirit possessing a weapon. I couldn’t just leave them lying on the ground to be re-possessed, and carrying a huge bundle of weapons with me was just asking for trouble.
Before heading down to the second floor I jogged between the entrance and the second floor stairs several times, using the torchlight only to help me keep a sense of balance and not for guidance.
During that time two metal spirits tried to control my weapon, but I didn’t let them. They weren’t really a threat without inhabiting their own weapons, but instead served as a reminder that I had to remain vigilant.
On the second floor, the metal spirits were stronger and more skilled. I was glad for the gambeson to protect me against their attacks, and even more so for Khyrmin’s training. Compared to her, everything seemed to move in slow motion even without using Martial Trance. That said, it wasn’t like I could slack off. They were still fast, and my armor didn’t protect everything.
The deeper I went into the second floor, the more skilled they got. About halfway through the floor I got disarmed for the first time. I hadn’t been expecting quite that level of skill, and it caught me off guard. Even so, I was able to react quickly, diving for my sword before any hiding metal spirits could try to control it. Even from a prone position I was able to parry the next attack from the floating rapier and return to my feet. It only took a few moments to finish off the metal spirit.
From that point on I was able to practice Return Weapon. Of course, I could also have worked harder to avoid being disarmed… but that wasn’t what I was there to practice. From then on whenever I saw a floating weapon controlled by a metal spirit I tied the threads of Return Weapon around my own rapier. I didn’t exactly let myself get disarmed, but I didn’t do my best to prevent it either. In fact, getting disarmed gave me an advantage of sorts. I wasn’t sure how much thought went through invisible spirits that controlled metal, but they did seem to have combat knowledge and expectations. When I was disarmed, they expected me to show an opening… so when my weapon suddenly returned to my hand they were open themselves. The most important part of this was that while I learned to adapt to their tactics, they didn’t get to adapt to mine.
Soon enough I found a problem with my plans. I was quickly running out of mana. Battles could be from a few seconds to a few minutes, and the longer ones took a lot out of me. Sometimes I had to use Martial Trance, which took even more. I was glad I was using a torch instead of light magic, because there was no way I could have kept that up for long. It wasn’t like I had terribly low amounts of mana, either. Focus was the determining factor in that, and while I didn’t have the amounts one would expect in a real magic user, it was one of my primary statistics… even if I couldn’t distribute any points to support it.
I kept trying to think of a better way. There was always a better way, and in this case it wouldn’t just be a marginal improvement. What was it though? After a few days passed I asked Khyrmin for advice. “Just think about it,” she said.
That advice wasn’t helpful, but I was pretty sure she must have already shown me what needed to be done. I tried to remember what she did. How was her way better? Nothing stood out for me right away.
Back in the dungeon, I focused more on watching the movements of my enemies. Unlike human opponents, there wasn’t any footwork to go off of, no eye movements to indicate where they were going to attack… but even so, the weapons themselves told me something. They still moved like they were being held by a hand. If I could predict when they were going for a disarm, I could only activate Return Weapon then.
That training resulted in far too many repairs to my gambeson, and to myself. I was glad Kantrilla was around, and sorry that she had to wait around for me when she wasn’t in a good training place for herself. I resolved to progress faster… I just had to figure out what was going on.
The weapons controlled by the metal spirits were varied, not just rapiers and swords. By the end of the second floor there were plenty of other things, though maces and clubs didn’t really try to disarm me. Spear and similar polearms, however, did do that, at least occasionally.
My rapier flew out of my hands to the side of the hall. It was too far to go get, and I’d missed my window to use Return Weapon. However, disarming a spear with my bare hands wasn’t particularly scary. All I had to do was avoid the point… which was hard, but at least I could grab the spear anywhere along the haft. It wasn’t sharp for most of its length, unlike swords. I sighed. “Lost my sword again.” It was so quiet, I kind of had to talk to myself while I was down in the dungeon. I missed having other party members, even if we kept talk to a minimum sometimes, there was at least something to say. Outside of the dungeon there was still Kantrilla, but I got sort of lonely during the day.
As I picked up my rapier, holding the spear and torch awkwardly in my other hand, something clicked. It was my rapier. Khyrmin had specifically said “This is yours now,” and not “This is a loan,” or “Borrow this,”… or just “Here.” which was most like her. Did that mean something? That didn’t have to be the case, but I thought it might matter. I hurried out of the dungeon to go drop off the spear and get a chance to think about it more.