Chapter 1: In the middle of wherever (2)

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Gustav's back was wet with moisture, and the smell of manure ailed his nostrils. The Dark Lord rubbed his eyelids, a small tinge of pain assaulting his shoulder as he supported his way up to a sitting position.

The skies were blue, and the smell of summery plants would sometimes override the smell of manure. Gustav saw wheat fields afar, and buildings. A village. How strange. The closest village to Castle Darkstead was five days' journey away, for the eternal darkness on Gustav's lands would severely hamper any farming activities. That is, unless the farmers got creative... but such creativity usually concealed magical activities that the Church was so fond of stamping out. Besides, the enchantment of darkness was only one of the reasons why the farmers didn't want to live too near to Gustav's castle. The monster army being a solid second, and the demon lords probably the third. And who knows what an average farmer's wife thought of the succubi.

Gustav heard rustling to the side, and turned to look.

He dropped flat, rolling awkwardly under a wooden stick that came for him. He found his feet, pounced to the side, and quickly gathered his surroundings. His assaulter was a boy in his teens. Great. Holding a wooden sword, the boy glared at Gustav as if he were the root of all evil. Now that simply wasn't true; the root of all evil was money.

"Hey, listen-"

The boy launched at Gustav again without explanation. His stance was way too high and its balance would be easily broken, if need be.

"Stop it!" Gustav appealed. Reason before hunting season. He needed even the lowliest pages: how else would his system work?

The boy answered by cutting at Gustav with his weapon. The Dark Lord threw himself to the side. Has the suit's enchantment been broken? he quickly thought as he rushed to his feet. Why am I having trouble dodging?

Gustav felt the weight of his age on his limbs. A profound slowness assailed his every move.

Then, as the boy came at him again, Gustav saw it: the reason why he had so much trouble with the boy. He wasn't wearing his suit anymore. "What in damnation-"

"Invendel!" the boy yelled, a crack in his voice hinting at an ongoing puberty. His strike came at Gustav, passing him nary an inch apart as the man jumped backwards.

...Oh, dagnabit. He'd scare the pup off by throwing a blast at the ground. As the boy swung at Gustav with a slanted horizontal strike, he ducked and dodged to the left. Concentrating, he visualized drawing magical energies from all around, concentrating them on his hands.

He clenched his hands. Then blinked.

Instead of feeling the resistance of silken fabric and metal linings against his fingers, he felt his own skin. He wasn't wearing his artifact in either hand. What is going on? Where are my armaments?!

"Try and see if I'll let you destroy our home!" the boy shouted, swinging down with an overhead strike.

Gustav wasn't sure which came first: the realization that he couldn't understand the boy's language, or his reaction to the boy's attack. He reacted purely by instinct, sidestepping the blow, and, as the boy shifted his stance to bring about a horizontal blow, punching the boy's fingers, crushing them against the sword's hilt.

"Ow!" the boy squealed, his sword slipping from his hand and thumping down against the grass.

Gustav kicked him - moderatedly - to the side, forcing the boy to block and stumble backwards a bit. Then Gustav dashed forward, picking up the sword.

Having gained the upper hand, he inhaled deep. "There," he said, eyes not leaving the boy's hatred-filled pools of ice. "What shall I do with you now?"

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