The rest of the week passed in a blur. Each day, I would get up at the crack of dawn to train with Dylan, and I quickly got used to the new routine.
Initially, my body was unaccustomed to the punishment being inflicted upon it, and I went through each day in a state of perpetual soreness, every muscle from head to toe aching with the slightest of movements. The nights were equally torturous, with recurrent nightmares bringing me back to the fire at the house, tormenting me and often leaving me sleepless. But they also served as a constant reminder to what my adversaries had done to my family, and prevented me from giving up whenever I went through a particularly rough patch in training.
Swordplay with Dylan was no less grueling than before – if anything, the sessions got tougher with time, as he held back less and less with each passing day. On occasion, I would feel as though I were on the verge of besting him, only to have Dylan spring back from his precarious position with astounding ease, often through some sly tactic or subtle technique that I had never seen before. In this way, I learnt something new with each training session, and my skill with the blade gradually improved. I rather suspected that these near ‘victories’ were fully engineered by Dylan, intended not only to impart new skills to his protégé, but also to give me a sliver of hope that I might someday be able to surpass him.
Meanwhile, my special powers (which Dylan aptly referred to as the Talent) grew from strength to strength with each passing day. By the end of the week, I had not only improved my ability to simultaneously focus on both the fight and my emotions, but also broadened my repertoire of mystical powers. Among others, I learnt to project a flamethrower-like jet of flame from the tip of my blade, which, though taxing on mind and body, was powerful enough to rival Dylan’s furnace in intensity.
I felt stronger than ever, ready to face anything that the Lord of Darkness could possibly throw at me.
All this time, Dylan spent his spare moments searching for a buyer who would be interested in taking over the shop. According to him, it wouldn’t be long before the Lord of Darkness caught up to us, but it was essential that we secure enough funds for our journey. Fortunately, the district he lived in was considered prime land, and it was relatively easy to seal a deal that met his expectations. By Sunday afternoon, the necessary paperwork had been settled, and the proceeds from the sale credited to Dylan’s account. The time had come for us to make our move.
“All right, kid,” said Dylan, passing me a list of items and a small stack of bills. “We’re going to need some supplies for our trip. I’ll need you to head down to the convenience store, just down the street. Make it fast; we don’t want to stay here any longer than we have to.”
I nodded in the affirmative and took off down the street at a light jog, stashing Aequivalere in a rugged backpack. I’d decided that there was no point in taking chances when we were this close to leaving.
Over at the convenience store, I quickly located and consolidated the list of items that I’d come to collect. Dried rations and canned food accounted for most of the supplies, with portable items like camp beds and rain coats topping off the list. For good measure, I threw in a couple of first aid kits, seeing as we were probably going to be on the run for quite a while.
I bustled over to the counter, where a bored-looking young man in his twenties, with thick blond hair and plain features, sat waiting. His name was Joshua Carpenter, though everyone just called him Josh. Josh had a tendency to pick up on the latest news in the city, often just by sitting behind the cashier’s register. I supposed that customers found it easy to talk to him, since he mostly kept to himself and actually listened when spoken to - something that not many people were in the habit of doing these days. Counting my lucky stars that the store wasn’t crowded that day, I heaved my overloaded basket onto the counter and nodded in greeting to Josh.
“Hey, Josh,” I said, watching as he set to work scanning and bagging my purchases. “What’s the word in town these days?”
Josh grunted in reply, still working with mechanical efficiency. “Nothing sensational, if that’s what you’re asking. But there have been some odd happenings over the past week – mostly in metalworking shops. Some people have been going around and interrogating the owners, though for what reason, I don’t know.”
My insides went cold. So, the Lord of Darkness was making his move. He’d probably worked out that I’d approach a qualified craftsman for help with the blade, and was trying to flush me out before I could learn anything useful. Dylan had been right – it was definitely time to leave.
I paid in cash, picked up the assortment of merchandise I’d purchased, and left the store, moving down the street as quickly as I could.
By the time I arrived back at Dylan’s shop, it was already late afternoon. Nearly an hour had passed since I’d left for the convenience store. Without delay, I shouldered my way through the screen door and kept moving.
“Dylan,” I called, “I’ve got what we need. Let’s go!”
No one answered. I moved further into the shop, expecting to see Dylan emerge from the back room at any moment, but what I saw instead stopped my heart cold.
Dylan was gone. Various tools lay scattered on the floor, and spare parts were strewn all over the forge and workbench. The burned wooden bench from my first lesson with him had been smashed to matchwood, charred splinters of wood lying in a shattered heap. It looked as though someone had put up one hell of a fight here, and it wasn’t difficult to guess who it had been. Someone had abducted Dylan forcibly and against his will, wrecking his shop in the process.
A sudden flood of panic washed over me as I scanned the room for some clue, any clue, as to where they had taken him. My gaze alighted on a small scrap of paper, held down on the workbench using a small mallet as a paperweight. With trembling fingers, I picked up the note and held it up to the light.
“Davidson,” it read, “If you want to see the old man again, come to Warehouse 3 on Pier Street. Call the police, or fail to comply, and his life will be forfeit. Be there by sundown.” The words had been scrawled in untidy handwriting, and a spot of crusted, dried blood stained the paper’s edge. Someone had gotten hurt in the struggle. I hoped it hadn’t been Dylan.
I realized that there were only two options available to me – run and save myself, or attempt to rescue Dylan, who was almost certainly in hostile territory. But seeing as I wasn’t about to abandon Dylan to a painful death, it seemed that there wasn’t much of a choice, really. It was time to take the fight to the enemy, even if it meant walking into a trap.
Snatching up a small metal shield from the workbench and strapping it to my forearm, I strode out the door and onto the street. Sundown would come in less than two hours, and if I were to retain the element of surprise, I was going to have to get there, fast.
I would not fail Dylan as I had my parents.