NybCR: Holy moly it's been a while. Well, I know I've told a few of my reviewers this already, but the main reason why I haven't been posting here anymore is because I've decided to do a complete redux of this story. And as of today (3/7/11), I'm posting up this redux under the title "Spirit of Fire"... so if you want to check it out, please go to my profile! It's new and improved and everything! Also, it is beta'ed by Ruby-Blade-Princess, who has already done excellent work cleaning up the grammar.
Of course, I'm not sure how long it will take me to catch up to this version, so in the meantime, I'll keep this story up.
Below is what I had already written for the fourth chapter before I decided I wanted to rewrite everything. I only gave it a cursory edit, so I'm not sure if it's clean, or even if the writing is shamefully bad. It's also incomplete, so even though it's longish, it ends rather abruptly.
"Hey, wake up, Rasho!" Pratty's voice chirped. "We've gotta head downstairs for Master Bron's lesson. And breakfast. Anyway, come on!"
Rasho groaned and opened his eyes. He reluctantly sat up in his cot and looked across the room, where Pratty was straightening out the bedding on her cot. For a second he wondered why her cot was on the opposite side of the room since it was right next to his yesterday, but then he remembered that, while they were preparing for bed last night, she had picked up one of the cots and moved it to the other side of the room. When he asked, jokingly, if she thought he had cooties, she stated flatly that he was a guy and she was a young lady in the flower of her youth, still blossoming into a young woman.
Next time, he promised himself, he just wouldn't ask.
He stood, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and reached for his armor. He looked around the room and then headed for the screen, where he could change his clothes. Actually, he'd just slept in his pants, so he'd only be putting on clothes… but it was the principle of the thing. There was a teenage girl right there, after all, and even if he was rude sometimes, he did have a sense of propriety.
"I'll wait for you downstairs!" Pratty said as she hurried out of the room. From behind the screen, Rasho rolled his eyes. She was such a fledgling…
Dressed and feeling a little more awake, he left the workshop and floated down the stairs. When he got there, he found Pratty chatting happily with a girl (presumably another Craftknight apprentice) with bright purple hair tied up into a pair of buns on top of her head. Floating beside the girl was what looked like a fuzzy, pale green ball with big, floppy ears and four paws attached to it—the girl's Guardian Beast, no doubt.
"Rasho, this is Trish," Pratty said, upon noticing his arrival. "She's competing in the tournament, too. And that's Chihuahua—" indicating the fuzzy ball "—her Guardian Beast."
Rasho gave Pratty a stern look, ignoring the girl and her fuzzy Beast. "Are you going to make friends with everyone in the tournament?"
"You do realize that that'll only make it harder for you to fight them in the tournament when the time comes, don't you?"
"Oh, come on, Rasho, you're exaggerating…."
"Oh, hey, is this your Guardian Beast?" the purple-haired girl interrupted.
Pratty looked at her. "What? Oh, yeah, this is Rasho."
Fish squeaked excitedly. "Oh, that's so cool! Your Guardian Beast is a demon! That is sooooo awesome!"
Pratty waved a hand at her, an It's-Not-That-Big-a-Deal look on her face. "Okay, calm down. How about we get some breakfast? All right, Rasho?"
Rasho sighed and let Pratty drag him through the main forging room to the kitchen, where some Craftknight apprentices were cooking and setting dishes of fried fish and seaweed on the center table.
As Pratty grabbed a plate (and handed Rasho one for himself) and started putting some food on it, she explained to him that all of the members of the Silver Guild took turns cooking meals. However, all of the tournament entrants (including herself) were excused from kitchen duty—as well as other menial chores—for the duration of the tournament. Of course, once you were out of the tournament or the tournament itself ended, it was back to work.
"That being said, I do not envy the apprentices who aren't competing," Pratty's friend put in. "Their workload is tripled now that all sixteen of us in the tournament are going to be staying in the Silver Guild full-time now—which means there's more to clean and more to cook round the clock."
After their plates were filled, Pratty led them to the front room, explaining to Rasho that they didn't have a proper dining room, so everyone just ate wherever—as long as they cleaned up after themselves, of course.
"Man, Bron's cheap," Rasho said as they settled down on the floor with a couple other Craftknight apprentices (who acknowledged them with a simple "hi").
"It's not that," Pratty said. "It's just that the Silver Guild doesn't have enough money to spare on something like a cafeteria."
"Which is why it's cheap," Rasho stated.
"Ugh... you're impossible," she grumbled, taking a bite out of her meal.
Before long, it was eleven o'clock, and fourteen of the sixteen (since two were currently engaged in a match) Silver Guild tournament entrants and their Guardian Beasts gathered around Bron in the main forging room. Rasho examined the competition: the purple-haired Fish, a pair of twins (who didn't appear to have Guardian Beasts with them), some smart-looking twit with glasses and bright blue hair, a bored-looking teenage boy with dark hair and sharp eyes (Rasho made a mental note to watch out for that kid), some girl with red hair tied into a ponytail… and no one else worth noticing. Probably the others wouldn't even make it past the first round. For pity's sake, there was some little kid here trussed up in yellow, even younger than Pratty. Just what was Bron thinking?
"Good, yer all here—'cept Karen and Ron, who're in a match right now," Bron said as he finished scanning the room. "Now listen up, apprentices! Yer all in the tournament representin' the Silver Guild. Some of ya are fairly new to bein' a Craftknight apprentice. Some of ya aren't. In any case, I expect ya to treat one another with the same amount o' respect ya'd give any of yer peers. Now that don't mean ya've gotta make buddies all around—don't forget yer still competin' against one another! But there'll be no sabotage, an' no fowl play. Ya hear?"
"Yes, sir," the apprentices mumbled.
"I SAID, ya HEAR?"
"Good then! Now, for those of you who're older an' have already begun forgin' weapons on yer own, yer dismissed. The rest of ya, I'm gonna teach ya how to forge yer first weapon! A'right? Now you older ones, git!"
Six of the Craftknights rose and departed—among them, Rasho noticed, were the twins, the twit, and the sharp-eyed boy. Rasho's mouth thinned. Well, at least his instincts were right about the boy… but whether or not that was a good thing remained to be seen.
Most of Bron "teaching them to forge their first weapon" consisted of him telling his apprentices how to follow directions. He stated that he wouldn't be able to directly teach each and every single one of them how to forge a new weapon whenever their skills progressed, so he would simply give them a sheet of paper with instructions. These instructions would detail how much materials to use, what shape they should pound them into, how many times they should pound it with their hammer… stuff like that.
Rasho didn't pay much attention; he'd been through all this already with Shintetsu. He considered heckling Bron to stave off boredom, but eventually dismissed the idea on the grounds that he was feeling too lazy to bother with it.
Before dismissing everyone, Bron gave out the order to buy their materials as soon as possible, as the stores would likely run out soon. At that, Pratty raised her hand, presumably to ask a question.
"What is it, Pratty?" Bron asked.
"Aren't we supposed to retrieve our materials for the tournament from the Labyrinth?" she asked.
"A fair question," Bron said. "But ya can't go into the Labyrinth without a weapon, now, can ya? Not with Strays runnin' around all over the place. That's why yer first weapon will be made from materials ya bought yerself. Now, if that's all, get to work and do yer best in the tournament."
Rasho rolled his eyes as he and Pratty left the room. Like he cared about some lame-ass tournament.
"Come on, Rasho," Pratty said, tugging on his hand. "Let's go to Aberford's Weapon Shop. I heard from Trish that they're having a sale on weapon materials today."
"Eh? Who's Trish? Another friend of yours?"
"Don't tell me you've forgotten already! I just introduced you. Remember? She had purple hair and a cute, fuzzy Guardian Beast—"
"Her? You're not still friends, are you?"
"Well, yeah. What, did you think that would change in the half hour it took to listen to Master Bron's lesson?"
He poked a finger at her forehead. "It ought to have changed the second Bron told you to hunt for weapon materials."
She frowned and batted his hand away. "What do you mean?"
He scowled and leaned forward to look her in the eye. "Think for a second, kid. There are sixty-four competitors in the tournament, right?"
"And a finite amount of materials stocked up in the shops."
"I suppose so."
"Not to mention all of the Craftknights in this city who need to make weapons on a daily basis."
"What does that have to do with—" A light dawned in her eyes. "Oh."
He straightened. "Exactly. You won't just be competing in the arena. You'll be competing just to have enough materials to make a basic sword." He crossed his arms. "It'll get easier once the first round is over and the number of entrants is down to thirty-two, but for this first part, resources'll be pretty tight."
She actually looked concerned—for about two seconds. "The shops will have stocked up extra, though, since they knew the tournament was coming around. I'm sure it'll be fine."
He shrugged, not really caring. "Maybe."
"Anyway, we'd better get going. Don't want to miss the sale, right?" Of course, even though she sounded cheerful enough, she seemed to be walking quite a bit faster than normal towards the shops. He just chuckled. It probably would be fine, but he had fun scaring her. Just a little bit.
As she led him down the steel-and-stone walkways, Rasho cupped his hands behind his head and asked, nonchalantly, "So... who was that one apprentice?"
"Huh?" Pratty looked up at him. "You mean, at the Silver Guild? Which one?"
"The guy with black hair."
"Rasho, you're going to have to be a little more specific than that."
"He was one of the older apprentices." Rasho crossed his arms, frowning a little. "He got up and left with the others before Bron's so-called 'lesson' started."
Pratty blinked. "Wait… did he have pretty eyes?"
"Wha?" Rasho stopped and looked down at her. The guy's eyes were certainly unusual, which is why he had taken note of them… despite his apparent boredom, his eyes had been sharp and alert, alive with an intelligent spark. Had they been "pretty," though? Hell if he knew. "I suppose so," he said. They had seemed to stand out in his face, perhaps because they were a rare color, but he had not noticed if they had been. All he had seen at the time was that they were the eyes of a dangerous opponent.
"Oh." She blushed and looked away. "It was probably Kyle, then."
Rasho blinked. "What's with the blush? Don't tell me you've got a crush on him."
Pratty huffed and crossed her arms. "Of course! All of the girls in the Silver Guild do. Even some in the Gold Guild have a crush on him."
He groaned. "Just great… and what happens if you're matched up against him in the tournament?"
She rubbed the back of her neck. "I dunno… fight anyway, I guess."
"Ugh. You're hopeless…."
"Well, it doesn't matter anyway! If I am ever matched up against him, what I should worry about first is how much better a fighter he is than me."
"… You're not really inspiring confidence, here…."
Pratty rolled her eyes, but remained silent until they came to a short, dark red building with the words "Aberford's Weapons" inscribed on a sign hanging above a sturdy wooden door.
"Here we are," she said.
She blinked up at him. "What's wrong?"
"Shopping…. No way am I doing that. It would ruin my image!"
"But… it is a weapon's shop." She shrugged. "But if you really feel that way, you can just stay out here and wait for me."
"Oh no, I don't think so." He pushed her way past her and opened the door, giving her a glare. "I said it before, I'll say it again: I don't stand around waiting for silly teenage girls."
"Not silly," she replied, ducking past him into the shop so he wouldn't see the grin on her face. Guys, be they demon or human, were so easy.
Rasho followed her inside and glanced around. Aberford's Weapons was… well, it was clean. And boring. And completely empty.
"Um… hello?" Pratty called.
A head peeked over the clerk's desk. Pratty waved. The man—tall and skinny—straightened.
"Hello yourself," he said. He pulled a rag out of his trouser pocket and mopped at the counter before him. "You one of the tournament entrants? Looking for weapon's materials?"
She smiled and stepped up to the counter. "That's right. You're Mr. Aberford?"
"Just Ab's fine." He rubbed a hand over his bald spot.
"Umm—why is it so empty in here?"
"I'm sold out."
"Huh?" She looked around, suddenly noticing how bare the walls were. "But… wouldn't you have stocked up for the tournament?"
The man shrugged. "I did, matter of fact. But before I could even put it on the shelves, Master Libody came by and offered to pay all of my stock double its worth."
"Libody? You mean the Master of the Gold Guild? Can he seriously do that?"
"Sorry." He shrugged. "Like I said, paid me double. Man's gotta make a living."
Pratty sighed. "It's all right, I'll just check out another store." She turned and hurried out the door, not even glancing at her partner as she went.