“Because of your arm?” Asked Undir. I hadn’t really told anybody but I figured I must be obvious with the way looked or grabbed at my arm when I talked about in.
I nodded, “Yes, however attempting something weaker and on a smaller scale might work. I’m willing to try if you want me to. Although it might attract some attention so we should not do it at the base.”
She hesitated and then said, “Yes, I would like to try it. However we should wait. I wouldn’t want you to make a mistake because you are too tired after breaking apart a god into Keys. Maybe once you have rested up some then we can try.”
That made sense and thus the conversation stopped and we walked back to the base talking about more mundane things. The Slayer joined in our talks and it still felt unusual, to have anybody else talking to the Slayer with me. Her control over the Key of the Ferryman had gotten better in the few days since she had acquired it. Her form had solidified a great deal and she looked a lot more normal. Unless you were really looking for it she almost looked like a real person.
Of course she could not touch anything but she was entirely opaque now and unless you concentrated at the edges of her cloak or her hair you would not notice the foggy edged which showed that she was not of this world. The illusion broke completely if she passed through something however and it took her a few moments to completely reform everything after such an encounter.
We returned to the base and I reported the results changing Quell’s power into Keys. It was going pretty well and while it did improve my own versatility it still wouldn’t be enough until I figured out how to teach other people to use those powers.
A few days later I had recovered once again and it was time to try and teach somebody how to use a Key. Undir had been the first to volunteer to learn and so I was taking her out into the woods. We weren’t alone because the Slayer was coming with me. I had seen her around less recently because she had been able to travel with the others and on a couple of occasions she had even walked through the town by herself.
The place in the forest that we were heading too was no where close to where I had broken about Quell but like most of the forest it was empty and there was nobody nearby to notice. My plan was to teach her out to use the Key of Swords, the part of Zillk that was a master of using the sword. It wasn’t an obvious part of Zillk’s domain but all of the stories about his also spoke of his skill with the sword so I guess it was only natural.
The first stage was casual combat between me and Undir. We used dull training swords. They would still hurt immensely if you got hit by them but we were unlikely to kill each other with them. Undir was fairly skilled with the sword and had obviously had training and when I was just relying on my own training she was clearly superior.
“Alright, you have seen how good I am with a sword. Now I am going to use the Key of Swords.” I pulled it into myself and the blade focused in my mind. It may have been blunt but it was still a sword. Then Undir attacked me again and for the next couple of minutes I blocked her sword effortlessly and began my own attack. She was hard pressed to defend herself and had they been real swords I would have killed her several times over.
After five more minutes of me beating her she collapsed on the ground panting. I had barely broken a sweat. I continued my explanation, “As you can see the Key of Swords makes you a nearly undefeatable force with a sword. It should also be noted that I was holding back to prevent hurting you any more then I had to.”
She gasped, “What was holding back? I think my arm is numb.”
“This isn’t a Key for nothing. From my understanding my swordplay is perfect and even against a master swordsman I would likely prove victorious. Against opponents of that caliber it would come down to endurance, the first person to tire would be the person who lost.”
“I hadn’t thought of the Key of Swords as that powerful but now that I have fought against it that power is terrifying. You have a perfect defense. Do you know how well it works against multiple opponents.” Said the Slayer.
“It does contain techniques of fighting multiple opponents.” I said, that knowledge was inside the Key alway with many other applications of the blade. “Of course that is more difficult though. Against poorly trained soldiers I could hold off many of them but three or four skilled opponents is impossible to deal with alone for any extended period of time.”
Undir nodded still laying on the ground trying to catch her breath. “So I’ve seen the Key is use and I think I understand how it functions. How do you plan on teaching me to us it.”
“I’m still trying to explain it. You know how training with the sword drills the different forms into your mind such that when your life is in danger in battle you don’t think, your body just reacts and effortless moves into that form. Or at least that is the standard theory.”
“Yeah, practice makes the swordsman they say.”
“The same is mostly true for the Key. Holding onto it grants all those forms to you like you have done them a thousand time, like they were the most natural things in the world. However that is not the only thing. It also contains countless amounts of experience, understanding of the forms and which forms go well together. Endless iterations of possible moves going on forever. It also has other things, faints, counters to them, how to fight against dirty tricks, how to cut arrows out of the air, breathing practices to keep you calm. All of this at the tip of your mind and you never think about it, everything just seems natural.” These things came to my mind as I tried to explain them, things that I never knew that the Key was capable.
“So basically it makes you the most experianced swordsman in the world?” She asked.
I nodded, “Yes, but there are things that it does not do. I does not make you physically stronger and it does not make you able to last longer in a battle of endurance. For those things you still need the standard training.”
“Could have fooled me. You barely seemed winded there.” Said Undir.
“That was because it showed me how to conserve my energy. Against a better then average user like yourself I had no trouble using barely any energy to defeat you.”
“Great, the Key makes me look like an idea.” She commented.
“It makes almost everybody look like an idiot, I doubt there are a dozen swordsman in the country that could fight against it and have a chance of winning.” I took a breath, “None of the Keys are weak, each one contains immense power. When the power was wrapped up in the power of a god it was…” I tried to think of a good word, “mixed, the keys are the pure expression of part of a god’s power.”
Undir stood back up and brushed the dirt off her pants, “So what is the next step? How am I going to learn to use that Key.”
I shook my head, “No quiet certain yet but I have a couple of theories that I want to test. However none of them are very pleasant.”
“I think you need to understand the power of the Key fully before you can access it. Explaining it is all well and good but that only partially does it credit. I understand them because I am the one that made them and the Slayer understands the Key of the Gatekeeper because she is a ghost.”
“So what is the plan?”
“Two things. If this is true then it would be possible to teach somebody how to use it through strenuous training. However I do not have any experience in doing that for the Keys and that would likely takes a long time, maybe months. However I think that trying to force the power into someone’s body while they are in the appropriate mental state to accept it will trigger the same understanding.”
“Force the power into them?”
“The power of the Key fills me when I access it, that is the best way to explain it.” I said.
The Slayer supported me, “That is about how I feel with the Key of the Ferryman.”
“Yes,” I said, “I could probably bleed that energy out into somebody else but that might not take.”
“Do you want to try it?”
“I already did, a couple of times during our fight. I pushed the energy into you but it didn’t stick.”
“You did? I didn’t feel anything?” Said Undir in surprise.
“Not that surprising. The Key of Swords doesn’t do much outside my body when I push out the energy. It is more an internal Key. Had I tried this with the Key of Winder I might have frozen you solid. That is why I chose this Key to start with, less chance of having something horrible go wrong.”
I said, “So if normally the power wouldn’t stick it would require a catalyst, some condition for it to work. If that theory is right then when I gave the Slayer the cloak it contained an aspect of the Key and it entered her some way.”
“What sounds a bit uncertain.”
“I know, it also makes the Keys potentially dangerous. It might be possible for an opponent to learn how to use a Key simply because it was the right conditions when you used it on them. Which is likely possible given my desires when I first tried and created the keys.”
“So what is the next step?”
“I’m going to stab you.”
“Stab me?” It sounded uncertain, confused.
“Yes, stab you. It is the Key of Swords, nothing is more connected to it then stab wound, that is the purpose of using a sword after all, to cut your opponent.”
“You want to stab me with a sword to teach me magic. What if it doesn’t work.”
“Then I will be very sorry and will have to think of another way to teach you how to use it.”
“That sounds really dangerous and painful.”
“Yes, but it might be the fastest way to learn.”
“You sound doubtful.”
“I’ve never done this before. I just think it is the more likely way to do it.”
Undir looked from me to the Slayer, “What do you think of his insane idea to stab me.”
The Slayer considered the question then said, “I agree with him, even if it turns out not to be the more effective way to learn how to use a Key I think that it will be a quick and effective method. If it works.”
“If… great, that sounds painful.”
I pulled out a knife, “It will be unfortunately. On the bright side the Key of Swords knows where all the critical location on a human are so I can make sure to avoid them.”
“A small cut won’t be enough?”
“Do you want to be cut a dozen times so that I figure out the right level of injury?”
“I’d rather not be hurt at all actually but I don’t know if that will work.”
“Do you want me to stab you or not?”
“All right, go ahead.” She then gritted her teeth and pulled in her breath.