Cat stood alone in the center of the training field, swinging her sword as she went through her forms. The sun was setting beyond the horizon. Everyone else had already gone home, even Rosaria, or as Cat had started to say for ease, Rosa. Every day the two girls sparred with each other. The people gathered around her and Rosa the same way they gathered around her and Hildegard, watching the two warriors go at it, but this time there was no restraint on either side.
It wasn’t as if she were always losing to the champion. She won about as often as she lost. Even the bruises and sore muscles Cat often had when she woke up in the morning where starting to go away, but she wasn’t winning anymore fights than she had when they started. She didn’t seem to be improving no matter how hard she tried or how much she trained against Rosa.
“It must be because she’s a champion…” Cat muttered to herself as she finally put her sword away.
“That has to be the reason!”
Rosa’s armor seemed to never get dirty and protect her from the worst of Cat’s spells. On the second day of her arrival, the redhead had also revealed a special feature of her divine spear. Cat had gotten behind the spear woman and had been about to strike when the spear split into different segments. Rosa had used it like a whip, catching Cat’s foot in the segments, ruining the mage’s footing before it had reattached to itself. It seemed that there was always a divine trick Rosa could pull to save herself.
“Mmm…Doubt Lord Albion will care enough to help me…” Cat started to walk back home. As her thoughts turned to the empty house, her shoulders slumped. Hildegard and Hanne were away again, this time in the south to help clear out a giant that had emerged in Naples. They had, once again, left her in Rome to continue her training.
“At least she’s not blowing me off just to be with Turi…Hey! Turi!” Cat’s eyes lit up. Of course she knew someone who could help her with this. Turi was a champion to the Goddess Athena. If anyone would know what a champion’s weakness was, it would be another champion!
With a destination in mind, Cat turned back around and started running towards the stables. When Hildegard gone, there was a good chance Turi would have stayed late to take care of Pegasus. If she ran, she could still catch him there.
The last glow of twilight had settled on the city by the time Cat reached the stables. Turi was there with a tub full of soapy water and scrub brush, cleaning the shining winged Pegasus. Cat couldn’t help but stare at the horse for a bit as he stood there calmly, as his rider washed him.
“Hey, Turi.” Cat said, stepping into the straw lined stable.
“Mm? Hey, Cat. What’s up?” The champion said. He tossed the brush back into the tub, pulled out a towel and started to dry off the feathers in Pegasus’s wings.
“Not much…I was just curious about something. How did you become a champion? Like, what did you do that made Athena give you powers?”
“Athena didn’t really give me powers. At least none I know of. Most of my skill with the spear comes from enchantments on the spear itself. Hildegard’s made fun of me a lot for my skill with a regular spear…”
“Well, she must have chosen you for a reason!” Cat pressed.
“I worked on a horse ranch before all this started.” Turi said. He picked up a carrot and held it out to Pegasus, who gladly bit down on the orange root. “Athena chose me to be Pegasus’s rider because I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and she knew that there’d be an influx of monsters to Sicily. I was what she needed at the time, and I just try to show that her faith in me isn’t misplaced.”
“You mean you didn’t have to go through like a test or something?”
“There’s no standard process. Aurelio told me how he became a champion and it’s pretty different.”
“Yeah, we’ve been hanging out. He became a champion because he’s an excellent hunter. I don’t think there’s anyone in Rome who matches his skill. But he already had that ability before Diana blessed him. She just took what was there and made it even better.”
“So then Rosa must have been chosen for being a complete bully and jerk.”
“Mm, Athena did mention something about Ares champion a few times, even before I met her.” Turi said. He led Cat from the stables, closing the doors behind him. Turi pulled the chains across the door, locking them with the stable master’s key.
“So you’re officially the stable master of Rome, huh?”
“Seemed a natural fit.” He smiled at her. “Like I said, I’ve spent my life around horses. But Athena did mention a blood-soaked past for Ares’s champion. I don’t think she was necessarily chosen for her aggression.”
“Eh? But she’s so…mean.”
Turi gave a shrug as he and Cat started to walk. “I’ve found it easier to pick up basic combat skills from Hildegard than a rookie like me really should. It just seems to come easy to me. I think that Lady Athena has given me this natural talent, because I didn’t have it before. I was chosen for my horsemanship. She’s brought out more…soldier-y skills.”
“So what are you saying?” Cat asked. She furrowed her brow as she tried to wrap her head around this. “I’m so confused. You said you didn’t have any powers, but now you’re saying you do?”
“I can’t shoot lightning bolts or jump fifty feet in the air. And even with mundane weapons it takes time to learn, I just learn more quickly. I think that Ares might have raised Rosaria’s aggression levels because it suits his needs better.”
“But she’s still a bully!” Cat said, as she folded her arms across her chest.
“Mm, I can see why you and Hilde call yourselves sisters. You really sound alike sometimes.”
“Whatever! How do I beat her? All Greek champions have flaws in the stories!”
“It’s not that easy, Cat.” Turi said. Even in the dying light, Cat could see a smile playing around his lips. “It’s not like you can pour water on her and she’ll lose all her powers, or that there’s that one spot where she’s vulnerable. She’s not a dragon.”
“Sure has the personality of one…”
“I don’t have an Achilles’ heel and I’m willing to bet that she doesn’t either.”
“E-eh? So she’s invincible?!”
“No…Okay, I got it.” Turi stopped walking and turned to face her. He pointed at her sword. “If you and I were to duel, sword to sword, in the training ring, who would win?”
“Well, I would! I’ve seen the way you fight, Turi, you wouldn’t stand a chance!” Cat said with a laugh. “Hilde always knocks your sword out of your hand in like five minutes!”
“Exactly.” Turi said, not minding the laughs. His smile grew a little more. “Now if you put me on Pegasus’s back, suddenly it’s a different story. Whereas alone, you’d beat me easily, you wouldn’t have an easy fight when I’m flying in the air on Pegasus.”
“Well…of course not…”
“Aurelio, Rosaria, and I all have different strengths. Aurelio is nowhere near as strong as you, or even me, but he doesn’t need to be to do what Diana needs him to do. If you’re standing in a fighting ring in front of Aurelio, you’d probably have no more trouble with him than any other soldier. But now you’re fighting in the woods, and you won’t ever see him.”
“But I fight Rosa in the ring and I’m not improving at all, no matter how many times I fight her!”
“I’m a champion of wisdom and of courage. Those are the aspects that Athena uses to empower me. Rosaria is a champion of war, and not the strategic kind of war. She’s in her element in the heart of battle, with everyone around her knowing exactly where she is. The training ring is where she fights her best.”
“So…I should challenge her outside the ring?”
“Well, the rules might be more lax, but it still wouldn’t be an easy fight. Fighting is what she’s been empowered to do. She’ll never be an easy enemy you can just brush aside.”
“Oh…” Cat said softly as she looked to the side. She had been really hoping he’d have an answer that would help her tilt the odds in her favor. She didn’t want to cheat; she just wanted to know what to practice. It seemed there wasn’t anything she could do to surpass this girl.
She kicked her leg out as she could feel her energy building up inside of her at the frustration. There had to be some way to beat Rosa. She couldn’t just give up right?
“Hmph, some wisdom.” She said bitterly as she started walking again, faster than before and not waiting for Turi to catch up. “Not much use to me at all. Just give up seems like pretty lame courage too!”
“I never said give up, Cat.” Turi said. He quickened his pace to catch up to her. “Look, from what I’ve heard, you’re basically tied with her in wins, right?”
“Well, come on then, Cat! You should know how this works!” He put his arm around her shoulder to comfort her. “She’s the champion of war. If you’re still winning half of your battles with her, then you’re both probably improving at an equal pace. It’s not like she’s not getting stronger fighting you, and so if neither of you have a real advantage, it means you ARE improving.”
“…Yeah, yeah I guess that does make sense.” Cat said, as she thought about it. “Maybe…I should spar with someone else tomorrow, just to see how much.”
“Hey, rumor says that Hilde’s coming back tomorrow, you can spar with her.”
“Mmm…” Cat said, shuffling her feet to a stop. She didn’t say anything for a bit. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess I’m looking forward to that. Thanks, Turi.”
“Of course. If you need anything else, just stop by the stables.” He waved to her as he turned down the road to continue to his own apartment. “If you’re still feeling down…How about I take you on Pegasus tomorrow?”
“Ah! I’ll be there for sure!”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=8&sl=623