Over a week passed since I learned of my vault, and I only saw Portentia during my morning martial arts lessons. After the first two days, she had somehow surpassed my meager skill with a quarterstaff by a large margin. I switched back to working with her on hand-to-hand combat, where she still needed significant work, but even there I felt like she was more focused than before. Something had changed for her, and I wasn’t certain what. Portentia always ran out as soon as we finished the lessons, so I didn’t get a chance to talk with her until today. Though she didn’t miss a single one of her jobs, I felt concerned, so I had asked Mila where Portentia was only to find out that she was in her room. When I arrived, Mila somehow announced my presence to Portentia for me, and the door swung open a moment later. Peering into the room, I was surprised to find what appeared to be a crash dummy hanging from the ceiling of the near-empty room. There was a pile of quarterstaves inside, many of which appeared to have significant wear. “Hey. What’s all this?” I asked as I looked around. Portentia still hadn’t bought any furniture for her room except for a lawn chair that was folded against one wall. I supposed that she didn’t really need a bed, since she didn’t sleep, but I would’ve thought she’d at least have a dresser. Did her all of her clothes really fit in the closet?
“Nothing, really. I’ve just been doing some training. What’s up?” replied Portentia. “Well, I haven’t been seeing you around, and Marco mentioned that you never show up for food. Are you doing alright?” I inquired. She shrugged and said, “Yeah. I’m fine. I’ve just been wanting to get better with a staff, so I’ve been training. Mila showed me this sweet program that teaches all kinds of stuff in the employee utilities.” I seemed to remember Jarod mentioning that he did martial training with software as well at some point. I really needed to look into what all was available more, assuming I ever had time. I never did pick up again from where I left off last week. “So nothing’s wrong? You haven’t been having any problems with anyone here, right?” I asked, wanting to be certain. “Oh, master. Portentia hasn’t had time to have problems. Between jobs and her morning practices, Portentia’s trained for over one hundred and forty hours.” explained MIla. I did a double-take between the time displayed on the nearby mirror and Portentia. “I must admit that’s a bit much to wrap my head around. Care to show me how you’ve progressed?” I asked. She flipped up a nearby staff at me with her foot and smiled, but I tossed it to the side as quickly as I caught it. Then I told her “I know you have me beat. I was thinking of seeing if Ai or Mai is up for giving you a challenge.”
Portentia frowned at me and said, “I really don’t think they like me too much.” I wanted to argue at first, but I realized I never even considered that they might not. Portentia was a very sincere, well-meaning girl. I didn’t see what there was to dislike. “I know the twins can be a handful, but they really are great girls. I doubt they’ll mind sparring a bit.” I told her, trying to be encouraging. There was only so much a person could learn without facing a real opponent. The twins were very clever fighters and a match for Portentia’s speed and strength, so she wouldn’t have to hold back. Portentia was hesitant, but she consented. When I asked, Mila brought up the twins on the mirror in Portentia’s room for me. “James, where are you?” asked Ai with Mai staring over her shoulder. They were in their war room, or so I still called their office. “At home. I was wondering if one of you would be up for sparring with Portentia a bit. She’s been learning how to fight with a staff, and I really can’t help her at all anymore.” I explained. The twins glanced at one another before saying, “What’ll you do for us?”, in unison. Their grins looked entirely wicked, which didn’t help with me attempting to convince Portentia that they were actually nice. I hesitated for a moment before asking “What do you want?”
They pretended to consider for a few seconds before Mai said, “You haven’t taken us shopping for a while. Seems like you still owe us some clothes from that time we saved you at Aaliyah’s birthday party.” I had totally forgotten about that and suddenly felt a bit guilty, considering how expensive the designer clothes they had bought for me were. “Oh. Right. Sorry about that. If you want, I’ll even see if Jarod wants to tag along.” I offered. Looking shocked, Ai asked “You think Jarod would want to shop?” Mai grinned at her and added “That does sound like fun.” Then they looked at me and exclaimed “Agreed!” Poor Jarod. I really doubted he’d want to go shopping, but I was pretty sure he was interested in one of the twins. Convincing him to come along shouldn’t be too hard. Portentia and I agreed to meet the twins in their gym shortly and started heading that way, chatting some as we went. I was still caught up on the idea of spending a majority of my week on something as grueling as martial training. I was partly envious that Portentia could pull that off, since I would drop dead if I attempted it. Mostly, I doubted that I’d have the mental fortitude for it even if my body could handle it. I was simply too… lazy. Unmotivated? Something along those lines.
Catching a strange shadow in the corner of my eye, I jumped backward, stumbling into Portentia. I quickly took a fighting stance as I looked around. “Whoa. What’s wrong?” asked Portentia as she looked around. My heart was racing, but I couldn’t see anything at first. Then I realized what I had seen. “Sorry. I never noticed this painting before.” I replied, feeling uneasy as I looked at the depiction of a man with wild eyes appearing lost in the woods. All of the shadows in every tree reminded me of Death’s daughter, that terrifying figure who gave me nightmares for over a month. There actually was a time when I’d had the motivation to practice constantly, and I’d never quite forget it. I took a couple deep breaths and started walking with Portentia quickly returning to my side, staring worriedly at me. “James, what’s wrong?” she asked, grabbing my shoulder and pulling me to face her. I took a couple deep breaths as I stared into her eyes. She was obviously really concerned, and I could easily understand why. I remembered all too well how Emma’s eyes looked for that month, completely void of cheer… of hope. “I once met Death’s daughter, and even a portrayal of her sends me back to that moment.” I confessed.
Portentia stared at me for a moment and then started laughing. “Oh, please. You really had me going there for a moment.” she told me. “I’m not joking.” I replied, feeling a bit hurt that she’d doubt me. “That’s just an old wives’ tale. Death’s daughter isn’t real.” claimed Portentia. “I wish that were true, though she saved my life. Just by lifting her scythe, she made an entire pride of werelions disappear.” I explained. Portentia stared at me dubiously, but her face eventually softened. “What do you mean by ‘disappear’? If she saved your life, then what’s the problem?” she asked. I took another deep breath before telling her “The werelions had just killed a close friend of mine and were charging at me. Then she appeared and they all vanished without a trace. I was far too scared at the time to even move, but the area was searched afterwards. The twins didn’t see them run. They were just gone. I could barely even sleep for over a month after I saw her, and I never want to see her again. Reaper images don’t do her horrific appearance justice, but they bring back the memories all too well.” Portentia finally looked serious as she told me “I knew a vampire who claimed to have seen her once. I always thought he was pulling my leg. I’ll have to apologize if I ever see him again. I… I’m really sorry, James.” I really appreciated the hug she gave me then. I needed it. I didn’t realize I had been crying until she wiped my face with her sleeve.
When we finally made our way into the gym, Ai said, “Wow. I thought you two were standing us up. You were the ones to ask us, remember.” I started when someone squeezed my hand, but I smiled when I saw Alma staring up at me. There was concern in her eyes. “The girls told me that you wanted to see your student face one of them, so I thought I’d watch as well.” stated Alma, her violet eyes staring into me. “Just drop that by the door. We’ll both use one of these,” said Mai as she handed Portentia what appeared to be a quarterstaff made out of metal. “That seems a little unfair to me. The weight will be totally different.” I protested. Portentia winked at me and said, “It’s fine. I’m a bit stronger than I look.” Then she started maneuvering the staff around her body with surprising speed. “Those staves are actually enchanted, James. They’re much lighter than you’d expect, and they won’t break easily. Mai and Portentia would destroy the most flexible wooden ones within seconds of fighting if they don’t hold back.” explained Alma, easing my mind even more. Her hand had a pleasant warmth to it that also helped me calm down, but the fight itself helped the most.
Portentia and Mai started feinting and parrying one another at a slow, easy-to-follow tempo, but their speed started to increase more and more as the seconds passed. Before long, I could hardly keep up with the motions of their arms and legs, much less the movement of the staves. I was thankful when Alma casted a spell to muffle the noise, because the noise from the rapid succession of strikes was merging into a single, deafening sound. Even with the muffling effect, the sudden silence surprised me, especially when I realized Mai had flown into a wall. She was back on her feet in a blur of motion, and I couldn’t tell if the blow had even slowed her. Minutes passed, and the insane buzz of strikes continued unabated. Then, as suddenly as the first time, the sound ceased, but Mai managed to swing her body around to kick off the wall, hurling herself back into the fight. I wasn’t sure how much time had passed when I realized that Mai was tiring out. I was starting to catch more and more of her motions. The two broke off, staring past me as the sound of someone clapping came from behind me. I turned to find that Aaliyah was clapping while holding a black staff, slightly taller than me, supported between her arms. “Why am I not surprised to find that you have that?” stated Alma as she gazed at the little girl. With wide eyes, Aaliyah shrugged.