“Two hundred thirty two… two hundred thirty three,” Theo said as he counted. “two hundred thirty four.”
William gritted his teeth as he finished another push up. Theo was sitting on his back as the sun slowly rose from the East. It had been two months since William had started his training under Owen’s tutelage and the desired changes in his body were starting to take place.
The red-headed boy looked at the rising sun for a brief moment before he resumed his morning training.
“Two hundred fifty.” Theo grinned. “Morning quota reached. Good job, Will.”
“Theo, is it just me or have you become heavier as of late?” William asked as his friend slid off from his back.
“It’s just you,” Theo replied as he stretched his arms and waist. “Now, go. Don’t keep Owen waiting.”
William shook his head helplessly as he waved his friend goodbye.
“Mama, Let’s go.”
Ella, who was lying not far away from William, stood up and ran beside him. The two of them sprinted towards the Ourobro that was guarding the main gate of Lont.
Currently, the bracers on his wrists weighed 70 kg (154 lbs) each, but that didn’t stop William from running to his destination at full speed. Owen had taught him a lot over the past two months and that included some breathing exercises that helped him preserve his strength.
When he neared the Ourobro, he found Owen drinking a cup of coffee as he sat waiting for William.
“Done with your routine?” Owen asked.
“Yes,” William replied as he sat opposite him.
The young boy then piled up some sausages and eggs onto his plate and started to eat his breakfast. Owen continued to drink his coffee as he stared towards the East. “It has only been two months, but you’ve managed to get used to the training bracers on your wrists.”
William listened to Owen’s words and felt proud of his accomplishments. It had not been easy. Everyday he felt as if he was carrying a full-grown bull on his shoulders. Owen had seen his progress and was quite satisfied with his performance.
“Since you have already passed the basic requirements of a fighter, it is time for you to take your training to the next stage,” Owen stated as he placed the empty coffee cup on top of the table. “After you finish your breakfast, go to the center of the Silent Forest. Your next instructor is waiting for you there.”
“Um?” William raised his head to look at Owen. “You’re not the one that is going to train me?”
Owen smirked. “I don’t have a lot of free time to train a brat like you. Your grandpa only asked me to help build your stamina and prepare your body for the training that was to come.”
William frowned, but he still nodded his head. “Who is going to be my new instructor?”
“Someone who is stricter than me,” Owen replied. “He’s a man of few words, but his skill is the real deal. You better be careful, William. That person doesn’t know the meaning of holding back.”
William nodded his head. “Thank you, Owen, for everything.”
“You can thank me by getting stronger,” Owen smiled. “I am getting old. It’s time for the new generation to step up and carry our burdens.”
“What kind of burdens?” William asked in curiosity.
“The burden of satisfying the beautiful young ladies of course.” Owen looked at William as if he was looking at someone stupid. “Why did you think I trained you to raise your stamina? It would be embarrassing if you are one of those quick shots who can’t even hold it in for five seconds.”
William spat out milk he was drinking and started coughing. The red-headed boy completely forgot that Owen was someone who liked to boast about his prowess in love-making. He felt bitter at the thought that the old man only trained him in order to not become a quickshot.
“It was just a joke,” Owen chuckled. “But, I was not joking about your next instructor. Be careful, William. You might just accidentally die if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings.”
William wiped his mouth with a handkerchief before standing up from his chair. “I’m off. Once again, thank you for everything.”
William bowed to show his respect for the Life Magus who had trained him for two months. Although it was short, Owen did a good job in strengthening his body through rigorous training.
“Go.” Owen shooed him away with a hand. “Don’t keep him waiting. Also, Ella, stay here. You’re not allowed to accompany William.”
“You should also start your training. Don’t you want to protect William?”
“Good.” Owen stood up. “Follow me.”
Ella nuzzled William, and the latter gave her a brief hug before the two of them parted ways. There was no need to exchange any words between the two of them. Both of them wanted to become strong, and this was the perfect opportunity to do that.
The Silent Forest was located two miles away from the South of Lont. Like the name suggested, the forest was eerily silent. You could not hear the sound of birds, beasts, or even insects from within this forest. It was a forest devoid of living things with the exception of plants and trees.
William had been here once in the past when James took him to look for special herbs. Although this forest had no living animals and insects within, it was rich in flora and was a good place to look for rare herbs that grew in the wild.
Owen had told him that his instructor was waiting for him at the center of the forest, so William thought that he just needed to head to the clearing that the locals of Lont refer to as “Hoia”.
Along the way, the only sound that William heard was his own footsteps. For some reason, it unnerved him.
Then it happened…
The whistling of wind whispered in William’s ears. A few seconds later he felt a searing pain hit his back. He staggered forward and almost dropped to the ground when another whistling sound reached his ears.
William didn’t know what was happening, but his body moved on reflex and dodged to the side. It was at that moment when he saw an arrow passing mere inches from his left shoulder. The arrow hit the tree trunk before bouncing off a few meters away from him.
One quick glance and William recognized it as a blunt arrow usually used for hunting small game like rabbits and squirrels.
Before William could even understand what was happening, more whistling sounds echoed through the forest.
The red-headed boy immediately hid behind a tree as several blunt arrows harmlessly bounced off its bark.
“Who are you?!” William roared. “Why are you attacking me?! Are you my new instructor?”
William perked his ears to listen to a reply, however, none came. Instead, he heard another whistle, but this time, it sounded different.
The shepherd didn’t dare to move from his hiding place because he thought that he was safe as long as he stayed in place.
What happened next proved him wrong.
A loud clap was heard as the tree that William used as a shield exploded before his eyes. A shockwave formed and it sent the young boy slamming into another tree without knowing what happened.
William felt his entire body aching, but his instinct screamed at him to run. He immediately activated his movement technique, Heavenly Phantasm, that he learned from the Disciple of Thunder.
The shepherd planned to leave the forest in order to escape from whoever it was that was attacking him. However, the attacker, hidden in the shadows, didn’t allow him to have his way.
Several explosions that almost tore William in half prevented him from realizing his goal. Left with no other choice, William changed directions and ran towards the center of the forest where his “instructor” would be waiting for him.
On that day, the Silence of the Forest was broken as William ran for his life. Whenever he heard any kind of sound-be it a whistle or a subtle hiss-he would immediately zigzag between the trees in an attempt to use them as shields.
As William drew closer to his destination, the more intense his feeling of dread became. It was as if he was still inside the Trial of Courage and he was fighting against the Cyclops on his own. Only this time, without his powers.
The young boy didn’t understand why he was feeling this way. He clearly knew that his opponent was a human and yet, it felt as if he was facing off against a Millennial Beast that specialized in long range attacks.
Usually, it only took two hours on foot to reach the center of the forest. However, several hours had passed, and yet, William had still not reached his destination. More like, he had lost his sense of direction because of the consecutive attacks that forced him to evade repeatedly.
Without knowing which way was which, William was forced into a battle of attrition against his unknown assailant. However, in this battle, the shepherd was on the losing side.
Due to his current situation, he was forced to use his physical abilities to their limits. He ran, he jumped, he dodged, he rolled, he did everything in his power to prevent himself from getting hit by the arrows that seemed to have a life on their own.
Finally, everything became dark as the sun set in the West. William was very exhausted, and hungry. The sound of his stomach growling echoed in the forest. He didn’t had any time to take a break to eat anything. the only thing he managed to do was to drink some water from the water flask inside his storage ring.
In order to avoid getting hit, William had focused all his concentration on his sense of hearing, and didn’t care of anything else aside from evading the merciless attacks that came from various directions.
Before he knew it, he collapsed on the ground panting. His body had finally reached its limit. He tried to prop himself off the ground, but his body refused to move. It was then when William heard the familiar sound of the whistling wind and then… darkness descended upon him as he lost consciousness.
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