Claude headed for the lake down the alley again. It was deceased that night. He was cautious this time. Last time he'd gotten into a fight, but tonight everyone was hunkered down inside, afraid the phantom might make another appearance, as indeed it now had.
Claude was overwhelmed. He'd tested out both the spells' effects at the shop. He got on the man's counter, cast Featherfall, and jumped. He landed as badly as he could, stomping his feet into the ground, but he didn't make a sound. He cast Projectile Barrier on Hurian, then shot a bolt at him. The bolt curved away just before it hit the old man and slammed into the wall behind him instead.
Claude had to test them out. He didn't do it with Maria's spells since he trusted her. Hurian, however, was a different matter. He smiled when both spells worked. Hurian took the chance to flatter Claude again, saying he'd been waiting for the right person to whom to sell the spells, and had finally found him.
Claude wondered why, however, the barrier spell could stop a bolt, but not a bullet. When he made his question known to the shopkeeper, he laughed. Apparently that was a centuries-old mystery yet to be solved. Even the stronger Energy Barrier couldn't stop a bullet.
The puzzle had been stuck in Claude's mind since he'd left the shop, and he wondered if the velocity of the bullet made it too hard to change its trajectory in the moments the spell had from when it detected the shot a couple metres away, until it struck the target. The thought was intriguing, but his best knowledge of the physics behind ballistics was just a couple forum posts about it, so he had only the vaguest notion of the principle.
It was still his best guess, however, so he decided to just go with it. The two barrier spells didn't so much stop projectiles as redirect them, and he supposed they could only exert a certain amount of force based on their strength. A bullet simple had too much momentum and needed too much force over too short a period of time for the barriers to be able to deflect it. They had little trouble with anything below a firearm, however.
His mind returned to the real world when he came to a halt in the grove. His eyes scanned his surroundings, but no one was there. Something still felt off, however.
Claude's eyes snapped wide open and his mind darted to the alert. The frogs and insects were still playing cat and mouse, or should have been. It was not cold enough to push them into their hiding places. So why could he hear none of their calls?
He darted behind a tree with unnatural speed. His back slammed into the bark just as he heard a trigger's click. It was followed almost instantly by a violent twang and a bolt slammed into the tree right beside his shoulder, actually cutting his sleeve.
A hunting crossbow! Claude recognised it immediately. It was the same kind of bolt and bow displayed in Welikro's home. They'd clearly been targeting him, so who were they?
His first thought was Blacksnake, but they were not known for subtlety. They would have come at him in the middle of the day, in the middle of the street, and made as big a spectacle of it as they could. They did not do quiet, nighttime assassinations.
His eyes darted to the bolt even as his body circled around the tree to put it between him and his attacker. The bolt had come in at a downward angle, though only slightly. This mean the shooter was either far away, or was slightly higher than him. He could not be very far away, since Claude could clearly hear his trigger and twang, so he had to be somewhere above him -- probably the trees.
The leaves had started falling, but the canopy was still thick enough to hide a man well. He took a deep breath, and poked his head out around the tree for a brief moment. The momentary glance was enough for him to catch sight of his assailant. The figure was darted around nimbly on the branches of a tree about ten metres distant.
He yanked his own crossbow out, pulled back on the string with all his might, slipped a bolt into place, and swung around the tree. The figure was still visible through a gap in the canopy, and he levelled his crossbow and let loose. The crossbow slammed back into his hand momentarily and his string twanged as it flung the bolt into the air. A moment later he heard a startled cry.
It was accompanied by a hard thunk as the bolt slammed into wood, however, telling him he'd missed. Luckily he'd not waited to see whether he'd hit his mark, and swung behind the tree as soon as the bolt was loosed, because a hair's breadth after his head vanished back behind the tree, another bolt slammed into it, right where his head had passed.
Claude's hands shook as he pulled back on the string again and shoved another bolt in place. The time between the two shots at least confirmed he was facing only one assailant. The poor bastard was definitely not expecting him to have a Projectile Barrier scroll. A small voice at the back of his mind kept asking why he was being attacked, but now was not the time to wonder, so Claude shut it up quickly.
He cast the barrier on himself, then rushed out of cover, his crossbow loaded and in hand. He heard another twang, and saw the bolt bolting towards him, but it curved away at the last moment and slammed into the same tree again. He had to hand it to his assailant, he had some reload skills. Too bad it meant nothing as long the barrier spell was in play.
"Ugh, damn it!" the figure cursed.
He vanished from the branch on which he'd been perched and descended the tree like a feather. The sight stopped Claude in his tracks. There was no doubt about it, that was Featherfall. His assailant was another magus!
Damn that Hurian! He must have leaked the information he had on Claude!
He raised his crossbow again and pulled the trigger. The bolt curved away much the same as his enemy's had just now. So they were both using barrier and Featherfall spells. This both somewhat simplified and complicated things.
"Damn you, Hurian... You actually sold my spells to this kid..." the figure cursed.
He dropped his bow and drew a shortsword, then charged at Claude.
"You were the one who asked Hurian to sell Projectile Barrier?"
"Of course, kid. Don't think too much. I was outside Hurian's shop drinking when you visited last night. I heard you bought an array's ingredients from him. Aren't you rich? I happen to need one as well. Come, give me yours!"
Moonlight needled through the canopy and one stabbed the man's face. He was dressed in a similar shawl and black robe as Claude himself. He was somewhat taller than Claude, however, and had a much brawnier build. Even worse, he appeared very comfortable with a sword.
Claude didn't panic, however. He dropped his crossbow and got into a comfortable stance. His opponent might have skills with a shortsword, but Claude had two combat spells, two powerful ones.
"You want my array? You'll have to come get it! If you really think you can take my stuff with that piece or rust, then I feel deepest pity for you!"
He knew the man had no intention of sparing his life, so there was no need to try and avoid making him angry. In fact, the angrier he got, the better. Strong emotions silences reason, and made one make mistakes.
He also had no reason to hold back to keep the man alive anymore. He'd already revealed he'd gotten his information from Hurian. And that man knew it as well, so he was definitely not going to let him go alive. It was too easy for Claude to track his identity down now.
Claude raised his hand, and cast Magic Missile. He did it twice in rapid succession, launching the two projectiles at his assailant mere moments apart. But neither did anything. They both hit, but only sparked and popped like old earth balloons.
"Hehe... Hahahaha... Did you think I would come at you without figuring out what spells you had? Come, try again, let's see if you can get through my Energy Barrier this time!"
The masked man continued his charge. Claude shoved himself out of the way just in time, and the enemy's blade bit air. Claude took the moment he was out of his enemy's view to vanish between the trees.
Claude cursed his enemy's thoroughness, but thanked his lucky stars it appeared his opponent didn't have any offensive spells of his own.
The two danced between the trees as the assailant attacked frantically and Claude dodged with all he was worth. He cursed again. Magic Missile was useless as long as the enemy's barrier was up, and he couldn't get a fix on the man to cast Mental Shock, so all he could do was duck between the trees.
Even worse, it didn't appear Claude could tire his assailant out since he seemed to be about as fit as Claude. Claude suspected he would be the first to tire since he was also carrying a twenty-catty rucksack on his back.
"Ki-kid... Give me your stuff... and the formation for Magic Missile... and I'll... let you go..." his assailant huffed.
"Ptooey!" Claude spat.
He was in no better state, but at least he could still stay ahead of his pursuer. That was not to last, however.
His foot caught on a root and he was sent tumbling to the ground. His assailant did not let the chance go by. He was nearly on top of Claude when he hit the ground.
"Let's see where you run now, kid!"