9 Footwork and Fools
Renard took a note of how the three looked at his fencing stance. Feet pointed perpendicular from each other, parted shoulder width wide, and knees bent slightly. By doing this, he faced them with a side profile, minimizing any target area an opponent facing him could use.
Of course, this also meant that he had to hold his blade with just one hand, but the rapier was designed exactly for that – lightweight and maneuverable. His other hand he put behind him, pressed firmly on his back.
They didn't quite know what to make of it. Chen scratched his beard, Yun narrowed her eyes, and Ling had the same lack of emotion as always.
"Is this how foreigners fight?" said Yun.
"I wonder." Chen craned his neck forward to more closely examine Renard. "When I saw western soldiers, they used big, broad swords. Like sabers. And a lot of them wore dresses of thick metal that covered them from head to toe."
Renard gave a slow nod. He was familiar with old European martial arts as well. In fact, there was a surprisingly large sporting community even in his modern world that still practiced the rough art of bashing people in armor with broadswords and shields. It was interesting to note that in this world, though, fencing wasn't all that common compared to knights.
"I'm familiar with armor and sword fighting," said Renard. He twirled his rapier, drawing several neat circles in the air in a single, fluid motion. "That's for large scale battles. This – we call it fencing – is specialized for duels."
"Ohhh." Yun's eyes sparkled as she leaned forward, entranced by learning something so new and so useful in her quest to be strong. She tried copying Renard's stance, holding her stick in one hand and assuming a rough approximation of the legwork. She noticed her free hand and raised it up. "Elder brother Renard, what about this hand? Does it do anything?"
Elder brother, huh. Renard figured it was just a title of endearment, nothing that suggested real familial connection.
"Normally, no. You can actually hold a dagger there, but that's going into advanced things that I won't touch on just yet."
"But this arm is useless then!" protested Yun.
"Not useless." Renard shifted towards Yun, facing her directly. "If you try and hit me, you only have one real target – and that's my upper body, which I'm protecting with my sword. Say that I have my other hand out, though, and that just turns into an extra target."
"Hm, I see." Yun nodded several times, letting the info soak into her head.
"Sounds good to me." Chen waved around his one arm. "Feels like this style was made for me, hah!"
"There's actually a lot more legwork involved than the arms," Renard said. "Try and copy my stance everyone."
As expected, all of them were awkward. Chen bent his knees too much, like he was taking some kind of kung-fu stance. Yun did surprisingly well, but her feet were way too far apart. Ling did the worst: her stick pointed more towards the ground than her hypothetical target, and her feet faced in ungodly angles that most definitively was not perpendicular.
They weren't to blame – a fencing stance was inherently unnatural. Most people intuitively wanted to have a wider stance and hold their swords with two hands. The more of their body they used, the more comfortable they felt, and fencing was all about maximizing speed with minimal body usage.
"A decent start. I know it feels strange, but bear with me." Renard stepped forwards. A typical fencing advance was tiny, a little shy of a single footstep. "This is called an advance. Doing this in reverse is called a retreat. If fencing is all about speed, then it's these two moves that form the foundation for it."
Chen and Yun tried advancing with difficulty. Chen didn't have any grace – he was less advancing and more stomping his way forwards, wasting significant time and energy. Yun was the opposite. Too shy. She practically crawled up. Ling, well, she was all over the place, lacking any sort of basic coordination.
"Keep advancing and retreating," said Renard. He broke his stance and walked over to the three. "And I'll go ahead and help you guys out."
Renard got Chen to relax himself. That took unnecessary power out of his legs and let him shorten his wide steps. As for Yun, she just needed another demonstration from Renard, and she got the form down pretty well. Ling took a little more effort and learned best with hands on corrections. Whenever her feet faced awkwardly or she advanced a little too far or little, Renard would correct her, and, surprisingly, she just needed one correction to memorize the right way to do things. Her movements were oddly mechanical, as if she was copy pasting Renard's, but that was good enough.
[Host has continued to help others and become a target for their positive emotions. Passive abilities unlocked.]
[Saint unlocked – Massively enhances host's ability to help others so long as he helps within his areas of expertise.]
[Sword unlocked – The host is compatible with all types of energy, whether it be magic, Qi, or divine power.]
For once, it was obvious what the system had done for him, and Renard could see that it didn't lie to him. All three of his disciples had improved by leaps and bounds. Chen's rigid and lumbering movements smoothed down, sanded by some supernatural force. Now he could assume a stance without much difficulty and it no longer looked like he was trying to shatter the ground with his feet every time he advanced or retreated.
Chen still had a stiffness to his movements, but Renard estimated it would have taken a month or two to have gotten to this point without the system. Ling, strangely, did not improve much. Once she had memorized the movements, she had been able to replicate them with mechanical precision, and that hadn't changed.
Yun, on the other hand, was incredible.
She held a natural grace to her, a fluid agility that showed in all of her movements, from the delicate way she flicked her wrist to control her stick, the way her balance moved from her front and back feet like the ocean's tides: controlled and yet full of natural beauty.
There were still edges to her movements, a few kinks here and there to work out, but Renard fully expected her to be at an advanced level within a month.
"I think I'm getting the hang of this." Chen practiced an advance and retreat pattern again. "Looks like old dogs can learn new tricks, eh? But for sure I can't match the strapping junior here." He waved his stick at Yun, and she stopped her movements, looking shyly away.
"I don't know," she said. "It feels like something all of a sudden clicked in my head, and then I knew what to do."
"That's talent." Chen shrugged. "Talent that Li couldn't find."
Yun bowed to Renard. "Once again, thank you for being willing to teach us."
"It's my pleasure." Renard smiled. This must have been the feeling his coach felt when he saw his students improve. A sort of fatherly appreciation that his lesson had made a huge, appreciable change in someone's life. "At this rate, I can teach you three to have bouts and duels in just a few days."
"How about now?"
Renard grimaced as he saw Li stroll over.
"Not smiling, foreigner?" said Li. He looked over Renard's disciples and snorted. "So this is how you westerners fight? What feminine nonsense. This-" Li unsheathed his saber, held it in both hands, and hammered it down into the ground, cleaving out a deep indent in the hardy earth. "Is what true power is."
"That's power, alright, but that-" Renard pointed over to the villagers under Li's watch. Many of them had collapsed in bloody heaps, too tired to keep fighting. The few remaining were dueling while running on fumes, hitting each other with slow and weak blows. "Is not how you teach it."
"He's right," chimed in Chen. "I've learned more today than I have in the whole year you've been around."
"Of course the exiled criminal would side with the foreigner." Li shrugged, but Renard could tell his pride had been wounded. "If this foreigner truly taught well, then he could best me in a duel. But you won't challenge me, will you? Because you know you stand no chance. You're a charlatan – nothing more."
"That's not true!" Yun said, her hand balling into a fist. "He's a far better teacher than you ever were, and he actually cares about what we do. He's better than you in every way. As a teacher and as a person."
"But not as a warrior," snarled Li. He pointed at Renard with his saber, his temper and wounded pride finally getting the better of him. "I'll show you idiots that this foreigner has nothing of worth to teach. Come on, foreigner, why don't we have a friendly duel? I'll be generous and not use any of my cultivation techniques, because I know they're far beyond your ability to grasp."
Chen acted quickly. He saw Renard tensing up and put his hand on his shoulder.
"It's fine. You do not have to fight this hotheaded fool, for you have nothing to prove. Your teaching today is proof enough of your superiority."
Renard knew he had nothing to prove, but he still felt tempted to accept the duel. If he won, then maybe he could finally break through Li's superiority complex and get him to listen for once. But Li was far stronger than him even without his cultivation techniques. The fact of the matter was that by cultivating successfully, Li had gained enough raw physical strength to simply beat Renard down regardless of a difference in their swordplay skills.
"Elder brother Renard can fight, I know he can," said Yun. She stared at Li with a fierce intensity, a whole year of abuse under him molding into a hot hate. "He can beat Li, I believe him."
[Hope detected. Converting into energy….]
[Accessing passive ability: sword. Inputting energy into host body.]
Renard felt pain spread through his body again – the same pain that he'd felt before when the system had first emerged. But this time, he could pinpoint where the pain was coming from. It was coming from all of his muscle fibers tearing, binding with powerful mystical energy, and knitting back together wholly new and powerful. It was his bones and joints popping and cracking, tempering itself with supernatural strength.
Li laughed. "Beating me? Look at how this foreigner shakes with pain in my mere presence."
"I'll do it." Renard pointed his rapier at Li. "I'll duel you."
Yun's face beamed in happiness, but Chen tugged at his beard in concern. Through it all, Ling looked on silently, her face blank.
Li raised a brow and smirked.
"It must seem that you are not as much a coward as I thought you were."
Renard shook his head. "I'm not doing this to prove my bravery or my skills as a teacher. I'm confident in who I am and what I can do."
"Is that so? Then let us not delay this duel any further." Li motioned for Renard's disciples to move away. "Back off. You don't want your precious master's blood to stain your clothes."
Renard shook off Li's threats. He knew Li was strong, superhumanly so, but for the first time since he'd come to this world, he too felt strong.