-Somewhere in the world-
The entity woke up and began rampaging. It was trapped within a large container of some sort, sealed with powerful magic.
Using what little mana it had accumulated from the summoning, the entity lashed out at the side of the container, barely scratching it.
It did not know how many days or years it had slept, but whoever sealed it knew what it was, and knew what they were doing.
The container’s seals prevented the entity from dematerializing back into Lagus. It also siphoned the entity’s essence, using its powers to reinforce the magic seals that were undoubtedly designed to keep spirits in check.
The seals did not deter it though. With every summon attempt from its master, the entity is strengthened. The master’s natural mana reinforcing its own strength, breaking apart the prison piece by piece from the inside.
Having exerted all its strength, the entity fell silent. It would wait for the next summoning before continuing with its undertakings.
-Somewhere else in the world-
A man was rushing down the hall of a castle, heading somewhere with haste.
“My lord!” He shouted, seeing the person he was looking for.
“What’s the rush?” A man dressed in an array of colors asked.
“It’s shaking again, my lord!”
“Not again! Go get the mages!” The lord shouted with irritation.
With haste, the lord ran through the castle, heading toward his family vault.
As soon as he opened the vault doors, he saw the cause of the problem.
A long wooden box: intricately carved and covered with inscribed runes and sealed with innumerable unknown enchantments. The box was seamless and there was no means of opening it.
Although it was made of wood, the long box neither burned nor break. Even destruction magic had no impact on it.
It was his house’s treasured possession, the Iesian Box, and it was now shaking erratically.
The first time it started trembling was half a year ago in the middle of Soqu, but now it was as if the box was trying to break itself open. The two ends were jumping off the floor, hitting things within the room and moving irregularly.
Ever since his ancestors fifteen generations ago obtained it from a merchant, the box had never been recorded to do anything like that.
Having grown up hearing that the runes and magic sealing the long box were to keep a demon inside, when it first began to tremble, they gathered their mages to ready up for battle, but the quivering quickly died down and the box went back to normal.
Today would be the eleventh time it’s happened, and looked as if the box would really crack or blow open.
He watched with trepidation as a group of six mages entered the vault.
“My lord, please stay back!” One of the mages yelled out.
The lord took a few steps back and watched as the mages circled the heirloom.
Before they could even start invoking a spell, the box stopped quivering.
“Too slow!” A man shouted. *Thwack!* the sound of a practice sword hitting leather armor.
He was sparring with a younger man that was in his mid-twenties.
The man had short gray hair and sported a well-trimmed full beard. Not wearing a shirt, his many deeds could be seen scrawled all over his upper body as scars. Stab wounds, cuts, gashes, and burns, each with a story to tell. Although he was already in his fifties, his body was in its prime: rippling with muscle and toned with decades of arduous training and hard work.
His sweaty body glistened in the afternoon sun as he moved about, stepping methodically to evade the attacks coming at him. He fought with a blunt metal sword while holding his left hand behind his back.
His opponent was out of breath but he moved with finesse and vigor.
They were fighting in a separate area of the training yard away from the others. A circle of spectators had gathered, hollering at the exhibition.
He twisted his upper body at an angle to evade a diagonal slash. Holding his sword sideways, he parried a strike and slashed at the younger man’s shoulder. *Shick!*
“Don’t let the sword sway you out of position!” He bellowed, taking a stance.
Grasping the sword with both hands, the younger man quickly turned around to face him again. “YAAAHH!!” Shouting, the man lunged in for an overhead strike.
Without moving, he swiped at the young man’s sword, effortlessly knocking it out of the younger man’s hands.
“Grasp your sword tightly! Your life depends on it!” He barked, seeing how easy it was to disarm the man.
“*hah…* captain, can’t we stop? *hah….*” The younger man asked, catching his breath. “My hands are sore and we’re all tired.”
“You ladies all burnt out? Can’t handle an old man’s sword?” He jeered. There were two others who were already exhausted and slouching against a wall.
The sound of laughter from spectators echoed around them.
“Next time we’re hunting drakalls, I’m putting you all at the front!” he shouted, trying to fire them up.
“You all better start moving guys, the captain will seriously do it.” Someone jokingly added from the audience.
Captain Zikale grinned, keeping his eyes closely upon the three as he carefully evaluated their year of progress.
For a whole year the recruits had been learning how to fight while doing menial jobs for the company. Usually risk-free, they had always been under the watchful eyes of those more experienced. Nut now, it was that time again. Fighting them head on would allow him to understand their progress and their abilities, which would determine the kind of jobs that he will be assigning them and ultimately to see if they could be elevated to full-fledged mercenaries ready for combat or not.
“AGAIN!” He screamed, his grin widening.
Although this was already the 5th team he’d evaluated ever since breakfast, his fighting spirit continued to flare without end and his muscles ached for more.
One of the two by the wall grabbed a practice sword and walked toward him, eyes burning with new flames.
“Good! COME!” He shouted.
“Captain!” Someone yelled out, unceremoniously interrupting them.
“What?!” He roared back, halting the fight as a woman broke into the encircled arena.
“There’s someone here to see you.” The messenger replied with a crafty grin.
From amidst of the spectators behind the woman, he detected a killing aura and barely caught the blurs of a shadow moving toward him. Zikale quickly pushed the messenger aside and stepped forward with his left foot, bracing himself to receive the incoming attack with a quick chant.
*CLANG!* the sound of metal exploded as their swords clashed.
He blocked his assailant’s attack, but had to reinforce his own body with mana to withstand the strength of the blow. He grinned, seeing the person who had attacked him.
The spectators around them drew their weapons, ready to intervene. A few others stood and watched with smiles on their face.
“Were you trying to kill me with that practice sword? Or pat me on the shoulder?” He bellowed with a smile.
Standing three fingers width taller and staring at him straight in the eyes, was Troyle.
He’d not seen the man for over a decade, but the defining features were there: Fiery red hair and a sharp handsome face, along with the usual disrespect of a surprise attack.
“Is it just me, or are your arms shaking old man?” His attacker replied with a smirk.
“Picking on me now that I’m an old man? Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten that I used to beat you bloody with one hand tied behind my back.”
“Those were fun times. Allow me to return the favor, Captain.” Troyle returned a devious grin.
Upon hearing what Troyle called him, their many spectators slowly sheathed their weapons.
“HAH! And I will still beat you bloody! I’ll just be using two hands to do it this time!” Zikale retorted. With a quick incantation, he forced Troyle back with an empowered push.
“Resorting to magic?” Troyle countered, jumping back with the push.
“I’m an old man. Remember?” It was his turn to give a grin, pointing his practice sword at the man he was once training to take his position.
“It’s good to see you again, Captain.” Troyle replied with a grin.
“You too. I heard from Dalzak that you’d be bringing the family around one of these days. Glad to see you, but where’s the family?” He replied cordially.
“Kaidus!” Troyle shouted.
Zikale watched as a young boy with short black hair and piercing dark eyes came through the circle of spectators. The boy walked calmly to stand beside Troyle, staring straight at him without paying any attention to those around them.
“Adalina and my daughter are over there.” Troyle pointed to where they were standing with the spectators. “Captain, this is my son Kaidus.” Troyle spoke proudly, introducing the boy. “Kaidus, meet Zikale Lorvak, one of the greatest swordsmen I’ve ever known.”
“Kaidus huh? It’s a great name.” Zikale replied with a warm smile, walking toward Troyle and the boy.
“Nice to meet you. Thank you for looking after my parents.” The boy greeted him and made a gracious bow.
Kaidus pulled his gaze from the old man, having seen that the man did not recognize him from their previous encounter.
The last time he saw Zikale Lorvak, the man was clad in armor from head to toe. The man in front of him now was an old man with no shirt on, and was only wearing pants. Yet, the old man stood with a domineering posture and walked with a stride that commanded respect.
He felt the magic that the old man used against Troyle earlier. He knew that the captain was not a powerful mage, but from what little he saw, he could tell that the man was a master of using what little capacity he had to the utmost.
With an underwhelming amount of mana, the old man was using his magic in bursts, only reinforcing his body with the most crucial timings.
It was far from the style he himself fought with: sustaining powerful magic and overwhelming his opponents with his immeasurable strength.
“Kaidus, remember what I said?” Troyle spoke.
“Yes, father.” He replied calmly. Inside, he was filled with excitement and anticipation.
“Captain, my son’s been wanting to meet you for a very long time. He also wishes to join the Droxxon Mercenaries to learn as I did.” Troyle looked around. “Uresa tells me you were breaking in the recruits from the previous year. I know you’re probably tired, but would it be alright if you tested him too?” Troyle asked without worry. In contrast, his tone gave off a very confident vibe.
“Really?” The old man’s eyes widened in surprise and his mouth curved into a smile at Troyle’s words. “Have you been teaching the boy the sword?”
“The Formless Blades Style, for the past year.”
“Hahahaha! Just like the mercenary customs!” Captain Zikale laughed heartily. It was as if Troyle had been teaching the boy for this exact reason. He had heard about Troyle’s son from Dalzak and Vick already and would happily welcome the boy but as Captain, he could not favor the young boy because of his affiliation with Troyle.
“So, he wants to join us is it? Hmmm… He’s a little young…” The captain pretended to ponder about it. “Let’s see… If he can land a clean hit on me, I’ll allow it. If not, bring him back in a couple years.” Zikale replied with a grin, not allowing his intentions to be visible. He wanted to test the boy’s skills before making a verdict out loud.
A commotion could be heard as the spectators who were watching the tests started clamoring into discussions. Some laughed at the thought of a boy landing a hit onto their captain who had been fighting all morning without getting struck by any of the others.
Those who laughed did not know the man named Troyle. Those who knew, silently watched with curious eyes.
Troyle turned to his son with a grin. “You heard him Kaidus. One good hit.” He then turned to Zikale. “Captain, I implore you to not let your guard down.” Troyle quickly advised before moving back to stand with Adalina and Anise.
“Tell me young man, why do you want to be a mercenary?” Captain Zikale asked, looking at Kaidus.
“I require the practical experience and knowledge that cannot be found in the city and books.”
“Really? Has your father never told you about the dangers? Being a mercenary is not for everyone, especially a young boy like you who’s barely off his mother’s teats.”
“I am aware of the dangers.” Kaidus calmly replied, not getting pulled into the old man’s provocations.
“Keheheh! Is that so?” Zikale could see the calm determination in the boy’s eyes. “Alright then, let’s see what your father has taught you.” He took a few steps back to put some distance between them. “Begin whenever you want.” He smiled inside. If the child was anything like Troyle, he was in for a treat.
How wrong he was.
In the instant the boy moved, the boy’s presence vanished. Like his father, the child moved like lightning. Zikale blinked, and the child was upon him, cutting upward with the smaller practice swords. Zikale hastily brought down his sword to block the attack. His quick reflexes and physique barely helping him to stop the boy’s blade.
His eyes widen in surprise, as a second slash followed the boy’s first, knocking his sword upward and breaking his guard.
His mind shouted and he took a quick step back. He quickly lowered his body’s center of gravity into a defensive stance.
It was no surprise to him that a practitioner of the Formless Blades Style could use Rising Talon, but to be able to elevate the skill to Twin Fangs was something else.
Leagues above the difficulty of Rising Talon, the skill required excellent control of both weapons and the body, so as not to be pulled by the weight of the initial strike. The skill consists of Rising Talon and a secondary upward attack with the left sword. If the surprise of the first strike could not do the job, the devastating second attack would surely finish it.
‘So this is why you were so confident.’ Zikale thought about Troyle’s attitude.
The attacks were also quite heavy and unlike that of a young boy. His first assessment had been way off.
‘The wolf’s son is not another wolf, but a ferocious drakall.’ Zikale thought to himself as the boy darted in for another attack.
With his two initial attacks blocked, Kaidus quickly twisted his swords around into a reverse grip. His surprise attack had startled the captain, but with the new stance the old man took, it would not work a second time.
He charged in again.
Swinging his right sword in a diagonal arc from the side, his opponent easily parried it upward. He spun around stabbing with the left sword and the old man rapidly stepped away to evade it. Using the spin, he kicked out with his right foot but was easily blocked by his opponent’s free hand.
He caught a grin on the old man’s face after his kick was stopped.
Kaidus kicked away from the old man.
He changed his grip again to a normal grip and stood calmly with his two swords pointing down.
In the audience, Troyle grinned.
“Was that all?” Zikale goaded.
Suddenly an intense killing aura began emanating from the child and he felt cold sweats running down his back. The boy’s presence vanished again, and a blur came at him.
“GUH!” He grunted.
Scrambling, Zikale oscillated his upper body backward, evading the first horizontal slash. Taking two quick steps to his right, he barely managed to dodge another.
It was too close.
The sound of a sword cutting through the air came from his right side and Captain Zikale instantly closed his mind and allowed his fighting instincts to take over.
Lifting his blade, he barely blocked the attack. Spinning around, he managed to deflect another strike from the back. Not wanting to get caught in the boy’s pace, he slashed his sword sideways in order to break the child’s flurry of attacks but missed as another attack came at him from the front. Hastily contorting him upper body, he barely managed to block it in time.
“How much did you teach him Troyle?!” He shouted angrily, barely successful in his struggle to avoid getting hit. He was glad for all the times he had spent sparring with those of the Formless Blades Style.
The child had just unleashed a blade-form skill: Scarlet Wings. A deadly maneuver that incorporated extreme agility to aggressively attack the foe from all sides. It was called Scarlet Wings, because of the speed which made it look as if the attacker was flying about the target, splashing wings of blood with each slash. It would leave the victim in a pool of their own blood, bleeding to death if they weren’t lucky enough to die during the dance.
In a battle of equals, there was no true counter to the maneuver except to wait for the opponent to run out of energy.
The child was far from his equal, but he could do nothing but defend and bide his time against the fleet-footed boy.
Kaidus continued his flurry of strikes against the old man, relentlessly attacking from every angle he could. He moved like the wind to avoid getting caught, stepping into the old man’s blind spots, moving erratically so as not to be predictable.
It was the beauty of the formless blades style. Conforming and adapting to every little change during the battle, moving with finesse and agility that overwhelmed the opponents and whittling them down without leaving any room for retaliation.
Yet try as he might, he was coming up short of landing a clean hit against the man. His small legs were not keeping up with his thoughts, and the swords were slowly weighing him down little by little.
“Everything! Watch yourself Captain!” He heard Troyle shout, answering the old man’s question.
Kaidus quickly jumped away to stand at a distance again, seeing his attacks were barely missing their marks.
“Ha… Truly your father’s son.” Zikale spoke, taking a breather.
He had managed to barely avoid or defend against the boy’s attacks. It was like fighting against someone who’d been learning the style all their life. His only advantage was his longer reach and legs which were able to move him out of the boy’s range easily. One step for him was at least two for the boy.
Kaidus calmed himself and switched his left sword into a reverse grip before dashing at the old man again with a new plan in mind.
He rushed forward and threw his right sword at the man’s head. The sword was quickly deflected and sent flying. Kaidus jumped up and slashed upward with his remaining sword. The old man twisted his own sword down and blocked the attack. Following the block, Kaidus attempted to knee the old man in midair, but his knee got caught by the old man’s free hand.
Correctly judging that old man had enough strength in the single arm to support his weight, Kaidus leaned forward to offset his body from falling backwards and grinned. He reached up and caught the sword he threw earlier, instantly planting it straight down into the man’s shoulder as he leaned forward.
The match was over. The objective had been accomplished.
Zikale stared blankly in surprise at the boy’s aerial maneuver and the calculated attack.
He had tried everything to not be careless after the shocking opening, but he did not expect the child to throw his weapon. In his surprise, he deflected it but that had worked against him.
His mind quickly played through what just happened.
The weapon was thrown from a low angle with a forward spin to it. When he mindlessly deflected it, the spin shot it upward. It was as if the follow up strike and kick were all ruses to divert his attention from noticing the sword in the air.
As if the boy knew that his short arms wouldn’t be able to reach him, and calculated the sword throw into the attack since it was crucial as an extension for a hit.
“Did you already know the outcome?” Zikale asked, astonished at how many steps the young boy was thinking ahead.
He only wanted to test the boy’s resolve and was going to welcome him regardless of getting a hit in or not, but the result was even better than expected.
“The way you were blocking my attacks looked as if you were moving on instinct. I thought maybe it might work, but I didn’t think it would work so well.” Kaidus replied calmly. Inside, he was exhilarated with the outcome.
The audience watched in silence at the indescribable feat that just took place.
Those who were expecting something from Troyle’s son were not disappointed.
“You should have strengthened your attacks more and used magic to help stop my movements to break my defense… Or is it that you can’t use immobilization magic yet?”
“Strengthen? Magic?” Kaidus looked at the man with a puzzled face.
“You weren’t using magic?” Zikale inquired curiously. The attacks had been too devastating for someone so young.
“You weren’t, so I didn’t think I could.”
“PWAHAHAHAA!!” Captain Zikale exclaimed with joy.
Currently sitting in a room were: Captain Zikale, Uresa—the messenger woman, Troyle, Adalina, Kaidus, Anise, and a few others who knew Troyle and Adalina.
Kaidus sat quietly as his parents reminisced with those around them. Anise sat beside him with her eyes drooping, looking exhausted and very different from her usual energetic self.
He was also tired after the long ride from Nultulk and the match earlier, but his mind wandered.
The year had passed uneventfully, and he was thankful for it.
He left the academy soon after telling his parents of his intentions, notifying the headmaster of the impromptu withdrawal.
He had spent the year practicing swordsmanship, occasionally accompanying Troyle to the Varath house, and helping to teach Anise how to read. Overall, just enjoying his time with his family.
He also informed his parents of the black ring with Anise, telling them what it is. Troyle questioned it at first, but ultimately ended up complying with the decision to leave Hasen with Anise.
Excluding Zion who’ll be staying with him, contact with Feziel or Vishan were nonexistent. After a year and a half of his first summon, the two have yet to make an appearance or reply to his call. He was apprehensive about their situation, but there was nothing he can do about it as it is.
He had also sent a letter to Lord Ravon, thanking the kind lord knight commander and notifying him of the withdrawal from the school, returning the sponsorship document with the letter.
He chuckled, recalling Lady Reanne’s surprised face when she and Sylvia came for a visit. Only to see that he was still at home and not at school.
He recalled the many families who had come to him for help, and he worried about the actions of those whom he had refused.
He remembered the now energetic and optimistic Naran whom he ran into while out shopping with his mother and sister.
He slowly closed his eyes and saw the faces of the many people in the 3rd ward whom he had gotten to know over the past nine years.
Exhausted, his eyes closed as he listened to the soothing sound of laughter and stories. Understanding that in a couple of days, his parents and sister will be going back to Ferrent, leaving him here to begin carving his own path in life.
He smiled, remembering the amount of trouble he had to go through to persuade his little sister about the parting.
He felt as Anise’s head tipped onto his shoulder as she fell asleep.
He heard as Adalina giggled, mentioning something about them sleeping before following his sister into peaceful slumber.