“Ahhh!!!” The girl cried out. Faint traces of magic began emerging around her.
Kaidus quickly grasped what was happening. Swiftly moving to her side, he grabbed Naleen’s shoulders and turned her upward to face him. Although surprised at the sudden development, “You need to focus, Naleen! Calm your mind!” He bellowed, trying to get through to her.
She looked at him with confusion before groaning in pain once more. “Naleen! Listen to–!” He attempted once again, but the girl’s body went limp and flames erupted around them.
“Kuh-!” ‘How troublesome’ He grimaced, retreating as an inferno flared up around the girl. It whirled about, protecting her.
He didn’t know why, but she had awoken. The sudden burst of magic protecting its owner was evidence enough. Although mages rarely lost conscious during the process, all awakenings were different depending on circumstances.
He couldn’t help but stare, wondering if he needed to do something or stand back and watch.
Sensing movement behind him, he turned around to see that a man and woman, both wearing uniforms of the Mystiks guild had jumped onto the stage.
“Move away, boy!” The man shouted.
Kaidus hastily retreated backward, thankful for their arrival.
“… –vasu enarus! Ruziierus!” The woman invoked, bringing her arms up.
A torrent of water suddenly surged forth from her arms. Moving like a serpent, it wrapped itself around the inferno spire. *TTSSSAAAA* a screen of steam quickly covered the stage, impeding their visions. “Sylas!” The woman shouted through the mist.
“…-nua! Azure Gale!!” The man invoked, and a powerful gust descended. Blowing away the steam, it revealed a water cyclone where the fire had been.
The water slowly stopped its rotation and slithered back to the woman who conjured it. “Well done.” The woman spoke, touching it. The serpentine form vanished, and the water splashed down onto the stage.
As quickly as it happened, the fire was gone and everything was calm again.
Within a charred circle on the stage, a young lady was lying unconscious on the ground, sleeping peacefully as if nothing had happened. Parts of her leather armor and clothing were singed, but there were no burns or damages to the girl.
“Are you alright?” The man questioned, arriving at his position with a few quick strides.
“I am. Thank you.” Kaidus replied, offering a thankful nod.
“Good.” With a single word, the man walked past him, moving to check on the girl.
“We’ll take care of it from here. Please go and rest for your next match.” The woman who conjured the water serpent reassured him before moving to join her companion.
“Uh… Contestant Naleen is no longer able to continue. Young Kaidus advances to the final eight!” The announcer shouted awkwardly from the judge’s area.
The audience that had gone quiet over the display of magic went into an uproar.
As he walked to the edge of the stage, a woman ascended the stairs and ran past him. Following her was an imposing man who was giving off a very peculiar aura.
“Naleen! My daughter, is she…”
“Congratulations on your victory, Kaidus.” The man commended, stopping before him.
“Thank you, my lord.” He made a respectful bow to the older man. It was not lord Gelrin the Royal Knight Commander, but the Commander’s son, Huin.
“Your previous matches were quite spectacular. Seeing this one, I want to apologize for Naleen’s lack of skills.”
“Not at all. She was a great opponent.”
“She will be stronger now, thanks to you.” A smile appeared on the lord’s stoic face.
Kaidus smiled. “I’m looking forward to the next time we cross swords again.”
The lord’s grin widened. “I will let her know. Good luck on your upcoming matches.”
“Until next time then.” The lord nodded before walking away to join his wife and daughter.
Without looking back, Kaidus walked off the stage.
Anise pulled him through the crowd.
Many were talking about what they just saw, but others cheered for him as he and his sister made their way away from the stage.
Having already explained what happened on stage to Troyle, he was currently going to the food stalls with his little sister to get a snack.
People surrounded them as they moved toward the back of the audience.
“Kid! You better keep winning!” Someone yelled.
“How old are you?”
“Can you teach me how to fight?” A young boy questioned.
“STOP IT! Stop bothering my brother!” Anise clung onto him, repelling anyone who got too close with her free hand.
“It’s alright, Anise. Just keep walking.” He patted her head, keeping her moving.
After they broke through the spectators, Kaidus took a moment to look at his sister. “It’s been a long day. You’re not tired?”
“Nope.” She grinned, clinging onto his arm and pulling him toward the food stands.
“Well then, what do you want to eat this time?”
“I want qorkos wings again.” She happily answered.
Beyond stage two’s audience, onlookers paid little attention to them, allowing them to reach the food stalls easily.
“Three wings please!” Anise told the cook as their turn arrived.
“That’ll be three and six, little lady.”
“Here.” Kaidus handed two double bits to the man.
“No Kai! I’m paying!” Anise exclaimed, pulling his arm away. Reaching into a concealed pocket on her dress, she pulled out a little pouch. “Two. Four.” She counted before handing the four erns to the man.
“Thank you, and one is your return.” The man gave them a smile, handing back a metallic kui bit before giving them their wings.
Seared on an open flame then cooked in a mixture of thick sweet sauce, the wings were delectable. Anise joyfully nibbled hers, blissfully chewing through bones that had softened to a gelatinous texture as they walked back. Kaidus enjoyed his own while holding onto the extra for Troyle.
The return was less hectic, as many people were engrossed in the current match on stage. Forcing their way through the crowd, they joined Troyle at the front.
“Anise got one for you.” He handed the wing to Troyle.
“What about you two?”
“We ate ours on the way back.”
“I see. Thanks, baby.” Troyle smiled.
“I’m not a baby anymore!” Anise willfully pouted in reply.
On stage, two female contestants were fighting it out. Both looked exhausted, but were fighting with all they’ve got.
“And Marin takes the win! She’ll be advancing to the final eight!” the announcer shouted after one of the women manage to unbalance the other, pinning her down to the ground at sword point.
Workers quickly climbed up onto the stage to clean and prepare it for the next match.
Shortly after, the announcer moved from the judge’s area and got onto the stage, declaring the beginning of the final phase for the competition.
In the final phase, the area of stages three, four, and five are remodeled by mages of the Mystiks guild into a final arena. During that time, stages one and two hosts the final eight—four contestants to each stage—until the last two, who will then ascend the grand arena to have a final match in front of everyone for the title of champion.
The audience began shuffling as more and more people congregated around stage two.
With the audience settled, the announcer once again got on the stage. “Thank you all for waiting! Without further ado, the matches to determine the finalist from stage two will commence!”
The crowd thundered with applause and cheers.
“First one up is the young man who rose through the competition with his amazing speed and skills! Kaidus!”
“I’ll be right back.” Kaidus told his father and sister, making his way toward the stairs once again.
“Win! Kai!” Anise shouted from behind.
“From stage three, a dashing young man who recently attained knighthood. With a lifetime of training and discipline, he represents the Knights! Vion!”
A handsome young man wearing dark leather armor climbed up from the opposite end of the stage, walking toward the middle. There was a red sword painted on his chest, and he held a long but slim one-handed sword.
Stopping a couple paces away, the man simply stared back at him.
“Good evening. Let us have a good match.” Kaidus made a courteous bow.
“Hmph.” Vion gave him a look of disdain and fell into a stance.
‘Very well…’ Kaidus thought, taking a stance of his own.
The last time they saw each other was over five years ago. Considering Vion was now a knight, he had expected the man to have grown more respectable.
Unfortunately, that was not the case.
As repulsive as ever, the commoner was trying to act beyond his station.
He has hated the boy ever since their first meeting.
He was sick and tired of hearing about the boy all those years ago, and felt insulted being compared to the lowly rabble by his father and grandfather.
Not only did his grandfather bathe the commoner with privileges, for the head of the esteemed Ravon house to have bowed so low to a commoner, it was disgraceful.
With the boy standing in front of him, all he could think about was teaching the bastard a lesson and showing him where he stands. With magic being prohibited, this was his chance.
Having taken an aggressive stance, he was holding his sword in an overhead draw and draping it over his back. His legs were ready to spring into action at any moment, while his left hand was prepared to intercept or return any incoming attack.
He waited patiently for the signal.
Vion quickly dashed forward. With his long sword, he swiped out in a horizontal arc, not allowing the boy to advance.
*CLACK!* The sound of impact.
His sword was caught in between the boy’s two shorter swords.
He attempted to pull his sword back, but the boy pushed it forward and upward, before dashing straight at him.
Holding his sword awkwardly with his elbow cocked back and the sword in the air, he couldn’t attack. Instead, he twisted his body and kicked with his left foot.
“GUH!” Instead of landing his kick, his leg was throbbing with pain.
Following the spin, he quickly lashed out again with his sword at where the boy was, only to cut air.
The boy appeared beside him and slammed two swords into his chest, knocking him back.
“You! You’re using magic!” He hollered. It was impossible for the little bastard to be moving that fast.
“You can’t even detect my presence when I’m right in front of you. Magic would be wasted on you.” The boy spoke, calmly staring back.
“Arrogant little shit!” He spoke loud enough so that the boy could hear before lunging at the boy again. Pain blazed through his right side, and he couldn’t help but fall down. ‘What the fuck is going on?!’ His mind shouted, unable to grasp what was happening. There was no other explanation than magic, yet the judges were not saying anything. He stood up again, pointing his sword toward the commoner.
The boy suddenly vanished, and sharp pains dropped him to his knees.
Kneeling, the boy walked in front of him. With a last desperate attempt, Vion slashed out once again. Before he could finish the swing, a pressure assaulted his chest and pushed him onto the ground.
The boy stood above him, pinning him down with a sword to his chest and stepping on his sword hand.
Surely enough, the announcer called out the victor.
“!” Naleen sat straight up, breathing heavily.
Looking around, she was sitting on a fluffy bed. There was a box of training swords on one corner of the room, while two large dressers and a wardrobe adorned one of the walls. In the center of the room were two chairs and a table. ‘My room?’ she realized.
Taking a gander at her window, the light outside suggested it was still daytime.
The last thing she could remember was her frustration and an overbearing feeling before the pain knocked her out. Right before that, she remembered Kaidus shouting something at her. ‘What happened?’ She questioned herself.
She was obviously home and it was still day, but she couldn’t tell what time of the day. It was almost evening when her fight against Kaidus started, so the competition must have ended.
Her arms and legs felt weird, and there was a different sensation in her body. It was an odd feeling, mixed in with all the pain and fatigue she had accumulated throughout the tournament.
Getting off the bed, she realized she was wearing a nightgown.
Her legs gave way as soon as she stepped onto the ground and she fell onto the floor.
“Naleen!” A voice shouted from the doorway.
Looking up, “Mother?”
“How are you feeling? Are you hurting anywhere?” Her mother ran over to her, embracing her.
“I feel fine. Just a little weak. What happened to me?”
“Thank goodness!” Her mother tightened the embrace.
“W-what happened to me?” She asked again.
“It’s alright, honey. You’ve just awoken to your magic.” Her mother replied, face brimming with happiness.
“My…” She was speechless. Her hands started shaking at what she just heard, and a sense of triumph pervaded through her body. She had been afraid she would remain magic-less like her brother. Elated but scared at the same time, “H-how long have I been asleep?” She managed to ask, trying to divert her mind from the exciting news lest she started shouting with joy.
“Just overnight. Your awakening was quite the exhibition of magic.” Her mother replied, helping her up off the floor. “Let’s get you back on your bed. You need to rest.”
“The competition. What happened to the competition?” Naleen questioned, trying not to think about magic as she crawled back into bed.
“What do you think happened?” Her mother grinned.
“Mother, just tell me.”
“The young boy from the 3rd ward won.”
“I knew it!” She exclaimed, feeling better about her loss.
“Is that admiration I hear in your voice?” Her mother interrogated with a sly grin.
“No! I mean, maybe a little. It just means that there’s nothing to be ashamed of in losing to him.” She quickly replied, remembering how dominant the boy was during their fight.
‘What am I saying?’ Naleen quickly thought to herself. She had completely forgotten about his little act of mercy and about her anger. “What about Vion? How far did he get?” She asked, trying move away from thoughts about her pitiful state during the match.
“Vion also lost to him. They were matched up against each other in the final stage of the competition.”
A grin surfaced on her face, hearing that her brother lost to the same person. Before she can inquire about the final match, “bRrRrR” Her stomach growled. Her smile instantly turned into one of embarrassment.
“Hehe. Looks like my little girl is hungry. I’ll go tell Arlin to heat up something for you.”
“Thank you…” She gave an embarrassed reply.
“Go ahead and get some rest. I’ll bring it to you when it is ready.” Her mother urged before leaving the room.
Laying on the bed, her mind was racing. She was imagining all the exciting things she’ll be able to do with magic and could barely contain herself from screaming.
While she was having a light meal before supper, two girls came into her room.
“Naleen, are you alright?” Sylvia questioned before they had even reached her bedside.
“My body aches all over but other than that, I’ll live.” She replied with a smile. “What are you two doing here?”
“We heard you woke up and came check on you. How’re you feeling?” Jillian enquired, pulling over one of the chairs in the room.
“Hmm… feeling better than I was earlier today.” She gave a wry smile.
“How does it feel to be a mage?” Jillian quickly got to the point, grinning at her.
“Honestly, I don’t really feel any different. I still have to ask father and grandfather about it, but I’ve been in here all day and they’ve been too busy to visit me.”
“Can you two tell me what happened? I talked to my mother about it. She said something about a fire?”
“You were swallowed up in a fire, Naleen. You were screaming on the ground and Kaidus came to you. He was shouting something, and then he stepped away right before a fire rose up around you.” Sylvia replied, taking a seat on the bed.
“Hm… fire…. why fire?” She was confused.
“Larant said fire is the simplest element to control. Something about bodies producing heat? He was explaining a lot of things, but I can’t remember.” Sylvia answered.
“Don’t worry about it too much, Naleen. Larant’s awakening was a fiery hare that burnt his room. At least yours wasn’t something so stupid, and you didn’t burn anything except a small part of the stage.” Jillian grinned.
“Really? Hehehe!” Naleen giggled, hearing the absurdity of it.
Kaidus quietly relaxed himself by the window with a book. Beside him, Anise sat silently while reading one of her own.
The Arms competition had ended three days ago.
The final match was against a spear master named Sullivan from western Darsus. The man was great at long distance fighting, but once he got inside the spear’s attack range, he was able to easily take the man down.
Winning the competition, he was given a pouch containing four luminous Rae worth 2000erns, and a custom champion’s token as proof of victory.
It was quite a big difference from the runner up’s prize of 400erns.
*knock* *knock* *knock* Someone was at the door.
“Ha…” He sighed, getting up to answer it.
“Is this the Paltos house?” A man wearing expensive looking clothes inquired. Behind the man was an extravagant carriage.
“It is.” Kaidus replied.
“Does a Kaidus Paltos live here?”
“Here. A letter from Lord Aliser of the 12th ward, directed to one Kaidus Paltos. Please make sure to give it to him.” The man handed him a sealed letter before promptly getting back into the carriage and riding off.
Closing the door, he opened the folded letter and read through the contents.
It was the same thing he’d been receiving for the past two days: a letter from some lord asking for him to visit, and a promise of employment with lavish gifts and such.
With a thought, the letter went up in flames.