Amongst the terrified expressions and blank stares of confusions, there, squeezing through the guards who had taken the full brunt of his will and presence, was a flushed and lovely red face.
Staring toward him, her fair complexion had faltered somewhat and her smile was hidden, but he could still sense the warmth within her flowing beautifully alongside the excitement upon her face.
‘Saadra…’ The name rushed into his mind and Kaidus grinned back, seeing her astonishment.
“Is that you?” The young lady questioned and attempted to move around the guards, but was quickly held back by an older woman standing behind her.
And in spite of her fears, “D-don’t!” The woman had managed to voice an anxious warning.
Taking his eyes off the pair, he quickly flushed one of the rings on his fingers with mana. The tracking magic instantly revealed that Vick’s location had not changed much from where it was the past few days, yet it was still quite some distance away.
“What are all of you doing out here?” He calmly responded, quickly reeling in the outburst of mana that he had unleashed to enforce his will upon the guards.
“M-milord.” Instead of Saadra or an answer, one of the men spoke, their shaken voice drawing his attention back to the group of guards. Having taken off an outer vestment and an undershirt, one of them was cautiously walking forward into the icy stream as if in a frightened stupor. Stopping a few good paces away, the man hurriedly extended both arms out, presenting forth a worn tunic as he had implored.
From his left arm, “Grrrrrrrr…” Zirus growled warily and sniffed at the garment, forcing the frightened man to recoil a bit but made no further motions.
Kaidus looked to the shirt, then to the man who was beginning to shiver.
Whether it was out of fear or due to the cold, he could not tell, but with a courteous nod, “I am grateful.” He thanked, and quickly accepted.
Ignoring the stench and discomfort that came with the large tunic, the disgrace of revealing himself to the unwary maidens and ladies before him was worse and he quickly slipped it on. After doing so, he once again returned his attention back to the group of confused men and women, taking a silent moment to reassess them.
With the exception of Saadra, the dozen or so people present were mostly unfamiliar to him. “Forgive me if I have startled you all, but would it be alright if I accompanied you back to camp?” He questioned with a smile, trying to appear as cordial as possible.
The men before him wordlessly looked to one another, and as his gaze jumped from person to person for confirmation, it eventually settled upon the woman who was standing cautiously beside Saadra.
As if realizing something upon their eyes meeting, “You- you are-” The woman’s gaze widened.
“I assure you, I am not your enemy or anyone suspicious. Right, Saadra?” He quickly reassured, hearing the woman’s voice quivering.
“Ms. Ebernny, everyone, please. We know him.” And from where she stood, Saadra’s soft voice also eked out timorously to vouch for him.
“It- it was you…” The older woman continued, looking even more petrified, “The one who brought us the Countess.” She supplemented with shock. At her words, the others quickly turned to look at the woman in disbelief.
“Oh? You recognized me?”
“How can I forget?” The woman instantly replied, her voice shaking with an elated tone of gratefulness along with a bit of hidden anger. “I-I was there when you delivered us that murderous bitch. Just who are you, and how do you know our Saadra?”
Hearing those questions, his smile broadened. “I see. There were pressing matters to attend to at the time, so forgive me for not introducing myself then.” Fixing the large shirt and straightening his posture to be more presentable, “I am, but a simple wanderer. You may call me Kaidus. As to how I know the young lady there, I guess one can call it a fateful encounter.”
Bearing the responsibility of all those who had followed him, Biran Naingart stood up from his seat. Having been listening to the discourse amongst those who are present, the cascade of voices that had encircled the command tent slowly hushed as he did so.
Without touching upon the problems that had been pointed out by those around him, he turned to one of the men standing behind him, “Vasco.” Biran voiced, extending a hand toward the man, “Give me what you and the scouts have managed to put together.”
At his command, Vasco swiftly untied a scroll at his waist and handed it forth.
Made of animal hide but dry and flexible, Biran quickly unrolled it upon the modest wooden table between them all.
“Yes.” Biran answered, seeing the questioning look from those around him.
Though lacking finesse along with any sort of artistic touch, it was indeed a map of their surroundings with various minor details here and there.
“You are all right to be worried. What little we can forage is already dwindling and game is harder and harder to come by around here. Now that we have a sudden influx of mouths to feed, at this rate unless we do something, we will probably all starve before the end of Rinol.” He added, inserting their prior woes alongside his own. “Now I’m sure you are all aware that because of the increase in populace, we have had to increase the number of guards throughout and outside of the camp. Which in turn, has unfortunately impeded our ability to bring in more food.” Looking to the few hunters and representatives of the various groups who were present, “Which is why in this meeting, I wish to bring a different option to all of your attention.”
“Do you have a solution to our current dilemma, Captain?”
Sitting to his right, an elderly man with piercing gray eyes softly spoke up. Voice low but firm and unlike those who had arrived with him, the elder was calm and collected.
“I might.” Biran replied, answering respectfully to the old man, “Because we do not know how much longer this unusually warm spell that is upon us will persevere, I have troubled the scouts with searching for something these past few days.” Edging his gaze back, “Vasco, tell them what you and your team have found.”
Moving forward to address the room, “Adhering to the captain’s wishes and following Lady Narissa’s instructions, we were able to locate the smuggler’s cave system that she told us about. Though its surroundings are quite barren, we will have the sea at our back with its bounties, and the caverns should be large enough to accommodate half, if not most of our weaker members. Judging by the purpose of those who dug it, those caverns are also a better shelter than what we have here out in the open.” Vasco stepped before the table, “The only thing is, this is where we are,” He pointed to a small circular marking on the hide, “And the caves are down here,” Dragging a straight line with his finger, he ended upon a row of jagged markings. “As you can all see, they are located to the southwest of our position. Distance-wise, it is about a two day’s journey, perhaps three if we move at our usual pace.”
“No. The Evarac caves are a deathtrap at this time of the year.” A bearded man sitting to the right of the old lord stated assertively. Large and aggressive looking, the man was named Pelwin, and was also the head of the guards for the old man’s group.
“Would you care to elaborate?” Biran swiftly queried.
“I understand your desire to utilize the sea’s resources very well. Yet the lot of you are not local to this part of Malpaars so you might not know, but those waters will have no fish in them.” The bearded man, Pelwin, instantly replied, his statement even more confident. “The silver-finned marags that usually spawn along and dominate those coasts will have already devoured all they could before their migration around the Abyssal Maw. And as you already know, the cave’s surroundings are barren, so nothing edible will grow. If we are to survive, the forest here is our best chance.”
“Surely there are still some resources left within that part of the sea that we can use?” Biran questioned further upon hearing the new and damning information.
“A variety of mollusks, but even those will be rare to come by. Silver-fins are voracious eaters and would have cleaned out those waters, leaving the bare minimum to spawn and breed until they make their way around next season. Other types of fish would have also moved on to warmer waters and will not return until the end of Grunei.”
“Even if that is the case, the caves will still be a better source of shelter.” Vasco quickly chimed in, “At least it will give the elderly and children a chance. As for food, we can hopefully-”
“We, the people of Imvera and Vernigale have been surviving thus far.” The man interrupted, “It is the forest that has provided for us in these harsh times. If anything, we should be moving elsewhere within the forest and not to such a place like the Evarac caves.”
Though the supply of food that he was hoping for was now gone, “As Vasco pointed out, would it not be safer in those caverns?” Biran countered, looking down at the map, “If heated, they should be warmer than out here. And with the information from the scouts, only a few guards would be required to defend the tunnels once everyone is safely inside. That would mean less manpower required in fortifying our positions, and more out there hunting and searching for food. If we move south and establish a forward base to hunt and gather while the rest are safe, it would greatly benefit us and increase our efficiency.”
“Then we move south, but not to the caves.” The bearded man replied and reached forward, pointing to a different spot on the map, “At least in the forest, we have various avenues of escape should anything happen. If those tunnels are blocked off, we would be dooming most of our people. Not to mention the time required in transporting food back and forth.”
Hearing the swift and adroit answer, “That will not be an issue. Such was how the lot of us survived while in the safety of Vilute.” Biran contended, recalling the various expeditions he had been a part of while living within the floating city. For those, transporting food and water was the most basic of their jobs.
“I will have to say no as well…” The old lord’s voice slowly meandered through the room, drawing all eyes toward himself, “As Pelwin stated, our greatest chances are definitely within the forest.” There was a thoughtful pause in his words, one filled with sorrow and gloom, “But as you’ve surmised, it is definitely not without its own peril and losses. Pelwin, you should remember what happened last year.”
The bearded man quickly relaxed his contentious posture and a stern expression of doubt slowly manifested upon his face.
“We had an ample storage of food and even made various preparations, yet there were still plenty of deaths because of the harsh freeze.” The old lord continued, “And that was just with the few people of Imvera and Vernigale at the time.”
Hearing the horror of the old man’s words, “And now we have almost quadrupled in size… with a plummeting stockade of food, and not enough shelters or resources for everyone.” Biran quietly voiced his thoughts aloud.
And, “Yes…” Lord Shradech painfully but callously affirmed.
“Then… then what can we do? What do you propose?” Biran calmly relented, seeing that his idea had been rebuked.
“Like I’ve been saying, we split the camp.” The man named Pelwin answered, “Those who can, will relocate and rebuild elsewhere while those who can’t, stays here until the new camp can be settled.”
“Relocating would cost us manpower. And that, is a resource we are in dire need of.” Solio, who had been silent thus far calmly interjected.
From one side of the table, “Is there really a need to relocate?” One of the hunters, a man named Jonns, spoke up, “Out of fear for pursuers, so far we have only been hunting within our safe zone.” Placing a finger on the map, the man drew a large circle around the camp marker. “Which is approximately only about half a day’s venture from camp in all directions as we have been instructed.” Drawing a larger circle around the one he had just marked, “Yet if we continue beyond, these areas are relatively untouched and unexplored. If we issue an order and put all our resources into hunting and gathering parties to travel outside of our safe zone, we might possibly be able to sustain ourselves.”
“Expeditions like that will take days. It would also eat into what little food reserves we have left.” One of the attendees cautioned.
“We’ll all be venturing further into the forest, so that much is a given.” An instant reply, “Also, the camp will undoubtedly be more vulnerable since there will be less people guarding it if we are to do this. And for that, it’ll be up to those who are staying behind to defend and keep the peace until we get back.” Halting his words, the hunter Jonns took a quick look around the table, “I know it’s risky but if you think about it, as it is, we don’t have the luxury of waiting. We can either issue an order and use the last of our resources in this final endeavor, or wait until our resources run dry.”
Taking the man’s words in consideration, Biran lowered his gaze to the map on the table.
“Captain.” Jonns quickly called out to him, “Let the people know what is happening and tell them of our situation. I am certain that even those who are without capabilities will forgo their safety and help us.”
It was risky for sure, but the hunter was right and there were indeed no better options. Their stores of food were practically empty now, and they were bringing in less and less with each passing day. Yet within the camp, as incapable as they are, there were still hundreds of people who could help. Even at the risk of being found by their pursuers, it was still a better option than splitting everyone up again and waiting to starve. “It could work… Solio, how’s your leg?” Biran questioned, turning to the portly man sitting to his left.
“If you are asking if I’m well enough to lead a hunting party, I am.” The round ranger instantly replied.
“Alright.” With confirmation from his most skillful archer, Biran then turned his focus back to the old man, “My lord. It is with certainty that it was your group who staked these grounds first, along with your kindness that we have been able to come this far. I myself did not wish to further impose but now that we are at such a point, I humbly ask that you continue to help us.” Lowering his head, “You know of our plight, but I know naught if our pursuers are still vigilantly hunting for us. Even so, I ask that you and yours cooperate with me and my people in this risk so that we may overcome this ordeal. All of us. ”
A solemnness dawned upon the old lord’s face and, “Please raise your head, Captain.” Lord Shradech entreated, taking a silent moment to pause in consideration of the knight’s position. Yet seeing that Biran would not look up, “Whether yours or mine, these fears and woes weigh equally upon us all. Having come this far, if this is the only way for us to continue surviving, then so be it.” Lord Shradech calmly added with a compliant smile.
Upon the old man’s agreeable words, “Thank you…” Biran quickly voiced before raising his head again. Looking to those around the table, “If we are in agreement, then I will be depending on all of you as well.” He pleaded.
“The people of Umoraok would have all been slain if it were not for what you all did. We might not have any hunters, but those within our group are healthy and able. We will assist in whatever we can.” A tall and gaunt looking man with his left arm missing nodded back in approval.
“It is not ideal, but it’s better than starving… I will notify those in my group as well. I’m sure we can help in some ways.” Another of the representatives added.
“Well then… since we have settled upon a course of action, let us adjourn for now.” Lord Shradech slowly stood up and the bearded man at his side quickly held onto him, “We will go and relay this decision to our people. Our hunters and those who are willing, shall join you and yours by evening tonight so that we may get this going as soon as possible.”
Also standing up from his seat, “Of course, and thank you again.” With a final thankful nod, Biran quietly watched as the old man hobbled out of the command tent with a small entourage in tow.
With the representatives of the Imvera and Vernigale groups gone, he turned to face the proxies within his own group, “Please go and let those under your charges know as well.” He instructed, and a number of men nodded obediently.
As the tent began emptying, “Then we will gather the others and notify them of what is to come. With how urgent this is, the sooner we begin planning, the better.” One of the two remaining hunters voiced as they both proceeded toward the exit.
“Jonns, Giaan, wait.” Biran quickly called out, stopping them both, “Beyond the both of you and Solio, do either of you have any idea how many of our hunters can head their own parties?” He inquired, looking to the two.
Taking a moment, “I believe Silas, Truah, and Genn are proficient enough now that they should be able to. With a few men helping them, there shouldn’t be much problems with their abilities. Other than those three, I’d have to say Cordavin and Ruther can as well, but they are still lacking in some regard when it comes to certain aspects of the hunt. With Yoriig and Slek back, if we can pair them up with those two, I believe Cordavin and Ruther will be able to benefit greatly from their knowledge. As for the others, it would be better if we were to have three or four of them together per party along with a few volunteers to help them.” Jonns thoughtfully replied.
“And you, Giaan?”
“Hmmm… the evaluation is pretty spot on, but I’d like to add Alakan and his younger brother Jurad to the mix. Though those siblings are young, they are quite skillful and I believe that if we allocate them some help, they will not disappoint us.”
“Extolling your protégés?” Biran latched onto the praise with an amused smile.
“Of course not. They are simply capable.” And Giaan hastily refuted, baring a proud grin. “Especially Alakan, that boy can split an arrow as long as it is within range of his bow.”
“Well. That’s quite the compliment from one such as yourself. If that’s the case, have Irvine watch over them to see how they fare for this first excursion. As for the rest of the others, team them up as you both see fit.”
““Yessir.”” The two hunters both answered in unison before swiftly exiting the tent.
“Then… that leaves Vasco and I with notifying the guards.” Solio remarked and tiredly stood up from where he had been sitting, “We’ll tell them to pass along the orders for volunteers as well. In the meantime, you should probably head over to the storeroom and see what we have left.”
“I will.” Picking up the map on the now vacant table, Biran rolled it up and handed it back to Vasco. “It’s about time I made my rounds as well. I’ll take a look on the way.”
“Then we’ll be heading off.” “Captain.” Excusing themselves, the pair left him to himself.
Alone with his own worries and fears, Biran promptly made his way to the back of the tent. To where his sleeping quarters were located.
There, out of its sheathe and laying across a wooden chair, was the enchanted frost sword that his lord had bequeathed onto him.
“My lord… what am I to do?” He somberly questioned as the naked blade began frosting over as if it knew he was nearby.
“Where to, Captain?” A guard who had been standing watch questioned as he exited the tent.
Without stopping or slowing his steps, “There’s someone I have to talk to. Come.” Biran ordered, and made his way toward the north side of the camp.
As they walked, as if picking up on his purpose, “Captain. If you are looking for Vick, that man should be in the training grounds right now. Apparently has been there all afternoon.”
“Yessir. Few of the boys came by earlier while you were all having your meeting.”
“That man… doing as he pleases…” Holding down his frustration, “Let us make haste then.” He calmly turned around, this time moving toward the southern grounds, to where they had established an area for the purpose of training their guards.
“Bunch of-” Easily evading an overhead strike, “weaklings,” Vick spouted the word out loud and twisted his wooden sword sideways, slamming it into the left side of a guard. “You wish to defeat me like that?!? Pathetic!” He snarled, easily parrying against a spear thrust from a second man and then striking the man’s outstretched arms.
“Is this all you guys amount to? Where is your bravado from earlier?” Lowering his sword to stare down the two men who had painfully drew away, he glanced over to the side, to where a handful of guards were still recuperating from the instructions he had given. “You should all be grateful that I am here to teach you this lesson in humility.”
“W-what lesson?” One of the younger guards, a dirty-blonde haired man with deep-set eyes and a nose too large for his face groaned, “You’ve just been beating us, and we-we haven’t done anything!”
“Haven’t done anything ‘yet’.” Vick shot back, returning a contemptuous glare to instill a necessary fear within them, “So let’s keep it that way. Now, who’s next? Come!”
“You’ve already made your point yesterday. Haven’t you had enough? Is this fun for you?” Another of the guards whined angrily. This time, it was an older guard a few years his senior. Perhaps a miner or quarryman prior to becoming a refugee, the man was quite sturdy and in pretty good shape.
“Enough is when I say so. And yes, turning you all black and blue is surprisingly quite fun.” He sneered back, throwing in more provocations, “Now pick up your weapons and be thankful.”
“For what?! You’re insane, you know that? It was Caleb and Zhul who did what they did. Why are you still taking your anger out on us!?” The man retorted angrily.
“Anger? I have no anger toward you all.” Vick quickly calmed himself down with a deep breath, “See? I could not care less about being angry. But it looks like you are all lacking in discipline. And seeing that I have nothing better to do, I have merely taken it upon myself to engage with everyone for their betterment. Now are you going to pick up your sword, or are you all just going to continue whining like you did when your villages were attacked?”
“Kuh! You fuckin bastard.” The man clicked his tongue in defiance, but grabbed a weapon and reluctantly stood up.
“Good man. My lessons are not cheap. You should make use of these opportunities and get some learning done.” Vick grinned.
“Fuck you!” The man cursed and rushed angrily toward him.
The man’s wooden practice sword vibrated horizontally through the air, and with a quick back step, he easily dodged the attack. Instantly stepping in as the weapon passed by his torso, he extended his own sword forward and in a sudden thrust, sent its point solidly into the man’s chest, forcing the guard backward.
“Ughn?! It- it’s you, who’s fucking dead!” Barely able to brace himself, the man painfully screamed again and lunged forward once more with an overhead strike.
Bringing his sword forward, with an upward slice, he parried the diagonal slash that was coming down for his neck and body. Having repelled the attack, he twisted his weapon around and with a forceful right step forward, like tenderizing meat, drove the butt of his sword into the guard’s right shoulder, forcing the man to release his weapon. Quickly following the attack, he delivered a low kick and swept the man off balance and onto the ground.
Rolling where he had fallen, “GauuUUUuugh!!!” The guard began grunting in frustration and agony.
“Who’s next?!” Vick hollered again, looking over to those who had been spectating.
“That’s enough…” A familiar voice came from his left and Vick turned, spotting the blonde captain walking toward them. Unlike his usual passive self, the captain’s tone was filled with an unnerving calm. “Why are you doing this?”
“These men are too lax. I fear you’ve been too soft on them.”
“Is that so?” The captain replied, staring sternly back at him. “I will personally see to it that they take their duties seriously from now on, so please stop this.”
“Ho…” Seeing the look in the captain’s eyes, he could not help as a grin erupted across his face. “You look better with those eyes. More capable… domineering almost.” He remarked, spotting the subdued anger and annoyance within the man.
With a look of confusion, “What are you on about?” Captain Biran questioned back.
“I’m sure you’re dying to find out as well.” Turning around, he easily spotted the sword that his opponent had just dropped.
“I’ve no time for riddles. If you’ve nothing better to do, there’s something we have to talk about. It’s important.”
“I’m sure it is,” Picking up the wooden sword that had fallen nearby, “Here.” Vick quickly tossed it over to the blonde man. Seeing the look of confusion on the knight’s face, “Surely you’ve been wondering about this yourself.”
“About what? What are you-”
“Let’s be honest here, ‘Captain’. You and I, we’re not friends. That much is clear.” He interrupted and firmly stood his grounds, “You and I… we have simply tolerated each other because of Kaidus.”
“Is that why you’re tormenting these men?” The captain quickly reasoned, “Because you don’t like me?”
“Don’t be daft. You’re smarter than that.” Vick dryly mocked and swung the sword in his hand twice, exerting his strength to get a better grasp on the weapon, “I can see it in your eyes, you know? In spite of my insubordination, what you’re really curious about is which one of us is stronger. Am I right?”
“… All this because you want to see who can piss the furthest?”
“Call it whatever you want, but let’s not pretend that I’m the only one curious about this. Sooner or later, this was going to happen and we were bound to continue our dispute from Esperen. I am willing to bet that you’ve been dying for this opportunity as well, so why hesitate?”
Beyond the two of them, the training grounds had gone dead silent, and those who had been nearby were now distancing themselves.
“You… you’re not wrong.” The captain reluctantly admitted, “Ever since Esperen, I have been wondering about it. Your skills… those fluid yet inconceivable movements. Like a ghost without shadow. Every time I thought about how you dispatched that knight and those men; I see myself incapable of ever overcoming you.”
“Your praises are duly noted… but why do I get the feeling that there is a ‘but’ in there somewhere?” He smiled, seeing the dormant hunger in the man’s cold blue eyes.
As if to reciprocate him, a smile crept onto the captain’s lips.
“But… with my lord’s blessing, I’ve been having this weird feeling these days that I might not lose. You know?” A poised reply.
“Oh? Aren’t you the confident one?”
“Confident? Perhaps.” The captain looked to the wooden sword in his hand, then calmly strolled forward toward him, “Truth is, I have no wish to quarrel with you. You are well acquainted with my lord and for that, I… as you have so aptly put, have also ‘tolerated’ your ‘insubordination’, affording you plenty of freedom thus far. In a sense, I guess I did so because I was afraid of you to some extent. Yet it appears my gestures are pointless. If this is what you require to get past our differences, then I can only oblige.”
Something was burning in the knight’s eyes now and he could feel his own blood boiling. “Why the sophistry? If you wish to test your strength, then just say so. Why do it in such a roundabout manner? What are you, some sheltered noble?” Vick swiftly retorted, unable to hide his own excitement.
“Noble? No. My father was an ordinary carpenter.” The captain replied, stopping a few good paces away, “But where I’m from, we hold ourselves to some regard. Then again, it’s not like some boorish brute spawned in a backwater village would understand.”
“Oooh, an insult! I didn’t think with how much of a pushover you are, that you knew how to insult people!” Vick hollered, adding an exaggerated applause to his words, “But you’re wrong about the village part. I was actually spawned in a boorish water logged port town.” And quipped before lowering his stance into a one-handed sword form, “Now then, I hope your swordplay is deadlier than your mouth, ‘Captain’.”
“I was being respectful, but I guess one must know what respect is before one can understand its nuances. And for that, I apologize to you. As for my swordplay, we shall find out.” The captain countered and immediately took a defensive stance.
As they both stared down one another, “If you two are so inclined to beat each other up, why don’t I join you?” A cold and chilling voice instantly coiled around the training grounds, snaking through the air like a translucent serpent. “After all, I could use a little exercise myself.”
He shivered upon hearing the familiar voice and frozen in place, Vick hurriedly turned his head to look for the owner of said voice. Catching movements behind the captain and across from himself, he watched as a dark-haired youth broke through the circle of spectators and casually walked toward them.
Lightly dressed in a pair of brown trousers and an overly large tunic which were very different from his usual attires, there was nothing else on the boy’s person.
No cloak, no rucksack, and even the xeberite sword that was always at his side was missing.
Yet, upon seeing the look of amusement on Kaidus’ face, his stomach began churning in horror.
Something inconceivable and unfathomable had happened, and the child was even more frightening than he could remember.
Just by staring directly at the boy, it was like he was looking into an empty space without presence or form. And try as he might, even his senses could not distinguish if the child was truly there or not.
The name was all he could mutter as the fighting spirit that had been burning within his body quickly cowered, extinguishing itself into oblivion.
No longer staring him down either, the blonde knight had already turned and knelt toward the boy. Amongst the audience and those who had gathered, a few had also done the same.
“Is that kid someone important? Why is the captain kneeling to him?”
“It’s not just the captain. Look.”
The whispers from the audience had begun to cycle, but disregarding them, Kaidus kept his attention onto Vick and the kneeling knight before him, “How about a two on one? I’ll let you both make the first moves.” He playfully suggested, displaying a curious smile.
“I- I would never dare.”
A swift answer from the captain.
“What about you, Vick?”
He mindfully queried, staring at the mercenary.
Catching the man’s unwillingness, “It’s just a light spar. Nothing serious. I’ve been idling for far too long these days anyways so you’d both be doing me a huge favor.” Without waiting for a reply, he looked over to the spectators and they all visibly shrunk as he quickly made his way toward one of them. “Would you mind letting me borrow your sword for a moment?”
And without a shred of objection or refusal, the guard blankly nodded and handed him the wooden sword.
Returning a thankful nod of his own, he strolled back to the two who had been the focus of everyone around them.
“My Lord. When did you-”
“Not too long ago.” Kaidus answered, taking a second glance at the crudely carved weapon.
“Wh-where have you been?” Though his voice was nervous, Vick had managed to ask a question.
“We can talk about that later. For now, you should both prepare yourselves.” Placing a hand over the practice sword, he dragged his palm along its length, reshaping the weapon into a sleek and finely crafted wooden blade. “You too, Biran.”
“Sire?” The knight voiced, his tone rife with distress and doubt.
“If you are indeed my sword, then you will not hold back on my account.” With a swing of his arm, the sword in his hand thrummed beautifully through the air. Content with how it felt in his hand, he quickly lowered it. “A good blade is one that can be pointed at anyone, be them a King or an Emperor. Even at one’s owner. Remember that.”
“I… understood.” Slowly standing up, the captain retreated a few modest paces away and lowered himself into a defensive two-handed stance once more.
“Wait, I thought the Captain was going to fight Vick. What’s happening here? Who is that kid?” An unsuspecting spectator questioned from the audience.
“Did anyone else just see what he did?” Another of the guards remarked with amazement.
“That’s the young lord. You guys weren’t there for it, but that’s definitely him.” Someone else answered.
“That kid is? Is he strong?”
Voices continued to clamor around them but ignoring the distractions, “Reminds you of the Sword Trials doesn’t it? Mister 19th chair of the Droxxon Mercenaries.” Kaidus questioned, looking to his pale friend.
“… It’s not even close.” And though somewhat subdued, Vick quietly answered.
“Pretend it is and come after me with everything you’ve got. We can use the mercenary rules as well, in that we will all keep going until the two of you can no longer fight, or you both admit defeat. As for me, if either of you can land a single strike anywhere on my body, it is your win. Since it-”
“Did you all hear that?!”
“The captain and Vick against him? Is that boy crazy?”
A plethora of voices exploded from the audience in disbelief.
Turning his gaze toward the spectators to silence them, “As I was saying, since it is a bit unfair seeing as this is a two against one, the both of you may cooperate and work together.” Watching Vick’s hopeless face suddenly distort in prideful fury, Kaidus grinned.
“You… you are going to regret that.”
His spirits undoubtedly rekindled; the mercenary hastily fell into blade form.
“As I’ve said before. You can both make the first moves.” Lowering his own sword to his side, Kaidus calmly relaxed his body. “Now then. Whenever you are ready.”
“Don’t you dare get in my way.” Vick hissed toward the captain, and then suddenly vanished.
Easily reading the surprise attack, Kaidus quickly turned his body sideways and brought his sword down to the ground before him, halting Vick’s rising slash before it could build any sort of upward momentum.
Upon seeing that the attack had been sealed at its lowest and most vulnerable point of attack, Vick quickly twisted his body and drew the weapon back, covering the retreat with a spinning round kick.
Arching his whole body sideways to evade the kick that was aiming for the left side of his torso, Kaidus quickly pushed upward with his sword, forcing and lifting Vick’s leg higher into the air.
Undaunted, the mercenary had somehow managed to balance himself by planting his sword into the ground. Pushing himself upward and utilizing his nimble body, Vick instantly drew his sword and spun in the air, slashing upward during the aerial maneuver.
Matching Vick’s slash with his own downward strike, both of their swords collided violently for an instant, before glancing apart, sending Vick rebounding backward.
Out of each other’s attack range, “You should have known that such attacks won’t work on me.” Kaidus commented, slowly tightened his grip on the sword in his hand.
“Then allow me, Sire.”
From where the man had been watching and no longer in a defensive stance, Biran dashed toward him.
Though much slower than Vick, the knight closed the distance between them instantly, following the mad rush with a two-handed thrust.
Kaidus swiftly stepped forward with his left foot and bracing himself, with all his might, delivered a rising slash, slicing diagonally into the knight’s sword and altering its trajectory upward, while forcing the knight to his left.
Instinctively allowing the weight of the attack to swing his sword backward, instead of going for another slash, Biran barreled forth with his shoulders, having had his thrust broken.
Spinning with the force of his own attack, Kaidus swiftly rotated his body toward the knight’s left side, barely evading the charge. Utilizing his left hand that was still twisting with his body’s sudden rotation, he deftly hammered a clenched fist into Biran’s back as he pivoted around.
There was a grunt followed by the sound of stumbling, but without looking to make sure that the knight had fallen to the ground, he quickly raised his sword upward once more, deftly blocking a hasty attack to his left arm from Vick.
A look of surprise flashed upon the mercenary’s face, and he handily pushed the attack away with his sword. Instantly aligning his left side toward Vick, before the mercenary could react, he drove a solid fist into Vick’s chest, shooting Vick backwards along the ground.
“…” Looking down at himself, he slowly opened his fist and clenched it again, taking in the strength that was now overflowing within even without magic.
Groans came from behind him, and Kaidus turned to see that the blonde captain had already stood up.
Looking to be in pain, the knight was stretching his arms out and trying to rub the part of his back where he had been punched.
“I’ve upheld my words and allowed you both to each deliver the first strike.” Speaking clearly so that both could hear him, he waited as Vick also agonizingly stood up. “Now, let us see what the two of you can really do.”
Tossing his sword directly upward into the air, Third form, ‘Hing’.
Vanishing from his position, “Kuh-? Gaaaaaah!” He did not hold back as an exasperated scream erupted from Vick.
Having driven his right knee into Vick’s stomach, he quickly thrusted forth both arms that he had cocked back prior, and shot them both into Vick’s chest, forcing Vick to tumble backward again onto the ground.
Without wasting a single breath, he snatched up Vick’s sword and vanished once more. ‘Rising Talon.’
Reappearing before the knight, the back of his sword curved upward, smashing into Biran’s left side and throwing Biran off balance. Rotating with the attack, he swiftly spun and delivered his left elbow directly into the spot where his sword had just crashed into, forcing Biran to the ground as well.
“Have you both calmed down?” He questioned as his mask of amused playfulness dissipated into one of disappointment.
Around him, the sound of two warriors gasping desperately for air slowly filled the atmosphere, followed by the clanking of a wooden sword finally hitting the ground.