Vol.1, Ch.2, P.5
Iron rushed in a blur.
The sideways slash of a sword, aimed right at my front—a dodging defence here beats a block, setting up a prime position for a reprisal.
And so I committed, backing off by a half-pace. Across my chest swept the sword, slicing only air. Immediately thereafter did I lunge forth, closing the distance to my opponent.
Till this point, too taken was he with the midrange high-guard. The habit stood uncorrected, for sure enough, faced with the now-shrunken gap between us, he attempted to retreat to the back-right, all to reassume the high-guard.
But it was an attempt well-predicted: I stuck close to him, planting my left foot down where he meant to put his right.
His posture crumbled once his footwork failed him. A fight this close up often devolves into a struggle of securing positions of advantage. To gain the upper hand, one could control the opponent’s own footwork by merely denying him useful ground.
With my own opponent in disarray, I rammed the hilt of my sword into his abdomen, sending him tumbling into the ground. Seeing him defenceless and flat on his back, I trained the tip of my blade to his neck.
“…I yield,” he scowled. The onlookers stirred.
“Bloody hell, that ungraced bloke won again. Can you believe that? Against Nicolai, no less!”
“Still your steed, won’t you? ‘Twas but a fluke, surely!”
“You don’t pull off flukes with finesse of that sort, I’d say. See how he moved?”
“Eh, well. A man scarce needs Her grace to wag a sword, anyhow.”
A whole year had passed since I’d joined the Order. Still a swain, I had joined with members of another brigade for sword practice that day, a session that found none of the Owlcranes present.
Even without odyl, it was here that I can prove my prowess. Overwhelming opponents as I just had was earning me some recognition, scant though it may be.
My opponent, this “Nicolai”, then jerked up to his feet and returned to the wall of spectators. In his place, another man. His own feet stepped with a clank absent from the rest.
“My turn to measure swords with you,” he said.
“…As you wish,” I accepted.
The lieutenant of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade, if memory serves. As proof, he came equipped with silver armour and a snide smirk on his face. Taking our positions, we stared each other down.
“Ssyah!” I roared right upon the referee’s call, bolting straight into the lieutenant’s midst. My blade sailed up from a low guard, its arc intent upon his shin.
“Mm…?” he muttered, void of any bodily reaction.
Only, the attack failed—the blade stopped short of his shin. I plucked my weapon back and wound my way to my opponent’s side.
“Dyah!” came my full-spirited shout, right in line with an oblique downward swing.
This, too, was stayed from striking its mark. The lieutenant: hardly a glance of his ever saw my sword. I pulled back. In the next sliver of a moment, I closed right back in with a thrust of my blade, its tip imbued with the momentum of my entire being.
The same result: the sword tip halted just before the lieutenant’s chest.
He glanced down. “…Heh.”
Next came his own attack: a rising slash from his lower right. I skirted it by a wide margin. The lieutenant clicked his tongue, disappointed.
I quickly rushed back in again. From the high guard, I propelled my sword into an exact cut down the centre. Again was it stopped, a hair’s width from his head of hair. Seeing this, my opponent answered: a sword-swing into my side.
Immediately, I tugged my blade back to guard against the attack. Only, silver-forged like his armour, the lieutenant’s blade was suffused with odyl.
Our swords met. A burst of ethereal force drave itself into my body, blowing me back. The end of the flight saw me crashing onto the ground, tumbling two times, perhaps three.
“Gegh… hah… khagh…!” My lungs reeled from the impact. My ears rang, but through the high hum, I heard my opponent’s voice.
“Too busy panting to call your own defeat, eh cur?” he fleered. “Well, I’ll leave you to lick your wounds, then.” Back into the crowd he went. Quite satisfied with himself, I suppose.
“Kh-hach… hah… hakh…!”
Ungraced flesh wrung taut by odyl. A body entirely assailed by heat, pain, and vertigo. Organs shuddering, as if they’d been twisted and rearranged—all sensations I have the sole privilege of knowing. I writhed there, flat on the ground, agonising. Jeering laughter wormed its way into my ears.
“The pup sure barked his hide off, I’ll give him that. Begs the question, though: doesn’t he realise his sword’ll never reach its mark, at least?”
“Realise? Hah! I’d wager he’s too muscle-pated for the arduous thought!”
“Vacuous of odyl lore, he is, perhaps? Certainly a possibility with an ungraced, I would think.”
“Whoa—! Aha hah ha! A mite too sad an’ sorry, if that be the way of it!”
In the midst of burgeoning chuckles and chortles, I dragged myself up to my feet with the support of my sword. Before me stood yet another man.
“Why ‘allo there, mate! Er, ‘Molf’, was it? I’m next, if ye don’t mind!” he said. There, too, was silver in his armour.
“Look ‘ere, it’s Max! Oh, this’ll be a sight!”
“Max, it’s not Molf—it’s ‘Holf’. Come on, now!”
“Well, weren’t we a saintly lot! Helping ungraced here with his training an’ all. Oi! Holf! Better thank us proper, y’hear?!”
Submerged in their ceaseless heckling, I suppressed the pain throbbing through my entire body.
“Kuh, hah…” My breathing had yet to stabilise. Nevertheless, with sword in hand, I readied my stance and faced my new opponent. “…En… en garde.”
“Right, lads and lasses. Training’s over. Suppertime nears; get moving to the mess hall for your share.”
The crowds started to empty upon the call for training’s end. I was down to my knees, battered and bruised all over, as fellow officers strolled on by, busy in their jeering and jabbering.
The laughter, the footfalls, all soon faded into the distance. Left alone, I then struggled back up to my feet and began trundling my way out of the training grounds. That is, until I found standing before me a girl I knew well. Hair of flowing night, eyes of quiet roses—Felicia.
“Dear Brother…” she softly called.
The fates’ humour ever harries, for unlike myself, Felicia had received a proper share of odyl from her own rites at the Roun of Orisons. Indeed, a rather astounding amount, if I recall, though not as extraordinary as Emilie’s. And just as promised, she had enlisted in the Order earlier this year.
“Felicia,” I called back. “You saw?”
“I did… Brother, you’re hurt…”
“No. I’m quite all right. Be not so glum, Felicia. The wounds sting less than they look,” I assured my sister, forcing a smile. A futile one, for her spirits remained unbrightened.
“Yet it wounds me… to ill-weave a single mending magick. If only…” she lamented.
“No need to trouble yourself. Already you’re committed to the battle magicks, anyhow. Am I wrong?”
If memory serves, Felicia was assigned to the 1st Sorcery Brigade, distinct from its other two counterparts for its focus in the attacking magicks. A perfect match, as I’d heard Felicia to be highly attuned to such spells.
At one point, the Order was abristle with rumours that she had—upon learning the Globus Igneus spell during her very first training session—produced a fireball no less than thrice the girth that of her instructor’s own. Little wonder, then, that her outstanding talent often astounded her peers during practice.
“A matter, Brother, if I may?” she asked.
“What is it?”
“Those… spars earlier. You were so adamant in cutting down your mark. But… why? If I may ask? Had you assayed a different course, surely you would’ve emerged less harmed…”
It seemed even my sister found my methods wayward. Who could blame her?
Repeatedly slashing at my opponents with all my might, knowing full well that none of the swings would land—what came of such efforts, other than ire and mockery from my peers, and the injuries now riddling my body? Nevermind that. I even had the gall to pick myself back up time and again, earning fresher scorn and opponents alike, only to be sent tumbling and turning once more.
My sister was right: had I tempered my efforts and yielded where I could, I would not have made myself the sorry sight as I was now.
Only, such was never my intent.
“Felicia. I give myself to my sword as you do to your magicks,” I explained. “Only through each and every devoted swing can my technique improve. Had I yielded even in this, what point, then, is there in training?”
“But to go so far… that you are hurt so…!”
“Hurt I am, of course. But look: I’m bigger than most, yes? And all the tougher for it. You needn’t worry,” I reassured her.
In the year since I’ve joined the Order, I’ve grown taller still. Being incapable of magicks afforded me precious free time, which I devoted to physical training—not only in technique, but also in building bulk. By now, I already possessed the largest figure in the entire Order.
“Is there…” Felicia began again.
“Is there meaning, then…? In going as far as you do?” she asked carefully, eyes shaded, with a voice that verged on fading into a whisper.
Such a question was formed in pure earnest—wrung from a troubled heart left utterly spent at the end of much deliberation and anxiety. Felicia’s words, though faint in sound, were flush with intent.
The Nafílim cannot be fought without odyl. That much is undeniable. Bereft of it, a sword will never reach its mark, no matter how swiftly, how strongly, how keenly it is wielded.
Why was it, then, that I continued to brandish my sword till I was beaten and brought low? Why keep upon a path promising naught? Where is the meaning in it all?
This was Felicia’s secret, precious worry for her own brother, whom she could not bear seeing so hurt. Doubtless she was told by our parents to never come near me.
Only, like Emilie, she was a girl too kind for such coldness.
“Of meanings… I’m afraid I know none, Felicia. In fact, I feel it very likely there to be none, even. But I also feel, Felicia, that in brandishing the blade to the very end, it—I can reach some place, someday. There’s nothing left to me save this one belief,” I explained to Felicia, staring unwaveringly into her eyes. “But of certainties, I know one: were both my blade and I made to stop, we would reach nothing and nowhere at all.”
“But, Brother, that’s…”
Likely, my answer gave Felicia no solace. I must admit, I, too, feel myself beyond all help. But such was my lot and my resolve. Though I may be made a laughing stock or a pariah, there was little else I could do but have faith that there was meaning in nurturing that very resolve.
“Let it lie for now, Felicia,” I said. “It’s almost supper. Shouldn’t you be on your way?”
“Y… yes, I suppose I should,” replied Felicia. “Will you join me?”
“I’m afraid I can’t. Supper comes later for me. Go on ahead and tuck in with your brigade mates, Felicia.”
There was peril in consorting like we did. I knew not how rife the Order was with the eyes and ears of our parents, and so for the longest while, I had been keeping my distance as well as I could. Little did I care of what ill would befall upon me should the worst transpire, but for Felicia’s sake, I was loath to chance casting any shadow upon that bright future of hers.
“I’ve done little but hurt you, haven’t I, Felicia…?” I whispered to myself, looking on as my sullen sister walked away.
Revision – 2022.10.27
(Language: Latin; original name: “Fireball”) Fire-elemental battle magick. A spell in the form of a sphere of flames, conjured and lobbed at a target. Explodes and scorches on impact.