Chapter One: The Test of a Warrior
Okay, enough stalling with old thoughts. Are you ready Emily? Yes, I'm ready. There you go again with the talking to yourself you should really stop doing that.
I look at Alva and try to boost my confidence I'm not scared of her....but somebody should tell my wobbly legs that because they do not seem to get the message. Also, these pesky butterflies in my stomach need to fly away. I take in deep breaths, trying to calm my nerves as I slowly make my way over to Alva. I can hear whispers from the crowd.
"There it is. The grandchild of those Peacekeepers."
"Hmm, they were always so troublesome, and so was the girl. Let's hope she passes so she'll leave here"
"Do you think allowing such a troublesome beast in the military is a good idea?"
"Yeah, good point."
I shake off the whispers and try to focus on the fight to come.
I can't believe I'm going to be facing Alva Copper. Honestly, I'm very conflicted on whether or not I should be terrified, scream with joy, or cry my eyes out.
I pass by Lucy, and with closer inspection, I can see her lip is bloodied. She has a black eye, numerous bleeding cuts, and scratches all over her arms. Her Skan has been shredded - caked with dirt and blood. She also is ignoring the stares and the quiet belittlement from the crowd as well.
"I was hoping that Martin girl would be beaten up a little harder than that."
"Shhh, quiet about that one if she hears us she'll whine to her mother."
"Right a scary one that Janet a true monster."
"Yeah she's as bad as those Shrouds."
As I stop in front of Lucy I can see how bad she really looks. Damn, I totally forgot the stories about Alva's brutality. Before Grandfather dissapeared he told me stories about when he was the Admiral in the Peacekeepers. He told about Alva and how she was the most dedicated student and solider he had met.
"Hey, Lucy, I'm sorry you lost."
I look at my friend's face and can see the sadness she feels over the loss in her eyes. When she answers she smiles, erasing any trace of dread from her features. She'd never let me know if this bothered her, but I've known her long enough now that I can tell when something is irking her.
"Pssh, it's okay. I'll win next year. I got her trapped at least one time, so that's something I can be proud of!" She pumps her fist and her face twsit up in pain.
Lucy has always been optimistic. Even when her father passed away.
She helped me through the loss of my Grandmother and then the dissapearance of my Grandfather. She was the one who kept me from hating the wworld
The only time Lucy's optimism wasn't present was when she was going to be thrown out of the village.
Grandfather tried to get the village elders' permission to allow her to live with us, but they denied the request, again and again, saying that we were not the immediate family.
Honestly, it was most likely because the elders hated my Grandfather and were more than happy to rid themselves of a wizard and send Lucy away.
Grandfather fought hard for Lucy because my Grandfather and g
Grandmother were old friends with Lucy's father, Alexander. They all fought many battles in the Keepers together. Even after my Grandfather fought tooth and nail to save Lucy, it failed and the dreaded day came, and it was time for her to go. Oddly on the exact day when she was loaded up onto a wagon to take her away her mother suddenly shows up just in time to save her.
It was the first time I met Janet, the woman who would continue to raise me even after my grandfather's dissapearance.
I still remember bawling my eyes out when Lucy was on the wagon. She tried cheering me up but it didn't change the fact she was leaving. Then there is a gasp from the crowd as a woman witj these demanding blue eyes casually strolls up and simply says one line.
"Hello, I'm Janet, Lucy's mother." Not the most impressive line but you could feel she commanded the elders and villagers.
When grandfather left Janet somehow convinced the elders to allow me to live with them. She would never tell me how still won't to this day.
I'll find out someday but I know one thing I owe Janet and Lucy my life because they gave me a home.
"Hello, Em, you still with me?"
"Oh y-yeah, that's good, just keep practicing. You'll pass, I'm sure. You are the strongest water elemental in the wastelands, after all. Well besides your mother, of course." I say teasingly tapping her with my arm into hers.
"That's right, Missy, and don't you forget it. We did not go through all of those vigorous training exercises my mom cooked up for nothing." We both grin at the thought of her mother's training exercises.
The mornings were rough because we had to get up early and practiced until the stars were our only light. We've both worked hard for this moment.
"That's right. Now, are you going to stay and watch my match?" I ask hoping she'll stay to be my side support.
"Of course, wouldn't miss it, Em, now go kick some ass! Be careful, though, she's fast and excellent with that spear."
"Duly noted, thanks." I ignore the crowd's whispering and try to focus on the upcoming fight.
Alright, Emily, you're up against a really strong opponent, so how the hell are you going to win? I don't know shit. How am I going to beat her...you're not going to do it asking yourself questions and answering them, now are you, Emily? Remember what Grandfather told you about analyzing a fight.
"Analyzing a fight, Emily, can be an excellent way to take advantage in battle. Always look for your opponent's weaknesses. Don't forget to focus on the area around you and the movements of your enemy. Learn how they move, watch how many steps they take, their breathing patterns if they protect the left side more than their right; knowing things like that can give you the advantage."
That was grandfather's favorite lesson, and he'd pound it into my head until it became second nature to me.
Okay, what do I know about Alva? She uses teleportation magic. That means quick and fast strikes, so my barrier magic should help me fend off her attacks. Also, that staff of hers will give her a massive reach, so I may need to use my wind scythe. It should help with counter attacking, and then I will have to find a weak spot quick.
My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of her staff (de)extending. She walks back over to the cart and places it in the front. I watch her pull out a small sword and unsheathe it. I wince listening to the sound of it scraping against the leather case.
The glinting of the light off of its shiny blade blinds me. Why is she using a real sword? This is a test, isn't it? Alva is known all over for her sword skills. They are unmatchable. I remember hearing grandfather say this, and hearing a few travelers talk about her. They're a perfect fit for her teleportation magic.
Oh boy, this is going to suck. Can I really compete with Alva? Man, this sucks. I did not mentally prep myself for death today.
"Miss Shroud, one question?" Alva's voice penetrates my worried thoughts and I look up, startled by her question.
"Yes, what...what is it?" I stand up stiff as a board.
"Why do you want to join the Peacekeepers? What is your reasoning?" Alva looks up at me waiting for my reply. Her piercing gaze makes it hard to think.
"My...uh my reason?" I stutter for my answer.
"Yes, nobody decides to go out and risk their life without a reason, so what are your intentions?" My heart is beating erratically now but I stop take a deep breath and gain my composure.
"My reason is...I want to become a soldier to protect others." That's all I can think of to say. It's not a lie it's the main reason. I would rather win this fight on my own without using my grandfather's name.
"I see, so you wish to keep some things a secret; very well." I listen to her mumble to herself about something. She shows her head then her sword arms drops to her side.
"Emily, I'm only going to ask only one thing from you with this battle." Alva's tone is terrifying. No, her entire aura is. I try to speak but it comes out in a stutter.
"Wh...what is it?" I can feel my knees shaking I squeeze them together hoping nobody would notice.
"I'd like for you to not hold back this fignt. Attack me with all your strength." Her tone is demanding.
Use all my strength for just this simple match. The more I sit here and listen to her talk, the more I start liking Alva. She has this aura of confidence and strength radiating from her.
Also, there's the fact that she looks so damn cool in her Peacekeeper cloak -her black non-sleeved vest with some strange pockets on the breast and her black skin tight pants. I think I can see a white shirt underneath it. Not that it's crucial information to the fight, but it's still cool.
I don't stand a chance against her every fiber of my being screams at me to not fight. But my grandfather's words echo through my doubts.
"Trust in your abilities, Emily. Wind magic comes from your soul; it can give you power. If you believe in the power you have, it will give you strength. Your emotions are strongly connected to your power, as well; remember that, Emily."
I can't say that I fully understand what my soul or my emotions have to do with magic power, but I do know that I need to believe in myself.
"Can you do that, Miss Shroud?" I'm startled back into paying attention.
"Yes, I can do that. If that's what you want, I won't hold back." Ah damn, am I actually going to do this? I question my sanity at the moment.
"Good, now here are the terms of how to win, either you make me forfeit or simply defeat me, understand?"
"I got it."
"Good, now let us begin!"
A gust of wind blows up some sand, I move my arm up to cover my eyes from the dirt and hot summer time air. When I uncover my eyes I can see some birds flying in the sky right above me chirping merrily.
"You should not daydream during a battle; it could cost you your life." I'm reminded of the serious tone my grandfather used to give me during our training when I was a child, but this time, it's coming from Alva. The sound of her voice in my ear and the feel of her sword's tip on my back causes me to jump and makes my skin crawl. A small pang of fear slithers into my mind freezing me in place.
Then my legs are kicked out from beneath me, making me land hard on my back. My body crumples up from the fall. I quickly look up to see her sword raised high, then being brought down quickly. With seconds to spare, I hold my hands up and raise a barrier to block her attack. It shatters on the impact. I have a quick sigh of relief.
It's good I can raise my barriers so quickly now. It helped me block her attack this time. I need to be more careful. Alva vanishes again and appears a few feet in front of me.
This teleporting gives her a huge advantage over me. I need to think of a way to slow her down enough to act. I can't bind her like Lucy can, so there must be another way. Maybe close range - no she would just teleport away, and I'll fall flat on my ass trying to hit her, and then look like an idiot.
I look up to see that Alva is gone. I quickly look around, searching for her, when a sharp searing pain tears through my arm the pain makes me quickly grab my arm for relief.
I can feel the blood sliding down my arm and dripping off my fingertips onto the ground. Damn it; she's so fast. I need to focus, or this battle will be over too quickly. I tune out the sounds around me, the whispers of the people. I need to be ready for anything. Just as I think that, I'm sent flying forward face first into the dirt from a kick to the back.
A little more ready for an attack, this time, I recover quickly by pointing my hands to the ground and sending out a gust of wind from them, shooting me back onto my feet. I can feel the rising and falling of my chest become more frequent as I use my mana.
"You're an elemental wizard who can use barrier and wind magic how.... interesting." Alva squints her eyebrows as she speaks.
"Oh, well, yeah." I wait for her to say something else, but instead, I am met by a fist to my face - sending me flying back into the dirt again.
As I push myself up to a squatting position shaking my head trying to throw out the daze and stars, I can taste the blood that's pooled up in my mouth and the blood coming from my nose. I can feel it sliding down my face the over my lips finally dripping off my chin into the dirt below. Alva teleports closer to me and bends down to speak her sword's tip pressed into my gut.
"Here's one rule of battle you should never forget, Emily. Never let your opponent distract you. If you do, then you'll be met by a fist to the face, or much worse. Now, are you going to take this seriously, or will I have to end this quickly?" She raises her left eyebrow waiting for my answer.
Alright, now I'm starting to get pissed off. I try to grab her ankle but she teleports away. My arm is on fire from the pain of moving too quickly.
Damn got to get up now. I wipe the blood off my face and spit out a glob of blood. The pain in my nose, arm and jaw are almost excruciating, but I knew how brutal the test was coming in. A little pain won't stop me. This is the chance I've been waiting for. I need to get closer to her if I'm going to get an advantage in this fight. I see her disappear again, and I close my eyes.
Okay, listen to everything. Seeing her won't help you. Maybe I can hear her sigh, or a crunch from the dirt and dust on the ground, or a simple footstep; anything will help. If she tries to use her sword, I could raise another barrier to block it. Except that won't help me get the advantage offensively. I could use my wind scythe to block her attack; that could catch her off guard leaving me a chance to strike.
Then I can use that distraction to my advantage. I ready myself for her attack and focus some magic to my hand; it's quiet for a second, and then I hear the sound of buzzing like a swarm of bees behind me - that's it! I release the magic in my hand, and it slowly begins to pull the wind around, forming it into a short scythe. I swing the scythe behind me, pivoting on my left foot. It makes direct contact with Alva's sword. Her eyes grow wide for a second, and then she smiles and teleports away before I can act on the distraction.
"You sensed my attack. Interesting, maybe this means I can step it up." I'm both enthralled and terrified by her words.
"Wait, step it up?!" I stand up straight relaxing my guard which is a mistake.
Ignoring me, Alva teleports away again. She's now in front of me. I block the attack from her sword again with a quick swing with my scythe. Our weapons clash, again and again, Alva's attacks and swings becoming stronger with each swing. Alva's teleportation seems to be getting faster, too.
I can't keep up with her attacks anymore. I jump away from her, trying to get some distance from the constant onslaught of attacks. When I do, Alva begins speaking to herself.
"Your defense is good; your senses seem to have become much quicker, also. To block my attacks so precisely, you're superb with your scythe there. What's most interesting is how you can use it to block me so effectively. Who taught you to use your wind magic so well?"
"Oh, that would be my grandfather." I interject with a bit of pride.
This causes her to pause; then she nods her head. Looking up at me with a smile, she stabs the smaller sword into the dirt, and then takes off her cloak ties it on the blades hilt then removes the straps that hold her katana in place and lays it down next to the other sword.
As she is tying her cloak around the smaller swords hilt I feel something begin to stir within me. I watch the cloak billow in the light breeze Alva stands up and stretches with her back facing me. When she's finished she turns around to face me.
"Let us use our fist for the rest of this fight," she says rubbing her wrists and stretching her arms and legs.
"Wait, why?" The sudden request is so weird.
"I have a question that I need answered, using the help of a weapon would not help get me the answer, so how's your hand to hand?"
"What's your question?" I ask my curiosity burning.
"I'll tell you once I get my answer; now fight!" She charges at me and sends her fist at my face.
I quickly disperse the magic from my scythe and smack down her fist. Then she swings her foot, and it hits me in my ribs and knocks the air out of me. I fall to my knees from the shock, and then I'm met with a kick to the stomach again.
Pain wracks my body as I gasp for air. Alva grabs my arm, and then sends me higher into the air. She teleports below me with a kick, sending me higher into the air. Then a whoosh, and she's above me. With a smile, I see magic form around her foot, and then she raises it up, sending me flying into the ground below.
Dust and dirt rain down around me.
"D-damn that was brutal" I say in a raspy tone.
I try to stand up but I lose my balance and fall back into the dirt. Shit I-I don't think I can get up. I try standing up again but to no avail I fall over kicking up some dust around me. Well, I guess I'm finished I reach for my arm but wince from the pain.
All that training to lose in the first test I'm as useless as all the villagers said.
I listen to the laughter and cheers of joy.
"Yeah she's done!"
"Seeing two wizards beat the snot out of each other is exactly what I love to see!"
"See I knew she was worthless just like those grandparents of hers."
Their words hurt and I can't disagree I lost so quickly, maybe I should just give up.
"C'mon, Emily, don't let this girl beat you like that. Get your ass up and fight!" Lucy's voice cuts through the crowds cheers.
She's right; I have taken worse than this, even though I am in a whole lot of pain. How can I stay down and give up I might loose but I'll give her a better fight.
I slowly push myself back up to my feet, ignoring the pain that's making my nerves scream all over my body with every movement. I stare at Alva while doing this, and I suddenly begin to feel an emotion I haven't felt for a long time.
The pain, the anguish, the raging emotions rushing through my entire body is overbearing. I don't know what's happening. I can feel myself beginning to burn up my mind's becoming cloudy. The thrill of the pain and torment from the villager's words, and the anguish of almost being defeated. It's...It's!
"It's driving me wild!" This is what a real fight feels like.
"Excuse me?" I can hear Alva's voice but it's distant, faint like the rest.
I've never been in a real fight before, only practice sessions with my grandparents and Lucy. It's exhilarating. I can't believe how good it feels. I haven't felt so amazing since before grandfather and grandmother left me. Finally!
But despite the sudden rush the fight has given me, there is a tiny problem that's keeping my happiness at bay. That would be something else. Seeing her standing there looking like she owns the fucking place really makes me -
"Huh? What did you say?" Alva stands with a cocky swagger that makes my blood boil.
"I said you've pissed me off. Now I really want to kick your pretty little teeth in." She seems taken aback by my words but she is immediately back on guard.
"I see, and how do you hope to accomplish that? You barely have any mana left, you're battered, bruised, and bleeding. I don't think you're in any shape to hold that threat up."
I felt a tiny bit of magical pressure coming from her as she speaks her last sentence. I see.
Trying to silence me with your magic Hehehe good, that means I must be getting to her. Good, now that makes me want to beat her to a bloody pulp even more. I don't even care about this test anymore. All I can think about is how great it will feel to knock that stupid perfect smile right off her face. The anger begins to rise in me. It's taking over my senses.
The emotions start to go from anger to joy. The joy is making me want to send my fist into her face again and again. I clench my first and begin to charge after her.