Chapter 110: The Lost Art
He was a monster… a true predator.
That was the only thing that came to mind when he released the shackles he put on himself for my safety; when he released that petrifying pressure.
The paralyzing fear slowly spread through my body like a snake’s deadly venom. I clenched my sweaty hands, tightening the hold on my sword. The soft blades of gra.s.s rippled, swaying leisurely because of my trembling feet. The muscles in my legs continuously twitched, fighting the impulse to whirl around and sprint away. Salty blood filled my mouth as I bit down on my bottom lip. Holding my blade up, I approached the thickening aura emitting from my teacher.
A burning fire in the form of sweat stung my azure eyes, but I dared not to blink. Slowly, painfully, my brain sent signals, picking up my feet, and moving them in a cautious, but steady gait as I walked into the manifestation of fear itself.
“I’m coming, Arthur. Prepare yourself!” the voice rang clearly within the cloud of menacing air.
I forced my tightened jaw to relax and let out a barbaric roar despite already lacking the air to breathe, dispelling some of the chilling fear gripping my insides. “d.a.m.n it all!”
The teal blade in my hands dulled as I drew near Kordri, as if even my sword was afraid. But I kept walking, each step feeling as if I was trying to wade across a pool of undried cement.
Finally within range of my blade, I cleaved down, hoping to end this in one strike. Of course, it didn’t. Kordri parried Dawn’s Ballad like it was a foam stick, creating an arc with his blade as well. Just as my sword was about to hit the ground, I used the momentum to spin myself, whirling my blade back around at Kordri’s knees.
Another failed attempt.
Kordri’s short sword easily blocked mine, stopping it just short of his leg. Knocking Dawn’s Ballad away, my teacher threw a swift kick at my face. I could hear the sharp whistle of air as I dodged in time to bring my sword back up to an upward swipe.
Kordri turned his face to the side so my blade whizzed harmlessly by his ear.
“Your movements are getting better, even with my aura’s suppression,” my instructor commended. I knew he was just complimenting me, but seeing him have the leisure to talk while dodging came off as annoyingly smug.
It was becoming harder to breathe as I realized I was almost at my limit. One more desperate lunge toward Kordri was all I could manage before Dawn’s Ballad fell to the ground, my hands unable to hold onto it any longer. I fell to my knees, my legs giving out soon after, and I was left choking for air inside the confines of this h.e.l.lish aura.
“Not bad.” As Kordri’s voice reached my ears the pressure disappeared. Without the suffocating aura affecting me, my body desperately sucked in air.
Over a month had pa.s.sed in the outside world which meant about a year has pa.s.sed in here. A year of continuous, torturous training with Kordri’s short lectures being the only breaks I had.
Over the course of the month that had actually pa.s.sed, I have had no contact with Sylvie. The number of times I have been dying and forced out of the soul realm have drastically reduced. The liquid that surrounded my body and Kordri’s put us into a mock comatose state, even supplying us with the nutrients needed to stay healthy.
The last time we had left the soul realm was about four months in here, which translated to a little short of two weeks outside.
Kordri had kept me busy, but even then, I couldn’t help but long for my family and friends. There were so many matters that I felt like I had put off, continuously filling me with regret upon recollection. Elijah had been taken away to who-knows-where and I wasn’t even sure if he was still alive. I also don’t know whether Tessia had awoken, moreover, had left my family on such bad terms…
I knew that training right now was the best thing to do, but it ate away at me whenever I thought about it. It didn’t help that, during the year I was in here for, the only thing I had to show for it was being able to endure Kordri’s killing intent, or “King’s Force” as he called it, long enough to have a short exchange before plopping to the ground like a dead fish.
“H-How… How long… did I last?” I breathed out, finally able to form words as I rolled onto my back.
“You’re improving,” he replied, dodging my question.
I sat up, turning around to face him as I continued to catch my breath. “Not long enough, right?”
“Don’t dwell on the seconds. We are not seeking a specific duration, understand?” He said sternly, more a statement than a question.
“Now, again, but this time, no weapons.”
“Again?” I let out a sigh, picking up my trusted blade and sheathing it.
Kordri tossed his own sword onto the gra.s.s before explaining, “I know you prefer swordfighting, and I have to say that your blade, Dawn’s Ballad, is a fine partner to have, but as a mage, hand-to-hand combat continues to be the most versatile and adaptive form of fighting. If you have the patience to learn, that is.”
“Once I have drawn out the maximum potential of your human body, my role as your teacher will be complete. For the sake of the coming war, I will mold your bones, develop your muscles, and train your mind to its limits so that you will be the knight that protects your continent and your loved ones,” Kordri continued, putting some distance between us. “It is obvious that you have had training in melee combat, much more than a normal child. However, like I have said before, your fighting style is more suited for dueling against a single opponent.”
I nodded in agreement. In my previous life, a majority of my fights were in the form of duels since that was the custom there. Wars were rarely held, and even if they were, Kings were not to directly partake in them. After all, our lives were too valuable to risk.
“Since asuras are not allowed to partake in this war, their descendents, the mixed-bloods, will be their strongest forces. Your primary duty in this upcoming war will be to take care of those mutts that the Vritra Clan will send as generals or as special teams. You are incredibly strong, Arthur, but so are they, and do not think that they’ll line up and take turns fighting you. Expect to be put in a situation where you will be surrounded by enemies with asura blood coursing through them,” Kordri affirmed as he calmly circled around me with his hands behind his back. “Of course, unlike now, you will not have the restriction of mana usage placed on you so you would be free to wreak havoc. However, you will also have to to take into account that there might be ally soldiers or even civilians nearby. What will you do then? When it comes down to it, physical combat, laced with proper and precise mana usage, will be the most efficient and dependable way of disposing enemies. Especially if they are on a much higher caliber than the mages you are familiar with.”
“I understand.” I got into an offensive stance with my leading hand relaxed and my right hand curled into a fist by my jawline.
“The first lesson i had taught you was how to stay alive. More specifically, you were to get a grasp of fighting at higher speeds while trying to dodge a set routine of attacks. While I won’t tell you how much I have restricted myself when fighting you, I would say that your agility has improved to a level that I deem adequate. Your lesson, after that, was fighting under conditions of substantial pressure. Combat under the effects of my King’s Force, or killing intent as you call it, has strengthened your tolerance a considerable amount these past few months. There is room for improvement in both areas, but for now, it is time for the third segment…” Kordri’s voice trailed off as he came to stop in front of me.
“Your field of vision is too narrow, too focused.” Kordri’s voice resounded in my ears as if he was right behind me as I watched the figure of Kordri I had been concentrating on wisp away.
Realizing that it had been an afterimage, I whipped my head back but I was too late. A clean blow to my back sent me tumbling forward, causing me to take in a mouthful of gra.s.s. It was at nonsensical times like these that I couldn’t help but admire how realistic the soul realm was. The chunks of gra.s.s and dirt in my mouth tasted exactly like how I had imagined they would.
I stood back up, groaning as I stretched my back. “I thought we weren’t allowed to use mana,” I said, spitting out the gra.s.s in my mouth.
“I didn’t use mana. Remember, my physiology is fundamentally different from yours. I will restrain myself but it is inevitable that I will be naturally faster, quicker, and stronger than you. Now come,” he instructed, beckoning me with his hand.
I immediately propelled myself towards my instructor, putting professional short distance sprinters to shame as I got within range to attack. I could definitely feel that the mechanics of my body had improved while training with Kordri. My rear foot rotated as I spun my hips to create as much momentum as possible into my strike. Unleashing my right fist, I could feel all of my muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones working in harmony, like a well-oiled machine. Without even relying on mana, I was able to generate enough power in my punch to surprise Kordri.
As he dodged my blow in the last second, I could see a Kordri’s lips curl up slightly as he unexpectedly ducked underneath my right arm.
Never had I been thrown so swiftly, so helplessly, and so painfully as that moment. As I coughed from having the wind knocked out of me, Kordri held his hand against my neck as if it were the edge of a sword. Squeezing my own ribs in fear that it would crumble apart if I didn’t, I heard my mentor’s voice.
“I have to say. That was a very nice punch, Arthur. How much strength do you suppose you used releasing a strike of that power? Do you think you can do that for two days, three days straight? Can you do that for hours on end without pause and little sustenance in your body to give you that energy?” Kordri kneeled down to a.s.sess the damage on my body. “How much energy do you think I spent tossing you? I have to say, because of how powerful your strike was, the less energy I had to expend.”
Gritting my teeth to bear the pain, I sprung back up to my feet and took a stance.
“Energetic today, aren’t we? Good,” he replied, beckoning me once more.
Heeding his gesture, I approached and took a posture as if I would launch the same punch as I had done just before. Instead, I used the punch as a feint and jumped up, launching my right knee to his jaw.
Again, Kordri’s movements were different from before. I had been used to exchanging strikes with the asura, but this time, Kordri used his left hand to gently shift the direction of my launched knee, pushing himself to my right side simultaneously. In a quick, fluid motion, my mentor grabbed the collar of my shirt behind my head and executed a drop throw, propelling me to the ground, head first.
The world turned black for a moment and my ears rang fiercely when I woke up. Carefully, I stretched and ma.s.saged my neck, surprised that it hadn’t snapped cleanly in half from the force of his toss.
Maybe it was because of the blow to my head, but I suddenly recalled this type of combat art. aiki…do, yes, it was similar to aikido. It was ancient form of combat that was lost due to a decline in traditional martial arts after contemporary forms of combat became more widely used. After becoming a king in my previous world, I had access to numerous archives pertaining to martial arts and the art of dueling. I had glanced briefly through a book on the art of throws but took little interest in it besides the concept of capitalizing on the momentum of one’s opponent. Of course, I made much use of that knowledge, but did little to learn the art of throwing; it seemed too inefficient at the time.
“We had talked about proper conservation and distribution of mana when in prolonged battles, correct? Well, it goes without saying that it should be the same for your body as well. No matter how much mana you have flowing within you, it cannot act as a battery to power up your body. Mana, just like a sword, is a tool to control and utilize. Your body is the centerpiece that brings the tools together to create a true warrior. Now, you are healed, yes? Come,” Kordri commanded.
Wordlessly, I got back to my feet and dashed once more towards my mentor.
“Your body holds the capabilities of being all kinds of weapons,” Kordri explained, getting into an offensive stance. “For example, your fist can become a hammer or bludgeon, powerful enough to destroy walls,” he said, throwing a simple punch.
Dodging his first strike, I lowered my center of gravity and released a punch towards his solar plexus.
In a smooth, liquid motion, Kordri pivoted himself, wrapping his own arm around the arm I had just attacked with and redirecting my fist with the flick of his wrist. “It can also become a whip that locks and deflects the opponent’s attack.”
“Your hands can be blades, your legs, axes, all depending on the user,” Kordri said as he whirled around and placed his palm on my back. “And it can also be a cannon, capable of blasting your foes to pieces. Defend yourself with mana, Arthur. I will allow it,” he instructed.
I wrapped my body tightly in a coat of mana, focusing more on the area where Kordri’s palm was placed.
The deafening blast of the sound barrier being broken almost distracted me from the pain that spread throughout my body as I hurled through the air like a bullet. It was impossible to tell how many bones I had broken, how many organs had collapsed as my vision darkened and I felt my body being sucked out of the soul realm.
When I opened my eyes, I was in the familiar cave again, drenched in the mysterious liquid as well as my own sweat and probably my tears. A wave of nausea then hit me as if Kordri had actually just punched a hole through my sternum as I buckled forward and heaved out whatever was in my stomach.
“Ugh,” I moaned, trying to collect myself. Kordri was still in front of me, giving me an expression of what I guessed was sympathy, but shifted his gaze behind me.
“Ah, you’re here,” he said, standing up.
Turning around, my vision pa.s.sed the sight of Windsom and focused on the figure of someone I didn’t recognize. A boy, standing over five feet tall, looked to be about seven at most, took a step toward us and bowed respectfully in my direction. His head was also shaven like Kordri’s, but he only had two, nut-brown eyes. He was skinny but not sickly so, with a nice, toned body that didn’t match his childish face.
“I’m sorry for my lateness, Master,” the boy said, lifting his head, before tilting it as he regarded me. I could see his eyes giving me the once over and, when he locked eyes with me once more, shot me a look of haughty derision.
It seemed beneath me to get angry at a kid who was younger than my sister, so I just raised a brow and turned back to face Kordri.
“Who’s the kid?” I asked una.s.sumingly.
“Arthur, I’d like you to meet Taci… your new training partner.”