Chapter 204: Lost Words
I stepped back as Lady Vera positioned her thin metal stick she called a ‘foil’ for a horizontal swing. Still, somehow, the foil managed to slap my left arm.
“How?” I hissed, rubbing the fresh wound. “I thought I dodged that.”
“You’re too focused on my weapon,” Lady Vera answered, keeping her body still. “Your vision should encompass your enemy—or enemies—as a whole. What do you see differently right now?”
I looked down at the foil still pointed at me. “Aside from the obvious?”
That earned me another smack with her weapon. “Don’t get smart with me, kid.”
“Okay, okay!” I yelped. “And I have a name, you know.”
“I’m aware that you were named after a rather boring color,” Lady Vera said bluntly. “Now, answer my question.”
Afraid of getting hit again, I scanned the tall woman. She wore a dark shirt and tight-fitting black pants, which only emphasized her long, curly red hair.
After saving me from my captors several months ago, I began my lessons a few weeks back after completely healing from my injuries. While her methods were brutal and her personality was about as warm as a block of ice, they were effective.
“Well?” she pressed, jolting me out of my thoughts.
I let out a breath and pointed at her foot. “You pivoted using your lead leg, bringing your back foot forward for longer reach.”
“Good,” she nodded in approval. “Although, if you weren’t able to see that from the track mark on the ground…”
“Yes yes. Then I don’t deserve to be your student,” I finished. “Now, how do I get better?”
My mentor muttered something under her breath before walking over to the manmade pond she had in her yard. The entire ‘training ground’ we were in, which stretched out for fifty yards in both length and width, was her backyard.
The simple fact that she even had a backyard in a city where high rise building took up about every available plot of land spoke a lot about her wealth and power. Adding to the fact that her entire backyard—which looked like something out of an old nature magazine—was also blocked off from the outside world by a twenty-foot wall made me wonder what sort of position she actually held in Wittholm Academy, the military school I was still enrolled in.
As we reached the clear pond that had fish in it—actual, live fish—Lady Vera sat down at the edge and motioned me to join her.
“Try catching a fish with your hands,” she said. “Without using ki.”
“What? Won’t they die if they come out of the water? I-I don’t think I can afford to replace a living fish like this.”
She gave me a rare smile. “Don’t worry about that and just try.”
Gazing warily at the aquatic animals that I’ve only seen in a frozen and processed form, I reached in and tried to scoop one up. Just as my fingers barely touched the water, however, the gold and black fish darted off to the other end of the pond.
“So fast!” I exclaimed, marveling at its speed.
She snapped her finger to get my attention. “Again.”
It only took about a dozen more tries to realize that there was a message that I was supposed to be getting from all of this. Frustrated and wet, I swiped my hand without a care whether I’ll hurt the fish or not, only to slip on the wet stone and fall inside the water.
“Gah!” I flailed out of the water, letting out a gasp as my mentor just laughed.
Barely managing to climb back out of the deep pond, I laid back on the grass. “What’s the point of this, anyway? It’s impossible to catch one with just your bare hands.”
“Is that so?” my mentor said in a haughty voice.
“Yes, it’s imposs”—I lifted my head, only to see that she was holding a fish in her hand—“what? No way! Do it again!”
Lady Vera shrugged and threw the fish back into the pond. “Sure.”
I scrambled back to my feet and watched closely in case my mentor tried to pull a fast one and use ki or cheat in some other way.
Leaning forward, Lady Vera waited with her hand close to the surface. Just as another fish was about to swim by, she dipped her hand slowly into the water and came out with the fish in her hand.
She shot me a smug grin, tossing the fish back in. “Now do you believe me?”
“I don’t get it. You did it so slowly…” I mumbled. “Wait! Did you train these fish to just go into your hand?”
“Do I look like someone that’d spend the time to do something as useless as that?” My mentor looked at me, deadpan.
I scratched my head. “I guess not… but I still don’t understand the point of this, unless it was for you to just show off.”
My mentor splashed water on my face at my remark. “I did it to show you that you and these fish—the ones that were able to make a fool of you—are similar.”
I furrowed my brows. “What?”
Lady Vera’s hand suddenly shot out toward my face, causing me to whip my head to the side.
“Your reaction speed is fast, frighteningly so,” my mentor explained, patting my shoulder. “But it’s instinctual, not tamed, just like these fish.”
“I don’t understand. What do you mean tamed?” I asked.
“You might not be aware of it but, through of this ‘ability’, by the time your opponent’s arms flex in order to throw a punch, your brain has already sent a signal to your body in order to react. Now, if your opponents are on the level of students here, you hold a large advantage over them. However, if left like this, stronger opponents can easily predict how you’re going to dodge, just like how I predicted the fish would try to dodge when I grabbed it.”
I thought for a moment and realized that what Lady Vera said was pretty spot on. “So how do I ‘tame’ this ability?”
“By responding, not reacting,” she answered, getting up and taking an offensive stance.
“Isn’t that the same thing?”
She shook her head. “One is intentional, the other is instinctual. We’ve focused on basic conditioning for the most part, but I think you’re ready to start learning how to start responding.”
My eyes shined in excitement at the thought of finally learning to fight from Lady Vera. “The fun part!”
“Fun for me,” she replied with a dark smile, swinging her foil in a figure eight. “But lucky for you, your next class starts soon so we’ll start with this exercise tomorrow.”
I let out a groan and rubbed the welt on my arm from where she hit me earlier.
“There’s a car waiting for you to get back to school,” Lady Vera said while shooing me away. “Now scram.”
“Thank you for the lesson,” I grumbled before picking up my uniform and backpack that were hung by the door before leaving.
While the ride back to school took less than an hour, I still managed to fall asleep deep enough for the driver to have to shake me awake after arriving.
I took a deep breath as I stepped out of the sleek black vehicle, prepared for the sharp gazes of my peers at the mere luxury of being able to ride a private car. However, the outer courtyard that was usually filled with students either lounging around in between classes were all gathered around the entrance of the administration building on the left. Blocking off the perimeter were several fortified vans that looked a bit different from the usual city’s police force.
“What is going on,” I muttered to myself, making my way toward the crowd.
Armored guards in black, with their customary straight sabers strapped to their hips, kept all the curious students from getting any closer from the building doors. These weren’t normal police officers; they were enforcers.
I grabbed the nearest student. “What happened? Why are enforcers here? Was there a break in or an attack?”
“Did you just get here?” the boy scoffed. “You missed the huge explosion that happened out in the training grounds.”
“Explosion? Do you know what caused it?”
“Apparently, it was a student.” The boy smirked. “Now, outta the way. I want to try and get closer.”
The boy disappeared in the sea of students, leaving me dumbfounded.
How big of an explosion was it for enforcers to have to come, I wondered, looking at the soldiers clad in thin armored uniforms that were designed to strengthen when imbued with ki.
I couldn’t help but remember how Nico had gone on and on about how revolutionary the material those uniforms were made of was… vein fiber was the name. He had also mentioned how expensive vein fiber was to produce, which was why they were only provided for kings and elite soldiers, either for the special operation soldiers going on international missions or enforcers of the counter-terrorist squads.
Speaking of Nico, if anyone knew what was going on, it would probably be him, I thought, my eyes scanning through the crowd in hopes of finding him or Cecilia.
Unable to get a good view, I turned back and climbed up one of the light post until I spotted a familiar dark-haired boy. He was at the very front, just beyond the perimeter that the enforcers had set up, but I wasn’t sure if it was Nico. I narrowed my eyes, focusing on him until he finally turned around.
“There you are.” I jumped down and made my way through the crowd of students. After bumping shoulders and fighting my way in for a good ten minutes, I was able to squeeze and get to the front.
“Nico!” I called out.
My friend turned around and the first thing I noticed was the trail of blood running down his lips. That was never a good sign.
“Grey!” He exclaimed, making my way to me.
“Your lips are bleeding, Nico. What’s going on?” I asked, my eyes shifting between Nico and the enforcers just a few feet away behind the red warning tape. “Some guy told me there was apparently an explosion caused by a student.”
“I don’t know what happened. The ki restrainer must’ve malfunctioned. But I checked it just a few days ago and it was fine. I don’t know what happened! It’s all my fault!” he said, chewing on his lips again in worry.
“Slow down, Nico. You’re not making any sense,” I answered.
Nico buried his face in his hands. “It’s Cecilia. She had one of her accidents.”
I opened my eyes, letting out a deep breath. It’d only been a few days since my last ‘dream’ and this one was a particularly bad one. It was a memory that I would never forget, dream or no dream. Along with Headmaster Wilbeck’s death, it was that day that caused my life to unfold the way it did.
I looked outside the window to see that the sun had yet to fully rise, which meant that I had at most only a two or three hours of sleep.
With a groan, I got out of bed and washed up, hoping cold water will help wash out the fatigue that seemed to have made a permanent home in my body.
‘You’re awake?’ my bond asked, not bothering to speak.
“Yeah. I don’t think I can fall back asleep anyway. Want to join me in a morning stretch outside?”
‘As enticing as that sounds, unfortunately, that requires me to get out of bed,’ she replied pulling the covers over her head.
“Growing children do need their sleep,” I agreed with a chuckle, drying my hair with a towel.
‘That immature retort speaks volumes about who the child actually is between us,’ she replied casually.
I let out a laugh. You got me there.
After dressing in a plain loose shirt and dark trousers, I headed out, passing my desk. Looking down at the messy paper filled with bits and pieces of the poem that I tried to remember, I changed my plans.
On second thought, I’ll give Rahdeas a short visit. Hopefully he’s functional enough to repeat the poem.
I greeted the few maids and workers that were just finishing up their night shift as I made my way down toward the dungeon.
Walking through the long, dimly lit hallway leading to the entrance of the first level, I spotted a familiar face guarding the door… using the term ‘guarding’ very loosely.
Albold, the elf of the Chaffer family that Virion had introduced was currently nodding off to sleep as he stood guard beside the large metal door.
With a smirk, I erased my presence and softened my breath. I coated my footsteps in mana in the same precise manner that I did back when I was training alone in the forests of Epheotus.
I quickened my speed as I got closer to the sleeping guard but as soon as I was within a few yards of the door, Albold’s eyes shot open and a thick layer of mana covered his body and swords as he swung out.
I easily caught the two blades with my hands, but I was still surprised.
“General Arthur?” he said incredulously, quickly sheathing his dual blades. “Sorry about that, I swore I felt someone sneaking up on me.”
“I was sneaking up on you. Weren’t you asleep?” I asked, suspicious.
“Ah… I got caught.” Albold scratched his head in embarrassment. “Please don’t tell Commander Virion. I barely have a few days left doing guard duty! I can’t stay here any longer!”
“Relax, I was just impressed,” I chuckled. “Virion was right, your senses are good.”
“Haha, saved my ass more than a couple times in my life,” Albold responded. “So, what can I do for you, General?”
“I need to speak to a prisoner,” I replied. “Is Gentry inside?”
Albold nodded as he opened the door. “I can’t think of a time where he hasn’t been inside.”
The two of us walked in and soon found Gentry sleeping on a cot in one of the cells of the upper-level dungeon.
“Who…Wha-What’s going on?” Gentry muttered as we shook him awake. “G-General? What can I do for you?”
“Can you open Rahdeas’ cell for just a moment? There’s something I want to ask him,” I explained.
The interrogator rubbed his eyes as he began unlocking the entrance to the lower level of the dungeon. “Of course. And my apologies again for the trouble I caused by calling the entire Council. I was certain that the traitor was going to reveal something important.”
After a few clicks, Gentry motioned for Albold to help and the two of them heaved the doors open.
My eyes widened at what I saw. Gentry’s assistant was splayed out on the floor with several black spikes pierced through his body. Seeing the spikes, my gaze immediately veered toward the cell that Uto was in, only to lock eyes with the retainer.
I immediately imbued mana around me, fearing that Uto would leap out, but the retainer was completely still and silent—no signs of life in his glossed eyes. he smiled.
Albold let out a sharp gasp as he strengthened his body as well and drew his swords.
“Shester!” Gentry cried, oblivious of the retainer out of his cell.
“He-He’s dead,” I muttered, eyes focused solely on Uto. Because of his black body, I didn’t notice the spikes pierced through his chest and stomach as well with blood still leaking out.
“Rahdeas!” I stepped inside the dungeon and the restrictions of magic in the room could immediately be felt. Jumping over the assistant’s corpse, I swung open the door to Rahdeas’ cell that had been unlocked, only to see that the old dwarf had met the same fate as Uto and Shester.
He was dead.