Chapter 211: Awaiting the Horde II
“Your movements are too stiff,” I reprimanded as I thrusted the pommel of my practice sword into my opponent’s wrist. “You need to loosen your shoulders and wrists until the last moments of your swing. If you can’t do that, the sword you’re using is too big for you.”
The sharpened longsword clattered on the ground as the young soldier shook his armored hand with a grimace. “Thank you for the advice.”
“Next!” I called out to the few dozen soldiers standing in line a few yards in front of me.
A burly woman clad fully in plate armor, holding a buckler in one hand and a shortsword in the other, walked up and dipped her head before getting into a stance.
A dense layer of mana enveloped her body while tendrils of wind swirled around her blade.
“Same rules apply,” I said, raising my thin sabre-like sword at the woman. “Attack me with the intent to kill.”
Any sort of hesitation had been wiped clean on the armor-clad brunette’s face after watching her predecessors fail in even touching a hair on the fur-lined mantle that I hadn’t bothered to remove.
With a determined nod, she dashed forth with a tremendous amount of speed for someone weighed down by a full set of armor. She attacked with a simple horizontal swing, the reach of her blade extended by the wind magic imbued within the weapon.
Rather than dodging, I parried, deflecting her sword upwards which opened up her defense enough for me to fit an open palm into her chest.
The woman was quick enough to raise her buckler in time to block my strike, but she still ended up stumbling back a few steps.
I let out a sigh. “If you’re already hesitating, this match is over.”
“I’m not sure what you mean, General. I was able to block your counter successfully!” the woman responded, her brows scrunched together.
“It doesn’t matter. Even if you had landed that initial slash on me, it would’ve barely made a scratch on an augmenter or a mana beast.”
Anticipating her question, I went on. “ Why? Because your weight was already on your back leg before you even swung.
She approached me once more, this time with careful steps. With a sudden stamp of her feet, she advanced with a lunge, extending her blade’s reach once again.
I dodged with a simple sway of my head but by that time, the armor-clad soldier had already reeled back her sword. The stab I had expected was a feint in order to bash me with her buckler.
Letting the full force of her buckler hit my arm and lift me off my feet, I tried to see what she’d do but rather than continue her assault, she stepped back and raised her guard.
“Why did you stop?” I asked, dusting off my mantle. “You had me in the air where I’d be more vulnerable. You have your armor and buckler to make up for small mistakes.”
The soldier stood quiet for a moment before speaking confidently. “I was wary that you were preparing for a counterattack.”
“If I wanted to counterattack, I would’ve done so before you hit me with your shield, not after,” I retorted. “Your equipment and your fighting style are total opposites of each other. Your footwork, attacks, movements and feints all point to a speed-type augmenter, but your armor, shield and even sword says otherwise. I’m not sure if you’re doing this to confuse your enemies or confuse yourself, but pick a side, because you’re going to get tired real fast out in battle if you try to fight the way you are with all that on you. Next!”
Quite a few soldiers that had been relieved of their posts to take a break had lined up to spar against me. A small crowd of merchants and people not currently preparing for the beast horde had gathered as well, excitedly wondering if any of them would land a hit on me despite all of the limitations I put on myself.
So far, I had barely exchanged two or three moves before stopping my blade just short of a fatal blow and giving a few unadulterated pieces of advice to the soldiers about to face the horde of corrupted beasts.
Just as a new soldier stepped up into the stone ring I had conjured, Sylvie’s voice chimed in my head. ‘I thought you said you were going to try and get some rest before setting out?’
I looked back to see her descending the stairs with Gavik and Callum on either side of her. I couldn’t fall asleep so I figured I’d warm up my body and train a few soldiers while I’m at it. How was your trip up to the top of the Wall? Is Ellie doing okay?
My bond cracked a grin as she walked up to me before speaking aloud. “Ellie is adjusting pretty well. When I went to see how she was doing, she was busy practicing shooting from the edge with a few other soldiers. One looked around her age too.”
I looked up at the towering wall, surveying the bustling activity within it as everyone prepared for the plan I had suggested. “That’s good.”
Gavik spoke up, approaching the ring I was in. “Captain Albanth and his troops are following through and tearing down most of the support beams holding up the underground passages. Captain Jesmiya is reallocating her troops around the ends of the Wall but…”
The burly iron-clad adventurer shifted his gaze for a moment. “Is it really necessary for you and Lady Sylvie to go by yourselves?”
I raised a brow. “No offense to you or Callum, but are you confident in fighting alongside us without me having to worry about actually killing you?”
Gavik looked back at the curly-haired conjurer behind him before turning to face me. Both he and Callum steeled their gaze and nodded. “Yes.”
“You know, Commander Virion sent you out here to assist me in the Wall’s defense but I doubt he meant it in this way. Just stay here,” I dismissed, waving the two of them off.
I could hear Gavik grit his teeth even from where I was standing, but the two of them turned and left, weaving in between the mages and shovel-holding workers all filing towards the underground passages.
“We could’ve used their help,” Sylvie said after the two adventurers had gone off. “And they seemed really determined to go with us.”
I motioned for the soldier on the other edge of the ring to come and held up my blunted sword.
Gavik has a daughter that looked to be about my age or even younger, if the picture on that pendant is recent. I saw him sneaking in a kiss after the meeting, I stated to Sylvie while redirecting my opponent’s thrust.
I could hear my bond letting out a stifled laugh from behind before she spoke back to me telepathically. ‘And here I was beginning to think how cold my bond has been to these poor soldiers. It seems like you’re getting better at keeping your thoughts from leaking into mine.’
A man’s got to be able to keep a few secrets, I joked as my sabre proceeded to press against the nape of my opponent. “If I’m not wrong, you’ve had a big injury on your right side in the past, which is making you focus all of your defenses to that side. You’re leaving your left side too open because of that. Next.”
“Mind if I go next?” a familiar voice called out to my left.
Sylvie and I both turned towards the source of the voice and I could feel a flood of elation leaking from my bond as she dashed off.
With gunmetal-gray hair, a shade darker and still dripping with water, and bright turquoise eyes that seemed to nearly glow on their own, I saw my childhood friend wave in our direction.
“Tessia!” Sylvie cried as she basically ran straight into the elven princess.
I smiled, taking in the sight of the two of them. While Tess hadn’t physically changed much since the last time we met, I could tell at glance that she had grown due to manning the fields.
The princess shifted gazes between me and the child currently wrapped around her waist. It wasn’t until her eyes focused on the horns protruding out of the girls head that she made the connection. “ S-Sylvie? ”
“No more sparring for today!” I called out to the crowd of soldiers and adventurers waiting in line with weapons in their hands before I made my way toward my childhood friend.
For a while, I stood silent and listened as Tess and Sylvie talked. My bond had always had a deep fondness for Tess, even calling her ‘Mama’ at one point in her life. I could tell Tess was still trying to wrap her head around how the dragon and fox she had cuddled with like a pet was standing in front of her as a human.
From the conversation I overheard, Tess and her team had gotten back an hour ago after receiving orders from a messenger sent out by Captain Jesmiya and went straight to the inn to wash up and rest. Much like myself, my childhood friend couldn’t sleep and decided to walk around the market area of the Wall when she ran into me.
I let the two of them catch up, walking a few paces behind, when Tess looked back over her shoulder and raised a brow. “What’s so funny?”
“Huh? Oh, I didn’t even realize I was smiling,” I replied, touching my mouth. “It seems like Sylvie’s emotions are influencing mine.”
“Hmm, if I take that the wrong way, it comes off as you saying that you’re not happy to see me,” Tess teased.
“Unlike Arthur, I will wholeheartedly admit that I’m happy to see you,” my bond replied before her expression dampened a bit. “I just wish it was under better conditions.”
“I agree, but I’m glad I was able to see the two of you before I leave. You look much more charismatic in that sleek new outfit, General Arthur, but Sylvie! I can’t get over how cute and pretty you look in this form!” Tess comforted.
My bond’s chest puffed from the compliment as she replied, “Back when we were in Epheotus, my grandmother did tell me that I would grow up to be a very pretty dragon.”
“I’m not sure if you’d describe a pitch black twenty-foot dragon with gleaming yellow daggers for eyes as ‘cute,’” I responded back with a smirk.
“Is this how you two always talked inside your heads?” Tessia asked with a chuckle.
“We’d been getting along fairly maturely until you came, Tessia,” my bond replied. “Your presence must be affecting Arthur.”
I rolled my eyes. “And there’s that snide little attitude I missed.”
Sylvie simply shrugged as the three of us walked aimlessly around the lower levels of the Wall. Workers, blacksmiths, artificers and soldiers alike went out of their way to greet Tess as we passed by them.
“You’re looking prettier than ever, Princess! A sight for sore eyes in these parts!” a bald blacksmith shouted as he waved in our direction with a pair of tongs he had been holding.
“I’m going to tell your wife you said that,” Tess replied with a mischievous grin.
Sylvie and I chuckled as the old blacksmith paled and quickly got back to work on the set of arrowheads spread out on his anvil.
“Head Tessia!” a young girl covered in soot called out as she ran toward us. Catching her breath, she said, “My master has a new set of armor for you that she’s been working on in secret.”
Tess’ face visibly brightened at her words. “Oh! Tell Senyir that I’ll go visit her later tonight! Thank you for the message, Nat.”
“Anytime!” The little girl beamed, her white teeth glowing brightly against her blackened face. Seeing me and Sylvie, she tilted her head. Giving us a slight nod, she scurried off.
“As expected of Tessia,” Sylvie chimed.
“Since I’m part of the Trailblazer Division, I don’t get to spend as much time here as I’d like, but I still got to know a few people here and there,” my friend explained as we continued on.
Sylvie followed beside her. “Still, they treat you so kindly. Most of the people that we meet regard Arthur with either awe or fear.”
“Well, seeing the head of a unit is one thing. Seeing a lance as young as Arthur would elicit a different sort of feeling,” Tess chuckled.
“Still,” Sylvie sighed. “He can make do with some improvements on his interpersonal skills.”
“You know I’m walking right behind you two, right?” I cut in.
Tess laughed, and by the warm fuzziness growing inside me, I could tell that Sylvie was having as much fun as our childhood friend.
When we reached the steep set of stairs leading all the way to the top of the Wall, Tess stopped and stole a glance at me before turning to my bond. “Hey, Sylvie. Do you mind if I steal Arthur away from you for a bit?”