Chapter 227: Above Limitations
“Hey. It’s me, Grey. Just thought I’d try this phone again. Anyway, the King’s Crown Competition is starting in our city and Lady Vera already got me a spot to compete. I’ve been just training ‘til now so going out in the official competition really makes it feel… real. “Did you know that Jimmy Low—you know, that cocky overweight guy in our class with the lisp—is also a contestant too? When Lady Vera told me that, I thought of the time when you sold him that fake contraption that was supposed to help him lose weight while he sleeps. I bet he’s still mad that you conned him like that.
“Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I told Lady Vera to save a spot for you in her family’s private viewing room. It’d be great if you could come by and watch me kick everyone’s asses… I miss you, Nico. I don’t know what’s happening to you but just know that you’re not alone in this. I’m here for you. “You know where to reach me. Hope to hear from you soon, man.” I ended the call after hearing the monotonous confirmation that my message had been sent and let out a sigh.
“Damn it, Nico. What the hell are you up to?” Rubbing my temples, I leaned my head back against the reading chair and waited for the pain to subside.
The last time I had seen my friend was the night we had fought. It had been a few weeks after Cecilia was taken and my training was becoming harder as the competition dates drew near.
I would train from dawn until sundown and then sneak out of Lady Vera’s manor in order to help Nico put up fliers and ask around local police departments for any information. Half the time it was us getting scolded or kicked out of their offices.
Tired and fed up with the lack of progress, I suggested we call it a night. That’s when Nico blew up on me. He accused me of being callous and uncaring because I was prioritizing my training with Lady Vera over finding Cecilia.
I couldn’t hold it in anymore at that time either. I had tried to reason with him before, saying that if the enforcers were really the ones who took her, the two of us were way out of our league. Still, my stubborn friend couldn’t sit still knowing that his girlfriend was somewhere out there.
I didn’t blame him but that didn’t mean I agreed with him. Needlessly insisting that two kids barely out of highschool—military or not—could make a difference in an investigation that no one was investigating, was optimistic at best.
With the promise of making sure Lady Vera’s best investigators would help, I called it an early night.
That was the last time I heard from Nico.
I did the right thing, I assured myself, sinking back further into the chair. Right now, winning the competition is the most important. The city tournament shouldn’t pose much trouble and I’m fairly confident even for the county tournament.
Even if I won’t become a king right away after I win the entire King’s Crown Competition, I’d still have influence from the Council. My two biggest goals were to get to the bottom of Headmaster Wilbeck’s murder and then finding and protecting Cecilia so she and Nico could go live a happy little life together. Despite Nico’s urgency, I knew Cecilia wouldn’t be harmed, assuming that the enforcers had taken her—she was too valuable of an asset to kill.
That’s why I have to win. Just a few months… then I can make everything right once I become a king.
“Cadet Grey…” a soft mellow voice sounded nearby. My eyes flickered open, my vision still a blur. It was only when I felt someone touch my shoulder that I snapped awake. The results of my instincts and training kicked in, and by the time I was truly conscious of what I had done, a maid was sitting in the seat that I had fallen asleep in and my right hand was pressed slightly against her throat.
“M-My bad!” I quickly let the maid go, helping her back on her feet.
“No… my apologies, Cadet Grey. Lady Vera had informed me not to make contact with you when you were sleeping. I must’ve forgotten,” she quickly amended, dipping her head lower.
She then gestured to the training uniform that she had laid out neatly on my unused bed. “Lady Vera has instructed me to inform you that today’s lessons are cancelled in light of the upcoming tournament. Instead, you will be sparring with the other king candidates sponsored by Lady Vera’s family.”
“Will Lady Vera be there?” I asked, already changing into my training clothes.
The maid shook her head. “Unfortunately, she will be busy with meetings. She has assured me, however, that she will still make it to your rounds for the city competition tomorrow.”
I was disappointed but I didn’t let it show as I nodded in reply. After the maid excused herself, I found my hand fiddling with the small trinket that Lady Vera had given me after she saved me from those interrogators that tortured me. It was the insignia of Lady Vera’s house. The Warbridge name that Vera carried distinguished themselves with the emblem of two crossed swords supporting a golden arch.
Whether it was the reassurance it gave me, proving I had a house that I belonged to, or the fact that it was given to me after one of the most difficult times in my life, I couldn’t go anywhere without it. I stuck it back into my pocket before heading down.
As I walked through the unique-looking buildings and structures placed in between the flawlessly groomed garden and lawn of the Warbridge estate, I was reminded of how different this place was from the usual places I’d been to.
It might’ve had to do with the fact that being in a named house’s estate for the first time, or the fact that the Warbridge House members were actually citizens of a different country.
I had learned fairly early on was that, while they were not from my homeland of Etharia, their home country—Trayden—had had an alliance with Etharia for over ten years now. This made them eligible to be sponsors for Etharia’s kings, and vice versa.
I wasn’t too interested in the politics involved in all of this, but since the king still did have a weight in meetings of the Council, I was required to take extensive lessons about the different countries and their diplomatic alliances toward one another.
By the time I arrived in the Warbridge dueling arena, there was a flurry of activity and noises coming from within.
Aside from the five government-approved dueling platforms with proper safety features added were a variety of training equipment. Some of the older—but still efficient—contraptions used lead weights while other more up-to-date tools utilized the user’s own ki to power and train.
Normally, there would be quite a few cadets on various training machines but today was different. Family members of the cadets being sponsored here were cheering on their children or siblings that were duking it out in the arena while the cadets that weren’t able to make the cut to participate in the city competition had been expelled with their contracts cut off.
I was just in time to see a facilitator I hadn’t met before mark the start of a mock duel. Keeping to the back, I watched with curiosity as to how the other candidates under Lady Vera were doing.
Having the privilege of being taught by her personally, I had never actually seen the others, much less knew their skills.
The one to initially catch my interest was the one without a weapon. His expression and the way he held himself told me he had some level of confidence against the sword and shield cadet.
As soon as the mock duel began, the one without a weapon held out his empty hand and shouted, “Form!”
What fizzled into his hand was a glowing yellow spear.
Immediately, the crowd formed around the spar roared with surprise and pride.
“It’s an actual ki weapon!” an older gentleman exclaimed.
“And he formed it so fast,” another man beside him added.
If it had been a year ago, I would’ve reacted just like the ones in the crowd, perhaps even more because of my disability. It didn’t just take a lot of time and effort to form a ki weapon, but a sufficient amount of ki as well.
However, I knew from my many lessons with Lady Vera regarding the types of opponents I would face—and even seeing her manifest her own ki weapon—that this cadet’s spear was no better than an embellished plastic stick at this point.
I had been taught that true masters of ki weapons spent years physically crafting the type of weapon that they wanted to materialize in order to be able truly visualize how their own weapon would manifest. From there, they would start by slowly enveloping their own ki around the type of weapon they wished to form. It was only after they had truly mastered this step that they transitioned into forming a weapon with just their ki.
This cadet, who couldn’t be more than a year older than me, had obviously skipped out on a lot of steps. It was obvious from how his weapon materialized and how simple the design was. The generic ki spear had almost bubbled into existence unlike the videos of true ki weapon masters I’d seen.
Still, I couldn’t help but feel a pinch of envy at the fact that he could do something that I would never be able to do. Unlike regular weapons, that had to be inspected and constantly kept within regulations by the World Committee to prohibit cheating by using technology, ki weapons did not have restrictions in competitions. This included even Paragon Duels that happened amongst kings over political disputes.
It was an advantage that many kings utilized… one that I could never even dream of doing.
Putting aside my self-pity, I peered with a watchful eye. While most of these cadets were chosen through various talent agencies, they were still here because they met the Warbridge family’s standards.
“Begin!” the facilitator barked, taking a step back.
The look on the sword and shield cadet’s face told me the initial shock from the ki weapon had faded. Steeling himself, he charged forward with a ki-infused step. He feigned a shield bash and pivoted to the spear user’s left side. Keeping his shield up in defense against the spear, he swiped down towards his opponent’s open thigh with his shortsword.
Caught off guard, the ki weapon user stumbled back but managed to at least dodge the attack to his leg. By how the spear user quickly regained his balance and wits and kept the shield cadet out of range showed that he had some sense of fighting.
Through superior range and the advantage of weapons, the spear cadet won. It wasn’t a one-sided battle though, and I could tell by how pale the winner’s face was by the end that if his opponent had managed to break his ki weapon, he wouldn’t have been able to materialize another.
Still, that didn’t keep the winner from forming a nasty sneer on his sweaty face and kicking the shield away from his opponent.
Rolling my eyes, I made my way towards the arena to let the facilitator know I wasn’t skipping out.
“Oh look, it’s Lady Vera’s favorite pet,” one of the spectating cadets that had yet to spar spoke up.
Everyone turned towards me, giving me different expressions… none of them particularly pleasant.
Ignoring them, I walked up and waved at the stout and muscular facilitator. “I was told to do a few rounds before my ki meditation this afternoon.”
“Mmm, I was told you would be coming but I don’t have a cadet assigned to be your sparring partner yet,” he grunted, lowering the barrier generated around the arena before looking around.
I stepped into the elevated platform without a word, immediately stretching and getting the kinks out of my body that came from falling asleep on the chair.
“I don’t think I’d be able to pair you up accurately with someone since I’m not familiar with the level you’re at. Anyone in particular you want to spar with, Cadet Grey?” the facilitator asked.
“Anyone’s fine,” I said, not bothering to stop stretching.
“Let me go, Mr. Kali. I’ve been curious how good Lady Vera’s crippled pet is,” a familiar voice jeered.
I looked up to see that it was the cadet that just sparred using his ki spear.
“Mason. Keep your tongue in check while you’re in my dueling arena,” the facilitator admonished before turning to me. “Are you okay with him?”
I stood up, looking at the boy named Mason while stretching my arm. “I’d prefer a cadet that’s in better condition.”
Mason slapped his palms on the hard arena floor. “I can beat you silly with both feet anchored to the floor! Mr. Kali, let me teach this cocky brat a lesson!”
There was a beat of hesitation before the facilitator jerked his thumb back, signaling Mason to come up onto the arena. “Put on your protective gears. Cadet Grey, pick out a weapon.”
After putting on the chest and head piece infused with ki, I picked out a single-edged short sword from the rack. After checking its balance like Lady Vera had taught me and swinging it a couple of times, I walked backed to the center of the arena.
“Did you forget your shield or other sword, Cadet Grey?” Mr. Kali asked, looking at my single blade.
“No. This is fine,” I replied.
Mason looked to be waiting for me to appear fully in view before he materialized his ki weapon. Raising his hand dramatically while locking gazes with me, the spear glowed into existence, albeit a little slower than the first time.
After getting a nod of confirmation from the two of us, he swung his hand down. “Begin!”
While I didn’t want to drag this battle out, I knew that I couldn’t just rush in like the previous cadet had. Thinking critically was something I had long since gotten used to because of my lack of ki. I wouldn’t be able to create that burst of speed like the sword and shield cadet had done, so I stood my ground.
In fact, I didn’t even take a stance, going as far as leaving my neck wide open.
“Is this a joke?” Mason scoffed, pointing the tip of his glowing spear at me.
“The duel has already begun,” I replied simply, cracking a smile.
“Don’t blame me if you wind up physically crippled as well, no-name,” he snapped before bursting forward in an explosion of ki.
I had to admit that his charge was impressive, especially considering how much ki he had spent the last round as well.
Still, to my eyes, his movements seemed almost telephoned. Over a year of training under Lady Vera and her team of coaches had honed my untamed instincts into an almost unfair technique.
At the last moment, I dodged his thrust and struck up at his right hand fingers gripping the spear in the front.
I could sense the thin protective aura of ki shudder, absorbing the impact. Mason still winced in pain though, and more importantly, he was still in my range.
I sidestepped and brought my sword back down on the same hand, but from a different angle.
Sensing my intent, Mason shifted his movements to block but even the slight twitch in his shoulder told me where his next move was going to be.
By the time he positioned himself to block my strike, my strike had already shifted course and landed on his gloved fingers.
This strike didn’t end with just a wince.
“Gahh!” he belched from the pain. I had to give him credit for not letting go of his weapon, despite the crack that resounded from the blow.
It took all of two more moves to finish the spar, and another half hour to finish the rounds against the remaining cadets.
By the end of my warm up, the looks of pity that some of them had given me for being a cripple were wiped clean.
“Ahh!” I breathed out after taking a long chug from the soda bottle I had kept hidden from Lady Vera. It was lukewarm but the sugary carbonation helped me in ways no amount of training and healthy foods could.
After drying myself from the shower and changing into more comfortable clothes for my meditation, I walked down the halls when I heard a familiar voice in the floor below by one of the studies.
I ran down the stairs, excited to greet Lady Vera. It had been more and more difficult to even see her face, but I stopped in my tracks when I saw an unfamiliar man with her by the door. He was facing away so all I could tell about his appearance was that he had short trim hair and dressed fashionably in a military-styled suit.
“Yes. Yes, I understand. I’ll let him know that he’s qualified,” Lady Vera said to the man softly. “He might get curious but he’s not too greedy about actually competing so I don’t think he’ll press me too much,” she continued.
His voice was low and hard to understand but I could hear bits and pieces of Lady Vera speaking before she escorted the man inside the sound-proofed study.
“Of course. Yes, she won’t be mentioned. I understand. Thank you. You’re right. He’ll have to fight at least once in order to appease the mass. We’ll prepare Grey for the district…”