CLAIRE BLADEHEART’S POV:
Humility. Loyalty. Resoluteness. Courage.
These were the words instilled in me even before I understood what they meant. These were the four qualities that were necessary in order to have a heart as sharp as a sword. This was the creed of the Bladeheart family.
Ignorant as I was as a child, I had truly believed that I would be able to follow this sacred doctrine my family was built upon… no matter what the circumstances.
How truly ignorant I was.
This was the thought that clawed at my mind, making my heart ache as I stood helplessly, watching… simply watching.
Simply watching as Theodore was beaten and burned into an unrecognizable state.
Simply watching as Elijah fearlessly tried to defy, despite being unaided, a figure so powerful I could only submit and hope… hope that I’d somehow make it out alive.
Even with my eyes fixed on the scene, I had trouble registering what exactly was occurring, much less believing it to be real.
What all of the student mages here could not hope to do, what all of the professors here failed to accomplish—Elijah, single-handedly, had achieved.
I had never deemed him as anything more than Arthur’s silly friend. He had given me the impression of being easy-going, almost ditzy at times, but not at this moment. After he had cursed aloud at Lucas, his demeanor shifted into someone unrecognizable.
As thoughtless and downright mad as he may have been, that ditzy friend displayed what I couldn’t.
As if Elijah’s enraged cry had released his soul, Elijah’s body seemed almost lifeless as his shoulders slumped and his head hunched forward. I couldn’t help but look away when suddenly a blast of black metallic spikes shot out of the ground. I thought Arthur’s friend had already died, but I realized it wasn’t Draneeve or any of his henchmen that invoked the mysterious spell; it was Elijah that casted it.
The spell he had used then was unusual, almost unnatural, but it was when he placed his palm on the surface of the barrier—when a black flame magic began coiling around his hand, melting the transparent barrier like it was butter—that a cold chill ran down my spine.
Seeing that mysterious magic destroy something so easily when not even the professors combined could scratch it, I felt hope. Maybe he would be able to end this. It was also then, alongside this feeling of hope, I felt an almost tangible contempt for myself.
I looked down to realize my hand had unconsciously gripped the hilt of my sword. I couldn’t help but scoff at myself. What use was this sword of mine if fear rendered me unable to even take a step forward?
Looking back up, I fixed my eyes on Elijah. He swayed as he walked, almost staggering like he wasn’t really in control of himself. Anyone that tried and opposed him was almost instantly pierced by a black spike. The speed at which each spell was casted shouldn’t have been possible. They couldn’t even be called spells, but more of an automatic defense mechanism.
I had never heard of something like this before, much less seen it with my own eyes—magic that was so unnatural… sinister… evil.
What confused me, and probably everyone else present, was how Draneeve behaved towards Elijah. Elijah was killing his mana beasts left and right; he had already killed three of his robed underlings. He should’ve been angry—downright furious at him for opposing his plans, but instead he looked… afraid.
I was only able to make out parts of what Draneeve was saying to Elijah as he frankly ignored the mastermind of this disaster, making his way towards Lucas.
I heard him several times repeating how he didn’t know…
I also thought I heard him refer to Elijah as ‘sir’… no, that couldn’t be right.
After his useless attempts at calming Elijah down, Draneeve started barking out orders to his robed lackeys, telling them to not lay a hand on Elijah. It was a strange sight as our fellow student was trying to kill his allies but the leader was ordering his allies not to fight back.
The other students were baffled at all of this, not quite sure what to make of it; some were voicing their doubts on whether he was actually on our side, perhaps suspecting that Elijah was actually in league with Draneeve. This was until he collapsed on the ground, his final attempt at killing Lucas ultimately unsuccessful.
While at first, we were too shocked by Elijah’s sudden outrage and display of cryptic powers to move, some of the professors composed themselves enough to realize that the fracture in the barrier made by Elijah at least gave us a chance to fight back.
This thought had already crossed my mind. I knew that with all of the mana beasts either dead or badly injured and Draneeve partially occupied with Elijah’s body, now was the perfect chance to retaliate.
I knew this, yet my feet stayed nailed to the ground beneath me. I knew this, yet I was still afraid…
“Students, clear a way!” An arcane professor led a small group of professors toward the hole in the barrier. The students absentmindedly shuffled out of the way. While many were too discouraged to want to join them on their crusade, the image of Doradrea’s decollated head and Theodore’s lifeless body burnt in their minds, some students still gathered the courage to try and join them.
Clive was one of them. I spotted him rushing towards the professors, his hands already wielding his bow and arrow but the professor in the back stopped him from going with them.
“Fools,” I whispered under my breath. It was still hopeless. Did the professors think that they could now somehow beat Draneeve? They should know better than us. Was it their sense of duty that was driving them to their deaths like this? Or was it their pride preventing them from being rational?
Was being courageous akin to dying a fool’s death? Was that what the Bladeheart creed wanted from me?
Kathyln must’ve heard me. Her red eyes, still quivering, were looking at me, as if I had an answer.
But I didn’t. I knew my limits and I knew only a fraction of what my enemies were capable of and even that was enough to rob me of any confidence to unsheathe my sword.
Like from an overused story my mother would always read to me before sending me to bed, the professors marched towards the fracture in the barrier like heroes on an expedition to save the princess from the evil magician.
I could see the arcane professor, whose class I took last semester, in the lead. Behind him was the spell formations professor who taught underclassmen. There was one professor that I couldn’t recognize following a few steps behind with a crooked wooden staff. Then joined Professor Glory. She caught my eye and gave me a firm, solemn nod before taking out a second sword from her dimension ring.
The look she gave me then sent chills down my spine. It was a look that I had never actually seen before, but one that my instincts knew—it was the look of someone accepting her death.
The Bladeheart creed clawed its way up into my mind.
Humility. Loyalty. Resoluteness. Courage.
Thinking of this caused a mixture of emotions within me: frustration, for lacking the resolve and loyalty a Bladeheart should display for her academy; shame, for lacking the courage to fight alongside them; and ignorance, for foolishly believing that I had what it took to be a leader of the Disciplinary Committee… to be a Bladeheart.
I shook my head in hopes to clear my dark thoughts.
Living through this would give me another chance to redeem myself, would it not? I couldn’t be courageous, loyal, resolute and humble if I was dead.
I turned my attention back to Draneeve, who had kneeled next to Elijah. It looked like he was checking for signs, making sure that Elijah was still alive, carefully, almost tenderly, like a royal attendant would for his king. Our professors, prized mages throughout the entire content, were promptly ignored as he barked out further orders to his robed subordinates to prepare something.
Finally, getting up as he carried Elijah’s limp body in his arms, Draneeve began walking towards the back of the stone platform where several robed men were fumbling with what looked like an oddly shaped anvil.
“Lukiyah. Change of plans. You will take care of the ones ignorantly approaching and dispose of these—” he glanced down at the students captured, his eyes stopping at our Student Council President, “— trash.”
“I will be heading back first. I expect you to follow us through the gate promptly after,” Draneeve continued, the pompous expression he once had nowhere to be seen.
“Why are you bringing that along with us?” Lucas started to say, but his voice ended in a gasp as his eyes bulged out. The arrogance on Lucas’ face left him in a second as he crumpled to his knees, sweat dripping down his face.
“You are but a mere tool. You will do as I say, no questions asked, and if you continue to display this sort of ignorance again, there will be consequences.” Draneeve’s voice was commanding and sharp, different from how it was when he first revealed himself.
Lucas’ face struggled to remain firm as he clawed at his heart until Draneeve kicked him, toppling him over on his side.
“Say it!” he growled.
Even from here, I could see Lucas’ jaw clenched angrily, but he convulsed and repeated through gritted teeth, “I… am… but… a… mere… tool.”
“It is ready, my Lord,” one of the robed mages near the anvil announced.
“Hmph.” Draneeve proceeded, leaving Lucas heaving, trying to compose himself before getting up.
We all watched as this happened. Even the professors, brave enough to march towards a mage so powerful that he played with a Disciplinary Committee member like he was a ragdoll, were stunned as he crumpled a mage to his knees with just a thought.
Professor Glory was the one to catch on that something was amiss. She pointed towards Draneeve, who was heading towards the anvil that was now glowing, crying out, “We can’t let him leave!”
The four professors rushed through the hole in the barrier when a pillar of fire, as thick as one of the support beams in the academy hall’s main entrance, shot up in front of them.
Lucas was still recovering, his face still lined with pain as he looked at the four professors. The desperate expression on his face was now gone, though, as he walked confidently towards the professors, conjuring another pillar of flame using his other hand.
By this time, it was already too late. Draneeve and a group of his robed lackeys were now gone, taking Elijah with them, leaving behind a glowing anvil-shaped object.
“Lucas! How dare a student of this academy be involved in such acts of terrorism?” Professor Glory roared as she imbued mana into both of her swords. The rest of the professors also held up their weapons, the arcane professor already muttering a spell.
A manic grin spread on his face as he started cackling, sounding more like a rabid animal than a man. “How dare I? You think you guys are anywhere near the level I am now at? How dare you speak to me as if you are my equal! You are merely bugs that need to be squashed!” As he spoke, the mana around him began swirling even faster, veins appearing on Lucas’ thin, gray arms.
Thus the fight began. The glimmer of hope, that I had now that Draneeve disappeared, faded as I watched my professors get tossed around. The spells Lucas used weren’t special, but the amount of mana he exhibited and the control he had over them was truly terrifying. Simple and obvious implications of multicasting only allowed for each spell that was used in congruence with another to be harder to control and weaker in power.
Even casting two spells at once consisted of essentially splitting your consciousness to mold and manipulate the mana differently. Since Professor Glory focused more of her skills in her swordsmanship with mana augmentation, she could barely initiate three spells while some of the more well-versed professors could cast four spells at once.
Yet, Lucas was easily casting six spells. He was surrounded by a flaming sphere that shielded him from any of the professors’ magic as four offensive spells had already knocked out the spell formations professor. A two meter flaming knight was fighting on par with Professor Glory, keeping her, who stood as the vanguard, from protecting her teammates. It was cruel to watch as Lucas easily overwhelmed the combined efforts of four professors.
“What are we standing here for, we need to help them!” Curtis voice stirred me from my daze. His clear eyes, shaking with rage and impatience, peered deep into me.
He was right; it was my duty.
I was the leader of the Disciplinary Committee.
I shifted my gaze towards the bell tower. I saw Feyrith and Tessia along with the other students that were captured. I saw Theodore; he could still be alive. We could still save him if we acted now.
Lucas was occupied with the professors and only a few of the robed lackeys stayed behind. It was my duty. Yet, why couldn’t I still move? Was my body so deeply entangled in the vine of fear?
“Gah!” A pained cry made all of us turn our heads.
It was Professor Glory.
She was lying on the ground, grasping her side, as a puddle of blood slowly spread from underneath her.
I was reminded of how she looked at me before crossing the barrier. Her eyes told me she knew she could die, but it wasn’t a look of resignation, but one of determination. She was definitely afraid, but she was doing what she could in hopes to give the other students here a chance to live.
“You’re right.” I tore through the shackles that had bound me to my spot and took a step forward. Unsheathing my sword, I locked eyes with Curtis as he got on Grawder, and he gave me a firm nod, his eyes reflecting the same determination that Professor Glory had given me.
I looked for Clive and a few other students I knew who were capable enough to be of use before going through the barrier.
The robed lackeys that were keeping us from escaping had already gone through to aid Lucas, so I was able to spot Clive helping some of the professors lead the students away from the area.
Curtis and I, along with a friend from Professor Glory’s class, stood as vanguard, with Kathyln and Clive riding on Grawder.
“D-don’t!” I barely managed to hear Professor Glory croak, her eyes wide in fear, when we were attacked by the robed lackeys. They were somehow completely covered under their robes, with even their faces hidden by unnatural shadows. I had just blocked an earthen spike with my blade when another robed figure jumped up from behind me, knocking me down.
Rolling away, I lashed out my sword at the robed man, slicing him where his throat should be. I felt it too… the sensation of my blade on skin. Ye, the robed man neither stopped nor flinched, his gray hands reaching out for me, mana surrounding them.
Just then, Curtis’ bond tackled the robed man from the side, knocking him away. “Are you okay, Claire?” Kathyln extended a hand to help me up after casting a spell to immobilize the enemy, when I heard a shrill howl from where the professors were fighting Lucas.
It was the arcane professor as he was being held up by his neck by the flame guardian Lucas conjured. His neck was steaming as the smell of burnt skin filled the air even all the way here.
As the arcane professor struggled to free himself, his screams were eventually reduced to throaty gasps as he desperately kicked and thrashed wildly at the fiery knight summoned by Lucas.
I would never forget the look on his face as his body fell limp. I tore my eyes away as the professor’s body caught on fire, burning through his clothes and skin as he was cooked alive for everyone to see.
I had to push my desire to run away. Was my choice wrong? I knew that professor. I still remembered the time he showed me a picture he had taken with his three-year-old daughter. I had told him it was a waste of money since getting a portrait would’ve been much cheaper, but he just grinned stupidly, cradling the picture like it was really his child.
What would happen to his family now?
I felt the dire urge to vomit but I was barely able to hold firm. Still, I was dazed enough to almost get hit squarely in the chest by a flame ball shot from another robed man. Barely managing to parry the spell and kicking him away while landing, I used this chance to survey the situation.
It was chaos as the professors that weren’t fighting against Lucas were trying their best in leading the remaining students away from this area. Around me, I saw Curtis with Kathyln riding on top of Grawder.
Over by the bell tower, I spotted Clive, who had just picked up Tessia from the ground, being knocked away by one of the injured mana beasts. The other few students that I’d brought along with me from Professor Glory’s class were doing their best against the remaining five robed mages.
To my right were the remaining three professors, and about a dozen meters away was Lucas, fighting them. Among them, Professor Glory was badly injured, her bloody right hand pressed against where her right kidney should be with her free hand barely able to hold onto her sword.
Gritting my teeth, I ran towards Clive. I knew what Professor Glory would have wanted me to do. I had to save the students while they were keeping Lucas busy.
Gathering mana into my blade, I picked up speed, muttering a chant.
Spearing the discolored grizzly wolf that had Clive pinned down, I helped him back up when a strong force lurched me off of the ground.
Clive’s sharp eyes widened and his lips mouthed my name, but strangely, I couldn’t hear a sound.
It wasn’t just him; I couldn’t hear any sounds.
And that’s when I saw a stone spike protrude out of my stomach.
Dropping my sword, I looked down and touched it. There was blood.
Suddenly, sounds came back in a barrage, shouts and screams filling my ears.
My eyes glanced back and forth between my bloody hands and the spike coming out of my stomach. I wanted to turn my body around to see what had happened, but I realized my feet were dangling in the air.
Looking down, I could see the giant spike that had skewered me up off of the ground.
I saw Curtis push aside the stunned Clive as he made his way towards me.
“Claire!” I saw Curtis shout, but this time, it just sounded muffled, almost as if I was listening to him from a different room.
Scenes moved slower as I saw Kathyln jump off Grawder and dash towards me, both of her hands covering her mouth in shock.
Kathlyn’s voice was the same inaudible, muffled noise that only differed in pitch from Curtis’ voice.
I tried to say something, but all that I could manage was a wet gurgle.
I thought of my father. His firm gaze. His eyes that drooped slightly from age. He had been the one who told me the importance the Bladeheart name represented. Would he be proud if he saw me now?
Just as I felt everything fading, I heard it—a blood-curdling roar piercing through the heavens.
It was a deep, rumbling thunder that shook the ground and the spike that was lodged through me with it. Even at the brink of death, I still somehow felt fear. It wasn’t the sort of fear that kept me from moving like earlier, but one that made my body want to instinctively bow in reverence.
In this state of near death, I thought for a moment that I had somehow hallucinated this sound, but then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it.
The unmistakable figure of a winged beast that every adventurer—every person—had once hoped to catch a glimpse of.
It was a dragon.
It was nothing remotely close to anything from the drawings my mother had showed me in books to scare me as a child. No, this dragon made those look cute in comparison.
With two horns protruding from each side of its sharp head and iridescent eyes that could freeze even a veteran adventurer, it was a manifestation of both sovereignty and ferocity. While most of the books I had read as a child described a dragon’s scales as precious shiny jewels, this dragon’s scales were such a rich, opaque black that it seemed to make its shadow look gray in comparison.
But as impressive and awe-inspiring as the dragon, that looked to be the size of a small house, was what made my heart truly tremble in fear: the boy below it.
It was the boy with the unmistakable auburn hair and familiar uniform. Each step he took, he walked with the most subtle, faint, yet solid confidence I had ever seen.
And seeping from his very pores was a rage so blatantly uncontained that I could only fear for whoever it was directed toward. The very air seemed to avoid his presence as the earth beneath him crumbled under his might.
All of a sudden, I couldn’t help but let out a choked laugh at how foolish I was for comparing him to Lucas. As my senses dimmed, my only thought was relief that I wouldn’t have to witness what he would do to those that crossed his path.
My only regret was not being able to see Lucas’ expression of defeat in the end.