Aubrey has heard from a messenger that Pitiful’s men’s expedition through the Ulfur Forest would be coming back today. Hearing that news, I promptly took a day off and Aubrey joined me as well. We wait at one of the city gates as Pitiful’s men slowly come through. I wish this wasn’t the case but just how pale they all are is really exciting me~ I try to repress that side of myself as the two of us wait for Kiaran.
After a few minutes of waiting, Aubrey and I spotted him. His hair is a bit longer, his face is a bit ruffed up, and he’s switched outfits to a more rugged one like the rest of Pitiful’s men are wearing. Most noticeably though, is that he has a massive red scythe strapped to his back. Aubrey and I quickly run up to him.
“Kiaran! How did it go?” Aubrey says.
“Are you alright?” I ask. Kiaran just looks at both of us with a blank expression.
“Oh, yeah, it went fine. I’m OK, too. Let’s head back to the inn, we have to prepare for the duel, don’t we?” Says Kiaran. He sounds so much more disspondant than he usually does. I’m worried.
“Kiaran, are you really alright? If you want to drop out of the duel, you can-”
“Don’t worry about that, Azariah. I want that duel. I’ve learned a lot of things on that trip and had quite a few experiences that have really opened my eyes. I’m honestly fine.” He seems… so much more mature than normal? Looking over at Aubrey, he’s silent. I think he came to the same conclusion as I did.
“What are you two waiting around for? Let’s get going.”
Aubrey went off to rent a little arena for the duel. I walk through Heafdes, incredibly nervously. The day has finally come, I’m going to be dueling with Kiaran. My magic training with Lucidna and Inell, or Kiaran’s experiences in the Ulfur Forest and Dianasvale? We are about to find out. For emotional support, and to show how far I’ve come, I want to bring both of my teachers. Unfortunately Lucidna’s working right now, so I’ll have to settle for just Inell.
I found him where he used to teach me. He’s sitting under Kári’s statue in the shade, reading a book. “Inell.” I call out to him. He looks up, surprised to see me.
“Azariah? What are you doing here?”
“Kiaran is back. We are about to have our duel. I’d like for you to come.” Inell just looks at me, really confused.
“I don’t understand? I thought you hated me?” What?! When did I ever give off that feeling?! Was it how embarrassed I was when I took back wanting to spend the night with him?
“What do you mean? I could never hate you, Inell.” Inell just looks at me even more dumfounded than before.
“Surely the normal feeling towards a man who dropped you out of the sky would be one of hatred?”
“Oh, you think I hate you because of that?” I say out of relief. I’m so glad it’s such a simple misunderstanding on his part. “Yes, I did hate you when you dropped me, but when I came just feet from splatting on the ground… The thrill, the adrenaline, the rush! Ah, towards a man who gave me such an experience, I can only feel true admiration. Enough to make me feel as if all the grievances I had toward you were just nothing.”
Inell looks at me, worried. “You… you really are telling the truth…”
“Yes, I am.”
“People like you die way too young.” That causes dread to strike my body. A deafening silence ensues.
“Well anyway, your duel is now right? We should get going.”
“Yes.” I lead the way, as I try to forget what Inell had just said.
I run up to Ruse as fast as I can, which after my time in the Ulfur Forest, is quite fast.
“Hey Ruse! I finally caught up to you!” Ruse doesn’t even look back at me as he walks through the streets with a few other of Pitiful’s men I’ve grown super friendly with during our little trip.
“What do you want, Kiaran?”
“I’m having a duel now, would you like to come watch?”
“What?” Ruse looks back at me, surprised.
“I’m having a duel now, would you like to come watch?”
“I had thought you had broken that habit. Kiaran, listen to me very carefully. What did you do?” Ruse speaks to me, really seriously. I quickly understand what he thinks, and figure out how to put him at ease. I figured out I had quite a gift for this sort of stuff during the trip, and practicing in such high stress situations has been really useful.
“Don’t worry, Ruse. I can guarantee you the one I challenged to a duel is of a similar skill level to me, and we have no intention of seriously hurting each other.”
“Explain.” Ruse seems to have calmed down, but he still wants the full picture, which is understandable. I quickly explain the situation to him as clearly and concisely as possible.
“I see, why the hell haven’t you told me earlier?”
“Oh, it just never came up in conversation.”
“I really thought you were getting better… Oh well, alright I’ll come as long as it’ll be short. Let’s see just what your friend has been up to while you were away.”
The arena is small, only about the size of a tennis court. There are stands lifted up to the ground to the left and right sides of the arena. Sitting in those stands are only three people. Aubrey, Inell, and a super buff, scary looking, pale man I have never met before. Kiaran never introduced him, he just showed up with. I went through the trouble of introducing Inell to Aubrey and Kiaran, but Kiaran either forgot to or just didn’t care about introducing his guest.
Kiaran lies opposite of me in this arena. He has his scythe out, in a battle stance. I’m not nearly skilled enough in combat to know if it’s a good stance or not, but yet I’m still terrified. It isn’t his stance that’s filling me with that emotion. It’s his eyes. Since when did his eyes look so serious? They just scream that if I don’t try and struggle with all my might he’s seriously going to hurt me. I don’t want to feel this way towards Kiaran.
“The fight will begin on my mark! Start fighting at fight! You lose as soon as you say “I surrender” or are knocked out!” Aubrey yells out. Inell and the vampire looking dude don’t change their expressions.
“3!” I calm myself down, doing my best to forget all my worries.
“2!” I slowly hold my arms out towards Kiaran.
“1!” I begin pouring mana out from my soul. Kári, please lend your troubling follower some assistance once again.
The second this sound leaves Aubrey’s mouth Kiaran charges at me with that stupid scythe at full speed. I can’t afford to hesitate. I begin to prepare air blades.
I begin firing at Kiaran as fast as I can, everywhere across his body. I aim at his face, his arms, his stomach, his chest, his legs, his crotch, I even deliberately miss some of my shots. The purpose of this was to make them as difficult as possible to block. I want to force him to dodge in order to waste as much of his stamina as possible before the distance closes.
This wasn’t to be though, as he begins nullifying all the air blades with his scythe. His movements are smooth and nothing is unnecessary. He’s still charging at me as he’s practically dancing, nullifying my air blades. Honestly, I think it’s beautiful. I’m legitimately impressed with Kiaran.
Even if I am impressed with him, I still don’t want to lose. Due to Lucidna’s combat training, I think I know what Kiaran’s doing. He’s using water magic to help manipulate his scythe. He’s using magic to manipulate his scythe so he doesn’t use up much of his physical strength. When did he get such a good relationship with the Archon of Water? No time to think about it now, after the duel.
I look carefully for any holes in his defence that I can take advantage of. I attempt to imitate Kiaran’s technique with my wind blades. It isn’t very humid out, though, and I’m unable to replicate Kiaran’s pure experience. It takes much more focus and nearly twice the amount of mana, but I create wind blades that can slightly change their direction in the air. Kiaran continues blocking them but some of them finally hit him. If he’s in any pain, he does not show it, and since I’m casting so much slower he quickly adapts to be able to block these air blades as well.
Hey! Since when were you so capable!? It’s like I’m fighting a totally different person! This is just ridiculous! Curse the Archon of Water’s sheer adaptability! Oh well, I’ll show you just what a connection with Kári can do. He finally closes the distance. He swings his scythe at me, the blunt end facing me so he doesn’t accidentally kill me. Kiaran doesn’t seem to have noticed. His only chance at victory was noticing I was preparing something.
Air magic is usually considered calm & elegant. While it has many uses that can be considered calm and elegant the spell I was preparing was anything but. I imagine the mana pouring out of my soul, and pouring it into a ball in between me and Kiaran. I pour as much mana into as tight a space as possible in preparation. Kári! If you don’t mind me asking, may I borrow a hurricane force wind, again?
A huge wind explosion knocks Kiaran up into the air, and me backwards. Having practiced using that in my training with Lucidna, I’m now used to the feedback so I keep my balance as I slide into the back wall. I fell like an idiot many times trying to keep my balance correctly. Since this is his first time experiencing such an attack, he’ll certainly fall.
Kiaran was blasted away. I was sure that would’ve won me the fight but as soon as he landed, he rolled right back onto his feet and started running at me again. Hey, hey, hey, isn’t that a little too superhuman? Just what were you doing in the Ulfur Forest? I know I saw you block that attack with your scythe but you still went flying. Actually, with how little time you actually had to register that this was an attack you’d have to give your all to block, your reaction time is also pretty quick, isn’t it?
“Hm, normal humans shouldn’t be able to get up from an attack like that without some really hellish training. I don’t think just a month of traveling in the Ulfur Forest would be enough. Are you sure he didn’t have any training prior to your arrival in the capital?” Inell asks me. I can’t let Inell know that Kiaran, Azariah and I are otherworlders. I’m not entirely sure just how strong Inell actually is, but apparently he’s been tutoring Azariah. If she was learning all this from this man he’s surely pretty skilled. And here he is saying that Kiaran’s too strong for the amount of training he’s done.
“He’s from the Elune Domain. I’m not certain about much of his early life, so maybe he sparred a bit with some of the mages there? It would be in line with how he’s taking Azariah’s attacks.” I say, trying to avoid suspicion.
“No, impossible. He asked me to train him far before we headed to Dianasvale. He certainly hadn’t had any training before that.” The man Kiaran brought says. Who even are you? Kiaran just brought you and everyone acted like it was completely normal!
“I also disagree with your assessment, Inell. It wasn’t just traveling we were doing. Kiaran was constantly training himself along the way, and if nothing is the kid is a stupid, fast learner. His development is completely expected.”
“Hm, I suppose.” Phew, Kiaran’s friend brought off suspicion. It doesn’t feel like he knows Kiaran’s an otherworlder either, which is good. I don’t want to imagine how I’d react if Kiaran told somebody that without informing me first.
“Even then his manipulation of water magic is quite skillful. He’d do quite well in the adventurers guild. Azariah’s one thing, but to think you’d end up watching over two prodigies of this skill level. You’re quite lucky, Aubrey.” Inell says to me.
“I don’t really like being described as “lucky”.”