Two weeks had passed since my endless training saga had begun. Day after day, I found myself sparring with Evangeline and learning the ins and outs of hand-to-hand combat. To my surprise, I had improved considerably from when we first started the process. Unfortunately, I still hadn’t made any progress in the field of magic. Despite practicing Morning Dew every night like Eva suggested, I failed repeatedly to cast the spell even once.
After yet another grueling session of training behind St. Cirelia, Eva offered me a break—an offer I happily accepted.
“You’re doing great, Shinsuke!” Eva declared as she plopped down on the grass beside me. She was spotless, of course, while I was sweating through my shirt. “You’ve made progress beyond my hopes.”
“Thanks,” I managed through heavy panting.
“So, I hate to ask and put you in this headspace, but have you given any thought to how you’ll take on Emil yet?”
I laughed, drawing a concerned glance from my pink-haired mentor. “I can’t even cast a children’s spell. I have no idea what I’ll do besides die.”
Mizuki, who had been joining our training sessions daily after her classes ended, tossed a water bottle into my lap and chided me. “Stop that, Shinsuke. You’re doing the best you can. I won’t allow you to put yourself down like this.”
“She’s right,” Eva agreed. “Your abilities in hand-to-hand combat have improved greatly. Not only that, but your physique and stamina are also improving. You may not be where you need to be yet, but don’t downplay all that you’ve accomplished considering the circumstances.”
Thoroughly rebuked for my cynicism, I backed down. “You’re right, sorry.” Mizuki patted my head as a reward for my retraction.
“But I really don’t know what to do,” I admitted. “If you were in my situation, how would you fight this guy, Eva?”
“Hmm.” My mentor curled her index finger against her lips and pondered my question for a moment. “He’s a defensive magic specialist. You saw what he could do in that video we watched together. The odds of doing any damage to him while he can erect barriers are slim to none. Even for someone of my level.”
I kept seeing that gods forsaken barrier in my mind every time I simulated battling the pompous blonde prince. Cynthia was right when she said that I had been assigned the worst possible first opponent based on my lack of skill.
“However,” Eva continued. “Protective barriers like that take a lot of energy to keep around. It’d have to come down at some point. And besides that, he definitely has a weakness—everyone does. There is no such thing as a perfect defense.”
“And what do you think his weakness is?” Mizuki asked.
“Glad you ask, sis! Personally, I think the pampered prince has a glass jaw. Or, in other words, because he’s so focused on defense, he’s probably not used to getting roughed up. And I’d also bet money that his offense isn’t so hot either.”
I took a sip of water and chimed in, saying, “I was thinking the same thing. But that’s a big assumption. And besides that, how would one get him out of that barrier, let alone do enough damage before he can put it back up?”
“Well,” Eva started with a devious smirk. “If it were me, I would overload his precious little barrier. You see, my attacks may not hurt him, but if he were to be hit with a ton of elements at once, he would need to focus his energy on the largest blasts, lest he risk something penetrating his shield. It would peel away at some point.”
“But I can’t do that.”
“Right,” she laughed. “There is another way to get him to lower that barrier, though. If you could draw him out of it somehow, that would leave him open to attack.”
“But wouldn’t he just put the barrier back up?” Mizuki inquired once more.
“Indeed, but before he could try it, I would hit him with a drain spell. Then he would have a choice: leave the barrier up and allow his magic to be slowly sapped from him or lower the barrier to focus on breaking the drain spell. That’s when I’d sock him in the face and win!”
She concluded her simulation with a triumphant fist pump, followed by a bow. I was positive she heard adoring cheers and applause in her crazy head.
“That’s great and all, but I can’t do any of those things, Eva,” I reminded her.
“Right, but you asked me what I would do in your shoes, remember?”
I sighed and closed my eyes. I thought about her strategy and considered how I could adapt it for my own use. Needless to say, I was drawing endless blanks.
Not that I was making much progress in the realm of my mind, but any thoughts I could have stitched together were torn apart by the sound of a vehicle’s engine drawing close. I looked up to see a royal car pulling up right in front of me. But this wasn’t Cynthia. No, the car before the three of us bore the crest of the York family and the flag for the kingdom of Vosnus.
The vehicle parked, and from inside emerged Eli.
“Yo, Shinsuke,” he greeted me with a grin. His attention quickly shifted to Evangeline, however, and his eyes doubled in size. “Holy crap, Evangeline Dioli?! The one and only?!”
Eva bowed immediately. “That’s me! It’s an honor to meet you, Your Royal Highness.”
“The pleasure is mine, I insist!” he replied. “I’ve heard a lot about you, but I didn’t realize you were friends with Shinsuke.”
“Yeah, we’re schoolmates. We were just hanging around!” she laughed.
“What do you want, Eli?” I interrupted.
“Oh, right. I got distracted there for a minute! I felt bad about how things ended between us before. Think we could talk privately for a second?”
Eli motioned to his car with his head and began walking towards it. Before I could follow, Eva grabbed my shoulder and whispered in my ear. “Don’t tell him I’m training you. They’ll find out eventually, but they don’t need to know that right now.”
I nodded and accompanied the prince back to his car. Once inside, he told his driver to step out, leaving the two of us alone.
“So,” Eli began. “I wanted to say I was sorry for getting mad at you back at the casino. It’s understandable that you would be so on edge after you got jumped. We’re cool in my book, and I hope you feel the same.”
“As long as you get that I’m suspicious of all you royals, then yeah, we’re cool.”
“Fair enough. But I promise you it wasn’t me,” the prince reaffirmed. “That’s the second thing I wanted to mention. Like I said, I know who did it.”
“Do you plan on telling me?”
“On one condition: you gotta beat Emil first. Consider it…motivation to do your best. Deal?”
How did I know he would say something like that.
“Fine, whatever. It’s a deal,” I agreed, begrudgingly. “What are you still doing in Steylia, anyway?”
“I just figured I’d hang here instead of traveling all the way back to Vosnus just to come back for the fight. I’ve been sightseeing!”
“Right. Anyway, while you’re here, there’s a favor I need to ask of you.”
Eli chuckled and said, “what, you need some more of my money?”
“No. I want you to tell me everything you know about Emil.”
“You call that a favor? I can do that easy-peasy. But why?”
“It just dawned on me that I know nothing about this guy and you royals all seem to know each other.”
“There’s a lot we don’t know about you either,” he pointed out. “That’s why I was hoping you and I could get to know each other. But since something tells me you and Emil won’t be chatting pleasantly anytime soon, I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about him.”
“Just start at the beginning. Tell me everything I couldn’t find by typing the guy’s name into a search engine.”
The prince of Vosnus relaxed his posture, leaning back, crossing his legs, and clasping his hands together behind his head. He shut his eyes as he spoke. “I should start by mentioning that I’ve known him and all the other royals since we were kids. Back then, he and I were tight. I wouldn’t describe the two of us that way these days, but I’d like to think we still share a level of respect.”
“What changed between you two?” I asked, laying my head back on the headrest and slipping into my own lazy posture.
“Well, we were young. Despite being royalty, we were all pretty innocent back then. Most of us, anyway. So, we just chilled whenever we met up like kids do. But then real-life hits, you know?”
“So, you two grew distant because of responsibilities?”
He opened his eyes slightly, his crosshairs centered on the back of the driver’s seat before him. “Not quite. You see, Emil always had a…complicated home life. And the older he got, the more it changed him.”
I kept quiet and allowed Eli to continue.