CLLLIIINKKK!!! CLLLIIINKKK!!! CLLLIIINKKK!!!
Metallic clanks under the harmonious morning light, breaking the peace of the humble and remote inn on the edge of Huuring City. Seated right outside of the tranquil abode, three young maidens were joyfully eating their breakfast on the wooden table and bench that had been provided for them, all while spectating the two young men that were thoroughly drenched in sweat. Wielding their own respective spears, Shin and Isadore swung violently at each other as if they were mortal enemies on the battlefield.
Each time their spears collided, a heavenly ring would reverberate itself through the crisp daybreak air while a missed strike would result in a crater being formed on the ground. Aiming for Isadore’s weak points, Shin struck hard with the Spear of Aiglos, hoping to stain his vision with the warm crimson liquid of his bosom friend. However, at the last moment, Isadore spun his Spirit of Himmel around and landed a decisive blow upon Shin’s abdomen using the blunt resonant end of his spear.
That one hit pushed Shin five metres in the opposite direction and forced him to his knees. The young man coughed out almost all of the air stored in his lungs for a brief moment before closing his eyes, allowing a vibrant golden-cerulean light to envelop his body. In just a few seconds, the colour on Shin’s face turned back to normal as his eyes shone with an even brighter radiance than before. Spinning the ice spear in his hand, Shin pointed the tip at Isadore before screaming out:
“Come at me!” Isadore smiled and changed his stance.
Over the four years, Shin had been trained in a plethora of martial arts by Mychael. By now, the young man was already a master at close-quarters combat, and his fist techniques and footwork were sufficient to give Kanari a run for her money. However, Shin wasn’t satisfied with just close-combat techniques. If it ever came down to a brawl against Junius, who was a master at swordplay, Shin’s fists and legs would unquestionably fall short. Therefore, there was a need for Shin to branch out into weapon arts. Fortunately for Shin, he was friends with the top spearmaster in all of Imperius Academy, heck, Isadore’s skills were good enough to teach at the said institution.
Due to the nature of his Spirit, the young silver-haired friend of Shin’s was unable to learn spiritual abilities as he promoted. To cater to that deficit, Isadore had been trained extensively with mana strengthening and spearmanship, so much so that he was capable of beating Mychael if no spiritual abilities were allowed. His speed and agility were the highest among the seven heroes, and his brute strength wasn’t something to be scoffed at either. Up till this day, Shin had never triumphed over Isadore when it came to a martial arts bout, and their ‘trainings’ were essentially him taking a beating from his young friend.
Though Shin was capable of absorbing techniques like a sponge, Isadore’s movements and skills were like a bottomless chasm. Whenever Shin thought that he had learnt it all, Isadore would come up with a whole different move, sending all of his prior training into haywire.
The sonorous clanks continued to stun the airwaves of the remote inn, with each swing of the spear bringing endless amounts of backwind with it. If one were to somehow wander into the field without seeing the two training with all that they had, one would imagine that a typhoon was threatening the lives of everyone who dared to tread near. Kanari herself had to use her gale control to prevent the shockwaves from hitting their tables and knocking out the bacon and eggs on their plate.
“Y-Young hero Kanari…” A soft voice called out from the corner of the table, bringing Kanari, Ella and Emma’s attention to the side. Latina and Natalie, who had just arrived from their base to visit the seven youngsters, nearly dropped down the baskets that they were holding once they saw Shin and Isadore going at it like they were about to kill each other.
“Why are they fighting? D-Did something go wrong?” Latina’s voice trembled a little as she asked her question.
“Ah, they’re just training. Don’t worry about them,” replied Kanari.
“That’s training?!” Natalie has seen many people fight throughout her forty years of existence. She had seen people spar and had seen many perish on the battlefield. The way that Shin and Isadore were fighting was highly reminiscent to that of two gladiators duking it out for their honour in a life-or-death match. Entirely unlike a regular training session.
“Hehe, surprised?” Emma giggled showing the cute little mole at the side of her nose. “Don’t worry, they’ve been sparring like that since forever. They won’t get hurt. Also, even if they did, Shin would just heal them up in the blink of an eye.”
“Huh…” At this point, Natalie was done getting surprised at everything the young heroes could do. If they said that they had the capability of flying up to the moon and back, the middle-aged mercenary would probably believe them.
“Phew…” Latina breathed a sigh of relief and sat down next to the gorgeous short-haired Emma. Of the seven young heroes, Latina felt the most ease when beside Emma, who had long become the group’s resident angel. “Aunt Natalie and I have baked you some bread. I hope you wouldn’t mind trying them.”
“Ara. Thank you, Latina.” With just one smile, Emma had washed all of the young girl’s anxiousness away. Chomping down on the warm grub that their guests had provided, the three girls deliberated on whether they should stop Shin and Isadore’s training. However, just as they were about to brainstorm their options, Natalie’s calm and collected voice echoed out in their minds.
“Hmmm, I didn’t think that the Black-Haired Tyrant was a martial arts master as well… Honestly, is there anything he can’t do?”
“Hoho… Senior Natalie. In your opinion, how good is Shin as compared to the average mercenary in the city?” Kanari questioned.
“He’s absolutely head above shoulders among the spearmasters in town. There is no comparison” There was no need for further thought. Natalie has fought almost all of the notable mercenaries in town, and she knew the skills of each one of them. Martial arts to them was just a fruitless endeavour when they could settle their disputes with brute force. “If he enters into any competition that Huuring City organises, Young Hero Shin is bound to defeat anyone who dares to challenge him.” As she said those words, Natalie instantly frowned and turned her attention to Isadore.
‘However, that silver-haired boy… Who the hell is he? If Young Hero Shin is capable of attaining the championship, what about that monster whose pushing him down with pure weapon arts alone?’
Shin’s movements were swift, decisive and most importantly of all, absolutely monster-like. If Natalie took a few dozen hits, she was sure that her hands would be fractured. Yet, Isadore could easily parry the strikes and counter with his own superior movements that were almost twice as fast and deadly as Shin’s. No matter how many times Shin broke through Isadore’s ‘guard,’ the silver-haired elf-like boy always had a solution to counter him.
‘I knew it! The seven heroes are all behemoths in human form!!!’ Natalie made a mental note to not cross any of the youngsters. Maybe the kind-hearted Emma was a fire-breathing dragon in disguise.
“You seem quite knowledgeable on the martial arts of the mercenaries,” said Ella. “Are you a martial artist yourself?”
“Hehe! Aunt Natalie is by far the best swordswoman in the city!” It wasn’t fitting for Natalie to boast about her own skill so Latina did it in her place. “Many mercenaries pay Aunt Natalie to train them when it came to swordsmanship! She’s definitely a top martial artist!”
“Oh ho. I didn’t expect that you had such a reputation.” The ponytailed archer beamed in delight. Natalie and Latina were both participating in their next mission as guides so hearing that the aged mercenary was actually a hidden martial arts expert came as a pleasant surprise for the group.
“No, my skill is still far from capable…” Natalie visibly flushed red. Yes, she was the best swordsmaiden in town, but compared to Shin and Isadore, she might as well be a bottom-levelled apprentice.
‘Tsk! Latina! Why are you shooting your mouth for? Are you trying to kill me?’ The mercenary shot a menacing glare at her protege, only to be met with an innocent smile. Latina just wanted to boast about her mentor to the young heroes and had intended no malice. Thus, no matter how angry Natalie was at her, the matured lady couldn’t bring herself to punish the lass.
“Oh, you’re a swordmaster?” All of a sudden, a familiar voice sounded out behind of Natalie, bringing forced chills down her spine. Under normal circumstances, Natalie would be delighted to hear that young man’s whispers. However, at this very moment, Shin’s voice was akin to that of the Grim Reaper’s call.
“S-Somewhat…” Just as Natalie had anticipated, Shin’s entirely reddened chiselled body stood behind her, drenched to the bone with sweet, sticky sweat. Seeing that their morning session had concluded, Kanari leapt onto her feet and handed out a chilled wet towel onto Shin’s outreached hands while Isadore chugged down a bottle of water all by himself.
“Hmmm, if it’s not too much to ask, could we spar for a little while?” Natalie froze as the young man wiped down his face. “I need more experience when it comes to dealing with swordmasters, you see. None of my friends has awakened a sword Spirit as well.”
It was Natalie’s bad luck that she had awakened a sword Spirit. If it were any other weapon-type Spirit, Shin would most likely leave the woman alone as it was bad manners to ask a guest for a sparring session. Unfortunately, Shin was on a mission that could potentially lead him to Junius. He wanted to be prepared on every level and learning how to deal with a swordmaster was an essential part of his training. Back on Frie Mountain, Junius was already a spectacular talent, one capable of bringing the Instructor to awe time after time. It has already been over seven years since Junius had joined the Black Masks, and given his talent with the sword, it wouldn’t be surprising if Junius was capable of beating some of the Empire’s best swordsmen.
“I… Sure…” Natalie was tempted to flat-out refuse the boy, but she remembered the debt that she owed to Shin and the young heroes. Shin had saved their lives twice. Once in the forest and another when Winfred stormed over. If she ignored this small request, Natalie wouldn’t know how to face herself later on.
“Don’t worry, we don’t have to go hard.” Noticing her anxiety, Shin chuckled and proceeded to reassure her. “Just treat it like you’re training any normal disciple of yours.”
Shin picked up the Spear of Aiglos while Natalie summoned out her own sword Spirit. There was a slight sharp lustre to each swing of the blade, bringing Shin to whistle in amazement. “That’s a fine sword Spirit.”
“Thank you. It’s called the Egarda Rapier.”
“Fine Spirit.” Shin praised the mercenary’s blade and took his stance immediately after. Though he had spent over thirty minutes hard-sparring with Isadore, the young man still had plenty of vigour to spare. Turning on his most sombre expression, Shin felt the dirt of the earth creep up on his feet as he dug his soles deeper into the ground.
Shin kicked himself forward and swung his spear in a huge arc. Since it was a predictable trajectory, Natalie could easily anticipate the attack and had parried it with relative ease. As promised, Shin was starting very lightly. The bout continued for about fifteen moves until the two parties were more or less warmed up to one another’s movements.
“I’m increasing the pace.” Through that brief exchange, Shin could roughly estimate what were Natalie’s speed and power levels and adjusted his own movements accordingly. They were exchanging ideas on their skills, so there was no need for mana strengthening or excessive physical power. Shin wanted to know what were the limits of Natalie’s swordsmanship and that was what he was going to do.
The strikes shared between the two increased rapidly as the Spear of Aiglos collided with Natalie’s Egarda Rapier a hundred times per minute. Now, Natalie was fully displaying her skills as the best swordsmaiden in Huuring City through her barrage of thrusts, swings and hacks. In just a few short moments, Shin already felt the pressure mounting on his muscles.
‘Hoho… She’s not bad!’ Shin was genuinely impressed. The last time a swordsmaster had forced him into a corner was back in Imperius Academy where the Starlight Blade, Natasha Aldana, had sparred with him. Though Natalie wasn’t quite at the prodigious swordmaiden’s level, she was still a rather effective swordmaster.
“Go! Aunt Natalie! You can do it!” Latina’s cheers thundered through the air, brimming the middle-aged lady with hope.
“HIYAHHH!!!” Natalie landed a strong overhead slash on Shin’s spear instantly pushing the youth back a few metres. Though he had sustained the first ‘defeat’ of the sparring session, Shin was far from disappointed. If anything, he was delighted that he had gained a swordmaster that was capable of sharpening his techniques.
“Alright let’s stop here!” Sensing that this battle was about to evolve into yet another all-out brawl, Kanari moved to halt the match. Once in between the two fighters, Kanari turned to Natalie and gave a playful wink. The mercenary had proven her worth to the group and made her disciple feel pride after that one strike. There was no need to continue the bout even further.
“Shin, you’ve yet to eat breakfast. You can’t keep pushing yourself on an empty stomach right? Come, senior Natalie! You should eat as well.”
“No buts! You can continue your sparring session tomorrow. Right now, you’re disrespectful towards our guests.” Kanari chided the youth, who had long dropped his spear in shame.
“Right… Sorry about that senior Natalie.”
“No, it’s fine. I’m glad that I can have that match with you. Feel free to ask me for a sparring session anytime.” Happy that the bout ended before Shin had a chance to really show his talents, Natalie gave a secret thumbs up to Kanari, who replied with a simple smile.
“Really? I’ll take you up on that offer!” Shin delightedly agreed and turned towards the table where Ella was chewing on a piece of bread in bliss.
“Haha! Let me have a piece of that!”
“Hey! Go get your own!”
Once again, the mornings of the seven young heroes began with relative joy and ease, as if they were completely oblivious of the arduous mission that laid ahead of them…