CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Thirteen: Duel
When they arrived, Valeriana was surprised to see that they weren’t the only ones present. Instead of the school faculty and the competitors only, people swarmed in the audience’s area. She wanted to take a few moments to take in the crowd, knowing that whatever happened in this fight, she was bound to embarrass herself somehow. However, she wasn’t given a chance to stall. A sword was strapped around her waist and she was immediately sent down to the center of the arena where the fight would be held. Courtney was waiting, her own weapon in hand.
“I thought we were the only ones going to be here,” she said. A drop of sweat trickled down her forehead.
“They wouldn’t miss it for the world!” Lord Aeron shouted from the royal box, waving his arm passionately in the air as though reading her thoughts.
“I hate you,” Valeriana muttered. “I swear I hate you to death. I wish you die from my hate.”
Cheers wildly erupted from the crowd and Valeriana yanked her sword out of its sheath. Her grip on its hilt firmly tightened as she looked at Courtney’s direction with unwavering determination.
What am I doing here? Why am I standing here like this?
“It looks like Lord Aeron is asking the competitors to get ready! Fighters in place!”
Valeriana moved to a stance. “Remember the center point of gravity in your body. Pick a stance that’s not easy to be thrown off balance.” She planted her feet to the ground.
“The fight will start in three.”
She held out her sword in front of her, making sure there weren’t any available openings her opponent could use to attack. Courtney, however, seemed confident and remained nonchalant from where she was. The tip of her sword was kissing the sandy ground.
A bright light sparked on the corner of the arena. Valeriana chose to keep her eyes strictly on Courtney who immediately ran forth and brought her blade up when the signal was fired.
Valeriana held her own weapon in front of her and blocked her first attack. It vibrated sharply as Courtney’s sword clashed onto hers. The intensity of the force that her opponent used for her first assault was terrifying. If Valeriana hadn’t followed Seraphina’s advice, she would’ve been instantly pushed back.
Fortunately, she was able to block most of her attacks, but her reaction time needed working on. It seemed that Seraphina’s lectures were useful, but it didn’t remove the fact that, with the current pace of their fight, she would have no chance of winning.
Lord Aeron did tell her she did not need to win.
Courtney aggressively drove her sword forward but Valeriana was able to dodge it—albeit clumsily. She stepped forward with a counterattack, forcing her sword to meet with Courtney’s in hopes of pushing her back. Adrenaline rushed through her veins and, with all her might, she began to assault her opponent.
“Fight back!” she remembered Seraphina yelling. “You can’t call it a fight when you’re not attacking!”
“You’re daring to even try and counter.” Courtney smirked at her.
More cheers came from the students among the crowd. The obvious eagerness in their voice rang all throughout the arena, nearly discouraging Valeriana from the fight. It was painfully insulting.
“So that’s the girl,” a blue-eyed blonde said thoughtfully as he arranged the glasses that sat atop the bridge of his nose. “I was told she didn’t know how to hold the sword. It is obvious but I was expecting a worse scenario.”
“Well, she’s doing a good job so far,” a redhead replied with a snort, her blue eyes rolling as she slouched and leaned back leisurely. “It’s not within expectations, but she does have potential.”
“That was an opening!” yelled a green-eyed girl. “Urgh, why didn’t she go for it? And there it is again! Courtney, for the god’s sake! Why doesn’t she just end this?”
“It’s not that simple,” commented a strawberry-blonde guy.
Lord Aeron watched the fight fervently, a loose smile hanging on his lips. His ankle was propped up on his knee and he was strangely relaxed in his seat while rubbing his chin. There was a mix of amusement and surprise on his face, watching her wave her sword around with conviction—sometimes faltering. “A bit clumsy as expected, but she’s faring well.”
“I focused on equipping her with a solid defense,” she said. “It was hard to give her a good foundation within those ten hours but she’s a fast learner.”
“Ten hours,” Lord Aeron whispered. “To cram all those things in her head? I’m surprised it was absorbed!” He cackled.
“She is a little slow at times and I don’t expect she managed to get everything I said,” Seraphina told him. “But you cannot undermine her potential because of that. She is very diligent and she knows how to learn from her mistakes.”
The cadence of the fight intensified.
Valeriana was panting like a dog, putting distance between herself and her opponent to give herself some time to rest. Her wrists were aching from all the assaults. Her poor attempts at dodging had landed her several wounds from being nicked by her opponent’s sword. Although she had evaded the critical swings, Courtney was unrelenting with her attack, giving her no room for recovery.
Courtney caught up. She felt the cold metal cut through the skin on her left, upper arm, causing her to gasp as warm, red liquid soaked the sleeve of her top. Her face twisted in agony as her wound stung. She briefly glanced down at her top to see that her sleeve was half way being cut off. It showed a nasty, deep cut on her skin that leaked a lot of blood.
“Shiznits . . . god.” She hissed and backed away from Courtney as far as she could. She could see her malicious glare from the corner of her eyes and her blood that stained the weapon she held. Valeriana pressed her lips into a thin line as she watched herself being slowly drenched in red.
She ripped off the sleeve from her arm, exposing her wound fully. She then wrapped the ripped-off cloth around her arm, tying it firmly around her wound by using her uninjured arm and clipping the cloth between her teeth. This would at least lessen the bleeding.
Courtney laughed. She slowly made her way to where Valeriana was.
“Don’t be so confident. It’s annoying,” she stated, glaring at Courtney sharply. For just once, she was going to curse. “Bitch!”
God, that felt good.
Courtney’s expression faltered and she seethed. She ran forward and attacked Valeriana with a critical swing.
Valeriana was barely able to hold up her sword properly before their blades clashed again. She made a pained noise in the back of her throat. Her wound hurt like hell.
Seraphina did spoil her a bit of the information she needed. This girl was easily angered and, apparently, it was true.
She moved her sword forward to block Courtney’s attack. A sharp ring echoed as their blades crossed. Valeriana glowered and stepped back. Although she was not one to back down, she knew Courtney overpowered her by many times. Earth to moon. It was no use trying to fight it out with strength, especially since she was already tired as hell.
“Imbecile!” Courtney yelled, striking down hard that it threw Valeriana back and sent her rolling away.
She groaned in pain as her weapon slipped from her grasp and skidded a few feet away from her. She gasped in shock and looked left and right for her sword. Courtney was just a few steps from where she was.
“Surrender. I’ve been really patient the past few minutes since I was told to draw it out.” Her opponent sauntered confidently towards her, dragging her sword while its tip grazed the ground. This left a trail behind her, which even made the scene look ominous.
Valeriana tried standing up, but it seemed that she injured her ankle when she fell. She cursed as the ache shot up from her feet. She couldn’t even bring herself to stand back up. Her quivering knees protested, refusing to heed her commands.
“I-I can’t stand up!” she whispered to herself. Her legs turned to jelly and rock at the same time, barely even functioning while they were wracked with spasms.
She crawled to her weapon, hands trembling.
“Give up,” Courtney said.
“Shut up,” she replied. Valeriana strained to grab the hilt of the sword. Unfortunately, before she could, Courtney stomped on her fingers. She didn’t cry, but she did squeak out. Her opponent was not done, even so. She kicked her chest and stomped on her shoulder.
Feet on Valeriana’s hand and shoulder, her opponent bent down and picked up the weapon that was almost within her reach.
“Give that—” Valeriana glared up at Courtney, but was only answered by having the pressure from both her feet increased.
Seraphina looked uncomfortable as she watched, her fists clenched and her foot grinding against the ground. “We should stop.”
“Should we?” Aeron asked. “One more minute. Let’s see what she does—”
Valeriana grabbed a handful of the sand and threw it at Courtney’s face. Although it worked, it wasn’t enough to throw her off completely. Courtney had leaned back, arms shielding her eyes. Valeriana kept hurtling everything she could put her hands on. At some point, she found a rock and threw it hard.
It landed square on Courtney’s head with a ‘tonk’.
It wasn’t enough to take her down. Courtney began bleeding. Her face became framed with red trails as her eyes zeroed in on Valeriana.
Although the distraction was momentary, it was enough for Valeriana to finally regain some strength in her lower body, so she forced herself to stand back up on her feet while using her sword for support. Her ankle still ached so much she wanted to slap herself.
“Crap.” She could feel anxiety twisting in her stomach. “How am I supposed to do this?” Valeriana whispered.
Courtney growled. “Consider yourself dead.”
Her heart was trembling. Her panic was rising. A sense of foreboding rose in her chest.
“Calm down,” she whispered to herself as she stepped back, her eyes trained on her opponent. “Calm down.”
She took deep breaths then looked at her sword, her fingers tightening around the hilt. Valeriana lifted her chin. Courtney was charging.
“Alright, let’s try this,” she whispered again.
Her blood pulsed and her heart thumped.
Valeriana’s eyes narrowed at her enemy and she immediately swung her blade with her right hand before Courtney even had the chance to take a swing.
Miraculously, she blocked Courtney’s recent attack with ease. Everything was only made hard by a wounded arm and a sprained ankle but Valeriana successfully managed to tolerate the pain with the thought of everything ending very soon.
Their swords clanged deafeningly in Valeriana’s ears, making her grit her teeth. While her nerves were frazzled, she managed to slowly calm herself. She sought the flow of the fight. She went with it. Valeriana could feel every movement of her hand—every vibration, and every swing.
“Valeriana found her rhythm,” Headmaster Kylon said.
“She moves with precision,” Seraphina cut in. “A swordsman will know how he is supposed to move based on the opponent. Adaptation is very important in every fight. For this one, you need to be calm and go only where the fight goes. Courtney is like fire—very passionate, yet easily provoked.”
“I assume you needn’t teach her how to provoke an enemy.” Headmaster Kylon chuckled.
“Yes, that does seem to come naturally for her.”
They shared a laugh.
Seraphina sighed. “She finally got what I was trying to tell her.”
Valeriana eyed Courtney’s movements sharply, every twitch of her brow, the flick of her wrist, and the steps she made.
Courtney swung and Valeriana eyed her moves like an eagle. Something began building up inside her, and before she realized, her blade instinctively cut swiftly through the air with an audible swish and, unexpectedly, Courtney’s weapon was sliced in half. Shocked by the sudden event, Courtney stopped and watched as the top part of her blade fell to the ground.
The whole arena went silent, all eyes wide in disbelief.
“Whoooo!” Lord Aeron yelled, pumping his fist in the air. His scream ruined the wall of silence. “Unbelievable!”
Everyone looked at him incredulously.
“Did she just . . .” Corvan trailed off, eyes wide.
“Apparently, she just did.” Lord Aeron grinned.
Seraphina was momentarily stunned until she smiled proudly. “The point where you find a weakness is the time where your enemy’s defeat is set. If a warrior lets his guard down, his weapon will do just the same. Good work, Valeriana . . . but I never expected you to really cut Courtney’s sword in half.”
Valeriana dropped her weapon. She fell down and sat tiredly on the sandy floor.
“I . . . did it. I seriously did it,” she murmured in a low voice, thankful. “That’s just about everything I can do. Thank god it’s over.” She sighed in relief.
“Over? I don’t think so.” She looked up at Courtney in puzzlement. Her hair hid her face, so her current expression was shadowed. The only thing that was visible was her dropping the broken sword and clenching fists.
“Let’s end this, Courtney,” she suggested, hoping it would make her feel better.
“End? I won’t lose to someone the likes of you!” Courtney’s eyes peeked through the strands of her hair, wide and full of hatred.
This girl really did have anger issues. She was seriously overreacting. Was losing such a big deal?
Valeriana stood up, her knees shaking in weariness. “Look, if that’s much of a big deal, fine. You win. Does that make you feel happy?” she asked.
“What do you take me as? A fool?” At that statement, she opened her hands and whirlwinds appeared on her palms.
A loud screeching noise came from a distance as Seraphina stood from her seat in abrupt. “Stop it, Courtney! You are forbidden to use your element! You might kill the girl!”
A bunch of scary-looking whirlwinds appeared behind her, completely shadowing the light from the sun. Valeriana felt her heart leap into her throat as currents around her increased. The wind was so strong while it billowed at her hair.
“That is exactly the point.”
Valeriana’s eyes widened and she took a couple of steps back, limping.
“Hey! Wait a minute! Have you lost your mind already?!” Even she couldn’t hear herself over the wild howling of the wind, the deafening cries of the element totally muted her screams.
Courtney wasn’t listening at all either. She was already blinded by her anger. She stretched her fingers before she balled her fist, causing the whirlwinds to disappear momentarily, making it seem like the calm before the storm.
She shot her hands towards Valeriana’s direction. Faint figures of copious, gigantic convex lines rode the wind, heading directly to where her hands were aiming.
Dust fogged the area, clouding everyone’s sight. Valeriana crossed her arms protectively in front of her, closing her eyes tightly in slight hesitance to face the rapid arrival of death. The lines in the wind struck the walls of the arena after running over the position where Valeriana was situated, leaving evident cracks before it dissipated. The audience in that specific area had already scrambled to get away.
The people present were shocked by the sudden chain of events. Mouths hang open, eyes glued to Valeriana’s spot in distress and alarm.
Courtney was panting heavily. Her hands were shaking. The fog gently settled, revealing the wind-wrought markings on the sand. Everyone was watching in suspense.
Someone pointed to the spot Valeriana was standing on. The fog had cleared completely and Valeriana’s condition was brought to light.
Seraphina had both her arms held out in front of her. Her brows were knitted and her eyes were hazy with focus and concentration. There were sounds that resembled crumbling and she firmly clenched her fists, the sound intensifying.
Standing there with her feet apart and arms crossed protectively over her head, Valeriana was still in one piece. It tugged a sigh of relief out of Seraphina, knowing that she was in a good state. Her wall of earth had successfully protected the girl.
Valeriana opened her eyes, arms still crossed in front of her. “I’m still alive?” She looked around and noticed that a massive piece of rock was protruding in front of her, cracked and ready to crumble after taking the brunt of the attack. Still, she could not believe it.
“Or maybe I’m just a soul . . .”
She pinched herself and grimaced.
Her eyes then widened. “Oh my god, I am alive.”
“Good thinking, Seraphina. You acted fast,” Aeron told the woman. “Though, you may have to hold up that wall. It seems Courtney isn’t done.”
At that prompt, Seraphina put more effort and reinforced the previous wall with another.
Valeriana feared for another set of Courtney’s attacks as another wall of Earth rose from the ground. Peeking past the corner of the walls that had protected her, she saw that the other girl was shaking in anger. The air around her was even worse than before. Her emotions seemed to be running out of control.
Courtney howled in rage as she released a few more of her wind blades. A small frightened shriek escaped Valeriana’s lips as she pressed her back against her temporary shield. The tremor shaking the ground she was standing on made her lose her balance, but she managed to keep herself upright.
Courtney finally stopped after she tired herself out from overusing her power. “You can be assured . . .” she weakly muttered. “I will not let you off for doing this to me so easily.”
So she had too much pride and anger issues.
Her opponent looked up at her with a grimace before collapsing, passing out from the overexertion. The crowd chattered noisily, ostensibly relieved but at the same time, disappointed as well.
Valeriana felt relief pass through her. Her knees gave out and she crumpled like a heap of jelly. The wall of earth retracted and reinserted itself to the ground as Seraphina allowed her arms to fall to her sides.
“Oh, thank the gods.”
She looked at Courtney.
“The healers! Please assist Lady Courtney and take her to the medical room!” someone yelled from the crowd. “The rest of you! Please apply first aid to the other girl’s wounds and don’t forget to check for further injuries she may have received!”
A bunch of people rushed forward led by a woman dressed in plain, white clothes. They took Courtney to a stretcher and began attending to Valeriana.
“Are you alright? Can you stand?”
Valeriana was brought to the infirmary and was forced to lie down. She didn’t wish to make a fuss, however, she didn’t have a very high pain tolerance thus her screams were far shriller than she wanted them to be.
“No! No! That hurts!” she screamed, closing her eyes and leaning back as the healer dabbed medicine around her gaping flesh.
“It’ll be fine.” The healer chuckled. “It’ll be over in a minute.”
“I’m gonna die. That fudging . . . argh!”
A person from the faculty appeared. Lord Aeron and Headmaster Kylon appeared after him.
“We can hear your screams on our way here,” Lord Aeron told her, crossing his arms as he chuckled.
“Well, it’s not my faul—ah! YOU SAID IT’LL BE OVER IN A MINUTE!”
The healer laughed. “She’s the noisiest patient I’ve ever had. Calm down, now.”
“Then stop making me scre—AGH!”
“Alright, enough. Perhaps this might cheer you up.”
“What is it?” She grunted, tears edging the corners of her eyes.
“Valeriana Kerrigan, as was decided, you are now a student of this academy,” announced a teacher with light brown hair and rust-colored eyes.
A moment of silence passed. Valeriana did not know how to react. There was a trace of relief that curled somewhere in her heart, but she still felt crestfallen. She was in another world and she nearly just lost her life trying to enter a goddamned academy. Now that she made it, it felt empty.
A rueful smile stretched at her lips and she shook her head. “The only thing that can cheer me up is when you let me go home instead of making me go through all of this.”
Lord Aeron’s brows furrowed. “You know that’s impossible.”
“But it’s not my fault, is it?” she whispered, looking up at the court leader. “It wasn’t my fault I saw that demon. It wasn’t my fault I could see them at all. I had a life before this, Lord Aeron. If you all think I would feel happy about anything related to the people who took away pretty much everything from me, I think you should think twice about it. I’m not happy. I’m frustrated and angry. And if you think it’s funny making fun of me like sadistic bastards, you should reevaluate yourselves.”
They were all shocked at her words. The silence grew even heavier.
Seraphina walked in and opened her mouth to greet Valeriana. After finding the atmosphere heavy, even so, she stopped. “What happened? Was Valeriana not accepted?”
“It’s not that,” said the teacher. He cleared his throat. “I’ll leave.”
He then walked out the door.
“Valeriana, are you alright?” Seraphina asked as she moved to stand beside the court leader who currently had a grave expression on his face. “What’s wrong?”
“I just want to go back.”
Seraphina held her hand as realization dawned on the woman. “You will. I promise you. You will. This one, I swear on my heart,” she said. “I’ll find a way to bring you back and when that time comes, I’ll personally come with you myself.”
“But how long?” she inquired, her eyes sharp with doubt.
“Not very long,” she said. “The soonest I can.”
Valeriana remained unconvinced. Looking at the way the court leader’s face twisted, it was obvious things were going to be more complicated than what the lady knight portrayed them to be.