CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Stupid Witch vs. Idiot Devil
The day before the duel was the weekend, so Valeriana was able to spend her whole day preparing herself for the fight. Seraphina was off somewhere managing important things and wouldn’t be able to be with her all day even if she wanted to, hence, she was stuck practicing by herself.
She wasn’t fond of her solitude and found it somewhat boring to train on her own. She made good progress with the sword, anyhow. Even Seraphina herself certified it. Then again, perhaps the woman said it to comfort her and give her confidence.
As of the moment, she occupied the private training yard of the Celestial Twelve behind the residence. She would sometimes see one of the rankers coming to watch or train themselves, but they did not stay very long.
It was already noon, she realized. Seraphina promised to come to her before the sun set so that they could train together. It wouldn’t be too long before then. Time seemed to be running rather fast for Valeriana, so the period she spent exercising the things she learned seemed inadequate.
Panting, Valeriana lowered her weapon and wiped the sheen of sweat that glistened on her forehead. She took a deep, calming breath, before raising the sword she held once more in her hands. Valeriana started to swing it in swift, skillful motions. She could heard the blade slicing through the air, creating a faint whistle.
“I know that this was how Lady Seraphina said it worked. She did it like this . . .” she murmured, and tried to pull rapid strikes with her sword.
When she failed once more, she paused and thought for a moment. She began pondering how Seraphina was able to do the technique she showed her yesterday. She moved a bit too quickly for her to actually see—not to mention those feints. The lady gave her an explanation, but she could hardly understand what she meant.
‘This technique is used only for last resorts or to end a fight,’ she remembered the woman saying. ‘We focus on feints. While some master swordsmen dismiss feints as a waste of movement and futile attacks that won’t affect skilled opponents, there are ways to actually make it effective. One way is to back it up with attacks threatening enough that you’ll strike fear into your enemy, but I doubt that would be successful since this usually only works on weaker opponents.’
“Yeah . . .” she muttered with an eye roll. “I doubt Zion is actually weaker than I am.”
‘That leaves us to the second way. The second way is to use it as your last resort.’
“At least I’ll have a trick up my sleeve before I lose.”
‘Desperation can sometimes be unsightly, but convincing. You have to convince your enemy that you are ready to fight head on—sincerely, unhesitatingly, earnestly, and obstinately—for this to work. But, the most important factor you should consider is killing intent.’
“Killing intent. I don’t understand. What did she mean anyway?” she asked. “Should I kill intentionally?”
Idiot. A voice in the back of her mind whispered. Probably her common sense rolling its eyes at her.
“Or maybe not. Does it even exist in the first place? I’m sure as heck I’ve never heard of it my entire life. Maybe it’s a Valemnian thing. But I’m a human, so how am I supposed to do it?” She forced back the urge to whine out the lady knight’s name.
Valeriana felt fairly sore from the workout. She was moving muscles that she never expected to need before, but it didn’t bother her one bit. The pain was easy to set aside and it was fading away.
“Your moves are still clumsy,” a voice remarked out of the blue, causing Valeriana to jump.
She turned at the direction of the voice and saw Corvan, his long hair tied up into a neat ponytail with a few strands framing his face. He was dressed in light and loose clothes—a white tunic with long sleeves that reached his wrists, held around his hips with a thin, brown, leather belt, and some brown pants that was matched up with a pair of boots that complimented the rest.
“God, don’t scare me like that,” she said, breathing heavily. “Besides, why does my practice have to concern you? For all I know, you’re the last person I ever expect to even care.”
“Don’t be stupid. I don’t care,” he replied, grunting in displeasure. “Not about you.”
“Then why the hell are you here?” she asked.
“Lady Seraphina asked me to spar with you. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t obligated to.”
There was an awkward pause in the air until Valeriana decided to break the silence. “Why are you here again?”
“Do not make me repeat myself,” he said, before taking out his own sword and posing an arrogant stance. “You should be honored. For someone to improve, it’ll be better if you have a more experienced opponent point out your errors.”
“The hell should I feel honored,” she spat, snarling at his unbelievable self-centeredness. “I never asked you to be my sparring partner, anyway.”
“Just shut up and attack, you stupid witch,” he replied impatiently.
“You really asking for it?” She turned to face him.
Valeriana dove forward and assaulted Corvan with a critical swing. The sound of metal hitting metal reverberated throughout the field, landing continuously in a weirdly patterned way. Valeriana must admit that this was a good way of venting her anger towards this arrogant prick, but shockingly, the sword flew out of her hand no longer than a minute after they started.
A big, egotistical smirk made its way to Corvan’s face while Valeriana glared at him through her lashes, face burning red both in exhaustion and embarrassment. She felt a flame of shame light up inside her and she clenched her fists, wanting reprieve from its uncomfortable burns.
“I gave that one away!” she reasoned fruitlessly, turning her face the other way so she wouldn’t meet the gaze of the first-ranker who stood without even breaking a sweat.
“Oh, really . . .” His tone held a hint of amusement, but it mostly sounded like he was having the time of his life picking on the human girl. “That didn’t even last longer than a minute. And I even told you to give it your best shot.”
“T-that was just . . .” she sputtered, racking her mind for a logical reason for her immediate loss. “A test run . . .” she trailed off, sulking.
“Like I would believe that,” he said.
“I told you already!” She stomped to her sword. “That was just a test run! Wait ’til you see! I’ll last longer this time!”
“So you’re basically admitting that you lost and you’re going to lose again.”
“I really hate you.” She growled, picking up her fallen sword and charging forward.
With a shrill battle cry, she swung a barrage of attacks his way relentlessly. Corvan didn’t have a hard time fending off her hits, but true to her word, she did last longer than the last time. She pulled tips off Seraphina’s book and utilized the things she learned from the woman.
In no time at all, the childish bickering immediately disappeared and both grew quiet. A silent tension crackled like electricity in the air and nothing else could be heard other than their heavy breathing and the sharp ringing of their weapons when their blades crossed.
Although Valeriana’s weapon kept being knocked out of her hand, she also tirelessly kept on picking it up to quietly resume her battle with Corvan. As they continued to spar, the lord realized that every single time Valeriana came back after having her sword flying, she grew in strength as if her loss kept on adding to her power. She lasted longer than the previous round and never made the same mistake.
Charles chuckled as he watched their match in silence with Tamara by his side.
“Valeriana’s actually quite good . . .” the third-ranker commented thoughtfully.
“She was in luck when she fought Courtney,” Charles remarked. “But even though it is a guarantee she’ll keep the position of fifth-ranker, there is no telling what kind of beating she’ll get from a merciless brute like Zion.”
Tamara grunted. “She has a lot of flaws . . .” Her voice quieted as a smile stretched her lips. “But she’s a diamond in the rough.”
“So . . .” Tamara nudged Charles with her elbow. “Wanna make a bet about who’s going to win? Valeriana or Zion?”
Charles grunted. “If you’re talking about who officially wins, then I bet on Valeriana. If it is about really winning, then victory is handed to Zion. Either way, unless you clarify what you mean by winning, I will not fully agree.”
“Not officially, there’s no fun in that. I want the actually, really winning victory stuff part.”
“Then I bet on Zion.”
“Hey! No fair! I want to bet on Zion!”
“But you’re the one who praised her and said she was a diamond in the rough. You should put your bet on her.”
“But you also said the same thing!”
“Even so, you were the one who started the whole idea, so I have the right to choose first.”
Corvan sighed, irritated at their bickering, but tried to ignore them at best.
“My god . . . I’m dead tired.” The girl suddenly collapsed on the ground with shaking knees whereas Corvan still stood.
“You’re still no match for me. Do you think you can defeat Zion in that pathetic state?”
Corvan had superior stamina compared to Valeriana. That was a clear fact.
“I know that, doofus.” She growled at him. “Lady Seraphina said I’m not quite there yet, but she taught me a technique. She said I can use it to defeat Zion.”
“Defeat Zion?” Corvan scoffed. “I don’t know if there’s any technique that strong enough that you can do in that level.”
She snapped. “It’s just a matter of practice! I know I can do it . . .” she trailed off.
“Oh, really?” He cocked a brow. “Then try using it on me.”
“Wait a minute.” She held up a hand before shakily standing up. “Let me . . . catch my breath,” she said.
He gave her a frown.
“Alright. I’m good.”
She got into stance and glared at Corvan. The young lord prepared himself for any assault coming from his opponent, waiting patiently until the girl made her move. They stayed like that for a few moments, neither moving nor taking their eyes away from each other.
A minute passed by.
Corvan waited, but Valeriana still didn’t move an inch. The girl could see the wheels behind his eyes turning. Perhaps this guy was thinking that this was a part of her so-called technique but then could not fathom how staring at one’s opponent would do any good. After a while, he looked irritated—since when did he never?
Finally, Valeriana moved, but she did not attack Corvan. Instead, her shoulders sagged and the tip of her weapon landed on the ground while she grasped its hilt in a loose hold. With a heavy sigh, she groaned, muttering things only she understood.
Gritting his teeth, Corvan spoke. “Are you making fun of me?”
“Don’t . . . know . . .” she muttered.
“You don’t know?” he pressed.
“I don’t know!” she exclaimed. “I don’t even get the technique. Lady Seraphina gave me a briefing but she told me to figure the rest on my own . . . but how was I supposed to understand anything when she moved too fast? I was trying to figure it out a while ago but . . . if I want this to work, I need this killing intent.”
She began wallowing in self-pity, hanging her head.
“I don’t . . . exactly know killing intent. I think I can understand it somehow, but I’m having trouble trying to figure it out.”
He sighed. “I guess it’s to be expected from someone like you.”
“Someone like me? What the hell do you mean?”
“Let’s just say that killing intent is a state of bloodthirstiness, and that hurting the person you’re aiming for is your main priority,” he explained.
“Is that . . . even possible?”
“It is. There are very few people that can control their killing intent on purpose since they often lose control of themselves. You can often only feel a person’s killing intent when they’re on life-threatening situations and driven to desperation. I do not think this can be achieved by humans, though. The notion seems impossible.”
She ignored his last two remarks. “How do you control your killing intent?”
“It takes a great deal of practice. Usually, it takes years,” Corvan replied. “A great amount of self-control is required.”
Valeriana stared at the sword in her hand and was struck with helplessness.
When the time arrived for Seraphina to come and collect Valeriana, the girl unhesitatingly followed.
“Is there something wrong, Valeriana? Are you not feeling well? Maybe we should rest for today.”
“It’s fine, Lad—Seraphina. Please don’t worry about it,” she told her. “It’s just . . . I wasn’t able to do that technique you taught me yesterday . . . and my fight with Zion’s tomorrow.”
The knight smiled. “You don’t have to trouble yourself. That technique was something I did not actually expect you to be able to pull off that easily. It usually takes years for someone to learn it. Learning how to control your killing intent takes a lot of time and perseverance.”
“Then why did you teach it to me?”
“I have the same reason as before,” she replied.
“I hate it. Maybe I should’ve practiced some more,” she muttered. “Maybe this time, I won’t be so lucky like in my fight with Courtney.”
“It’s alright, Valeriana,” her guardian reassured.
“And I thought I can have something against Zion . . .” she said.
The lady knight chuckled as she stared at the girl. “I have faith in you,” Seraphina said. “I know you can do it. If you can’t hold onto this position, then don’t. Don’t feel obligated to maintain it.”
“But you said . . .”
“Forget what I said. You are more important.”