“Alright, let’s begin!” Edmund exclaimed.
Contrary to Ian’s expectations, the young man only led them to Gaelan’s backyard. It certainly gave them enough room for plenty of activity, but he originally hoped to go somewhere interesting like an official training ground or even the forest. First, though, he hesitantly asked, “Are we going to spar?”
“No,” Edmund immediately answered. “We might do a little sparring later, but before anything else, I need to figure out your current capabilities.”
“Haaah… alright. What should I do, then?”
“First, show me how you would react if you knew you were about to end up in a combat situation.”
“Uh…” Ian glanced around awkwardly, unconfident about the meaning of the statement. After a few seconds of fumbling, which drew a snicker from Gaelan, Ian raised his arms into a similar boxing stance he used previously.
In response, Edmund’s eye twitched and his expression dulled. “You’re stiff. It doesn’t suit you at all. ‘Tis no wonder Gaelan requested my assistance.”
The statement itself did not bother Ian, but the brief propriety in Edmund’s speech certainly garnered his curiosity. Unfortunately, the unnaturally proper dialect never came up again. Instead of worrying about it, he refocused on the task at hand and asked, “What do you mean?”
“That stance will be useless to you in most situations. We’ll need to fix it before moving on to anything else,” Edmund bluntly answered.
“How is it useless?” Ian asked while dropping the stance.
“It might work well enough against weaker people that can’t use magic, but you would be torn to shreds in a battle against an experienced Magi.”
The statement did not fully answer Ian’s question but made enough sense for him to accept the explanation. On top of that, this was the first time he could recall someone referring to magic users as Magi.
“Alright,” Edmund said, “I can tell you haven’t seen a lot of magic used in combat, so watch me for a moment.”
Ian nodded and watched in anxious expectation. To his surprise, Edmund lowered his stance and raised both hands in front of him with palms facing the sky. Suddenly, a loud pop echoed around them. Water flowed into the air from the waterskin on Edmund’s back and quickly snaked around his body in lithe, rippling circles. Slow and graceful movements of Edmund’s fingers guided the stream. It almost looked like a sea serpent protectively wrapping itself around him. The gentle control over the water contrasted greatly with Gaelan’s rough usage of earth.
“This is generally how I start an upfront battle,” Edmund said. “Like this, I am prepared for either attack or defense at the same time.”
“I can’t really use much magic yet, though…” Ian disdainfully remarked.
“That is fine. Gaelan said he’ll handle that part of teaching you. Now, watch.”
After a brief nod, Ian narrowed his eyes and focused on the young man several paces ahead of him. The water wrapped more tightly around Edmund’s body. At the same time, he leaned slightly to his right. A moment later, his body lurched in that direction. Ian only saw a blur whiz past him. The breeze Edmund’s dash generated brushed against him as though someone turned on a powerful fan for only a few seconds.
Ian blinked in surprise and thought, How fast is he? That acceleration can’t be healthy…
“So, understand now?” Edmund asked from directly behind Ian.
“Understand what?” Ian asked in return.
“The reason your stance won’t work.”
“Haaah… Not really. I guess it won’t help against magic much, but I barely saw you move,” Ian answered. At the same time, he spun around to face Edmund but found himself staring at a water javelin inches away from his head. He immediately understood the implications. If Edmund wanted him dead, his life would have been forfeit without him even realizing it. Sweat trickled from his forehead at the thought.
“Hmm… Maybe I need to rethink my approach,” Edmund muttered while scratching his head. His eyes glazed over for a moment as he retreated into his mind. Then, he asked, “What’s your Physical Affinity.”
“Uh, high, I think?” Ian replied.
Edmund sighed and looked to Gaelan for confirmation. The guy simply rested on the grass a few paces away without a care in the world but said, “Yeah, he’s right. Hasn’t done any formal training, though.”
“Hmm..” Edmund hummed and turned back to Ian. “So, High Physical Affinity but no training even though we’re about the same age… are you from some sort of outskirt village?”
“Uh, not exactly, but I’m also not from here…” Ian stammered, averting his gaze. Despite practicing in front of the mirror for this exact situation, lying about his origins still proved difficult.
“Alright. This makes a little more sense now,” Edmund said, nodding. Then, he perked up once more and said, “Alright, I’ve decided. We’ll spar first. Then I’ll decide how to train you.”
The constant stream of water that had been circling around Edmund for a few minutes suddenly rushed back into the waterskin, causing it to bulge slightly.
“Before we start, mind if I ask you something?” Ian inquired.
“Sure. That is what I am here for,” Edmund replied with a toothy grin.
“Do you always carry that waterskin just for fighting?”
“Indeed I do,” came the reply, “Although it’s not exactly common practice, I’m not the only person who carries one. It’s also a backup water supply for emergencies.”
“Huh… Gaelan never mentioned anything about carrying something of your element for use as a weapon…”
“Well, in his defense, it’s not like people with Earth Affinity need to carry a jar of dirt around with them,” Edmund mentioned, finger pointing toward the ground. “Although, I’m sure sailors would have good reason to do that, what with all the sea serpents and everything.”
Sea serpents… I’m pretty sure Gaelan mentioned that the seas are dangerous here, but sea serpents? Really? Shaking away the thought, Ian said, “So, what I get out of what you said is that you can’t conjure water out of thin air.”
“Not with my level of Affinity, no…” Edmund replied. Briefly, his eyes darkened and he grit his teeth. However, the odd moment of negative emotions vanished almost as quickly as it appeared. He continued speaking without skipping a beat. “There are small amounts of water in the air and in the plants around us. I can feel it, just like I can feel the hairs on my head, but it’s too strenuous for me to gather more than a drop. Maybe one day I will become capable of such a feat, but it normally requires High Water Affinity, whereas I’m still at the Medium level, unfortunately.”
Ian nodded. After fatiguing himself by playing with the flame from his bedside candle previously, he could understand, to an extent, the inability to use abilities that are obtainable yet far out of reach. In his eyes, Edmund already used water like a master, but he had no basis for that assumption. Both of them had room to grow.
“Now, shall we?” Edmund said, donning a cheesy grin while lowering himself into a stance vaguely similar to kung-fu.
“Haaah… yeah,” Ian sullenly replied. “I have a feeling this is going to become painfully repetitive…”
“Perhaps,” Edmund said. “Now, try to attack me.”
Since he had nothing else to fall back on, Ian adopted his boxing stance, which Edmund rolled his eyes at, albeit in good humor. Ian breathed deeply and inched forward. Edmund remained still. Assuming the guy would only defend, Ian shrugged and lunged forward with a careful jab.
Next thing he knew, the world flipped upside down and his body plopped on the dirt at Edmund’s feet. Stunned, he remained motionless.
“First lesson. Don’t stop moving in a fight even if you’re down,” Edmund said right before kicking him in the ribs.
Ian grunted as the boot crashed against his ribcage. The impact brought him back to his senses and he rolled away. Holding his side, he stumbled to his feet. “So, uh, urgh… man, that smarts… Anyway, just a thought, but couldn’t I just focus on magic?”
“Only if you want to be at a disadvantage against beasts unaffected by it. Like~ hagbeasts or gannas, for example. Those are just the most common ones.”
“Haaah… I don’t even know what those are.”
“Still doesn’t change the fact that they’ll counter all of your magic. Now, come at me.”
* * * * *
For several minutes, Bianca leaned on the windowsill near the back door watching Ian’s training session. Each time Edmund hit him, she winced. Honestly, she felt thankful that she never needed to train like this, especially with Edmund. She never liked seeing the images within his mind and always struggled to either avoid him or consciously block out his thoughts. Other than his memories of visiting her father, anything else she saw from him only disturbed her, sometimes to the point of making her feel queasy.
Suddenly, she felt a tap on her shoulder and recoiled from it. Only her mother could do such a thing.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to frighten you,” Aella apologized.
Aella looked past her, grinned, and said, “Seems you were watching them. Maybe you want to join?”
“No… It looks… painful.”
“Well, I’m sure Ian’s been through worse. I do believe this will help him later on, though.”
“For traveling?” Bianca asked.
“Well, perhaps other things as well…” Aella answered, still observing the two young men sparring. Of course, it was currently one-sided, but she knew that would not last forever.
Bianca eyed her mother curiously. To an extent, she could tell that her mother garnered a unique interest in their new boarder. She contemplated whether or not to inquire about the reason for the interest but decided against it and held her peace.
The two of them watched the training session in silence for a few minutes. Eventually, Aella said, “I’ll leave you to it. I’ve got a few things to take care of in the meantime.”
“Okay,” Bianca replied. After her mother left the room, she watched a little longer before growing tired of the one-sided beating. With a small sigh, she decided to return to her room. Strangely enough, she didn’t see her mother along the way.
Upon entering her room, she closed the door behind her and stepped over to the bedside. Then, she crouched and pulled out a small wooden box from underneath. She unlatched it, revealing a pan flute. The humble instrument bore the wear and tear from years of use. With a smile on her face, she sat on the edge of her bed and brought the panflute to her lips. A few moments of silence followed while she considered which song to start with. Eventually, she settled on one and blew the first note. A mellow hum played through the other end of the chute. Somehow, the little instrument still sounded as delightful as the day her father gave it to her. She couldn’t help smiling more with each following note. The somber yet beautiful tone resonated within her mind. Before long, the music sucked in her entire soul. She sang the words to the song within her mind while playing.
Before you were born, I loved you,
And since then, I have watched over you.
My Child, My Child, I will be there for you,
My Child, My Child, I will watch over you.
When you grow wings and fly, and strive for great things,
I will stand by your side, and I will lift you up.
My Child, My Child, I will be there for you,
My Child, My Child, I will stand beside you.
When you are taken away, by the one that you love,
I will watch from afar, and I will stand behind you.
My Child, My Child, I will be there for you,
My Child, My Child, I will stand behind you.
Someday when I’m gone, if you feel lonely or sad,
Just look to the sky, and know I loved you.
My Child, My Child, I’m still there for you,
My Child, My Child, I’m still watching over you.
My Child, My Child, I will be there for you.
As the final note played out, Bianca slowly lowered the panflute from her lips. Without realizing it, tears streamed down her cheeks in the middle of the song.
“Strange…” she muttered while wiping away the tears, “I’ve never cried while playing that before…”
* * * * *
Meanwhile, before Bianca returned to her room, Aella closed the door to her own bedroom and immediately plopped down face first on the bed. She pulled one of the pillows toward her and pressed it over her face. With every ounce of breath, she groaned into the pillow. Afterward, she rested her head on it, closed her eyes, and sighed.
A few minutes later, she heard the familiar sound of her daughter’s panflute. The tune pricked her heart. When was the last time she heard it? One year? Two?
As the muffled music played in the other room, Aella found it continuously more difficult to hold back tears. It brought back so many memories; the happiness when she and Gaelan found out they would be able to have a child; the ecstatic joy in her husband’s eyes as he penned the words to the first and only song he ever composed; the birth of their beautiful baby girl…
Suddenly, she realized the music had stopped. The ensuing silence weighed on her. So many years had gone by in the blink of an eye. Countless glimpses of fond memories flashed through her mind.
With a deep sigh, she closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. The same thought reverberated in her mind over and over and over.
Do not waver. Do not waver. Do not waver.
When she opened her eyes again, she realized her daughter began playing another song. Her lips curved into a pleasant smile. She could only hope that her precious family would be able to travel on the new path brought about by Ian’s arrival in this world…
Author Note: In case you’re interested, I picked up a hobby of animation… kinda. Anyway, I posted my first attempt on Youtube, so if anyone wants to check it out, that would be cool.