Laurence swung his hammer down with all his power, and watched as the man in the ornate dogi dodged with ease. This was the first time in actual combat he had met anyone who could keep up with him. It was more exhilarating than the boy would have liked to admit, but the last twenty seconds had been some of the most incredible exchanges of the boy’s short life.
Each of his strikes was parried or dodged with only the most crisp of movements, then followed with a strike that would knock Laurence down.
Laurence always stood up, and realised after the third knock down that the man was not doing any lasting damage to him. He had no idea why, but it seemed like the man was loath to kill him.Perhaps I have a chance after all, he thought. If only I could actually hit him. He swung his hammer again, the strike as ineffectual as before, and watched as the man dodged again. He continued his swing, and let the momentum of the blow flow into the next strike, a wide swing to the man’s waist.
The man span out of the way, allowing the momentum of the hammer to drag it past him. He raised his fist and smacked it into Laurence’s jaw. Laurence felt the fist connect, and watched the world spin. He had difficulty withstanding the impacts of the strikes, but he never took any real damage.
This time was different. He tried to stand, as he had ten times before, but his vision swam and his body betrayed him. His legs gave way and his knees hit the floor. It was infuriating, because he could tell that he was stronger than the man in front of him. He was faster, and his weapons were better, yet still he could not even touch the man. Now he could not stand properly, and he had no idea why.
“You know a lot about fighting,” said the man, “but you know nothing about combat”. As Laurence finally got his feet from under him, he received another strike to his jaw, sending him flying once more. “I can tell you’ve fought a lot, but only with people of far weaker strength, or equal skill”.
“H… how?” Laurence stammered, blood bubbling out of his mouth with the words.
“Simple. I can beat you. I can tell that any of your strikes would likely kill me if they connected, but you have no way of forcing me to be struck by one. You have no battle plan, no form, and you really aren’t one with your weapon. All you really have is a half formed slaughter intent, and even that’s subpar”. He paused. Looking at the pathetic boy on the floor, he wondered if this was worth it. “How old are you?”
“Eight…” Laurence forced out. His body still was not responding, and he could faintly hear the voice in the back of his head. It was useless though. Giving in to the voice now would get him nothing.
“By the lady… Eight years old and already at this level”. The man shook his head. “That’s what’s truly frightening about the golden children. By the time you’re my age, you’ll probably be a peak Heaven ranked challenger. That’s actually disgusting. Boy, my name is Alistair Bournex Dominus. If you ever feel like you’re of a high enough skill level where you can beat me then you can find me at the Empty Throne school of combat”. He sighed, “I wouldn’t even be here if my younger brother did not have gambling debts with that Damien boy. Seriously, go to a school of combat. There are many in Spirit, and you will become much stronger if you go”.
Damien! When Laurence heard that name he almost lost control. This was all his fault, the tension, the invasion, the loss of life, even Laurence’s defeat was his fault. He swore that he would get his revenge the moment he could move again. “Aren’t you…” He began. His jaw ached, and his brain would not stop hammering away at the insides of his skull. It was not a pleasant experience, and as such he was finding it hard to focus on anything. “Afraid of me… trying to get revenge?”
“Revenge for you being beaten and shamed by me? Why would I? Sometimes the only way to get stronger is to lose, and better you lose now, to someone who might kill a midget, but would never kill a child, than to someone with absolutely no qualms”. Alistair smiled. “And hey, perhaps of you learn a few things, then you might put up a better fight next time”. He looked at one of the women by the arena. “Call back the rest of the students, we’re leaving. Damien and the Arrows can fend for themselves. I am done doing someone else’s dirty work”.
It was at that moment when a man in the same kind of dogi as Alistair’s cohorts walked into the room. He had a far away look and a rictus grin on his face, and a young boy followed behind him with a thick stream of blood coming out of his nose and covering his mouth. He had a look of pure hatred in his eyes as he glanced at the man, and then m a look of shock at the state of Laurence on the floor.
“What happened?” He said, running over to the boy lying in a pool of his own blood, spit and sweat.
“Hey Jim,” Laurence said. He was quickly getting his bearings back, but as he began standing up it was obvious that movement was still a struggle. “You’ve got blood on you”.
“Back at you. How’d this happen?” It was difficult to notice, but Laurence could see there was something very different about Jim. Normally he was an incredibly steady handed person, but now he was very slightly shaking, and his eyes had a slightly glassy feeling about them.
“I lost a fight. I didn’t actually think it was possible for me to lose to anyone but my daddy. Turns out I was wrong”. Laurence laughed weakly.
“If that will be all, my students and I will be leaving,” said Alistair. He ushered everyone in the grey dogi together and began walking out.
“Stop. Francis is not leaving, are you Francis?” Said Jim. The man who Jim had walked in with stopped and turned round, with that same grin on his face. “Why aren’t you leaving Francis? Tell them what you did”.
“I lied to my companions”. The man, Francis, said.
“I killed and defiled the corpses of four people before arriving at you”. The faces of his companions paled. Alistair was no different. He made a big deal about the morals of his students. The fact that someone had slipped by him worried him greatly, and caused him to look at the rest of his students, wondering what else he had missed.
“How old were they?” Jim’s eyes smouldered with small flames of hatred and disgust.
“There were two teenage girls, a young girl, and a young boy”. The sound of his declaration echoed throughout the hall, as clear as day. The place was silent, but Alistair was breathing heavily. He was angrier than he had ever been before, to the point where a vein was visible, bulging against his forehead.
Jim walked up to Francis and stared him in the eyes. Blood began trickling out of his nose again as he reached into his boot and pulled out a small knife. The blade was about three inches long, and incomparably firm. It was a gift from Laurence for introducing Yun, Louisa, and himself into the gang. The blade was extremely sharp, and had a lightning element, thanks to the fact it was made from maelstrom snake bone.
Jim handed the knife to Francis and said, “Cut your own head off with this”. Francis immediately took the knife and, still smiling, jammed the blade into his throat. Without stopping, he began sawing away at his neck and blood started to spray out, arcing over Jim as he stood beneath the man.
One of the women in the group gagged as she saw this, and ran into the far hallway. A younger member of the troupe began crying silently, unable to hold back his terror, and Alistair simply looked away. They were all used to death and fighting, but there was something profoundly distressing about watching a man saw through his own throat.
The blade crunched as it passed through Francis’ adam’s apple, making quick work of the cartilage and tendons. Once it was clear of his trachea, he fell to his knees like a puppet with its strings cut. Blood continued to pump out in droves, and his face had taken on a positively pallid colour. His arm fell as it lost all sensation thanks to the lack of blood. He pitched himself forwards, determined to cut his own head off with his body-weight, if not his arms.
Seconds later he was dead. Blood pooled around his quickly cooling form as Jim looked on with disgust and Laurence looked on passively. Finally Jim broke, he curled up into a ball and began crying. All that could be heard was the sound of one boy crying, and the other repeatedly saying “It had to be done… It had to be done…”