Chapter 30

The early morning was quiet. The soft snow had settled alongside the roaring winds. Fully prepared and determined, I arrive with Carlo. Standing in full view with all his armor and sword, Eckhart examined us with prying eyes.

“Today marks your first day in developing your Divine Arts and Swordcraft. Carlo, you pick up well on the sword, excellent. However, your discipline is lacking and will not continue as long as I train you. Another weakness of yours is your lack of respect for tradition. Reading and learning are just as important as sharpening your skills. Without the knowledge, you are unable to make your blade perfect properly. With that said, I know you are already used to the illusionary style “Shadow Dance.” Hone that craft like it was something you were born with. The Divine Arts that suit your style are Mist Field and Afterimage.” Eckhart places his hand on Carlo’s shoulder, and Carlo gives him a respectful nod.

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“As for you, Caleb, you demonstrated an unknown stance to me. I have been around long enough and traveled across the Kingdoms to say that you surprised me. However, you won’t get anywhere by improvising. Your intellect and ability to read your opponents are certainly your greatest strengths in combat. So, I assign you to learn the Dragon Fang style. I assume you know what this means.”

“I do, sir.”

“Good, I expect you to master it quickly, given you put your heart into it. Otherwise, your opponent will break through your offense and kill you. You shall continue to study the Divine Arts and practice Flash Step and Burning Oath. From what I saw from your efforts the night prior, it seems like you have some skill in the latter.” A slight smirk appears on his face.

“Wait, you were watching-” I step in and stop Carlo from finishing, knowing we must continue listening to Eckhart.

“Your greatest weakness is your reliance on an artifact. Even if you can protect yourself, it won’t be the solution if it means your comrade, friend, family, or commander dies because you couldn’t protect them with your strength. I expect you to understand that.”

“Yes, sir.” With a glum look, I nod and stay silent.

“Caleb, a word?” Eckhart looks directly at me. Cold chills spiral down my spine—the look of seriousness burned into me.

“Of course.” For a moment, I was complacent and cautious about what he needed. Carlo took this as dismissal and proceeded to practice his Swordcraft alone.

“I received word that your father and brother have made their encampments on the battle line. It will be only a matter of time before the first battle begins.”

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“I understand.”

“Don’t worry, Lord Aris is a spectacular warrior and commander. Your brother takes after him quite too often, so I wouldn’t worry about them.”

“I don’t.”

“You’re shaking.”

“I’m not.”

“Hmph.”

I wasn’t afraid of my father or brother in battle or possibly losing. The idea of a battlefield riled my heart and mind. Fidgeting back and forth, taking deep breaths, and feeling lightheaded were all but symptoms of my past, my trauma. The one hurdle that was surely going to test my will and resolve was killing another person, seeing their blood bathing my blade. Would I control myself? Or would I freeze like before? I dread to think about it.

“I’ll be fine. I assume father has amassed a militia to join?”

“Correct. Given the time and place, several thousand-foot soldiers have been trained and recruited into their armies. More commanders will be needed when the battles scale across the Kingdom.”

“Would they need you if that happens?”

“If that is requested, I would have no problem if that were how it turns out.”

“Very well, thank you, Eckhart.”

Eckhart nods and approaches Carlo to drill him on what he needs to accomplish to perfect a single move of his Swordcraft. His yelling and shouts were standard and quite the norm.

I gripped my sword and placed the blade on my temple, closing my eyes in response.

“I am Caleb Aris; I will accomplish my duty as the son of Valum Aris.”

I positioned the blade in front of my body, holding the handle and tilting it to the left. The stance is meant for offensive pressure and adaption, which I have a talent for. It’s genuinely a destined style for me.

Eckhart, with our garrison’s help, set up an arena for specific training just for Carlo and me. They often watched near their barracks as we struggled to develop our skills. Tampering our Divine Arts, sparing with one another. After each week, Eckhart would challenge the both of us to land a strike on him.

The first attempt was barely a warmup for him. His movements were unrecognizable, disarming Carlo with only two moves and pinning me to the ground under his knee in seconds. The mountain to even reach his level was steep. But week after week, I learned how to work with Carlo better and better. Our daily sparring only helped increase our rivalry and respected bond. As each day passed, another day of learning. The long strands of my hair blew in the freezing wind, my ice-cold breath burned my lungs, and the painful struggle to move after the long day was a sign of how much progress we were making.

Two months after starting, Carlo had grown a natural and unique style of Shadow Dance that would catch me off guard. However, that didn’t stop me from expanding my talents, developing a deeper connection with my style, and perfecting my Divine Arts.

Eckhart had acknowledged my efforts and was even immensely impressed that in under three months, which should have taken twice as long even to use one of my Divine Arts, I could perfect and use both without a mistake. My magical attitude and late-night studying paid off. However, it was Carlo who mastered his style first. Before I could even reach him physically, he had fully demonstrated his growth and talent for combat by landing a small strike on Eckhart with a very clever use of his style that even surprised him.

Every single day of our training, one of us would be victorious. Some days, I would win without a loss, while he would win a few times in a row. The only thing holding Carlo back was his attitude toward Divine Arts. For the four months we still had spent together, the snow had begun to melt, and the spring returning, he had not mastered any of his assigned Arts.

A painful frustration clouded his heart. Knowing him these past months, learning about his family, history, the stories and things he grew up with, and all of his goals and ambitions, he became my best friend. Knowing his struggles, I approached him to help with his studies and understanding of the Arts.

Before we knew it, with my help, it took him six months to perfect his Divine Arts. With a burning passion, he dedicated hours daily to studying and vigorously tapping into the power within him.

“It’s only been half a year, but you boys have reached the final obstacle. To graduate, both of you must work together to defeat me. If you think your current progress and training are enough to overcome within a few months, it won’t be years if you think like that. You will both have one shot every month to challenge me. You fail if I land a solid hit or force you to submit. You will graduate if you can land what I deem a fatal blow. Take this time to explore other styles, tactics, and Arts you want to learn to accomplish your goal.”

With six months of training and hard work, the real test was about to begin.

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