Chapter 32

“Caleb! Carlo!” Eckhart shouts to us.

Today, of all days, was unbelievably hot; Carlo and I were sweating a river. With heavy sighs, we approached our teacher. Carlo had his curly hair tied up to control its wild length. My hair wasn’t any better than his. Celia offered to cut my hair, but I decided I wanted to grow it out a bit. Its length went past my neck and touched the tip of my shoulders. The bright white locks were a direct contrast from Carlo.

“You called us Sir?” I replied with a salute. Carlo wavered but saluted after a deep breath.

“It’s okay, boys, you may rest. This heat is cruel, so I want you guys to take the day to relax.” Eckhart nods and crosses his arms. He wasn’t wearing his armor for once and wore a plaid white tunic with baggy pants to match.

“Did something come up, Eckhart?” I spoke plainly and wiped the sweat from my brow.

“I just received word that your father and brother have made the first advance on the Empire to the West. They skirmish near Heistorm’s capital. So far, it seems we have the upper hand.

“War has officially started then. Do you intend to aid them?” I stared at Eckhart’s reaction. He was clearly in a conflict with himself and his duties.

“You know the answer to that, my Lord. But I promised your father I would train and prepare you.”

“You know you could always…not follow the rules?” Carlo raises his hands like it was nothing to him.

“A knight’s oath and duty is far greater than his pride. You best remember that, Carlo. Otherwise, you are no better than scoundrels or criminals.”

“Juuuust saying, you don’t need to babysit us. I know Caleb is still young; he isn’t close to being a young adult. No offense, Caleb.”

“I must remain here. Caleb is still only ten years old. You are barely fifteen years old, Carlo. None of you are prepared to take on any roles.”

“What if we both graduate from our training? Will that be more than enough to aid father?”

“Graduation won’t be till years. Neither of you are ready. This decision is final.” Eckhart turns and begins to walk away.

“Then what if we defeat you here and now!” Carlo shouts.

“What?” Eckhart stops in his tracks and turns toward us.

“You heard me, Sir. What if we both defeat you in a duel? Won’t that be enough?”

“Impossible. It has only been six months since you have even gotten the basics down and barely touched the potential of your Swordcraft.”

“We have been tirelessly training every day without much stopping us. I am sure you are aware of our progress. I think we hold a shot against you!” Carlo, confident in his voice, draws his sword directly at Eckhart.

“As stupid as it is, I agree with him, Eckhart. We don’t want to miss our progress, but I think I can understand how you feel stuck here with us.” Drawing my blade as well, I quickly get into my stance and stand beside Carlo.

A burst of laughter escapes Eckhart’s lips. Holding his breath, he curls up and stops momentarily to calm himself. My eyes widen as a sudden presence becomes overwhelming. The power radiating from Eckhart was more dramatic than I have seen before. Carlo felt it, too, but stubbornness was something that Carlo excelled at. Smiles crept across our faces.

“I’ll teach you this lesson: never fight an opponent you can’t beat alone. I’ll show you why.” Eckhart draws his blade along with us.

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Our weapons aren’t training swords anymore. They are much sharper and deadlier. Eckhart would have to handicap himself not to injure us too seriously, but he won’t make it painless either.

“Good! Cause I wanted to see how we can handle you together!” Carlo shouts at the top of his lungs as he advances at full speed. I follow directly behind and let out a soft breath.

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With one strike, Eckhart breaks Carlo’s defense and tries to disarm him. Spotting his movement, I shift my blade and aim for his legs. Without room to decide, he steps back, giving us distance. Carlo, now recovered, enters his stance with perfect form and creates an afterimage illusion that shadows his movements.

I approached Eckhart and changed my style from Dragon Fang to an unorthodox version of Thunder Flash, another style I began studying and practicing in my spare time. With the momentum of Dragon Fang, to make my movement even more unpredictable, I clash with Eckhart’s blade, which he redirects the force to the side. I lunge forward, shift to my other stance, and make a quick slash that nearly cuts his chest.

Noticing the shift in my concentration, Eckhart ducks and spins around me. His hilt slams into my back, and the pain shoots throughout my body, but I use the momentum to roll to the ground and push myself back up without much time to recover.

Carlo thrusts toward with his sword, and Eckhart must shift focus and deflect the attack. However, in conjunction with my faint, Carlo pulls back and uses his Divine Art, causing a mist to emanate from the soles of his feet, creating a smoke screen. Leaving all three of us blind, I heat up my blade with the channeling of my own Divine Art, stab into the ground, and cause even more smoke to increase the density of the mist.

“Excellent use of your Divine Arts, but certainly, you don’t expect to win with such tricks.”

Eckhart launches an attack at Carlo but misses as his blade phases through the Afterimage, revealing the real Carlo had prepared a setup with his abilities and leaving Eckhart open for an attack. Turning his attention to me, I duck under his swipe with his blade and kick his leg. It does little but distract Eckhart as he grabs my arm and tosses me over his shoulder.

I drop my sword as I hit the ground and roll. Carlo picked up very quickly and rushed to aid me. Using Divine Art, Eckhart makes his sword shine bright, blinding Carlo, who begins to rush into the mist wildly and blind. With two swings, Eckhart disarms Carlo and pins him to the ground.

I quickly pick up Carlo’s sword and strike vertically, only bouncing off his sword as he placed it behind him to protect his blind spot. So, with a new course of action, Eckhart swings his sword around to attack me, but with a clever idea, I cast a barrier between Eckhart and me and let his sword get caught in the barrier, effectively disarming him. I extend my attack, ram the hilt into his back, and push him away from Carlo. Giving us a moment to breathe, Carlo takes his sword from my hands, and I slide back to grab my own.

“I’ll give you kids one thing: you like to push the boundaries of combat when facing an opponent far stronger than you. However, I am impressed with how you have grown and strengthened. But this fight isn’t over until either of us becomes victorious!”

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