Chapter 33

Carlo rushes forward ahead of Caleb and is quickly parried by Eckhart. The veteran warrior grabs his wrist and twists it around to his back. A strained cry of pain escapes his dry lips. Caleb, switching to Dragon’s Fang, advances swiftly to save him. Eckhart twists Carlo’s arm again and uses him as a shield. Anticipating the young boy to stop in the face of hurting his friend, he is stunned when Caleb rams his shoulder into Carlo. Eyes wide, Carlo pushes back and uses the momentum of Caleb to trip Eckhart’s leg, falling backward.

Without a choice, Eckhart releases Carlo, who rolls to the side, holding his bruised wrist. Caleb leaps onto Eckhart, bringing his sword down with the weight of his body. Barely scratching his cheek, Eckhart adjusts his body to dodge the blade and kick Caleb off him. However, when he raises his leg to push him off, a solid wall stops his leg in place. With a clever ruse, Caleb had used his reckless attack as a diversion to cast a barrier in the space between their legs, trapping Eckhart in this position.

“Nice trick!” Eckhart acknowledges the ploy with a bright smile. His stiffened face struggles to move as the pressure of Caleb’s attack has him in a bind.

Taking the moment to recover, Carlo reaches for his sword and returns to aid Caleb in taking down Eckhart with a quick swipe of his blade. In a moment of thought, Eckhart forces himself to take this a bit more seriously and, with the full might of his strength and using his sacred Divine Art shatters the barrier holding him in place to knee Caleb’s stomach and whirling into the air and landing to the side only to vomit from the intense nausea in his stomach immediately.

Carlo is surprised as he tries to use his Shadow Dance to create an afterimage, but his sword shatters in his hand. Shards of metal slash his hands and arms deep, dark red blood quickly pours from his wounds, and the heavy feeling of a blunt object hitting his temple briefly causes him to lose consciousness.

Caleb, still recovering, turns his head to witness Carlo falling to the ground, defeated and stunned; as Eckhart holds his broadsword in his hand, a bright yellow glow emits from the entire blade.

“Divine Art: Heavenly Strike!” Eckhart says with confidence and sheaths his sword away.

Caleb tries to get to his feet; however, he stumbles over himself and realizes his legs are shaking and unresponsive to his actions. His body was still recovering from the strike to his center, shaking his head, trying to recover faster.

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“What was…that?” Dazed and confused, Caleb can barely believe the sudden turn in the duel.

“I’m a little rusty using that Divine Art. However, I would have lost if I hadn’t put in the extra effort to put you two down. That’s worth something.”

“G..Gah..” Exhausted and beaten, Caleb falls to the ground coughing.

Eckhart quickly tends to the wounds on Carlo. After some time to rest, Caleb gets to his feet and approaches Eckhart, his face brighter than before. He looks at Caleb.

“You kids… You’ve grown far too strong in such a short time. Especially Carlo, he is worth something.”

“Hmph, he hasn’t stopped training without much complaint. He’s much better with using a sword than I am.” Caleb kneels and looks at the sleeping Carlo.

“As much as I dislike what you are, Caleb, I can tell you have also been working hard. I know I haven’t been the greatest teacher to you guys-“

“You gave us a goal, Eckhart. To defeat you. If we can cause even Eckhart the Holy Knight to sweat, then I say you have been a great teacher.”

“I-I haven’t heard that name in years.”

“The Holy Knight? I didn’t believe it when my father would boast about it. Yet, what you did to defeat Carlo and me, it is safe to say I know why you had such a title.”

Moments of silence occur between them. Thoughts going through Eckhart’s mind, pacing back and forth. A bit of time passes, and Carlo slowly begins to regain consciousness. Holding his head as the pounding headache makes him grunt to the pain. He opens his eyes to stare at the two guys looking after him.

“Did…we win?”

“If getting your ass kicked means you won, then yes, you won at losing.”

“Sweet.” Carlo lays back and places his uninjured arm across his eyes so he can focus on resting.

“Since you are awake now, I have decided what to do.” Eckhart crosses his arms and stares at his two students.

“Eckhart?” Caleb reacts and stares back.

“You both showed me even more promise from your dedication to training hard, both of you. As your teacher, I feel responsible for your exponential growth and talents. So, until one of you can beat me by yourself, I will stay as your instructor, mentor, and guide to become even stronger. If I know you both train as hard as you can, and one of you manages to beat me, then the other shouldn’t be far off from doing the same.”

“We still have some years ahead of us, don’t we, Carlo?” Caleb glances over to the fatigued Carlo. He gives a thumbs up and chuckles.

“Yeah, seems like it. I really would have liked it to be done next year.”

“Shooting for the stars, aren’t you.”

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“Always have.”

With a soft chuckle, Eckhart turned his back and approached the barracks.

“I look forward to the coming years, the both of you.” With his final words, Eckhart leaves the two boys to themselves. 

A brief chat between Carlo and Caleb before they return to their homes. Carlo heads to his living quarters, and Caleb, returning to the big house, is greeted by Celia and Mei, who quickly help clean him from all the dirt and damage he took during his fight.

*

It was a painful truth that I had to face—losing to Eckhart and allowing myself to fall before Caleb. Lying in bed, I stare at the ceiling to vent my frustrations. Vivid childhood memories begin to unravel as the goal behind my constant need to prove myself and get stronger grows with each passing day. To not forget what I have at stake doesn’t mix well with my demeanor.

“Damnit!” Slamming my fist into the wall, I try to hold back the tears from being so emotional about my loss.

However, the thoughts of my family and our struggles to be greater than servants were an ambition that I decided to dedicate myself to as long as I lived—enough of living in poverty, enough suffering for others who are treated as nothing but property. I would show them that Carlo Tanios would become the greatest Knight and rise to the ranks of the Obsidian order.

Tears would stain my cheeks as I tried to force down the painful memories of watching my parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents being mistreated or abused while still smiling that they meant something to some stupid lord or lady. I don’t want to see my baby sister suffer like our parents have… That’s why… That is why I need to get this done and over with quickly. I will return to them and rescue everyone… I will be the knight in shining armor to make our name known…

Long before I knew it, I would grow tired quickly from my excitement and of today and fall into a deep sleep. Eckhart had wished us to take a day off, but I cannot afford any delays. So be it if I need to crush Caleb and leave him behind to defeat Eckhart. Those were the remaining thoughts that lingered even into my dreams… I would have to crush my friend to reach my goal and save my family from a fate born hundreds of years ago. Nothing will stop me from getting stronger to win and crush my opponents…

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