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Sally woke up distresses and unrested; noise of all kinds interrupted her sleep early in the morning, and she was not in the mood to enjoy nature then. Remembering her plans for the day, she’d dress and make breakfast (assuming Tom was still asleep and not sulking) hastily.


She hurried over to Watson, the family butler. “Prepare the car. I’ll pick up my gown and cap myself,” she also had preparations to do for herself, but she meant to do it herself so it could be a little easier on Tom. It was upsetting enough that the gown and cap got lost in the mail and she didn’t want him to consider it as an ill omen. Today just so happened to be her graduation, one year after her brother’s. The day went on as planned, but Sally could not relax until she saw it through. He had till four o’ clock to pick out a graduation gift, but he did not mind. He remembered last year. Sally had gone all out and got him a set of plate mail. It was shame that he hadn’t used yet. True, it was more decoration considering that more efficient kinds of armor existed in this day and age.


It was beautiful though. The armor resembled his grandfather’s. He was a man of both uncanny intellect and gargantuan strength. It’s rare to be strong enough to be able to move after donning the immense plate mail armor.
Tom thought carefully on his way to town. What could his sister possibly want?


She was quite the technology savvy. Tom had sudden inspiration after passing by a hardware store, but as he was driven around he wasn’t sure why a hardware store reminded him. This era is peculiar, he couldn’t stop from thinking. Magic and swords coexist with machinery and electronics.


Magic was one thing, it was probably the reason humanity bounced back so quickly. It and swords are among the viable weapons against darklings, not to mention magic also has a myriad of other uses.


A lot technology was scavenged from ancient times, so science didn’t have to start over from scratch. What was truly lost was recovered quickly thanks to the use of magic. Tom escaped his trance and entered the hardware store. One of the pros of being from an established family is the jaw-dropping budget reserved for gifts.


Alas, poor Tom found nothing suitable. Rather instinctively, he walked into a nearby gunsmith’s store.
Tom had a knack for guns. Though they have almost no effect on darklings, they’re perfect for anti-personnel usages.  He replenished the ammunition needed for competition for his personal weapon, a unique pistol made especially for him. He quickly realized he’d only waste time and money so he left promptly. He also remembered it was a paranoid act to have a gun at home, but better safe than sorry!


Something bothered Tom in the back of his head. He knew it was something he’d forgotten. Sally’s words ringed in his ear. “I will become a Lodestone knight,” she always said. Tom rushed back home, and into his cellar. He retrieved his grandfather’s sword. In the end he couldn’t present Sally with a gift until later. Tom frowned and felt a bit of ice on his heart. At the very least, he could get her a cake and a card, gifts that were also more acceptable once their family started to make decent money.


While a gift wasn’t important to her, Tom’s presence was, but she still didn’t expect to get nothing, so she was confused, but not unpleasantly.


“It’s not ready yet,” Tom replied. It was an honest answer. However, it wasn’t the best one. Once the day was over, Sally and Tom waited for lunch, as the former’s cooking skills never needed to advance any better than making food in emergencies.

“Anyway, I took the liberty of enrolling us both in a great higher learning course.”


“What?”


“Oh, stop complaining. You always said that you craved adventure and whatnot, and I said I wanted to be a knight.”


Sally paused as if she was talking about a casual subject, though she regretted she started suddenly.


“Have you ever heard of a place called Oakwood Academy? It’s a great institution ran by the government where youths are trained to become knights.”


“You’ve got to be kidding me.”


“Don’t joke about it.”


At his point Sally gave up and handed Tom a pamphlet that explained to him what he needed to know. Tom knew that the decision was not quite made without his approval, and went along as the gravity settled in.


Oakwood was a school in the capital that gave lessons geared towards combat and survival against darklings. Almost all graduates become knights eventually, although the graduation rate was pretty low.

He didn’t show it, but he was elated. This was exactly what he was hoping for, but he could never take the steps himself.
Sally was beaming with a smile. She knew exactly what her brother was feeling.

“How did you get us enrolled?”


“I asked Dad to pull some strings. Not bad, right? We leave for school in a week, so get ready. My gift will arrive by that time, right?”


“Don’t worry about it, you won’t be disappointed.”


Maybe it was his imagination, but the frigidness around his heart intensified. Perhaps, it wasn’t sadness, but a much stronger emotion.  Tom hugged and thanked his sister as she left him to think, while she had to analyze the extent of Tom’s sincerity, considering she had taken a huge gamble to get him out of the dump.


Tom spent increasingly more time at a shooting range.


Tom breathed heavily and quickly drew his pistol. He fired six shots and landed them all as perfect hits.


Three shots to the head, three to the heart, he counted. “It took eight seconds; that’s only one second off my usual time,” Tom muttered loudly.


Tom’s gun was a small pistol-like firearm. Although it lacked penetration power, it was especially made for quick draw and precision.


Tom had designed it himself and for that reason assumed great pride. It did have a few drawbacks. The capacity was tiny and he thought it had a nasty overheating problem.


Nearby onlookers couldn’t believe his accuracy. Humbly, Tom announced that he was standing to close and that he was nothing special.


True, while Tom is proficient at marksmanship, he was slowly and carefully working on his speed and range. In terms of marksmanship, Sally couldn’t compare.


By end of the week, Tom had improved down to six seconds, but he was visibly frustrated. When Sally noticed, he blamed it on lack of sleep. Idiot, he thought to himself, what do I have to be frustrated about?


Sally had been preparing more vigorously. She ran through a series of excruciating exercises every morning, but she gave up after five sessions.


She temporarily joined a weapons class. Her slim, agile form was reminiscent of her grandfather’s.
At swordsmanship alone, she has no peer. The opponents at class quickly came to bore her. She asked Tom to spar with her.


Watson refereed. He chucked, not all of his past masters were as interesting. Tom left his sister as he heard a knock on the door. Flustered, Sally didn’t reprimand him for leaving in the middle of the session.


When he returned, Tom carried to swords. One was their grandfather’s brilliant blade; the other looked just like it.
“I’ll explain later,” declared Tom. “For now let’s finish up our sparring.”


Tom returned his swords to the weapons rack and instead handed Sally a training sword. The training swords had light aluminum frames and were generously coated in soft rubber. They could hurt, but they didn’t leave injury unless they were used with excessive force.


“En guard!” Sally opened. She was just teasing right now; Tom was able to avoid the swings.

Tom contemplated his choices. Long fights will only end in defeat, he thought to himself.


He broke the monotony with an unconventional try at her midriffs. No luck!


Tom was never one to do things the traditional way. His demeanor, his manner of speaking, his swordplay, were never typical.


Sadly, Tom never found any openings. He tried to faze her with a frontal assault, but she recovered too quickly. Again, Tom retreated and prepared his trump card.


A strike to her stomach. Parried and returned. This was to be expected of her. Sally was superior in more than a few aspects. This was certainly one of those aspects.


Tom feinted. Sally saw right through it, as she was used to Tom’s trickery. They traded blows. Exhausted now, Sally couldn’t gain the upper hand. Nor did Tom think he could last much longer. Tom decided upon an all or nothing strategy.
He backed up a few feet. He dashed and aimed for a precise blow to her chest. As one would expect, she handled it without difficulty. Tom sidestepped her counterattack and repeated for quite a while.


Three times, no four. Tom lost count but he was nearing his limits. Sally herself considered Tom a worthy rival. Sally moved in and gracefully landed a slight scratch on Tom’s shoulder blade.


“The match is decided,” proclaimed Watson.


The siblings continued on for a few more matches. All of them had the same result.


Conceited, Sally forced Tom to pack for both of them.


Early morning, they left for the capital.

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Zarelliel

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