Their guide quietly led them to their new arena and ZaiWin couldn’t help look around, feeling a bit disappointed. After the water arena, with its unstable platforms, he had kind of hoped for something … different.
They stood in the middle of a small forest of bamboo trees, their slender stems wavering back and forth. Since they’d climbed practically all the way to the top of the hill, the wind up there was a bit stronger, brushing through the leaves and and filling the air with whispering sounds.
Had he been allowed to make use of his datai this would have been the perfect arena, he thought, looking around and taking his time to observe the other group of participants that had joined them.
Like his own group, they too had one of the Calzai’s men as a member. Together with two other boys and one girl, they were still four in total. But now their group had only three participants. Since the Calzai’s men had only joined the competition to balance out the numbers, he thought that the man that had integrated the other group would not compete. But, as they drew their painted rocks and he was paired exactly with him, it was clear that he’d been mistaken.
The girl that had had the luck to draw the rock without a pair took a deep breath, clearly relieved, and ZaiWin couldn’t blame her. Since he’d already been paired with someone, the only ones left were FanSai, with his cold demeanor, and GinWan, whose fame for being sickeningly cruel preceded him.
The same could not be said about the boy destined to fight the young El’Gin, droplets of sweat immediately gathering all over his pale forehead.
“Yellows, step forward and take your places!” the order came and ZaiWin gave another glance at his opponent before obeying.
If the other kids were taller than him, the man standing at his side had twice his height. With hair almost as black as his and light-brown eyes, he looked relaxed, even in a good-mood, the complete opposite of FanSai’s stern expression. And yet, like FanSai, he was also obviously of common birth.
“Try not to die on me, brat!” he muttered as he passed by him towards the center of the bamboo forest, and ZaiWin couldn’t stop his heart from beating a bit faster.
He hadn’t felt this nervous going into a battle field in a long time, he realized with a small smile, taking his place. That man, all smiles and nice expressions, was probably one of the most dangerous adversaries he had ever faced on his own. Focusing on the fight ahead, he held his sword and hid the blade behind his arm, facing his opponent sideways. The man gave him an all knowing smile and, holding his sword with his left hand, took on one of the basic defensive positions.
“I’m right-handed!” he declared. “And so, during this duel, I will only use my left hand.” He hid his right hand beneath his back. “Is that acceptable?”
ZaiWin nodded. At this stage he would be thankful for any handicap they were willing to grant him.
Eyes glued to the man in front of him, ZaiWin waited to see him move, to see him shift his feet, to see him lower his sword. But nothing happened. Unlike his previous adversary, he simply stood there, carefully watching him, his sharp eyes a shocking contradiction of his relaxed expression. He clearly didn’t care if ZaiWin was a seasoned soldier like him or a twelve-year-old kid. To him ZaiWin was merely an opponent he had to defeat, size and age had nothing to do with that. And that was the way a true warrior saw the world, ZaiWin knew. ZenTar had made a point of teaching him that himself.
Taking a deep breath and slowly exhaling, ZaiWin allowed his body to lean to one side and dashed in the opposite direction, making use of the bamboo trees to confuse his opponent.
Running in a circle around him, his feet almost completely silent, the sound of his footsteps lost amongst the whispering leaves, he finally jumped forward to attack him the moment he thought he saw an opening.
The sound of clashing metal told him his attack had been unsuccessful and forced him to crouch down, trying to cut his adversary’s legs instead. But the man nimbly jumped back, spinning on one foot and kicking him back, right on the chest.
Tumbling back like doll rolling down a hill, ZaiWin finally managed to bury his fingers into firm ground, stopping the uncontrolled movement, ending up crouching low, sword firmly held in one hand. His chest ached and he was sure it would bruise. But it could have been much worse, if he hadn’t been able to raise his sword in time and defend that blow.
The man slowly lowered the leg with which he’d just kicked him and smiled, seeming pleasantly surprised.
A river of curses flooded ZaiWin’s brain. That bastard was having fun! And no matter how much he looked at him and planed his next attack, he just could not see a future where he would be able to defeat him.
Standing up he resumed his stance, facing him sideways, sword hidden behind his arm. This time he ran at him straight on, lowering his body at last instant, spinning and quickly turning right as if to attack him from his side.
As to be expected his opponent reacted in time, taking a step back, rising his sword to defend his attack. Spinning around, ZaiWin held his sword, raising it and swinging it downward, hoping to catch him unprepared and attack him from the behind instead. The strong impact of the man’s blade against his left his hand numb and it was all he could do not to drop his sword. The man had easily caught up with his change of direction, and so ZaiWin tried to jump back and regain some ground, so he could prepare for another attack.
The elbow that landed heavily on his shoulder made him drop to his knees before he could even register the pain, and then his sword was flying away and he couldn’t even tell how that had happened.
“RouZen, plus one point. ZaiWin, minus one point,” came the call and ZaiWin sighed, finally releasing the tension that had taken over his body. As he’d foreseen from the start, there was no way he could defeat him, not without his daitai.
“Hey, kid. That’s the assassin’s style, right?” He looked up and stood, grimacing as he massaged his aching shoulder. “Why the heck does a noble kid like you know this kind of sword fighting?”
“My Master was well versed in it,” he replied, walking away to retrieve his sword, but RouZen followed him.
“He must have been a good Master,” he observed, pondering.
Good?, ZaiWin thought and he almost couldn’t hide his ironic smile.
Yeah, he’d been good. Good with a sword. Good at beating up others to an inch of their lives. Good at murdering just about anyone if someone would only pay for the task. Good at kidnapping children while they slept in their beds. Good at stabbing him to death and abandoning him in a freaking cave! But RouZen was right, he had also been a good teacher, if one were only able to survive his teaching methods.
“It fits you, this style,” he declared and ZaiWin couldn’t help look up at him with a surprised expression on his face.
Really? He’d been sure that everyone that had practiced the Empire’s sword fighting style would find it distasteful and offensive to say the least. Even ZenTar openly disliked it. RouZen also noticed his disbelief and shrugged.
“You’re obviously still a shorty and you have a lean structure. Though I’m sure you’ll grow taller when you’re older, you’ll probably never be the muscular type. And you know how to be silent, and I’m not only talking about how quiet you can be. You know how to erase your presence. Once or twice, even though I knew you there, it was almost as if I had lost you, as if you’d become a fleeting shadow.” ZaiWin averted his gaze wishing he could hide his blushing face. “That being said, you should also choose one or two of the more conservative styles and learn them thoroughly. Depending on the situation you find yourself in, the assassins’ style may not always be the best choice.”
ZaiWin nodded. He knew that better than anyone. In fact RouZen had just proven his own words true. Even though he had the bamboo trees to offer him some cover, the fact that he’d been out in open ground, facing an opponent that was alert to his presence, had been more than enough to make that style less than adequate. He’d only used it because there had been a very, very small chance that he might be able to surprise him. Using one of the most conservative styles on a military man like RouZen was equal to less than zero chances of victory.
“As for the green’s combat, XunRan, plus one point!” one of the judges called out and XunRan, the girl who had no one to fight against, smiled proudly as if her victory was actually well deserved.
“Blues, step forward! Take your places.”
FanSai and another boy made their way towards the middle of the bamboo forest. The combat was about to begin when a loud shriek echoed all around them, making them turn back to see what had happened.
Sprawled on the ground, the other boy from RouZen’s group was convulsing nonstop, a white-yellowish foam coming from his mouth, his eyeballs turned upwards inside his skull. The judges immediately knelt down, trying to hold him, but he kept twitching, his legs and arms shaking, his head slamming against the ground until he went finally still, his blank blue eyes staring unseen at the sky above their heads.
“He’s dead,” one of the judges declared the obvious and ZaiWin’s gaze immediately turned to GinWan, calmly leaning against a bamboo tree a few steps away from them, looking as if he didn’t have a care in the world and as if no one had just died a few steps from where he stood.
“How could this happened? I am certain he didn’t get injured in his last fight! He even won it,” XunRan pointed out and both judges stood up.
“Poison,” one of them declared.
The girl frowned.
ZaiWin couldn’t help agree with her silent questions and doubts.
How could that be? He’d been fine until just a moment ago. Either he’d been exposed to some kind of slow acting poison before he arrived there or the answer could only be GinWan.
“Well, since this is the case, GinWan, plus one point,” the judge went on, just like before, completely indifferent to the dead kid at his feet, but no less indifferent than GinWan, who didn’t even blink, leaning against the bamboo tree, arms crossed over his chest. “Let’s proceed to our final combat.”
FanSai made his way to the center of the field and the other boy followed him, still clearly shaken, fear eating away at his self-confidence.
Like FanSai’s previous duel, this one also didn’t last long, the terrified expression on the kid’s face worsening significantly when FanSai charged him, disarming him without difficulty.
“FanSai, plus one point. TsaKor minus one point.”
Support "Dark Wind, Icy Snow - (RyuTar, YinYuan) [BL]"
Bio: Sophia CarPerSanti was born with her mind lost in another world. Not too strangely, writing is her only passion since childhood, and so there's not much one can do to correct what was weird right from the start. Once deprived of writing total mental breakdown follows and yeah, nothing good comes out of it. And so there are a lot of books and manuscripts inside boxes and drawers just waiting for an opportunity to see the light of day. I hope you enjoy my beloved ones as much as I enjoyed creating them ♥