Chapter 108 - Come Little Elly
Skyle hefted the one-handed short sword he had picked up. It was a serviceable blade, double-edged with a firm guard and finely balanced around the hilt of the sword. It was both light enough that he would be able to wield it without a problem, but with enough heft to it that it would help him compensate for his lack of strength when the time came to deliver blows.
Elena watched patiently while Skyle picked his weapon. Once he was done, she picked up a double-headed axe and twirled it deftly around her hand. The weapon was a monstrosity that must weigh over eight pounds, but she handled it as if it were a toy. It made Skyle feel as though he were holding a tiny needle in his hand instead of a proper sword.
The axe-wielding girl caught the look on his face and raised her eyebrows in askance.
“Would you like to pick out something else?”
Skyle shook his head and gestured toward the door. Elena shrugged, then headed outside, the humongous axe propped up against her shoulder.
When they stepped back into the hallway, Skyle’s steps halted the moment he saw the direction they were headed in.
“Is the fight going to happen outside of the building?”
“Of course, we’ll be using one of the training arenas. Why? What’s the matter?”
“I’d prefer to avoid the crowds if possible.”
Elena pursed her lips as she considered his request, but then a grin broke out on her face.
“Sure, I don’t see why not. There will be a lot of disappointed fans, though.”
Skyle held back a groan, instead nodding in wordless gratitude.
Elena led them further into the building. They exited through a pair of double doors and stepped into an expansive inner courtyard that held a beautiful garden. Water burbled from a fountain, feeding into a brook that circled a small island. There, a beautiful gazebo had been erected. Ornate wooden carvings decorated it from top to bottom. Around it, colorful trees and flowers that had been meticulously trimmed and cared for completed the picture. Four small bridges crossed over to the island, and Elena led Skyle through one of them.
Skyle looked around in confusion.
“Where’s the arena where we will be sparring?”
“This is it.”
Skyle glanced toward the gazebo and the beautiful plants all around them with a hesitant expression.
“Are you sure we’re allowed to spar here?”
Elena grinned toothily. “Relax, it will just be a quick bout to see what you’ve got.”
Skyle studied the girl before him with a skeptical eye. She was about his same height, and her build was even slimmer than his. She must weight all of 90 pounds soaking wet. Though he could not see an ounce of fat on her arms and legs, neither did she strike him as a particularly vicious opponent.
Elena endured his examining gaze with grace, smiling as she propped her axe on the ground and leaned her elbow upon its handle.
“Done sizing me up?”
Skyle scratched his head, embarrassed that his actions had been read so easily. It was then that he realized how foolish he was. Wasn't it blatantly obvious that if she could handle such a monster of an axe with ease, she must be incredibly talented with the elements?
"Fine, I get the message, Little Shadow."
Activating his True Sight, Skyle gaped for a moment while he inadvertently took a couple steps back.
Elena still wore a casual smile, but her aura told an entirely different story. It was burning up with a fierce scarlet hue that spilled over into every adjacent color. It was obvious that her element was fire, just like Leon. However, even a summoner as gifted as Leon had a regular aura with the fire element only being more predominant around his core.
The fire element in Elena’s aura was not as bright, but every inch of her body was bathed with it. Even as Skyle watched, she was absorbing more fire essence from from the air around them, where it dissolved into a stream that fed into her entire body. That’s where the layer of scarlet came from.
Skyle rubbed at his eyes, blinking dazedly. Was this what Talon had meant about elemental warriors absorbing the power of the elements into their bodies in order to strengthen them?
“If you keep staring at me like that, I might begin to think you’re into me or something.”
For once, Skyle didn’t blush. He couldn’t afford to take this opponent lightly at all. Judging from the intensity of the elemental power surging through her body, Skyle suddenly had no trouble understanding how she could wield such a huge weapon with ease. This last thought finally sparked a memory in him.
“Wait a moment, I saw you a couple days ago! You were the girl smashing the wooden target dummy in half!”
“Oh? There’s a lot of girls who train with target dummies.”
“You split it in half with a single blow.”
“There’s a lot of strong female warriors at the academy.
“While also wielding a double-bladed axe that was almost taller than herself?”
Elena shrugged as she looked at the axe she held in her hands with regret.
“Well, you got me. Yeah, I don’t like these tiny things at all. They’ve got no heft to them, no real weight. You swing and swing but never quite get that crunch that comes from delivering a real gut-busting blow to the opponent.”
Skyle’s eyebrows climbed halfway up his forehead, his eyes pointedly staring at the axe she held in her hands. In what world could such a colossal weapon be considered tiny?
Elena seemed to mistake the meaning of his gaze. She sighed as she shook her head in disappointment.
“You probably saw Reaper. That’s my axe, she’s been handed down the family from generation to generation. Sadly, this was all sort of last minute and I can’t cast the spell to blunt its edges myself. So, I was left with no choice other than to pick up this tiny puppy from the armory.”
Skyle glanced at the edge of her axe, which did indeed look to be blunted. What was the point, though? With the sheer mass of that thing, if it even brushed his side, he’d be sent flying to the next world without so much as a prayer.
“So, are you ready to begin?” Elena smiled with her eyes, a fierce fire beginning to light up their depths.
“Wait, why are you so fired up about this? You said we would just be sparring.”
Elena opened her mouth as though to speak, but a voice from behind Skyle cut her off.
“That would be my fault.”
Skyle whirled around and blinked at the newcomer. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man with dark hair that fell to his shoulders. His scruffy chin sported a grin that looked decidedly sheepish as he nodded to Skyle in greeting.
That disarmingly friendly smile had not been forgotten by Skyle, nor had his mysterious words from that day.
“Roland Hamonet?” Skyle blurted out in disbelief, recalling the Senior Adept who had processed his request to duel Dalian, the wanna-be bully.
“Yo Skyle. While I’m gratified to find that the newest genius of our Aegis Academy deigns to remember little old me, I’m now most definitely your senior. You should address me as such.”
“I’m sorry, Senior Adept Hamonet.”
Roland waved off Skyle’s apology with an infectiously crooked grin.
“Don’t worry about it. To be honest, I don’t care for all those stiff-necked conventions. A lot of other students and the academy staff take them quite seriously, however, and things could get annoying if they overhear you. Still, Senior Adept Hamonet is such a mouthful. Besides, it sounds so serious, especially given the fact that we know each other. Just for the appearance’s sake, you may as well call me senior brother or Senior Roland, whatever floats your fancy.”
Skyle found the young man’s aura brimming with honesty as he said those things, and so he felt at ease as he nodded back.
“Got it. Thank you for the pointers, senior brother.”
The words had barely left his tongue when he felt an intense wave of hostility from his back. Startled, Skyle spun around and stared at the surging tide of scarlet exploding forth from Elena. Her previous air of feigned indifference was gone, having vanished into thin air. Instead, her red-tinged eyes were staring daggers at Roland.
“E-Elena? What’s the matter?”
“Oh, don’t mind Little Elly, she just takes this kind of stuff way too seriously for her own good.”
Skyle was tempted to point out that she had been taking it just fine before Roland had shown up. Point in fact, his last sentence only seemed to make things worse.
“Don’t call me Little Elly!” Her face was tinged with a furious shade of red, the veins in her neck bulging out.
“Calm down, little sister. Geez, you’re like a firecracker. As soon as someone lights up the fuse, you just go off on them, don’t you?”
Skyle swiveled his head back to stare at Roland. “Little sister?”
Roland quickly waved his hands. “No, no, she’s not my real sister. We’re just cousins.”
“Twice removed,” Elena pushed out between gritted teeth.
“Very true, that. Still, her parents have commended her care into my very capable hands. As such, I slave away in order to find opponents that can nurture her skills until she’s all grown up.”
“You’ve had me fighting nothing but wooden dummies for the past three weeks!”
Skyle flinched at the vehemence in her words. Elena’s face twisted into a ferocious snarl as she glared at Roland with venom-filled eyes, as though she would bore a hole straight through him if only she could.
His new senior brother just shrugged his shoulders, having the gall to look aggrieved.
“I told you that if you don’t like my training menu, all you have to do is force me to unsheathe my weapon once.”
A haunted look flashed past her expression as she glanced at the slender blade hanging on Roland’s back. It was apparent to Skyle that her inability to take Roland up on his challenge was not for the lack of trying.
Then something strange happened. Her aura began to converge around her core until her hostility became a razor-sharp blade of killing intent. When it completely coalesced into a murderous aura that had his hairs standing on end, its target, for some unfathomable reason, had become Skyle instead of Roland.
Skyle pointed a finger at his chest while staring at Elene with wide-eyed innocence. He definitely felt wronged in this situation.
“Hey, slow down. I have nothing to do with this whole mess.”
By this point, Roland had walked up to Skyle’s side. He laid a hand upon the younger boy’s shoulder, shaking his head while clearing his throat with an uncomfortable expression on his face.
“Ahem. Actually, Skyle, it has quite a bit to do with you.” Roland patted Skyle’s shoulder with an apologetic smile. “You see, Little Elly-”
“Stop calling me that!”
“-looked so sad, almost on the verge of tears, as she recognized the strength of my blade, the ethereal fleetness of my steps, and the unsurpassed sharpness of my wit-”
“I was shedding tears of rage while I cursed you as a bully, a coward and a cheat!”
“-that I offered her an alternative, as I’d heard her complaining about her newest assignment in welcoming a new student. It just so happened that I remembered you clearly, since you left such a vivid impression upon my mind. So, I inspired her with my most dazzling combat technique and took hold of the moment to teach her that a true warrior never looks down on his opponent and that defeat is only a razor’s edge away from victory. Thus, she should make full use of this great opportunity-”
“You kicked my butt into the ground while laughing and spat out something along the lines of throwing a pearl at the swine’s feet!”
“-to compete against the new genius of Aegis Academy, who had already bested one of the champions of the arena with nothing but the strength of his arms and the sharpness of his wit. To provide further encouragement, I told her that should she claim victory in this supreme test of skills-”
“You called it a whack-a-thon to see who’s left standing last!”
“-I would allow her to pick and choose her own training menu for the next three months.”
Skyle stared at this maniac who had pretty much signed his death warrant with a few careless words. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that the amount of pent up frustration bubbling up in Elena’s aura had reached a fever pitch. She was breathing heavily as she stared bloody murder, not at Roland who was her tormentor, but rather at Skyle who was to be her hapless victim.
“Um, I think I’ll just waive the combat assessment. I’m more of a bookworm, in any case. Love books, abhor swords and all that stuff. Blood terrifies me. I might faint dead away.”
It wasn’t that Skyle was scared, for he had squared off against bigger and much badder foes than the girl standing in front of him. This was simply a matter of common sense. He could immediately feel the bad blood in the air between these two - who wouldn’t? He’d be a fool to get involved in all this.
The way he saw things, there was no winning in this scenario. Either he got beaten to a pulp with all the furious violence a maddened killing machine could wield with that obscenely huge axe, or he defeated Elena and would thereafter have to deal with her constant string of challenges. He could see it clear as day that she would never stop challenging him until she won, and the school evaluation be damned.
Roland must have read the dilemma Skyle found himself in from his expression. He patted the boy on the back and offered another apologetic smile.
“Sorry for the inconvenience. She’s just so headstrong, I’m frankly out of my wits trying to beat some sense into the swollen muscle she calls a brain. Thanks in advance for the help. I’ll treat you to some puffed candied corn when we’re done with all this. Have you ever tried it? Delicious stuff, I don’t know what genius came up with the idea.”
Faced with the one-sided speech, Skyle finally began to sympathize with his opponent, just a little.
“Prepare yourself, Skyle Farrow. I won’t go easy just because you’re innocent. I will not lose. I refuse! I’ve been spitting blood and guts every hour for the past three weeks while crushing four hundred seventy nine puppets. I have vowed that I will do anything it takes to be released from that puppet hell.”
Skyle couldn’t hold back the cringe he felt when he heard how many puppets the poor girl had gone through. Risking a glance toward Roland, he reflected that appearances were deceiving and his senior brother might well be an evil genius of a man.
After all, he had seldom seem a more motivated fighter on any arena. Even desperate people fighting for their lives couldn’t match the zeal and grim determination that lit up Elena’s eyes from the inside.
A shadow of empathy flicked past her expression as she watched Skyle attentively, and the hard lines of her face softened just a hair as she glanced down at the elaborate robes he was wearing..
“I’ll make you a deal, Skyle Farrow: surrender. Give up the fight and I’ll request the academy to send another examiner. After all, it is not fair for an untrained boy to fight an expert like me. I don’t care what kind of success you’ve found on the arena while squaring off against those mages. This is a real combat duel. It's a whole different realm from the world of you pampered mages that you’re about to see, and you might not like what you find.”
Skyle’s expression hardened as he heard her words. In truth, he had been on the verge of proposing just such a deal. It would adequately deal with both their problems at the same time. Skyle would be freed from the obsessive clutches of this girl and her murderous axe, while she could finally devote her time to slaying fearsome magical beasts or gutting hapless students upon the arena’s sand -whatever tickled her fancy wasn’t his problem.
That was until she spoke. Her words, and the underlying attitude, just rubbed Skyle the wrong way. He did not usually care overmuch what strangers thought of him, and no one would call him belligerent. Maybe it was all the frustrations he had to endure so far, both with Syrene and the stupid talent tests, the constant misunderstandings back at the villa, or just how soundly Talon had beaten him down last night.
Whatever it was, Skyle was beyond caring. Talon might have the credentials, the knowledge and the skill to look down on him and tell him that his training was just not good enough. As for this scrawny little girl with her confident glare and impatient line to her lips, that was a whole different matter altogether.
“No deal.” Skyle said, shrugging off Roland’s arm from around his neck and rolling his shoulders. Then he unsheathed his shortsword and flicked the scabbard away. He gave it a deft flourish, the blade trailing a glittering afterimage of gold dust under the dawn sun. When he finally stopped, he held the blade at a practiced guard position, his weight perfectly balanced on the balls of his feet. Then he flicked his fingers at her.
“Ready when you are. Come at me, Little Elly.”
Elena’s eyes went wide when she heard his words. Only a moment later, they were veritably spitting fire as she let out a furious roar and leapt high into the air while lifting her monstrous axe overhead. At the apex of her jump, when she was at least ten feet high in the air, her enraged words finally registered in Skyle’s brain.
“Don't call me that!”
A fierce grin lit up Skyle’s face as he stepped forward to meet his opponent, and the battle began in earnest.