“Haruz, hold tightly onto your sword and think of your sister. You’re fighting not just as a warrior, but also as a man.”
The little prince stood there in utter confusion. It was the female elf mage who reacted first. She looked down at her little prey and her beastly instincts lifted the corner of her mouth into a cold smile. Like a cat playing with a mouse, she slowly approached him, bent down, and wound her arms around his neck. She reached inside his shirt for the magic crystal.
Haruz was scared stiff. His beautiful eyes opened wide and there were tears welling up in them. His delicate elven nose took staccato breaths. His reason told him to take the sword and stab his opponent in her soft abdomen, but the sword seemed to weigh a thousand kilograms in his hands. His arms froze in that position and all the sword-fighting skills he had learned fled from his mind, leaving it blank. Sweat seemed to pool in his palms.
Moreover, the demonic spirit’s black eyes looked at his. Dark magic was the best at invading someone’s mind and the female elf mage could easily sense the little prince’s terror. Her pale and beautiful face cracked into a pitch-black smile. She smiled disdainfully down at him. Half of the demonic spirit’s body was pressed up against Haruz and she intentionally rubbed her soft globes against his cheek. Her slender arms draped themselves across Haruz’s neck like spider legs and her sharpened fingers almost touched the magic crystal.
But her desire for magic wasn’t just for that tiny magic crystal. To her, the little prince with the potential to be a mage was like a feast.
Haruz shook like a leaf. He turned around stiffly and begged Brendel with his eyes.
“Sir knight, he’s really not suited for battle.” Peja the huntress couldn’t stand to watch anymore.
“He has to fight. He chose this path and now’s the time to face it with courage.” Brendel answered seriously, completely ignoring Haruz’s pleading gaze.
Peja opened and closed her mouth. She wanted to say something but ultimately kept quiet.
“Everyone must fight for various reasons, miss hunter. But Haruz has a unique reason. It’s not just for glory, or for belief, or for ideals. It’s because he has to become stronger so that he can answer to many people’s expectations.”
“But you can’t just live for someone’s expectations --” Though she knew her station in life was humble, the hunter girl couldn’t help but protest. She thought the knight would scold her severely, but Brendel merely asked her gently, “Would you live because your brother wanted you to, miss Peja?”
“Those who truly expect something of you are the ones who are closest to you. It’s not pleasant to hear because there’s nothing that’s perfect in this world.”
“You don’t need to apologize to a nobleman like me. Though your words are sharp like a knife, they’ll only correct my mistakes. Besides, you’re not wrong. As I said, everyone has their own path to walk.”
Peja looked dubiously at the count; she couldn’t quite understand everything he said, but she could vaguely sense that Brendel was completely different from all the noblemen she had seen in Shallow Water Town. He was even different from the courteous knights like Manoweir.
Brendel raised his voice, “Haruz, everyone has their first lessons in life. Your sister must have told you what the basic quality of a warrior is --”
The little prince’s mind was such a jumbled mess that he couldn’t hear the words clearly. But the last few words pierced through the mess and seemed to resonate in his mind --
The basic quality of a warrior?
The snow at Winterclaw Castle always fell in light patches but piled into thick layers. His sister stood behind the veil of snow and that stern fear-inducing voice pierced through the snow to say,
“In battle, the most important thing a swordsmaster needs to do is to remain calm, analyze your situation, and understand what it is that you have to do -- “
But his heart galloped and he couldn’t calm down at all.
“Use your willpower and not your sword to fight against the enemy. Everyone in the world will make a mistake, but only cowards will refuse to draw their sword because they fear making a mistake. You need to answer everyone that relies upon you: do you want to be a coward, or fight till the last moment like a true man?”
“I don’t know!”
The little prince sensed the cold air from the demonic spirit around him. Her ice-cold fingers trailed down his spine as in the next moment she would yank him into the endless abyss. He instinctively closed his eyes and tears fell, but an unnatural shade of red rushed into his pale white face.
He panted heavily.
“Have you seen the trainee exam at the Royal Academy? If you don’t hand in your exam, you’ll get a score --”
“Even if I hand in the answer I’ll probably end up with zero! I - I can’t do it! I won’t learn how to use the sword! I just want to be with you, sister. I don’t know how to fight, I don’t want to die!” He had sobbed then.
Clack. It was quiet, but that was the sound of the tip springing upwards as he drew his sword.
The little prince’s shout still had a trace of tears in them, but it was also accompanied by the ringing of metal. The black eyes of the demonic spirit wrapped around Haruz widened and she took a giant step back suddenly as the cold blade swung across and narrowly missed her abdomen.
Haruz windmilled about with his word and because he put too much force into the swing, he turned himself around along with the sword.
This trainwreck of a scene could have come from someone who’s never swung a sword in his life. Or maybe it was like a trainee at the Royal Academy picking up a quill pen during an exam, only for a drop of ink to spill down and stain the pristine exam paper.
But at least he had picked up the pen --
Haruz dragged the sword behind him and panted with his eyes wide open, as if in disbelief at having drawn his sword. That second still seemed like a dream.
He looked up and saw the puzzlement on the demonic spirit who had backed off. It probably still hasn’t figured out how its tiny prey suddenly grew fangs. But it reacted very straightforwardly; it raised its slender hand and pointed all five fingers at Haruz.
“Be careful!” Peja couldn’t resist calling out a warning as she watched it happen.
The little prince felt his mind go blank. He immediately raised the longsword in front of him and then turned his face side, squeezing his eyes shut.
This battle was too horrifying to watch. Brendel didn’t know how he could keep watching. Even he had been a hundred times better when he first started fighting, but that might be a player’s so-called “natural talent”.
Five streams of black flame shot out from the demonic spirit’s fingertips and arrived in Haruz’s face in just a second. But just then, Hilde’s Loyalty flashed an azure light in his hands and a light cyan-colored shield appeared. The black flames instantaneously shattered.
The young female hunter watched in awe.
The little prince seemed to just realize what happened. He looked dazedly at the sword in his hands. Just when he seemed to be turning around to ask Brendel, Brendel’s forceful instructions turned him back, “What are you standing around for? Volley back!”
Haruz came to attention like someone waking up from a dream. He seemed to rediscover some of the instincts he had gained from training and immediately whirled around to slash at the demonic spirit. But his movements were just a bit less awkward than a newbie. He struck the empty air even without the demonic spirit dodging.
“Don’t move so stiffly. Make sure you keep some strength in reserve.”
“I - I got it…”
Haruz found his balance precariously. He straightened up and looked again for the demonic spirit. But the surprise on the female elf’s face had turned itself back to disdain. She cracked open her mouth in silent ridicule and lightly circled around to his back.
“Watch your back.” It was Peya. She looked at Haruz and subconsciously treated him as she would her younger brother.
The demonic spirit’s skinny claw was about to land on Haruz’s head. But at that precise moment, Haruz shifted his right foot and flattened his upper body. He adopted the well-known defense stance of the Kirrlutz nobles.
Knight’s defense sword art.
Brendel’s eyes lit up.
The young boy’s eyes were clear and his mind seemed to have settled. All the classical battles the Empire’s Wolf, his sister, or Maynild had taught him that dealt with sneak attacks from the back floated in front of his mind’s eye -- he lowered his head and simultaneously tightened his grip on the sword in his hands as he swung it backward. The demonic spirit’s unreasonably skinny claws just barely missed his head as it swung past. Clearly, she hadn’t expected Haruz to thrust the sword upwards so when the glinting tip of the blade appeared within its range of perception, it jumped back in terror.
The demonic spirit swung backward but the sword still cut across its chest and left behind a thin black line. Compared to the demonic spirit’s defense, Haruz’s attack was really pitifully weak.
But this retaliation still put it on guard. It floated backwards to put some distance between them and shot another set of five flames at the little prince.
But the future king of Aouine was now in the zone. He closed his eyes and took himself back to the perpetually snow-covered dueling fields of Winterclaw Castle. Actually, he was better than he had been then. He raised Hilde’s Loyalty with both arms and the black flames struck the shield that flashed up. They exploded again, and the embers that fell down onto the grounds burned holes into the snow that covered it.
Haruz took a breath.
Aouine’s military sword art.
This skill came from the wind fairies and was considered the light battle tactic that is most suited for humans to learn. After Darius improved it, this set of sword skills has shown high potential for aggressive attacks.
With a giant step, Haruz leaped in front of the demonic spirit.
Naturally, this clumsy attack was a waste of an effort to Brendel, but he had to admit that he was surprised at how fast Haruz switched from defense to offense -- Brendel pursed his lips slightly.
Haruz’s frontal assault appeared clumsy to the demonic spirit as well. Before he steadied himself, the demonic spirit took one swipe at him and he tumbled head-first into the snow. But he hurriedly clambered up and raised his sword in preparation to block the demonic spirit’s flames of darkness.
But this time, Hilde’s Loyalty didn’t completely block the spell like he wanted it to. The second the dark magic struck the shield, the longsword broke with an audible snap. The broken parts turned into silver dust and scattered on the winds. Haruz himself flew backwards due to the force of the spell and slammed into a thick pile of snow.
Brendel smacked his lips at the sight. Having blocked three rounds of a three-ring spell, Hilde’s Loyalty performed better than he had anticipated. He reached out a hand and, with a flash of white light, an identical sword appeared in his hand.
“Hilde’s Loyalty II.”
He intentionally threw the second sword farther away. The little prince had to leap and roll in the snow before he could grab the sword. Right then, though the little prince looked like a miniature snowman, at least he was able to draw his sword the correct way. With a metallic clang, the sharp blade left the sword sheath and drew a perfect arc through the air along with the falling snow.
As soon as the blade left its sheath, it was greeted by the frontal assault of five streaks of black flame. With a huge bang, the flames made of dark magic exploded like fireworks.
Among the embers dancing on the wind, a figure shot out.
Haruz seemed to have finally discovered the demonic spirit’s weak point. He angled his attack with the long sword so that it was aimed at the female elf mage’s skinny claws. The demonic spirit’s pitch-black pupils widened and reached out a claw in an attempt to avoid this little creature who had suddenly grown wild.
But to Peja and the demonic spirit’s surprise, the little prince seemed to have turned himself into a young wolf. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to move forward. The demonic spirit’s claws dug into his shoulders and rendered the entire area a bloody mess. The little prince from Aouine cried out in pain, but his right hand kept moving despite the pain and his sword struck the demonic spirit’s left claw.
Unfortunately there wasn’t enough force behind it and the attack only left behind a deep gash.
The demonic spirit shrieked soundlessly. It opened its black mouth wide and raised a palm to whack the little prince away from it.
Haruz’s body rolled around the snow-covered ground several times before landing. Black flames again shot at him. His pupils reflected what was happening, which was beyond anything that he had ever learned on the dueling fields. But in that second, his instinct for survival seemed to kick in and he slammed his sword downwards while he was still in mid-air. The black flames again stuck the shield that immediately flashed up around him.
The flames exploded and the huge momentum behind that explosion caused him to lose his grip on the sword and fly through the air. He only stopped when his body struck a snow-pine tree.
Brendel looked at the demonic spirit. He knew Haruz’s opponent had no more elemental points left. For a demonic spirit, elemental points were their lifeforce. It wouldn’t risk its life and cast more spells.
He took out a third sword and again tossed it far away.
“Hilde’s Loyalty III.”
This time Haruz caught the sword the first time, despite his body being covered with wounds. His entire body trembled but he drew his sword unwaveringly. He looked up. The demonic spirit was no longer casting long-distance attacks and instead stood in the distance, torn over whether to retreat or not.
But clearly, the fragrant scent of magic coming from Haruz made her indecisive.
But Haruz couldn’t think too much. His entire mind was a chaotic mess though his spirit was in a highly excitatory state. He never dreamt that he would battle a monster such as this. While he didn’t know how strong a demonic spirit was, he knew how skilled the knights chosen from his sister’s guards were.
He took a deep breath and clasped the hilt of the long sword with both hands.
“This stance…” Brendel paused.
Beside him, Peja also let out a small sound of surprise.
A white flash of light, like a crescent, rose from the snow-covered ground. In the next second, it winged across half the landing toward the demonic spirit, accompanied by Haruz’s youthful scream of anger, “Ahhhhhhh --- !”