Chapter 7: Realities of Conflict
Shoving the necklace into my pocket, I took off after her. I only caught up to her when we were deep in the alley however. When I finally caught her, I grabbed her hand and shouted.
“What are you doing!?”
She was confused why I was being so rough, and tears started to fill her eyes.
“T-the man said he had a present for Big Brother. I just wanted to thank you. . . “
I wanted to be a little softer, because that warmed my heart, but now was not the time. Now that she had mentioned him, I saw a man in front of his. His eyes were sharp while he was looking at us, and I was not reassured by the sword on his hip. I pulled Sarah’s hand and moved to leave, but there were two more men in the way. They were massive, wearing dirty clothes that betrayed their status in life. The murderous glint in their eyes told me that they were willing to kill us if we fought back. We were surrounded.
“I don’t know where you think you are going, Boy. Noble kids fetch a mighty fine price for ransom.”
Don’t panic. I could not panic. Think about it. There were three men and a confined area. We were alone, and no one was coming to save us. I had to be the one to get us out of this. Taking a deep breath, I steeled myself.
“Sarah. These are bad men. Close your eyes and don’t open them until I tell you.”
“Okay. . .”
The little girl did as I said, and I slowly drew my sword. This was the first time in my life that I was put in a situation like this. I had no idea what to do. All I knew was that it was up to me to keep myself and my family safe. The first man smirked.
“Well, you might be worth a little bit less if you are missing a hand, but I’m not too worried. Take him boys.”
One of the other two scoffed and took out his own blade. He strolled toward me and nonchalantly swung his blade.
I say that it was nonchalant, but he was a large man, while I was but a child. My max strength was definitely a fair margin beneath his, so I needed to work around that. Think. Remember. This was exactly why I had chosen the swords styles that I had. I would never be the biggest guy, so it was important to know how to deflect it. It was clear from his swing that he wasn’t even a beginner level swordsman. I took in his form and met his blade in its descent, diverting it from its proper path and off balancing the thug. He clearly didn’t expect it, and started to stumble forward. I took that moment and leaped up, driving my knee into his diaphragm. Air blasted out of his lungs and he fell to his knees, gasping for breath.
The man that had previously been standing beside him used this opportunity to launch an attack on his own. Unfortunately, I had seen it coming and ducked to the ground, sweeping his leg and knocking him from his feet. In a flash, I recovered, but was caught off guard when his massive hand grabbed down on my leg. I panicked. Without any thought to strategy, my sword lashed out. It met resistance, but easily passed through. The hand fell limp from my leg, but before I could even think, I was attacked once more. The leader. He charged into me, hacking and slicing. Every time I diverted his attack or barely dodged, the attack would continue without break. I was pressed to my limit. He was clearly stronger than me, but I could also tell that he was a better swordsman. Somewhere between intermediate and beginner. I could barely breath.
Oppressive strength. So much stronger than the other two. His sword flashed back and forth, pushing me further and further back. What do I do? What can I do? How can I win this. Was I going to die?
It was then that it hit me. I wasn’t just a swordsman. Magic. I could use magic. But what to use? My mind barely had any room to consider between sword strokes. I decided. I focused any spare thought toward the swirling pool of energy within me. Channel it. I had done it before, so I should be able to do it now. Years of practice. The power gushed from my center and out to my limbs before hitting a wall. Ah yes, the wall. Something that I had never been able to get rid of. It wasn’t as impossible to push through as years ago though, and even flowed somewhat smoothly. Unseen, the magic manifest itself.
Instead of a fireball, or a rock to be thrown however, the magic seeped into my muscles and bones, strengthening them. Self Reinforcement. This was a magic that I had come up with after applying Reinforcement magic to myself. It took me a long time to figure out the best way to do it, but after analyzing the way the mana flowed into other items to strengthen them, I figured it out.
That flow. Being able to feel the way magic was flowing through me was an important part of my strength. It was also why I was able to cast certain magics without chanting. Once I understood they way a spell was supposed to work, I could guide it myself. I was not unique in being able to do this, but I was sure that it was not something that was common.
Regardless, power flowed through my body, and instead of a slight deflection, I met my opponent’s blade head on. Shock flashed across his face when his sword swung wide after the impact. This was my chance! I ducked down and kicked up. My foot slammed into his chest and knocked him into the air, where he started to flail.
He couldn’t even scream before my sword pierced his chest on the way down. A single grunt and he crashed to the ground, lifeless. I was breathing heavily. Hard. So much harder than training. But I won. I did it. I kept us both safe from these thieves. I turned around to tell Sarah that it was okay to open her eyes.
NO! The first one! I only winded him! The last bandit was charging, not at me, but at my little sister. I didn’t have time. I couldn’t cross the distance with my normal strength, but I had already let the strengthening magic slip free from my grasp. I was feeling weak. That didn’t matter though. Panic set it. Nonononono. Instinct took over.
The magic flowed once more. This time, when it hit the wall, it was strangled much more than before. This wasn’t the same spell. After squeezing through the gap, it manifested itself in reality. Flames. A wall of fire blasted up in front of the thief, blocking his path. That wasn’t the end however. I was furious. Panicked. The wall fell forward, engulfing the man in flames.
He screamed. A guttural cry of agony that shook me to my very core. He ran. Ran in circles. Hit the ground and rolled. Pounded on his body to put out the flames. But it was no use. The flames would not go out. He died. The burning stench of his corpse passed through my nose. My breathing turned heavy and rapid. Bile rose from my stomach and I vomited. I almost fell to my knees, but instead caught myself on my sword. It was then that I saw the blood dripping down the blade and looked around. A single hole in a man’s chest from where I stabbed him. A long gaping line across a throat. That was why he let go. He was already dead.
Blood. It was everywhere. The smell of death made me vomit again. Oh god. What did I just do? I. . I killed people. They were dead, and I was the killer. Oh god. No. No please. I tossed away my sword and fell to my knees amidst the sound of steel clattering across stone. It wouldn’t stop. Everything in my body was expelled through my mouth until I was thoroughly and utterly empty. Even then, I kept heaving. I was sick. Sick to my stomach at my own actions. I knew why I did it, but that didn’t make it any better. I kept trying to tell myself that I had no choice. They would have hurt me and the people I love. It didn’t help.
Shallow breaths. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t hear. All I could do was remember the screaming. The pain he must have been in. The pain that I caused another person. The blood sprayed across a man who was grasping his own throat. A man trying his very best to preserve his own life. A man who failed. I didn’t scream. I didn’t run. I just sat there. Silent. It must have been several minutes before I remembered. Sarah! Amidst my own self guilt and pity, I had forgotten the one person I had promised to keep safe just now. My head jerked to the side, and I couldn’t help but feel a sigh of relief to see the little girl still standing there. Her eyes closed and her hand pressed on her ears. She was shivering. I didn’t doubt that she had heard the screaming.
Slowly, I got to my feet and made my way to her. I placed my hand on the crown of her head and she froze. Slowly, her hands came off her ears and I whispered to her.
“It’s okay. The bad men are gone. Keep your eyes closed though.”
She nodded, staying completely silent. I took her hand and guided her past the bodies. Careful. I didn’t want her to step in the pools of blood. Just as we reached the entrance to the alleyway however, there was a clatter of steel on stone, once more, over a dozen armored figures formed up in front of us.
“Drop your weapon!”
My weapon? I didn’t ev-
Wait. When did I pick up my sword again? It didn’t matter. I didn’t argue. I dropped my sword to the ground once again and stared at the leading man, eyes cold as ice. He seemed caught off guard. We were just children, but there were three dead men behind us. Two with sword wounds, that were clearly my own work based on the blood that was now drying on my blade. The last one however, was just a charred husk. He was confused.
“D-did you kill these men!?”
I nodded. I killed them. Their lives were taken by me. Before I could open my mouth to speak, a black flash appeared in front of me. The broad back of a man in a black suit. Just above the suit was a head of silver hair.
“Captain. Stand down. I will take it from here.”
I knew that voice. Why was Arthur here? When did he arrive? What was he going to do? The guard captain seemed almost as confused now as when he saw the bodies. He hesitated for only a moment before nodding however.
“Yes Sir. Men, we move out!”
How resolute. . . . His men chattered for a second before they too fell in step and followed after. They were gone. I. . . I didn’t know what to do. I killed people. I should have been punished. Why were they leaving? Lost in my thoughts, I didn’t even notice that Arthur had taken a knee in front of me until he placed one hand firmly on my head.
“You did well Young Master. You kept your family safe.”
His face was still cold, but his eyes were warm. They were smiling for the rest of him.
I broke down. Tears finally spilled from my eyes. With the dam broken, they gushed freely and I fell forward onto Arthur’s chest. I shivered and sobbed for a long while. Warm arms wrapped around me while I cried, and after a while, a set of smaller arms joined them. I cried and cried until no tears would come out. Finally, I looked down at the smaller arms around me only to meet the glistening blue eyes of my little sister. Her smile was so pure that I was blown away.
“Thank you, Big Brother.”
Her eyes shut and her smile widened even further. That’s right. This is what I was fighting to protect. This is why I had taken lives. I wouldn’t let this go. This family. This girl. This pure little child. Slowly, my lips slipped upwards until I was smiling back at her. I took to my feet and steeled myself. This wouldn’t be the last time I would have to take lives. That was just the type of world that this was after all. But it didn’t matter. As long as I was keeping that smile safe, it would be worth it. I wouldn’t let anything take this away from me. With Arthur in the lead, we made our way back towards my family’s manor. We had gotten about halfway back when I suddenly stopped. Both Arthur and Sarah turned back to look at me, but I met them with a smile.
“Ah, Sarah. I just remembered. I never gave you your present.”