“That’s it. Move your feet. Don’t stay in one place for too long.”
Their Animartas clanged, bringing forth an ear-splitting ring that rent the air. Estella blocked a strike, then countered with an overhead blow. Nox spun to the left to avoid it, swinging Erebos in an arc.
As always, Estella blocked it again.
It was past six in the morning, and the sun was just creeping up from the distant peaks of the Zolsted Mountains, so a lot of students and teachers were still fast asleep, though not for long. Soon, the breakfast bell would sound, and she and Nox would have to end their morning training session.
Nevertheless, Estella wanted to make full use of the time they had left. Sweat coated her brows, as did Nox’s, and both of them were breathing heavily. They had began even before the sun rose, when the darkness slowly gave way to light. She wanted to know if that would affect Nox’s performance, possessing a Shadow-forged Animarta, and unsurprisingly, it did seem to affect him.
She had found out that Nox fought a little bit better in the shadows, even without using magic. He was faster, more alert, and his blows were stronger. That in itself was not uncommon; Wielders were attuned with their elements, and they always received a boost when they were near a source of their element.
As dusk waned, Estella’s focus grew sharper while there was a subtle but noticeable drop in Nox’s speed and reflexes. Nevertheless, he was still skilled enough to continue their mock duel.
He sent a flurry of blows her way, which Estella defended with easy. Parry, strike, counterattack. There was a rhythm in their dance, and they flowed smoothly from one form to another.
Nox was determined, that much Estella could say. And his determination affected his improvement. This was just their first day, but his footwork was better than it had been before. He no longer stood in one spot for more than a second, and she had to constantly shift her stance to match his speed.
She smiled at that. He was willing to learn, one of the qualities she was looking in a Squire. She had no doubt that they could win in the Intra-School Competition.
Of course, she thought as their Animartas locked and she twisted Astra to send Erebos spinning out of Nox’s grasp, her Squire still had much to learn. So much.
Nox sighed, wringing his left wrist. “I thought I had you already.”
Estella snorted. “You’ll need to train even harder than this if you want to defeat me.”
The breakfast bell tolled thrice, and the school finally stirred to life.
“Well, morning session is over.” Estella dismissed Astra, as did Nox with Erebos. “Come. I’m hungry.”
As they emerged into a hallway ten minutes later, they joined the rest of their fellow Wielders into heading for the dining hall. Conversation filled the hallway, and Estella greeted familiar faces as she strode to the double doors with Nox, where the smell of freshly baked bread and a host of other food wafted from the inside.
Breakfast was relatively quiet between them. Estella made some small talk with Nox, but as always, his curt answers and often one-word replies disappointed her. Still, it had only been a few days since they had become Knight and Squire. She really didn’t expect him to break his quiet attitude anytime soon.
After breakfast, they separated for their lessons. They wouldn’t train again until this afternoon, so when Estella got her free time, she took to the library to research more about Shadow magic.
Mr. Valen, the librarian, was polite as ever when he directed her to the appropriate section, where the tomes were so old that most of the pages were falling off.
“Be careful with these,” he warned after grabbing a couple of dusty, leather-bound tomes off one of the bookshelves. Their titles had mostly faded with age, though Estella could still decipher some of the letters. “These ones are first editions, and the only ones here. You’d have to pay a ridiculous amount of fine if they were damaged in any way.”
Nothing that the kingdom’s treasury couldn’t pay, though Estella wanted to avoid that, if possible. She took the two books from Mr. Valen with a grateful smile, then went to the nearby table where she had placed some of the other books she had gotten. They varied in subjects and topics, but all of them were related to Shadow magic.
“Will that be all?” Mr. Valen asked.
Estella nodded. “Thank you for your assistance, sir.”
“Not a problem, Dame Estella. Ring the bell if you need to call me.” He strode away.
As soon as he was out of sight, Estella opened the first book in the pile: A History of Elements. It was a common textbook, one she had read during her first year. And she remembered that there was a segment regarding Shadow magic. But for some reason, her teacher at that time skipped that part.
She flipped through the pages until she found it. As she read it, a scowl formed on her face. The explanations were bare, uninspired, and looked like they were written for children.
She closed it and went to the next: Advanced Elemental Mastery. Another textbook, but thankfully, it had what she needed.
Shadow element, like Light element, is a rare but powerful affinity. Wielders who possess it are unparalleled in strength and magical prowess. Legends say that the first Shadow Wielders were servants of Azrael, the demon from which the affinity originated. However, there is no evidence of this, and many scholars and researchers linked the affinity to one’s mental and emotional state.
Estella pondered that. It didn’t exactly explained how Shadow and Light could Resonate. Still, it was an interesting piece of information. But she needed more if she were to understand Nox’s powers.
And so she continued reading until the sun began to set.
It was almost four in the afternoon when she arrived at the western training ground. Nox was already waiting, Erebos in hand.
“I thought you’re going to be late,” he said, his free hand on his hips.
Estella huffed. “I’m never late, Nox.” She gestured at Erebos. “Anyway, dismiss that. We’re not going to fight with our Animartas this time.”
Nox frowned at the instruction, but obeyed nonetheless. Estella approached him until they were thirty feet away, far enough for what she was planning.
“What are we doing this time?” he asked.
In response, Estella held up her right hand, palm upward. A fist-sized ball of flame exploded into existence, hovering a few inches above her hand.
“This time, we’re practicing magic,” she said.
His frown deepened. “I’ve been practicing magic during my free time.”
“Alone. You’re with me this time.” She pointed her hand towards him. “Now defend against this. Burst.”
The ball of flame shot forward.
Stoic as ever, Nox said, “Erupt.”
By his feet, a pillar of ice rose. The fireball splashed into it, barely melting the pillar.
Nox stared at her flatly. “That’s it?”
Estella smiled. Above and behind her, a dozen fireballs burst forth, some larger than her head.
Her Squire gaped. But before he could react further, the fireballs sped towards him all at once.
Nox cursed. “Engulf!” Around him, blocks of ice formed, white pillars that rose until they encased his spot. The fireballs struck the barrier, targeted at a single point, and a fiery blast shrouded him.
When the dust and smoke settled, there was a hole large enough for someone to enter, its edges steaming and dripping water. Inside, Nox stood with a stunned expression, staring not at Estella, but at the space above her.
It was now filled with dozens of fireballs.
Estella’s smile turned into a grin.
“Now, my Squire. Show me what you can really do.”
Thank you for reading chapter 6!