SS) Bitter Sweet
Aiden and Harald stare each other down as they wait for their match to start. The winner will move onto the main tournament starting in December. That competition will be televised around the world for all magicians to watch.
The stands over the past 2 months matches slowly filled in and are now less than a quarter empty. Many were shocked to see Aiden emerge victorious round after round, but have since come to consider him the tournament dark horse. Quite a few are even betting he’ll reach the finals despite the odds.
Aiden takes a quick glance towards where he spotted Camillia sitting earlier. She finally came to watch his match, but she and her friends solely give their support to
Harald. Not a single word of encouragement from those rising stars of the academy is shared with him. That’s when Camillia says, “Don’t forget, Aiden’s weak to long range attacks. He doesn’t have the mana to defend against a barrage!”
Harald glances towards Camillia and then back towards Aiden. A sliver of sympathy laces his voice as he says, “Does it hurt?”
Aiden shrugs. He tries to act carefree, but his voice trembles. “Why would it?”
Harald smirks and says, “You’ve been doing pretty good this year. Didn’t some girl eliminate you in the third round last tournament?”
Aiden sighs as Harald’s obvious attempt to change the topic. “Don’t you research your opponents? You fought her in your last match.”
Harald shrugs as he says, “Why waste my time? She isn’t anything special.”
Aiden stares at Harald in dumbfoundment. Only after a few seconds does he realizing he’s being provoked. He then thrusts out a finger with a fearless laugh and says, “Don’t regret those words!”
“Right back at you.”
The match starts and Aiden dashes towards Harald. He claps his hands before
Harald can respond and uses alchemy to manipulate the ground into bursting up a dust screen.
Harald , anticipating Aiden’s well established tactic, leaps upward. The runes tattooed across his chest glow and ethereal tendrils sprout from his back to hoist him above the cloud of dust. He then uses Aiden’s clover to his advantage by crashing those tendrils all over the arena.
The dust is blown away by the thrashing and Aiden is revealed both unharmed and wielding a seven inch wide zweihander. More than that, not a single tendril appears to have reached him. Harald looks at Aiden and then at his sword before spearing forth a tendril.
Aiden whips his zweihander around with an arm, and with a flick of the wrist, splits the incoming tendril down the middle. Not only does his weapon meet no resistance, the segment cut apart by his sword bursts and vanishes.
The damaged tendril is pulled back where it then regenerates. Aiden shifts his zweihander against his side as though it were a sheathed katana and smirks. “Were you expecting clones? Only an idiot uses the same trick over and over.”
“That’s what you’ve been doing for the past two months…”
Aiden dashes towards Harald while saying, “All for today!” Internally, however, his thoughts are more honest. It finally worked! I really did need actual combat to focus my desires.
Harald thrusts a pair of tendrils at Aiden, but he bisects them with an iai. Aiden continues the swing as he leaps and circles his sword around so he can hoist it overhead. Harald dodges the cut by propelling himself to the side with his tendrils. Then, as Aiden continues past beside him, he activates the runes on his other arm. He holds that arm forward while saying, “Idiot!” and fires quills from the palm.
Aiden kicks down on the air as the quills reach him and he soars upward. He flips around, squats upside down in midair, and bursts forward. Harald instinctively blocks with a pair of tendrils, but Aiden cuts through them with his zweihander.
Aiden once more kicks his foot off air and follows Harald as he tries escaping backwards. He slashes. Harald instinctively raises his arms to defend himself, but the attack slips through his guard. Blood splatters from Harald’s chest as the strike knocks him onto the ground. Aiden lands with a squat, but leaps onto his feet and spins around to face Harald. He holds his zweihander forward and ready to clash again.
Harald coughs blood and white from his ribcage flashes as he stands back up. That his bones resisted the attack surprises everyone. His glare is locked on Aiden’s zweihander while a set of runes on his other arm begin to glow.
Aiden, recognizing the pattern as a healing spell, dashes forward with his sword against his hip. Harald immediately claps his hands and buys himself time to heal by alchemizing a massive stone wall. Aiden judges it too thick for him to break through and darts towards its side. A torrent of flame swallows him upon rounding the edge.
He forces his way forward by shielding himself with the flat side of his zweihander. Its seven inch wide blade can’t completely block the fire, but it covers him enough. That which is exposed is quickly healed with a spell cast through his internal magic circle. The flames blocked by the sword, like with the tendrils before, burst and vanish upon crashing into it.
“Flames are his specialty!”
The flame cover dissipates at Camillia’s warning. Harald’s first instinct upon seeing Aiden so close is to leap back. Aiden clicks his tongue and jumps up after him.
The runes on Harald’s back glow, but he cancels the spell before the ethereal tendrils can appear. His wariness towards Aiden’s zweihander prompts him to instead drop back onto the ground and activate the runes on his leg.
A gale surrounds Aiden. He kicks off the air in an attempt to escape, but the wind encases him. Caught, he hurls his zweihander at Harald.
Harald’s eyes bulge at the attack. He never expected Aiden to toss aside what’s arguably his biggest advantage so easily. He jerks his body to the side and the large sword zips past his face.
Aiden is shocked by Harald looking away from him. Flinging his zweihander wasn’t a desperate effort to escape. Holding it was merely limiting his options. By throwing it, even if he missed, his hands would at least be free leaving him in a position to try something else. The current outcome is too outside his expectations.
Regardless, he latches onto the opening and claps his hands together. His alchemy is infused with the Daoist principles inherent to the left and right hands in order to link his internal magic circle with the outside world. Nine, pale blue, balls of fire appear as a halo around him before launching towards Harald.
Various students shout warnings to Harald. He turns in time to see the flames streaking towards him where, on instinct, he conjures his ethereal tendrils. The flames are blocked by the makeshift shield, yet he still screams out.
Those flames, unlike normal fire, directly attack the soul. The mind, body, and soul are all linked. Harald, by blocking them with something manipulated by thought, laid a direct link for the attack to reach his soul.
Shock and pain make Harald lose control of himself and his spells, giving Aiden the opportunity he needs to air leap forward. Aiden dashes towards Harald only to be slammed into the ground a flailing tendril.
Harald , despite his seething pain, feels through his tendrils that he struck something. He latches onto the feeling and forces his mind back into focus where he then spots Aiden pushing himself back up. Fear at what might happen if Aiden reorients himself motivates him into slamming down more tendrils against Aiden. He repeats the attack until Aiden stops struggling. Then, he then hoists him into the air, taking care to ensures he also binds his arms.
Harald waits for Aiden to finish coughing before saying, “That was spirit fire.”
Aiden grimaces as looks down at him. Despite his heavy breathing, his tone is laced with spite. “Weren’t you listening? I specialize in fire.”
Harald , instead of answer, walks towards the discarded zweihander. He tries lifting it with a tendril, but the moment the ethereal limb touches the silver blade, it bursts and fades. While sending a curious glance towards Aiden, he says, “And this blade is made of anti-magic metal…”
Another rune on Harald’s body glows, giving him the strength needed to lift the sword. “Who are you?”
Aiden smirks and says, “The scholarship student.”
Harald frowns and opens his mouth to retort, but gets punched in the face before he can say anything. As he stumbles, a tanned arm yanks the zweihander from his grip and flips it around. He flinches, but the blade stops right against his neck. Just breathing is enough for the edge to cut into his skin.
Aiden is still bound and suspended by his tendrils, but half of his left arm has vanished within a ring of fire. “A spatial linking spell, too…”
“Going to continue?”
Harald puts Aiden down while saying, “Even if I wanted to, it’d be declared my loss the second I try. They’re just giving me the opportunity to honorable recognize my defeat.”
Aiden, once free from his constraints, draws out his arm and zweihander from the ring of fire. He twirls the sword around with his wrist and rests it on his shoulder. “Good match.”
Harald marches straight up to Aiden, locks eyes with him, and says, “You are amazing. Teach me how to do that.”
Aiden stares at him for a few seconds before saying, “What?”
“Oh, come on! That sword, your magic, I want to learn all about this. Teach me!”
“You just lost to me.”
“Which is totally how I can tell that you’re amazing! Not even my— I mean, that was spirit fire. It has nothing to do with alchemy, but you made it work. That’s revolutionary. I’d be crazy to ignore this.”
Aiden glances to the side. His tone is heavy. “Ask Camellia…”
Harald makes a face, but bites down his retort.