Chapter 4: A Sword Style
I was frozen in place. Surprise was clearly plastered across my face and I stuttered out my response.
To be honest, I couldn’t even manage to spit out more than that. It seemed that that was the response that my father was looking for. Both he and my uncle exploded in laughs, bending over and gasping for breath. I suppose that was a fair reaction. Even in my younger years, I was a very serious and stone faced child. I was an adult after all. This break in character was seemingly hilarious to them. After almost a minute of them trying to find their breath, my father stood up straight, cleared his throat and pressed his massive hand on my tiny shoulder. When he smiled at me, it was so playful and full of mirth that I very nearly forgot the wrath he had displayed quite literally minutes prior.
“Yes. The sword. You have been doing well in your training, and Arthur thinks that you are ready. I am inclined to agree. I have something to discuss with your uncle now, so you will meet me at the training grounds in one hour. Be prepared to make a choice that will affect the rest of your life.”
He was still smiling, but his words were heavy. I slowly nod in acknowledgement before he gave me a final slap on the shoulder, sending me barrelling toward the massive doors. Just before I crashed into the aforementioned doors however, they creaked open and allowed me to clear the doorway unharmed. Once I caught myself and stopped the stumbling, I glanced back to see the oh so familiar butler holding the door open for me. His lips were slightly quirked up, and he gave me a quick nod before closing the door.
With a clack, the door closed, leaving me alone with my thoughts. Father had said that Arthur was the one who recommended me to start actual training. That meant that he had been watching me and keeping track of my progress. Without realizing it, I found myself staring at the closed door with a smile on my face. I would have to keep an eye on my surroundings to see if I could catch sight of him in the future.
While I was lost in my thoughts, a tiny figure plowed into my side for the second time today. I steadied myself quickly, lest I be knocked off my feet by my miniature little sister. The cute blonde girl was tightly grasping my waist and her mouth was running a mile a minute.
“Big Brother, Big Brother! I don’t really get everything that Papa said, but if I do really well then we can stay together forever right? Right? Right?”
Looking down at her, I could see the stars glimmering in her clear blue eyes. It was so cute that I was taken aback for a moment. She was so genuine and transparent. All I could do was pat her head with a smile.
“Of course. You have to work hard though, alright?”
She nodded her head so fast that I thought it would bobble right off her neck before burying herself in my stomach. Off to the side, there was a chuckle. Off to the side was another familiar figure walking towards us.
“Sarah, I’m sure that the Young Master has a task to complete from Father. It would be best if you let go of him.”
With a grunt of dissatisfaction, the Sarah did as her older brother Darren ordered. She released herself from the vice grip that she had on me and hopped back to the older figure across from myself. Once his little sister was clear, Darren crossed his hand across his chest and bowed at the waist.
“I apologize for the inconvenience Young Master. I will make sure to be more strict with Sarah in the future. Though I do share her sentiment. It would be my honor to serve as your right hand in the future. Please do your best to become a lord that is worth serving with everything we have.”
I could only look at my elder half brother, dumbfounded. He was so refined and confident. Every movement was measured and sure. He was definitely someone that I looked up to. After he finished speaking, he lifted his head and smiled. His blonde hair fell forward, somewhat covering his eyes. He was still bowed forward, but he was very nearly looking me in the eye still. That was to be expected though, given that my body was still that of a child, while he was already 14 years old. I cleared my throat and spoke with a smile.
“Thank you for your concern Darren, but Sarah is no bother. You are right though. I do have a task from Father. Please excuse me.”
With a wave, I departed, leaving a smiling elder brother and a rapidly waving little sister.
After an hour, I found myself at the entrance to a courtyard that I had rarely entered in my nearly a decade of living in this world. The training courtyard. It was an area where all the youths and bodyguards of the family conducted personal training of basically any sort. As I had been too young to start however, I had no reason to come here. As I passed into the vast open area, I was greeted with the tumultuous sounds of wooden blades crashing into other such blades. Soldiers sparring with one another, or training their form by striking a wooden post.
“Upper! Low! Up, Up, Up! Parry! No god damnit, I said to parry! Do you think that you’ll survive a real battle by attacking without guarding your body!”
In the distance, I saw my father drilling a group of our family’s soldiers. He was currently scolding a younger member who seemed more interested in getting a fancy strike on his opponent than protecting himself. Excitement was filling my body, so I took off in a jog toward their position. As I passed through the enormous training area, I saw a number of my older siblings taking part in training of their own. Children and teenagers, boys and girls, sparring with one another. I passed by my marginally older brother Alexander while he sparred with a grown man. Just as I passed by, a sneer flashed across his face when he glanced at me. It seemed like his distaste for me wasn’t something that would disappear with a single scolding. Oh well, there was nothing for it.
It only took a short while before I made it to the center of grounds. Hearing the clapping of my jogging feet, my father turned toward me with a grin.
“Good, you made it! Now is the time to make a decision!”
I was still puzzled. He had said something similar earlier, but I didn’t quite get it. I was learning the sword. What kind of decision was necessary. Seeing my puzzled look, Father bellowed in laughter.
“AHAHAHA! I just can’t get enough of that look! I know why you are confused though. I suppose I should explain then. ASSEMBLE!”
The last word blasted forth as though from a megaphone. In an instant, half a dozen men of varying shapes and sizes stood in a line.
. . . .
. . . .
That didn’t clear anything up.
“Father, what is this about?”
He smirked in my direction and looked at me knowingly. . . . That was a bit annoying. He certainly did seem to enjoy seeing me without me wits about me. . . .
“Why, it’s to pick the style of sword you will follow of course! You didn’t think that something as broad as ‘learning the sword’ was enough did you? Ahahaha!”
I could feel my face twitch in annoyance, but I held my tongue from giving a retort. Better to just let him explain it and get all the lording of knowledge over me out of the way all at once. And of course, just as I expected, he continued without any prompting.
“In our country alone, there are dozens of schools of thought involving the sword. It is important for you to train in one that suits you the best! There are the Jack-of-all-trades style of swordsmen out there, but there is a limit to how much you can split your focus. As such, you are going to select 2 sword styles to train in. These 6 men are advanced level swordsmen in various styles, so they will demonstrate for you. Let the first two step up!”
Instantly, two of the 6 men stepped forward and bowed. The first was a giant of a man with a massive broadsword strapped across his back.
“Young Master, I train in the Shattered Blades school of the sword. We fight using our strength and combining that with our knowledge of weapons to aim for the weak points in the metal to destroy the weapons of our foes. Worry not about your size. Once you reach the level of an Advanced Swordsman, even the scrawniest of children can wield a blade many times their size.”
As he took a step back, his opponent took his place. This man was markedly smaller, wielding a one hand blade on his hip. His face was lacking any emotion on it as he spoke.
“I belong to the Flowing Water style. Redirect the energy of your opponent to your advantage. The best offense is an impenetrable defense. In time your foe will make a mistake and that will be the time to seize victory. I do not believe in something as vulgar as winning based on your strength. The larger they are, the harder they will fall.”
The small man didn’t even flinch when the giant behind him growled in anger. It was a clear shot at his opponent to mention strength. I didn’t particularly care though. My heartbeat was pounding in my head in excitement to watch these two men do battle.
They moved to an open area and stood across from one another. Anticipation built while they both stood motionless. One impassive and still. The other growling in annoyance, his massive muscles twitching as he gripped the hilt of his blade.
Faster than the blink of an eye, the giant man whipped the massive blade from his sheath and attacked. The massive broadsword was aimed directly at his opponent’s head, and it seemed as though he would be cleaved in two. It didn’t even register to me until there was a massive crash and a cloud of dust filling the air. Bits of stone and earth rained around me. What happened?
When the dust cleared, the giant man’s blade was buried in the earth beside the smaller man. His own blade was unsheathed as well. Redirection. In the instant before he would be killed, he pushed his enemy’s sword to the side just enough to make it miss. Amazing.
With a roar, the giant man ripped his blade out of the earth and resumed his attacked. The swords crashed time and time again at a speed that was nearly impossible for me to even follow, let alone understand. One thing that I did manage to gleam however, was the while the massive man was using an outrageous amount of strength on every swing, he was also aiming extremely precisely. The smaller man was diverting every hit, but over time sweat started to build on his brow. Despite his cold face, he was being pressed. Having to find the optimal angle of deflection for such accurate slashes was taking its toll.
Before either side could take advantage of the other however, my father called a halt to the fight. It seemed as though he didn’t want me to be swayed by one side winning over the other. This was just to demonstrate the two styles after all. Both sides were panting and glaring at one another, but as soon as they were given the order to stand down, they both stepped back. After that, the other four men introduced themselves and fought in a similar fashion.
A seemingly normal soldier with a one handed sword and a shield who delivered his line as though delivering news to a general.
“Young Master, my style of combat is the Mountain Style. Create and impenetrable defense and wear down your foe. The best style to keep you safe on the battlefield.”
A man in eclectic robes, also wielding a one handed sword who spoke with a flippant grin.
“I am the successor of the Formless style. While technically a sword style, I believe that your whole body is a weapons, and that by limiting yourself to just the blade, you are creating an unnecessary handicap.”
A woman dressed in a tight fitting shirt and pants with a sheath attached to each hip. She smiled knowingly at the childlike me before speaking.
“I am the creator of the Crashing Waves Sword Form. Like the relentless waves of the ocean, you will shatter the defense built by your foes. If they have no break in the assault to respond, then there is no danger of being struck~”
And last, a disinterested looking young man with black hair and eyes. He yawned with a wide open mouth and clicked his lips while he looked at me.
“I don’t really know what you would call the way I fight. No particular school. Just using imperfections in the actions of your opponents to strike. Not a big deal.”
His flippant attitude was a bit annoying. . . .
Anyway, after their introductions, they sparred just like the first two had. And just like with the first two, I was left in amazement. How did they move so fast? It seemed impossible. I could barely track their bodies, let alone their swords. Was the step up to Advanced Swordsman really this large? Regardless, it was quite the show I was allowed to watch.
A steady and firm swordsman who didn’t break under any assault. He didn’t seem fazed at all by the attacks that were directed at him.
A jokester who caught his opponents off guard by striking not only with his sword, but his arms, legs, knees and elbows. He moved acrobatically, sometimes dancing forward, only to leap backwards out of range with a handspring.
A fierce woman. Under her endless assault, it was difficult for her opponent to get a word in edgewise, let alone a strike back. Her two blades instantly filled the gap left by the other, creating an airtight wall of steel.
A . . . . Natural. Easily deflecting the attacks of his opponents and striking at their weak points. He didn’t seem to follow any particular stance of style, just fighting as he saw fit. He was probably the strongest of the 6.
It was amazing. I could barely believe that what was happening in front of me was real. I would get to choose two of these amazing people to be my teacher. After the demonstration, there was a roar of applause. I was so engrossed in watching that I didn’t realize a large crowd of soldiers had gathered around to observe as well. They seemed equally impressed.
“Alright, alright. Get back to work!”
My father bellowed in good cheer and the men dispersed. He chuckled once more.
“So? Were you impressed?”
I could only stupidly nod my head. Who wouldn’t be impressed while watching swordsmen of their calibre fighting with one another?
“Well, before you make your decision, let me add one more into the mix! Watch closely.”
My father cast out his left arm, pushing off the cloak that shrouded his shoulders. With the clothing out of the way, he revealed a hand a half sword swinging from his hip. He stood still.
The earth exploded beside him, leaving a massive crater. W-what? What just happened. My eyes nearly bugged out from my head in disbelief. Did he even move!? I hadn’t seen his figure so much as shift in place, but somehow he had drawn his sword, struck, and returned it to it’s sheath before I could register his action! Seeing me so distressed, the giant of a man that was my father roared in laughter.
“So how was that! I may not look it, but your father was lucky enough to achieve the status of Sword Saint in the Crashing Thunder style. Fast and explosive power. Crush your enemies before they even have a chance to react! How was it hmm? Were you impressed? Do you want your old man to teach you?”
Amazing. Just. . . . amazing. To think that my father was such an outstanding person. I guess it should have been obvious given his status and success, but I never considered it of him. To me he was just the kind and talkative father figure that wanted the best for me. I knew of course that he was a mighty warrior, but it had never even crossed my mind that he was at this level. It was just. . . . amazing. . . . .
I had to make a selection. Two teachers. Two styles that I thought would fit me best. Of course these were only 6 of the dozens of styles out there, but it was clear that Father had thinned out the number to what he thought I would like best. My mind raced. No matter what I chose, I was a winner. My heart raced almost as much as my thoughts, but after a short while it calmed down. This was an important decision, and as such, I spent quite a few moments replaying what had just happened before me. Analyzing. Thinking. Deciding. After a time, I opened my eyes.
“Father. I’ve decided.”