And there I was. Sailing on board of the fourth fleet.
Lying in my bunk, I sway with the ships movements as a gruff, barking noise ripped me out of my relaxation.
“What are ya doin’ kid? The other recruits already met on deck for battle instruction. Get a move on!” I heard as I felt droplets of spit coming from the mouth of the veteran hunter that welcomed me earlier.
“I didn’t hear any roll calls, sir.” I tried to excuse myself.
“Didn’t ya hear the gong outside? And weren’t ya kinda curious why all the other crewmembers suddenly left the quarters?”
I sit up from my bunk and look to my left and right. He was right, all bunks were empty except mine. “I uhh.. I must’ve been a bit out of it. Sea sick or something. Heheh…” I tried to cover my sheer inattentiveness with a joke. Poorly. It was lost on him of course.
“One wrong move like that with a monster and yer either injured or dead, son.” He pulled my headband over my eyes in a strong tug, making it stuck there and hard to get off. But even as I couldn’t see anything, I could still feel his scolding look. “Prep yerself up and get up and at it. Ya got one minute max or we’re startin’ without ya. And good luck tryin’ ta learn usin’ a weapon on yer own.”
And with those words, I could hear him leaving and climbing back up on deck. I could hear him yell instructions from upstairs as I still struggle to get my headband off my eyes. Okay, not the best first impression, I’ll admit. I’ll have a chance at regaining some dignity at the training session. I hoped so at least.
I finally got finished putting my clothes in order and quickly sprinted up the stairs to the deck. We were sailing pas some mountainsides through a foggy valley while the recruits were all lined up in a perfect row to wait for their turn.
Each trainee had to state their weapon of choice and then had to imitate the veterans that were proficient in these weapons and showed them the standard attack moves.
Training dummies, wrapped with some monster’s hide were put up, so people could hit them as hard as a meteorite and it still wouldn’t break.
Before the veterans noticed my late arrival, I stepped into the end of the line, waiting.
“Alright, ya wide-eyed green horns, enough of the starin’. Name’s Sullivan. I’m the head leader of the training corps ordered to get this here crew at least somewhat in shape to fight. You’ve got 14 of us in front of ya, includin’ me and be assured, we’ve all mastered our weapon of choice. So if ya guys think ya gotta be smart on us, or give us some lip, ya gonna be mighty disappointed. Y’all are gonna be the ones lookin’ stupid if ya try us, so don’t start anythin’ with the instructors tellin’ them their weapons are too heavy, too weak or too slow to use. They managed with it, so will you!” The grey-haired veteran introduced himself to the crew, walking up and down the line, staring all of the recruits right into the eyes with just a few inches from their faces to intimidate them.
When he got to me, his brows furrowed and his look was on me for a few seconds longer than the other trainees. I could already tell that he didn’t think much of me.
“Allright, when I get to ya, y’all are gonna yell the weapon ya wish ta train at me. And do it with some conviction for cryin’ out loud.
“Far right! And you!?”
“Center to the left! What about you?!”
“What’re ya waitin’ for, bug brain? Move it to Andersen over there!…”
I gulped as I saw one recruit after the other being sent toward one of the 14 instructors. As quick as they arrived, they were given the standard issue of their weapon type. Simple but well crafted iron weapons. Immediately I heard clanking of longswords and the explosions of gunlances, the clicking of insect glaives and the electrical zaps of the chargeblades.
And when all others were assigned to a post, Veteran Sullivan arrived at me. His eyes were sharp and he already seemed to not care what I’d pick. “Well, ya had plenty of time to be thinkin’ about it, kid. What weapon’s it gonna be?”
I gulped and wrung out the words. “Dual Blades.”
“Dual blades, huh?” He scratched his stubble beard and he wasn’t to happy with my choice apparently. “Lucky me, I get to teach ya. Try not ta hurt yerself, kid and follow me over to my sparring corner.” He turned around, making sure that I noticed how little he enjoyed the thought of having me as his student.
I hesitantly followed him, trying to ignore the other trainees that turned their heads towards us. Even they were apparently interested in seeing who the head instructor is teaching.
Sullivan stuck his head into a decorated, blue chest, pulling out a pair of iron dual blades. They both had sharp edges on the underside of their blade but while one of them had a flat, normal upside, the other was curved in and was serrated with metal spikes. The grips of the two blades reminded of a bony spine which had spikes as well as if you were supposed to punch something with the grip when you were in a tight spot.
“We call em Matched Slicers. These’re the weapons every newbie starts out with. Think you can handle these, kid?” He said as he tossed the dual blades to me. I barely managed to catch them without cutting myself, eliciting a giggle from the other trainees who quickly looked away when I turned around to them.
“That depends, sir. What would you have me do?” I said as I inspected my newly acquired, weirdly light blades. The grip was perfect and it felt so natural to hold them.
“Listen up, squirt. Yer trying ta make a dent in a monster, so your grip better be tight. With dual blades you don’t deal the most damage, but it needs to be dealt rapidly. Your swings need to be strong enough to pierce a monster’s hide but also quick enough so you can get out of the following counter attacks. So since you seem more of the agile than the strong type, I’d recommend the overhead butterfly move. It basically means you jump towards the monster, spin your body with your blades stretched out as far as you can and bring down the swing with the power of your rotation. Like so.”
Sullivan pulled out his own pair of iron dual blades as he readied himself for a launched attack on the thick, wooden pole covered in monster hide.
I watched him intently and I think my mouth dropped when I saw at which fluidity he got into battle stance before pulling his leg back and launching himself towards the pole. His body spun like a corkscrew in the air as the blades he held close to his body suddenly fanned out and he turned into a spinning tornado of death. His blades sliced across the monster hide, leaving significant scratches on it but not cutting through the hide entirely. That was probably due to the limited sharpness of our weaponry. Weapons created with higher sharpness would’ve completely destroyed this pole. And I have no doubt Sullivan could’ve cut the entire thing in half if he really tried with his own equipment.
After his attack, Sullivan jumped backwards, away from the pole as if to simulate dodging. He wasn’t even slightly out of breath as he turned to me. “Ya got that?”
“I got it, si… sorry, I wasn’t supposed to call you that anymore.”
“Just call me Sullivan for fucks sake. Get your ass up and show me that ye can do more than just spit big words and lounge around our ship.” He stepped away from the training dummy and leaned on the railing to watch me perform my attack.
I took a deep breath and got into the battle stance I imitated from him. My eyes were fixed on the pole and the grip on my blades was tight. I had the move memorized and visualized it. Launch, spin and bring down the blades one after the other.
I pulled my leg back just like he did and jumped. I tried to spin my body mid-air, but I could already tell it wasn’t fast enough. I closed my eyes and tried to put all my power into my arm as I swung it down. And… I bounced off.
Not only did I just bounce off, but it was like the hide repelled me and launched me right back in the same arch that I came at it. My dual blades slid over the deck of the ship and my body rolls several feet away from the target.
Immediately the other trainees focus on me and start snickering. My arms and back hurt a bit, but I didn’t suffer any other wounds. What really hurt, was the humiliation. My trainer put his hands to his hips and walked towards me while shaking his head.
“*sigh* Maybe you should return with the next ship, kid. This clearly isn’t…”
“Shut… the… fuck… up…”
I spoke through my teeth as I picked up my swords again. Sullivan reached out to pick me up, but I whacked his hand away from my face. Everyone fell silent as I got back on my feet, unsteady as it may have been, I managed to stand straight. “I get it, okay! You think I’m lousy and unfit for this mission. You made it perfectly clear that you don’t have high expectations of me. But if you don’t even believe in me, then I will have to do it for myself.”
I ripped my talisman off my neck and tied the torn ends of the necklace around the grip of one of my blades. I inhale and exhale heavily, suppressing my frustration as I head towards the training pole. I looked over my shoulder at the speechless veteran.
“I made a mistake. It happens.” I said calmly as I readied my blades again. I faced the pole, pulled my foot back and kicked myself upwards into a lunge attack. This time I spun much faster and the first hit… was a huge success. I left a gash on the monster hide and everyone who watched had their eyes widening and their faces lighting up.
Looking at the damage I did, I wasn’t satisfied. I flipped my blades so they were facing behind me and I started wildly thrashing at the pole. I got in tens of hits, meeting the pole with a flurry of cuts. And as my frenzy slowly died down, I swung my swords over my head and struck them down onto it together before using the momentum to launch myself backwards in a dodge.
Everything fell silent. The monster hide was filled with new cuts and holes. I put my swords together while breathing heavily and sheathed them on my back.
I looked at the ground and heaved heavy breaths. My lungs were burning. “I improvised a bit there at the end… *huff* Think that counts as a successful attack?” I smirk to myself even though I had no air to be sarcastic.
But as I looked over at Sullivan, our heads immediately turned to the other recruits who started cheering and clapping.
“Way to go, dude!”
“Holy shit, that was amazing!”
“You need to show me how you did this!”
I was euphoric and my heart was beating like crazy. I turned to Sullivan who rolled his eyes and approached me.
He put his hands on my shoulder and looked me straight in the eyes with a piercing glare. “Ya did good…”
“…against a dummy. Don’t get cocky, kid.” He cut me off before I could finish.
I stared straight back at him. “It’s Kalaydus, Sullivan. Drop the ‘kid’ thing’.” I smirked.
He understandingly smirked back and jokingly answered. “Shoulda never allowed ya to stop callin’ me ‘sir’.”
We nodded to each other as he put his hands off me and was about to turn away when suddenly another veteran ran up to us. “Sullivan! Look at the pole!”
“What? The pole? I saw what Kalaydus did already. I…” His words were stuck in his throat as we all faced the training pole.
The hide that was stretched over the pole suddenly… dissolved. The scales fell off one after the other and piled onto the floor. The hide underneath shrunk until if fell off completely and was only a quarter the size of what it once was. The wooden pole was stripped completely and only the unharmed wood was left.
The pile of scales and monster hide on the floor had everyone’s attention and their eyes soon turned towards me since I was the last to use it. “Kalaydus? What did you do? WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO?” Sullivan asked baffled and shocked.
“I swear… I…I don’t know! I just did what you asked. I couldn’t have broken it, could I?”
“That thing is built to withstand hammers and greatswords. It’s impossible that you destroyed it. Unless you laced your blades with something.”
“I did nothing to the blades, I only had them for a couple of minutes and you saw everything. Unless…”
I pulled out my blade, looking at my father’s amulet that was tied around the grip and reflected the sunlight as it dangled there.
“Show me that amulet, maybe I can figure out…”
A panicked shout rang out from the crow’s nest on top of the main sail’s mast.
The trainees, veterans and me all ran to the railing, looking ahead of the ship. We were still sailing through the foggy valley. And from the foggy horizon…
…we saw a boulder of molten, burning rock flinging towards us.
After a stunned silence, Sullivan was the one shouting louder than he ever had before. “FIND COVER!”
Everyone ran towards the back of the ship, barely escaping as the gigantic projectile hit the front of the airship. It was completely obliterated and the fire quickly ate its way into the wood. Immediately the researchers we had on board came up to the deck to throw buckets of water onto the fire. But it just kept popping up again.
We turned the ship to guide it behind the mountains for cover, fearful that there might be another attack like that.
In the distance, something parted the misty clouds and something the size of a mountain pierced through the fog. Nobody was able to identify what it was, but it was moving and heading towards us.
I ducked behind the main mast as the other recruits went beneath deck. And then I heard it again.
“Another one incoming!”
I peeked out from behind the mast and indeed another smoking rock arched through the sky. And worst of all… towards me.
I run for my life, huffing and wheezing from the suffocating smoke. But I couldn’t reach the stairs in time. Even though I don’t think that would’ve kept me safe for long either.
I felt the impact of the rock behind me. The wave of it launched me into the air as I was running away…
…and I was launched off the ship.
I saw the ground disappear beneath me, knowing that I would not fall onto the ship again and instead into the foggy abyss.
I screamed my lungs out as I fell. Everything in front of my eyes turned grey as I fell through the clouds.
After that layer of fog, I fell with my back first and couldn’t see what was underneath. All until I felt myself breaking through leaves and sticks into some kind of foliage.
Scratches and whips hit my back as I just kept falling and falling, slower and slower. Until Suddenly, I stopped. My legs, back and arms were caught by a bed of vines. I looked up at the hole I put through whatever tree this was and through it, I could barely see the airship as it disappeared behind the fog again.
My entire system shut down. My heart, my body and my nerves were completely burnt out and I fell unconscious in the vines.