The Fine Art of Battle: Part Five
The village was deserted. But, as Rellion had told me, Blepheros required every villager to be at the yearly tournaments. Basically, the boys in each group would fight each other and declare a winner for that group. Even the warriors would all fight each other and declare a winner. It took about a week for all the fights to play out, and the village all but shut down. The winner of the warriors would fight Blepheros. And inevitably lose.
It was just another part of the regime Blepheros had designed to keep everyone in fear of him, though they realized it not. Anything to make sure he was boss, and could eventually take over Neopia.
I came upon the fight. The advanced students were just about done. With all of my battle experience, I could tell the tall red Lupe was going to win over the starry Korbat in a few strokes. We stayed quiet; I didn't wish the students to get hurt being surprised by us.
As I thought, the red Lupe twisted is sword and hit his opponent's wrist with the flat of the blade. A compassionate move. The starry Korbat dropped his sword. The crowd began to cheer, but Blepheros stepped in, scowling.
"You cheer a coward!?" he boomed. "A coward that would show the same mercy on the battlefield would not prevail! A warrior must always be a warrior. He has no room for mercy."
The starry Korbat on the ground stuttered out, "B-b-but Master, I could have l-l-lost my hand."
"Then you should train harder so that can't happen. The block to that was simple; you just got careless and lazy." Blepheros spit on the ground near him. "There is no advanced winner."
I took this time to step out. "Blepheros, you teach that compassion is weakness. That your heart should not influence your mind. I'm here today to challenge that belief."
The crowd drew a collective breath. "Kentari?" Blepheros spit out, incredulously.
"Yes, it is I, Blepheros. What say you?"
"You can not even accord me the respect of calling me 'Master'?" He was red with anger. I had the feeling no one had challenged him for a very long time.
"You were never my Master, Blepheros. What say you to my challenge?"
"You wish to fight me Kentari?"
"Yes, I do."
"Right now?" He looked around, knowing he could not refuse me. That if I asked, now would be the time. The villagers were so quiet, you could not even hear them breathing.
I bowed. "There is no time like the present." I smiled sardonically.
"Do you have a weapon to fight with?" He was trying hard to get out of a fight in front of everyone. I knew he'd heard the stories of our battles on the sea. He didn't wish to learn how much truth were in them, at least, not with an audience.
"Yes, I happen to have my blade. The Seasong." I unsheathed it. I heard a few "oh's" from the audience as I held it up to the sun. It was water in a solid form.
Blepheros blanched. He recognized an exceptional weapon when he saw one. "FETCH MY SWORD!" he bellowed to the nearest student. A tiny pink Poogle scampered off.
He came back a short time later, sword in hand. As he handed it to Blepheros, I got my first good look. The blade was a dark smoky steel, a shade of dark grey so close to black, you almost couldn't tell the difference. It was inlaid with silver swirls that looked like smoke. The hilt was a deep rich ruby. It faded into a dark orange jade, and then a small bit of yellow sapphire. It glinted in the sunlight, and managed to move, looking like a smoking fire.
Very fitting, I thought to myself. Water and fire battling it to the end. I stood in first position, and so did Blepheros. Our swords glinted in the sun. The crowd didn't make a sound. I concentrated on my opponent.
We circled each other a few times. He rushed me, bringing his sword up high. I stepped forward and blocked, our swords clashing. He side stepped and tried to catch me from behind, but I moved with him and his sword slashed empty air. I tapped his helmet, enough to make his ears ring.
With a cry of rage, he disengaged and stepped back. I took to opportunity to slash out at his arm. He blocked at the last moment. Then he twisted, and slashed out at my leg, but I had let my momentum carry me out of the way.
"STRIKE AND RUN," he hissed. "The coward's way."
"Coward or not," I neatly avoided his blade once more, "the winner wins either way."
He growled in his throat and swung around, getting me full in the gut. But my training was true, and my armour was strong, and I saw my opening. I used my shield to lever up under his sword. He had so much force behind it, he couldn't get it out of the way in time.
I felt the hilt catch. And he did too. He looked me in the eye and tried to disengage, but it was already too late.
I stood quickly, and his sword slipped out of his hand. I tumbled and caught it in my free hand, pivoted on the spot, and caught one of his hands between the two blades.
Blepheros looked up at me in fear. "Do what you would, warrior," he said, still trying to show bravery.
"That's what you would do, isn't it, Blepheros. Just like you couldn't help but make fun of a poor little Shoyru who wasn't suited to your style of teaching. Trampling over all those weaker than you. You would take the hand, thinking you were ever so superior." His eyes widened and his breath quickened. He flexed his hand, as if to get as much use out of it as he could before I removed it.
"But I do not feel that way. Compassion is as mighty a weapon as fear. Your heart should guide your hand in battle. Bravery is not living without fear, but going for what you think is right despite the danger. So no, I will not take your hand. But I will take your resignation." One of the crowd stood and started to clap. I recognized a face I wasn't certain I would ever see again. Lania.
Slowly, the rest of the crowd began to cheer as well. One by one they got to their feet and applauded me. I bowed deeply. Blepheros, seeing that this village was not going to be his toy anymore, slunk away towards the salle. No one bothered to stop him; they knew he had no power anymore.
Lania ran up to me and flung her arms about my neck. "Kentari, you did it!" she exclaimed, beaming up at me. "I knew you could!"
"You thought this might happen when you sent me off to the Cyodrake's Gaze, didn't you little Lania?"
She nodded. "I did."
"So, there was something I never learned. How did you know about Tuan and Shenkuu?"
"Haven't you ever wondered what was in my embroidered pouches? I put in a special pocket into each of them, with a letter, asking about the world. That's how I knew so much of how your situation with Blepheros would work out... I'd told some of my pen pals and they'd given me advice. The chief of these was Usai."
"Captain Usai!?" I asked, flabbergasted.
"Yes. That's how I knew of Tuan. You see, none of them knew exactly who I was or where I was from. But Usai is the one that advised me you may someday need to leave. It was he who suggested you could meet Tuan in Shenkuu. I drew the pattern on your necklace in a letter to him, so he'd recognize you. He showed Tuan."
"So that's why Tuan just took me straight to him!" I had always wondered why it had been so easy for me to get aboard. Tuan had insisted he saw something special in me, and Captain Usai... well, Captains were the sort that if they wanted to keep a thought to themselves, you didn't push it.
Lania smiled. "And I knew everything that was happening."
"How did you get and send the letters?"
"Some secrets, dear brother, are mine to keep! Though after this, I don't think I'll have to hide it anymore."
I smiled at her admiringly. My sister was something special. We hugged, and I knew that we'd never be out of each other's lives again.
The entire village invited Tuan and me to an impromptu feast, where I was the honored guest. They tried to ask me to stay on as arms master, but I was having none of it. My life now belonged to the sea, though I did leave a few of my weapons behind, for those advanced students that deserved it. And promises that I'd come around once a year for the tournaments, and take part... and have a sword or two of mine put up as prizes.
And so it was that I learned my passion... and it saved us all. I don't have delusions of grandeur... life just happened the way it did. But I know that some things, my friendship with Tuan, my love for my sister, and my obsession with weapons, will last forever.