I followed Sarn as he led me through the temple, wondering how he wasn’t bothered by his many layers of clothes. While it was still early, the heat would be sure to climb soon during the day.
We went up two flights of stairs and I caught a glimpse of the boys’ aisle during the ascension, my ears catching loud snores from those who were still in bed. The amount of clutter in the hallway alone was reminding me of an obstacle race and I thanked my luck for not having to stay there.
At the end of the second set of stairs was a large door that I helped my guide open after seeing him struggle with it. It revealed the temple’s rooftop.
Though the sun was only beginning to rise, the air was already filled with the smell and taste of humidity from the morning dew.
There wasn’t much there, except markings and drawings on almost every inches of the ground and rail guard, I supposed they were made by the residents through the years, each generation adding their contribution to form a beautiful mosaic of colors. The markings were wishes, promises and words of support for the writers or their friends.
There was something nostalgic to this. Something sad and profound that made me wonder how life had turned out for the children who left traces of their dreams here.
I walked to the edge and put my hand on the rail.
I could see most of the valley from here, and it was already active, although still groggy. Groups of different sizes were slowly converging toward the mountain, including the one that had just left the temple. There were people going in other directions though, even if their numbers were much smaller. They met at the top of hills then moved deeper into the wilderness.
“Th-they don’t like us to come here since that’s where they dry clothes after washing day,” Sarn said. “But the fighters sneak up at night sometimes to drink… and be stupid, it should be fine since it’s just the two of us.”
“I see. Thanks,” I simply said, my mind elsewhere.
This place certainly was more than vast enough for me to do my “training”… whatever that actually would entail.
“You said you wanted to train but I don’t-” started Sarn, but no words came out when I invoked my sword from the inventory.
“Ah, yeah,” I said as I examined the item. “My sword’s here.”
The scabbard was made of the same brown wood as the hilt, and in its current state the sword looked like a nice polished stick.
“You have a spatial storage?” he blurted out without stuttering, which was much more surprising in my opinion.
“I guess?” I shrugged. “It says inventory though.”
“Woah… you’re not a forsaken after all,” then seeing my raised brows he added, “Spatial storages come with some items, but, um… you can’t buy an inventory. You have to be born with it… Like the attributes. You’re the second person in the temple to have one.”
It almost feels like too many things depends on sheer luck, I thought. But I suppose that just like that attribute I gained, there must exist a way to gain them.
It made me think of Earth. Over there too, much depended on someone’s birth. Some people were born with everything in powerful families, while others…
I dismissed these thoughts, realizing I was just stalling. I needed to focus on the matter at hand.
Could I really use this sword or was the strange knowledge in my head just the delusion of a decrepit mind?
I drew the sword and as soon as the dark blade was fully exposed, the scabbard dissolved into dark vapors.
Sitting against the rail, Sarn wore a focused expression and was cutting a piece of cloth he had pulled out of one his many pockets. His hands were moving with great precision as different forms came out of the boring material. He hadn’t noticed a thing.
Refusing to be surprised by every “little” thing, I forced myself to shrug it off and put my fingers against the steel. I never touched a sword before so I didn’t have any reference, but it felt unbelievably cold.
Without ceremony, I then proceeded to awkwardly try different stances and ways to hold the sword, going through the library in my head. I pictured an imaginary enemy in front of me and looked for the one starting position that wouldn’t somehow feel… uncomfortable.
Holding the sword with two hands, no matter the stance, felt wrong. Holding it straight in front of me, like I had seen in some movies, felt wrong. Holding it horizontally in front of me, felt wrong. That’s when I realized that it shouldn’t be in front of me at all.
So I held it to my side in my left hand, but that wasn’t it. I brought it slightly backward, almost behind me, and it felt better, but not quite right. Not yet. My posture was all wrong. Too tense.
I relaxed my right arm, moved my right foot forward, brought the other back and my body pivoted ninety degrees… And an intense feeling of satisfaction washed through me.
That’s it! …Wait. What the hell?
My focus was broken as I analyzed my posture, and the short moment of glee was interrupted. Could this really be it?
In this state, I was facing the enemy sideway, my slightly lowered blade away from them. All of my weight was on my front leg, making me very slightly lean forward, but enough to look as if I was just begging for a beheading.
I didn’t know much about sword fighting, but wasn’t I wide open?
“Cast aside your doubts and embrace what you know to be true. It all starts now, my love. Our dance to the end.”
I shivered and gritted my teeth at the seductive whispers in my ears. I only heard it once, but I recognized the voice of the being sealed in the sword. Or would it be more accurate to say that it was the voice of the sword itself?
I looked around half expecting to see that I had unknowingly freed it, and was met with something very close in strangeness. It was the ghostly image of the knight I had received the sword from.
He stood at my side in his majestic black and gold armor, translucent and in a stance mirroring my own; although in his case he was exuding dignity and danger.
He wasn’t asking for a beheading. He was taunting the enemies into receiving theirs.
I glanced at Sarn who seemed to have moved on from cutting to sewing. Probably feeling my gaze, he looked up from his work and gave me an encouraging smile along with a wave. I wondered for a second how weird I must have been looking to him. He probably thought I was playing.
But then the ghost of the knight moved, and as if it was second nature to me, I followed his lead.
At first, the forms were simple and slow, focusing on footwork and posture. Instead of what common sense would dictate, the body moved first and only then would the sword follow.
It did not, even remotely, look like sword fighting.
Despite how the armored knight seemed to be able to move much faster than his build suggested, despite how he impossibly kept his balance when he was supposed to fall, it was dancing.
But at the same time, I could see how it could be applied to fighting. How a particular lunge could be used to close up the gap on an opponent. How a sudden twist of the body could be used in a feint.
Each time I was able to replicate a set of moves, the rhythm of the dance kept increasing along with its complexity. Each new rotation was a variation of the previous one, and as we got faster and faster, the frenetic dance became strange and alien, the body bending in ways it wasn’t supposed to.
That point was my limit. Right when it seemed that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, the knight spun and for the first time his blade tore the space around him with a long high pitched whistling sound.
If the previous dance was a teasing one, with forms that aimed to toy with the enemy, this one was unashamed and overbearing, with brutal moves that sought the shortest path to the opponent’s destruction.
Every step the knight took back was in preparation for an explosive dash forward invariably followed by a whistling thrust of the dark blade. Every slash was made with the absolute certainty that it would send a head flying. The grip on the sword would often change without missing a beat, offering new ways for the blade to rip anything appart.
It didn’t make one go toward the opponent. It made you go through them, in a maddening series of deadly spins that made me question how in the world they didn’t make him sick.
At that moment I realized that, while the knight was impressive, he was just a figment of my imagination, a representation of knowledge I didn’t master. It didn’t matter if what he did seemed unreal because he wasn’t real. But I was.
And here I was, performing exactly as he did.
That’s when the spell broke.
I was drenched in sweat from head to toe, my chest painfully heaving as I tried to catch my breath. But that wasn’t the only thing that hurt. Every muscle of my body was cramped and burning.
Now conscious of my surroundings, I saw Sarn sitting at the same spot I had last seen him, mouth agape and eyes wide open. Next to him was standing Mrs Royin, who wore a worried expression.
Sunken dance [ minor proficiency : 33% ]
I got lightheaded, and the darkness overcame me.