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Whispers were everywhere around the academy. Rumors. About the new student who had joined late. 

Caldor knew of this student, Delvin, a thirteen-year-old boy. And even though no one spoke of it, everyone knew that there was something different about him. A kind of mean aura surrounded the boy, the way he looked at everything around him, as if everyone were an enemy. It was off-putting, even to Caldor, the best of his class. 

As usual, Caldor was the first one back to his homeroom. He retrieved his favorite sword and sheath from off the wall. A well-balanced blade, polished perfectly, accompanied by a carved hilt, just the right size for him. 

The room was quiet for a moment. No lamps were lit, but the brilliant light reflecting off of the snow was enough to brighten the room. The silence calmed him.

That is, until Delvin walked in. 

When he stepped inside and saw Caldor, Delvin’s eyes narrowed. He went to get his own sword. The leather on the handle was covered with white bandages. On the sheath, wood bark had been plastered to save it from collapsing. However, just like Caldor, not a speck of dirt or grime could be spotted on the blade. 

After Delvin sat down, the other students came. They retrieved their weapons and sat, patiently waiting for their master, Remus Vyn, to arrive. 

And they didn’t need to wait long. 

A man, clearly past his 60s, entered. And although he was shorter than all of the students, they had learned the hard way to never underestimate him. 

Vyn stepped in front of the chalkboard. “Good afternoon students. Today, you will spar with each other. I’ll observe and give feedback based on what I see.” He picked up a piece of chalk. “This is how you will spar.”

He drew a chart on the board. “Each of you will be paired at the start. The winners will move to the next round. The final winner will receive a private session with me.”

Once the chart was finished, everyone eagerly leaned forward. Caldor saw that he would first be fighting an eleven-year-old newbie. He smiled, knowing the poor boy would stand no chance. 

After a moment, Vyn led the students to the arena, an open patch of bare land surrounded by rows of stone stools. Vyn signaled for the first duo to step up, and for the rest to sit down and wait their turn. 

In the front row, Caldor watched the first few duels without much interest. The fights were mostly one-sided and fairly lackluster, but he perked up when it was Delvin’s turn. 

Delvin and his opponent took their places. The arena was silent. 

“On your mark, go!”

The fight was over in an instant. Before the other even had time to run, Delvin’s pommel was already between his eyes. A smack to the forehead, and his weapon had already fallen to the ground. Delvin’s tip was at his throat the moment he had been hit. Not a single hint of remorse or pity was in Delvin’s eyes. Vyn signaled for him to step down, and they returned to their seats. 

Caldor’s heart pounded. Delvin bested him within ten seconds? 

The first and second rounds finished smoothly. After the third round there were three: Caldor, Delvin, and a third-year, Quintus. “There is an odd number of students this round,” Vyn announced. “Prepare for a three-way match. On your mark, go!”

Neither Caldor nor Delvin was skilled in this type of sparring. Quintus, seeing their hesitancy, ran towards Caldor. He braced himself for an attack, but when Quinuts was almost on top of Caldor, he suddenly pivoted and dashed towards Delvin, who hurriedly blocked the blow. Quintus, though, anticipated the move and sliced towards Delvin’s hilt. 

Delvin’s palm was cut open and he backed off. Caldor saw this opening and attacked Quintus. The two engaged in a flurry of swings, blocks, and parries. 

While Caldor was engaged, Delvin saw an opening and swung his sword. It nicked Caldor’s spine and he followed it up with a kick, knocking Caldor to the ground. He watched as Quintus and Delvin readied their swords. Without warning, Delvin stabbed towards Quintus. As the third-year parried the attack, Quintus snuck out his foot to trip Delvin, but Delvin used the extended leg as a ramp, running up and slamming his hilt into Quintus’s neck. He was knocked unconscious. 

Delvin relaxed and looked towards Vyn. Surprisingly, the master didn’t signify an end. Confused, he turned around as a hit on his lower back sent him flying. Caldor, shaking and bleeding, smashed his hilt into Delvin’s back and shoulders. Delvin couldn’t turn around and risk exposing his stomach, and had no choice but to allow Caldor to push him to the ground. Caldor pointed his blade beside Delvin’s neck. 

Caldor and Delvin were sent to the medical bay. They stumbled through the doorway and collapsed onto two cots. There was no nurse; instead, the walls were lined with medical supplies and sinks. Caldor washed out his wounds, grimacing as he touched his stomach. Delvin wrapped up his hand and glared at Caldor, even though it was Quintus who had inflicted the wound. “I challenge you, Caldor,” he said, as if it were an insult. 

Caldor looked up from the sink, confused. “Huh? What do you mean?”

Delvin scowled. “After your class with Master Vyn tomorrow. Meet me at the entrance of the dark woods. I’ll give you ten minutes to arrive. Don’t forget.” He turned towards the doorway. 

“HEY! I haven’t even agreed to it yet!”

“If you refuse to fight me, the soldiers will see you as weak. You’ll never join the army as the coward you are! Tch.” Delvin left the room. 

“HEY! Delvin! Come BACK!”

No reply. 

Caldor sullenly returned to his dorm. Delvin clearly bore a grudge against him. But why? What had Caldor done to him that would make Delvin strike out like that? Caldor’s mind was spinning as he ate his dinner. I’ll ask Kyla, he decided. Just in case. I don’t want to get into trouble, but I’m also itching to prove myself to Delvin. 

“I warned you, didn’t I?” Kyla said with her arms crossed. “That kid’s trouble. What happened?”

Caldor looked down. “We fought in a three-way match. He thought I was unconscious. I caught him off-guard.”

Kyla frowned. “Oh. That doesn’t make it easier. Did Master Vyn say anything?”

“He wasn’t in the med bay. He also didn’t say anything after the match. But what was Delvin thinking anyway?”

Kyla sighed. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to fight him. He needs to be put in his place. Newbies like him shouldn’t challenge second-years.” Caldor stood up to leave. 

“Caldor, no! Ask Master Vyn during your class; you can talk this out!”

He paused. Is Kyla doubting me? How could she! No. I am the TOP of my class! I won’t let a newbie best me! “I’ll be fine.” He glanced back. “You know it.” 

The next day, Caldor stumbled out of his room. When Kyla came to visit him, she glanced at the bags underneath his eyes. “Wow. Good night’s sleep, huh?”

Caldor just nodded. His head was swimming dizzily, and he couldn’t think straight. Caldor doused his head with cold water and dragged himself to the training rooms. Kyla followed him. 

Even though Kyla usually lost when sparring, Caldor gave up three rounds to her this day. His eyes wouldn’t focus, and Kyla knew it. “Go get some sleep. You can’t see Master Vyn like this.”

Caldor grumbled. Everything hurt, but he kept going. He would take an hour’s nap before his class. They sparred repeatedly, despite his discomfort. 

After dinner, Caldor lay on his bed. I’ll try to fall asleep. My class starts at eight-thirty. I’d better not miss it. Any other thoughts faded from his mind as blackness enveloped him. 

When Caldor woke up, he checked the time and saw that it was just past eight. He hurriedly grabbed his equipment and ran out the door. Vyn’s house was a small cabin near the dark woods. Caldor traveled on a small path that led to the cabin. The snow crunched underneath his shoes, numbing his toes with the cold. His gear rattled on his back and his swords left snaking patterns in the snow. And after a long walk through the snow-covered plains, he finally reached the small house in the woods. 

Vyn welcomed him warmly and congratulated him on his win against Delvin and Quintus. 

“It was a marvelous battle,” Vyn began. “I didn’t know what to expect, since Quintus was the only experienced one. But you surprised me. Delvin did too. It’s been a while since you were bruised that badly, right?”


Vyn smiled. “It’s alright. Not every match you fight will leave you unscathed. But you need to get used to the pain; otherwise, you’ll easily expose yourself again.”

“Yes, Master.”

The two went outside to spar. No matter how many battles he’d won at the arena, Caldor was always humbled by his master’s level of proficiency. 

After half an hour, they stopped to take a break. Vyn gave Caldor a cup of hot tea, and they lounged in Vyn’s living room. After a few moments of silence, Vyn spoke. 

“Delvin is a worthy opponent.”

Caldor laughed. “Sure is.”

Vyn looked at him sternly. “Delvin is… peculiar. He doesn’t treat others with respect.”

“He stares at me during class, and looks at everyone like the lowest slug. Why, though?”

Vyn sipped his tea. “Delvin simply sees his classmates as barriers, like targets that he needs to knock down. Also, his sword is… in need of repair, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.”

Caldor shrugged. “So? Why doesn’t he just fix it?”

Vyn glared at him. “His family can’t afford a sword repair, but he does have his skill. He is here to be picked for the army, which pays well. So next time you encounter him alone, be wary. Don’t back a starved dog up against a wall.”

Caldor’s mind was busy with thoughts. Oh, so that’s why his equipment is so shoddy. But he doesn’t need to act like a jerk about it. No, I’ll still fight him later. 

They finished their lesson smoothly. Vyn waved him goodbye, and once Caldor was far away from the house, he looped back around and ran towards the woods again. Delvin was waiting for him, arms crossed. “Took you long enough,” he sniffed. 

Caldor glared at him. “It was only a few minutes. Let’s get to it.” They raced through the undergrowth as the first snowflakes drifted from the darkening sky. 

The two ran for a few moments, neither knowing where they were going. Suddenly Delvin whipped out his sword and slashed at Caldor’s legs, who jumped up just in time to hear the blade slice below, and landed as Delvin sprinted towards him. He spun behind Delvin, jabbing his elbow. Delvin’s blade snaked through the air, and Caldor narrowly ducked a cut that would’ve taken his head off. He jumped backwards and used a tree as a platform to spring away from the boy as another deadly arc trimmed away many branches below his feet. Delvin gritted his teeth and tried to backhand Caldor, who blocked and skittered away, breathing heavily. 

The snow was falling steadily now, and the sky darkened with clouds. Caldor noticed Delvin tensing up his sword arm, and moved just as Delvin’s blade shone in front of his eyes. It got lodged inside the tree, and Delvin desperately tried to pull it out, but Caldor took this chance to punch him. As he struggled to get up, Caldor bent the blade backwards. The moment Delvin stood up, he let go of the hilt and sent the pommel and guard flying into his face. The blade broke in half and Delvin was caught off-guard. Caldor elbowed him, knocking the air out of his lungs. Delvin jumped backwards, clutching his chest, then lunged and pinned him to the ground. 

“DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” Delvin screamed in his face, his eyes burning with satisfactory rage while a smile split his face. “This is what you DESERVE, filthy rich SCUM.”

Caldor furiously struggled against his grip, but Delvin was too strong. 

Delvin continued, “Acting like you’re better than me, getting favored by Vyn. I WON that match, you hear me? I WON!” Tears streamed down from his face as he snatched Caldor's sword from the ground. The wind howled, and it snowed even harder. Delvin positioned the blade next to Caldor’s neck. “SURRENDER! This is how you will PAY!” But just as Delvin was about to inflict an unthinkable amount of damage, a voice spoke behind them. 

“Pay for what, Delvin? And remember to call me Master next time.”

Vyn stepped out of the darkness, followed by Kyla. He glared at Delvin. “Off. Now.”

The boy hesitated for a moment, then slowly rolled off Caldor. 

Caldor watched as Vyn beckoned for Delvin to come with him. “Delvin, follow me to my cabin. Kyla and Caldor, you may return to your rooms now.” The two of them left. 

Caldor breathed a sigh of relief. “At least I have one more day before I get lectured.”

Kyla stared at him. “Let’s go. It’s almost ten o’clock.” But before she could continue, Caldor was already off through the woods. 

Caldor ran across the plains until he reached the nearest town. He had brought the broken sword with him and examined the weapon. Caldor wrapped it in a blanket and visited the nearest blacksmith. He was greeted by a tall man. “Hello,” he said. “How may I help you tonight?”

Caldor set the broken sword on a counter. “Sir, I would like to purchase a weapon. Could I see your choices?”

The man led him to the weapon rack. All kinds of deadly tools lined the walls. Caldor tried numerous swords and eventually found the one he was looking for. A medium blade with a polished guard and a black leather handle. The holster was black as well, and the sword belt was just as well made as Vyn’s. He sheathed it and gave the man a handful of silver coins. 


The next day, Delvin woke up in his room. He lit a lamp and blearily glanced around his room. Suddenly, his eyes shot towards an object in the far corner. 

A polished, brand-new sword leaned against the wall, its sheath by its side. It was essentially a better version of his old one, with a surface so smooth that he could see his own reflection. 

Delvin hopped out of bed. A small note was left attached to the hilt by a string. 

Good luck with your new school!

  • C

Years later, Caldor and Delvin were both picked to join the army. When they saw each other, neither spoke to the other about what happened in that snowy arena