Chapter 20:

The Strength of a Knight

The Children of Eris

With the loud crack of a wooden staff breaking, Hilda rolled into the far wall before collapsing onto her stomach.Bookmark here

“Stand,” Mania said.Bookmark here

Despite the fresh wounds on her body, and the blood pouring from her mouth, Hilda shakily stood up and straightened her back.Bookmark here

“Rearm yourself.”Bookmark here

Hilda nodded, slowly walked towards the stand of wooden battle staves, took one and moved back into the circle that Mania had drawn. Stood across from her, untouched, was a Machai holding an identical stave, though his had several indents and blood splatters on it.Bookmark here

“Again. Try to successfully parry the Machai this time,” Mania ordered. “It is all well and good that you can defeat skeletons, but you cannot become the Dark Lord’s knight if you aren’t at least stronger than a Machai. Machai, don’t kill her.”Bookmark here

The Machai nodded and readied itself, putting one foot forward and holding the staff in both hands.Bookmark here

Hilda, despite her injuries and the pain she felt, did the same.Bookmark here

Mania’s training had been brutal from the beginning and today had been no exception. In fact, Mania’s training had been so intense that she had secretly sent one of the servants to buy a crate of healing potions specifically for Hilda to use after their sessions. Thanks to that, Hilda’s injuries, no matter how awful, were treated properly and no new permanent damage was done to her body.Bookmark here

After the first two days, Mania had asked Hilda if she wanted to change her mind, if the training was far too much for her to handle and if she wanted to stop, but Hilda shook her head defiantly. Bookmark here

“…I won’t…stop.”Bookmark here

Mania had assumed that it was something like her pride or just plain stubbornness that kept Hilda from admitting that she couldn’t handle it, but, in the following sessions sparring with the skeletons with wooden weapons, Hilda had gotten better every time.Bookmark here

She properly absorbed all of Mania’s teachings about battle tactics, weapon techniques, stances, situational awareness, and her reflexes had gotten much sharper. Within a week, Hilda had defeated a skeleton in single combat and then had managed to defeat three at once just a week after that.Bookmark here

Mania had realised that there was no point in just having her battle such weaklings and so brought one of the Machai in for Hilda to spar with, and the results had been what she had expected.Bookmark here

Hilda had been beaten, bruised, had bones break and cuts emerge across her body, but still didn’t stop until Hilda reached what Mania perceived to be her limits. Apparently, one of the maids who had attended to Hilda’s wounds after the sessions with the Machai had gone to check on Hilda in the night, expecting her to have night terrors or troubles sleeping, but Hilda was sleeping perfectly calmly, so much so that even Mania was somewhat creeped out.Bookmark here

Today had been no different, both Mania’s training and the way Hilda handled it.Bookmark here

In the Dark Lord’s own words, they were, at the moment, not strong enough to overthrow the Holy Empire and they needed every single soldier in the army to be strong. Bookmark here

“Begin.”Bookmark here

Mania would turn her into a strong knight worthy to serve the Dark Lord, no matter how brutal or cruel her training methods had to be. Bookmark here

To Mania, this was a vital task that she had been assigned by the Demon Emperor and, after her last failure, she never wanted to see him look at her with such eyes and speak with such harsh words.Bookmark here

No doubt the little one would be angry with me if she could see this, Mania thought with a slightly bemused smile. Eva would probably try to kill me for this. If it wasn’t for the Dark Lord’s orders, I would let them both witness this just to see what kind of expressions they’d make.Bookmark here

Mania almost laughed but bit down on her lip before she did. “I can’t think like that. I can’t disappoint the Dark Lord again.”Bookmark here

Even after the Dark Lord’s warning, Mania struggled to properly control her emotions, especially her sadistic nature.Bookmark here

A loud crack echoed again and, in Mania’s mind, she had already guessed what had happened; Hilda had been sent flying again and that would be the end of their training session for the day.Bookmark here

However, to Mania’s surprise, the wooden staff that had been broken was not Hilda’s; it was the Machai’s.Bookmark here

What?Bookmark here

Perplexed, both the Machai and Mania stared at Hilda who was so exhausted that she had to use her staff to support herself. She coughed blood and slid down the staff onto her knees, which prompted the Machai to go to her and give her a healing potion. Bookmark here

It hasn’t even been a few months since the Dark Lord agreed to her request and she struggled to even get out of bed; how can she be this strong already? Mania wondered. Does she have some sort of natural talent for this or is this the power of her devotion?Bookmark here

Mania smiled, somewhat impressed with Hilda, and applauded.Bookmark here

“Excellent work, Hilda,” she called, walking towards the wounded woman. “You can take the rest of the day off. Machai, escort her back to her room and have one of the maids see to all her needs. Make sure that she receives the appropriate treatment and potions for her wounds as well.”Bookmark here

“At once, my lady,” the Machai answered with a deep growl. Bookmark here

It lifted the panting Hilda into its arms and left immediately.Bookmark here

Once alone, Mania folded her arms and contemplated everything that she had seen today.Bookmark here

Hilda had struggled against the Machai in single combat obviously, just as she had against the skeletons when they had first started three weeks ago, but now she was capable of destroying a Machai’s weapon in battle. Even more impressive than that was the fact that she had done it whilst incredibly wounded.Bookmark here

“Perhaps the people of this world are quite strong,” Mania whispered, but then she frowned. “If that’s the case, then why were the guards here so weak?”Bookmark here

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