Chapter 28:

Azama - II


Metal and clear shards scraped off the surface of Jaiga's armour. Her arms raised over Tommy like a roof, and her body a foundation. It was far from a perfect defence, though. And like a crack in a barrel, something had leaked from it.

As Jaiga looked downwards, she saw a trace of blood on Tommy's cheek. A few shards of glass embedded themselves on his body. Enough to superficially damage, but insignificant to the point of a guaranteed and rapid recovery.

She spoke to him, confirming Tommy's unconsciousness. Then, the Paladin remembered. She recalled that a Paladin strived for the well-being of others. And that their duty, consequently, entailed the execution of both justice and compassion alike.

Thankfully, Azama was busy dealing with Valefar and Ceylica in a melee. She put her spear down after confirming as such.

Jaiga lifted the still warm body in her arms. She continued with one arm supporting his back and the other under his legs.

Now whereabout must I head...

Due to the strangeness of her action, the time it took for the Paladin to process the situation was longer than usual. Jaiga stood silently for some time. Eventually, she figured that despite Tommy's unconsciousness, he was relatively fine. She trotted to a diagonal right in a swift gait.

Across a few steps and Jaiga had found herself behind the reception.

Seated ever so casually were the two servants of Rainee, Pessna and Meliya.

"Please take care of him." She said, laying the unconscious Tommy as gently as possible. Of the two receptionists, both nodded.

Jaiga then turned around, adjusting to the situation at hand. It was an uneasy sight that presented itself. As far as bad conditions went, the current one was rather terrible. Valefar was just about to hack into Azama with his scythe from the right while Ceylica launch a haymaker from the left.

Predictably enough, neither of the attacks landed. The instant before the half-demon could land a punch, Ceylica's target vanished. He'd lifted into the air like a coiled spring, jumping just above her height.

Far too late and far too quickly, the half-demon's right arm collided into Valefar. The blow made a distinct 'cracking' sound at the vampires' chin. His body then flew quickly, spinning twice-fold like a gyroscope within the boundaries of space.

Valefar's body soared a metre’s distance before it tumbled, turned, and laid silently still. The idiosyncratic weapon in his hands dissipated, and became no more than a puddle of blood.

But the vampires' willpower hadn't abandoned him yet. His two arms reached out and barely pushed him upwards. Valefar prepared then to rise to his feet.

However, his rise was uncomfortably compromised by another collision as a tall, looming figure approached ever so nearer. The body of Ceylica propelled forward. Azama, who jumped over her, had used her back as a springboard. The result was that the quite heavy half-demon, who somehow weighed over a hundred kilograms, fell atop the vampire.

Directly beneath the two came the pained strain of a wooden creak. The sudden weight of Ceylica's body pressed the air out of the vampires' lungs.

Scarlet-dyed saliva poured from Valefar's mouth, extending into a finger-length waterfall. "Get..." The vampire whispered through panted breath. "Off me, you insec-"

As had become customary, Azama once again interjected himself. By the time Ceylica fell, the mercenary had scaled up a wall. He'd then proceed to kick off it. Flipping through the air, his right arm's pointy end extended downwards.

"Time for an elbow drop!" was what Azama yelled before he promptly did, as one might guess, an 'elbow drop'.


"Agh," Ceylica let loose. She could feel a pain in the back of her neck.

Her mind was awash with frenzy, delusion and joy all at once. How exotic the feeling was. Ceylica was grinning and tried to imagine a similar sensation. Damn, is this what drugs feel like?

The half-demon sensed something was very wrong, but it was precisely that impropriety she enjoyed. Her eyes saw the world through the lens of an out-of-focus camera, and her limbs refused to listen. Then, she fell harder, smothering Valefar to a further degree.

Ceylica's smile spread even wider, and her eyes closed under the lull of sleep.


Muffled groans of anguish escaped the vampires' throat. Any joy a typical teenage boy may garner from a woman crushing them was unfound, offset by Valefar's edgelord nature and suffering.

Furthermore, Azama had completely incapacitated Ceylica at that point. While the half-demons' life did return, as evident from the slight twitch of her index finger, even that proved temporary.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

Azama dispatched a few more attacks. Each sent an uncomfortable push of Ceylica's body against Valefar, and each quelled any further hope of resistance.

The vampires' body made no more motion. His vengeful construct of flesh and bone little more than a still-beating carcass. Alive only in technicality and dead by the standards of battle.

The still-standing Paladin stepped forward. She gave the two bodies an unfeeling glance and then shifted her gaze to Azama. Her spear was in the centre of the room and located just two steps from the pile of Valefar and Ceylica. As far as Jaiga was concerned, the two had received their due judgement, suffering from its flowery finality.

"Sorry, I'm late for our duel". Azama told Jaiga, smiling. "You know how life is with all its interjections and variables."

Jaiga could hardly take his words seriously. The mercenary was a man of wit and honeyed words, and Jaiga intended to assess him as much.

Azama then lifted his gaze. When Jaiga met his eyes head-on, she saw only a pair of sardonic pupils. Hazel in its colour but devoid of empathy in its reflection.

The Paladin returned his smile. A tang of familiarity tugged at her heartstrings. As if she saw a reflection of herself in the man.

She watched as the mercenary slowly brought his hands inside his waistcoat. She watched as the mercenary's arm pulled out, and light reflected off the metal in his hand.

Jaiga recognized the metallic object at once. Cullberry juice? The spiky and red palm-sized fruit printed on the can led her to believe as much.

"Want some, Heilewis?" Gloved fingers reached out with the juice. Azama's voice offered an almost palpable comfort and an ambience of warmth.

Jaiga's hand went to her chin. Can't see the fault in it. Her instinct whispered that it was fine. But her eyes studied the juice with severe caution.

Azama, after waiting for the better half of a dozen seconds, pulled the can closer. He forthwith opened it and drank its contents with a satisfying chug.

The mercenary immediately followed by throwing it at the wall behind him. His juice can bounced off the wooden surface and straight into a trash bin.


Ahead of Jaiga, the mercenary pointed to the two bodies of Valefar and Ceylica. He held a constant smile like before, as if the whole 'juice affair' had never happened.

"What happened to having a little respect, am I right? Youngsters these days... Tsk tsk, always barging in whenever they feel like it."

Something about Azama's tone made Jaiga doubt he believed what he said. The Paladin was unable to surmise the full extent of the mercenary's objective.

"It matters not. We may continue our duel now."

Jaiga paced towards her weapon, unabashedly making her intention clear. Following in her action was Azama, who also walked towards that direction. The similarities between their target were strange, and Jaiga felt a hand wrap around her heart.

Seeing Azama's pace quicken, Jaiga flashed a single raised brow. She walked a few more steps, midway to her destination when something changed. Suddenly, Azama sprinted. His speed was blinding, but his purpose was as plain as day.

There was no mistake about it. Jaiga saw Azama point the spear at her direction, shamelessly smiling with a wink.

The Paladin inhaled. "What is the meaning of this?"

"You didn't specify what type of duel we'd be having. Frankly, I don't remember agreeing to hand over your spear, should you ever drop it."

Jaiga understood his implication and replied with logic, proposing a seemingly ideal scenario.

"I operated under the assumption that you wanted a challenge. In that case, wouldn't fighting me at my fullest capacity be ideal for you?"

She saw trickery behind Azama's smile, some unsaid words she could only guess the origin of. His humour was lost on her.

"My my Jaiga, a challenge, you say." chuckled the mercenary. "I think you're misinterpreting my role here; I'm a teacher first and foremost, and a teacher's role is to educate their students."

Her mind went to the past events, to the thoughts of the Tower's destruction and Ode'go's 'death'. She'd assumed the whole chain of events was a ploy to solidify students' bonds. That, under a united peril, that the student body be united under one banner.

Jaiga replied, a reaction only natural to her. "And what do you hope to teach me?"

"Well, maybe not teach for now, but at the bare minimum, analyse some of your characteristics and hopefully showcase your flaws.'

The Paladin hesitated. "Do tell."

"You seem to operate under a guise of honour, hence you challenged me to a duel."

Seem. The cursory implication of the word irked Jaiga.

"And yet, at the same time, you seemed quite prepared to jump in and fight me as a group earlier. That doesn't seem much like a duel if you ask me."

Why did I jump in? Jaiga had no clue. Ah, right. Yes, that's the only logical reason.

"I recalled that the students in the Tower would be killed if we didn't climb up. And hence logically deduced that fighting you and discovering any information possible, be the correct course of action."

"Strange that you say that, considering you seemed quite happy standing by while I fought Valefar and Ceylica."

Jaiga sniffed in disapproval. "I changed my mind, that's all."

"But why, though?" Azama questioned. "Could it be that you were frustrated they didn't listen to you and thought it acceptable if they were hurt, or even I dunno?" He smiled. "Killed?"

The words were an uncomfortable shove to Jaiga, who held some reservation over her action. She looked for a way to justify herself and came to a conclusion.

He's lying. I placed Tommy's life as a priority over fighting.

"You speak falsehoods."

"Maybe so, but I think your actions speak to the truth of your character."

There was something diabolical to the mercenary's words. Jaiga couldn't understand why, but she felt his words pull all the same, dragging, tugging, and taking her god knows where.

"What would you call protecting Tommy if not an act of valour and compassion?"

"What would you call valour when discriminately applied to a few? Look, Jaiga. All I'm asking is that you be a little more honest with yourself. Nothing more, nothing less."

The Paladin offered a swirl of her neck as if nodding and shaking her head all at once. Neither in acceptance nor denial of his words. When no response echoed through her steel helmet, and when ten seconds passed, did Azama move.

The mercenary hoisted the spear and threw it. The polearm scraped by her helmet and hit a poster on the wooden board to Jaiga's right. And when she'd rotated to look at it and turn to face the mercenary again, he was gone.

Only a halfway opened wooden door was in his wake, an obvious sign that he had just run out. Jaiga looked long and hard at that door, her face a patchwork of emotion, an inexplicable blend of feelings. No doubt, the lingering effect of Azama's words was still on her mind.

Steward McOy
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