Chapter 23:

Red Ruby II

Sword Quest

Cedric swung his small knife at the spot the man’s momentum was taking him to. It was a strike loaded with nothing but anger for what this mysterious, lax young man had caused inside the walls, even if he didn’t understand what the man was doing at this place or how he was involved in all this. As his blade thrust wildly forward, he realized that this kind of unfocused, rage-driven attack was not the kind that Valblin had taught him to execute, nor did it have what he now knew was necessary to truly fight on the battlefield.

Unsurprisingly, the young man twisted his way out of danger, a corner of his mouth curling amidst his freckled face that became clearer when his low, acrobatic dodge caused his hood to suspend itself momentarily.

As Cedric turned to follow his movements, the bandit had already whipped around, and was winding up a strike of his own. Around his reared back right arm, a billow of fog concentrated into a sword-length swirl, before thrashing toward Cedric like a crushing wave as the man threw his arm violently forward.

Instinctively, Cedric lunged forward into a half dive, just avoiding the rush of energy, which spread out wildly over his head and cut down several low-hanging thin tree branches. Quentle, several meters away from the wave’s impact, stared in shock.

Cedric quickly turned back to re-posture himself against the mysterious enemy, but only a thick haze remained where he’d just been. As he looked around in a panic, the haze grew, until it had spread nearly completely around them. At that moment, something happened.

Like a gear had been turned with sudden force, the fogged world around them turned into an evanescent void. Cedric felt as though his heart had suddenly beat with tremendous force, and all that was left for the world to observe was the reverberating tremor of that one pounding beat. He knew everything would be fine once the beat had ended and returned to a normal pace, that the feeling was only allowed to be temporary, but the unease it brought felt like a dream in slow motion.

“Cedric!” Quentle’s voice resonated slowly as if he was underwater.

“Ignore it, keep going!” Cedric bellowed back, his own voice feeling muffled as well.

Gathering themselves, the boys took off in the same direction they’d been going in, now running even harder in order to escape the vast aura of disquiet. They both felt like they were being pursued by something threatening, but also knew that they could be running right into a trap. However, knowing the goal was ahead, they pushed forward, battling the ominous sensation with gnashed teeth and clenched fists.

Eventually, Cedric could make out vague footsteps tapping somewhere around them. Concentrating on the sound, he noticed two sets, one coming from each side of their path. He continued running in a dead sprint, keeping his eyes peeled for an incoming attack from either side.

However, what came was not from either side, but on the ground behind him. He just heard it whipping through the grass, in time to turn and brace for the impact.

Though, all he needed to brace was his left foot, as the incoming rope served only to wrap around his ankle momentarily before slipping off.

Or, that’s what he’d thought would happen. Instead, the rope tightened into a strong coil, like a snake constricting around its prey. He watched in shock as it wrapped around itself like an animate object, the same mist-like particles rising sparsely from it as before.

Forced to react quickly, Cedric bent himself backward, slashing the knife through the rope just as it began to pull his leg back. Not bothering to watch the cut rope trail behind him, he staggered forward before re-gaining his footing. Just as he had focused his eyes ahead and grazed by a tree branch, another rope came from his right side, snapping precisely around his wrist. He reacted just as quickly as it came, cutting it with a swift movement.

While his focus was on his right side, though, the next attack came. This time, a person came from within the trees, darting at Cedric’s left side like an arrow. The petite, hooded person cut through the space between them in a midair crouch, baring a dagger with firm hands beside her head.

With only a meter’s length between the blade and his face, Cedric drew from his practice, gripping his knife with both hands, positioning it inverted with his right hand. Throwing his momentum from his right forearm into his left elbow, he met the dagger strongly, enough to skew its path. The blade ran down his forearm to his elbow, opening a long cut. At the same time, the attacker had kicked their right foot off his shoulder, jumping into a front flip before disappearing into the trees above.

Not waiting to engage with this enemy further, Cedric continued running. Checking the distance between Quentle and himself, he noticed his comrade turning his gaze back ahead. He’d gotten well ahead, not slowing in the slightest as the enemy seemed intent to target Cedric. Seeing this, Cedric chuckled through a half-grin.

The next attack came exactly where Cedric expected it. From his right, another petite-bodied attacker soared at him, their trajectory taking them toward his right flank with a dagger sloppily positioned compared to the first one. Holding the knife in the same positon as before, Cedric thrust his momentum from his left shoulder into his bleeding right forearm, swiping the inverted knife across his body closely, while turning into the strike.

The dagger clanged out of the attacker’s grip, the impact of the blow tossing their hood slightly upward to reveal fierce green eyes amidst a femininely shaped face. The girl’s tied up golden hair appeared briefly, the thin wisps of her bangs shuddering as she sailed downward, behind Cedric’s twisting body.

She fell violently into the grass, and skidded between a line of trees before disappearing. Not missing a beat, Cedric swiveled back around and pressed on through bated breath.

This time, he looked ahead to see Quentle reaching an end to the long forest. Allowing his face to light up with excitement, he followed him through the last patch of more widely spread trees. The large opening on the other side came into view, and just as Cedric surveyed the round lake and small centric landmass housing a bright red sword, a figure appeared from far above the last few trees in front of them, descending upon the scene doused in scattered moonlight.

The same young man as before, equipped with two ropes stemming from within his sleeves, turned to face them as he glided toward the lake. Not five meters away from a collision, Quentle attempted to curb his momentum while raising his spear.

However, just before the boy could ready his spear appropriately, the man had whipped both ropes at him. As the ropes snapped tightly around Quentle’s rising wrists, the man’s momentum halted. Before he fell into the water, the man somehow produced more of the strange fog at his left side, and somehow slid diagonally across it as if a gust of wind had pushed him to the side, changing his trajectory. Now with a better angle, the man tugged on his ropes, steering himself into the grass with a handcuffed Quentle as a base.

The energetic boy, however, showed with a gleam in his eye that he wouldn’t let himself become incapacitated by the situation. As the man prepared to skid comfortably into the grass a few meters away, Quentle jerked the ropes to his side with a furious roar. The man grimaced in surprise before crashing into the grass, his trajectory now heading closer toward Quentle and directly into a thick tree.

Right before he crashed violently into the tree’s trunk, the man managed to launch a short swipe of the same concentrated energy he’d thrown at Cedric. Flying toward Quentle’s bent legs like a scattered boomerang, the projectile fog slashed into his shins and knees. The pieces that missed him dashed into the ground, kicking up earth as Quentle buckled with a shout, blood leaping from his gashed legs.

Finally, Cedric bounded into the scene, approaching the downed Quentle, who grasped his bleeding legs with an annoyed look.

“Quentle!!” He cried, several strides away.


As Quentle yelled with a pained face, Cedric noticed the mysterious man begin to crawl back up beside the shaking tree.

I just have to trust him…

Quentle, I accept your resolve!

He strode past the injured boy, who was already using his spear to prop himself up on one knee, face contorted in anger.

As he passed by Quentle’s turned back, the two boys outstretched their left arms from opposite angles, thumping each other’s backs. The impact was brief, but pushed them both forward with certainty.