SKY – 09

SKY – Chapter 9

“These are nice. Much faster and cleaner than the ones we were using before,” Vayling said.

“Well yeah, these are military ships. The old stuff can’t even compare with these,” Hleis replied. “All their gear is better than ours.”

“You say that, but why’d you keep your old sword?”

“They didn’t have my size. I have to ask them to custom make these. I guess that’s the drawback of learning how to fight with a weird weapon. At least I was able to get my current one sharpened and fixed. How’s your new bow and needle?”

“Eh, it’s fine. It shoots far.”

“You don’t like it?”

“Ya know, they don’t making hunting needles in the capital, so all of theirs are military grade. I swapped mine out figuring that I probably won’t need to hunt. It’s nice, but I miss the familiarity of my old gear.”

The benefits of joining were plentiful. The income delivered to Hleis’ family was enough to allow them to resettle comfortably. On off days, he would visit his father’s workshop, built on newly acquired property, given as a reward for slaying the alpha.

More land allowed the families to spread apart, no longer forced together by the constant danger of encroaching threats in an isolated sky. They could live with as much space as they needed despite their new homes being located in the densely populated city.

This was the first test of comparisons many of the West-Hail locals had ever experienced, for in their lonely skies, they never had to measure themselves up against other groups. They were one community, but in Center-Storm, they were one of many.

Their armor now shone brightly under the daylight. Etchings along the edges proved the fine craftsmanship put in. It drew the attention of other soldiers who watched them with wonderment. The now soldiers of West-Hail didn’t feel like outsiders. Their rewards ingrained them well within the hierarchy of their new society.

Just outside the currently under-construction West-Hail air docks, sat the training grounds and headquarters of the newly formed army. Magnificent compared to anything that existed in their old settlement, and better fortified than the entirety of the former town.

The grounds sprawled on an artificial plain elevated over the city below it. Its mix of dirt and paved surfaces was larger than the entirety of their old island. It was more than enough room to train on and was clearly designed to accommodate more than their current number of troops.

Hleis returned with Vayling from the test run of their scout ship. Flask had been teaching him how to fly. With a new ship, and enough practice, he felt confident enough to try and pilot one on his own.

***

Weeks went by, as people got accustomed to their new tools, learning new ways to fight under Cruntiq’s leadership.

New people joined as well. Several new lieutenants came on board. They weren’t truly new, but they were new to the people of West-Hail. They came from other towns and were former comrades of Cruntiq’s. With their towns either no more or no longer resembling what they remembered, they answered the call of their old friend, seeking to serve their kingdom together like they had in the past.

The officially trained soldiers from the central military were disciplined but rigid. They were great at what they were trained to do, but needed to be taught how to fight Cruntiq’s way, and to fight alongside a former militia that had their own ways of doing things. They would learn from the soldiers from West-Hail the unity and trust needed in this unit. Conversely, they would teach the soldiers of West-Hail the professional effectiveness born from strict discipline.

The structure. The declining sense of their former community. New faces they haven’t grown up around. This was to be a fully-fledged military force, something that took a little while for the locals to get used to.

“Hey Hleis!” Sota yelled as she briskly bounced over to him.

“Sota, you came to visit?” Hleis asked with a gentle smile.

“Kind of. Our mage unit has been assigned as a supplemental force for the West-Hail army,” she said. “Leadership heard how well we cooperated with you guys and thought to it would be valuable to continue building that synergy.”

“Wow! That’s…great! Glad to have you, but is that fine? For you to stay with us so heavily, I mean, aren’t you all needed throughout the kingdom?”

“Well, yes. We will still be doing that occasionally, but the end goal, as I understand, is for this army to fulfill the same role, but on a larger scale and be able to independently confront threats mage units cannot.”

“Makes sense. Well, we’re currently still getting accustomed to things and undergoing training. I was just about to do some practice myself. Want to join me?”

“Sure! I’ve been meaning to do this for a while actually. Let’s spar. Someone needs to show you how to use your magical abilities.”

“Ha, sure. I’ve always wanted to see how it’d be like to fight a mage.”

“Damn! Whenever I get close to you, your blasts create so much distance between us!” Hleis shouted after finally coming to a stop tens of meters away from her.

“It’s because you’re so stupidly quick! You just dodge when I try to fight from a distance so I can only attack you once you’re up close!” Sota shouted back.

The sparring session had been going on for a half an hour. Hleis was using a training sword, dull and incapable of real damage, while Sota was taking care to not blast Hleis with anything too strong.

His weapons felt lighter since the fight with the alpha. The way he moved had also changed. That battle had been the toughest one for him yet. The experience fed into his confidence allowing him to accomplish more than he knew he could. It was now as if he could replicate the feeling of aerial combat while on solid ground. After watching the other swordsmen, he was starting to believe in Sota’s theory.

Nighttime approached. Hleis and Sota decided to end their session with heavy breaths and tired smiles on their faces.

“You believe now don’t you?” Sota asked. “That you’ve known magic this entire time.”

“Yes. A little bit. The last battle made it clear that what I can do is beyond what’s normal,” Hleis said.

“It’s good that you accept it now. How much about magic do you understand?”

“Not much, I just know it’s rare and really only ever used in battle.”

“Okay, let me give you some of the basics then. There are two ways that magic can manifest, active magic and passive magic. The spells I cast are active magics while you enhance yourself passively.”

“Okay, so I’m always using it?”

“Not necessarily. Okay, you need to know this since you’re a magic user now. I guess they don’t really teach this in normal schools, but magic use has a major drawback, you know? It feeds off of stamina and vitality.”

“Yeah, I knew a little bit about that, I knew there was some form of cost, and that you need to ration it well otherwise it’ll leave you drained and vulnerable right?”

“Yes, that is the immediate cost, but I suppose they didn’t teach you the long term one… Have you ever thought about why magic is only used in the military? Why no civilians ever use it in daily life?”

“Because all the mages get recruited for fighting right?”

“No. The real reason is because using magic does not grant you extra vitality or stamina. Depleting your vitality like that through prolonged use is a massive detriment to your health. As a result most magic users die much earlier than others.”

“What? Hang on. Sota, you’ve been using it your whole life, are you…”

“Well, for now I’m still young, but yes. I probably won’t make it much past forty like most of the other mages. That’s why they recruit us so early. Have us trained as young as possible so that they get as much use out of us as possible. And it’s not just me. Ever wonder why Cruntiq’s body is so much older than his actual age? He has no crippling injuries, yet he can’t even run short distances without exhausting himself. That’s also why it’s important for you to know the effects.”

“I, I had no idea. Thank you for telling me and I’m sorry…” Hleis replied.

“Don’t be, we do this willingly because we were born with this gift. If we don’t, many people, with less natural ability, will be forced to take on this responsibility and throw their lives away. Plus, in this line of work, there’s always the risk of death right? So often it’s not that big a deal anyways.”

“Is there any way to restore your total lifetime vitality?”

“Not that we know of at the moment. Don’t worry about me though. I’m telling you this for your benefit.”

“How can I not worry, knowing this? No, you’re right, I shouldn’t burden you with my concerns like this. Can I learn to control it?”

“Well, for you the effects have probably been minimal since you only use it in combat. It’s not like things are lighter for you when you lift heavy objects right?”

“No, I feel normal in everyday life. That’s probably why I doubted you when you first suggested this months ago.”

“Well, that’s good at least. Here, I can explain more later, but for now I’m tired and hungry as hell! I bet you are too. Want to grab something to eat? We can chat some more then.”

“Yeah absolutely. You’re a native here right? Do you have a favorite place?”

“I’ve actually never really been in the city outside the academy area. I heard about this one place nearby that we could try.”

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