(To read the previous chapter of Strength, click here)
“Hi Uncle Matthew!” Lilina said, cheerfully, “Just so you know, I’ve practiced magic lots since the last time we sparred! I can cast spells much faster now. I’d like to see you try to dodge them now!” “Then I guess you’re in for a real treat,” Matthew said. “So, what are the rules of engagement?” Lilina asked, “Is it first to get three wounds on the other, or- Waaagghhh!” She cried out in surprise as Matthew pushed her backwards and tripped her with his leg in one fluid motion. “Street rules, kid,” he said, as he drew an iron dagger, “We fight until one of us can’t any longer. I promise not to kill ya, but you should know better than to take my word at face value, by now.” “B-But if y-you hurt me,” Lilina started crying, “D-daddy will be mad at you!” “There’s no one to tattle to on the battlefield,” Matthew said, “If you always rely on him to protect you, you’ll never be strong!” “But my daddy will always be there to protect me!” Lilina shouted, defiantly, “And I’ll always be there to protect him! You aren’t teaching me what it’s like to be on the battlefield! You’re just being mean!” Matthew sighed. “Maybe you’re right,” he said, sheathing his dagger, “I’m sure you’re a clever enough tactician to always have a knight or two like m’lord to protect you if things get dicey. Perhaps I was a fool for thinking you’d need-” he was cut off by an incantation, then an intense wave of heat that knocked him off his feet and singed his flesh. “Huh?” Matthew said in bewilderment, “You… you snake! You just said all that to get me to lower my guard! That’s cheating!” “There’s no such thing as cheating in warfare!” Lilina said triumphantly, as she picked herself up off the ground.
“You… I… heh. Hah. Ahahahahaha!” Matthew began laughing hysterically. Lilina took advantage of this opening by casting a thunder tome, which Matthew narrowly dodged. “Oh, it is on now, m’lady,” Matthew said, drawing his dagger once more. He charged and slashed at her with a clearly telegraphed overhead strike. After she sidestepped his attack, he drew his other dagger and slashed her side, leaving a small cut. “Aaahhhhh!” Lilina cried out in pain, clutching the wound. Matthew took the opportunity to retreat and put some distance between them. “You’re at your most vulnerable when you think you have the upper hand,” Matthew lectured, “If you let yourself think you’ve won while your enemy still lives, you’ve already lost.” “Shut up!” Lilina shouted. “I know I said we’d go until one of us can’t fight,” Matthew said, “But since I’m such a nice guy, I’ll let you give up if you say please.” “No!” Lilina said, “Never! I’ll show you that I am strong!” “Well, I’m waiting,” Matthew said. “I’ll show you!” Lilina shouted. She opened her tome and recited its incantation, causing a fireball to manifest over several seconds, which she then launched at Matthew who dodged it easily. “I thought you said you got better at casting,” Matthew taunted, as she prepared to launch another fireball, “If anything, you seem to have gotten slower.” He dodged the next fireball. “Well, it’s kind of hard when I’m bleeding out!” she retorted. “Oh please,” Matthew said, “A cut that shallow should hardly be bleeding anymore.” Another fireball formed over Lilina’s head. “And besides, you’d better get used to casting while injured. Your daddy won’t be able to protect you from every stray arrow and lightning bolt on the battlefield.” He jumped out of the way of the third fireball, then yawned to emphasize how easy it was.
“Since you’re not going to end this,” he said, twirling his daggers, “I guess I’ll have to!” He could easily close the distance between them and end the fight before she got the chance to cast another spell. Or so he thought. As he charged towards her, she launched another fireball at him with speed rivaling a veteran mage. He was too surprised to dodge – not just by the attack, but by the realization that Lilina had intentionally drawn out her spell-casting to trick him into thinking she couldn’t defend herself. And he fell for it. With no time to avoid her attack, Matthew closed his eyes and braced himself. The fire burned, but he’d been through worse. He opened his eyes, expecting to see Lilina casting another spell, but instead, she was running towards him, hand clenched into a fist. He stepped backward just in time to avoid her most unladylike attack, but she opened her fist to reveal another fireball. But Matthew was through underestimating her; he sidestepped her attack and swept her leg out from under her, knocking her to the ground exactly as he had at the start of the bout. Before she could cast another spell, he kicked the fire tome out of her hand. He pointed his dagger at her menacingly as he stood over her. “It’s over,” he said.
“You put up a good fight,” Matthew said, “I never would’ve imagined that you’d be able to trick me, let alone twice. I’m proud of you Lilina. I really am. I knew you were smart, but I didn’t know that you were this clever. But now that I do, I hope you’re smart enough to know that you’re not more clever than I am.” “Wh-what do you mean?” Lilina asked, innocently. ” “Being clever is my job,” Matthew said, “and it’s the one thing I’m good at. But even against a fool, you should never try the same trick thrice. You think you I’m vulnerable because you think I think I have the upper hand. Which means that you think you have the upper hand, which makes you vulnerable.” “But if you think that, doesn’t that mean you think you have the upper hand, and are therefore vulnerable?” Lilina asked. “Maybe,” Matthew said, “I guess we won’t know for sure until you try to attack me with that Thunder tome you have tucked away.” “Oh,” Lilina said. He had seen through her plan. “Any last words?” Matthew asked, “Something more dignified than just ‘oh’, I hope.” “Yeah,” Lilina said, smiling deviously, “Just one.” “Well, that’s three words, but-” “Leila”
To Matthew, the name was more powerful than any spell. Even after so many years. A flood of memories paralyzed him for just a moment, but it was all Lilina needed. She grabbed her Thunder tome and recited a shortened version of the incantation, producing a spark of electricity that arced to Matthew’s dagger. The shock caused him to involuntarily drop the blade. Lilina’s movements were faster than her thoughts as she grabbed the knife, stood up, and thrust it into Matthew’s stomach.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH” Lilina screamed in terror at what she had done. “I’m so sorry uncle Matthew I didn’t mean to I just got caught up in the fight and I’m so sorry I didn’t meant to kill you please don’t hate me please please please don’t die!” “Hah, it’s OK, sweetie,” Matthew said, gently wiping the tears from her face, “I’m proud of you. And don’t worry about old Uncle Matthew. He’s been through far worse than this.” “Are you sure?” Lilina asked, panicked, “What should I do? I’ll go get daddy, he’ll-” “Don’t!” Matthew said, sending a wave of pain through his abdomen, “Your father doesn’t need to know about this. I’ll take care of it, you understand?” “Mmm-hm,” Lilina said, nodding. “Now for the painful part,” Matthew muttered. “SERRA! GET IN HERE, THE FIGHT’S OVER! AND BRING A MEND STAFF, THESE WOUNDS ARE PRETTY BAD!” Serra’s sigh could be heard from outside the training ground. “I told you this was a stupid idea, Matty,” She said as she entered, “But do you ever listen to me? No. So now you’ve gone and gotten Hector’s daughter hurt and he may put up with a lot of shit from you but he will not let this slide! And I may be a damn good healer, but you better pray to whichever gods will listen that I can patch her up well enough so that Hector won’t notice! Not to mention how fucked up it is that you want this girl to lie to her own father about you hurting her. Do you know how fucked up that is Matty? Because it’s pretty fucked up.” “You done yet?” Matthew groaned. “No,” Serra said, “But healing Lilina is more important right now.” She turned to Lilina and changed her entire demeanor, her fire and anger replaced with kindness and concern. “It’s OK, sweetie, you don’t have to cry anymore,” Serra cooed, “Just tell auntie Serra where you’re hurt and I’m make you feel all better, OK?” Lilina silently pointed at Matthew. “Huh?”
Serra turned to Matthew and noticed that he was impaled by his own dagger. “I… Ahahahahahahahaha!” She fell to the ground laughing, occasionally managing to point at Matthew and burst into laughter anew. “Sh-shouldn’t you help Uncle Matthew?” Lilina asked hesitantly after a minute or two. “I mean, yeah,” Serra said, struggling to catch her breath, “I probably should, but it’s just too funny. Matthew, Mr. ‘oohh look at me, I’m a scary assassin, except don’t look at me, because assassins prefer it that way’ just got stabbed by a child! Blessed be the name of St. Elimine, who saw fit to reward my many long years of service with this boon.” “Love you too, sweetie,” Matthew said, “But could you please hurry this up? You’re upsetting m’lady.” He gestured to Lilina, who still stared at the dagger with tear-stained eyes. “Yes, of course,” Serra said, “But only for my precious little niece.” She grabbed her staff. “But before I can do that…” She suddenly tore the dagger from his abdomen, causing him to gasp in pain as blood oozed from the wound. “You know, that’s a really good look for you,” Serra said. “Hah,” Matthew said, “Not in front of the poor, impressionable girl.” Lilina was too worried to even listen to what they were saying. Serra spoke a few words, causing a sphere of healing energy to appear around her. With another word, it disappeared, then appeared around Matthew, causing the wound to close before their eyes. “Wow…” Lilina said, “Do you think you can teach me that kind of magic?” She looked to Serra, as excited as ever. “I don’t know,” Serra said, “Your auntie is a very busy woman. And my magic is derived from my faith in St. Elimine, which is rather different from anima magic, so it’d be difficult for you to learn.” “Oh, alright,” Lilina pouted. “I have no objection to you learning the healing arts from the perspective of a cleric or bishop,” Matthew said, “But I have only the strongest objections to you learning from this woman. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single member of the church across all of Elibe more ill-suited to the task than she.” “Well if he’s so against it,” Serra said, “I’d be glad to! Just call me Teacher Auntie Serra!” “Yay!” Lilina cheered. Matthew smiled slyly. “Hey,” Serra said, “You actually wanted me to teach her! You tricked me!” “C’mon, Serra,” Matthew said, “Does that sound like something I’d do?” “Yes!” she said, “That sounds exactly like something you’d do!” “Well there you have it, then,” he said. “Well I’m thrilled to spend more time with Lilly!” Serra said, “So there you have it, then!” “Uh, actually,” Lilina interjected, pointing to her side, “Matthew did cut me here.” Serra sighed and lightly knocked Matthew upside the head with her staff before healing Lilina’s cut.