Observing (Not What She Expected XXXI)

17 Dec 2022  C. chou  15 mins read.

Edging along the trees, Xev remained silent, as he caught sight of a man challenging a pair of bear-like beasts. While the man’s technique was almost certainly a style from their country’s army, his clothes were nothing like what Xev would’ve expected to see from military personnel. Beyond being closer to civilian clothes than the normal uniform, it looked far less utilitarian than he would’ve expected someone from a similar station to bring into this type of environment. The man was practically caked head to toe in mud. The man’s shoes were no exception. Xev shook his head. It was no wonder this man, despite his skill, was losing. With shoes that badly soaked, it was a miracle that the other man could even maintain his footing at all.

If not for the faint hum of energy infusion coming from the man’s weapon and the clearly recognizable technique that he employed, Xev couldn’t help but wonder whether it was a con man standing in front of him. The man looked more like a civilian trained with the sword than a member of the armed forces. Not just in the way he dressed, but also in the way he carried himself. Without the military’s restrictions on those that could learn infusion, he’d have a hard time believing that this man was a member of the armed forces. In fact, with the way that the man held his sword, it nearly impossible for him to be someone outside of the government’s carefully selected group of elites.

Though he was relatively certain that he’d never seen this man before, it had also been years since Xev had graduated from the elite trainee group. For all he knew, it was entirely possible that this man was a part of a newer batch. Disregarding the stranger’s identity, he focused on finding the ideal time to join the battle. His mouth almost fell agape as the stranger moved from one energy intensive offense stance to another. Was the man even human? How was it possible? Then he saw it. The brief transition at the end of each offensive stance into a low energy defensive state, one that was perfect for gathering energy for the next offensive move.

The man before him was practically a genius. Yet, something was still off. Despite his early graduation, Xev always kept up with the newest techniques developed among the military’s so-called “model” swordsmen. Never once had he ever heard of such a clever way to extend one’s effective combat time. He squinted at the stranger. But who would have the mind to develop something like this? With the military formations, such a practice was almost unnecessary, as a swordsman’s team usually had enough manpower to cover these gaps. There was almost no opening at all. Was this man used to fighting alone?

However, despite his excellent technique, the stranger was clearly tiring. Each stance shift was increasingly slower than the last. At this rate, the man wouldn’t last too much longer. Xev shook his head. What exactly were they teaching people in the academy these days?

A swordman shouldn’t prolong his confrontations just because that he had a clever way to do so. Furthermore, judging by the stranger’s moves, the unknown swordsman obviously lacked in the experience department. After all, why gamble on a potential weakness when a known alternative was present? Why strike at limbs to with hopes to incapacitate when a swift lethal blade could quickly and easily end the fight? A swordsman who could barely able save his own skin hardly had right to concern himself over the welfare of others, let alone concern himself over maintaining the foolish ideals of chivalry. Being merciful was a luxury not a necessity.

The stranger was going to lose this fight. Sighing, Xev drew his blade and quickly infused it with his own energy.

“Don’t kill it!” The other swordsman shouted, deflecting Xev’s blade with his own before it could land on the beast’s neck.

“Are you insane?” Xev asked, briefly glaring at the man, before retracting his weapon to block the incoming claw.

“For the sake of our country’s citizens.” The stranger added with conviction. “Don’t kill them.”

“What do you mean?” Xev asked, glancing at the stranger between exchanges with one of the beasts. Even with quick glimpses, the sincerity on the other swordsman’s face was unmistakable.

“The creatures play a key role in the recent infections.” The stranger explained, puffing for breath. “A live specimen may be crucial to understanding and containing the occurrences.”

“And if it isn’t?” Xev challenged, without taking his eyes off his opponent. “You’ll have thrown your life away for nothing?”

“Perhaps.” The other swordsman answered. “But it’s a risk that I’m willing to take. For the sake of our nation and its thousands of innocents. For the sake of those that I care about.”

Xev smiled at the response, as he lunged at the animal’s legs. It was a good response, the only response that he could relate to, and perhaps the and only correct response. There were too many soldiers that enlisted simply for the prestige of their stations or for the benefits associated their newfound statuses. Too little of them actually did so out of genuine concern or out of the earnest desire to protect. He’d grown so tired of all the pretense over the past few years.

Perhaps this new recruit wasn’t quite as bad as he’d assumed.

C. Chou
C. Chou

A writer that loves cabbages and bamboo, but also enjoys writing and sharing fiction (particularly the fantasy genre). Find me on Medium at: https://chouxherbe.medium.com/