Chapter 7: The White Dragon
Ryu looked down at his young student, sprawled out on the ground and pouting at the sky. He hadn’t moved an inch since Ai had dropped him there during their spar.
“You planning and laying there for the rest of the day?” he asked.
“So what if I am?” Arthur crossed his arms in an act of childish defiance. “Maybe I just like it here.”
“On the hard dirt?”
“Yeah! Maybe I’ll get my blankets and sleep out here.”
Ryu’s eyebrows raised playfully as he looked at the sky. “Going to rain tonight.”
Arthur pulled the straw hat over his eyes. “I’ll be fine.”
The boy was full of pride, pride that was easily bristled with every setback. No one said raising a child would be easy, much less a child bristling with untold power. He took a seat next to his student and just sat there for a while, waiting for him to be ready to talk.
“I should be able to beat her,” he said at last.
“Should you?” Ryu asked, careful to sound legitimately curious and not further damage the boy’s pride.
“Yes!” he shouted, sitting up so he could glare at Ryu. “I’m stronger than she is!”
“Yes!” He sounded less confident than before. His brow furrowed as if thinking hard. “I can feel it when I push back against her attacks. It’s like … it’s like the flow of my Light is twice as strong as hers, or maybe more. It’s like …” He struggled to find the words. “It’s like she’s shining a candle at me and I got a flashlight. But I still lost!”
Ryu could understand the boy’s wounded pride all too well. It had been a harsh lesson for him as well the first time he had learned that greater power did not always guarantee victory. It probably didn’t help that Ai had shown absolutely no reaction to her victory. A little friendly gibing might have had Arthur back on his feet ready to go again.
“You are very strong,” Ryu agreed, putting a hand on his student’s shoulder. “Stronger than Ai, hell, probably stronger than me. But strength is only half of the battle. Control is the other half. You lose your focus too quickly, get frustrated, while Ai never loses her cool. You just need more practice.”
“And what if that’s not enough?” Arthur rose to his feet and kicked at the dirt. “What if I am never good enough!? What if it would be better if you just focused on training Ai? She’s already so much better than me!”
Ryu didn’t know the right words to reassure his young student. He decided on a different tact: distracting him.
“If you’re quite done,” he said, rising from the ground, “there’s a new technique I want to show you.”
Almost immediately Arthur’s frustration seemed to vanish, replaced by boyish excitement. “A new attack?”
“Not quite.” He reached out to flow of the Light and beckoned out through it. “There’s someone you should meet.”
Arthur stood with slack-jawed disbelief as the dust settled from the collapsing bar. It had all happened so fast. He had barely just arrived.
The leather-clad man scratched at the bald half of his head. “Do you think I killed him?”
“You dropped a building on him!” Arthur yelled out incredulously.
His enemy looked genuinely distraught. “I might have overreacted a little. I just wanted to win so bad that I wasn’t thinking.”
Fueled by rage against the casual manner of his opponent at murder, Arthur channeled his Light through his blade. It’s glow increased in intensity until it would have been blinding to look at directly.
“Oh, you still want to fight?” the pink-haired man asked, sounding genuinely surprised. “I thought, since the carrier was already dead … no, it’s fine, we can fight. You know why they call me ‘Spike’?”
Arthur raised his sword for an attack but stopped when he heard a rumbling coming from the ruins of the bar. A section of fallen wall lifted from the ground, revealing the massive form of Marco Mascle. He was covered in plaster debris and concrete dust and seemed to be bleeding pretty heavily from the back of his head but still clearly recognizable from the description he had gotten from Ryu.
Marco pushed the slab off his back and looked down to see the two he had sheltered with his body were both okay. The young bartender sputtered something that might have been gratitude. The elderly patron started to crawl away, saying, “I think I’d like to close out my tab now, think I’ve had enough.”
Spike let out an audible sigh of relief. “Oh, wow, talk about luck. They would have definitely killed me if he had died.”
The big guy shuffled out of the ruins and sat down on the street, dazed but alive. “Did I accidentally knock down the bar by hitting this guy too hard?”
“No, I destroyed the building,” Spike casually replied.
“Ah, good. I was starting to feel guilty there.” Marco spat blood onto the road. Only then did he finally seem to notice Arthur. “So I guess you are the swordsman he was yapping on about? What with the glowing sword and all. What now?”
“Now I fight with the swordsman to see who gets to take you!” Spike happily exclaimed.
“Fair enough,” Marco replied. “I’d fight, too, but that …” He tried to stretch out his shoulders and winced in pain. “That hurt pretty bad.”
Arthur was amazed the big guy was moving at all. The building had come down with quite some force, most normal people would be at crushed. There was definitely something more to this carrier than met the eye.
“Do you know why the call me Spike?” the leather-clad man repeated, calling Arthur’s attention back.
“Because you’re a cartoon dog?” Arthur was trying to re-summon the anger that had him so confident and sure just moments ago. The appearance of the carrier and the strange manner of his opponent were making it difficult.
Spike smiled and raised one finger. Arthur heard before he saw the ground at his feet rush up at him, the front coming in a sharp point. Without time to move, Arthur channeled through his sword and directed his Light. He seared the edge off the spike a moment before it would have impaled him.
“Right, guess I should have seen that coming,” Arthur muttered.
Spike raised two fingers on both of his hands. Arthur was already moving. He darted to left as one spike, then another, exploded out of the ground behind him. As he ran he slashed out with his sword and, as he expected, he sliced through two other spikes came for his front, the Light slicing through the rock with almost no resistance.
As the spikes split in front of him, Arthur thrust his sword in his enemy’s direction and focused his Element at the tip of the blade. A searing ray shot forth and blazed a path towards Spike. His opponent raised a finger and another stalagmite-like spike burst from the ground. The ray collided with the stone, searing it to dust but not reaching Spike.
Arthur had been expecting it and used the distraction to close the distance between the two of them. The sword flared with his power and his brought it up for an overhead slash, determined not to hesitate again.
He never got the chance to make good on his determination, as Spike caught him by the wrist and stopped him mid-swing. An impossible strength kept Arthur from getting his sword any closer and a vice-like grip kept him from getting free. With his free hand Spike struck Arthur in stomach. Arthur gasped as the wind as knocked out of him and he felt his legs threaten to give out under him. Spike tossed Arthur by the wrist and he was helpless as he landed hard against the wall of a building that boasted of a winning lottery ticket being sold there many years ago.
How could he forget about the incredible physical strength of the users of the Stone Element? Arthur had never faced off against one before, but it was something Ryu had warned him of time and again during his training. Yet he had stupidly tried to rush into close quarters with one? He was going to receive an earful from Ryu when he got back. If he survived this.
Spike was smiling confidently, his victory seemingly guaranteed, and Arthur couldn’t blame him. He was still struggling to catch his breath after that jackhammer to the gut and the impact with the wall had left him dizzy. If not for the wall’s support behind him he probably wouldn’t be able to keep his feet.
He needed a moment to recover his focus. There was no way for him to give ground with the wall behind him. There was nowhere to hide in the open street. He doubted he could reach the doors to one of these businesses before taking a spike to the chest.
“I think I’m starting to figure out why they call you ‘Spike’,” Arthur grunted. His only hope was to capitalize on his opponent’s personality and get him talking, and hopefully not get impaled in the process. “It’s because you are good at volleyball, right?”
“Never played, but I bet I would look great in beach shorts,” Spike replied. He laughed boisterously. “I don’t believe I ever got your name, swordsman.”
“Arthur.” He took deep breaths between sentences to steady himself. “Sorry, I don’t have a fancy Elementalist nickname like you and Aer.”
“I like it. It’s very American. Very heroic.” Spike’s eyes drifted upwards as if contemplating something. “Yes, that is the appropriate name for the first hero I must kill on my journey.”
“Or you could not kill me, abandon the Dark God, and become a hero yourself.”
Spike’s smiled faded. “Sorry, that is the one thing I can not do. There is too much at stake. I only hope I will be remembered as a hero in the end.”
He leveled both of his arms towards Arthur. Out of instinct Arthur mustered what strength he had recovered and jumped into the air just as the ground beneath him erupted into dozens of jagged edges. Just barely managing to angle the sword below him in time, Arthur felt the impact of half-a-dozen spikes against the sword’s form. The sword broke under the assault, and all of Arthur’s effort to channel through it couldn’t stop it from dissolving back into flow of Light. Even worse, each impact knocked Arthur progressively skyward, the last causing him to clear the rooftops of the nearby buildings.
Spike created four smaller spears out of the rock at his feet. They floated near his outstretched arm as he took aim at the defenseless Arthur.
With no other option, Arthur reached out through the flow of the Light. And he beckoned.
This was different from channeling, where you exerted your will upon the flow that naturally passed through you anyway. This was reaching out beyond yourself, reaching all the way out through the flow of Light for as long that extended, and calling for it to come. There is a consciousness there, one that is a part of and one with the flow, which may heed your call. May. And even if it does come, you may find yourself lacking the ability to properly direct something with a will of its own. Last time Arthur had tried he had blown a hole in the farmhouse. If he lost control of it here, with all these buildings around …
He didn’t have any choice. The power was already at his fingertips, heeding his call, demanding to be unleashed. He didn’t so much as direct it as he did nudge it in the direction of his enemy, almost afraid to let it go.
And then it was unleashed. A wave of power, pure brilliant white light at first, but quickly taking form as rage-filled eyes, a giant maw, fiercely sharp fangs, shimmering white scales, all rolled in a massive, serpentine coil.
The White Dragon: Ruvian.
Spike’s spears disintegrated the moment they came into contact with the Light shed off of the beast. He froze like a deer in the headlights as the dragon descended upon him. At the last moment he kicked up the earth around him to form a thick wall between him and the dragon. The wall was consumed without so much as slowing Ruvian.
“Woah,” was all that Spike had time to say before the dragon opened his jaw. Then he was lost in the brilliant light.
Arthur reached out to the wall of the nearby building to slow his fall. He landed hard and a sharp pain in his ankle told him not correctly. He held back a curse as he hobbled into the street to get a better look at the situation.
The dragon was gone, and miraculously it seemed to have not taken a chunk of the surrounding area with it. Spike lay, unmoving, his outfit reduced to leather scraps, his body giving off wisps of smoke. Arthur wandered if he had killed him. He wasn’t moving so it seemed likely, but Arthur couldn’t bring himself to go over and check.
Instead he limped over towards the ruins of the bar, intent to grab Marco and get back to the farm before anything else happened. Marco was digging through the rubble with his bare hands, turning over slabs of concrete and roofing and sifting through the debris underneath.
“We need to go,” Arthur called out.
“Give me a minute!”
“Now!” The pain in Arthur’s ankle was beating out his patience.
Marco gave him a stare that was between incredulous and threatening. “Glowing sword or not, I will lay your ass flat if you talk to me like that again.” He turned back to the rubble. “I’ll go with you, see what all this shit is about. But not until I find my ring. It was from a Championship bout back in the College circuit. Must have been knocked off my finger. I’m not going anywhere without it, so you can help, or you can stand there and wait.”
Arthur started to argue, the words coming out in a disbelieving stutter, but in the end he just shook his head and climbed into the rubble. The two people Marco had pulled from the wreckage had both disappeared during the commotion, so at least they wouldn’t be in the way. Who knows how long it would be before someone asked them what they were doing, though.
Suddenly, a thought occurred to Arthur that had completely escaped him when he was fighting for his life and fixated on an opponent in front of him: where was everyone? A building collapsed! At the very least that should have been loud enough to get people outside. It was possible everyone was just really drunk, but at some point someone should have come outside. Yet the street had been quiet since he arrived.
He scanned the nearby buildings, none of which had a clear window for him to see through. The neon signs proclaiming the stores as ‘Open’ were the only indication that this was an area of commerce. Maybe they had all run off during the fight without Arthur noticing?
Either way, the silence made him uncomfortable. He dropped to his knees and furiously began searching for the Marco’s stupid ring so they could get out of there.
He didn’t know how long they had been out there: twenty minutes? Closer to half-an-hour? Finally Marco cried, “Ah-ha!” and held up what appeared to be a cheap copper ring with a few gaudy and fake looking gems set in it.
“That piece of junk is what you were so desperate to find,” Arthur growled, unable to hide his annoyance.
“Sentimental shit,” Marco replied. “Alright, let’s go. You got a car nearby, or -?”
A jangling sound caught both of their attention. Standing at the end of the street, not far from the body of Spike, was a tall man in military attire. He was tossing something up and down in his right hand that made a clatter like keys being jostled. His attention was focused directly on the two in the rubble. Something about him made Arthur’s hairs stand up on end.
Arthur didn’t recognize the uniform, but at this distance he could just barely make out the three letters emblazoned on his arm: