A fire that burns always
“I’m stopping here! You are far too young and energetic for me!” Exclaimed Zani, completely out of breath. “I’m afraid I’ll have to concede defeat this time… But it was an honor being able to spar against you, I was right in thinking you had great potential inside you young man.” He had said that with a large smile.
Even though it had disappeared during the second half of the fight, leaving for the benefit of a focused frown, it had come back as wide and warm as ever. The old man walked towards one of the benches on the side to sit down and started wiping his short hair and beard with a towel to take out the sweat that accumulated on his body because of the effort. Thrista followed him soon after, still trying to catch his breath. He looked around and saw the traces of the fight, burn marks and cracked wood here and there, already starting to repair themselves. He was also drenched in sweat and despite the great age difference between them the elder of the temple had held his ground without flinching until the end, his vigor had greatly surprised the teenager. Even if the young man displayed an advantage of height over the elder he had had difficulty not getting caught in his attacks. He had learned by experience that Zani remained extremely vigorous and agile in his movements as much as he was powerful in his attacks. His first hit to the stomach had left the teenager gasping for air.
Thrista had been sent almost a meter backwards and it had taken him a few seconds to get back his bearings. The old man had stayed where he was for a moment, a smile spread across his face and his eyes gleaming with malice, to allow the teenager to recuperate a little. Then he had attacked again, this time with a right hook directed towards Thrista’s jaw which the young man had managed to narrowly evade. Unfortunately he hadn’t had time to see the back kick coming and found himself on the ground. Zani gave him time to get up and get ready to fight again. The teenager took this time to observe the old man closely and to take a deep breath, emptying his head of any parasite thought to concentrate again. He got back into position and waited for the temple’s elder to make his move.
“I’m ready this time.” He announced. “Let’s fight.”
They remained like this, studying each other in silence, without moving. Then Zani attacked once more by throwing a punch toward the exact same spot as the first time but Thrista was ready. He parried the hit with the flat of his hand and side-stepped to the right of his opponent, following up with an elbow to the side. This time it was the old man who fell to the ground, but he didn’t stay down long and attacked once more as soon as he got up. This was immediately followed by a rapid and furious exchange of blows where each of the two tried to make the other back down. They kept going, hitting faster and stronger blows as fast as they were parrying them, for what seemed like hours, each adjusting his footing and moving as swiftly as possible. Sweat was starting to run down their faces when the heated exchange finally ended, once more it was Zani who had gotten the upper had as he took Thrista by putting mana in his attack. The young man was about to start using empirium but he was taken by surprise when the elder did it first and landed a powerful hit on him. That attack sent the teenager flying a few meters back where he landed on the hard wooden planks with a cracking sound. As he got back up he noticed one of the plank had cracked and was now almost broken in two, his head was spinning and he felt dizzy.
“Nice try young man, but you don’t teach new tricks to an old dog you know!” Exclaimed Zani with a mocking smile. “You ought to be more discreet when you try to pull such a trick on me, I felt your mana stir.” He explained as surprise took over Thrista’s face. “Magic is my specialty in the art of empirium so you won’t take me by surprise easily. Don’t underestimate me.” He added with a small wink before getting back into his fighting stance.
Thrista chuckled lightly as he also got back into his stance.
“I wasn’t underestimating you, I know better, but I wasn’t serious enough it seem. Thanks for the heads up.” He replied as he wiped a trail of blood coming from his mouth. He had cut himself during the fall but it wasn’t serious. As he did he also studied his opponent, spreading his senses out to try to get a read on his powers, but apart from the glimpse he had just had he couldn’t feel anything different from the elder. Mana was emanating from him in a slow and constant way but it did not indicate at all what he was capable of doing or what he was about to do. This meant that the elder most likely had trained to hide his energy until the last moment when he released it to use empirium.
“I truly wasn’t expecting someone of your level to be a member of this temple, I understand a bit better your comment from earlier now. I’m not a great mage yet but I’m seriously aiming to become one, it would be shameful for me not to take this fight seriously. With all respect Elder, I won’t go easy on you!” Exclaimed the teenager as he pulled up the legs of his trouser to the height of capri pants, he also took off the jacket that restricted his movements and was left only with his light white cloth top.
Thrista then closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath to stabilize his heartbeats and get his concentration back, before focusing on his mana. He let it flow through him and then out of his body, extending his aura all over the room, letting it fill it completely. This was a technique he had tried to master for a long time, it was designed to help him sense the movements of his opponents a lot more easily, and though it wasn’t perfect he had made progress since his training days with his master. He also focused on the aura of the temple elder, trying to grasp it in its entirety. Once he had managed to do that he opened his eyes again and smiled, ready to resume the fight.
“You won’t intimidate me by just throwing your aura around you know, young man. I have seen a lot worse than that and I can tell you, I am not very much impressed.” Zani commented with a small scoff before changing his guard and getting into a frontal position, he was now facing Thrista directly. The older man then joined his fists around his midsection and closed his eyes for a short moment. “This is how you impress and opponent young man!”
As he opened his eyes again the air was shimmering all around his body, the temperature of the room had quickly risen and it was emitted by the elder’s body. As the air got hotter and hotter around Zani the teenager could see small flames burst from random places around his body. The flames started to appear more frequently before becoming a permanent red and orange aura around him. Then they grew, slowly going from simple flames to a blazing inferno, and soon they had become a blazing aura of fire all around the old man, heating the air around him and leaving burned marks on the ground. Zani smiled as he let them expand, Thrista could feel the heat from the spot where he was standing and was sure that if he wanted the priest could have engulfed him in the blazing inferno. Then they retracted and seemed to shrink back to simple small flames oozing from the torso, the arms and the head of the elder, giving his white hair a yellow, orange color. The young man knew not to trust his judgment though, after all Zani could have simply concentrated their power in those spots to maximize their effects. He shot a quick look on the ground and was surprised to see that the burn marks weren’t as bad as he thought. Strange…His thoughts were interrupted by the elder who spoke again.
“I was called the flamboyant lion back in my day, I believe you understand why…” Explained Zani with a small smirk.
“Impressive!” Exclaimed the teenager. “But I hope these aren’t just for show!” He added as he focused his mana around his fists, making the air around them shimmer too, to give them enough protection to be able to strike. Then he jumped forward and threw a series of well placed punches towards the old man. Unfortunately Zani was ready for this type of attack and side-stepped before throwing a single punch towards Thrista’s side. The teenager had to jump back to evade the strong hit and not get burned. He felt the heat flowing against his skin under the fabric as he did so.
“Good one! I’ve got the feeling one of those punches could take me down if I wasn’t careful…” Commented the older man with a smile. “But unfortunately for you I won’t let you do as you please.”
“It wouldn’t be fun otherwise.” Replied Thrista as he moved around the elder, looking for an opening. He jumped to the side to evade a fireball thrown by Zani. It flew past him and finished its course in the wall behind, exploding into a large flame and leaving a large burn mark. The wall of wood did not display any damage other than the black trace though, as if it had barely been grazed. The young man took this opportunity to step behind his elder and threw a punch at Zani’s back, almost touching him before suddenly retracting his hand a few centimeters from his target, feeling as if something was off. As he stepped back the older man turned around with a large smile spread across his face.
“You felt it, didn’t you? That’s good, means you’ve trained well.” He commented as he got back into his usual stance.
Thrista simply nodded. He had indeed felt the counterattack coming before it had, if he had finished his attack his hand might have been charred completely in an instant. He had to move again to evade an attack as Zani, not leaving him any room to breathe, stepped forward and threw a wave of fire at him. The teenager was using less mana than his opponent in this spar but Zani seemed to tire less rapidly, Thrista knew the older man must’ve been confident in his abilities and would use that to gain the upper hand. He had to react fast or he would be easily overwhelmed and would find himself losing against the still smiling elder of the temple.
If he wanted to get the upper hand he had to quickly make a move but his opponent’s armor of fire prevented him to get too close. The only thing he could do was to attack from a distance or somehow nullify the power of Zani’s flames. He cursed himself, why had he never gotten to learn anti-magic?! Then an idea popped in his head.Perhaps… yes, it might just work. A smirk formed on his face as he prepared his next attack. The teenager focused on his mana and channeled it through his body to his legs, getting ready to use it the second he knew the moment was right. Accumulating mana wasn’t an exact science, he had to be precise enough to propel himself forward but not too powerfully because that might mean a lot of pain.
Zani’s eyes did not leave him as he prepared himself, the elder was observing him attentively as he got into his usual orthodox stance. They looked at each other, neither deciding to make the first move, the tension in the room had increased and Thrista felt his body getting heavier. A drop of sweat rolled on his cheek and as it left his skin and fell towards the wooden ground he let the mana pressure he was holding go and was propelled forward. Zani seemed to have been expecting such a move however, the elder let go of the breath he had been holding and let out a searing wave of fire directly towards the teenager. Thrista used the energy he had stored to evade the attack the last moment by side-stepping to the right, as soon as he got his footing back he let go of the remaining mana he had and focused it all in his right fist before throwing a powerful punch to the elder’s side of the elder. The pressure of his mana emanating from his fist penetrated the blazing armor without any problem.
Zani saw the hit coming in slow motion but didn’t react quickly enough to evade it and took its full power. He was sent flying a few meters to the side and crashing onto the ground, almost ending his fall in the opposite wall. He stayed down for a few seconds, not moving, before finally getting back up, his movements slow as he groaned from the pain. Thrista took advantage of this moment to also get back in position and readied himself again.
“Nice feint.” Commented the older man as he straightened himself, his smile slightly crooked by a the pain in his side. He rubbed his ribs before getting back into position in front of the young man. Thrista hesitated to continue for a moment but he saw the mischievous but decided glint in Zani’s eyes and smiled.
“Ready for more?” He taunted the elder.
“That I am!” Exclaimed Zani as he straightened his back and put his right hand, balled into a tight fist, against his left which was open. He closed his eyes and started reciting words in the olden language, speaking rapidly as he formed his spell. Thrista recognized some of them only, as the monk was barely speaking loud enough for him to hear, and guessed he was trying to strengthen his powers by invoking fire spirits. This almost took the young man by surprised but as he thought about it, it seemed logical, powerful empirists often mastered more than one art. He himself had trained in the art of magic and sorcery, two of the five main branches of empirium, the art of controlling mana.
Magic was usually the most frequently used branch of empirium as it was one of the easiest to learn and despite being weaker than sorcery in its basic state it allowed a far easier mastery. It also proved to be quite powerful and a cost a lot less energy than other branches as it allowed the user to manipulate mana around himself instead of only using his own. Sorcery on the other hand required was one of, if not the, hardest branches as an extensive knowledge of the olden language was needed and it required a skillful mastery of one’s mana. Plus a spell not well performed could lead to a very quick and painful death. Despite its power it was therefore one if the less used branches due to its complexity and its danger. However, once mastered and in the right hands it proved to be a very reliable weapon. The fact that Zani could use it with such apparent ease was proof of his power.
As his incantation ended, the golden flames around the elder’s body had disappeared and had been replaced by smaller and brighter flames of a dark violet color. Despite their reduced size, the aura and the heat they emitted seemed to have increased and Thrista could see the ground already taking on a darker color around the older man.
“These are flames I haven’t used in a long time.” Said Zani, his eyes opened once more. “I see you realized they are not the same as those you saw before, these flames are far more powerful. They are called Doeï Helsing. This time I’m really getting serious young man, I do hope you are prepared because I won’t leave you any chance!”
This time the elder was the first one to dash forward, aiming his flaming fist directly at Thrista’s torso. The teenager had to jump to the side, using his dashing technique once more, to evade the purple inferno coming right his way. Unfortunately he only managed to partially evade the attack and felt a searing pain in his side as he turned around to face the elder, the fabric of his top had blackened. This time he wasn’t sure he could get through Zani’s armor of fire with sheer strength. Zani charge again, this time spreading his arms on both sides, a spinning fireball in each hand.
“Eï norraes!” Exclaimed the young man as he focused his mana in front of him and a light green aura appeared around his body. He raised his arms in front of him, crossing them to protect himself from the hit. He took it head on and was sent flying back a few meters but he had managed to reduce the damage of the fire and the hit. Still he felt his whole body throbbing in pain and knew that he wouldn’t manage to resist for much longer, Zani was taking over this fight, he had to react or it would be his loss.
He stepped back and got back in his usual stance, trying to find a way to counter the flames of the elder. He felt like he had the answer just at the back of his mind, if only he could have a few minutes to think it through. Unfortunately the elder didn’t give him the precious time he needed and Thrista decided to do the only thing that he could think about: cast away all strategy and attack back with raw power. He focused his mana one last time, concentrating as much as he could in his right hand, as Zani was getting closer. He saw the attack happening in slow motion, the elder had increased the intensity of the flames all around his body and was preparing to land a powerful hit. At the last moment, as he was only a step or two from the teenager, he jumped and turned around, surprising Thrista with a fiery back kick. The dark-haired young man barely evaded the hit by crouching but as he got back up he barely saw the backhand punch that Zani had thrown at him and only managed to reduce its power by instinctively turning his head. He took a step back, focusing his mana and ready to let it burst out. Zani got back in a karate-like stance and stepped forward once more, throwing another powerful right punch.
Thrista knew he had to attack now or he would be taken out in one hit. He could feel the surge of power in his right arm and the familiar tingling sensation in his fist as the mana he had accumulated was trying to get free. He saw the flaming attack of the monk coming towards him and as the fist was about to connect with his body he flung his own in Zani’s direction, releasing all the mana in a single powerful blow.
As the two attacks connected the whirlwind of power that Thrista had released and the blazing inferno around the white-haired man’s fists melted into a single point of extreme energy and everything seemed to freeze for the shortest of moments. Thrista felt his motion almost stop and could swear he saw the static electricity running all around them as their attacks clashed. Then everything started moving as fast as it had stopped and a large explosion blew the two fighters away, Thrista’s mind went blank.
When he opened his eyes again he found himself half lying against the wooden wall half embedded in it. He tried to breathe in but his chest was far too tight to take in any of the air that his brain needed desperately at the moment. He saw the Zani, about halfway across the room, who was kneeling on the ground and looking at him with a smile and an impressed expression. Thrista tried to get back up but almost tripped on his feet, his legs were shaking so badly he couldn’t stand straight without leaning on the wall. He also felt the painful throbbing in his head and a thin line of blood was running across his forehead, probably from where he had been hit. Beads of sweat had formed all over his face and his throat was dry. He finally managed to take a step forward and to stand properly. He straightened and finally his lungs seemed to be able to function properly again, they took in the much-needed oxygen and his mind seemed to clear up a bit. He noticed the elder was standing up and starting to make his way towards him. Thrista tried to get back into his fighting stance, unfortunately he noticed that with a more clear mind also came a more clear pain.
He could feel his whole body aching now and swore inwardly. He always went in head on without really thinking, even though he knew the consequences. It always ended badly, usually with him beaten to a pulp, when he did things without thinking them through. Damn it, get up! He managed to get his arms up and to stand his ground, his legs still shaking but not so much that he would fall from it. But as Zani approached he put up his arms, palms towards the young man.
“I’m stopping here! You are far too young and energetic for me!” Exclaimed the elder as he looked at the dark-haired teenager, trying to catch his breath and massaging his sides.
Thrista looked back at him, unsure of what to do at first, but after a few seconds he let out a deep sigh and let himself fall down and lie on the ground. For a moment the only sounds in the room where the heavy breathing of the two mages.
“Not so bad for an old man…” Finally commented Thrista with a smirk. Zani scoffed and smiled as he sat down on one of the benches on the side of the room.
“Not so bad yourself if I may say so young man, you’ll grow to become a strong mage, I’m sure of it…” He replied.
Thrista slowly sat up and looked around. That’s when he realized the damage the room had taken, there where burn marks all over the ground and some of the walls, cracks had spread along the wood and a few holes could be seen where they had crashed into the wall. It had started as a friendly spar but had quickly become a heated battle, the young man had let himself be overwhelmed by his excitement and hadn’t thought about the consequences of fighting like he had in such a room. Of course he wasn’t the only one to have damaged it, but he had been welcomed as a guest in the temple so he couldn’t just leave like that. He just hoped he would have some time to recuperate from the fight before starting the repairs because he didn’t feel like it at all at the moment. As if he was reading his thoughts Zani spoke.
“Don’t worry about the room.” He started with a small smile as Thrista turned towards him. “Just give it some time and in a few hours it’ll be as spotless as when we came in earlier. What would you say about taking a warm and relaxing bath right now? We’ve earned it after all!” He added as he slowly stood up, wincing slightly.
Thrista remembered what the elder had told him earlier about the room, apparently it had been enchanted to repair itself over time. He hoped it was true.
“Well alright, I would not refuse such an offer!” He replied with a smile as he too slowly got back up, groaning as the dull throbbing in his head and in the rest of his body reminded the teenager of its existence.