Ilami ran from the pursuer, short breaths accompanying her rapid steps. In her hand was a ball of fire she conjured, the only light source leading her through these dark alleys. She could hear the man’s steps behind her, trying to close the distance between them. She kept her running steady, knowing full well if she ran faster, she’d get tired faster too.
She took a corner and saw chairs kept at one side of the building, one placed on the other. In her way passed them, she kicked the chair at the lowest, prompting the ones on it to fall and scatter on the floor. Not glancing back, she hoped that would hinder the man. She needed to hide somewhere to form a plan to beat him. In front of her was a ray of light going through the gap between the buildings. She was about to arrive at the end of the alleys.
She emerged from the valley, attacked by the blinding afternoon sunlight. She leaned back on the wall of the building near the valley, waiting for the man. He would expect her to keep running instead of standing here for him. She took out the dagger from her tunic and held it in a ready position. Her breath slowed down, the stammering in her chest lessening. She hoped she was right.
A few seconds later, the man appeared, running passed her. Before he had the chance to glance around to check for her, she jumped from behind and stabbed his back. The man screamed in pain, stretching his body as if he wanted to get away from his wound. He managed to get away from Ilami and as he turned around, she charged again. This time, however, he was ready. His hand moved in a flash as it grabbed her wrist, sending waves of fear to her. His other hand went to his sheath, meant to get the sword out of it.
Ilami quickly kicked it, sending the hand away. She twisted her wrist, loosening his grip on it and spun around, elbowing the man’s stomach. He released his hold. She adjusted her grab on the dagger and took a forward stab on him. He managed to dodge it, taking a few steps away from her. He unsheathed his sword now that he was at a safe position and sneered at him. With his sword, he had the advantage. Ilami had been meaning to take him out before he could use it, but it seemed she underestimated the man when he didn’t wield a weapon.
Taking a deep breath, she knew it was time to put her practice to the test. Holding her dagger with both hands, she uttered, ‘Ignis waracia.’ Flame wrapped around the weapon, but she had to say more. ‘Ignis legacia harizanis.’ The flame melted the dagger into non-existent and lengthened itself, forming a fire sword. Ilami looked at it with wide-eyed satisfaction. Her first fire sword. She succeeded.
The sneer on the man’s face vanished, replaced by snarl. Without a proper sword raising, he charged, his weapon ready at his side. Ilami charged too, but not with as much confidence as the man and with more hesitance and anxiety. Their swords clashed with each other and Ilami’s was the one to get swayed, unable to block the force behind the man’s sword. As it left her opened for attack, the man thrust his sword to her stomach. Before it reached there, she kicked his groin, forcing him to groan and retreat his attack.
Not wanting to leave this opportunity wasted, Ilami crouched, then charged. She screamed, putting her all into the fire sword, held in front of her horizontally. The man looked up from soothing his groin and manged to block her sword with his in time. Taking a risk, she used her free hand to grab the man’s wrist, circling it tightly, so tight that he winced and loosened his grab on his sword. It fell on the floor, letting her fire sword to move again unhindered straight to the man’s shoulder. It sank on his skin passed his cloth, letting a raw scream to escape from the man’s mouth.
Ilami winced hearing that and retreated her sword. He fell to the ground as the she kicked his feet. His eyes were close, enduring the pain from his back that was against the ground. His shoulder on the other hand gained a long gash of wound. Ilami bit her lip. She meant to beat the man, not to kill him. He had nothing to give her a reason to do so. She pointed her fire sword to his neck. ‘Surrender and the test will be over.’
He looked at her and laughed. It sounded bitter and empty. ‘Didn’t she tell you? The only way for the test to end is for one of us to die.’
She kept silence. No way. ‘She told me I only have to beat you.’
His hand reached to the wound on his shoulder. He let out a groan as he touched it. ‘What do you think she meant by that? She only thinks of one way for one to beat another.’
‘No,’ she said. The word came out low and reluctant. ‘It couldn’t be.’
He sighed. ‘End my life,’ he said. He fixed his attention to her sword. ‘That’s the only way for you to pass this test.’
Ilami shook her head slightly. She knew she had to take the test since she realized what it meant to be the principal’s daughter. She had to be the best. But she didn’t want to kill others to achieve that. Her mother couldn’t want this from her. She shouldn’t. What was on her mind when she formed this test for her? No. The man lied. It might be a part for the test. ‘You’re lying. The test is over.’
‘I did not. This is the truth. If you don’t believe it, it means you don’t know your mother well. Venaria is the most merciless woman I have ever met.’ He paused. His eyes glimmered with plead. ‘Please. She has my family. Me dying would save them from torment.’
She gasped. Mother would go that far? His life was on the line and he wanted her to end it. No lie could a man utter about that. ‘I-if that is true,’ she said, nervousness welling in her throat, ‘then you can end it yourself.’
‘No!’ the man screamed, trying to get up, but the wound on his shoulder forced him to stay lying on the floor. Tears started to flow down his cheek. ‘She has watchers for the test. Those that can’t be detected. If they tell her I died not because you killed me, the test would fail too. You have to end it yourself. I know you don’t want to do it, but that’s the best for both of us.’
Silence ensued, and, unable to bear it, Ilami shook her head again. ‘I refuse! I refuse to kill you, to submit to this stupid test.’ Her body shook. The thought of killing someone was disturbing.
The man continued to watch her, prompting her to look away. ‘I understand if you think this is unfair, unnecessary.’ He paused. ‘But if you want to fight against it, this is not the way. You are too young. You have potential. I can see one day you would be a force to be reckoned with. But not now. Kill me.’
Looking at the man again, she started to cry. She wanted to blame everyone. The man, her mother, the world. Why was she born to do this? she didn’t want this! But as she looked at the man’s pained expression, she knew she had no choice. The choices were laid bare by her mother, and she knew at the end, Ilami feared receiving death more than she feared delivering it. Slowly, she held up her fire sword with her trembling hands. She raised it high before forcing it down to the man’s chest. The man startled, blood pouring out of his mouth and his chest, soaking his tunic, before he went motionless. His pained expression, wide eyes and open mouth, stayed still.
She fell to her knees and touched the man’s face. Gently, she closed his eyes and mouth. Facing to the sky, she let out a soul-piercing scream.