~ Chapter 2: Knox and the Mighty Chicken! ~
The big difference between a city and the countryside, besides the ability to actually see the stars in the sky during nighttime, was the scent of clean, oxygenated air. The soft breeze was the first thing that caught Anwen’s attention. It carried the mixed scent of trees and grass. As he took a deep breath in and then exhaled softly, a shiver of delight traveled down his spine, awakening his senses. His body rejoiced in a feeling it had never had the chance of experiencing before. For a moment, Anwen actually forgot everything around him.
“Oi? Anyone there?” asked the elf next to him while knocking on Anwen’ head.
The sudden gesture and pain pulled the boy out of his bewildered state.
“Ow! Cut it out!” he said as he pulled back and rubbed his head.
“Oh? So you can talk, eh?” said the elf, squinting his eyes at him.
“What? Of course I can talk!” Anwen stopped himself from retorting as he realized that he didn’t recognize this fellow. “Who are you again?” he asked tilting his head to the left.
The elf’s right cheek twitched.
“I am the Great Knox!” he declared with a hand on his chest like a pompous noble who introduced himself.
“You can also call him the Mighty Chicken!” somebody suddenly said from behind Anwen.
When he turned around, he saw a young elf girl with short cut brown hair, half bowed behind him and looking up with a charming smile on her lips.
“Hello!” she said.
“Hello…” said Anwen, a bit taken aback by her sudden appearance, but she didn’t scare him.
Clara used to pull all sort of scary pranks on him, such as jumping out of a bush while dressed like a zombie or giving him a sudden tickle while he was walking calmly back home. These sort of things happened ever since he first met her, leading to his rather numbed down reactions to similar situations.
“Tch! Lira, what are you doing here?” asked Knox aka the Mighty Chicken.
Lira straightened her back, raised an eyebrow and placed her hands on her hips before replying.
“The lieutenant sent me to find a certain fellow who failed to show up today at morning practice.”
“Well… Erm…” Knox appeared to be stuttering a bit, showing a bit of worry.
“You fell asleep didn’t you?” she asked with a giggle.
“No! I didn’t! The Mighty Knox doesn’t fall asleep on duty!” he said crossing his hands at his chest and looking away to hide the slight tinge of red in his cheeks.
“Sure. Sure.” she waved him off with a sigh.
“Erm…” Anwen lifted a finger up, about to ask where they were.
“Oh! You must be a new recruit just like us, right?” she asked and then pointed at herself “I’m Lira, and grumpy over there is Knox.”
“I’m not grumpy!” he retorted “Besides, we shouldn’t be telling our names like that. What if he’s a spy?” he pointed at Anwen.
I have no way to prove that I’m not. he told himself.
Lira wasn’t convinced and lifted an eyebrow.
“What?” asked Knox, feeling as though he missed something she didn’t.
“Look. He’s wearing the same armor and weapon as us. Besides, he’s an elf, not one of those bastard el’doraw.” when she said that last part, Anwen remembered Carla and felt his heart clench a bit. “Besides, look at his goofy face and skinny arms. He looks more like a scholar than a warrior, so he’s definitely a recruit. If I were to guess…” Lira looked at Anwen from head to top. “You got sent here by your father, didn’t you?” she asked with a mischievous smirk.
“Girlfriend, actually…” Anwen replied and then blinked surprised.
Girlfriend? he thought and when he tried to think who, the image of the Goddess of War blowing him a kiss immediately popped up in his mind. Oh yeah, I proposed to her. he remembered and then his brain simply stopped.
Proposed? Me? To a goddess? I proposed to the Goddess of War when I don’t even have or had a girlfriend before? only now did it seem to dawn upon him the ridiculous and crazy wish he made.
Little by little, he remembered the conversation with her, not to mention the fact that instead of asking for something more material or a power he could have used, he requested for her hand in marriage, which quite literally sent him down a near impossible to achieve route. He could already imagine Carla laughing as hard as she could at him while telling him: “You asked for what? BWHAHAHA!”
Anwen cringed, but then returned to reality.
“Come on! Give up!” said Lira.
The girl was standing on top of Knox, pulling back his legs, while he was on the ground, trying to get out of her hold.
“No! Get off!” he told her.
“Hehe! Never! Give up! Anwen is a recruit, not a spy!” she told him with a grin.
“He’s a spy! Ouch! How else did he fall on me like that?” he asked.
“He probably ran away and hid up there! Besides, we’re WAY behind the border! And why would the El’doraw Empire send an elf spy when they hate our guts to begin with?” Lira asked giving some rather good arguments, although they made Anwen look like a scared weakling.
Is this what she meant by starting from the bottom, from the weakest of the weak? Anwen asked himself as he looked at the two elves, although Knox was blushing a bit more than he should have.
Two powerful fists came falling down on both of their heads.
“Achaaa!” Lira said rubbing the throbbing spot.
“Why did you hit me? I was the one being assaulted by her!” Knox complained.
“You two!” the elf glared at them.
This time, the one who appeared before Anwen was a tall man with a rugged beard and messy, short cut, black hair. He appeared to be older than them, probably in his late 20s, but in elf years, he could have been even closer to two hundred. Unlike Anwen, Lira, and Knox, this man was wearing a leather armor with metal thin metal plates attached to the chest, armguards, and knees. He wore similar thick leather boots like them, and a similar sword. But aside from those small details in gear, there wasn’t anything to tell if he was higher in rank than them or not.
“Sorry!” both of them said at the same time with their heads bowed. A few sparks flew between the two afterwards, but the man only let out a sigh.
Noticing Anwen, he looked over at him and asked “You must be the new recruit. The commander said you would pop up around now. What was it? Baboon? Cocoon? No, Anwen!” he said hitting the palm of his hand.
Those names aren’t even close! all three of them shouted in their minds at the same time.
“Erm, yes?” Anwen replied a bit reluctantly, since he had no idea how anyone in this world could have known anything about him unless…
Is this the goddess’ doing by any chance? he asked himself.
“Anyway, we should get going now. Follow me, kids. We’re going to enter the forest, and you’ll receive your first trial.” he announced as he started walking.
“Yes, sir!” Knox and Lira replied at the same time, showing a big smile of excitement on their faces.
On the other hand, Anwen was a bit worried about this, and quietly followed along. He still had no idea where exactly he was and if this world resembled in any way or manner with the one he came from.
If there was one thing he was certain about now was the fact that the elves were at war with the el’doraw. This meant that he couldn’t act friendly around them or mention his friend Carla to them because then they would certainly see him as a traitor and make his life on this world short.
Is this similar to The Great War that took place back in my own world, I wonder? he asked himself while walking behind Lira.
A quarter of an hour later, they finally entered the forest. The trees were big, the bushes thick, and the scent of nature was strong, filling him with energy. Bugs and critters were all around him, looking at them curiously before skittering inside their burrows if they made eye contact.
Anwen looked around with big eyes and a clear sign of amazement written on his face. The novelty of him being in a forest for the first time in his life was impossible to hide, and it made a certain girl in their group to look at him a bit mischievously.
When he wasn’t paying attention, Lira grabbed something off the bark of a tree and then turning to face Anwen, she asked him with a big grin “Anwen! Look! Isn’t it cute?”
“Huh? WHAAA!” shouted Anwen as he fell back on his bottom.
What the girl showed him was a big centipede trying to wrestle its way out of the girl’s fingers.
“Toss that creepy thing away, Lira!” said Knox, who was hiding behind the lieutenant.
“Here! Catch!” the girl said, tossing it on the boy’s face.
“UWAA!” Knox screamed and ran around the man.
“Will you two…” he then struck both Lira and Knox on their heads. “Knock it off?!”
“Ouchie!” complained the girl.
“Why me, too?”
Anwen got up and looked at the centipede as it skittered away from the group, content with the simple fact that it got away with all of its feet intact.
“Sigh. What am I going to do with you two if you don’t pull your act together?” he asked them raising an eyebrow.
“Sorry, mister Luca.” said Lira bowing her head.
“Sorry…” Knox only looked away.
“Anwen, are you alright? You shouldn’t be afraid of something like that.” he told him.
“Yes, mister Luca.” replied Anwen.
“Good! Now, do any of you know what Pendrax is?” he asked.
“Pendrax is the old name for the Power of Names!” said Lira raising her hand up.
“Good! Now, can you explain how exactly it works?” he asked her raising an eyebrow.
“Erm… you take a thingy from your chest, put it in your sword and go WHAM! on your enemy!” she said and mimicked a ball around her chest, which she then placed inside an imaginary sword and then hit Knox with it.
“Good! Anwen, did you understand?” he asked him.
“Erm… Sort of… Wham?” he asked.
“Well, that was a rather simple explanation…” Luca said scratching his chin.
“Simple? It was a genuine Lira-type explanation. Only a muscle-head would understand it.” snorted Knox.
“You want a taste of this muscle-head’s punch?” she asked pointing her fist at him.
“Hah! Unlike you two, I already have control over my Pendrax ability! I can use the first level and charge my sword with it!” he lifted his chin up to show them just how ‘superior’ he was when compared to them.
“Then, can you explain it better than them?” asked Luca.
“Yes, I can!” he said with a smirk.
“Watch him fail, Anwen.” Lira said with a smirk.
“The Pendrax is an ability that makes me awesome! You just need to take the energy in your chest and then pour it into your sword. It’s simple and easy to use! At least for me, that’s why I’m the Mighty Knox!” he punched his chest.
“Oh, do tell us, Mighty Knox, how you got your ability by attacking a fierce… chicken!” she showed a mischievous grin.
“Chicken?” asked Luca furrowing his brow.
“That-that was not a regular chicken! It was a mad and scary chicken!” he pointed at her.
“Erm…” Anwen didn’t know what to say about that.
“Enough, you two. I’ll explain it.”
“Yes, sir!” the two replied.
“You already know by now that our names define our very being and existence in this world. Well, the Pendrax is the ability with which you can turn your names into a physical manifestation, a power. That being said, there are some Pendrax users who can fly, summon clones of themselves, and some who can cast powerful magic attacks. In general, they are separated into three categories: Support, Attack, and Defense. Knox here is an Attack type. Basically, he can use his Pendrax in order to attack someone or something. I am a Defense type. My Pendrax allows me to create a shield around myself that dampens an enemy’s attack for a number of consecutive strikes. Of course, there are other categories as well, but those are too rare to mention. I doubt any of you kids have one anyway.” he explained and waved it off at the end.
“He’s talking about abilities that can be used in more than one category. Those are very rare and hard to control.” whispered Lira.
“The basic conditions to use your Pendrax are the following: first is your physical condition. If you aren’t strong enough to use your Pendrax, you will faint or lose consciousness. Second is your ability to feel the flow of Magic Energy around you. Some of us can even see it, but those are very rare individuals. Last is your mental condition. You need to be able to focus on pulling the Magic Energy from around and inside you into your weapon or armor. You also need to maintain it if it’s a charged ability. Well, besides this, not much is known about this condition, but I know that your rage and fury can have certain effects on it.” he explained.
“So, everyone has this ability?” asked Anwen.
“Yes, everyone.” he nodded in confirmation.
“Well, we were chosen as new recruits because we showed promise in being able to use it!” said Lira with a smile.
“That and the fact that you applied to join the army. Having the ability to use Pendrax doesn’t guarantee you will grow in ranks nor does the fact that you can’t use it stop you from following another path other than front-line warrior. A strategist for example.” he explained crossing his hands at his chest.
“So, how are you going to test us?” asked Knox.
“The method of testing is a simple hunt. You will pair up and go hunt a Dayuk, also known as a Horned Wolf.” he explained.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” asked Anwen.
“It shouldn’t be. You and Knox will be a team. Me and Lira the other. One non-Pendrax user with a Pendrax user. As long as you don’t hunt the packs, it should be alright. All of you received basic training in sword fighting, and you should be familiar with Dayuks, seeing as they are quite common around these parts.” explained Luca.
Anwen gulped, knowing very well that he didn’t fulfill any of those criteria, not even one. That was the first time he heard of the existence of horned wolves and Pendrax. Given just those details, his chances of survival were slim to none, especially since he ended up in the same party as Knox, who didn’t look too happy about it either.
“And another thing.” he told them, catching their attention “The area was cleaned up earlier today of any potentially dangerous Dayuks. The ones you will most likely encounter are young, weak ones. If you can’t even handle those, then you have no way of surviving in the army.” he explained with a strict tone of voice.
The last part sounded more like a warning than anything to Anwen.
I just got here, and my life is already in danger… Great… he thought.
“When do we start?” asked Lira.
“Now. Here are your wolf baits!” he grinned and tossed them over to Lira and Anwen.
“UGH! The stench!” complained Lira immediately.
Indeed, the smell of those things was horrible. It was even a wonder the lieutenant managed to keep them hidden from their noses all that time, especially when considering the fact that an elf and el’doraw’s noses were far more sensitive than a human’s.
“Also, don’t ask what’s in them.” he smirked.
“What’s inside them?” asked Knox.
“Sigh… Boy, you should learn the first rule of being in the army: Listen to your superiors and DON’T, I repeat, DON’T ask any questions.” he told him with a strict glare.
Gulping, the boy nodded in reply.
“Good! Now, you and Anwen head over there, while me and Lira will go in that direction. If something unexpected happens just scream and run away, otherwise, keep quiet.” he warned them before taking out his sword and walking away.
“Yes, mister Luca!” they all replied in tandem.
Thus, Anwen’s first hunt began.
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