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Continuing from Episode 009 of the Wings of Red arc, Swords of the Past explores the life of Mina Blutbayne before she became the manager of Wings of Archadia, showing a much more sinister side to her. As she continues to train with her former mentor, Alten Lehrer, secrets are revealed that shed light on how she met Sparrow Blunderbuss and who she was before meeting Royce Blixtrande.
The day grew into dusk as the sun descended behind the mountains, creating a beautiful orange sky that stretched overhead, as Mina and Alten continued to fight in the clearing made from Mina's Wake of Ruin attack. Though, as their battle progressed, more of the landscape suffered from their power. Two streaks of energy, one red and one white, collided with one another mid air, erupting with sound like thunder before plunging to the ground below, cratering the floor with their landing.
Mina stood clutching Lamentations with a single hand, but exhaustion began to take its place and she only held up half way. Her clothes was dirty in several areas while parts of it tattered and slashed through. Her hair was now messy and unknempt, a stark contrast from her normally prestine appearance. Her mouth hung open as she took in deep breathes and sweat tricked down the sides of her head.
Alten, on the other hand, appeared nearly unharmed, save for a few singed areas around his uniform. He was calm and relaxed, looking at Mina with a smile as he casually held Dayspring at his side. His other hand was firmly on his waist. "Is that all you have?" He asked.
Mina swallowed hard, a visible lump sliding down her throat. "I haven't even started." While Mina was a very confident woman, she was also stubborn at times, and would never admit when she was weak. Over the course of a few hours, she had nearly exhausted her magical reserves and her stamina was sinking fast. In fact, it was only because of her resolve that she was able to still stand and hold her rapier. But now, seeing how much better her mentor is to her, her determination was slowly faltering.
Without warning, Alten appeared directly in front of Mina, shocking the young woman as Dayspring flew through the air. Its blade caught some of the setting sun and gleamed while it moved. Mina reactively raised Lamentations to block the attack, but given her fatigue and Alten's strength, she was once again thrown back by the attack and sent her through the air. Her body was parallel to the ground with her facing the sky. She quickly tucked her knees up to her chest and spun backwards. She landed on her feet while still sliding to a stop but before she could regain her form Alten was already there with another swing. This one struck against Lamentation with such force that it sent Mina flying as if she were a ball hit by a bat. She struck against a thick tree trunk, shaking its branches in the process and raining down leaves on top of her while she slid down to the ground and Lamentations fell out of her hand.
"Come now, Mina. I haven't even used my magic. I don't remember you being this weak." Alten walked over towards the fallen woman slowly. He took his time as he approached her, choosing to speak in the meantime. "You're head isn't in this. You're distracted."
Mina couldn't respond. Instead, she used what strength she had left to bring herself to her feet, using the tree behind her as support. She could feel the bruise forming on her back from her impact and it began to throb in pain. While she could ignore the physical pain, Mina had to admit to herself that she was in fact distracted. During her entire battle, all she could think about Royce and the Dreadnaughts. What they had done to him. The emotions that she was so good at hiding were beginning to swell inside her. But this wasn't because of what happened recently. No, this was a lifetime of emotions that have finally come to a head, and the strong and independent facade she had built over the years were beginning to crack.
"What would Sparrow think if he saw you like this?" Alten asked, breaking the silence between the two.
Suddenly taken over by anger, Mina grabbed Lamentations and began swinging wildly at Alten. The taller man stepped back calmly, turning his body to allow the blade to fly past him without worry. The rapier flew through the air in wide arcs and there was a fire in Mina's eyes that Alten had seen only once before. And for a moment, Alten saw a younger Mina, one hurt by a past filled with pain and tears streaming down her face as she angrily lashed out towards him. Alten's face grew serious as he deflected her weapon with his own. Mina stumbled forward from her momentum and almost fell to the floor before catching herself in the motion. She turned her to face Alten and watched as Dayspring came towards her head. She instinctively lept back to avoid the swing but could feel the wind from the tip of the blade pass her several inches from her face.
She landed on one foot, hopped back a few meters and landed on the other with Lamentations raised high in a defensive manner. Mina's frustration was surging through her. Against Alten, she was being treated like an amateur, instead of the trained warrior she was. She couldn't understand why she wasn't able to fight effectively against him, and that doubt was effecting her actions. Mina was becoming hesitant, and staying defensive. Any offensive actions were driven by pure emotion and not with a level mind as she was trained to be.
"You really have changed, Mina. And I can't say it was for the better." Alten shrugged his shoulders and shook his head, disappointed in the development of his pupil.
"Shut up, Alten!" Mina shouted in another rare display of emotion.
Her mentor took notice of this and immediately scouled at her. His face stiffened to a much more serious tone. She could tell by the crease created on his forehead by his eyebrows. He turned to her and began walking slowly, Dayspring at his side. "You come here for reasons you've yet to explain, looking for answers, and this is how you speak to me?" His voice was deep and resonating. It felt as though the earth shook in terror. "At first, I was enjoying this little game, but my patience with you has run out."
Mina's grip on Lamentations tensed up and her body stiffened, Alten's aura had a smothering effect when he released it. Even in small amounts, lesser individuals would freeze from it, robbing the air from the lungs and causing them to faint. Mina resisted this sensation as she raised her magical power to combat his own. But with each step Alten took, she envisioned this giant standing in front of her. So tall that it cast a shadow over her, making her feel so small in the world. This was Alten's true power, and Mina knew what this display meant: he was going to kill her.
Mina is known to be a strong-willed woman who never shows weakness or fear. But now, with Alten's power pushing against her own, she could feel her hands involuntarily shake while holding the handle of her rapier. As she stared past the blade towards her opponent, Mina could see the steel tremble. When a powerful individual releases their aura in such a manner, it can appear in various ways.
Alten had revealed his aura before as a bright white light all around him. Now it was invisible, but Mina could "feel" its intensity and her mind created this frightening visage of Alten. In her mind's eye, Alten stood there as his tremendous power distorted the air around him and formed ripples. The area grew darker as more of his power spread out, stealing the light as the shadows spread their thin jagged fingers. There was some form of optical illusion created, causing several Alten's to shift around the original like eyes growing out of focus. Accompanying this image was the feint sound of something demonic screaming in pain, and Mina realized that the sound was created by Alten's magical power interacting with his environment.
He shot forward and struck Mina with a powerful knee to her stomache. The force of the attack caused her to fold around the knee as air forcefully escaped her lungs and out her mouth. She was then thrown back into the trees and her body bounced off one of their trunks before hitting the ground. Luckily, Mina still held on to Lamentations and was able to deflect a sword swing for Alten. But she was kicked with one his legs that instantly lifted her off the ground.
She flipped backwards, her skirt whipping in the air, and landed on her feet. Just from those two attacks had caused to body to begin screaming in pain. Mina felt that she may have a cracked left rib. It was confirmed when she stepped forward and winced in pain. Her hand instinctively covered it, in a failed attempt to nurse the injury. Her other hand held Lamentations tightly. At top form, she was able to hold her own. But this battle was taking too long, and her injuries were accumulating. With Alten's new aggressive style, she doubted she would be able to fight him off any longer. And her cracked rib would seriously limit her maneuverability.
Mina drew a circle nearly her height with the tip of her rapier. Red energy trailed behind it as it moved and a magical seal formed in the center, completing the circle and forming a transparent barrier. "Song of Sorrow!" Mina shouted and then slashed the barrier, causing it to shatter like glass. The red shards flew towards Alten and began skewering everything in its path. Alten reflexively dodged as the shards rocketed past him, using his impressive speed to weave between each attack. He even managed to strike some of the projectiles with his own sword and batted them away.
Before Mina could perform another action, Alten instantly disappeared from the path of destruction and reappeared on her left, her injured side. There was no way she was going to react in time to block the attack and watched helplessly as Dayspring cut through the air and struck the edge of her arm. Her blouse was slashed through and her diagonal wound across her shoulder and bicep opened up in a splurt of blood. The attack was enough to stagger her back, and before she was able to counter, another slash ripped through her shirt just above her right breast and to her collar bone, severing the cloth and letting it fall off her shoulder. Mina didn't even see where the attack had come from. All she could see was the fine red mist spraying itself from her deep wound.
She involuntarily released her grip from Lamentations and fell backwards, the world around her coming to a crawl. Mina's body had given up. Her will cut down just as easily as her body was, and she stared at Alten's expressionless face. She landed on her back, the exhaustion was so much that she couldn't even react to the pain. But she felt it radiate all over her body. She laid there motionless, not able to make a sound. Mina tried to speak but there wasn't enough air in her lungs to form a single word.
Alten stared down at his former pupil as she struggled, but he could tell her body had failed her. As their eyes locked on to one another, there was disappointment in his.
Alten's aura was growing larger now. The darkness slowly crept up towards Mina, creating a canopy above her. It expanded past her and began coming down behind her, nearly engulfing her entirely. As these shadows grew, so did Mina's fear. It was irrational fear. Memories flashed through her mind, hurtful and saddening images. The more recent ones were of Royce laying in the hospital when she last saw him. The warm light on his skin. The sensation of her kiss. They were suddenly interrupted the vision of nurses and doctors rushing into the room. She didn't know what they were doing, but the expressions on their face showed concern. Royce was dying and they were trying to bring him back from the brink of death. They frantically worked at his body but Royce remained unresponsive. She could feel her own heart beating faster, a sensation of despair forming in the pit of her stomache.
The medical staff stopped after several failed attempts and simply stared at Royce. One nurse looked up towards the doctor, who in return shook his head in silence. They each walked out of the room with only one nurse remaining. Mina felt her eyes well up, glossing over those those rubies. The nurse grabbed the top of the blanket and slowly pulled it up and over Royce's face and a single tear rolled down Mina's cheek. Then there was darkness and loneliness, Mina standing in a single area of light, like a spotlight shining down on someone on stage. But her and the light grew smaller as she drifted into the darkness, shrinking til there was nothing left.
Stained with Blood
A young Mina clutched the blood soaked dagger in her small hands, trembling from the sight in front of her. Laying there, covered in blood, was the body of her former slave master. Her eyes were wide in a state of shock and her breathing was quick and ragged. Outside the tent, she could hear the sound of scurrying and older men yelling. She looked towards the main entrance and backed away from it towards the opposite end of the space. Still holding the dagger, she grabbed a nearby cloak and gave one final look towards her former captor.
She reached down and lifted the tarp staked to the ground and wiggled her way under it. Just as she cleared it, she could hear several men enter the tent and immediately begin shouting. Using all her stamina, she ran without looking back, wrapping herself in the cloak and disappearing into the desert night. The harsh winds erasing her tracks.
She did not stop for a second during the night, using the moonlight as her only form of light. The cold air chilled her to the bones and she could feel her teeth chattering so hard she thought they would shatter. She clutched the cloak tightly and pulled the hood down over her eyes to shield herself from sudden gusts of wind carrying the sand.
Once the sun rose, the temperature increased dramatically. The sun roasted the surface of the sand and she could feel the bottoms of her feet burning with each step. But, again, she did not stop and she did not look back. She wasn't just escaping her captors, she was escaping the hellish nightmare that she had lived for years. The isolation, the fear, the sadness, the desperation, all these things pushed her to take each painful step.
With no food or water, her body couldn't last very long in the punishing desert climate. The only thing seemingly keeping her alive was her will to survive. She was given the chance of freedom. She would not let this be the end of her. The night came once again and so did the cold air. Then the sun rose for a new day and so the heat.
Mina couldn't tell how long she had been walking. Her brain felt scrambled and the possibility of a heat stroke continued to grow. The only thing shielding her head was the thick cloak she had stolen. Just as she thought she may not live through this, she was given small glimmers of hope. A small cactus or creature found itself in her path. She would gain some water, find some nourishment from what she ate. It wasn't much, but it was enough to propel her forward. She used the very weapon that had killed another to continue giving her life. The further she walked, the less those moments of relief came.
It was now a week since she fled. Her skin was heavily burned from the sun. Blisters had formed all over any exposed skin, her face was pale and lips dry. She couldn't see straight. Everything was distorted from the heat bouncing off the surface of the sand. Her legs were beyond weak and she stumbled over a hidden rock. Before she could see over the edge of the dune, she found herself rolling down its side, too weak to correct herself. She watched as the world flipped over and over in her eyes and she hit the base with a thud.
She laid there momentarily and then slowly moved her limbs in a wide arc. She felt the sand under her hands, coarse and hot. But then she felt something that wasn't sand. It felt like pebbles and then blades of grass. Mina didn't have the strength to turn her head. Instead, she simply opened her eyes, giving them time to adjust. There, at the edge of her reach, was an oasis. Inside, she screamed for her body to get up. It wouldn't move. She simply didn't have the energy anymore. She thought to herself, Oh, to be so close to salvation but not have the strength to get to it. She stopped trying to force herself to get up and accepted the cruel fate that laid in front of her.
Her eyes slowly closed, drawing the final curtains to her tragic life. She saw the sun gleaming off of the surface of the pond. So close. The palm trees lining its edges. The sounds of birds chirping. So close. Just as the last sliver of sight faded to nothingness, she thought to herself that she could see an outline of something making its way towards her. She thought to herself that she would at least be a meal to something else, and they would continue on living. It finally stood over her, this silhouette of something. And when her eyes finally closed and world got dark, she thought she heard it speak.
"Don't worry. You made it."