A body, clad in black hit the ground.
He quickly had to spring up again for the followup attack Choi Han could already feel in the air. And just as he had predicted, as he rolled away and hopped to his feet again, a stone spear pierced the earth where he had just been.
The spears end was blunt, but it would have still left a bruise, even if it could have been healed quickly later.
Choi Han was on edge, the adrenaline coursing through his veins as he parried another attack. It was rather weak but quick. Not quicker than him, but relentless.
A laugh escaped him.
He wanted to use his aura. Desperately so. The need to have it come out and slice across the ground was itching beneath his skin. He wanted so desperately to coat his blade in it, where it belonged. Wrap his body in the attribute that described his core.
He wanted to let himself out.
But his opponent saw the black flaring around the edges of Choi Han's sword and immediately shot him down.
“No, Choi Han!”
As another stone spear flew at him, which he had to doge. Despite his desperate want, the order of his liege had to be obeyed.
Choi Han was sparring with Cale.
It had started a while ago, when the swordmaster had approached the red haired noble. When he had initiated one of the few talks they have had in korean. When he simply missed his old world and wanted to reminisce a bit with the only person who truly understood.
They didn’t do it often, since they were also only rarely alone together.
But it happened every now and then. One time, Choi Han had brought up an old memory of not himself, but one he had received of Choi Jung Soo.
“You two used to sparr a lot.”
“Of course we did, we both started as rookies at the same time in the company.”
“What for? You have more than plenty of sparring partners more adequate than me.”
“It's true you did get dreadfully thin. Maybe a bit of training would be actually good for-.”
“Don’t even start Choi Han.”
Cale had cut him off, but the Korean could only chuckle.Then their talk evolved a bit around life at the company. It was usually hard for Cale to talk about, or remember it. But like this he was able to. When he had a conversation partner who always steered him back towards the cheerful moments.
This time Cale was able to talk about how he had become the new Teamleader and how he had to keep proving himself to stay it for the next ten years. Not to his actual company, but to the guildmasters and unfairly strong individuals around them.
“I had to fight them quite often, muscle brains every single one of them.”
Cale scoffed again, less fond as when he did it in reply to Choi Han.
“I would have liked to see it, although it would have been hard to see Cale-nim losing.”
“Oh, I wasn't losing.”
At that Cale grinned. A small and sly one, that stole itself on his face. But Choi Han saw it even if it was just a minute change in his usually stoic expression. A shiver ran down his back
“I never enter a fight to lose it.”
“You know… now I really want to spar with you.”
“Not that again.”
“Fine, but just once.”
“Please Cale-nim, just- huh?”
“You heard me, don’t make me take it back.”
Choi Han’s eyes grew wide. Had Cale-nim really? He did! Choi Han was afraid to open his mouth less he broke whatever had driven his liege to accept this quickly.
But that was how it had started.
Needless to say it hadn't stayed a one time thing. Choi Han found out the hard way that Cale had been very serious when he didn’t say he never entered a fight to loose. And it had been too quick for the sword master to even tell how he lost.
Needless to say he wanted a rematch. And then another and then another. And Cale was too weak to say no to the giant puppy begging for him. He hated workouts, but in a way...this was fun. And the way he fought he wasn't expending much energy anyways.
Most of Cale's effort came from extending his mind, planning and thinking ahead. Then executing with minimal movement. What helped was that he was allowed to use his ancient powers, albeit limited (nobody wanted to see him cough up blood, even when he didn’t see how he could possibly over extend himself during some spar for fun.) and Choi Han wasn’t allowed to use his aura.
But lately, the swordsman had been itching and pleading to lift his handicap.
Cale didn’t let him. The gap between them was closing scarily fast anyway, he doubted he even stood a chance to lift his spear if Choi Han was allowed to extend his aura for long ranged attacks and wide area swipes.
He was just a normal person after all. He didn’t even really get how they could sparr rather equally like this. He knew of course. He knew Choi Han's fighting style, even if the latter always adapted quickly like the crazy bastard he was.
Another stone spear was thrown and blocked. Then another charge.
So far their sparring had become very even battles, with Cale still, but only slightly ahead. They had somehow achieved a balance in this state, whenever one of them gained speed the other would adapt with a new pattern again. It was a back and forth of both of them getting better.
Cale liked winning and Choi Han didn't care about losing, as long as he could get his workout, so it was a good balance in the redhead’s opinion.
But lately his black haired sparring partner was more and more itching to remove his handicap, even asking so in the middle of battle.
Just like right now.
“Cale-nim, pleas- Ack!”
another heavy hit. The swordsman evaded the frontal attack, but got sidestepped and Cale's foot managed to sweep his legs away from under him.
Choi Han found himself on his back once again. Breathing heavily as long red hair pushed into his view from above.
“You shouldn't talk in the middle of a fight.”
Choi Han was about to get up and request a rematch, when slim arms pinned his down.
“No, I need a break.”
They were both only barely catching their breath. Cale was really baffled by the relentlessness of this stamina monster.
“Why won’t you let me use my aura?”
“Why do you keep insisting on it?”
Huff huff. They both returned to only panting heavy breaths.
Cale really didn't know. He just had his team leader prowess and a bit of big battle experience in this world. In most of those he hadn't even fought himself and only directed the battles.
Meanwhile Choi Han always fought head on in the front. He had been the protagonist of The Birth of a Hero for a reason. He wasn't just serious hero material, he was capable, smart and most of all unfairly strong.
What had Cale to match that, that the swordmaster kept insisting going all out against him?
Sure Cale himself was hailed as a hero across continents, but that was only because the commander tended to get all the spotlight. He was only the strategist giving orders, while Choi Han, Rosalyn, Mary, Ron and Beacrox and all the others did the actual work.
Cale to this day believed he hadn't done enough to push all fame back onto them.
Choi Han couldn't read thoughts. But he knew his liege enough to read his expression. The minute changes on the always stoic face. The slightest twitch of delicate eyebrows towards a frown. The tiny pursing of soft, pale lips.
Cale was thinking useless, self deprecating thoughts again.
Choi Han didn't even want to know, so he pushed upwards and reversed their position. This time looking down on Cale, who had quickly tightened his grip on Choi Han’s arms due to suddenly being moved. Choi Han was still mindful however, not to push his liege into the dirt and kept Cale elevated with a hand supporting his back.
“I- Cale-nim you push me to the point where I have to actively force my aura back down. Not only that, you give me enough of a challenge that i really *want* to use it.”
“That Challenge will vanish if you use aura, I won't stand a chance.”
“I don’t think so and even if, we can at least try and go back to now if it doesn't work.”
Cale knew he was fighting a losing battle. He always was against this pleading puppy. Just like how their sparring matches had started in the first place.
A heavy sigh left him. Choi Han was still looking at him expectantly and Cale knew how he would answer. He just wanted to stall a bit more out of spite.
“...fine, but I want my break first, carry me.”
“Of course Cale-nim!”
Choi Han beamed at him.
‘Ack so bright.’
Was all Cale could think, before the strong arms picked him up with deft movements. One thing Cale had to admit, among all the unfair cheats this protagonist had, not getting dirty while practically rolling in the ground was the most unfair. But also the most useful when it was somehow extended to him. How that one arm had been enough, he wouldn't even question.
So Cale simply relaxed as the puppy like swordmaster practically sprinted over to their shaded rest area and gently put the redhead down, fetching him water in the same movement.
Cale valued efficiency and gave the excited puppy a pat on the head. Only scrunching his nose slightly, since the beaming happiness made up for his hand getting wet from the sweaty hair.
Was all Cale said matter of factly.
“That does tend to happen.”
The redhead felt like smacking Choi Han, but then again being able to talk this freely was rather nice. It showed how far they had come in their comradery. Choi Han talking back with not a small amount of snark was a big contrast to their first year, where the swordmaster followed Cale blindly and only ever smiled innocently hiding away his vicious side.
It was useless of course since Cale knew from the start how brutal this punk could be. But by now Cale also felt more and more that the innocence of his puppy knight was more real as well. He really was innocent in many regards.
Just like those innocent puppy eyes Choi Han kept using to increasingly scary efficiency. Which was also why Cale started calling him puppy in his mind. It had started as well after Choi Han got Choi Jung Soo's memories and Cale was well able to draw the connection.
He wanted to smack his best friend for that one. Teaching Choi Han about the hidden, most devastating power of the Choi family.
Cale let out a groan as he lifted himself up and stepped out from the shade of the tree. Handing the water bottle back to Choi Han he stretched once, before heading back to their training field. Beckoning the swordmaster to follow, who happily did so. Cale resisted the urge to slouch in contrast to the spring in the swordmaster's step.
“Might as well get it over with.”
Surprisingly it was Cale who requested a rematch immediately.
The gap between Choi Han not using aura and finally being allowed to was actually not as severe as the redhead had thought.
It had been the first match he had lost, but his mind was already adjusting to the new variable, eager to try again and regain his winning streak.
Cale had never been competitive, there was simply no point to such a trivial thing. But right now he was itching to try again. He knew Choi Han, knew his fighting style and his patterns. Even if he switched it up according to Cale’s responses.
Cale could no longer rely on getting distance between him and the swordmaster, who now could attack with quite the unfair range. But already there were new strategies forming, new ways to evade and strike back.
Cale’s fingertips were itching to try them out, his insides bustling with excitement at the challenge. Was this what Choi Han had felt before? Cale had to make sure to not let his excitement slip and keep his usual stoic expression.
It would be unbecoming for him if others noticed and wanted to rope him into actual work outs or training with them. It would be terrible.
Choi Han couldnt imagine being happier. Of course he was happiest in quiet moments together with his new family. When they were sitting with the children who talked about all the new things they discovered.
But right now this was different.
Right now he could fight with everything he had, with his aura. He could fight being himself and let loose all without a threat to sour the experience.
Long since he had loathed what he had become inside the forest of darkness. Forced to fight for survival, to become brutal, to embrace his despair. Until it became a part of him. He always felt like it was a part he had to suppress when he was with his family.
It was when he was taken in at his second family in Harris village and how he felt the first two years with Cale.
That he always had to hide the bit of madness, of inhumanity inside. He didn’t like how strong he was in times of peace. It always served as a reminder that his experiences had forced him to become different. Experiences he had never asked for.
Yet in times of conflict, when they fought wars and the white trash, he was always pushing himself and relied on this strength. It was his way of protecting what was important to him. So he kept training.
It was what he was good at.
But with his new family he long since didn’t have to bury part of himself anymore. They were all more accepting than he ever could have hoped for.
And still he had to hold back.
Not when sparring against the dragons or the strongest members of their group. But everyone had lives now. Everyone had other things they were good at instead of fighting. Things they wanted to focus on in times of peace.
Choi Han had never had a stable sparring partner. One with whom he could train together, growing in equal measures.
He himself had never expected to find that in Cale. He had been the one to request it, yes. But even Choi Han had thought it would be nothing more than a one time thing. A fun match after which Cale would complain endlessly and never move again.
And fun it had been, but it had ended with Choi Han on the floor completely worked out.
He loved sparring with Cale, he could feel himself growing. But not out of need, but because he wanted to, because it was fun. But he had to repress himself again by handicapping himself as per Cale’s request.
But no more. Cale had finally allowed it. Finally Choi Han could let the darkness inside him roar freely. If this was just a one time thing he would use it to its fullest.
But then Cale had been the one to request a rematch. The small twitch of his fingers and slight curve of his lips not going unnoticed to the ever perceptive swordmaster.
Choi Han laughed.
And so they fought again. Sparred until the sun began to set and the smell of dinner wrafted over. Luckily they were always relatively undisturbed when they stayed with only the children, Ron and Beacrox at the super rock villa, or the villa in Harris village. Or even Raon’s black castle.
Usually the children would help the dragons develop some new spells together with Rosalyn, or explore other areas, doing their own thing.
Apparently today they had watched the clashing waves of black aura that had swept through the forest of darkness. Initially alarmed but then surprised to see their human holding his ground and requesting more.
They had not believed their eyes and ears and yet here they were. Time had passed without anyone noticing, until Beacrox impatiently called for dinner.