Chapter 76: Claude de Rouvroy
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Claude felt himself straining to keep up, his blade was in constant motion. He tried all the tricks that he would use against Guy or Madeline and nothing worked. His blade was constantly on the defense. He couldn't understand how a human could move that fast without magic. It wasn't just speed, but technique as well. Even he, the supposed third greatest swordsman in Pays Des Abrutis felt like an amateur. He couldn't get a read on his opponent. His feints, his attacks, his defense it was all being picked apart. It was like all of his moves were being seen even before he thought of using them. 

Claude forcefully willed himself to push harder, to move faster, stronger movements. He pushed himself beyond his own limits. If he had made any progress in the fight he would have been thrilled, it felt like he was finally at the level where he could properly challenge Guy or Madeline. The freaks of nature that could be great at anything they put their mind to, the kind of people that didn't know what half speed meant. His sword began to sing as he sliced and thrust with all of his might. He called out, "I won't give up!" 

Claude began to feel his stamina drop as the little cuts he had been receiving started to sap his strength. He started to contemplate the very real possibility that he would lose this day. His thoughts started to drift from his swordsmanship to Alicia, would she be able to move on? He hadn't even been able to properly marry her and now he was faced with a sword that would be able to take his life. As looked at his opponent he could see the will to kill written in those piercing eyes. He desperately made a thrust that left him open for a counter attack but it was a last desperate gamble, hope for a hopeless cause. 

Claude felt the blade pass through his skin, his ribcage and then it was like he was seeing his entire life from beginning to end. He realized he had a deep regret, why hadn't he been more serious with Alicia? He hadn't really treated her the way a woman like her should be treated. Was it because in the back of his mind saw Alicia as a second prize? He loved her, but it wasn't like the passion he felt for Madeline. If only he hadn't been in the same world as a man like Guy de Montfort. He knew that he was dying and that he wouldn't be able to make it up to Alicia so he made a wish, 'I wish that Alicia could find true love.'

Claude's lifeless body fell to the ground. His opponent spit on his body and walked away. 

*****

The next day Claude's body was found on the training ground by his students. The Academy reached out to the government of Pays Des Abrutis to get the help of the royal inspector. The Council of Magic locked themselves behind closed doors to mourn for their friend. Alicia who once sparkled as the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen suddenly seemed to have aged ten years looking haggard. It was like she hadn't stopped crying since the discovery of his body. The once bubbly and vibrant woman looked as if everything had been taken from her to the point she couldn't imagine living on. 

Doreen understood the look in Alicia's eyes, but the two didn't have the kind of friendship that she felt comfortable talking with her about it. Thankfully Madeline was there to act as a bridge. Alicia's voice was hoarse and barely above a whisper, "Why would someone kill Claude? He's never been anything other than heroically good to anyone."

Guy looked somber as he said, "I don't know, this... Is it meant as a message to the Council? Could it have been Wolter? I don't know any other swordsman that could do this to Claude." 

Olivier looked grave as he said, "I checked in to it, Wolter was at the palace last night. It wasn't him." 

Alicia mumbled, "What will I do? I am a ruined woman. Who would want me?"

Madeline sat with Alicia and said, "Claude was a good man. No, a great man. It was just his time. Life will continue, you will continue." 

Doreen sat down next to Alicia and looked up at the sky and said, "I believe that when we die, we go to a better place. Like Guy, no, Aoi, did when he came here. Somewhere else, Claude is alive and waiting for you. When the time is right, you'll see him again, and he'll have stories for you, and you'll have stories for him. In the meantime, you live here and you'll be the best version of yourself you can be living freely so that when you meet him again, you'll have an amazing tale for him." 

Alicia looked up at the sky and said, "You guys, I have a confession to make. I just found out that I am pregnant. It's Claude's child."

*****

The wedding was once again postponed due to the untimely murder of Claude. The Pays Des Abrutis government decided to hold a royal procession for Claude, who was called a hero of the battle of Rouvroy, one of the Kingdom's ten great battles. A statue in his honor was erected in the same plaza as the statue for Sir Charles de Évreux. The Council of Magic all showed up in their formal attire, they saluted Claude's memory with a giant display of magic, the face of Claude de Rouvroy appeared in the sky saying goodbye.

The royal inspector couldn't find any evidence or witness as to who fought Claude so his murder remained a mystery. No one came forward to claim a large reward offered by the Ito Conglomerate for information leading to the capture of his murderer. The Council decided that they had to sit and wait until the murderer came forward or made another move. Days and weeks went by and nothing happened. Life just moved on for everyone. Alicia looked worse by the day and nothing anyone could do would help her snap out of it. 

Madeline and Guy decided to hold off on their own wedding until a long period of mourning had passed. It didn't feel right to celebrate their own union when their close friend was suffering. Guy busied himself with working on the airship while Madeline worked with the captain and his crew learning more about flying a ship like the Montgolfier. The rest of the Council taught at the Academy and studied. Ella and Doreen each score exceptionally well on the exams. Olivier took over Alicia's classes for her and that was how the first year of the Academy of Swords and Magic ended. 

 

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