Blake came spinning at a surprised Valerian. However, Valerian did not remain stunned for long. Collecting himself, he raised his mace as if about to cast a spell but at the last second, he leapt to the side instead. Tornado Blake turned and followed causing a smile to appear on Valerian’s face.
He raised his mace again and this time, he swung with murderous intent. A golden radiance covered his mace as well as his body and everyone who possessed the eyesight necessary could see the tendons in his neck stand out from the effort. He was not using any skill or spell but rather his full strength, enhanced by his qi and drawn forth by his will.
The tornado that was Blake met this attack in yet another awe-inspiring clash. However, this one did not last as long. He was batted away like a sponge ball. Shocked gasps could be heard all over the arena. Just what level of strength would it take to do that?
The shock that Blake felt was even greater. He was the one thrown around the stage after all. Barely succeeding in controlling his flight, he came out of the Sixth Drive confused and dazed. His lead foot though protected by the swirling winds ached from the impact. That was unfortunate because Valerian did not plan to let him recover. Rather, he appeared right in front of him, swinging his fists as if planning to take his head off.
Blake barely got out of the way of the first swing. Raising his own arms, he attempted to block the next. A terrible idea. An audible crack rang through the platform as his right arm shattered under the force of Valerian’s strike. Blake screamed his head off but Valerian did not even pause. Instead, he slammed his next punch into his opponent’s gut.
Spittle and blood flew out of Blake’s screaming mouth, forced out by the expelled air. He distinctly felt something in his abdomen pulp and at least two ribs fragment. Strangely, the sharp, dreadful pain also cleared his head. Now in genuine fear for his life, Blake did not even hesitate to activate the Fifth Drive: The second movement skill, [Fading Wind].
If [Rushing Wind] is a forceful advance then [Fading Wind] is an all-out retreat. Valerian was left grasping at air when his opponent’s own qi dragged him backwards and away like a fallen rider with his foot caught in the stirrups. The speed at which this took place was even faster than when Blake charged at him at the start of their battle.
However, Valerian was not slow either, like a hound who had tasted blood he went after his quarry. The burst of speed he put on surprised even the judges. It made for an interesting sight. A broken tellurian being dragged backwards in mid-air by some unseen force and the armoured arcanist following him at nearly similar speeds.
Blake stared at his pursuer. The platform was not endless and he was fast reaching its edge. Having drawn away, he quickly switched from the Fifth to Third Drive hoping to slip past Valerian. With his manoeuvrability boosted he executed a half turn and watched his opponent go by. Unable to stop himself, Valerian shot past him, going nearly two metres before he could stop and turn back.
Holding back the only curse he knew, he made another pass. He knew he had to keep the pressure up. Being relentless was one of Harry’s Principles of Attack after all. His opponent was at the end of the tether. A few more strikes and he would have settled it. However, he was finding all but impossible to lay a hand on him. One, two, three attempts, all of them failing.
Valerian was forced to admit that his current mode of attack was not going to work. Both he and his opponent possessed similar levels of speed but when using that infuriating skill, the other outstripped him in nimbleness and evasive skills.
He raised his hands, choosing instead to rain [Scything Blades] at him. As predicted, Blake dodged. The Third Drive was extremely good at avoiding those kinds of attacks. As a matter of fact, he took the opportunity to get some space between himself and Valerian. Widening the gap so that he could make one last attempt at turning the battle around.
Unexpectedly Valerian let him, choosing not to pursue. Actually, he stopped attacking altogether. The annoyed Blake, he did not want to think his opponent was taking pity on him. ‘No matter’, he thought. ‘It will all be over with this.’
With that thought, he forced his body into the Fourth Drive.
Zota’s Six Drives was an incredible art. It was a Regal ranked tellurian art but its potential and power made it stand out even in that category. For generations, the Lytaun Dojo had relied on it and a few others to maintain their position in Cragsveil. They were not one of its top ten institutions for nothing. However even in the dojo, only a few could bring out the full brilliance of the skill.
Like every other, it had its strengths and weakness. It was powerful and exceptionally suited to combat. It could also be practised by tellurians of every attribute. It brought speed and striking strength to a high pinnacle making its users tough to fight. Sadly, this was also its problem.
Zota’s Six Drives was constituted of six sustained skill modes. Two for movement, one for evasion, one supplementary and two attack. The underlying principle that tied them all together – speed. It had no defensive skills nor did result in a body that could shrug attacks. If you couldn’t evade, you were done for. If your speed was not up to par, everything suffered.
That was why despite being theoretically possible for tellurians of every attribute to practice it the Lytaun Dojo only allowed cultivators with innate attributes of wind, lightning or light to do so. These were the elements that lent themselves most easily to speed. Of these in particular, the innately wind attributed were zealously sought after.
Wind was Zota’s own attribute and the one that worked best with his techniques and style. Because of this, the ones who became the true inheritors of the technique in the dojo were the wind attributed. In truth, that was the only reason Bake was part of the dojo.
He had been an orphaned street urchin when his qi awakened and drew the attention of the main branch of the dojo which was coincidentally situated in the city he lived. His had not been the guided safe awakening that happened in temples, schools or private homes but a forceful, violent one.
He had been caught stealing. His captors being the type to take the law into their own hands, chose to enact instant justice. They beat him. Beat him so badly that his qi rushed out to save his life. He was six then. Even today, seventeen years on, he carried the scars. Thankfully, not long afterwards, an elder of the Lytaun Dojo picked him up and took him to the dojo. There he found a home. There he found family.
It could be said that he wasn’t fighting for his dojo but for his home. Even his name, Blake, was given to him by the Master. This tournament had the entire region unsettled and as the prime disciple of the Lytaun Dojo he would be remiss if he had missed it. He had to win. Their dreams, the dreams of his fellows, his master, his family had been entrusted to him and he would not fail them.
That was why he persevered through the pain and why he was going to stake everything on this last attack.
‘[Surge]’, he intoned mentally.
In response, his qi went crazy. Everyone ounce of it was squeezed out of his core and forced into his weakened flesh. This was the Fourth Drive, the supplementary one. It boosted every single parameter of the user at the cost of his qi and body. It consumed qi to push one past his or her limits and doubled the qi intensity.
To all the onlookers, he went from someone with winds swirling around his body to the eye of a storm. The wind currents whipped his surroundings leaving scars on the arena platform as well as ruffling his clothes. His eyes burned with determination and his aura was filled with it. Even the densest spectators could tell that he was going all-out for this one.
Ignoring his arm and his gut, he put one foot in front of the other, running at Valerian. Leaping into the air, he entered the Sixth Drive once more. Just before the first revolution was completed, his eyes made out Valerian’s face and the smile it had.
The first thought that flashed through Valerian’s head when he first saw Blake turn into a horizontal tornado was, ‘That skill can be used laterally?’ The second was, ‘How does he see in that thing?’
The answer to that was, he didn’t. Valerian knew it was impossible to do so when you were spinning at such speeds. So how did Blake find his way around? Valerian tested the one he would use if he was in his shoes. He swung his mace, pulsing his arcane energy. However, Blake did not show any response. That meant he did not navigate by sensing energy.
That option eliminated, Valerian dodged the twister. Following expectations, Blake turned, chasing him and proving that he could find his way despite being in the centre of the tornado. Valerian nearly showered him with wind blades when he remembered what happened last time. Then, the solution hit him.
Blake was constantly sucking up air from his surroundings. That was how he knew where everything was. He was feeling his way using the air currents. Right then, Valerian knew how to beat the technique. Unfortunately, he had no time to do so. He was forced to defend before he got shredded and after he focused on countering.
Nevertheless, upon realising that he couldn’t catch his opponent he let him open the distance and prepare. Like he predicted, Blake again used his tornado technique. Valerian couldn’t help but smile thinking, ‘He was at the end of his rope but refused to fall. I gave him space and he hanged himself with it.’
‘It’s time to remind everyone of what I am!’ he added.
The flaw in the tornado skill was that used that way, wind can only detect physical objects with accuracy. They are the things that influence the air currents the most. What Valerian was planning on using was something that air would not detect because it would not disturb it.
The moment, he saw the technique start, Valerian raised his hands and grasped the air. Concentrating deeply, he begun to draw an array using metal essence. Glyphs flew from his hands, arranging themselves in front of him in the configuration he needed. Once the circle was complete, Valerian enlarged and activated it.
The crowd watched mesmerised. Most had never even seen an array master at work before. Even those amongst them who were more familiar with the art were startled by his display. Everyone watched breaths caught as the tornado that was Blake neared the array.
The space separating Valerian and Blake was large but one the latter would cover in less than four seconds. Somehow, Valerian managed to complete and activate a two-metre diameter array in that time with a second and a half to spare.
Most figured it was some sort of shield. Others held that it was a technique or spell of some sort. None of them had a chance to confer or even voice their ideas. To do so would mean missing the action happening in front of them.
Tornado Blake touched the array. It shone brightly and he went through it!
Before anyone could exclaim or even lament its failure, everyone noticed that that the tornado was gone. The winds lasted maybe half a second before dispersing but what was most eye-catching was Blake himself. He came out of the other side of the array somehow shorn of his wind drill. He continued to spin true but that was just from the leftover momentum.
Crashing heavily at Valerian’s feet, Blake was surprised to find himself staring at the sky and at his opponent. The impact jarred his wounds causing him to cough up blood. Sadly, it could not leave his bound mouth. He had been gagged. Even worse, he could not move a muscle. Metal bands, twenty centimetres wide, locked him in place, not only trapping him but also supressing his qi.
Valerian placed the head of his mace on his opponent’s chest, sealing his victory. The array he’d drawn: [Iron Clad Bindings] had worked exactly as planned. A wide smile split his face as the referee announced his win and the healers at the side of the arena rushed to cart his helpless opponent away.
The crowd roared, showering him with cheers and applause. Meanwhile, in the minds of nearly everyone run a single thought.
‘So this is what array masters are capable of!’
Magistrate Valan Steelborn sat in his office. The Zebre was a busy time for him. So many issues and civil disputes. Too many drunkards, gamblers and muscle heads roamed the streets already in his opinion. Why did everyone have to join their ranks every year? However, he was nearly done for the day. Once that happened, he could go home and rest.
Cheers came from the arena. So raucous that despite the distance, he could hear them through his window. Shaking his head, he focused on the files on his desk. Another fight must have ended then. He tried to lose himself in his work knowing it would go quicker that way when a knock came at his door.
“Enter!” he called out.
A clerk came in to let him know his presence was needed again. He sighed tiredly and got up. Shrugging his heavy official robes onto his shoulders, he went to settle yet another case. Yet another one of a group fighting because of a defaulted bet. He was making his way to take his seat when he heard someone say;
“Hey! Isn’t that the grandfather of that guy who won this morning?”
Valan’s head spun so fast a crack came from his neck.