A special midnight release!
Please join me in celebrating the passing of September 2016. The most worrisome month of this year from my experience. Let us pray that this October will be better and that I have learnt enough from my September mistakes to not commit them again.
Hmmm. I think I pour out some libation for my ancestors as well. Hopefully, they’ll see it fitting to help out.
Chapter Forty-three: A Sporty Wager I
A few thousand years ago there were no DriftClouds. At the very least, their line had not been established yet. However, a young mercenary would make a discovery in the forgotten ruins of an ancient cultivators’ sect and in doing so, open the doors to becoming one of the major powers in the region.
What he discovered was a movement skill known as the [Wind Borne Cloud]. An incredible mid-ranked Exalted technique created by an ancient expert that sought to touch the pinnacle of speed as well as evasion. His use of it would earn him the title “Drift Cloud” and with time that title would become his surname and following that, the name of his lands.
As for the method that spawned it, it would become the foundation of his family. A legacy to be handed down the generations, that it might ensure their success just as surely as it did his.
What little is known about the [Wind Borne Cloud] encompasses two points. One that it was created using the principles and concept of a cloud in the sky. The user becomes like one himself; ephemeral, nigh insubstantial, formless, buoyant, wind powered, etc.
The second is that despite being a movement skill it has incredible offensive capabilities. At its core, it might be focused on evasion and movement but none should forget that clouds aren’t harmless. They are chaotic bundles of elemental forces and are very often heralds of the destruction that is storms. It is also highly compatible with many weapons skills whilst boosting the power of wind-related ones.
To the people of DriftCloud, [Wind Borne Cloud] is not just a godly technique it is also an unbeatable one. There are no others that even come within two full ranks of it. Then again, no one knew the ranks of [Steel Monolithic Art] or even knew of the [Manifold Elemental Incarnations]. The Steelborns would never broadcast such sensitive information.
Valerian’s task at the moment was how to counter this problem: How to beat a technique widely recognised as unbeatable? He understood the reasoning behind the assertion. Speed did trump strength when used correctly but had he expected his opponent to be so much faster than him? Certainly not!
Plus, there was something strange about the technique. Valerian’s senses, his eyesight, in particular, were exceptionally good. He could see and track Kalian’s movements. True, he was not fast enough to make good use of it or even react fast enough but there was something else that bothered him. The blurry image he kept seeing when his opponent moved.
Blurs only happen when an object moves too fast for your eyes to properly capture it. However, Valerian’s eyes were fully capable of tracking and following his opponent’s movements. Even so, the blur persisted, distorting his view of his opponent’s body.
‘Is that another effect of his technique?’ he wondered. ‘Perhaps a way of disguising his movements and making it even harder for him to track or anticipate?’
He was forced to abandon his thoughts and focus on the battle at hand. Why? Kalian had blurred forward. His treasured blade caught the sunlight when he swung it at Valerian but Valerian was prepared. He had recognised the solution even before coming to the arena today.
The only way to beat Kalian was to rob him of his mobility.
With his [Valiant Armour] strained from the arcane energy he had poured into it, Valerian reached his hand out to catch the blade. His qi surged, filling up his body and pushing it to his greatest state. This was a battle that required his all. Unfortunately, his opponent did not meet him head-on.
In a strange drifting motion, Kalian went sideways, resulting in his actual position being a little to the left of Valerian. Valerian had to think fast. Regrettably, despite himself, he was unable to get his body to move well enough or fast enough to execute the action he wished to.
Kalian’s sword struck his armour and glanced off it. Instead of stopping, he sped up circling Valerian and raining hit after hit on him. It didn’t matter what Valerian tried. He was simply unable to keep up with his opponent. Nonetheless, with his defence he was able to endure the barrage somewhat. Focusing on maintaining his shields, he began to lay the groundwork for another ploy.
Then something caught his eye. A spurt of anger shot from his heart. His plan was driven from his mind in that moment. With a cry, he released a massive pulse of arcane energy sending his opponent flying away. The bastard had been hitting him with the back of the blade!
Immediately after doing so, Valerian regretted it. He had just wasted an opportunity to mount a counterstrike. Even so, the indignity his opponent had visited on him remained in his mind making his expression darken.
Determined to make the best of the situation, he pursued Kalian. The expelled energy had carried a lot of force knocking him back. Regrettably, the bastard was none the worse for wear. He actually hung in the air for a bit, floating down lightly like a falling leaf with a mocking smile on his face.
Seeing that smile made Valerian push himself just that much harder, forcing his qi to circulate as fast as possible whilst pushing his body enhancement to near unsafe levels. The effects of that could clearly be seen. He shot off like a stone from a sling, disturbing the coarse sand on the fighting platform. His target? Kalian of course.
Reaching the bastard, he swung his fist infusing it with all his murderous intent, hoping it would shatter his face. It was dodged but he expected that. He kept up the attacks delivering blow after blow with that same intent and ferocity yet, none of them connected. Kalian remained just a few centimetres out of range, somehow shifting positions in the most unpredictable ways.
Valerian felt his anger rising but he shoved it down. He had to keep level-headed. He kept his eyes open trying to figure out his opponent’s secrets and weaknesses. Thankfully, the idiot was happy to keep up the display. No doubt, he was glad to put on a show for the people watching. After a few more attacks, Valerian began to notice a pattern.
What’s more, he could sense the qi his opponent was slowly releasing into his surroundings. At first, he believed it to be the reason he blurred when he moved but its true purpose was more insidious. Valerian wasn’t sure how but it was the secret to Kalian’s evasive abilities. The qi stirred the air around his body something Valerian would never have noticed if not for his arcane abilities. He continued his unrelenting assault, watching how it reacted in the hopes of understanding it.
However, Kalian had grown tired of being so passive. The current scene was becoming stale anyway. So he acted. His form shimmered in the air. Whilst everyone stared intensely not wanting to miss what was coming next, he moved swiftly and stealthily, circling Valerian and attempting a brutal backstab.
Imagine his surprise when just when he was extending his sword, another massive pulse of arcane energy pushed him away. Startled, he rushed backwards a further three metres. Valerian turned to face him. Refusing to let his shock show Kalian straightened himself and begun clapping
“Well done! You have good instincts. This young lord is becoming more and more impressed”.
Valerian said nothing. From the corner of his eyes, he saw the Kalian that had been in front of him fade away. ‘An afterimage’, his mind supplied. That had been dangerous. The bastard was truly skilled. In addition, his technique was just too good.
Valerian had gotten too used to seeing the blur whenever Kalian moved. Thus, he was unprepared when Kalian seeming slipped out of himself and tried to get behind him. One Kalian blurred forwards, swiping at him with his sword. The other however had no blur. In fact, Valerian had not even been sure he was real at first. If he hadn’t noticed that the one attacking was fake he might have been…
Tellurian afterimage skills aren’t like their natural counterparts. Often when an object moved too fast for the eye to see, it deceived the eye into thinking it was standing still. Only after some moments pass that the person would realise that the object wasn’t where he thought it was. That is how natural afterimages worked. Tellurian skills are different.
For one thing, it is impossible to leave a natural afterimage intentionally. To do so required moving faster than your opponent could track. How would you know the correct speed to move at? How would you know if your opponent could track you? How would you know if it worked?
What’s more, the answers to these questions would differ from situation to situation and opponent to opponent. For example, creating an afterimage to deceive a normal person would be completely different from doing so to a cultivator.
What tellurian skills that created afterimages do is that they create impressions from the user’s qi. Depending on the kind and rank of the skill, you could create images with a variety of effects. Valerian had even read of skills that made images which had substance and were capable of attacking independently. Mercifully, Kalian’s image had been illusory allowing Valerian to detect its true nature.
It worried him. He had gotten drawn into his opponent’s rhythm, a taboo according to both the [Arts of Harry and Clude]. He begun taking what he saw to be the standard yet back then, Kalian had moved without a blur making him harder for people who looked out for the blur to see him. He even supressed his presence and increased his speed.
Looking at the melodramatic DriftCloud, still speaking a lot about nothing, he came to a conclusion. ‘I have to be more careful’.
Meanwhile Kalian was saying. “…is now curious. How will you fare if I increased the difficulty slightly?”
Valerian only took note of his words only when he saw him blurring again. This time, three images appeared. Each one stepped out of the central figure. Valerian kept his eye on them keeping track of the real one. Given that Kalian did not know he could track him, it was best to keep it that way until he figured out a way to use that to his advantage.
This time, all four of them blurred as they came at him together. They moved in irregular patterns, often crossing each other’s paths to confuse him. After rushing about with no proper pattern, one came at him from the left. It was not the real one but Valerian chose to block it anyway. When he struck it, it dispersed. Turning into smoke that swirled around him and tried block his sight.
‘Shit!’ Valerian cursed but his opponent’s attacks were already upon him.
The same pattern as before repeated itself. Only this time, Kalian was being more careful. He did not hit him as much but each hit was more than twice as powerful. He began to beat Valerian, pummelling him in an attempt to get through his spells and armour.
Valerian ignored him. He could take the beating. This time he would not waste the opportunity it provided. For the first time since the battle started, Valerian smiled. His spell was ready. A rumbling filled the air. It was the only warning Kalian and the watchers received, for the next moment, the sky fell onto the stage.
This fight was supposed to end with this chapter but the chapter was too long (little over four thousand words). I had to cut it. Sorry. I couldn’t summarize it without losing a lot of what I wanted to portray.