Sorry this chapter is only coming out now. I was forced to spend a day at the hospital. Don’t worry, it’s nothing too serious. I’ll be fine with some rest. In the meantime, here’s your chapter.
Chapter Fifty-one: Auspicious Cloud Divine Body
“You have?” Reynard asked in confusion.
“Yes!” Valerian answered dryly.
“I see…” Reynard said with some confusion. “Well… It was nothing like me, I assure you”, Reynard recovered. “I have a divine body, an auspicious cloud divine body.”
Valerian could not stop his face from twitching. A divine body? The same kind creatures moulded by Verre were supposed to have? That would mean he was born with the favour of heaven and earth. No wonder he was so full of himself.
“Never heard of it”, he found himself saying in response. “What does it do?”
Reynard smiled. “Here! Let me show you!”
The purple cloud at his feet billowed outwards covering the sky above the battlefield with a strange light that gave it the hues of sunset. Valerian’s facial expression changed completely. He had discovered that the more the clouds propagated, the weaker his connection to the surrounding world essence became. In fact, he could feel this new field begin to constrict and suppress him. He did not hesitate. Reynard barely caught his movement as his [Rending Talons] came out and tore at him. Unfortunately, Reynard had protections of his own. The elemental dragons surged forward to protect him.
Valerian did not slow in the slightest. His talons cut straight through the first even as he slipped beneath the second and made to circle his opponent. The area was soon filled with writing serpentine shadows and golden blurs. Valerian growled. It didn’t matter how many times he cut them down, the dragons were not alive and thus couldn’t die. They also refused to let him close to Reynard. He had even tried attacking the strange relics that floated in their translucent bodies but as if intelligent, the elemental dragons made sure to keep them too out of his reach.
The strange sunset field was consolidating itself, causing Valerian to feel even more cut off from the world essence around him. He had to act fast. Taking a step forward in the air, Valerian flapped his wings, blurring towards his quarry. Taking an elevated position, Valerian rained spells down on Reynard. [Wind Scythes], [Heart-seeking Bolts] and [Scything Blades], enough to light the sky with flashes of cyan and golden light poured down on his enemy.
Unluckily, his opponent was fully prepared to receive him. A brown force field sprang up around him to defend against Valerian’s onslaught. In the end, Valerian was the one forced to retreat. The closer he got to Reynard, the more powerful the suppressive effect of the strange cloud field was. Valerian could tell that right before he fled, his spells held barely two thirds their full power.
“Why are you here, Reynard?” Valerian asked, voicing a question he had often pondered over.
“Excuse me?” Reynard asked in confusion.
“What are you doing in Strapping’s?” Valerian asked again.
“I can’t think of a single reason why someone like you would be here. You do not come from a military family. You do not appear to have aspirations towards the service and quite frankly, there’s nothing here for you. Your techniques, abilities, weapons and even divine body are better than anything this centre could reasonably offer you. You don’t need the resources. I’ve been to your barracks. You use nearly three times what the school offers us.”
“I truly, don’t understand”, Valerian admitted. “Why are you here?”
“You’re more intelligent than I thought Valerian”, Reynard said with a small smile. “However, you’re slightly wrong. I do have aspirations towards military service just not in the way you think.”
“It is true! I don’t quite enjoy being subject to the whim and commands of others but it’s all worth it when you think about the fact that in a couple of years, others will be the ones subject to mine. I am the third son of my father, Valerian. It means that whiles I might enjoy fame and wealth throughout my life, I will still inherit nothing. Nothing substantial at least”, he said with a frown.
“There are ways around that. I could fight my brothers for the position of heir. I could pester my father for a share of the estate. Or…I could build my own”, he said, his eyes shining with ambition.
“I come from a great clan. A surer foundation, you’ll never find in Bathar!” he declared. “I have a divine body, Valerian. An incredible one. I am someone who is destined to rise to the top of this era, a dragon amongst men. Is there anything I cannot do? Clearly, my path was laid out for me. Sadly, my only problem is also my greatest strength: my divine body.
“Despite how powerful it is I have no idea how to truly make use of it. My father searched everywhere and eventually, he found a clue. Four hundred years ago, there was a military officer with a similar divine body. A rain cloud divine body. Unfortunately, he is dead now so I cannot ask him for any help. I can, however, ask the next best thing. It turns out he was sworn brothers with none other than Lord Marshal Strapping.”
“You’re here to catch Lord Strapping’s eye”, Valerian realised.
“Quite so”, Reynard said with a smile. “If anyone knows anything about cloud divine bodies, it would be Rain Cloud’s sworn brother. Once that happens…”
“Reynard!” Valerian interrupted with a sigh. He could tell where this was going. He had found out what he needed and he had made his choice, he couldn’t sit here chatting. Best move on with it. His squad was counting on him.
“Let’s just fight!” he told the dandy. “The talking can come later.”
“Right!” Reynard agreed. “Have at thee!”
The cry was so unexpected, Valerian nearly got hit by the attack that followed. He dropped from the sky, allowing three massive arcs of sharp wind to pass over his head. Gulping at the close save, he resolved to always make sure he was the one to attack first especially when he was the one who broke off peaceful discussions. However, it wasn’t completely his fault. This [Auspicious Cloud Divine Space] was inhibiting his senses, his command over the wind and even his flying abilities.
The peng within him seethed at being constrained in the sky. It refused to be stifled in its own domain. Valerian found himself hesitating. He could feel some sort of instinct trying to express itself but he wasn’t sure whether to let it. Thus, he had engaged Reynard in conversation whilst he puzzled it out. Choosing to trust his instincts, he gathered an extremely large portion of his essence. Then, moving his wings in an esoteric pattern, he blasted it all out, using a technique he had only used once before.
[Scattering the Clouds]
The technique was like an omnidirectional wave of pure force, shoving everything away from its user. The so-called divine space shuddered mightily as the clouds that constituted it were blasted apart and a giant hole was torn in it. The whole thing nearly collapsed causing Reynard’s face to become extremely pale. He had suffered a backlash from having his divine space nearly destroyed.
Valerian panted slightly, staring in awe at the destruction he had wreaked. He never thought using [Scattering the Clouds] would be this effective. Now he felt that it didn’t matter what it was, so long as his wings were fed enough power they could repel anything. He now had two choices, press his advantage or…
Reynard felt like he had been clobbered by a colossus. His auspicious divine space hung in tatters around the edge of the battlefield, slowly recovering. Forcing some pills down his throat, he looked at Valerian, real fear finally appearing on his face. No one had ever broken from it before. Escaped it? Once or twice. Been too powerful to be suppressed by it? Sure. But someone on the same tier as him outright destroying it? Before today, he would have said it was impossible.
Quickly, he cancelled the technique. It looked like that attack had taken a lot from his opponent but who knew if it was a ruse. He gathered his clouds and used a different attack, [Dragon Rides the Clouds]. His three elementals dragons coiled around him, merging and wrapping him tightly to form a cloak of pure draconic power. The auspicious purple cloud at his feet became denser and rose in certain places, attaching itself to his limbs and forming a long trail that stretched out behind him.
Seeing this, Valerian actually, wondered if he had made the wrong choice. Too bad, the matter was out of his hands now. This time it was Reynard who attacked and he did so with gusto. He slammed his palms into the air over and over again with each strike releasing a giant ball of flame shaped like a dragons head. Despite having three elements at his disposal, he knew full well that fire was his best bet and so pressed his advantage.
In response, Valerian displayed some of his best flying yet. He was like a mirage, never where he was supposed to be and at other times he was a simple streak of gold, flashing across Reynard’s eyes. It didn’t matter what he did. Reynard couldn’t land a strike. Close to a hundred of those draconic fireballs had been fired off and Valerian has yet to get so much as singed. Even attacks that Reynard was sure hit had done nothing and yet he continued to fire them off without a care for his energy expenditure.
Just then, one of his earings flashed hot, carrying a very loud scream to Reynard’s ear.
“Boss! Help! HE’S…” was all Tanning managed before his transmission cut off.
Reynard was surprised. Keeping an eye on his opponent, he tried calling his subordinate back but received no response. Like he feared, Valerian sensed that something had gone wrong and chose that moment to attack him. A draconic head rose from his shroud, hissing menacingly in warning. Reconsidering, Valerian backed off, a spell building up in his hands instead.
“Leader! It’s the Steelborn! He got Tanning! You’ve got to stop him, he’s…” all he heard next was a strange gurgling sound.
Stunned, Reynard looked at the Valerian charging up the spell. A conclusion came to him then but he shook it from his mind ‘Impossible!’ he exclaimed. There was no way. In spite of this, he was shaken, completely ignoring the spellwork being done in front of him, he dove to the ground before shooting off towards the sounds of battle.
‘When did we drift this far?’ he asked himself, realising how far away he was. His entire expression had changed. He was sure of it now. He had been played for a fool. The Valerian he had been fighting was just an illusion!
Valerian pulled his talons from the last elite’s throat. He had been very lucky and yet not so lucky at the same time. For all his power, Reynard wasn’t very perceptive. [Illusionary Strike] was practically invented to take advantage of people like that. With it Valerian could bring to life or conceal anything he wished, so long as he could do it right. He couldn’t magic up a dragon. Well, not a believable one at least but himself and the techniques he had used so many times? That was easy. Everyone knew he could duplicate attacks and even clone himself for a short period. No one had seen this yet.
Creating a clone to lead Reynard away whilst he went back to help his squad hadn’t been easy but it was worth it. Valerian did not forget himself. He wasn’t here to fight Reynard. He was here to lead Squad Two in their mission to eliminate Squad Four. Last he saw them, his men were at a disadvantage. Each of the ‘elite’ was incredibly powerful. Further boosted by Reynard’s intent and benedictions they became even more so making them a match for at least two of his squad at a time. Leading Reynard away accomplished two things.
First, it took his squad out of the range of his intent and second, it gave him the chance to ambush and remove the core threats to his squad. The Tarrema’rna had already been taken out which was good. However, the two left were also the combat oriented elite of Squad Four. They were bound to be more dangerous than the others.
The first attack was foiled. Despite being covered in an illusion he had been discovered by the sword-wielding elite. How that happened was beyond him. His quarry had been engaged in battle against not one but three members of his squad, James, Pugio and Raphael. His sword qi was filled with a sharp intent that overwhelmed James own and his sharp eyes kept track of Pugio wherever he went.
The moment Valerian drew close he sensed it. He wasn’t able to avoid the attack completely but he did succeed in only losing an arm to Valerian’s [Rending Talons]. That was all the opening they needed. With a swing so fast it showed up as a band of white, sword qi left James’ sword and chopped off Tanning’s head.
Now, Valerian had to move fast. He had been exposed. Already, the last elite was quick to take measures to warn his leader. Too late! Valerian’s talons were already in his throat. Seconds later, Reynard was in front of him.
“YOU!” The dandy ground out, clearly infuriated.
“Yes, Me!” Valerian said with a proud smile.
“I’ll make you pay for this!” Reynard yelled in his face.
With the elite gone, it would only take a minute or two for his squad to mop away the remaining member of Squad Four. Should he feel ashamed? Of course not! This was what he wanted. All he had left to do was eat this dragon. A predatory smile came over Valerian’s face as he took in Reynard’s strong draconic aura.
‘Dragon amongst men’, he recalled the boy calling himself. ‘Good!’ he said to himself. ‘It’s been a while since I ate a dragon.’
Truthfully, Valerian had been struggling to hold himself back this entire time. Reynard’s dragons had real draconic qi! If his will had been any weaker Valerian was sure to have drained the relics they spawned from dry after the first contact. Then, Reynard had to go and reveal this form. If Valerian let him go this time, he would be shaming his ancestors. Food had delivered itself to him. The only thing left was eat in a way that did not expose his unique traits. Luckily, Valerian had had time to think up a plan.
“You know”, he began. “My clan is in possession of a very powerful array. A dragon-power array. I only had a chance to study its core aspect, the first circle and I’ve been looking for a chance to test it ever since. Thanks for volunteering!” he told Reynard.
“[Dragon Power Array]. There’s such a thing?” Reynard asked in confusion.
“It channels and converts draconic energies. Why don’t you find out?” Valerian said thrusting his right hand forward.
His mercurial orb appeared, floating in its customary place behind him. Valerian made sure not to use it too much. It was trump. He couldn’t have his opponents coming up with countermeasures too soon. This time, however, it was a necessary part of his camouflage. Tendrils of silver grew from the orb flowing over his shoulder and along his right arm. Once they got to his outstretched palm they formed several glyphs all of which floated off to hand around Valerian twinkling in the air like silver stars.
Reynard’s face paled. Not taking any chances he attacked. This time, he went for the kill. [Judgement of the Qilin]. A massive beast began to take shape in front of him. Its body was composed of earth. Fire licked its flesh forming strange and wondrous colours over it. The wind gathered at its feet entwined with the puff of purple clouds the beast stood on. It looked exactly like a qilin, just as the name of the techniques suggested. The head of a dragon on the body of a deer covered with fishlike scales and a single jutting horn rising from its forehead.
“GO!” Reynard screamed.
Valerian laughed. By this point, nearly a hundred glyphs floated around him. Rather than marshall them into an array circle he did something else. Hye synced them with each other as they were causing a strange energy field to envelop him. Truthfully, the glyphs themselves were meaningless. Valerian was just employing [Illusionary Strike] once more to convince anyone watching that he was using an array based battle art.
He welcomed the attack, actually grabbing on to it with his hands instead of blocking. The heat from it burned his palms but he ignored it focusing instead on the feeling that came with devouring the draconic qi. Within seconds, the wind cloud riding, magma, qilin was no more, seemingly drained by the glyph field surrounding Valerian. All it left was the heat of it passing and the steaming, blistered flesh on Valerian’s hands. Looking at this result, Valerian laughed again, this time louder.
Had he been a true dragon, Reynard would have given up the ghost at this point. At the very least, he’d be suppressed by the peng aura that Valerian was beginning to give off. If his dragons were alive, they would probably have scurried off without him, leaving him vulnerable but safe and unpalatable. Unfortunately for him, his draconic shroud was merely a technique. It could not warn him that he ‘d run into his natural predator.
With a flap of his wings, he was off. Reynard had already seen the error of his ways. He was attempting to flee but how could Valerian let him go? The leader of Squad Two grabbed his opponent from behind, smashing a way through Reynard’s barrier with brute force. Onlookers heard a miserable shriek as the leader of Squad Four fell into his clutches followed by pleading as his draconic shroud was sucked away.
“Please! I give up!” Reynard begged.
“Interesting” Lilian Bloodworth assessed. “The older one is not tempered enough. Had he been, the fight would have been much more engaging. This is the problem of having too many good things and not having enough space to display them all.”
“Still, I imagine master would like to know about him. A youth with a similar divine body to one of his sworn brothers. One with a monarch intent at that. He definitely shows promise. Master might even take him in as a disciple”, The General mused.
“What do you think, ma’am?” He asked.
“They are both talents”, she told him plainly. “Who is the younger one? I’ve never heard of a Steelborn clan.”
“They are a small, emerging power that holds the Viscountcy of Cragsveil, ma’am” he answered politely.
“Hmmm. I see”, she intoned. “Get me everything you can about them, especially what you have on the boy. I want all reports on him, his transcripts and essence recordings of all his battles.”
“Him, ma’am?” The General asked in puzzlement. “He may have won today but the Reynard kid…he has a divine body. Just look how far he has come without guidance. With some cutting and a little polishing he could be made into a true gem.”
“Just get me what I asked for!” the old lady barked impatiently.
The General suddenly remembered exactly who he was speaking with. “Yes ma’am!” he answered quickly, leaving to do what she had asked.
He left the old lady sitting there, staring at the scrying device, watching as Valerian’s squad were declared winners of the skirmish. With a small pinch of her fingers, she enlarged the image choosing to focus on the youth in cobalt armour. The one who won the match. As she did so, Lady Bloodworth’s eyes appraised him but deep within them, a light of desire sparked to life.