Maelstrom after maelstrom touched down on the battlefield. They appeared randomly, targeting every place but the area around their caster. The [Field of Storms] was a powerful spell but it was also one that was beyond Valerian’s ability to cast. He could get many of its properties right but he couldn’t get them all. At his current mastery, the tornados could not actively hurt his enemies but that was alright. He only needed them to sow confusion and provide cover for his squad.
Consulting the scrying spell Petilia was holding up, he sent his first true attacks at their targets. Behind him, some of the others scattered heading to predetermined points to prepare according to their plan. Raphael was amongst them, carrying Alenwaa in a hovering stretcher. Valerian did not watch them go. He trusted his squad to follow orders, they would win this battle and he would give them that chance.
Squad Four was working on dispelling his spell but it was too late, his [Agnarr Formation] was already in their midst. Eighty baselards diced up the air, severing limbs and inflicting grievous injuries. That left two fewer enemies to deal with. Valerian didn’t wait for them to return, he and his small group of attackers were already on the move. Flapping his translucent wings, he left them behind, shooting high into the air so he could dive bomb their enemies with [Heart Seeking Bolts].
This had the added effect of drawing fire away from Berengar and the others in his newly formed kill squad. Unfortunately, squad four was ready for him when he made his low pass. His remaining baselards shot down only to meet a golden composite shield. Four hexagram shaped panels of light met at their borders to create a shield large enough for the rest of the squad to hide behind. Clearcrest stared at him from behind this barrier, startled but confident. She soon proved why.
The shield split. The four tellurians holding it together actually separated from each other. This gave the arcanists, taking advantage of the cover and protection they provided, the chance to earn their keep. Attack spells of the various attributes were fired. One honed in on Valerian, shooting so fast that he nearly missed how the shield bearers immediately closed up and reformed their barrier afterwards Their actions were extremely fluid and practised and the way, their shields instantly melded together and reinforced each other told Valerian one thing. Squad Four was using a defensive formation.
The particulars of the formation were something he could only guess at but the way they did not even flinch at his attacks was no good news. Quickly dodging the attack, he made his way back to his team. He didn’t have to go far, they had made it within spitting distance of their opponents. He landed in front of them, squaring off with a strange four-sided barrier. At each side of the barrier was a tellurian carrying an elaborate shield. Valerian marked them down as the foundation pillars of the formation.
Abruptly, a shot ran out in the distance causing Valerian to briefly glance in that direction. He was not the only one.
“I knew you would send Pugio to counter Lucas”, Clearcrest said from within the barrier.
She only had to look at the people around him to deduce who was missing. Valerian currently had a group of five; John, Drusilla, Berengar, Petilia and himself. Of the ones missing, only Pugio was known to have the skills necessary to track down and neutralise her boyfriend.
“Really?” Valerian asked with a smile.
At this point, the two squads were merely facing off. They were barely twenty metres apart and each of them stood poised for battle but none made a move.
“Yes!” Clearcrest informed him. “You are going to regret that.”
As if affirming her words, explosions rang out in the distance and trees began to topple. Valerian’s brow furrowed but he said nothing. They were clearly prepared to deal with Pugio. In his mind, he went over how he would do it. Traps! Definitely traps set along the routes that led to the sniper’s roost. The sounds of explosions and shots continued for a few more seconds. Then, a screeching sound rang out and the shots stopped. Valerian smiled.
“Who said I only sent Pugio?” he asked Clearcreast smugly.
“Who said we only had one musket?” she fired back angrily.
The shield split then, allowing a muscular arcanist to aim a strange mechanist contraption at them. Despite Clearcrest’s words, this was no musket. The entire was the size of a cannon. It hung at the side of the arcanist who had to aim it by holding it up by the handles. Bright light shone in the barrel. That was the only warning Valerian got. A large beam of blue essence blasted out at him. Flapping his wings mightily he moved himself out of the way with a hovering sidestep. Regrettably, John had been behind him at the time. The beam burned a hole through his chest. His squad watched in shock as he folded and faded away.
Screaming in rage, squad two attacked. Even the members hidden in the brush like Tamara and Brandt rushed out to attack as well. Techniques peppered the barrier causing it to ripple and buckle but ultimately, hold. Worse, the ambush squad had revealed their hand and their positions. The shield split open again only this time, it did so on a different side of the four-sided barrier. The cannon revealed itself, its wielder going for several sweeping attacks instead of a single blast. Trees fell and burnt in its wake.
“James! Tamara! Laura!” Valerian called into his communication talisman, sick with worry. He received no response.
He took off, gaining altitude and sweeping out with his [Agnarr Formation]. Sadly, it was ineffective against the barrier. The major strengths of the formation were its versatility, the ability to use multiple blades at the same time and the ability to it as a medium for sword attacks. Perhaps, if Valerian knew good sword techniques he could squeeze out more attack power but he didn’t.
Clearcrest did not wait. As soon as she saw Valerian take to the air, the formation opened up again. This time, three figures, led by Fallenwood, the spear-wielding tellurian Valerian trashed on the fighting dais, emerged from it.
“Fight me, Steelborn!” Fallenwood yelled only to be ignored.
His humiliating loss that day had haunted him since. In his head, the only way to purge himself of those events was to beat the upstart behind it. He loathed Valerian and though he made sure not to show it, he blamed Clearcrest for what happened as well. If she hadn’t caused him to hold back, he would not have lost so miserably. Valerian had insulted him, his style and his skills. Well, today he’d show him the full extent of the [Swift Viper Style].
“Valerian doesn’t have time to bother with trash like you. I’ll be your opponent!” Berengar yelled, leaping into battle with his remaining hand clutching his lance.
Fallenwood felt insulted. A one-armed nobody was going to be his opponent? For all his bluster, Fallenwood was truly an elite of the Swift Viper School and one of its key disciples. True, his position was partly due to his hundred poisons physique and how it synergised with the style but his skills were nothing to scoff at either. Thus you can imagine his shock when his one-armed opponent matched him blow for blow, exchange after exchange. His poisonous qi was of no help since he was unable to harm his opponent.
Crying out in frustration, he led his attacker into the midst of the fighting resolving to use the item Clearcrest gave him. It was the key to their plan or so he was told. All he cared about was that it would allow him to defeat all of Squad Two. However, before it could even reach for it, the item strapped to his back began to heat up. A second later, he exploded into a mist of blood and gore splattering everyone on the battlefield.
That explosion put a halt to all the fighting. Valerian even landed on the ground and advanced towards Clearcrest in shock.
“Y-y-you actually…” he said, finding himself lost for words.
That was no accident. Fallenwood had gone into battle with a bomb strapped to his back. Knowing him, there was no way this was intentional. From the look of things, some of his squad members had the same idea he did. Evidently, they had not expected that.
There was a loud groan from behind Valerian as Berengar fell to the ground.
“Valerian, Berengar has been poisoned!” Petilia yelled at him. “It’s the blood, it’s toxic!”
He nodded, having already guessed something that. Why else would Clearcrest kill one of her own in such fashion? The explosion had been very suspicious as well. There was a lot of force but it was very concentrated. It pulped Fallenwood but did little to harm Berengar who had been right in front of him.
“Who else did it get?” he asked her.
“Everyone”, came her weak voice.
He turned sharply at that only to see her touching a glowing palm to her own face. Looking around, he saw blood stains all over his squad. Their faces were paling quickly. Whatever he had held in his blood worked fast.
Choosing to ignore his gloating foe, he rushed back to his friends. “Any chance of stopping it?” he asked Petilia.
“I don’t think I can”, she admitted truthfully. Valerian watched with a grimace as something ate away at her face and several other parts of her body.
“I think Fallenwood’s blood is extremely toxic”, she told him. “It’s a haemotoxin that spreads incredibly fast. If it was one person then maybe I could stop it but I can’t save everyone.”
“You don’t have to”, he assured her making sure to contact Raphael over the comms and tell him to drop Alenwaa and rush over. “Focus on yourself for now. Once you’re cured you can help the others.”
As he spoke, arcane energy swept towards him. Luckily, he had his shields at the ready. He didn’t trust his back to anyone but his squad said much less someone like Clearcrest. This saved him and Petilia but the others were not so lucky.
Drusilla and the others coughed up black blood and their wounds began to grow words. Not even the remaining two members of squad four were exempt. More and more spells came from an opening in the barrier through which a smiling Clearcrest could be seen. Valerian could actually see the recovery of the people around him slow and their essence reduce with each spell. Drusilla sagged and knelt seemingly drained of energy. Strange red symbols began to glow on her skin allowing Valerian to deduce what was happening.
Malediction. It was the opposite of benediction. The latter endowed its targets with beneficial effects whereas the former gave out detrimental ones. Benedictions were practically blessings and maledictions were arcane curses that weakened and sapped away at its targets. Valerian had known that Clearcrest was a benedictor but he had not known she was skilled in malediction as well. Those weren’t skills taught to anyone.
“I do not like you!” Valerian told Clearcrest walking up to her. “I trust you know that.”
At first, it was a simple dislike because of her schemes and behaviour but now, she disgusted him. What sort of person used members of their squad as disposable tools?
“You really don’t know how to speak to a lady, do you?” Clearcrest teased.
“You are no lady”, Valerian stated resolutely.
“Ouch! That smarts!” she said from behind her shield wall. “Listen here Steelborn. The only thing that matters is victory. No one really cares how it comes. They’ll praise the winner and denounce the loser anyway.”
“And you think you have won?” Valerian asked.
“Oh darling”, she responded with a demure smile, as if shy about what she was going to say. “You should be able to see how this goes. Your people are poisoned. Many are already dead. You can’t possibly think you can still turn this around?”
“Why not?” Valerian questioned her. “What of you? Do you actually think you are untouchable in that formation?”
Something imperceptible flashed over features but her confident smile was back so quickly, Valerian doubted seeing anything else.
“Sit tight and watch your squad die, Steelborn!” She told him. “You could just as well have them withdraw. That way they would not suffer the dreary fate that awaits them when poison is done with them. If you do go with that, remember to go with them because when they are gone, we’ll surround you and cut you down.”
Smiling brightly and sweetly, she added, “Save those watching some time and gore and simply give up! No one will think poorly of you. It will also spare you and yours some pain.”
Valerian laughed. “You are afraid of me!” he surmised. Her words confirmed it.
“Good!” he added, his voice dropping low. “Your methods might be disdainful but your instincts are sharp. Not enough to save you though or we would not be here. And to think I nearly thought you devoid of admirable qualities.”
Raising his hand to face the shield formation, he prepared his spell. “My squad is going nowhere and we are most assuredly winning this battle. Since your confidence comes from this shield, I’m going to rip it apart. That way they can see with their own eyes the victory they deserve and you will learn.”
“Learn what?” Clearcrest asked curiously.
“Don’t worry, you will see soon enough”, Valerian assured her.
He was done analysing the shield formation. It was better than he had first guessed. Its only weaknesses were gases and attacks that affected the positions of its users. It would perform excellently against spell and physical damage and the only serious weakness he could see was with the formation users. The shield could protect against attacks up to ten times the power of the individuals who controlled it. Plus, if one of them was weak then his portion would become a serious weak spot. The only other way was to deplete the energy of the shield bearers and with that, the shield itself.
Streams of quicksilver flowed from the mercurial orb behind him coalescing into numerous glyphs that around his outstretched palm. With a thought, he marshalled them into an array circle. He had never used this spell in a live scenario. However, Vorm had assured him of its power and utility when he presented it to him at his going away party. The silvery array circle faced Squad Four’s defensive formation and Valerian smiled.
[Myriad Blades Array]
Blasts of golden light shot out of the array. Each of them was as sharper than the baselards that Elder Allard had given him. Under the amplification given by the mercurial orb, they were even faster and more powerful. For the people within the shield formation, it looked and felt like there was a golden storm outside. The kind of storm that tore off roofs and caused rafters to collapse. The shield holders directly facing the attack groaned as they tried to withstand the attacks of hundreds of blades without end. Their shield buckled and rippled in many places but their ability to share and resist attacks together helped them hold on.
Valerian knew this and so aimed his attacks at only one at a time trying to determine who amongst them was weakest. Slowly, he circled his opponents, leaving his array to continue spewing blades of light. So long as his arcane energy held, the array would never stop attacking.
“Hold! Hold! HOLD!” Clearcrest yelled at her men. She cast a few benedictions on them to help.
Inwardly, she scoffed at Valerian. His attacks were powerful and his strategy to focus his attacks on one person at a time was good but ultimately futile. The shield holders shared qi, damage and resistance. He could pressure them but the formation would compensate and nullify his attacks. Plus, there was no way he could outlast them. This was a battle of five vs one. Six if you included her and her benedictions.
Valerian knew this. His reserves were great but not even he had enough to compete in stamina with five elite tellurians linked in a formation. Perhaps, if he had a more powerful attack spell he could do better. Unfortunately, this was his most powerful spell. Then, a thought occurred to him. The slip he was given had held both array and spell versions of the technique. Smiling, he focused his arcane energy through the array, causing it glow golden.
“This…he’s using the array as a medium to cast a spell!” Clearcrest spat in shock, a bad feeling creeping into her heart.
The power and output of the array increased nearly three fold. The blades it fired were nearly solid and the power with which they struck the shield was so great his opponents were forced to put in their all to resist. Yelling, they rotated their cultivations to the fullest and drew out all they could from their cores. Clearcrest went mad, casting recovery spell after recovery spell on the shield bearers to bridge their qi recovery and expenditure.
By this point, even Valerian was feeling the pressure. He had practically doubled his essence expenditure with this manoeuvre. “Are you guys watching?” he asked his squad.
Drusilla raised her head to stare at him, eyes wide open. Even Raphael and Petilia had stopped what they were doing to stare.
Staring directly at Clearcrest, Valerian yelled. “It’s time to end this!”
He roared, his voice growing louder and deeper to the point where it seemed there two of them. Indeed, they were. The steel monolith phantasm took form over Valerian much to the stunned gazes of everyone watching.
“You know the funny thing, Clearcrest?” Valerian began. “You are very stupid! You did all you could to avoid a siege knowing that we would win if you put yourself in that position. Then, you went and locked yourself in a fort right in front of us.”
Clearcrest looked around her, her eyes popping open. Valerian was right! She and her squad couldn’t move. They’d put all their resources and efforts into maintaining a defensive position against attacking foes. If this wasn’t a siege then what was it? Her eyes focused on the phantasm. The whole point of not using the redoubt was to prevent the scenario where they had the burly spectre tearing down their walls but now it was all useless. Tossing a pill into her mouth she cast a new round of benedictions this one intended to boost the power of skills and qi.
Squad Two was effectively down to only four members and two of them were not even here. They could do this! Gritting her teeth, she refused to believe that Valerian could keep this up much longer. All they had to do was endure. The moment he run out of essence, that was their moment of triumph. Sadly, Valerian had one more surprise for her. The phantasm did not attack directly like she assumed it would. It leapt into the air instead clearing a height of at least a hundred metres. She watched it go, her eyes filled with confusion.
Valerian watched his phantasm come down and was rewarded with the sight of the greatest [Tremor Step] he had ever seen. The force of the landing combined with the essence it forced into the ground caused a quake of such great magnitude that the ground ruptured and buckled tossing people around like ragdolls. He couldn’t help but laugh in triumph when the shield bearers were wrenched apart and removed from their positions. Before they had any clue what was going on, his [Myriad Blades] tore through the collapsing shield and eviscerated them.
“NO!!!” Clearcrest screamed right before being stabbed a few dozen times and having her head lopped off.