Sorry I left you guys without word for so long. I had stuff I needed to figure out. Wasn’t even sure I would continue with this at one point. I had to take a good long look at my writing and my viability as an author. I’m not sure whether the choice I made was right or wrong but you guys are the ones who’ll prove either way.
I’ve completely redone the site. It looks brand new and all the old problems should be resolved. Still, if you find any let me know. Feel free to read the next chapter, BK II, Chapter Forty-eight: Meeting at the Barracks there.
Plus, One Hundred Chapters! Let me know in the comments whether you want us to host our Q&A tomorrow or with the next chapter release on Tuesday.
Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, your one-hundredth chapter of HoGW!
Chapter Forty-seven: Valerian’s Folly?
The battlefield was only so large. At full tilt, it only took half a minute to reach the redoubt and see the clashes going on around it. Valerian was forced to admit that Gigne and Reign had truly set things up quite well. His squad remained well away from the main battle watching the two phantasms battle over the heads of the members of Squad Two. Reign and two others busied themselves with keeping Valerian’s squad pinned down and in the centre of the chaos.
Much of the redoubt’s walls were simply gone, destroyed in the battle between the two spectres. The remaining squad members were holed up in the hut and surrounded by a glowing bubble of golden light. The [Cladded Fortress Gate] was supposed to be a last-ditch measure. Any enemy that made it through their the walls would surely possess superior ‘firepower’ which meant they’d probably be able to get into the array too, given it was metal attributed.
“Do we deal with your giant self or do we go after the ones that have our squad pinned down?” Pugio asked, referring to Reign and his fellows.
Valerian remained quiet.
“Valerian!” Pugio yelled, calling out to him.
“Just give me a second to think!” Valerian snapped at him.
He didn’t mean to be testy. He was just having a hard time coming up with a plan. Closing his eyes to the chaos ahead, he scrambled through his mind in search of something, anything that might help.
“James!” he yelled, grabbing his communication tool. “What’s your position?”
“I’m about forty metres out and coming in from the east!” James answered. “Give me a few seconds and I’ll be there!”
“No! Stop!” Valerian ordered. “That entry point will leave you open to Reign and his goons. You need to come in from at least twenty-six metres further north!”
“But don’t come in! Stay behind the tree line. I have a plan. Here’s what we’re going to do”, he said, motioning Pugio over. “I just hope we’re up to it.”
Reign drew back on his bowstring staring not a live target but one of the nodes in the array that was shielding his quarry from harm. It was an incredible piece of work. The ghostly giant had stomped half the hill flat but the one time it was pushed onto the glowing gold bubble nothing came of it. In fact, it ended up using the bubble as a platform to launch its next attack. In his mind, he noted the difference between a certified array master and an apprentice. Magnus like to brag about his skills but it was clear that he was far from a match for Valerian. It was good that they’d ignored his suggestion of letting him disassemble the other’s arrays and traps.
‘That would not have ended well’, he thought to himself.
Speaking of the ghostly giant, Reign couldn’t help but be amazed when he looked up at it. A sixteen-metre tall man made of ghostly metal that was currently fighting to the death with the lion ghost of his best friend. All of sudden, Reign spun around. A puzzled look came over his face. He could have sworn he saw a dark shape flash by from the corner of his eye. He waited a few seconds, trying not give anything away. ‘There!’ he exclaimed mentally. The flash appeared again. However, before he could do anything, a massive essence signature stole his attention.
Glancing upwards, Reign’s mouth nearly fell open in shock. Enough [Wind Blades] to blanket the sky were coming towards them. He had never seen anything like it. ‘How?’ he asked himself. There had to be thousands of them.
“Defensive positions! Now!” he screamed at his squadmates.
By this point, the others had noticed too. All other plans, even their attacks were temporarily forgotten. There was simply no way to evade this storm. Reign felt he could probably manage it but he’d have to abandon the others which was something he couldn’t do. The members of Squad One piled in grouping themselves in a tight formation.
Ban, their warder, lept up to the task. He raised his hands, chanting furiously. Slowly a large earth attributed shield spread out like a dome to cover them. The other arcanists began linking themselves up to him, bracing themselves so they could help with withstanding the windstorm coming against them.
“Wait…” if there was one thing Reign knew, it was ranged attacks. His sharp eyes began to find irregularities in the storm of [Wind Blades]. However, it was too late. They had already turtled up. The spells began to fall. The spells came like rain, falling on their shield like drops of water. They cracked and broke into flashes of light when they met the reinforced shields.
“I knew it!” Reign exclaimed. The attacks held too little energy. Most of it had been expended on the way to them. In fact, many of the attacks were even illusionary. ‘But why?’ The answer came to Reign in that split second. He looked around at the tight formation of his squad and the press of bodies. ‘We have been herded!’ he realised.
“Run!” he tried to get out.
Regrettably, the warning was useless. Flashes of light came from around them as the [Explosive Spheres] Pugio had planted in their midst started to go off.. The world turned upside down for Reign and his compatriots.
Outside, Pugio and James looked at the flashing lights within the shield. Soon, it couldn’t take it anymore and exploded from the inside, scattering blood and pieces of flesh everywhere.
“Valerian is pretty cruel, isn’t he?” Pugio said with a grin.
Dumbstruck, James could do nothing but nod.
Valerian did not have time to watch the fireworks. He had spent more than half of his essence on that tactic. Luckily, the [Explosive Spheres] had been made days ago. Otherwise, he wasn’t sure he could have managed it. [Wind Blade] was an easy and cheap spell but creating and controlling hundreds of them was not. Also, using [Illusionary Strike] over that distance and with that effect had been more difficult than he had expected.
His squad knew what to expect and had been ready for this. This was the time to counterattack. Even he failed at what came next, they should be able to handle what came next.
He pushed his speed to the limit. Valerian’s wings beat so fast, they were indistinct blurs, shooting him across the distance like a firework. Contrary to expectations, he did not attack the sun-burst lion. No. He went straight for his own phantasm. Rushing right at his phantasm, he launched himself at it, grabbing it by the head and slamming his own onto it in a brutal headbutt. A clear crack rang out.
Those who saw this simply looked on, stunned. Both Valerian and his phantasm seemed frozen. Neither moved a muscle, remaining locked in place
Valerian’s logic was simple. The phantasm was him, supposedly. There had to be some way to communicate with it. Elder Allard had once told him the thing could look into his mind, learning from his memories and experiences, not to mention the fact that it rose from the depths of his mind. Sadly, all of Valerian’s attempts to reach it mentally had failed. Granted, he had no idea how to reach the damn thing, but it was frustrating.
He needed a way to talk to it. That much was a given. But how do you talk to a ghost? That was the question. One Valerian had answered in the most brutal way possible.
He grabbed the phantasm by the head, his hands somehow grasping its immaterial flesh and slammed his own onto it pouring as much essence as he could into it through his forehead, all the while, yelling mentally.
‘’LISTEN TO ME!’
There was sharp pain in his head but Valerian expected that. He had headbutted a steel monolith after all. However, when he shook it off, he was surprised to discover that he was no longer on the battlefield. In fact, he wasn’t even forehead to forehead with the monolith anymore. Rather, it stood a few metres away, watching him warily.
Valerian spared a glance for his surroundings before marching up to the ghostly giant. He recognised this place. This was Gleamscales’ valley. The phantasm must have created this from his memories. If so, he had done a good job at it. It was a perfect replica as far as Valerian could tell.
With every step forward, Valerian could see his phantasm’s apprehension increase. It looked very defensive. Obviously, it didn’t want him here, wherever this was. However, it chose to stand its ground and actually entered a battle ready stance when Valerian drew within ten metres.
Not wanting this to turn into a fight, Valerian stopped. He stared at it for a few seconds, wondering how he was going to proceed.
“You…” he began. “I’m told you’re me. The ghost of my steel monolith self.”
The monolithic phantasm beat its chest and yelled, producing a loud sound that echoed throughout the valley. It broadcast its feelings. Slight confusion as to the nature of their relationship. Fear at being threatened before it’s lair. Anger at having its battle interrupted. Defiance at the thought of ever submitting to him. Disdain for Valerian’s puny size and strength.
“I know. Honestly, I’m not sure either” Valerian told it. “I find myself questioning that claim even more now. If you are me then how come you are so stupid?”
The ghostly giant yelled again much louder than before. This time Valerian didn’t even have to sense its emotions. Its anger caused the very earth to rumble and the sky to darken.
“Oh, you’re definitely stupid!” he told it. “How else would you explain walking into that trap?”
“If you’re really me then you knew it was a trap even whilst Gigne was speaking his drivel”, Valerian stated. “I knew. You should have too. But if you had then you would not fall for it. Not unless you were stupid. That’s where I must protest. I think I’d rather have you not be me instead of being me and stupid. A stupid, daemonic version of myself. Who wants that?”
The phantasm was quiet now. It not longer roared but its anger actually buffeted Valerian all the same. Instinctively, Valerian knew it was wasn’t just angry but murderous. He did the same all the time. Once his anger passed a certain point, he stopped showing his displeasure and simply lashed out. He had to take extra care now.
“If you knew, why did you jump willingly into that trap? Are you as mindless as Gigne said you are or are you just stupid? Did you go there because you simply couldn’t help but to or did you make the stupid decision of challenging an unknown factor in a setting it had picked and in a way that was completely disadvantageous towards yourself.” Valerian pushed. “Tell me, which is it? Stupid or mindless?”
The phantasm took a step forward. It was no longer in a ready stance but a battle one. Anyone who saw it could tell that it was going to attack. Strangely, Valerian raised a single hand, palm outwards in a halt sign and for some reason the daemon paused.
“Let me tell you how I would have handled it”, he told it. “I would not have paid attention to the Gigne’s taunts in the first place! Secondly, if I truly wanted to attack that phantasm, I would take my time. I would never rush off after it like a madman. I would have confronted it on my term with actual techniques instead of some half-baked notions of proving my superiority!”
The phantasm huffed. ‘And you? Are you here to gloat or to simply insult me?’, it seemed to ask.
“Neither!” Valerian told him. “You are me and I am you like it or not. You’ve seen my memories?” he asked uncertainly. It nodded. “I don’t really know your motivations but you should know mine. You’re supposedly me. You should share them. You should me better than anyone else right now. Are you really happy with losing? You know how many hopes and dreams I-we carry. Are you really going to let everyone down?”
The spectre made an unwilling sound.
“I thought so!” Valerian acknowledged. “Honestly, this is one of the worst ways we could have met but this had to happen sooner or later. I am you and you are me. I accept that now. I might not know you well but I’m willing to start. But you should do your part as well.”
“You are me! ACT LIKE IT!”
Slowly, Valerian opened his eyes. Quickly, he scanned the field but the battle had only undergone minute changes. Very little time seemed to have passed. Whatever mental realm he had gone into had allowed him and the phantasm to communicate at the speed of thought. Speaking of the ghost of his daemonic self…
The steel monolith phantasm pulled itself away from valerian at the same time he did. It seemed strangely subdued. Back in the mental realm, the two of them had hashed out an agreement. Only time would tell how that went. In the meantime, there was a certain sun-burst lion phantasm that was hell-bent on trying to melt them.
“Steelborn!” it yelled in Gigne’s voice.
Valerian ignored it. He hated fire. This was not an instinctive hate but a learned one. It’s one thing understanding your place in the elemental cycle and another to have your ‘weakness’ burn through your defences and flesh. The worst thing? It kept happening. Fire cultivators were everywhere. Two out of the four Squad leaders had it. Squad one had five of them and even Valerian’s had three. Apparently, fire was the most popular attribute for the unattributed to train in due to its supposedly great combat power.
It hadn’t taken long for Valerian to see just how vulnerable he was. Metal was weak to fire and wind did little against it. If he was unlucky, he might even end up feeding it instead. Truthfully, even before coming to Strapping’s, Valerian had been searching for something to cover this glaring weakness. If not, it would just be a matter of time before the events of his match with Adrian Veldt repeated themselves. He refused to go through that again!
To Valerian, before attack came defence. He couldn’t help it. His grandfather’s training was too deeply ingrained in him. Protecting himself came first. Once he was secure, he could think up dozens of ways to eliminate his opponent. Currently, he had a rudimentary defence against fire but up to this moment, he had never used it for fear of his opponent’s finding a flaw in it. However, it was past time that it graced eyes other than his own. The only way he could be certain as its worth was through a live test after all.
Slab after slab of enchanted frost steel flew out of his spatial ring until there were twelve surrounding him. Rushing at Gigne’s phantasm, he let them slip naturally into their assigned positions. Eight immediately created an outer circle around him, one at each cardinal position. The remaining four formed an inner square with him at the centre. Once in place, they shuddered and the glyphs inscribed on them came to life.
An icy field power began to emanate from the slabs. Each synced with the others creating an ominous cold field
In fear, the sun-burst lion breathed fire at Valerian to keep him away as it tried to put some distance between them. These flames shot through a gap in the outer circle of metal slabs only to dwindle and die before they could even reach the inner trio. The leonine phantasm stared at this in confusion before trying again.
With a loud roar, it expelled a large ball of orange flame. Taking this attack more seriously, Valerian spurned his formation into action. The outer circle spun, its components glowing softly. Charging at the attack head-on, Valerian had his formation meet the huge ball of flame and surround it. Everyone on the battlefield who could, spared a glance at this only to watch transfixed as with each pulse of the metal plates the fireball reduced in size until it was barely a wisp of a flame, allowing Valerian to simply bat it out with the back of his hand and continue towards his opponent.
“How are you doing this?” came Gigne’s voice, loud and slightly distorted, from the mouth of the phantasm.
“Nothing but my latest work!” Valerian said with pride. “I call it a [Flame Suppressing Formation]. If you like it, you’re going to love this one”, he added, raising his hands high.
A massive golden array burst into in the existence in the air above him. Valerian only just enlarging the completed miniature he had been working on since setting up his formation. Now that it was complete, he moved on to the next phase of his attack plan. Keeping his hands in the air, he began to eject weapons from his spatial ring so that they went straight through the array floating over his head.
These weapons were the baselards Elder Allard gave him and as they passed through the array they were coated in azure lightning. More and more weapons flew from his ring until a strange three-tiered sight could be seen. Valerian at the bottom the glowing array above him and a steely assembly of spark-emitting baselards above that. It was only when the number of baselards reached ninety that Valerian stopped and put his hands down. The array, no longer needed, was dismissed.
The phantasm had not been idle all this while. It had tried to get out of the formation, backing away as it stared at Valerian apprehensively. Unfortunately, Valerian had also been advancing steadily in its direction. Unwilling to flee but also recognising that it was in a bad position, it tried to make some preparations of its own. Valerian didn’t care what these were. He was done with his. The eyes that stared at the ghostly lion were predatory and even, dismissive.
He actually hoped the people watching this exam would pay attention closely. This would be the first time he displayed his full capabilities publicly after all. Creating a few signs with his fingers, Valerian marshalled his blades into [The Agnarr Formation]. The ninety baselards soon became nine massive swords made of light and steel. Each one had a span of twenty-five metres and glittered in the sun as if absorbing its light. Right after being formed they shot off, aimed at his opponent.
The phantasm rose up to meet it, its entire body now ablaze with flame. It was the same technique Gigne had used in their ‘spar’ but the flames this time were different. They were harsher and brighter, the inner core flame of a sun-burst lion. This was a flame created from distilled solar energies and sprung from the creature’s bloodline itself. It qualified to be a ranked flame crux but in this situation, it was useless.
The first sword cut right through the flame shroud and through the phantasm’s paw causing it to shriek with pain. The chopped off limb immediately dissolved into a swirling mist as the main body tried to avoid the remaining blades. Hypotheses confirmed, Valerian actually let it reform before attacking again. His phantasm glanced his way and in his mind felt its confusion.
‘Why had the sword harmed it so?’ was the sentiment it expressed. ‘They were spectres, ghosts. Material items, even those imbued with essence should have a limited effect on them. And yet this
‘This is something I prepared to deal with you, honestly. Lightning is known to exorcise ghosts and spirits. I figured this would help when I finally confronted you.’ Valerian admitted.
The phantasm was quiet for a second but then turned back to watch Gigne’s phantasm trying to scramble away from the formation blades. ‘It’s effective!’
‘But not against me”, it added. Having said this, it stretched its hands out to Valerian. Sensing what it wanted, Valerian sent two of the swords its way allowing him to grasp them by their handles. The two blades made a sizzling noise where they met its hands but besides a short look of discomfort, Valerian’s phantasm remained quiet. A wide grin stretched across its face. Soon the same predatory look Valerian had displayed came upon its face. However, it did not immediately seize the chance to attack its enemy. It swung the formation blades around first testing them.
‘So long as I am here and my concentration is not broken then, neither will these swords’, Valerian told his other self. ‘Even if they are shattered they will reform and should the enchantment fade or be dispelled the array is still here’, he said, indicating the still floating array.
All it did was smile. Together, living youth and undead spectre began to pursue the fleeing lion phantasm. The battle was over shortly afterwards!