BK II, Chapter Sixteen: Progress


His wings beat as hard as they could, the harsh winds they produced shorn leaves off the tree in front of him. The back force pushed him backwards and away, ensuring that his opponent’s retaliatory strike missed him completely. Borne up by the wind, he skated sideways in the air with his feet nearly a metre above ground, he tossed his sword away, electing for a battle hammer instead as the semi-circular path took him right behind his opponent.

With a forceful cry, Valerian brought the weapon down with all the strength he could muster, all in the hopes of breaking through his uncle’s defences. The head of the hammer glowed a bright gold as it bore down with the equivalent of forty tonnes only to meet a shield that for all intents and purposes, simply materialised at his uncle’s back.

A deafening boom resounded as the hammer met and overpowered the shield, caving it in before blasting through its steel much like a battering ram would a gate. Unable to do anything else, the round implement was sent pounding into the earth where it left a four-metre wide crater. Unfortunately, the target of the attack was no longer behind it. Valerian caught a glimpse of temporary surprise on the man’s face as he stood at the side of the crater. The sword he had meant to bring against his nephew slowed as he glanced at the destruction he had avoided.

‘[Heart Seeking Bolts]’, Valerian intoned mentally. The spell glow coated Valerian’s ever ready piercing instruments and they shot right at his attacker. Vorm swung his strong hand, creating a purple blaze that left them smatterings of molten steel on the demolished floor. The loss of his weapons would have hampered Valerian if that hadn’t happened numerous times already just this very morning. More weapons appeared in the air around him drawn straight from his inter-spatial ring even as his figure mysteriously disappeared.

Diffusing his arcane energy into their surroundings with no care for his consumption, Valerian whipped up a quick maelstrom. He’d recently been reading up on the theory behind the third tier spell, [Field of Storms]. A spell he had neither business performing nor the capacity or power to do so. However, his strong affinity towards the wind and the authority of the peng allowed him to create this vastly inferior copy. That’s all he wanted and all he had spent the last week preparing, knowing Vorm would never see it coming.

He was right, his uncle was beyond startled. He recognised the spell for what it was and was instantly terrified at a thought of his nephew performing an attributive trait spell at the Disciple tier. Thankfully, instead of dozens of kilometre high tornados and gale force winds, all that appeared were a dozen overamped dust devils sucking up everything in their path and tossing the courtyard into disarray. Unfortunately, he could not break it.

To disperse such a spell would require going beyond the limits he’d constrained himself to for their ‘practise sessions’ and doing that meant Valerian won. He couldn’t have that. The boy’s head was much too inflated already. So he settled back and waited. The buffeting winds were all saturated with the boy’s energy signature rendering essence sensing at this level useless. It was clear that the boy was going for a sneak attack. Even he knew that it was the only way he could win.

Sure enough, Vorm caught movement out the corner of his right eye. He swung his sword, bisecting a figure that turned out to be an illusion. Frowning, Vorm found himself losing his nonchalant air. He hated illusions. Sadly for him, his nephew seemed to be picking up the art at a very fast pace and with their surroundings as they were he would be unable to tell which was real and which wasn’t. ‘I’ll just destroy them all’, he resolved with a confident smirk.

A second figure appeared, slightly obscured by the dust, debris and the winds responsible for kicking them into the air. He held a large greatsword in his hands. Then a third, wielding a spiked, long-handled club. The fourth appeared right in front of Vorm spear and shield in hand and advancing steadily. All three moved cautiously, taking care to ensure that he could only face one of them at any given time.

‘The boy is getting better’, Vorm thought reluctantly. However, his sharp eyes caught glimpse of another figure, hidden deep in the swirling winds. ‘But he isn’t that good yet’ he finished with an internal smile. The genuine Valerian was hidden quite well. He had crouched as well as retracted his wings to reduce his size and hidden in the storm cluster to completely mask his signature. If not for his experience prompting him to check for possible ambushers, and extra enemies, Vorm would probably not have noticed him until it was too late.

Thus, when the sword-wielding clone dispersed on the edge of his blade, Vorm was not even surprised. Nor was he taken aback by the torrent of daggers and other sharp implements that tore their way right through the space Valerian had occupied in an attempt to skewer him. He merely raised his hand and a wall of arcane energy rose to defend against….nothing. The weapons all dispersed when they met his shield just like the illusions did.

Realising that he had been had, Vorm spun hastily to block a spear thrust at his kidney from behind. His sword swung through the spear shaft forcing it to revert back to its constituent energy. ‘Shit’, Vorm exclaimed, instantly, ignoring the spear clone to focus on the club-wielding one taking a flying swing at his head. He thrust his hand outward calling up a flare of fire that turned purple in his haste to attack him. He screamed in pain as the flames licked his face and torso. Believing he had the right one this time, he banished the flames to avoid grievously injuring his nephew.

It wasn’t until he realised that despite the echoing screams, his flames had left neither screaming boy nor ashes behind that he glanced over his shoulder at the grinning spear holder.

“[Overlord Spear]”, the boy screamed in excitement.

The intact spear in his hand glowed gold as he used it as the medium for his spell. An oppressive feeling filled the air causing him to smile in victory as he thrust the spear at his uncle. Like a comet, it streaked through the short distance between them with the clear intention of piercing through everything in his path. It carried its own aura and intent. One that restrained its target and prevented him from escaping what was to be a sure strike. Vorm struggled to align himself in time to deflect it but before he could do so, the spear multiplied right before his very eyes.

Valerian had only cast it once, he felt sure of it. Their proximity had made it possible for him to get a clear read of his essence. Even ignoring that, he had used one spear. How come there were three? Each spear looked completely real and carried the same signature, only they were aimed at different parts of his body and came from different angles. Vorm knew that he would be unable to stop them all. Not with the sword he held and certainly not at his current speed. Yet, try as he might he couldn’t tell which one was real despite feeling certain that only one of them was.

Valerian grinned. He had him now. He doubted it would be enough to win but it would definitely be his first clean strike since they begun their lessons two weeks ago. For this, he had spent extra hours training to bring his mastery of the skill up to par and researched a spell far beyond his capabilities. He watched in pride as his uncle made to deflect the spear point that flew at his heart whilst twisting his body to avoid the one aimed at his head. However, doing so placed his open armpit right in the final spear’s path. Valerian had won!

At least, so he thought. He barely caught the pulsing surge of the man’s arcane energy. Too late! Valerian’s eyes widened in disbelief as a [Mage Guard] sprang into existence around the man expanding so suddenly it looked like a massive oncoming wall of energy. the [Overlord’s Spear] had succeeded in piercing through it but the sheer force and direction of it tossed it and it’s wielder aside. The blast of pure energy didn’t just slam into him, it swept him off his feet and knocked his spear askew. What’s worse, it left him completely open, an opportunity Vorm did not miss.

Massive arcs of steel coloured arcane energy slammed into his body in mid-air, smashing and rupturing his [Valiant Armour]. Being blunted, they failed to cut through him but that only meant they made him feel like he was being clubbed instead. When it was over, Valerian fell limply to the floor so dazed and battered he was nearly unconscious. The battle was over!

An enormous hairy arm reached out and grabbed Valerian’s prone form, lifting him softly into the air, The giant ape it belonged to gently grabbed his head between two of its giant fingers. It was checking to make sure he didn’t have any serious trauma but he was already rousing. Eyelids twitching, the first sight Valerian, when he regained consciousness, was the smiling face of his grandmother’s Devil Ape.

“Little Valerian is getting strong!” Pan said with a smile. His daemonic transmission sending feelings of pride at his mistress’ ward.

It lowered him slowly to the floor so he could stand on his feet. Still looking a bit unsteady, Valerian ignored Pan for a moment choosing instead to fix Vorm with a confused look.

“You used a defensive spell offensively?” he asked.

Vorm looked at him, hoping his face did not reveal his smug smile. “Shields are weapons too! I thought Richard taught you that.”

Valerian said nothing, realising that Vorm had indeed used a simple shield rush against him. He frowned deeply. He had been so sure that he had him this time and yet… it had all been for naught. Rough scales brushed against his armour as Sela climbed him.

“You did great Valerian”, she broadcasted soothingly.

Valerian rubbed her head between the horns, making sure to let her feel that he was not downcast at his loss. Disappointed, yes but not downtrodden. That feeling sort of disappeared by the tenth time you found yourself lying on your back in defeat.

“They are right! You have gotten much better”, Vorm conceded.

“Your mistake is that you have begun to think of your spells as static constructs. Don’t! That is a major failing for many arcanists and cultivators in general. You are better in the sense that you are innovative and thus try to apply them to various situations. That is still wrong! True mastery of a spell or technique is not using it in diverse ways but the ability to have it fit your current need”, Vorm lectured.

He strode forward, calling up a simple [Iron Clad Shackle], a spell both of them had used mid-battle with the intention of restraining their opponent’s movements. It hung in the air before him, waving as if influenced by the wind. It had a ‘U’ shaped cuff at the end with a bolt designed to help secure whichever limb was placed into the cuff. Following that came the large chain links that connected the cuff to the large steel peg in the floor.

“Remember, the spell itself is merely a guide for channelling and forming world essence. It is not a rule, merely the sum experience of a senior meant to fulfil a purpose”, Vorm told him.

He gestured and an identical shackle appeared, however, it lacked an important feature; the ‘U’ shaped cuff at the end. The remaining chain links and the peg, however, remained.

“That is also an [Iron Clad Shackle]!” he announced. “The same spell but with different results.”

He gestured again and yet another version appeared. This one had no chain links. Rather, it had a tightly woven steel wire linking the cuff to the peg. With another wave of his hand, a copy with alternating chain and wire appeared. Then a chain with three cuffs. One with a cuff embedded in the ground and the peg in the air. One with four interconnected chains and pegs at the ends.

Valerian stood still, viper in hand but concentrating completely on his uncle’s actions. He had modified spells before but never like this. He had changed their size and power, chosen their placing and even played with their numbers as well as used them to provoke changes in other spells. Vorm had completely changed the construction of the spell without making it seem like a different spell. It wasn’t a cosmetic change either. He could sense the tensile strength of the woven steel wire as well as the rigidity of the chain. They were two different things.

“There only three things that are truly immutable in a spell; its attribute, its intent and its essential property”, Vorm explained. “The attribute of these [Iron Clad Shackles] is evidently metal. You cannot cast the spell using a different attribute. You can mimic it if you understand the principles behind it but it would never possess the same properties. The second is the intent. This one is simple. This is a spell that restrains and restricts. You cannot intend for it to liberate. You must cast it with the intent to trap or cage another.

“The last is even simpler as it lies in the name. The primary property of the spell is its shackling. That is how its intent is carried out by its attribute. Your spell has to be one that actually ties down your quarry. It should be an actual binding. You are not restricting him with force or will but with a restraint”, he finished.

“You’re an array master so control is not an issue. I also doubt that spell structure would be a problem for you if you devote time and effort to it. However, your comprehension of essence and the attributes is lacking. That can only be solved with actual cultivation. That notwithstanding, once you’re done, you can do things like this.”

The first [Iron Clad Shackle] underwent a change. Every single one of its links separated. Valerian watched, startled as they unravelled like spools of thread and connected to one another. The thread hung, gossamer thin like a spider’s silk, in mid-air before shooting out and tying up everything n the courtyard. Before Valerian could make a peep, he discovered that he too was tied up in the threads. He had been rendered completely mute and motionless. His dual forces had become sluggish in his body and even his thought processes appeared constrained.

Nonetheless, his pupils whipped back and forth over the yard allowing his sharp eyes to catch the glinting thread that had seemingly woven itself into everything around him. Not even the daemons were unaffected. Scratch that, Pan had just torn an arm free and used it, in turn, to pull any others off himself. The entire time, it shot Vorm an annoyed look. To his credit, Valerian’s Uncle was somehow able to ignore the giant, daemon ape glaring at him and simply continue with his lecture.

Pan was feeling lonely. That was the only reason he had come to watch the fight. His size and the reputation of his species made taking him out a difficult task for Valerian’s grandmother. Thus, he was often left alone in his own portion of the estate. Besides his mistress and companions, the only one he could be considered friends within their household was his sparring partner, Richard. Unfortunately, said man was now in closed-door cultivation.

He was unsure whether to be happy about this. Richard making it to the third tier would mean that they could kick their sessions up a few notches. currently, all they did was compare brute strength and fighting techniques. A rank up would put him on a more equal footing with the third tier daemon. Until then, he had chosen to while away time observing the training of their resident peng-child. Pan liked Valerian and thought it a good thing that he was trying to get better. He just didn’t appreciate being drawn into… whatever they were doing.

Grumbling a bit, the devil ape made his way further off to the side. Perhaps, he had gotten too close to the action. Absentmindedly, it grabbed Sela’s tail and dragged her along in spite of her protests. They’d watch from afar from now one and give Valerian and his uncle their space.

Author’s note:

I had intended to release two chapters today on account of shutting myself in my bunker on April Fools (It’s not a real holiday, there I said it). Sadly, I have a test tomorrow and need to prepare. We’ll have the double release on Saturday instead.

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