Chapter Thirty: Bhita
“Poor Fintan!” Thilde exclaimed as she stared at her unresponsive teammate. “He never stood a chance did he?”
Amerrak was kneeling next to him, trying to help but it was obvious that his patient was completely out of it.
“How’s he doing?” Soldo asked.
The alchemist looked up. “Physically, he is fine. Enchanted dragon hide is good for protecting your skin I suppose. Mentally, though, I honestly couldn’t say. I am more worried about his core. His qi is behaving very strangely and his core is out of sync. I can’t say what exactly is wrong without some intrusive procedures…”
“Don’t!” Soldo warned. “The Mosa will have our heads!”
Amerrak raised his hands in surrender, explaining, “Perhaps a related elder with a similar affinity can stabilise him but right now, it looks like his own powers are turning against him.”
“No shit!” Thilde exclaimed. “You heard Elder Ahwon, that girl was Titan Childe! Unlucky idiot fought the source of fire itself.”
Amerrak seemed to agree. In a reverent tone normally reserved for reciting scripture, he began to chant.
Though first Verre was empty; devoid of life and kin, t’was not so for long. The Firstborn were ushered into a world wracked with loneliness and the sadness of childlessness to make of it a home and fill it with life and joy. Falling from the Heavens! Rising from the Earth! They came. TITANS! Personifications of the power, the wonder and splendour of Verre itself; The first flames, the first chills, the first storms, the first mountains, the first seas. The early waves, quakes and squalls…
All the powers and riches of Verre were given to them and they were masters of the world, unequalled in might and glory. T’was they who shaped Verre into the world we know today. T’was they…
“She is not a titan!” Soldo argued, cutting the recital short. “Titans don’t breed and they never had kids. “I took that class too Amerrak and even that very passage ends with Verre taking her firstborn back into her embrace to make room for the litters that were to come after!”
The monocled youth was nonplussed, simply replying, “Had you stuck with the elective Soldo, you would also know that the titans created others from their being much like Verre created them. Elementals both noble and lowly. Additionally, Verre itself would later go on to mould successive children in their image, in homage to its Firstborn. Heaven would adorn them with the glory of their forebears and Earth would bestow on them their treasures. Where did you think elementals, giants and their…
“Ssshh!” Bhita yelled, shushing them.
Her face was a mask of concentration as she tried hard to eavesdrop on the conversation Elder Ahwon and Elder Harper were having across the arena. The others made their way to her side with Soldo asking,
“Look how relieved Belford is!” Thilde said, drawing attention to the Elder’s disciple. “Lucky bastard looks like the hangman told him he’s free to go.”
“Only because his teacher refused to let him compete”, Amerrak was quick to point out. “Ahwon knew from the very beginning.”
“Fintan is lucky too”, Bhita said to their surprise. “Elder Ahwon is explaining to his disciples how elemental lords use their essence to draw in creatures with their affinity only to refine them into elemental thralls. They turn their victims own essence against them by using their mastery over their elements to transform them from the inside out into vessels of the elements enslaved to their will.”
As one, they all turned to look at their teammate. Thanks to the new information they had received as well as Amerrak’s initial assessment, they could now put together what had happened to their colleague as well as what nearly happened. Still, Thilde put it best.
Despite being the one to ask, Valerian only half listened to Hue’s story of how Wynna was isolated and neglected by her clan because of her powers. The whole thing sounded a bit a too familiar. True, he was ostracised because his clan felt him lacking in their inheritance whereas she suffered from inheriting it too much. Still, even he had to admit that refining your cousins and playmates into flame thralls went past a certain bottom line.
Nevertheless, that did not stop some part of him from empathising with a girl whose only fault was that she was born powerful and was thus, punished because of it. No matter how much his phantasm warned him that she was probably planned to eat them or melt them down for jewellery. Who knew fire elementals were predators of steel monoliths?
“Remember when I said Wynna was not one of the apprentices?” Hue asked him. He nodded.
“I genuinely thought that was the case”, the girl explained. “The reason we came here is because the Gavriels reached out to Lady Bloodworth when she exited seclusion. She is the only living person to have inherited the True Spirit of Blazing Fire to a comparable degree. They hoped she could help Wynna gain control of her abilities. I was only one the Lady mentioned anything about apprenticeship to.”
“Are you saying she only got the idea for multiple apprentices after taking you two in?” Heidi asked.
“Precisely that!” Hue stressed. “She left us alone in the manor and next thing we know, you guys start popping up.”
A scurry of movement from their challengers drew Valerian’s eye. Something was going on there. His training demanded they act, seize the initiative and the advantage Wynna had bought them whiles their adversaries were still off balance and Valerian was not a model student for nothing. With a quick word to the others, he made a mighty leap onto the stage.
“That’s it?” he asked in an unimpressed tone. “No more challenges?”
Walking purposely towards Soldo’s five, he prodded them, “What a great showing from those who came to replace us! Tell you what, why not clear out if you are not going to put up? You are ruining the scenery!”
Facing the stands, he yelled, “WILL THE PREVIOUS CHALLENGERS PLEASE COME FORWARD!”
Unfortunately, no one did. Not even Celeste, initially full of fire and resolve to avenge her lover, was willing to make a move after seeing the last display.
“NO ONE?” Valerian asked the arena. “THERE IS NOT A SINGLE ONE OF YOU WILLING TO STEP FORWARD?”
Huffing in disgust, he turned away, “This trial is over!”
Soldo began to clap. The slow tapping rang out for a few seconds before he said, “Nice try Steelborn, but I’m afraid it’s not going to be that easy!”
Inwardly, he was pissed. A glance at his companions told him everything he needed to know. No one wanted to say it but their endeavour was already going badly. He had cut deals and made alliances to make this happen and now it looked like it could fall apart. The other four were chosen to balance the interests of their backers and with Fintan out he had had to make assurances and renegotiations. Renegotiations that the Steelborn had just interrupted. He gestured to Bhita, the only other person in the group as invested in the outcome as he was. The only person besides himself who could beat their current opponent.
Understanding what was at stake, she leapt onto the fighting stage. Slamming her vambraces together so they rang, she introduced herself, “I am Bhita, daughter of Ditana, Nineteenth in the line of Rudra, Heaven’s Roarer, and Tellurian Practitioner of the metal attribute.”
Slamming her vambraces together again, she continued, “Will you meet me in battle, son of Valiant?”
Valerian inspected his challenger curiously. She bore no weapons and with the exception of the metal vambraces and leather boots, she bore no armour or jewellery. Her hair was left tussled and wild about her head, falling in curls very which way and her full bosom was held in place by tight cloth wrap. Loose fitting fighting robes, consisting of a sleeveless jacket and a pair of trousers bound by a cloth belt, were all she wore.
She seemed so deceptively simple and natural that it caused Valerian’s instincts to flare all the more. An essence transmission from Heidi only compounded this.
“Valerian! Be careful”, she warned. “Bhita is most likely the strongest person on Soldo’s team. Don’t be taken in her. That girl lives for battle. In seven fights with Soldo, she has won two and drawn in four!”
He frowned but chose not to keep her waiting, he began his own introduction, “I am Valerian, son of Valiant. Surnamed Steelborn, Dual force possessor, Array master of the first circle, Circle master of three attributes, Arcane Disciple of the metal and wind attributes, Tellurian Practitioner of the same, Scion of the House of Cragsveil. May we begin?”
No sooner was he done that the girl blurred before his eyes. Not even waiting for the referee to get into position, she slammed her right fist into his gut or at least tried to. Valerian looked down at his attacker, still stuck in a compromising position because of her lunge, and squeezed the offending limb that had attempted to lodge itself next to his kidney.
“Jumping the gun, are we?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Just testing you”, she said with a teasing smile. “Besides, I couldn’t help it.”
Snatching her fist back with a mighty pull, she fell back, adding, “Guys like you make me excited.”
Somehow, Valerian’s eyebrow found a way to raise itself even higher whiles he took his fighting stance. A fourth year on the sidelines quickly jumped in to fill the open refereeing position, yelling, “FIGHT!”
Valerian wasted no time transforming but on the other end of the stage, a similar transformation was taking place. It was the smell of blood that got to him first followed by a surging aura that seemed to incite him to battle. Bhita had also transformed. Her skin and hair had taken on the grey tone of iron and her body now bore red streaks of rust that looked like dried blood. His surprise at the act showed because she smiled enticingly and made a come-hither gesture. He did not disappoint.
To her credit, she met him head-on, raising her arms so his fist connected with her vambrace before firing off a series of lightning-quick jabs. Deflecting one to the side, he struck her with a body blow that should have floored her. It left her completely unfazed. Stunned, he tried to make room between them. That was when she struck. Arcane glyphs on her vambraces lit up and a new aura entered the fray. Strength. Strength. All-conquering strength was proclaimed to the heavens, transforming the iron-bodied Bhita into a vessel of power.
She chose her moment well, revealing her full strength just has his waned to surprise him. The first blow slammed into the retreating Valerian and the ones that followed hammered into him so hard that his body bounced across the fighting stage like a stone skipping on a lake. However, when she tried to follow only to have herself stopped by numerous wind blades that appeared out of thin air.
Dust clouded the stage, obstructing the view of the spectators. Forcing himself to his feet with a small stumble, Valerian did his best to ignore the ringing in his head. He was slightly disoriented but that did not stop him from narrowing his eyes at his assailant and did his best to ignore the gasps and pointing in the crowd. Blood ran freely from his left ear and his left eye was threatening to swell itself shut. The injuries were mostly superficial and the recovery properties of his qi were already working to right them but the harm had already been done. The myth of his invincibility had been broken.
“You know I am going to have to break you now”, he told her in a simple matter of tone.