Chapter Thirty-nine: New Paths
The Langston clan of Erainon was very strange. A line of sword wielders who claimed they were descended from the sword of an immortal, they were among the best swordsmen and women in the Kingdom. Lady Bloodworth knew a bit more about them than others, so she did not take the rumours at face value. The Langstons were not sword wielders. They were swords! Each clan member was born with an oddly shaped soul, a mark of their ancestor’s true nature.
Others trained for years to produce sword force, but they had it from the moment they learned to tap into their powers. The swords they carried were mere vessels for the sword force they generated naturally. It was not just swords either. They were born to the blade. Daggers, glaives, sabres, knives, if it had an edge, they could learn to use it. All they needed to focus on was their personal cultivation, techniques and the strengthening of their sword souls to become better sword wielders. It was horribly unfair, but Bloodworth did not feel she was in a position to point fingers.
The Langstons and the Gavriels were the closest of allies, a great irony considering how their relationship started. The Royal family of Erainon gave the Langstons a fief next to the Gavriel intending to trigger a conflict between the two. It was believed that their opposing attributes and similar legacies would to force them into an escalating competition that would expend both parties. Instead, they became staunch allies, mutually promoting each other to new levels. Bloodworth was not surprised when she discovered Wynna’s playmate was one of the Langston heirs. Before she came to Bathar and met her soul mate, she was even engaged to one.
The memories caused her to smile wryly. However, it was clear to her eyes that Hue was nothing like her old beau. The girl was seated, crosslegged on the hard-packed earth, her sword lying across her lap. Sword force rose from her, flickering around her like a flame. The breeze screech when it met it, shredded by the sharp essence around her. Lady Bloodworth took a second to admire its intensity. The girl was on the verge of awakening her sword intent, a remarkable feat for a tellurian practitioner.
“Have you figured out what aspect you want to condense?” She asked the swordswoman.
The girl’s eyes flew open, a sharp light shooting of them to meet Lady Bloodworth’s own. It was a look that could literally cut whatever was stared at. It was equivalent to a minor spiritual attack. It reached Lady Bloodworth and dispersed harmlessly against her face. Hue immediately launched into a series of apologies that the old lady waved away.
“Spirit in form. Sword as will!” She remarked to Hue’s shock. “I’m impressed. Not many of your clansmen can achieve that before the lord tier. In fact, you should not either. Your spirit should not be strong enough yet?”
“I had help”, Hue confessed, rubbing the medallion around her neck.
“Yes, I was told”, Lady Bloodworth informed her. “You intend to lead a revival of water-based sword arts, even managed to obtain a personal legacy to that end. It’s a great achievement, an even better ambition.”
The Langstons, whiles swordsmen, were primarily ice attributed. However, there were a few who practised water elemental arts. Others went even further afield pursuing esoteric arts; yin, blood, whiles some abandoned the elements altogether. Hue’s great ambition was to prove that a water element sword was just as good if not better.
“There is just one problem”, she told the scale clad belle. “Do you wield water like a sword or a sword of water?”
Hue sat there, confused. Water like a sword, a sword of water. Were they not the same? Lady Bloodworth watched her work it out. It did not take long.
“You want me to condense a water element aspect instead of a sword-based one?” the swordswoman realised.
Bloodworth knew she was asking a lot of the girl. For Langstons, the sword was central. Everything else was meant to buttress the sword, not the other way around. Even Hue wanted to use water as a supplement instead of ice in the end, her goal was the sword, not the water. It could be seen in her battles. Her opponents were beaten by her skill with the sword. It was her sword techniques that won the day and not her use of the element. There was nothing wrong with this; nevertheless, it went against what her new teacher wanted.
The old lady loved what the swordswoman brought to the table. She was by far the deadliest of her five new apprentices. Hue was wholly dedicated to her path, and every skill she possessed was focused on combat. She might not have as many skills as say Valerian or Heidi, but she would absolutely tear the latter to shreds and draw with the first even with his newly discovered wind lordship. However, Lady Bloodworth needed a water cultivator to complete her set and Hue was not it. Not yet.
“Why?” Hue questioned. “Swordplay is a perfectly complete Art. My bloodline…”
“Is not the only sword path!” Lady Bloodworth interrupted. “There are other sword arts. Other modes of swordplay. I can give you all of them and those I cannot teach, I can provide the manuals and teachers for.”
Continuing, she told the confused girl. “You want water. You want the sword. You want to create your own brand of swordplay. I will help you do that. However, my skills, my legacies, they all involve elemental mastery. I can teach you to master water and then use it as a sword, but I cannot teach you to use a sword of water.”
“And if I choose the other one, will you sack me?” Hue asked.
“I might have to. You have an incredible talent, and I would hate to see it go to waste. Unfortunately, my training is only suitable for an elemental swordswoman, not a swordswoman with an element. You would not do well in my hands. I will find you another teacher, someone more capable of training you in the second path.”
Hue sat there, more confused than she had ever been. Her mind slipped, causing her sword to thrum against her side, a query of her mental state. On the one hand, she could abandon her current path and train under the master of her dreams. On the other, she could keep on her path and find another master.
“I will understand if it seems like you are abandoning the sword, but you are not. What’s the phrase? ‘Sword in heart, sword in hand.’ The sword is a tool. Swordplay is about how it is used. I will teach my techniques. Combine them with your sword soul, and you will not necessarily be inferior. Depending on your efforts, you might be even better.”
Hue took a deep breath, trying to calm her heart. Looking past, Lady Bloodworth, her eyes focused on Wynna, her one true friend. They had come here together to pursue their dreams. She owed to their friendship and those same dreams to follow this to the end. Besides, what’s the use of getting a teacher if you were not going to let them teach you.
“What do I have to do?” she asked.
Lady Bloodworth smiled.
Do you know why I left you for last?” Lady Bloodworth asked Sweetrot.
“Dunno? Maybe it’s because you don’t have anything to teach me”, Sweetrot told her.
The old lady smiled, seeing through his bluster. “Now, I wish that were true. It would save me a lot of time. However, we both know that’s not the case.”
The tellurian tried to look unaffected by her words. His aged and emaciated body worked in his favour. It was hard to read a face that seemed ready to slough off. He would have gotten away with it if the old lady could not read his essence like an open book. The last few days had not been good to the dark-skinned youth. Publicly, he was the weakest apprentice. His weaknesses and strengths were shown for the whole world to see. Now, his one distinguishing feature was effectively being put up at a bargain sale. It was shattering to his self-esteem.
“You need a lot of work. Your agility is excellent, but you lack speed. Your strength is nothing special, and your techniques are low-ranked and crude. Your fighting style leaves much to be desired. Having seen your academic record, I can estimate that you are probably poor in general knowledge and skills”, Lady Bloodworth told him, each sentence was like a blow to the ego.
“Still”, she added. “It just makes your achievements all the more remarkable. You attunement, courtesy of your aspect, is among the best I have ever seen. Your choice in aspect is also incredible. It actually lets you take advantage of what few pluses you have in your book.”
Sweetrot perked up at this, at least she could see his good side for what it was. He was right, and the old lady’s next words proved it.
“All in all, you are a diamond in the rough, Robern. I find myself eager to see just what you will be capable of with proper training and resources. There’s only one question?”
Sweetrot prepared to answer. Unfortunately, it was not something he could ever prepare for.
“Tell me”, Lady Bloodworth demanded. “Why Sweetrot. I thought the proper translation for Meama was Ferment.”
The floor of Sweetrot’s stomach fell away, replaced by dread.
‘Fuck me, she knows!’
Immediately, his eyes darted around, looking for an exit. There was none. They were behind Lady Bloodworth’s manor. Hundred of metres, not to mention the most powerful cultivator in the kingdom, stood between him and any hope of escaping. Already skin and bones, Sweetrot looked like he was deflating.
“Are you going to kill me?” he asked, his voice filled with fear.
“Kill you?” the old lady asked incredulously. “Why would I? You are my apprentice now.”
“You’re not?” now it was Sweetrot’s turn to be incredulous.
“I am merely curious”, she revealed. “I did some checking and learnt a few things. However, I merely wished to give you the chance to come clean.”
Lady Bloodworth laughed, “You have not been as discreet as you think. An insignificant tellurian practitioner trying to keep tabs on an Imperial Envoy? Who did you think you were? The only reason you are still alive is that you were never a threat to him. That’s changed now. Everyone knows you have fangs. Under my care, they will only grow.”
“You know”, Sweetrot affirmed, trying to understand. “You know that the Imperial Envoy is after my head and you do not care?”
The air stilled, the old lady’s face losing its mirth and becoming serious. “An Imperial Envoy might mean something to you, but to me, it is nothing. I could have him as a servant, and he would be glad for it. If I wanted to, I could fly to capital right now and bring back his head. However, that is not what you want, is it?”
Sweetrot’s mind collapsed as he played his teacher’s words over and over again in his mind. He simply could not fathom the fact that the enemy that haunted his every step was within his grasp. Some part of him wanted to ask Lady Bloodworth to prove her words, to bring him the head of the man who slaughtered his clan. However, an even stronger part, the one forged in hate and despair held it back. The old lady was right, that was not what he wanted.
He wanted the man at this mercy. For him to know that the person he had once considered worthless was the one who was taking his life. He wanted to peel every inch of flesh off his bones only to stuff into his mouth and laugh as he choked on them. Sweetrot realised that he had to be the one who did it not just for himself but for his clan.
Lady Bloodworth watched the emotions play out in the boy’s essence. Motivating this one would be easy. He had the talent and the drive already. She just needed to direct it properly.
“I am waiting to hear your side of the story”, she said, interrupting his thoughts. Tell me everything.”