Bird in the sky

HoGW BK V, CH 1: Progress


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Chapter One: Progress

The sun rose high in the sky, beating down on those beneath it with all the fury of summer. The clear skies, though beautiful, did not help. It was fortunate then that Marrbissi was the premier academy of the mystic arts in the Kingdom of Bathar. A simple charm went a long way in this heat especially if you had to train in this heat.

Valerian braced himself, even so, the blow sent him skidding across the stone floor. The pave stones cracked and blackened from the attack but he was unhurt. A strange mix of earth and metal essence covered him, shielding him from the attack. It was a strange sensation and one that took some getting used to. Just ahead of him, Heidi raised a wall, taking shelter behind it whilst her constructs harried their opponents. [Earth-Metal Shell] a subset of [The Grand Order of the Five Phases] worked exactly as advertised. Wynna’s blow could only shake it. A beat later, he felt a ripple in the network as Hue withdrew some of her influence.

Quickly, he rushed back into the fray to protect his teammate. Opposite them, Blazing Spirit Wynna cackled as her unshackled essence skyrocketed. The fireball that followed was four times as large as the ones before it and at least twice as hot. Heidi’s wall stood no chance. Luckily, he was there to spirit her away before its shards turned even their reinforced bodies into crushed meat. Valerian rocketed into the air, dropping explosive shells of metal essence behind him. Wynna followed, her burning aura evaporating them before they could be of use.

“NOW!” She yelled.

He felt a twinge in the network as Hue reasserted herself. Distracted, he had only a before a sudden stream of water curved its way into his path. Their resident swordmaiden was waiting for them. Thinking quickly, he used [Illusory Strike] to create two duplicates of himself hoping to confuse his attackers. Sadly, it appeared Hue was already wise to his tactic. Two more streams of water appeared, each aimed at intercepting at a fleeing Valerian-Heidi pair. Heidi tapped him on the arm as she sent an essence transmission his way. Grasping her plan, he hurled her right at Hue.

Ordinarily, he would be better for Hue since his metal attribute restrained water. However, it had been proven time and again that Heidi could not withstand Wynna’s attacks. She might have the attribute advantage but she was outclassed in sheer power. The earth mage could only grit her teeth and take on Hue who was more her speed. Flying at her target, she materialised several blocks of stone around herself. In response, Hue diverted one of the streams to pursue her. This also cut Valerian off from Heidi. However, he had other concerns in mind at the moment.

Reorienting himself, he created a spear of metal essence and charged at his fiery-haired pursuer. In return, he was forced to dodge several explosions as [Detonation Points] soon littered the sky.

All too late, Valerian realised something. Hue had reasserted herself in the matrix. By all accounts, Wynna’s firepower should be dampened. Why then was it still building? Wait, the streams… were they boxing them in? Cries of warning died stillborn in his throat as the pressure Wynna was building burst loose. Before he could even get a word out, it rippled through the matrix and shattered the network. Worse, Wynna’s animus was completely set free. Her aura and intent rampaged across the courtyard causing flash fires everywhere. The streams of water surrounding them evaporated in the heat, creating billowing clouds of steam that obscured everything. Far below them, Sweetrot cursed loudly. Behind him, someone screamed in pain.

[Scattering the Clouds] with his wings, Valerian tried to find Wynna in the remaining steam clouds. He shook off the momentary dizziness caused by the destruction of their network and looked for an out. Regrettably, the damage was already done. Not even his timely skill was enough. Although he had dispersed the steam clouds before they touched his skin, Valerian still felt like he was broiling, the ambient heat in the courtyard must have multiplied tenfold.

Before him, Wynna panted in exhaustion. She was immune to the heat but her clothes were plastered to her skin, soaked through from the humidity. Despite this, she looked triumphant. Valerian struggled to understand, why forcefully break through Hue’s block in such a fashion. Then, he saw it. The clouds were turning into swords. The sharp scream that followed, informed him of Heidi’s fate.

“I surrender!” he announced with a sigh.

“Well done!” Lady Bloodworth praised. “You’ve come a long way these last two months.”

Heidi grumbled from her seat. The healer was hard at work but her skin was still red from the steam.

Watching with an unsympathetic gaze, Sweetrot complained. “I still think it is unfair that Valerian gets to have his own servant!”

Valerian ignored the jealous tellurian as Pugio handed over another towel before busying himself with his master’s armour. As he wiped himself down, Valerian briefly reconsidered telling Sweetrot that Pugio was in fact, a highly trained assassin. He wondered what the darker-skinned youth would think if he knew the ‘servant’ was probably his equal in power. Nevertheless, he held his tongue again. That would be more trouble than it was worth. Besides, what was the point in having a secret assassin if everyone knew?

Still, he had to hand it Pugio. He played the role of diligent manservant well. Too well in fact. Valerian’s eyes wandered over to the butler standing next to his teacher. Again, he held his tongue, keeping his suspicions to himself.

“Wynna! Hue!” Lady Bloodworth called out. “That was an excellent gambit! It also illustrates exactly why you need to get better at dealing with disruptions. Not everyone hoping to break your formation will be as gentle.”

Wynna’s happy smile was positively radiant at the praise. Meanwhile, a still lightheaded Valerian tried to figure out just how painful a disruption could get if this was ‘gentle’.

“I would not be as excited if I were you”, their teacher added, bursting her bubble. “You are only one still struggling with the two-person sub formations. I’m considering banning the [Fire-Water Parity] until you can reach equal levels of success with your other teammates.”

In the fourteen weeks, they had spent studying under Lady Bloodworth, they had learned that [The Grand Order of the Five Phases] was divided into five chapters with five distinct functions; [Augment], [Cultivate], [Attack], [Defence] and [Seal]. Currently, they had only been given the first two chapters. The first for general practice and the second for joint cultivation. According to their teacher, the first chapter was key. They had to practise maintaining the augmented state under duress before they would be allowed to learn the offensive and defensive states.

To this end, she had them train in all sorts of situations including live combat. The moment they became competent at maintaining a level three augment, she had them practise two-person sub formations, first separately and then against each other.

Valerian, with his masterful essence control and authority aspect, had proven the best at this. Hue and Heidi came next. Wynna, however, came last by a good mile. Her gigantic reserves made control difficult and when her temperamental animus reared its head, the difficulty increased sixfold. Thus far, Hue was the only one she could reliably two-team with. Water restrained fire, thus she could actually help Wynna control her animus. It didn’t hurt that they grew up together. Their sub formation, [Fire-Water Parity], was currently the strongest, as they had proved today.

“Aunt Lilian, please!” the tiny arcanist begged.

Her equally tiny ancestor dismissed her with a simple wave. “Work on your control and I will reconsider! After today, I want to see you working more with Valerian and Robern.”

Now it was Wynna’s turn to grumble. Unlike Hue who restrained the animus, working with Sweetrot tended to boost her far beyond any hope of control. [Fire-Metal Annihilation] was better but a mistake meant Valerian was liable to get hurt. Watching her fidget, Sweetrot sniggered, a blunder that caused their teacher to turn her sights onto him.

“How far have you gotten with my assignment, Robern?” she asked. That shut him up instantly. “And you wonder why your progress is stalling”, she admonished.

Wisely, the rest kept their mouths shut, Heidi especially. The hierarchy of the disciples had seen little change during their stay. Valerian remained comfortably at the top. His military training, dual forces, arrays and phantasm made him too difficult to beat. Wynna and her Blazing Spirit came next. Control issues aside, there was no denying its power or its threat to Valerian. Hue was the only real contender. The water attributed sword maiden had actually condensed a second aspect. To add to this, her ability to somewhat restrain Wynna made her position somewhat confusing.

All this meant that Heidi and Sweetrot found themselves constantly struggling not to be ranked last in the group. The competition had done wonders for their progress. Surprising everyone, Sweetrot had manifested a monarch intent. Conversely, Heidi had revealed an earthen crux that elevated her overall power. Both had advanced in power with Sweetrot opting to improve his power whilst Heidi focused more on control and flexibility. At the moment, Heidi held the edge, but that could change at any time. It had happened before.

“Heidi, there is a fourth-year class on earth formations I think you would benefit from. Give this to the instructor and he will let you sit in”, Lady Bloodworth announced. “Valerian, you are free to go to your class with Elder Theoren. The rest of you should find something productive to do with the day.”

Author’s Note:

Regrettably, web pages cannot give you that new book smell. We’ve got some more concrete information on [The Grand Order of the Five Phases]. Feel free to head over to the discord to complain about how it is OP.

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