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HoGW BK V, CH 10: A Clash of Flame and Gold

Chapter Ten: A Clash of Flame and Gold

Valerian did not hesitate. The ground cracked underneath him as he pushed off it, golden wings beating with enough force to release a visible shockwave. No sooner had he done so that fire erupted where he had been standing with tongues of flame that reached up into the air after him like grasping fingers. Hundred of metres above his opponent, Valerian circled the battlefield trying to think up a strategy.

“You’re faster!” Wynna noted as she tossed a fireball his way.

Valerian said nothing, dodging the probing attack with ease. Of the five of them, Wynna was the undeniable powerhouse with greater essence reserves at her disposal than possibly all of them put together. Her attacks struck with such force they were practically unblockable, and he was weak to fire. To stand a chance against her, he’d need to — PAIN—

Sent careening towards the ground by a surprise fireball from behind him, Valerian struggled to remain aloft. Banking hard, left, he assessed the damage. He was lucky. She hit him in the wing. The force of it may have stunned him, but the flames were kept mostly at bay by his golden feathers. The heat of it, though, was already causing splotches to form across his torso. Going bare-chested and without armour today was a terrible mistake. 

“Come on now!” Wynna teased. “That was a small one.”

She stood on a rolling carpet of flames; staff pointed down at him. Try as he might, Valerian couldn’t understand how she had gotten behind him. 

‘Can she teleport?’ he asked himself. This fight would go from difficult to downright unwinnable if she could teleport.  

“Aunt Lilian said not to hold back”, his opponent warned, having grown tired of waiting. “You better put in some effort!”

He spared a glance at the ground, where Bloodworth and Pugio stood, watching and waiting. It was too late to call for time to change, so he settled for a substitute. The gleaming fluid metal of his mercurial orb poured out of his spatial ring and covered him from head to toe in armour reminiscent of his uncle’s. Setting his jaw in his resolution, Valerian allowed his qi to coat his hands and become [Rending Talons]. Wynna might be incredibly powerful, but she was also a stereotypical arcanist who relied more on spells than close-quarters combat. His best bet was to get in close.

With a single flap of his immense wings, Valerian was off. The wind sang in his ears, offering its support against the flame. He had it make him lighter, faster. He sent it roaring at Wynna in an attempt to push her off her perch in the sky. Usually, this wasn’t possible, but with two of his three seals undone, Valerian had access to most of the power of his true form. His servants, the wind and the gold, could once more aid their rightful lord. 

Valerian shook that last thought loose. That was the ancestral will talking, not him. He had to keep a handle on those thoughts and prevent them from becoming a runaway train that ended with him getting caught in a fantasy where he was a great and mighty divine creature, ruling over the sky and all beneath it as Monarch of the Heavens. 

Obscuring himself in the screeching winds, he wondered if this was what Wynna felt all the time. He’d tried to avoid thinking too much about his teammates in order to make his coming exit cleaner but having her right in front of him made his thoughts wander. Valerian was only assaulted by his ancestral will when he went diving into his hereditary memories or fully transformed into his true form. Bloodworth had made it sound like her clan had theirs lurk just beneath the surface, always looking for an opportunity to manifest itself. It was ironic. He’d known of Wynna’s circumstance for months now and empathised, but it was only after his struggles to control and meld with his own animus that he truly understood her and what she was going through.  

As he mused about their shared troubles, Valerian’s opponent weathered the squall. The winds pushed and whipped at her, but all they could only cause the flame to flicker. They could not snuff it out. 

He changed his approach. Taking a page out of her book, Valerian moulded the screeching winds into great spheres that would explode with bone-shattering force if they got close. In response, the flames at Wynna’s feet rushed forth in outrage, burning and consuming his wind bursts. They moved almost independently, darting out from under her feet and seeking out his attacks as if they were alive. What they could not burn, they avoided, smoothly leading their mistress through the crashing storm. Circling his teammate, Valerian was stunned when he realised he could almost hear the entreaties of the flames and feel them give their all for their mistress. That should not be possible. 

He called on the wind, beckoning it with all his authority, both earned and inherited. It swirled around him, singing his praise and promising him fealty. Valerian looked past those familiar obsecrations and fixed his sight on his erstwhile teammate. He watched her turn unerring to where he was, hidden amidst the dancing gales, with eyes of wonder. His suspicions confirmed, Valerian turned to the likely culprit, the internal matrix of [The Grand Order of the Five Phases]. 

Once more, he was correct. The matrix was active, reaching out and trying to connect the two closest points of the formation. He gave it the metaphysical equivalent of a finger flick and watched as Wynna cursed from the sensation. Somehow, they had grown so used to the matrix that they had unconsciously opened the channels in each other’s presence. Or at least, he hoped they had. It would be a very different and worrying thing if the matrix could activate itself willy-nilly. Whichever the case, this presented an opportunity. As the usual focal point of the formation, Valerian was very conversant with the working of the matrix. Wynna was the opposite.

He flicked it again, much to her displeasure. 

“Stop that!” she screamed. 

Unable to help himself, he did it again. It wasn’t a very unpleasant sensation, but it was jarring. She reached out for him, a gigantic arm of fire four metres wide and three times as long manifesting itself between them. Five metre-long fingers threatened to close themselves around Valerian by the time he remembered to flee. With a wave of his hand, he sent out a series of [Scything Blades] that cut through the flaming hand too easily to be believed. It exploded, scattering fire everywhere. With a burst of flame, Wynna appeared out of one of the shards. With a gesture, she sent the others flying at Valerian, transforming them into flaming birds in a fit of pique.

He cursed, the spell he was casting nearly faltering as he scrambled to avoid the flaming birds. Wynna could travel through her flames. That was almost as bad as straight teleportation. Thankfully, it did not change his plans. The glow in his hands intensified, announcing to all that his spell was complete. 

[Breath of the North Wind]

A wintry gale swept its way into existence, spurred on by his control of the wind. The temperature in the area dropped so suddenly that Valerian felt frost form on his new mercurial armour. Thrusting both hands at his opponent, Valerian fired the spell-like one would a cannon. Roaring and twisting like a serpentine dragon, the cold front struck Wynna like the judgement of an angry god, only she was no longer there. Valerian watched as the spell he had hoped would end the battle tore its way through the flames to reveal nothing.

With a burst of flame, Wynna appeared elsewhere, laughing as his spell flew harmlessly past. He grinned before bringing it back to bear with a gesture. 

Fire had been his weakness for as long as he’d been fighting professionally. Valerian could still remember the smell of his own flesh burning in the aftermath of Aaron Veldt’s attack. Since then, he’d done his best to mitigate this weakness. Unfortunately for him, it was everywhere. You couldn’t go three leagues without bumping into a fire-attributed cultivator. He’d once read a survey that said that fire was the element most likely to be chosen for attunement by cultivators without innate affinities.

Realising that fighting fire-attributed cultivators will forever be in his future, Valerian had worked on countermeasures. [Breath of the North Wind] was one of them. This was a wind spell that summoned forth a winter gale that froze everything in its path, perfect for disabling fire cultivators and dispersing their attacks. Or at least it should be. 

Valerian watched as Wynna summoned a dragon of fire to contend with his spell. He directed his spell under it, seeking to bypass the construct and strike the caster instead, but alas, it was not to be. Wynna’s dragon wrapped around his, treating the rushing winds like a physical creature. It squeezed, causing Valerian to pump more arcane energy into the spell lest it pop like a grape. It wasn’t enough. Roaring triumphantly, Wynna’s dragon crushed his spell out of existence. Reeling from the feedback, he was unable to avoid the fireball that crashed into his chest or the flames it engulfed him in.


Wynna stared intently at the place where Valerian went down. She remained on her guard. Something about it did not feel right. She was rewarded for her diligence when a taloned hand swiped across her shield, cutting furrows into the normally invisible construct. Turning quickly, she brought her staff to be and fired a fireball into his face. It exploded, the blowback ruffling her clothes and whipping her hat from her head. She watched as the headless Valerian dispersed like smoke. 

A set of talons stabbed up through her platform of fire, narrowly missing her left foot. Yelping, she jumped through the fire, moving to one of the flaming birds she had created earlier. Taking this chance to reinforce her shield, she scanned the area for Valerian. He was gone, no doubt hiding in the wind again. The loud screeching of his talons against her shields let her know how wrong she was. 

She summoned her birds close, sending them into a dizzying formation so they could patrol her surroundings and protect her from her mean teammate. There!

Spotting Valerian, she sent a salvo of fireballs his way, only for her birds to alert her to his presence behind her. 

‘What?’ he exclaimed in shock. 

She turned to face him only to receive even more reports, warning of his approach from many conflicting directions. Standing on the back of her firebird, Wynna spun in place, eyes wide as three dozen Valerians assailed her from every conceivable direction. They rushed in, flying in as a flock of gold. He was so fast that she barely had time to prepare before he was upon her. 

She smiled. 

[Incandescent Fusillade]

Sparks of light surrounded the real Valerian, where he hid two hundred metres from her position. His trick was nice, and she was nearly fooled, but even if they carried his essence signature, none of his illusions had his fire. It was a sense not many knew she had, the ability to distinguish people by their inner flames. It worked best with fire-attributed cultivators, but even those of other affinities had a warmth to them that was unique and traceable. 

She watched as Valerian panicked, rushing whatever spell he was casting as the sparks sealed off every possible escape route. They built on themselves, growing bigger and brighter as they readied to explode. 

POOF!

They were written out of existence by a strange wave of disruptive arcane energy. Wynna’s eyes widened with shock when she felt her connection to the flame falter. The wave wasn’t coming from Valerian. It was coming from all around them. She swept the sky, looking for the source. It was something she should have noticed earlier. Tiny silver glyphs, hidden in plain sight but now free to act against her. Valerian’s stupid orb was liquid. He had spread bits of it all around them, and now those bits were glowing, transformed into strange glyphs that worked together to banish and suppress her flames. 

Caught in the giant array, Wynna roared, eyes turning into pools of molten flame as her animus rose to the surface. 


Valerian watched as Wynna fell, her platform vanishing underneath her. He sighed in relief before diving after her. That was close. She nearly had him. Creating an array of this size was a lot more difficult than he had initially believed. He wouldn’t have been able to do it without his mercurial orb. 

The former elite artefact was now a noble one, having slowly transformed to match his own level of cultivation in the weeks since he became a lord-tier cultivator. Better still, because of the role it played in his ascension, it had imprints of his aspects embedded in it, making it the best possible match for his aspect of authority. Just now, he was able to use it as a relay to extend the range of his aspect and his control of the surrounding essence to create a truly gigantic version of his true ace in the hole, [The Flame Suppression Array]. Originally intended as an enchantment sub-formation for buildings as a safeguard to minimise the risk of fires, he had tweaked its use to defeat his teammate, suppressing her flames and driving away the fire-attributed world essence that sustained them.

Swooping in, he caught Wynna in his hands. Breathing a second sigh of relief, he set course for Lady Bloodworth and Pugio. Of course, that’s when she exploded.

Tumbling through the air in disbelief, Valerian gaped as Wynna transformed into a fountain of fire. The flames poured forth, spreading everywhere and, more importantly, surrounding Wynna in a shroud that slowly took the shape of a giant lifelike image of her. 

Squirming in pain, he barely had time to deploy his emergency fire defences before she snatched him up. Giant blocks of titan bone and frost iron surrounded him, enchanted with fire-repelling charms and flame shields. Trapped in a cage of his own making, Valerian stared through the gaps as the giant-sized Wynna pulled him close, scorching his protections with her hands. 

He did not understand, his array was still in effect, and yet, Wynna simply brushed it aside with contempt. It should not be possible, but she was somehow overpowering it. He yelled, his arcane energy pouring through the connection he had to the [The Flame Suppression Array]. Doubling down, he pushed against the flames, forcibly dispersing them only for them to push back in rage. Fire essence that should be shunted out of his array poured in despite his protests. 

“I am titanchilde, Valerian”, the fire giantess laughed, growing ever larger and brighter. “Mine is the flame of Verre itself. How’re you going to suppress the world?”

“This isn’t a battle of spells!” the Mistress of Flames yelled. “It’s a battle of wills!”

Valerian felt her essence change, growing in intensity. The world around them seemed to change in response. Too late, Valerian realised that Wynna was undergoing a breakthrough. Outside his enchantments, the flame construct shuddered as its mistress consolidated her new aspect. 

“I AM INEXHAUSTIBLE! UNQUENCHABLE!” her voice echoed around him, seemingly the voice of the world itself. “BURN!”

And burn he did. The fire-repelling wards began to fail as the arcane energy sustaining them was burned out of existence. Soon his frost iron and titanbone shields were melting, the only thing holding them up being his will. It wasn’t just him. The whole world seemed to combust at her command. Breathable air was growing sparse. Outside his cage, the wind screamed but couldn’t reach him. Valerian roared with pain as the heat cooked him, forcing as much power as he could into his defences lest they be overcome.

As if sensing his struggles, the third seal gave way, and the final portion of his power returned to him. His eyes lit up with barely suppressed power as the law fragments on his wings glowed. 

[Scattering the Clouds]. 

Space rippled as the shockwave he released blasted its way through everything in a one-hundred-metre radius. The inexhaustible flames were pushed aside and tossed to the wind. Even the giant flame construct was broken.  

It hung in the air, now missing its hand and a significant portion of its torso. Nestled in the head, Wynna laughed, her construct regenerating so quickly it was doubtful it was ever damaged in the first place. She could feel Valerian’s presence growing stronger with each breath, and it fascinated her. She could not recall the last time she had cut loose. Hue was a great playmate, but this… this was different. 

Fighting the swordswoman was markedly different. Their clashes were just as spectacular, but they lacked the dimensions this one did. Fighting Hue was a straightforward clash of power and skill. Fighting Valerian was like fighting a distorted mirror of herself where she was a boy and where her flame was replaced with wind and gold. She found herself hoping this continued and that he grew stronger. Strong enough to test her limits.

Was this what it would have been like to have siblings? 


Authors Note:

Someone, Pinchy I think, once asked me who would win in a fight between Peng Valerian and Blazing Spirit Wynna. Well, we’re about to find out. 

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