VP BK I, CH 2: A Testy Exchange

Chapter Two: A Testy Exchange

“Get up!” Titus told his son. “We’re going to spar!”

Aelius looked up at his father. The man had come with two treasured blades, one of which he was holding out to him. “Not now, please. Just…just go. Leave me be!” 

“Stand!” his father said, his tone brokering no room for argument.

With a resigned grunt, Aelius forced himself to his feet. Immediately, his traitorous manservant packed up the lounge chair, no doubt acting on some unvoiced directive from his father.

“Can we not do this now?” he begged. “I…”

A sword was tossed his way before he could finish. Giving him no chance to refuse, his father attacked. With speed fuelled by pure fear and desperation, Aelius managed to grab and unsheathe his blade in time to block. 

“You cheat!” he yelled accusingly.

His father laughed. Shamelessly, he feigned a disengage before pressing in even more strongly. Soon, clanging sounds could be heard as father and son dashed about the yard, their swords meeting in the air. 

“Good! Good!” Titus acknowledged. They had spent a lot to heal and preserve their son’s body when he was in a coma. Thankfully, it seemed to have paid off. His cultivation base had regressed somewhat but at least his reflexes remained for the most part and he was just as physically fit as he had been before the accident.

Their swords met again and this time, he pushed forward using his strength and body weight to put his son in a defensive position. The two swords ground at each other in a clench as each wielder looked for a chance to slip his blade past the other.

“Let’s take things a step further!” Titus said, smirking at Aelius. 

Thus far, they had only been competing with their physical prowess. Now, he poured his essence into his blade letting his greedy blade drink till it was sated. A faint golden sheen came upon it. Aelius’ eyes widened for a brief moment before his own essence answered the challenge. Crimson red essence quickly coated his blade preventing his father’s from cutting through it.

Titus watched it with a careful eye. Aelius’ essence flowed a bit sluggishly but that could be attributed to its years of disuse and the fact that it might be a bit uncontrollable after the regression of his cultivation base. There was nothing that would indicate anything worrisome to look out for. His son’s essence retained its oppressive presence and had a strong, vigorous flow. You could tell how deep his power was just from looking at it. 

Smiling, Titus quickly channelled essence through his body whilst making sure to suppress his own cultivation base to his son’s level. Soon, they were but blurs to the average eye, shadows flitting about the yard as they swung, parried, and wove around each other. The younger gave as good as he got and there was no question as to his skill. Aelius was truly gifted with a sword. Training with one from the moment he was old enough to hold one in his hands meant he had good reason to be. However, his father had him beat. 

Even with his cultivation base suppressed, there was no mistaking whose mana and body were stronger. Nor did it affect the true depth of his skills or take away his rich experience. It only took a few clashes before he had the upper hand. 

Growling, Aelius’ eyes flashed and small but glittering clouds of indeterminate energy began to exude out of them. They formed small nebulae around his eyes making it look like some sort of strange, bright glowing smoke, like starlight, was coming off them. The instant this change occurred, his strikes and even the way he fought changed. Aelius became more adroit at parrying and avoiding his father’s sword. It was almost as if he could tell how and when a strike would land before it even began. He also took a more aggressive approach and actually began to chase after his old man instead of the other way around. 

Titus felt like grinning. This was his plan all along. Aelius really, really hated to lose. His son might be a genius but that very fact had made him conceited. He had to be the best, to excel at everything even if there were obviously people ahead of him in that field. Titus had once tried to break him from that but he ended up relenting when he saw just how much and how far that drive to prove himself as the best carried Aelius. Now, he was using it to his advantage. Already, the boy felt and acted more like his old self. Except…

Titus frowned. Aelius’ eyes… 

Everyone had been surprised when from a tender age Aelius had shown aptitude far beyond the norm of the admittedly high standards the Yanartas clan held itself to. A major reason for his success could be attributed to his eyes. Aelius possessed a pair of mystical eyes that allowed him to perceive the truth of the world around him. He could see through illusions, and past barriers, tell truth from falsehood and even dissect and inspect the underlying principles of everything he set his eyes on. 

This meant he could tell the flaws, strengths and patterns in the actions of others, see and understand how things, even skills were constructed. He could even memorise, analyse and decrypt the meanings and truths in what he saw. Aelius’ eyes were a powerful tool, perhaps the most useful in his son’s repertoire but Titus frowned upon seeing them. This was not because he did not like them. No. That was definitely not the case.

Aelius’ mystic eyes had always been a bright and spotless white upon activating. Their fire was so constant and bright that they left streaks in the air when he moved his head. Now, however, they had lost their spotless whiteness. The eyes themselves were obscured by the light clouds that left them but the nebulous masses themselves were a strange mix of black, red and royal purple. The latter two were barely in there but Titus could make out clear hairline strands of them in the black nebulae coming from his son’s eyes. No doubt, this was a change caused but the accident with that void experiment. Titus only hoped the change was cosmetic but he could already feel in his gut that it was not the case. They might have successfully rescued Aelius but it was clear that the Void had lefts its mark on his son.

Taking a quick step to the side, he successfully dodged a lunge that would have stabbed him in the kidney. This brought him back down to earth. That attack was significantly faster than any Aelius had used thus far. His eyes narrowed. No. It was not faster. His son had moved before the opening even revealed itself, his previous strikes forcing Titus into the position his follow-up would take advantage of. Titus’ mind whirred. That was at least two steps further than Aelius’ eyes had been recorded to work. Had his accident strengthened his mystic eyes? Was that what the colour change meant?

Idly slapping away the attack that came at him with his bare hand, Titus pushed harder. His attacks came blindingly quick, his blade scattering his son’s protective essence and carving up the landscape like an irate storm. Aelius’ eyes widened as he dodged a swing that threaten to bisect him. But he raised his essence in a bid to match his father. An illusory phantom formed behind him. A chimaera roared audibly as Aelius’ spirit made itself known, allowing him full use of his powers. 

It had the hindquarters of a goat complete with cloven feet but its tail was thick, scaly and ended with not one but two viper heads. They hissed rearing over its back as if trying to spit poison at his Lord father. The front of the beast was just as fearsome for it was the forequarters of a lion. Its thick mane glistened black and gold, framing its snarling face and parting at the top for its two-metre-long spiralling horns. Its mystic eyes, the same as Aelius’, fixed themselves on their opponent, the nebulae shining with visible light. The giant illusory chimaera loomed over Aelius, locking all the essence in the area in place and enhancing his powers to their fullest. 

Titus looked at his son’s innate spirit, pleased to see that it had not degraded with the loss in Aelius’ cultivation, he would have examined it some more but Aelius’ next strike cut him short. The annoyed, lethargic look on his son’s face was nowhere to be seen, replaced with a familiar focus. His intent, sharp and strong, surged, and his sword came down with the full force of his cultivation base. Titus rushed to block it. 

[Sky Splitting Slash]

The air was filled with blades, everything that met the edge of Aelius’ blade fell apart, cut into two pieces. Anything touched by even the smallest smidgen of his essence was cut. The yard or at least the half he faced was no more. Nevertheless, when the dust cleared, his father stood before him, unharmed but with a look of pride on his face. In the end, he had been forced to lift his own restrictions. That final strike far exceeded anything an initial Spirit Fusion cultivator could match.

“Wow! Your sword intent is even stronger than it was last I saw it!” he remarked.

It took a split second for him to realise that something was wrong. Aelius was staring at his sword with a mixture of horror and disbelief.

“Aelius!” Titus called, walking up to him. “Aelius, what’s wrong?”

Before he could get there, his son fell to his knees laughing in a dejected manner. In the blink of an eye, both of his parents were next to him. 

“Aelius, honey, what’s the matter?” his mother asked cradling her son.

“All my efforts wasted. All my praise, undeserved. Junior Sword Saint…Future sword immortal… all lies!” Their son mumbled, tears streaming down his face. He raised his hand, coating it with his essence and sharp intent. 

“This is not sword intent”, he told his parents. “It never was. It’s cutting intent. All this time I was deceiving myself.”

“Are you sure, Aelius?” his father asked.

Cutting. That was a minor natural law. Swordplay was a grand law of the technical variety. While similar at face value, it would be hard to confuse the two. The difference in power alone…

“My eyes…” Aelius intoned dispiritedly.  

He did not need to say anything more. Titus immediately understood. If the mystic eyes identified his intent as following the law of cutting then it was probably correct. But how? Aelius had always cultivated the sword earnestly. He was an acknowledged sword prodigy. It was the only reason he was able to touch the law of the sword at such an early age. Unless…he deviated in his cultivation without even realising it.

“All lies…” his son moaned, his greatest accomplishment turned to dust. “Was anything ever real?”

“Get up!” he told Aelius. “We’ll find a way to resolve the issue. The cutting law is central to the sword law anyway. It should be easy to get you back on track.”

“What’s the point?” Aelius asked despondently.

Titus and Nerys stared at their son, finding his broken figure more pitiful that his comatose self. Unable to help himself, Titus felt an unfamiliar rage, sparked by disappointment. He reached down and grabbed Aelius by his lapels pulling him to his feet roughly.

“Titus!” his wife yelled worriedly but he quelled her with a glare.

“Are you even my son?” He asked, his tone dark and angry. His grip tightened, bunching up Aelius’ robes. Realising that something was wrong Aelius struggled to free himself. 

“My son isn’t so worthless”, Titus announced. “Where’s your pride? Where is your spirit? Is this what your mother and I suffered to bring back from the void, a spineless coward? What use are you if you cannot even recover from a simple setback?”

His mana rose unchecked, crushing Aelius’ feeble attempts at resistance. For a moment, it seemed he would crush his body as well but that did not happen. Instead, he tossed Aelius back to the ground. In that second, Aelius saw something in his father’s expression he had never seen directed his way before, a flicker of disgust. It cut him deeper than any blade.

“I do not even know you anymore”, his father said walking away. “The son of Titus Yanartas would not sit here helpless, done in by some stupid bitch and a trash heap peasant. He would be angry. He would be spitting blood at his enemies. You’re not him! Wallow in self-pity for all I care. Just don’t do it in my sight!”

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