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The days went by in a flash. Gisael was worried that the wait would kill them, but Fain had them so busy that they had no time to think about a reunion. Every person involved in the plot, apart from Pian, was working on something at breakneck speed.
Fain had designed a study plan for Reyas and her, they worked on aura-shielding and when their minds needed a rest to soak in the lessons learnt from that task, they worked on their respective affinities. The Coterie were far from combat specialists, they did not have warriors with wind affinity or fire affinity, but they did have vast amounts of knowledge to draw upon.
Fain requested, “Let me see your archery Gisael.”
“My bow is in Sandstone, I only brought my swords,” Gisael replied.
“Can you not use any bow?” Fain asked.
“Yes, but it would need to be made out of wood,” Gisael replied, knowing that the Myrkalfar used composite and other exotic types of bows.
Fain nodded, “Or it needs to be organic possibly? Do you use your affinity?”
“Yes, we have an innate ability amongst the guardians of my people, known as qi arrow, it is where we hone and encourage the arrow’s true path,” Gisael explained.
“Wait, you use a physical arrow?” Fain asked.
“Yes, our fletchers make arrows entirely from wood,” Gisael answered.
“Hmm, I am familiar with some writings on your kind, but I would have thought an elite like yourself would have progressed to affinity arrows, either wind or a combination of summoned wind and wood,” Fain expounded.
“Ah, I have heard of it in the legends but I have never seen such an arrow,” Gisael could not help but feel inferior to this woman, something she was not used to.
Fain nodded sagely, “Let me show you something.”
Fain led Gisael to a small indoor range, small as it was only fifty paces long. It ran up the side of a hall and was encased in stone. It was extremely narrow. If you shot astray, the arrow would hit the wall. She also speculated that there would be no wind to affect the flight path. It was not the best training, but in the cramped underworld, it was probably a luxury.
Fain retrieved a bow from a rack. It had no string, and it glowed slightly. Gisael could tell with her novice qi sight that it was runed in the fashion of the Myrkalfar. What those runes did, she had no idea.
Fain pulled on an imaginary bowstring, and a frosted arrow appeared from nowhere. She nocked, aimed, and shot an icicle arrow down the range. It flew, then smashed against the far end, leaving the wall covered with a bucketful of ice. The arrow had disappeared.
Gisael was amazed. This scholar, this practitioner, had far surpassed her in her primary combat art.
“Fuck,” Gisael said, an out of character swear word.
Fain ignored the expletive inherited from Benzhi, “Cold is one of my affinities, it enables me to summon an ice arrow, among other techniques. I find it exponentially easier to shoot an ice arrow from a warded bow than to shoot an ice bolt from my hand or a melee weapon. It is my opinion that you would have a natural harmony with such a method. Except, instead of a frost arrow, you would summon a wood or wind arrow.”
“The more I think about it, wood would require too much qi to summon from nothing. It would be primarily a wind arrow, with perhaps a tiny element of a plant. What do your cultural legends say on this matter?” Fain asked.
Gisael pondered for a moment, recalling the legend of Asyil. “The legend describes arrows of green light.”
Fain speculated, “I doubt it was actually green light. Here is what I think you should do. Each day, practice your aura-shield until you feel there is nothing more to be gained and it becomes counterproductive. Then, come here and borrow my bow. It is made of wood, sinew, and bone, it should suffice. Especially since it is warded with a qi channel to enhance the efficiency of your summoning.
“I suggest you search your heart for your arrow, it should be of your people and your affinity. Imagine the green light but summon wind and wood. Keep your eyes closed until you fire your imaginary arrow. Do this every day. But I will warn you, it took me a year of daily practice before I summoned my first frost arrow. But, in your favour, I suspect you have a greater natural talent than I.”
Was that a compliment? Gisael smiled at Fain, she speculated that this was perhaps just encouragement to increase the chances of Gisael’s success. If it took Fain a year, she was not hopeful she could make progress in a few days.
“I will try,” Gisael stated.
“Good, if you can do this, then other affinity techniques will come much easier, this is one of the most advanced techniques. You may even be able to guide and increase the speed of your arrow, something which I cannot do,” Fain stated.
Gisael did not have high hopes, but she would do her best after training her aura-shield each day. At least that skill was progressing.
Gisael did not hate Fain, she disliked her a little, and she had to quell her burgeoning feelings of jealousy toward the woman.
She was used to being the knowledgeable member of the Vanguard and if all went to plan, Fain would be joining them. Where did that leave her? Fain was better than her at everything. She knew a thousand times more about qi and qi techniques, and her general knowledge encompassed all races. Hell, she was even a superior archer.
She had to pull herself together. Petty feelings of jealousy and inadequacy were beneath her. They had a job to do. Even if Fain replaced her as the group's loremaster, it would bring the Vanguard to a whole new level. She would have to focus on what she excelled at and improve it.
Gisael took a deep breath; focusing her mind and energy. They still had a long way to go in order to break out of here with a whole Benzhi in tow. He had lost Anastasia and when he remembered that, it would hurt him. She had to be there for him, she and Reyas. Between the two of them, they would support him through the difficult time. From what Dyrk said, he had not even had a chance to mourn for Anastasia.
Gisael would be his rock. Like always, he would be able to rely on her. She suddenly got teary, it all came back to her in a rush, she had let him down in the last battle. She turned to punch the stone wall and stopped herself. No. No. She said to herself.
I need to be of wood and wind. I need to bend but never break. Gisael had a new mindset for herself; she would embody her affinities. There was no theoretical reason as it just felt right.
She laughed, “Surely, this is his influence … feeling right … ” she said out loud with a scoff at her missing mate.
The following day, the Grandmaster Sealer prepared the group for tattoos, inspecting Gisael, Reyas, and Pian in order to construct their signatures for embedding.
“The first tattoo will be a qi communications bubble. Unfortunately, it will only work with the signatures which I add to the pattern but there is some good news, “ Sevrys announced, “I have the signature of your leader, the second qi sage. I warn you, I will add him now, but do not under any circumstances contact him while he is within the Val’Sharam walls. You will set off wards, and our element of surprise will surely be lost. It may come in handy in the future when you are separated by distance and even planes.”
The grandmaster added signatures for Benzhi, Fain, Reyas, Pian, and Gisael. He did not add any of other members of the Coterie, only Fain.
“Do you need qi body techniques added?” he asked the group, “I know the patterns for strength, speed, rejuvenation, and reflex. They work similar to your weapons, you add qi to the pattern, and it will enhance your body without any additional concentration.”
“Are they able to function as well as the techniques of my clan?” Reyas asked.
“This I do not know, they are based on the Qizhu patterns and from where they researched them,” he shrugged in reply.
“If we are tattooed with these patterns, we can use either our techniques or the tattoo, correct?” Gisael asked.
“Yes, they only activate when you add qi,” the Grandmaster answered.
“Are there any downsides?” Gisael asked.
“No,” the Grandmaster answered.
“Assuming the patterns are what he says they are and there are no additional techniques added to them,” Pian contributed. She rarely spoke, so when she did everyone took notice.
“I assure you, we are on the same side. I would never do such a thing to a client, let alone an ally,” the Grandmaster responded tartly. His feathers were a little ruffled at the suggested flaw in his honour.
“Do it,” Gisael stated simply. There would be benefits to having qi body techniques running if they were busy concentrating on other techniques, even if they were inferior. It would drain their qi core but it would not matter in a short fight. “We need to use everything we can to be successful.”
“Lastly,” the grandmaster sealer stated, “I can place an anchor on all of you. I can add the signature of our portal master and the second qi sage to your anchor, allowing both of them to create a portal to your location, depending on their strength. A portal into an existing domain is difficult and into a warded area within a domain would be impossible for all except someone able to overcome the wards. Someone like the qi sage,” he added unnecessarily. They knew Benzhi was talented, but he was not the actual qi sage, who had millennia of practice creating portals and probably was the progenitor of all wards as well.
Reyas asked, “Forgive my ignorance, but can the portal master use our anchor to summon us against our will?”
Sevrys nodded, “Yes, if their signature is on your tattoo, they can succour you to their location. There is nothing I can do to prevent that, although, it is one area I am researching. Not many people trust a portal master explicitly. And even then, who is to say the portal master has not been taken by the enemy and forced to succour you with their life threatened?”
“Benzhi only,” Gisael said. She did not want to escape this realm only to be succoured back sometime in the future.
The grandmaster agreed, “So be it.”
The day had finally arrived. The qualifiers of the Val’Tien.
“We know he is competing in the qualifiers, this is fortunate. The crowds will be lower, and there will only be a few royalty present. Less royalty will mean fewer guards and potential threats when the action starts,” she said.
Fain was well informed.
“He is competing in the sixth bout of the day, we will make our move as planned,” she said simply.
Fain, Gisael, Reyas, Pian, Dyrk, and the portal master were in the stands seated close to the highest exit. It was almost the furthermost seats from the action. The cheapest seats.
Fain had resigned from her position from the Coterie earlier in the week, forming a new Coterie with the three woman under the pretence she was going to start her own private ludus. Her share in the Coterie was officially sold and recorded. The strategy was to distance herself from the Coterie for when, not if, the repercussions of their escape hit.
It was fortunate that the Coterie resided within the House of Ileum, nothing would delight the Queen more than a loss and embarrassment to the House of Val’Sharam, which was a significantly more powerful House. This would afford the Coterie protection. In addition, she was not a member when the event they were planning happened.
They arrived early in the day and watched every bout. It would not matter by the end of the day, but the story Fain gave when questioned about her new venture was that they were here to witness the event because one day she would have a Gladiator in the Val’Tien.
“I feel him,” Gisael and Reyas said. It was during the bout prior to Benzhi’s.
“Keep him calm, ensure he fights the next bout,” Fain said.
Dyrk sat directly behind Gisael and Reyas.
“I can reach him,” he announced quietly, “we can do this remotely.”
“Good, one obstacle passed. Do not spook him,” Fain said nervously, “how is he reacting?” she asked Gisael and Reyas.
“He was initially confused. We just said we are from his past and he understood immediately. We then told him to fight his bout, and we would act,” Gisael reported.
“How did he respond?” Fain asked.
“Um, he seemed fairly normal. He said one strange thing, confirming that his memory was lost, but his response other than that was…it was him,” Reyas answered.
“Can you be more specific?” Fain asked.
“Well, the first thing he asked us when we made contact and said we were from his past was, did we fuck him?” Reya said laughing.
“What did you say?” Fain asked frustrated, she wished they would just tell her everything, so she didn’t have to ask.
“All the time,” Gisael said succinctly, causing Fain to shift in her seat nervously. She had an encounter with him in the Val’Sharam castle that she would never forget. Of course, he was intimate with these two, just look at them. They were extremely beautiful and exotic in their own way.
“What then?” Fain asked.
“He just said, alright, and started to focus on his upcoming duel,” Reyas conveyed, “he just took it in his stride.”
“Do you sense the Daughter?” Fain asked. It was her biggest fear that the Daughter would sense these two immediately through the link.
“No, she is either separate to us somehow, or she is not here,” Gisael said.
“Or he closed her off,” Reyas opined.
Fain asked, “Would he know to do that?”
“You said he lost his memories, but was otherwise unharmed?” she asked Dyrk behind them without turning around.
“Yes,” he said softly, “his abilities were intact but he had forgotten how he acquired them, but not what he could do. It would like being born immediately knowing how to walk, run, wield a sword, cook, and use qi strike as easily as breathing.”
“So his intelligence in intact, but he has no experience or knowledge?” Gisael asked.
“Yes,” Dyrk said.
“So his instincts are intact?” Gisael asked.
“Yes,” Dyrk answered.
“Then he knows she is his enemy,” Gisael said confidently, “he would close her off if he thought it was needed.”
“How can you be sure?” Fain said.
Gisael stared at her, “I have lived with him for two years, by his side nearly every moment. His instincts are incredible. Especially his instincts about people,” she stated.
“But he is not an empath?” Fain asked all of them, including Dyrk.
“I have seen nothing to indicate he is an empath, but his history does validate what she says,” Dyrk said. He had been over the second qi sage’s memories with a fine tooth comb. He was going to lose them today and had made the most of the opportunity to study such an important being.
“He doesn’t read people like an empath,” Gisael said, “he makes a snap judgement which is always correct, even when you think he is wrong, the person changes or something happens. I have learnt to trust him and never doubt him unless he doubts himself.”
Fain wiggled nervously in her seat. This level of faith in a person would take getting used to. She had been in charge for as long as she could remember, perhaps the greatest sacrifice she was going to make to follow the second qi sage was giving up her control over her life. It was also culturally difficult, no Myrkalfar woman bowed to a man.
There was the occasion when a woman would bow to a Paladin or sufficiently ranked male, but those males always served a female, even if it was a Queen. A female Myrkalfar would view it as bowing to his mistress and not the male himself.
And when, not if, she became part of this connection, he and his Vanguard would know all her intimate thoughts. The current undertaking of freeing him scared her less than what came after. They would surely judge her harshly, her pride, her hangups, her fears, her lack of ability to merge with the Vanguard. She exhaled a long breath, she had been holding it unconsciously.
“The duel begins,” Gisael said excitedly.
A yelp of joy left Reyas lips and she stood.
They could see him. And he was glorious.
Chapter 107: Captive 15
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