Chapter 113: Rise of the Sage 3
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“Wait, Glamour is your brother?” Benzhi asked. He recalled how Glamour had told him he had literally hundreds of siblings.
Benzhi continued, not waiting for an answer, “Compared to all your brothers and sisters, where does Glamour rank?’
“Most likely in the best five or ten. He is often in the penta, although we do not have rankings as you suggest,” Pian replied.
Benzhi looked at Fain.
Fain (shiver): Mogui?
Benzhi: beggars can’t be choosers. It’s a place to start, we just have to be wary of time dilation.
Fain: if he is in the Mogui territorial worlds, then the time dilation will be positive or similar compared to here.
Benzhi: is there a chart or a way of measuring such a thing? It has become pertinent to this deadline. We almost got caught out with our last penta battle.
Fain: a siphonic natural flow qi storage crystal with a pattern added to measure the replenishment rate can be used as a reference of time dilation.
Fain: natural qi replenishment has a direct correlation to the time dilation, and it can be measured. There is a specific qizhu pattern which measures the flow and gives a reading, it can be calibrated to the homeworld by a sealer, or pattern creator. When you travel through a portal, the storage crystal will be syphoning qi from the natural flow, which you can use as a secondary function, you can check the crystal after a small amount of time to ascertain the time dilation. This is probably the easiest and most accurate way.
Benzhi: we need one of those. Put it on the shopping list. I also need you to educate us on wards and crystals when we have time.
Fain: I know about Myrkalfar wards and I can create basic ones myself. I have read about qizhu and other prime race wards, which is not definitive but gives a cursory knowledge of what they can do. So yes I can assist, but remember some of these houses have been employing rogues, other races, and our own talented sealers for centuries. My advice is not going to bring us to their level in a matter of days. These things take time.
Benzhi: good to know. As with everything, nothing good comes easy.
“Pian,” Benzhi said, “thank you for reminding me. Glamour may be the devil for the job.” He laughed at his own joke when he suddenly remembered and missed Anastasia, she would have gotten the reference where it was lost on everyone else.
Fain: what’s wrong?
She picked up on his melancholy immediately. The loss was still raw to him and came through the link in a torrent. It must have affected Fain greatly.
Benzhi: my words reminded me of our lost companion, Anastasia. I’m sorry for buffeting you with it. To me, in a way, it was like yesterday that I lost her.
Fain reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. It was out of character for her to physically touch someone to comfort them, but she was breaking new ground on many fronts. It was only a hand resting on his shoulder. Baby steps.
“Do you have a portal to the planes of Diem or Kaspa?” Pian asked.
Fain said, “I can call the portal master,” and she sent a bubble.
“Ah actually, Glamour gave me his signature, I can portal to him directly unless he is behind wards I guess,” Benzhi stated. He had never tried to portal into a warded area before so he was not sure what would happen.
“Are you sure he gave you his signature?” Pian asked, knowing how cunning Mogui could be and how trusting it would be just to hand out a signature.
“I have sent bubble message’s successfully,” Benzhi said.
“They can be redirected from a crystal, which is held behind a ward to prevent a portal to the crystal,” Fain added.
“There is one way to find out,” Benzhi said.
He opened a portal to Glamour’s signature and walked through. Fain followed and the portal closed.
She had been correct on one count. There was a relay crystal for bubble messages but it was not in a warded location. It looked to be a hub on a Mogui world.
Benzhi closed the portal immediately after Fain stepped through, he did not want any unwanted guests to enter the Alpine Forest as they looked around.
He sent a qi bubble communication to Glamour.
Benzhi to Glamour: Hey there, Benzhi here. I just walked through a portal to your signature, and it landed me in the middle of a portal hub in one of your cities. It’s quite beautiful here, but I can’t stay long. Message me when you get this. We need to talk about an upcoming penta battle, an Alamanni, against the Myrkalfar.
“Let’s go back,” he said to Fain. As she nodded, he did a quick scan of the city. It was mostly black, made of some type of black rock. What was apparent immediately was the entrances were not on the ground, and there were very few roads. There were platforms and archways at all heights. Which made sense, the Mogui could fly.
Benzhi opened a portal, and they walked through to go back to the Alpine Forest. As he went to close it, there was resistance, someone must be trying to keep it open from the other side. He focused on pulling qi from the portal, and it was closed within moments. Whoever it was, they were not able to compete with him in this area.
“Did you see that?” Benzhi said.
“Did you have trouble closing the portal?” Pian asked.
Benzhi nodded, “Some. There was resistance to its closure.”
“Where did it go?” she asked.
“It looked like a portal hub in one of the cities,” Benzhi responded.
“Hmm, so a crystal relaying messages from a public portal hub. This is his way of giving you access without putting himself at risk. It is good. It would have been the height of idiocy if he actually gave you a direct link to his signature. Additionally, the portal location he gave you was his world and not warded or trapped,” Pian analysed.
“What about the interference with closing the portal?” Benzhi asked.
“It could be a feature of the crystal, or a passerby was intrigued enough to try and hold your portal until help came to investigate,” Pian answered.
“Both seem logical,” Fain added.
“It matters not. We will wait for Glamour’s reply, as it is almost time to get ready for the noon meeting. Ailen,” Benzhi said, turning to him, “what we spoke about earlier, I have something for you. And you too Pian if you are interested and want to stay here in the Alpine Forest. But if you want to go home, I understand.”
“Tell us what it is first, and then I will explain why I cannot go home,” Pian answered.
Benzhi pondered what she meant by that. He had assumed she was captured and used as a slave like he was until freed by Fain.
“What I have in mind is about building something for the future. From what Fain says, and I am not surprised, we need to increase your ability and that of the others. Right now, the battle with the Myrkalfar takes precedent but what if the next time we are away something happens and all the Vanguard are in Qizhu or a far-off place?” Benzhi asked.
“We need people here who can defend, qi bubble, and do many things,” he continued.
Ailen sat on the edge of his seat and indicated for Benzhi to continue. Pian looked interested as well.
“We need to form a second penta and the Vanguard will train this penta when time allows. Between my qi sight, Fain’s knowledge, and the drive from Reyas and Gisael you will be able to improve. You just have to look at how Gisael and Reyas have improved over the last year,” Benzhi said.
“Pian, can you send a communication bubble?” he asked; she nodded.
“That is a start at least and we have the portal master to assist your group as well. He can open portals from here and onto the plains. I want you to first train there against the portal spawn and harvest qi kernels from them. Once you have grown, you will be tasked to close any portals that impede’s resettlement of an area. This combat experience, coupled with our training will turn your group into the V2. How does that sound?” Benzhi asked finally.
Ailen’s mouth was open. Skandear, the dwarven war leader, had been quiet for the entire meeting. He clapped Ailen on the back, “Say something boy!”
Ailen was in shock, but he got up and clasped both of Benzhi’s hands.
“I…I…Thank you,” he said with tears welling up in his eyes.
“Yer not making him leader are ye?” Skandear asked.
Benzhi pondered about Ailen at Skandears words. He had not thought about that. In fact, he only knew two or perhaps three people with enough potential to join this group at the moment. He recalled how Ailen had defended the Alpine Forest during the portal spawn. How he had grown since the first day they had met. Ailen had been through hardships, he had lost an arm, and he had been sidelined by Benzhi from what then became the Vanguard.
“He is my one and only choice. There is no one I have more faith in than Ailen to lead V2,” Benzhi stated his belief, giving Ailen his approval.
“I will not let you down,” Ailen cried out too loudly.
“So if I stay, I am to follow his orders?” Pian asked.
“Depends, what is your calling Pian? Are you a fighter or is there something else?” Benzhi asked.
“I cannot lie, I would wish to find a way home, but I have always been a fighter. Just not a very good one. It is the only thing I am good at,” She said sadly.
“So, you feel like a failure at your calling?” Benzhi asked with concern.
She nodded solemnly.
“Get up,” Benzhi commanded in a strong voice.
She stood quickly, her reflexes adhering to his voice.
He studied her core. It was what he used to think a master size was, but now it seemed smaller than the average Myrkalfar Gladiator. None of that mattered, what mattered was her determination, and her ability to learn. She had enough to make a start, and she had more potential in her core than Ailen.
“Do you want to be a warrior?” he asked quietly but with an intensity that made her afraid to answer.
She was quiet for a moment, the silence was becoming heavy like a pressure was building.
“Yes,” she answered, sure of herself now.
He looked her in the eye, his intensity was rising. A pressure was oozing off Benzhi, and Pian was having trouble just standing in his presence. His eyes began to spark blue. She had seen him do this twice now and both times were momentous occasions. Once was when he fought the Dread Lord, who killed someone very special to them. And the other time, he declared himself King of this land.
“Listen to me carefully Pian, your life depends on it,” he said ominously, “you must forget everything you think you know. You must forget what you have been told. You must forget that you are a failure. If you do this and dedicate your life—every fibre of your being—to becoming a great qi warrior, then I will show you the path.”
He was quiet for a period while he let that sink in.
“I cannot show you the path if you do not have the will. It will take both of us. Do you understand?” he asked.
Pian was confused, she did not really understand what he meant. Was she to forget all training and all techniques, or was she to forget what others had said about her?
“Do you believe I am the Sage? Do you believe my words?” he interrogated her.
“Yes,” she said without a doubt. She did believe.
“If you do what I say, and believe—not in me but in yourself—then you will be among the greatest qi warriors from the Mogui Realm. This I promise you,” Benzhi vowed to her.
Pian knelt before him and took his hand, “I am your servant,” she pledged. She had been free a day, and she had already pledged herself to this man. No, to the second sage.
“Bah,” he spat, “there are no slaves here. I will take you as a warrior, not a servant. Tell me your story. Why you cannot go back.”
Pian relayed the story she had told Gisael and Reyas. On how she took the blame for a plot against her father. Benzhi listened to every word and believed it to be true. The name of her sister stuck to his lips. Shade. She was one devious bitch.
“Until this wrong is righted, you are not truly free to swear to us,” he said.
She looked at him confused again. This man rarely made sense.
“We will see if we can change this, and on that day you must choose again. Whether to go home or be a warrior of the Alpine Forest,” he announced.
Fain: that … was … inspiring. You are really good at this.
Benzhi: oh please. We need her more than she needs us, I was just trying to break down her preconceptions of her limitations. A wise man, albeit probably evil, once told me it is our thinking that limits us. If we know no limits, then anything is possible.
Fain: I have read similar concepts of philosophy.
Benzhi Mirth: sweetie, it is one thing to read them, it is another to live them.
Fain: I am here aren’t I? No one had to tell me. I am here to break free of my limits, to follow you to the heavens.
Fain (Mirth): a figure of speech, the highest planes are often referred to as heavens in lore.
Benzhi: who lives on the highest planes?
Fain: who else? Gods.
Benzhi (puzzlement and confusion): surely there are no gods.
Fain: depends on your point of view. A being who lives forever, who can do almost anything imaginable with qi. What would you call that?
Benzhi: a problem.
“It is time,” Skandear broke the reverie.
The first meeting of the large council was about to take place.
Benzhi let Bhar and Ventiry run the meeting, with a small introduction to let everyone know the purpose. His role was still the protector of the Alpine Forest, the small and large councils would manage the Kingdom on a day to day basis.
He perused the crowd, looking for talents. He needed three more people to train with Ailen and Pian. Harvesting qi kernels all the time would be beneficial as well as having a second force capable of defending the Alpine Forest.
They would no longer hide, which meant they needed to be able to defend. There was the village to the southeast with the elder Minoru, perhaps they had some talents. There was Sin but would she want to fight or stay near him? If she joined Ailen’s group, then there would be times he would rarely see her.
Thinking about Sin, he was keen to see her panther form. She was not allowed to take it on in Myrkalfar for some reason which made little sense to him outside of the arena. It must have been a mechanism of control.
There, he saw someone with great potential. It was a male grey elf that was probably young. Benzhi was no expert in picking someone's age unless they were very old, very young, or human. The grey-elf could be thirty or two hundred and thirty, he did not know.
He must have sprouted this talent after the qi bindings around his core were removed. It must have restricted his growth, which was now allowed to flourish. The new immigrants had not been unbound yet, that would happen over the next few days. He would have to monitor them for talents, or just ask Mother too. She was certainly as capable as him in seeing the inner potential of people.
There was another talent. She was not part of the large council, but she lived here as they were holding the council in the glade. It was large enough to hold this gathering of a few hundred people but it was not large enough to hold twenty thousand.
Sakaala. He should have known she would continue to grow. That made four. Ailen, Sakaala, Pian, and the grey elf boy. He would have to find a fifth amongst the newcomers.
He left the meeting in the hands of his most able and trusted people and walked over to Sakaala.
“Hello,” Benzhi said.
She looked around nervously. “Um, aren't you supposed to be over there being King and everything?”
“Actually, I thought it was more important to talk to you right now,” he said teasingly.
He couldn’t help himself, he wanted to see her blush.