Hardcore: Qi Worlds

Chapter 87

Chapter 87: Loctris 8

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 The city was still alive, people were walking the streets, and many were pushing carts or carrying packs full of their worldly belongings.

 “At least we weren’t gone too long,” Benzhi stated.

 Anastasia nodded and approached one of the passersby, “how many days since the announcement of the Myrkalfar attack have passed?” She asked.

 The young man stopped and looked at her confused for a moment, then seeing her slightly strange appearance he shrugged, “day before last, we must leave today. You best be off too, it is no time to visit this city.” He said before running off returning to his business.

 Another passerby overhead and added, “and looting is punishable by death or worse, enslavement by the Myrkalfar,” before continuing on his way.

 The city as busy as usual, especially on the main thoroughfare which was clogged with traffic. The only difference being a mass exodus to the north was taking place, very little traffic headed south.

 Benzhi thought about it for a moment, he had no idea where this exodus of people was headed, and the Vanguard had just cleared a path north all the way to the Alpine Forest.

 “We best find out where they are headed today,” he said to no one in particular. After asking a few passersby, no one knew. All they knew was they were to head north before splitting into three groups led by the whitecloaks who were not staying behind.

 There were a few people that were stubborn and were not going to budge, but they were in the minority, as best as the Vanguard could tell from watching the street traffic.

 They made their way to the keep, Ventiry and Carney had not been in the Warehouse, Benzhi would have to track them and Jax down so he could portal them to safety tomorrow morning at the latest.

 The Vanguard was allowed into the Keep by the now twenty gate guards, on their first visit there had been two.

 “Why so many,” Benzhi asked the last guard, who this time was an actual whitecloak, not a mundane guard.

 The whitecloak looked at him, deciding what to say and shrugged, “we are prepared for a panic or riot, some are not happy with the Governor’s directives.”

As the Vanguard approached the Commander’s rooms, the Paladin strode out, with the six defenders following close behind.

 “You’re back?” he asked when he laid eyes on them. Before anyone could answer, he began to castigate, ”where the hell have you been? We thought you had run. The Governor even apprehended your people for questioning, thinking there was a chance you were Myrkalfar spies or plants. Which I know isn’t the case, because if you were, you would have stayed in place and struck as the battle was joined while bringing no suspicion onto yourselves. And this absence was not only suspicious it brings in to question whether I can trust you to be part of the defence, even with your allegiance.”

 Benzhi held up his had, requesting the torrent of questions and statements to stop. The Paladin was not panicking, nor angry or yelling, he was just venting.

 “We went to another plane for training, but it had the most disadvantageous time dilation,” Benzhi explained.

 “You travelled the planes just like that? And within the domain?” The Paladin asked intrigued now.

 Benzhi nodded. Anastasia inserted herself into the exchange, “please let our people go, I trust they are unharmed. We will fight with our lives for Sandstone and not run, nor betray you.” She sensed Benzhi’s command not to reveal the location of the domain, “We travelled outside of the Domain to portal to our,” she looked at Benzhi for and received a nod, “teacher. He was able to assist with our understanding of shields and improve our talents in a limited time.”

 Despite the beautiful Anastasia’s heartfelt explanation the Paladin did not look convinced. “It will be hard to trust you in the battle. Not to mention we have been working on tactics for the last day, which initially included you and then did not.” He paused for a moment, considering his next words, before adding, “follow us to the southern gate. We are practising tactics now.”

 The Vanguard received looks ranging from glares to smiles with a welcoming wave. The last person in the entourage was Kyandre who locked step next to Benzhi as they followed the Paladin.

 “Benzhi,” she said politely in greeting, before turning her head; walking and greeting each Vanguard in turn.

 Benzhi was slightly confused when they were trusted by the Paladin and the Governor she had been hostile, and now they were on the outer, she was friendly. Was this woman just contrary by nature? He thought before greeting her back in the same fashion, only with a small amount of scepticism, “Kyandre.”

 As they walked, she began to chat, “what you did made everyone nervous. You should have at least alerted the Paladin or me before you travelled. That would have made a world of difference.”

 “We planned on only being away for a few hours, maybe the night,” he explained. “And why would I have alerted you?” He asked genuinely confused.

 “I have been assigned to you. You were informed, no?” She answered.

 “Ah yes, we were, but you did not seem enamoured with the assignment up until now,” Benzhi explained.

 She turned to look at him, the whites of her eyes contrasting with her darker skin in a most intoxicating way. She used a small amount of dark eyeliner surrounding her eyes in what was similar to an ancient Egyptian look.

 “I must apologise. I did not handle what I learned in the reading very well, but I have come to terms with it now, you will not see such improper behaviour from me again,” she was earnest in her explanation even if vague. Benzhi could feel Anastasia approval through the link and guessed if it was good enough for her. He had a greater trust of Anastasia insight now he knew she possessed empathy. He would also support her learning aura’s above all other goals, with his qi sight.

 He waved his hand in dismissal, “we welcome your assignment and look forward to working with you. I was most impressed with your spear work and prediction technique.”

 “Prediction technique?” she asked feigning ignorance.

 “Where you send out qi streams and sense your opponents next moves,” Benzhi explained.

 She was gobsmacked, “how? …You could divine all that just from watching me spar once?”

 Benzhi nodded.

 She shivered.

 After recovering herself, she mentioned, “it is called forecasting, and sometimes you can sense that even your opponent foes instinctively, that even they are not aware of. I guess prediction means almost the same thing. But it really isn’t prediction you are just reading your opponent, they are telling you, it comes from the same foundations of the read I conducted on you.”

 Benzhi wondered why she was so forthright, normally practitioners held their cards close to their chest and explained nothing to possible future enemies. Even ones that were only to be an opponent in something like the Kingdom’s tournament.

 The group of fifteen had arrived outside the southern gate. This one was not packed with refugees, they were exiting the northern gate. This is the direction from which the Myrkalfar would arrive. Most likely midday tomorrow from the latest intel.

 The Paladin gave instruction to each subgroup and some individuals before arriving in front of the Vanguard. As the others began practising, he pulled Kyandre aside for what seemed to be an intensive conversation. Benzhi did not attempt to listen, he would find out soon enough.

  The seven blackcloaks and two whitecloaks began manoeuvres fighting an imaginary enemy while the Paladin and Kyandre continued their discussion. Filo, the qi rope girl, paired with Akeeb the chain guy. Where Tresten the lightning specialist had two dagger wielding blackcloaks supporting him, Jansin the sand devil worked alone.

 Kris stood to one side, it appeared he was paired with Alejo as the Paladin could protect him while within his aura.

 The Paladin and Kyandre approached the Vanguard, it seemed the decision was made.

 “Today you will play the role of the Myrkalfar, with Kyandre, that will make five. I realise your abilities will be dissimilar, it is more about practising our teamwork. Tomorrow, during the battle you five will make up the support team.”

 The Paladin gained quizzical looks from all the members of the Vanguard, surely they were more talented than half the primary team. At least they were not split from each other, as Alejo was unaware of their innate combat understanding.

To forestall any protest he held up his hand, “I know, you are capable, but with the lost time and Benzhi’s skill with qi healing, I think this is best. Although we will give our lives to protect the city, we are ten versus the Myrkalfar five, and if any of us were to barely survive the battle, and we are victorious, I would wish Benzhi to save their life.”

 “Follow Kyandre’s lead for the upcoming spar,” The Paladin finished before turning to join Kris.

 Kyandre began, “we will go out into the desert and walk towards the city spread apart. This is how the Myrkalfar operate. They train all their lives duelling, so they do not operate well as a team. When they go to war, they treat it like a five versus x duel, with five all operating individually.”

 “That’s crazy,” Reyas said.

  “What happen’s when they face eleven combatants,” Anastasia asked.

 “Ten, I will be with you,” Kyandre answered, “they will still treat it as a duel, they will face whoever and how many are in front of them. Even if a mundane army showed, the Myrkalfar would be in competition regarding who could kill the most soldiers.”

 “Are you sure?” Benzhi asked.

 “This is how they have always fought. Over the millennia, and not just us, not just men. The Mogui, Celestial and Qizhu fight the Myrkalfar in the Myrkalfar style. They pit their strongest five against the Myrkalfar five,” she answered.

 “This is hard to believe,” Benzhi said, “surely not everyone follows such a strict rules of war.”

 “They do not,” Kyandre replied she started to lead them into the desert to face off with the ten defenders. “When the Qizhu fight, they fight as a team, it is only when they face the Myrkalfar their honour forces them to fight in this style.”

 Anastasia scoffed, “the demon lords have honour?”

 Gisael was noticeably quiet. She would have information, but she allowed Kyandre to instruct in case anything new was offered.

 “They are indeed honourable,” Kyandre retorted, “what dealings have you had with them to make you think they are not?”

 Anastasia tapped her nose, “hmm, I just assumed from their name, Demon Lords, that they would not be honourable.”

 “That would be the Mogui,” Kyandre explained. “From what I have read, they have no honour.”

 What Kyandre had learned, albeit from books, and what Gisael knew from her Fae lore, were in agreement. The Mogui were not to be trusted therefore Glamour was not to be trusted. Benzhi had a difficult enough time allowing the Mogui Prince the benefit of the doubt when it was Gisael’s advice. But to have it confirmed like this from a second and totally unassociated source spoke volumes.

 Changing the subject, Benzhi was concerned about the upcoming mock battle, which was moments away.

 “How hard are we to attack? Are we just for practice or do they want real resistance?” he asked.

 Kyandre considered the question, “we are to offer real resistance, short of harming anyone, pull your blows.”

 “What about mobility?” Benzhi asked, knowing that he and his companions could move very quickly. The white and blackcloaks had not seen their mobility due to the space available in the yard, now they were on open terrain.

 “Just hold your punches. Otherwise, show them why we should have been part of the defenders,” Kyandre said.

 “We still could be,” Reyas grumbled. Through the link, Benzhi knew she did not mean they could still be promoted as Kyandre surmised from the shake of her head.

 Benzhi took on the role of Dreadlord, he had Alejo and Kris to content with. Kyandre suggested it should be her, only to have three other women question her sanity and overestimation of her ability.

 Gisael and Reyas thought even Anastasia could best Kyandre. They also did not approve of the leak in thoughts from Benzhi, half of the time he thought about bedding Kyandre while she spoke. He tried to explain this was normal, he had no allies, not even Anastasia in this regard.

 Benzhi channelled his inner Dread Lord, thinking back to Ghehena. He had not fought Gehanna, he had only met an imitation Myrkalfar Knight in combat. Benzhi drew sword and shield, the spear was too dangerous. At least with the sword, he could use it without qi, or with just enough to ensure it was not damaged.

 He looked over to Reyas, she wielded her bladed staff, perhaps he would have to do some healing today. The mithril weapons were deadly.

 Perusing his team, Gisael was channelling her inner ice queen, she had been quiet all day, quieter than usual. Even through the link she had not conversed as much, he wondered if something was wrong. He poked her through the link, ‘whats up?’

 ‘Nothing is up. We have a task to complete my foe will not be victorious,’ she replied.

 ‘You have been quiet since we returned from Kebo, quieter than normal,’ Benzhi sent, she would normally give him directions or advice through the link even if she was quiet vocally.

 ‘I have been thinking about what Kebo said. I have not come to a conclusion yet,’ she sent back.

 ‘Ok we will talk later,’ Benzhi sent, now a little less worried, she was just processing either the fact she had wind affinity, or he had an affinity with qi. It may have a significance of which he was unaware.

 Last, Anastasia. She was determined to assist the Defenders. Benzhi had to laugh, Gisael and Reyas wanted to punish them for the impudence of not including the Vanguard in the frontline defence. Anastasia was worried about them and wanted to assist their development to better arm them in the fight tomorrow. She was selfless, she made him look at things differently, and now he wondered how they operated without her. She had become an integral part of the Vanguard.

 Where Gisael was the cold, calculating brain, Reyas was the fiery determination, Benzhi was the maverick leader, Anastasia was the heart of Vanguard.

 They charged the Defenders of Sandstone, with Kyandre on the left flank outside of Gisael, the five reenacted Myrkalfar Dread Lords and Knights poorly.

 Benzhi launched himself into the air, shielding himself from Alejo’s aura and moving so quickly that even if Kris did teleport behind him, he would have to strike instantaneously because Benzhi would have moved. Not to mention, good luck teleporting to midair.

 The Paladin raised his shield from Benzhi’s downward strike, Benzhi used qi body speed to change his position mid-air, he kicked out landing with one foot on the shield while the second trailed behind.

 The impact of his landing tested Alejo’s strength, it was considerable, despite the heavy impact he held firm. Until Benzhi’s second foot aimed squarely at his face, made an impact.

 He lined his foot with stoneskin to protect himself from injury, unfortunately for Alejo, the kick had the same impact as one with a heavy metal boot. Giving him a bloody nose and breaking a few teeth loose.

 Benzhi did not rest, he flipped head over heads landing behind Alejo. He had expected Kris to teleport directly behind him as he landed, it would be the one instant he did not move. Benzhi had qi amour and lined his entire body with stoneskin.

 As predicted Kris popped out from nowhere to stab his neck, Kris had an excellent qi strike as Benzhi had witnessed, but he had held back, not wanting to kill their sparring partner. The Kris bounced off Benzhi’s neck harmlessly if he could have seen Kris’ eyes he would have seen them open in surprise, he was not expecting stoneskin technique from someone who had qi armour.

  Benzhi reached back and grabbed Kris’ hand, he was about to throw him forward, but Kris teleported away. Sneaky bastard, that was an awesome skill.

 By this time Alejo had whirled, Benzhi had to hand it to the Paladin he was tough, his injury did not seem to slow him down at all. Benzhi brought twisted and brought up his shield to meet Alejos hammer.

 Benzhi enabled qi strength and lined the shield with a hasty barrier. That hammer was meaty, its head would cause serious damage, qi armour or no. The impact would be severe.

 As expected when the hammer met his shield sparks flew, the heavy impact rocked Benzhi, he barely kept his shield up despite qi strength and the barrier. The Paladin did not expect him to withstand the blow. Alejo, in the midst of battle, said, “by the tenants of Qirrin, how the actual feck did you withstand that blow.”

 Benzhi grinned wickedly as he smashed the end of his sword, adding a qi strike, into the side of the Paladin’s head. The side was covered by his helm, only the face was open and unprotected.  Fortunately for the Paladin, his armour was of impeccable quality and so were the hidden runes, he only received a headache from the butt of Benzhi’s sword.

  Kris took advantage of Benzhi immobility, while standing toe to toe with the Paladin, this time using qi strike, testing Benzhi’s stoneskin, he attacked an opening in his armour while aiming for a non-lethal spot, Benzhi’s Achilles tendon.

  Alejo was in front of him, Kris behind, their tactics were working well. If he were the actual Dread Lord, he would probably attempt to kill Kris first and then deal with Alejo. Unless of course, he killed Alejo with his first blow. Wait, Alejo did not have his aura up, he knew Benzhi could shield.

 That was not good tactics and needed to be punished.

 Benzhi pulsed a Dread Aura, he had not worked out how to build and maintain one, in fact, was this pulse even an Aura? He had spontaneously created it when mad. All he had to do to recreate was to remember the emotion and its cause. Bang. Dread Aura. Or perhaps it was just an “I’m pissed” Aura, he did not know. What it did though, is have an effect on Kris, stunning him mid-strike, Benhi used his momentum from the strike on Alejo to turn himself and smash his shield down on Kris’ head.

 Kris was unprotected, stunned, if Benzhi used qi strike he could possibly kill him, even a normal blow had risks. Benzhi released the barrier on the shield and smashed Kris’ head. The rogue fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

 Benzhi turned to face the bloodied Paladin only to see Alejo hold up his hand to halt.

 “We have failed, further fighting is unnecessary with Kris taken out. I should have protected him. Hel, I even knew you could pulse Fury. Kyandre described it to me,” the Paladin explained, blood covering his lower face. Benzhi was quite satisfied the Paladins perfect looks were marred.

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