Chapter 88: Loctris 9
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“Again!” Alejo called. Benzhi and the Vanguard had attacked the defenders nine times, with only a few injuries.
The defenders were not trying to win a duel, they were improving their combinations and understanding. Benzhi enthusiastically took every chance to smash Alejo in the face. His armour was otherwise complete, anything less than multiple strong qi strikes had no effect.
Whether it was for variety or the fact he was sick of being bloodied, the Paladin had the attackers switch opponents after the third round.
Everyone, from Benzhi’s team, including Kyandre, equipped themselves well. Showing that they were the equal of the defenders in this impeded format where blows and offensive powers were stymied to avoid serious injury.
In essence a mock battle was very different from the real thing, however, it served its purpose in honing tactics and synergy.
After ten rounds, due to the format, Anastasia had little chance to study the Paladin’s aura. The participants were done for the morning, rest and recuperation were in order. She approached him directly.
“Sir, Paladin,” she said unsure how to address Alejo, “our teacher has uncovered that I have an affinity for auras. Would it be too much trouble for some instruction?”
Alejo’s face was battered and bruised, his voice had taken on a slight lisp, “let’s talk while we walk back to the war rooms.” He waved to the group indicating they were leaving for the keep.
“Aura’s are not something that can be learned in a such a short time,” he began, “and in my experience, they come naturally, from a significant event full of emotion. I did not learn my aura from a teacher. It just happened in the midst of battle when some of my comrades were under severe stress and threat. It is said that Auras are emotive compared to other techniques which are intellectual or instinctual. For example, your wood elf friend’s ability with the bow would be instinctual or innate, depending which scholar you talk to.”
“Some abilities, like lightning used by Tresten, are instinctual by blood. Lightning runs in his family line, his father, uncles, grandfather and so on,” the Paladin explained. However, Kebo had said it was an affinity, perhaps affinity’s were inherited to a degree, and both were true.
“When your teacher,” he grumbled slightly about their disappearance to go and see this teacher, “instructs that you have an affinity for auras. It does not make sense to me. You have an affinity for an ability by blood, not for one born of a great struggle.”
“I see, Sir Alejo,” she replied, “would you humour me by creating your aura and allow myself and Benzhi to study using qi sight.”
“Qi sight?” he asked considering, “it will not help, my flows will appear normal, and I doubt you can see the aura.” The Paladin’s knowledge of an ability to see qi were based on normal practitioners with the ability, not someone with an affinity for qi like Benzhi. Even as Anastasia developed her own qi sight, it would at best, be close to what the Paladin understood. She would never see the patterns, shapes and concentrations like Benzhi did. Unless of course, he remotely gave her the ability as they would do in this case.
“We have much still to prepare, but I can accommodate you, I can turn my aura on and off while you study and I hold session with the defenders,” Alejo acquiesced to her request.
Kyandre sidled up to Benzhi again. She had received a vicious cut to her unprotected face from her cheek all the way to her ear. Benzhi had healed her after the bout.
“I had heard you could qi heal,” she said while matching his stride. “Thank you again for helping me,” she was quiet for a few strides as was Benzhi before she asked, “will there be a scar?”
Benzhi shook his head, he was deep in thought about the upcoming battle. He was a little frustrated that they still would not be part of the main defence. What possible reason could there be to not throw all fifteen defenders at the Myrkalfar?
“You will look as beautiful as ever,” he said without thinking.
“Beautiful?” she said softly. Kyandre was taken aback by the compliment.
Benzhi finally realised what he had said. He considered his predicament, he had a few options. He could transfer the source of the compliment by saying many said that she was beautiful, he could use sarcasm to deflect or offer a slight insult to balance the books, or he could own it.
“I thought you were beautiful the moment I first saw you,” he said freely as if talking about the weather.
She turned bright red and was quiet for the rest of the walk.
Benzhi and Anastasia studied the Paladin’s aura. It was much more interesting than the conversation around their tactics table. The table itself was interesting, they used and moved pieces around the board.
The practice stemmed from their annual tournaments, however, on this occasion, the blackcloaks and whitecloaks were working together. At their annual tournament not only did they have individual combat, which grabbed the attention and honour from the general public and nobility. They had a team melee.
The whitecloaks and blackcloaks took the five versus five competition very seriously. It was derived from the practice which the major qi races adhered to in war. Unlike the Myrkalfar, who by their nature found working together difficult, they focused on teamwork, combinations and synergy.
Given two teams of equal ability and sometimes where one had more raw power, the team combination could and often turn the tide to win the day.
Benzhi was beginning to understand what Alejo had told Anastasia meant.
‘I can see where the aura begins, but there is no construction, no patterns. It is like his circulation is glowing,” Benzhi sent Anastasia.
‘I am trying to look inside his circulation, perhaps it stems from within the streams of qi,’ Anastasia sent.
‘Good luck with that,’ Benzhi sent back. Circulation of qi around a body has similarities with the heart and blood vessels. Instead of a heart, the entity, because they were not necessarily a person, had a qi core. This was the repository of qi. Qi was fed from the core into the pathways which circulated the body and then returned to the core.
Where it differed greatly from the heart and vein analogy, was the qi core did not pump qi. The qi just flowed under its own force. The more a person practised, the more qi they used increased the number of pathways. It increased the flow speed of the major pathways, and they developed new pathways. These pathways evolved based on what techniques were regularly used and the intensity of their qi consumption.
An example was the Naga, which Benzhi mistook for a Medusa and its eyes and swords which emitted beams of light. This light was akin to a laser in its effect. The Naga’s pathways evolved to supply its eyes and hands with qi. The eyes were supplied by major pathways due to the intensity and only at the rear of the eye did the streams diverge, similar to the way the river Amazon met the ocean.
What Benzhi was referring to when he said, “good luck with that,” was what he had learned when studying qi circulation. Streams in a master practitioner flowed fast and at this point, it was raw qi, there were no shapes or discernable patterns. It was the unrefined qi in its natural state. The only discernable difference Benzhi was able to ascertain was the volume, speed and concentration of flow. Other than that, it was all the same.
‘I think we should approach this differently,’ Benzhi suggested after they had spent over an hour studying Alejo who quite happily turned his aura on and off at regular intervals. For a whitecloak leader and someone who had mistrusted them he was an awfully nice guy. Benzhi thought Alejo’s only fault was he was too good looking. Fortunately only Anastasia seemed attracted to him, and Benzhi was fine with that.
‘You may think he is too good looking, but you did not have to smash his pretty face over and over today’ Anastasia admonished him through the link.
‘Yes, I did,’ Benzhi sent, ‘he is making a mistake, not including us, and it could be fatal.’
‘Why don’t we join in against orders?’ Anastasia suggested.
Benzhi was gobsmacked. Anastasia was suggesting mutiny? ‘Are you trying to tease me?’ Benzhi was confused.
‘Not at all, sometimes for the good of everyone you must be willing to do anything. Especially ignoring orders,’ she sent back.
‘You make sense, but it may ruin their strategy and cause more harm than good. We cannot. How about this, if the defenders start dying off, we will charge, because then their strategy will be coming unstuck with or without our intervention.’ He sent to the Vanguard.
‘Back to your training, it is important we get something useful for our lost day with Kebo,’ Benzhi sent, ‘Alejo talked about intellectual and emotion qi techniques. And it makes sense, we have only been learning qi techniques intellectually, by studying patterns and replicating them. Of course, Reyas and Gisael already possessed innate abilities, and we have been learning those intellectually.’
‘That does not seem like the right word,’ Anastasia sent, ‘but I understand your meaning. The feeling I get from you and Alejo is one form is creative and the other emotive. The third is innate or instinctive.’
‘Yes, creative, you are a genius, we study the form and pattern and create. With qi sight, I created it from an idea, Shunpo as well. These were not stolen like qi healing or tree-run by studying innate abilities and copying. It is almost as if anything is possible, it is just the amount of power needed, the skill to manipulate qi to the required level and lastly and most importantly, knowing the form and pattern needed for the technique.’ Benzhi sent in a stream of conscious thought.
‘Holdup,’ Anastasia sent, ‘we know how to create, but how do we emote?’
Benzhi thought for a period.
Gisael interceded during the silence she had been listening to the entire exchange although practising shielding herself and not studying the paladin, ‘Benzhi emitted a burst of dread, what did the Paladin call it?’
‘Fury,’ Benzhi said.
‘Did you create, no … emote it the first time spontaneously?’ Gisael asked.
Benzhi answered immediately, ‘When I emoted Fury the first time, it surprised even me.’
‘And the second time?’ Gisael sent.
‘I see where you are going. The second time I could not summon it with a thought, so, I used a trick I learned on Earth when I felt down. I was injured for a long time and often felt depressed, my healer taught me to recall a time when I was happy and relive the memory. It worked, it always made me smile, even though I knew what I was doing was tricking myself. So when I wanted to emote Fury again, I knew this, I instinctively relived the first time I emoted it, in my mind, and soaked in the feeling of righteous anger. Boom out came Fury.’ Benzhi sent.
Anastasia listened intently, she knew what had to come next. Gisael had led them there, but rather than speak she let Gisael finish what she had started, she deserved the credit.
‘The next step is for Anastasia to somehow relive your emotion or to relive the Paladin’s this may shortcut her gaining an aura. The only other ways seem drastic or will not be in time.’ Gisael sent.
‘What other ways?’ Benzhi asked.
Gisael sent a sigh through the link, ‘she would have to be in a dire situation and produce one naturally. Either tomorrow during the battle, but even that is not guaranteed, or it would have happened by now. Or we put her in artificial danger. This I do not recommend, you should explore finding a way to share the experience leading up to the emotive release of the aura.’ Gisael finished and went back to her practice.
‘I too, do not wish to be put in artificial danger,’ Anastasia imagined Benzhi doing all sorts of cruel things to her in order to organically evoke an emotive aura.
‘Well you have an empathic affinity, can you read me like Kyandre does?’ Benzhi asked.
‘I have no idea what she does, but we have the link, let's go somewhere safe and out of the way to experiment,’ Anastasia sent.
The pair sat facing each other in an adjoining room. To create the purest link they held hands and Benzhi connected additional qi streams.
‘I am going to relive what took place when I first emoted fury, just be aware it will hit you, I do not want to shield in case that affects the result,’ he sent. Although they were alone, they still communicated through the link.
‘I am ready,’ she replied and inhaled a deep breath.
Anastasia had come a long way in a surprisingly short amount of time, without the benefit of an affinity with qi, she had been able to create a rudimentary shield, basic qi sight, shunpo, tree-run, qi body techniques and stoneskin. All at varying degrees of ability, all functional. She had not learned qi blade, due to time restrictions and the fact her sword was runed. Still, it was an impressive list.
If she could become adept at aura’s, she would greatly increase their effectiveness. Benzhi even held out a small hope that a positive or defensive aura would travel through their link. As the Paladin’s aura was experienced by his companions and despite his barrier, it transferred via the link to him.
He remembered his anger rising at Kyandres assumptions, her unfair and unfounded accusations. It really pissed him off, he was angry because the opposite was true. He was angry because it wasn’t just about him it was about everyone in the Alpine forest.
It was mere moments from when he started to recall the event and his emotions to when he produced the aura of Fury. And unlike the last two times, he was able to maintain it for ten heartbeats. He too was progressing, this was something he could practice.
Anastasia recoiled at the aura, it affected her greatly. She started to cry. Wiping her tears away, she apologised, ‘I am sorry, I felt everything, and I was angry too, but then I was hit by your fury I was overcome,’ she sent.
He spoke aloud, “why? It’s not a bad thing I would just like to understand. You should be angry, not sad.”
“I was crying because you were beautiful, your righteous fury came from you wanting to protect the people of the Alpine Forest. You love the place, it is your home, your creation, your people. You take responsibility for their safety, it stems from pure love. There is nothing in it for you. I…I..” she began to cry a few tears again. She wiped them away. “I knew they were special to you, but I had no idea about the depth of your conviction. I thought you were building power for you. But you aren’t. You are gaining power for them.”
“This is all well and good,” he said embarrassed, “but we are here to work on your aura. Can you replicate what I just felt.”
“I can try, but, it will be hard. Because I am not you. I do not have the same level of conviction you do. But I will try,” she spoke softly, still emotional.
Benzhi was wondering about the time Kyandre read him. She had left quickly, did she even speak? He could not recall, he could only recall her crying.
“Do I need to take the vow to protect the Alpine Forest like you did?” Anastasia asked. She had not begun the attempt, she was still considering and examining his emotions.
“No, you are my disciple, friend, companion and advisor. You are everything but my lover,” he laughed like it was a joke. And it was, she was often nearby when extracurricular activities took place. She did not shy away nor intrude.
“I could be,” she said, and she wasn’t shy. Anastasia was not an inexperienced woman, nor a prude.
He was already holding her hands, he looked deeply into her eyes. She was intoxicatingly beautiful, with her long legs and neck, her tall, athletic frame. Most men would fall over when she looked at them.
“I cannot think of you that way, I think of you as my disciple and my fellow exile from Earth. I have never wanted you that way, perhaps because when we first met you were my student and that is a line,” he tapped his head, “drawn in here that I do not cross.”
“Not to mention my age, you probably see me as an old woman,” she said.
“Not for a very long time, in fact, your wisdom is a boon, and it is attractive. Why suddenly are you interested in me? This is new, I can’t be that dense?” He asked.
“It is sort of. I always liked you, but just now, when I felt your love, your strength of purpose. I fell in love with you. It is not your muscles, toned stomach that makes you look like you should be on the cover of magazines from earth, your strong chin, forceful personality, your confidence…all of those are attractive. But none of those traits holds a candle to the real you.” She tapped his chest where his heart was. “I had no idea of the depth you possessed until today. Saying I fell in love with you on the spot sounds stupid, but how is it supposed to work?”
He nodded and smiled sadly.
“You are very important to me,” he began.
Boom. Anastasia emoted an Aura, and it wasn’t Fury.