Chapter Fourteen: A Lesson in Lethality
Valerian woke the next morning filled with a strange tension. Vorm had wanted him up bright and early for their lesson, one he was unsure he was prepared for. He simply had no inkling what it would entail. It was strange. He’d had Richard and Jonas as tutors for so long that the change was a bit jarring. Still, Vorm was an Arcane King not to mention a military commander. He doubted his training would be lacking.
Getting up, he washed his face and went up to his armour rack. One by one he put on the pieces of his old set and watched as they resized themselves to fit his frame. His mind wandered musing a bit on how the Steelborns compulsively put size changing enchantments on all their gear even for someone like him who never unlocked the [Steel Monolith Transformation].
He stepped out into his courtyard and begun to practice some basic sets, taking advantage of the approach of dawn to sync his spirit to the rhythm of heaven and earth as his grandfather always put it. By the time the sun began to truly rise, Vorm stood in front of him, watching as he finished the last few sets.
“Your training with me is going to be vastly different from everything you’ve done so far”, Vorm begun. He was dressed lightly, favouring a simple knee length robe and a pair of leather trousers. His helmet and armour were nowhere to be found giving him a civilian look that would be unfamiliar to many who knew him.
“I’m not going to teach you spells, guide you through arcane disciplines or supervise your cultivation like the others have been doing”, he continued. “You’ve got more than a decent handle on the basics and your theoretical knowledge and spell repertoire are exceptional for your age and cultivation stage.
“My task is to hone you so you’ll be prepared for what comes next. Think of yourself as a blade Valerian, sturdy, balanced, bejewelled and refined from rare materials but lacking an edge. I’ll sharpen you enough that when you leave you’ll slice through everything in your path. As for the edge that I am talking about, it should be obvious for it is one of your major weak spots. One, I’ll make sure to rid you of in the next few weeks. So like my old instructor once said, welcome to combat and battle strategy class!”
Valerian stood straighter, detecting the seriousness in his uncle’s words. “What aspects of combat will we be focusing on?” he asked curiously.
Vorm looked at him in disbelief for a second before characteristically breaking out in laughter. “Everything, Valerian! Everything!” he answered.
“Everything?” Valerian asked incredulously.
“Yes!” Vorm said sternly. “I was there for your battles Valerian and I can honestly say that excluding a few aspects you need serious work.”
“Well, if you’re sure”, Valerian said feeling a little insulted.
“Don’t take it the wrong way, Valerian. The Zebre is a nice little competition but the Youth tourney is an even smaller child bath. Practically all of you were terrible fighters. Just look at that idiot in your first bout. The one who stuck to one move and simply barrelled into your trap without any forethought. In fact, I doubt he could think at all. As for his situational awareness, hmph!” Vorm ended with a snort.
Valerian was forced to concede that point.
“The others weren’t much better. They all suffered from the same major problems and I don’t think any of them apart from you even noticed it”, Vorm said to him.
“I noticed it?” Valerian asked, confused.
“Battle experience, Valerian!” Vorm exclaimed.
“Yes”, Vorm confirmed. “I was glad when I heard that the reason you entered the Zebre was to gain battle experience. It was a good choice and an even better start because I’ll tell you this Valerian, it is the one thing most of those noble scions and sect cultivators lack. Funny thing is they rarely realise it. Take any good brawler off the street or even a two-bit mercenary and give him a similar cultivation and gear and I promise you he will trounce many of those ‘gifted youth’ you fought in the Zebre.”
“Do you know why Valerian?” he asked. “Because they are used to spars and not actual fights. They have little experience actually fighting with their lives on the line or with the intention to kill or maim. The rules don’t help too. Many of them, yourself included, hesitate. Otherwise, how would that Veldt have had the chance to get up and use his blasted noble artefact? What should be killing blows, only wound. Opportunities to capitalise and bring down their opponents go unnoticed, Transitions between defence and attack suffer and worse, there’s no battle intent.”
Valerian paid a close ear to the man’s words. He was beginning to see where the man was coming from. It wasn’t their skill or cultivation that was the problem but their experience applying them.
“What’s battle intent?” He asked.
Vorm was quiet for a split second, wondering how he would explain it. “Simply put, Valerian, this is battle intent”, he said.
Immediately, a suffocating aura sprung out of nowhere. It was like the air between them changed into sharp blades, all aimed at him. Valerian coughed, trying to catch a breath that wasn’t there. Fear filled his heart and his mind halted with his thought processes distorting. He was suddenly sure that standing before him was not his uncle but a savage killer, one who was going to rip him limb from limb without so much as a smile or a reason. Then at once, it all went away and he could breathe again.
Swiftly, he took several steps back to distance himself from the man and weapon after weapon flew out of his inter-spatial ring to take up the space between them. It took all Valerian had to stop himself from turning and bolting. Only the certain knowledge that the Arcane King would cut him down at his convenience if he truly wanted to prevented him from doing so. Hyperventilating, Valerian stood there, his chest heaving as he tried to gather his wits. His mind and spirits were shaken by the events that had just transpired. What was that? Battle intent! Some part of himself supplied.
“Oh!” Vorm exclaimed softly. Raising a finger, he pushed away a sword that got a little too close. “That was a good reaction.”
“How did you do that?” Valerian barked at him, still trying to compose himself.
“That Valerian is battle intent. It is something all cultivators who frequently engage in combat pick up naturally. So much so that it is recognised as the mark of an experienced combatant. Note I said, experienced not good or powerful. Most of the rank and file among my troops can do it to some extent. The greater your battle experience and more powerful your cultivation the greater it will be”, Vorm said dismissively.
“What it is Valerian, is fighting spirit materialised by force of will as a challenge. Over time as a cultivator engages in battle his or her fighting spirit is honed till the body itself begins to exude it whenever battles or confrontations rear their heads. It serves two purposes; one, to prepare the fighter by putting him or her in an optimal battle ready state and two, to dampen or outright destroy the fighting spirit of any adversaries. It also comes in several forms. What you just felt was a portion of mine, a kind of murderous intent, my fighting spirit materialised as a promise of death.
“Battle intent can take many forms and shapes. Some have a self-invigorating intent, others like mine, demoralise their enemies. However, mastering it is the first step for many towards materialising their will something that I assure you is critical for those who wish to ever amount to more than just run of the mill cultivators. It is also a necessary requirement for reaching the King tier”, he revealed.
Valerian thought back, his mind flashing to the aura Ethan had revealed when he got angry. The one that made it clear that he and his sword were going to slice him to bits and drain him of his life force. Was that battle intent? What of suffocating aura Tirenael exuded that drove others to despair?
“Like it or not combat or fighting skill is an important part of cultivation. Spars and mock battles simply don’t cut it. It is for this reason that most schools and clans create their mission lists and send out their youth on adventures or to kill criminals. Nothing can replace the real thing and there’s nowhere this will be more evident than when you go to Strapping’s. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of sending you out on a bunch of mission over this period, not when there’s still so much more to do. So I will handle that part.
“All we are going to do, Valerian, is fight. Fight with everything on the line. You will rid yourself of your silly hesitation and pauses, learn to transition smoothly between defence and offence and above all, you will learn to strike to kill. This will be your true proving ground. Twice a day for three hours we will stand here and you will come at me with everything you have until I deem you ready”, Vorm announced.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” Valerian inquired.
Vorm laughed. “Dangerous? That must be a joke. Do you really think that you, a mere disciple pose any danger to a King like myself?” he asked.
Valerian immediately felt foolish. However, it was too late. Vorm had a strange look in his eye. At once Valerian felt his control over his weapons snap as they were wrenched away by a force far beyond him. In an instant, every single one of them was pointed at him instead. Startled, he looked at his uncle who stared him down.
“Rest assured Valerian, we will be making this as ‘real’ as possible. Don’t even get any stupid ideas of holding back or being careful in front of me. If I even sense that you are not giving it your all I will make you regret it. You will come at me with every intention of killing me. Is that clear?” he promised.
Valerian nodded dumbly.
“Good!” he said. Then making a show of raising his hand, he made a fist. In response, the airborne weapons glowed red hot for a second before reforming themselves into completely new and different shapes like they had been forged anew. Swords, sabres, shields, spears and even a mace or two hung around him. Each of them newly formed and deadly sharp. At a glance, Valerian knew that they were of better quality than their predecessors. If Vorm had intended to shock and awe him with that display of force, he certainly succeeded.
“Now, ordinarily, this is a form of training done under threat of death to stimulate your full potential. Unfortunately, it is clear that I cannot kill you, not that I would. Nevertheless, I can certainly make you think or wish that I would”, Vorm said to him.
The weapons fell to the floor, their points sinking into the stone and grass easily enough. A rather large claymore, however, flew directly into Vorm’s hand. Looking around at the scattered weapons, Valerian found himself glad and not for the first time, that Jonas took the time to place wards on his courtyard all those years ago. He could only imagine how damaged it would be without them.
“What is your weapon of choice Valerian?” he asked in a curious tone.
For a moment, Valerian was at loss for words. He was still struggling to wrap his head around what was expected of him and the truth of his ‘training’. However, he recovered quickly.
“I don’t have one”, he answered.
“Which are you competent with then?” Vorm asked.
“Richard taught me to use the sword, axe and spear and how to use a shield. I am also comfortable with a mace though mine is … to be decommissioned”, Valerian revealed.
“I remember”, Vorm nodded. “Your first focus was a stave was it not? That was what gave Joans and Richard the idea to create that thing for you right?” he asked to make sure.
Valerian nodded numbly.
“Well, until your new focus is created you’ll have to go without. In the meantime, we’ll brush up on your weapon skills. Pick one up and we’ll start, first in your base form and then your battle form”, Vorm told him.
“Battle form?” Valerian asked.
“The halfway state you have been using for battle”, Vorm clarified. “Or is that a bad name?”
“No, it is okay!” Valerian admitted. “It fits”.
He stretched his hand out, calling a few daggers to himself. Thinking he might need to keep his distance he summoned a spear and then added two shields keeping them hovering by his side since he was sure he’d need them. It made for quite the sight. An armour clad boy with a long spear in his hands. A shield floating in the air at each side and seven daggers over his head facing a casually dressed man holding a claymore.
“I’m ready!” he announced.
Conversely, he felt anything but. The hands grasping onto the spear shaft felt clammy and he was consciously bracing himself in case Vorm hit him wth that murderous intent again. His throat had dried up and he found himself in a unique state of apprehension about what was to come.
“Valerian!” Vorm called out softly. “Relax. Trust me, you’re a natural at this. You’ve already proven yourself. There’s no need to be tense. In fact, you’ll learn better when you immerse yourself. For now, we’ll focus on attacking so forget everything, and let loose. Stop thinking so much and just feel the battle rhythm.”
Valerian listened to his advice, taking deep breaths to try and calm himself down.
“Good! Now come at me!” Vorm commanded.
Soon the sound of clanging metal and stomping feet filled the air.
Richard took a step back, having concealed himself in a position overlooking the courtyard. He had been a little worried about his charge but now all his fears had been laid to rest.
‘Those two will be just fine’, he told himself.
That dealt with, he returned to his chambers to bury himself in closed-door cultivation. Cutting himself off completely from the outside world as he prepared to finally breakthrough to the King tier.