Paragon of Destruction - Chapter 110

Published at 12th of August 2019 08:28:10 PM

Chapter 110

"You think I'm ready?"

Arran was almost surprised when he heard Snowcloud say the words . It had already been two weeks since she had given him the bracelet, but although she had said he only had a week, her previous comments on his efforts had contained precious little praise — certainly not enough to suggest she thought he was almost ready .

"I think so," she said again . "But first, I'll have to test your skill . Your progress in training has been remarkable, but I have yet to see you fight . "

"Then let's spar," Arran replied, eager to find out how he matched up against a powerful novice . The only Shadowflame novice he had faced so far had been the young man he crippled in Eremont, but he knew that his opponent there had been a poor example of the Shadowflame Society's power .

Snowcloud nodded, then drew her sword . It had a long, thin blade, and Snowcloud held it with such practiced ease that Arran immediately knew she must have received regular training from the moment she could hold a sword .

"We'll try a few rounds without magic, first," she said .

Arran drew his sword as well — the heavy-bladed one he had taken from the novice in Eremont — and faced her .

Their first few exchanges were short and tentative, each of them trying to gauge their opponent's skill . Yet after only a short while their movements quickened, with their attacks growing more forceful and confident as they began to learn their relative strengths .

The difference between the two of them soon became apparent . While Arran held a slight advantage in strength and matched Snowcloud in speed, Snowcloud held a clear advantage when it came to both technique and control .

They spent a good two hours sparring, with Snowcloud winning all but a few exchanges . This neither surprised nor disappointed Arran — he already understood that with Snowcloud's background, she would have trained from her earliest youth, with the Sixth Valley's best teachers to instruct her .

When they finally finished, Snowcloud looked at Arran approvingly .

"You're strong," she said . "And you're far better with the sword than most novices . But now, let's see how you do with magic . "

Again they faced each other, and this time, the gap between them proved far larger . While Arran's advantage in strength was even larger when it came to magic, his abilities proved no match for Snowcloud's skill and control, and she used a number of spells he had never seen before .

The large gap in ability meant Arran was quickly defeated in a series of exchanges, and even then, he could tell that Snowcloud had been holding back .

Only once did he manage to best her, and that was when he surprised her with the Force Shield and Battering Force spells . But although she seemed unfamiliar with the spells, after Arran's single win she rapidly adapted, and he did not score any more victories .

Nevertheless, he could tell that he had improved by leaps and bounds since his last fight in Hillfort's arena . His control over his magic was far better than it had been, and he could now Sense his opponent's attacks as soon as they were formed, rather than when they were launched .

"You're strong," Snowcloud eventually said, "but clumsy . It's almost as if you've had no formal training in magic at all . "

"I haven't," Arran replied truthfully . The only skilled mage who had instructed him in the use of magic had been Master Zhao, and that was when Arran knew barely anything about it . His knowledge of spells had come from scrolls, and his practice had mostly just been trial and error .

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"Then I will need to instruct you," she replied in a thoughtful tone . "After we defeat the deserters, I will give you daily instruction — with your strength, you should make good progress . "

Arran nodded in acquiescence . Although he would much prefer to receive training before the battle, he understood that there simply wasn't enough time for that . Snowcloud had already delayed their attack by a week to allow him to learn to conceal his Natural Essence, and she would not be willing to wait months for Arran to increase his skill at spellcraft .

"There's another thing I should mention," she continued . "The Essence containment technique I taught you will conceal your Essence, but using it will expose you as a mage to others . "

Arran raised an eyebrow in confusion, but after only a moment's thought, he understood . Natural Essence was present in everything, and anyone who did not release any would necessarily have to be a trained mage .

"Then how do I fix that?" he asked .

"You will need to learn how to release some small amount of Natural Essence while using the containment technique," Snowcloud replied . "But that takes practice, and practice takes time . "

"How long did it take you?"

"Too long," Snowcloud said with a laugh . "I never had much talent for the technique . That's why I have the bracelet — it was given to me after two years of trying and failing to contain my Essence, to stop me from embarrassing the family any further . Fully controlling it took me another three years, and I was already ten when I finally managed it . "

Arran frowned . After a quick thought, he asked, "You started training at five?"

She shook her head in response . "My training started the moment I could stand," she said . "I opened my first Realm and became an initiate when I was five . "

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To this, Arran had no reply . He just stared at Snowcloud in astonishment . No wonder she was so skilled — she had been training her entire life .

"But enough of that," she said . "It's about time we depart . From what I've seen today, you will be able to handle yourself — you should be able to match even some of the weaker novices . "

They broke camp quickly, bidding the cave farewell as they set off toward the deserters' fortress . When he looked back, Arran thought he would not miss sleeping on cave's hard stone floor .

They traveled at a run, and their Essence-enhanced bodies meant neither of them needed to pause for rest — not for a short fifty-mile journey, at least . Although the terrain was rough, filled with forests and hills, they arrived well before sunset .

"So that's it," Arran said as he looked at their foes' stronghold .

They had hidden in the brush on a hill about a quarter mile from the fortress . From here, they had little chance of being spotted, while they could freely observe their enemies' defenses .

The fortress was large, built entirely from stone . It stood atop a small hill, with an area of several hundred paces surrounding the fortress cut free of all trees and brush . From his vantage point, Arran could see that the high walls around the fortress held a number of guards, and its only gate was thick and reinforced with iron .

"What's your plan?" he asked .

"We break down the gate, go inside, and kill them," Snowcloud replied . "You take the guards, while I fight the novices . "

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Arran looked at Snowcloud incredulously . "That's not a plan . "

She frowned, then said, "I should be able to defeat the novices easily, and the guards won't give you any trouble . "

"You don't even know how many novices there are," Arran replied . "What makes you think they'll go down so easily?"

"I'm much stronger than most novices in the Valley," she answered with a somewhat indignant expression . "A few deserters won't be a problem . "

"What if there are more than two?" Arran asked . "What if there are four, or five?"

"I should be able to—" Snowcloud began, some hesitation in her voice now .

"What if they are stronger than you expect?" Arran interrupted her, unable to fully keep the anger from his voice .

He had known Snowcloud was inexperienced, but he had not expected her to be this naive, nor this foolish . No matter how strong she was compared to her fellow novices in the Sixth Valley, real battle was different, and he would not let her risk their lives by going in blindly .

"Then what do you suggest we do?" she asked, sounding slightly annoyed .

Arran remained quiet for a while as he considered the situation . When he finally spoke, there was a small grin on his face .

"I think I have an idea . "