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Paragon of Destruction - Chapter 211

Published at 12th of August 2019 08:26:21 PM

Chapter 211

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The short journey to the House of Swords' stronghold was as smooth as it was uncomfortable .

They ran the whole way, with Brightblade repeatedly urging Master Kallias to move faster . Any attempts he made at forced friendliness were curtly dismissed, with Brightblade treating him like a servant rather than an equal, much less a superior .

Soon, the man's face was locked in a hostile grimace, and if he hadn't known they were Grandmaster Solin's guests, Arran had little doubt that he would have attacked Brightblade . Even now, it seemed like he might not be able to restrain himself .

Yet after the first quarter hour, Arran stopped worrying .

Bizarre though Brightblade's behavior was, it was clear that it was intentional . He did not know her purpose in provoking the Master, but after half a year of traveling with her, he trusted her judgment — she was often brash, but never careless .

Confident that there was a plan — even if he didn't know what it was — he turned his attention to their surroundings .

He had stayed in the restricted section of the Sixth Valley for several months, but most of that time had been spent in the Patriarch's estate . But here, in the Ninth Valley, he had the opportunity to look around .

The wall that demarcated the restricted section of the Valley cut right through the capital, and he soon found that the inner part of the city was completely different from the outer part .

For a start, there were far fewer people, and all but a few of them appeared to be mages — and not the kind that sold flatbread by the roadside . Most looked like novices, but more than a few showed the trappings of higher ranks, clad in fine robes and wearing well-made swords at their sides .

There was far less commerce, too . The outer part of the city was filled with shops and stores, but Arran saw few of those within the inner part . And those few he did see were large and stately, more like small palaces than shops . He didn't need to enter to know that both their wares and their prices would match their exteriors .

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Yet interesting though he found the sights, there wasn't much time to look, because it took them barely half an hour to leave the city behind .

Outside the city, too, the landscape was markedly different from the outer Valley . Where the outer Valley was filled with fields and farms, most of the inner Valley held woodlands, with the occasional manor or estate barely visible from the road .

They passed several walled towns along the way, which Arran knew would have to be strongholds belonging to some of the Houses .

The first two were vast, large enough to almost be considered cities in their own right . Yet as they moved farther from the capital, the strongholds grew smaller — it seemed that the largest Houses were nearest the capital .

Finally, after nearly two hours, when they reached another of these towns, Master Kallias came to a halt .

"We've arrived," he said in a flat voice, then led them toward the guarded gate .

When they reached the gate, the guards took only a glance at Master Kallias, then bowed in respect as they passed . This brought a brief smile to the man's face — after Brightblade's assault on his dignity, it seemed he was in dire need of some reassurance .

Inside, Arran quickly realized that the stronghold more resembled a vast estate than a town . While there were plenty of buildings within the walls, there were numerous large fields of grass as well, upon which many groups of mages were training .

All but a few of these were practicing swordsmanship, either performing various sword forms or sparring against each other .

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Arran appraised their efforts in passing, and found himself unexpectedly impressed .

Every one of these mages was clearly a skilled swordsman . Their movements were fluid and practiced, and they reacted to each other's attacks with the kind of instinctive responses that only years of training could bring .

Moreover, they switched between styles and techniques with ease, in seamless motions that combined what looked to be at least half a dozen different schools of swordsmanship .

But although he was impressed with their displays, Arran could not help but think there was something off about the way they fought .

He pondered what he had seen as they moved past the training fields, barely noticing their surroundings while his thoughts were still occupied with the training mages .

From what he had seen, it was as if they were playing games rather than truly fighting, more concerned with scoring points than with defeating their opponents .

These thoughts were cut short when they reached a large stone building, where Master Kallias gestured for them to enter .

Inside, the man guided them through a series of halls and hallways, until finally, they reached a large wooden door . Master Kallias gave it a few short knocks, and a moment later, a voice called for them to come inside, where they found Grandmaster Solin sitting at a desk .

"Grandmaster," Master Kallias said, offering the other man a respectful bow . "I've brought you Adept Brightblade and her students . She claims to have business with you . "

"Excellent . " Grandmaster Solin smiled broadly, visibly pleased with their arrival . "Master Kallias, you may leave . "

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The Master bowed again, though he seemed disappointed that Brightblade's claim had turned out to be true . Yet disappointed or not, he quickly left, doubtless glad to be rid of the hateful adept .

"Adept Brightblade, is it?" Grandmaster Solin cast an appraising glance at Brightblade . "All of you, please have a seat . I'm quite happy to see you here — I was beginning to worry that you would not accept my offer . "

"I had other business to attend," Brightblade said . "But now that I am here, I intend to accept your invitation . Both I and my niece here are members of the Fourth Valley's Dao family, and I believe there is much we can offer the House of Swords . "

"The Dao family?" A hint of excitement sounded in Grandmaster Solin's voice . "Even here, I've heard whispers about your family's reputation . "

Arran frowned . He recognized the name instantly — it was Snowcloud's real family name, as well as Darkfire's .

"I'm sure you have," Brightblade said, "But before we can join, there are some conditions . While I am happy to offer my assistance, I cannot allow my students' training to be hindered, nor my own . "

The Grandmaster nodded . "That goes without saying . What do you need?"

"To start, we will need our own quarters within the stronghold . A small mansion should suffice . And we will need resources, too — Essence Crystals, herbs, and various other materials . "

"Of course," Grandmaster Solin said . "I can arrange for all of that . Now, if you—"

"Furthermore," Brightblade interrupted him, "I cannot devote all my time to training your mages . Of the eight days in each week, I will spend four offering instruction within the House of Swords, with the remaining four reserved for my own students . "

The Grandmaster frowned, then sighed . "Though I hoped to have more of your time, I suppose I cannot expect you to neglect your students . I'll agree to your—"

Again, Brightblade interrupted him . "There is more . Your House of Swords has agreements with the other Houses to provide each other's most talented students with training . My students will require this as well . "

Grandmaster Solin paled slightly at her words . "I am surprised you learned so much of us in so little time . What kind of instruction do your students need?"

"My students will require weekly instruction from the House of Flames and the House of Shadows," Brightblade replied . "In addition, Snowcloud will require training from the House of Creation, and Ghostblade from the House of Seals . "

This time, a barely veiled look of shock appeared on the Grandmaster's face . "You ask a lot . Every hour of instruction your students receive from the other Houses must be repaid in kind by our own Masters and Grandmasters . For each of your students to be instructed by three other Houses… even our most talented novices do not enjoy such luxuries . "

Yet Brightblade still wasn't done . "Finally," she said, "I require an estate outside your stronghold — a secluded one, at the mountains' edge . Something that is at least several miles away from any other estates, where I and my students can train without being disturbed . "

At this, an ugly look appeared on Grandmaster Solin's face . "Adept Brightblade," he said sharply, "it seems you have mistaken my interest for desperation . What you ask is outrageous — it's more than even a skilled Grandmaster would be given . "

Brightblade responded with a calm smile . "If my demands seem outrageous," she replied, "it is because you do not understand what I offer . Perhaps a demonstration is in order . "

"A demonstration?" The irritation in Grandmaster Solin's eyes faded, curiosity now taking its place . "What sort of demonstration do you have in mind?"

"A friendly contest," Brightblade said . "Have your House's strongest novice and adept fetched, and I will show you the value of experience . "

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