The noble who faced Benzhi was young, and some would say handsome. He had long blond hair, striking light blue lamellar armour with a dark blue cloak with a fancy white cross as an emblem. The young hero wore large gauntlets on each hand with matching blades protruding from their top. The unusual weapon was a type of katar, viewed under qi sight Benzhi could see nothing special about them.
He decided to wait for the young hero to attack, supplying his armour with qi and doubling up with stoneskin on himself. Rather than show off shunpo, slam into the young hero and throw him from the arena smashing into a wall and perhaps killing him. Benzhi opted for a strategy with more finesse, utilising his improved qi manipulation skills. It was also a good time to learn something. The young hero, albeit the same age as Benzhi, must be talented in some way, to throw in with the whitecloaks and blackcloaks who seemed to have a monopoly on talented qi practitioners.
Despite his impressive armour, Benzhi’s opponent did not charge either, he stood there circling his fists making a bruce lee, “thwar” sound. The young master sent out two qi streams towards Benzhi, they came quickly closing the distance in moments.
He pondered for a moment what they could be, his opponent probably thought Benzhi was unaware of their existence, and the theatrics with whirling his bladed fists with sound effects were probably staged to ensure his enemy stayed focused on him until caught in the trap with the qi streams.
Benzhi erred on the side of caution. He knew that his circulation and core were superior, he had won a tug of war with Grandmaster Huan and a Medusa-like Naga. Smiling at his opponent, he sent two of his own streams out to meet the young hero’s offence. Instead of repelling them, Benzhi locked on to them with his streams and immediately began to violently suck the qi from his opponent's core.
The young hero tripped forward in surprise, he could see nothing and did not know what was happening. Benzhi wondered why everyone was so blind to qi flow, how did they function properly?
He probably expected to have Benzhi at his mercy by now with whatever effect those streams were supposed to accomplish. It did not matter now, the young master rapidly had the life sucked out of him and did not have the skill nor determination to prevent it. He fell to his knees and bowed his head in exhaustion, a moment later he fell forward further, his head hitting the ground. The exertion of fighting back, the exhaustion of losing all his qi in a matter of seconds had broken him.
Benzhi walked up to him and bopped him on the head with his wooden sword. He stopped short of draining all his opponents qi core. That would have killed him.
He looked up, surveying his companions matches with his own eyes. He already knew Gisael had beaten hers out of the coral within moments of the bout starting. Reyas exchanged a few blows and with a qi strength enhanced qi strike launched her opponent out of the coral and into the wall as Benzhi had resisted doing.
Only the beautifully talented Anastasia fought on. Of all his companions she was the least experienced fighter, despite being the most talented manipulator. She learned new abilities quicker than Benzhi had, albeit with the luxury of learning from his mistakes. The tall, raven-haired beauty exchanged blows with an older noble, perhaps in his fifties. This noble was experienced in both qi techniques and combat.
Through the link, Anastasia could glimpse what Benzhi was seeing and thinking. He now gave her an advantage with an image of a step back, then forward, stab as the noble thrust, all in perfect timing.
The noble had qi enhanced armour, shield and a sword. They were all heavy and metal, if he weren't fit he would wear down quickly. Benzhi sent another suggestion, double up on stoneskin take his blow, then overhead strike, he wears no helm. Do not qi blade or you will kill him.
Anastasia raised her sword, the hilt above her head, the blade pointed up in the air and slightly behind her. She stepped in, allowing the older noble to strike her. He stabbed with a vicious qi strike to her chest. This noble had nothing new to offer in techniques, he was merely adequate, experienced and in possession of excellent gear.
She took the blow with courage, it would have hurt, but she had the mystical leather armour with stoneskin runes, she was also running stoneskin herself. It was a strategy they had been implementing in practice to avoid injury and protect their heads and feet which were otherwise unprotected. To penetrate a double stoneskin the qi strike would need to be almost double in power. The impact could still bruise, however.
Anastasia grimaced and swung her sword down. Benzhi was focused on her entirely the moments this action took, she was the one Vanguard who he never slept with, she was the one who travelled worlds following him, she threw everything away and risked all to learn from him. She was attractive, he was just not attracted to her sexually, which was strange because she was beautiful. Why wouldn’t any man want her?
He had long ago forgotten she was over seventy back on earth, he now saw her for her. She had become his conscience, always caring, seeing how a careless word could hurt another where he was blind. Sometimes Gisael thought her too soft, Reyas respected her and competed with her fiercely. They both were reticent towards her at first, but now they loved her as much as him.
As expected, the bladed landed on the elder nobles head, if it were a qi blade his skull would now be split down to the neck. Anastasia had merely cracked his skull and almost killed him. She immediately dropped her sword and caught him, calling for Benzhi. He had to laugh, Reyas kicked her opponent from the coral, he could have been dead against a wall somewhere, she didn’t even look. And here was Anastasi concerned for her opponent, admonishing herself for hurting him too much.
The Paladin called for a healer, who came running and carried the man away on a stretcher. Benzhi followed, his life was on the line, if they could not qi heal, he would assist in a small way at least.
“Where do you go?” Alejo asked, “your performance was good and interesting, but it is not over. I will need to see more.”
“I go to aid her opponent, Anastasia is most distressed with his injuries,” Benzhi said in explanation.
“Are you are a healer?” Alejo asked bemusedly.
Benzhi saw no reason to hide abilities, they would need every advantage to have a chance against the Myrkalfar and subterfuge would only work against their common goal. Not to mention, he may need Alejo’s support. What would happen if the Myrkalfar started asking for him by name? ‘Hi, we are killing you all, taking over your country, enslaving your people and looking for a fellow named Benzhi...yes, we are here because of him.’ That would not go down too well.
“I am a qi healer,” he said and followed the man into one of the adjoining buildings. The Paladin forgot the bouts momentarily and followed Benzhi intrigued.
“That is quite a rare skill, I will watch for a moment,” Alejo said.
As the mundane healer lay down the older noble, Benzhi had already begun stitching his fractured skull, stemming the blood loss. Brains were complex, and if he could assist the man out of mortal danger, without touching his brain, he would do so.
The mundane healer began to shave his scalp.
Benzhi said, “don’t worry about doing that, he can keep his hair, his wound is already sealed.”
The healer looked up his mouth opening and closing. He inspected the wound and while he found blood-caked hair, could feel no opening, no wound and no scab.
“How?” the mundane healer said, “I only just laid him down a minute ago, and you didn’t touch him.”
“You do not need to touch someone to use qi to heal them, although, further than this distance would be difficult. I only repaired the bone and skin, the internal damage should heal on its own. Rebuilding a section of the brain would be more I could afford right now. Anyway, it may not be necessary, let me know if he gets better or worse, feed him plenty of water,” Benzhi instructed the mundane healer.
He turned and saw Alejo smiling at him.
“I will no longer doubt anything you say Northerner,” The Paladin bowed slightly, “you have my apologies, I meet so many whose words are … exaggerated.”
“I am looking forward to watching the Blackcloaks in action,” Benzhi said in a friendly manner and pushed past Alejo walking back to the coral where Anastasia waited, fretting over her opponent. Although she knew through the link he was ok, old habits are hard to break.
Benzhi touched her shoulder and whispered, “harden up. I thought Russians were supposed to be hard cases?” He joked with her, he knew very well she was empathic to a fault.
As the next bouts got underway, he thought about Anastasia, her strengths, her weaknesses. Perhaps it would be better if she focused on learning the bow and qi abilities like qi healing and qi sight. Her personality was more suited to a support role, not like Skorrick, frontline support. So far she had progressed the most with qi sight and was the best prospect to qi heal. Was it something to do with their earth background? Or was it to do with affinities or just plain talent with manipulation, he did not know.
First, they would have to survive the upcoming battle. It did not even occur to Benzhi that he could create a portal and simply escape with his friends.
The Blackcloaks were fascinating. Of the twenty, most possessed some unique skill. Benzhi would definitely attend the tournament, if they ever made it that far, with four bouts at once, it was impossible to learn much other than take note of an aspect of each individual.
There was a young female blackcloak with a seemingly similar ability to his noble opponent, she sent out streams which bound her foe, holding them in place while she disabled them. In a serious fight, she would just stab their eye or something.
The Blackcloaks, like ropegirl, were partial to daggers. Almost half of them used daggers. He was not sure if that was the nature of the bouts or some other reason. The other half used a variety of weapons from large spears to twin blades with one extraordinary Blackcloak used long chains.
He was amazing, his chains were influenced by his qi. They were ten paces long, spiked and lethal. He took up all four corals to fight, Benzhi called him chainguy.
Another impressive black cloak wielded a two-handed bladed spear, similar to Kyandre. It had a weight at one end and a long blade at the other which formed a point. Depending on how he held it he could slice or impale. Or even use the weighted end as a blunt weapon. What was extraordinary was this was a mundane spear, but the user, one of the oldest Blackcloaks, Benzhi caught his name this time as it was whispered with awe. Tresten.
Tresten’s circulation naturally produced lightning when he wanted. He was able to cover his spear in qi and extend lightning not only up its length, but he was also able to cause an arc another few paces.
Benzhi joked “it was a shocking ability.” No one laughed.
Another powerful ability that Benzhi could not emulate. Surely this was an affinity. He could discern nothing special about the qi patterns, shape, size, density to create lightning. It just formed at the will of Tresten.
Lastly, there was a dagger-wielding blackcloak, named Kris, synonymous with the weapons he bore. Kris did not shunpo, he did not use qi speed, Benzhi had no idea how he did it, but he disappeared and reappeared behind his opponent, or wherever he wanted moments later. It was not instantaneous, and if he was moving while invisible, he was certainly quick. His opponents could not land a blow. Apparently, although Kris was a blackcloak, he was an outsider, they called him a rogue.
After the sparring was done, the Paladin had sent over half the volunteers away. He had not even let ten of the whitecloaks spar, he already knew their ability, and they claimed that they had not improved since he last trained or fought with them. Most enemies were not the Myrkalfar, although he was disappointing some egos, they probably would have died badly.
The remaining warriors in the practice corals; twelve blackcloaks, nine white cloaks including the Paladin and the four Vanguard. When it came to unique abilities and fighting styles, the blackcloaks were certainly superior to the whitecloaks, with a couple of exceptions; one being Alejo himself. He had not sparred, but he seemed the only person capable of an aura.
“Now we will test your aura shields. It is well known that the Myrkalfar are gifted with auras, usually not very nice ones,” Alejo began, “if you have the capability to shield more than yourself, please step into the coral.”
Benzhi entered the coral. He was alone.
Alejo sighed, “then there are only two of us. When you are within my aura you cannot be affected by a Dread aura,” he announced, “northerner how will you shield more than one person. Do you possess a positive aura?”
Benzhi shook his head, “I am able to shield myself and up to two others, but this will inhibit,”
Gisael sent him a warning through the link, ‘must you tell them everything?’ Benzhi sent back affirmation, it is possible everyone could die, so yes, he would tell them everything. Anastasia agreed.
“my capacity to use other techniques, it is quite restrictive … I do have a question,” Benzhi stated before the Paladin could ask another himself, “if your positive aura, courage, has an area affect what happens when an enemy enters its range? Won’t they be affected positively?”
Alejo smiled, “no. They won’t.” He did not elaborate. “Now, Benzhi isn’t it, I should not keep calling you Northerner,” with his name spoken across the yard for the first time whispers broke out amongst the Blackcloaks. They had not known he was Benzhi.
Benzhi recalled that five blackcloaks had died with the Baron and waved at them. Friendly like.
“Show me this multiple barrier, your companions can assist,” Alejo finished his question.
Benzhi demonstrated shielding himself, Anastasia and Gisael from Alejo’s aura. Alejo could not penetrate Benzhi’s shields they were impeccable. He then had Benzhi fight while maintaining three barriers, which was extremely difficult, Benzhi could only use his masterwork gear. Fortunately, his spear, shield and leather were all qi enhanced. Dismally he moved at mundane speed, with mundane strength and his focus on the link was poor. It took much concentration to maintain three shields.
“You are an exceptional warrior, but, you are too handicapped while maintaining three aura shields,” the Paladin deduced.
He then tested the shield of all the remaining warriors. Somehow Alejo was able to perceive when his aura affected someone, it was another form of qi sense. He could probably tell where they were if behind him or if he had his eyes closed. It was a powerful ability and probably the reason he was a Paladin. Enticingly, it was also, something Benzhi and his companions could learn.
Alejo ejected everyone incapable of any shielding with one exception, Kris. Although Kris could not shield in the slightest, the Paladin deemed his qi teleport was too powerful to dismiss. Kris was also able to qi strike with a high degree of competency.
Benzhi gauged his qi strike, against a mundane it would not matter, qi strike was qi strike, it would kill in most situations. But against someone with a barrier or something similar to stoneskin, or qi enhanced armour, the potency or skill and power level of a qi strike mattered greatly. Benzhi deemed that Kris qi strike could not penetrate his stoneskin, but it would be able to penetrate his companions who were still improving. And it would not penetrate the mystical hide armour, not with the first blow.
But Kris could find places the armour did not protect. Even the Paladin had his face unprotected. That was all Kris needed to bypass qi enhanced armour, an opening wide enough for his thin, long blade.
After the dismissal of the volunteers, who were unable to shield, fifteen qi warriors remained.
Seven blackcloaks, the four Vanguard and four whitecloaks.
Alejo the Paladin – Whitecloak – Great hammer - Courage Aura
Kyandre – Whitecloak Justicar – Spear – Combat precognition
Jansin – Whitecloak – Spear – Wind affinity (moves sand around with wind, blind, push, cut) nickname the sand devil
Tresten – Blackcloak Captain – Lightning affinity, bladed spear
“Ropegirl” – Filo - Blackcloak – Qi binding
“Chainguy” – Akeeb - Blackcloak – Chain weapon, qi control and strike
Kris – Blackcloak Rogue – Qi step (invisi-move? Time displacement?)
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