Paragon of Destruction

Chapter 16 The Valley

Arran looked at the monastery in wonder. From where he stood, it looked like a miniature.

The journey up the mountain had taken them the better part of the morning, and now, they were on the side of the mountain, a thousand feet above the monastery and the town.

The view filled Arran with awe. It was like standing on top of the world.

"Not scared of heights, are you?" Initiate Guha grinned. The young man navigated the narrow mountain paths with terrifying neglect, and several times, Arran had been convinced he would plunge down into the depths below.

"I've never been up this high," Arran said. "It's…" He lacked the words to describe what he felt.

"You'll get used to it," Initiate Guha said with a grin.

Initiate Jiang silently glared at them. Ever since Adept Kadir had come to take her and Initiate Guha away from the other initiates her mood had been foul, and it had only gotten worse when the man refused to tell her why he was interrupting her practice.

"Adept Kadir, how much farther do we have to go?" she asked.

"We should arrive any moment now," Adept Kadir said. As they ascended the mountains the worry he had shown earlier that morning had gradually disappeared, and by now, he looked every bit as cheerful as he normally was.

They followed yet another twist in the mountain path, ducking beneath some trees that protruded from the mountainside above the path. The path turned sharply, and when he stepped around the turn, Arran was surprised to see a small valley.

The valley was grassy and scattered with large trees, and through its middle ran a small stream. Among the grass, flowers bloomed, and surrounding the valley were majestic snowy peaks that stretched toward the sky.

The only thing that marred the beauty of the valley was a small wooden cabin. Its walls and roof were crooked, and there were gaps in the walls. Overall, it looked like it was on the verge of falling apart.

"This," Adept Kadir said, gesturing toward the valley, "is where I go to lift my spirits. For you, it's where you will spend the next months training."

"We'll be staying here for months?!" Initiate Jiang immediately asked, ashen-faced.

"Correct," Adept Kadir said.

"But why?" Initiate Jiang said, a look of despair on her face.

"First carry your bags inside," Adept Kadir said. "Then, I will explain why you're here."

"We're staying in there?" Arran asked, pointing toward the cabin.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Adept Kadir said. "I built it myself, using my own two hands. Took me three weeks of good, honest work. Not a bit of magic involved."

The proud look on his face prevented the initiates from saying anything, and they carried their packs to the cabin.

Up close, it looked even worse than it had from afar, and Arran found himself worrying that the entire thing could collapse at any moment from sheer misery.


"Now," Adept Kadir said. "Why you're here… I think the best explanation would be a small demonstration."

He stuck a small wooden pole in the ground.

"Initiate Li, please show them."

Arran gathered up his Wind Essence, then sent a blast of it at the pole. When the Essence struck, it tore the pole from the ground and sent it flying several paces, as if it had been struck by a large boulder.

Initiate Jiang audibly gasped, and when Arran turned around, he saw that Initiate Guha's mouth was hanging open in shock.

"That's impossible!" Initiate Jiang said. "He only left to open a Wind Realm a week ago!"

"Initiate Li opened his Wind Realm yesterday," Adept Kadir said. "As you can see, his progress has been faster than usual."

"That's amazing!" Initiate Guha said, grinning excitedly. "Brother Wei An, please teach me your secrets!"

Initiate Jiang, however, looked terrified. "He did that in a day? The Academy… If they discover this…"

"Initiate Jiang is quite correct," Adept Kadir said with a serious expression. "The Academy must not find out about Initiate Li's talents. If they do, they will certainly come for him."

"But why show us?" Initiate Jiang asked. "For that matter, why show anyone at all?"

"Because Initiate Li must learn to control his Wind Realm, and the best way to do so is through practice." Adept scraped his throat, then continued, "Over the next few months, the three of you will train together. You and Initiate Guha will help Initiate Li learn to control his Wind Essence. When you return to the monastery, he should have learned enough not to draw too much attention."

"Adept Kadir…" Arran spoke with some hesitation. "Won't teaching me hinder their training?" He had thought they would remain here for a week or two at most. Now that he knew it would be months, he felt guilty about Initiate Jiang and Initiate Guha, who would be stuck here with him.

In the corner of his eye, he could see Initiate Jiang's eyes light up. It seemed she had the same thought.

"Not at all," Adept Kadir replied. "If anything, it will help their training. By instructing others, one can gain a firmer grasp of basic techniques. That's especially useful for young mages who neglect the basics in their hurry to learn more advanced techniques."

He glanced at Initiate Jiang, who looked absolutely furious.

"Of course, that's not all there is to it," Adept Kadir added with a smirk. "These next few months will also provide you with a perfect opportunity to start learning the Windblade spell."

Instantly, Initiate Jiang's expression changed. "You're letting us learn Windblade?"

Adept Kadir nodded. "Both you and Initiate Guha have advanced far enough to start learning spells, and Windblade has always been one of my favorites. I think it should suit the both of you quite well. In the cabin, you will find two copies of a complete manual."

"Thank you, Adept Kadir!" Initiate Guha said, smiling so broadly it looked like his face was about to split in two.

Adept Kadir turned to Arran. "Before I leave, there's one last thing…"

"What is it?" Arran asked.

"Initiate Jiang, Initiate Guha, please help me provide a demonstration of what Initiate Li will be learning the next few months."

With that, he raised a wooden training sword, and Initiate Guha eagerly did the same. Initiate Jiang followed their example a moment later.

Initiate Guha was the first to attack Adept Kadir, striking with a series of ferocious blows so fast that Arran could barely see them.

Instantly, Arran was amazed.

Now that he had a Wind Realm he was able to sense Wind Essence, and he could see that Initiate Guha used Essence to enhance his swordplay, directing it at his sword in small gusts to make his strikes faster, while at the same time disrupting his opponent's attacks.

The exchange lasted only a couple of breaths before Adept Kadir struck Initiate Guha. Yet after just that short display, Arran already understood that what little confidence he had in his magical abilities was hopelessly misplaced.

The amount of Essence that Initiate Guha used was far smaller than what Arran could draw, but he handled it with incomparably more skill. Next to Initiate Guha's techniques, his own weren't even worth mentioning.

As Arran pondered this, Initiate Jiang attacked Adept Kadir. Where Initiate Guha's attacks had been fierce and forceful, Initiate Jiang's were intricate and deliberate, involving movements that seemed to defy the laws of physics.

Again, Arran was shocked. Just a moment ago he had been stunned by Initiate Guha's skill, but now, he saw that Initiate Jiang's skill was at an entirely different level.

Her swordplay by itself was only slightly better than Arran's, but with every movement, she used Essence to redirect and control her blade while also deflecting and slowing her opponent's attacks. As a result, it was as if she was wielding half a dozen swords at the same time, all striking with inhuman skill and speed.

Despite Initiate Jiang's astounding skill, she too was defeated in just a few exchanges, although she lasted slightly longer than Initiate Guha had.

Arran was puzzled. "Adept Kadir, how did you defeat them without using Essence?" During the entire fight, he had not once sensed Adept Kadir using even the slightest bit of Essence.

"But I did," Adept Kadir said with a laugh. "Without it, I'm afraid I wouldn't last a single exchange against either of them."

"Then why couldn't I sense it?" Arran asked.

"The more control a mage has, the less Essence will leak when he uses techniques. At my level, there simply isn't enough wasted Essence for initiates like yourself to be able to sense it."

Arran nodded in understanding, suddenly wondering what his own techniques would look like to other mages.

"Now, Initiates, spend these months well. I will come by occasionally to bring food and check your progress, so don't slack off."

With that, Adept Kadir departed, leaving the three initiates behind.

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