Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Project Sky-Shell 018

   Chapter 9 (continued and finished)

When Lex regained consciousness he was looking up into the blue sky, his head on Julin's lap her face shielding him from the glare of the Sun. "Crap." he thought. This was not quite how it was supposed to happen. While he was counting on Sired in Vain draining him he did not intend to faint. That had been very unsmooth. While it did have certain advantages lying in the grass with Julin stroking his hair it still represented an embarrassing mishap.
    "I have no idea why you insist on using that sword." Julin said "There is no way you could ever use it in battle without getting yourself killed. Except that you enemies might think you just died of a sudden stroke." she looked Lex in the eye with eyebrows arched.
"I am testing a hypothesis." Lex replied.

    "Really? What is it this time? Last time you were trying to test your personal limits of power. Surely by now you should know how far you can go before you faint like a fragile damsel in distress."
"Obviously not as I did faint again. That. Was not supposed to happen." Lex said while his mind began to analyse what had happened. Julin was right in a way, by now he could tell very well how much of his life-force he could use before passing out with great precision. While he had not set out to find this out it had proven to be of advantage. He could push himself further anyone else of his generation and age because of this. He knew how much more he could squeeze out of himself without risking his ability to keep on fighting while everyone else was working on very rough estimates. He looked Julin in the eyes. "Nevertheless, while not exactly what I wanted I am at the point that I needed to be. See our main problem in combat is our personal energy limit. While we are able to use the energy around us to fuel or powers this is not always easy. Making hand-seals with swords in our hands is pretty nigh impossible and our artefacts do not always sport the summoning inscriptions we need for the situation at hand."

    "Yes Lex I know." Julin made a hand-seal consisting of most of her fingers covering her mouth and her index the side of her nose, she used that to summon her patience. "As you may remember I too have lived an entire life time, like you and like you I am well aware of the basic principles of our fighting style. Surprising, I know!" Lex wanted to speak up but Julin pushed a finger against his lips to shut him up. "Be very careful what you say now, if you start lecturing I will go have a bath and an early dinner after which I may return to you to see if you are finished. Is that clear?"
    Lex nodded. "It's not quite done yet." he said weighing his words carefully. "I wanted to show you my invention only after it was done. But it needs serious field testing and I need your help." after a short pause to make sure that Julin was still listening instead of trying to flee he continued. "We waste a lot of energy in every fight. While it looks rather splendid to vent surplus force as light or wind or heat, it is also a horrible waste of power. So I worked on a way to preserve as much of it as possible." He was now getting more animated. "Our Armour is bulky enough, most of it is just there to intimidate our enemies, filled with a lot of air, I was actually contemplating installing little drawers into mine so as to use that space in a more efficient manner and . . ." he caught Julin's impatient gaze which informed him of the importance to get to the point. "I installed mechanisms to store the power in my armour." he blurted out to stop her from leaving.
    It worked. Julin look at him blinking.
    "Watch!" he said as he started to manipulate small levers that he had discreetly worked into his armour's design. A clicking and whirring sound came out of the inside of it while Lex raised from the ground in slightly unnatural motions. "See? I just give subtle commands with my body while the armour does the rest." He changed into a combat stance and followed through the motions of one of the basic flows of assault. "Works perfectly well with all of the basic level types of movements. Feeds directly from the muscle memory." He changed his stance changing mid movement into a flow of repulsion, the transition was jerky which gave it a strange unnatural aspect.

    "At first I had problems of retaining the energy when shifting the armour away. When it returned all energy stored in crystal was gone. But the I had an idea. High magic did not work so I used lowly mechanics." he finished his flow now near the combat dummies carved out of rock where he started another flow of assault "Springs and coils, things like that. They can't hold much energy but they retain it through shifting. You can then use the energy stored in them to either recharge the storage crystals or into direct motion" he finished his flow with a strong open palm strike crashing into the stone dummy in front of him sending cracks crawling all over it.

    Julin was rather impressed by now. She looked at Lex's unmoving figure for a while considering what she had just seen. "Do our instructors now about this?"
    "Yes." Lex said still remaining in his impressive striking position. "They told me to stop wasting my time with building childish toys. Instead I should focus on cultivating my inner force."
    "How very progressive of them." Julin smirked.
    "Well did not stop me from working on it. Even if it is a waste of time it is an interesting challenge."
    "Lex." Julin asked.


    "Why are you still in that ridiculous pose?"
"er... well... this is one of the problems. When the armour runs out of power and the user is drained. Then... er... I am stuck."

    "Oh for progress sake." Julin rolled her eyes. "And here I was almost impressed by what you had achieved."
"I am getting there!"

    "I am going to have to wade in and save you, am I not?"
"It, is not that hard you just have to work my crank a bit until there is enough energy build up to set me in motion again. That'll release the clogged up mechanism."

    Julin stifled a laugh. "Did you really just say that?"

"That came out wrong, didn't it?"

    "Very much so. Now let me see if I can't help you with that crank of yours. . ." Julin said as he approached the reddening Lex.
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Julin and Lex did spend the entire night talking about the possibilities of an armour that would store energy for at least short periods of time. The advantages to such equipment were numerous. Their discussion was only interrupted once when they drifted to far from reasonable thought into increasingly blatant innuendo, which they go rid of by a short intermezzo of passionate sex. After they got lost again in their theories.

    Neither of them had to get up early the next day. Yet they both failed to appear on time to their respective classes. Lex got away lightly this time around as the professor teaching the class on advanced heterogeneous transmutations did not expect anything less than utter failure from him, so he simply got away with look of expected disappointment.
    Julin on the other hand got into serious trouble for a change. She had to attend sparring practice with professor Nayto, who was known for his tempestuous temperament. While he did treat Julin with more respect than anyone else, he also expected her to set a proper example to all other students. To make matters worse High Savant Thelian herself had come to the class asking for Julin. So when she arrived she was not only late but had also shamed professor Nayto before the High Savants of the Order. Later it was said that his screams could be heard to the deepest flowstone pits inside the Pinnacle of Cognition.
    Julin hurried away from the irate professor only partially under the pretence of not wishing to let the High Savant wait any longer. She had to fight back her tears that were welling up in her eyes because of the utter shock of being so thoroughly thrashed by a professor, especially because it was Julin's fault. She had seen other people get similar verbal beating but this time was the first time she was on the receiving end. It was even more worse than it looked like.

    Lex did not see Julin until much later that night. He had been more and more worried as the day wore on, with the rumours of what had happened and what the consequences of that were likely to be kept getting worse by the hour. When she finally did appear she was very quiet. Lex wanted to comfort her but she dismissed him telling him that she needed some time for her self. When he did not move she told him that she was OK. The High Savant had, she had hesitated for a moment before she continued, High Savant Thelian had asked her to go out on a mission which would start her three decades as a wayfarer knight early. Before Lex could ask any further questions she had left him.
    Lex did not quite understand what was going on. He had no idea why the would send Julin on the wayfarer journey before she had finished her training. That was highly irregular even if she was Kana Ganris reborn. That privilege only carried her so far and never beyond the bounds of the rules of the Order. The rules where there for a reason. The rules where there for everyone. With no exceptions. So this meant that she had probably been appointed with some kind of mission that went above and beyond the normal duties of a prospective knight. But then would that not be a high honour?
    If Julin was thinking of refusing the mission because she had promised him that they would set out into the world together, he would have to tell her, as much as that hurt him, she had to go ahead. There were things that were more important that personal feelings. They both new that. Despite their young bodies with their rebellious impulses they knew from a life-time of experience how important it was not to do what felt right but what actually was right. Was that not in the end what the Quest for Reason amounted to? Not giving into the the gut feelings that so often led one astray but instead to base ones thoughts and actions on fact?
    Lex was determined to tell Julin not to hesitate but follow through with whatever mission the High Savants had entrusted her. He would do that first thing in the morning.
    When he arrived at her room the next day he found that she had gone, leaving only a letter addressed to him. It told Lex that she had a lot on her mind that she had to sort out on her own. She would have to go away for a day or two in order to see clearly what she had to do. Lex relaxed a bit. Now this was much more like the Julin he knew. When ever strange moods struck her she walked away from the Pinnacle to wander her favourite mountains and valleys alone. Lex wondered why she could not have told him that in person the night before, that way he need not have worried. They could have also have spent the night together before she left. He left Julin's room sulking.
                                   *         *           *          *

    The following days Lex got lost in work. Even more so than usual. Without Julin he was still very much an outcast. The two of them becoming a couple had made matters worse. If that was even possible. The professors where now even more worried about him dragging her down, while his classmates now could add jealousy and envy to their hate list. Fuelled with the new found vigour of youth the hostilities had become more open again.
    So here he was in the workshops late at night when no one was there any more so that he could work on his pet project without being disturbed. During the days he was on the training field working on his techniques. There had been a few challenges when he was sill in his new body was still sixteen and well below par. But no matter what body you out in he had a hundred years of combat-training. Soon the challenges stopped. Lex remembered that he felt secretly disappointed by this. It was the only way he could vent his frustrations and show his worth to everyone else. Julin would have probably smacked him for thinking that. He regarded his four regular swords as he was trying to think of a way of channelling mechanical power from or to them. But he could not think of anything. He sighed and gave up on them for now. He had enough trouble with the armour as it was, before that was not done he needed to ignore the sword problem no matter how much it irked him.
    The next day he worked his armour hard until it was creaking with pent up tension, the glowing gem-wire trimmings pulsating with power sparking ever so often as they could not contain all the potential energy Lex had stuffed into the crystals. He slowly pulled out Sired-in-Vain routing the power stored in the armour into the sword, carefully powering it. The plates creaked, the mechanisms inside started whirring and ticking away pumping energy into the blade slowly making it solid. But it was not nearly enough. The last click had died away and Sired was not filled even to a fourth of its nominal capacity. The blade, if you could even call it that, barely held together hanging flaccid from the grip in a way that made Lex feel extremely self conscious. Luckily no one was paying him any attention.
    To make matters worse the armour's mechanisms had locked into place again leaving him immobile. This time with no Julin in sight to help him out of it. At least this time Lex had still great amounts of life-energy left to burn. Of course it was very hard to use that as he wasn't able to form any helpful hand-seals or touch any of the summoning structures etched into the armour plates. So he had to carefully manipulate strands of energy out of his fingertips into the conductor wires. Which turned out to be as easy as threading a needle with one hand out of the corner of the eye.
    Ten sweaty minutes later he could finally move again. He gave up on Sired-in-Vain for the day and decided to work on his one and a half sword style. Another reason why he was generally mocked by everyone. The knights of the Order used either one two-handed greatsword of sorts or two heavy long swords. While Lex had forged a one and a half hander which could be used with either one or two hands, that he had called Farward's Razor. He liked the flexibility it gave to him. In most situations Farward was enough. Big and have to cause serious damage even against armoured opponents, while at the same time being light enough to be wielded in one hand. Lex liked to switch hand's in mid combat. It confused his opponents and again added flexibility.
    He had started using both hands because to add to the shame of his low birth he happened to be right handed. Which of course was the feeble hand of the small minded. Everyone knew that it was the left-hand path that led to power. Will those who followed the 'right' way got lost in details, losing contact to the world and never being able to truly understand the big picture.
    So Lex had worked long, very long and hard to become proficient with fighting with his right hand. His tendency to switch hands back again had exasperated him to no end but in time he learned to control the reflex as well as noticing that he could use that to his great advantage. He was never caught of hand and could adapt to what ever obstacle the terrain present him with.
    Of course that had been wrong too. He was told off for his sloppy style. Some of the more orthodox teachers had told him that he was cheating or at least fighting without honour. In the end he stuck to it. He was going to be treated like an idiot anyway. So he might as well be an idiot that did the things the way he felt most comfortable with. An attitude that helped him a lot later in his first life. As everything he did was pretty much wrong by default he could as well do what ever he liked. He was sure that had he been treated like everyone else most of his later research would not have happened. Like the one and a half sword style for example.
    The problem arose when Lex was expected to use two swords. In most cases he was more effective with using the reinforced arms of his armour for protection while just using Farward's Razor. A second sword of comparable size did not help at all. It actually made fighting for Lex much harder as the other weapon was constantly getting in the way. Much to the grim nods of his trainers which showed that they had known that his strange little style had been doomed from the very beginning.
    He took the challenge. At first he was thinking of just working on it until the got the knack for the two sword style. But the scorn heaped on him pretty much forced his hand, just like with the great sword he would find a solution. Niva style.
    He did that by examining the weaknesses his sword style had. Where were openings on his part, where were holes in his foes defence that he could not take advantage off. In the end he concluded what he had been told on the first day of sword training. There was no sword that was perfectly suited for every situation. That was the reason why the Order used either the greatsword or two longswords, both were very versatile blades which worked best in scenarios where the other left something to be desired.
    Farward's Razor was pretty good in both longsword as well as broadsword scenarios, yet excelled at none. So he decided that what he needed were a variety of short light swords that excelled at one or two things. That way they were easy to wield, easy to draw and sheath in the heat of battle, while allowing Lex to react with the highest flexibility to each situation. And flexibility was one of the highest virtues of the Order of Reason.
    This led to three new swords. The first one was Elias which Lex nicknamed 'The Messenger' a blade excelling at speed above all other things. Perfect for quick stabs and deflecting all manners of attack. Short and light it was very fast to enter combat and leaving it again. Lex worked its sheath into the back plate of his armour. Training for days drawing and sheathing it before he even used it in combat training at all.
    While the added sword did help enormously in duels it became clear quite quickly that it was not good enough. So Lex forged a companion to Elias which he called Renna, he nicknamed it 'The Furious' a blade made primarily for offence. The top of the blade was thin and flexible able to sneak past armour plates, with one sharp and one serrated edge. Towards the hand guards Renna's became increasingly thicker giving it the stability to convert most of the power behind the thrust into raw power.
    This combo worked for a long while leaving no real openings which Lex could not exploit. But there were a couple things that he was still not quite happy with so in the end he added a third sword to his personal collection. Decades after the other three. This one he called Cadred which he nicknamed 'The Bloody', partially because it was bloody hard to use properly and because it would make a horrible mess in real combat. One thick heavy iron lump with two blades forged into one in the form of a cross, with little edge but a fierce point. It could penetrate most types of armour with exception of heavy plates and boasted folding hooks that opened when the blade was pulled out of the victim.
    Cadred caused Lex enormous amounts of grief. It was deemed a horrible weapon of inhumane savagery. A blemish on the honour of the knights of the Order. He almost gave up on it until Julin told him that if he added a chain to the back he could use it as a grappling hook and call it a tool. Maybe one day when a wayfarer knight the day would come when he was fighting barbarians who did not care about honour, then Cadred may save his life. Until then it would make a help full gadget.
    And that was what happened. He attacked a chain to the pommel, connected it to an inside reel and so was his internal grappling hook born. He later added a coil to the reel making it a very early prototype of his newest additions. To his shock and confused delight his combat instructor had been actually pleased with Lex's newest invention say that he had turned an evil divide into an useful tool, showing that he was actually capable of grasping the basic tenets of the Order. It looked like he would make a good knight. Eventually. In a couple of lives.
    Lex had forgotten the passage of time as he worked through his combat routines. He became aware of his laboured breathing and the stitches in his side. He was now all alone on the training field. The others had left for dinner. Even the day had become bored of his exercises and had left the realm of the Order to go and watch a place where something actually exciting was happening. Lex sheathed his weapons and limped back to his rooms.
    After a quick dinner he went back to his workshop to implement an idea he had during the time he stud locked like an idiot on the field. He inserted a small wind-up clockwork mechanism to the armour which could be wound by hand or failing that would do so on its own during normal movement and would only ever engage when the rest of the armour ran out of tension and locked up, that way it released the jammed mechanisms allowing Lex to keep moving.

    The next day Julin had still not returned from her excursion which started to seriously worry Lex. He always felt a slight apprehension when she left on her own, but he knew that he could handle herself at the very least as good as him. The land which the Order of Reason called its home was a sparse mountain region that was close to being a wasteland, but it had little in ways of danger for those used to its harsh environments. No one their age knew the mountains better than Julin did.
    And yet.
    And yet he worried. It had been four days now that Julin had gone. She never left for more than a day during their main training blocks and even then only under the most extreme circumstances. While she was forgiven her absence because of her status, she was to much of a professional to actually skip classes. Yet here she was absent during course days with nothing but a hasty note left behind. Something was not right.

    At first Lex tried to talk to his tutors and the professors. But no one took him seriously. They informed her that a High Savant had personally asked for Julin, apparently giving her a special mission. The was obviously a high honour as well as an enormous responsibility even for Julin Ganris. So she had prudently decided to get out of the Pinnacle of Cognition to meditate on her new responsibilities. Lex should stop worrying and wait for her return.
    Lex did not stop worrying. He new Julin to well, he had to find out what had happened. He pretty much knew all the paths Julin took on her outings by heart, having accompanied her countless times in this life and their last. So as the last lights of day were fading he left the Pinnacle to go and look for her.
    He had walked through the night, knowing that Julin would hardly get into any trouble that near to home. The roads where broad illuminated at night and always kept in perfect condition. Another point of pride of the Order. Within its borders the infrastructure was kept in perfect condition at all times. This was for practical reasons as well as to show the contempt the Order of Reason felt towards the 'lesser' nations surrounding it. The first rays of light were lighting the sky-shell above when Lex reached the trail Julin usually took to get into the deeper wilderness.
    Focusing his power he powered his armour to move in short bursts of speed. Stopping every kilometre or so to have a good look around for any signs of her friend.
    It was not quite midday when he finally found her. Julin was lying on the flat slope of a little hill, overseeing a little brook tumbling its rocky path down a valley to fill up a large mountain lake. She had obviously fallen asleep looking at the sea. Lex exhaled in relief. Julin always said she was going to meditate a bit always falling asleep after a short time. Especially when there was flowing water near her. She said the sounds that water made relaxed her. Back in the fortress she had the tendency to open her window at night when it was raining. She said that she slept better listening to the rain.
    "Julin. What were you thinking!" Lex call out as he approached her. He was now feeling his anger rising. It was not like Julin to behave in such an irresponsible way. Especially if there was something troubling her. She could at least have the decency to tell him about it. "Julin! Wake up. You've been hiding from your duties" and your friend he added silently, "for long enough."

    He was now almost at her side, wondering if he should kick her, very gently, back into the waking realm. It was then that he noticed that her clothes had holes in several places. He rushed towards her and knelt beside her. Her skin was cold to the touch and she was no breathing.

    Julin was dead.
    All emotions drained from Lex. For a moment he did not know what to do. He sat down beside Julin and looked at the lake for a while, his mind flat out refusing to take in the situation. The sun had moved passed its Zenith shining directly into his face before he started moving again. He turned to Julin examining her corpse. Her body was riddled in stab wounds, but there was no blood to be seen anywhere. She was also not wearing her armour. Which was strange. Now the most important part was to take her amulet. Thank Reason for her unearned privileges that had afforded one of the few soul saviour stones!

    He would rush right back to the Pinnacle of Cognition. They would take one of the bodies they kept on reserve for situations exactly like these and they would bring Julin back. That way they could find out who killed her and why. And they could be together again.
    He picked up the amulet. "Don't worry Julin. I'll get you back home." he said. As it twisted in his hand he saw that the stone on the back side of the amulet had been cracked.

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