Mira waved her hand toward the projection on the wall, and all the images faded, leaving a blank canvas. Similar to when she circled the locations on the previous map, she began to draw three different circles.
“Now, these are the trifecta, and we all possess them. There is a slight difference between a weapon spirit and humans, but I’ll get to that.” She wrote above each circle, then made three additional rows below it. “Now, Iron auras are considered non-Essential creatures or objects. Prior to becoming a weapon spirit, you were an Iron-grade weapon. Humans naturally hit Bronze when they become adults.”
Red wanted to ask a question, but he refrained from interrupting. If it was so obvious to him, he figured she’d get around to addressing it at some point.
“There are different varieties of weapon spirits,” she started, prompting him to lean forward in interest. “You’ve formed naturally with minimal effort on the part of your original owner, but this is not the norm. Weapon spirits are normally formed in a controlled setting and enchanted towards a purpose, and nearly any item with a capacity to hold Essence and be wielded can become a weapon spirit. You’re what we deem ‘wild’, having developed without guidance and from an uncontrolled source.”
He didn’t like being labeled as such, but he much preferred his experiences so far over being controlled and manipulated by someone else. If that had happened, he doubted he would be Red Braveheart. No, he was who he was because of his progenitor. If that were taken away, he would be something completely different. He would instead be somebody’s tool.
Grimacing, he tilted his head and stared at the drawings on the projection. “Can we focus on the trifecta, Lady Mira?”
Mira observed him, pursing her lips. She crossed her arms, “Before we return to the trifecta, we need to talk about this. If I tell the Heir or my Emperor that you’re unfit for combat or companionship, they will listen to me.” Red raised a brow, confused by this turn of conversation. “What thoughts do you have?”
“Lady Mira, I don’t kno-”
“Don’t lie to me,” she reprimanded him.
“Fine!” he slammed his hands down on the desk and rose so that he was face to face with Mira. “I think it’s crappy that you humans enslave weapon spirits just because you can’t help yourselves.”
“You said it yourself, Red. Weapon spirits are reliant on humans. We do not enslave anybody,” she calmly responded. “When created in a controlled environment - as per the norm - there is a deeper bond between spirit and wielder. To stop weapon spirits from going insane, a soulbinding is enacted. If a wielder dies or a weapon is broken, the effects are severely diluted.”
“Says you,” he scoffed back.
“Do you think many people create weapon spirits? Do you think it’s the only way that we have of fighting back against the monsters?” He rolled his eyes, returning to his seat. He stared at the board with her previous drawings and made it clear that he was finished with the conversation. “Fine, we’ll approach philosophy a little later.”
She returned to the circles, pointing to the first one at the bottom - the biggest of them all. “This is Bronze. The only thing you truly need to push through Bronze is a quantity of Essence. Higher quality Essence is irrelevant at this stage.”
Tutting at his look of confusion, she rubbed her temples, muttering to herself, “Not even a basic level of understanding.” Turning back to him, she continued. “There are three grades of Essence - low, medium, and high. For example, a Bronze or Silver would both give you low-grade Essence, but a Silver aura would give you far more. Due to the abundance of Essence in our world, there are natural fonts of Essence located randomly. Some vegetation even naturally absorbs and refines Essence.”
“I get where you’re going with this,” he said, scowling. Another invisible force slammed into his chest, but it lacked power. He understood, nice enough to give warnings now?
“Not everything is about killing,” she concluded.
He rolled his eyes, wishing that Roland would come back to take him away. “Respectfully,” he started, giving an exaggerated bow, “I don’t care.”
He waited for the unseen force to slam into him, but it never did. Worried, he looked up at her.
“You are who you are,” she said with a shrug, turning back to the board. “Silver is similar to Bronze. You need almost an equivalent amount of Essence, but it requires you to learn to personally refine it into medium-grade within your inner palace.”
Inner palace. He thought about escaping there now, but he wasn’t going anywhere until Mira finished with her lessons.
“It’s a fairly simple process to understand. Gold is all about quantity - similar to Bronze - of medium Essence, Platinum - similar to Silver - is quantity while learning to refine your medium Essence into high-grade.”
Red nodded, confirming that he understood what she said.
“Now, the trifecta. Humans have Power, Durability, and Arcana. Arcana is the ability to manipulate Essence to create magic, differing from Attunement which allows a higher Essence absorption and level of connection with your wielder.”
Red held up a hand to pause her, respectfully addressing her now that he’d calmed and they’d returned to something he was interested in learning. “Lady Mira, you’re telling me that Attunement allows me to gain more Essence faster?”
She nodded, “It does, but it’s best not to solely focus on any one attribute. If your Attunement is Gold while your Power and Durability are Bronze, you’re no use to anybody.”
Having solely focused on Power already, he could understand what she said. Having an unbalanced distribution could do more harm than good. He wondered if he could break his own blade if his Power continued to rise while never putting any Essence towards Durability. Realistically, Red planned to focus on getting Silver in the things that made him useful before trying to ramp up his growth further.
“Lady Mira, what about a shield?”
“Now, that’s an interesting question. A shield doesn’t have a Power attribute. Instead, it would have Vitality.”
“What if someone were to wield two weapon spirits?” Just the thought made him feel disgusted and uneasy. If Roland ever thought he would accept such a thing…
“You tell me,” she said, smirking.
He shook his head, “I most definitely wouldn’t, but is it possible?”
“Sure it is,” she said. “Anyway, Power is focused on more than just the sharpness of your blade. It also enhances your wielder’s attack abilities. Durability makes your wielder tougher as well as making your blade more difficult to break. Attunement is the only one that doesn’t directly affect your wielder. The Essence you’ve received from Roland is given no matter what, however, there is a loss for him. At Bronze, you’re probably only receiving a tenth at most of what he’s actually providing.”
“What?” he asked dumbly. He remembered the amount that he’d received already, and it was no small amount. “How is that sustainable for Roland?”
“Humans have the ability to naturally absorb ambient Essence. Roland’s Arcana is already at Silver,” she stated proudly. “That leads into my next topic. The aura you exude is based on the average of your trifecta. As an example, let’s take a weapon spirit with Gold Durability, Silver Power, and Bronze Attunement. What kind of aura would you feel?”
If it was based on averages, then it was fairly simple. “Silver.”
“Correct,” she confirmed. “Then there’s only one last thing.”
Feeling restless, and honestly missing the Essence connection from Roland, he hoped that the last thing on her list wouldn’t take too long.
“I’m able to enchant your blade with some minor enhancements, and these can be replaced at a later time. With a Bronze Attunement, I could only do a minor attribute boost, though it wouldn’t affect your actual aura.”
“No thanks,” he immediately rejected.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” he said, changing back to his weapon form.
Now that Red had been educated on the world and his purpose as a weapon spirit, he felt ready to jump into action. Roland picked him up from Mira only minutes after they returned to her desk. Red ignored their conversation, turning inward as he felt the Essence connection form again.
Staring up at the cosmic orbs in the perpetually starry sky, he looked around at the rest of his inner palace - if it could be called that.
The fountain continued to fill with the crimson liquid, but other than that, there was nothing else. The palatial throne he sat upon was the only other thing in there. Standing and approaching the ledge of his inner palace, he noticed that the starry sky was not only above him but all around. There was no world here.
“Interesting,” he said, looking up at the orbs above. “What will this place look like when I reach Silver?”
Meandering over to the pool, he sat at the edge and stared at the liquid within, admiring the way the starry sky illuminated it. “Is this what restlessness feels like?”
The duel with Roland had only briefly subsided the battle lust that he craved, and even then, there was no true risk - no real excitement to be had. Their lives were never put on the line, and they never really had to struggle.
“There was no blood…” he muttered, frowning. “I need to talk to Roland.”
Returning his consciousness to his sheath, he manifested in his human form. Roland and Valerie were sitting at a nice cafe, sipping on sweetened coffee while eating pastries. They were talking softly, lovey-dovey business, so he walked away to give them some space.
The entire time he watched, he grit his teeth and tapped his foot impatiently. If he isn’t planning on fighting anything soon, then maybe I should find a new wielder. The kid is skilled but-
Without realizing it, Roland and Valerie had begun to walk out of the cafe, and the tether pulled him out of his thoughts abruptly. He grumpily stalked behind them, restraining himself from interrupting their time together.
As they continued to wander through the streets, sharp cracking sounds repeatedly sounded through the air not too far from where they walked.
“Stab, parry, slash!” a booming voice commanded. Red tried to find the origin, but no matter where he looked, he couldn’t exceed the boundary set by the tether.
Rushing over to Roland, he tapped on the youth’s shoulder. “What’s that sound?”
Roland looked surprised to see Red in human form, but he didn’t linger on his lack of awareness. Tilting his head slightly, he listened. Recognition flashed across his face, and the Heir took Valerie’s hand in his and turned around.
“That’s the training field,” Roland said. “Do you want to stay there while we finish our date?”
“Please.” Red had to stop himself from begging, keeping a composed demeanor. I may not be able to kill anything there, but at least I’ll be able to fight something.
They entered a nearby building and took an elevator up to the top. Red was so focused on being able to fight again - plus, the building was significantly smaller than the fortress-palace - that he didn’t even feel anxious stepping into the metal deathtrap - an elevator, if he remembered correctly.
But when they stepped out, Red nearly rushed forward to start fighting the armored, sword-and-shield-wielding warriors that were drilling. Skeptically, Red approached ahead of Roland and Valerie.
Looking over his shoulder, “Why are they doing the same thing?”
“They’re training their routines,” Roland answered.
“Yes, routines. These are Bronze trainees that will go off to be put under the command of the nobles to the north. This regiment will split into four squads and will be accompanied by the archers, priests, and mages,” Roland explained as he pointed to the other three similarly fashioned buildings that took up the whole block.
“That -” Red couldn’t process what Roland said. “How does that make sense? If they practice like this, aren’t they predictable? Won’t everybody know how to fight them?”
“Most of these trainees will go on monster subjugation missions for the nobility,” Roland explained.
“What about Rathor?” Red demanded. “Won’t they just die like the rest of them? Won’t they die as my first wielder died?”
Understanding dawned on Roland’s face, and his countenance darkened. “The place you awakened, right. That army your warrior died to was an ambush. All those men and your warrior were going to clear a newly formed invasive dungeon.”
Rage filled Red, tinging his face the color of a tomato, “Those cowards!”
Their conversation came to an end when the battlemaster ahead of training approached.
“Royal Heir,” the stout man bowed his head in respect, “what can I do for you today?”
Roland looked at Red out of the corner of his eyes, stepping up to shake the man’s hand, “Battlemaster Hendricks, I’ve recently acquired a wild weapon spirit with a battle focus. Would it be okay if he joined your men in training?”
Red scoffed, “I could beat all of them, why would I want to train like them?”
Battlemaster Hendricks laughed heartily, “A feisty one, I see. Royal Heir, do you have anything in mind?”
“I have to admit, Red is skilled. He bested me.”
“Oh-ho! That’s impressive coming from a sword prodigy like yourself. I can’t completely break their training regiment. I do hope you understand,” he said, smiling.
“Of course, I wouldn’t suggest such a thing. Perhaps you could set up a gauntlet for the latter half of training?” Roland suggested.
The battlemaster stroked the red-haired beard that touched down to his chest, “If he’s like you say he is, he might be able to kick some life into some of the new recruits. They’re drafted, so you know how it is.”
“Drafted?” Red asked.
“It means that they’re required to learn to fight,” Roland explained. “After Rathor’s ambush, we lost a big part of our fighting forces in the north.”
“Aye, ‘twas such a shame to hear about Vaughn,” Battlemaster Hendricks said with a forlorn expression. “I haven’t been able to make it up to the familial estate due to the direness of the situation. Ma and Pa, well - they’re not happy with me.”
Roland nodded, speaking to the much larger man in a comforting tone, “It was a tragedy, and I’m sorry for your loss. I’ll be sure to bring your grievances up with my Royal Father.”
Chills rolled down Red’s spine when he finally made the connection, and he barely managed to whisper out, “You - you were related to my first master?”
“Aye, Vaughn was my baby brother. He -” The large battlemaster had to wipe away an errant tear, “He was always quite the hothead, but we’re not here to mourn.”
“That is correct,” Roland agreed, steering the conversation back toward negotiating terms for Red to practice with Hendricks. “I can stop by and leave him here every day if that works?”
“Nay, I’ll keep him with me until you’re ready to set off. The fight in this one is stinking up my training field,” Hendricks said with a grin. Taking a deep whiff, he turned to Red. “Let’s get you settled in.”
Hendricks took the sheath from Roland and waved at the Heir and Valerie until the elevator’s doors closed. Turning to face the training field, Hendricks cupped his hands around his mouth and boomed, “Halt!”
The continuous rhythm hadn't stopped once since Red had stepped onto the rooftop’s training ground, but now, it came to an abrupt stop as the trainees literally paused mid-swing. They rested their aching arms, groans of relief the only sound. Red found it eerie how quiet it was, having blocked out the trainees at some point.
“Assemble!” Moving as fast as possible, the trainees formed a uniform line in front of Hendricks. “Today, and for the foreseeable future, training will be a bit different.” Hendricks waved toward Red, “This here is Red, and I’m hoping he can show you trainees what real passion looks like.”
Red stepped up next to Hendricks, a wild smile on his face as he allowed his bloodlust to billow out freely.
“Now, training will be split into two sections. On the left side of the training field, normal daily drills will be conducted. On the other,” an evil cheek-to-cheek grin plastered on the battlemaster’s face, “you all will have one goal.”
Dramatically pausing, Hendricks held up Red’s sheath, “Your only goal on that side is to simply touch this sheath.”