Other than the open practice fields, we had six training grounds in our clan compound. One for each element. Each one had the corresponding topology engraved into it and was fuelled with stones and crystals of the corresponding element. The six topologies were among the largest expenditures of our clan. The training areas were open all hours of the day and every clan member Tier 2 and above with no other pressing duty tried to spend as much time in their elemental training ground as possible.
The thing was that the topologies had all been constructed in my great grandfather's time by a Formation Grandmaster he had befriended. We didn't have the expertise required to turn the formation on or off at will. Neither did we have the know-how required to train a formation master of our own. Not for the lack of trying though. Every following patriarch tried their best, including father, but any family with knowledge of formations hoarded it like it was their life. And in a way, it was, seeing that they earned huge chunks of their revenue from creating and maintaining the topologies of other clans.
The training grounds were segregated into sections corresponding to the Tiers and separated into parts that favoured training Specialization – both Force and Control.
The wind topology for instance had a life gate where the air was continuously turbulent – useful for training how to manipulate projectiles and other floating implements to improve one's control over the wind. And then there was the dead gate of the topology where the air was extremely viscous and difficult to move. Training in wind spells there was akin to exercising with weights strapped on to your body. A form of resistance training that worked wonders for wind mages specialized in Force.
I fondly recall the time I spent playing around here with paper planes and origami cranes with Deimos. It all seems a lifetime ago, what with everything going to hell in a hand basket.
The wind topology was where I spent most of my time in the training ground but today, I had a different destination.
The fire formation was more unitary in its effect. No fire mage in the history of our clan had ever specialized in anything other than Force.
Actually, come to think of it, I don't recall any fire mage that made it big with a specialization in control. The unruly element just doesn't lend itself to strict regulation, and the emotional nature of the practitioners of flame makes control doubly difficult.
Signing in at the reception and obtaining my entry token, I placed the token into a groove in the door, pulsing ambient fire mana into it in a particular pattern to unlock it. Shoving the door open, I was assaulted by a gust of heated air that parted my hair with its force.
Taking a breath that scorched my lungs, I stepped in, the door swinging shut behind me.
In front of me was a world of flame. The entire topology was enclosed in a dome of glass doped with Inflammation crystals. In the daytime, the dome would concentrate the sunlight into thin beams of solar flame that would turn the interior into a grid of fire.
Currently, as dusk had already blended into the quiet darkness of night, the embedded crystals simply sparkled in the dome like a galaxy of flaming stars. That didn't mean that the topology was only usable in the daytime. The solar flame was just an accessory function of the dome, the main reason for its existence was to lock in the heat produced by the topology like a greenhouse.
The entire area was partitioned into segments in the form of concentric circles. The innermost section was for Tier 4 mages while the middle one was for Tier 3 mages, separated into four sections by dividers. The outermost segment was for Tier 2 mages with eight partitions. The dividers and walls were made of a dark igneous rock shot through by veins of fire stone and embedded with Inflammation crystals in tasteful locations that manipulated the fire mana in the environment, making it spiral inwards to the centre of the topology.
It was oddly reminiscent of the interior of the volcanic Dungeon at the centre of the sixth Forbidden Zone.
I wiggled my toes in the heated sandy floor of the training ground. I had entered barefoot as per the regulations – too many sets of burnt footwear had taught our ancestors a lesson and they had added the provision to the rules – and the heat of the very first level was challenging the limits of my tolerance even with my enhanced body. Sweat beaded my forehead and soaked into my shirt as the air warped by the heat of the sandy floor scorched my lungs.
With a thought, the ambient fire mana gathered around me and ignited the air adhering to my body and shrouding me in a layer of flame.
Tier 1 flame magic: Ember.
Immediately, contrary to logic, the temperatures around me decreased to a tolerable threshold. No longer did I feel like a piece of meat in an oven, just uncomfortably warm.
The underlying logic of this training ground was simple. The closer we went towards the centre, the more concentrated the fire mana, and therefore the higher the temperature was. Resisting the heat with Ember was actually a test of our insight into the Aspect of Inflammation as well as a measure of our mana reserves.
The hotter our own flame, the higher the temperature we could withstand, the greater was our understanding of the Aspect – while the depths of our mana pool affected how long we could stay in the training ground.
For me, though, the second factor was invalid. My mana here was practically infinite. As for the first factor – that was what I was here to train up. Wielding Sapphire fire required me to be an Adept in the Aspect of Inflammation at the very least. As of now, I was barely a Novice.
And there was something I wanted to test. An inkling of an inspiration I had caught from the repercussion of merging four separate pools of fire mana together back in the volcanic Dungeon.
Closing my eyes, I latched onto the emotions of guilt and agitation engendered in me by the story of the unfortunate Lutrinae girl and dragged them to the forefront of my mind.
Reaching out with my mind for the ambient fire mana, I found certain sections of it shying away from my grasp while some parts showed no difference while the remaining sections swarmed to me like bees to honey.
With my eyes still closed, I took a step forward. Then another and another, falling into a slow ambling gait that carried me from one end of the section straight to the other. Exactly twenty paces across, I observed idly. I stopped when my mana senses informed me about the wall in my way.
Opening my eyes, I found myself facing the door that led to the Tier 3 section, the ground beneath my feet was blushing a deep red from the heat, the sand replaced by coarser, more heat resistant gravel. Yet to me, it felt no different here than the conditions at the entrance of the room.
The shroud of flame around my body had changed. Instead of a uniform layer of flame, the fire now coiled around me in serpentine ribbons, flickering, inflating and deflating as though it had a mind of its own.
Simultaneously, the emotions in my mind were fading bit by bit, like a piece of paper being scorched in a candle-flame. 'Why would I feel guilty?' I wondered. 'It isn't like it is my fault that they wanted a shotgun marriage. If anything, it's her father's fault for shoving her into that fiery pit.'
Reaching up, I wiped some sweat away from my forehead. Was it just me or was it getting hotter in here? My breath shortened and my vision began to grow fuzzy as the heat grew oppressive. I could barely keep my feet on the heated ground, shifting my weight from one foot to the other to alleviate the burning sensation.
I took a step back towards the outer, cooler regions. Then another till I found my back pressing against the door through which I'd entered. Snapping out of my strange state, I found my Ember behaving true to its name with only a few wisps of flame covering me.
Letting go of my mental state, I reactivated the orthodox spell and the uniform layer of reddish orange flame covered me again, isolating the heat outside and I could breathe relieved.
Mother's words from way back when resounding in my mind, "The flame-touched are highly emotional. The fire of their enthusiasm driving them to perform feats of both great benevolence and great evil. They are the impetus behind our nation's continued progress."
My lips curved upwards in a smile. I might just have found the reason for that link and in finding it, found my path to mastery.
There's a cyclone ripping through eastern India. Tin roofs and broken branches flying everywhere. Nature is scary.
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