Valerian woke up submerged in fluid. His eyes were large and greatly adapted to the depth and he breathed easily despite being underwater. But wait … he was moving. It took a while before he realised he wasn’t the one moving. Well, he was and he wasn’t.
He wasn’t in control of his body. He was just a passenger. Also, this wasn’t his body. It felt natural and suited to him but he knew instinctively that he wasn’t a fish or whatever this was. He reassessed himself and … confirmed this.
He was a giant fish, a massive sea lord that was to whales what they were to tuna. Stretching at least thirty-two kilometres long, he was surprised to discover that he was an actual fish and not a whale of some sort. His scales were diamond hard and his teeth were like sabres yet in spite of his size he was lightning quick in the water. What fish could be this big?
The fish continued on his merry way, living his life, Valerian along for the ride. He roamed the endless oceans without opposition. Calling him a sea lord had not been a mistake. He ruled the waters. There was no creature that would dare stand in his way or contest his might. The supposedly mighty dragons scurried out of his path knowing that should he be hungry they’d become snacks.
Power, wealth, influence, territory. He lacked nothing but still, he was not happy. He felt limited by the waters, restrained somehow by their depths. The oceans only went so deep and so far before you met rocky earth. Sadly, he could never leave. Not without dying.
Oh how he envied the birds. He could see them from his place in the waters traversing the skies. The skies weren’t as limited as the waters. They did not share their space with the earth and they had no upper limit. Beyond them were the heavens and beyond that the aether, the celestial domain, the void that held up the stars.
The space above was limitless and he dreamed of it even in his waking moments. As the years went by, he grew even larger and more powerful. He moved through the waters putting down dragon emperors and remaining the uncontested sovereign of the waters. There was no place in the oceans he did not know. He had wandered them and knew them like the spines in his fins.
He began spending even more and more time looking out of the waters at the skies above. Wishing that he too could journey through them. Then one day he asked himself.
Why not? Why can’t I?
Because he was a fish and sadly, not the flying kind. The oceans were his domain and he could have nothing else. Growing depressed, he begun to feel stifled in his own territory. The waters that he had swum through joyfully in his youth no longer held their wonder. His kingdom was turning into a prison.
The sovereign of the waters tried to forget the heavens and be content with the depths and failed. He was lonely. Being the best had that effect. He had no equals and being a unique, divine creature of the oceans meant that there were no others his kind.
Then one day, he was passing by and saw a carp undergoing that transformation to become a dragon. He floated there, awestruck and experiencing an epiphany. This was a transformation he had seen many times but he had never truly understood its significance.
A carp was a pitiful creature by his standards. He didn’t even spare them a glance when he went by. Every beast ate them, even daemons did when there was nothing else to eat. Dragons were different. They were delicious! They were also mighty daemons with incredible innate abilities. Many were divine like himself.
The two creatures had no actual relation and were probably more different than night and day. Carp were fish and dragons were in some sense, divine serpents. And yet … carps became dragons. Two completely dissimilar beasts. The carp could accumulate the power, the wisdom and the will and become something so great and powerful. It could become a different daemon.
Why can’t I?’ he asked himself.
This sparked a fierce ambition in the ocean sovereign’s heart and he began to prepare himself for the change of a lifetime. Success would mean the achievement of all his dreams and failure would mean death but he cared not.
The division between the skies and the waters was perhaps far greater than that between the heavens and the earth. There was a system in place for earthly creatures to reach the heavens. There was a precedent. There was none for the oceans. At least, not in the way that he wanted. And the great fish wasn’t limiting himself to the sky. He aspired to the heavens and everything beyond them.
What stood in his way was the firmament. Forget the dragon gate! The firmament is that thing that separates the waters below and the waters above. What he wished for was not an ascension per se but a transformation from ocean dweller to sky dweller. All the odds were against him and he knew it, but he did not let that stop him.
The world itself shook when he rose from the waters and crossed the firmament. The heavens, the earth and the oceans stood witness as the impossible became reality. Fate itself was overturned as with sheer power and will alone, the great and divine Sovereign of the waters broke through and changed its own innate nature.
Kun became Peng. The former sovereign soared into the heavens, a new daemon.
His scales became feathers, not losing their hardness but becoming new, glossy and golden. His tail lost its gristle and turned into a waterfall of long beautiful feathers. His fins transformed, becoming two enormous golden wings that shadowed the waters below. Two developed into feet retaining the scales but growing four massive toes and impossibly sharp talons. His preternatural teeth dissolved and covered his mouth, becoming a glorious beak.
The transformation was complete. The Underwater Sovereign, the Great Kun, was no more. In its place was the Golden Winged Peng. A divine daemon which flew off, eager to explore its new world.
Alas, not everyone was happy with the birth of a new sky lord. There were many that were affronted with his transformation. There were others that wished to devour him and take whatever essence had allowed him to achieve his impossible feat. And others still rightly recognised that there was a new contender.
Curiously, the Peng was happy at this attention. He welcomed all challengers. There had been a serious deficiency of action in his life. In his former kingdom, there had been no one stupid enough to dare act disrespectfully towards him. The mighty dragon kings and emperors and all the other ocean lords trembled in his wake. Here, things were different.
There were more varieties of daemons. Kinds he had never encountered before. Dragons he had never eaten before. Horde Lordes he had never fought with. That is not to say that he defeated everyone who came his way. But even the feeling of loss was a novelty. It gave him reason to improve, forced him to hone his new abilities and offered him adventures he’d never had had in the waters.
He’d been right. The heavens were infinite and now he could even travel the land. There were enemies to be made, others to befriend, delicacies to sample and battles to be had. All in all, the Peng lived a life that fulfilled his dreams and more.
As the golden winged Peng, he never stopped soaring. First was the ascension to godhood and then was him taking his place as a Monarch of the heavens. What’s more, he knew his journey would never end. Perched on an exalted cloud in his domain, he could look down past the celestial bodies at the worlds. He could look out at infinite cosmos and best of all, beside him was his family, his flock. He was at peace.
The heavens are endless. All are free to aspire to whatever lofty heights they dream off. This was something he strove to teach all who looked up to him. Freedom did exist! Seize power! Gather will! Do not relent! And the impossible will not remain so for you.
With a start, Valerian returned to his body. For a moment, he was unsure of where he was, who he was. Just a second ago, he had been a true god, a divine being, a Golden Winged Peng … a PENG! His mind swam with this information, with the visions and things he had just experienced.
This was not like it had been with Gleamscales. Then, he had retained a sense of self. He and the dragon were two different entities. With the KunPeng, he had lived as it. He had been the KunPeng and the KunPeng had been him.
It was all so confusing. He had seen things. Witnessed unimaginable events. He may not have experienced the KunPeng’s entire life but he did go through a portion of some of its significant memories. The incident did not leave him shaken, but with a strange feeling of pride and loss. There was also a yearning for the sky. To soar into the heavens until he reached his ancestor’s domain.
That last bit stuck in his mind. ‘His ancestor’s domain’.
He finally knew what that ancient, divine presence was. He now understood why it had felt so familiar, so paternal. Why he had felt wrong and guilty when he lashed out at it. Why he had felt pride when it approved of him. Why he felt shame when it looked at his body with contempt.
The ancient entity was the true Golden Winged Peng. It was his Ancestor. The realisation was a shocker. His grandfather had always speculated that his mother’s legacy was a high ranked one but this … this went beyond anything that anyone could have suspected. Who would have thought that he would be the descendant of a Primordial Divinity?
Epiphany over, Valerian tried to open his eyes and get up but found he couldn’t. He was curled into a ball, trapped within unfamiliar spherical walls and covered in liquefied essence. There wasn’t even room to move.
He wanted to break free but an inexplicable instinct told him to wait. He shouldn’t let the remaining essence go to waste. He should absorb that first and then force his way out. Getting ready to do so he found that he was already doing that unconsciously.
Quickly, he directed his gaze inward. There were two streams of energy roving through his body. Somehow, the Manifold Elemental Incarnations was active without his conscious will. Then there was his qi. It was moving as well. He could feel it moving in a mysterious circuit through his body. As someone whose qi had never responded in such a manner, the feeling was alien to him.
The two forces were active in his body, somehow moving in tandem. One an azure blue, the other a bright gold. They were conducted through his body side by side, twin energies from the same source that worked together to improve themselves and improve him and his cultivation.
Given how entranced Valerian was by the sight he could be forgiven for not immediately noticing what was going on but once he did he burst into joyful laughter accompanied by tears. Somehow, he didn’t know how it was possible but he was dual cultivating.
Previously, he had to switch between arcane cultivation and qi cultivation but presently he was doing both at the same time. He no longer had to worry about time constraints or that he would fall behind in one or the other. He applied some focus and was delighted to see them respond. The energy streams grew more active and sped up as they went through their energy circuits.
The essence around him was quickly sucked in, splitting up to join the two energy streams and swiftly being refined into the respective forces. Valerian couldn’t be happier. Today was a day of impossible things but he had certainly never dreamed of this. Keeping his focus, he made sure to memorise the feelings that came his new fused method and their route. He couldn’t afford to forget this method. What would he do then?
A thought came to him and he dived into his mindscape. The human body possessed three energy pools or dantian as some of the eastern lands called them. The first lay behind the navel and served as the storage place for qi and physical energy. The second was beside the heart and stored spiritual or arcane energy. The last was a space for mental or psychic energy between the eyebrows.
Unfortunately, most people would never open any of them. Only cultivators could make any true use of them. What energy would mortals store? How would they store it when they couldn’t control it? Even the majority of cultivators would only ever open one. Under normal circumstances, humans could only have one force so only that energy pool would be open and active.
In addition to this, the earliest the mind pool could be opened was in the King tier. About sixty percent of cultivators never surpassed the first tier. How many could reach the third? As such, there were very few who knew that the pools were even connected. Those who did could never know what that felt like. The others would be forever closed to them.
Only the top level powers at the pinnacle of the King tier or higher would benefit from the knowledge or even the benefits of having more than a single pool at their disposal. Well, people like them and people like Valerian. Those who had dual forces would have two open, usable pools at the very beginning. They were also the only ones that stood a chance at opening all three. The benefits of this, a rare few knew. Valerian certainly didn’t.
At best, he knew that could monitor both pools at the same time and he did so. He looked into the qi space and arcane space and found himself looking not at the seas of energy that once filled them but rather at empty space. There was nothing in them. Nothing save two colossal crystals and two sparks hovering over them.
His arcane space held three of them. Two were familiar to him, they were his elemental cruxes. Each was a ball of essence gathered from his environment, an effect of his Manifold Incarnations. The last one, an arcane crystal, had not been there the last time.
The thing in his qi space worried him though. Instead of a crystal, there was a large gold pearl. He could clearly sense that that was his qi core but from what he knew cores were crystalline. Essence formed crystals when compacted. It happened both in nature and in cultivation. Why did his qi form a metallic pearl?
Oh who cared?
He’d find out later. Valerian was beyond ecstatic. He had attained the first tier for both his forces. He had formed cores and each was a dozen times bigger than the first qi core he formed. Plus, he finally knew the source of his legacy and it was one to be proud of. Anything else could wait. He couldn’t wait to show his family.
As if on cue the essence in his sphere run out. Opening his eyes to the darkness, Valerian enthusiastically pushed outwards. The walls cracked and fell apart, letting him out. Light came rushing in but his eyes didn’t even have to adjust. He spun around, eventually spotting Avery at the entrance of the cavern.
It felt like it had been years since he last saw the man. A smile sprung up on his face. He had so much to tell him. To show him. However, when he moved in his direction he saw the man take a step back, terror on his face. He nearly even fell over himself in his attempt to get away.
“Avery! What’s wrong?” he asked worriedly.
Avery had been watching the golden egg for nearly an hour and he was prepared to wait forever if he had to. There was no way he was going back without his young master. A full day passed and he was beginning to worry. He even sent one of the soldiers ahead to get help from DaleGuard.
None of them had any transmission talismans with the range necessary to call for help. The best was given to the fastest soldier. All he had to do was get in range and make the call. When he did so, Steelborns would land in less than an hour. That was their current lifeline. Avery did not know what else to do.
Thankfully, he caught the cracks forming on the shell. Anticipating Valerian’s return he made his way closer. Then the egg all but exploded. Seeing this, he nearly run forward to check on his charge. Unluckily, out of the dispersing egg shards came a daemon. Now, Avery couldn’t get away fast enough.
The most eye-catching feature was the wings. They were enormous metallic things that sprung open, spreading to reveal a six-metre wingspan. They were made of gold but the thing they unfurled to reveal was even stranger.
The daemon was outlined in an intense golden energy but Avery could make it out. It was humanoid and naked, only with large steel spikes emerging from its shoulders, elbows, knees and heels. Its toe and fingernails glinted in the light revealing a grey metallic sheen. It didn’t have hair just black, needle-like bristles that stuck out its scalp with a feathery golden crest at the top.
Avery didn’t know what it was but every instinct and sense he had told him to run. If he was lucky, it would not have noticed him yet. If not then he was already dead. Too late! It turned and saw him. Backpedalling hastily, he almost tripped over himself. That’s when he heard its voice.
“Avery! What’s wrong?”
Stunned, he took a closer look, finally registering its familiar facial features. His instincts were still blaring at him to get away but taking a chance he asked.
“Young master! Is that you?”
The mythical raptor known as the Golden Winged Peng, sometimes referred to as the KunPeng but never as the Kun, is a divine creature from Chinese mythology known for its tremendous size, power and speed. It is also sometimes translated as the Roc or Rukh but not in this case. To me, the two are separate and distinct. Both are massive birds of prey but their symbolism, origin stories, abilities and the like are too different for me to consider them the same entity. I’m not saying that those who translate it as so are wrong but that I prefer different.
The symbolism of the KunPeng is interesting but perhaps most interesting is the story of it devouring so many dragons that the dragon kings had to implore Buddha to intercede on their behalf before they went extinct. Supposedly, Buddha succeeded which is why there are still dragons but hey I don’t see anything around. Then, again I don’t see any giant birds around either. Perhaps they starved after eating all the dragons. Ha ha ha ha! I’m sure there were many of you who thought Valerian’s legacy would be draconic in nature. Sorry for disappointing you. Well, maybe not but we’ll have some fun with this I assure you. Or rather sinisterSonnet and I will.
Allow me to make a small confession. This scenes in this chapter are actually the ones that festered in my mind so much that I started writing this story. I was getting tired of all the dragon stories. I mean, dragons are great. There’s a reason they are the ones everyone picks but it gets old after a while. So I tried searching for something else and kept drawing short. If the MCs don’t have dragon powers then they have dragon moves or dragon weaponry or pets.
So I began imagining the hunter of the dragon hero and came across the dragon eater that is the Golden Winged Peng. It got me thinking of a hero with Peng powers and I imagined him getting them. The realisation that you are the descendant of a dragon eating godbird and then BOOM Heavenward on Golden Wings was born.
Thank you all for reading up to this point. (Man! This author’s note was long!)