Bruised and battered from his session with Vorm, Valerian sat cross-legged on a mat in front of Elder Allard. The old warrior had elected to take over Valerian’s tellurian cultivation. Unlike with Vorm, they were actually going to be cultivating. The old man looked no different than he did last time. His armour seemed a bit too large for his frame and his maroon mantle was wrapped securely around himself. However, he seemed strangely excited.
“I suppose you’ve been briefed as to our task?” The gaunt elder asked him.
“Yes!” Valerian answered with a nod.
He hadn’t truly been so much briefed as told that the man would be overseeing his tellurian cultivation. The rest, he sussed out himself. Apparently, the clan was taking his miraculous recovery with a heavy dose of salt. The great elder was basically here to confirm that Valerian could indeed cultivate like a normal tellurian and at the same judge his aptitude at it. That way they could make a more informed choice as to whether or not to back this new avenue.
From his uncles, he’d also learnt that they were curious about his peng legacy and phantasm and how they would affect his capacity as a tellurian. The former more so than the latter as they knew little about it. They were hoping to glean anything about his legacy that would help better understand and develop it in a way they’d profit from it hence why they brought in the clan’s foremost expert on daemonic legacies. Allard himself was more concerned with the phantasm, seeing it as the chance to learn more about their heritage and make sure the talent wasn’t wasted.
“Good!” the man affirmed. “Let’s start with a quick review and then we’ll get right on with the evaluation, followed by the actual cultivation.”
He lowered himself onto one of the stone benches, bringing him much closer to Valerian’s seated height. Valerian found this better as it meant the man was no longer looming over him nor did he have to crank his head up as much.
“Why don’t we start with what you know about tellurian cultivation?”
Valerian didn’t even need to think. The answers came spewing forth. “Unlike arcane cultivation, tellurian cultivation has little to do with spiritual vessels, elemental manipulations, and essence control. It does not look outward into the world but focuses inward, on the individual.
“The primary goal is to transform a body into a vessel of the elements themselves, one that embodies the attributes and concepts. This dichotomy in focus is the source of the phrases, arcane spirit and tellurian physique. Starting with the cleansing and transformation of the body, tellurian cultivation develops the individual by means of enhancements, resistances and conceptual techniques.”
“Hmph!” Elder Allard snorted. “You’re Valan’s boy alright. I was worried that you’d be behind on the subject on account of your eh… earlier condition. Still, you left out something important”.
“Qi is a transformative force and it is the central aspect of tellurian cultivation. Some call it refined life force. Whilst that is not untrue it is also incomplete. Qi is the physical aspect of life and in training it, tellurians train their bodies. With it, we can achieve incredible things, including things which would otherwise be impossible. Arcanists might control the elements and surrounding essence but we can become them. They might influence the mysteries of the world but we embody them. They can create whatever they want for their needs out of the world’s essence but we can simply add those functions to ourselves.
“That is what a tellurian physique is. It is a structuring or development of the body using qi in an attempt to reach for that which is beyond us and in so doing ascend into forms greater than our current selves. Thus, each tellurian cultivation method lays out a path, invoking some concepts and attributes to be focused on so that when followed, the cultivator will attain the physical state outlined therein.
“Our clan’s method, the [Great Monolithic Art] is one of many that is inspired by a daemon. The goal of the method is to bestow upon a tellurian a physique similar to that of an actual steel monolith. It was created to maximise the abilities of our line by drawing out our latent blood and potential as descendants of the Menhirion to endow us with his legendary might. As such, it has three main foci, overwhelming strength, impenetrable defence and peerless metal resonance.
Unfortunately, you cannot train in it. Ordinarily, this would mean it was useless to you but your case is different. For one thing, you possess a steel monolith phantasm and even if you can’t use it, it can.”
“Wait!” Valerian interrupted in shock. “It can cultivate?”
Elder Allard displayed an annoyed look at the interruption but answered nonetheless. “Yes, it can!”
“Technically, it should have inherited some memories by virtue of its heritage and possess an instinctive method of doing so. However, the [Great Monolithic Art] is sure to help or corroborate that and anything help we can give it to develop should be given to it”, he revealed.
“How are we going to give it a cultivation method?” Valerian asked incredulously.
The Great Elder sighed, rubbing his knee as he did so. “I thought we went over this the last time. The phantasm is you and you, it. It is lying there, in the recesses of your mind. Everything you see, it sees. Everything you hear, it does. You might not be conscious of it but that it is awake, it is conscious of you. However, it remains a disapparate part of yourself until you can confront and properly integrate it into yourself.”
“And it will not subsume me instead?” Valerian asked incredulously. It seemed strange to him that a repressed spectral entity living as part of him would just roll over and surrender itself and its power to him just because he proved himself.
Elder Allard looked pleased with this question. “I cannot deny that that danger does indeed exist. The phantasm most certainly wishes for a reversal of roles where it becomes the dominant personality. However, yours is an innate phantasm. It is you. Even it wins, it would not lead to any spiritual death, destruction or anything truly unpleasant. You might, however, end up a steel monolith in human skin”, he said with a laugh. Then, seeing Valerian about to ask another question, he barked.
“No! No more questions. If you’re worried about your possible future then work hard so as not to be defeated. Besides, that day should be a long way away still. When it does come, the clan and I will be there to guide you in subduing your phantasm. If you fail well, daemons are not so different from humans where it counts and besides you’ll still be family. As to whether you’ll remain you or you or become something else, I don’t know. I don’t deal in existentials. Go ask a philosopher or maybe a priest.”
Valerian bit back his words. It was clear that Elder Allard was done with the topic. Later, he’d check in the library for books on the topic. There was no way he was going to let some daemonic aspect of himself take over.
“Now, there was another reason for revisiting the [Great Monolithic Art]”, the man was saying. “One particularly relevant to you. It is a legacy method created with one reason only. To allow us to access the power of our daemonic blood. Like your phantasm, we originally possessed hereditary memories and instincts to guide us in the use and development of ourselves and our abilities but as the ages rolled by and our blood continued to thin those memories appeared in fewer and fewer among us.
“Thus, using those memories, instincts and our accumulated experience over the generations, our ancestors synthesised the [Great Monolithic Art] to be used in their stead. It is a material legacy to replace our blood one. It can not only help your phantasm but taking the lesson in it can help you with your peng abilities as well”, he informed him.
“How?” Valerian asked.
“I’m lead to understand that you have never cultivated not even since you uhm… recovered?” Elder Allard ventured.
“Even so, you apparently have a method to recover and transform essence into qi. Additionally, you have been able to develop certain techniques from the hereditary memories your ancestral spirit bestowed you with?” he added.
Valerian nodded again whilst hiding a small frown. From the way the man said ancestral spirit, it was clear that he was one of those who did not believe his account of encountering the will of the Primordial Golden Winged Peng. Hence, the downgrade to ancestral spirit. Nevertheless, he held his tongue. He could see how his version of events could be hard to believe but he didn’t like it. It felt like they were calling him a liar.
“Good! Could you display one for me?” the great elder asked.
Transforming into his ‘battle form’ as Vorm had dubbed it, Valerian stretched out his right arm, covering it with his qi and invoking [Rending Talons]. Massive talons that would not have looked out of place on a raptor took shape out of golden qi over his hand and curled fingers. Thanks to all the practice he had gotten with them, they were no longer as simple and fuzzy-edged as they used to be. Rather, they looked more distinct with a more noticeable edge.
The Great Elder quickly scuttled to the edge of his seat and took the taloned hand into his own. He poked at the qi that made them up and run his finger along their edges, pulsing his qi subtly as he did so whiles muttering to himself. Valerian wasn’t worried, however, if the claws were unable to hurt Vorm he doubted they could scratch the old monster in front of him.
“Remarkable!” the man eventually pronounced as judgement. “Tell me how you acquired them.”
“It was during the match against Kalian DriftCloud. I succeeded in submerging myself in memories of the peng in flight in an effort to mimic them. I achieved my aim, gaining the other legacy techniques [Soaring Through The Heavens] and [Scattering the Clouds] in addition. However, the memories of the peng in flight also included those of peng involved in aerial battles. The technique it used is this one, [Rending Talons]”, Valerian narrated.
“There are three techniques?” the elder asked in surprise.
Valerian gave a customary nod in response.
“Extraordinary! By that I mean your ability to access your inherited memories on command though being able to gain not one but three techniques in the time you had is no less than impressive”, the man admitted.
“I’m not sure I did it the way you think. I have tried since then and whilst I can review some of the peng in flight attempting to browse them doesn’t go so well. I see them in my dreams, though, at times I even live them out but when I wake up I am unable to remember much about them. I think that the memories concerning flight are simply so central to the peng that I was let in”, Valerian confessed.
He thought it best to say so now before the man got the wrong impression and expected things from him that he couldn’t deliver. However, contrary to what he thought the man didn’t seem disappointed but happy instead.
“Even better!” he said with a smile. “The first would have been interesting but this will make what I have to teach, easier to learn.”
Whilst Valerian found himself staring at the old man in confusion, the elder merely adjusted his sitting posture and asked.
“Do you remember the concepts I said the [Great Monolithic Art] focused on?”
“Overwhelming strength, impenetrable defence and peerless metal resonance”, Valerian answered.
“Well done!” The elder confirmed with a small note of surprise. “They are concepts central to what it means to be a steel monolith. No, it is more accurate to say they are the concepts that embody the ideal that all steel monoliths strive towards. The base ambition of our blood Valerian is to achieve that state. That is why our clan especially those who carry the steel monolith legacy take to it so easily.
“If we are going to get you to cultivate a physique suitable for a peng, you’ll have to focus on the central concepts that make up its existence. Trust me on this, they’re so central that if memories of flight so easily gave themselves up to you they will force themselves on you. Just so long as you ask right”, he said excitedly.
Valerian couldn’t help but be excited too. He finally saw what the old geezer had been driving at. He was going to be cultivating a tellurian physique that embodied the ideals and concepts that put his ancestors right at the top of food chain. The choice of Elder Allard as his tutor made even greater sense now. This was what the clan was hoping for. For him to cultivate a peng’s physique and if that was not possible somehow use his phantasm to find a workaround to gain a steel monolith’s one. Who could possibly help with that more than their leading expert on phantasms and daemonic legacies?
“How do I ask right?” he questioned the man.
“It’s simple…” the man began with a grin.
Valerian sat on his mat with his eyes closed. The same one he had been using for cultivation since he was eight. Its enchantments had been activated, with the glyphs drawn on it seemed alive as they revolved in their circles. Slowly, it drew the world’s essence into his immediate surroundings helped along by the array Valerian had created above his head to serve a similar function. As things were he was in the perfect environment for cultivation, all that remained was the method and the mental state.
Valerian went deeper and deeper into himself. A few times, he caught traces of a signature he’d come to recognise as his phantasm’s but it stayed away just like his tutor had told him it would. It simply wasn’t ready or developed enough to confront him yet. Valerian ignored it, in turn, concentrating on his current objective.
He pushed himself into a deep mental state and centred himself trying to capture that feeling that directed him towards his hereditary memories. To do so, he thought back to the feelings he was channelling in his most successful attempt. The one where he gained his legacy techniques. Furthermore, he tried to induce the mental state he possessed in his fully transformed form. It worked, his mental avatar transformed to reflect this with his metallic wings stretching to their full wingspan.
Outside in the real world, he remained in his battle form, though his aura and qi did strengthen considerably. Great Elder Allard took note but did nothing, resigning himself to watching.
Back in the depths of Valerian’s mind, memories of the peng in flight but to replay themselves in front of his eyes but he was not here for them. Remembering what the old man told him, he again centred himself and keeping his mental image and that of the flying peng in mind, broadcasted one thought, one single intention in the form of an innocent question. The kind young children asked their parents. ‘I am a peng but what is a peng?’
The response was immediate. Images, emotions, thoughts and memories pressed themselves onto him each delivering an answer even as they carried him off in their wake. It seemed like hours before Valerian recovered himself but when he did it was in stunned silence for the answer had indeed come. He knew what a peng was now moreover, he had touched onto its central concepts.
A golden-winged peng was speed personified. Even now, long after the moment had passed Valerian could still see images of the peng flying exultantly as the world zipped by. Blistering speed was its forte, followed closely by authority. That had come as a surprise to him. The speed he expected as it was what the daemon was renowned for. That and its great size but what he got was authority. It took a while but he understood it now.
The King of the deep who became Monarch of the heavens. The peng was power personified, dictating to the waters, winds, clouds and even to the other avian lords. Its size, its aura, its unmatched might all spoke of its authority. How many beings could block out the sun and leave the world in shadow just by spreading their wings? How many could hold the sky and everything that constituted it, wind, water, lightning and space ransom?
The third was freedom. This Valerian remembered from his first inherited memory. The desire to be unbound. The rebellion against anything that would constrain him. The thing the Kun had desired so strongly he broke the laws of the world and transformed from fish to bird in a single leap. Valerian was still working through it but it had left a deep impression on him.
There were other concepts but these three had been the ones to ingrain themselves most clearly in his very soul. The others due to being overpowered by them were fainter, more distant. No matter, he’d have the time to figure them out. Elder Allard had told him the most important thing was to forge a connection and get a start. then he could revisit it and deepen the connection and his understanding of the concepts. His objective and next question rang out in his mindscape.
‘How do I, become that?’
This time instead of images and memories he received feelings along with series of compulsions. However, it was no less intense than what he experienced earlier. The only difference was that he was prepared, this time. Sitting down cross-legged, Valerian, under the guidance of his hereditary memories, begun to cultivate for the first time.
Elder Allard continued to look on. Nothing had happened in hours but he still maintained a close eye on his new student, monitoring his qi and breathing. Chances were, the boy would wake up with what he needed. But there was also the chance that he’d come back with the insights that would make the next trip easier. As for him gaining nothing, Allard seriously doubted that. The boy was definitely more talented than that. He wouldn’t be here teaching him otherwise.
Suddenly, a bizarre change in Valerian’s qi caught his attention. First, all the qi in his body withdrew into his qi centre before flowing back into his meridians. Slowly, as if with great uncertainty, it began to flow out of the meridians to suffuse his bones, working its way into them followed by the muscles and organs. An incredibly large portion of it, though, rushed into and pooled at his shoulder blades. In time, it worked out a cycle, working its way into and out of the affected areas.
Elder Allard grinned with pride. The boy had actually done it.
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