Valerian struggled to wrap his mind around the spirit’s words. ‘Failed! How did it fail?’ he asked mentally.
“It appears that the Golden winged peng is indeed worthy as of its title as Monarch of the Heavens. Even watered down to this extent, its will completely resists and disregards mine. To think even my divine will is inferior to a legacy as weakened as yours”, it spoke bitterly.
“Wait! Milord! What if you were to try again? Perhaps, you could wear it down or find another way to-”, the priest tried to say, he better than anyone understood the implications of what the Stormhawk was asserting.
Their clan spirit was the greatest deity within the environs of the viscounty. It had the ability to influence the lives and fates of all who fell under its purview as well as the control of a divine domain. That was what allowed it to curse, bless and intervene in the lives of its people and worshippers. Moreover, as the spirit of the Steelborns, it possessed unmatched affinity and authority with respect to its members. For it to fail even with this connection and sovereign right did not bode well for the clan.
“Enough Adler!” the spirit interrupted. “There is no use. The essence of the peng will not allow anything that is not its equal to make attempts on its person. No matter what I do, I am doomed to have my will submit to the remnants that linger in Valerian. At the end of the day, the peng is a Monarch and I, a lowly hawk spirit” it added in a self-mocking tone.
“As a matter of fact, it would appear that the only reason I have any connection or relation to Valerian at all springs from the fact that I am the guardian spirit of his clan. The peng’s will recognises that at least as legitimate. Any attempt to strengthen or add a new connection, I’m afraid, will simply be rejected”, it reported.
Valerian for his part knelt there just as stunned as the others albeit for entirely different reasons. Besides the lack of any bond with the Stormhawk, he would swear that the blessing was a success. Kneeling there in front of the deity, he could feel the changes in his body only now begin to slow down. His muscles twitched with increased power. His senses were sharper, acuter. His arcane perception of the essence and world had grown far beyond what it was before. His energy pools had also increased significantly.
Was this what a deity called failure? Was there some divine standard where nothing except excellence was accepted? No! He realised. The Stormhawk was unaware of the changes it had caused in Valerian’s physique. Not to mention, it claimed that all of its attempts and ventures had been shrugged off by the will of the peng. That clearly meant that it was not responsible. But if not it then who? The sensations Valerian felt came back to him at that moment. He could distinctly remember how familiar and welcome the energies were as well as how his body had practically rejoiced in it. It reminded him of that time in the Steel scaled dragon’s lair where the essence of another daemon was converted to his own.
Different circumstances but practically the same effect. Was it the case though? Had his body somehow converted the essence the Stormhawk used on him into something more suitable for a peng. It made sense. The Stormhawk believed its energy wasted but there were no actual drift off, leakage or emanations from the surroundings. Everything had been poured into him only to subsequently vanish.
Valerian was brought out of his musings by the Stormhawk asking him a question.
“Are you okay Valerian?”
“Yes I am milord!” he answered automatically. “Why do you ask?”
Sapphire eyes locked onto his own scrutinising him, “You seem a little distant”.
Valerian’s heart leapt into his throat. Had the spirit discovered what he had? Instinctively, he knew not to let on what he believed had happened. The Stormhawk currently thought itself incapable of affecting him due to his heritage. That was not something he should give away. It also wasn’t something he could expect to hide either. Not from a deity who could search through his innermost self with a glance. A sudden thought came to him
“Forgive this one great spirit. This child could not help but feel a little disappointed at the result. I meant no disrespect!” he yelled out hurriedly whilst bowing his head.
Valerian’s words weren’t lies. They weren’t the full truth either. He was indeed disappointed at not having become one of the Stormhawk’s chosen. However, he was also exceedingly delighted to discover that the legacy that the deity had disparaged as weakened and watered down was still of a much higher order than anything it could offer. Besides, he was also following the spirit’s advice and trusting his instincts. They told him not to reveal his capabilities to others and so he wouldn’t.
He was just scared that the deity would be able to see through him. Thankfully, he remembered what it said earlier. The peng aura he had in this form shielded him from its inspection. He only hoped his actions just now were good enough to prevent the deity from growing suspicious.
“I see…” the Stormhawk intoned. Clearly, it was not completely convinced. Thankfully, a new inquiry came from the high priest, distracting and preventing it from pursuing the matter further.
“Milord! What do we do now? Many saw the boy being brought to answer your summons. I was thinking your blessing could be used to explain the incident but now… If he were to leave unchanged by this experience, some tongues may wag. Doubt is something we certainly don’t need right now. Not when we have just begun legitimising your worship”, he pointed out.
The spirit appeared to consider his words or a moment. “You are right Alder, as you often are”, it began. “You wish to use some symbol of my power to smoothly explain away this incident you speak. It would work quite nicely. However, you forget. Blessing and curses are not the only tokens granted by the divine”.
With a sharp thunk, an object sunk itself into the ground right in front of Valerian. It was an enormous feather, dyed in colours of grey and black and yet possessing a strange metallic glimmer. Honestly, given its looks and how easily it stabbed into the earth, an onlooker would be forgiven for thinking it some sort strangely feather shaped greatsword.
“Take it!” commanded its owner.
Hesitating slightly, Valerian rose from his feet and reached his hand out towards the quill or bare part of the shaft. In his head, his instincts screamed at him to be careful and Valerian did not have to ask why. The ominous aura the feather was putting out was one reason. The fact that it was technically the shed part of a god another. The feather remained in its place in the ground, unmoving but wrapped entirely in a harsh, sharp aura that both split the air that came at it and called more to itself such that it was seemingly the centre of a small dust devil.
When he finally laid hands on it and pulled it from the ground, he was surprised at how heavy it was. It was not as heavy as say his mace but it was definitely not as light as you would expect a feather to be even if it was one this size. He brought it close to examine it. The tip of the quill reached his chest when the other was placed lightly on the ground proving it to be at least one metre, thirty centimetres long.
It was solid, but with a comfortable feel in his hands. The quill went on for a little over twenty centimetres before the soft, downy after feathers appeared after which the feather shaft continued for the rest of its length. The shaft was a beautifully polished steel grey that complimented the dark colours of the feather itself. However, it was the vanes that truly caught the eye. Made from wire thin steel barbs that were incredibly but naturally tight woven, they formed blades one either side of the shaft that looked so sharp Valerian was leery of testing them.
The entire feather was about thirty centimetres at its widest and possessed a slight, elegant curve to its body. Only, the inner vane was much larger than the other, giving it a more dominant look despite its curve leading Valerian to think that the outer vane was the true edge. The thing was double-edged anyway so he didn’t mind.
The wind swirled around it, teasing Valerian’s arcane senses and provoking a response from the underlying steel essence imbued in the blade like pinion feather. To think this was but one of thousands of feathers that covered the Stormhawk. Amazement covered Valerian’s face. This was perhaps the most beautiful weapon he had ever seen. Standing there running his hands over the feather, he looked like a child with a new gift. One he was unsure whether to play with or place on a shelf somewhere to admire it.
The Stormhawk smiled down at him, happy to have caused such an expression on his face. “What are you waiting for? Give it a swing”, it told him indulgently.
Valerian was eager to comply. Wrapping both hands securely around the quill, ‘Hilt’ his mind corrected him. ‘It’s a sword, not a feather so it is the hilt’, he reasoned. He raised the sword-feather over his head and brought it down in a simple vertical slash. Wind essence surged creating a wind blade that swept forwards and sliced apart everything in its direct path whilst buffeting anything on the sides. It left scars in the ground that went on for close to a hundred metres. This both shocked Valerian and left him disappointed.
He had not put any qi or arcane energy in that swing nor had he imbued the weapon with it. The results just now were from the weapon gathering and using the surrounding essence by itself. Valerian could tell that if he enhanced the weapon with his energies its capabilities would increase by many fold. You’d think he would be ecstatic at this but he wasn’t. Valerian could tell that he had failed to use the weapon properly. It was a weapon that called for and split the wind but carried a steel core and in his swing, that inner core of steel was missing.
It was any attribute other than metal or wind Valerian might have missed it. Luckily, it was something he was intimately familiar with. In the days when his tellurian cultivation had all but stalled, Valerian’s only cultivation consisted of deepening his connection and control over his innate attributes. He would spend hours at a time channelling his arcane energy, feeling for the world essence, controlling corresponding items like weapons and the air to better his control and his abilities. That was what allowed him to become a Circle master of three attributes at his age as well as what clued him in to what he was missing in his swing.
He raised the sword-feather upwards and tried again, this time trying to stimulate the steel essence within it. The sword responded with a steely glint that flashed across its surface. It grew… more as Valerian would later come to describe it. Its weight didn’t change but it felt more solid and focused. Its aura heightened, making it so that when he swung downwards once more, the world essence rushed to answer its call.
A grey blade of essence was created by the swing. It flew out with an uncompromising presence as if to tell the world to make a path or have it go through and it did go through. It cut through the air and everything else in its way. The wind picked up in the wake of the blade, billowing forth with the force of a storm squall but filled with enough blades of wind to ensure that whatever the grey blade halved, it diced. The roar of the storm went onwards, following that first blade and together they carved a path of desolation before Valerian.
The boy in question stood there dumbstruck as he destroyed most of the mountain top. Everything was just…gone. The grass, the shrubs, the artfully arranged rocks, even the loose dirt that covered the rocky earth had been chopped to pieces and scoured off the mountain. Further off the mountain ledge, the winds had continued forwards to cut and disperse the clouds in the distance. This much destructive potential had Valerian gasping for breath. He glanced down at the feather in hands now fully aware of how dangerous it was.
The danger and destructiveness filled him with fear but instead of dropping the sword-feather he held it tighter instead. In his mind, he had already resolved not to put it in another’s hands no matter who that person may be.
“Good! Excellent!**” came the booming voice of the Stormhawk.
It reminded Valerian that he was not alone on the mountain top. He turned to see the stunned gazes of the patriarch and the high priest. They too were surprised at the destruction he had created. The Stormhawk, however, merely laughed joyously. With a flap of its wings, the scenery was restored to its formerly pristine appearance.
“You clearly only have the basics down when it comes to sword arts but your understanding of the nature of metal and wind and their use is to be commended”, it praised Valerian.
“That feather is bound to you now. It is merely as strong as an elite artefact so it is not too durable but being mine it has some connection to my divine domains and will serve you well when using the wind or steel. Even more importantly, it will carry a touch of my divine essence for as long it exists. Should you come across any gods, spirits or royals reveal it to them and they will recognise you as a god’s chosen. Giving face to me, they will not pester you too much.
“It will also signify your status as one of the youths I have blessed to the rest of the clan. You can tell any who ask that it is both your reward and an incentive to continue to make the clan proud. Do what you wish with it but do not rely on it to cause trouble”, it explained.
Valerian bowed and uttered his thanks. This was better than he could have hoped for. The sword-feather was no lord tiered essence artefact but it was the token of a deity. Plus, despite what the Stormhawk said he could tell that the feather was not something your average essence artefact would have any hope of destroying. Additionally, its ability to command wind and metal essence was not to be underestimated. Valerian had not enhanced that last strike at all and its results could speak to how formidable it was.
Unfortunately, it was being given to him as a token of favour and a symbol of status. It was now like a scepter or ceremonial blade. It would be bad form to take it into battle or use it in mundane matters no matter how great that would be. That meant he could only use it on formal occasions or during emergencies. What a waste! Valerian actually felt like protesting the decision but he wisely held his tongue. With yearning eyes he caressed the feather one more time before putting it into his spatial ring.
“Go now hatchling”, the spirit was telling him. “Understand that you do so as one of my favoured and that the eyes of the world will be on you the moment you leave my domain. Henceforth, your actions will speak not only of yourself and the clan but reflect on me as well. You’ll do well not to let down my faith in you”, it cautioned.
Hearing the deity place its hopes on him caused a pressure not unlike what he experienced earlier to drop onto his shoulders. Still, he responded, “I understand”.
His dismissal caused Valerian to dismiss his second form as well. He was just getting used to the weakness that came with the reversion when he felt his great-grandfather’s presence at his side.
“Come Valerian, I’ll lead you back to your family”, the magistrate said, speaking up for the first time since he was directly addressed by the Stormhawk.
Together they bowed one final time to the deity and then started on their way down the mountain side. They walked on in silence, a pair of great-grandfather and great-grandson. In spite of himself, Valerian felt decidedly uncomfortable in the presence of Patriarch Roland. This was the first time he was alone with the man and despite their relation he had no actual relationship with him. Additionally, it appeared that there was some sort of feud between the man and his grandfather and Valerian was leery of being drawn into it. Thankfully, for his sake the man seemed to have nothing to say or so he thought.
The instant they stepped on the other side of the portal the patriarch’s hand fell on his shoulder, arresting his movement. Looking up at the man, Valerian was struck by how serious his expression was. This surprise grew when the man turned to face him and said.
“What you did back there was very wise”.
“I should probably chastise you for lying to your elders but I’ll forgive you just this once if you give me good enough reasons for your decision”, the man said.
Unable to help himself, Valerian gulped.
The Stormhawk watched Valerian and Roland go long after they went down and out of sight. Its mind churned with the events that had transpired. A scion of one of the Heavenly Monarchs had been born into his clan! It was still unsure how to process the information. Being a bird made it such that he instinctively revered those ancient birds such as the Vermillion bird, the Feng Huang, the great Bennu, the Roc, the Yatagarasu and others of their status for being creatures that all other birds could look up to.
Being a spirit, however, gave it an inkling of just how many orders of magnitude they were above mortal daemons or even from spirits like himself. Like others of his kind, he considered them to be the pinnacle, a peak no one could reach and he longed to one day gain their recognition.
It didn’t mean that he ever thought he’d meet one. The closest he had ever come was a Fulgurite Skybird of the great Thunderbird lineage and now he had one in his own family. Not just that but one who had actually been graced by the will of the KunPeng itself. What he would give for that sort of favour.
“Milord Kuruksa’ar! Your crest feathers!” Adler screamed at him.
Annoyed at having to lose its train of thought, the Stormhawk nearly snapped at the priest but then it felt it. Quickly, it called on the surrounding winds, using them to shift its perspective so it could look at itself. There! The middle three crest feathers on his head had been transformed. They were now bright gold and emitted a strange kingly aura. Reading the essence signature, it realised that they were almost like …. he turned to look in the direction of the departing great-grandfather and great-grandson pair.
The Stormhawk tossed its head back and laughed so hard and merrily that tears sprung to his gem like eyes. It appeared he had been granted a token of its own.
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