“Do you truly believe yourself to be a peng?”
The question rang in Valerian’s mind. However, he could not understand why. This set alarm bells ringing because he knew there had to a reason behind the Stormhawk’s enquiry but at the same time he considered it dumb. It was obvious, wasn’t it? He was a Golden Winged Peng! So, why ask? What left his lips though was something different.
“My Lord Kuruksa’ar, I am afraid I do not follow”.
“The question is simple hatchling. Do you believe yourself to be an actual peng?” The Stormhawk asked, an unknown tone in its voice.
“I-I do not understand”, Valerian stated plainly.
“You are beginning to realise it too, aren’t you. Thinking about it reveals the discrepancies”, the Stormhawk added softly. “Hmm!” it exclaimed. “To think inherited memories have this drawback.”
It was right. There was indeed something wrong. It’s just that Valerian could not tell what. Asking himself the Stormhawk’s question caused him to receive two contradictory answers. One that he was a peng and another that felt the former was wrong. It was disturbing.
Thinking of himself as a peng felt right. It did not just agree with him, it was confirmed by his essence and by his inherited memories. That inborn assurance of his place and greatness. That feeling of flying over the oceans and mountains his own shrill call sending all forms of draconic creatures scurrying, it lingered in his heart of hearts. Lately, it had begun to even appear in his dreams and yet…
He could not shake of the feeling that something was wrong. There was something he was not seeing. As much as he and all he was confirmed him to be a golden winged peng, it still felt… off. His body refused to acknowledge it. In fact, his own blood turned at it being anything other than a peng like his ancestor was but in spite of that… Intuitively, he could tell. Something did not match up and somehow, he knew it. What’s more, the Stormhawk knew it too.
Caught between the instincts of his form and his own growing misgivings, Valerian begun to grow confused. The implications of what the peng was implying was terrifying. He didn’t even want to think about it anymore. He was the descendant of the golden winged peng and that was that! He made as much known.
“What are you trying to say? That I’m not a peng. I am. I’ve seen it. I know it. I am a descendant of the Golden Winged Peng!”
“Yes”, the Stormhawk said to him.
His acceptance only served to confuse Valerian further. At the same time, he felt some at being proved right. But if the Stormhawk knew from the beginning why did he ask the question he did? The answer sent Valerian on a tailspin.
“You are indeed a descendant of the Golden Winged Peng Valerian. However, despite what your inherited memories are telling you, you are not a peng yourself”, the Stormhawk said, sympathy creeping into his voice.
“You-, why do you say that?” he mumbled as a retort.
“Look at yourself hatchling” the Stormhawk begun. “Golden winged pengs are daemons so large that their wings blot out the sun for kilometres and clouds form over their feathers. They make it so that the only light those below them receive is the glow of their wings. They are beings of the same pedigree as the highest class of dragons and vermillion birds. More importantly hatchling, they are birds.
“You, Valerian are not!” it ended.
“What are you saying? That has nothing to do with anything. Powerful daemons can shapeshift”, Valerian said in denial.
The Stormhawk merely sighed. “Look at your kin”, it said, gesturing towards the patriarch.
“The Steelborns are descended from the Menhirionn, who in turn are the descendants of the Steel Monolith Lord of the Menhir Mountains. Your line is a little more than sixty thousand years old and yet even after all that time, your legacy ensures that you turn into steel monoliths yourselves.
“Truthfully, I have always admired and envied Menhirion. He was a daemon who attained such might and power that even after all this time his influence and essence continue to flow in your blood refusing to pass. Even so, the steel monolith transformation does not turn you into the gigantic nigh invulnerable metallic form of your ancestor. It instead gives you a lesser form that you can work on. That is what it means for blood to be passed down hatchling. It weakens over time.
“Now, I do not deny that you carry the Kunpeng’s noble blood, Valerian. The very fact that you carry memories that could only have been inherited from it makes that indisputable. Unfortunately, that same fact is what is giving you so much trouble right now. The Great Kunpeng lived so long ago Valerian. So long that I even doubt that Verre existed when it first ascended. Yet you carry his blood. Can you guess how much that divine blood has weakened before coming to you?
“Were you to inherit even a tenth of his might then your current form would not be what it is now. It would be like the Steelborns, a likeness of your ancestor. You, my blessed hatchling, would be a peng or at the very least a raptor. Your confusion as to what you are comes from your inherited memories. Your essence carries that of your ancestor and it is telling you that since he was one, you are as well but you know differently. I have shown differently”, the spirit concluded.
Due to the special nature of his current form, Valerian did not possess the ability to touch the ground. His golden wings kept him aloft no matter what, preventing him from making any sort of landing on earth. At first, he believed that to be yet another great ability he had been given but at this moment he really wished he could reach the floor. That way he could ask it to swallow him whole. He felt like tearing his face off.
All of that suffering and pain. All of those wasted resources and he still wasn’t a peng. The only thing that made all of the previous seem worth it in the end. He should have known. The promise of greatness followed by the revelation of a problem that was impossible to solve. It was the issue with his tellurian cultivation again. Nothing had changed. Why did he think it would end any different?
“Must you despair so easily hatchling?” came the inquiring voice of the clan’s guardian.
“You have inherited the memories, aura, instincts and wings of your illustrious ancestor. That is just as or maybe even more important than the form itself. Besides that, you inherited your ancestor’s most definitive physical trait. Great golden wings that would never bend, never break. Wings that would shield you from the worst of the world. Wings that would bear you skyward. Wings that possess the ability to carry not just you but the world should you have the strength to bear it up. Wings of freedom that cannot be hindered by anything that does not kill you first.**
“Your wings, Valerian, are the wings of golden winged peng and they would carry you far if you can learn to use them well and harness their true potential!**” the spirit proclaimed in an excited tone.
“Know hatchling that I informed you of these things not to deride you Valerian or to break your spirit but rather to aid you. It would do you no good to believe yourself a peng and then wind up in trouble that could easily have been avoided had you known the truth. It is all and good to craft for yourself a great albeit false self-image but you should never believe that so completely as to forget what you truly are or worse, forget your true shortcomings. Additionally, it is imperative that whilst you follow your instincts and let them guide you, you do not let them mislead you”, it said to him.
“There have been many like you throughout history. Many who acquired some legacy from transcendent beings such as great daemons and human gods either by blood, inheritance or luck. A few succeeded in recording themselves in history. The rest fell by the wayside and were quickly forgotten. However, few among them were gifted with the opportunities you have. Weakened, your legacy may be but it is not weak. Even I would put up all I possess for the mere chance to gain that kind of recognition you have. You do not only carry the blood but you have been gifted the inherited memories directly from a being so far beyond anything I would dare imagine.
“If it is possible for Steelborns to improve their forms through practice and cultivation of their ancestral technique and it would surely be the same for you who have been blessed by the KunPeng itself. You might not be a peng but you are certainly the descendant of one. You carry that divine line and legacy in your blood. Not to mention that, provided you work at it, you might possess the qualifications to one day rise to a status equal to that of you purebred relations”, the Stormhawk assured him.
“Unless, of course, you think yourself incapable of it?” it questioned.
It was trying to provoke Valerian into making a statement so that it could judge his determination. Thus far, everything it had said was true. Valerian did indeed possess a great deal of potential. No less than what he came in with. What he wanted to know was whether he possessed the spirit to pursue it in addition. Without the second, the former would go to waste. It needn’t have bothered.
Valerian was the strange sort. He was fully and truly self-confident, believing himself capable of anything and everything, up to the point of arrogance. No. he was indeed arrogant only not the type to shove his perceived superiority in others’ faces. Then again, he had reason to be. He had inherited not one but two great legacies, possessed talent like few others and the raw intelligence that eclipse any his generation. He knew it and other did so as well. His recent victories in the Zebre notwithstanding, he had accomplished feat after feat from the moment he first drew breath.
Nonetheless, he possessed a surprisingly fragile personality. In spite of his numerous successes or perhaps even because of them he was unused to failure. Being someone who accomplished whatever he set to do without issue made it such that when he did encounter things he couldn’t he couldn’t help but fall apart. It always led to one of two scenarios.
He either refused to accept that he could not do it as was the case with his first forays into tellurian cultivation or he asserted that since he had failed it could not be done. His own mind told him that he since he had come this way he may as well go all the way. Also, if others could do it then there was no way he couldn’t as well.
“What do I do?” he asked the Stormhawk.
His voice was steely, steady and filled with the desire and ambition. What did he care about not being a pure peng? He wasn’t a pure steel monolith either and yet he possessed uncommon talent even when compared to others his kind. Nothing had changed. He would surely still become one of those figures that others looked up to. He’d always said so and he still would.
“Hmph!” the Stormhawk grunted. “I thought for sure that your spirits were shaken, hatchling but it seems you are made of sterner stuff than I had initially considered. That is good. It means you will not disappoint me when I send you out”.
Ordinarily, Valerian would have passed those words over as a turn of phrase he was unfamiliar with but in his peng from he was able to notice the small start that high priest Adler had at the spirit’s words. It told him that there was something he was missing.
“Send me out, milord?” he inquired politely.
“From today, you will become one of my chosen. Like your cousin, Ethan, you will be blessed with a measure of my spirit and my power. It would make you even greater than you are now as well as grant you a connection to me that would allow you some influence over my domain and access to my authority”, it explained.
“Do you intend to refuse my offer?” it added with narrowed eyes.
“I could never bear to refuse you great one. This one thanks you for this blessing.
Of course Valerian would never refuse. Especially not when it had just been revealed to him that one of the reasons why Ethan was so powerful was due to the blessing he was about to receive. He was already turning it over in his head wondering just far this addition would go to bridging the power gap between them
“Then kneel!” The Stormhawk instructed him.
Feeling the spirit’s essence begin to stir, Valerian did as he was instructed, falling to his knees once more. The matter was complicated by his inability to reach the ground. Thus, he was forced to kneel a few centimetres off the ground. Unlike before, Valerian did not hide his face out of fear but raised them instead to look eagerly at the spirit which had promised him power.
With but a thought, the Stormhawk’s aura began to grow again, his presence descending on the mountain top like only a deity’s could. Just like it had earlier, it focused on Valerian, washing over him like a swift tide. Unlike it had earlier however, it felt soothing instead of suffocating, enriching instead of crushing. It poured on him and into him and his body greedily drank it in.
Valerian could dimly compare it to the feeling he had had back in the egg all those days ago in Gleamscales lair. He could literally feel his flesh strengthening, his essence growing thicker and more intense and his core crystals increasing in capacity. It was a pleasurable feeling that caused Valerian’s excitement to rise to bursting. He could only imagine how much more powerful he would be when it the process was over.
The deluge of essence continued for several seconds before slowly petering off. Lost in a heady daze of power and essence, Valerian required several more before he was fully cognisant of his surroundings. The first thing he noticed though was the look of alarm and disappointment on the faces of those around him.
“I am sorry Valerian but it appears that I have failed you” the Stormhawk said bitterly.
Again, I’m surprised at the results of the poll. Grandpa Valan did indeed get a vote but he was nearly last so it appears you don’t find him to be as much of an obstacle to Valerian as the reader who spoke with me claimed him to be. Blake has received a pass thus far so he wasn’t even considered antagonistic. I am very curious as to why the majority of you chose the bandit leader though. Care to enlighten me in the comments?