“Well, why not?” Roland asked petulantly.
“Even ignoring the rules, there is a reason we give them only to arcanists at the lord tier or above”, Richard forced out.
“So?” Roland retorted. “You saw the boy’s skills at metal manipulation. Do you actually believe that he will fail to control it? As for the rules, they were bent long ago. That rule in particular needs changing. Pretty much every single one of our elite youth carries at least one noble artefact. Without them, they would be unable to match up to the scions of the other noble houses. I want to ensure that when Valerian goes to Strapping’s he will do so with the best the clan has to offer. Since he can’t take a noble artefact, he’ll take a mercurial orb”, Roland said resolutely.
Richard stared at his brother, unable to think of anything to refute him. It was true that many of the clan’s elite youth like Ethan and Beatrice, carried weapons of comparable power but a mercurial orb took a lot of time to make. The materials used were equivalent to those used in creating a noble tiered weapon only the resultant value was much greater. Roland was saying this now but he didn’t understand the kind of pressure he was putting on the heads of those in the artificing halls. That day when they first made noble artefacts for the youth of the previous generation, many had protested the breaking of the rules.
It was explained away. They needed the power. They faced too much pressure without them. Their youth needed their support. Now, every elder and his dog expected a noble artefact for their child. Luckily, they were able to somewhat restrict their proliferation. As for the mercurial orbs the clan possessed, they were few and the process to create or even use them was tedious. However, Richard feared that once they began handing them out, every arcanist would want one as well and they’d be forced to comply, much like the case with noble tiered weapons.
“Don’t worry. Only the clan’s metal attributed arcanists can make use of mercurial orbs. Nearly every metal attributed cultivator we have is a tellurian. That alone restricts them to about eight percent of our population. Of these, only those of the lord tier or talents like Valerian can make use of them restricting them even further. There are only six in the clan who have the ability. Adding Valerian here will make seven”, Roland assured his brother.
“Those figures you’re recounting are of the clan as it stands today”, Richard pointed out. “When we were children, there were only two. Today, there are six. What of three generations from now? What of Valerian’s grandchildren and their contemporaries? What of the day when the number of metal attributed arcanists climbs towards the skies and every one of them starts demanding a mercurial orb? Do you think our beloved secret weapon will remain secret? Do you not think that they will be abused? Will we even be able to keep up with the demand?” he asked hotly.
His brother smiled wistfully, he stared into the air as if trying to see that hypothesised period. Valerian simply stood there in their midst with his mouth shut. Not a single peep escaped him ensuring that he remained the fly on the wall.
“If such a day ever comes, I will be very happy”, the patriarch said softly. “Our clan growing to the point where such our elite stand in great numbers. How can I as its patriarch not pray for such a day? Understand that I see your worries, brother. You’re right. The mercurial orb is one of our clan’s secrets, something that lets us hold our own against the other noble houses. Having its methods get out will not be good for us. However, what use is a weapon we cannot use? If misuse and demand are your worries, we will set Valerian as the minimum standard for what an orb wielder should be. Any who wish to claim one would have to first match his potential and power something that I assure you; only two his generation are capable of. None of whom are arcanists.”
“You…”, his brother begun. However, he had nothing to say. He honestly couldn’t think of a good response to what Roland had just said. Shooting a look at Valerian as if asking himself whether the boy was worth it, he turned back to his brother.
“I’ll do it!”
Rolands face split with a wide grin. “Great!” he exclaimed. “Hear that Valerian? The best smith in the clan will not only handle your protection but arm you as well. Aren’t you lucky?”
“Thank you very much, Great Elder Richard”, Valerian said gratefully.
The smith grumbled and turned back to his work table. Picking up the sword he had been working on earlier he placed his finger onto the still scorching hot metal as if checking its heat. Afterwards, he dragged a small alchemical flask to himself and poured its contents over the glyphs he inscribed earlier. Inserting a bit of his qi into the sword caused its glyphs to glow and suck in the sparkling dust that poured out of the flask. Once, he was done, the glyphs shone with their own inner glow and the faint draconic roar could be heard coming from the sword.
Valerian recognised that roar. It was faint and lacked nearly all its majesty but he knew it the moment he heard it. He’d made that roar, once. At least, he had thought he had. Somehow, that sword carried a portion of Gleamscales’ will. Was this the project that the two older gentlemen had been talking about? Thinking about it made Valerian shake his head. Richard had clearly stated that he was making little progress with the project and so had been forced to put it on hold whilst he experimented a little. Clearly, this was one of those experiments.
The sword rattled in Richard’s hands, its essence growing by the second. The smith held it dispassionately, allowing the essence to build before running his qi through it. At first glance, one would think he was trying to quell the weapon but it was just the opposite. Taking in his qi, the swords aura grew many fold until it actually begun to exert a faint draconic presence over the smithy. Happy, exultant roars filled the cascading over the walls and the devices that littered the place. Seemingly satisfied, Richard nodded sagely and withdrew his qi from the sword. Its essence weaned immediately, with angry and rebellious yips coming from its draconic will.
Valerian’s breath caught, had he just witnessed the birth of a noble artefact? They were the only essence artefacts he knew that both boosted essence to that extent and carried a will of their own. His eyes focused on the still glowing glyphs scanning them in his capacity as an array master in an attempt to decipher their mysteries.
“What are you staring at boy?” Roland asked.
“You’re a glyphwright!” Valerian uttered in realisation.
He felt stupid for not seeing it before but then again, he’d never met one until now. Glyphwrights were arcanists and tellurians, but mostly tellurians who made use of arrays despite not having the ability or aptitude to directly shape them out of world essence. In many ways, they were the poor man’s array master. A description often used despite how costly and difficult an endeavour it was. One only worth it because of what the users stood to gain. It wasn’t that they were inferior at creating arrays, they just had many more obstacles in their path than an array master would.
For instance, if Valerian was to create an array, all he had to do was draw his glyphs from world essence using his preferred method. In most cases, he would not require any reagents or materials. Just the world essence would be sufficient. A glyphwright, however, would not have that advantage. Most were tellurians. Lacking the ability to directly shape world essence, they were thus forced to draw them using other means. However, they did so, they’d have to do it using an essence conducting material and then charge the array either themselves or using special reagents.
Additionally, unlike array masters who could conceivably create arrays with elemental effects not of their attribute thanks to the nature of world essence, glyphwrights could not. Not unless they did so using a medium that carried that attribute. Thus, a fire attributed array master could create an array that spat metallic bolts with nothing but essence but a fire attributed glyphwright would require perhaps the blood of a metal attributed daemon just to draw the array as well as essence stones to power it. That was only one of the problems that glyphwrights faced. Even so, they weren’t inferior to array masters. The two were actually a bit equal in terms of ability though not in convenience.
“No, I am not”, Richard said nonchalantly.
Valerian said nothing. However, his eyes flicked from the man to the sword and then the flask that had probably held whatever reagent the man used to activate his glyphs. His unspoken accusation did not go unnoticed
“I am no glyphwright”, Richard explained with an exaggerated sigh. “What I am is a smith and an artificer. Unfortunately, it just so happens that there is not much to progressing at the latter without picking up a few things on arrays. The two paths cross more than once.”
Roland chose this opening to pipe in. “Many do not know this but our clan is not only famous for its warriors but also its smiths and artificers. Before we decided on our current focus, a rather large portion of our revenue came and still does come from the products of our artificing halls. The steel monolith is a divine creature forged in the heart of a mountain from the minerals of the earth. That connection to metal remains in our blood giving us great gifts when it comes to manipulating minerals and drawing out their full potential.”
“Currently, there is none in our number or this city better at this than my brother”, he added with pride.
Valerian’s eyebrow quirked upwards at the bold claim. Somehow, he could believe it. The man had nonchalantly produced a noble artefact before his eyes after all.
“Valerian, was it?” Richard suddenly asked.
“Yes sir!” he responded quickly.
“Head over to my left, there’s a large cabinet. Open it and take out an empty pint-sized flask”, Richard directed.
Valerian did so and came back with a clear flask. Setting it on the table he said, “Here it is, sir.”
“Good”, Richard told him still not taking his eyes off the sword in front of him. “Now, fill it with your blood.”
“Excuse me?” valerian asked with a stunned expression.
“Simple, fill the flask with some of your blood”, Richard said evenly. “If you’re queasy, wait, I’ll help you with it when I am done with this phase I’m on.”
Valerian looked at the smith, not sure what he was hearing, “Err… I think..”
“Don’t worry about it Valerian”, the patriarch said with a laugh. “He’s not going to do anything with it. He only needs it to make the mercurial orb”.
Feeling a bit reassured, Valerian took a knife out of his ring and slit his wrist. He held it over the mouth of the flask allowing his bright red blood to flow into it. It took a while but he succeeded in filling the flask. Once he was done, the patriarch pulled him over and taking out a phial poured some special oil over the cut. Within a few seconds, the wound was healed. Still, Valerian found himself glancing back at the flask of blood on the work table. He was well aware of what that blood could be used for. The worry gave him gave him a sick feeling that had nothing to do with blood loss but he was just going to have to make peace with it. Richard seemed trustworthy… enough.
The smith in question got up and left his work cooling in its clamps. Clapping his hands, he strode towards Valerian. “We’re just about done. All that remains is one thing.”
“What is that?” Valerian couldn’t help but ask.
“It’s time to show that transformation of yours that had the entire council a buzz. Then, I’ll take down some additional measurements and readings for calibrating your armour.”
Valerian did so, this time without hesitation. First, he went into the half-way form and then into his full golden-winged form. Richard had him switch between the two a couple of times whilst he took some readings with a strange talisman as well as some extra measurements. The whole thing went off smoothly and without a hitch unless, you took one strange incident into consideration.
At some point when Valerian was fully transformed, Richard grabbed a hammer from beside his work table. It was a big heavy thing, soot-stained, sturdy and the exact thing you’d expect to find in a smithy. What was strange was he did with it. Without a single word or even a change in expression, he took the hammer and literally smashed it against Valerian’s golden feathers. Pieces of metal from the hammerhead went flying everywhere. Valerian was understandably startled. However, the two men by his side acted as if nothing out the ordinary had happened.
Richard merely placed what was left of his hammer down and grabbing onto the wing he struck, rubbed his other hand over the impacted area. It was completely unharmed, having come through the ordeal without even a scratch. His hand lingered a little on the golden feather there but soon he gave it a pat and told Valerian that he was done. Valerian transformed back, taking time to catch his breath from the characteristic feeling of weakness that came with leaving his full form. Richard gave him a small smile and told him that he had enough to get started and that he would let him know if he required anything else.
“Let’s go home and rest Valerian. You have a very busy day tomorrow. In fact, everyday, until you leave for Strapping’s will be busy. Best rest up while you can”, the patriarch announced.
Still feeling weak, Valerian allowed himself to be led towards the exit. After saying goodbye to Richard, he and the patriarch left the smithy. However, he completely missed the weird tone the man used and the secret conversation that had happened right beneath his nose.
“So, what do you think?” Roland sent his brother’s way by means of essence transmission. The two were staring at Valerian’s full transformation, taking note of the qi emissions and aura that the form exuded.
“I don’t know. I have never seen anything like it”, Richard admitted.
“Never?” Roland questioned. “I was hoping you could tell me something.”
“Well, the spikes are titan bone. That isn’t unusual among some of our brethren. That’s one thing you share in common with the boy”, Richard sent back quietly. “I’m worried because whilst he possesses a golden sheen, he does not seem to have a full metal body like we do when transformed. As for whatever his talons are, they are dangerous I can tell you that much. They seem to be made of the same material as his wings but they carry a totally different feel.”
“What of the wings?” Roland asked impatiently.
“I was coming to that”, Richard shot back. “They are magnificent. Do you see those cloud etchings? That is an actual feathering pattern. They are a work of art. Just look at the…”
“What are they made off?” Roland asked, cutting his brother off. “Valan believes them to be imperial gold. I’m inclined to believe him. You’re the only one in the clan that has ever even seen the mineral. Can you confirm whether that’s true?”
“I doubt that is imperial gold”, Richard told him. “This is darker. Not colour wise though. It’s the feel of it. It seems more”.
“More?” his brother enquired.
“More what?” Roland enquired further.
“Thicker, denser, brighter, powerful, darker, take your pick. Whatever this is, it is on a different scale from imperial gold”, Richard ventured.
“You’re saying it’s a greater grade of imbued gold than imperial gold”, Roland realised with alarm.
“That is my conjecture”, Richard stated.
“And here I thought this thing couldn’t get more frightening. Carrying around metres of wings of imperial gold was bad enough. If the major clans find out they’d…”
“Hold on a second, let me try something” Richard cut in.
He then picked up his hammer and smashed it against the wing he was holding onto.
“Shattered Earth! Your hammer?” Roland exclaimed in shock. Richard loved that hammer. It was a powerful essence artefact he had forged for the express purpose of beating the toughest metals into shape. Now, it lay in several chunks around his smithy.
“I know!” Richard said as he tried to ignore the vibrations that had carried up his arm from the strike just now.
“How hard did you swing it?”
“Without transforming, that was everything I had”, Richard said tensely. “Look, there isn’t even a single scratch.”
“Heaven’s Above! What are we going to do?” Roland asked worriedly.
“Nothing!” his brother practically yelled through their connection. “You said the boy already knows not to use the full form. Good! We will speak of this to no one. Not even the council! No one can know!”
Roland nodded in agreement. For now, the matter will remain a complete secret.
Okay, guys! We’re back. Thanks for being so patient and understanding whilst I took my midterms. I really appreciate it. The last two were yesterday. It was tough but I made it through. Methodology of Science was a major pain but that one I killed for sure.
In other matters, I had a bad run-in with a pressure cooker nine days ago and ended up losing close to forty percent of the skin on my left forearm. Don’t worry, it’s healing quite well. The pain is gone but it itches like hell.
Now that the midterms are up, we’ll go back to our regular schedule except with one twist. Thursday, the 30th of March is my birthday. YAY! I haven’t celebrated it in a while but I’m thinking of pulling out some stops this year. We’ll have a triple release (Two story chapters and a special) as well as launch my twitter page and relaunch the HoGW patreon page.
Editing of Hatchling has entered the final phase. That means the book will be out soon. I can’t wait. Coinciding with that are new patreon goals (including one where patrons receive free copies and a super special) as well as the twitter page. All of which will be unveiled on my birthday so stay tuned.
Now, back on HoGW…