Quick Note: Okay, here we go. The next chapter, People of Shadow will be out soon. Tonight, I’ll reveal the new feature of the site I was talking about earlier. Also coming are a couple of DC/RH chapters. I want to put them out there so I can focus completely on for a bit.
Chapter Eight: Attunement and Artificing
Valerian faltered a bit. He should have seen the question coming but it still hit him by surprise. He wanted to act like he didn’t hear it but it was too late so he played it off. Sadly, not even his skills were able to someone like Richard.
“What did the snobby bitch say?” Elder Richard asked after one glance at the expression on his face.
“Not much”, Valerian admitted. “She just listed out a few of my flaws and let me know to start working on them. Apparently, now that I am her student, I’m not allowed to be an embarrassment.”
“Hmmn”, Richard intoned in a demanding manner.
Valerian did not have to look at him to know what meant. Even so, he hesitated. Eventually, he decided that perhaps the smith might be the only person who might understand just what kind of person his new teacher was. The man already hated her anyway.
“To start with, she wants the phantasm handled as soon as possible”, Valerian began. “Thankfully, Elder Allard and I were working on that when I was called to meet you. He sought me out himself but even if he hadn’t, I would have gone to him. Lady Bloodworth claims that every clan with a daemonic inheritance has ways of dealing with things like this and advised that I seek help in the clan first. Of course, should my elders prove inept, she will find someone to guide me through taming and using my phantasm.”
Elder Richard’s reaction to that could be expected. He bristled but said nothing, he simply motioned for Valerian to continue.
“She also made enquiries about some of my frequently used skills only to subsequently dismiss them and ask that I do so as well. As her student, I am to use nothing that is not at least conceptual”, Valerian added.
The smith nodded, listening. While harsh in her delivery, lady Bloodworth was not wrong in her assessment. Even he found himself agreeing with her. Besides, none of these could possibly be what provoked the reaction that he had seen from Valerian when the question came up.
“Spit it out, boy!” he told the youth. “What exactly did the Lady say?”
Valerian’s mind raced. For a short instance, he considered lying. There was no need to fess up. He had plenty of time to correct the issue before he had to attend Marrbisi. However, an unbidden image popped into his head at that moment as he wondered, ‘What if I can’t?’
A vision of his eight-year-old self waking up in the infirmary after suffering that cultivation deviation tormented him. At the time, he had thought much the same way he did now and it did not end well. His desire to keep his failings to himself nearly cost him his life. Valerian wanted to believe he had grown since then. When you have a problem you can’t solve on your own, it is better to seek help. The only hang-up was whether the old man would be able to so.
Speaking truthfully, Valerian laid it out for the smith. “Lady Bloodworth felt that even though my affinity and essence were remarkably high and thick respectively, my attunement with the metal element was very lacking. If I recall properly, she used the words ‘useless’ and ‘hopeless’ a lot. She also cautioned me against even attempting to breakthrough to the lord tier with this as my foundation, saying to would cripple me and render my dual forces and elements useless.
“What was her basis for this?” Richard asked.
“She said it was too shallow, whatever that means and that I’d never be able to sustain a concept. According to her, I should abandon my current attunement and start over”, Valerian forced himself to say.
As humiliating as listening to the old lady talk had been, Valerian found that the man at her side had nodded as she spoke. If he was honest with himself, he’d admit that even he had sensed some disparity between his wind attunement and his metal one. The former had contributed a lot to the power and scope of his spells but the latter had done nothing. His essence was basically the same as it was pre-attunement.
“I get it now”, the smith said in understanding.
He truly did. Failing attunement was nothing new. People did it all the time. However, those were usually people who had low hopes of reaching the Lord tier. Individuals like Valerian, the ones who had consolidated their first tiers and possessed high affinities towards their elements were practically guaranteed to succeed. That said, attunement was still a very intensive and prolonged process. Being told that he had failed and to start over must have come as a shock to Valerian.
“Let’s see”, he begun. “Dual elements, so let me guess, you use a double pulse technique?”
Attunement was a necessary thing for all who wished to break into the Lord tier. In one of their first lessons, Jonas once likened essence to tea. ‘Attributes are the different flavours of tea’, he told Valerian. However, becoming a Lord required not, weakly flavoured hot water but rather, a pure substance. The purer, the better. As a cultivator, your affinity detailed your connection to the element. The higher your affinity the greater the connection. The potency of your essence spoke to its strength. The greater the potency of your essence, the greater the things you can do with it. Ignoring these, it was your attunement that actually spoke of your attainments in that element.
Thus, all cultivators who formed their cores worked hard at refining their essence to embody their elements. You had to go from essence with the attributes of fire to essence that was, functionally, liquid flames running through your meridians otherwise, there was no way into the Lord tier. Failure would be your only portion. How can you become Lord of an element when your essence barely qualified to be related to it. Those were the facts. No matter how you spun it, lemon flavoured tea and actual lemon juice were two different things.
Attunement was a sort of essence refinement. You had to continuously refine your essence until it reached a passable level of equivalence with the essence of your element. Not only that, you had to refine all your essence to this level and not just a portion of it. This presented a problem. What then of people with more than one attribute? Did they have to cast one away and refine everything to match one element? Thankfully, that was not the case. There were ways around this. The one Valerian, as well as the majority of dual attributed Steelborns used, was the [Dual Pulse Method].
This technique allowed them to split their essence along the elemental lines turning them into pulses akin to heartbeats. Essentially, each element was assigned a wavelength. Shifting the essence to this wavelength turned it to one element or the other. Essence thrummed through the body in the same way blood did. Shifting its wavelength, was akin to shifting your pulse. Earth essence is completely different to water essence. It worked but it had one catch. Until the user mastered the technique they were unable to use both elements at the same time.
Allowing, Elder Richard to hold his hand, Valerian demonstrated his use of the technique, shifting his arcane energy from metal to wind and back. For extra points, he even displayed his personal workaround for the mastery problem. He shifted his arcane energy to wind and his qi to metal allowing him access to both just not with the same force.
The old smith felt him pulse his essence a few times and made his judgement.
“I hate to admit it but she was right!” he asserted.
“What do you mean, ‘She was right’?” Valerian asked sharply.
“Exactly that!” Elder Richard defended. “Your attunement is so shallow that if I didn’t know better, I’d wonder if you did any at all?”
Valerian stared at the man in mute shock, disbelief smothering his normally serious features.
“Get that daft look off your face”, the grumpy smith snapped. “It’s not like it is something we can’t fix.”
“We can fix this?” Valerian asked eagerly, his hope shining forth.
“Depends”, the smith told him.
“Are you using the [Four Point Refining formation]?” Richard asked.
Valerin nodded again. “Four points for metal and Stormwind for wind”, he clarified.
“Show me!” The man demanded.
Valerian got to work. He pulled out thick pillars of titanbone and placed them around him in the form of a simple square. Each was a metre long, twenty centimetres thick and completely covered in elaborate glyphs that had taken Jonas days to implant. Together they were supposed to act as a refinery for his essence pulling it along a specified path whilst attuning it so it absorbed the qualities of titanbone. That way his essence wouldn’t just be metallic it would be like titanbone.
Sitting cross-legged in the formation and making sure to face the pillar in the upper left corner, Valerian activated it and let it do its work. Then, manifesting his qi in the form of a thin golden shroud, he extended a tendril of it into the first pillar. It absorbed the offered essence greedily, allowing the qi through its inner workings and then finally, transmitting it to the second pillar in the formation. From there it went to the third and so on until there was a golden screen of essence stretching around Valerian. Essence flowed from Valerian from his front, entered the formation, was refined and then re-entered his body from the back.
Letting himself become absorbed in his task, Valerian’s mind sunk into the formation, his mind going along with his essence as it got refined by the formation. It took the Elder Richard shouting in his ear for him to be roused.
“Well, you’re doing it properly so that’s not the issue here”, the smith pronounced as he shook his head and ears clear of the ringing.
“That makes the problem one of three things” the man was saying. “It could be that your essence has a property that makes the material you’re using a bad choice, that your essence has become so potent that this formation is too weak to properly refine it or that this kind of refinement does not satisfy the requirements of your attunement.”
“I suffered the third. You might the same problem”, the man revealed.
“You had this problem too?” Valerian asked incredulously.
“Every family has its hereditary ailments, Valerian. Ours are nicer than most”, came the elder’s response. “You problem here is that your blood or should I say your Steelborn bloodline is too potent. In fact, the only reason I’m fingering this as your issue and not the others is because of that. It is something we really should have expected given your phantasm.
“For some Steelborns, ordinary refinement methods and formations are not enough. The Menhirion was a Steel Monolith, a giant made of living metal. As such simply sensing metal attributed substances and using them to refine our essence is not enough for some of us. We need to go deeper, to really dive into the concepts of the metal element. Attunement requires that your essence grow more in tune with your element. Our blood requires that we possess not just likeness but form.”
“Are you saying that my bloodline is holding me back? It’s imposing some restrictions on my essence because I’m not actually made of steel and titanbone?” Valerian asked.
“Not exactly” the elder explained. “As you progress through the tiers, you’ll find that when it comes to essence it is not form that matters but the concepts that constitute it and the will that drives it. You don’t need a body of material steel. You’re a tellurian, aren’t you? You need a physique that embodies the concepts of steel or whatever metals you choose. Once you have that, your essence will practically attune itself.”
“Really?” Valerian asked with some doubt.
“It’s either that or you refine your essence over and over again until you reach a level acceptable to your new mistress”, the smith pointed out.
“How did you do it?” Valerian asked.
“I became a smith!” The man stated.
“How did that help?”
“I got to work with metals, to mould them with nothing but; fire, my strength and my qi. Monoliths do that all the time. They are made of living metal and working it is not just easy for them, it is a way of life. Learning to work metal satisfied the requirements for me. It allowed me to understand the metal element on a deeper level and to build a physique as strong and tempered as anything that ever came out of my forge.”
“It might help you too!” he added.
“You telling me to become a smith?” Valerian asked with his eyebrows cocked.
“I’m suggesting you become an artificer”, the man said seriously. “Not only will it help you solve your problem, it will also give you a profession you can fall back on.”
“I already have a profession”, Valerian reminded him.
“Array master is a qualification, not a profession. The fact that you are certified to create arrays of a certain standard doesn’t automatically grant or mean gainful employment. Also, last I heard, your aspirations to join the army were derailed.”
“Uncle Jonas always…”
“Your uncle is an enchanter!” Elder Richard interrupted. “He makes his living laying down wards and placing enchantments around the city. When he is not doing that, he is helping smiths enchant their work or making protective amulets.”
Taking a pause to let that sink in, he continued. “I know you want to be a powerful cultivator Valerian but that isn’t a profession either. You’re nearly a man grown boy. You need to start thinking about these things. I doubt you’re foolish enough to think the clan will support you forever. Do you perhaps plan to mooch off your grandparents forever?”
Elder Richard stopped here and was pleased to see Valerian look lost in thought. Leaving the boy to it, he turned around reached into the chest and pulled out a roll of leather. Marvelling at the pristine material and testing it for toughness, he would have put Valerian out of his mind if not for the question the boy asked afterwards.
“Did I not mention it already? It’ll resolve your problems with metal attunement, improve your physique and bring in wealth. Do you really any other reasons?” he answered.
“I meant, why pick artificing? What makes it a good choice for me?” Valerian said, revising his question.
“You’re an array master with a background in spell effects and enchantments. Combine that with smithing skills and you’ve got one of the best possible foundations for becoming an artificer I know.”
“And you’ll teach me?” Valerian asked hopefully.
Richard pretended to think about it. “Yes!” he finally answered. “But on one condition”, he added.
“What is it?”
“I get to keep whatever materials are left over after making your gear!”
Valerian considered it. He thought back to the smith’s reaction to the materials and his own estimation of their value. “NO!” he said emphatically. “You are not getting anything more than half.”
Making sure to look displeased, the smith spat out, “Fine!”
Smart as he was, the boy was a little too green.