Chapter Fourteen: The Problem with Blood
Valerian leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. After reading all through the night, he could now see why Vorm considered this a waste of time. Tapagm’s Blessing, Curse or whatever it was could not be undone, modified or transferred. Fearing that his family might be exploited or that his hard work might be stolen or copied, their ancestor sealed it into their bloodline, razed his research stations and destroyed all his notes. In a way, he was right to be worried. There had been several incidents over the millennia where Bargdarna… ‘O’be’, Valerian corrected mentally, were hunted down and experimented on due to their abilities. Thanks to his precautions, their tormentors gained nothing from them.
Whatever he did, Tapagm ensured that his work could not be studied, replicated or modified. Everything his descendants knew, they learnt from observing its effects and each account Valerian read made him want to tear at his hair in frustration. Vorm was right. Many of the accounts held Tapagm as an arrogant sot who believed himself omniscient. It was hard to argue with them on that front. Despite being the first to achieve his feat and the only person to work on it. Tapagm, for some reason, had been confident enough in his work to remove any possibility of modification or review, almost as if he considered his work perfect.
Even so, there was a consensus among the writers that he had not set out to curse his bloodline. Tapagm’s intentions were ultimately good. He had only wanted to help and like it or not, the blood rites were the backbone of the clan despite being its bane as well. It may not have been feasible in the long term but while it lasted, it gave the clan its best years. Whether this was enough to excuse him or simply the biggest ironic joke was up to each person. There were even some who argued that whatever the curse was, it was something introduced to their bloodline after the blood rites were incorporated into it, citing the fact that it took sixteen generations before the curse first reared its ugly head and yet, currently, it showed up every two or three.
There was so much information in the tomes and so many contradictory accounts that Valerian struggled to hold his frustration in check. The unlimited applications of the blood rites and their seemingly infinite effects meant that many of user experiences were wholly subjective. They could not be relied on as a predictive value. There was only one thing that was certain, you could not avoid it. It did not matter where he looked or which tome he read. They all said one thing. For his clan, the blood rites were as inevitable as puberty. Once he became a Lord, he would have to perform it lest it manifest on its own. Successful or not, the effects would stay with him all his life and be passed down to his progeny with decreasing potency up to the third generation. There was no wiggle room.
Valerian was at a loss for what to do. The weight that had fallen on his shoulders seemed too great to carry. For the first time, he was grateful to his grandfather for keeping this from him for so long. As much as he had desired to know, he did not think he would have been able to handle growing up with this ominous fate hanging over his head. He could only imagine what Vorm had to be going through. His uncle had two children, twins, each with the possibility of manifesting some form of the curse. Valerian knew that if it were him, it would kill him inside especially if one of them turned out cursed and the other, blessed.
“Argh!” he exclaimed loudly.
This was giving him a headache. He could already see himself pouring over the texts hoping to learn enough to prepare for his blood rites for the good it will do. Without question, this was going to weigh on him. Unfortunately, he did not have the luxury to dwell on it. They were too many other things more demanding of his attention in the present than a vague future.
A couple of weeks later
Valerian slammed his hammer on the bent metal billet, forcing it back over its other half before hammering it into one solid piece. The folded steel ingot shook with each strike, transmitting the force into the anvil and shedding its scale but Valerian had long stopped seeing or feeling the recoil it gave. He moved like a machine. Mouth moving soundlessly as he mimed the words to the [Steel Heart Mantra]. Hammer falling like a piston as he employed the [Earth Pulse Hammer]. Qi surging in accordance with [Steel Heart Flow Diagram]. Behind him, his phantasm did same albeit with a different purpose.
The spectral giant worked the crucible, chanting softly as it imparted essence into the molten material it held using [Steel Heart Flow Diagram] to refine the pure metal from the ore. Arcanists had elemental manipulation as an innate skill. It allowed them to use their arcane energy to bend any similarly aligned element to their will. Tellurians had something similar called elemental resonance and enhancement. While they could not bend the elements to their will, they could naturally bond with them.
This was how they refined treasures and imparted their essence’s transformative qualities to objects. Give a metal attributed tellurian a sword and his qi would naturally enhance and bring out its best qualities. Give him a piece of wood to refine and that piece would eventually become metallic due to the effect of his qi. These two traits, when used with the refining technique produced stellar results. An arcanist could simply draw out the pure substance from the molten material whilst a tellurian could also just refine a piece till only the essential metals remained and discard the rest as waste. However, typically, a person could only do one of these. The reason being that you only had one force unless you were like Valerian, possessing both.
Elder Richard watched him work from his desk, honestly amazed at how far the boy had come in such a short amount of time. His technique still needed work and his inexperience sometimes shone through but his results were incredible. Being able to effectively refine any material twice vastly improved the quality of his work. As for his intuition. Some people were unfairly blessed. The boy could draw on his elemental affinity, relying on his connection to his element to intuitively feel out his way. With his blood legacy also enhancing the effects of the mantra and essence flow and the phantasm to act as a second self and pair of hands, he was progressing at a rate faster than any the smith had ever seen.
He looked on, engraving half-forgotten as he watched Valerian return his billet to the furnace before seamlessly switching places with his phantasm. [Shared Mind] was really proving its worth. Working in a somewhat trance-like state, Valerian and the phantasm remained mentally linked, sharing not just mind but experience and sensory perception. Their breathing, essence flow, chanting and movements were completely in sync. Being able to train in this both with Elder Allard and in the forge had really helped them improve the ease at which they achieved and maintained this special state and the effects were…
Zipping out of his chair, Elder Richard grabbed Valerian’s hands pulling him away from the furnace and out of the [Shared Mind]. Somewhat confused, Valerian blinked slowly as he came back to himself. Looking up, he saw the smith’s worried look as well as his phantasm. It stared back in confusion even as it held aloft the crucible full of their latest batch of alloyed titan bone and frost iron.
“I think you need to stop using [Shared Mind] for a while!” his teacher told him in a concerned tone.
“What happened?” he asked.
“You nearly killed yourself”, the man told him.
“What?” Valerian exclaimed in confusion. “How?”
The smith jabbed a finger at the phantasm. “You geniuses were going to pour molten steel all over yourselves.”
Valerian’s eyes focused on the phantasm and the crucible it was still carrying. The lid was off. A chill ran down his spine.
“Why would we…?”
“You lost yourselves that’s why!” the man informed him. “I’m guessing that at some point you forgot that you were not an actual steel monolith. It’s my fault I should have figured this would happen.”
Calming himself down, Valerian watched his phantasm gingerly set the crucible down as he asked, “What do you mean?”
“I believe I told you that smithing was part of a monolith’s way of life”, the man began. “There’s a reason for that. It is a creature forged from precious metals. Often, they would encounter some imbued metals and incorporate them into themselves. They would decorate themselves and each other or even reforge their parts into more powerful treasures. Today, you tried to do just that.”
Valerian allowed the revelation to sink in. His mind quickly going through over it. In his head, he imagined what would have happened if the smith was not there to stop him. It was not a pretty thought.
“Don’t fret too much about it”, Elder Richard said to him. “You are not the first smith to do this. We are descendants of a steel monolith Our smithing techniques intentionally arouse the ancestral blood within us and with that comes the monolithic tendencies. Self-refinement is one of them. Now, [Shared Mind] might be a powerful tool but I think being linked to the mind of an actual steel monolith might make you more susceptible to this than most. I’ll talk to Uncle Allard. Maybe, he can help you minimise this risk.”
He could see that the boy was a bit shaken up over the event so he clapped a comforting hand on his shoulder and said reassuringly, “Incidents like this are not common but they are not rare either. Also, it is not just self-refinement. From time to time, we have smiths lose themselves in the blood call and forget to use their tools, attempting to forge with their bare hands instead. The burns wake them up quick.”
“Exactly how many smiths have died in such incidents?” Valerian asked.
“A few”, the smith answered noncommittally.
Eventually, he put the boy and phantasm back to work. Valerian became a lot more cautious and slow in his work but Richard could not blame him. He had just had a brush with danger and discovered a new thing to be afraid of. He was also very lucky that he had been there to stop him from injuring himself. Rubbing at his burn scars through his clothes, Richard found himself wishing that he too had had someone there to stop him before he had shoved that artefact, still red hot, into his chest.
He was pulled from his musings by a knock on the door. “Come in!” he called, letting a young servant.
“What is it?” he asked the servant.
“Sir, I was asked to deliver a message to young master Valerian”, he began. “He is to hurry home, the carriage that is to take him to school has come two days early.”
Valerian swept into the manor wondering if he had enough time to wash the sweat and soot off his body before leaving. Avery, ever-faithful was there to greet him.
“I have prepared a bath for you and packed your bags into the carriage, young master!” the man told him. “I have everything ready for your departure.”
“Thank you, Avery!” Valerian said, walking swiftly towards his courtyard. “And yours?”
“My what, sir?” Avery asked, falling in step with him.
“Your bags? Are you ready?” Valerian inquired.
“My bags, sir?” the manservant asked in confusion.
His master realised something was off. “Did Grandfather forget to tell you? You will be coming with me to the academy!”
The manservant was stopped in his tracks. “I see”, he stated. “Excuse me, young master!”
With that said, Avery took off, running at full tilt towards his chambers.
As those of you on the discord server know, this chapter originally had the title: The Things I must… Also, I was supposed to post this yesterday. Here’s why I didn’t and why the title is different. I changed the chapter. It’s undergone a complete revision. The only things that haven’t changed are the first half and the ending.
Thing is, I planned for Part I to have twelve chapters but it ended up having fourteen and I realised that I did not do enough to show Valerian’s progress during this period. The Things I must… was a closing chapter which started with Valerian brooding about his uncertain fate and then choosing instead to focus on the things he could actually affect thereby starting a montage of training and forging scenes. However, in the end, that I realised that the chapter was a little hamfisted. It was basically, ‘Hey. here’s a lot of stuff you did not get to see presented in the most disjointed way possible!’ It also left the part feeling very unfinished.
I realise that the change might not be much better (unfinished) but it showcases a plot point I meant to introduce later and it flows better into the next part while allowing me to visit what I actually need to feature in future flashbacks (weird. A view of the past in the future.) Anyway, long story short, I rewrote the chapter. Hopefully, this version is better.