Valerian did not have to ask to know the old smith was pissed. Even so, he did not dare to lie so he told the man everything. The mercurial orb was his arcane focus. However, it only saw use when he was creating weapons from it. He especially liked being able to use the weapons he made to cast spells as he fought. It reminded him of fighting with his mace. Besides this, the orb only came out when he was cultivating. Otherwise, it remained within his spatial ring. The more Valerian talked, the more visibly the muscles in Elder Richard’s jaw twitched. The man was angry that much was clear. The why was another matter. Luckily, the smith volunteered this on his own.
“I see”, he ground out. “I take it you were never educated on its proper use then.”
“I was supposed to be?” Valerian asked. Apparently, this was answer enough because the man visibly bristled at his words.
“Do me a favour, boy?” he requested. “Next time you see my brother, be sure to let him know that I will no longer fulfil any personal requests he makes. He can find another artificer for his pet projects from now on.”
With that said, he turned around and continued with what he was doing earlier. Valerian was startled. Whatever, he had expected, this was none of them. The man was still angry but it had changed. The fire had gone cold, freezing instead of burning.
“Sir, I’m not I understand”, he said slowly.
“Nothing to understand boy”, the man said with deadly calm. “An ancient weapon of our ancestors, a secret weapon and schematic that has been passed down for generations, one of our last remaining legacies reduced to useless bauble. The ultra special arcane focus that was not to go to anyone, not an arcane lord. The very thing he convinced me to craft, to break the rules for reduced to a useless bauble.”
“Roland looked me dead in the eye and assured me that he would ensure you used it responsibly and it turns out he could not even spare half an hour to teach you how it worked”, the man elaborated. “The idiot stood right in front of me, beat his chest and said all the right words and I believed him. I should have known better but I guess all the politics and practice he’s getting has made him a better liar.”
Valerian was unsure how to respond to this so he said nothing. Eventually, though, his curiosity got the better of him and he asked, “How does one use a mercurial orb?”
Richard stopped rearranging the stacks of dalton steel ingots for the fourth time and looked over his shoulder. “You sure you want that, boy?” he asked. “I mean, it’s a ‘thoughtlessly crafted, useless bauble’. If you wait a few days I could probably make you a sword or something from these”, he added whiles patting the stack he was working on.
“I’m sure!” Valerian told him.
“And why would you want to do so?” the smith asked, finally turning all the way around to face him.
“Like you said, it’s an ancient clan legacy. That means something to me”, Valerian told him. “Besides”, he added. “I’ve got one. I might as well learn what it’s good for and how to use it properly.”
“I see…” the smith said the words rolling off his tongue as he considered it. In the end, he relented, saying, “Fine, get your orb out and I’ll show you a thing or two.”
Happy and excited, Valerian did as asked. A second later, there was a large metre tall sphere of liquid metal floating between him and smith. Immediately, Elder Richard went to work. He stepped around the sphere rapping it with the knuckles of his index and middle fingers. Every knock sent the orb and its material quivering like a glob of tallow. Ripples, like those caused a pebble tossed into a pool, were sent out from the site of each knuckle impact they pulsed over the orbs surface, crashing and melding into each other.
As he worked, the smith looked up and was surprised to see Valerian’s eyes following his every move.
“Are you memorising my striking pattern?” he asked.
Valerian nodded, making sure not to take his eyes off for even a second.
“Don’t bother!” Elder Richard warned. “The movements and strikes mean nothing. Same with where the strikes were placed. The only thing that matters is the essence; its control and flow. By pulsing my essence through your mercurial orb and analysing the resulting ripples in its physical structure and essence signature, I can gain a sense of how your refinement of the orb is going and tell if you have damaged it. For the record, you’re doing well. You made sure to stick the basics of the orbs use and a daily routine of refinement.”
Catching a small glimmer of disappointment in Valerian’s eyes, he smiled a bit and said, “Don’t worry! I said I’d teach you, didn’t I?”
“Now, do you see the ripples in the metal?” the smith asked.
Valerian looked at his mercurial orb, paying special attention to how it quivered when the old man struck it before answering, “Yes!”
“Good!” the man acknowledged. “The ripples flow through the material as if it were liquid but we both know this sphere is made of metal. If you’ve made as many weapons as you say you have you also know just how hard and tough it can be as well.
“The material that makes up a mercurial orb is called arquerite there for a lot more than looking pretty. Like dalton steel, it is a special alchemical substance only this one is our family recipe. In addition to being liquid at room temperature, steelborn arquerite, when forged into a mercurial orb, has several other uses. I mentioned them just a few minutes ago.
“First of all, mercurial orbs are personalised growth weapons”, the smith began. “They adapt and mould themselves to fit their user’s needs. The more you refine them and use them in battle, the better they become. For example, you can have a mercurial orb and use it as fighting gloves. Over time and with constant refinement, they will become exceedingly good battle gauntlets, covering your arms with their metal and making beating other people down will become one of their major functions. All this because of how you used it, the way you refined it and the orb’s own ability to recognise and adapt to your specialisations.”
Valerian listened enraptured. He spared a glance for the hovering ball of liquid metal unable to believe it was capable of such a thing.
“I assume that by this point in your career you understand what a tellurian physique is and how they work?” the old man asked him.
Valerian seized this chance to prove his knowledge to the man. “Arcanists possess the ability to order the world around them, direct its essence and command the elements. Their path of growth lies in furthering this ability. Tellurians, on the other hand, have the ability to embody the elements. Instead of controlling it the world and its essence, they become akin to it. Their path lies in the development of their embodiments and the personification of their elements.”
“An arcanist can shape fire into spheres but a tellurian can transform into a sphere of flames”, he added.
“Hmmm”, was Elder Richard’s non-committal response. “The second trait of a mercurial orb is its ability to mimic that tellurian ability. When you refine your orb, you are not just channelling your energy through it, you are in essence giving it a physique, actively developing into whatever it is you’ve been doing.
“For all intents and purposes, your mercurial orb is a part of you. It is an external organ. That is why it grows inert when you die and also why it is able to grow with you throughout your career. As you progress through the tiers your essence will grow more powerful and voluminous. Refine your orb with this essence and you will elevate almost as if, like your arm, it broke through with you. No matter the stage or tier you attain, your mercurial orb can accompany you there, growing with you by virtue of its connection with your psyche and essence.
“Thirdly, the mercurial orb has the ability to direct and amplify essence. It is like I said earlier. The orb is basically part of you. The more you refine it, the truer this becomes. However, it was also intended to be an arcane focus which means it can be used to direct world essence. Combine this with arquerite’s inherent ability to amplify essence and whatever boosts it gains from the materials that went into its creation and you have something incredible”, he added.
“If you get the chance, you should speak with Great Elder Maeve. She possesses a mercurial orb too and she has this technique where she uses her’s as a formation to boost the range and power of her battle intent. Honestly, it is one of the greatest innovations involving a mercurial orb that I have ever seen”, he said with a sigh.
“Great Elder Maeve?” Valerian asked with distaste. “Isn’t that the dumpy lady with a face like someone tried to twist her mouth off her face?”
“You know her?” Elder Richard asked, taking note of Valerian’s uncharacteristic animosity.
“Yes!” Valerian admitted.
Great Elder Maeve was one of the great elders in charge of matter relating to cultivation. She was the great elder who was called when he suffered his first cultivation backlash as a child as well as the one who reported back to the clan that he was a cripple. Valerian had memorised her name and appearance. That woman never retracted her statement. Not even after his tellurian cultivation recovered. She owed his family an apology.
Seeing that Valerian was not being forthcoming, Richard chose to continue listing his points. Whatever bad blood it was that lay there had nothing to do with him.
“The fourth trait of the mercurial orb is closely tied to the previous two” Elder Richard continued. “The material, as well as the weapon’s status as an arcane focus, naturally lends itself to spell anchoring. Silver is very good at enhancing essence and is used in a lot of enchantments. Arquerite, especially the kind we use in making the mercurial orbs, is more than a dozen times better. It can channel and amplify essence like nobody’s business but it is also extraordinary good as a material for enchantments. It not only holds them well but can also enhance their effects. This trait can be exploited with spell anchoring.
“I’m sure you know what I am talking about”, the smith told Valerian. “All you need do is cast a spell on a portion of your mercurial orb, preferably something shaped like a weapon. You can then activate this spell in battle whenever you feel like it. It is a style that will suit you quite well, I’m sure.”
Valerian nodded. It would indeed be a good fit. He already had a similar style. Having a set of weapons he didn’t have to cast [Heartseeking Bolts] on every time would help save time and make the spells use easier. Then again, he planned on abandoning most of his old spells for new ones.
“Now, I want you to listen carefully, boy”, Elder Richard said, calling for his attention. “This last one is perhaps the most important trait of a mercurial orb.”
Placing his hand on the mercurial orb and gesturing for Valerian do same, he asked, “Do you feel that?”
Valerian let his hand rest on the sphere and allowed its soft thrumming, a rhythm that matched his own heartbeat, to lull him into feeling an intense connection with it.
“Your mercurial orb is alive. Perhaps not in the same way as you or I but your life flows through it,” the smith said softly. “I doubt you have much experience with this but just know that the higher an artefact’s tier, the more intelligent, and spirited it is. The more you progress through the tiers, the more of this life your orb will gain. Perhaps if you even reach the Sage tier it would gain true life. In the meantime, you will be responsible for shaping and teaching it. Every step you take is one the orb will learn from. We call this the adaptive intent.
“Imagine, you have been given a puppy. You can train it to be an attack hound, a hunting beast, a fighter, a kind soul, a home guard, a mean bitch, practically anything you want. You decide! Just try to pcik one thing and stick to it. You want attack? Use it solely for attacking. Want defense like your uncle Vorm? Train it to protect you. Want a vehicle? Teach it to do that! Just make sure to teach it well.”
“Despite all these extraordinary effects, a mercurial orb is generally only as powerful as its user. At the end of the day, it is just a tool. It might be a great tool but it is still a tool and not a substitute for actual skill and power. It will only be as powerful as the cultivation base that powers it, as useful as the mind that directs it and as effective as the skill used to wield it. Should you keep this in mind in addition to refining it properly and regularly you will eventually have a very powerful tool at your disposal”, Elder Richard finished.
“Thank you, sir!” Valerian said gratefully. “I am actually looking forward to what this thing can do for me now. I only wish I knew half of what I just learnt when Lady Bloodworth was grilling me.”
His words caught Elder Richard’s attention and caused him to turn back towards him. “Speaking of the rich bitch’s words. You said earlier that she spent much of your first meeting dressing you down. What exactly did she say to you?”