Chapter Ten: Lessons With The Smith
O’be. The word meant ‘chew’ in the ancient language of the plains. It was a word that had haunted Valerian for years. It was always there, often unsaid and even when spoken it was mostly whispered. He was unsure when he first heard it but he remembered when he first asked about it and the look of panic that came over Jonas’ face. Every family had its secrets and the magistrate’s household held more than most. The matter of the O’be, however, wasn’t so much a secret as it was a mystery. Secrets and mysteries? Valerian was familiar with both but the O’be was something beyond him.
His grandfather was wrong. He found the hidden vault a long time ago. Fortunately for the old man, its protections were too strong for him to break. The old man had clearly not taken protecting the bookshelf seriously or perhaps, Jonas was to blame for that. Valerian recognised the weaker wards as his work. As for the other secrets in their household, Valerian had figured most of them out. He had sussed out what made Gulsalma so special that other daemons acting so reverently towards her. He even knew his grandmother‘s real age.
There were some secrets he’d only half cracked but the O’be? It had taken him a lot of research to even discover what the word meant. He did know one thing though. It had something to with him, Vorm and his grandfather’s inability to cultivate.
As he waited in the workshop for Elder Richard, Valerian’s mind spun nonstop as he tried to figure out just what lay in store for him.
Elder Richard walked into the room. Valerian failed to notice his appearance. For the burly smith, it only took a glance to see that his new charge lost in thought.
“This is no place to daydream, boy!” he barked at him.
Valerian was startled but he recovered quickly. “Good morning, sir!”
“Mmmm-hmmm!” the man intoned with his lips pursed. “I was pleased when I heard you came early. Thought it showed commitment.”
“I’m sorry, sir!” Valerian apologised. “It won’t happen again.”
The smith gave him a look in a way that made it seem he was peering directly into his mind. It had only been a couple of days since he caught the boy hiding something and he was doing so again. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t even bother himself. The last time, it was because he was curious about Lady Bloodworth and the things she said. Before he knew it, he had been dragged in and it was too late to separate himself from the matter. This time, though, he could leave the matter be.
“What happened?” he found himself asking.
“It’s nothing to worry about, sir” Valerian lied. “I was simply trying to guess what we will be learning today.”
Richard’s eyes narrowed imperceptibly at the lie even as he chose to let it stand. If the boy didn’t want to talk about it, he didn’t want to talk about it. Turning on his heel, he said, “Let’s head over to the forge. Today, we’ll go over the basics and then you’ll do some self-study until I think you are ready for the next level.”
“Wait”, Valerian said, stopping him. “We’re starting with artificing?”
“What else did you think we were going to do?” the smith asked.
“I was hoping you teach me how to use my mercurial orb first”, Valerian admitted.
Richard snorted. “I am not your wet nurse, boy. Nor am I Roland’s. I don’t breastfeed you and I don’t wipe his shit. I only agreed to teaching you how to artifice. He was the one who said he’d train you to use the orb. Get him to do it!”
Detecting the animosity in the man’s voice, Valerian tried to use it to his advantage, “But sir, he wouldn’t. He hasn’t so far and I don’t think he ever will. I told you last time. I want to learn how to use this properly not just because it seems to be a powerful tool but because I feel I should. Its mine and beyond that, it’s an inheritance. You don’t cast those aside.”
When he was done speaking, he found the smith staring at him again. This time, however, Valerian faced this examination with nothing to worry about.
“Let’s get this over with”, the man said to his delight. “I’ll give you a few tips. The rest will be up to you.”
Valerian nodded happily, that was more than anything he’d gotten so far. It would have to be enough.
“I already told you about its growth or ability to grow. I also mentioned that it develops itself in a way similar to a tellurian physique”, the man began. “That’s something you’ll have to do on your own. However, I expect that since the entire purpose I’m teaching you is to improve your physique, you’ll apply some of what you learn to your refinement of the orb.”
Valerian said nothing. He just nodded again, this time more seriously.
“Besides that, it’s a weapon, an arcane focus. You don’t need to be taught what to do with that. The key to using the mercurial orb lies not in what it can do but in how you do it”, the smith said. “It doesn’t just amplify and channel essence. It can act as a spell anchor. This means that with ample preparation, you can cast multiple spells in multiple ways all at the same time and not have to rely on rote casting. Imagine setting a portion as a trap. No. Imagine setting up two. One to restrain a foe and another to attack the restrained foe whilst you, yourself do something else.
“The mercurial orb is useful because, with such a feature, you can cast unsuspecting attacks, remote launch spells set up cumulative effects, use bits as formation or array markers, whatever you wish. Again, this is something you will have to learn on your own. You use a lot of flying blades. Try anchoring spells to your blades before going into battle. You are an array master with a specialisation in spell effects so I’m sure you can achieve something similar but think of the synergy there as well”, he stressed.
“Anchoring a spell means that it will be expended after one use. However, many arrays last until they are dispelled. Use that with the orb and it will amplify the effects. It will consume quite a bit of essence but your enemies will not see those attacks coming. Whether you go this route or the traditional one, you should keep in mind that with remote launches, you don’t need to be there to personally do it. Your arrays might need you to channel essence into them to work but the anchored spells? They can be activated with will alone. You pay the cost when anchoring not when casting.”
“Like I said, the key to the mercurial orb lies in how you use it”, the smith reiterated. Pulling out a noble tiered sword from his spatial ring, he said, “This is a sword. Run essence through this and all you’ll do is activate its functions. If it is blood bound to someone else especially if it received one of those nasty blood bindings, it could do nothing or you could lose your arm.”
He did so as a demonstration and his qi coated the blade, causing its edge to glint ominously. “The sword has become primed for combat. Its edge will cut through anything in its path. It will begin amplifying my qi and manifesting whatever special properties my qi holds.”
“Now, watch this,” he said, channelling qi through the sword. This time, however, the qi was different and the sword acted differently. It thrummed happily in his hands and its power increased greatly.
“This is sword essence. Passing sword essence through a sword increases its cutting power, strength and through its essence amplification properties elevates the sword’s ability to magnify the power of sword techniques. Anyone who calls himself a sword Cultivation first has to cultivate sword essence. If your school was anything as good as everyone said, you should have encountered a few people with this skill.”
Valerian nodded. Most of James’ attacks had used sword essence and he was not the only one. There had been a few in the other squads as well.
“Attaining sword essence is just the beginning”, Elder Richard informed him. “All it means is that you have attained the minimum amount of sword mastery to walk its path. With greater a mastery comes this.”
In an instant, it was like he was actually holding a giant blade. It wasn’t just the sword. Elder Richard changed as well. His presence magnified. He was the giant holding up the giant sword. The sword sang in his hands seeking to accomplish its purpose. A purpose that forced itself on the world so Valerian could it. Visions of the smith slicing off mountaintops filled his mind. Somehow, that image was not absurd. It actually seemed so real that Valerian nearly believed it. It was as if the man before him had truly transformed from middle-aged Smith with a sword to a giant getting ready to cleave through a mountain.
Valerian found himself stepping back, giving way to the growing aura in the same way one would give way for a giant. Stopping the involuntary impulse, he pulled himself back to firm reality and watched carefully, trying to decipher what the man was showing him.
“There are different kinds of intent”, he revealed. “Yours, I understand, is called a monarch intent. This is sword intent. However, like sword essence and all the other intents and essences, there is an issue. A small failing that our ancestor addressed when he created the first mercurial orb.”
The sword intent cut off and all its fearsome strength disappeared leaving his presence to return to normal. He was no longer a giant and the blade in his hands was no mountain chopper.
“Look at the sword again, boy”, he demanded. “See how simple it is. Normal intent strengthens it. Sword essence magnifies it and sword intent evokes its full potential creating a cycle where the wielder evokes the sword, the sword evokes the art and the art evokes the wielder but in the end, it’s just a sword. It’s a tool for the wielder because it has no will of its own, no intent to use.
“The mercurial orb is different. That is why we say it has adaptive intent. It learns from everything you do. When you use your intent, it-it leaches off that for lack of a better term to develop its own. Channel sword essence through it, channel spear essence, channel wind essence or metal essence and it will learn. Use intent and it adapts as well. A sword relies on sword intent to evoke the sword art but the mercurial orb can learn to evoke the spear art with the sword intent. Eventually, it will even discover an intent. Perhaps I should say that learning from you, it will begin to emanate a supplementary intent for the purpose of evoking your intent.
Valerian was stunned. A weapon with an intent of its own?
“When that happens, your arts will be evoked by the orb. Your intent will evoke its own and it yours. This will add another turn on the cycle greatly increasing your power and because the orb is not a defined weapon this intent does not matter. You can use sword intent, metal intent, spear intent, anything you want without restriction. Even without that, have you ever seen the sort of power that can be attained when two intents harmonise?”
Catching sight of the ambitious light in Valerian’s eyes, the smith realised that he may have gone too far in his explanation. “For now forget about intents and such”, he told his charge. “The orb will not develop one anytime soon. At best, you can only expect that when you yourself reach the King tier. It is only then that it will begin to form its own will and only then that it will begin creating an intent. Your goal, for now, is the Lord tier.
“The orb is not like a sword. It does not require a set intent or kind of essence. Anything can be used. That is what you should aim for. Learn to use your intent in conjunction with the orb to evoke your arts. I already gave Maeve as an example. Using her orb, she sets up a field where her will is supreme. Her mercurial orb boosts her intent forming a soul shield with no openings and giving a platform to use techniques that break down those of her enemies. It is able to do so because it has a supplementary intent that weakens the essence and suppresses the wills of any who step within her defined field.”
“Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Valerian nodded. He did. The orb could use his intent and essence to draw out the potential of his techniques. He thought back to Reynard and the techniques he cast with his monarch intent. He’d even been able to use his intent as a medium to gather and redistribute the essence and power of his squad. That way he could boost his elite to absurd levels of power. Despite the man’s advice, he found himself getting excited when imagined the sort of power he and his orb were potentially capable of.
“Good!” the man acknowledged. “Then, let’s get to the forge. We’re wasting daylight!” Elder Richard turned
Wait!” Valerian pleaded. “I have a few questions!”
The man did not even pause. He simply continued marching without looking back.
“There will be no questions!” he announced.