Chapter Thirteen: The Blood Rites
“What did he do?” Valerian asked his uncle.
Vorm snorted. “Something that’s equal parts brilliant and dumb.”
The magistrate cut in. “What your uncle is trying to say is that Tapagm created the blood rites. It was to be a solution to the problems of the Bargdarna by ridding them of the physical weaknesses and eliminating their dreaded family disease.”
Vorm could not hold in another snort. “At least it was”, he began. “Until Tapagm went completely overboard.”
The magistrate sighed. “I’ll concede that.”
“However the point stands that Tapagm achieved a feat that no other historical figure can match. His is an unparalleled achievement that showcases the height attainable by human ingenuity and burned our clan name onto the placard of history.”
Unable to resist, Vorm cut in again. “I’m certain that half the reason the record stands is because no one is foolish enough to follow in his footsteps and those who were…well, obviously, they are not around anymore.”
“Tapagm had no way of knowing the full ramifications of his feat”, the magistrate argued. “In creating the blood rites he rewrote the laws of Verre for the sake of his family. Unintended consequences aside, he accomplished everything he set out to do and more.”
“Tell that to those he cursed”, Vorm snapped.
Valerian decided that it was his turn to cut in, lest the two men begin a tangential debate and forget the entire purpose for which they were here. “None of this tells me what the blood rites are!” he pointed out.
His grandfather gave a small smile at that. The first since they came to the manor and set about explaining.
“The blood rites are our blood legacy and it is the first human-made legacy. Now, when I say human-made, I’m not talking about a blood legacy created when some cultivator thought it was a great idea to have sex with a Daemon, nor I’m in talking about the legacies resulting from the sort of careful breeding that forms the backdrop to interactions amongst the nobility”, he stressed. “I’m not even talking about the passing down of special physiques or affinities or any sort of thing that can be attained by cultivation and again, breeding. Like that demonic boy you fought last year. I’m referring to something that was truly crafted by human hands. Something created in a workshop.”
“Is that even possible?” Valerian asked incredulously.
“Oh, it is!” The old man said excitedly. “Tapagm proved it. He created a blood legacy of his own by doing something no one before him thought of and no one we know of has ever achieved besides. He internalised a technique, inscribing it into our blood and locking it to our bloodline.”
“I have a technique in my blood?” Valerian asked in shock. He was trying to wrap his head around it but it seemed so far fetched.
“Yes!” his grandfather confirmed. “And it is not just any technique, it is a ritual hence the name.”
“But what does it do?” Valerian inquired. He really should have known that the old man as incapable of approaching any issue directly. Just one question that required one answer and see how long it was taking them. Ordinarily, Valerian would be content to sit back and listen so as to get the full picture of what the man was painting but not today. Not when it was something he had sought for so long.
“A thousand things and more”, his grandfather answered with a straight face. In response to Valerian’s look of doubt, he continued. Pulling out several tomes from his spatial ring, he said, “The spell matrix encoded into our blood is so mind-bogglingly complex that no one has been able to figure out its full applications. Nevertheless, we have successfully learnt a lot about it and what it’s capable of. These books contain several summations our clan’s observations through the millennia.”
Vorm nudged Valerian and said to him. “Honestly Uncle, you give Tapagm too much credit! He may have been a genius but he was not omniscient. In fact, he definitely wasn’t! The thing is a ritual with one aim and three basic functions. Don’t needlessly overcomplicate it. Sure, it can have a thousand applications but that doesn’t change what it does, what it was meant to or the fact that it has defects.”
“Ignore your uncle, Valerian”, his grandfather said. “For some reason, he has decided against reading the ancestral accounts or understanding our legacy beyond its basic use.”
“I haven’t decided against anything”, Vorm argued. “You must see that it is a waste of time. It has been four ages and no one has come close to deciphering Tapagms blood rites. Rather than join the fruitless search for his notes, or crack my head trying to puzzle out his mess, my time would be better spent worrying and working on things I can actually do.”
“I am not sure I understand what you are going on about myself”, Valerian interrupted. “Our ancestor Tapagm created some sort of revolutionary internal technique. From what you are saying the technique is powerful and ingenious. Vorm is hinting at some defects and from what both of you are saying, it is something we have tried and failed to comprehend. Again, what exactly is it?”
Vorm looked at Valerian. Staring him straight in the eye, he gave him the simple truth. “Be it today or in the days of yore, Bargdarna have always had defective blood. As powerful as our arcane abilities are, our physical forms if not diseased are often lacking when compared with others”, he told Valerian.
“Tapagm tried to correct this inherent defect with outside blood. However, he went beyond what was strictly necessary. The Blood Rites are inherent rituals in the body of every person who carries his bloodline. Daemons are able to pass down techniques via ancestral memories accessed through the bloodline and humans through records. Your peng techniques are a clear example of the former and of the latter, you have the Steelborn techniques we inherited from the Menhirionn. Ancestor Tapagm true to his nature tried to outdo both techniques”, Vorm revealed.
“He created a ritual and recorded it in our bloodline. Unlike other humans, we will never lose the technique nor will we forget it. Like daemons, we can access it through our bloodline. Unlike either, we do not even need to learn the technique. We just have to call on our blood and it initiates the ritual. Sometimes, we don’t even have to do that. Using it, we can strengthen ourselves and our abilities at certain stages of cultivation”, he stated. “Basically, we have to consume the blood and essence of a daemon at every stage between the first and fifth. Whenever we do so, we strengthen ourselves. The first rite is performed at the Lord tier and reinforces the body. The second, at the King tier, enhances the will and the third, at the emperor tier bolsters the spirit.”
Valerian listened to this with growing shock. Tapagm’s feat sounded unbelievable before but now that he was listening to the specifics he could see just how insane it actually was. How did a person even come up with something like that?
“This sounds good, doesn’t it? Vorm asked him. “The ability to resolve the issues with our bloodline and to strengthen ourselves far beyond our peers. It is far better than we could have hoped for. Unfortunately, it was not good enough for Tapagm. Unsatisfied, he ensured that we take on some of the traits of whatever creature we performed the rite with. Kill a dragon, rip out its core and drain its blood for use in a ritual and guess what you will get?”
Valerian shook his head. It was not that he could not think of anything. The problem was that they were all guesses with many of them being so outlandish he did not know what to say.
“First of all, the traits you would get would depend on which rite he was performing, his own state and that of the beast itself” the magistrate answered. “Had you read the accounts I asked you to, you would know that nephew.”
“Dragons are daemons of yang, well suited for the first rite”, the man stated. “Should you use them for the first rite that you will no doubt be pleased with the physical gains you will achieve. Anything else would come from your sate and traits and the dragon’s speciality, specifically, any special traits that would complement your own. Valerian would get nothing from killing a dragon. His peng bloodline will devour everything it has. However, should he say kill a lightning daemon, he might gain an affinity for the lightning element as that would complement his peng traits well. Should he kill some sort of metallic daemon with rare traits, he will undoubtedly manifest them on account of both his peng and monolithic bloodlines being metal aligned”, the old man finished.
He held out more books to Valerian saying, “Reading, Valerian! Its the ultimate form of learning something some would do well to remember.”
Valerian accepted the books but he could not wait for them to provide the answers he currently needed. “You two have managed to gloss over the matter with the curse and the defective blood you mentioned. Why?”
Defective blood. The words stoked a flame of fury Valerian thought he had extinguished years ago. He knew them well. He could even recall the contempt on Elder Grant’s face that day when he spat them at his grandfather. Suddenly, it all made sense. The looks his grandfather had received. Some of the elders had looked lost themselves but Maeve, Grant and Foreson, they definitely knew. Initially, Valerian had chocked his grandfather’s disability to a quirk of birth but the more he listened to him and his uncle speak the more convinced he was that it something to do with this so-called curse.
“The curse…” his grandfather began. “…is not something any Bargdarna likes to think about. It is the reason why we hide. Why our true name has been scrubbed from the annals of history. Why we are abhorred.”
“You must understand, Valerian, that ours was a major power in the old days”, he reasoned. “In spite of all the attempts to push us out of the circle of lords, we held fast to our place. Rather, Tapagm refused to be budged and genius aside, his personal might was not insignificant. When he finally completed his blood legacy, his power soared beyond anything that could be restrained. Same could be said for his progeny. Tapagm’s Blessing they called our legacy. Within generations, we dominated the Great Moon Empire. At one point, it was our dynasty that ruled it. We led it to great triumphs but we also caused its fall.”
“Wait…! Are you saying that we caused the collapse of the Great Moon Empire?” Valerian asked, his shock seemingly increasing with each new revelation.
“We, certainly, didn’t help!” the magistrate asserted. “Look around you, Valerian. See the things we have to do as Steelborns to maintain our edge and rule. How we check weaknesses in ourselves so others do not exploit them. Do you know what happens in an empire when its rulers are weak? The Lords squabbled and fought till, eventually, they decided that they were better off ruling their fiefs themselves. So the Great Moon Empire splintered and its nations became easy pickings for our neighbours, The NewHaven Empire.”
“Grandfather, you are stalling!” Valerian told the man.
“You have yet to say what this curse is”, he pointed out.
The man deflated. Arms falling to his sides, he said softly, “You are looking at it, Valerian. I carry the curse.”
Valerian gritted his teeth. It was just as he feared.
“Your condition is caused by the curse?” he tried to confirm.
“The curse is caused by the very same legacy that caused others to sigh and call us blessed. My heart aperture cannot hold arcane energy. It is one of its many manifestations. Others include; infertility, grotesque, malformed or daemonic features. My mother has a brother who was born with scales. All in all, every birth defect you can think of has probably occurred in our family at one point or the other. As a result, we classify ourselves accordingly.
The blessed, like Vorm and yourself, are those who can use the blood rites as they were meant to be used. The cursed on the other hand are those like myself who had our futures cut off by the same legacy.
“Have you ever heard the phrase biting off more than you can chew?” he asked out of the blue.
“It was invented to describe us. Tapagm bit off more than he could chew. Hence O’be from the ancient phrase adun de aka taa o’be – he who bit what he could not chew, a tag that has followed us for millennia”, He exclaimed. “Beyond that, there are some who believe us truly cursed. That attempting to twist fate and law, he garnered the wrath of the heavens and it struck us from our pedestal. There are some who would have nothing to do with any from our bloodline. Another reason why we have to scurry and hide.
“When Tapagm’s Blessing works like it ought. It is a dream. There are few paths to power as certain as the one it provides. Sadly not even being blessed is a guarantee of safety as my mother here would attest to. She was blessed and yet, she suffered complications during her second blood rite and since then, she has been as you see her today. Stuck somewhere between life and death. My brother, Vorm’s father was blessed as well and yet he died an early death on a battlefield where his status as a blessed child of the Bargdarna meant absolutely nothing. That’s something you’ll have to bear in mind when you perform your blood rites”, the magistrate told Valerian.
“Sometimes, I cannot help but wonder if they are right. Perhaps we are cursed by a heaven that wants to see us pay for our ancestor’s hubris.”
I’ve always known that stories are burdened or exalted by their characters. Unfortunately, I am unsure where I am currently. Honestly, this whole exposition scene should have been a single chapter and yet, it would have been completely out of character for any of the people it featured to have a simple, straightforward conversation about a topic this important especially with the magistrate at the helm of things.
It is bittersweet to discover that you have created characters so well-defined that they dictate the pace at which their story is told. Though I’m sure I would not have it any other way.