Chapter Twelve: The O’be
Valerian was lazying about in bed when he heard voices come close. At first, the only thing that came to his tired mind was a plea that it wasn’t his uncle, Richard coming for a spar. Then, his keen ears heard the voice of a completely different uncle. Vorm’s loud baritone was surprisingly muted but that was understandable considering that he was engaged in whispers with the magistrate.
Momentarily ignoring his aches and pains, Valerian sat up in bed. His mind was racing. ‘Is this it?’ he wondered. Was this the day he would truly discover just what or who the O’be was and its connection to him? Would he finally know what the first blood rite was? The knocking at his door seemed to imply so.
“Please come in!” he called out, forcefully drawing his face into the nonchalant look he had been trained to hold since he could understand words.
His grandfather stepped in first, followed by the aforementioned uncle.
Together, they crowded in on him. From behind his hidden gaze, Valerian stared at them in a poor attempt to suss out their secrets. He got nothing from his grandfather. The man was a calm lake that betrayed nothing beneath his surface. He smiled easily as he drew closer motioning Valerian closer with a single hand. He gave Valerian nothing to work with but then again, Valerian did not expect him to. Vorm, on the other hand, looked slightly unsure. It was a strange look for the usually confident and boisterous man.
“Valerian!” his grandfather began. “Vorm and I were planning on heading to the clan compound for some business. I was hoping you could come with us. I plan to use this chance to swing by my old place and it would nice to show you where I used to live.”
“Okay!” he answered.
Neither his grandfather nor his uncle conducted any business in the clan compound despite what they had said. They never even slowed down or made mention of stopping the carriage. Valerian sat back and waited to see where this was going. Eventually, after passing through no less than four security checks they came upon a small manor in the western section of the clan compound.
“We are here, Valerian”, his grandfather called as he alighted.
“Where is ‘here’?” Valerian asked him.
The magistrate looked back at him, his eyes filled with an unfamiliar reluctance and hurt. “This was home”, he said before leading them up to the door.
“Uncle Valan…” Vorm called hesitantly. “This doesn’t have to been done here!”
Valerian’s head all but swivelled to look at the man. Was he really dropping the act this early? The magistrate, on the other hand, paused at the gate, his shoulders slouched and his mood despondent. Valerian had not seen the man like that for a long time. In fact, the last time he saw the man this way was when he revealed his inability to cultivate. Now worried, he walked to the man’s side quickly.
“It has to be here!” the man said out of the blue. “Valerian needs to learn the consequences and dangers. Can you think of any better place than this?”
The uncle in question, grumbled a little, looking unsure but ultimately said nothing.
“It is okay, Vorm”, Valerian’s grandfather assured him. “I will be fine!”
With those words, he pulled out a set of keys from within his robes and unlocked the outer gate.
Immediately, a strange pulse went through the estate in front of them. Then came the colour. The formerly dreary place came to life as if it had merely been sleeping before. The fountains started running and the grass regained its vibrancy. The flowers bloomed without warning almost as if they had been restrained from doing so. Then, an unnatural gust came rushing through, picking up every speck of dust and carting it to parts unknown leaving the place spick and span.
“I apologise, Valerian”, his grandfather said. “It appears no one has been here for years. However, that is not a surprise. Come! I do not want to be here long.”
Valerian stared at the man’s back as he went. Something was very wrong. He glanced at his uncle but the man made sure to avoid his eyes. Left with nothing else, he followed. The magistrate led them through the courtyard and into the manor proper. The inside of which was like the outside. It was clean, brightly lit and warm causing Valerian to wonder if it too had woken up and cleaned itself for the guests.
He wanted to walk in it a bit longer and maybe take a closer look at the many portraits that filled its halls many featured the patriarch with a beautiful purple haired woman and two young boys one of whom he guessed was his grandfather. It that was true, then the other boy would be Vorm’s father. He confirmed this when he saw his uncle stop and stare at a painting that featured the older boy, a young man now. He was clad in simple steelborn plate with his helmet carried under his arm, letting his long hair and wispy beard out for the world to see.
Regrettably, he had no time to take a gander. His grandfather walked quickly and purposefully through the place, refusing to look at the paintings and instead focusing on the path he was on. In this manner, he led them to an upper wing and into the master bedroom. Once there, he went straight up the four poster bed at the end and calling Valerian over, he opened the curtains. A bizarre sight was revealed. The bed was occupied by an enormous purple crystal took up most of the inner space but the bizarreness of the scene wasn’t the crystal in the bed. It was the being in the crystal.
“Meet my mother, Valerian!” his grandfather said morosely, confirming his fears with a simple sentence.
It was the purple haired woman from the paintings only her facial expression was terrifying. She appeared to be rising from a simple crosslegged cultivating pose. The look on her face was pure confusion with a little fear. Her mouth was parted slightly making Valerian wonder if she had even had time to scream before whatever happened overtook her.
“This…” that was all he managed to say while backpedalling. His eyes went straight for his grandfather.
“This is a tomb?” he asked, his voice wavering. It fit. The seal on the compound. The fact that it was abandoned. The reason why no one had ever mentioned it. Had his great-mother died and been entombed in here?
“A tomb?” his grandfather repeated sadly. Giving off a sad laugh, he added, “I almost wish it were so! Mother is still alive, Valerian, though ‘how alive?’ would be a good question.”
Valerian looked at him in shock before his gaze slid back to the figure in the crystal. It was like seeking an insect stuck in amber or better yet a frozen animal. It was difficult to imagine that she was still alive in such a state. His eyes found hers and he was surprised just how much panic he saw in them. ‘She must have sensed it coming’, he realised. Whatever happened, it was something she failed to stop. Tearing his eyes away he looked to the only person who might have the answers.
“Can she-can she see? Does she…?” he tried asking unsure just how to frame his question.
Switching the hand he used to hold the curtain open, the magistrate put his now free right hand on the crystal and stared so forlornly at his mother than his face seemed to age another ten years. He was silent for nearly a full minute a period for which he left the other two shifting uncomfortably where they stood.
“NO!” he finally stated. Taking his hand away, he tied the curtain to one of the posts leaving it open. Then, turning his back on the purple crystal he told Valerian, “At the very least, nothing we have tried has led to that conclusion. There was a time my father hoped .… he’d sit with her every day just talking…”
His mind’s eye was filled with a different image of the patriarch at that moment. Unlike the charming, self-assured lord he was today, he was a gaunt, unkempt man with bloodshot, dark circled eyes. He had not been nice to be around. Reminding himself to focus on the here and now, he turned to his grandson.
“Even if we can get to her through the crystal, she is not in a state where anything would register”, he told the boy. “We tried everything and given that it has been more than seventy years with no change, we have long since put aside any hope that she might recover on her own or that we are capable of helping her.”
“What happened?” Valerian couldn’t help but ask.
“She failed her Blood Rites!”
Valerian had to stop himself from showing any recognition to those words. He was not supposed to know them after all. So, keeping his curiosity at the forefront he asked genuinely, “What are Blood Rites?”
His grandfather gave actually gave a small chuckle at that.
“I remember asking my mother that as a child”, he said. Then, going off on a tangent he added, “She didn’t wait as long to tell me. Looking back, I wish she had. It would have been nice to dream some for a bit. I’ll tell you what she told me then. ‘Steelborns are not the only old clans with forgotten legacies.'”
Building on that, he walked up to Valerian and said to him, “The Blood Rites are the blood legacy of my mother’s clan. A legacy that is both blessing and curse. Have you ever heard of the O’be, Valerian?”
The old man knew damn straight he had. “I have”, Valerian admitted coolly.
“Really?” his grandfather asked. “What do you know about the O’be?”
Valerian made sure to keep his voice neutral as he spoke. “I don’t know anything about the O’be other than the word. I know it’s connected to our family and I have tried to find out more and failed. I do know that it is a secret you consider more important than the fact that I am descended from the KunPeng.”
“That is not true”, his grandfather tried to say. However, all he received were incredulous looks not just from Valerian but Vorm as well.
“Well, to put it simply, The O’be are an old clan. As a matter of fact, they are beyond ancient. They are a clan that hails from before the Newhaven Empire ruled everything west of the Grand Boundary and a time when it actually had competitors”, he revealed.
“The first thing you should know about the O’be is that they – we, are not called the O’be. That is wrong!” the man said pausing. “O’be is not what we call ourselves. It is what those who know of us, refer to us by. However, when in the lands of others we use this name as well for reasons that I will soon explain. The proper name for us is Bargdarna. A name we have ensured no longer exists in public memory.
“Now, I’m sure you’ve already guessed that the Bargdarna are my mother’s clan. Our clan is a secret clan scattered through much of the continent. As for why we choose to go by another name and why our existence has to be kept secret is a long story. It begins with a man…”
At this point, Vorm interrupted him. He had not come to listen to his uncle’s hour-long stories. In fact, he wanted to be done as fast as possible. This compound creeped him out and having this orientation here, especially in front of his crystallised grandmother was a bit too far out for him.
“Mind if I tell the story, uncle?”
The story of the Bargdarna begins with one man because he is the most pivotal figure in the entire history of their line. The man’s name was Tapagm and he was an arcanist born in one of the clan’s lowest times. When he was born, there were only two others of the main line; his father, Irla and his older sister, Sumbia. His mother died in childbirth and by the time he was a youth, his father followed her into the beyond.
At the time, the Bargdarna were high-level nobility of the ancient Great Moon Empire, the same empire from which the plains folk of the surrounding descended from. Bargdarna meant ‘Lord of Power’ and the name suited them perfectly. Tapagm, for instance, was one of the greatest arcane talents ever recorded with prospects that were heaven-defying, to say the least.
He was lucky in that sense. Besides a few distant relatives, he and his sister were the only Bargdarna left. Having assumed his lordship so early he had to work hard to ensure his territory was not subsumed by the other lords. Lucky for him, his immense and constantly growing powers were useful in this sense. The same could not be said for his sister, Sumbia.
She was born extremely sickly. Unfortunately, it was a hereditary disease that had no cure. Cultivation could manage it somewhat but it could not remedy the underlying issue. Sumbia wasn’t the first to have it, just one of the worst cases. In fact, Tapagm himself had it to an extent. The Bargdarna while powerful were not strong physically. They were a slight, frail people prone to many diseases and bodily failings.
As stated, Sumbia’s case was particularly bad. Her condition caused her; near constant weakness and fatigue, frequent periods intense pain, ulcers and lung issues. It was a pitiful situation. Unfortunately, not everyone thought so. Sumbia was betrothed at birth to one of the heirs of another Great Moon Lord. Once they discovered her condition, her engagement was publicly annulled with the reasons publicised and exaggerated.
Apparently, the other clan had discovered that those who married problem daughters of the Bargdarna not only had to take of these sickly additions they were unable to have heirs that way since the women were often too weak to carry children to term or survive birth. Additionally, the Bargdarna illness whiles not catching was carried in the blood. Rather, than have their line polluted they preferred to have scions of their clan marry elsewhere.
It didn’t matter how gifted they were in the arcane arts. Imbibing the traits od the Bargdarna was something they were not willing to do. This revelation ruined the already small clan. None of the major clans or nobles would marry anyone with even a trace of Bargdarna blood. In one fell swoop, the clan was ostracised and shut out of Great Moon Empire’s high society.
Sumbia would die a few years later, the shame and stress not helping her illness and Tapagm was helpless to do anything about it. He could not even salvage the family name. Enraged and embittered, he resolved not to take this lying down. So, he got to work.
Blood was the problem and blood was the solution.