Chapter Thirty-one: Five Sacred Metals
Bhita laughed at Valerian’s promise telling him, “You can certainly try.”
“Good!” came Valerian’s response. “I was hoping you would say that!”
“Idiot!” Heidi exclaimed. “I warned him about getting taken in by her. Boys! What’s the point in talking if they never listen?”
Sweetrot shot her a glance but said nothing. In her heart, Hue agreed by outwardly she too said nothing. Her eyes were focused on the battle unfolding on the stage.
“That girl… Bhita”, she began. “That’s more than just a technique, it is like her body is really made of bloody iron!”
“You noticed, didn’t you?” Heidi said, calming down. “Bhita takes the term attunement to a whole new plateau. Most stop when they gain the properties but she goes further. She isn’t iron through and through but she might as well be.”
Redirecting another of Bhita’s fists with his palm, he grabbed her wrist and pulled, aiming at pulling her off balance and off her feet. The girl went with it, trying to use the momentum to slam a scorpion kick in his face. He caught the kick as well, holding on despite the force behind it causing his knees to bend and ground at his feet to shatter. Then, he made good on his promise by front kicking her so hard, she bent like a bow.
Strangely, the scream he expected to hear did not come. Nor did she fall unconscious. So, Valerian kicked her again, this time hard enough that he nearly lost his grip on her. Again, a quick check proved him wrong. Worse, she smiled at him before taking advantage of his shock to suddenly pull free, her body suddenly thin and wiry.
“Your body?” he asked in shock.
“What about it?” she asked teasingly.
He said nothing, choosing instead to shift his eyesight into the essence spectrum. Strange glyphs came to light on Bhita’s body. He tried to decipher them but they did not resemble any glyph tongue he knew. In fact, the only thing he could compare them to was…
Bhita frowned, not expecting to be found out so easily. The reason she wore no armour was that her skin was armour enough. Invisible vajra script had been drawn all over her body protecting it from the worst of damage, spreading and dissipating any force that struck it.
“Is that what makes you so confident? Body tempering via unbreakable enchantment?” Valerian asked. “Enjoy your shell while it lasts. I am going to break it!”
Valerian rarely punched someone with all his strength. The risk of killing them outright was too high to chance. Besides, he rarely needed to. This time, he was willing to make an exception. He would bash her skull in until her brains run out her ears. The uncharacteristic thought and imagery made his eyes widen. Since when did he do that? Taking a step back, he flooded his system with qi to flush out any external influences. Bhita’s aura had to be getting to him. While he could not see what advantage there was to be had in making him more brutal, there was no way he was letting an opponent into his head.
His own aura came into play. The will of the conqueror billowed out. It was an unstoppable intent that demanded the submission of his followers and the destruction of his enemies. Enveloped by his battle intent, Valerian flapped his wings and took to the sky. The mercurial orb followed, spitting out a spear. His opponent thought herself invulnerable, free to trade hits and secure in the belief that her enemies would fall before she did. That confidence had to come from somewhere. Valerian was not stupid enough to challenge her at her best. The fight had to be on his terms.
Briefly, he considered creating a [Myriad Darts Array] but after some deliberation, he chose not to. That spell relied on numerous attacks to bring down a group of foes. What he needed now was a single attack that possessed both the speed and power to penetrate Bhita’s defences. Running a hand over the spear he imbued it with his qi and enchanted it with a quick fortification spell. Today, he would combine the [Explosive Sphere], [Overlord Spear] and [Scything Blade] spells.
On the ground, Bhita scoffed. While she knew nothing about what Valerian was planning his goal was obvious. She would never let him succeed. Concentrating, she shifted into another of her five forms, discarding the iron of war for the wealth of gold. Her flesh changed, losing its grey hue for the lustre of the king metal. Her aura changed with it. Gone was the bloodlust and madness of the battlefield and in came the nobility and affluence of royalty. Her reserves began to grow as well, keeping pace her new affluence as if boasting that her value was not in currency but in the breadth of her power.
Pulling a ceremonial scepter from her spatial ring, she began to chant. “Let the poor lament! For with a wealth of offerings the rich can buy the ears of the gods and sit on the heavens, suppressing the peoples of the world.”
[Doctrine Favours the King]
The ritual took effect immediately leaving her momentarily weak and breathless. The awe-inspiring aura and ever-growing reserves she previously had were instantly halved, taken as a sacrifice in exchange for the powers she wanted to wield. Everything within one hundred metres of her was now in her territory, so to speak. As the queen who had bribed the priests and won the favour of the gods, she could set enforceable rules to govern it. The first matter on the agenda; Valerian’s superior mobility and aerial advantage. The challengers who preceded her had made the mistake of either trying to match it or forgoing pursuit, striving instead to counter his approach. She aimed to take it from him entirely.
“What man is this who thinks himself a bird? Take from him his stolen feathers and make him trod the earth with his fellows!” She spoke.
To all who saw her, she was a golden queen, a goddess among women. To those in her territory, her imperious words were judgement. They carried the will of the people and the support of the heavens. They were preached by the clergy and praised by the scholars. In these lands, her lands, these words were law. They were right and just. Again, her reserves decreased, not as much as it did the first time but enough to reflect the resources spent to make the new law known and enforce her will in her kingdom. Her face still dignified and beautiful, paled significantly. Like a queen spectating an amusing play, she watched her opponent fall from the sky whiles listening to the screaming of the crowd. It might have taken more from her than she expected, but the results were more than worth it.
Nothing could describe the panic that filled Valerian’s heart when he was robbed of flight. The wind abandoned him. The essence that constituted his wings was forcefully dispersed. The ground he often disdained was rising to meet him. Flailing like a fish tossed onto the river bank, he fought to cast a spell to stop his descent but that only made him fall faster. It was as if his attempts to resist only further infuriated the force that compelled him to fall. Ectoplasmic essence burst out of him as his phantasm rushed to his aid. It was too late. Something else beat him to it.
Valerian’s sudden dive was arrested when his wings, his true wings, fought to manifest themselves. His cobalt armour creaked and bulged at his shoulder blades where they threatened to burst through. Halted in mid-air, he fought back, trying to keep them contained. The strange power that forced him downward pushed at him and found no purchase. Valerian had become a rebel who defied the law of the land and the will of the queen. He was a heretic who opposed the heavens. Incensed, it slammed into him, three times as strong as before. All that did was enrage the power within him.
People were pointing in shock and Valerian himself was beginning to feel the pressure. On one side was a force pushing him up in defiance and on the other was one that was slamming him down in righteous indignation. Suspended helplessly in the middle was Valerian, bearing the brunt of it all. However, his wings were winning. He laughed bitterly and lent his strength to the force that sought to crush him instead of the one trying to save him. His phantasm quickly retreated, trying in vain to help him suppress his wings.
As much as he did not want to fall, revealing his true form in the midst of all these people would be suicide. He could survive the fall but not the hunters. Unfortunately, Valerian was fast losing ground against the baser instincts that compelled his wings to manifest themselves. He was the Monarch of the Heavens, Ruler of the Winds, King both of and over the Waters and someone was challenging his right to the sky, the peng within him argued. He had to fight back. The insult could not go unpunished. To his dismay, his phantasm seemed to agree, compounding the situation. Steel monoliths ruled their mountains and they brooked no challengers to their authority. They subjugated all who would dwell in their land and defended that land with their all. Clearly, he should do same.
Caught between his two daemonic halves, Valerian surrendered. ‘Leave out the wings!’ He demanded. ‘And make sure you win!’
The peng was unwilling. It wanted to spread its pinions, to display them to the world. Valerian held firm refusing to budge if he did not at least get this one thing. It would not be worth it to establish his dominance one moment only to flee for his life the next. On this, the monolith sided with him. Reluctantly, the peng conceded this point and all three parties fell into agreement. Then, Valerian handed himself over to the peng within.
The change felt nothing like Valerian imagined it to be. There was a slight fear in his heart that the peng wanted to take over but that was not the case. Rather, giving in felt less like being possessed and more like taking on his full form. The peng did not take over. He was the peng! Valerian the man and Valerian the peng were one and the same. Inseparable. Powerful.
A loud hawk-like cry rent the air. Ignoring the pressure that sought to force him down, Valerian rose into the sky, his wings putting themselves back together, brighter and larger than ever. Feathers of translucent gold simply materialised into being, taking the form of massive wings that overshadowed the fighting stage. The moment they were complete, the wings beat once and only once. What followed next was a shockwave of such epic proportions that it not only tore Bhita’s territory asunder, it looked like a bomb had gone off in the sky. Everything not nailed down was sent blasting away from Valerian, the epicentre of this explosion and everything that remained was buffeted by the winds he created.
As if [Scattering the Clouds] was not enough, Valerian’s aura changed. His intent transformed itself into one befitting the Monarch of the Heavens. He was no longer a conqueror who rewarded his followers and slaughtered his enemies. In fact, he seemed to proclaim that there was nothing to conquer. He was already king! Everything that fell under his shadow was already his including the lives of all who wronged him.
Predatory eyes snapped themselves over to Bhita and found her on all fours hacking up blood. The backlash from having her imposed territory destroyed had ripped through her, resulting in considerable internal damage. It was not enough. She had challenged his sovereignty and for a time unseated him from his throne. This could not be her only punishment. She deserved a much sterner judgement.
It was the yelling of the spectators that spared Bhita from what was to be a grisly fate. Forcing her gaze upwards, she saw what was coming for her and nearly faltered. It was as if a gigantic bird of prey was swooping down, reaching out with its talons to snatch up its prey. This bird’s foot, a thing of gold and light with talons as long as spears and as sharp as swords, was already upon her. Pain momentarily forgotten, Bhita shifted into a new transformation. The only one that could save her from this. Golden flesh became silvered and the all-encompassing power of wealth was forsaken. For a brief instant, Bhita did not exist. Her presence vanished, replaced by a mirror that reflected the world around her. Thus, when the golden talons snatched at her, they were met by an identical set. The two grappled, jousting for power and giving Bhita the opportunity to flee.
Valerian snorted. From his eyrie in the sky, he squeezed. Below him, the giant set of [Rending Talons] did same, easily crushing the pale imitation that tried to contend against them. Truly, the pretender’s audacity knew no bounds. He let his disdain be felt by crushing her with the full weight of his monarch intent. To her credit, she barely paused, quickly recovering from the stumble he caused and trying to meld with her surroundings hoping to escape him. Sharp eyes, the kind needed to spot dragons from leagues away, continued to follow her.
Weak. His vessel was too weak to bring out the full might of his powers. Why would boors such as this one not challenge him? What had he been doing all these months? He finished his attunement a month ago. All that time and he had yet to ascend. Why? Why was he holding back? So he could continue squirming in the dirt with these lowly things?
Valerian called and his powers answered. His cores responded preparing themselves for the ceremony. His forces sang, thrumming in delight. With a pulse, all the wind essence in the surrounding five hundred metres made itself available to him. With a second pulse, metal came ringing as well. He looked at it and dismissed it. Good wind could be found anywhere it seemed but the same could not be said for good metal.
The girl on the ground had changed into a being of brass. Resonant Brass. A lowly metal for a lowly being. It was like each time he looked, she sunk lower. She was better of as mirror silver or whatever flavour of base gold she had before that. Flattening her with an errant wind palm magnified to a hundred times its size, he reflected on his own choice of metal. Perhaps, he was being too fussy and judgemental. Laughing, he dismissed the thought. His was the gold standard and only the choicest would do. Only that would suffice for his first ascension.
His thoughts paused. The girl was trying to be clever. Using her brass shell as the basis for some kind of sound technique. You knew they were pathetic when they resorted to screaming. Taking away her air to shut her up, he went back to planning his ascension. The metal aspects would have to wait until he got some good material to work with but what about wind? Flying around lazily in an impression of a backstroke, he contemplated what aspects to use. Speed was always good but it could wait. He was already unparalleled in that field. Galeforce could improve his striking power but the monolith had that covered. Oh great! Now, it was screaming at him too. Shutting it off, he turned his mind back to more important matters. He could always go for the Stormbearer aspect if he wanted more power. It had the plus of having an unpredictable edge to it.
Testing it out, he put the wind to work at creating a storm cloud under him. Unfortunately, that just made him see how much work was involved. Maybe he could take an old route and settle for sharpness or…
The butler sighed and placed his unconscious charge on his shoulder. There was trouble on the horizon. A lot of work too by the looks of things. Twice now he had had to interfere. Thankfully, he was able to knock this one out before he progressed too far in his ascension. Who ascended in front of hundreds of onlookers? He waved his hand, sending a small pulse of qi that dispersed the burgeoning storm and made it easier to see the arena. This had the unintended effect of revealing him to the troubled masses. Checking to make sure that the brass girl was still breathing and she was thank the heavens for small mercies, he gave a quick bow to his audience.
“My mistress and I would like to apologise for the inconvenience we have caused you. All damages and injuries sustained will be catered for by House Bloodworth!”
His piece said, he took his quick leave before anyone could compel him to stay.
Perhaps in the future, David could proudly say he had a ringside view of the trials that decided who would be Lady Bloodworth’s legacy apprentices. Perhaps, there was something to learn from the fights and personalities involved. Perhaps one day, he could look back on the day he shit himself after experiencing the power of someone his age. All of that lay in a possible future. For now, there was only one thing he was certain of.
“Monsters! The whole lot of them. They are all monsters!”
The people seated around him agreed.
Yes! The title is incredibly misleading. Bhita only got to show off four of her five forms – the fifth is Inventive Bronze by the way – but practically anything with peng in the title would have set you off and spoiled the surprise.
Man! I love bringing back things I know you’ve forgotten. We haven’t seen Valerian’s true form in so long. In fact, we only got the spirit of it today and not the full thing. Still, the small bit we saw tells us that Valerian needs some serious practice with it. Look how easily he got side-tracked. Also, thumbs up to Taurus and others like him who caught on to the similarities I kept drawing between Wynna and Valerian. Taurus took the bait and went in a different direction though so he doesn’t get the full prize.
I’ll be honest, one of the difficult things about writing powerful characters is making them believable. Another part is showing it properly. In visual mediums this is easy but in text…let’s just say it a lot more difficult. We’ve known from its first appearance that Valerian’s peng form was dangerous and powerful to an excessive degree. How powerful is something I never went into but as the story progresses expect to find out.
Now for the burning question: Who would win in a fight, True spirit Wynna or Peng Valerian?