Author’s Note: There’s a lot that needs to be said. Unfortunately, now is not the time to say it, except maybe this; I apologise for leaving so abruptly and without warning.
I was going through some stuff and needed time away to get my shit together. I know that’s no excuse but it is the truth. Some of you know what happened, some of you don’t. Maybe sometime in the future, when I am more comfortable with the subject I will make a post talking about it.
In the meantime, allow me to say thank you to all of you who in my absence tried checking up on me to make sure I was well. While I was unable to see your messages (Still sorting through them right now) I appreciate every second and effort you put into them. Your support means a great deal to me. I will get to them in time and answer each of them personally. Until then, just know that I am extremely grateful.
Today, (or rather yesterday as I am finding out) is HoGW’s anniversary so here are some chapters.
Chapter Thirty-four: Unveiled Deception
“That’s very brave of you!” Sweetrot noted. “Very confident! It wouldn’t happen to be because of the poison on that sickle, would it?”
Amerrak gave a start causing Sweetrot’s smug smile to widen.
“Did you honestly think I would not notice?” he asked. “I’ll give you this, it’s pretty potent. Not the first time I’ve had lung seizing venom, though. I’m just little curious as to how someone like you got his hands on it. As for the extra ingredients? Whew! Spicy! Too bad it’s ultimately useless.”
“Poison might work on others, but it is the thing I fear least in this world. The cut from sickle actually had a greater effect that the poison that coated it.”
“Good to know!” Amerrak said. “Do I still get the third strike?”
For a brief moment, the alchemist was worried that he may have been too eager. Feeling the weight of suspicion in his opponent’s eyes, he suddenly, wished he could take it back, but to his surprise, Sweetrot smiled like all was well.
Holding his hands out and puffing his chest out, he asked, “Why not?”
Amerrak smiled and prepped his next attack, thinking to himself, “Arrogant jerk! You’ll get your comeuppance!”
He pulsed his qi to significant effect such that the atmosphere around him was visibly affected by his power. The next moment he was gone, a blur of pure acceleration. Again he swung his sickle at Sweetrot, extending himself so his withdrawal would bring its reaping edge cutting through his opponent’s midsection.
Again, blood splattered the stage floor. The golden sickle had cut deeply with its curled point piercing through the flesh of Sweetrot’s belly. However, the dark-skinned tellurian cared little about that. All his attention was focused on Amerrak’s off hand. A hand he had caught making a sneak attack on his person.
“Making your arms move independently of each other requires some skill”, Sweetrot said as he crushed the wrist he held. The monocled alchemist screamed, but he continued talking as if everything was normal, prompting his opponent to twist the sickle still embedded in his abdomen. The attempt was unsuccessful. Sweetrot ignored it. The pain was nothing to him, and the poison on it might have as well been food. He was not going to let his enemy go because of something this trivial.
“No wonder you’re considered a genius at alchemy. Doing two things at once is a cinch for you!” he observed. “Now, let’s see what you’ve got in there that makes you so confident.”
Twisting his opponent’s wrist painfully, he forced his hand to open, revealing a couple of pale blue seeds. At first, Sweetrot seemed unconcerned. Keeping pressure on Amerrak’s broken wrist, he took one of the seeds and examined it. Instantly, a look of shock sprung on his face.
Seizing his chance, Amerrak abandoned his sickle, striking at Sweetrot’s face with a glowing fist. The dark-skinned tellurian growled, meeting the fist with a savage headbutt that crushed his opponent’s knuckles. Ignoring his opponent’s shriek of pain. He followed that up with a cruel front kick that effectively launched his captive away from him.
Rolling to a stop few metres away, Amerrak groaned. He had accomplished his goal of getting free, but he was in no shape to enjoy it. The sound of footsteps coming his way quickly reminded him that he had no time to take things easy. He rose, forcing himself into a half-squat.
“You said I could land one more hit”, trying to argue but his opponent was not having it.
Sweetrot was beyond apoplectic. Only wise caution kept him from rushing in and stomping Amerrak’s chest in.
“Where did you get this?” he growled.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“This is the seed of a Creeping Taxer. It is a parasitic mystic plant that siphons the essence of its victims. The plant is horrifyingly expensive with a mature plant worth no less than five thousand gold sovereigns. A seed is worth nearly four times as much. It has very few medical applications and only specially cultivated seedlings are suitable for those. The plant materials themselves have no use in alchemy. There’s really only one reason for you to have its seeds.”
“So you recognize your weakness?” the alchemist asked with a smirk.
“I’ll give you one chance to tell me where you got these. After that, I’ll rip you to pieces and ask your corpse.”
Amerrak laughed, cradling his healing hands. “It’s funny how you think you’re still in a position to make threats. I’ll tell you this much. There’s no way in hell, you’re winning this match.”
As he spoke, a portal opened behind him. The tip of a lengthy vine popped through. It anchored itself to the floor of the stage before pulling the rest of its python-like bulk in. Once it did, the mature creeping taxer oriented itself beside Amerrak before fixing its sight on Sweetrot, its prey.
“So let me get this straight”, Lady Bloodworth began. “That was not your phantasm, nor was it some secret technique?”
Valerian nodded. There was no use lying. Not when he was confronted with someone who could so easily see through him. His only hope was to steer the conversation away from the one thing he could not afford to have her discover; his peng abilities.
“And you had no idea what you were doing back there?” she enquired.
Here Valerian shook his head. “I did!” he stated. “It is hard to explain. I know what I did, what I felt, but it is like I was far away. Like it did not matter.”
“I see…” Lady Bloodworth said softly.
“Okay, I’ll bite. Nevertheless, I do hope you realise how outrageous your story sounds. You say that the battle with the Rudra girl woke something inside you. Some part of yourself that you have kept repressed for a long time and that it was this thing that caused the chaos in the arena”, she clarified.
“It is a story so eerily familiar that I wonder if I did not inadvertently hand you this excuse by letting Wynna be here when you woke.”
“It is the truth, ma’am!”
“The truth, huh?” she said sarcastically, leaning back into her chair. “Let us go over this truth one more time, starting from the day we met.”
“Two months ago, your tellurian attunement was going poorly. I could detect traces of Titan bone and frost iron from your essence but not your body. Your physique leaned heavily on speed, a path that contradicted with your qi attunement which focused on defence. Not wanting to assume too much I advised you to speak with your elders on the issue since it appeared your body was actively rejecting your attunement.
“When next we met, you had not only repaired the issue, your attunement had advanced far beyond anything I had considered. You showed something truly remarkable; a refined alloy. Using titan bone as a base, you established a tripartite physique layering defence, strength and speed in equal proportions. Wind speed. Titanic defence and another Titan bone aligned trait in the form of titanic strength. I was impressed but worried”, she admitted.
“That was the first thing to bring the eye of suspicion on you. Two months for a complete overhaul of your tellurian cultivation. Would you like to explain?”
“That is entirely different from the current situation. There was a bloodline requirement I was unaware of that is why my physical attunement failed. As for the tripartite physique. My phantasm is to blame. I only attuned twice. One for my wind attribute and the other for metal; speed and strength, nothing more. He did the third, and it carried over into my physical self.
A bloodline requirement?” she questioned.
Valerian then proceeded to explain about the monolithic bloodline had failed to recognize his attunement because he was unable to meet the physical requirement. He explained how he worked in tandem with his phantasm under the supervision of a few elders within his clan to satisfy the bloodline requirement. Once that was fulfilled, his attunement proceeded automatically and without trouble.
Lady Bloodworth listened quietly, nodded at some points but saying nothing. It was the first time He had been so unnerved by the presence of another.
“And the scenario in the arena?”
“There are several complications in my bloodline”, Valerian explained sheepishly.
Lady Bloodworth gave him a look that perfectly conveyed her incredulity. “Even more complications?”
Valerian could not help looking away from her doubtful eyes when he said, “Unfortunately.”
“Sum it up then!” she demanded. “Two merged bloodlines, an innate phantasm, monolithic requirements; what else?”
Steeling himself, Valerian found himself saying, “I cannot say. I apologise. What happened in the arena was not what I intended. I lost control of my power, and I regret it immensely. I will be more careful in the future.”
The old lady said nothing. Her eyes continued to bore holes into him, but she did not challenge his story. The silence dragged on until it was nearly unbearable. Only then did she break it.
“Is there any possibility of a repeat incident?”
Valerian nodded mutely.
“I see!” she added. “Do you still expect to be my apprentice?”
“I doubt that”, she pronounced. “I like to think I’m pretty liberal, lenient even. I have not asked you to spill all your secrets. Neither have I raised questions that would stray into the area of confidential clan matters. Thus far, I have narrowed my scope to you and the matters that would concern our master-apprentice relationship, but it seems you are unwilling to cooperate.”
“I am!” Valerian pleaded.
“Again, I doubt that”, Lady Bloodworth said, nonplused. “Let me tell you what I know.”
“You claim you have two blood legacies; Steel Monolith’s Transformation and Stormhawk’s Wings. These two legacies have mutated and merged, resulting in your strange transformation. Something that would not be so easily disproved if you did not have an innate phantasm and suffer clearly perceptible bloodline requirements.
“I do not see how…”
“I am not finished, young man!” The old lady cut in. Her tone broking no room for disagreement.
“Now, I would have been willing to overlook that blatant lie. It is the official stance of your clan, after all. However, not an hour ago, you lost control in an arena filled with hundreds of students, triggered your ascension and nearly killed an opponent in a simple combat trial. Another thing I would have set aside if you came clean but here you sit lying to my face.”
“Tell me, Valerian”, she enquired. “Which is it? Do you think me stupid or gullible?”
“I …I-I” Valerian looked around for answers, only to find Wynna plastering herself to a bookcase, undetectable save for the fact that her body did not blend in as well as she would have hoped. It was probably not a good sign for him. Neither was the pair of no-nonsense eyes trained on him.
“Speak up, boy!” the old lady demanded.
Once again, words failed Valerian. He tried to speak, but his throat clamped upon him, and his mouth went dry.
“The most basic requirement for a bloodline merger is that both have to be equal in power and expression; otherwise, one would simply suppress the other. You, Valerian, have an innate steel monolith phantasm, your cultivation is prefaced with requirements that have to satisfy your monolithic bloodline”, Lady Bloodworth pointed out. “How then are you a candidate for merged bloodlines?”
“The incident at the arena involved you breaking a ritual based restrictions, followed by removing all breathable particles within a 30-yard radius without affecting the air circulation in the area or lifting a single finger. At your command, storm clouds formed less than a hundred metres above the ground. The amount of wind essence in the arena quintupled in a minute.
“These are not the abilities of a Stormhawk, boy nor is it a blood legacy. That control, authority. That is the power of a spiritual legacy. The power of a Wind Lord!”
“I what?” she asked. The weight of her accusations pressing down on him.
“I am an O’be!” Valerian confessed.
The admission wrung from him before he even registered what he was saying. It was the only thing he could come up with to keep from spilling the beans. Both his grandfather and the patriarch made him swear not to ever reveal anything about the peng even on pain of death. Compared to that, giving up his connection to the O’be secret did not seem as bad.
“Blessed or Cursed?”
“Blessed!” he said with no small amazement. Lady Bloodworth knew about the O’be. Who was he kidding? Of course, she did.
She nodded and asked her next question. “Are the Steelborn a branch of the O’be?”
“What? No!” he quickly refuted.
“What’s their connection then?”
“The patriarch’s second wife, my great-grandmother came from an old O’be Line”, Valerian revealed.
“I see”, she stated. “This would be the wife who has been missing for 67 years?”
“I should think so”, Valerian said. His great-grandmother was considered missing? This was the first he was hearing of it. Although, he could not imagine how else her current state would be explained.
“So I can assume your grandfather’s noted affliction…”
“Interesting!” she intoned, leaning forward. “Now, we are getting somewhere.”