Chapter Thirty-eight: Teaching is Rewarding
After her lecture, Lady Bloodworth split them up so she could work with them individually. As her premier legacy disciple, Valerian was given the first one on one lesson. Valerian did not know whether to be happy his ploy paid off or worried that he was going to be left alone with her. The woman had handed them a bomb as if it was an ornament. Admittedly, he was also concerned about the conversation they had the day before. The one where he spilt his guts until they were interrupted by the news of Sweetrot killing his opponent in the trial.
“That is enough!” Lady Bloodworth pronounced.
Valerian sighed with relief. Around him, the wind he conjured began to die down. The old lady had run him through a series of tests to confirm the truth of his abilities. She had indeed confirmed that he possessed control over the wind that only lost out to Wynna’s command of fire. However, her attitude and words to Valerian remained cold. It was clear to Valerian that he had lost some of his teacher’s trust. Unfortunately, he did not know how to remedy that.
“Is the Wind Lord legacy your only inheritance from the O’be?” she questioned.
“No!” Valerian admitted. “There is also a minor talent in illusions and a bloodline method for arcane cultivation.”
The diminutive woman nodded an expression of disinterest colouring her weathered face.
“I will have my first bloodline advancement when I ascend to the lord tier. Things might change then. Also, the method has a major boon that will be freely useable then.”
Lady Bloodworth nodded silently, taking note of the phrase ‘first bloodline advancement’ and the implications therein. Her interest was once again peaked though it did not show.
“What is the name of this method?”
“[The Manifold Elemental Incarnations]” Valerian said proudly.
“What is so special about it?”
“I…” Valerian began only to realise that he did not know how to continue.
[The Manifold Incarnations] was a top-secret method in his clan but no one had ever successfully cultivated it to the end. All he knew were the descriptions in the manual and a few anecdotes from Vorm. Stories he now realised were pretty unbelievable. Luckily, a solution came to mind.
“Let me show you!” he said to his teacher with his hands held out to her.
She gave him a quizzical look but complied putting her hands in his own. Valerian took a deep breath and closed his eyes, sinking into himself. With him was Lady Bloodworth, her spiritual presence flaring up against his senses as she followed him in. They dove deep with Valerian taking her straight to his heart aperture, the site of his arcane cultivation base.
The whole time, he tried not to think of the many ways this act could backfire on him. Elder Allard never successfully detected anything out of the ordinary when they did this; however, he was nowhere near as powerful as Lady Bloodworth. Who knew if she could see traces of the peng where everyone else failed? Not to mention the sheer number of things she could do to him now that he had let her come into contact with the core of his cultivation base.
Valerian stubbornly chose to put those dark thoughts aside. The phantasm in his abdominal aperture stirred, sending his qi into turmoil. It was not pleased that he had brought someone unfamiliar into their inner sanctum. Valerian calmed it down. The heavens knew that anything his teacher wanted from them, she could take by force. They had no way of resisting her. At best, his current disclosure was him bridging boundaries and mending broken fences. He could not afford to have Lady Bloodworth suspicious or apprehensive towards him. This was a start towards that end. The phantasm submitted with a glower but continued to watch their progress from its home.
So, he accepted her consciousness, first into his body and then, led it to his heart aperture. They soon stood before the arcane crystal that was his first tier core. It hummed softly, still caught in the aftereffects of his cancelled ascension. However, the core was not what he brought his teacher here to see. She caught on immediately, her spiritual senses locking on to the two orbs of light that orbited it.
The first orb was a thing of gold that exuded a strong commanding presence whilst the second was a soft, unassuming, cyan orb that simply flitted in the second’s wake. Both had been with Valerian since the energy condensation stage but had also changed dramatically over the years. For instance, the gold one had initially been blank and grey, whereas the cyan one used not to be so active. Additionally, both had undergone incredible growth since his transformation at the hands of the KunPeng; going from fist-sized motes of light to orbs the size of a man’s head.
Lady Bloodworth stared at them for a few moments before prodding them with her spiritual senses to confirm her suspicions. Opening her eyes, she stared right into Valerian’s own, scaring him with the undisguised desire they held.
“Embryonic cruxes!” she breathed out in wonder.
“Actual cruxes of the metal and wind elements in their early stages of formation! How is that possible?” she asked.
“No!” she revised. “That’s the wrong question. What are the requirements for their growth?”
“I genuinely have no real idea”, Valerian confessed. “I have neither the comprehension nor the cultivation base to understand their inner workings. The further you cultivate with the method, the more they grow. At the first tier, they do nothing except passively increase your elemental affinity and intensity of your essence. However, at higher tiers, I am supposed to be able to cultivate them and use them in externally.”
“I’ll bet!” the old lady exclaimed. “How many can you have?”
“As many as your affinities, I think”, Valerian answered. “It is impossible to split the one you already have but you should be able to cultivate a separate one if you gain a new affinity. because I remember my uncle advising that their best use is merging all new gains into one to maximise your power.”
“Can you truly cultivate the cruxes whichever way you wish?” she asked incredulously. “No side effects or sacrifices?”
There had to be a catch somewhere. It would be too powerful otherwise. The ability to cultivate your own elemental crux from scratch, already bound, already mastered. It was inconceivable.
“In theory”, her new student answered. “As I mentioned earlier, it all depends on your affinity. A fire cultivator cannot have a water crux. Even when working with your affinity, it still comes down to what you feed your crux, in addition to, your natural talent.”
“As for side effects… I do not know”, Valerian admitted. “All I know is that the O’be have relied on [The Manifold Elemental Incarnations] and our bloodline throughout our history and there are no side effects besides the usual. Both were created by our founder.”
Lady Bloodworth stared at him, seemingly at a loss for words. World essence was a living thing, ebbing and flowing like the tide. It could be used by cultivators and daemons alike, and when the circumstances permitted, it would gather inside regular materials, transforming them into essence imbued materials. However, imbued materials were ordinary in the face of elemental cruxes. If an imbued object was caused by a concentration of elemental essence, then a crux was the concentration of elemental principles.
They were proper heavenly treasures, objects and materials marked by the laws of the elements. A simple low-ranked elemental crux could cause countless cultivators to come into conflict. By relying on them, you could increase your powers and affinities. However, you could also use them as reference points to glean insight into the elements and their aspects. This was something even Lady Bloodworth had once done. Few knew that her lifeblood flame was actually an elemental crux she had gotten through a life or death experience.
She examined the embryonic cruxes floating about her new disciple’s core and was overcome with a rare feeling of envy. These two were incredibly weak, not even half-formed. They were masses of energy without substance. However, when they were completed, they would show their might. If she was correct, then the reason for their existence was akin to that of a preterm aspect.
By folding all your elemental insights into such a crux, a cultivator could theoretically create a fusion of aspects under their complete control. They would not even have to perform the fusion themselves. Just feeding their insights into the embryos would do. The final version would become anything the creator desired; an essence battery, a weapon, or even…. the implications of the term incarnation began to play in Lady Bloodworth’s mind. This was sounding less like a cultivation method and more like an immortal legacy.
“It is true what they say then”, she finally admitted. “The O’be truly do defy the heavens!”
Looking at Valerian, she pursed her lips. As implausible as the boy’s story sounded, she was actually beginning to believe it. This required more research. Thankfully, she had someone she could consult.
It said something about Lady Bloodworth’s inner state that Wynna was able to sense her pensiveness when she came by. The redhaired girl said nothing but something must have shown on her face, because the old lady looked at her and said, “You’ve got a lot of competition, child.”
Wynna looked past her clanswoman to the armoured youth in the distance.
“He’s good but Hue’s better!” She defended.
Strangely, Lady Bloodworth did not contest this. Nodding, she said, “Your friend is another, true. Never have I seen a first-tier with as much killing potential. Nevertheless, that is not what I was referring to.”
The redhead took another glance at Valerian, but she could not see what her clanswoman saw. She had taken a look at recordings of his fight. Whatever spiritual legacy he had was significant enough to matter but nothing that could challenge a titan childe. Nevertheless, she did not discount the old lady’s claims. They did, however, make her curious.
“Come!” Lady Bloodworth said. “Transform! The first thing we need to do is get you accustomed to the animus. We cannot have you developing an alternate personality. When you truly learn to embrace the blaze, the blaze will become you. Everything else would come naturally with time.”
Wynna turned back to Valerian, shooting the other youth one last look before centring her gaze on Lady Bloodworth.
“I want it!” she demanded. “I want the World’s End!”
The old lady gave her an incredulous look before informing her, “That flame does not suit you.”
Pausing for a second as if thinking it over she added, “There are others, however. Other paths that are much more suitable, but before I teach them to you, you must master the animus. From this moment on, you will tend to the blazing spirit. You must live as the spirit, and more importantly, you must control it.”
Emphasising her point, she reminded Wynna, “That means, no thralls, no flame dens, no random flares, no flashovers. Every time you burn something without permission, you will be punished. Do you understand?”
Wynna nodded, her jaw set in resolution.
“Good!” Lady Bloodworth acknowledged. “Now transform. Your first task is to remain in the Blazing State for a whole day. Remember never to drop the animus. You may turn down the flame, but you must keep the animus.
Bowing her head, Wynna turned into herself. Summoning the blaze within she let it overtake her until all the world was in shades of red and yellow. Fire attributed world essence gathered around her, fuel for the blaze within. Keeping the transformation at bay, she reached for the animus, the spiritual inheritance that decreed to the world that she was heir to a titan. This was a whole other transformation, one of the spirit but not the body.
Her father referred to the animus as a writ of authority or a royal seal. It was not something substantial, just a spark of true titanic flame. With it, you make a case for that titan’s authority. You seized a portion of his domain as your inheritance. Fire became nothing before you. All who worshipped it, in turn, prayed to you. You became royalty, confident in the knowledge that you were born to rule the laws of fire. Unfortunately, this came at a price. It was the power of a titan, and even the smallest portion was not something intended to be wielded by human beings. Many were they that lost themselves to it. Wynna herself knew one clan elder who had abandoned his physical self to live as an elemental lord.
The animus was a precious gift, but it was also a thing to be feared. As someone who had inherited more than most, Wynna was acutely aware of this. When she transformed, it was like she was a different person. She could never truly control it the same way you could never control an actual blaze. You could contain it, but you could never command it. The clan had tried several methods, but not even the elders could get her in line. To the animus, she was a cut above the rest, and even their anima acknowledged this. It allowed her, as the true princess, to disregard their commands knowing that the clan cared too much for her gift to force them on her. That is until she met Lady Bloodworth.
She had never seen anything like it. For the first time, she felt small, insignificant. Her animus had roared at her to bow before a superior flame. When she was told that the woman was to be her teacher, a hope was born. The hope that one day, she too could grow into a blaze that potent.
Today, as she embraced the animus, it was strangely calm almost as it was in anticipation. The World’s End had confirmed for her that the decision to follow was right. This was the only place she could grow.
Lady Bloodworth watched Wynna go about her practice in her blazing state. The girl’s animus was strong. Stronger than hers. Like all her other disciples, this one had the potential to be great. However, she was also the most likely to become a calamity. Even so, the old lady had high hopes for her. All that power and talent. It was hard to think the petite girl had never actually trained a day in her life. Initially, Lady Bloodworth had wondered how she would motivate such a character. Now, she believed she had the perfect patsy.
Leaving the burning girl, she walked towards her problem child. The earthen mage perked up when she saw her coming before doubling down on her display of elemental manipulation. Lady Bloodworth admired her drive. It made matter less complicated for among the five, Heidi was the one lagging behind.
In Valerian, she had a mystery with so much skill and variety. Wynna had so much talent and potential, it was unfair. The swordswoman was a killing machine that only needed polishing and a guide into supplementary paths. As for Sweetrot, the brash youth had somehow developed a preterm aspect without guidance or resources. Compared to them, plain Hiedi simply did not cut it. She was an excellent cultivator who lacked anything that would make her stand out. Four exceptional disciples were more than anyone could reasonably ask for but Lady Bloodworth, wanted…no, needed five! That meant finding a way to raise Heidi to the level of the others.
Thinking back to Valerian’s elemental cruxes, she smiled again. She already had a plan that would work. Thankfully, she had a lot of experience with what she was going to do. However, it would require a lot of investment to pull off without crippling the girl.
‘That is quite alright’, the old lady said with a private smile. ‘The challenging ones are often very rewarding.’