Author’s Note: This is a special bonus release on account of my younger brother’s birthday. It’s why the release is late. Comment happy birthday, LeonKnight!
Chapter Forty-two: Corroboration
According to Lady Bloodworth, the keys to condensing an aspect were affinity, comprehension, and corroboration. First, you developed a high affinity for an element. Then, you attained insight into its principles and found a way to corroborate that insight with your subjective experience. Thanks to their superior spiritual senses, lord tier cultivators found the affinity and insight requirements easy to complete. That would not be the case for them. Insight was their problem, however, that did not mean there was no way around it.
They could pick an aspect and work towards its comprehension requirements with their corroboration. Technically, this would create an inferior aspect, but that would be mitigated by the ascension process. However, it was extremely resource-intensive. As Valerian watched servant after servant cart chest after chest into the ascension chambers, he wondered if the gains were even worth the cost.
Lady Bloodworth had a whole wing of the manor given to them for this purpose and had a new pavilion made for them behind the estate. Their new wing was renovated and converted into cultivation chambers. This was jaw-dropping enough, but it was the pavilion that drew all of Valerian’s attention. At the centre of this pavilion was an artefact Valerian never believed he would see; an essence convergence dais. He watched stunned as Elder Theoron integrated the essence convergence dais into the new pavilion. The old lady was sparing no expense to aid their ascension. This made the pressure even more unbearable.
“Have you decided which aspects you will aim for”, Lady Bloodworth asked her disciples.
They sat together in the study. With luck, this would be the last time they saw each other before becoming lords. All the preparations were over and done with. The old lady simply wanted to know what they had decided on. So long as their plans were feasible, she would let them progress with the next step. Valerian went first.
“I have decided on an arcane wind speed aspect and a tellurian metal strength aspect”, he told her plainly.
“Why?” she inquired.
“It makes the most sense to me”, he confessed. “Growing up, my three greatest traits are control, strength and speed. Improving on what I have already is the next logical step. Additionally, these choices synergise best with my bloodlines and combat style. Maybe, it would even further the co-operation between me and my phantasm.”
The old lady nodded, seemingly agreeing with his thoughts. However, Valerian was not done.
“You said that corroboration was more about how much a concept resonated with you whiles comprehension dealt with its inner workings”, Valerian added. “Speed and strength are the concepts I believe resonate with me the most.”
Lady Bloodworth gave him a deep look. “I await good news then.”
Hue pushed forward to say her piece, “Mine is the aspect of the river.”
As she spoke, a stream of water qi run down her arm, curling around it as if in demonstration.
“The power of rivers is what pushed me to study water art in the first place. I believe that an aspect of the river will allow me to gain the most out of my affinity whiles complimenting my sword skills.”
Not to outdone Wynna went next, only she said one word, “Burning.”
Lady Bloodworth nodded in approval. However, Valerian detected a lot subtext to the exchange. He wondered what it was about.
“I have reviewed my skills and accounted for your advice. It leads me to believe that earth moulding is the best choice for me”, Hiedi said in a resolute tone.
“You have all made good choices, and I am eager to see you succeed”, their teacher declared. “All that’s left is the act itself. I wish you well.”
Understanding that they were being dismissed. The four of them left. Sweetrot watched, saying nothing. Amazingly, he had recovered in less than half of his initial two-month estimate. Their teacher obtained for him, every resource needed to make that possible. His recovery also meant that he could finally be put to work. The other left towards their new chamber, leaving him Lady Bloodworth. He had his own ascension to work towards.
As they left, Valerian turned to Wynna, asking, “Pardon me, I’m just surprised that you chose burning. I thought you would choose something more your style, like explosions.”
The redhaired girl pouted, leaving Hue to laugh and answer in her place. “Lady Bloodworth forbade it. It seems an explosion preterm would make her essence too volatile for some fields of arcane study. She would rather Wynna have no preterm at all than choose that.”
Valerian tried to imagine having arcane energy that took every chance to explode. Problems quickly began to present themselves, proving the old lady’s point. For example, his arrays would no longer work. Drawing glyphs would immediately become analogous to making bombs. It was not the only problem, but it was the one Valerian’s mind seized on.
“I think she’s right”, he said in defence of their teacher.
Wynna groaned, “Not you too!”
Throwing her hands up in mock defeat, she ‘stormed off’ grumbling. Hue laughed again, a melodious thing that Valerian had grown accustomed to hearing. Slowly but surely, her friend was growing accustomed to this place. Even her filters, walls she designed to keep people away, were coming down. Looking around, she noticed that she and Valerian were the only ones left. Heidi must have gone ahead during their chat. Did Wynna just…
Valerian’s mouth was suddenly dry. “Good luck with the… uh, everything.”
She raised an eyebrow, stepping close enough that he could see the pulsing glow of her eyes. “That’s it?”
“Y-yes”, he stumbled. “It is very important.”
“I see”, Hue said disappointed.
“Well good luck with the important everything too, Valerian”, she said as she turned to leave.
He groaned. This was harder than it ought to be. He slipped his hands into his pocket and begun to walk after her.
Passing her by, all he could think to say was, “You’re important too!”
The smile she gave him made it all worth it until he heard Wynna’s squeal.
Valerian sat in a meditative pose going through the motions; clearing the mind, cycling his forces, generally making sure he was in an optimal state for the task ahead. Opening his eyes, he checked again to be sure that all the resources he required were with him. Pillars of titan bone marked three points in a triangle around him. There were elemental essence stones in his spatial ring. The mercurial orb was floating right above him. As for the recordings, he would not need those. Why would he need anything besides his inherited memories to teach him about the wind, about speed? They were just to throw Lady Bloodworth off the scent.
Slowly he centred himself, sinking into a trance and pulsed on his forces, starting with his qi, the often problematic one. Following that, he drew on his connection to the metal element until he could hear ringing in his ear. He just kept building on it, working continuously so that it felt like his entire body was thrumming to that same ring. Were his eyes open, he would see the air around him become cloudy with pure metal attributed world essence. The pillars of titan bone even began to glow, pulsing as they drank this essence in. It was not enough.
Valerian focused on his physique, the embodiment of titanic strength he and Elder Richard had worked on. Soon, his body was glinting like a metallic sculpture, the transformative nature of its qi pushed to the limit. It resonated with the refined pillars placed around him as if like was recognising like. Then, it entered a cycle with the world essence it had drawn around it. This created an odd effect where it was as if the light glinting off Valerian was being caught bu the thick clouds of essence around him and reflected back to him. That was the affinity portion done.
Moving on, Valerian focused on his comprehension. What was strength? The most straightforward answer was that it was the capacity to exert or withstand great force, but how did that relate to the metal element? Luckily, Valerian knew the answer to this by heart. He was a Steelborn, a descendant of Menhirion. His clan practically wrote the book on strength. Valerian thought on the numerous tidbits he had heard or read over the years, about [The Great Monolithic Art], about titan bone, the material he was relying on as a corroboration aid.
Titan bone was not the most powerful metal, but it was one of the toughest and strongest. Alloys of it were used in every field of endeavour where load strength and toughness were required. Valerian himself relied on it for his attunement. More than that, Valerian had worked with it in Elder Richard’s forge. He understood the metal on a deep level. Valerian did not just meditate on strength, he meditated on how titan bone was an expression of strength in metal; strength he possessed. He conveyed this to the essence around him only to meet silence.
That did not deter him. Lady Bloodworth had already told them, “You do not have the spiritual perception required to sense these concepts, so do not even try. Your job is to show that you know enough about them. That you have experienced enough of it. That you are a good enough channel. That you are deserving of the honour of possessing it. You are children. You just need to perform up to the point where the powers that be simply clap and say, ‘Well done, here’s a cookie!'”
Thus, Valerian treated it like a debate. He did not know if there was a consciousness behind the essence he was communicating with, but he presented a case. All he wanted was a sign of approval. When it came, it came as a feeling. For Valerian, it was like the essence around him was beginning to radiate the same ideas he was pushing in. Grinning in triumph, he knew he had what he needed.
Relying on this feeling, he shifted to corroboration. He had proven his affinity to the element. Valerian had revealed his insight into its principles and his comprehension of its inner workings. Now, he just needed to get that concept to resonate with him. This was strange because it felt like he was doing it backwards. In truth, he was. Condensing an aspect was supposed to be a matter of subjective experience, followed by affinity and then finally, comprehension that led to insight into the concepts.
That meant that in a way, Valerian’s current argument was circular. Rather than think on this, he chose instead to focus on his own experiences of metallic strength. Recalling his cultivation experiences from childhood to present was enlightening to Valerian. It was akin to going to the back well for water only to find food and money as well. At first, he searched for distinct ways his life tied into the concept, the many times the strength of his body put him ahead of others. However, eventually, he saw more than that. More connections began to made and with each link that external feeling of strength became stronger. Now, all he had to do was condense it.
Drawing this intangible feeling in felt like trying to force an entire melon into his mouth but Valerian persisted. His surroundings changed to reflect this. The further along he got, the weaker the external sensation of strength felt and the greater his own grew. As time went on, Valerian saw a large symbol take form in his naval aperture. The symbol, his new aspect sigil, shone with compressed metallic grey essence. It looked like an array glyph. Sadly, it was utterly indecipherable. Nevertheless, its meaning was practically radiated over the entirety of the naval aperture. There was only one more step now. Valerian needed to absorb the aspect sigil into his qi core. He chose not to.
Valerian still had one more aspect to condense. Absorbing the strength sigil now would increase his power but dampen his connection to the wind element. He would not have that. Condensing the strength aspect at full power and affinity was already one of the most challenging things he had ever done. He could not imagine having to do so weakened. So long as he prevented the sigil from dispersing, all would be well. Thus, he decided to go ahead and condense a speed sigil with his arcane energy first before absorbing both aspects at the same time.
This was his first mistake.
Taking out several essence stones, Valerian drained their contents until he was back at peak capacity. Then, he calmed his mind before starting again. This time, Valerian went through the process with his arcane energy, focusing solely on the wind element. The only part where his modus changed was when he was summing up his insights. Disregarding the essence recordings, Lady Bloodworth obtained for him, he dived deep within himself for his inherited memories, searching for those that involved his ancestor in flight. He focused on the screeching wind, the beating wings and most of all, the speed. The blinding speed that earned the peng its fame. Valerian opened himself to the bestial mind within, sinking in to experience them for himself.
That was his second mistake.
Author’s Note: You guys should thank the guys on the discord for this one. They insisted that the bonus chapter be an HoGW release. I was going to do two DC/RH instead (I know HoGW hate hearing this but it’s got more readers).
My plan was to release CH 42 this Saturday evening knowing that there would no HoGW uploads until Tuesday, just enough time to let the cliffhanger marinate.
It’s ruined now! I would have gotten away with it too if not for those meddling readers and their discord accounts!