Chapter Forty-seven: The Promised Legacy
“The question then is how?” Lady Bloodworth told them. “That’s easy.”
She pointed at the roof of the pavilion, Valerian’s eyes followed her finger only to widen with stunned disbelief. He had been so concerned with the essence convergence dais below him that he never thought to look up. What greeted him now was an array of such complexity that he actually could not understand its purpose at first glance. He simply looked at the essence channels and gulped.
“The first legacy I will pass on to you is a supplementary technique called [The Grand Order of the Five Phases]”, Lady Bloodworth said wistfully. “It is the technique that first made me famous or infamous depending on who you ask.”
“[The Grand Order of the Five Phases] is a special formation technique. It can be used to boost cultivation, attacks, defences, perception and even attain spiritual enlightenment. It is an ultimate all-in-one technique and fair warning. There are people who will kill to gain this technique. Many have already tried”, his teacher warned. “Despite the dangers, I am teaching you this technique because by becoming my disciples, it is already assumed that you will learn it. The oaths I had you swear will prevent you from casually spilling your guts but be warned, that would not stop the determined or the truly powerful.”
“It’s too bad you no longer have the chance to back out”, she added grinning down at them.
If that was meant to intimidate them, it failed. Conversely, Valerian’s back straightened. This was what he was here for. He was prepared to face any consequences.
“In principle, the technique you are about to learn is quite simple. Everyone knows the cycle of the five elements; Wood feeds fire, fire creates earth, earth births metal, metal channels water and water nourishes wood in the promotion cycle. This is different in the opposing cycle in which water quenches fire, fire melts metal, metal chops wood, wood saps earth and earth dams water” Lady Bloodworth recited.
Valerian nodded to himself, recalling all the times he was restrained and burned by fire users. He felt confident that he understood the cycle quite well which was why he was surprised by Lady Bloodworth next sentence.
“There are also the lesser-known reverse cycles where wood drains water, water rusts metal, metal deprives earth, earth smothers fire and fire consumes wood and a second where water restrains fire, fire tempers metal, wood strengthens earth, metal carves wood and earth houses water.”
Reverse cycles? This was the first he had never heard of them. Listening intently, Valerian tried to digest this new information. At first glance, ‘wood feeds fire’ and ‘fire consumes wood’ were the same thing. The only difference was the language. Was that it then? With a small change in position and wording, the interaction between the two elements went from supportive in the first instance to exploitative in the second.
“[The Grand Order of the Five Phases] is a formation that essentially allows humans to personally employ these cycles. Due to this, it requires five participants from each of the five elements. The better the qualifications and affinity of its users, the better the results”, his teacher was saying. She waited for a beat to let it sink in. Now, they understood why she had chosen them. Why she had practically forced them to attain pre-term aspects.
“The origins of the technique are not well understood”, she confessed. “My teacher found it relatively intact in a ruin he came across in his travels. He believed that it came from the Northern Isles but was never able to confirm it. Provenance is especially difficult because the technique had little in relation to the ruin he found it in. He ruled then that the owner of the formation was either a guest at the place or similar to himself, an adventurer seeking fortune within it.
“Having been to the ruin myself, I concur with the first theory. The faction that once stood at the ruin practised techniques only tangentially related to the five-element cycle”, she revealed. “Techniques employing the elemental cycles are not rare and we know from antiquity that the philosophy of the five-element cycle originated from the northeast. What makes this one special is that it doesn’t lose effectiveness even when employed at the Sage tier.”
“The key to the formation is a special matrix I will now pass on to you”, she said walking around the dais and placing her hands on each of their heads starting with Valerian.
“Concentrate on it. Once you have finished establishing it, I will pass on the second part, the mantra.”
As an array master, Valerian found the matrix simple to build. This one relied more on essence control and arrangement than obscure glyphs which made it even easier. However, the moment he did, he felt it reach out without his askance. Suddenly, he was aware of everyone in the dais in a way he wasn’t before. He could feel the matrix in him resonate with the ones his colleagues were building. However, the moment it touched theirs, their half-built matrices collapsed creating feedback that promptly smashed his own to bits.
“Sorry!” he exclaimed sheepishly to his glaring teammates.
Concentrating, Valerian reached out to Hue with his essence. Chanting slowly under his breath, he felt the tether latch on forming the first of many links. It was a strange sensation. The mental matrix already gave them a sort of spiritual network. The essence link strengthened it. He could sense her in his mind, feel her trying to adjust to his essence. He shifted uncomfortably. Something about this felt very intimate. His eyes snapped open checking to see if anyone was watching him. Breathing a sigh of relief that the formation did not actually carry thoughts, he settled back in.
“Would you knock it off?” Sweetrot yelled at him as he fumbled with the connection. “How’s anyone supposed to concentrate with you breathing so loudly?”
Valerian grit his teeth and ignored him. Through the network, he felt Sweetrot’s tentatively pass some of his essence on to Wynna. She twitched, her back straightening as if electrified and her own essence was magnified. Flames began to appear in the air around her as she too reached out to Heidi.
“Too much! That’s too much Wynna! I can’t…” Heidi yelled. It was like watching a house of cards fall in slow motion. She lost control and her matrix collapsed. It rippled through the network and the whole thing fell apart.
“SORRY!” Wynna exclaimed sheepishly.
“It’s okay! Let’s calm down and try again. Slower this time”, Valerian said softly.
Wynna was clearly in the wrong here but she was not the only one. No one wanted to say it but something was off with Heidi. Her control was shot and it did not help that her essence seemingly calcified anything she channelled it through. Valerian had to take special care not to be affected. He could only hope that whatever the cause, she would get it together quickly.
The matrix collapsed again as Hue failed to properly pass the accumulated essence to Sweetrot for the nth time.
This was not working. Intellectually, Valerian knew that he should not expect success so soon. There was so much that needed to be done right, from the matrix to the mantra to mind state to the essence links to the essence channels. [The Grand Order of the Five Phases] placed high demands on their concentration and essence control, failing at the slightest mistake. It was overwhelmingly complicated.
Lady Bloodworth had warned that this was a difficult technique to use let alone master and they would need a lot of practice. Even so, it had been days and they did not seem to be making any progress. They had yet to successfully complete a single cycle. Everyone was getting frustrated, himself included.
If only they had some means to control the process itself.
“Wait, I think I have an idea”, Valerian said feeling a plan form in his head. “Try not to resist!”
He pulsed his essence, enveloping them in his monarch intent.
“What are you on about, Steelborn?” Sweetrot asked.
“Sssh! Let me concentrate!” he asked.
It had been a while since Valerian employed his monarch intent and he was a bit surprised at how much it had changed.
It was met with resistance. Heidi was an implacable wall. Sweetrot was full of thorny resistance. Hue and Wynna, however, released monarch intents of their own. There was a shrill cry as the essence around them was cut into shreds by at least a dozen illusory swords. What little remained was flash heated as a wave of fiery will crashed into Valerian’s own. Unlike Valerian’s forceful intent, this one cared little for fealty. It simply demanded that everything in its way burn. That the world be filled with flame. Affronted, it challenged him for supremacy, however, Valerian did not want a fight.
“Please!” he begged, his plea ringing through both his intent as well as the network.
Heidi was the first to capitulate. She sighed and lowered her defences, her essence joining his own. Hue was next, cautiously calming the swords revolving around her. A few tense heartbeats later, they parted, letting him in.
“Fuck!” Sweetrot swore, his will joining in. “Don’t think this makes you boss of me, Steelborn!”
Only Wynna was left. Valerian turned to her. Her hair was on fire and though she had not transformed, he could see the shadow of her animus in her eyes. This was going to be difficult. To his shock, the opposing intent receded. He reached out, grabbing on to it with his own causing Wynna to look at him in surprise.
He smiled in response. He had been immersed long enough in the [The Grand Order of the Five Phases] to know that they were supposed to promote each other. This formation was supposed to complement their abilities and enhance them together. Together! That was the keyword here. Valerian doubted they could form a mutually beneficial cycle by suppressing each other.
He tried changing the structure of his intent. It tried to resist but resistance was futile from the start. It was his intent and not the other way around. Valerian had all the authority. He blunted its forceful edge and tried again to invite Wynna in. His intent was inherently one that carried him and all who sided with him to greatness. She wanted to fill the world with flames? Fine. He would help with that. Let the world be overrun with flames. Let all who stood against them burn.
They would conquer the world together. All she had to was reach out to him as he did her. Wynna’s reaction to this was nearly comical. Her eyes widened in shock and her mouth fell open. Even her animus seemed taken aback. Tentatively, her intent joined with his, her fire meeting his gold. It was uncomfortable like sticking your hand in a fire and for a moment, Valerian feared that he may have been too eager. Then, Hue joined in.
Her intent was cool and sharp, regulating Wynna’s heat whilst resonating with his gold. The illusory swords that revolved around her left her side and scattered themselves through the formation guarding the connection points. This had the effect of shielding Heidi and Sweetrot from the forge that the dais was fast becoming. Slowly, they acclimated to this new state and when they were ready, they tried again.
Valerian’s intent worked as a bridge with Wynna’s intent as an accelerant and Hue acting as a regulator.
Belatedly, Valerian realised that he could not both control the formation and work within it. There were limits to his multitasking ability. The focus needed to actually cultivate and the concentration required to control the formation meant that he could not be outside directing it and inside as a component at the same time. Unless… Answering his thoughts, his phantasm manifested around him.
Suddenly, there were two of him. Better still, his phantasm radiated pure metal essence. looking deeper Valerian recognised the aspect of strength he condensed during his ascension.
‘That’s where that went!’ he realised.
The addition of the phantasm changed the formation. there was a sixth-place, only there wasn’t. The phantasm and Valerian were one and the same. Much like the two sides of a coin were the same coin. They bore the same essence and the formation recognised that. It operated even smoother once the pure metal aspect was allowed to proliferate amongst its fellows.
Their essence surged forth like a river, cutting channels between them. They grew resilient, irrepressible and undying. They burned through anything their way, radiating a heat that warmed them all. They bent the world to Their will, shaping it as they pleased. Together, they were stalwart, strong and powerful.
Lady Bloodworth watched the spectacle in the pavilion, Theoren at her side. The two of them could actually see the essence swirling around her disciples. More significantly, with each revolution, the amount and potency of swirling essence increased.
“I’ll admit”, she began, setting her tea down. “That is a solution I did not predict. Two weeks earlier than projected too.”
Theoren, for his part, seemed worried. “I told you so. Your team only had two pre-term aspects and your animus. They have five aspects, a phantasm, an animus and three monarchs between them. I’m more concerned if it is stable?”
He was right, her disciples were better suited than her team was. The formation responded strongly to their essence. “More stable than what they were attempting before. However, there is a danger of him becoming the eye of the formation if this continues.”
“Like your husband?” he asked.
“Yes”, she admitted softly. “He grounded us but whenever he was absent, the difficulty of using even the sub formations of [The Grand Order of the Five Phases] multiplied tenfold.” That was how her team died. Their enemies targeted the centre of their formation until he fell. In the end, only two of them survived and no matter how much they tried or who they added, they could never get it to work again.
Pursing her lips at the unpleasant memories, she added, “They will learn faster this way but if it becomes ingrained, they’ll be unable to use it without him. I do what I can to break them out of it.”
It was a weakness she would be sure to remove, even if she had to break them to do so.
“Ahem! Sorry to interrupt, milady but I caught this ruffian sneaking past the wards!” her butler announced.
Floating in the air beside him was a young man bound in restraints. It took a few moments for Lady Bloodworth to place him but once she did, she recognised him as one of Valerian’s former squad members from Strapping’s.
“I was going to place him in the dungeons but he was most insistent that he be brought to his master first”, the servant added with a meaningful look as he handed over a ritual dagger. The dagger was marked with the unique signature of an old comrade.
Seeing it, Lady Bloodworth sighed in frustration. This just got a whole lot more complicated. While she would never call the Shadow King a friend, they were, or had been, colleagues. There was an unspoken agreement of non-interference that ensured they stayed out of each other’s way. This could potentially compromise that. Nevertheless, she could not deny the shadowed dagger access to Valerian without crossing one of the fundamental traditions of his Order.
“Is that all you brought with you, little dagger?”
“No!” the brat said with a confident smile. “The King’s Shadow regrets that he is unable to come in person but says that he’ll cede if you accept that I saw him first.”
Bloodworth’s eyes narrowed. Doing that would mean enshrining Valerian’s status as the master of the brat with all that it entailed. It was tantamount to letting the other party insert a spy in her midst. Conversely, not doing so… there was a challenge in those words. She scoffed. There was little doubt who would win in a proper duel but fighting the King’s Shadow would mean drawing the ire of the Royal family and the possible displeasure of the other Guardians. Plus, the other party was willing to cede all rights to Valerian, including the possibility of future recruitment if she granted this.
“Find him a room close to his master’s!” she announced. The reactions to this were to be expected.
The butler frowned but nodded whereas the dagger looked positively jubilant.
“You may move freely… within reason”, she warned. “Report your success to your minders and inform them that if I spot any shadows beside yourself around my property they would burn.”
She supposed there were weirder things than having an assassin at your beck and call.
“Tut-tut! So much trouble over one apprentice”, Theoren said leaning back in his chair. “Honestly, Lily, you should have let me have him!”
“Oh, shut it you!”
END OF BOOK FOUR
Yeah! I’ve been sitting on the ending of book four for months but hey, finally, Bloodworth’s Legacy is revealed. The original legacy is one thing but now, imagine all that but in a single person. Sheesh!
Wu Xing is a relatively complex and fundamental subject in eastern philosophy and I can only hope I did it justice.
As usual, Valerian continues to complicate matters. A fitting end to Book IV.
Pugio is back! I don’t know how much you remember about the shadow daggers so let’s recap. Daggers are remnants of an ancient religious order that operate freely in Bathar. Once, they nearly toppled the kingdom. After their defeat, an Imperial Envoy bound them to the current ruling dynasty (the daggers are a slight exception).
Daggers take on lords who become their masters so long as they wield them well. The leader of their Order is the King’s Shadow (ominous significant title), and he is a member of the Guardians, Lady Bloodworth’s old crew.
Valerian gained the allegiance of Pugio in BK III, CH 46: Dark-winged Vassal when they were both at Strapping’s.
Valerian learned the true nature of the daggers in BK IV, CH 9: People of Shadow.