Bird in the sky
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HoGW BK V, CH 4: Secrets Out

Chapter Four: Secrets Out

“A steel monolith!?” Valerian repeated in amazement.

Within him, his phantasm stirred intrigued by the thought that they’d be facing one of their kind soon.

“How?” Valerian asked, pushing up on the butler in a daze.

Steel monoliths were rare. Valerian wasn’t sure how rare but he knew enough to say that there probably weren’t any in Bathar. If there were his family would know. Besides, only second-tier daemons were suitable for him to use in his blood rites. Being tied to his growth rate, Valerian’s phantasm aged as he did. A natural-born steel monolith at the daemon lord tier would be very young. Human toddler young. 

The butler pointed ignored Valerian barging into his personal space and gestured for him to continue walking. With a small cough to hide his embarrassment, Valerian did so. It was only when they were once more walking towards the study that the man spoke again. “It took a while to find a subject of suitable power and age but my lady did it. There’s a mining clan in Arzom who wouldn’t mind if we removed the offending creature from their holdings.”

‘Arzom?’ Valerian asked silently as he racked his memory. That was an imperial province effectively four kingdoms away. 

“This family is just going to let us go into their territory to hunt a Horde Lorde?” he inquired.

“Don’t worry, young master Valerian!” The butler assured him, not missing a step. “Everything has been handled.” 

Valerian bit his lip. That wasn’t a yes. A steel monolith was practically the best choice for his first blood rite but he could not help but imagine what it must have cost. They weren’t just killing the daemon. He was going to consume it. Lessons with Elder Richard had taught him that steel monoliths didn’t come cheap. Menhirion’s birth directly resulted in the consumption of the richest mineral lodes in the area. In the stories, it was said that the treasures that made up his body were worth more than some kingdoms. Even if it was an exaggeration, there was no possible way that whichever clan owned the site would be satisfied losing a good chunk of their mineral wealth.

As they drew closer to the study a strange guilt spread in his heart. He wondered and not for the first time if he was taking undue advantage of his teacher. However, such thoughts were dispelled when upon reaching the study, they heard loud voices coming from within.

“Why can’t I?” came a whiny voice.

“I told you why. It is important to keep your animus under control”, answered a voice that was clearly Lady Bloodworth’s. “The exercises are supposed to help you do that and not so you can develop new crutches. You are no longer to use the [Water-Fire Polarity Formation] and that’s final. Work with Robern and Hedi. Once your work with them reaches an acceptable standard, then we can have this conversation again.” 

“NO!” Wynna protested. “That’s not fair. Hue is the only one whose powers play nice with my own!”

“Exactly!” responded his teacher. “You need to stand on your own!”

Then came several seconds of indistinct mumbling. Valerian found himself glancing away, to fight the urge to eavesdrop further. 

“That’s what this is about?” came the exasperated voice of Lady Bloodworth, louder this time as if in surprise. “Fine! I will get you a fire crux to play with but only if you are stable and combat-capable with the other sub-formations by next month.”

“THANK YOU, Great-aunt Lillian!” 

The door opened and Wynna brushed past them with a shit-eating grin on her face. 

“Come in!”

Valerian was used to the study as a room of quiet comfort and scholarly pursuits. Lady Bloodworth was all, plus luxury but without the comfort at least for him. The room was situated at the rear of the manor, overlooking the gardens. Entering the room, the first thing that strikes the eye is the ornate decor. The walls were lined with richly panelled wood, with intricate carvings and mouldings. The ceiling was also adorned with elaborate plasterwork and a strange chandelier made of indeterminate crystal.

In the centre of the room, was a large desk made of fine wood, inlaid with gold, that loomed over the space like a throne. The desk had a plethora of writing instruments, papers, and books, neatly stacked in a manner that even his grandfather would take pride in. Before that desk was a pair of comfortable armchairs, upholstered in rich brocade, with plump cushions for comfort.

Against every wall of the room, stood large bookcases made of dark, polished wood. The shelves are lined with leather and bone-bound tomes, covering every subject from philosophy and science to history and literature. A couple of bookcases were also decorated with various curiosities, such as shells, fossils, and statuettes.

On one side of the room, was a fireplace made of stone, with an ornate mantlepiece above it. The flames in it burned in ways that weren’t quite right and once, Valerian saw Wynna look into the flickering tongues of fire and laugh. The weirdest part was the unshakeable feeling that the fire was laughing with her. Surrounding the fireplace were several comfortable chairs and two settees, perfect for reading or enjoying a warm fire on a cold evening.

The room itself was well-lit with multiple sources of light, including large windows draped with heavy curtains, sconces on the walls, and candles on the desk and mantle. Overall, the atmosphere should be cosy and inviting, perfect for long hours of contemplation and study.

Yet, there was something about walking into his teacher’s study that always made Valerian feel like he had done something wrong and that he was going in to be pushed. It may simply be his first impressions of the place; waking up after that near disaster during the trials. It could also be the way, Lady Bloodworth presided over it as if it were a throne room or dare he say it, his grandfather’s court. Every time he stood in it and spoke with the old lady, Valerian felt like he was going to be caught in a lie.

“Sit, sit, Valerian!” she said motioning towards a chair. “ I trust you’ve been told why I’ve called you.”

Valerian glanced towards the butler, already pouring them some tea. “Yes!” 

“I understand you’ve found a suitable candidate for my first blood rite”, he told her. “A steel monolith.”

“Yes!” she said. Thanking the butler for the tea, she added, “We will leave tomorrow to secure it. You know how your rites work?”

“I’ve spoken at length with my uncle about it”, Valerian assured her. “I should have no problems when the time comes.”

“Good”, she said taking his word for it. “Then you may leave to pack a bag and prepare yourself.” 

Valerian hesitated. “If I may ask, what did it cost?”

“Excuse me?”

The butler came to his rescue, “I believe young master Valerian is merely worried about the cost of obtaining such a pricey commodity.

The woman laughed dismissing any protests with a wave. “Please, what else am I going to spend my fortune on?”

Valerian pursed his lips. That cutting feeling of guilt was back as he was reminded yet again that the old lady in front of him was dying. The whole reason he was here in the first place was so he would have a cut of her inheritance.  

Before he knew what he was saying, the words were out of his mouth, “There’s something you should know.”

For what seemed like a full minute, Valerian stood there watching their expectant faces as he told himself that yes, he was about to do this. 

“I lied”, he began. “Back after the trials when you asked me about my abilities. My spiritual legacy does not come from the O’be.”

Lady Bloodworth sat back in her chair and steepled her fingers. She took a deep breath as if she was preparing for a deep dive before somehow managing to keep judgement out of her tone before asking, “May I know why?”

“It is supposed to be a secret. A secret I am never to tell no matter the circumstances. Only my closest family know it. 

“A secret greater than the fact that you’re an O’be?” She asked with a searching look. 

The question was understandable. What could be so important that he offered up the infamous O’be to keep it secret?

“The secrets of the O’be are safe”, Valerian explained. “Even if revealed, no one can steal my blood rites. My other bloodline, however, does not have the same protections.”

“Go on then!” she said with a ‘get on with it’ gesture. “Tell us this great secret.

Valerian stared pointedly at the butler.

Bloodworth laughed. “He is privy to things that would shatter this kingdom if revealed. Speak your secrets.”

“Very well”, Valerian said preparing to disclose perhaps the biggest secret he carried. However, as he made to speak, Valerian found himself hesitating. ‘There’s no going back!’ he realised. ‘If I am wrong, I will die here today.’

A surge of panic nearly caught him then, before a chance look into Lady Bloodworth’s eyes dispelled it. the old lady was watching him intently and ironically, that reminded him of why he was doing this in the first place. He needed to come clean. The old lady had been nothing but upfront with him and the others. Even after learning about his ties with the O’be, her attentions weren’t directed at what she could gain but at how best to help him. 

“I carry the bloodline of the KunPeng”, he said with a huge exhale. 

“That’s it?” Lady Bloodworth asked in a tone that was one part surprise and one disappointment. “You’re hiding another daemonic bloodline?”

“There’s more”, Valerian quickly cut in.

Slowly, he told her the whole story. His mother’s disappearance, his father’s search and eventual disappearance as well. The discovery that his body was self-cultivating. At first, his voice was barely above a whisper. He was terrified of what she might say, of how she might react at the revelation that he and his family had intentionally deceived her. Nevertheless, the longer he spoke, the stronger his voice grew, and soon the words were pouring out of him in a torrent. He told her everything – about the theory that he might be crippled or carry the O’be curse and about the fear that had haunted him for years before telling her about how he awakened the KunPeng’s legacy.

Lady Bloodworth listened quietly to the whole thing, her face expressionless, as he spoke. When he was finished, there was a long moment of silence. Valerian held his breath, waiting for her to say something.

“That is certainly an interesting story”, she stated in a tone that suggested she was trying to cushion the impact of something hurtful. “I shouldn’t have to say how far-fetched it sounds. It is one thing to carry a bloodline that might trace its roots to a golden-winged peng and another to claim direct descent and inheritance of THE KUNPENG. Having your bloodline directly awakened in a visit from the KunPeng’s will is…”

To Valerian’s horror, the terrible scenarios he had painted in his head of what would happen if his bloodline was discovered did not play out. Instead, something possibly worse was unfolding. Rather than cage him and harvest his bloodline and wings, he was being treated like a liar and a crazy person. 

“Wait, I can prove it!” he half-yelled before launching into his transformation. His full transformation. A form he hadn’t used in over a year.

Voluminous amounts of golden qi practically burst from Valerian’s body. Spikes grew from his joints, jutting out from his elbows, shoulders, knees and ankles and his fingernails became golden claws. His hair turned into golden bristles and the qi he expelled coalesced into translucent wings behind him.

This much was standard and the old lady and her servant had seen it several times before. However, neither of them was prepared for what came next. A suffocating feeling that tried to crush everything in the area. It was as if valerian’s monarch intent had been magnified a hundred times over. An imperious will descended on them, broadcasting its authority even as it commanded them to kneel before it. Then came the wings. Massive wings of dark gold that stretched so wide, they clipped and then cut through the walls of Lady Bloodworth’s study, sending several precious items and books onto the floor. 

Sharp golden eyes, glared down at Lady Bloodworth and her underling as if daring her to doubt him now. Valerian hung there, exulting in the feeling of power and authority this form came with as he waited for his teacher to speak.

The words that came from her mouth were not what he expected. 

“Oh, you stupid fool!”


Author’s Note:

If you’re on the discord, I am very sorry but yes. That whole quiz tangent with the O’be was merely a red herring.

4 Comments

  1. Okay… but why? I don’t know the author’s plans, but his confession came out of nowhere and wasn’t even relevant to the situation at hand. It also seems like a dumb move from a smart kid, especially in a xianxia genre story where intelligent protagonists keep their secrets.

    1. But why keep it a secret? She’s already helping him with his obe bloodline. Keeping secret abilities is one of those edgy MC things I dislike. Sure if it makes sense or it can put you in danger, do so. But not when revealing your ability can only aid you.

  2. i would suppose it came from a place of guilt, like the old woman is paying a huge price to help him get better, has been nothing but truthful with him and has shown trust and here he is, keeping secrets from her. On a second point, she is his teacher, is more knowledgable that most everyone he knows and should know about it to help actually teach him. If she don’t there’s always a chance that something that would help someone with a steel monolith descent and the o’be heritage, would damage or hinder or have unforseen consequence when in contact with the kunpeng heritage.
    At least that’s how i see it.

  3. Mmmm…
    I will have to reread but there may need to be a retcon for more build up for this. The guilt he talks about here really needs to be huge for him to confess all this.

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