Bird in the sky

HoGW BK V, CH 6: An Incredible Find

Chapter Six: An Incredible Find

The study had once been a magnificent sight to behold. With its rich oak panelling and gleaming brass fixtures, it was a testament to wealth and refinement. Shelves lined with rare leather-bound books, knickknacks gathered over centuries of travel and a desk that was a masterpiece of intricate woodwork; this place once offered its mistress space for moments of quiet contemplation and focused work.   

Now, the study lay in ruins. 

The tornado that was the transformed Valerian had torn through the place like a vengeful god, ripping apart the walls and scattering debris in every direction. Many books were strewn about the room, their pages torn and fluttering in the wind. The desk lay in pieces, its once delicate carvings smashed beyond recognition. The formerly pristine panelling was now marred by deep gouges and scratches, where his wings ripped through them and the brass fixtures had been twisted out of shape. The windows had been blown out and sprinkled shards of glass across the gardens.

In the midst of the destruction, a few remnants of the study’s former glory remained. A silver pen lay on the floor, its nib bent and tarnished. A leather-bound journal lay open, its pages flapping in the breeze. A painting hung askew in the corner, its gilt frame dented and scratched.

Lilian Bloodworth stood amidst the chaos and looked at the pitiful sight of the once-majestic study reduced to a scene of ruin. Around her, a battalion of servants, commanded by her esteemed butler, worked to put the pace to rights. They picked up the pieces and cleaned the debris. Damaged items were carefully set aside to be repaired and new panels even as new panels and fixtures were brought in for the repairs. With time and effort, the study might one day be rebuilt and made even more magnificent than before.

“The requested materials are in milady”, Crevan informed her. “Repairs will proceed upon your say so.”

“How long?” she asked absentmindedly.

“Three days at the most if you would allow me to reinforce this place with magic”, came his answer.

She nodded, permitting him to do as he wished. Her eyes and attention focused on something else entirely. 

The old woman held the two feathers in her gnarled hands, her eyes squinting as she peered closely at them. They were huge, easily as long as her arm, thicker than her fingers and wider than the width of her palm. These were the feathers of Valerian’s true form. The feathers of a giant bird of legend she had never seen the likes of before. They were the feathers of a Golden Winged Peng, or at least a decent stand-in.

She turned the feathers over in her hands, examining them from every angle with senses beyond the ken of mortals. The feathers were a bright, lustrous gold with frighteningly sharp edges that shimmered in the light. With careful motions, she traced the symbols seemingly embossed on them. They changed with the feather’s shimmer, one moment they were crashing waves, frothing and fierce. The next, sea foam became clouds, carried aloft by what had once been waves but now were rising winds. A shiver of excitement ran down her spine. Lilian could feel their power humming under her fingertips and the sheer momentum they commanded.

Her butler glanced her way, his attention drawn by the thrumming pulse she had coaxed from the magical feathers.

“They cut through my shield like it wasn’t even there”, he said softly and with some reproach. He wasn’t sure they should be handling something so dangerous so casually. 

Lady Bloodworth nodded before explaining. “Fragmentary laws engraved on the feathers. Secrets of movement unhindered by weather, conditions at sea or obstacles. I doubt anything could restrict them without first overwhelming them with power and law.” 

“We’re lucky”, she added. “The boy had no true idea how to use them properly or you’d be missing a head. It’s a heady mix of spatial, wind and water laws.” 

“The legends say the peng was so large that when it flew, clouds would rest on its wings.” 

His mistress scoffed. “Probably ’cause it didn’t flap. Metal giant wouldn’t need to with its innate wind mastery. 

“How do they work?”

“It’s an innate daemonic artefact. They all work the same”, she said referencing the chief weapons of their daemonic counterparts.

Unlike cultivators, most daemons couldn’t exactly carry or use weapons. They made up for this with a natural arsenal of claws, talons, spurs and teeth. By refining their own body parts, they could bolster their innate advantages and develop weapons that did not lose out to those of cultivators. Lilian once fought a manticore who fired barbs that were akin to imperial artefacts. Daemons were just as smart as cultivators. They tended to enhance themselves in ways that complimented their bloodlines with most avian daemons opting to refine their wings, eyes, beaks and talons. Valerian’s wings weren’t strange in that regard though she doubted he had bothered or known to refine them. 

Lilian run another cursory check and confirmed her hypothesis. That did explain a few things. 

“Given the pedigree of his bloodline, the law etchings… the wings are remarkably degraded. Unless you would have me believe that the celestial daemon has to make do with imperial-grade feathers our little Valerian is very far removed from his mythical ancestor”, she said speaking out loud so Crevan could follow. “I have nothing to compare them to but given that the clearest impressions come from wind fragments, I would say they are being bolstered by his innate affinity. Water is a wash though the boy could probably breathe and fly underwater with these out. Space… oh that’s interesting.”

The butler leaned in.

“I had guessed authority would be the foundation of the peng’s path given the boy’s formation but it would seem space is ancillary to it”, she surmised. 

Lilian snorted. ‘Territorial daemons. They were all the same, divine or otherwise. She should have guessed the instant she recalled the legends. What kind of prick went around calling themselves The title Monarch of the Heavens?’

Still, the old battlemage knew the value of such feathers. These weren’t just rare and precious, they were damn near unique. A daemonic artefact replete with fragmentary laws? Those were the finds that techniques and spells were built of on.  

‘Or weapons’ she reminded herself.

With the right techniques, these peng feathers could be woven into a cloak that would grant the wearer power over space. A single pair would not be enough but with the right techniques and some supplementary materials, the feathers could be used to craft a high-grade profound weapon. If she were wasteful she could have Theoren craft them into single-use barrier breaking charms to make full use of their ability to disrupt space-time. Lilian’s mind went to her wayward student. She would have loved something like this to study. 

As she examined them, Lady Bloodworth murmured an incantation under her breath, her eyes glowing with a fierce intensity. The feathers began to vibrate in her hands, and the soft, whispering sound of rushing wind filled the air. She closed her eyes, allowing the magic to flow through her, and for a moment, a regnal domain surrounded her. She felt as if she were soaring through the sky. But then the sensation quickly faded, and she opened her eyes once more, still holding the feathers in her hand.

“Tsk!” her annoyance slipping out. 

Conceptual mismatch and power disparity meant that she couldn’t use it directly even if she could bypass its bloodline restrictions. At least, not without turning the feathers into a puddle of molten gold. She wouldn’t. The feathers were a precious find, and she ought to be careful with them. 

Tossing them over to a Crevan who scrambled to catch them, she marched out of the study. As she made her way over to her lying apprentice, Lilian couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement, and a thrill of anticipation for what she might be able to achieve with him. 

Valerian lay in bed, his body still weak and sore from the backlash he had endured. Hearing the telltale signs of his teacher’s approach, he tried to sit up, but his muscles protested, sending waves of aching pain through his limbs. His essence reserves had returned somewhat, his apertures protesting as they were refilled with drips and rivulets. He knew not to try to enhance his body with it. The last time had not looked pretty. 

So he gritted his teeth and pushed himself up, slowly but surely, until he was propped up against the pillows. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and he gasped for breath, his body trembling with the effort.

Pugio, ever the loyal manservant, entered his room with guests in tow. Valerian sat up straighter, determined to show strength instead of the weakness which still wracked him. A dignified figure in fine robes and a regal bearing entered the room staring intensely at him. 

Valerian wondered what she saw, what she felt. He had originally come here in search of a powerful ally, a figure who could turn the tide of his family’s fortunes. Now, he found himself more concerned with the lady’s favour. His mind burned with questions. While it was nice she hadn’t cut off his wings and drained him of blood as he had dreamt in his darkest nightmares, she still maintained an unreadable expression that made it impossible to tell where she stood with him. 

He had lied to her. Attacked her! Thus far, her only response had been to disable him, see to his subsequent healing and offer a chance to save him from himself.

“Lady Bloodworth, I…” he croaked. His voice a raspy unfamiliar thing spat out of a throat that felt like a thing rag so roughly washed it’d developed holes. 

Instantly, Pugio was at his side with some water and medicine. He dabbed himself, no blood. Good.

“You’re not well,” his teacher said softly, her voice full of concern. “You need to rest and let your body heal.”

Valerian nodded, but his eyes shone with determination. “Please,” he said, his voice still hoarse. “I want to apologise. I shoul–“

His mentor cut him off. “No, you don’t. Not for what came before or what came after. You were obeying your family and you obeyed your instincts. The fault lies not with you or rather not just with you but it is understandable”, she said. “Just as I hope you understand the necessities of my actions, heavyhanded though they were, to bring you back control.” 

Valerian nodded. 

With a sigh, his teacher walked up to the bed and placed a hand on his forehead. “How are you feeling?”, she asked.

“Weak,” Valerian admitted. “Sore. But better than before.”

“This can wait, you know”, Lady Bloodworth said to him as she smoothed over his curls. “You need to rest. This kind of backlash wreaks havoc on the body.”

“I’m not sure I can”, Valerian forced out in a whisper. “You said I was killing myself.”

Lady Bloodworth pursed her lips. For the old woman, she might have as well kicked herself. In her mind, she cursed her careless words. She wanted to chastise him. This wasn’t the time to be stubborn but to heal. However, she also recognised that in his fragile state, Valerian needed the answers to move forward especially to address the hidden danger he had been nurturing. With a gesture, she motioned for the shadowed dagger to come closer and together, they helped lower Valerian back so he could sink back into the pillows. Once that was done, the old lady took a seat.

“I remember speaking at length about bloodlines that first week when you came under my wing”, she reminded him. “To explain your predicament, we will have to touch on a related issue; Bloodline Complications.”

In a surprisingly ominous tone, she added, “Specifically, the sort of complications that arise with spiritual legacies.”

Author’s Note:

Sorry for the late release. I am not doing so good. Been sick the past few days but I think I am getting better. 

Since it is pretty obvious now… Yes! All those who guessed that Valerian’s strange predicament seemed awfully similar to Wynna and her animus were correct. So RowanSaylor, Omni, Drng Wandering Ancestor and the other folks on the discord, congrats. It is not completely accurate though as there significant differences between Wynna’s Blazing Spirit and Valerian’s Peng spirit but that will be explored in the next chapter. 

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