Bird in the sky

HoGW BK V, CH 7: Spiritual Legacies

Chapter Seven: Spiritual Legacies

Lilian gave a pause, catching herself for a moment. “Do you understand the difference between a spiritual legacy and a normal one?”

Valerian shook his head no.

“Hmmn”, his teacher intoned. “Figured that might be the case.”

“According to records older than I care to date, when Verre reabsorbed her firstborn, the smart ones among them did their best to find heirs to whom they could pass on their legacies. They chose the best among their children and creations and passed the world’s first spiritual legacies onto them. The Blazing Spirit of the Gavriels is one such legacy”, she revealed. “It is less a daemonic bloodline and more a divine writ or seal signifying us as the heirs to a titan. It is a badge that confers to us certain rights and powers by virtue of that inheritance so long as we prove deserving of it.”

“What we possess is something greater than blood”, she said with the air of someone quoting something. “We have inherited the very will and spirit of one of Verre’s first creations.”  

“For a better grasp of this, you need to remember that the titans weren’t flesh and blood. They weren’t even elementals, at least not as we understand the term. They were beings of law, living manifestations of Verre’s power and mysteries. They didn’t have children the traditional way. They created them wholesale either directly out of themselves or, in the vast majority of cases, Verre itself. Due to this, technically speaking, most of us aren’t so much children of the titans as we are children of Verre delivered by the titans. The only thing tying us to those figures besides our creation is that writ they passed onto us, a final will and testament of Verre’s mighty firstborn who did not wish to be forgotten.

“I remember telling you that all bloodlines decline with time if not reinforced, and that remains true”, she said, reminding him of that talk that now seemed so long ago. “It is the reason the Gavriels are human and not fire elementals, but that notwithstanding, we have retained our spiritual legacy since time immemorial. The reason for this is that spiritual legacies are self-reinforcing. Again, they are less like traditional daemonic bloodlines and more like a decree from the titan saying that this is my heir. They function not on blood relation but on legitimacy. I suppose they are more like traditional inheritances in that sense. Only here, the process of proving that legitimacy reinforces our legacy.

Something occurred to her then, and she added, “It is, for this reason, most refer to Steel Monoliths as illegitimate. There’s ample proof to call them titan childe, but it is clear that for whatever reason, their creator did not acknowledge them as his heirs. We know that not every titan left heirs, so it just may be that it was one of those, but it might just be that some other creature was chosen while its ancient war machine continues churning out soldiers for a war long since won, children that will never be acknowledged. 

“The legitimacy in question is the divine writ and the inherited ancestral will. Think of it as an indelible marking on our souls that set us apart from others as for the ancestral will… well, you’ve no doubt experienced it for yourself.”

Valerian nodded. 

“That ancestral will is where the complications arise. For ones such as myself, it is the will of a titan, an incredible spiritual impression of a being of law. Simply coming into contact with such a thing is one thing. Having it impress on you that you are its heir can have certain ramifications. The first and most common is that you also start thinking of yourself as a titan. After all, you’re the heir to one, are you not?”

Valerian’s breath caught in his throat. That sounded strangely familiar.

“We call this mind the animus. The spirit of the titan in us. That part of us that is titan not just by inheritance but in spirit and in truth. The problem is that this animus or titan spirit clashes with our frail human bodies and minds. The discordance this causes can lead to several issues; psychosis, split personalities, dysphoria or, in the most severe cases, it can literally lead to a disconnect between soul and body. I shouldn’t have to tell you what happens in that case.”

Slowly it began to dawn on Valerian what she had meant by him killing himself.

“To forestall these issues”, his teacher continued missing the fear and worry spawning in his eyes. “My clan takes great care to foster good growth and habits in its members. We are taught to embrace that part of us, to bridge the gap between human and titan, so it does not cause us issues in life. Sadly, our methods are not foolproof. Even in fortunate cases, I’ve had relatives who, at one point or the other, abandoned their human forms to live their true lives as fiery avatars of the Blazing Spirit, having felt more themselves as elementals than as humans.  

“It is because of this that Wynna was sent to me”, she revealed. “Her inheritance of our ancestral will far surpassed the norm and made our methods unsuited for her. 

“It is difficult to accept and live as one with your blazing spirit when that same spirit threatens to turn even your family into fiery thralls. That said, they did everything in their power to ensure that she did not end up too withdrawn or end up suppressing her animus out of fear, even up to and including finding her suitable playmates she could be herself around without the risk of burning them to cinders or refining them into thralls.” 

“Which begs the question of why you waited this long to speak up”, she said, shooting him a look so scathing he found himself sitting up.

Valerian’s mind stalled. “I’m sorry?”

“You heard me,” the old lady said without flinching. “You’ve been hearing me all this time, and that’s the problem. How often have you heard me speak to Wynna about the importance of using her animus or properly channelling it, so she doesn’t develop a split personality or worse?”

“I…” Valerian started before finding himself at a loss for words. What was he to say? That he hadn’t connected the dots or that he simply hadn’t thought it applied to him?

“Like it or not, Valerian, that animus is a part of you and denying it or worse, suppressing it like you have been doing is just asking for trouble”, she told him. “You and your family might have thought you were being smart, but it was anything but. This isn’t some daemonic bloodline you can ignore and never use, and the fact as someone with a daemonic phantasm, you failed to see that is troubling. This is something that involves your spirit as well as your sense of self. Keeping your human and peng selves separate weakens your control over yourself and your powers. Causes it to act out. It drives it into delusions and paranoia. Soon, that separation may become a genuine split, and eventually, you might find yourself in a battle for control over your own body with yourself. I’ve seen cases where the person’s mind and essence tore themselves apart. In the worst-case scenario, you could suppress it so thoroughly that you suffocate it, effectively killing off a part of your soul. The rest follows not long after.”

“Starting today, or as soon as you’re recovered, you will have come to terms with your powers. You will need to use that peng animus and learn to control it. Don’t just do it to save your life, do it so you can be complete and use your power as you ought.”

She stopped there, a strange look coming over her before she added. “For this reason, I cannot in good conscience continue to have you as my disciple. Your blood ties might be faint, but your spiritual inheritance makes it clear. There are few heights you will not be able to reach if you develop that properly. Regrettably, it is doubtful you can do that with me. 

Valerian’s eyes widened in shock. Was he getting kicked out? Because of his bloodline? Of all the possibilities he’d considered before revealing the truth, he hadn’t seen this. Punished for lying, yes, but certainly not like this. Already sore and weak, Valerian found himself fighting back tears. It seemed in that moment that all his hopes and dreams were crashing down, and his hard work was for nought. There was only one question. “WHY?”

Lady Bloodworth looked at his quivering lip and reached out to clasp his hand in understanding. “This is no fault of yours. My legacies, and my best skills, they all involve the five-element cycle. You’ve already touched on the mysteries of the Grand Cycle. It requires a purity of purpose and elemental power that was already strained by your extra element. Chasing that spiritual inheritance left to you by the peng will require things of you that will conflict with my legacy in more ways than I can currently imagine.”

She paused, her expression changing slightly as she seemingly struggled to find the right words. “Inheriting a spiritual legacy is one thing. Fully attaining it is another thing entirely. The steps and trials necessary to push mine to the fourth tier were trying to accomplish because they pushed me to transform into and embody the powers and attributes of a titan of fire. Now, my legacy, albeit very powerful, is simple in scope and limited to the fifth tier. The legacy of the Golden Winged Peng…

“Valerian, you’ve been touched by its will. By your own admission, you’ve access to snippets of its memories and experiences. I want you to imagine what it would take to become that creature reborn and ask yourself if it is compatible with the path I have laid before you.”

The bedridden youth trembled, flashes of the things he’d seen in his ancestral inheritance coming back to him; the rushing waters, the boundless skies, the rushing winds and the booming thunder. Something his grandmother said once repeated in his mind. 

“One notable thing about golden-winged pengs is the fact that they are born with four innate attributes; water, metal, wind and lightning. You only have two; metal and wind.”

It was followed by the Stormhawk’s voice booming in his ears.

“Look at yourself, hatchling”, the Stormhawk began. “Golden-winged pengs are daemons so large that their wings blot out the sun for kilometres, and clouds form over their feathers. They make it so that the only light those below them receive is the glow of their wings. They are beings of the same pedigree as the highest class of dragons and vermillion birds. More importantly, hatchling, they are birds.

“You, Valerian are not!” it ended.

Valerian’s mind spun. Was that what it meant to have a spiritual legacy? He had to become that? How? It didn’t even seem possible. Not unless… more memories of his talk with the stormhawk, accompanied by images of his uncles transforming into their monolithic forms, flitted through his mind. Was that what would happen? Would his peng transformation strengthen until he could transform into a peng in truth?

His teacher watched all this play out on his face and sighed before telling him. “The only way to continue being my disciple would be to diverge from the path set out in your legacy.” 

“But- you said that following bloodlines is an easy way to be shackled by them!” He yelled, his mind latching on to that fact. 

“That is for ordinary bloodlines, Valerian”, she pointed out in an exasperated tone. “Legacies that terminate or bottleneck at the fifth tier or less. What you have is a portion of the KunPeng’s will! I highly doubt it dead ends at so low a tier.”

“Is that it then?” he asked, the sick pit of fear and worry turning into anger. “You’re just going to throw me away!”

Lady Bloodworth shot him a look that immediately had him looking contrite. Lucky for him, she didn’t pursue it further, choosing instead to say, “You have a chance here, Valerian, to reach heights considered unreachable to most cultivators out there. I am letting you go because asking you to throw that away would be a crime!”

“There’s no telling how far this legacy will carry you”, she reminded him. “While I highly doubt it would leave you a divinity like your ancestor, it could possibly lead to transcendence.”

“So what do I do?” 

“I do not know”, his teacher confessed with a grimace. She sat back in her chair, the sound of her back meeting the chair’s sounding awfully loud in the sudden silence that filled the room. 

“I genuinely don’t know, Valerian”, she repeated. “Your case is anything but the typical. Spiritual legacies are… significant. The kind of power that produces multiple sages per family is hard to hide and is tracked thusly. Every single one of them in the empire is known and traceable to one party or the other. The Gavriels’, for instance, have a long list of their peers and yet yours is virtually unknown to me, an impossibility given that we should know every spiritual legacy in the empire and many outside it. However, that is the least of your problems. The resources, teachings and sheer experience required to nurture such a legacy… Frankly, I am surprised you have gotten as far as you have. Forget getting trapped by your shackles without the methods necessary to coax out and nurture your powers: your path should have never begun.”

Valerian thought back to the early years and the scores of techniques he tried and failed to cultivate.  

His teacher stared at him with eyes that seemed to peer through his soul. “It should have, if not for one thing!”

He didn’t have to look at his teacher to know they were thinking of the same thing. His mind stalled, immediately going back to the moment he discovered and eaten portions of the dragon once known as Gleamscales. He swallowed the saliva that always pooled in his mouth at the savoury memory. 

“If I am correct. That event was a trial. One of the tests you needed to fulfil to prove yourself a true inheritor of the peng’s will. The problem here is we have no idea what the others are. That makes things very difficult. 

“I am old Valerian”, Lady Bloodworth admitted, the full weight of her accumulated years suddenly coming over her in a way that couldn’t be explained by the room’s lighting. 

“My bloodline is older still”, she continued. “I am also lucky since, despite leaving my clan at a young age, my father and brother trusted me enough to help me develop my blazing spirit to its fullest potential, but even then, there were things, secrets that they would not, could not share. Secrets intended only to be conferred on the one true heir of the Blazing Spirit. That’s the difference between my spiritual legacy and yours. The titans were living embodiments of Verre’s laws. As their heirs, the Gavriels are one of the lynchpins of the world, with our patriarch able to leverage the will of Verre itself to his ends. What’s more, through history and experience, we have a complete road map when it comes to developing and understanding our powers. You do not have any of that, and again, I cannot help you.

“That said, there are others more versed in the field than I am, imperial clans that have managed through trickery, conquest, and careful breeding succeeded in gathering and even merging spiritual legacies on par with my own. I would imagine that receiving you would be a coup for them. Obviously, there will be stipulations but I can promise you this; they will leave no stone unturned when it comes to unlocking and developing your powers.”

“If there was another way…” she started. “If we could contact your mother or a relative and learn what they know, if they do know anything, things could be different. Regrettably, you know as well as I, better even, that there is no trace to be found that way.”  

Valerian clenched his fists at her words. His parents weren’t people he thought of often. Why would he? He never knew them. A woman who abandoned her family and a man who left everything behind to chase her shadow: he had better things to do than waste time thinking of them. They weren’t worth it, and yet, at times like this, they seemed to haunt him.

All this means, Valerian, that you have a choice to make”, she told him in a serious tone. “My opinion is that you let me reach out to one of the greater Imperial clans and have them take you in, but I cannot, will not, force this decision. Nonetheless, as your teacher, I will reiterate that staying with me would mean diverging from the path set out in your legacy, which could prove both good or ill but likely the latter. Look no further than me for proof. An old mage who’s run out of longevity due to stubbornness and refusal to follow clearly beaten paths. Leaving will not promise success, but it will likely offer a higher end point than any you will attain by sticking with me.” 

“However, the choice is yours!”

The old lady sat with him for a while in the silence as he ruminated on what he had learnt before standing up and leaving when it was clear that no answer was forthcoming. Valerian watched her leave with a frown. Her choosing not to press him sent a clear message. “Take your time”, it said. However, Valerian soon found that he would have preferred her to have done the opposite so it would be over and done with because the longer he sat there stewing in his thoughts, the more uncertain he became. 

What is the way forward?

Valerian did not know. He couldn’t even be certain which way was up to say little of what he was supposed to do or choose and that scared him. It felt like he was a tiny top spinning at a fork in a road that was washed out by rain and covered by storeys high flood water. So he continued to lie there in his bed, straining under the weight of the decision he knew he had to make.

Author’s Note:

This chapter sets some major things straight. Just to clarify though, Valerian’s legacy and Bloodworth’s are not the same. Pretty similar in expression, yes. Same, no! If you can guess why let me know in the comments. Should be pretty obvious though.

What do you think he’s going to choose in the end though? Which would you choose if you were him? Wait… did I just read that Bloodworth’s brother has ssh access to Verre’s servers? Is that plot relevant?

Dear God, getting this out was a pain. If you know (or can read discord logs) you know.

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