Bird in the sky

HoGW BK V, CH 9: Confrontations

Chapter Nine: Confrontations

The dark blade stepped away from the door and walked back to the centre of the room.

“As per your wishes, I have turned Misses Langston and Gavriel away!” Pugio said stiffly.

Said master was splayed out on the floor, flat on his back. Golden wings stretched out beside him, taking up much of the room. Only the dimness of the room prevented them from filling the room with a thousand and one reflections of light. He looked like a trophy, a fixture in the room from some great hunt or, in the eyes of his friends and servant, an angel fallen from grace.

Instead of acknowledging him, Valerian turned away, his wings shifting as he rolled onto his side. It said a lot that this reaction was now expected because Pugio said nothing, merely standing in the gloom, looking down at the figure that had once flown higher than the clouds. In the days since meeting Lady Bloodworth, his master had grown morose and reticent. The dark blade wasn’t privy to the full conversation, but he understood enough. Whatever the case, Pugio was Valerian’s blade, sworn to live and die in favour of his interests. Which was why he refused to let this lie.  

“Pardon me, master, but are you sure this is wise?” he asked, speaking up again.

Again, Valerian ignored him.

“Master?” This call was quieter as he wasn’t really expecting an answer. His master was listening; Pugio knew that much. 

“They seemed upset. This is the twelfth time you’ve had me turn them away. I’m not sure there’ll be more.” 

Valerian was sweet on the Langston girl. Yet, her previous visits had failed to rouse him, and now even the threat of her last appeared to have no effect. Several minutes passed without Valerian responding. 

“I see!” The dark blade said, preparing to leave.

“What else am I supposed to do, Pugio?”

The voice was weak and soft, lacking most of the authoritative charm his master usually bandied about. Amid the metallic tinkling of his many feathers, Valerian stirred from his spot on the floor for the first time that day. His presence had wilted, the overwhelming but welcoming tinge of his intent buried by his depression. 

He sat up, slowly, carefully such that he did not clip the furniture with his wings — he didn’t want that happening again. He raised his hands towards his treasured blade and struck his manacles together. The dark implements lit up with glowing glyphs and ethereal chains that extended into Valerian and around his wings. A necessary precaution, Elder Theoren had called it. They had locked away the more esoteric portions of his powers until he could gain a better handle on them. Sadly, it had shut down everything but the essence in his core and transformed flesh. Even the phantasm had gone silent, cut off completely thanks to his mistakes. For the first time in perhaps forever, Valerian was alone in his head and he didn’t like it.

“I don’t want them to see me like this.” His voice was small, despondent. 

‘Many don’t understand the importance of water until their wells run dry’, came his grandfather’s voice. Even as a private, mental recollection, the old man was right.  

Valerian hadn’t realised how comforting he found the presence of his phantasm until it was taken from him. Looking back now, the darn thing seemed everpresent, even when it was dormant. A second self, hidden within the first and without it, Valerian felt a loneliness he had never thought possible. 

It didn’t help that he was currently miles away from home and family. The family he was also refusing to call or talk to because their responses did nothing but fill him with more anxiety. His grandfather nearly had a heart attack when he learnt the secret was out. It took hours to calm him down and assure him that Lady Bloodworth hadn’t locked him in a cellar somewhere to harvest his feathers and blood. You can imagine the reaction then when he passed on the information that the suppression of his peng bloodline was slowly killing him. As for the patriarch, the man was upset in a completely different way and for different reasons. He was more concerned about the termination of his apprenticeship and how that affected the clan’s expansionist goals.

Right now, Valerian had a lot more to worry about than whether he hurt his friend’s feelings. Chances were that the new friends and teammates he had just made were unlikely to remain so for much longer. What exactly was he supposed to tell them? 

‘Hello, the secret I have kept for almost two years backfired and started me on a downward spiral of mental and spiritual instability. That’s why I have these things on my back. Also, I have to leave now. Goodbye! I hope you have fun with your new teammate.’

The dark blade’s voice cut through his melancholy. “I’m sure they would understand.”

“Just talk to them”, he advised.

Valerian looked at Pugio, really looked at him. Immediately, the full weight of what he was hiding leapt to the forefront of his mind; The O’be, The KunPeng, The Steelborn and even Pugio’s true identity swirled around in his noggin. Which one was he supposed to talk about first?

“I can’t!” Valerian confessed, his voice cracking a little. Some of those secrets had far-reaching implications, and there were a few — like the O’be– he wasn’t even sure he had the right to disclose. 

“I can’t take that chance.”

The dark blade nodded and turned around. 

“Why not?” Pugo asked. “I took a chance on you!” He said, marching away.

Sadly, Valerian was too numb for his words to sting.

Valerian came in slow, wings fully extended as he glided towards the ground. He flapped them slowly, generating some lift and resistance while he braced for his landing. A couple of metres above ground, he folded his wings against his body. He hit the dirt with a hard thud before being forced into a short skip, his momentum too great to come to a sudden stop. Grabbing a towel from Pugio, he asked, “How did I do?”

“Much better this time”, the dark blade answered, holding some water at the ready. “You stayed up for nearly two hours this time.”

‘Pathetic!’ That was the thought running through Valerian’s head. Only the bone-deep ache he felt prevented him from tossing the towel back and going for another flight. 

It had been nearly four weeks since his accident. The minute he was cleared and allowed to be active, Lady Bloodworth swooped in and carried him off for some personal training. Now, he spent each day working his mind, body and spirit with books, exercises and, frankly, more meditation than he was happy with. 

This training was supposed to help acclimate him to his transformed body, to break the perception that it was another self and to ensure that he used it as instinctively as he did his usual self. As his greatest inherited physical trait, his wings featured majorly in this. Unfortunately, they were wings he’d never actually used much until now. When he was asked to fly for the first time, it was a disaster.

Gold, as it turned out, was pretty heavy. Imperial gold only more so. Magical, golden feathers did not get a pass. Simply holding them up caused Valerian no small amount of back pain as his body was not used to strain. He was lucky he had super strength. It helped a lot, but sadly, half the problem was that his back muscles were simply not trained to hold up tonnes of golden feathers, much less flap them. It was at this point that Valerian realised that his reliance on his powers went much further than he thought. 

Before this, flying in his fully transformed state had simply involved willing the wind to bear him up. In his half-transformed state, his translucent wings acted more like an active levitation spell than actual bird flight. Valerian had been surprised to find that without that inherited lordship over the wind, he was effectively grounded until he learned to fly the hard way. Of course, he still cheated. Even without his ancestral will and innate lordship, Valerian still had some authority and power, and he made sure to use it whenever and wherever he could. Physics dictated that a man with golden wings couldn’t fly, but with magic, Valerian could disagree. 

By following his instincts and employing his magic to his fullest extent, Valerian was able to emulate the processes usually handled and automated by his bloodline. With metal manipulation to help support the wings and wind manipulation to give him more support than he deserved, he could fly for short periods. Now all he had to do was build the muscle and experience necessary for long flights.

“You’ve done quite well this past week”, came his teacher’s voice. “Enough that I feel you are ready for the next stage in your training.”

Valerian turned to face and paused, frozen in shock because walking beside the diminutive old woman was an equally petite young lady.

“To this end, I have asked Wynna to help with your training. Her experience will prove invaluable to you when it comes to controlling the power of your animus both in battle and outside of it”, his teacher was saying. 

Valerian barely caught half of it, fixed as he was on the girl next to her. One of several he had been avoiding. The red-haired arcanist stared at Valerian from beneath her wide-brimmed hat and smiled. Valerian felt fear grip his heart. That smile promised pain. 

“You’ve displayed increasing control at Level One, so I will temporarily unlock Level Two for this bout. However, the moment you lose control, I will raise you back to Level Zero. 

“External seals?” Wynna exclaimed with a mix of disdain and concern.

“Yes!” the old lady said with a small tilt of her head. “I’d rather we stick to more positive affirmative methods myself, but Valerian has almost no control over his animus in his transformed state. The external seals are a training aid. Once he has achieved some control, we’ll remove the seals and have him work instead on naturally acclimatising to his augmented state as well as control over his powers.” 

She looked his way. “Remember, your aim is control over your mental state. You are human. You are a peng. You are both. Any dichotomy must cease. Your mind has to be one in this. If you feel your instincts start to take over, focus on your humanity. If the reverse happens and you find your powers slipping remember that you are heir to the peng. 

“The goal here is to work with your animus drawing power from it while maintaining your sense of self”, she informed him.

Valerian nodded. 

Wynna pipped in, saying. “Don’t worry, Valerian, I am going to take good care of you!”

Somehow, he doubted that.

With a snap of Lady Bloodworth’s fingers — an action more for their sake than her’s — he felt one of the restrictions on him give way. Wind stirred at his feet as the peng within made itself known once more, rejuvenated by the surge of power, eager to proclaim its authority to the world. However, Valerian held firm, the restraints he’d built in his mind from his constant meditations held the bestial urges at bay.  

His ‘teammate’ watched this with an intense stare. There was a glimmer of understanding in her eyes, and for a moment, Valerian deceived himself into thinking that she’d understood his position. Her next action put a stop to that.

A fiery will made itself known as Wynna’s hair erupted into flames. Her monarch intent left heat shimmers in the air as it spread, and the sheer metaphysical weight of her presence exerted on their surroundings had Valerian coughing as the air was flash heated to near unbearably levels. Glowing eyes locked on to Valerian and reminded him that before the flame he was nought but prey, kindling to be burned on the pyre or her excellence.

His phantasm spoke up then, for the first time in weeks. It uttered one word, practically yelling it in their shared psyche. 


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