Chapter Eleven: The Steel Heart Mantra
Elder Richard closed his ears to everything Valerian said as he walked to his smithy, leaving the youth to follow behind him with a somewhat disgruntled look. Stepping into the smithy gave Valerian a strong sense of deja vu. It was just like his first visit despite the fact that he had used a different entrance.
The smithy itself was a bit dark. Most of the light came from the furnace which filled the smithy with warm russet and amber tones but cast a lot of shadows. It gave off an incredible amount of heat as well. Enough that stepping into the smithy let it wash over you like walking into bright sunlight on a scorching day.
Valerian was ever thankful for the fact that his current suit of armour was so much better at handling heat than the one before. If not, he would have a big problem on his hands. Scanning the smithy with his eyes, he came upon the only other source of light. A bright lamp on a desk. The same desk he had once watched his new teacher engrave glyphs onto a sword. Many sketches and pieces of writing lay scattered across it.
He stepped towards it and was immediately cut off.
"Your tasks lie over there!" the smith informed him. He gestured towards the furnace and made a shooing motion. Waiting until Valerian actually went that way first, he walked up to his engraving desk and stacked his papers and put them in his spatial ring. Coming back, he met an excited Valerian.
"What will we be making first?" the boy asked.
With a small and private smile on his face, Elder Richard pointed to a large mound of assorted rocks by the furnace. Valerian stared at it for a second before looking back to the smith. There was no comprehension on his face.
"Ingots, boy! the man exclaimed. "We'll be making ingots!"
"Ingots?" Valerian asked in shock. The training he had been looking forward to was going to consist of melting ore?
"Yes", the smith affirmed. "Ingots!"
"What did you think we were going to do?" he asked.
Valerian made to speak but the man waved him away. He had meant the question to be rhetorical.
"Your problem is that you do not understand metals enough. Your physique needs grounding in the concepts of the metal element and your qi is lacking in attunement. So, you will work with metal", he announced. "You shall grind its ore, extract it and refine it till you're familiar enough with it to upgrade your physique and satisfy the requirements of your bloodline."
Seeing that the disappointed look did not leave his charges face, the smith huffed. "I'll have you know that if artificing was split into ten equal parts learning how work with materials would be five of those. The others would be; two to transmutational alchemy, two to array craft and one for enchanting.
This caught the boy's interest.
"That's right", the man reiterated. "The first thing a prospective artificer must know is how to work his materials. It doesn't matter if that artificer is a smith, a mason, a carpenter, tailor or leatherworker. He or she still needs to have developed this basic skill since it is the fundamental on which to build everything else."
Valerian gave the pile of rocks another glance as if asking them if they were really that important. The smith chose to answer on their behalf.
"We have there' a lot of iron, gold, titan bone and frost iron. You'll learn to work them all but first, I have to teach you a mantra."
Quickly describing an essence flow pattern and drawing a diagram to help with visualisation, Elder Richard showed Valerian just what the mantra consisted of. Afterwards, he got started on the words. You couldn't have a mantra without vocalisation of some sort. Reminding Valerian to follow through with the essence flow, he began the chant with Valerian repeating after him.
With earth's fire and heaven's gems,
I was liberated from stone.
From earth's bounty and heaven's will
I was given form
By heaven's grace and earth's blessing,
I was given life
Strong is the heart in which I was born
Hot is the flame that shaped my form
Precious the fibre of my being
Immense the river that is my soul
My heaven towers over all
My earth, strength undeniable
My will, a conqueror's law
By my birth I am enlightened
To the secrets enshrined in my form
To the process of mine lifegiving
To the craft of heaven and earth
Refine the heart with flame
Prepare the will
Consolidate the ore!
Distil your sterling!
Preserve the essence!
Strike as if by earthen pulse!
Bless with thine earth!
Grace with thine heaven!
Bestow form and life!
Valerian did as the smith asked, repeating the words to the mantra. The words seemed simple enough despite the solemn and ancient tone. However, once he started pronouncing the words he discovered that they were anything but. His spirit and blood began to stir. It was as if his very essence was getting drawn out by the words. It wasn't just his either. His phantasm woke with a start, rising and forcing its way up. The sensation was so bizarre that he stopped. When he did, the feeling cut off but it also left him feeling lost and listless.
"You feel it, don't you?" Elder Richard said with an excited grin. "Don't stop, continue! Recite after me..."
"What is this mantra?" Valerian attempted to ask.
"Recite now, talk later!" the man admonished him. "We'll go over the mantra and its meanings after you've got it down"
Chastised, Valerian went back reciting along with the man, following his every word. The feeling the words evoked was nothing like Valerian had ever experienced. Each line punctuated the ebb and flow of essence that its accompanying method caused. The effects could be felt acutely. It was like his blood grew hotter with each word he spoke. His essence grew stronger along with it. He could feel his mind sharpen and his spirit lighten allowing him to sense the strengthening of his muscles. Only, he was forced to stop again.
"Concentrate, boy!" Elder Richard yelled.
"I can't!" Valerian admitted. It's my phantasm. It's trying to forcefully manifest itself."
The spectre was trashing in his sea of consciousness, demanding to be let out. Valerian refused, holding it in. Ordinarily, Valerian would be happy to do so but he was genuinely surprised and worried at its actions. It had never acted like this before. However, he could not concentrate on the mantra and restrain the phantasm at the same time. Not with what was happening to him. It wasn't the words. He'd memorised those the first time the smith chanted them. There was something else.
Now that he knew the problem Valerian was facing, Elder Richard considered it for a moment before saying, "Let it out!"
His decision was based partly on curiosity. It wasn't just about figuring out what was happening. He had never seen a steel monolith phantasm before. He watched it take shape after coming out as ectoplasmic smog. Elder Allard had them working on having it manifest in less than a second which it nearly did bar a few issues. It was mostly formed with only a few wisps of smog curling around but even those were being drawn in.
"Interesting!" he said as a one-word evaluation.
"Sir, this mantra...?" Valerian asked.
"Yes, what about it?" Elder Richard asked, his eyes not lingering on the phantasm for a bit before turning back to his new student.
"The words..." Valerian began, struggling to describe. "The essence flow doesn't do anything but the chant... when I say the words"
"They set fire to your blood", the smith said simply.
It was just about right so Valerian nodded despite wanting to make the distinction that the feeling wasn't so much that of burning as it was a strange warmth that pulled at him. The questions were how and why? The smith was happy to answer.
"You've heard the stories?" the man asked rhetorically.
"Maybe you have even read a few given your grandfather's proclivities", he added. "They all tell one tale: Menhirion conceived in the steel heart like it was some kind of womb. Of him being born from the mountain like some babe. While not untrue it is not the whole truth. The Menhirion was a creature of living metal. His bones were those of a titan. His flesh the strongest steel inlaid with gemstones and precious minerals. He wasn't born. He was forged.
"Before the Stormhawk joined us, you know what our attributes were?" the man asked. Valerian did not answer, assuming this question was as rhetorical as the others. He was right.
"Metal, earth and fire", the smith listed. "The latter two were nowhere near as common as the first but they were there. Your uncle, the enchanter, his attribute is fire, is it not? Mine are fire and metal. That is because deep in the central peak of the Menhir range was a fire elemental crux. The same crux that melted and formed the cavern known as the steel heart. Think about it" he demanded of Valerian.
"A mountain filled with rare resources; titan bone, essence stones of every kind, gold and precious gems, thunder brass, fiery copper, black iron and so much more. All of this was melted and left lying as a fusing pool at the middle of the cavern by the geocentric flame in the centre. The steel heart was nothing short of a natural furnace, a crucible that refined a steel none can hope to match. This precious substance, a conglomeration of precious materials, continued to grow. Eventually, heaven and earth intervened and a daemon was born.
"We call this technique [The Steel Heart Mantra]. The words of the chant affect you so because they are the words of Menhirion himself", the man revealed. "The feeling they invoke is something we call the blood call or blood ignition. Menhirion was our ancestor, guardian spirit and ruler. He might be gone but his words allow us to connect to our bloodline and draw from it. They have this strange ability to inflame us. The smiths of the clan use this particular chant religiously in their activities.
"When we chant and work, we aren't just smiths, we are steel monoliths reenacting an age-old mystery. We are discovering, as he did, that the processes that birthed him can be replicated to form creations that while not as precious or incredible as he was but are treasures in their own right", the man concluded.
"You'll get started on the first step of this and then, if you grow fast enough and we have the time, I'll push you further. However, given that we have only a month before you have to leave, we have to focus on the important thing which is getting your physique up to par", Elder Richard informed him. "So again, we'll start from the beginning."
"Refining the heart with flame?" Valerian asked.
"If only it were that simple", the man told him. "That line is more profound than you know. The mantra is not made of simple words, boy. They are condensed truths!"
"We'll get to that later. For now, grab some of those ore samples. I will teach you how to grind them up will first and then I'll teach you how to use the essence flow method to help you refine it in the furnace.
Get good enough at the latter and we will start using the samples raw."
"What about other me?" Valerian asked. "I can't use the mantra without upsetting him. How will we do this then?"
The smith looked up at the fifteen-metre tall spectre whose head threatened to scrape his ceiling. "I am certain the reason it was upset, as you put it, is because it too felt the blood ignition. I honestly wonder how that would feel for an actual monolithic descendant of Menhirion.
"Has Uncle Allard taught you about [shared mind]?" he asked out of the blue.
"Yes, he has", Valerian admitted.
"For now, we can only maintain for half a minute at most and with varying degrees of effectiveness", Valerian confessed. His phantasm nodded in affirmation.
"That's good enough. You perform your tasks, the mantra, everything in that state. When you can't, you switch; one of you takes the helm and the other supports. It will be good training for you!" the man said to their surprise.
"Would that actually work?" Valerian questioned with some doubt.
"Well, you wouldn't know unless you tried now, would you? Grab some ore and take it to the grind!" the smith ordered.
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