The next few weeks were unkind to the magistrate’s household. It was as if someone draped a damp blanket over everything, smothering their happiness. Valan walked with his head down, Richard looked furious all the time, and as for the other members of the household they did their best to stay out their way. It was as if a curse of gloom had been cast over their home. Valerian could even swear that the daylight was duller and the food was increasingly bland ever since he got injured.
The reason for this of course could be traced to the aftermath of that meeting in the clan infirmary. Once he recovered he was subjected to a barrage of tests just to confirm Healer Brian’s hypotheses. Then he was given a stack of five qi cultivation manuals. The complete works possessed by the clan. Unfortunately his body utterly rejected them as well.
Following this, a secret meeting was conducted and a declaration was announced to the household. He was to desist with his tellurian training. All the assurances and promises that the clan had made concerning his education in the tellurian path had been revoked. There was no point they said if it was just going to be wasted. He was advised to focus wholly on his arcane studies since in that at least he still remained a peerless talent, for now.
It was distressing to note that there were many who argued against even this decision. Not because they did not think that they clan had not exhausted every avenue available to it but because they felt continuing to support him was a further waste of resources. To them it was painfully obvious that his arcane studies would halt at the energy gathering stage where he would be woefully unable to accumulate energy just like his useless grandfather.
Thing is, Valerian had long since predicted that response. He saw it coming from a mile away after watching how the elders reacted in the infirmary. He was still surprised and hurt though. To think that his clan would totally give up on him and ask him to do same was definitely an eye opener.
The most painful part was watching what it did to his family, most especially his grandfather. The meetings, discussions and talks held concerning his future were conducted without even consulting him. There was even talk of having him removed from his care and taken to be raised by the clan. As if his grandfather’s presence was somehow infectious. Two more fights broke out. And he had it on good authority that his uncle Richard broke an elder’s nose and both his arms.
It didn’t help matters nor did it stop the gossiping. Even in their own household Valerian could clearly hear and sense the servants and guards discuss the matter and look at him with looks of pity and schadenfreude. Just yesterday his grandmother nearly fed a servant to the hounds after overhearing him say something derogatory about his grandfather.
Valerian blamed himself. Yes, he did. He had given people the opportunity to so readily disrespect his grandfather and his family. This was an issue that few knew and even fewer dared speak of but his blunder had caused his and his grandfather’s names to become the subject of conversation. Just imagine. If the issue was so publicly discussed in their household and the clan then how widespread was it in the city itself? Remember his grandfather was a public official.
A strange slow burning fury had been ignited in his heart and Valerian did not know how to quench it. It was an entirely foreign feeling. He could not recall ever getting angry before. Annoyed, yes, irritated yes, exasperated, definitely but this maddening fury was new. He wanted to crush something, scream, curse just to displace it somehow. But he didn’t.
He kept his lessons at the forefront of his mind. The lessons his grandfather had taught him. Everywhere he went he fixed a small nonchalant smile on his face, remained impeccable and above reproach, his comportment and manners elegant and his speech eloquent. Publicly he acted like he had always done as if the events of the last month or so had never happened. It caused some people to look at him like he was retarded, like he was a stupid little boy who did not realise what was going on around him but he paid them no mind.
Privately though, he marked down their names and faces. He took note of their derision and how they had deflated his grandfather and turned what was formerly a joyous happenstance of his family into a subject of mockery and he turned that into a source of motivation. So what if he could not train his qi? He was still an arcane disciple with a dual innate attributes and forty-one times the average essence level. He was gifted with superior intellect, extraordinary senses and great strength.
If he couldn’t turn these into greatness then he probably deserved being called the true grandson of a wastrel or whatever people were calling him now. As for those who called him ‘the great disappointment’ and speculated about whether his arcane cultivation would end up like his grandfather’s, well, he would just have to disappoint them.
He allowed them to stoke the flames of his determination and directed that all heat into his training. It was true what his grandfather said. Power was everything. He hadn’t fully understood it then and he still may not fully do so. Nonetheless he recognised that before even those who knew of his grandfather’s condition did not readily speak of it. Even Elder Grant and the other one once spoke of it behind his back. Why? Because though he had no power, his father did.
They were cowered by the clan patriarch, the true ruler of DaleGuard and the fact that his worth had risen with the discovery that his grandson was a heaven warping talent. That was why they acted meek in front of him and guarded his manor with little complaint. Now they could let their disdain out for all to see. The only reason they stopped in the infirmary was because the Great Elder, a figure more powerful than them spoke out.
Foreson and the other elder did not speak then but Valerian knew full well that they held similar views. They were just smart enough not to blurt them out but who knew how things would have gone if the Great Elder had not intervened. They were powerful and thus had nothing to fear in front of a powerless man like his grandfather.
He would not be the same. No disrespect to his grandfather but the man was just plain incapable of doing anything about the problem. He would be different. He will not allow a scenario to spring up where he stood helpless in front of people while they insulted him. This was why despite wasting two entire weeks in the infirmary it only took two days after getting home to attain the perfect arcane vessel.
The perfect arcane vessel! Something that no other person in the history of the clan could brag about. His entire form was now capable of channelling and absorbing energy. He didn’t know it but under mage sight he looked like he was a solid being of arcane energy. Unlike others who would only have their energy channels illuminated his whole body radiated light and energy. All he knew was that now he had some good news for his family. Something that might lessen the gloom.
So that morning, he got off his mat with a more hopeful smile knowing that he had just finished the first step on his arcane path. Then he put on his armour and begun his exercises.
Richard was never happy go lucky. Being orphaned at the cusp of puberty did that to you. This was even before mentioning his nigh disastrous stint in the army and the fact that his surrogate brother and his wife were missing and presumed dead. However his smiles while rare still came from time to time. Not lately though. None who looked at him would think that his face was able to do so.
He wore a dark, furious look wherever he went and his temper, never good to begin with, was incredibly frayed and taut. He had since lost count of the number of people who scuttled out of his way in last week. And the reason for this could be traced to those idiots who called themselves clan elders. Even thinking about them caused his hackles to rise.
‘How dare they?’ his screamed mentally.
Like many orphaned at that age he had many problems with authority. The clan elders were one of his sore points. He remembered how reluctant they had been to take him and his brother in and how they had acted like placing them was a hassle. Then his uncle stepped up. Since then he had had an ‘us vs them’ mentality when it came to the clan. A mentality that had been vindicated many times but never as strongly as now. Their current actions had him snorting flames.
To say he was angry was an understatement and his disgust was so great that he could spend the whole day throwing up. The elders had not wasted a second before taking back their support despite all the promises they made. Thankfully he had things to occupy his mind or he would wallow in his rage. For instance right now he was training his nephew.
He watched as Valerian took a five minute break before they moved to combat training. Richard was most impressed with his nephew. That’s why it infuriated him so that the clan had pretty much given up on his tellurian training. The boy just had so much potential. He could keep a 30 kilometre per hour pace around a 60 kilometre course for a full hour whiles wearing weighted armour, had unbelievable arm strength and a gift for martial arts.
At the very least Richard could never boast of being able to do same when he was eight. Still he gave no indication of how truly impressed he was. ‘Best let him work for it’, he thought. He kept up the training sessions, refusing to go along with the elders’ wishes and give up on his nephew. Not before he got the boy to reveal his full potential.
“That’s enough!” he announced. “Prepare yourself! I will be attacking shortly”.
Valerian quickly got into a ready stance. Keeping his feet firmly planted and apart he raised his hands in front of his face. Before him, his uncle Richard took out a longsword and held it loosely in his right hand. Two weeks ago the thought of someone coming at him with an actual sword would have filled him with apprehension now he just braced himself.
“Remember! Keep Clude’s principles of defence in your mind. Apply them readily but do not focus too much on them. Just hold them there and let them guide you”, Richard reminded you. Valerian nodded.
In two steps his uncle was before him covering the twenty meters between them in less time than it took to draw in a deep breath. The longsword in his hands flashed forward in a simple thrust aiming for Valerian’s midriff but he was prepared. He had faced this attack countless times over the last month and knew just what to do.
Keeping his fists level with his chin, and his forearms before his chest, he stretched his right arm forward slightly and met the blade with the back of his forearm. Disregarding the slight impact and moving his arm outward and downward he let the sword slide down and off the plates of his gauntlet and watched his opponent lean to his right.
It was a manoeuvre that though simple would have been dangerous and foolhardy if he were not a Steelborn. The Steelborns were particularly heavy set folk. They were all tall and muscle bound, blessed with unbelievably durable bodies and immense strength and that was in their normal forms. When transformed they grew even stronger and durable. But there were some drawbacks.
Theirs was a not a build that leaned towards speedy and agility. Their transformed bodies were even worse. The fifteen per cent increase in speed looked great but they also grew exponentially heavier and their large bodies made them walking targets. The fighting arts of Harry and Clude recognised this and decided that rather than attempt what they were not good at, they would instead emphasise their strengths.
What this meant was that Steelborns did not dodge nor they try to pull of overly complex and acrobatic manoeuvres. Instead they used their strength and sturdiness to defend against attacks. A normal person would not be able to take a sword strike to the forearm but with their bodies and strength it was quite easy.
The average consolidated tellurian practitioner would have strength to lift at most three to five thousand kilograms. Valerian, an eight year old at the preliminary bone transformation stage had a similar level of strength. True he was unusual even for a Steelborn but that’s only because that was the strength of his normal form. The average Steelborn at this stage would only have ten to eleven hundred kilograms of strength but he or she would also have the steel monolith’s transformation which quadruples strength making that about five tonnes of strength.
This combined with their incredible defence, special armour and fighting style allowed them to shrug off hits and keep fighting. Against most opponents they could even sit back and let them tire themselves out trying to hurt them. However it would be wrong to think that they just stood and allowed their opponents to whale on them.
Clude’s first principle of defence, “Unless absolutely necessary, take no attacks head on! Deflect everything!” The meaning of this was self-evident. It was also the key to the manoeuvre that Valerian just pulled.
When facing the incoming thrust he did not take the stab point first. He made his gauntlet meet the sword after the point and even then not directly on the blade edge. ‘You can never foretell the enchantments and substances on a weapon’, his uncle had told him. Rather he met it at an angle and then relying on his strength and armour pushed it aside.
It wasn’t easy though. It took weeks before Valerian had the proper timing to avoid getting struck in the breastplate but after that he could succeed four times out of ten. And once the manoeuvre succeeds Clude’s second principle kicks in.
“Counter to disrupt balance and battle rhythm!”
Valerian did not hesitate. His left fist rushed forward at breakneck speeds. The reason the strike was deflected to the side was to cause the attacker to be unbalanced. A thrust caused the body to lean forward. A redirection like this would cause the opponent to over extend and lean to the right of the defender. This was the perfect time to ‘punish’ him as his uncle put it and Valerian did not intend to let the chance slip by.
That small gauntleted eight year old fist carried the crushing force associated with over four tonnes of strength and smacked solidly against his uncle’s right shoulder. The intent behind this strike was not only to cause damage but also to disable a limb and further unbalance the opponent to provide an opening for more follow up attacks.
Of course this was not a true battle but merely his uncle testing him by attacking him in different ways to help him with his deflections and counters. He was completely incapable of harming or moving the man no matter how hard he tried. Not only was he an experienced and gifted fighter of the lord tier. He was a master of the very art they were practicing and possessed incomparably greater strength and defence.
Notwithstanding, for the first time ever Valerian detected a change in his uncle’s expression when the strike landed. The man fixed him with an intense gazed and Valerian found himself backpedalling nervously.
“Your strength has increased greatly. I estimate that it’s improved by at least two more tonnes. You’ve advanced to the middle phase of the bone transformation stage!” the man announced.