When Richard followed Commander Vorm into the manor, Valerian knew that the day’s training session was officially over. He still kept at it though. Going through the stances whilst focusing on the mantra and principles so that they would entrench themselves more fully in his mind. He lacked the qi mastery to bring out the true might and profundities in the moves but the goal of training at this stage was to sculpt his body and ingrain the skills in his muscle memory.
So he busied himself for a while before his sharp hearing caught wisps of the conversation that the soldiers were having. Unsure of what he heard he moved closer.
“That’s right! Everyone thought that the brat was some sort of heaven warping talent. Who would have thought that he would be disabled? He cannot move his qi! It does not respond to anything at all”, he heard one say.
“It’s true. I heard it as well. They say that the Steelborn elders gave him more than a score of methods to try but none of them worked. He even ended up hurt from trying. You guys were stationed at the towers and so you do not know what has been happening in the city. But in my opinion, it was obvious from the start. The grandfather is an ostrich, how could his grandson soar into the heavens as a raptor? He was probably just dreaming of being a peerless talent”.
“Just think about it. Innate dual attributes, dual forces and an essence level forty-one times normal. Does this magistrate take us for fools? It is obvious that he was just trying to con his clan into giving him more resources”, another added.
Unable to take it Valerian rushed out to front yard fixing the speaking men with a fierce glare. Immediately all sounds of conversation in the main courtyard ceased. Many of the military men even looked embarrassed to have been caught gossiping. He ignored them fixing his gaze instead on the ones he knew had been saying those nasty things.
Both men were middle-aged and well-built but the first speaker was quite unkempt for an infantryman. Valerian could smell the alcohol on his breath from his spot thirty metres away. He wore simple leather armour that was tattered on his right side. The second man was younger and cleaner with thin pursed lips and a large forehead. They were clearly infantrymen since they were not among the soldiers who came in mounted but those who walked beside them.
Valerian felt even more enraged, low levelled peons like these were looking down on his family. He had been right to suspect that they had become the talk of the city. He noted their appearances down, adding them to his list before turning to glare at the manor guards.
The guards looked away sheepishly unable to meet his gaze. They knew they were in the wrong. They, the guards of the household, had actually allowed outsides to come into their territory and disrespect their lord. Frankly, they were a little ashamed but they also felt vindicated by the fact that those men spoke the truth.
Having quelled them Valerian turned to go back inside when a voice came from behind.
“Hmph! See him strutting like he’s all that!”
Valerian recognised the voice as belonging to the man with the large forehead. So he turned around to look at the man again the look on his face asking if he dared to speak that way to his face. However, he was unable to silence him like he did earlier because the man was strangely emboldened.
“What? Stop scrunching your face! Are you going to cry brat? You should you little cripple”, the man added then looking towards his companions he continued bitterly.
“Can you believe this brat? Coming out here like he was going to attack us. Who does he think he is? Do you know how much gold is being wasted on this cripple? I heard his grandfather was a legendary wastrel but junior seems to want to break his record. If I had even a tenth I’d be a true practitioner by now, paid off my debts and enrolled my children in some academy…”
Valerian was surprised. He understood mockery but the vehemence in the man’s words was something else and he wasn’t stopping. He looked towards the guards stationed around the courtyard all of whom seemed to be looking away as if they couldn’t notice anything. He caught sight of some of the servants. Some of them pretended to be busy but most of the people in the courtyard were looking at the proceedings without doing anything.
It was only then that Valerian realised that he was on his own. He looked at the same servants and guards he usually joked around with. The ones who told him stories and called him young master. None of whom would even stand up to defend him or his family when the situation called for it. He cursed himself. He had been such a fool. What had he expected? That he would come over and his status would magically cause them to reconsider.
His eyes stung with unshed tears and he turned his back to the onlookers to blink them away without being noticed. The disgruntled soldier continued to rain abuse on him but Valerian did not care at that point.
He’d show them. He really would! He’d tell his grandmother and get them all punished. They’d be sacked or fed to the hounds. No! They’d be given to Sela to play with. They’d see. He would make them regret it.
Behind him, the soldier continued to speak. Not even he was sure what he was talking about anymore. What had started out as a mockery of the magistrate and his grandson soon became a rant on the Steelborns and their tyranny. Then, it escalated to an attack on all nobles in general before narrowing back on the Steelborns and their ‘haughtiness’.
He was a bitter, impoverished man whose wife was cheating on him and whose children did not respect him. He had numerous debts and had recently been told that he was actually sterile calling the paternity of his kids into question. To sum up, he was a man who had finally gotten a chance to vent and thus he could not stop his resentment from pouring out.
Around him, his colleagues were distancing themselves. Mentally telling themselves that they were not here and they could not see anything. His friend, the not too sober one, was worried. He was taking it too far. Not only was he yelling abuse at a child, he was forgetting in his rant the fact that the boy was the grandson of a sitting magistrate as well as their commander’s very own nephew. To the side, one of the armoured knights made a move to stop him but was stopped by another knight.
“…stupid Steelborn outsiders. You should just go away and take your filthy blood with you!”
Something in Valerian snapped. Whereas before he had been leaving, planning to take his revenge by setting his grandmother loose on the offenders, he just stood stock still for half a second. Rage poured out him and in an extreme burst of speed, he appeared in the air right in front of the spit spewing man. He was blinded by anger but not enough to forget Harry’s first principle.
“Put in all force when attacking. Aim to take out your opponent in a single strike!”
The disgruntled soldier did not even see it coming. One second the sniffling brat was slinking off the next, he was under attack. Lucky for him, his training kicked in. Instinct and ingrained reactions are always faster than conscious thought. Qi rushed into his arms as he crossed them in front of his face to shield his head.
Alas, despite being in the qi manifestation stage he was just too weak due to practising an inferior cultivation method. How could he block a strike coming from Valerian, who was far stronger than any child had a right to be?
Valerian would not have cared anyway. It was as if he had tunnel vision. The only thing he cared about was his fist meeting his target. He did not even realise that he had covered a distance of thirty meters in the time it took to blink, a new record for him. Fuelled by his rage his armoured fist shot forward carrying a shocking murderous intent and the desire to make his enemy pay.
His small gauntleted fist was like a wrought iron ball shot from a cannon. It smacked against the soldier’s arms with such force that an audible crunch could be heard reverberating through the courtyard. All who heard it winced but there was nothing they could do to stop it. Valerian’s sudden attack had surprised everyone, not just the man he was attacking.
They were forced to watch the disgruntled soldier’s arms shattering in the face of the overwhelming force that met and overpowered them. The power was actually so great that his supporting arm bent backwards and broke a second time when it struck his massive forehead. Also, since it was a downward strike he was even knocked to the ground shattering some of the stone tiles of the paved courtyard, his face covered in his own blood.
What Valerian saw was a little different. His sharp vision registered the fear and regret on the man’s face and the momentary distortion from the impact and the pain. It satisfied him in a bloodthirsty way that he had made the man regret his words. That he had actually caused the man to be afraid. Would he dare insult his family now?
Everyone, guards, servants, soldiers stood there stunned. The sheer force and ferocity of the attack left them breathless. No one could have predicted this outcome. They were so shocked that it took them a second to realise that Valerian was raising his fist to launch another attack following Harry’s second principle.
“Seize all openings to put down your opponent!”
Fortunately for the downed soldier, his friend was a little less stunned than the rest of the soldiers. He blindsided Valerian, knocking him away with a charging tackle. The young boy was thrown aside, rolling a few times on the pavement before rising to his feet. He was only fortunate that the man had not followed up with the attack. Rather, he stopped to check on his friend.
The man was barely breathing, broken bones were poking out of his arms and his mouth was filling with blood. Wiping his face and turning him over so he would not choke on his own blood the tipsy soldier was shaken into sobriety.
If his friend hadn’t raised his hands to protect himself? If he hadn’t enhanced himself with qi? If he was any weaker? If he himself had not gotten there in time to stop the second strike?
Confronted with the fact that his friend had nearly died the man was understandably shaken. As it was, even if he recovered he would be a cripple. For a few moments, he could do nothing but stare at the wreck his friend had turned into. Then, his panic and worry swiftly changed into anger. Sword drawn, he charged towards the perpetrator. At this point, he did not care that he had just attacked his commander’s nephew or that his friend probably deserved it. He wanted revenge.
“YOU EVIL BRAT!!”
It was now Valerian’s turn to panic. By this time, his rage had dissipated and the adrenaline was wearing off. His head swung from side to side taking in the scene around him. The guards and servants stared at him as if looking at him for the first time. He could see the fear and shock on their faces. And he could see the tiles that had cracked from the impact caused by the man hitting the ground and the bloody misshapen lump lying in the middle.
His eyes widened when he saw the wrathful soldier coming for him. This one was different from the first one. He was not distracted and was coming at him with the intent to kill. Much weaker than his friend, he had only opened six of his eight meridians so he was unable to use any true, qi skills. However, he could still channel his qi through the open ones to enhance himself. Plus, his killing intent, forged from dozens of bloody battles erupted in full force.
It closed in on Valerian’s inexperienced form, making him feel like he was drowning in his own fear. Unbidden his eyes flicked towards the other soldiers pleading for help. He was met with the sight of them standing at the ready with their weapons drawn. Erroneously thinking that they too were preparing to attack him he nearly gave up.
It was a conditioned response. Having faced an attack their first reaction as military men was to ready their weapons in case they were to be attacked next especially after such a furious unexpected attack like Valerian’s. It was only the knights that did not do so but that was because they were powerful and fully confident of being able to handle a less than minor figure like Valerian.
Valerian had read many books. Among them was a story about warriors who lived on the battlefield because it was where they felt most at home. The reason being that it was only in the throes of combat that they were truly themselves. Fighting was what brought out their true nature. While an overly romanticised tale it did have some true facts.
Confronting danger was one of the ways to tell one’s true nature. Every living thing had a flight or fight instinct. When thrust into a dangerous situation there were some who run as fast and as far away as possible. Others would fight to their last breath if they had to, staking their survival on the outcome of the battle. Placed in the same situation and left with no way out, Valerian was surprised to find out that he did not turn his back. Rather, his fear prompted him to fight his way out.
Something was born inside him at that instant. A defining trait he would not notice until much later in life. It was a mentality to take the bull by the horns instead of trying to outpace it. Both were equally ridiculous but in his mind getting gored from the front whilst doing his best to take his killer with him was better than getting gored from the back while running away.
He was a cornered animal that sought to force his way out of his tight spot instead of digging a route to freedom and his essence answered this need. All he felt was a rush of arcane energy and then all the weapons in the area seemed to leap towards him. Even pieces of armour and the pot in the hands of one of the servants came flying towards him.
The shocked gazes he was enduring became even more intense when all registered the fact that he was now surrounded by a wide range of metallic objects. Each of them pointed outwards as if daring someone to come forward.
Swords, spears, three axes, four shields, many pieces of armour and a pot swirled around an eight-year-old boy who was just as shocked as the people around him. It was probably the biggest surprise of the day. A few of the more experienced people there had managed to channel their qi or arcane energy into their weapons and armour to prevent them from answering Valerian’s call.
The most pitiful ones were those whose own weapons had harmed them in their flight or had had their armour violently ripped off their bodies before they discerned what was happening. One was even dragged a few feet by his well-buckled breastplate before he coated it with his qi. The attacking soldier was no exception in this case. He stood there looking dumb as the sword in his hand ended up protecting his enemy. Its quivering tip pointed in his direction.
Tension filled the air and Valerian was at the centre of it. Seeking to dispel this atmosphere and get things to calm down, the knight who had been stopped by his colleague earlier stepped forward. He raised his right hand but before he could get a word in a sword shot at him. Quickly sidestepping the missile, he began to reconsider his decision to get involved.
Valerian couldn’t help it. He panicked and when he did, the sword flew out to protect him. He knew full well that the knights were the most dangerous people here. The fact that they had special horses and full plate armour more than highlighted this fact. Operating on the notion that all the soldiers were enemies made him jump when the heavily armoured man moved towards him. Now. he was even more worried. They had not made a move yet but his attack could cause them to.
Thankfully, he did not have to continue wondering whether he had broken a cease-fire or whether the knights were going to get into the fray because at that a moment a booming voice bellowed.
“WHAT IN THE THREE REALMS IS GOING ON HERE?”