BK I, Chapter 18: Setting Out

As turned out, it took four days before Valerian had full control over the dagger, much to his displeasure. And that was even with his Uncle Jonas’ help. In doing so, he learnt some very important lessons about channelling, controlling and using arcane energy. He also found out why he could manipulate metal. The rationale was pretty simple.

He possessed the innate metal attribute. The average arcanist, however, would not have an innate attribute. Due to this, they could only manipulate the world essence in its raw form. Without training and using spells there was no way they could manipulate the elements. It was different for the innately attributed.

They were born with a disposition for a particular element which allows them to manipulate it, even without much training. This meant that whilst someone without an innate attribute would need to be taught to sense and control the different elements present in world essence, an innately attributed arcanist could do this with ease. They could not only manipulate world essence but they could draw on the metal attributed portion of it.

For example, someone with no innate attribute would have to rely on studying and using the fireball spell in order to manipulate the world essence into flames he could throw at his opponent. Before training or gaining an attribute he would never be able to control raw fire. But someone with the innate fire attribute would be able to cast the fireball spell with greater ease as he would not require as much time to sense and control fire attributed world essence.

In addition to this, he or she could rely on that same innate connection to fire to control natural flames with his essence. This was the reason why the innately attributed were so envied by other cultivators. They would have to acquire an attribute with training before they would have access to the advantage that the innately attributed had from birth.

On some level, it probably wasn’t fair but such was life and Valerian was not going to complain. Not when he had two innate attributes for each of his forces. Besides, there was a huge factor that played in the favour of those without innate attributes. They could train up more attributes. In fact, they could acquire anyone they wanted.

It was generally accepted that all the elements were equal but each had its specialities and thus things it was good or bad for. Fire had great explosive power and earth was famed for its defensive abilities. Only someone with no innate attribute could freely choose one after weighing what he or she wanted. A person with an innate attribute would find it hard to learn another attribute. Someone like Valerian who had two would find it near impossible to do so.

However, elemental manipulation had limits. Any arcanist could manipulate his element and all things made of it, but they could not do so if it was already branded with another person’s essence. For instance, if someone tossed a fireball your way, even if the person did not have the fire attribute and you did you could not just move it out of your way.

This was because his or her essence was already controlling those flames meaning yours could not do so unless you far surpassed him or her in arcane might. Elemental manipulation was ultimately establishing a connection with your element using your energy and then using your energy to control that thing. Because of this, you could not control something that was already connected or made from another’s essence.

Meaning that if there was a bonfire between two fire attributed arcanists of comparable strengths only the person who established a connection to the flames first could control it. This was evident in the fact that Valerian was unable to summon the weapons of those who channelled their qi or arcane energy into their gear back then. Also, he could not even move the armour or weapons of the knights because they were already branded with their essence.

Valerian was disappointed to discover this limitation because without it he would have been completely immune to wind and metal spells and weapons once he mastered their respective elemental manipulation techniques. Still, it was a cool and convenient power. He could move his new dagger anyway he wanted. Making it hover beside him or attack anything at a distance. He effectively had a flying sword for the price of a common dagger.

All that was beside the way, today he would be going hunting with his grandmother. He could not keep his excitement contained. Even going to bed the night before was difficult and the smile on his face seemed permanent. He couldn’t help it. Today would be the first time he stepped out of the city limits. And he was going to fly as well.

He walked up to Gulsalma, his grandmother’s mount. Gulsalma was more than just a mount and she made sure to remind everyone of the fact. She was his grandmother’s first contracted beast, a Dire Daemon, a mount, battle beast and right hand. It meant that she was always at her side and that she was the leader of all the beasts in the manor estate and around it.

She was also half Numinous Leopard and the most powerful daemon Valerian had ever laid eyes on. Numinous Leopards were extremely high ranked daemons on par with dragons, phoenixes and white tigers. This meant that she was born with incredible innate gifts and blessed with great potential.

She made sure that everyone knew that had she been in the wild she would be a fearsome Horde Lorde with a territory spanning hundreds of square kilometres. This was an accepted fact. She was right and no one could contest it. Who would dare argue with a Dire Daemon let alone one that was large enough to be used as a mount?

At two metres, twenty centimetres wither height, five and a half metres long with a further three metres of tail, it was three times bigger than a normal leopard. The rosette covered, flaxen furred beast had good reason for its arrogance. It had claws and teeth that could rend steel and a bite that chomped through marble pillars. Not to mention the fact that it was absurdly fast.

How fast Valerian did not know but, the fact that they’d be riding Gulsalma today was more than enough of a treat. Thing was though, they were going to fly and the proud feline had no wings. Flying was not one of her innate traits but rather a learned magic. One that he would get to experience today.

So he got onto the daemon, sitting in front of his grandmother. She had no reins and no saddle. She didn’t need any. The connection between beast and mistress was that strong.

You see Clara Steelborn was not just the demure, hardworking wife of a city magistrate, but also a beast tamer. She was a cultivator who specialised in the rearing and training of daemons, a job she was very good at. In fact, rearing daemons was in her blood.

Her clan were plains folk whose primary profession was ranching daemon horses for mounts. However, she was not a simple breeder but a cultivator well respected for her battle might. Why? Because of her contracted battle beasts.

She did not focus on her own strength as much as she did the training and strengthening of daemon partners like Gulsalma and Sela. That did not mean she was personally weak. Far from it. All it meant was that she lived, trained and fought alongside her daemon companions.

Many did not know it but whilst Richard was the most obviously dangerous person in the manor, the most powerful person was actually his grandmother. Valerian was willing to bet that not even his uncle Vorm was a match for her in battle.

The thing to keep in mind was that beast tamers did not fight alone. They fought with their beasts. Not even Vorm, his Hoarfrost Spikesaur or both working together could possibly be a match for an experienced Arcane Lord, two Dire Daemons and two Daemon Lords who were adept at working and fighting together as well as covering each other’s weaknesses.

Sitting on the back of one of those Dire Daemons made Valerian giddy. So giddy in fact that before take-off Gulsalma warned him.

“Better sit still Val! We wouldn’t want you falling off now, would we? Oh and keep your mouth shut. There are a lot insects about”.

Aptly warned Valerian sat back, quiet as a mouse. This prompted Clara to laugh and remind her oldest friend.

“Don’t scare Valerian Sal. He has enough to think about. This is his first hunt after all”.

This was something Valerian did not want to be reminded off. He had come to understand that the significance of being taken on this hunt was greater than he first thought. His grandmother was one of the plains folk and one of those who took hunting very seriously. A young person’s first hunt was a deep and meaningful thing.

As a matter of fact at dawn that morning, he had been required to take a ritual bath, say some prayers to his ancestors, and undergo mental preparation for what was to come.

In the old days, only cultivators were true hunters among the plains people. This was because they were the only ones who could hunt anything of significance, as in daemons. They were warriors, the elite of their tribes and clans and models for the young. Hunting was also a spiritual thing. Valerian did not really understand it but he knew it was important.

Thus, hunters may share their title with their mundane counterparts but they were more. In many ways, they were custodians of culture and a throwback to earlier times. Theirs was a profession that Valerian had yet to understand but he knew that true hunters held power amongst the plains folk.

The plains folk were the true natives of Cragsveil and the surrounding counties. A large part of Bathar was grassland and the plains folk were the people of the grasslands. Most were actually settled nomadic tribes. There were still actively nomadic ones but historically, they were people who moved from place to place, taking what they needed from the land, giving back to it and moving on to another site.

Each tribe or clan had at least one speciality and his grandmother’s was horse ranching. They had a diverse range of breeds and were among the most reputed horse breeders within the surrounding six kingdoms.

Then again, they were also hunters and tamers. His grandmother was no different. She grew up in the clan leader’s household and her brother was the current chieftain. She was trained not as a breeder but as a hunter and a guardian of the clan and herd. It was a lofty position amongst the plains people and one that called for respect. She even managed one of the clan’s shops in DaleGaurd.

As a rule, Clara took her traditions very seriously. Taking a child out on his or her first hunt was not just a must, but also one of the sacred acts of her people. It was one of two ceremonies that established a young person as an adult and cultivator of the tribe. The other was the choosing and contracting of a mount or battle beast.

Rather than think on this or the fact that traditionally it was supposed to be one of his parents leading him on the hunt Valerian chose to focus instead on the topic of daemons. After all, he would be encountering wild ones today.

Right then, Gulsalma took off. She did not run, she just leapt into the air and shot up to a height of over a hundred metres. Eyes open wide Valerian turned from side to trying to figure out how this was happening. Soon he spotted them. Translucent wings were connected to Gulsalma’s midriff. They were not natural or real so he rightly guessed that they were a skill or spell of some sort. They did not beat or flap but stayed outstretched, somehow keeping them aloft.

Valerian could only stare in amazement as the ephemeral limbs carried them closer and closer to the city walls with each second. Soon it became apparent that they were not headed for the main Eastern gate but the Northern one.

DaleGuard was a city with a combined area of some hundred square kilometres. It was built in the form of a pentagon, only, one side was much longer than the other. This extra-long side was the Eastern one facing the Pronged Gap. However, they were not headed that way but instead towards the north which was closer to their destination.

One interesting defensive feature of the city were the wards. No one could just fly into the city as they pleased. The wards covered the entire city; walls, sky and ground. Remember, DaleGuard was a military installation and the fact that it had become the administrative capital of the viscounty made it even more important.

The only true openings in the wards were the gates and even they could be closed faster than you could blink if they needed to be. This greatly increased security and allowed for entry and exit to be monitored and controlled. No beasts or cultivators could go over the walls or fly in. Flying daemons and their riders had only one way in or out and that was the landing platforms. Right over every gate was a giant platform were anyone who was flying had to stop.

That was where they were headed now. It only took a few minutes and once they were there they got onto the platform and walked in between the guard towers and over the wall walk to the platform on the other side. Each platform was an outward extension of the city walls. They were a hundred metres wide and a hundred and fifty long making it easier for people to come and go.

Soon they were off and for the first time, Valerian could see the world for what it was. Vast acres of grassland stretched into the distance, only interspersed with scattered strands and groves of trees. He could hear the squawking of birds and from a distance, his remarkable eyesight caught a herd of antelope grazing not too far from the city walls.

And the mountains. They were headed for the Rhas Mountain Range, a place that might as well have been the imperial palace given how unreachable it had been for him. Looking at it now Valerian felt the wait was worth it. The rocky giants rose from the ground like earthen spikes to stab at the heavens. Clouds swirled around their peak and Valerian could swear he saw a draconic form lumber into a cave. All in all, it was a magical sight.

The Rhas mountain range was the second largest in Cragsveil. The first was the Grand Boundary on the other side of the viscounty. Both formed the borders of the viscounty and the Kingdom of Bathar. The former stretched past the Viscounty of Cragsveil to make up the majority of the northern border shared with their enemies the Kyisi Kingdom, and the latter was an even more massive mountain range that formed the entirety of Bathar’s eastern border.

They were also the reason for the viscounty’s unique name. Cragsveil was a low lying grassland lined or veiled by two massive mountain ranges. They were impressive sights that could be seen from any place in the land. In the mornings, when the sun rose and its beams struck the mist that sometimes shrouded them, they lit in beautiful displays that enthralled all watchers.

It was the first time Valerian saw a mountain close up. If you could call it that. For a time, he was confused. Within the space of three hours, the formerly distant range was looming over him. Now he could not hold more than one of the earthen forms in his sight. Just how fast had they been going? They must have covered at least four dozen kilometres without him noticing.

It was as if he didn’t even register their speed. None of the things he associated with high speeds like the wind rushing against his face or the roar that came with parting the air had taken place. They just moved through the air languidly. Clearly, his grandmother had something to do with that. He did rather enjoy the landscape rushing by though. It was beyond exciting.

Sadly, soon they were at the foot of the mountain. Gulsalma slowed down, dropping slowly in altitude until they were skimming the tops of the meter tall grass. It took a few seconds before Valerian realised that they were headed for a small glade.

“From here on we’ll walk!” his grandmother told him.


Author’s Notes:

Gulsalma means ‘Marked Gold’. As in a decorated piece. This is a reference to the rosettes scattered over its yellow fur. Sela is derived from the general name for serpent, a much longer phrase that literally means ‘That which bites’. Sela is of course from the biting part.