Being the focus of his master’s anger nearly made Avery recant his statement. He knew better than anyone present the danger they were in. Valerian was in one of his dark moods. Avery had noticed it not long after he’d finished eating. Right now, the best thing would be to stay out of his way, but he couldn’t well do that at the moment.
“Not that Young master! I just happen to think that there might be some wisdom in his words. The hunt’s already ruined. There’s nothing wrong with coming back later. Not to mention, you should probably oversee what happens to these men yourself”, he said.
“I see…” Valerian murmured.
Avery was worried. He just hoped that his own connection to the boy was enough to protect him. He may not want anything to happen to the soldier but he wasn’t sticking his neck out for him either.
“Those are good points Avery”, Valerian judged. “We’ll do as you say for now”.
His manservant gave a large sigh of relief.
Truthfully, Valerian didn’t really care for what Avery said. However, the man’s words had made him realise that his anger was misplaced. He wasn’t angry with the soldiers but rather with himself and the one behind them. The day had not gone well at all and that had opened his eyes as well as compounded the issue. The whole thing made him want to lash out.
He was weak. Their ordeal had proved that. His offensive power was lacking and his combat experience insufficient. He had never realised this before but then again he had never actually fought against other people. Only his uncles and the beasts he hunted. With the later, he simply outmanoeuvred them. Today, the day of his first true confrontation had ended in failure.
This epiphany, as well as the near-death experience, left him shaken and worried. He now knew his actual combat skills were not up to par. What would happen next time? What if Avery wasn’t there? He had to fix this weakness before it became an actual problem.
Despite this, he wasn’t going to come out and admit that he might have been wrong and overreacted. Besides, the other man had clearly overstepped his boundaries. He was lucky to be spared as is. He decided to leave things as they stand, and started walking back into the cave.
The sergeant was beyond relieved. The issue had been resolved. It had neither come to a head nor resulted in any truly irreconcilable difference. He’d hate to have had to walk into town after assaulting a noble’s son. That would have caused all sorts of problems for him. Just then something caught his eye.
It was a metallic glint that came from a shiny object that entered his vision from behind his head. The metallic implement swirled around him twice before he could react. It was fast. Too fast. He could barely make it out. But he got a general idea of what it was. It was some kind of dagger; shiny blade, strange symbols and a simple bone handle.
He watched as it left his side and flew to its master. Someone he identified from the fact that it sheathed itself in a scabbard slung across his back. It was Valerian. The boy did not even glance towards him. He just continued strolling away as if he did not have a care in the world.
The sergeant’s frightened eyes swept over to Avery. The manservant merely shrugged before hurrying to catch up with his master.
The soldier stood stock still, watching them make their way into the cave. Unable to help it his hand rose to rub the back of his neck. That blade just now had just made its way into his blind spot without him noticing. When did it do so? How?
He thought of the boy with the dark eyes and immediately to re-evaluate him. The boy was definitely more than a genius array master. He rubbed the back of his neck in thought. He‘d never have known the blade was there if it hadn’t pulled that stunt at the end.
Damn, that brat was dangerous.
The party was now far larger than it had originally been. There were eleven of them. Three were injured, prisoners. Due to that, their travel was slow. Something that made the already unbearable atmosphere even worse.
They had elected to spend the night at the site where the two groups met. Right outside the cave that Valerian slept in. Then, they began their journey home at sunrise. Unfortunately, the tense uncomfortable air from the day before never went away. Valerian was silent and broody whilst the sergeant merely kept his mouth shut and his eyes trained on his dangerous cargo.
Thanks to that, not one of them had the presence of mind to enjoy the scenery they were passing through as they made their way down the mountain which was a real shame since the view was incredible. They were in the outer parts of the Grand boundary. The greatest highland in the whole of World’s Heart. The very world essence here was different from that of any other place.
They walked on until Valerian stopped them. His dark look was gone. Replacing it was one of confusion, curiosity and wonder.
“Something is not right here”. He called out.
Everyone stared at him wondering what he was on about. It was only Avery who took his words seriously. The manservant immediately unsheathed his sword. Eyes scanning their surroundings, he placed himself in a position to better guard Valerian. Seeing his reaction, the soldiers were instantly on alert. They were pulling out their weapons as well when Valerian did something crazy.
He began to run to the side yelling, “Come with me!”
Now even more confused they followed. Pushing their way through a strand of trees, they came upon an amazing sight.
Lying a few metres below their current position was a small field. It was a miniature valley with a short cliff wall on their end and the relatively flat expanse that stretched for at least eighteen metres before it met the gentle slope on the other side. Everyone stared. It was that beautiful.
The trees were even sparser in the valley but that didn’t lessen its beauty. The grass was vibrant and spotted with many beautiful flowers. There was even a small, trickling stream running through it. From their vantage point, they could all see that the water was clear and potable. The many creatures drinking from it only served to reinforce that belief.
All in all, it was an idyllic site. There was no one whose breath wasn’t taken away. It was like a spot embodying nature’s purity. The frogs croaked softly, competing with the birds nestled around. The hares scampered all over the place and odd squirrel climbed to her delight. None had ever seen a prettier sight. Then Valerian remembered what he came for.
Paying no attention to the stunned soldiers he jumped the two metres into the valley. The rest of them quickly recovered and rushed in. When they did they did they begun to let out gasps as they made a new discovery. The world essence in the small field was at least twice as thick as it was outside it. They’ definitely stumbled on some special site.
Valerian ignored them. Instead, he closed his eyes and reached out with his arcane senses. Avery hurriedly took his place at his side.
One of the soldiers curious about the place made his way to the stream. He was only a short distance from it when the rock beneath his foot suddenly forced its way out of the ground. Crying out in shock he fumbled with his blade waiting for an attack that never came. The rock just floated up into the air where it was met with all the gazes from the eyes the man’s scream dragged over.
It hung there for maybe half a second before it flew towards Valerian and stopped in front of him. The men glanced at each other, still wondering what was going on. Then another yell came. Spinning around they discovered that many more rocks were levitating from the earth and flying to their charge. These rocks came from all over the place including the stream bed.
It was the Sergeant who finally worked up the courage to ask what was going on.
“What’s happening?” he asked Avery. Sadly, the man had no idea as well.
Noticing Valerian’s eyes flutter open the manservant posed the question to him. “Young master, could you please explain what’s going on? The men are becoming nervous.”
Valerian did not turn his eyes towards him. Rather, he trained them on the many rocks floating around him. Even so, he gestured the two men closer and answered the question. The whole time he kept his voice low as if he was about to reveal a secret.
“There’s something very strange about this place. I managed to sense it as we walked by. The metal essence here is extremely strong. I have never felt anything like it. And aside from that, there’s this…” he muttered.
Using his powers, Valerian dragged one of the rocks over. It was the size of his head and covered in soil and bits of grass. With a gesture, he banished most of the dirt away allowing Avery and the sergeant to see what lay beneath. As expected, they gasped in surprise. Valerian didn’t blame them. He was having some trouble believing it as well.
That’s because the rock was clearly a massive chunk of solid gold ore. Anyone who had ever seen the metal before would be able to make out the unmistakeable clumps embedded in the rock. Unable to help himself, the sergeant looked up glancing at the many floating rocks around them. They were at least twelve of them, all of different sizes.
Then something clicked in his head. These were from all over the place, including the steep rock walls around them. He spun on his heel scanning the valley and measuring it. If they were all gold then …. His mind failed at the calculations but he knew that the value of this place was definitely worth a few million sovereigns.
“This is a gold vein!” he exclaimed.
Valerian shot him an annoyed glance because of his outburst. However, he could understand the man’s excitement. Still, he’d better correct him quickly.
“Not exactly”, he began. With these words, he was instantly the focus of attention again.
“What do you mean?” the Sergeant asked in puzzlement. Avery wanted to know as well.
Choosing to simply show instead of explain, Valerian, pulled more of the floating rocks his way. He waved his hand in their direction and they extracted themselves from their coating of dirt to reveal their true selves to his audience. Avery and the sergeant could only stare in stunned silence when they saw what Valerian had uncovered.
“I don’t understand”, the burly soldier finally stated.
Avery was the same. Each of the six rocks that Valerian had drawn over was the ore of a different metal. They were iron, silver, chromium, titanossis, platinum and glacies ferrum. Avery had never heard of something like this before. One or two metals he could understand but seven in one place? He also wanted answers. However, due to his long service to the magistrate’s family, he knew to keep quiet and let his master explain. He wasn’t disappointed.
“That isn’t the only weird thing about this place. Or haven’t you noticed?” Valerian said waving his hand in a gesture over the field.
“Noticed what?” the soldier asked still confused.
Valerian took a deep breath and began to explain. “This place has at least seven different minerals occurring in it. They are everywhere in the valley and occur in vast quantities. Of these, three of them are essence metals but while uncommon they are not that rare. Many places with high quantities or qualities of essence are the same and this place certainly qualifies as one.
“Whilst even I am boggled as to the reason for the number and variety I can say that the essence levels here are more than twice what they are outside the valley. But there’s something even stranger”.
Here he lifted his hand up and in that air grasping movement he learnt from Jonas he condensed an orb from metal attributed world essence. The orb was unlike anything he had ever condensed before and Avery’s eyes widened at the sight. Normally, when Valerian condensed or collected metal attributed essence it appeared as a golden colour. Now, it was an icy grey.
“You guys probably can’t feel it since none of you possess the metal attribute but the metal essence here is incredible. It was what drew me here in the first place. It is cold and hard and at least four times as intense as it is elsewhere. I have never encountered the like”, Valerian explained as he stared at the glowing ball.
“However, that’s not the worrying part”, he added.
The sergeant came closer also entranced by the weird clump of metal essence. He couldn’t be sure but he could swear that the essence had a nature. His thoughts, though, focused on the more pressing issue.
“What do you mean?” he asked. What was so worrying?
“Come on! Something here is clearly not right. I’d have thought you of all people would be the first to tell. Can’t you see it?” Valerian inquired.
The man bristled yet he said nothing. He wanted Valerian to stop playing games and spit it out already. Valerian though was not about to go out of his way to help someone already on his shit list. Avery, against his will, had to step up and ask politely.
“Young master, perhaps it would be better for you to tell us since we haven’t a clue as to what you mean. Especially if there might be some danger involved”, he said.
Valerian looked at his minder and relented. “Take a good look around you”, he pointed out. “Look closely at the land. It is well sheltered, beautiful, with a good source of water and extremely precious essence”.
“Does it not strike you as strange that such a prime piece of land has not be taken already? Do you not find it bizarre that despite the plentiful world essence there are no daemons here? Are you not puzzled by the fact that there are all these animals here and not a single true predator?” he clarified.
With each question, the burly soldier’s heart filled with more and more alarm. The brat was right. There was something wrong here. How could he be so stupid? There was no way that such a place would be uninhabited. Even if there were no signs of people, there were bound to be daemons. This was the Grand Boundary for crying out loud.
The only reason he could think of for why the place he had neither daemons nor large predators was that the place was already someone’s territory. A daemon powerful enough to frighten away challengers. One that did not appreciate neighbours. A daemon whose land they were trespassing on.
“EVERYONE!” he shouted drawing the attention of his men and the prisoners. “WE’VE GOT TO GET OUT OF HERE! QUICKLY!”
His men were swift to act. They did not bother with why but instead hastened to leave at their leader’s command. They were ready to haul bottoms and they would have done so if a young man’s voice did not stop them.
“That will not be necessary sergeant!” Valerian called out.
The man turned to him giving him a look as if asking if he was stupid. One Valerian chose to ignore in favour of getting his point across.
“Calm down. The daemon is not here and probably hasn’t been for a few days at least”, he explained.
“What makes you say that?”
“One of the first spells I cast when I got here checked out surroundings for noteworthy life signs. Besides us, there are no noteworthy life signs within four kilometres. Any daemons in the area are keeping well away from this place.
“All the more reason to get the hell out of here before it comes back” the man argued.
Now, it was Valerian’s turn to look at him like he was stupid. “Yes, you are right. Were it to return and find us here things would be … bad to say the least. On the other hand, it is not here now. This is the perfect time to take a look at its lair and figure out what sort of beast it is and its apparent tier. Surely, you don’t think that we should just leave this site to it?”, Valerian asked.
This sent the wheels in the man’s head spinning. He was imagining the possibilities. The gold aside, there were many other high-quality minerals in the area. Two of them were even essence imbued materials. Plus, the site was filled with high-grade world essence and even higher grade metal essence if the boy was to be believed.
The Steelborns gave a finder’s fee to anyone who gave them news of exploitable sites and the locations of resources. This fee was dependent on the type and quality of the find. If he was to report this to his superiors and back that with information on the place and its resident, his cut would be astronomical.
He could retire and live wealthily for the rest of his life. No more babysitting annoying nobles or running about following orders. He would be his own man and have people do things for him instead. Greed shone in his eyes at the promise of riches.
“I understand”, he conceded. “Sit still and wait whilst we try to find the lair”.
Valerian said nothing. He just lifted a finger and pointed it at a spot behind the sergeant. The man turned around to see a giant boulder leaning against one of the steep rocky sides of the valley. The rock was unnaturally placed and possibly there to cover something. It was so obvious that the man wondered why he had not noticed it before. Glancing over his shoulder, he glared at Valerian. Nobles were all annoying on principle but this brat was especially hateful. He’d never met anyone else who made him feel so stupid.