The next day was a very hectic one in the magistrate’s household. In spite of their wishes to the contrary, the results of the test could not be kept hidden. Three elders of the Steelborn clan had come over. One of them was a third tier array master sent over to confirm the results of the test. After putting Valerian through the ceremony twice more he too came up with the same results. The three elders then locked themselves in the study with his grandparents and engaged themselves in discussion.
Realising that he would receive no training or teaching for yet another day Valerian picked up a book on geography and sat in the hallway outside the study for some self-study. The planet Verre contained three continents. The continent he lived on was known as the World’s Heart. To the east and separated by the world’s thinnest ocean was Breathland continent whilst the southern Na’ar continent sat separate and distant. The reason the World’s Heart was known as such was that it was the centre most of the three continents. There were also the two polar caps.
World’s Heart was undoubtedly the largest continent of all and was split between three major empires. The greatest of these and perhaps the most powerful in all of Verre was the NewHaven Empire in which he lived. The other two powers were the CrystalSpur Empire and LongCrest Federation. Each empire was divided into numerous smaller kingdoms or states. These kingdoms had their own rulers even though they were under the rule of the various major powers.
Besides paying tribute, obeying imperial edicts and fulfilling the imperial objectives, the 24 kingdoms mostly managed themselves. There were imperial offices and command posts but on a whole, the management of a state was left to the king or appointed official. So long as a king remained loyal, obedient, paid taxes and tributes and did not overly harm his people he could have a nice, long albeit slightly restrained rule.
The imperial force was not one to be questioned. It was genuinely powerful. It managed the largest and most dominant power in the continent. Forty percent of the entire Newhaven Empire was directly managed by the imperial force. The remaining sixty percent was what made up the 24 countries and beast lands.
Nonetheless, the situations in the countries were not bad. While they were a few steps down from the actual imperial land they enjoyed a large variety of benefits from the empire. The Kingdom that Valerian belonged to was the Bathar Kingdom. Bathar was recognised as the seventh most powerful kingdom under the Newhaven Empire.
Kingdoms were ranked according to population, wealth, size, military, resource endowment, infrastructure and the calibre of their cultivators. Thus, the fact that Bathar occupied the seventh rank slot was not a small achievement. The competition between the various states was a major driving force for development and probably one of the reasons that the empire had held it’s position as the greatest for so long.
Valerian’s head shot up, his mind breaking away from the book. The door to the study had opened and he could hear the voices within coming closer. Quickly he straightened his appearance and pretended to be absorbed in his book. Even as a child he knew that he had to make a good impression on the elders. Aside from the clan leader and the patriarch the elders held the most influence in all clan affairs. Having even one of them on his side would improve his own standing.
The three elders and his grandparents exited the study and saw him sitting quietly in the hallway. Seeing him so engrossed in study made them nod to themselves but seeing him swiftly put the book away, stand up and greet them impressed them even more.
The elders of the Steelborn clan were not of the typical, elderly upper management types.
To be an elder in the clan, one had to be at least a hundred years old possess strength of at least the second tier. Each elder wore embroidered steel grey cloaks, as was the custom for clan elders, and massive steel armour in the exact same style as his uncle Richard’s.
Over their left breast was carved the clan’s signature StormHawk on the outcrop insignia. In World’s heart, the left breast usually carried badges showing loyalties or allegiances whilst the right showed status or position.
“Valerian come here!” the elder in the middle called.
Quickly he moved over wondering what they needed him for.
“Good child. I need you to do something for me, is that alright?” he inquired.
Valerian answered measuredly, “If there is anything you need honoured elder, ask. Taxing or not, I will fulfil it so long as I am able.”
The elder’s grey eyebrows raised slightly at his manner of speech. From the corner of his eye, he looked at the magistrate immediately pinning him to be the source of this. Obviously, the boy had picked up his formal and exaggerated mannerisms. He chose not to comment on it though and instead raised an arm and pointed the palm outward saying.
“It is nothing so difficult, my child. I just need you to punch my palm as hard as you can”.
Valerian’s face immediately changed and his body became tense. Due to his longstanding practice of always appearing outwardly calm, it was not obvious but the experienced eyes of the elders easily saw through him. They had expected something like this. His actions had only served to confirm it. Now all they had to do was measure the degree.
Valerian was very apprehensive but when he looked at the elder he could tell he was being serious. He wanted to refuse but ended up asking, “Are you sure?”
The elder nodded with a smile. “Just punch this old palm of mine. No need to be shy. This old man can handle it”.
This made Valerian even more determined to refuse. He knew that the old man was baiting him but he was not going to be goaded into hitting him. However, before he could open his mouth to do so his grandmother’s voice rang out.
“Don’t worry Valerian. Hit him. Elder Foreson is a King level cultivator. You cannot possibly harm him. Just give him all you’ve got”.
Valerian looked the old man over his fears abating somewhat. Elder Foreson was an extremely well-built man. He was as tall as his grandfather but more robust and muscular. His aura was vastly different too. Even the magistrate’s recognisably authoritative aura paled in strength and force when compared to his. His hair while as grey did not sit on a body as frail as the magistrate’s, rather his very form implied strength and power. Inwardly Valerian cursed his own foolishness.
The Steelborns were the most powerful clan in DaleGuard. Any elder of the clan was definitely a powerhouse. He couldn’t hurt him if he tried his hardest. He was now convinced that the man knew what he was doing and that he knew. It couldn’t possibly matter if he revealed his secret now. So he backed up two steps and raised his fist.
“Okay. I’m going to attack Elder Foreson”, he reminded. It couldn’t hurt to be a bit cautious.
“Good!” the elder said. “Remember! Put in everything you have”.
Valerian nodded. He breathed in deeply and taking a step forward he punched out with all his strength for the first time in his life. The fist cut through the air at an impressive speed before it met the elder’s palm. It was a simple punch devoid of any proper skill and performed with an untrained fist. Yet the moment it met the elder’s palm a loud sound could be heard and the elder’s eyes immediately became serious.
You would think someone had slammed a stone club into a wooden wall. A slight wind from the strike swept through the area and ruffled the elder’s clothes. However, his palm remained unmoved. Indeed, it was as if nothing had happened to it but shock could be seen on his face and on the faces of all the other grown-ups.
Valerian withdrew his fist. In his mind he nodded appreciatively. Sure enough a clan elder was not that simple. The strength of someone at the king tier could not be underestimated at all. He would definitely have to acquire this kind of strength in the future. No, he would have to be stronger.
Valerian had a good estimate of his own strength. This was the other reason he ignored all the provocations at school and declined all fights despite how annoying they got.
For as long as he could remember he had always been abnormally strong. He didn’t notice it at first but eventually as he grew older he begun to see the disparities between his own strength and that of the servants in the household. Still it wasn’t until he knocked his grandfather out by accident when he was celebrating his fifth birthday that he realised how great it actually was.
That day was etched into his memory. Even now he wondered what would have happened if his grandmother had not taken him aside and spoken to him. When his grandfather woke up he did not remember anything and no one was in a hurry to tell him. But he learned his lesson then and from that day he kept a tight rein on his strength. He never unleashed his strength again till now when he poured out everything he had and even that was unable to so much as move the elder.
The elder’s view of things was completely different. He and the others had suspected Valerian’s strength and decided to test it. However even prepared, he had totally underestimated how much of it there was. If not for some swift last minute adjustments, he might have been humiliated. What would people think if they found out that an eight year old had actually struck his palm away? Sadly, he was not entirely successful as proved by the fact that he failed to completely neutralise the force behind the punch.
The other two were the same. They had a clear idea of what happened thanks to their heightened senses. Thus they saw plainly how powerful Valerian’s punch was and what it took to stop it. Their assessment of his worth shot up even more. Dual force, double dual innate attributes, an essence level forty-one times average and now this frightening degree of strength. Even a daft, blind, ignoramus could see that this boy was going to a major talent in the future.
Quickly they dismissed him and got down to business.
“Elder Foreson, just how strong is Valerian?” Valan asked curiously. In this gathering, his position as magistrate and lord of the manor accounted for nothing. The elders were all older and more powerful physically and politically. No one was going to call him lord or master here. Just plain old Valan.
“The boy possesses at least four tonnes of strength behind his punches”, Foreson admitted.
“Four tonnes…” Valan mumbled in astonishment.
“I know”, Foreson stated. “He definitely inherited the first legacy. In fact, his inheritance is probably comparable to the patriarch’s. Even though it is not fully awakened, his strength outstrips those of his peers who have full access to it. My guess is that it will reveal itself in full when he reaches the qi gathering stage like it does for most late bloomers”.
Valan nodded mutely for a second stroking his chin as was his fashion. Then a thought struck him. “Then my request..?”
Foreson nodded in acknowledgement his eyes unusually bright. “Rest assured. It will surely be accepted. Even if it is not I will do everything in my power to make it so. The boy will receive the full support of the clan and the top-secret manuals will be made available to him. It’s just… are you sure that you want Richard and Jonas to take charge of his training? You can move back into the clan compound. That way access will be even easier and he will have the best tutors on hand”.
“I’m sure!” Valan stated firmly. “The two have looked forward to the role from the moment he was born and their current level is more than enough to drill him for now. We will focus on the basics and if he needs any specialised or advanced training I guarantee that we’ll seek the aid of the clan”.
The elder wanted to protest the decision but he reflected on the resoluteness of Valan’s stance and the hard set of his jaw and thought better of it. In its place, he sighed and shook his head slightly. Perhaps it was best. Given the issues Valan had in the past, his presence could upset the current balance of powers especially given how gifted his grandson was. Looking the frail man over he couldn’t help but think, ‘It truly is a pity’.
Valerian sat in his favourite courtyard with one of the manor’s hounds at his feet. He reflected on the events of the last few days and had to admit that even he was a bit dazed. Three days ago he had been a student of Fang’s Grammar School. Now he was a soon-to-be cultivator with the highest ever measured potential in the city of DaleGuard. He had overheard some of the servants speak and knew that many were already referring to him as a Heaven warping talent.
He had to admit that he liked the sound of that.
Lost in thought he nearly didn’t notice the elders leaving. His grandfather was seeing them off but they declined, unwilling to trouble him and so he ended up leaving them not far from the entrance of his courtyard. However, they did not immediately leave. Rather they watched his grandfather hurry back into the main building. Then one of the elders opened his mouth.
“Looking at him it is hard to imagine that his father, mother, son and now grandson were all the most outstanding geniuses of their generations. What went wrong?”
Another assented. “I know. It’s so unfair. How did a wastrel like him come from such a great bloodline? Remembering all the resources that were wasted on him when he was younger still hurts my heart. If even one of my sons had half the opportunities he had growing up he would be stronger than me now.”
“Enough!” Elder Foreson barked at them. “Remember, Valan is still the son of the patriarch”.
“That doesn’t excuse him nor does it explain how he wound up being such trash”, the first to speak pointed out.
Even Foreson had to admit he had a point. “No, it does not. I guess Heaven has to even things out somehow”.
The three elders continued their talk as they left. Neither of them spared a thought for the young boy in the courtyard not too far away. It wasn’t that they did not notice him there. They just dismissed him. He was a child and they kept their voices low. The distance between them was also significant. There was no way that he would hear anything. How could they possibly know that Valerian was blessed with incredibly sharp senses?
Counting the legs of a centipede from a hundred meters away was nothing to him. Neither was listening to a conversation carried out less than seventy meters away. Thus the elders left not sparing him a glance thereby missing the sharp, wrathful look that existed in those same eyes as they watched them go.
- The word Bathar in my native tongue translates literally as “They can” or “They are able to”. Used as a name it is usually “Athaar” or “Ayinthar” meaning “He/She who can” or “The One who can”
- Na’ar, on the other hand means “Chieftancy”, “Kingship” and is used to refer to matters concerning the skin (our thrones).
Do note that these are not accurate spellings but rather even more anglicised to help with pronunciation. I feel this works better but I’m amenable to change.