The series of introductory lectures with his grandfather left Valerian feeling enlightened and gave him much to look forward to when he actually started training. Eventually, Elder Foreson and a few other elders dropped by the manor to hand over the manuals he would be training with. The manuals in question were just copies, but they contained the highest tier methods available to the clan, and had to be transported from the compound to the manor under heavy guard.
Methods were incredibly valuable and the higher the tier of a method, the more it was worth. The better the method the better the result from training according to it. Given that they were a means of training warriors they were responsible for a great portion of a clan’s strength. One of the reasons the Steelborns occupied the top spot in DaleGuard was because of their high tier techniques. They weren’t going to risk them getting out.
Originally the clan wanted him to stay in the compound to study the methods but his grandfather adamantly refused. Thus a few elders were required to bring them over and guard the manor while he studied. Before, getting elders to guard the manor would be unthinkable but now Valerian had been identified as a future asset for the clan and they were happy to make some concessions for their investment.
Imagine their surprise when Valerian returned them after just an hour of study. He had already memorised them. After testing him on their contents Foreson was forced to accept that he really had memorised them. He incinerated them right there. They were just copies after all. Then he left grumbling but a little happy at no longer being obligated to guard the manor.
“I hear you’ve already memorised the [Manifold Elemental Incarnations]”, Jonas prodded.
Valerian nodded. To be honest the constant expressions of surprise and incredulity from everyone were getting annoying. Sensing that he didn’t want to talk about it, Jonas did not pursue the matter. The two of them were sitting in Valerian’s favourite courtyard and Jonas readily admitted that he rather liked the atmosphere it had. It was cool and the breeze hit the trees just right. Rustling the leaves softly without ripping them loose excessively.
“I too train in that method. It is the greatest method for training arcane energy that the clan possesses. The reason for this is that it remains highly effective even at the higher arcane tiers and allows the cultivation of many abilities and spells. Perhaps the most outstanding thing about it is that it is also compatible with every elemental attribute making it dozens of times better than the clan’s second-best arcane cultivation method [Arcane Monolith] which is restricted to the metal one.
“For instance, I possess the fire attribute making it impossible for me to train according to the [Arcane Monolith] method. If you were to train in it you would have to neglect your wind attribute. However, we can both train in the [Manifold Elemental Incarnations] with no problems. You can even train both your attributes with it at the same time making it the best type of method for you. It is truly the best method in the clan and requires special permission to train in it”.
Valerian was listening intently so he caught some of the implications of what his uncle was saying. Thus he couldn’t help but ask. “Does that mean that not everyone in the clan trains in it?”
“Sadly, yes. There are certain stipulations that must be met before the elders allow anyone to train in it. However, the clan has five methods. If you are able to train any of them to a high enough level the clan will allow you to upgrade to the [Manifold Elemental Incarnations]”.
“You can do that?” Valerian exclaimed. He had been under the impression that the choice in cultivating method was a permanent one.
Jonas chuckled in amusement before answering. “Normally you can’t. The second method must be compatible with the first or else complications will occur. Our [Manifold Elemental Incarnations] is compatible with an incredible number of cultivation methods and types”.
“That’s amazing!” Valerian exclaimed. He was finally beginning to understand the import of the method and its value.
“Of course. There is a reason why the elite in the clan practise it. Even so, the number of people who successfully cultivate it are very few”. Here he paused a bit in contemplation before continuing upon deciding that Valerian was mature enough.
“What I’m going to tell you now is a secret. One you must not reveal to anyone. Not even other clan members. At least not without permission. I am only telling you since it is something that you must know as a practitioner of the Manifold Elemental Incarnations”.
Sensing the seriousness of the situation Valerian nodded solemnly.
“Good. In truth, the [Manifold Elemental Incarnations] is not just the most powerful art in the clan but also the entire county. Yes! Not just the city or viscounty but the whole county. It will be difficult to find one of its tier in the duchy to think of getting one compatible with so many elements and methods before considering its other special properties. The only reason we Steelborns have it is due to some special circumstances.
“The reason for the secrecy is to prevent others from knowing the true value of the method. If they knew then the clan would face untold calamities. You should be able to imagine what would happen if it got out that we possessed such a thing”.
Valerian nodded fearfully. He did not know that the clan had such a frightening secret.
“Good!” Jonas said in a serious tone but he soon lightened up. “There’s no need to look so worried. Just practise it and make sure you don’t tell people of its true power. Don’t even discuss its properties with others as there are some who would be able to estimate its tier from that. If people ask either ignore or refuse. Every family has its secret arts. No one can force you to reveal it”.
Valerian nodded again but Jonas still looked unsatisfied. So he added. “Yes, Uncle. I understand. I promise not to reveal the secrets of the [Manifold Elemental Incarnations] or its true tier to anyone without the express permission of the family”.
Jonas smiled widely. The reason he had stressed it so much was to make the importance of keeping the secret clear to Valerian. He was not exaggerating the danger it posed in the slightest. Ordinarily, he would have waited till he was older so he would better understand but who knew if he would blurt something out to someone before then. Valerian was certainly smart but he was still a child and would not even know it was supposed to be a secret. He had to impress the danger on him.
Now he had to clear his head a bit. He was supposed to start his lesson but he could tell that Valerian’s mind was occupied with thoughts on what they had discussed. There was even some fear still on his face. This state would surely be detrimental to his training so he took him towards the kitchen and got him some snacks whilst entertaining him with some funny stories. They made their way back when Jonas determined that Valerian was sufficiently distracted.
“I know Uncle Valan has given you an introduction to essence and the forces but I’m not sure how far you’ve gotten yet. Since I will be handling your arcane training it is best if I get a fair idea of what you know”.
Realising what was being asked of him Valerian began. “Arcane energy, mana or spiritual force is one of the two forces that rise from essence in humans. As a spiritual energy, it enables people to forge a special connection with the world. This allows them to summon and control the forces of the natural world. People who cultivate this energy are called Arcanists”.
Jonas displayed a surprised expression but only for a second. He was getting used to the fact that his nephew was a genius. Still, he made his approval known. “Good! Succinct yet listing all the important details”.
Jonas continued where his nephew left off, “All arcanists follow a general route, however, there are differences in cultivation methods and more importantly, differences in arcane energy. This leads to different albeit parallel paths. This has to do with the attributes of their arcane energy. Attributes are basically elemental properties. A simple analogy would be that, if arcane energy is tea then attributes are the different flavours of tea.
“There are two ways to get attributes. The first is to be born with one. That is to possess one innately. The second is to train or gain one. You possess innate metal and wind attributes. This means that your arcane energy possesses the characteristics of metal and wind. Thus, it will be easier for you to learn or use metal attributed arts. However, any attempt to practise arts of a different attribute will be arduous.
“This is the advantage the innately attributed have over those who are not. They can train faster when practising arts of their elements whereas those without innate attributes will have to spend time training one up. Those arts will also be more powerful under their hands as well due to the synergistic effect.
“But those without innate attributes have their own edge. Unlike the innately attributed their attributes are not predetermined meaning that they can choose whichever one they want and train it. Plus, someone with an innate attribute will have a very slow training speed when training in something other his or her innate attribute but that person would not have that problem if he or she did not have an innate attribute. Meaning it is easier for them to train in multiple attributes”.
Jonas adjusted his seat and placed his staff across his lap. “Which is better is an argument that is older than the empire. Each has its merits and demerits none of which are our current concern. I am only mentioning it because it is common knowledge. Being innately attributed or not is a matter of chance and birth. It cannot be changed and all have to make do with what they get.
“Our clan, in particular, is chock full of qi cultivators or tellurians. Seven out of every ten Steelborns has qi instead of arcane energy. We also have an uncommon number of people with innate attributes. Out of every five cultivators, three or four would be innately attributed. The most common attributes are metal and wind nevertheless some random elements crop up from time to time. It’s mostly fire or earth though.
“Most tellurians in the clan are born with the innate metal attribute whilst arcanists are born with the wind attribute. Looking at it that way, it is not so strange that you as a dual force user have both attributes though why it is not innate metal qi attribute and innate wind arcane attribute instead of dual attributes for both forces is a serious question.
“However, it is not one we care about. We’ll not look a gift horse in the mouth. My task is to train you in the arcane arts and that’s what I’ll do”.
Feeling a bit parched from talking so much, he grabbed a glass at his side and took a sip. Then he adjusted his posture. Lifted his staff, placed it back over his knees and generally fidgeted for a few moments. Jonas was trying not to show it but he was a bit nervous. Aside from giving advice to a few colleagues and juniors, Valerian was going to be the first person he trained. Even if it was not a formal apprenticeship he would still be considered his master in official records.
Calming himself, he referred mentally to his lesson plan. ‘The successful arcanist prepares beforehand’, he intoned in his head.
“The arcane path is split into seven tiers or realms of power. They are in increasing order of power; the Arcane Disciple, Arcane Lord, Arcane King, Arcane Emperor, Arcane Sage, World Transcendent and Heavenly Immortal. The higher levels are too far off to discuss even for me so ignore them for now.
“All you need to focus on is that the arcane path is one that dominates the world. We mimic it, understand it, control it, master it and govern it. To possess arcane energy is to possess power over the natural world, over the elements” as he said this he raised a hand and with a grand gesture he set it aflame.
Valerian immediately took a step back, crying out in surprise. The fire coating his uncle’s hand was bright and hot yet it did nothing to the flesh. He watched as the flames seemingly congealed into his palm forming a small sphere like the pith of a pear. Before his very eyes the orb grew larger and larger until it was half a meter wide in just a few breaths.
“Uncle! What are you doing?” he received no answer.
He had been retreating steadily the whole time sweating so much his clothes were beginning to stick to him. The heat was intense and oppressive and the whole courtyard bathed in it. The fiery light of the orb could be seen reflected in his eyes and yet he did not look away. The light revealed the awe and slight trepidation in his gaze.
Confronted with the power of an arcanist Valerian could feel his heartbeat quicken in excitement. Why? Because it was power he himself possessed.