BK I, Chapter 8: Harriers and Cluders

Valerian’s first lesson with Richard was exactly how he expected it to be. A set of training clothes was given to him the night before and when the sun rose Richard came for him and dragged him, drowsy as he was to the courtyard. So Valerian stood there in his new leather outfit, trying to rub the sleep from his eyes in front of a frowning armoured giant.

“Sharpen up!” Richard commanded.

Valerian tried, he really did. He knew the kind of man his uncle was. Curt, strict and direct. He didn’t mince words and on account of his throat injury, he didn’t like to speak much either. He was the second most feared person in the manor and the most obviously dangerous. He was someone Valerian looked up to as a model of what a warrior should be.

He didn’t want to disappoint the man. But getting dragged out of bed at sunrise was disorientating. He now understood the complaints of the other manor guards. Looking up he saw Richard staring at him with a frown still on his face.

“Run a lap around the courtyard”, the man barked at him.

Due to his drowsiness, it took a few seconds before the words registered. Once they did his mind nearly halted. ‘Wait… what?’ he tried a half-hearted attempt to get out of it. It didn’t work but he managed to compose himself enough to claim that he was fully awake. The cold frown on his uncle’s face stopped him though. It was clear that he wasn’t getting out of it.

It turned out that the run did wake him up. It left him tired and panting, but awake. He put his all into it hoping to at least impress the giant in front of him but he had no such luck. There was not even a hint of a change in the man’s expression. It almost made him want to complain but he knew full well that it would get him nowhere. The guards that did usually had their training doubled.

“The tellurian path is not an easy one. It requires a fit body and a lot of physical training. The body is a vessel and the better the vessel the better the qi that can be stored in it. Thus to be a tellurian is to have a well-trained body. In addition to this, tellurians focus on physical combat which is impossible to use effectively without training. I will be responsible for yours”.

He paused here with a look of discomfort on his face. Valerian was worried. The scar running down his jaw looked extra red today. He wondered why. He knew that his uncle had been in the army at one point and had gotten severely injured in a mission. So injured in fact, he was bedridden for a half a year. He had to relearn how to talk and walk. His cultivation even declined. However when he recovered he pushed himself so hard, he not only regained his former level, he surpassed it.

It was even suspected that he was about to break into the king tier. All this Valerian had learnt from listening to the guards talk. It was one of the reasons he so respected the man. Anyone who could suffer such wounds, survive and make such a dramatic comeback was more than worth the respect.

“The tellurian path is separated into seven tiers; Practitioner, Lord, King, Emperor, Sage, World Incarnate and Divinity. But being a tellurian is not as simple as using qi, accomplishing feats and breaking through the tiers. First, you have to transform your physical form. Using world essence and a chosen cultivation method you first have to transform your bones strengthening them and improving your marrow. Then your flesh so as to give you not only a strong frame but also dense, powerful musculature.

Once this is done you may then open your meridians allowing you to channel qi throughout your body, completing your transformation and allowing you to use the battle skills and enhancements that tellurians are known for. Once you have gathered enough qi you may condense it into a core crystal and become a true tellurian practitioner”.

“All this though is a matter of cultivation. Something you will do on your own according to the clan’s Great Monolithic Art. My mission is to sculpt you into a warrior and train you to fight. This does not mean that your cultivation and my training are separate. If you have any questions or run into any problems you tell me is that clear?”

“Yes, sir!” Valerian exclaimed. Richard’s eyes swept him for a moment and then nodded.

“Every day after you wake up you will come here. Under my supervision, you will perform a series of drills and exercises before we move on to actual combat training. You may then leave and practise cultivation while I discharge my duties”, again he paused to check if Valerian was following.

“For combat, we will be practising the family’s greatest martial art; The Fighting Arts Of Harry and Clude. Harry and Clude were ancestors of ours. They were twin tellurian combat geniuses who came up with an incredible fighting style that has become the official style of the entire clan. Its principles focus on teamwork and the maximisation of defence and attack.

“The two brothers went everywhere together and did everything together. Whenever they had a task to do they would split it into two and each would take half. Fighting was no different. Clude the older one would defend and Harry would attack. It was simple and effective. Whilst Clude grabbed the enemy’s attention and blocked the attacks Harry would seize the opportunity to finish them off.

“This does not mean that Harry could not protect himself or that Clude was incapable of attacking. Anyone not careful when facing Clude would get a shield bash to the face and a blade to the gut. Each just had a primary focus and together they covered each other’s weaknesses whilst maximising group effectiveness. That is why it is required training for all Steelborns. It is a fighting style that maximises team efficiency and was created and developed with our legacy in mind. Attacks and defenders working side by side.

“Due to the origin of the fighting style attackers are informally known as Harriers whilst defenders are called Cluders. You will be taught the basics of both arts after which you will specialise in whichever one you lean towards. Any questions?”

“Which are you, Uncle Richard?” Valerian couldn’t help but ask.

“I am an expert at both but I usually act as a cluder. Anything else?”

Valerian thought a little before asking, stroking his chin in a manner that nearly made the stern warrior chuckle. “Uncle Richard, you mentioned that the Fighting Arts of Harry and Clude are developed from and can maximise our clan’s legacy. Elder Foreson also mentioned that with my strength I probably possess the clan legacy but I still don’t know what the clan legacy is”.

“I see…” Richard said his soft voice. It only took him a second to make a decision and it was very dramatic too.

His entire form twitched, convulsed and then expanded right before Valerian’s stunned eyes. Richard who was naturally seven foot two shot up till he was a little over three meters tall. He didn’t just grow taller. That same multiplication factor was applied to every aspect of his body be it width or musculature. His skin became a steely grey and hair turned into quill-like bristles. Large steel spikes even shot out from his shoulders, elbows, knuckles, heels and knees.

If he looked dangerous before, he now looked like a terror no one would like to meet on a dark night. Valerian didn’t have to be told to know that this form had increased his power by a large margin. Strangely though his armour stayed on perfectly. Gauntlets, greaves, breastplate, nothing was broken. In fact, it looked like it had become part of him.

“This the Steel Monolith transformation, our clan’s top blood legacy. It appears in eight out ten clan members with innate metal attributes. There are some who go as far as to call this our true forms. It gives us incredibly strong, dense, durable bodies. Even in my normal form, I am able to put out a little over fifty tonnes per arm. The transformation quadruples my strength and increases my speed by fifteen percent. My defence becomes so great that steel shatters when it strikes me”.

Valerian was stunned. “Y-your armour?” he blurted out.

“A special design from the clan’s artificers to account for our legacy”.

Valerian looked up to the three meters tall giant in front of him stars shining in his eyes. “Uncle Richard, you’re so cool! How come I never knew about this stuff? How did we get such a cool transformation?”

Richard shifted uneasily, uncomfortable with both the adoration being shown and the follow up questions. He thought it was stupid that Valerian had been sheltered from this for so long but he held his tongue. It had not been his decision to make but the magistrate’s. So instead of answering the question, he reverted to normal and he diverted the conversation.

“You should understand what legacies really are. They are inheritances or endowments. The important things handed down in martial families from generation to generation. There are two types of legacies; material and blood legacies. The cultivation methods, secret arts even the fighting arts of Harry and Clude as well as legacy equipment like my armour are considered material legacies. Basically, they’re physical things the clan accumulates, develops or gains that are passed down.

“Blood legacies are different. They are passed down the family’s bloodline itself. Only by being born into that family would a person have access to these legacies. Our Steelborn clan has two. The Steel Monolith Transformation and the StormHawk’s Wings. The first I have shown you, the second however I do not possess as it only appears in those who have the innate wind attribute and at a far lower frequency than the first. We are the only clan in the viscounty to have two blood legacies”.

“Wow! We are so powerful!” Valerian exclaimed.

‘Only in some respects’, Richard thought to himself. Outwardly though he said, “Enough about that. The daylight grows stronger and yet we have yet to truly begin”.

“Here!” he said waving his hand.

Immediately, a pile of metal pieces appeared on the floor. Upon closer inspection Valerian realised they were pieces of armour. He looked up to his uncle knowing the man had used an interspatial ring to make them appear as they did. Interspatial rings were incredible artefacts. They could be blood bound preventing anyone but the owner from using them and contained an empty miniature dimension in them for storage. The sizes differed depending on the grade of the ring though.

“What are you waiting for? Put them on!” his uncle bellowed.

Springing into action Valerian reached for the pile and begun to pull out the armour pieces. Greaves, sabatons, gauntlets, breastplate, tassets, pauldrons and poleyns all made from a heavy dark metal were grabbed and put on over the leather clothes he was wearing. He struggled a lot doing so but he was aware of his uncles trained gaze on him and so put in all his effort.

“Not bad for you first time. Nonetheless you must remember that your armour is your lifeline. You must be able to outfit yourself without aid in as short a time as possible. Practise! You must have the process down to five minutes by the end of the week. Is that clear?” came his uncle’s comment.

“Yes sir!” Valerian exclaimed. However seeing that his uncle was about to move on he quickly asked. “Uncle Richard, I’ve noticed that you and elders only seem to wear certain armour pieces. Even what you’ve given me conforms to this. Why only these? Is it some sort of uniform? The clan’s chosen style perhaps? Would it not be better to wear the full plate?”

Richard’s eyebrow rose sharply. He hadn’t expected the subject to come up so quickly. He knew the boy was smart, inquisitive and observant but due to not interacting with him often he was unclear on the extent of his mental prowess. Hadn’t he caught on too quickly? His eyes narrowed. Just how much did he notice and how much did he know. He resolved to speak with Alfred on this. Perhaps the child’s minder would shed some light on this.

“It is the clan’s chosen style and for a large number of reasons. Remember this, every protection has its weak spots and full plate is no exception. A skilled opponent knows to attack the weak spots in an opponent’s defence and protections. Our armour is designed with our fighting style in mind. Clude’s in particular. How, I will explain shortly. Just know that we are not as exposed as we look. Remember our transformation and its defensive abilities? The armour works with that.

“Additionally, it is designed to work as a reinforcing set. It possesses the ability to fortify the qi barrier that naturally surrounds tellurians and is able to spread its defensive properties all over the body using it as medium to connect all the pieces together and employ their full capabilities. Nevertheless, the true purpose of the armour is to facilitate the fighting arts of Harry and Clude.

“We’ll start working on those shortly. But you should know that each set of armour is tailor made and that they are actually essence artefacts, capable of being blood bound and requiring qi to display their full capabilities” he elaborated.

This caused Valerian to take another look at the dark metal pieces fitted over his leather outfit. Only now did he noticed how well it all fit and how well the ensemble went together. ‘When and how did they get my measurements?’ he questioned. He was quite happy with it especially now that he knew its significance. Plus it looked very cool.

“I get an artefact. Awesome!” he yelled.

“Not yours though”, Richard pointed out. “It’s not an artefact. Just a set of training equipment”.

“What? Why?” he complained with a pout. He stopped however when he saw his uncle smiling. It was the first time that day he had seen anything other than a frown or a stern look on the man’s face. He couldn’t help but wonder what caused him to smile so.

“Why? First off you will outgrow that very soon. Second if it was, you would be the only who could control it and I wouldn’t be able to do this”.

At that last word, glyphs on Valerian’s armour started glowing. Startled he glanced towards them not knowing what to do. Then his armour started to get heavier. It was like a crushing pressure was spreading all over his body weighing him down rather than just those pieces getting heaver. ‘The reinforcing effect!’ he realised. The pieces were working together just like his uncle said.

Richard looked on, smiling widely just like his own trainer did when he was on the receiving end. Now he knew how it felt to be on this end. He waited a bit for Valerian to regain his composure and then it was business as usual.

“Straighten up! It’s not that heavy”, he barked. He nearly chuckled when he saw the venomous look Valerian threw him.

“From now on you will do everything wearing that armour. There are other sets of leather clothes in your closet for you to change into when your current set gets dirty. Armour care however is your responsibility. So after this session you are to go the manor’s quartermaster. He will teach you how to take care of your armour. Is that clear?”

Valerian couldn’t answer, only nod.

“Good! We will go through some stretches and then I will teach you some stances”.

Valerian could only groan. In his mind he knew that this was just the beginning. Who knew what else was in store?