Valerian opened his eyes slowly. It only took a second to determine that there was still at least an hour before dawn. He stood up, stiffly extricating himself from his cross-legged pose. Over the last two weeks, he found it increasingly easier to slip into that special meditative state and maintain it for hours at a time. He even went without sleep sometimes, only to arise rested and refreshed. His body wasn’t used to staying in the pose for long though.
Awake he went up to his armour rack and began to put the pieces on. He had long since gotten acclimated to training in the morning and no longer needed to be prodded into action. Now he made sure to be ready and warmed up even before his uncle Richard came through the door.
His training was coming along great. At that very least he received only praise on his progress. Unfortunately, it came at a price. His schedule was completely packed. His day started with strength, endurance and combat training followed by a shower, breakfast and a short break. Then lessons with Jonas before lunch and studies in the study with his grandfather till supper. After this was evening training and private cultivation in his room.
He couldn’t complain though. He vividly remembered all his complaints about grammar school and his wish to truly be occupied instead of wasting time with things that took a few seconds and no effort. He sighed though when he thought of those carefree days. Hopefully, when he became capable of creating hurricanes with a flick of the wrist and crushing mountains with a fist he would look back to these moments as well with nostalgia.
He remained lost in thought as he went about his morning exercises until he heard his uncle’s heavy tread coming towards his door. The man was early. He shrugged and went to open the door. His busy day was about to begin.
Soon Valerian was sitting in the study listening to his grandfather stress the importance of applying strategies in battle.
“Remember! You’ve been blessed with heaven-defying talent. Don’t let it go to waste!”
Valerian’s heart clenched. He thought back to the last few weeks and begun to feel the pressure. With an unusually meek voice, he asked.
“Grandfather! Is it really necessary to cultivate?”
Valan was taken aback. The question stunned him. “Is it necessary to cultivate? Where is this coming from?”
Valerian frantically defended himself. “It’s just that not everyone can do it. There aren’t even many cultivators. I was wondering why it is so important.”
Valan gazed intently at him not sure where what was going on. A second later he sighed. “Maybe Clara and Richard are right. I have caused you to be too sheltered if you cannot tell what makes cultivators so important”.
“It’s not that grandfather. I understand that cultivators are powerful and can do so many incredible things but power aside I don’t see why they are so much more highly regarded than other professionals like physicians and soldiers” Valerian explained. Then a thought struck him.
“You’re not a cultivator grandfather. You hold an important public office, have influence and live quite well and you didn’t need to be a cultivator to do it. Why do so many people pursue cultivation, something so dangerous and which most can never practise in the first place instead of other professions?”
Even as he spoke he knew he had spoken too rashly. His grandfather’s lack of cultivation was a yet another taboo topic in their household. He watched as the man somewhat deflated before him, his face falling. However, he did not take back his words. This was something important to him as well.
The magistrate turned away slightly and for a moment Valerian thought he would leave but he didn’t. He just sighed. It was a long sigh filled with reluctance and sadness.
“Now I remember why I worked so hard to keep you so sheltered. Why you know so little about cultivation. I knew this day would come but I worked to postpone it just that much longer. Truth is, ever since you were placed in my arms you’ve looked at me like I was the greatest in the world. I never wanted you to realise that I wasn’t worth your admiration”.
“Grandfather…” Valerian called softly. He hadn’t expected that this would be such a painful subject for the man. Seeing him so morose immediately made him think that his own misgivings weren’t important after all.
“You must understand Valerian that you are right. Besides power, there is little that separates cultivation from other professions. In fact, cultivation is not a profession at all it is merely a way of life that opens doors to the true professions. But power is all it needs because power is all that matters. Power is the most important thing in the world of Verre!
“If you have power, you can do anything and be anyone. On the other hand, those who have no power are forever destined to be beneath the heels of those with power. Our very empire is so large and wealthy because we have power. Our clan is able to dominate the entire viscounty because we are the most powerful force in the land. If we weren’t another group would have done away with us and taken our place in a flash and there would have been nothing we could have done or said about it.
“Verre is a dangerous, callous place my child and the only way to survive is to have power of your own that you can fall back on. It is at constant war with itself and the entities that dwell in it. These entities are themselves at war with each other. That is nature. People fight all the time. Against each other, against the beasts, against the elements, all so that they can survive and thrive. That is why power is so important. To have power is to have a better chance of survival. No one begrudges the tiger from killing and eating the deer. For the sole reason that the tiger is powerful.
“That is the ugly truth I have tried so hard to hide from you. Why? Because I have no power of my own. You see people cultivate because it grants them power. You might think that the benefits of cultivation are limited to physical and mystical power but there is a lot more to it. There are political aspects, the authority and influence from it are just as important. That is why people cultivate.
“You say many are incapable of cultivation. That’s true. But what’s also true that despite that they learn some form of martial skill for self-defence or master some trade or art that allows them to fit under some power so as to gain benefits such as shelter and protection. Everyone with even the slightest chance of cultivating seizes it, Valerian.
“Most are like me doomed to never even become true disciples or practitioners but they still give it their all and on average they are much, much more powerful than someone who cannot progress beyond the energy gathering stage like your grandfather”.
Valerian sat there mutely. He never knew this. The atmosphere and topic were making him uncomfortable. He didn’t like where it was going.
“I told you that cultivation grants more power than is obvious. You should be able to understand. Or rather it would be plain to you if you knew more about the world than merely what was in the books I give you. Even among beasts, it is the strong and powerful that lead. Same with humans. We look to the powerful among us, the cultivators, to guide us, protect us and make decisions on our behalf. They administer the laws, protect us from the daemons and our fellows. In truth, it is the cultivators that hold political power wherever you care to look in Verre.”
Valerian wanted to tell him that was not true. To remind him that he was a magistrate of the region just to rouse him from his despondent state, but before he could utter a word his grandfather raised a hand to silence him.
“I know what you are thinking, what you want to say. I am a magistrate. An official of the state. Someone with clear political power even though I am so pitifully weak. However is it really so? Tell me, Valerian, cultivators are people who command the elements themselves and possess the power to accomplish mighty feats. They are people who enjoy the admiration and envy of their fellow men and the ones tasked with ensuring mankind’s survival in this cruel world.
“Which of these great individuals would be willing to be commanded or governed by weaklings like me?”
Valerian opened his mouth but shut it soon after without saying anything. Even he could not think of a reason why. He couldn’t help but think back to Fang’s Grammar School and how even he had looked with disdain at some of the other children. Who indeed would be willing to a subject to someone lesser than himself? His grandfather nodded sadly at his silence.
“You are my grandson. You possess a fierce intelligence that most can only guess at but I know. I am just like you. That is why I talk thus with no fear that you will not understand. I was born intelligent. Incredibly intelligent. The things that took others several tries to even begin to understand I comprehended on the first try. I don’t even have to search my mind to recall something. My memory is so good it is like answers present themselves to me when asked for.
“I can perform multiple actions at the same time, process information like you wouldn’t believe and can recall nearly every single sight, sound, smell, taste or feeling I have ever had. It is something you too will probably learn to do with time but aside from us you will be hard pressed to find even ten people below the emperor tier in the duchy capable of the same.
“I have the second highest score in my scholars’ exam in the near three hundred thousand years of our kingdom’s history. I have mastered twenty languages and am adept at many other things and yet I am forced to be a low levelled magistrate in a border city. Even with this, I can be counted as quite fortunate. It is clear that I wouldn’t have even gotten this far if not for my father’s power and influence. The fact that I work in his city is more than proof enough.
“Don’t look at our manor and lifestyle and think that being a low levelled magistrate is something to be proud of. I have ten assigned guards, five for my home and five for my person but who will work under someone with no hope for future like me? Aside from your uncle, the rest have not even consolidated the first tier yet.
“The only reason we can afford our lifestyle on my meagre salary is that of your grandmother and I are from wealthy clans and her profession pays well. I shudder to think of what would happen if my father was not the former Viscount of Cragsveil.”
“So you see Valerian you can make a living if you are not a cultivator but it would not be anything to write home about. I have a condition that prevents my body from accumulating arcane energy. It is why despite cultivating for over sixty years I remain unable to go beyond the energy gathering stage. I could cultivate like a normal person then…” he sighed and did not continue for a while.
“You have been given a great opportunity. One that many can only dream of. You cannot waste this chance! I know you won’t! In fact, I look forward to the day that you will become an outstanding cultivator. With your talent and the clan’s resources, there is no doubt in my mind that you will surpass my father. You will even be better than your father. I just hope that when you become a powerful cultivator, you will not forget your pitiful grandfather” he ended.
Valerian was startled. He could see the tears in the old man’s eyes and the tired set of his shoulders. He had no idea that their talk would leave his grandfather so drained and downcast. He was at a loss at what to do. He wanted to comfort the man but had no idea how to go about it.
His was a somewhat reserved family. They were not the type to have public or physical displays of affection. It could be seen from their characteristic aloof manner. The fact he referred to the old man as grandfather and not grandpa or some other informal term was clue enough.
“Your cultivation tier doesn’t matter to me at all. To me, grandfather is a role model. An example of what a man should be. Wise, elegant, responsible, just and eloquent. I believe that you can outsmart any cultivator and are better than they can hope to be. You have taught me the importance of knowledge and intelligence as well as many other things. I will always keep them at the forefront of my mind. Don’t worry grandfather. I will become a cultivator like you’ve never seen before. One you can be proud of.”
Valerian swallowed the hot lump burning in his throat. He finally understood why his grandfather’s cultivation was a taboo topic. He even got why the man was so ashamed of it. To be forced to rely on your family and your wife to get ahead in life. To be blessed with such a brilliant mind and yet be completely disregarded because of a strange physical condition.
It had to be tough. Right then Valerian made a promise to himself. He resolved that no matter what happened he would become an outstanding cultivator. For his grandfather who never had the opportunity to do so. For his grandmother the pillar who silently supported the family. For his father, the genius whose life had been cut short. For the mother, he never knew. For his uncles who took the time to train him. And for himself. He had always been outstanding at everything he did. He would become outstanding at this too.
As soon as he left the study Valerian headed straight for his room. He took the rolled up mat leaning against the wall and unrolled it on the floor. It was a special cultivation tool made from daemon skin and inscribed with an array that aided in the gathering of world essence. When he first got it Valerian poured over it for hours trying to make out the glyphs in the beautiful leather.
He had no time for that now. He quickly sat down cross-legged on it and entered a meditative state to cultivate. He had made a promise to himself and he was going to accomplish it by hook or by crook.