BK II, Chapter Nine: A Decision Made I

“You seem to have forgotten just who you are speaking with. Endurance. Willpower. Sacrifice. I find it difficult to believe that anyone, much less one of you, would question me on these matters. As if you are not part of the number who had a front row seat to my sufferings all these years.”

“Valerian, I’m sure Vorm did not mean it like that. He was just…” Jonas quickly tried to explain.

“It matters not!” Valerian told him. “Understand that I am not angry, merely amused that you would go so far in praising this ‘training centre’. One minute you go from deciding which of the top ranking schools I should pick to talking about how I might not be good enough for some two-bit training centre that no one has ever heard of”.

Vorm visibly bristled at his words but Valerian continued without paying him any mind.

“Now, I’m sure you are proud of this, place, this Strapping’s”, he added with an intentional sneer. “However, I will not let anyone question my will or my perseverance, Uncle. I opened three meridians will nothing but willpower and perseverance. You saw the results, I do not need to describe them to you. Each time, I did so knowing just what lay in store for me and I assure you, there’s nothing quite like tearing open a channel in yourself without aid and flushing it with raw qi.

“I may have only made it this far with aid but I added to it more work than I have ever put in anything else. I have spent days in the library, reading till my eyes went red and my vision blurred. I trained until I could not move and then gotten up to train some more. I have drawn glyphs till they were so burnt in my sight I would see for them hours after their essence had dispersed. I have cast spells not until my energy ran out but rather until I was so parched inside I would suffer migraines after I regained consciousness. Unable to much else, I have oscillated my meagre qi and moved it in rudimentary patterns till I ached from the strain”, he spoke, his boyish voice cracking at this inopportune moment.

His family looked on, refusing to look away or show discomfort as they listened to him recount his experiences. Valerian really had had it rough in the last few years. Healers, arrays, medicines and herbs could only do so much. Valerian had had many of those but what had pushed him onwards had been his own will. There had been many times the elders had tried to get him to stop ‘torturing himself’ and focus on his arcane studies. Times when even they had faltered and nearly asked him to quit only to stop themselves after seeing how steadfastly he threw himself into it.

“And you know what Uncle?” Valerian was still saying. “Not once have I ever failed to do so in the last five years. Anytime I was able to move, I would train. When my body failed me, I would read. When I could do neither, I would meditate or cultivate. Do not think you can lecture me on endurance and perseverance. Do not stand there and give a sermon on the virtue of sacrifice or its place in achieving goals.

“To think you even compared me with scum and those who only sought to use the power of the military to set themselves up in life without putting in any actual work as well as likened me to the person responsible for Uncle Richard’s injuries.”

This time it was Valerian who burst into laughter. Everyone looked at him, stunned at the uncharacteristic display. He really hadn’t taken Vorm’s speech well.

“You actually spent all that time talking about a school without giving any pertinent reasons for me to choose it. Not how good its facilities or teachers are, not its curriculum or accreditation, not even its size or location just unnecessary information about the kind of people who went there, its many training accidents and the locked career paths of its graduates. I am tempted to say no to it on principle. The only reason I haven’t yet is because Uncle Richard suggested it and not you. Undoubtedly, he had his reasons and I’m willing to bet that it isn’t because it’s a great place that I do not have the calibre to enter”, he pointed out.

“That’s enough Valerian!” his grandfather interrupted harshly. While he may have been at fault, Vorm was still Valerian’s uncle and therefore his elder. Some respect had to be shown and Valerian’s tone and words were becoming increasingly insulting.

Vorm stared at his nephew, painfully aware that he hadn’t handled that well. It wasn’t that he wanted to turn Valerian off from Strapping’s nor did he feel Valerian wasn’t good enough for the place. He loved his old school and he believed Valerian would be a great fit. He just had the misfortune of falling for something none of the others would have. For a moment there, he had forgotten that for all his prowess and maturity, Valerian was still quite young. To make matters worse, he had addressed him more he would one of his soldiers instead of as his nephew.

Perhaps, his uncle really was right and his spending time with uncouth servicemen had degraded his manners and social skills because he had originally felt he had made a killer speech. No, he had made one. He just hadn’t made it to the right audience. His men were burly military men who, like Valerian, hated being made to feel they couldn’t do something. For them, it made them work that much harder but with Valerian took it as an insult. It was a big misstep, one he was unsure he could recover. However, he could make amends.

He stepped forward, motioning to speak but his uncle shot him a warning glance. “Let me first say something”, he requested, unfazed.

“Vorm”, the magistrate called in warning but the commander continued anyway.

“I am sorry you think so, Valerian and even sorrier if I made it look like you are not good enough for my alma mater or likened you to scum. Let me assure you that that was not my intention. I may have allowed my enthusiasm to lead me awry.”

Valerian scrutinised him, a bit taken aback at the apology. Elders didn’t often do so to their juniors. This put him in a tight spot. Normally, he wouldn’t be so quick to let things go but now that the man had apologised it sort of took the wind out of his sails. Valerian was forced to accept his apology and apologise as well.

“Good!” his grandfather said pleased. “Now that that’s done let’s move to another school.”

“No”, Richard cut in. “Valerian should go to Strapping’s.”

“Strapping’s again!” the magistrate exclaimed exasperatedly. “You already heard what Valerian said. He rejected it.”

“No. He asked me to explain my reasons”, Richard disproved.

“I fail to see what reasons you could add that Vorm has not already spoken about”, told him.

“This is going to lead us in circles”, Jonas muttered lowly.

Richard supposed he was right. They could debate the issue all day if it came down to it. Unfortunately, he was not up for that. So he walked up to Valerian and spoke directly to him.

“Vorm may have been wrong but he was right in saying that Strapping’s would make you strong,” he told his nephew. “You are strong already Valerian, stronger than any of us ever were. Strapping’s is a place that makes the strong stronger. In that alone, it is better than the other schools. They may teach you more skills or help you get good jobs in future but no question, Strapping’s is the place you want to go to become powerful.”

“Why?” Valerian asked. His grandfather felt like throwing his hands up in exasperation.

“Strapping’s has the best practical combat classes in the kingdom. They train you not for duels and skills but to fight, to kill and to survive. No other school can compete with it in that regard. Everything about it was geared for that purpose. Apart from that, they treat all students fairly. Other schools might have better resources but in Strapping’s you will get equal share and access to both resources and training. If you do well enough you will even get more. It is the best place for people like us”, his uncle answered.

The choice of phrase caught Valerian attention. “People like us? What do you mean?” he asked.

“He means us, people like our clan, the Steelborns”, came a voice.

For a split second, chaos erupted in the courtyard. Gulsama hissed, arching her back like housecat whilst the rest of those gathered whipped around to face the intruder in their midst. The man stood there, uncaring of the numerous weapons and spells readied and aimed at him. His confidence spoke volumes and what’s more, no one not even the daemons attacked. They just watched him warily.

“So it is true”, the magistrate began. “You do blanket the city with your spiritual sense and spy on everyone.”

“Yes!” his father answered simply. “But only occasionally. This time, I didn’t have to. I actually came over hoping to speak with Valerian. While I did not mean to eavesdrop, I found your conversation to be quite interesting, forgive me.”

Valerian’s mind swam at the news. The patriarch had somehow walked into their home and stood beside them and none of them so much as had a clue that he was there. Bear in mind that, there were two third-tier demons and a third tier arcanist amongst them and still none had detected the man. Adding to that revelation, the man frequently spied on the inhabitants of his city by blanketing it with his spiritual sense. Valerian could only guess how much you need to cover and monitor a city DaleGuard’s size. Just how powerful was his great-grandfather?

The man continued speaking nonchalantly, oblivious to Valerian’s thoughts.

“Clara. Vorm. Gulsama. …” he greeted, saying each name and accompanying it with a slight bow of his head, making sure to include even the daemons until he got to him. However, Valerian noticed his eyes linger on Richard for a second or two longer before moving on.

“Valerian. Strapping’s is a good place. I approve”, the man stated.

“Your approval and presence are unnecessary and unasked for”, Valerian’s grandfather told him, curtly.

“On the contrary, I represent the clan when I say that we will much rather Valerian go to Strapping’s than any of the ones on your list”, he said to his son.

“It is not the clan’s decision to make. It is Valerian’s”, Valan said angrily.

“That it is”, his father conceded. “I was just communicating our opinion on the matter. We’ll side with whichever one Valerian chooses in the end. My words were simply said as a suggestion”, he added looking straight at Valerian when he did so.

Valerian found he did not really care for his grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s little spat at the moment. His thoughts were caught on the name Strapping’s and in figuring out why it kept being recommended to him.

“You were saying something about the Steelborns in relation to what Uncle Richard said. What did you mean?” Valerian asked.

“Ah! That!” the man began. “Despite what many, including some of our own, think, our clan is neither as great or as established as we appear. The problem has to do with pedigree. In that, we supposedly have too little of it.”

“The fact remains Valerian. As far as the world cares, we are a family of hunters, mercenaries and smiths who left the Wildlands in search of greener pastures and ended up in DaleGuard. Now, we may have moved up a bit in the world. Gotten better clothes, abodes and recognition but we remain nothing in the grand scheme of things.”

“You’re saying…” Valerian realised.

“Yes, Valerian! It’s exactly that!” the patriarch confirmed. “One thing about time, my boy, is that it gives you perspective”, he said putting stress on that last word. “Two hundred years ago, I was a soldier, a mere captain struggling in the midst of a bloody war. My only worries then, were surviving and providing for my little clan of refugees. The battles on my front, ended with me as a hero and the viscounty of Cragsveil safe from invasion. By popular assent and the king’s dispensation, I was declared lord of the region, granted peerage and effectively, moved up in the world.

“You would not believe the celebrations we had then, Valerian. I remember dancing, drinking and crying till dawn. That’s how happy the clan was. My ascendency was the greatest thing to happen to us in centuries. We thought the world had laid a path before our feet. That it was our time to rise again. However, problems soon began to rear their ugly heads.

“The Kingdom of Bathar is three hundred thousand years old, Valerian. Three hundred thousand. Even our revered ancestor, Menhirion, was only born sixty thousand years ago. Can you imagine how long that period is?” he asked Valerian.

He nodded, wondering in his mind where this leading.

“In sixty thousand years, our clan was born, developed, flourished and was brought so low we nearly died out. Imagine, what has happened in and to Bathar in its three hundred thousand years. Think on that. The people, organisations, dynasties, clans and schools that have risen and fallen. All those who time forgot and those whose legacies have carried our nation to its current position. What would you say if I told you that there exist clans and organisations in our kingdom today that are older than Bathar?” he questioned intensely.

“That’s…” Valerian began. Soon, he found that he was unable to complete his thought. He was just too mind boggled to think it through. “I want names”, he demanded. This was something he had to check for himself. There was just no way for if there was it would be too terrifying.

His great-grandfather laughed. A pleasant sound that was much softer than you would expect.

“There’s one standing not but five feet from you Valerian”, he said.

This sent the boy spinning, hoping to the Stormhawk that there wasn’t another person hiding in their midst. He saw no one. Scanning the area again and finding nothing, he turned back to his patriarch who had a very wide smile on his face.

“He means me Valerian!” his grandmother suddenly revealed.


Author’s Note

Sorry about Thursday! Like I mentioned on the discord page, I had issues with my laptop. While not truly fixed, it’s manageable now. I’ll release both Thursday’s and today’s chapter today.