The next day, the family was gathered in the courtyard again. Only this time, the jovial atmosphere of the night before was nowhere to be found. Vorm was back to his usual stern self and the rest of the family lounged around, relaxed but focused on the matter at hand. This matter? Valerian’s schooling.
“We have delayed enough”, Vorm was saying. “I doubt that any more schools will offer themselves up. Best we choose one and be done with it”.
“I agree”, the magistrate said surprisingly. “We will be unable to get any more from delaying and its best we seize this moment where Valerian’s victories are still fresh in everyone’s minds to make our pitch.”
“The question remains, Uncle. Which do we choose and how?” Jonas asked.
“The actual selection will be up to Valerian”, the magistrate announced, causing Valerian’s eyebrow to quirk upwards in surprise.
“It will be up to the rest of us to help with that decision especially when it comes to narrowing the list. For instance, …” he said, his hand stretched to the side.
As if by some pre-arranged signal, his wife plopped a bunch of papers and letters into it.
“These are the letters and offers from the schools that did not send any representative or spokesperson”, he continued.
Then, he tossed the identified sheaf of papers onto the cobblestones at his side. Sela, who was close by, stuck her tail into the pile. Following that, a burst of lightning crackled around the tip of her tail and the papers were instantly set alight. Everyone’s eyes flicked from the burning pile of papers to the magistrate with Richard chuckling slightly at the old man’s theatrics. Valerian’s response was different. He was busy trying not to let his disappointment show. He knew for a fact that Eight Hills and Marrbisi were on that list.
“Now, we can focus on this smaller and much more important list”, the man said, retrieving a single sheet from his robes.
“Wait, Uncle Valan!” Jonas exclaimed. “Are you sure we should dismiss the others so easily? There are a lot of great schools in that pile you just burned. Would it not be better to contact them and attempt to negotiate?”
“Ordinarily, yes!” Vorm interjected. “But Uncle Valan is not interested in how great they are or their national rankings, is he?” Vorm said with an understanding smirk.
“He is looking for the ones he can squeeze dry. By choosing to ignore his directives and not sending someone to meet him personally, they showed that they would not be willing to budge or meet his demands. Basically, they didn’t think the value Valerian posed was worth them lowering their heads. Even if we ignored the slight, the fact still remains that the best we can get from them is admission and that is not enough for you, is it dear uncle?”
The magistrate coughed slightly and ignored the question, choosing to say instead, “Anyway, we have a reduced list here with only five members. I took the liberty of ignoring all institutions that had no national renown and in light of their recent actions, Jonas’ alma mater. This names read as follows; The Royal Institute Array Masters and Artificers, The Royal Military Colleges of Bathar, The Ivory Spire Institute, The Earthen Obelisk School and finally, The Eternal Fields Academy.”
It was a short list of long names but each and every single one of them carried incredible renown. They were all among the best educational institutions that Bathar had to offer. Valerian had trouble believing that they all wanted him to enrol in them. The fourth especially.
“Earthen Obelisk? I thought you said there was no tellurian school in the running?” he was forced to ask.
“There isn’t dear”, his grandmother answered. “The Earthen Obelisk contacted us on behalf of one of their chief Array Masters. He wishes to take you as an apprentice. They aren’t offering tuition. Technically, you wouldn’t even be a student at the school. It’s the same thing as you studying under Jonas. You aren’t a member of his institute. However, the fact that the school took the initiative of reaching out on the man’s behalf is a good sign. With luck, we might be able to work something out”.
“Oh!” Valerian mumbled. He shouldn’t have gotten his hopes up.
“The question we should be asking now is how we narrow the list further”, his grandfather spoke up suddenly.
“Valerian!” he added to catch his attention. “Any thoughts?”
For a moment, Valerian gaped at the man, surprised that he would ask him. Then quickly, he scrambled for something to say. “I am not sure. What parameters are we using to make our decisions?”
“From this point forward, your preferences”, the old man replied. “Whichever one you want. Whatever criteria you set. That’s what we’ll go with.”
Valerian sat there dumbfounded, knowing instinctively that his grandfather was talking about more than a selection of schools. This was something he had wanted for so long that it was ironic then that he could think of nothing to say. He had finally been given the chance to speak his mind and nothing would come out. He was utterly unprepared. He took a quick glance around and caught the encouraging smiles his family was sending him. They didn’t help much.
Then a voice rang out. “Let’s start with this, Valerian. What do you want to be? What’s your current goal? We’ll then eliminate the schools that can’t help you achieve it”, his uncle Vorm said.
“My goals?” Valerian repeated. The question put him in a pensive state. Unbidden, his hand came up to stroke his chin. What were his goals? Come to think of it, Valerian had never truly considered that in detail. He said as much.
“I do not know”, he admitted.
“What are you saying Valerian, that you have no goals?” his uncle asked, perplexed. The others leaned forward at this waiting for the answer to the question.
“I’m assuming that you mean goals as in careers and the like”, Valerian begun. “Honestly, I have never given such things much thought. I have objectives, targets I aim at. For the longest time, the most important of those was getting to the qi manifestation stage and figuring out what legacy I had, if there truly was any, in the hopes of solving my cultivation issues. Things like professions, careers or what I would be in the future have never been my focus”, he admitted.
His family stared at him dumbstruck. What child didn’t have a profession or two he dreamt of growing up to be? It saddened them a bit that Valerian had never had that opportunity to dream. Instead, he had been forced to be pragmatic and focus on his immediate concerns.
“What about your array craft, Valerian?” Jonas inquired.
“I like it. I like it a lot. It’s opened my eyes to dimensions of the arcane arts that I wouldn’t have known existed otherwise”, he acknowledged. “However, growing up to be an array master has never been the goal nor was it the reason I chose to study the craft. I did so because it is a discipline of arcane studies that provides its users with powerful, versatile tools as well as deepens his or her understanding of essence in addition to refining control.
“Of course, that I had a good teacher on hand who made it look good and viable as a choice of study does not need mentioning”, he added.
“I see”, Jonas said though his tone told everyone that he really didn’t.
Vorm was more interested in something else Valerian had said. “You mentioned that you had instead of goals you had objectives. Tell us a few. We might be able to narrow the list based on them.”
Valerian hesitated for a moment, unsure whether he should really make public so personal. He had only ever discussed a few with his grandmother, Uncle Richard and Avery. None of them knew all of it. However, a thought struck him. These were the people he trusted. The ones who would actually help him fulfil them. If he couldn’t tell them, who could he tell?
“The first objective has always been cultivation. Having embarked on this path, I will not stop until I discover just how far I can go and just what I am capable of. I’ve come to the realisation that I’ll never quit this. In fact, cultivation is my ticket! I wouldn’t be facing this choice now if not for it. Additionally, I wouldn’t have this opportunity without it. My number one objective involves becoming the best cultivator I can be.
“The second objective is closely tied with the first. I must bring my tellurian cultivation on par with my arcane one. If I truly am a talented arcanist, then I must prove myself to be as talented as a tellurian as well. I possess two forces. The legends and stories I have read about dual force cultivators make us out to be extraordinary. To not be able to make use of them is nothing less than a failing and a betrayal of my very self. Number two is to explore what it means to be dual force cultivator and to develop my skills as a tellurian.”
At this point, the entire family was sitting at the edge of their seats as they listened to Valerian outline his hopes and dreams. The magistrate and his wife, who were the only ones standing had drawn closer and even Fuooh, the jadeite gecko eternally draped around his grandmother’s shoulders, opened her eyes, watching intensely. The other daemons did same. Sela even going as far as to slither up and coil up in front of the speaking boy.
On his part, Valerian tried to disregard the attention being focused on him and concentrate instead on what he was saying.
“The third is simple; developing my abilities as an array master. I know I said that I did not plan on a career as an array master but that is only because it is not my main focus. Array craft is a supplementary discipline to me and not a primary one. I wish to become the best array master I can be because I am genuinely interested in the art and I plan to continue using and developing it. Array craft has opened so many doors in my life that I would be foolish to drop it now.
“Furthermore, now that I suffer no more complications in my tellurian cultivation I plan to find a path for it that is similar to what array master does for my arcane cultivation. Something that will deepen my understanding and support my skills in that field. You could say that my third objective is to develop my capabilities with my forces.
“Now I understand that it might seem just like the other two paths I mentioned earlier but for me it is different. The first is me striving to go through the cultivation tiers and seeing just how far I can go. The second has to do with me making sure that my tellurian cultivation never falls behind, which is why I said that those two were connected. I cannot become an Arcane Emperor and still only be a Tellurian Lord. Number three is me discovering paths, passions, things that will not particularly advance my cultivation but will improve its quality and afford me diverse opportunities.
“As for the fourth, it is the most important. In fact, you can actually roll all the others into it. It is the one thing I might call a goal on the list and the highest target for which I aim. The one that I have worked towards since I was eight. ‘Power is the most important thing in the world of Verre’ and that is my fourth objective, attaining power”, Valerian said.
His grandfather’s eyes widened, no doubt recognising the words as his. Rather than acknowledge this, Valerian continued fearing that he might lose steam if he didn’t.
“It is the summation of all my other objectives and yet so important that I place it aside to act as a constant reminder. I say power to mean cultivation but also so much more. I might not have a career path thought up or a profession that I aim towards but I know that whichever profession I pick will be something that will ensure and grant me power. Undoubtedly, cultivation is the first mark of power but I aim for more than that. I aim for might. Levels and tiers are indicators but actual might comes from both tier and combat ability. If this Zebre taught me one thing, it is that I require a lot more of the latter.
“To add to this, I must become someone who possesses not just cultivation and might but also wields the kind of power that comes from influence, authority and legitimacy. I have thought this over many times and come to the conclusion that I cannot have true power if I am lacking any of these three. I can only attain influence and authority from acknowledgement and position. However, I cannot get those without first having a suitable cultivation tier and even if I had all of those my power base would not be secure if I lack the might required to consolidate my position.
“My most important objective is power. The kind of power I have outlined and I do not have to explain to you why. My reasons should be clear enough”, Valerian revealed.
Deliberately choosing not to look towards his grandfather and Uncle Richard, he continued, “You said that we could evaluate the schools based on my objectives Uncle Vorm. I have revealed them now and I will add that any school that would not ensure my objectives or put me on the path to the power I seek is not a school I would go to.”
The family sat there in silence after listening to Valerian talk. The boy in question called Sela closer, choosing to rub her scales instead of focus the bombshell he had just dropped on his family. In the end, he had opened up about his objectives. Well, a few of them. The ones relevant to the matter at hand and the ones that concerned only himself. The others, like the ones that concerned his family, he’d continue to keep to himself for now.
His family pondered on what they’d heard until Jonas broached. “Valerian, if we were to use the criteria you’ve just given us we’d eliminate pretty every school on the list”, he said.
“No! That’s not true”, his brother countered. Everyone turned to Richard at his interjection eagerly awaiting what he had to say.
“You could still choose the Royal Military Colleges. There’s one school under them that will certainly put you on the path you want”, he told Valerian.
“Which one, Uncle Richard?” the boy asked.
“Strapping’s!” the man stated.
Vorm immediately burst into laughter.