Valerian trained day and night. His training was intense, even brutal and his teachers were very demanding. Together, they pushed the limits several times and their results were incredibly satisfying. The Strapping’s entrance exam was still a month away but he had significant progress since the Zebre. He felt that if he was to face Tirenael again, he wouldn’t have to resort to the crafty tactic he employed then. As for the so-called “Bright Cloud”, he’d easily trash him.
It wasn’t just a matter of power, his capabilities in his battle form had improved two-fold. Already, his wings had better definition, with their transparent feathers being better outlined, larger and stronger. He could sustain the transformation for longer with less strain. His connection to the wind as well as his ability to command it had grown stronger and his speed… Let’s just say his morning exercise consisted of flying around the property with Sela, a second tier Winged Cloudviper.
The thing that pleased him the most though were the gains from his tellurian cultivation. He wasn’t just faster and stronger. His qi was much denser and even more voluminous and controllable. While he had not reached the level where he could control it as adeptly as he did his arcane energy, he could easily make it form shapes when it manifested outside his body unlike before. That meant he was no longer limited to body enhancement and rudimentary techniques. He of course celebrated by learning three more of the clan’s tellurian skills.
Once, he combined that with his skills as an arcanist and his increasing weapon skills, he became a force to be reckoned with. So long as you were not called Vorm Steelborn. His dratted uncle was still whupping him without issue even with all the advancements Valerian had made. No matter how good he became, the man kept revealing his experience and power by pulling trick after trick and technique after technique out of his sleeves all to Valerian’s disadvantage.
Surprisingly, Valerian could honestly say that he appreciated that. It helped him understand that there was more to cultivation that the strength of your cultivation base, qi and or the might of your skills. Vorm could adapt and find his way out of anything and he forced Valerian to do same. His improvement shocked even himself. His teachers proven themselves right. He had had quite a lot to learn. In fact, he still had a lot to learn. They had blown his expectations out of the water.
One small problem cropped up though. Valerian and his uncle had had to move their practise sessions from his courtyard. The wards Jonas had placed on the place had begun to fall behind the pace at which they destroyed it, forcing them to find a new place lest they caused permanent damage. They used a much larger courtyard now. Valerian expected the additional space would allow him to spread his wings a bit more and thus let him increase his speed and pull off manoeuvres he hadn’t been able to perform back when they practised right outside his bedroom window. Once he and Jonas finished warding the place that is.
He watched silently as Jonas laid a six-metre wide second circle array in the centre of the yard so it could gather world essence to power the others they’d be planting over the place. While he did so, he worked on a fortification array.
Jonas glanced over, saying, “That’s quite fast Valerian. I thought training with Vorm might cause your skills to stall. I’m glad to see that’s not the case.”
Valerian laughed sheepishly. Actually, Jonas was right. Aside from a few arrays he used when fighting Vorm, he had not paid any attention to what was supposedly his strongest point. Thankfully, he had become much more efficient at using his forces which made up for that somewhat.
“I really hope Vorm is teaching you about more than just fighting”, Jonas said unhappily.
“Well, he has been drilling me on military strategies and what to expect and do when I get into Strappings”, Valerian offered.
“So you mean when not talking about fighting, he speaks about ways you should fight?” Jonas said, reading into his words. “Honestly, I’m not sure why I bother with him and Richard, Even Uncle Valan failed to change their muscle head behaviour. I should have known I couldn’t”, he added exasperatedly.
Valerian decided to add a bit more fuel to the fire. “Well, he did point out that once Uncle Richard is done with his breakthrough you’d be the only one amongst them who has failed to cross over to the King tier.”
“WHAT?” Jonas yelled. “I should have expected that. Vorm never misses a chance to rub it in everyone’s face. Well, you tell him that at my current pace I’ll reach the King tier in less than three years and the third circle in two. We’ll see who’ll laugh then”, he said in a huff.
Valerian was shocked at the revelation. Jonas was also going to be breaking through soon! What’s more, he was confident in attaining his third circle before then! That wasn’t just surprising it was jaw-dropping. He wondered if anyone else knew. In the meantime, his uncle continued to huff and grumble as he laid his arrays. He really resented how Vorm kept picking on him simply because he was the youngest amongst them.
Just then, a servant ran up to them. “Lord Jonas! I beg your pardon but there’s a guard from the clan outside. He’s here for the young master. Says, he was asked to come for him by a Great Elder Richard.”
Valerian and Jonas walked into Elder Richard’s smithy, his uncle having not wanted him to go alone. The old man was busy at work hammering something in front of his furnace so they hung back a bit and waited for him to finish. Eventually, he doused his work in a vat and turned to them.
“Valerian!” he said in greeting.
“Greetings Great Elder”, Valerian responded. “This is my uncle, Jonas”, he introduced.
“Jonas stepped forward with a slight bow. “It is my honour to meet the Master”, he proclaimed.
“Hmph! Another one of Valan’s boys. Though, I hear you’re somewhat more reasonable than the others”, the smith said, taking off his mitts and wiping his hands with a cloth.
Jonas, merely looked at him, smiling uncertainly because he didn’t know how to respond to that.
“I also hear that you’re the one who has been helping Theo with his work”, he revealed. “You are the enchanter, right?”
“Yes”, Jonas answered quickly. “I’m a bit more than that but yes I specialise in spell effects”, he explained.
“I see”, the elder simply intoned. Turning to face Valerian, he continued, “I was able to finish your armour quickly. On the other hand, your orb could not be rushed so I simply waited until that was done as well before calling you. I’ll get it out now so we can make any final adjustments.”
And just like that, he left them. Walking down a corridor, he took a turn and went in through a sealed door. Valerian glanced at his uncle, unsurprised to see the man return his look of exasperation. Jonas glanced away, taking the time to properly examine the workshop and equipment of the clan’s greatest artificer.
“You know”, Valerian ventured. “I’ve never truly understood the distinction between artificers and enchanters. They both produce essence artefacts, right? Both use arrays as well?”
Jonas looked his way, taking his eyes off a set of jewel tipped glyph inscribing tools. “It’s not what they do but how they do them. Enchanters apply effects to objects after they have been made. Artificers make things that carry inherent properties. In that sense, enchanters are more akin to casters than actual craftsmen whilst artificers are comparable to alchemists and their like.”
Taking a step forward so he could better scrutinise the flasks arranged on the table and their contents he continued. “The former are concerned with the materials with which they would craft their effect and not the material the effect would be given to whereas the latter focus on the properties of the materials they are working with so as to bring out and enhance whatever traits they carry already. Besides that, enchantments are often shorter-lived whilst artifices are relatively permanent due to the fact that the first are applied and the second form part of the artefact itself. Do you get the distinction now?”
Valerian never had the chance to answer. A loud voice rang out from behind them cutting him off before he could speak and leaving Jonas fumbling with a large flask of daemon cores.
“You forgot to mention that artificers are limited by their materials whereas enchanters are only limited by their spells and arrays. Or that anything used in enchanting would not be a material, part or workpiece but a reagent since it is a spell, not a craft”, the old smith said calmly.
“You are absolutely right, Elder!” Jonas shot off sheepishly as he put the flask back down.
“Are you thinking of becoming a craftsman child?” the smith asked Valerian.
“I’m not certain”, Valerian said truthfully. “I am already studying arrays and the different crafts seem interesting but I am mostly just curious. My grandfather always says that a man should take the time to learn anything that chances upon. Knowledge is not just power but the thing that elevates a man’s entire standing.”
“Sounds like something he would say.” the great elder said with a nod. “I’ll do you one better. Forget learning everything.”
Ignoring the angry look that flashed on Valerian’s face for half a second, he elaborated. “Pick a few things and stick to them. You can’t learn everything so don’t even bother. The task itself is impossible and all diversification ever does is make you mediocre at a lot of things and good at none. However, you are still young. Now is the time to experiment. Try whatever you can get your hands on and once you find something you’re not only good but enjoy. You stop and specialise. Follow your chosen paths till you reach either their zenith or a ceiling you cannot break. Do you understand?”
Valerian nodded dumbly. He was dimly aware that the man had just given him advice. He didn’t seem the type. Even so, Valerian took his words to heart as that only made him value them more. He watched as the man dragged some sort of stand into their midst and had his mind blown once more. The stand looked like a simple stone pedestal only its top glowed with a pulsing light and floating in the air above that was a large silver orb about a metre in diameter.
‘The mercurial orb is actually an orb!’ his thoughts summed up.
His uncle though reacted a little differently. “Hold on! Valerian is getting a mercurial orb?” he questioned loudly, a trace of envy in his voice. “How, I thought they were restricted to Arcane Lords only!”
Elder Richard looked at their expressions and shrugged. He had already come up with his excuse for this matter. “The clan has decided to make an exception in this case. If you want to protest or find out more about the whys go see my brother. I just make things.” That said, he looked expectantly at Valerian.
“What am I supposed to do?” the boy asked.
“The orb is yours. I can do nothing to it anymore. All you have to do is claim it and doing that is simple”, the smith told him. “Make a cut on your palm and channel both your forces into it. After that, simply place your palm on the orb and channel the energies into it till you feel the connection take hold”, he directed.
Valerian nodded and followed the man’s instructions. Touching his cut palm to the orb was nothing like he expected. For one thing, the orb was slightly warm, not cold like you’d expect metal to be. Also, it actually had some give to it. Just the contact he had with it caused strange ripples to appear on its surface. Additionally, his palm had slowly been filling with blood before he placed it on it but afterwards, it no longer dripped through his fingers or down his hand and he knew why. The orb was sucking him dry.
Not his blood, thank the Heavens, but rather his essence. The amount of blood he was losing wasn’t much. The real drain was happening to his qi and arcane energy. They were being gulped down like nobody’s business. Valerian wasn’t worried at first, he had tonnes to spare but as the clock ticked by and the energy drain failed to lessen, his worry grew. Soon, he began to notice a change in the orb. It had developed a sort of thrum. He listened to it, finding it strangely familiar. In the end, he recognised it. The thing was thrumming to the rhythm of his heartbeat.
With a start, Valerian tried to pull his hand away but he was stuck fast to it like glue. He tried again, this time with a pulse of his qi. This second try ended up destabilising the orb, causing it to all apart and splash on the floor like an actual liquid. Valerian looked at it in shock. to his dismay, the thing seemed to have gained a taste for him. He walked backwards steadily but it followed, flowing towards him in many serpentine streams of bright silver. A hand clamped down on his shoulder preventing him from moving any further.
“Just let it do its work child”, the smith told him.
His voice told Valerian that his strange circumstances were actually expected. So he forced himself to relax as the liquid metal pooled at his feet. He glanced towards his uncle who gave him an encouraging look and waited for what was to come next. The metal at his feet began to swirl, leaving him at the centre. As it swirled, it rose up into the air maintaining a closed loop of silver that continued to pulse to Valerian’s heartbeat. Valerian found his forces responding. His qi and arcane energy soon began to pulse to the same rhythm, causing the hoop to spin faster and faster.
A minute later it calmed down, returning to its orb-like state once more. Only this time, it floated, unaided in front of its master. Valerian examined the giant globe of liquid metal. “What is it?” he finally asked.
“That is your mercurial orb”, Elder Richard answered.
This was to be released yesterday in accordance with the announcement I made on the twitter page. Unfortunately, I came home after mass to discover that we had no internet. I can do nothing but apologise. The last few weeks haven’t been easy on me and I’d hoped to get everything back on track as well as make it up to you guys with this Easter Special but it seems we’re off to a bad start.
Stay tuned for this evening’s chapter. Don’t worry, I have sinisterSonnet on standby in case anything goes wrong. Patrons can head on ahead and read the advance releases on the patreon page.