Valerian had worked through most of the night and he was finally proud of what he had. The was the best arrangement he could come with for the effects he wanted. Also, he designed it to be impressive. His grandfather always said that there were two things that invoked wonder in people; mystery and awe. Simple was good for oneself but never for anything that was meant to be presented for often, simple came with the connotation of easy. Having people think your work was easy undermined your efforts and devalued them by at least half.
Pausing his thoughts, Valerian laughed to himself. Whatever be the case, he was done. All that remained was unveiling it before the others though how he’d get them to come take a look was still a problem. ‘I’ll talk to Captain Walters’, he resolved.
Now used to assembling at sunrise after all the time they’d spent in Strapping’s, the members of Squad Two made their way out of their rooms and into the common area one by one. By the time Valerian got there, he found some sitting on the chairs scattered around and a couple working in the open kitchen.
“Good morning!” he greeted. Only a few responded. The rest merely acknowledged his words. Valerian didn’t take it to heart. It would take a while to win their respect and trust.
“Good morning, Squad Two” came the voice of their team’s instructor.
Snapping to attention, they faced the entrance, welcoming him. Valerian stepped in front of them with a salute.
“Good morning, sir!”
“At ease!” he commanded. “Our barracks is an informal zone, besides calling me sir there’s not much else you need to do. No salutes or standing at attention.
“Now, gather ’round, squad”, he called out. “Firmina. James. Breakfast will have to wait.”
Unwilling, James hung up his apron and made his way to join the others. Thankfully, their instructor gave them permission to sit.
“Where is Tiabire?” Walters asked noting their number.
“He had to step out, sir” someone supplied.
“You’ll have to update him when he returns”, he told him.
Choosing to stand in their midst, the man began to speak. “Today, you can actually call yourselves cadets. Major Emerson was right in telling you to be proud. However, the real work starts now. You need to prepare yourself. Strapping’s does not treat stragglers well. To do that, you’ll need to learn a few things fast.”
“Do you know why you’ve been split into squads”, he asked.
Many raised their hands. Searching among them, the instructor picked out Alenwaa.
“To create competition, sir”, he answered.
Alenwaa did not waste time. “I believe now that we have been put in teams we’ll be made to compete against each other. For starters, we’ve been isolated and given different accommodations, instructors and leaders. I’m guessing that the plan is akin to sharpening us against each other.”
“You’re only half right”, Walters revealed. “The competition is a critical part of why you have been divided into squads. Having people to strive against is a great motivator for growth. However, being part of a squad is a reason in itself. Teamwork, loyalty and actual battle strategy. That is what we hope to get out of you.
“The army is like nothing you’ve probably heard of. People see cultivators as figures greater than the ordinary man, facing multitudes of enemies and decimating them alone. Things in the army are very different. True, there are cultivators out there who are in fact, army killers but that only means that they can kill a lot of people in a short amount of time. A proper army can eliminate most cultivators with ease. Even an army of mortals can destroy or bring down any cultivator.”
Seeing the look of disbelief on their faces he asked. “Why? Can any of you fight off a hundred men? What of the people in your city or hometown? Can you fight them all by yourself?”
Their looks said it all. “Exactly! How long would your essence hold against a stream of a thousand enemies? How good are you at defending yourself from unending attacks from every direction?” he mocked.
“You might be strong, or fast, or skilled but it won’t mean much if you meet a single well-coordinated force. Why not do same? Why not join together and get those same benefits? That’s what Strapping’s is about. It is what lets us produce the greatest and most elite soldiers. You are a squad and what that is, is a small army. You’ll fight other squads, other armies, Be led by a commander. Fulfil certain roles”, he elaborated.
“It is the single best preparation for military life we can give you”, he continued. “We’ll teach you to work together to accomplish your objectives so you’ll understand the basics of how an army is run and how best to fit in it. I’ll do my best to make you into the best squad in your platoon. But before we can start you must introduce yourselves to your squad. Get to know each other. Start with names, origins, notable skills and favoured roles combat wise.”
“I’ll start”, he volunteered. “I am Captain Walters, Instructor of Platoon Nine’s second squad. I possess dark and Earth attributes and specialise in sabotage and long-range strikes.”
Alenwaa raised his hand. “I am Alenwaa of the Morwoko. I’m from the Green Plains. I have the fire and light attributes. I am an arcanist specialising in scrying, warding and benediction but I do not have much in terms of combat skill. While I’m not sure where that would place me in the squad but I do great in support or command roles.”
The rest of squad looked at him in surprise. Besides his former longhouse mates, none of them knew about his special skill set and even they didn’t know he was a scryer or a warder. The ability to boost and enhance the efforts of others combined with the ability to scan and know everything in his range as well as the power to create defensive barriers. That was a powerful combination.
Berengar, eager to make their instructor have a good impression of him after coming late, went next. “I am Berengar Tiabire. My father is a baronet and feudal commander under Viscount Toddlestone. My attribute is fire. Befitting my status as a tellurian, I was trained as a knight. Sadly, Strapping’s does not allow us to bring our own mounts. My strength when on a horse and armed with a lance was great enough to…”
“Okay”, their instructor interrupted. “You, Hammerfist. Introduce yourself.”
Startled, John mumbled his introduction. ” I am called John Hammerfist, a tellurian. I come from Cragsveil. I-my attribute is fire. I fight with my fists. I don’t really do much from far away.”
Next came Laura Brandt, a lightning attributed arcanist from the Southern Hills, who specialised in ranged and AoE attacks. Following her was Drusilla Venator from the Toakate. She was a metal attributed tellurian with more blades, piercings and pointy objects than would be considered healthy.
“My attribute is the wind. My skill, my sword. I would be ineffective playing any role away from the front lines”, James was saying. He had just outed himself as a tellurian as well.
“I am Tamara Bohn from Covo. An ice and water attributed arcanist. Long ranged attacks are my speciality”, a white-haired girl revealed.
“Petilia Firmina”, the next girl introduced herself. “I am a healer and water blessed arcanist. I know a bit about scrying as well”, the girl who came next revealed.
Everyone sat up a little straighter at that. They had a healer. That would be so useful in the days to come.
“My near opposite”, someone exclaimed with a laugh. He brushed some of his hair away from his handsome face and introduced himself. “My name is Raphael Laurent and I am also a healer. However, I am a tellurian of the fire attribute and possess additional skills in surgery and pharmacy”, the newly introduced Raphael explained.
“Fire attributed tellurians can be healers?” Petilia asked in surprise. She was not the only one. The others were thinking same.
“Of course”, Raphael answered with a smile. “To be a tellurian is to be blessed with vital force. It is but a matter of training to use this force to heal others. Fire is life. The sun, the great life giver. No other attribute or combination could possibly be as great for sustaining and replenishing life.”
“Is that so?” Tamara said, curling her lips. “Then, tell me why water attributed arcanists are praised as the best healers in Verre.”
“Clearly, their path is easier and more common whereas the people with the required talents for mine are much too rare”, Raphael shot back.
“Okay now, break it up”, Walters warned.
The next one to introduce himself was a short, cheerful girl in tough leathers. “My name is Cybele Stonemason and I come from Waylain. I am a wind attribute arcanist who focuses on full-on battle magic which I cast using my bow.”
“Wow!” their instructor exclaimed. “It would appear that all our long ranged attackers are arcanists and female at that. Unless you are going to prove them different”, he said, turning to Pugio.
Pugio smiled, “My name is Pugio, just Pugio. I am a dark attribute tellurian who specialises in scouting and sabotage though now that we have two scryers I’m not sure what use the first will be. I am not really a fighting type though I plan to learn. In the meantime, I’ll simply stab a few things with my knife.”
“Where are you from Pugio? the captain asked unexpectedly. He hadn’t asked this of the others. In fact, he hadn’t revealed his own origins.
“Oh, you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s this cavern town in one of the eastern mountains”, he answered with a smile.
“Oh…why don’t you try-” Walters pressed before being interrupted by Valerian.
“Sir, before we move on to me, do you mind if we switch venues?” he asked.
“Why?” the man asked suspiciously.
“It’s just I feel it would best explain who I am and my role in this squad if we did so there”, he explained.
“And where will we be going?” the captain questioned.
“My room”, Valerian revealed.
“Now Steelborn, I know that the girls on the squad are pretty and some of the lads too but in-squad relations of that kind are very bad” he warned stressing his words as if talking to a child.”
Valerian shot him a quick essence transmission explaining part of what he had planned. The man’s face nearly stiffened.
“Very well, Squad two. It appears your leader has a something he wishes to show us. Let’s go take a look.”
The trip to Valerian’s room was short given that it was just around the corner. When they got there, he opened the door and led them in. They looked around trying to figure out what was so special about it that they had to come here just so he could introduce himself or why the captain had indulged him.
The room was same as all the others. Plain with functional furniture in the form of a chair, settee, desk wardrobe and bed. The bed was still unmade, its mattress and pillows bare, suggesting that either Valerian did not sleep in it last night or that he hadn’t bothered to use the supplies in the wardrobe before doing so.
“You all have come to know a few things about me over the last few days”, he started. “My name is Valerian Steelborn. I am a dual force possessor. That I have dual attributes of metal and wind and some skill with arrays. I am aware that knowledge of me and my status factored and in many cases was the sole determiner that made you choose to join my squad. I’ll now fill in the blanks.
“I come from Cragsveil, the northeastern corner of Bathar. My family holds a peerage there and my great-uncle is the current Viscount. Mine is a military family though nowhere near as famous or established as Gigne’s or Clearcrest’s. I’ll tell you right now, My background is not something I’m here to rely on and neither should you. Even Alenwaa here has greater status than I do in that sense.
“Right now, each squad leader is probably having this same talk with his squad save perhaps Gigne. It’s the ‘why you should follow me’ talk. Gigne comes from a notable family of high ranking military officers and so do half his team. In fact, I am pretty sure most of the heirs or members from military families in our platoon chose to join him”, he said to them.
Here, Captain Walters, Drusilla and Berengar nodded.
Valerian continued, “Clearcrest, from what I know, is the heir to one of the greatest benedictors in the army. He is also a general with extensive battle experience and might. Needless to say, even if she inherited a quarter of his potential and learnt his weakest skills she’d be more than worth following. Trust me, she has more than that.
“Reynard’s advantage is simple. He has a lot of money and more skills than he can probably use. He is also an arcanist with no less than three attributes and you’ve all seen just how powerful he is”, he added.
They all nodded. Reynard had the most impressive performance in the second exam. No one believed that those thirty tean orbs were his limit. They were merely all he had to work with and that dragon formation he used had instilled fear in the hearts of many.
“As for me”, Valerian began with a smile. “Well, I’ll just show you.”
Walking to a way on the far end, Valerian took out an essence stone from his spatial ring and put it into a groove he had created the night before. Numerous glyphs began to light up all over the walk till array circle after array circle could be seen. Ignoring their stunned gazes, he went to each wall and placed an essence stone in certain grooves. Illuminated glyphs soon lined the walls and openings with several large array circles dominating the walls, ceiling and floor. Then, the quality of world essence in the room began to change. It grew thicker, condensing itself and drawing more in from outside. The inhabitants also found themselves relaxing and their minds growing sharper as they took in the room’s essence
“I am an Array Master of the First Circle. The youngest my age in the entirety of Bathar as well as a circle master of three attributes”, Valerian spoke. “You might not know what that means but just know that it is an important title and that I am the youngest to receive it in ages”, he added.
“Array mastery is an interesting discipline. You can do anything if you can find, draw, arrange and power the right configuration of glyphs. I happen to specialise in enchantments, defence and elemental effects. That means I am a warder and enchanter rolled in one. That, in turn, means I can enchant items, bestowing them with effects sufficient to term them pseudo artefacts. When I get better I might be able to create artefacts outright. I can even create things like this”, he said waving his hands and gesturing to array covered room.
“A cultivation room that collects and concentrates world essence. It also focuses the mind to help you get into the right state for cultivation”, he told them. “Besides my skills as an array master, I excel in mid to long ranged combat but have recently taken an interest in close ranged as well. My other skills…well, we’ll get to those in time.
“You…you did this?” the instructor asked, gobsmacked. Valerian had told him that he had created an array that will be of help to the squad but he never imagined something like this.
“Yes”, he answered with a smile.
“In one night?” came the next question, this time from a shocked Alenwaa.
“We’ve only been here for the one”, Valerian pointed out.
“How does it work?” their instructor asked, calming himself.
“Well, in order to ensure that anyone could use it, I embedded the arrays in the walls and set up power input points here, here, here and there,” he said pointing at the filled grooves.
“Now, if you place an essence stone in them, the arrays there will draw on them to power themselves as well as distribute power to the others. The glyphs that line the walls prevent essence from leaking out once it’s in and the circle on the floor is the mind focusing one”, he explained.
“What of consumption? How many essence stones would you need to keep the arrays going?” Walters asked.
“Four essence stones should keep the arrays running for six days. After that, you’ll have to replace them. I tried to get more out of it, even push it to a week if I could but these are the most power efficient configurations I know”, Valerian answered. “As an added feature, whatever kind of essence stone you use to power the array would determine the kind of essence you are supplied with.”
Meaning?” Laura questioned.
“Meaning if you put in lightning stones you’d get lightning attributed essence. If you put in fire, you’d get fire”, Valerian informed them.
“How’ll we use this?” Raphael asked.
“Yes”, Cybele concurred. “This is great and all but you should probably have waited and done this in the common area or something.”
“I’m afraid you have misunderstood something. We aren’t all going to use this one cultivation room” Valerian said to them.
Are you planning to use it as a reward?” Walters asked, his tone ripe with disapproval.
“No. This design isn’t intended for use by multiple people. The draw would never be able to keep up and the essence concentration would suffer. This is for personal use. I’ll set up a schedule, come by your rooms and create the set-up for you.”
“Wait, you mean we each get one?” James asked in disbelief.
“You can make more? Replicate this?” Walters questioned heatedly. “What materials do you need? What proportions do you need them in?”
Valerian’s face twisted in a funny way. “Don’t insult me”, he said. “I’m no glyphwright. I’m an array master. Why would I need reagents for essence arrays? Save them for when I begin enchanting your weapons and armour.
“You can do that too?” Drusilla asked, interested.
“The things I can do are many but the things I can do for this squad… well you’ll get to see. You all accepted or volunteered to join my squad. You definitely won’t regret it” Valerian assured them. “Before we leave this centre, we will be acknowledged as the best and most powerful squad in Platoon Nine.”