Chapter Twenty: Leaving
The next few days were a blur of activities. Richard true to his nature refused to have a party to celebrate his recent success. No one was surprised. They went ahead and had it anyway. Members of the clan and higher-ups from the military dropped by to visit and leave gifts. Soon, all of DaleGuard knew that the Steelborns had a new King tier cultivator.
That notwithstanding, there was a certain tension within the magistrate’s household. One that had nothing to do with Richard’s breakthrough, Vorm’s unannounced vacation or Jonas’ attempts to find a suitable Institute to continue his studies despite being head-hunted by people who wanted him as a teacher. This was an uneasy tension. It was clearly felt by all and yet everyone took great care to avoid it. Yet, one can only do so much. The reason for this tension? Valerian was leaving soon!
Strapping’s required prospective students to report one week before the beginning of the term to take their entrance exam. To make it, Valerian would have to leave in a few days.
Blistering speed! Ruler of the winds! Skylord! It was these concepts that occupied Valerian’s mind. His core self revolved around them and his qi responded in kind. The air around him was visibly stimulated. He was its lord after all. Wind essence streamed from it to flood his body and sculpt it into the vessel befitting these concepts. It bolstered his qi, buoying it along as it raced through his meridians and diffused into his muscles, especially the ones at his back where his wings sprang from.
Those wings, golden and translucent, were already outstretched, drinking even more of the world’s essence. It caused quite a stir, a young boy sitting cross-legged in the air, golden wings fanning his sides whilst streams of air whipped about him. Valerian was unable to see this though. His mind was elsewhere, completely immersed in the feeling of being both one with the wind and ruling it. He was slowly coming to grips with just how willing the wind was to respond to his needs. What it meant to be a ruler of the winds and carry the inheritance of a Monarch of the Sky. His may be a diluted legacy but even the most distant relatives of a king carried authority over his vassals.
Valerian breathed out slowly, letting the accumulated qi go free so it could settle back in his core. His entire body felt warm, so much so that he actually wanted to continue cultivating. It was that comfortable and soothing. Ignoring that, he focused on letting the concepts recede from his mind. He could feel the change in his aura as he let go.
The wind essence surrounding him was no longer as spellbound yet remained attentive, hanging faithfully around him but losing some of its puppylike desire to please. Slowly, he floated down to rest on his mat. Opening his eyes, brought him face to face with Elder Allard.
“Well done”, the man told him. “I can tell today was particularly productive. Just be sure to keep up your practice when you get to Strapping’s and you’ll be set.”
“Now, given that this our final session, I propose we break early. Is there anything you think we should go over first?” he asked.
“No. I don’t think so”, Valerian said to him.
“Alright”, Elder Allard said tersely, unsure of how to proceed.
The two remained as they were, looking at each other as the air grew awkward. At least, until the old man finally broke the silence.
“Here”, he gestured, taking a small wooden case out of thin air and handing it over.
Valerian took it with care, surprised at the gesture.
“What’s in it?” he asked curiously.
“Why don’t you open it and find out?” the elder said with a chuckle.
Setting it down quickly, Valerian popped open the lid. The case itself was plain but its insides were plush and held two daggers reminiscent of baselards. Each was custom made, cast from good steel and forged into a single piece of deadly metal with fullers down the flat and piercework on the bare hilt. In fact, the hilt was so bare it looked like the daggers were half done but after picking one up and feeling its weight and balance he could tell that they were finished. Paying little attention to how another rose to replace it, he examined it; Eighteen inches in length, two wide and perfect.
“It’s a going away present in case you couldn’t tell”, came his tutor’s voice. “Your ‘flying arsenal’ has become a major part of your style. I had one of the junior smiths forge these. It’s a set of hundred but that isn’t license for you to lose any. This way you’ll have enough for a few years. I felt they would be better than those disposables you keep using. Plus, the quarrels are just ridiculous. This will serve both purposes and channel essence much better.”
Valerian looked up at the old man will a happy smile. “Thank you very much, sir!” “I’ll be sure to use them well”, he added.
“I hope so. Try them out!” the great elder said with a smile.
With a small pulse of his arcane energy, nine of the daggers rose into the air, glinting in the afternoon light. Valerian had them whiz around a bit. The elder was right. The extra weight, length and better material made a big difference. Intoning the spell mentally, he cast his customary spell sending his [Heart Seeking Bolts], now a brighter hue and nearly twice as powerful, straight up into the air.
The dinner was meant to be a fun send off but that didn’t look like it could happen anymore. None of his grandparents were home for it casting a noticeable downer on the proceeds. Vorm and Jonas tried to carry the evening but that just made it more obvious so they gave it up. Valerian was unsure how to feel about it. Things with his grandfather were…tense but he’d thought the man would be here for this. It made him wonder what would pull him away at this time which in turn made him worried.
“Hey Valerian, I hear old Allard already beat me to this but here”, Vorm said to him giving him an old wooden slip. The characters carved on it lit up when he passed it to him.
“It’s a spell”, he revealed. “A powerful ranged attack that is very effective against multiple opponents or for putting pressure on a single powerful one. I’ve found it very useful over the years. Should be beyond you at the moment but I expect you to work on it till you can use it freely. The slip also holds the array version of the spell but that’s not my field and Jonas can’t use the metal attribute.”
“You act like that’s my fault!” the uncle in question called from the side.
“Thank you very much, Uncle Vorm”, Valerian said with a large smile. He was glad to add a new spell to his repertoire. Additionally, any spell that could receive use and praise from an Arcane King was more than worth any effort it would take to learn it.
“It should give you an edge in team and campaign type exercises in Strapping’s. At least, I sure wish I had it back then.”
“I’ll be sure to use it to obtain victory then”, Valerian assured him.
“Not victory, excellence!” Vorm reminded him. “Not only is it better, you can have the first without the latter but never the latter without the first. Strive for excellence and you’ll always have victory and all its fellows.”
“Yes, Uncle!” Valerian acknowledged.
“I guess it’s my turn then”, Jonas said, pushing Vorm out of the way with a sweep of his staff. “This a jade slip containing a few arrays”, he announced, intentionally stressing the jade part whilst looking obliquely at Vorm who huffed.
“I remember you wanting more elemental enhancement ones. They are all first circle so you shouldn’t have any real problem with them though I chose from a wide spread of glyph tongues and formations to keep you occupied and advancing.”
Valerian could barely keep from exclaiming in joy. New arrays! He was reaching out for the slip when he remembered something that stayed his hand.
“Wait! I thought your old institute was giving you grief about your teachings. Wouldn’t this get you into more trouble?” He asked worriedly.
“Don’t worry about it”, his uncle said to him. “The ones here, as well as the nearly all the ones I learnt from them sadly, are relatively common. They cannot claim them to be their sole property. Besides, given the ranking of the new institute I’ve joined they can neither complain nor pursue it.”
“You’ve got a new institute! That’s great news. Which one is it?” Valerian asked happily.
“The Tutonparle Arcanist Institute down in Bugummolka”, came the answer.
“The kingdom to the south?” Valerian asked in surprise.
Bugummolka was ranked twelfth whilst Bathar was seventh making it strange that Jonas would go there. Most advanced forward or laterally but given the kingdom’s standing and the fact that Valerian had never even heard of the school
“Yes. Theirs is an elite private institute that has some renown in the southern lands. It was hard settling on them given how distant it is and all but they were the ones to offer the best terms. Seems they’re looking for new talent and they think I’d fit.”
“They’re right. You’re the most talented array master in Cragsveil”, Valerian emphasised. The others agreed.
Jonas laughed. “It’s funny to hear you of all people say that.”
“Yeah well, Valerian is clearly a little freak. You, on the other hand, are a serious contender. I don’t often admit it but I doubt anyone else in the clan or the county for that matter can match your talent and progress at the art, all things considered”, Vorm said lazily, reaching for another drumstick.
Jonas gave his cousin a strange look. “Thank you Vorm! I’ll have to mark this day down somewhere in case I wake up someday and think this was a dream.”
“Bugummolka is far”, Valerian noted. “When are you leaving?”
Cragsveil was the north-eastern corner of Bathar whereas Bugummolka lay across their kingdom’s southern border. Tutonparle, he guessed, would lie further in. Strappings was only three counties away and he was told it would take a month of travel to get there, Valerian dared not imagine how long a trip to Tutonparle would be.
“Soon”, Jonas informed him. “Truth be told, I planned to leave before today but I made myself wait to see you off. Once you’re gone, I’ll get my things together and make my journey. I can’t but feel a little excited about travelling to another country.”
The two quickly begun to discuss this, with Vorm chipping in about the places he’d been to in service to the army and how they travelled.
“Valerian!” Richard called.
He turned quickly to face his uncle. “Yes, Uncle Richard!”, he answered.
Richard had changed completely since his breakthrough. He longer limped for one. All his old wounds had healed and his scars no longer seemed angry and fresh. They remained though only they now looked like lines drawn on his skin. Richard made no mention of them or of removing them. Some may have wondered why he’d keep such ugly marks but Valerian knew. They were a reminder of what he’d faced and overcome. A mark of victory now, instead of the defeat and shame they came with.
The greatest change, however, had to be his presence. Valerian wasn’t sure. Maybe it had to do with how well he had known the man before this or the fact his new tier was newly minted and thus not as fully in his control but Valerian could clearly feel a gulf between this Richard and the one he’d grown up with. They were the same in personality and appearance but this one had a more final edge to his words. They were certain, unflinching and like Vorm’s almost imperative.
He was also ‘larger’ than he used to be. You could feel him nearby long before he walked into the room. As for sensing him out, he shone bright enough that it hurt to look at him for too long. His power was now so great he affected the movement and flow of essence in their household, something Valerian had not noticed the other Kings do until then. Valerian could tell that these changes had something to do with the reason why third tier cultivators were called Kings.
“This is my going away present”, the man told him, tossing a package over. Valerian caught the incredibly heavy package and placed it into his spatial ring not letting Vorm and Jonas examine it closely despite their curious glances.
“It took a bit of trouble but I got what you asked”, Richard said to him. “Make good use of it.”
“I will Uncle. You can be sure of it”, Valerian assured him.
“I know you will”, the man said. “It’s just a reminder.”
Valerian nodded in acceptance.
“Oi! Oi! What’s with the secrecy?” Vorm cut in. “Let us in on it.”
He was unable to get what he wanted though. Two individuals had arrived; Valerian’s grandparents.
HoGW resumes! Guess who’s done with his undergraduate degree? It’s just waiting for the results and graduation from here on out. Thanks so much for being so supportive and understanding when I needed to take time off.
Things are going to change a bit around here. To start with, weekly releases are going up to three maybe four if we meet our patreon goal. We’ll return to our original Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule. Unless you guys disagree.
Also, the publishing and launch of HoGW Book One: Hatchling is on schedule. Please join me in thanking J-Mitch and Lithit from Fantasy-Books.live as well as our own sinisterSonnet for all the help and work they’ve put in. Additionally, sinisterSonnet and I will be introducing several new features this month so stay tuned. All in all, I’m glad to back at work (‘Sonnet is in despair but he’ll get over it) I hope you are too.