Jonas scrutinised the boy before him and was forced to admit that his comportment was extraordinary. Perfectly dressed, well-mannered with a lofty bearing and purposeful grace he really was a little prince. Despite this he was completely unspoiled. At least from what he had heard and seen. Aside from a penchant to be overly self-assured he seemed to conduct himself quite well and even his Uncle Valan had nothing but good things to say about him.
He was curious because he knew little about this nephew of his. It was shameful but he really was quite busy. So he seized this chance to figure out the boy for himself rather than rely completely on what his brother said about him. Thankfully he was perfectly capable of doing that whilst focusing on the array he was setting up.
Nevertheless, he had an audience. One which included his big brother, his surrogate parents as well as several servants and guards. So he made it a bit showy. The crystal at the tip of his staff lit up with a bright red glow. As it did so he stretched his right hand out a bit, upturned his palm and made a motion that looked as if he was grasping the air. In response a circle of dull red light appeared around Valerian who to his credit, kept his surprise hidden, only glancing towards it once.
“The array I will be using is common and one I have used many times. There is no danger of it harming you so while it might look a bit bright there is nothing to worry about”, Jonas said.
The fingers of his still outstretched right twitched and in response, a second circle appeared around the first. There were a few gasps in the hall whilst looks of pride appeared on the faces of the magistrate and his wife. Many would not know the significance of that but to those who knew, it was the sign of a second tier array master.
Most prospective tests employed a series of arrays. These were all one circle arrays but what Jonas was doing now was clearly a two circle array. That alone cut the number of arrays need by half as each circle would handle a different part of the test, effectively doing two things at once. This was what separated the second tier of array masters from the first. The former could not only employ more powerful, more complex arrays but also do more in the same amount of time.
Jonas smiled to himself. This was the first time he was showcasing his skills before the old couple in a while. He wanted to let them see how far he had gotten. Becoming a second tier array master had been his focus for a long time. He had studied like mad. Done so much research and practice he had nearly grown tired of it all. In the end he had been vastly over qualified for the position, passing the test quickly and with ease as the most outstanding examinee in his batch.
Now looking at the pride on the faces of the people who raised him he could confidently say that all that work was worth it. Clearing his mind he focused on the circles in front of him and on the boy at their centre. His fingers twitched again and motes of red light appeared around Valerian.
There were at least fifty of them. Each of these motes of light shaped themselves into strange indistinct markings that slowly sunk until they were level with the circles of light. There they arranged themselves into larger shapes and configurations. Soon both inner and outer circles had these markings embossed on them as if they were carved into the air itself.
Seeing Valerian’s curious gaze Jonas decided to elaborate a little bit about what he was doing. “The light markings are called glyphs. They are symbols of power that possess many qualities and are capable of an infinite number of things under the control of an array master. When put together with the circles in certain configurations they form arrays. The creation and control of these arrays is the job and passion of array masters like myself as well as the source of our titles and powers”.
“The array surrounding you is a rather simple one. The inner circle would perform a check up on your body. Making sure your body is physically fit for cultivation. The outer one will in turn check your meridians and vessel for obstructions and abnormalities”.
Valerian nodded solemnly, digesting what was said to him and storing the information for later. Contrary to his outward appearance, his mind was racing as it tried to figure out how the array worked. Knowing that the pursuit was futile, he instead turned his thoughts back to the test.
This whole time Jonas had been observing the boy. So far he could say this for certain. The boy truly was very mature. He had watched when he came in and how he reacted when the news was broken.
Most children would be visibly excited when told that they would be allowed to cultivate and yet he remained calm the whole time. Whereas others would yelling in joy he merely had a small smile on his face whilst trying to play it of like it was nothing really, just par for the course. At that time Jonas did not think much of it. Many noble children were adept in hiding their emotions as well. Not as good but close. However watching him stand in front of him now was a little unnerving.
He had performed a lot of such examinations both privately and publicly, for the clan and for outsiders and yet he had never seen this. Valerian stood there, ram rod straight, an arm behind his back and his head held high a confident smile on his face. This was a test that pretty much decided a person’s fate and future accomplishments. There was no one who hadn’t been nervous when taking it. It didn’t matter if the person was a genius and had awoken some latent talent before the test. He or she would still feel some apprehension when confronted with tests concerning his talent.
His eyes flicked over to the old magistrate wondering if the boy had been told that he was already at the preliminary phase of bone transformation. It was the only reason he could think of for why the boy was so confident. He acted like the whole thing was a forgone conclusion. Receiving no response from the old man he turned back to his charge only to look back at the magistrate. Jonas’ eyes flicked from grandfather to grandson and from grandson to grandfather at least trice.
He had picked up on something that was so funny and startling that he nearly burst into laughter. Both boy and man were in the exact same pose. Arms behind the back, small confident smile, head raised high with a sleepy almost bored look. Everything right down to the small tilt of the head. How this happened he did not know but he guessed that the old man had finally trained himself the perfect heir.
Putting that aside he made one final motion and the circles lit up. They had been dull red before, and now they were a bright fiery colour. The glyphs looked especially eye catching. The entire array fell to the ground. It hovered level with Valerian’s soles for a moment before slowly rising over his head and then falling again. After three cycles of this it came to a stop at his waist. Then the light of the inner circle began to dim.
Valerian shuddered for a few seconds before he adjusted to the sensation created by the arrays. All eyes were now truly focused on the event taking place eagerly awaiting what came next. They were not disappointed. A large glyph, about a foot in size rose from the inner circle. Everyone looked at it, knowing that it represented the first batch of results.
Jonas looked at the results, dismissed them and announced. “Your body is very fit. The bones are regular and well formed. They are no deformities that might hamper your cultivation”.
By this time the outer circle had also begun to dim. The glyph had already risen so Jonas announced that as well. “Your meridians are also in perfect condition. There are no obstructions, leakages or recognised abnormalities”.
The results were expected but that didn’t stop some of the onlookers from sighing in relief. The magistrate in particular was relieved and despite his usual stoicism, it nearly showed on his face. Whilst this was certainly the easiest part of the tests it was not a guaranteed pass. A healthy, strong body was a necessity no matter the cultivation path. Physical deformities could just as easily destroy one’s hopes or limit a person’s progress.
Jonas made that grasping motion again. The arrays burst into motes of light which quickly formed themselves into circles and glyphs again. The circles formed first, then the glyphs. It was a skill he was very proud of. Rather than erase an array and start over he could take control of the energies and reform them into a completely different array. This form of recycling saved time and energy but required intense focus and control.
“For the second part of the test, the inner circle will measure your essence and check its level to see if you can cultivate. The outer circle will extract a little of your essence and check the type of force you have. This will tell us if you can cultivate and what direction you would pursue”.
This was the most important part and so everyone watched with bated breaths. They gazed intently as the bright array dimmed and pushed out three glyphs. Under their watchful eyes Jonas leaned forward to announce the results only to nearly choke on his own tongue. His coughing and spluttering caused the tension building in the hall to be resolved in sad disappointed whispers. Valerian had definitely failed and now Jonas was unable to proceed.
The words out of Jonas’ mouth quickly disproved those views. “E…E…ESS…NCE LEVEL FORTY-ONE TIMES NORMAL!”
The hall was plunged into sudden silence. No one could believe the words the array master had spoken. In fact not even he could which was why he had choked the first time. After checking the results again he was remained so unbalanced he yelled it out. So he composed himself and announced the results again.
“The essence level is measured at forty-one times the norm”.
The magistrate’s wife stepped forward. “Jonas… Are you sure?”
She couldn’t be blamed for asking. All the guards and servants watching had the same thought running through their minds. No doubt anyone who heard the results would question them as well. The reason was simple. Essence was the most important thing for cultivating. A person required an essence level at least five times that of a normal person in order to cultivate. More was obviously better but forty-one was just excessive. It had to be a record.
As a second tier array master Jonas’ essence level was hundreds of times that of a normal person. However he was pushing forty, had been cultivating from the age of ten and had achieved not only the second tier in array mastery but also as an arcanist. All this had increased his strength and essence. For an eight year old boy who had yet to start true cultivation to have such a high level of essence was unimaginable.
“Auntie Clara, I couldn’t believe it too at first but I’ve checked three times. Plus there is more”, Jonas answered.
“Yes!” he answered solemnly then indicating the two remaining glyphs he added. “Valerian possesses dual force. He has both qi and arcane energy”.
This was an even greater shock than the first bit of news. Dual force was so rare it was considered a legend to most. Ordinary cultivators would have either arcane energy or qi, never both. For instance, Richard had qi whilst Jonas had arcane energy. The probability of awakening one or the other depended partly on lineage but also on chance. Arcane energy was rare in the Steelborn family and thus most cultivators possessed qi. Jonas as an arcanist was in the minority.
Each force had its own properties, abilities and cultivation path. For a person to possess dual force meant that at the very least he could simultaneously travel both paths and gain all the benefits therein including twice the power. This information combined with his high essence level meant there was absolutely no doubt that Valerian would go far.
Right now Valerian had a happy smile on his face. He stretched his body slightly to rid himself of the uncomfortable tingling sensation that the arrays had given him. It wasn’t painful, just strange. By this point, the number of servants and guards watching the tests had doubled and even more were rushing in. He was glad that he hadn’t humiliated himself in front of them. He made a move to get out of the array.
“Wait!” Jonas exclaimed.
Valerian nearly cursed. ‘I thought the array was harmless. Don’t tell me it will explode if I disrupt it’, he muttered mentally. He was trying to get to his grandparents now that the tests were done but hearing Jonas’ yell reminded him of all the stories he had heard at Fang’s about the destructive powers of array masters. He really should have asked for permission.
“We aren’t done yet”, Jonas explained but seeing the look of confusion on Valerian’s face he elaborated. “The tests are usually a series of five first circle arrays. Even performing them two at a time we should still have one left. However we will have to create two now.”
“Why?” Valerian couldn’t help but ask unknowingly voicing the thoughts of many of the watchers.
“The final test is done to sample the examinee’s force and determine if he or she possesses any innate attributes. Normally it requires only one array since there’d only be one force but you have both so we’d need both”.
Understanding dawned on everyone and Jonas wasted no time shattering and reconfiguring the array. This time when it dimmed it gave rise to no less than four large glyphs. Jonas left out a huge rush of air and everyone knew that the results were once again astounding. They were just waiting for Jonas to read them out.
“Innate dual attributes of metal and wind for both forces!”