Chapter One: The Magistrate’s Grandson I
The city of DaleGuard was one of the major cities in the northern lands of Bathar Kingdom. It was the only great city within six thousand kilometres and it stood as both a symbol of the Kingdom’s power and influence, as well as a bastion against the beast hordes of the great Wildlands. It sat stolidly at the mouth of a great valley effectively blocking the opening in the highlands before it and guarding the vast plains behind it. From afar anyone could make out its great flanking guard towers and their beckoning top lights.
DaleGuard truly was a symbol of power and civilisation in this desolate corner of the north. The surrounding lands might not be as prosperous but the city itself was well developed. It served as the administrative power and trade centre in the area, possessing numerous market places and government offices. It even had seven courthouses with a magistrate each just to handle legal matters and it is in the manor of one of these magistrates that our story begins…
Magistrate Valan Steelborn walked towards the courtyard with a measured gait. He had long hair tied in a pony tail and a beard that he was obviously proud of, as it was cared for meticulously. Both were pure grey, displaying each of his seventy-two years for all to see. He projected an intense scholarly air, and seemed like the kind of person to see when one was in need of counsel. At this moment though, his brow was furrowed with concern.
“You are certain of your deductions?” he asked to make sure.
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“Yes magistrate! I have watched the young master for years. I noticed the change when it began, but I couldn’t believe it. I had to be certain which is why I waited a week before informing you”, one of the two men beside him quickly answered.
The man in question was Avery, a servant of the household. A caretaker and minder for the magistrate’s grandson. He was a stern faced, deep voiced, middle aged man who dressed more like a guard than a child minder especially taking into account the two-handed longsword he carried at his back. Avery carried it everywhere and it was his most distinctive feature. He walked briskly a few steps behind the magistrate as they made for the courtyard.
“An entire week! And if something had happened as you waited?” the magistrate asked hotly.
“Then I would have taken full responsibility. It’s just that the changes happened very slowly. Five days passed before the change was significant enough for me to be certain. I waited the extra days to be sure that it was still happening”, came his answer.
The other man walking beside the two snorted in derision. Clearly he didn’t support Avery’s decision. The three men marched briskly towards their destination eager to either affirm the news or clear up the misunderstanding. The closer they got the clearer they could make out the beautiful music coming from the place and upon getting there they saw its source.
A boy who looked no older than eight was sitting on a bench and playing a silver flute. The melody was heavy and with a quick-tempo as if a lot of things were being said, but too fast to be clearly made out. Flitting between sharp and dull, short and long, high and low the notes were blasted out continuously and loudly from the flute in a simple harmony.
You couldn’t help but wonder how the young man got the breath to play as he did for he never paused to breathe. He just went on playing, his fingers marching like soldiers over the silver flute.
The performance was enrapturing and his onlookers were loath to interrupt the scene. It wasn’t often that the young master played. He was obviously gifted but he didn’t play often. Perhaps when his grandparents asked or Mrs. Fang, his teacher at the grammar school demanded, but it was rare for him to pick up the flute and play of his own volition.
The magistrate took a good long stare at his grandson, a look of pride on his face. He had only one child, the father of the boy, but he went missing before Valerian was even a year old. Valan’s wife along with the child were the core of his life. They were not his only family but he was estranged from most of his other relatives and he didn’t have much affection for them beyond filial duty. His grandson on the other hand, he would move the world for. What other reason would he have to leave his work and rush home?
He waited for the flute music to end and then called out. “Valerian! Come here!”
The boy was stunned for a moment before turning to glance at the walkway to his left where he saw his grandfather, minder and uncle, the captain of the manor guards. Quickly he rushed over a smile on his face.
“Welcome home grandfather!” he greeted. “Welcome home, Avery, Uncle Richard”, he added.
The old man smiled and waved him even closer. Valerian moved to his side now a bit confused. He could sense the intense stares the older men were training on him. Was he in trouble? Keeping calm outwardly he searched his mind furiously to figure out what he could possibly have done. His thoughts were derailed when his grandfather clasped a warm hand to his shoulder and then performed a small squat that they might be level.
Valan was an incredibly dignified old man, always and everywhere projecting a noble and stately air. However that was only when he was out or at work. At home he was a husband and a grandfather. He had no need to remain as formal. Rather he beamed and now at the same head height as his grandson he laughingly asked.
“How is your progress over at the grammar school?”
Valerian’s guard lapsed a little. The grammar school? Was that what this was about? Well he had done nothing wrong. He was sure of it. It was probably Mrs. Fang complaining again. What did she say this time? More reports about how unmotivated and anti-social he was. He didn’t even understand what he was doing there and he had said so time and again.
“It’s so boring and everyone is so dull. Mrs. Fang is always harping and complaining when I sleep in class but it’s not my fault. Everything is boring and easy. I’ve already learned all the letters and numbers”. He complained with a pout.
“Hahaha!” his grandfather laughed. “That is what you always say”.
This was true. There was nothing for him to learn there. Everything really was too easy. He had long since mastered everything of that level. He didn’t understand why his classmates found the material difficult. Plus they were so annoying and childish. Valerian honestly felt he was wasting his time there. He would rather stay at home and read from the manor library but his grandparents insisted on sending him out.
How could he know that it was for his own sake? There were no children around the manor and even the youngest servant was year past his first score. His grandparents were merely worried that his development would be affected if he did not interact with some of his peers which was why they sent him to the Fangs’ Grammar School every day. At least there he could meet and play with children his own age.
Sadly, things didn’t work out as smoothly. For one thing Valerian was much too mature. He found it hard interacting and playing with the children at the school and they with him. He was also too intelligent, widening the gap between them even more. Some of the meaner ones had even began to call him ‘old man’ due to his ways. But that did not matter anymore. He would not have to go back there again. He had more important things to do with his time now.
“Let me tell you something”, the magistrate said somewhat more seriously. “Starting tomorrow you will be tutored at home. You don’t have to go to the school anymore.”
“Really grandfather?” Valerian asked joyfully.
“Of course! In fact at least twice a week I will take charge of your studies.”
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Valerian was delighted. He knew full well that his grandpa was an acclaimed scholar. To have the chance to learn from him was something even Mrs. Fang, with all her knowledge, would beg for. He thanked the old man profusely happy to get out grammar school.
“Hahaha. No need to be so happy about quitting grammar school. Your studies will be thrice as hard from now on. Just head in and get ready. Your grandmother will be home soon”, the old man told him.
He immediately ran off to clean up and get ready. His joy was evident on his face. Not only was he not in trouble he was finally out of Mrs. Fang’s class. He never had to go back to that Grammar school again. Shooting a quick glance back at the men behind him he once more saw the proud and happy smile on his grandfather’s face.
‘The old man is in a good mood today. I wonder what happened?’, he mused to himself.
The old man in question watched him go with a proud smile and then turned to the captain of the manor guards. “Richard, your thoughts”.
Richard the only one amongst the three yet to speak stepped forward at the sound of his lord’s voice. He was a large man. Far larger than the other two at seven feet and blessed with thick corded muscles. He was also dressed in dark leather and shiny steel. Massive steel gauntlets covered his forearms, large steel sabatons and greaves for his legs along with a breastplate made his identity as an elite warrior too easy to guess. There was clearly good reason for him to be the captain of the guards.
Scars could be seen at his jaw leading down into his vest and there were surely more beneath his clothes. A calm man, he spoke in a low tone at a measured pace and walked with a slight limp.
“I checked, magistrate. Valerian really has begun bone transformation. It is obvious that he has no idea of it but his body is readily absorbing world essence on its own. The whole thing is strange. All the evidence suggests that he is practising some sort of cultivation method but if he was or even if he came into contact with one we would know. In fact, the young master’s knowledge is uncharacteristically sparse when it comes to martial arts and cultivation in general”.
He paused with a slight frown on his face as if annoyed at having to say so much in one go but continued nonetheless. “I honestly cannot figure out how this came about. There is no way he could have started cultivating without a method, technique, knowledge or teacher but he has none of these”.
“If it were anyone else or another circumstance I would stand by the opinion that the person knew or obtained a cultivation method somehow but this… There is just no way. We would surely know if that were the case. I confess to being confused and unhelpful in this matter” he concluded.
The magistrate nodded slightly as each point was made and when Richard was done he turned to Avery. The sword carrying minder did not need the questioned to be voiced. He merely shrugged helplessly.
“I am afraid that I too am useless in this regard. The reason it took me so long to come to you was to make sure that what I was seeing was really happening. Even after watching for many days I am still not able to understand anything concerning how the young master is cultivating”.
The magistrate hummed thoughtfully and stroked his beard. The other two men looked at each other. Their master was always like this. His actions made it clear that he had some idea as to what was happening but had to do this first. Richard looked at Avery and motioned with his head leading him to sigh mentally and take this one.
“Could it be that you know something about this magistrate?”
The old magistrate paused his actions for a brief moment before continuing with the beard stroking. “I’m not sure whether I should say. It is just a theory. One that cannot be truly confirmed. At least not yet anyway”.
Knowing that he would end here if not given further prompts Avery spoke up again. “I’m sure master’s theory is probably right. You have read wide, studied much and experienced a lot there’s no way such a thing would elude you. Please enlighten us”.
Valan paused again gaining a slight faraway look as if considering it and then answered. “Valerian knows no cultivating method. This we know to be true and yet he has somehow entered the initial phase of the bone transformation stage. This I have confirmed. So either what we know is wrong or he is somehow cultivating without cultivating. The truth is simple. He has a special body.
“It is instinctively strengthening itself using world essence. Luckily such a situation is not wholly unheard of though to my knowledge, this is the first instance of it happening in DaleGuard. There is only one thing that can create such a special physique and that is high tier legacy”.
“A high tier legacy…” Avery mumbled before realisation dawned on him. “Could this be related to his mother?”
“Without a doubt”, the magistrate stated resolutely. “Our clan’s legacies have no such power or ability so it is definitely hers. Sadly with her and my son missing, there is no way to truly confirm this until it manifests itself. Right now we have to focus on the fact that Valerian is evidently innately gifted at cultivation”.
The two men nodded, clearly understanding the wisdom in doing what was possible and focusing on what was near. They couldn’t help but wonder how powerful such a legacy would be. However these thoughts were dispelled by the glare their master shot them.
“It goes without saying that no one, absolutely no one, even the family is to know about Valerian having a high tiered legacy or that his body is self-cultivating” he made clear.
The two men quickly nodded.
“Good! Richard, tomorrow arrange for your brother to come to the manor. We will need an array master to properly check out Valerian and aid in planning his training. Avery, you begin making preparations, essence crystals and equipment. Whatever you think is necessary. I will inform my wife of what is happening and make some arrangements of my own”.
With that he turned around and began to walk out of the courtyard. Richard and Avery looked at each other, fully aware that their jobs, Avery’s especially were about to get a lot harder. It would be worth it though with Valerian’s obvious intelligence, paternal lineage and now this maternal clan legacy, he was sure to become an outstanding cultivator in the future.
“Also”, came the voice of the magistrate. “Avery, you need to work on your flattery. It is bland, and completely blatant. Your delivery is quite poor and forced as well.” With that said he disappeared into the manor.