Chapter Twenty-two: Array Master of the First Circle
It has been five years since that fateful day that Valerian had his prospects tested. Five years filled with blood and toil, soaked in sweat and tears and all at a cost of incredible funds and extensive training, but he had done it. Now even those who looked down at him before, those who originally had nothing but disdain for himself and his family, came around with smiles pasted on their faces and entreaties on their tongues.
Valerian Steelborn, the second coming of the wastrel, unholy glutton, cursed talent, cripple and all round disappointment had proved his worth. No one could point fingers at him and speak with unmasked derision anymore. No one could even call him those names anymore. He was a genius who had come into his own.
He was a dual attributed arcanist at the energy condensation stage. Advancing four stages in five years. It was a reasonable achievement for someone of his status. It was fast progress and showed respectable talent but it was not truly prodigious if you factored in the resources he had allegedly expended to get there.
He was also a dual attributed tellurian at the meridian opening stage with three opened meridians. Now this was something to be proud of, especially since it was well known that he was “cursed” in this aspect. Then again he was a wastrel who had probably consumed more stock than some pharmacies had ever sold.
Regrettably, people who thought this way would never know the troubles he had gone through. The ravaging pain of raw untempered essence wreaking havoc on his insides whilst he waited for his body to absorb even a tenth of it. They would not know the cost that it had involved and the sacrifices his family had been forced to make.
The fact that they had cut down their number of guards by a third and their servants by half or the sale of some of his grandfather’s priceless tomes and the fact that more than half his inheritance was already spent despite the supplements from family and few well-wishers.
They knew nothing about his several trips to the clan’s infirmary or to the healers they had on retainer that had to deal with the constant injuries that came with his unorthodox method of cultivating.
Valerian had long since stopped caring what the ignorant, unwashed masses of DaleGuard thought of him, his family and his affliction. He just focused on his progress knowing that it would all be worth it in the end.
It was too. Without practicing any qi cultivation method he had somehow made it into the meridian opening stage in just five years and had achieved some limited qi movement.
The greatest benefit was not that though. Qi movement allowed him to enhance some parts of his body. The parts he could currently channel qi to, but that advantage paled before another, more startling discovery. Every advancement in his tellurian path no matter how small led to a significant increase in his body’s strength, speed and vitality.
Before training Valerian could lift four tonnes, when he got to the middle phase of bone transformation six, then nine, followed by thirteen, fifteen, eighteen, twenty-two, twenty-three and now currently, twenty-four. It was mind boggling. Even the clan elders could not come up with a reasonable explanation for this. The strength gains were too fast, too great and too unbelievable.
It has to be mentioned that Valerian had yet to awaken the legacy. Once he did and he gained the ability to transform, the multiplication factor alone would make him a monster. Then there was the speed. It turned out that the extraordinary speed that Valerian had often displayed increased by the same factor every time his strength did.
That was a surprise to everyone. Steelborns weren’t exactly known for their speed and agility but Valerian could change that. For that reason, alone there were many who watched his progress with bated breath, offering sacrifices to the gods amid prayers.
There was no one the same age and tier in the whole of DaleGuard who could boast of the same. His speed, strength and tenacity made him a hell to face and that was even before you factored in his arcane abilities.
To illustrate, Richard a reputed tellurian of his own right and one of the sterling examples of Steelborn strength was a forty-two year old peak Tellurian Lord with a normal strength of about a hundred tonnes. As a young man he had received added attention because as a consolidated practitioner he possessed strength that let him carry over seventeen tonnes in his normal form. That meant over ninety in his monolithic transformation.
Valerian was about one and half times stronger and had similar levels of speed and toughness to himself back then without even half that level of cultivation. This simple fact was mind blowing to the Steelborns. If Valerian actually succeeded in attaining qi manifestation, a definite possibility at this stage, and unlocked the legacy…?
It didn’t need to be said.
However that was not the reason they were here today. That was after all a Steelborn matter. It was not something that would have dignitaries representing the Earl and several other sects and organisations coming to DaleGuard to confirm the news and win him over.
Valerian stood up and walked towards the dais when his name was called. He seemed indifferent to the many disbelieving, admiring and envying eyes trained on him. With both hands at his back he walked gracefully down the carpeted aisle in the great hall by-passing the middle aged man coming from the other direction and climbed up the stairs.
He cut an impressive figure in his brilliant cyan and gold arcanist robes. Today was not a day for armour. Instead, he was dressed in fine, expensive formal robes that declared his status as an arcanist – perfect for the current event. Valerian was tall for his age, with dark short hair and thick backwards combed locks that barely went past his ears yet strangely stuck upwards and backwards a bit on the top.
He was elegant and his dark olive skin tone only enhanced his looks. However there was more to his looks. He wasn’t just a pretty face. Well, his face wasn’t the most handsome one out there or even on the top rankings. It was his aura that made him one that never went without notice. Aloof, comported and so cultured that people did a double take when he went by.
However, the admiring gazes on him had nothing to do with the striking young man he was growing up to be. They were here to watch the history defining moment that was taking place in DaleGuard’s Array masters’ guild.
Yes. You guessed it. Valerian had become an array master!
The second youngest person to ever become an array master of the first circle in Bathar’s three hundred thousand years of history, the youngest in the last two ages and the youngest ever to become a circle master of three attributes. It was a historic moment and as Valerian knelt to have the Guild master place the badge over his right breast he suddenly felt the weight of his achievement and the work it took to get him here.
This was the true mark of his genius. The one thing that no one could take from him and all had to acknowledge. It had been a long road to get here but he had done it. He still remembered the day that his Uncle Jonas begun teaching him control exercises and he asked to be taught how to create arrays.
To him, the decision was a no brainer. He had one of the most gifted array masters in the city as his uncle and tutor why not take advantage of that? And so his daily lessons intensified.
Knowledge of a thousand symbols. The ability to correctly condense them out of world essence. Creation of at least three thousand combinations and configurations. Execution of at least one first circle array.
Those were the minimum requirements for becoming an array master of the first circle. It was the step that only an extreme few would ever surmount. Every arcanist had the ability to manipulate world essence but how many could memorise and visualise a thousand glyphs and three thousand combinations, their uses and interactions with each other?
How many had that intellect and discipline to study such an esoteric field? How many possessed the control and will power necessary to force world essence into such minute, precise shapes and hold them together so that they could display their effects? To be honest, Valerian did not know the answer but he did know that even in that number he would be called an exception.
He had no formal education in the subject. He never went to one of the fancy schools or studied in a sect. He relied on his uncle and the tomes that were at the family’s disposal. Despite this in five years he was able to completely astound the examiners of the Array master’s guild. He went through those tests displaying knowledge, skill and control far beyond what most first circle masters could accomplish and topping it off with an act that had the whole city buzzing.
Valerian had revealed that not only could he condense the glyphs from normal world essence he could also do so using only metal and wind attributed world essence. That was the reason for his title as circle master of three attributes.
Normal arrays were great. They were created from normal world essence which contained within it every element and thus they could do anything. Unfortunately, they were not specialised meaning they did not provide as good a boost to particular task that a single element array could. You could not expect a normal array that produced fire to have as good an effect as an identical array condensed from fire attributed essence.
However, even with the same glyphs it would be impossible to produce fire if your array was formed with water elemental essence. That was why array masters normally focused on using and controlling normal world essence only specialising as they went up the ranks and gained particular specialities.
There was also the difficulty involved since in the beginning most would not have the will power and control necessary to filter elemental essence from world essence and then condense the glyphs. Yet here was a young boy only thirteen years old who could do this with not one but two elements. Valerian cheated though.
He relied on his innate gifts for metal and wind to help him with the process. It was a hack but a widely used one. All array masters with attributes did so. So, no one said anything on the matter. In fact, they even respected him more for it as that showed his potential and aptitude.
That was the reason why so many major powers in the region had sent representatives to show up at today’s ceremony. Even discounting the fact that he could form three different kinds of arrays he was still the second youngest first circle master their kingdom had ever produced and with all was considered, he was undoubtedly the most gifted.
So, all eyes remained on him as he descended from the dais now a fully recognised array master of the first circle. They looked upon the formerly disregarded “cursed talent” of the Steelborn clan and wondered how they would get close to him. This was true even for those within the clan like the female great elder in the first row, the old woman from that day.
Oh how Valerian enjoyed the irony. He could barely keep his upper lip from curling upwards in disgust but somehow he kept his visage stoic and apathetic and went down to mingle with the people at the graduation banquet. It wouldn’t do for him to miss out on this opportunity because of a few annoyances after all.
This was a major chance to earn some patronage and backers. His family had been cut off for so long. Some allies would be welcome as well. Thus, like a true scion of aristocracy he slipped into the milieu exchanging pleasantries and making small talk. This was where the foundation of his future would be made and he took care to play the game well.
It was actually a setting he was quite comfortable in. Nearly all of his life had been spent around adults, and aristocratic ones for that matter. He might not have any friends his age but his conversational skills in the formal arena were praised by Valan Steelborn himself.
In fact, at some point and probably due to the wine he let an uncharacteristic smile out onto his face that dazzled everyone with its brilliance. The unexpected change from indifferent genius to alluring aristocrat was surprising and probably exposed more of his true nature than he meant to. In response, the number of dowagers and dames with daughters his age he had to fend off increased dramatically. Thankfully, he had his family on hand to help out.
The next few weeks were more of the same. People kept calling at their manor with flimsy excuses and gifts. Massive amounts of attention were being poured over them. Religious orders, sects, schools, merchant organisations, the Array masters’ guild, the Artificer’s Union, other noble clans, it seemed everyone wanted to stake a claim before it was too late.
His grandfather was in his element. The man was positively giddy with the attention. Thankfully, he was an acknowledged master of the political arena and so everything was left in his capable hands. His grandmother was busy at work now that the attention had caused business to skyrocket.
Jonas known to all as a gifted array master himself and Valerian’s teacher found himself buried in commissions and requests from people to teach their children as well. Richard? Well, he remained Richard. Although, even he became very busy with the security of the household.
However, the entire thing quickly lost its charm and eventually it begun to look like only his grandfather was enjoying himself. Valerian quickly made an excuse and obtained permission to go on a hunting trip. Putting on his armour and gathering some supplies he set off before any minds could change determined to stay in the wilds for a week or two. Hopefully when he came back things would have calmed down some and changed for the better.
Things were about to change, just not in the way he expected!