Author’s Note: Sorry about that last flake. I sort of jumped the gun a bit last time (how unlike me). My hardwon success in writing that one chapter and my eagerness to get back to work might have gotten the better of me at the time. I should have seen that coming. So I took a few steps back and put some work in. Took my time to rebuild a good enough stock of chapters too. Then, I put out a call for proofreaders. Yeah…old sinisterSonnet can no longer spare the time.
I’ve got one eager volunteer already who is very interested in helping out with DC/RH. He’s hard at work right now…we’ll see how that goes. HoGW will be harder since the chapters are longer and more involved…I think but I’m sure I’ll find someone for the role. If you’re interested, let me know.
On to other matters, let’s see… I’m back it. We should progress quickly now, sustainably too with my new stock. We’ll stick with our previous schedule ie. Saturdays – HoGW and DC/RH, Tuesday – HoGW and Thursday – DC/RH. However, that might change along the line. I’ve got a bunch of stuff I’m putting into the site. But I wouldn’t go into that here. I’ll make an announcement when everything is up on Thursday.
Book Two should come out this month, same with Hatchling’s paperbacks. I owe you guys another apology there. Apparently, I missed an email from CreateSpace complaining that the cover was formatted wrongly. Not just missed but buried. Yeah… no more bulk reading from me.
Oh yeah…I’ve got a bunch of free copies of Hatchling that I plan on giving out. The first commenters over the next few weeks (here and on royalroadl) will get them as well as the regular commenters (same as first) and the OGs who stuck with the story from the start. If you think you fit the last category send me an email at [email protected]
Enjoy the chapter!
Chapter Fifteen: Meetings
Hearing about Marrbisi did nothing to prepare you for seeing it. Valerian found himself leaning out of the window of his carriage, staring at the academy gates. Strapping’s had a reputation for excellence but the stories surrounding Marrbissi were something else. They made the place seem all but mythical. It was the first ranked institution in the kingdom, better than the other top five combined. The birthplace of geniuses. The only school to receive an imperial rating. The many things he had learned about the place filled Valerian’s mind. Funny thing was, the closer he drew to the place, the more real these stories seemed.
Take the wards, for example, his eyes experienced so much strain trying to analyse them that he was forced to desist and shut them lest he go blind. Nonetheless, what he had managed to perceive was enough to both awe and terrify him. Essence so thick, he couldn’t see through it, blanketed the entire region, extending above, around and perhaps even below the area and yet when they crossed them crossed them, he did not feel a single thing. Glyphs he had never seen were inscribed into it channelling the essence to unknown ends. Valerian could not help but give a start. That much bound essence, all of it powering a series of arrays more powerful and complicated than anything ever described in his studies yet somehow completely beyond nearly all of his senses. Living under that would take some getting used to.
Protected within these wards were the academy grounds themselves. A few dozen and more kilometres of fields and connected complexes. Above and around these, cultivators rode daemons and flying contraptions through the sky, something Valerian could not help but stare at. For all his staring made him look like a bumkin, his amazement was understandable.
Strappings did not allow first years to own personal mounts, nor was anyone besides the instructors allowed to fly without authorisation. Flight in battle or on the practice fields was allowed but the idea of taking to the air just to go to class was new, to say the least.
In a special room somewhere in Marrbissi Academy
“When you said you had chosen a legacy apprentice, you neglected to tell us that you had chosen five”, an elderly man questioned Lady Bloodworth.
The man in question was grey enough to dye the room with it. Despite this, he looked anything but feeble. His face was lined with wrinkles and the grey bristles that made up his hair and beard had to be double braided in order to be controlled but his body might have as well come from a thirty-year-old strongman. His form-fitting leather armour only seemed to show his body off especially with how they left his arms and sides bare and only protected his front and back.
The old lady smiled and looked at her burly peer. “You are right, I chose one as well but afterwards I decided to take them all.”
The two of them sat around a long oval table that was built to seat fourteen though only eight seats were currently filled.
“Five legacy apprentices?” another asked. This new speaker did not look as old as the first two and if he was, he hid it well. He had some black in his hair still and a clean-shaven face.
“Your point”, Lady Bloodworth asked.
“You can’t have five legacy apprentices”, the man pointed out.
“According to whom?” came the response.
“Come now, Lilian!” an old figure wearing a pointy hat asserted. “It just isn’t done!”
“Correction!” Lady Bloodworth said, holding up a hand.
“It was not done before this”, she said with a playful smile. “You all know I have always been a trailblazer.”
“That’s it?” the burly old man asked. “You summon us to a meeting despite not having attended any in over a century just to start a new trend?”
“Forget that, Albert!” the second speaker interjected. “Are you even sure you are up to it?” the man asked.
“Are you doubting my skill, Rancris?” Lady Bloodworth asked with narrowed eyes, all playfulness gone in that instant.
“Oh, I’m sure you’re still sharp, Lilian. But it’s not your skill or your experience I’m worried about” the man identified as Rancis answered without batting an eyelid. “What’s it been… four hundred years since you took a student or taught a class?”
“Another reason why five is a good number”, she argued. “With more subjects to teach and practise on, I can get myself back up to speed quicker.”
“I do not think that is how it works, Bloodworth!” a young man said with a laugh. He looked incredibly out of place on the table where everyone looked at least middle-aged. Even his clothes stood out. They were cut differently. The old folk wore comfortable clothes in muted tones of colour. Most looked to have come from a bygone era. Others were slightly worn. One of the old men even wore an ancient looking fur coat with several bald spots on it.
“And what makes you think you are qualified to speak on this, child?” she sneered.
“Hey you evil witch, lay off my great-nephew!” A hooded lady snapped at her. Strangely, just a few seconds before that that she had been dozing at the table seemingly incapable of staying awake and yet at this moment, her eyes were suddenly sharp, clear and completely focused on Lady Bloodworth.
“Get back to your beauty sleep, Tina!” The other old lady responded, “I am busy teaching the new kid to respect his elders!”
“Oh…” Tina exclaimed with fake surprise.
“Carry on then!” she added, dozing off once more.
Lady Bloodworth did not even acknowledge the response, already busy berating the ‘child’. “Listen here, child…” she began. “We have never met before this so you probably do not know this. I am not your equal!”
“Neither is anyone else at this table for that matter. Your role here is strictly to observe and report. It is not a task that requires much speech. In fact, you do not even speak unless prompted. You do not make decisions and you are not part of our discussions. You do not make jokes, you do not make noise and you do not disrupt the proceeds you are here to witness. Should you be given the chance to speak, you will refer to us by our proper titles. Until then, keep your mouth shut and remember your place. Is that understood!”
Too humiliated to speak, Harlan nodded before looking towards his ancestor. She opened her eyes for a second but said nothing. He was forced to turn away when it was clear that there was no help coming from that direction. However, he was unable to hide the anger and resentment in his eyes from the people on the table. It caused one of those seated to make a few ‘tut’ ‘tut’ sounds. Realising he had been seen through, his face burned even hotter with embarrassment. Schooling his expression, Harlan looked down at the table choosing instead to take out a quill and some parchment.
What Lady Bloodworth said was the truth. He was not a member of this board. He was merely the representative of Marrbissi’s Elder Council to the Board of Administrators, one that was already on thin ice. He knew that if not for his great-aunt calling in some favours he would not even be allowed to sit at the table. Apparently, the underhanded methods he had used to secure this position had gotten back to the Administrators. They did not have a good impression of him. Currently, they considered him overly ambitious and disruptive to internal cohesion. None had been as obvious as Lady Bloodworth but nearly all of them looked at him with distaste.
Snarling in his mind, he held back the urge to clench his fist in frustration, sparing the quill in his hands. Getting appointed to the Board was supposed to be his big break, his chance to cosy up to the people in power and secure a future place for himself. Instead, he found himself cruelly suppressed and isolated. Taking a quick glance around the table, he caught a small smirk on the Headmaster’s face and nearly lost his cool.
‘That old bastard!’ he yelled hatefully in the privacy of his head. ‘He’s enjoying this!’
Upon reaching the villa, Valerian was led to a large foyer. To his surprise, they were a few others already reclining in it. Two girls who looked to be his age were chatting amiably across from each other. Valerian’s footsteps paused as he took notice of them. The servant leading him was very attentive and slowed to a stop in a bid to wait for him.
One girl was taller, with beautiful golden brown skin that shone in the light and six dark thick braids that were long enough that they looped around her shoulders. She wore a vest; a long, sleeveless gambeson that had Valerian doing a double take on account of its golden accents and blue fishskin outercoat. The material repeated itself on her breeches layering a dark inner layer and surrounding the strange bone armour that protected her joints and feet. Two large bangles, simple golden hoops, hung around her left wrist completing the ensemble.
She was built like a runner if he even saw one with a slender two-handed blade that shared her seat with her. Valerian only had to take a look at its worn handle and the calluses she revealed when she reached for it to know that it was well used. She was watching him in the same manner with which he did her. A sort of cool assessment where she tried to make sense of his sudden presence. Their eyes met allowing him to note their odd golden glow. It gave him a start because it vanished, only to be replaced with a watery blue for a short moment before returning.
The cycle repeated itself a few more times, revealing itself to be a slow golden pulse emanating from her true blue eyes. He noted this down as his eyes traced her fierce facial features and examined her posture to decipher her mannerisms. Despite reaching for her sword, she looked relaxed. Not unthreatening, mind you, just relaxed. It was like watching a predator at rest, an image that reinforced itself in Valerian’s mind as he watched the cool manner she examined him.
The other girl was fair, pale almost with a shock of bloody red hair and a body so petite she looked pixie-like next to her long-legged companion. It was not the only difference between the two, Valerian noted. Her face bore a wide, beautiful smile as opposed to the sharp expression to be found on the brown girl and her skin was a pale alabaster that contrasted with her companion’s brown. Unlike the militant swordswoman, she was dressed in a simple summer frock and laced sandals. If Valerian had not known better he would have mistaken her for an ordinary albeit beautiful young girl.
It was her arcane energy that gave it away. Sitting there in a pretty frock and lace sandals was a veritable ocean of arcane energy. Valerian had never in his life sensed such power from anyone not already a lord. He was ashamed to admit it but even his own monstrous reserves could not quite compare. Thankfully, Valerian was saved from dwelling on his newfound feeling of inadequacy by the sound of someone barging through the very doors his guide had been leading him towards.
At first glance, the new arrival could have passed for one of Gigne’s relatives. He had the height and general facial structure. However, he was much thinner than the burly tellurian Pugio nearly crippled. He was also much darker. In fact, his skin was probably the darkest Valerian had ever seen; a dark ebony that highlighted his bright eyes and teeth and somehow succeeded in keeping your attention from the messy, gnarled dreadlocks he had for hair. He was dressed in simple clothes of burgundy and green.
The newcomer paused mid-stride as his eyes fell on Valerian. Sweeping the room with cagey eyes, he slapped a grin on his face and walked right up to him with an arm outstretched in greeting.
“Hello!” he said in a deep charming voice. “We haven’t met. I am Robern Sweetrot. You?”
“Valerian Steelborn!” Valerian said, introducing himself and shaking the offered hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Valerian, huh?” Sweetrot repeated, rolling the name on his tongue. “Let me guess”, he added. “You are here to be Lady Bloodworth’s legacy apprentice.”
The statement was made with such certainty that Valerian found himself simply nodding as an answer.
“What did I say?” the youth proclaimed with a grandiose gesture that had him spinning to face the ladies next to them. It caused the swordswoman to roll her eyes.
“Did I not say that more would follow?” he reminded them. “This puts the count at what… five?”
“What count?” Valerian asked, a bad feeling creeping into his gut.
“The number of ‘apprentices’ of course!” Sweetrot said with mirth.
The dark youth simply gave Valerian a condescending pat on the shoulder before opening his mouth to let out a loud conspiratory whisper. “I don’t blame you for not knowing”, he explained. “I was shocked as well when I found out. Here I thought I had been handpicked by The Lady Bloodworth herself to become her legacy apprentice only to come to her estate to find others with the same story and invitation.”
“Wait…” Valerian interrupted, his mind working fast. He glanced back at the girls who had fully abandoned their own conversation to listen in on theirs.
“You cannot mean that…”
“Oh yes!” Sweetrot exclaimed happily, taking joy in the revelation. “There are currently five people all claiming to be Lady Bloodworth’s legacy apprentice!”