Chapter Sixteen: Pointed Questions
“Five”, Valerian repeated, struggling to wrap his head around the revelation. How could there be five? A legacy apprentice was a final apprentice. The person you left your arts, belongings and dreams to. The legacy apprentice was the person to inherit his or her master’s cultivation. How could there be five?
“What is going on?” he asked Sweetrot. His suddenly sharp.
“How am I supposed to know?” the dark youth said with a small laugh.
“Tell you what”, he added before turning away. “When you find out something, you let me know.”
Valerian clapped a hand on his shoulder, holding him in place.
“I think you know a lot”, he told him. “You have been here longer and you would not be acting the way you are if you did not; dangling that in front of my face and then leaving? How about you try giving a proper explanation first.”
Sweetrot tried brushing Valerian’s hand off but found he could not. It was like a steel vice clamped onto his shoulder. Raising in hands in defeat, he turned back around to face Valerian.
“Maybe, I know something”, he admitted. “But what makes you think I’ll spit it out for my competitors?”
“Competitors?” Valerian asked. Seeing that he had succeeded in making the other party stop and talk, he took his hand off him. It was a mistake. Sweetrot took off laughing the second he was free.
“Hold on…” Valerian exclaimed reaching out to grab the leaving youth again. This time, however, the other youth was prepared and easily slipped away kicking up a slight breeze as he sped out of the room, leaving Valerian debating whether to give chase or not.
“Let him go!” came an assertive voice. “You wouldn’t get anything useful out of him anyway.”
Valerian turned to see the tall swordswoman facing him. She stood and walked over.
“And I suppose if I want something useful, I should ask you?” he questioned.
“Maybe”, she admitted. “I’m not so sure I’m the one you should be asking but I’m certainly better than Sweetrot. He’d sooner stand aside and laugh while you look stupid than offer help.”
“Well, thanks for doing this out of the goodness of your heart”, Valerian said nonchalantly.
She smiled at the joke. “My name is Hue. Hue Langston. And get it straight Valerian”, she said drawing out the name. “I am only doing this because you are new here. I’ll do what Sweetrot didn’t and bring you up to speed. Everything we know so far. It should at least make sure you’re not too disadvantaged.”
“That so?” Valerian said detecting a challenge in her tone. He walked up to her up till they were face to face. “You already have my thanks, tell me everything.”
She stared him in the face without pulling away. The golden flashes in her eyes were reflected in his own stormy grey ones. There was an unspoken challenge there though neither was quite sure what it was. The entire room was plunged into silence with the servant pretending to be looking elsewhere and Hue’s red-haired friend staring intensely at them, looking scandalised. In the end, though, it was Valerian who backed down, suddenly away that his actions might be a tad inappropriate. Hue continued to stare at him, before finally letting out a response and with it a hidden sigh of relief.
“What Sweetrot neglected to say is that we were all chosen. No one is ‘claiming’ anything! Lady Bloodworth ‘chose’ us to be her legacy apprentices– each of us, individually. If she hadn’t, we’d have no way of getting into this place.” Hue told him.
“No one is sure what is going on and no one has met or seen Lady Bloodworth since they were chosen. So bother listening to the theories. Everyone has a different version anyway”, she pointed out. “Sweetrot seems to think there’s going to be a test of some kind, that lady Bloodworth chose and gathered us here so she could select a worthy legacy apprentice from among us.”
“That cannot be right”, Valerian muttered in disbelief.
“Like I said, everyone has a different theory on what’s happening. You can choose not to believe if you wish!” she told him. “Personally, I don’t he’s right. Wynna isn’t here to be the Lady’s apprentice for one”, she said, indicating her companion who waved shyly.
“That puts the number at four, not five. Secondly, I think Lady Bloodworth would have told us if that was the case.”
Valerian listened to her carefully, he waited for her to continue but the pause was dragging on too long. “I can sense a ‘but'”, he said to her. “What is it?”
She bit her lip, a surprisingly cute act that doubled as a sign of frustration. “No one has seen or heard from Lady Bloodworth in months. I’ve spoken to my family and the official word is that she is travelling around the empire visiting friends. This is understandable given she spent the last century in closed-door cultivation. However…”
“… I just have this feeling that something is off. You can’t have more than one legacy apprentice. Also, the selection, it is all wrong?”
“What about it is wrong?” Valerian asked.
“Lady Bloodworth is a warrior”, Hue answered.
“One of the best this kingdom has ever had. She’s a soldier, a Field Marshal and a Guardian. Yet, the people here…” she said struggling with the words. “The other girl makes puppets. Sweetrot is some kind of treasure hunter and you… ” Here, she appraised Valerian again. “I guess you sort of make sense.”
“The affinities, however, don’t. Lady Bloodworth is the Queen of Flames. I’m water. Sweetrot is wood. The Puppeteer is earth. You are metal and wind. She is s soldier, a battle mage and a spear wielder and yet she’s handpicked us”, she forced out in one breath. “Like I said, something is off.”
“If she is really looking for a legacy apprentice then she is searching for someone to inherit her skills and goals. Wouldn’t it make more sense to get someone like her; a warrior of fire like herself? What about us? How are we with our supposed to inherit the legacy of the Bloody Flame Queen?”
Valerian gave what she said some thought. He could feel her doubts and frustration as her points came across. It really did not make sense. However, Hue’s points only highlighted the question. They did not answer the question. What was going on here?”
Back in the secret chamber
“You want an essence convergence dais?” Rancris asked looking through a list of demands.
“Correct!” Lady Bloodworth confirmed
“For your their exclusive use?” he asked again.
“Of course!” she answered. “Why else would I ask for them?”
“Why?” Albert, the muscle-bound old man asked. “With their identity medallions, they can use any of the ones in the academy?”
“Naturally, it is to aid their cultivation progress”, she answered.
“You can not expect any disciple of mine to have to join queues and book limited spots”, she said matter of factly. “Same can be said for anything they have to access that way. Their cultivation resources will be brought to my manor on campus. I will handle distribution. If it is something that can be moved. It should be moved to my place. As for other things, like access to the special areas, we will set their authority levels to class three to start with. Honestly, I do not why I am saying all of this. You have the lists in front of you. Read them!”
“Class three…class three”, the old man in the pointy hat repeated, asking. “Isn’t that the authority level for third years and second-year elites?”
The headmaster nodded to confirm.
“Lilian…” pointy hat said in reproach. “That’s for lord tier cultivators who
are condensing their aspects. Your students are only consolidated first years!”
“So?” She asked. “They will not waste
“Your resource demands. They are a bit…”
“They are outrageous that’s what they are!” someone protested smacking his copy with the back of his right hand. “This is more than what twenty regular students receive each month. Everything here is an elemental treasure.
“Really?” he asked. “Elemental mystic treasures for first tier. Exactly how much money are you willing to throw away.”
“That’s rich coming from someone who nearly bankrupted his clan raising his untalented children to the third tier”, Lady Bloodworth pointed out.
“Now see here, Bloodworth!” the man pointed, his lip quivering in rage. “We are all seniors here. The others might fear you but I…”
“We all know exactly what we do and have done for our apprentices”, she said speaking over him and dismissing his bluster.
“The only difference is I am coming to you, my colleagues, instead of simply imposing my demands on the Elder Council!” she stated. “Now, if anyone has legitimate concerns, please raise them. If not accept this so we can end this meeting and go back into hibernation till the next century.”
The table was quiet and she was the one who had silenced it. Due to their positions, all administrators were required to inform the council and the Academy at large when they took on apprentices. However, the details were often overlooked. It had already become somewhat common for them to simply send down commands when they wanted something. So long as it was not too major, the Board would likely not interfere. A favoured great-nephew seizing the representative slot on the Board only a decade after becoming an elder was just one example. An illegitimate child or grandchild receiving regular personal training from an elder or a former student. An extra allotment of rare resources being given to a student who caught a Board member’s eye. These and more had happened.
Lady Bloodworth had only chosen to follow the letter of the rules and it was not because she could not get away with doing otherwise. That some of her colleagues would suddenly raise their hackles There was no one who could stop her from doing anything she wanted. At least no ordinary person.
“I have one concern”, a voice stated.
The entire assembly turned to face the end of the table many only now realising that the seat was filled. The man in the seat looked every bit as old as Lillian Bloodworth. As a matter of fact, he looked more like an aged-up version of the man who sat at the other end of the table, the headmaster of Marrbissi Academy. He wore the exact same kind of dark blue robes under a waist length leather mantle that was studded leather looked like him, with even the robes and style being something the older cultivator had innovated back when he had held the post some eight hundred years prior.
“And what is the concern of the Head of the Board?” Lady Bloodworth asked.
The man said nothing at first, his presence seemingly an illusion despite the fact that he was physically seated right before their eyes.
“All your requests are reasonable, Lillian”, he finally said, picking up the sheaf of papers before him. “Your choice of apprentices, however…”
“Your problem being?” Lady Bloodworth asked again.
“Elders are encouraged to select their disciples and apprentices from the readily available pool we have in this school”, the old man began.
“And I did, Piersym!” she countered. “In fact, I chose two.”
“So I see”, the man admitted, scanning the list. “Two. Only two, out of five. What? Are the students of Marrbissi no longer good enough for you?”
“They might be”, Lady Bloodworth conceded. “Nonetheless, I am only interested in those who match my tastes.”
“I remember!” The Head of the Board nodded non-plussed. “The Queen of Flames choosing legacy apprentices is great news and good fortune not only for those chosen but for the Academy as a whole. However, I cannot help but wonder if you have not been too hasty with your selection.
“Get to the point Piersym!” she barked at him.
At her command, he lifted his eyes from the papers in his hands and stared straight into hers. He was only one at the table to do this simple act without a trace of fear or apprehension. Placing the papers aside and his arms on the table he said simply.
“I am not happy with your choice of disciples or with the fact that our Academy has such a poor representation. I can understand the general’s daughter, the dual force lad or even your brother’s descendant but the other two… One is a masochist who barely places in the top half of his class and the other is from a prominent clan and a hostile power.”
“Besides that, I maintain that we have more than enough genuises to satisfy any requirements you may have”, he asserted. “You better than anyone You know your position, not just in the Academy but kingdom and in the empire. You and I have made claims, boasts and remarks that have been noted by those with long memories. You should know how you bringing in external people as your apprentices will be seen.”
“Marrbissi’s most powerful cultivator could not find people good enough and so she had to get them from elsewhere. We can explain away the dual force kid and your kinswoman. The first was recommended by another apprentice and the latter is family, The other two brats however…did you have to stoop so low, Lillian.”
“You care too much about face, Piersym”, Lady Bloodworth told him. “So what if people talk. People always talk. Besides. Once they become my disciples, they automatically become students of the Academy as well so why are you bothered?”
“I maintain that we have people more suitable right in this very academy!” Piersym stated firmly.
“My apprentices are the best. If they were not I would not have chosen them!” Lillian asserted.
The other people present had been reduced to props at this point. No one dared speak whilst the titans argued. They just watched, following the exchanges with their eyes.
“You will find better in this school!” The Head of the Board said, his tone broaching no argument.
“No, I would not!” came the response.
“Consolidated First Tiers only! They must match the affinities of my chosen: earth, metal, water, wood and fire!”
“Sure”, Lady Bloodworth accepted, “Provided the person is also a dual forced.”
The old man stalled at this. There had only ever been one dual forced cultivator in Marrbissi and she had died centuries ago.
“Fine! I assume all the slots are on the line?”
Bloodworth nodded. “The stakes?”
“I will fulfil your demands and increase them by 20 per cent for the two, 40 if they are all on the line.”
“They all are!”
“Good!” The head acknowledged.
“Allworth!” he said, calling out to the present headmaster. “You deal with the arrangements. Make sure everything is ready in three days. This meeting has come to a close!”
“Finally!” Lady Bloodworth said, standing up with a huff. “You better prepare yourself for a loss, Piersym. My students never lose in a fight.”
“Naturally,” Piersym admitted following her out. “You would not be our greatest combat instructor otherwise. However, I think you are forgetting something, Lillian. You have yet to teach them and until they pass this test and become your students, you cannot.”
“Whatever!” she said with a dismissive wave.
The others simply stared as the two pillars of Marrbissi left.