CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 39 ♦ Changes
The start of the classes couldn’t be anymore grim. Yet, it was a start. It was new. Therefore, it was hopeful. Students in the Knight’s Wing with true hearts stayed and those in the Development Department were martyrs are well. For all of Celeste Academy, it was an honor and a privilege to carry its name. It was duty. It was pride.
Kylon had to thank demons for filtering the weeds in his garden when he was too blind to see. Some pined after the glory of the name of knights but wanted absolutely nothing to do with its dangers and purpose. Some sought only the honor and the reputation but not the responsibilities that came with it. These ‘some’ would graduate and become stumps in the forest where they should be thriving. They were stumps for they have cut themselves short before they could even grow. Half-hearted, untrue.
More than anything and before, Valemnia needed hands that would protect the peace in the name of the king, who was struggling with keeping everything together. The headache and pressure must be enormous for the newly enthroned monarch.
This was precisely why Kylon had many things to say at the opening of classes. He called for a congregation before he officially cut the ribbon into the new curricula. Times were changing and the world was moving fast. Adjustments were in order. So he climbed the podium, hoping his charisma would buffer some of the would-be disasters to befall the school. At the same time, he hoped it would tide his students into action to help carry a piece of the burden themselves.
They had to. They would be carrying the entire world on their backs the moment they step out of the academy’s gates. They, along with the knights who succeeded before them, would most likely be embroiled in an inevitable confrontation with the nightmares that, for most of their entire life, they only had in their sleep.
This wasn’t like the many years before them.
“I welcome you back to the new age,” Kylon said, his voice ringing across the arena. Silence fell on the immediate vicinity and eyes snapped forward in attention. “We have experienced many changes. It must be of no surprise to you. You must have heard of a lot of things when we had the last month off. The urgency with demons, our new king, and, as you all may have heard, the genocide of the Aetherian guardians. Your seasons are changing as well. Our autumn has not come as it had. Parts of Arlandia are struck by rain. Larkovia has an impending drought. Preluresia is starting to see more sun. All of these are unusual. I hope you know what this means.”
The Twelve sat in their usual seats, but not in the same way as they had before. Tense, clearly uncomfortable, and searching. Their lineup was broken by gaps in the seats. Kylon caught it at his peripherals and stomped on a sigh before it could break through between his words.
“That is why things cannot remain as they are,” he told them, increasing the intensity of his tone, dabbing it with urgency and command. “We cannot go about our lives here in the academy as if nothing is happening outside our walls. So I will tell you the truth, not to make you panic, but to alert you and tell you we cannot dawdle. This is the time of blood and sweat in the most literal and figurative sense.”
Kylon clenched his jaw as he gripped the sides of the podium. Many thoughts went through his mind. He was furious and disconcerted, made obvious by the knots on his shoulders and the crease between his brows. Yet, he was also strong.
“We will most likely be at war,” he declared. He was half-expecting panic, but there was none in the crowd. No cries, no complain. There were hints of worry and fear—both overpowered by firmness and determination. Relief flooded him. “As to when that is, we are unsure. We had four thousand years to prepare for it. We have honed our knowledge, our technology, our magic, our techniques. We have strengthened our alliances and remained arm-to-arm, unified. Our knights are skilled, noble, and mighty. Our most brilliant minds have turned even more innovative, shrewd, and astute. Now all of that will be put to a test—a test by the enemies we have been fighting for millennia. We have improved, but so have they. So do not be comfortable knowing you have improved. We are not fighting inanimate things. They are far more cunning than we give them credit.”
He looked around the arena. These students were the generation who most likely would bear the brunt of the force. They were his children. His treasured kids. It broke his heart to think they would be fighting.
“That is why, today, I will declare a change in the training regimen offered by the academy. From eight years, it will become four,” he said.
Now there was a commotion.
“We have already informed your instructors. We decided to put low priority on subjects such as history and alchemy for the Knight’s Wing. Valemiuer will remain a requirement. Training will be focused on combat, weapon, power control, and survival. As for the Development Department, you will be required to learn a bit of self-defense for your own safety. There will be no more vacations hereafter. If you wish to finish this course and prepare enough for what is to come, we will require your time and dedication.” He paused. “Now, if anyone wishes to object, you are free to stand and leave this arena. I will give you thirty seconds,” he told them. “You will not be shamed. If you wish to spend the rest of your time with your family, we will not object to that. We need people who can wholeheartedly dedicate themselves. If you have hesitance and fear that cannot be calmed, leave now. I can ascertain your life will be forfeited before the fight even begins.”
He waited. He counted. He looked around.
Not a head bobbed from the crowd. None moved.
Then there was one who stood.
Heads turned towards the person to see if he would leave. Surprisingly, he just stepped forward, put a fist on his chest, and began singing, “The sun has set yet there is no need for a dark night.”
“For there hangs starlight, and the moon ascents.”
A lone voice among the crowd before it was joined by another.
“Mountains may crumble and disaster befalls. Pity the land for no matter how far it tried, it could not reach the sky.”
It turned into a symphony.
“Yet the clouds descend as rain, eager to kiss the terrain. If the slopes crumble, then let it be. Let water fall where the trees may grow.”
Kylon’s heart throbbed and his pride rose. The arena burst with a chorus of voices and nothing else could be heard from miles away. Feet stomped with the beat, hands clapped with strength.
“Like times of strife. In the advent of war, a song will rise. Echoes of cries, the rolling of dice.”
The headmaster closed his eyes to listen. He sang with them under his breath.
“Fear it not, despite the uncertainty of culmination. Despite fear of the unknown, nothing will go wrong, not with a heart standing strong.”
The ever haunting humming reverberated afterwards before it all faded. Kylon looked up and gazed at the hundred faces that smiled at him. He shook his head with a smile of his own.
“It seems I have worried myself for nothing,” he said. “Thank you all. There is nothing else I can say. Tromaneire en honorias vu Valemnia. May the gods watch over us all.”
Especially you, Seraphina.
Bertram imagined crumbling the papers before him and throwing them to the trash bin under his desk but he also imagined being scolded by the prime minister. His impatience and frustration were sending tremors down his fingers, bursting through the thin barrier of self-control he’d determinedly put up all this time.
One month into his sworn oath. One month and he could feel himself crumbling under the pressures of the crown. What added to his worries was that the only person who could turn him back in case it struck again was gone like a bubble, nowhere to be seen and reportedly impossible to find.
“You seem on edge, Your Highness,” a familiar voice rang from across the room. “That should be Majesty now, pardon my mistake.”
The prince looked up and sighed. “How may I help you, Court Leader?” he asked.
“I had an audience scheduled with you at this hour. My presence here is justified,” he replied with his trademark wily smile. “Or have you forgotten?”
“I’ll have you forgive my inattention. My mind . . . I have had a lot on my mind as of late,” Bertram replied with a breath.
“The name of the king is no laughing matter. Though I like laughing at the reactions of many to it. It is glorious and coveted by many for its power, but its weight is unbearable for those who seek it. Those successful attaining it get crushed. Very few can truly hold it high and with strength until the last of their days.”
“Am I worth laughing at?” Bertram asked.
“All kings are fools,” Aeron said.
The Court Leader’s frankness was one of the qualities Bertram so desperately needed at the moment. He leaned in to listen. He sought the sting of his words.
“All fools in different ways. In spite of the benevolence, the wisdom, and the strength. All kings are fools, for all kings are mortals. All mortals seek a purpose. Power and responsibility does not necessarily grant it.” Aeron sat before the king’s desk and crossed his legs at the knee. His ashen hair fell softly on his nose as he tilted his head gracefully at the young king. “You are not yet king, Bertram. You just have the crown in your hands. You must bring it to your head first and foremost. That is your first task.”
“How does one bring the crown to his head?”
Aeron smiled. “By owning it.”
Bertram’s confusion curled on his forehead in the form of a frown. Yet, he could not deny the wisdom in the man’s words. He just could not get the meaning behind it quite yet.
“Which reminds me; changes are in order,” Aeron told him. “Your prime minister should brief you on the matter at hand but I reckon he would focus more on the incidences concerning our Celestes and the problems regarding the management of the inconveniences the imbalance would bring and is bringing. It cannot be helped. If nature will and cannot cooperate, we must do our best to make amends.”
“I would certainly appreciate your wisdom into all these matters.”
“Are you certain of that?” the Court Leader asked with a warning smile. “My advices are accompanied by madness, my king. They may be too radical for your tastes.”
“I beg to differ. With so much going on in this world, I do not think your madness places us in much danger. Perhaps the radical things would turn the trouble to positive changes.”
“But what is trouble is always change, Majesty,” he said.
“Or perhaps a catalyst of it. What do you want to speak of, Lord Aeron?” Bertram inquired as he set aside reading the papers to give his audience his full attention. He needed the momentary distraction.
“I have put many things into action, my king,” he said. “Things I thought would bring little harm.”
“And what are those?”
“You agreed into the . . . condensing of the academy’s curricula, for one.”
“Yes. I thought it would be appropriate.”
“People are aware of what is happening, Bertram,” the man told him.
“Yes.” He nodded. “I didn’t think hiding much of it would work. I assumed that transparency would help ease the fears of everyone. It is better if they are fully aware rather than being kept in the dark. People tend to be afraid more of what they do not know than what they do not.”
“Which explains the periodicals released by the journalist association, but I do not think it is a bad idea. However, to balance the bad news, I might have . . . dropped a few truths in the public’s ears myself.”
“Of a girl,” he began. “A girl who helped restore the balance in the different facets, protecting the guardians with an unruly band of youths. A girl with the ability to purify demons.”
Bertram’s eyes widened. “You . . . told people of Valeriana? I thought it was agreed upon she was to be kept a secret.”
“That was for her protection, my king,” the man said. “Besides, they would think it a myth. They would doubt its truth. But it would give them hope,” Aeron continued. “I do not think her existence can be kept a secret for long, anyhow. She is vital in this coming war, Bertram. Whether we want to or not, she cannot not take part in it. Sooner or later, the people will know. Demons very much knows of her existence already. What difference does it make?”
“But she is nowhere to be found!” Bertram said. “I fear for her safety. What if she has been taken?”
“I can assure you. She is just on a journey of self-discovery. She is braving a path alone to ready herself for what is to come,” he told the young king, his gaze drifting to the sunlit horizon behind Bertram. “She will need this seclusion. It’s her eye in the storm. I do not think she will get much of it when the warsong begins.” He sighed. “The most unfortunate thing is that it may already have begun.”
“I can imagine her being overwhelmed,” Bertram whispered. “I didn’t want things to turn out like this.”
“It is not under your control, Bertram.” Lord Aeron stood. “Fate is just cruel. Some people will have to bear the brunt of its ruthlessness as much as they bear its blessings.”
“I have heard that many times, yet I never knew the extent of the truth until I saw it for myself.” The young king shook his head. “Asking Aristeon for reprieve will probably be futile.”
“It is inevitable. You can stall, but you can never avoid it. I will have to apologize to you, my king. People will think your regency is the reason this has occurred. They will blame you. People will not trust you for what they have seen and you will be put through many ordeals. For that, you must remain strong. For to be the face of hope means to bear the brunt of the blame.”
“I have seen doubts my entire life, Lord Aeron. So much that I have started doubting myself as well. But for the sake of this nation, I will endeavor not to fall.”
“There will be many more to come. You will grieve.” He gazed at the young king sadly. “You must spend time with him as much as you can. He does not have long.”
Bertram’s shoulders bunched. They gave in from the tension. He had strove to fight off all the negativities but they have piled so high that he could see no light.
What darkness the life of a king was.
And he had not even entered the tunnel.