CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Fifteen: Getting Started
Valeriana wanted to rest, but no matter how much she tried to fall asleep, she couldn’t. After an hour of tossing and turning, she grunted and sat up. Millions of questions swarmed inside her head and kept sleep at bay. Raking her hands through her hair, she pulled her arm back and stared at the bracelet around her wrist.
She stared at the golden band around her wrist, tracing the aesthetic design. There was a repeating illustration of a deer and a creature that somehow looked like a horse galloping in front of a tree with roses blooming from its branches. It was a weird but a beautiful kind of art.
If it wasn’t for Seraphina, she would have never come out in one piece.
Her wounds were all healing favorably. There were a few that the healer managed to properly close, leaving a few scars in return.
Three, gentle knocks interrupted her line of thought. Valeriana dragged her gaze wearily to its direction as the door opened and spotted Seraphina. Her cerulean blue eyes peeked into the room curiously, traveling towards Valeriana’s. The girl caught her gaze and gave her a weak smile before nodding.
“It’s almost time for class,” Seraphina said as she entered, a bundle of clean and bright clothes folded in her arms. “I brought this with me. This will be your uniform. The rest of these are extras. Please use it sparingly.”
She was clad in clothes different from the ones Valeriana last saw her in. This was less formal in comparison to her uniform. Aside from that, nothing changed that much.
“Oh, thanks.” She sighed again. She forgot about the classes.
“Classes are five days a week, and nine hours every day—starting from eight in the morning up to five in the afternoon.”
“How’s Courtney doing?”
Seraphina placed the clothes on Valeriana’s bed and took a seat herself. “Well, considering what happened a while ago, she is still under confinement. She’s fine. But she needs time to recuperate mentally.”
“I see,” Valeriana whispered, her thoughts forming a ridiculous idea. “Is there any chance I can . . . visit her?” she asked, giving the lady knight a look as her voice trailed off.
Seraphina stared at her before shaking her head. “I do not think it’s a good idea to do that right now.”
“Okay, but I just wanted to . . .” She swallowed dryly. “Apologize, I guess.”
“Let Courtney come to you. I’m sure sooner or later you’ll see each other. However, she’s leaving by the end of the day.”
Valeriana perked up. “What? Why?”
“The suspension. After what happened in the arena, they decided to punish her. It’s not proper to go to the extremes on duels like this, especially since the victory was a blatant one.”
“The—oh.” She stopped.
“So how’s your foot?” Seraphina inquired, changing the topic.
She forced a smile. “The healer’s amazing.”
Seraphina nodded. “I see.”
Valeriana’s mood suddenly faltered. She slouched and sighed for the hundredth time that day.
“I truly apologize, Valeriana,” the lady knight whispered. “I—this . . . this is all my fault. I swear to you I’m trying my best to improve the situation even if it’s not much. I’ll be going up to the king to take up your issue with him personally.”
Valeriana looked up. “You can do that?”
Lady Seraphina smiled and nodded. “Yes, so do not worry about it.”
There was a moment of silence.
“You were quite impressive,” the woman commented, smiling warmly at Valeriana.
“I don’t know how you were able to do that. But, even if it’s the least of everyone’s expectations, Lord Aeron praised your swordsmanship,” she said, making Valeriana a bit uncomfortable to discuss the subject. “You have a huge potential. You have to work hard to realize it.”
“That’s good news. I still hate him though.”
Seraphina pursed her lips. “Please forgive him. He tried his best to improve the situation for you, even if he was very callous about the entire dilemma. Lord Aeron is just like that—he likes to exaggerate things.”
“That doesn’t justify it,” she said. Seraphina opened her mouth, but she abruptly decided to change the topic. It was obvious that the more she talked, the more she hurt the lady knight. “I’m really curious, though. Does Courtney hate humans or something? Or maybe she just hates me in general? After all, I did cut her sword in half . . . god, did that really happen? I can’t believe I managed to do that. You guys didn’t give her a faulty one on purpose, did you?”
Seraphina hesitated for a moment but decided to go along with it. “I have no idea,” she said. “I do not wish to speak ill of her, but she does have to work on her temper. What she did in the arena was not at all acceptable.”
“You people can be so twisted,” she whispered. “You tell me humans can become aggressive when they know the truth, but you people are especially harsh.”
“I have no excuse.”
She saw the saddened expression on Seraphina’s face and instantly felt concerned. Considering how much Seraphina had done for her, she didn’t want to be more of a burden.
“I’m sorry,” Valeriana said. “It must be hard being one, then? A Celeste? What’s it like?” She decided to change the topic, feeling uncomfortable herself.
Seraphina smiled. “Being a Celeste isn’t easy. You have so much responsibility weighing down your shoulders and suffocating restraints that you feel almost uncomfortable to move. By doing your job, you must also watch your image and project confidence. Otherwise, people subjected to your responsibility will be hesitant to follow your lead.”
With the way she put it, it really must be tough. However, Seraphina had that look in her eyes. It was the look of someone who enjoyed doing their work. “So it isn’t only about slaying demons?”
Seraphina shook her head. “There’s so much more.”
“Seriously? Isn’t that like . . . really, seriously hard?”
“You don’t have to worry,” Seraphina said and laughed. “If I can’t make you go home soon, the most probable time is when you graduate,” she carefully elaborated. “But you have to help me and do your best here.”
“Alright. I trust you.” Valeriana nodded firmly.
Seraphina brightened. “Don’t you think it’s time to get dressed? You’re going to be late.”
“Oh, right.” Valeriana stood up and took the clothes in her arms. She walked to the opposite side of the room and slipped out of her clothes. She changed into them excitedly, buttoning the top close. “Uh . . . huh? I don’t know how to put this thing on!”
“Here, let me help.” Seraphina walked over to her and fixed the high lapel of her suit, rearranging the cravat chain around her neck.
Once Seraphina had it smoothed out, Valeriana checked her reflection in the mirror pinned against the wall of her room. For some odd reason, it had a resemblance to Corvan’s clothes but bore a big difference to the common uniform worn by the other students she had seen strutting around the academy grounds.
What caught her attention was the emblem sitting on her left arm—a cross of swords with flaring wings on the sides, beautiful and regal.
She turned to Seraphina and pointed to the symbol on her chest. “This is . . .”
“The crest of the academy,” she answered.
“What does it mean?” she asked.
“A lot of things,” she replied, smiling. “The words on the bottom are elón ad vortem.”
“Proud and brave.”
“Why is this so different, though? I thought I saw the others wearing something else.”
“That’s because you are now a member of the Celestial Circle,” Seraphina told her, dusting off the sleeves of her clothes and stepping back.
Her eyes shot to the woman’s face. “What? Isn’t Courtney the member of the Celestial Circle?”
“She is, or was, rather. Since you defeated her in a fight, you took her title.”
The news hit her in the face like a slap. “No wonder she was so bitchy about it! I take it back! Or rather, let her take it back! I don’t want this crap. I’ve already had enough of that duel!”
“Just accept it, Valeriana. You don’t know the privileges of being the fifth-ranker,” she said, laughing. “And with this in your hands, it will help return home faster. Just as soon as the investigations are finished—”
“You’ve heard Lord Aeron. Your case is unusual. By making sure we know what happened, we can lessen the probability of it happening so that nobody will ever be in the same situation as you are.”
Valeriana gripped the sleeves of her uniform.
“This takes me back,” Seraphian continued. “This used to be one of my positions when I attended the academy.”
“I admit Courtney is sort of psychotic, but I don’t think this is fair.”
“It’s in the academy’s policy and regulations. When a fight is lost and you’re a member of the circle, you give up the position to the person who defeated you.”
There was a long pause.
“I really have to apologize to you, Valeriana.”
Valeriana looked up to meet her eyes. “Why?”
“If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t be here enduring all of this.”
Valeriana was tongue-tied when she attempted to answer. She noticed the remorse and guilt that shone within those blue depths. It made her quite nervous to speak up, thinking that she would be careless with what to say—again.
“If I say it’s alright, that would be saying a lie.” Valeriana turned and headed for the window. She looked out at the panorama of the extensive lands of the academy before finally managing the words that stood at the tip of her tongue. “But you know, I realized something when I came here . . .” she said. “At first, I didn’t really know what to do. I was angry and frustrated and everyone were freaking jerks. Then, I remembered all the things that my father told me.” The scars stung at the thought, but she held back the pain.
“Valeriana . . .” Lady Seraphina reached out a hand to touch her shoulder.
“When I was first dragged here, I was seriously so freaked out that I kept thinking of it as a dream. It took a while to realize it was actually true.” She laughed. “If you killed me back then, I would’ve had no chance to know what he was talking about.”
“What did he say exactly?”
Valeriana breathed deeply. “Life is a battleground itself. You will constantly fall and scrape your knees—wound yourself. There will be challenges and enemies—at different points, at different places. You will find yourself thwarted and threatened. All the things in life you value will be taken away from you—nothing’s an exception. But if you ever die in any of those battles, make sure you died doing everything you can. Don’t let giving up be its cause.”
Seraphina smiled, a sense of peace floated to her face. “Those words were beautiful. Your father would be proud. Now, just remember, you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone here. Just continue fighting for yourself. This place may be riddled with danger and the people here will not all be nice, but give it a chance.”
“That will make me feel a little bit better at least.”
Seraphina sauntered towards the door and yanked it open. “Hurry up, it’s time to leave. The Headmaster wishes to see you before you go to your first class.”
Valeriana hurriedly put on the pair of boots provided for her and ran after Seraphina. Unfortunately, she tripped on something and fell face-first when she walked out of the door. Valeriana shut her eyes close and decided to bear with the pain.
“O-ow.” She pushed herself back up and rubbed her nearly broken nose.
“I still cannot believe someone like her defeated Courtney,” a familiar voice echoed from above her. Valeriana lifted her head, her nose clipped between her fingers. Her eyes immediately met a pair of emerald ones and she frowned. “With that horrible clumsiness.”
“Can’t you at least greet me properly?” She dusted off her clothes and rose to her feet, huffing softly as she tugged on the supple cravat around her neck. Sweat slid down her back. The heat had instantaneously rose with the thickness of her clothes. They carried a foreign feel on her skin and were somewhat heavy. For sure, it would need some getting used to.
“Ah, Corvan. Finally. Lead Valeriana to her class.” Seraphina handed him a paper. “I have important things to do myself, so I won’t be able to.”
She flashed the boy a look before diverting her gaze. His uniform nearly matched hers, though in a more masculine way of comparison. The implications this carried was heavy but in no way surprising.
His eyes carried ridicule as he gave her a once over.
“Why is it always Corvan who has to show me around? Can’t it be another person?”
“Just be grateful,” he told her.
She huffed. “For what? Your company?”
“Okay, that’s enough. Proceed and I’ll see you later. Corvan’s the only one here you know and the only one I can trust so far not to try anything foolish. I’ll be going ahead of you, then. I still have last minute arrangements.” Seraphina gave them both a gentle push on the back and waved before leaving. Her pace was fast and her strides were long—hinting of her self-assurance and confidence.
Valeriana’s eyes followed Seraphina before she turned to Corvan who did not waste time dawdling. He gave her a disinterested glance, his crossed arms falling to his sides as he headed out as well.
She burst into action, hopping to catch up. “Slow the hell down, rude face.”
Corvan sighed in exasperation. “So you’re now the fifth. Quite hard to believe.”
“It’s not like I chose to become a member.”
“I don’t know about your world, however . . .” He paused and tugged on the sleeves of his uniform. “The curriculum promotes subjects that are considered a great necessity for survival. Now you may think we are all rude and it is true we are not very accommodating, but the same goes for everyone here. So don’t think you’re being discriminated.”
“Bish, it’s not like I’m trying to fit in here. In fact, I’m trying to leave this place. I don’t want to fight demons. I want to sit in a normal college classroom and go home after dismissal to binge on Netflix while ignoring my homework.”
“Let me,” she shot back.
“If I could, you won’t need to say it twice.” He glanced at her exasperatedly. “Your first class is History.” He seized her hand and placed a paper on her palm. She decided to put it in one of her pockets. “You chose to be a Celeste as a preferred occupation?”
“I didn’t.” She shrugged. “Lord Aeron asked me to. It’s one of his terms and conditions, shiz.”
“That explains why.”
“By the way, what year are you in?”
“Second. Now, keep quiet,” he told her, disgruntled.
“Fine, but you don’t have to be so mad about it.” Valeriana rolled her eyes and combed her fingers through her hair. She stopped short when realization dawned. “Oh my god,” she yelped. “I forgot to tie my hair.”
Corvan shot her a passing eye before ignoring her completely. He didn’t show any signs of stopping. “Leave it be, it isn’t a big deal. I do not wish to run late. I’ve been bothered enough,” he said.
“But it bothers me.”
“Then you should just go bald.”
“Shut it. You don’t know how it feels.”
“Oh, really.” His voice was rich with sarcasm, drawing Valeriana’s eyes to his crowning glory.
She nearly—totally—forgot he had long hair.
She took her tresses into a fist and smoothed it on her shoulder. “It’s grown so long already. I really need to get it cut. Aren’t you planning on a cut yourself?”
“I do not prefer it.”
She swept it back once more, letting it fall on the curve of her lower back. She twisted around and stared at its length. “It wasn’t that long last night.”
“If you’re talking about its length, then I am guessing Valemnia’s power pressure has triggered its fast growth,” Corvan said, not sparing her a glance. “If I look closely, you look much older than you did a while ago.”
They sauntered out of the dormitories and stopped at the front porch. Valeriana halted and gazed up at Corvan, a rush of panic floating up her throat at his words. “I got older? Does this world somehow have a different time-pace or something?”
“It does,” he replied.
“You’re saying I’m gonna die of old age. Literally. And fast.” Her hands immediately flew to the necklace around her neck as she tried to calm herself. “ Please don’t tell me this thing is not working anymore. I totally can’t die here. The fudge. I might’ve been suicidal but that doesn’t mean—”
Corvan brought his eyes to look directly into hers and stared at her for a moment. While she probably looked like she was going to die from shock, a smile broke on his face and he huffed out a chuckle.
“You’re kidding.” She pursed her lips. “So you were kidding.” Valeriana curled her fists into balls so tight that her nails dug into her palms. Her teeth ground—molar to molar. So hard her jaws were visibly clenching.
“Jerk!” She grabbed a wooden object that was placed on top of a table and threw it at Corvan, hitting his back. “Do you think I appreciate being made to look stupid?” she asked. “I’ve had it with you people!”
His grin faded and he stared down at the object that tumbled on the floor. He didn’t seem hurt. But his pride did. “What?”
“Well?” she bit back.
His shoulders visibly tensed. “You wish to be killed?”
“Let’s see who kills who first!” She pounced.
He didn’t seem to expect this and was caught off-guard. He reacted fast, even so, moving to the side to evade her as she came rushing forward.
“What are you doing?” He stood back, feet sliding apart, eyes wary of her every move.
“You are serious.” Corvan looked at her in mild disbelief.
“I am,” she replied earnestly.
“You’re challenging me?”
“For a girl who could barely even hold herself in her previous battle . . . you’re asking for it. If you get hurt, don’t cry like you did back in the infirmary.”
“You talk too much, idiot.”
He moved forward but didn’t seem to mean it. A simple punch that packed a lot of power whistled straight for her like a bullet train. It was easy to dodge, but the air moved a lot around his fist that it even sang.
She inched her shoulder away from the target and speedily made her way to his side, catching his shoulder. He shifted to throw her off, but she managed to hook a leg around his waist and an arm around his neck. In a moment’s notice, she jumped on his back and tightly snaked her legs around his torso, pulling all her weight to one side so that they toppled over. Valeriana then locked her feet together and squeezed as hard as she could. Corvan struggled under her iron grip, slowly turning blue.
“You underestimate me and you’re in hell,” she told him.
“What are you doing?”
“Now die, devil . . . die!”
Valeriana had bound him good.
“Apologize!” she exclaimed, squeezing harder.
Inwardly, she was laughing like a mad witch. Her father often needed a good smack up to the head and wrestling him was not unusual. It was also their way of bonding for some weird reason. Janus had brute strength, but she knew techniques—certain techniques taken from none other than John Cena.
Corvan groaned as he tried to wrench out of his current position. “Even in the face of demons, no.”
“So you would rather die?”
He made a pained noise at the back of his throat as he ground his teeth together.
“Might I just inform you, even if you are so good with whatever, you won’t be able to beat me in wrestling! I do this to my brother and father all the time when they piss me off, and trust me, no matter how strong they were, they were not able to break out of this grip! Admit it, you’re at my mercy, so say it. Say it!”
“Are you serious?”
“You’ve been annoying me since the beginning, so even if killing you would send me to jail, I’ll gladly commit a crime for this opportunity.” She began to cackle.
“You laugh like a witch, which you probably are.”
“What did you call me?”
“I’m not a—apologize! Now!”
“No, I won’t.”
Valeriana glowered at him between her legs. “You leave me no choice.” She grabbed the object she threw at him a while ago and hit him right between the eyes with a loud bunk. “Now you won’t only die of oxygen deprivation, I’m going to make sure to bruise your pretty face so you’ll look ugly at your funeral!”
Corvan was adamant about not apologizing and it was quite frustrating. He didn’t seem to have any intention of letting up until they heard voices coming their way—a couple of giggling girls by the sound of it. The position, needless to say, was utterly humiliating. If they were to be seen like this, god knows how huge of a blow to his ego it would be.
“Stop it. Let go!” he said, pain pounding between his eyes. “Alright, I concede.” He seethed the last two words through his teeth. His voice sounded so low Valeriana didn’t even hear.
“Can’t hear you.”
He needed to breathe.
Valeriana released him automatically, her face flushed with anger. Oddly enough, she felt satisfied. It had been a while since she engaged in this kind of activity.
Heck, that sounded so wrong, she thought.
The girls rounded to their corner. When they saw Corvan looking beyond enraged and Valeriana looking the same, they fell silent. Their heads bobbed and their voices echoed low, polite greetings before they inched off and disappeared into a room.
A loose frown lingered on Corvan’s lips and he rubbed his neck. “You weird wench.” He scowled. “You’ve been insulted so many times, yet this is the only time you acted in that manner.” He tugged off the ribbon keeping his hair together and handed it to Valeriana as if he was forcing himself to. “Here, I guess this is my loss.”
“Uh . . .” The ribbon fell on her palm and she gazed at him inquiringly. “Excuse me?”
“You’re welcome,” he said, his hair falling freely on his back.
“I want a sorry. Not a ribbon.”
Corvan gave her the eye.
“Well?” She folded her arms. “I’m waiting.”
“If you’re forgetting, we already—”
“I’m waiting,” she cut him off, tapping her foot. “Oh come on, just say it! I am sorry. Eight letters, four syllables, three words.”
He sighed. “I—” He looked elsewhere, as though this embarrassed him more than anything. “I apologize.”
Valeriana rolled her eyes. “You made it longer. That was five syllables, two words, ten letters. Whatever. Let’s go!” She patted his chest once and walked past him.
Corvan breathed deeply, massaging the bridge of his nose with the wrinkle between his brows.
“Keep up, Your Highness!” she called out to him, working with the strands of her hair and putting them together in a thick bunch to form a ponytail. She wound the ribbon tightly and secured it in place. “The fudge, this ribbon looks expensive.”