CASeries #4: WARSONG
Chapter One ⚜ Simple Dinner
It had been a really long day and the Twelve were undeniably tired dealing with the cleanup for the festival. They were short on hands, so the rest had to double the effort in order to accomplish things on schedule. As much as the rankers hated to acknowledge it, the academy was closing down temporarily. It would take a month or so before they would reopen, and it wouldn’t even be on the original campus, but a new location.
Dinner was served and the Twelve along with Vallore had gathered in the dining room, feasting solemnly. Tamara and Keelan were the only ones talkative while the rest felt contented with listening.
“So, how was it?” Keelan looked at the poor drakon who sat, pushing around the food on his plate. “Did you have fun today?”
“Fun?” He grumbled. “I had no fun at all.”
“Why not?” he asked, shoving a spoonful of rice into his mouth.
Vallore did not reply. His pointed ears were red and he was grinding his teeth together. The fork in his fingers had already bent to a certain degree. It seemed he was holding himself back from losing his temper.
Ah, the Circle could really be aggravating. They never know how to properly accommodate a newcomer, only knowing how to make them into their gopher. Was this some sort of initiation test?
“Enough, Keelan, don’t pester him,” Elfre said. “Just eat your dinner.”
Valeriana shook her head at the exchange and caressed Femeron’s head. She was a behaved little dragon at dinner and knew that it was not a place to mess around. The last time she jumped on the table, she received severe scolding from the fourth-ranker. Since then, she kept herself on Valeriana’s lap and waited for the food to be delivered to her mouth.
“That’s good, baby,” Valeriana cooed. “You eat a lot. You have a lot of growing to do.”
Femeron’s golden eyes blinked up at Valeriana. She gave her what looked like a toothed grin, her scales glistening under the warm candlelight.
“Oh, yeah, I have a question. It’s been bothering me ever since we had the Gathering with the Headmaster,” Aneeka said.
“Didn’t you guys expect an attack at the festival since the issue with Valeriana before? I mean, the demons have been acting up lately. I’m sure it would’ve been an expected turn of events.”
“Truth is, we had set a plan earlier to draw out the perpetrator behind the demon attacks, especially after we knew of certain truths that came out from the investigations the headmaster sent underway while we were . . . out. The perfect setting had been the festival, only that it did not go the way we planned it to be,” Corvan said. “It was after we discovered Valeriana’s possible relationship with Charles as a second cousin.”
A chorus of cries resounded.
Tamara’s eyes went wide as she looked between Valeriana and Charles, nearly dropping her fork. “Your cousin? Which side?”
“Father’s,” Charles casually answered.
“That means . . .”
Valeriana and Tamara’s gaze met while the truth dropped to everyone’s head.
“By the grace of the gods!” the third-ranker exclaimed. “Holy lords, that means we’re related! I always knew we had something special!”
Keelan almost choked on his chicken and Brindon’s gaze became even more frozen than usual.
“I have so many questions,” Elfre said, downing her cup of water. “Pass me that jug.” She waved at Aneeka, who moved to obey.
“Alright, so,” Aneeka began as she handed Elfre the jug of water. “Aside from discovering Valeriana’s possible relationship with the Larkovian high nobility and the whole Direct Control purifying specialty issue we discussed yesterday, my question remains. You were expecting the attack?”
Elfre downed another cup of water and put it down noisily. “Ah, gods. How the heck is Valeriana even related to you two weirdoes?” She pointed at Tamara and Charles. “But it makes sense.”
“What makes sense?” Valeriana frowned. “You labelling us weirdoes? Aren’t everyone here weirdoes?”
“Weirdoes is negative. Use unique,” Tamara cut in.
The seventh-ranker shook her head as she forked a carrot. “You sing like a banshee and you have a loudmouth. You rant like your life depends on it and you all share the same eyes. Who am I to say this isn’t possible?” She shoved the carrot in her mouth and started chewing.
“I don’t sing like a banshee.” Tamara narrowed her eyes, slicing a piece of meat with her knife.
“I don’t either,” Charles said.
“You guys, I thought we were supposed to be related.” Valeriana glared at the both of them through her lashes, huffing indignantly.
“Yah, sorry.” The third-ranker wagged her fork.
“I want to restate my question,” Aneeka said. “Since everybody’s been off-track.”
“I rest my case.” Elfre went back to focus on eating her food.
“We had an inkling they would try to make use of the opportunity to do whatever they wanted. With so many people, it would be easy to cover up their tracks,” Charles told them. “Only that we were taken aback about how much they didn’t try to be discreet.”
“Well, that makes sense. But seeing as you’ve been expecting an attack, didn’t you expect this?”
“That’s the reason why we’ve invited some Celestes to come over and scout the place, but they weren’t always available so they took turns.” Charles casually dropped the information like it was nothing, making the Twelve gawk at him.
It was not surprising, though. Valeriana thought back on seeing Emmett, Lazaro, and the Celestial Knights. Perhaps that was his doing?
“We already had some dispatches when the attack occurred. The full-scale attack, however, caused most of them to be called out to the barrier and we were left to deal with the attacks inside,” Charles continued. “We wouldn’t have been called out if not for the situation. That demon horde was too much to handle.”
“Now that their intentions are clear, we will be much more aware,” Corvan said.
“You two were in on this?” the twins chorused.
“The Headmaster wanted to be quiet. However, we figured it wouldn’t make a difference if we tell you now. The matters are over, anyway,” said Corvan.
“This group has too many secrets.” Elfre rolled her eyes. “This academy has too many secrets. Preluré, you people have so many secrets.”
“We all do. It’s everywhere,” Tamara mumbled through a full mouth that it was barely comprehensible. “I’m sure as hell that even this very floor has secrets.”
Valeriana shook her head and sighed. In the end, getting worked up about the issue was futile since it had already happened. A little warning would’ve been nice, but they all understood why they weren’t told.
“I’ve been dying to ask though,” Valeriana said, looking at the twins. They were finally back to their old selves. “What happened to you exactly, Zev?”
The older of the twins ruffled his hair and chuckled. “It’s sort of a long story,” he replied. “When I was out, I had a really strange dream. I couldn’t remember most of it but it felt horrible.” He shivered. “I was being burned by my own fire.”
“Sounds like hell,” Tamara commented casually.
“Occasionally, it wouldn’t feel as bad. I heard voices around me sometimes. I figured it was Gen. I would feel much better whenever she was around.” He looked at his twin. “Then I realized she was using her power to help me. If it hadn’t been for her, I would’ve already lost myself before long. It felt like I stayed in that place for years,” he said with a tone of dread. “It took me so long to realize. It’s hard to explain, but, to put it simply, I learned my lesson.” Zevlin smiled at all of them. “The past has ashes, the present has flames, the future has unknown. Letting yourself be pulled back is like losing yourself to the cold. I can’t keep running away like a coward.”
“Talk about losing Zevlin and getting a philosopher instead,” Aneeka said, resulting to a bout of laughs.
“It’s because I feel reborn! Like a phoenix rising from the ashes!” he exclaimed.
“Alright, phoenix, finish your vegetables,” Genevieve told him, hitting his arm softly to bring his attention back to the food.
“This matter also intrigues me,” Charles said. “You’ve gone through what Lord Lienhard dubbed as a reckoning from Arland, why have you not told anyone you could not use your fire?”
“I can use it, it’s just that, every time I tried, I was scared I would lose control like what happened years ago.” Zevlin looked down at one hand and sighed. “I’m so sorry we could only come around tonight. Olivia insisted I stay in the infirmary for a few more days so she could look over me.”
“You do your best to recover,” Rowe told him kindly. “We won’t blame you if you cannot come and help.”
“Arland is one of the strictest gods,” Vallore said, his golden eyes glinting. “The reckoning is perhaps necessary if you say it is how it is. I usually do not hear of this happening to common people.”
“Their father was a great general of the Arlandian army,” Corvan supported. “His power is unbeatable, alright. Even I would have trouble measuring up to that man. His aptitude with fire is quite high.”
“A general, I see.” The drakon nodded. “No wonder.”
“Hm.” Elfre looked between the other rankers and chewed. After swallowing, she reached for the cup beside her and washed down her throat. “I must be the only one in this room with no background whatsoever. I feel so out of place.”
At her comment, Brindon’s eyes moved and blinked at her. “Really?”
“Elfre? Come on,” Tamara leaned back. “Your family owns a huge ranch of some sort, right?”
“What does that have to do with you guys? You come from amazing godsdamned families,” she commented.
“And your family is godsdamned rich,” Tamara retorted.
Valeriana mimicked Brindon’s reaction unknowingly and blinked. “Really?”
“Elfre over there is too humble,” Aneeka said, rolling her eyes. “And it might not seem like it because she’s so thrifty and stingy.”
“You are. People don’t just get to see it much, but you are,” Aneeka insisted. “Seriously, you own more than a thousand horses.”
“That’s too much. We only have nine hundred.”
Valeriana choked on her food. Grabbing her cup of water, she washed it down her throat and coughed.
“No wonder you liked those animals so much,” Raziel commented. “Those creatures mostly smell of dirt and gunk and they defecate all over the place. Last time I rode one, it pissed itself the entire way. It sounded like a bucket being sprayed on the ground. There was so much of it.”
Corvan stopped eating and his frown turned even deeper.
“Details! Details!” Keelan exclaimed, horrified. “Spare the details, no need for that!”
“Don’t speak of those things when we’re eating!” Aneeka exclaimed, holding her mouth after swallowing. “Ugh.”
Valeriana and Tamara burst out laughing simultaneously.
“I suppose the horse felt so intimidated with me riding it,” Raziel added.
“Please stop,” Brindon said.
“Don’t insult horses, you have no right.” Elfre glared at the newly-appointed seventh-ranker.
“Why do you want horses when you have me?” he conceitedly declared.
“No one would want your narcissistic self, Raziel,” Elfre bit back. “Go die in a hole somewhere. I’d rather be swarmed by horses than be stuck with you.”
The others left Raziel and Elfre arguing. Even Charles was uncaring so long as they did not do anything brash and improper in front of the table. Obviously, it was futile trying to have the entirety of the group act accordingly. To tell them not to bicker was like telling a dog not to stick out its tongue.
It was a few minutes later that a knock came on the door. Valeriana pushed back her chair but halted when Tamara got up before her.
“I’ll get the door!” Tamara exclaimed, running out of the dining room and disappearing momentarily while the others continued with their banter.
The clinking in the room quieted as the Twelve strained their ears to listen in. Tamara’s hollering could be heard from miles away, but their voices were still distant. It was only after they reached the door that the group saw who had come.
“Oh . . .”
“Look who’s come to visit!” Tamara exclaimed, her arm around their visitor’s shoulders.
“It’s nice seeing you all, how have you all been?”
“Your Highness, why the sudden visit?” Charles asked, standing. “Please take a seat.”
“No, thank you. I will not stay long.”
Bertram’s eyes were drawn to Vallore’s, which possessed a similar shade to his. The only difference had been the fact that Vallore’s eyes carried the heat of fire, burning like a pair of twin, golden flames as he gazed upon the prince. His, on the other hand, had a calmer shade of gold—a very light and sophisticated tone.
“Ah, who is this gentleman?” he asked. “Are you, perhaps, a guardian?”
“Good eve, Your Highness. I take it you are the esteemed descendant of the first king?” he asked, standing. His pointy ears peeked from the curtain of white silk. His movements were graceful, but he conveyed certain brashness and power. “I am a drakon from the Arlandian continent, guardian to Arland, the revered god of fire.”
“An honor!” Bertram exclaimed as he reached out to shake his hand. “But I thought that drakons have long since disappeared after the Great War? Did they not perish?”
“I am the last of my kind,” he told him. “We have dwindled after the fight.”
Valeriana’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “You’re the last?”
“Aside from my mother, have you seen another drakon aside from myself?”
The fifth-ranker fell in deep thought.
“Such a tragedy, what has bid you to come out?” he asked. “Never mind, never mind. I ask too many prying questions. I came here to extend my invitations to the entirety of the Celestial Twelve and I have included one extra. It seems appropriate.”
“What is it? A party?” Genevieve seemed awestruck having seen the prince up close, but could not hold back her excitement after the announcement.
“A ball,” he declared. “This will be a celebration for my coming-of-age and the transfer of the throne. I am hoping all of you would come.” Bertram’s eyes strayed to Valeriana’s for a moment, a small smile on his lips.
“Holy gods! Of course we would!” Tamara exclaimed. “You don’t get to see the crown being handed down every day, we should see it!”
“Tamara,” Charles warned.
“When will it be?” asked Corvan.
He handed out a stack of envelopes from his pocket which Keelan took and passed about.
“Three nights from now. Compared to past celebrations, this will be the longest in history.” He chuckled. “With the trouble brewing in Valemnia, the passing cannot be suspended any longer. The first half of the day will be dedicated to my day of birth, but the evening will be set for the coronation. It is a little informal, and only a select few will be given the opportunity to attend. We are reserving the grand festivities some other time. We are afraid the demons will try something once more.”
“A coming-of-age has always had grand festivities for the heir,” Rowe commented.
“I am a regent,” Bertram said. “I’m a temporary ruler.”
“However, you will still serve as a monarch; the face of unity for the entire world. How can this event be trivial, even if you are not the True Heir?” Corvan asked.
Valeriana eyed the first-ranker with hidden contempt. This guy, despite his overbearing attitude, had the unnecessary habit of kissing ass. He acted so polite around Lady Seraphina, the headmaster, and a few other individuals. When it came to lower people, his head was more swollen than the face of the Earth.
Valeriana unknowingly rolled her eyes as she cradled Femeron. After all that eating, the baby dragon had fallen sound asleep.
“Anyhow, please attend. I do apologize for my inability to join you for dinner. There are still some matters that need my attention.”
“Not at all, we understand your circumstance very well,” Charles said. “We thank you for bothering to come personally.”
He nodded. “I will be taking my leave then, until the third night,” he said, turning to leave.
Raziel stood and followed him out the door. “Let me guide you out, Your Highness.”
Once they had walked off, the Twelve resumed eating.
“What an eventful dinner,” Rowe commented. “To think the prince himself has invited us. It almost seems as if we owe him a huge favor. In contrast to that, I think it is the other way around.”
“That’s palpable,” Aneeka said. She looked up momentarily and met his eyes. After a few seconds of awkward silence, they broke the gaze.