CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Ten: Entrance Exam
The journey was a haze of discomfiting glares and insults. Corvan slowed his arrogant gait as he turned to face a heavy, wooden door with massive, ornate handles in the shape of twin dragons. He lightly rapped on the surface before pushing through, lightly nodding at the people inside in greeting before he stepped aside and made way for Valeriana to pass. She stepped into the warm wash of golden light, tinting her honey-golden blond hair a burnished brass. There was a long table in the shape of a crescent moon. Five people sat behind it, Seraphina included, chatting amongst themselves.
Valeriana scanned the room nervously when she was met with a disapproving gaze. Long fingers raked through auburn locks, eyes further flashing with impatience. She had delicate features—too delicate to possess such heavy displeasure. If she didn’t carry herself with such an air of regality and sophistication, she would’ve probably spat on the ground at the sight of Valeriana.
She broke the staring contest and sought the only woman she knew. To her disappointment, all she was given was a reassuring smile. It wasn’t as though the woman could just come up and stand by her, even so. The simple acknowledgment was the most comfort she could probably offer.
Their arrival turned the room quiet, eyes lifting and attention centering on the girl.
“We’ve been waiting, Miss Kerrigan. You and Lord Corvan were running late,” said one man.
“Nothing we can do about that now. We will commence this special exam,” said another.
“I assume you have questions before we begin?” someone said.
“Uh . . . yes. Is this a written exam?”
One of them laughed at her. “Not every exam is written, young one. Seeing as the court leader recommended you to take up the Celeste’s course training, you will be placed in the Knight’s Wing to join with the other students under the same program. If you were to be placed in the Development Department, then yes, we would’ve given you a written assessment, but since a knight’s work is all physical, we will need something physical from you as well.”
“Um . . .”
“Well, then, why don’t you show us what you can do?”
Crap! Valeriana said in her mind. Nobody even told me about this!
“Remember, Valeriana. Once you fail this entrance exam, you’ll go straight to you-know-what.” Valeriana gasped at the familiarity of the voice and dragged her eyes towards its direction. Her eyes widened once she realized that Lord Aeron had made himself at home in one of the seats.
“What are you doing here?”
“I came to watch, of course.”
She started to panic internally.
“W-what exactly am I supposed to do?” she asked.
“Anything,” one man answered. “Do you have any special skills holding a weapon? A bow, perhaps? How about a spear?”
“Then what can you do? We are unsure how to assess a human being. You must give us a basis.”
Cold sweat soaked her back and she unknowingly wiped off the perspiration on her brow.
A few minutes into silence and she still could not think of anything. She wasn’t well-versed in anything physical. She did recall being quite good in bowling, but that was hardly useful.
“I can run.” She shrugged.
They shook their heads and gazed at her in disbelief.
“Do humans not train in the ways of swordsmanship and the like?” asked the old man with round glasses.
“Not really. Some do but it’s not really common unless you’re the sporty type of person? So sorry to disappoint but I don’t know how to do any of that. I live in a modern society so . . .”
“So we wasted our time,” said one man with a cold, ridiculing snort.
“And so we go to the second resort!” Lord Aeron exclaimed, his smile as wide as his open arms. “Courtney, come forward!”
The girl with whom she had a staring contest with earlier marched forth and stopped just beside her.
“Why is she here?” Seraphina asked, her soft, straight brows knitting as her cerulean blue eyes glittered with worry.
They all turned to him and stared at him in wonder. “A duel?” they all chorused.
“Yes.” He nodded. “I had a feeling this would happen so I prepared everything just in case! A duel will be most appropriate, do you not think so as well? After all, there is no chance we can see Valeriana’s true potential through this examination at all!”
Speechless, Valeriana held her hands up in surrender. The room was filled with thick silence and Corvan, who was standing on the other side of the room, watched the scene unfold with fascination.
“A duel? You mean like combat? Isn’t that a bit . . . ?”
Courtney frowned impatiently. “Does fighting scare you?”
“I . . . I . . . can’t we settle this peacefully?” She began to sweat.
“This girl? If she’s such a wimp, I do not understand how she’s getting this much privilege.” The other girl shook her head. “Peace won’t get you anywhere, it surely won’t help you attend this school either. So, it is either you fight me or not.”
“Look. I don’t want any of this as well, okay? If I wasn’t being forced to do this, I wouldn’t even bother standing here.”
“Just tell me if you accept or not. I wasted my time coming here, I, at least, deserve an answer.”
She sighed. How was she supposed to win this thing? Though she knew a bit of self-defense and other stuff, she still wasn’t skilled in the area under discussion. Heck, she never held a sword her entire life—actually, she did but that was only a few days ago.
Courtney huffed, growing even more impatient from the lack of response. “Listen!” she exclaimed. “I do not intend to wait for you to make up your mind—”
“No one told you to,” Valeriana muttered to herself, her voice so low no one else heard what she said.
“—so let me tell you one thing. There are plenty of people waiting to be given the chance to attend this academy! People more worthy than you. So, either you prove to me that you are taking this seriously or I’ll slit your throat and make sure you do not see the sun shining the next day!”
Unsure of what to do, Valeriana gulped. The girl’s gaze never seemed to have left her face. “B-but . . .”
Seeing the indecisiveness of the girl, Lord Aeron decided to butt in.
“You needn’t worry. In the end, it would be up to us to decide whether you pass or not. If you can prove to us that you have what it takes, then we will gladly accept you. All your academy fees are on me.”
There was a pause.
Then, all so suddenly, Valeriana screamed, “I CHOOSE SLAVERY!”
Her sudden cry made people gaze at her in wonder.
“You’re fine with working for me for the rest of your life?” Lord Aeron taunted.
“No way!” The girl childishly stomped her feet. “You told me it should go for at least only a year!”
“I recall no such thing.”
“Urgh . . .”
She was cornered—left with no choice but to oblige. She clenched her fists. “Fine! Geez!”
She sighed. She took a deep breath and straightened her back. She could see the satisfied smirk of Courtney from the corners of her eyes and the look of discomfort Seraphina had on her face.
“Prepare yourselves. Before dawn, you must rise.”
“Can’t we do it next week?” she begged.
“We have other duels that would require the arena for the next few days. It’ll only be available later since one was canceled. We want to get this done and over with. The sooner, the better.”
“That’s just . . . bad timing.”
They all then stood up and started to leave. Seraphina, on the other hand, made her way towards Valeriana and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t worry. Rest easy for a few hours and I’ll do what I can.”
“Thank you so much,” she told her.
“Come on, I’ll take you back to your room.”
Valeriana was then led away by Seraphina.
Once there, she saw a paper, a quill, and a bottle of ink sitting on top of a table she remembered pushing by the wall when she came back. Seraphina bid her goodbye and left shortly. She inhaled and exhaled noisily before making her way towards it. And since there was no chair, she pulled the one which was lopsided and tested if it was alright to sit on. When it didn’t give out, she made herself comfortable and got to writing.
Writing with a quill was . . . weird.
She spilled her heartfelt emotions on the paper, careful not to tell the whole thing about being dragged into another world or being kidnapped.
After she was done, she folded the paper and sealed it inside the envelope she was provided before hitting the sack. As soon as Valeriana’s head hit the pillow, her heavy lids closed and she succumbed to the blanket of darkness that sucked her in.
A loud sigh escaped her lips. “I wish this is all a dream. An impossible, crazy dream.”