CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Thirty-Two: Tradition
When classes ended, Valeriana dropped by the infirmary for her healing session with Olivia. After that, her hands felt a load better and she thanked the woman a thousand times before running off to head back to the dormitories. On her way out, she saw Corvan leaning against the wall next to the door.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
He sighed. “It’s for the inauguration.”
“Don’t ask questions. Just come with me.”
He left her there, looking confused. Valeriana followed his retreating form and decided to keep quiet and do what he told her to. She couldn’t help but feel curious. Still, they trod a path Valeriana remembered never taking and was more than confused when they met with Headmaster Kylon and Lord Aeron. They were standing in front of wall with a hanging portrait of a knight holding a mystical sword—it was a dead end.
“Lord Aeron? Headmaster? What’s going on?” she inquired, brows furrowing in confusion. “Did I do something wrong?”
They were staring at the picture on the wall depicting the image of a man holding a seemingly unearthly weapon. Valeriana was captivated by the picture and instinctively leaned closer to examine it. The sword seemed heavenly. The surrounding glow around it was eerie and mysterious, yet Valeriana knew it was a significant characteristic to portray the power it held. The man wielding the weapon did not shine any less. The long, golden flowing locks that delicately clouded around his face from the blowing wind. His matching golden eyes added an air of elegance and nobility around him. The regal aura would make anyone grovel at his feet.
“Do you know this man, Valeriana?” Headmaster Kylon asked.
“I don’t know . . .” she trailed off. “But my guess is . . . is this King Friedel? I don’t know why but every time I say his name, I think of food.”
“That’s right,” he replied, nodding. “The legendary man who founded the first kingdom of Valemnia which his descendants still continue to rule. The very man who put the demon lord to sleep.”
“And that weapon?”
“Ah, so you noticed it,” he said. “That’s Ouranos, Heaven’s Sword, the weapon given to the king by the gods to help defeat the demon lord. It contains tremendous holy power that can only be wielded only with those who has the blood of the king.”
“Where is it now?”
Lord Aeron grinned. “It’s in front of you.”
“Huh?” She looked at the man disbelievingly. “What? It’s just a picture.”
Looking back up at the portrait, she gave it a hard stare before looking back at the court leader, who smiled knowingly at her. She looked at it again and squinted until she saw a button as small as a dot on the sword’s guard. Curiously looking at the three men before her, they nodded at her encouragingly—except for Corvan who remained still.
She reached towards the portrait and pressed the small button before pulling back her arm slowly. Nothing happened for the first few moments until the stone wall suddenly rumbled and moved, revealing a pathway that led to a very dark basement.
Valeriana cringed and jumped back. “I should’ve known. Where a castle is, there are always secret passages,” she said, gulping. “What’s down there?”
“Lord Corvan?” The headmaster smirked as he looked at Corvan, who nodded.
Despite looking annoyed, the first-ranker lifted his hand. In his palms flared a bright, orange flame which illuminated the dark path ahead of them. Valeriana enviously glared at the fire in Corvan’s hands and pouted childishly, huffing.
“So no need for torches, huh? Damn. Why can’t I have one of those?” she asked, sulking.
She looked back down at the dark pathway and curiously began to descend down the stairs made of aged stone slabs. The walls were narrow and were made up of rough-surfaced stone bricks one could usually see in stereotypical medieval dungeons. In this case though, it was more like some sort of secret door leading to some room that contained piles and piles of blinding treasures.
“Are we going somewhere with lots and lots of shiny treasures? There are no dragons, are there?” she asked.
“Pfft.” Corvan rolled his eyes. “Where did you get that idea?”
“I was just thinking, you know. Don’t dragons typically like shiny treasures?”
“Think what you like,” the first-ranker replied.
“We’ll see when we get down, Valeriana,” Lord Aeron said.
They slowly made their way down the stairs, Corvan’s fire serving as their light along the way. The stone wall closed behind them, caging them in darkness. Valeriana sort of felt excited. This was like one of those typical historical movies she watched on TV—when castles have secret passages. It was cliché but ridiculously amusing. Now that she was treading a path kings and queens probably took long before, she was feeling thrilled to see what lies ahead.
Once the seemingly endless stairs ended, Valeriana felt her feet landing on hard ground. She walked ahead of everyone until she hit something solid. A small sound escaped her mouth as her head collided against a hard object. Frowning, she stepped back, rubbing the part where she was hurt. She glared at the object in front of her through the darkness.
Corvan’s fire illuminated the area and Valeriana screamed.
She dashed back towards the three men and hid behind someone’s back. The thing she bumped against was the fang of a dragon’s open mouth. The creature’s head was even bigger than she was. Its eyes were fierce and its face was riddled with hard scales.
“What are you screaming about?” a voice grumbled above her. “It’s only a rock carving.”
She realized she had hidden herself behind Corvan and immediately pulled away, brows knitting in frustration. She crossed her arms over her chest. “I didn’t know. I thought it was a real dragon,” she said.
Lord Aeron and Headmaster Kylon chuckled at her reaction.
“It’s a sculpture depicting the holy dragon that guards the tomb,” said the Headmaster.
“A tomb?” She looked incredulously at the two. “What tomb? Like Cleopatra’s tomb?”
“I suppose you’re right.” Headmaster Kylon nodded.
“Whose tomb is this then?” she asked.
Corvan opened his mouth.
“Wait.” She held a hand up to stop them from answering question. She wanted to figure it out herself. “The painting outside. Is this tomb . . . the king’s tomb?”
Lord Aeron smiled at her.
“Oh my god! Seriously?” She gasped. “But . . . why would you show this to me?” she asked, confused. “This totally should be confidential, right?”
“Let’s go this way.” Headmaster Kylon steered her towards their right. “The academy has had an ancient tradition that began ever since it was first established.”
“Celeste Academy was founded by Dilandau Polare and was initially intended to be a simple training facility. Eventually, however, it turned into a full-blown learning institution a few years later, when the need for having a trained army proved to be urgent—and not just any army, but an elite one,” Lord Aeron explained. “Since then, this tradition has been passed down to every titleholder of a position within the Celestial Twelve—an infant version of the Celestial Knights. You see, as soon as you graduate, inevitably, you will also hold a position within the twelve top-ranking knights.”
“How are you so sure about that?”
“It’s a proven outcome,” Lord Aeron told her. “It’s either the Celestial Knights, or commanders of the continental knights, head Celestes—top-ranking officials and very influential people. This success is partially believed to come from the blessings you get from the Central Chamber.”
“You mean this place?” she looked around as they continued walking.
“Yes,” Aeron answered.
“That’s the legend, you see—but, now, it’s like a necessary baptism of some sort,” Headmaster Kylon started with a smile. “Not to mention the Central Chamber has a very special barrier that surrounds it. Unlike the tangible ones you commonly see, this one has been personally set up by King Friedel before he died and it still stands today. You can consider it as a security check. If you are able to enter without any protest from the barrier, it will mean that you have officially earned your position. If you enter the tomb with evil intent, then you will be casted out, and I’m afraid we will have to detain you if it does happen.”
“T-that’s . . . oh god, please don’t.” She shook her head nervously. “I wasn’t even aiming to win the position, I just want to go home . . .”
“Don’t worry, I haven’t heard of anyone forcefully casted out since a hundred years ago or so,” Lord Aeron reassured.
“Then I just might be the first one in a while,” she grumbled.
Lord Corvan turned to look at Valeriana with a nerve-grating smile which she returned with a warning glare.
“Why so pessimistic?” Kylon inquired.
“After all that happened so far, I’m starting to think I already used up all my luck.”
“There’s no such thing as luck,” Lord Aeron said. “Besides, I doubt you’ll actually be casted out. Now come on. Let’s not dawdle.”
They walked through a seemingly long hallway and ended up facing two, large, towering doors. It didn’t look like a typical door. Instead of knobs, in place was the similar sculpture of the dragon she saw before. It was a dull grey color and had intricate carvings. Valeriana went forward and ran her fingertips over the door. There were inscribed writings on its cold surface that was strangely numinous.
“How do you read this?”
“Elón ad vortem,” Corvan smoothly enunciated. He carried an accent that seemed natural for the language, trilling the r in a manner that resembled Italian.
“Proud and brave,” she replied, recalling Seraphina’s words from before. “Is that a motto?”
“Of every knight.” Kylon nodded. “Hopefully now, it’s yours too.”
The rock was cold and smooth. She tried pushing it open to no avail. It was as heavy as it looked. There was a soft jingle which made her turn. The headmaster held a key in his hands, and it was no plain key. It was gold and had dots of semi-precious gems embedded on the surface.
“That’s fancy . . . and yeah, but . . .” She looked between the headmaster, the key, and her bandaged hands.
“Ah, I forgot. Allow me,” he said and walked towards the doors. She watched him insert the object in a keyhole at the center of the second door and turn it. Valeriana then heard a loud click and the markings it bore glowed momentarily before parting and opening a path.
Valeriana’s mouth fell open.
The king’s burial chamber was circular. In the middle of the room was a coffin with an elegant sculpture of a handsome man on top—a masterpiece solely created to be dedicated to this place.
“Your moment of truth.” Lord Aeron gestured to the entrance, which made her swallow. Hard.
Reluctantly, she stepped forward. Although there was a sudden change in the feel of the environment—like some potent energy circulating in the air—nothing incredulous happened. With a sigh of relief, she entered the king’s tomb.
Twelve different statues with unique poses were situated in every direction against the wall. In a way, it reminded her of the gargoyles that protruded from the corner of the Empire State Building—just that they weren’t. The reason why would probably because of their blank, but intimidating stare. Despite them being lifeless and made of stone, the artist had managed to capture their expressions and aura that Valeriana would have believed otherwise.
There was one more detail worth observing—key-shaped holes on their chests.
“This is awesome!” she said and jumped excitedly on the balls of her toes.
“In the middle of this room lays the king,” Lord Aeron’s said, his voice making noticeable echoes within the room. “The carving on that coffin signifies it’s his resting place.”
“Then what are those other statues about?” she asked.
“Make your guess. I have elaborated on it before we entered.” Headmaster Kylon inquired.
Valeriana took a three hundred sixty degree turn before looking at the headmaster. Her long hair swished around her in slow, sweeping motions. “I guess—those Celestial Knights you were talking about.”
“Yes. The Celestial Circle or Twelve came from the position of these honorable knights around you,” Headmaster Kylon said as he pointed on each of the sculptures. “The king could not have fought alone, you see. One hero cannot take all of his enemies. He needed allies—comrades to aid him in battle.”
“That’s cool. So these are the originals? Awesome. I feel like I’m in a video game of some sort, because I still can’t believe all of this is real,” she said and poked the statue she was currently examining. “Who’s this?”
“That is Abelard Keiffer.”
She went still and scratched her head. “Keiffer? Sounds familiar . . .”
“Whoa, holy shiznits. Don’t tell me they’re related!” She gasped.
Headmaster Kylon simply nodded. “After the Great War, the Celestial Knights were rewarded with aristocracy. In order to distinguish them from the rest, they were given their current names. For example, Abelard Keiffer became Abelard von Keiffer de la Kaiven.”
“I don’t get it, where did the Kaiven come from?” she asked.
“Kaiven of the earth,” he answered. “Abelard was the representative of Denovega. He wielded the element of earth.”
“I see,” she said, rubbing her chin. “So are you telling me that this is the great-great-great-great thousand times something grandfather of Keelan?”
“Figures,” she muttered and squinted, looking the statue eye-to-eye. “They have the same smile and that happy-go-lucky expression.”
“Are you done sightseeing?” Corvan asked impatiently.
“Oh! I gotta see this! Which one is Corvan’s ancestor?” She jumped between statue to statue, inspecting each and everything. She stopped in front of a man with a solemn expression on his face, his eyes staring at the ground. “Neh. Probably not this one. It looks more like Brindon,” she muttered, before turning to one which looked like it had an angry expression. “But Brindon’s not nobility, is he?”
“He’s not,” Aeron replied.
She furrowed her brows and inspected the statue closely. Glancing over her shoulders to look at Corvan, she began comparing. She frowned and thoughtfully nodded.
“I guess it’s this one.”
“What makes you think that?” Lord Aeron asked, cocking a brow.
“Well, one reason is that they have the same frown on their faces. See?” She pointed out how they looked the same with the face Corvan was making. The wrinkles of the first-ranker’s face made him bear a great resemblance to the statue Valeriana was referring to.
Long hair. Angry frown. Impatient face.
“And this here. They look so much a like it’s scary.” She pushed her brows together with her forefingers, creating wrinkles between her eyes—a great imitation of the frown the first-ranker had on his face at the moment.
Kylon and Lord Aeron glanced between the statue, Valeriana, and Corvan. The headmaster coughed, trying to contain his laughter, while Lord Aeron did not bother hiding his amusement.
“Very perceptive! Very perceptive!” The court leader was clapping his hands, his laughter booming. “I commend you, Valeriana!”
“I don’t find this funny,” Corvan said, crossing his arms over his chest with his frown worsening.
“Well, is this your great something one thousand times grandpa or what?”
Headmaster cleared his throat and tried to contain his smile. “That is Hildegaud Vaushna.”
“Aha! I was right!” she exclaimed.
“So what if he was?” Corvan asked, irked. “Hildegaud Vaushna was the king’s right hand man during the Great War against the demon lord Valdis. If there was someone else who could stand up to the demon lord, it would be him.”
“You take after him a lot, then,” she said, smiling.
“Is that supposed to be a compliment or an insult?” he asked her.
“Which one do you think it is?” she asked.
Corvan opened his mouth to retort until the headmaster came forward and put a stop to their brewing argument. He walked towards the coffin and held out a hand, beckoning for Valeriana to come with him. The girl reluctantly followed and stood beside the headmaster as he stopped in front of the king’s casket.
“See here, Valeriana.” He waved a hand towards the coffin. “Not all of the students in the academy know of this,” he told her. “The fact that the king was buried underneath the academy is a big secret—for with his remains is a very important treasure sought by many.”
“The most powerful holy artifact known to contain the power of the five gods,” he said. “The Ouranos, sword of the heavens.”
“So it’s here?” She stared at the coffin wide-eyed.
“Yes.” The headmaster nodded. “Right here, on these very chambers. I suppose you were wondering why someone would even build an academy here in the middle of enemy territory. Well, this here is your answer. The excuse to let students get accustomed to demonic presence is just that—an excuse.”
“I know you already explained the issues with the tradition and stuff, but I still don’t get it. Things like these—they’re very . . .”
Valeriana reached towards the coffin. The moment she laid a hand on the surface, she felt a sudden pulse that made her stop short and gasp. She pulled her hand back as if burned and backed away from the coffin warily, holding her arm close. Staring at it wide-eyed, she breathed.
“Don’t be too shocked. It does have that kind of effect. Its power is overwhelming, is it not?”
“Oh, I . . .” She looked hesitantly at the headmaster before glancing back at the king’s coffin.
“As I was saying, as one of the Twelve, it will be your duty to guard this chamber with everyone else,” he said.
“Who else is the fifth-ranker?” he asked.
“Are you serious?!” she asked excitedly. “Guard this chamber with the others? Really?”
“I trust you to do your job well,” he said, stringing the key on a golden chain and clasping it around Valeriana’s neck. He stepped back and smiled at the girl. “Fifth-ranker.”
“Thank . . . you,” she muttered. After a few, dramatic moments, she found herself looking down at the ground, her voice dying from her tightening throat.
“What’s wrong?” Kylon asked.
“I’m just . . . happy,” she said, sniffing. She grinned at the headmaster with glassy eyes.
“That’s a good thing but don’t cry,” he said, chuckling.
She nodded and hastily dabbed her eyes with her sleeves. She grabbed the key that hung around her neck along with the necklace of protection she was given. The object looked undoubtedly pretty, especially when the light hit the colorful stones.
“This key? Is it mine?”
“Of course,” he answered. “Be careful with it, Valeriana. It does not only open the door to this chamber, but it also opens the king’s coffin where Ouranos is. It’s one of the twelve keys needed to obtain the sword. Do not, at any cost, let it fall to anyone else’s hands—not even the other rankers.”
“You can trust me on this, Headmaster! I won’t let you down!” she told him cheerfully. Her face then twisted in confusion. “What’s the reason for giving this to students? Shouldn’t bigger people do this instead? Or you, even.”
“I already did—when I was still studying in the academy. And for the reason why, I do not know,” he told her. “It wasn’t that easy, though. That will be the hardest part of being a fifth-ranker. So, Valeriana, take care of the key—even if it costs you your life. No one must get the heaven’s sword until the rightful owner comes to retrieve it.”
“The rightful owner?”
“King Friedel,” he answered.
Valeriana raised both of her brows. “Huh? But he already has it with him. Shouldn’t he keep it instead?”
Corvan placed a fisted hand over his lips. “Stupid.”
Valeriana flashed him a glare. “Don’t call me stupid, idiot!” She rolled her eyes.
“Then, you stupid idiot,” Corvan corrected.
Valeriana shot him daggers.
“King Friedel has been long dead—but his soul and blood lives on.” Aeron touched the coffin. “In order to wield the sword Ouranos, you must also have King Friedel’s blood running through your veins—because he who is not a kin will be consumed by the power and turn to dust.”
“Er . . .” She gulped.
“This is the same concept that applies to you, Valeriana,” the court leader continued. “One who is not born in the lands of Valemnia cannot withstand the power pressure. This power pressure is the reason why we have unique abilities that sets us aside from humans. The blood in our veins allows us to use whichever ability we’re born with.”
“I see . . .” she said, sighing. “So there’s no hope for me.”
“Do not be upset, my dear,” Lord Aeron said, making his way beside the two. “You can always become a slave.”
“No way!” She jumped a couple of meters away from where the court leader was standing.
“Are you really not going to change your mind?” he teased.
“No! Not ever! So stop it, will you?” she growled at him. “But I do have one more question.”
“What is it?”
“Why is the most important treasure of King Friedel be in a place like this?” Valeriana asked. “And why ask the students to guard it?”
The Headmaster and Lord Aeron exchanged glances before returning their gazes towards Valeriana, who waited the answer to her question with anticipation.
“That isn’t just one question but . . . we don’t know as well. What we do know, however, is that it is tradition,” Kylon said. “I cannot give you any other answer than the answer that I’ve been giving you.”