CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Twenty-One: Meeting the Twelve
Brindon and Valeriana stepped in front of the building where she assumed the Gathering of the rankers of the Twelve would be held. She opened her mouth wide and inhaled a good amount of oxygen, squaring her shoulders while Brindon pushed the doors open and urged her forward.
Valeriana slipped into the dim room.
The floor was carpeted and ornate loveseats were positioned in the center of the room, encased in bronze frames. There was a fireplace further back into the room, filled with burning logs and crackling fire. Traditional paintings were hung up on the walls and, occasionally, swords and a variety of weapons. A golden chandelier that carried loads of melting wax candles was heaved up high into the ceiling.
“Wow.” Valeriana gazed around in awe.
“Corvan, get your nose out of that book!” a redhead exclaimed. “You do nothing but read, I swear you’re more of a bookworm than Charles, which is saying a lot!”
She looked around and spotted four girls and six boys—which included Corvan, sitting on one corner and leafing through a book. She frowned. Of course, he was one of the elites.
Corvan closed the book he was reading before he turned to Brindon and Valeriana, watching them make their way into the room calmly. “Mind your punctuality next time,” he said. His tone was cold and harsh that it sent shivers down Valeriana’s spine. The lord’s long, flowing locks were tied back in a low ponytail, probably to keep it from obstructing his vision.
“We can’t be that late, right?” she murmured in a low voice.
“So, shall we start the introductions?” asked someone.
“I’ll go first.”
A guy then stepped forward. He looked unprecedentedly charismatic. His russet eyes softened into a twinkling gaze while a gentle smile pulled the corners of his lips, revealing a set of pearly white teeth.
“Miss Valeriana.” He took her hands into his and raised it to his lips, planting a gentle kiss on her knuckles.
She smiled. It was a rare thing nowadays to encounter such a man who acted chivalrously—at least, back home.
“My name is Rowe von Valdemar de la Nevan, the proud second-ranker of the Celestial Circle who specializes in arm blades. I’m currently in my seventh year.”
“Nice to meet you,” she answered and slowly pulled her hand back. Despite the nice feeling of being treated like so, it made her uncomfortable.
Rowe straightened his broad back. “Anyhow, it’s a shame Courtney wounded your face.” He reached out to trace the wound on her cheek, making Valeriana flinch at the sudden intrusion of her personal space. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, seeing her reaction. “I didn’t mean to act so out of line.”
Who is this guy and why is he being so touchy-feely? Valeriana eyed him with suspicion.
“I-it’s alright.” She was hesitant from the suddenness that she didn’t know what she was supposed to tell him.
Brindon suddenly appeared out of nowhere and latched onto Valeriana’s arm. For a guy, he was short.
“What?” She looked at Brindon in confusion. Rowe was chuckling quietly from where he stood.
“Don’t worry, he’s always like that,” he told her, eyeing Brindon with a smile. “For some reason.”
“Bri! If you’ve got a new friend, you can’t forget me!” a strawberry blonde guy yelled from the corner of the room.
Brindon stiffly nodded. “Can’t forget.”
It all took but a second before a girl broke Brindon and Valeriana apart, inserting herself between them. She hauled her arms and rested them around both of their shoulders as if they were all close friends.
Valeriana leaned back. The fiery red waves were tickling her cheeks. “Hi?”
The woman crinkled her high-bridged nose playfully as she laughed.
“Third-ranker, Tamara Silver,” she introduced, holding out her tanned hand for a friendly handshake. “I specialize in fighting with twin swords. I’m currently in my eighth year, though there’s nothing special about my personal or family background.”
At that statement, she could’ve sworn that a certain guy’s ear perked from what she said. She wasn’t acquainted with him yet, so she didn’t know who he was.
Valeriana reluctantly reached out and clasped her hand around hers, shaking it nervously. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Instead of returning the shake, Tamara pulled Valeriana close and wrapped her arm around her neck, partly hugging and partly strangling the girl. “Loosen up!” she exclaimed. “There’s no need for formalities!”
Corvan huffed through his nose, watching them with hooded eyes. He then turned away from them as though they were a waste of his precious time and reopened the book he was reading, shutting away the world.
Valeriana frowned at him, still caged inside Tamara’s arms. “What’s his position, by the way?”
Tamara cleared her throat with a silent insinuation. “First-ranker.”
Valeriana’s eyes widened slowly in realization as she lifted her face full of disbelief to meet the eyes of Tamara. “How can that be?” she whisper-yelled.
The girl shrugged nonchalantly. “He won it. There are two ways you see—when getting the position.” She narrated. “One is through succession, and the other is through duels. The graduating first-ranker offered to hand over the position to him, but he refused. He took it from the chosen successor through a fight after he left.”
“That’s . . .”
“Cruel, I know,” Tamara agreed.
She was about to interject and say that wasn’t the word she was about to say when the other girl cut her off.
“But he prefers to obtain things through his own blood and sweat.”
Speechless, Valeriana dragged her gaze to look at Corvan whose never-ending look of irritation was all over his face.
“Oh well!” Tamara ruffled Valeriana’s hair. “Do your best.”
“Tamara,” there was a deliberate pause. “I told you to contain your vulgar manners.”
“You’re too stiff, Charles,” Tamara told him, looking terribly bored.
So Charles is his name, Valeriana mused.
“And stop addressing me by my first name,” he said, pushing back his glasses like a typical nerd. His cobalt-blue eyes found their way to Valeriana and swept back a thin, lone braid hanging from his platinum blonde hair.
Tamara rolled her eyes and that made him feel even more annoyed. “Then what do you want me to call you, four-eyes?”
“Uh . . .” She cleared her throat and broke away from Tamara.
“Excuse me,” Charles said, apologizing for their earlier banter. “My name is Charles von Versailles de la Vernados, fourth-ranker,” he said, holding his hand out for a handshake. “I specialize in the glaive and I’m in my sixth year.”
“Valeriana Kerrigan.” Valeriana shook his hand. “The glaive?”
“Let me enlighten you,” he said as they both pulled away. “The glaive is somewhat like a spear, but with a longer, curved blade,” he explained.
“Sorry. I’m not really good with these things.”
“That’s alright. You should try to catch up with the current lessons. Otherwise, failure to do so may cause you to be evicted from the Twelve—or worse, you may get kicked out of the academy.”
“Now, now, that’s no way to welcome someone.”
They shifted their gazes to the guy. Valeriana felt her brows furrowing as she allowed her gaze to examine the young man in front of her.
A confident smirk pulled on his lips and Valeriana could almost be blinded by his smile. She gulped, sensing a feeling of uneasiness to meet his eyes. She did so anyway and gazed upon a set of sharp, cat-like eyes that were the color of tangerines. His hair was like a soft brush from a warm dollop of sunlight in the early morning and his skin was a deep color of copper—strangely exotic.
“Hi?” she asked, her tone confused. She held her hand out for the usual handshake. “Nice to meet you. It’s Valeriana, and you are?”
“You must know me.”
“Sorry, but I don’t,” she politely replied.
The guy in front of her suddenly looked like he’d been splashed by a pail of cold, icy water followed by a thousand, heavy bricks. Her hand was left hanging that she eventually let it fall to her sides. Tamara, Rowe and all the other people within the room exchanged glances then suddenly broke into laughter while Charles merely smirked. Valeriana looked clueless, seeing as she had no idea of what just happened.
“I’m sorry. Did I say anything wrong?” she asked.
“It cannot be! It is impossible you do not know me! No one does not know me,” he muttered as if he would go nuts. “Die. I will die. Goodbye, cruel world . . .”
“I’m sorry.” Valeriana did not know what she was supposed to do as she glanced between each member of the Twelve. “I really didn’t know—”
A small, decorative box went flying across the room. It hit the guy right on the head as he continued sulking in that corner. A loud bunk reverberated, making a few of them wince.
“If you’re going to die, do it outside!” a girl, who was sitting arrogantly on an armchair with her legs crossed, yelled. “Seriously.” She massaged her forehead with a look of annoyance creasing her face, her soft green eyes slanted.
Valeriana blinked rapidly, confused. A warm and tender hand gently seized her shoulder. When she looked up to see whose it was, she spotted Rowe smiling down at her with his kind eyes.
“Forgive us,” he said. “The one sulking is our sixth-ranker, Raziel Aslan, and the lady there is Elfre Baudion, the seventh-ranker. Please don’t mind the two of them. They’re better off with a wall between each other. Or if you want, maybe its better to have a continent.”
“Um . . . okay?”
These people are actually pretty weird, she realized.
“Valeriana Kerrigan, yes?” she asked with a look of boredom. “So, are you prepared for the life of a ranker? Are you even sure you’re capable of holding the position?” Elfre glared openly at Valeriana as she pulled on her coffee-brown hair.
The room was swept with silence and all eyes turned to Elfre, questioning with a mild look of shock.
Valeriana breathed deeply before mirroring her menacing look with a hesitant smile. “I’m trying my best to learn?”
“I doubt your best will be enough.”
Valeriana sighed, disheartened. Since she came out of the blue and took over the position when she first arrived, it would be unavoidable for the people to doubt her. It was expected right? She didn’t grow up in this world. She did not know a single thing about alchemy, neither about PC or forging.
“Don’t you think you’re getting Valeriana discouraged? She may be uneducated, but it will change in due time. Besides, don’t we all start the same? It just so happens that she was left behind. After all, she did not grow up here,” Rowe told them.
“Alright, everyone!” Tamara clapped her hands. “How about we talk about something else?”
Her suggestion went unheard.
“She’s still a human.” Elfre countered. “How can you be so sure we can even trust her?”
The girl pursed her lips to keep herself calm. “I’m a human but that doesn’t mean I cannot be trusted.”
“Hey,” Raziel sniffed, pouting angrily like a child while looking back and forth between the two girls. “You’re forgetting about me!”
“Shut up!” Elfre barked at him. “No one gives a damn about you!”
“I really don’t want to start with bad feelings,” Valeriana said, not knowing what else was better to say.
“That’s not an option.”
“Alright! That’s enough,” someone quipped, deciding to break up the brewing tension between the two. “It’s time I introduce myself.” The boy grinned. He ruffled his reddish hair back—though his shade was browner than Rowe’s. “My name is Zevlin Sabian, ranking eighth among the Twelve. I’m in the same year as you are! If you don’t remember, we have History together.”
Zevlin was pulled back harshly. Valeriana could hear the boy protesting before being pushed away. She took the front stage herself and sank into a reverent bow playfully. “Genevieve Sabian. Ninth.”
“I wasn’t done talking!” Zevlin exclaimed. “Have you no respect for your older brother!”
“You’re only two minutes older!” Genevieve bit back, standing straight. “We were born on the same day!”
In just a matter of seconds, these two managed to replace the negative atmosphere with a playful one.
“Twins?” Valeriana guessed, eyeing the weird resemblance the two shared. They both had the same reddish hair and hazelnut color for their eyes, except for their height. Zevlin was a head taller than his sister and had manly features while Genevieve possessed a much more feminine and delicate appearance.
“Precisely,” Rowe affirmed. “Though they bicker so much like children most of the time. They won’t let you get between them. So I suppose it’s best if—”
Gunfire erupted that made Valeriana literally jump. The twins hastily moved to the side to dodge the bullets fired at them. “Hey! What’s the big idea?”
“Aneeka!” Charles exclaimed. “How many times do I have to tell you do not shoot indoors? Goodness.” He brought out a small notebook and started writing down something. “Who knows when I can get that hole fixed?”
Valeriana directed her gaze to the sound and spotted a girl blowing off the smoke from a pistol. “I apologize. It just happened. My hand just pulled the trigger.”
“What kind of reason is that?” Tamara asked in horror. “You can’t just go shooting down things! Or people!”
What Valeriana noticed about her first was her eyes. They were a beautiful and soft shade of purplish blue that almost seemed like the color of lavender. They were certainly one-of-a-kind. Her hair fell in waves around her shoulder. Normally, she would see it as brown—but under the light, there were hints of red.
“Aneeka and Elfre. Peas of the same pod,” said Rowe with a smile. “Both of them do not have much patience. Aneeka is our tenth-ranker, and, as you can see, she specializes in guns. Unfortunately, she has a bad habit of shooting down things—or people—she doesn’t like.”
“And to end all this, I’m Keelan von Keiffer de la Kaiven, eleventh-ranker.” A guy raised his hands cheerfully before he went up at Valeriana and leaned close, scrutinizing her face. “Can you cook?”
His forest-green eyes twinkled excitedly before combed back the strawberry-blond hair that fell on his face. Valeriana would rather call him cute than handsome. This boy before her possessed some kind of childish innocence that he failed to grow out of.
“I . . . basically, I can . . . I guess.”
“Great! My favorites are grilled sirloin steak dipped in gravy with a side dish of broccoli—” He was cut off when a loud gunshot echoed in the room. Valeriana covered her ears as something quickly wheezed past the side of the eleventh-ranker’s head.
“Whoa!” Tamara exclaimed.
Heart pounding, she looked at the wall where the shot was fired and saw a hole on it. She gulped while Keelan pouted childishly and glanced at Aneeka’s direction with tear-filled eyes. “W-what was that for?” He sniffed.
“Stop it. Hand that over.” Elfre confiscated the pistol she was holding.
Aneeka glared impatiently at the poor boy and seethed at Elfre after having her gun seized.
“Everyone!” Charles chided, making everybody shut their mouth. “This is not how the Celestial Circle is supposed to act! Such childish actions make you look undignified!”
“Let them do what they want,” Corvan said dismissively.
“Surely you don’t mean that, Lord Corvan,” Charles told him. “How do you expect for these fools to act? Like they were raised from the streets, taught no proper manners?”
Tamara grimaced at that statement, but made no move to stop him as he continued speaking. Instead, she landed tiredly on an open seat and examined her nails.
“How are they supposed to be good examples to the other students?”
Valeriana stared at everyone with wide, curious eyes and mouth slacked open. Things were getting weirder by the minute. The poor girl was beginning to doubt if the circle truly lived up to their name. Charles was currently like a scolding mother lecturing her poorly disciplined children while Corvan acted like an uncaring father. Tamara was the boisterous aunt spoiling her nieces and nephews while everyone acted like playful children, each with distinct personalities.
“Anyway,” Charles breathed deeply. “You’ve met Brindon, right?”
“Yes, I have.”
“Then that’s about all,” Corvan said. “Let’s settle this.”
“Well, we do have obligations here. Corvan’s assigned for Command while Rowe is in Vice Command. Charles’ the Advisor, I’m our Tactician and Organizer, Raziel’s the Public Relations Officer, Elfre and the others are members at our disposal that do most of the work.” Tamara said.
“Am I a member, too?”
“No, not quite. As the fifth-ranker, you’re supposed to be the General Officer,” she explained. “Not to worry, you only have to act like that during special occasions.”
Her question went unheard.
“I don’t think she deserves that position,” Elfre stated. “She’s still under-qualified for that kind of work.”
“I won’t be able to deny that,” Valeriana admitted.
A sinister smirk curved on Elfre’s face. “Shall we fix that then?”
Valeriana didn’t like the way that girl looked at her one bit. “I don’t think I like what you’re thinking.”
“What’s on your mind, Elfre?” Corvan asked, folding his arms.
“That girl can do all the chores around for the mean time.”
“What in the—”
“That is reasonable. She lacks experience.”
“Why would I ever agree with that?” Valeriana scowled. “I’m not some maid!”
“Now, see here, Valeriana.” Corvan rose from his seat and stood in front of Valeriana dauntingly. He towered over her with a glare, which made the poor girl feel awfully small. “Do you even know a single thing about Valemnia’s History?”
She cowered. “Shut up! I know about King Friederly something signing vienne, che!”
“Do you know alchemy, then?”
“I know the word.”
“Have you stayed in Valemnia for more than a week?”
“Um . . .”
“Do you see the point where I’m getting at?”
“How useful do you think you will be if I make you the General Officer?” He questioned.
She failed to answer.
“That’s just it.”
Valeriana glared at Corvan indignantly. “Demon. Devil.”
Corvan’s brow made a visible twitch as he shot a glare to her direction. She must’ve hit a nerve. “The first thing I’m going to make you do is take back what you just said.”
“No!” Valeriana shouted bravely.
“Take it back.”
Corvan began to shake with rage. Valeriana surely knew how to be stubborn. No matter how frightened she started to feel, she did not waver.
“That’s it. Do you really want me to be a devil that much?” Corvan’s shoulder shook in anger as his fists clenched. Smoke started to simmer from his closed palms and everyone within the whole room backed away in precaution. Valeriana looked between all of them, confused.
When she heard a crackling sound and smelled something burning, she glanced at Corvan’s hands which appeared to have caught fire. She began panicking.
“Oh my god!”
Unexpectedly, she snatched the glass of water Keelan was drinking and splashed it on Corvan. Silence settled dauntingly and Valeriana stared awkwardly at Corvan, whose long hair fell on his face as droplets of water trickled from its strands. The fire on his hands was put out and smoke curled in the air with a sizzling sound.
“Now you’ve done it!” Corvan yelled. “Fire is ineffective when wet!”
“What kind of idiot uses fire anyway?!” Valeriana bit back. “Don’t you know how dangerous that is?”
“Stop this nonsense! This is Valemnia. Do you even know how long it takes to dry this hair?”
“Then just how stupid are you to grow it that long anyway? You’re a dude.” Valeriana crossed her arms over her chest and scowled at Corvan. “Whatever. I’m leaving.” Valeriana began to run out towards the door when Elfre blocked her path and held out a hand to push her back.
Corvan sauntered towards Valeriana with a scowl. “Not quite. You can’t leave until I say so.” Water trickled down the sides of his face. His hands had locked around the slim wrists of Valeriana, and he had immobilized her in place with a piercing glare.
The girl broke away and started struggling. “I am not going to stay here! I’m leaving!”
“If you are planning on returning to that room, know that you’re now a member of the Celestial Circle. You’re relocated to a room in this building.”
“So, it seems you won’t be going anywhere.”
It was supposed to be good news. If Valeriana would’ve been told about it earlier, she would’ve jumped up and down knowing she would be able to leave that dump. However, she started to dread that fact already. The small room she was given the first time started to seem like a heavenly sanctuary.
She stammered, trying to find a reasonable cause to leave. “I haven’t even moved my things!”
“You came here with nothing but the clothes on your back,” he pointed out bluntly.
Valeriana wanted to cry. “Well, damn you to hell!”
“Are you already forgetting?” Corvan grinned menacingly at Valeriana. “You can’t damn what is already damned. Aren’t I the devil?”