CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Ancient History
Valeriana pulled her hair and screamed in frustration. Corvan, annoyed by her incessant noise-making, shot an irked glance at her direction. The Twelve was quite aware of the reason for her behavior. The fact that she was going to have her second duel was already spreading like wildfire. It was hard to miss the news.
“So you aren’t aware?” Lord Rowe spoke softly.
The first-ranker dragged his gaze lazily towards the second-ranker and frowned at him in displeasure. “Of? Is there something I need to know?”
Before Rowe could open his mouth, Tamara interrupted. “Valeriana will be having her second duel sometime soon. Everyone is looking forward to it,” she said, chuckling. The usual cheerful smile lit up her face and she plopped down on the nearest chair. “Provided that the challenger doesn’t misbehave at all before the duel ensues. It’s really an interesting setup.”
“Tamara.” Charles snarled. “How many times do I have to tell you not to speak when not being spoken to?”
The third-ranker looked up at Charles obliviously. “Huh? Oh, well.” She shrugged. “I forgot.”
The fourth-ranker fumed in anger, shooting a heated glower at her direction. He seemed as though he wanted to start another lecture but then changed his mind the last minute. Tamara, for sure, would not bother listening. Charles pulled back and took a deep breath to calm his boiling temper. He fixed his glasses and gazed at the honey golden blonde pacing restlessly back and forth.
“Why did I have to agree to that stupid duel?” Valeriana muttered to herself.
“I do understand the pressure,” Charles told her. “But be informed that the second duel you perform as the fifth-ranker is regarded with much more importance than the first.”
“If you understand the pressure, then you shouldn’t have told me,” she said. “Not helpful.”
“You’re lucky though,” Keelan interjected. “You’re being given three days instead of just a few hours to prepare! Unlike the last time, this will do you better, right? After all, you were only asked to prepare for a very short period of time but still managed to defeat Courtney.”
“It’s not how you think it is. If it hadn’t been for Lady Seraphina, I would’ve already been made into a burger patty. I was so so lucky with that duel, you know.”
“Then pray to your god to grant you that damn luck again,” Aneeka said jokingly, polishing the already shiny gun in her hands.
Valeriana met the tenth-ranker’s purplish blue eyes. “Oh, hell I will!”
“I heard your fight will be against Zion Brunhild,” Rowe stated, flashing the girl his usual smile that made all girls weak-kneed. “He has quite a notorious reputation.”
“In what way?” she asked.
“Zion managed to stand up to Corvan for quite a while. I admit he’s really quite impressive,” Charles remarked.
The young lord did not bat a second lash, but there was a brief sign of irritation. “He’s nothing worth troubling oneself over.”
Corvan was considered the school’s best student. To think that someone else aside from the members of the Twelve were able to stand up to him in a manner like they described, she could only shiver in trepidation.
“I-is he really that good?”
The first-ranker closed his eyes and breathed out in exasperation, a crease appearing between his brows. “You’ll have to face him yourself. For him to be able to stand up against me would be enough to consider as a remarkable feat, so I won’t blame you if you’re anxious,” he stated rather arrogantly.
“Geez,” Valeriana muttered, nipping on the edge of her nails. “Can’t you get off your high horse for once and say something nice to someone on the brink of insanity?”
“Oh?” The first-ranker gave Valeriana a questioning look while cockily raising a brow. Valeriana mirrored his expression with a glower while the young lord crossed his long legs. “If you are saying you are in the brink of insanity, and if by any chance you do go mad, I’ll be more than happy to personally escort you back to your world and permanently be rid of you.”
Valeriana grinded her teeth together infuriatedly and clenched her fists, withdrawing the nails she was chewing on. “If I go mad, the first thing I’m going to do is claw your eyes out before ripping out all those hair on your head! I’ll even make sure that not a single strand is left!”
“On second thought, I’ll leave one poking on top!”
“I heard, though . . .” Tamara piped in, cutting off Corvan. “That you got your first aides?”
Valeriana glanced at the third-ranker and nodded. “Yeah, I guess I did.”
“That’s good for you,” Tamara continued, ignoring the sharp daggers being thrown her way by the first-ranker.
“What are aides?”
“Consider them your disciple of some sort,” Tamara answered. “But not really. They’re your followers and usually assist you with the things you do. They help you out with things and in exchange, you teach them things you know and give them . . . protection. This also gives them the chance to become a candidate for the position you hold, should you ever graduate holding it. Striking relationship as early as possible is good, because that means the favor is greater.”
“What . . . ? What the hell am I supposed to teach them? I don’t know anything. Not to mention I’m not even sure how long I can hold this position for. How many aides do you have, Tamara?”
“Ahh . . .” she trailed off and began to laugh. “It’s not something I can count easily.”
“What about Corvan?”
He made a noise of irritation at the back of his throat. “Aides are a nuisance. I can perfectly manage on my own.”
“Keep acting like that and I’m sure your ego will burst someday,” Valeriana commented, rolling her eyes.
A gentle knock called the attention of the Twelve. They all turned to look at the front door. Charles took the liberty of opening the door, letting the form of the lady knight appear in plain view.
“Pardon the intrusion,” Seraphina greeted, a small smile on her lips.
“Lady Seraphina? To what may we owe your visit to?” Charles politely inquired. “Have you come to join us for dinner?”
“I would love to, really,” she replied. “But there are dire matters that have called my attention, so I regret to inform you that I must decline.”
“That’s a shame. Valeriana and I were just about to start the preparations.”
“Ah, yes,” she added. “May I ask for Valeriana?”
Hearing her name called, Valeriana jogged forward and stopped just before the lady knight before saying, “I’m here!”
The woman sighed. “There you are. I assumed you would be. And I want to say that I’m sorry, but I need you to prepare dinner alone,” she told Charles. “You people don’t mind if I borrow her for a moment, do you?”
“Of course, not,” Charles answered.
“Alright. Then, please come with me, Valeriana.”
Valeriana waved at the Twelve before walking alongside the lady knight.
“I assume you’re wondering why I called you out.” Seraphina watched the girl from the corner of her eyes and gave a smile.
Valeriana nodded. “I am.”
“Well, I cannot hand over the responsibility to another person when you need coaching before your duel, aren’t I right?” She craned her neck to fully look at the human and grinned when Valeriana’s eyes went wide.
She could not hide her excitement. “You mean you’re going to teach me again?”
“Of course,” she answered. “Why not? Besides, although Zion acts inappropriately all the time, he’s no commoner. He can act the way he wants. If he behaves, then he does, if he doesn’t, then he doesn’t.”
“No commoner? Who exactly is this Zion?”
“Well, he’s one of the lesser nobles—if you can even call his family that—but he was educated in etiquette. It really is a waste.”
“Oh, I see,” she said. “Anyhow, thank you very much, Lady Seraphina! I’ll try not to disappoint you.”
“Nothing less I would expect from you, Valeriana,” she said, chuckling. “You’ve exceeded it over and over. And please don’t use my title when we’re alone. Just call me Seraphina. It doesn’t feel right coming from you,” she admitted and stared at the girl thoughtfully. “Somehow, I see you like a younger sister of mine, if not, a very close friend.”
Valeriana chuckled shyly, hesitating. “It kinda stuck with everyone calling you that.”
“You remember when I said that you reminded me of someone?”
“You really do resemble her very much, not just by means of appearance, but also by attitude. Maybe that’s why I found myself acting the way I did . . . because I saw her in you. She was very close to me, you see. She was the mother I didn’t have.”
Valeriana remained silent, unable to think of an answer.
When Seraphina realized the awkwardness, she immediately tried to change the topic. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what got into me to bring it up. I’ll try not to talk about it again.”
“No. It’s fine, really.” Valeriana shook her head. “I’m curious though,” she said. “Who is it that I resemble very much?”
“Well, let’s see.” She rested her chin on the space between her thumb and forefinger. She scrutinized Valeriana with her blue eyes and smiled, placing two of her fingers beneath her jaw and raised it to examine her closer. “Looking closely, there are differences, but the similarities are still quite astounding. You have different jaw, the lips are different as well, but the eyes . . .”
Valeriana felt herself licking her bottom lip as her cheeks warmed at having to be examined so closely.
Seraphina let her hand down.
“You look so much like the late queen.”
Valeriana’s mouth dropped open. “What? Who?”
“Lady Ayslia. Ayslia von Versailles de la Vernados Rosellevienne,” Seraphina replied.
“That’s so long.” Valeriana frowned. “My tongue trips on itself just saying it. But why is her name von Versailles de la Ver—whatever. She has the same name as Charles but she also has the surname of the king.”
“Queen Ayslia was from the family Vernados. She was originally an aristocrat who married into the royal family, hence, she adopted the name of Rosellevienne to symbolize her union with the king.”
“How is Charles related to her?”
“Charles is the nephew of Queen Ayslia. His father was her younger brother.”
“So you’re telling me that Charles is a relative of royalty?”
“They’re actually royalty themselves in a different kind of way. You see, if you know how our world works, we all are under one name, and the different continents of this world are ruled by the six, high families. Charles’ is one of them.”
“Yeah, I read about it in the library,” Valeriana replied. “I was very curious.”
“And what have you learned?” she asked.
“The seven main continents being Aetheria, Arlandia, Denovegasia, Larkovia, Preluresia, the Central Continent, and the Dark Continent.”
“Who are the heads?”
“That—uh . . .” she paused. “What is this, a quiz?”
Seraphina smiled. “I’m your history professor. Show me what you learned.”
She drew in a deep breath. “The Wyldens rule Arlandia, the Nevans Aetheria, up north is Preluresia—governed by the Evereeshas. Go Far East you’ll find Larkovia, ruled by the Vernados while down, down south you find the Kaivens of Denovegasia. Hurrah! Hail the Roselleviennes of the Central Continent and heed the demons in the Dark Continent.”
“The nursery rhymes work like a charm, don’t they?” Seraphina laughed.
“Yeah . . .”
“You didn’t quite sing it, though.”
“You wouldn’t want me to.”
“Alright, enough of this,” Seraphina said. “Come here.”
They halted in the middle of an open field. Seraphina’s arms steered her to climb up a grassy hill. While she made no complains, she instead made a face. The top didn’t seem like an easy trip and climbing things wasn’t something she was fond of doing.
“Go on,” said the lady knight.
Valeriana sighed and did as she was told, trudging up the hill without the energy of Jack and Jill. It took them around a minute or so—with Valeriana’s constant pleas for seconds worth of rests before resuming—to reach the top. Although the current fifth had slumped straight for the ground the moment they were at the summit, she could not help but not regret the climb. It was worth all the effort.
“Wow,” she muttered, awed.
Standing on top of the hill offered them a great view of the academy. Having seen it fully, not only did Valeriana realize it was larger than she had originally thought, it also took the shape of a regal castle with soaring towers. The setting sun seemed like a halo, positioned right behind the apex where billowing flags stood proud and regal.
“I didn’t realize the academy was actually a large castle,” Valeriana said.
“The main building is a castle,” Seraphina replied, legs angled by the sharp slope. “Structures were built the past few years in order to accommodate the necessary training. We’re getting quite crowded with the continuous increase for the demand to become knights. This academy is the only training facility available in the whole world so spots are very competitive. People actually literally die to get in here.”
“Then why don’t you guys build another one?” Valeriana inquired. “I think it’s better because this place could use a safer one instead of, you know, teaching students in the middle of demon territory?”
“It’s imperative to get students to build immunity against demonic energy. Most of the energies are filtered by the barrier, allowing the barest to slip through. It’s because being exposed to these energies will be a common day-to-day event for all knights and people who have not built resistance will be subdued by it.”
She continued staring at the castle. While the view was certainly something to behold, something else caught her eye. Behind the strong and tall gates that bordered the school was a dark forest. It was eerie. The trees looked dead. Contrary to the lush and fertile lands she was stepping on, the soil looked barren—touched by death, dark ash and cinders colored the bark of trees and the land itself.
“This is . . . the Forest of Valdis,” Valeriana muttered to herself, thinking back on what Corvan had said before.
A chill ran down her spine.
“That dark, ominous forest was once a thriving woodland,” said Seraphina, following her eyes. “It had the purest streams of water, the liveliest breeze. But that was thousands of years ago, when the first king of Valemnia had yet to ascend to the throne. What you see before you is but a mere portion of the Dark Continent.”
True to her words, the barren-looking forest stretched beyond where her eyes could not reach.
She gulped, but listened closely to the knight’s words.
“Friedel was born to a simple family with his twin brother, Valdis.”
She perked up at the familiar name.
“At that time, life was simple and people felt contented worshipping the five great gods, but life back then was also struck with war. The people of the different continents fought one another for domination. Each of the element is governed by a god. Larkov—god of the seas and water, Arland—god of the fire and volcanoes, Denovega—god of the earth and the mountains, Preluré—god of the wind and air, and Aether—god of the souls and spirits.”
“Friedel was a simple boy and so was his brother. He was the younger of the two and he showed natural talent. Valdis was the same. The two competed, and though equal, Valdis was envious.”
“Because Friedel was a natural-born prodigy. He, on the other hand, had to work hard in order to achieve his goals, and that thought alone frustrated him,” she answered. “Also, because of Friedel’s outgoing and friendly personality, he easily attracted people towards him. Valdis was left out.”
She was silent.
“And that’s how it went for the two. Although both brothers loved each other greatly, Valdis despised the way he felt like he was being left behind, so he acted very uptight. The competition between the two was very unremitting and not one of them allowed to be overshadowed by the other.
“Eventually, Valdis earned that recognition,” Seraphina began. “The competition was known to be prestigious since it tested the skills of each individual, and since both of them came out the best, they eventually faced off at the last round. In it, Friedel lost, but Valdis didn’t feel like he won at all.”
“Because Friedel gave it away,” she answered. “Friedel purposely lost the fight to give him the recognition he was yearning for, hoping that would bring them closer. But the total opposite happened. The moment Friedel lost, Valdis exploded. He was angered at the thought that his younger brother pitied him and his hate for him even grew.”
“Didn’t Friedel think Valdis would catch on? It’s quite stupid.”
“Friedel made a foolish decision. He had no other ideas—no other way he could think of that would get Valdis to stop being so distant. So he hopelessly tried to make up for it through other ways, yet his efforts were futile,” she said. “You could say it was naïve of him.”
Valeriana watched the lady knight as she sank down on the ground, lying among the sharp blades of grass. The girl followed the woman shortly and felt an unusual sense of comfort as the wind blew and caressed their cheeks.
Seraphina gave her a motherly smile as well. “Eventually, it continued that way and Valdis never showed any intent of forgiving his brother. That was until a woman came along,” she paused and smiled. “Her name was Bridgette, and she undoubtedly caught the hearts of both men because of her peerless beauty and kindness. Valdis enthusiastically told his brother about it, and fearing that the current development of their relationship as siblings would disappear, Friedel desperately held back. But the heart was not something to be suppressed. And Valdis confessed, but was turned down. Do you know why?”
Valeriana gulped at her growing suspicion. “Why?”
“Because Bridgette fell for Friedel in the most twisted and cliché of stories,” she said. “And telling Valdis the truth devastated him. Why must he suffer being in his brother’s shadow every time? Why must it be that he always had to work hard for everything when Friedel automatically got what he wanted? Why was it that everything he wanted kept falling willingly into his brother’s open palms? These questions were the things he asked himself and eventually, the demon lord was born.”
“Wait . . . this sounds like a romance story out of a cliché historical book. And it’s like Helen of Troy all over again, with love being the cause of war.” She sat up and stared at Seraphina in shock.
“It’s not actually love,” Seraphina told her. “Love wasn’t the reason. It was only the tipping point. Behind it was years of agony, jealousy, and insecurities.”
“I get it now. So the first demon was actually the twin brother of the first king?”
“That’s right,” she responded.
“But it just can’t happen like that, right? I mean, if it becomes like that, then wouldn’t everyone become a demon?”
“We all have darkness in our hearts, Valeriana. We just don’t let it overtake our whole being. What exactly does it mean to be good for you?”
“To be good is . . . to not be bad?”
Seraphina lightly chuckled. “To be good is to be in the presence of evil, but choosing to be good. You cannot be good when it is not possible to be bad. I suppose the case is that you are given choice.”
“You’re right,” she said in wonder. “So I guess we’re all a mix of the two.”
The lady knight nodded. “Valdis was offered power by Erythnell.”
“A god who once stood with the others. Valdis accepted his offer, which was why he turned into a demon. Eventually, the five great gods banished Erythnell and sent him to suffer in another world, stripping him off of his power and immortality. He was never heard of again ever since.”
“Because of Erythnell. He took advantage of his weakness. What happened to Friedel, then? How did he become king?”
“That’s something that happens later on in the story,” Seraphina said, smiling. “With the newfound power, Valdis began to cause havoc throughout the land. He slayed thousands, overthrew kings, brought down cities. They tried to appease him, but he simply could not be stopped.”
“But it wasn’t his choice, was it?” Valeriana guessed. “The power he gained must’ve somehow tipped the balance of good and bad within him.”
“You catch on quite quickly. Being bestowed with demonic abilities fuels the dark side of a person, overruling all kindness that exists in the heart. The choice to be good or bad was stripped away.”
“How is that possible?”
“It’s hard to understand,” she said. “But that’s how it’s been. Nobody who has turned into a demon ever returned to their former self.”
“It’s because of that Eucalyptus . . . methanol guy.”
Seraphina laughed. “Erythnell.”
“Valdis managed to coax people to his side, those who had already fallen into depravity,” Seraphina continued. “Eventually, Friedel could not stand to see his own brother causing the misery and deaths of many people, so he beseeched to be granted power so that he could stop him.”
“Power has a price. What did he have to pay with?”
“Nobody else but himself knew. It was never told.”
“So what happened, then?”
“The gods heeded his prayer and blessed him with their power. The power transformed his appearance to the appearance the royal family has today.”
Valeriana eventually decided to lay down beside Seraphina as she continued with her story. It was like hearing some sort of Greek Mythology. The events resembled a lot of the stories she heard before from movies and fantasy books.
“That’s how golden hair and golden eyes earned such high respect. I’m sure you’ve already seen the different colors of hair and eyes of Valemnians?”
Valeriana gave her a nod of confirmation. “It’s pretty . . . different. I’ve seen ones with blue hair, purple, and pink eyes, snow-white hair . . . and others.”
“It’s a legacy,” Seraphina told her, nodding. “Those colors come a long way. Each tells a story.”
“Really?” The girl looked up at the woman with interest.
“Yes. It may seem weird, but colors of hair and eyes are very prized in Valemnia. For example, your blue eyes symbolize trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, and truth—I know it very well since we’re the same.”
They shared a laugh.
“Anyhow, do you know how the next ruler is determined?”
Valeriana shook her head. “How?”
“Through wings,” Seraphina replied. “The wings were given to King Friedel by a sprite by sacrificing her own soul. The gods regarded her sacrifice with such honor that they decided to make it the symbol to the right of holding the power and position, by making the monarch’s feathers the color of the sun. White wings were the symbol for those who carry the blood of royalty. But of course, that was after Friedel sealed his own brother to a deep sleep and the people decided to hail him as their king, thus, the start of Valemnia’s first dynasty.”
“You have royal blood right, Lady—Seraphina? But how come you don’t have golden hair and eyes like you’re supposed to?”
“Compared to the main royal family, I come only from a branch—add in the fact that half of my blood is that of a commoner.”
“I am an illegitimate child.” Seeming to see how uncomfortable the topic was, she proceeded to tell the story. “Anyhow, a great battle went forth, and everything went according to the books.”
“I never read anything in the history books about this.”
“That’s because these stories can be only passed down by tongue,” Seraphina answered.
“Anyhow, how did that forest earn its name?” Valeriana inquired.
“That forest was the very forest where Valdis turned into a demon, hence, the demonic energy is at its strongest there. This is the birthplace of the first and strongest demon—the demon lord.”
“Then why the heck is there a castle here?”
“That’s a story for another time,” she replied, standing up. “Now up you go, Valeriana.”
“Alright.” Valeriana stood up from the ground obediently.
“We’re going to do nothing more than have you watch me perform several exercises. What I need you to do is practice them. I’ll get back to you tomorrow. For now, I want you to rest easy. Is that alright with you?”
“Alright, then. Let’s do this, shall we?” Seraphina then brandished her sword. “I am going to show you three exercises and one technique. Try to see if you can do it.”