He’d gotten accustomed to the solitude and the quiet halls.
He would miss it.
For over two weeks, with the exception of the academy servants, he hadn’t encountered another living soul. Josiah, Destan, and Kendra remained elusive.
The three individuals understandably had other duties that kept them away from the academy. In Josiah’s case, he didn’t want to draw Calder’s—or anyone’s—attention to Micah. After all, Micah was just an ordinary student under scholarship.
At first, he had been delighted in Josiah’s unannounced absence.
Yet, as the days stretched, Micah couldn’t help but to think of the man regularly. Trivial and silly sentiments. He unmistakably enjoyed the man’s conversations to the point of dwelling over the possibility of seeing him again before term.
In an attempt to ignore Josiah’s phantom presence, he’d taken advantage of his seclusion. He thoroughly ventured through the library and studiously prepared for his classes. He had roamed the hallways and assessed the training arena.
The sleep was good, the food endless, the showers luxurious.
His only complaint was that he grew stir-crazy.
While there were days he lingered outside, inhaling the fresh air, something prevented him from crossing the barrier into the public streets. It wasn’t that he was scared or forbidden to do so. Josiah never told him he could not leave academy grounds.
No, what held him back was the overwhelming anticipation. When he stood at the perimeter, his pulse had hammered and his hands trembled with excitement.
It was the unknown.
As anticipating as it was, he was not ready to take the next step.
That night, as he approached the expansive dining hall, Micah straightened his uniform and ran a hand through his hair. Voices reverberated across the walls, nearly startling him with the volume.
Tonight, the first year cadets would have a banquet dinner.
They would chat amongst each other, mingle, hear a welcoming speech, sit through introductions, and gorge themselves silly. It was meant to be a jovial meal. Almost a sacrificial event. For tomorrow, things would change dramatically.
During the next few days, instructors would send students home. Some students would quit voluntarily. Tensions would rise and rivalries would cultivate.
Tomorrow, the first years would perform extensive tests of skill.
These tests placed each student into an appropriate group. Groups, or more suitably, teams were established based on skill level. It was important to get a good score, and, in turn, an elite team. For these teams were permanent and vital. After all, the academy sent teams out on real missions.
A pair of students suddenly brushed rudely past him and entered the dining hall. Not once did they glance in his direction or issue an apology. Micah stared after them, noticing their long, blond hair and their proud postures.
Micah lingered near the dining room, bracing himself for the politics, the forced social interaction, and the cordial facades. Throwing back his shoulders and adjusting his own posture, Micah stepped across the threshold and stood at the edge of the stairs.
His attention fell near the head table where a handful of instructors gathered. As if possessing a gravitational pull, his eyes locked immediately with Josiah.
Of course his uncle would be attending the banquet. It was foolish of Micah to be unprepared with his presence. The man was Chairman of the Academy. If nothing else, he would enjoy observing the crop of fresh blood that would soon be under his influence.
Micah bypassed him casually, as if he did not exist.
After all, it was Josiah’s ground rules. In the man’s words, Micah did not know him and he did not know Micah. Nonetheless, the man’s attendance caused a bizarre, pathetic thrill to ignite in his stomach.
Most of the instructors were of Unda descent.
Micah did not study them, rather, he observed how the students clumped in obvious cliques. In the middle of the room, it was evident the children of nobles gathered. They stood amongst the round tables and spoke reservedly to each other. A few tapered off in conversation and looked his way. Their gazes sharpened, drawing attention from their peers.
Micah did not react to the attention. He remained deadpan as he deliberately scanned the room. No matter if Josiah mocked him on the subject, Micah’s appearance was aristocratic and it drew more attention than just the ladies gossiping table.
He walked down the three steps, his strides purposeful, yet graceful.
A young man, who lingered solitarily at the outskirts of the room, held and garnered Micah’s attention. There were other students sitting by themselves at the outer tables, looking every bit uncomfortable and out of place. They were either scholarship students or citizens near the outskirt regions.
Most of these students were of Igni descent.
Things never changed. The Igni citizens were always poor, underprivileged. Unda people were always rich, entitled. Despite Josiah’s attempts, Micah would always remain bitter about the social classes whether the noble was a child or an adult.
“Is this seat taken?” he asked, curling a gloved hand around the back of the chair.
“No, go ahead. It’s unoccupied,” the young man replied courteously, not even glancing in Micah’s direction as he fiddled with the satin napkin. The piece of cloth no doubt held the boy’s attention for its luxurious sheen.
Micah smiled thinly and pulled out the chair next to the Igni boy. As he sat, he studied his companion’s side profile.
Still, the boy remained uncomfortable.
“It’s not like you to sit by yourself during any sort of social event. Keegan.”
“Micah!” Keegan turned towards Micah so fast his fingers clumsily knocked the polished dishware against the glass of water. Fortunately, besides the loud clatter that broadcasted across the hall, the water remained upright and intact.
“Hush,” Micah chastised quietly in face of Keegan’s frenzied passion. “Know your surroundings. Now is not the time.”
Knowing they’d garnered attention, Micah calmly reached for his glass of water and took a sip. He kept his attention on the glassware, admiring the ice cubes’ sheer quality. They’d even placed a small piece of lemon inside the glass. The yellow fruit was ridiculously vibrant. He didn’t really understand the use of the lemon, though he had to admit it had a good taste.
“Know my surroundings,” Keegan repeated with disbelief. Fortunately, he whispered to Micah, clearly realizing the error of his ways. “I thought you were dead. We all did.”
Micah placed down the glass, savoring the tart taste of unbridled curiosity. He had to ask. He had to. Josiah wanted Keegan here for a reason and he knew Micah would not be able to contain his curiosity regarding this particular issue.
Josiah could win this round.
“What happened to my mother? To Idris?”
Keegan exhaled heavily. “We didn’t recover any bodies from Idris’ tavern. But we couldn’t locate him afterward, either.” He paused for a long moment, as if struggling how to proceed with the next bit. “There was also a fire in your apartment complex, Micah. Your mother… well, there were numerous casualties.”
The other boy didn’t want to say it, though Micah knew they’d found a female body in his old apartment. He stared at the polished silverware. A sense of despondent emptiness settled inside his chest and consumed him whole.
Subconsciously, his eyes sought Josiah. The Igni lord was engaged in conversation with an instructor. Josiah may have brought Keegan here for many reasons, yet Micah knew one thing. Ember was alive. So was Idris. Josiah wanted Micah to believe his mother was dead. A fire. Ember wouldn’t die from a fire.
Josiah wouldn’t be satisfied with setting her aflame with an Element she’d embraced since childhood. He’d make her suffer.
“I’m sorry, Micah.”
“Don’t be,” Micah responded quietly, unperturbed. “My mother was responsible for her fate. For our fate.”
Keegan looked pointedly at his hands, as if the scars hidden beneath the gloves were to blame. And they partially were, he supposed. Micah would never underestimate Keegan’s observational skills. The boy had his downfalls, yet he was perceptive.
“So they accepted you at the academy despite Ember’s past?” Keegan leaned closer to Micah, his breath blowing warmly across his ear. “Have you stayed here since the incident?”
Turning, he observed the other boy.
A true smile crossed his lips at Keegan’s curiously concerned expression. “Consider me under surveillance until I can prove my loyalty,” he fibbed lightly. “This stays just between the two of us.”
“Demonstrating your loyalty will prove challenging,” Keegan countered breathlessly. “Considering your distaste for the capital.”
Micah laughed. He had to.
“I’m glad you’re here, Keegan.”
“I can’t believe I’m here. It’s surreal.” Keegan looked over his shoulder at the other cadets. “What do you imagine? Maybe a dozen students here are on scholarship. A dozen out of hundreds who had applied? I made it. We finally made it.”
Josiah plucked Keegan from the sheer number of applicants with cruel intentions. Micah decided he would never tell him the truth behind his admission into the academy.
The room began to fill with more students dressed in their new uniforms and groomed their very best. Micah figured there were close to sixty students inside the hall, the great majority in the middle of the room, socializing amongst familiar peers.
A young Igni man sat at their table, and then another.
Micah nodded to them curtly. Like all the other misfits, they appeared out of place and clammed.
“If I may have your attention.” A tall, aristocratic Unda man stood at the front of the room. The instructors and other figureheads sat behind him at a long table. “Find a seat.”
Micah tore his gaze away from the immaculate man and toward the newest occupant to their table. It was a young woman. He blinked at her lazily. It wasn’t common for women to enroll at Concordia Academy. The capital had a plethora of other, notorious academies for women. Unlike most men, however, Micah harbored no prejudices towards females who chose roles that differed from the norm. He imagined Ember had a hand in this perception.
However, this was not an Igni woman.
This was a noble. An Unda woman.
She’d taken the last spot at their table, appearing slightly flustered. Micah would have to observe her next time she interacted with the others. He was curious to see how the males of similar social status treated her. Considering they did not offer her a chair at the inner tables suggested they did not look highly upon her presence at the academy.
Her dark eyes locked with his and Micah inclined his head politely.
She turned away coldly, but looked back at him as if taken aback. Her eyes narrowed as she studied him, a curious lift to her eyebrow.
“You are all present tonight because of your hard work and your impeccable dedication.” The Unda male continued from the front of the banquet hall. “Unfortunately, your hard work does not end here. It only intensifies. This is where we separate those who deserve to serve Concordia and those who should focus their efforts elsewhere.”
The man, like most of Unda descent, had blond hair and blue eyes.
He really should be nothing spectacular.
Yet there was something eye-catching about him that Micah could not place. He was striking, with long hair falling down his back like any typical warrior. The strands were paler than most, their platinum pallor an attractive shade. He was undoubtedly patrician with his sharp features. His eyes, just as blue as any Unda citizen.
What made him different, Micah deduced, was the sharp, wicked gleam in the man’s gaze.
There was a certain intelligence veiled beneath seductive normalcy, as if he played an important role but held far too many secrets to play seriously. Micah assumed he made it his mission to uncover as much as he could about all individuals. The man would enjoy knowing everything about everyone.
“I am Councilman Sachiel,” he introduced himself silkily. “Regrettably, I do not hold a teaching position here at the academy, but I oversee its operations alongside Lord Josiah.”
There were instructors at Concordia Academy.
And then there was the royal council.
Micah knew just general information about the royal council, who often served as counselors to King Calder. Josiah was on the council and now Micah knew another face.
Sachiel pressed his lips together and smiled. “Where are my manners?” He bowed low and motioned theatrically toward an unimpressed Josiah.
“As many of you know, this is Lord Josiah, the General of Concordia’s military. He has graciously accepted the position of Chairman to Concordia Academy this year. We are very pleased to see a familiar face occupy the position.”
Polite applause reverberated across the hall, Micah reluctantly following their lead.
Josiah offered a small wave. Otherwise, he remained seated with the rest of the instructors. Clearly, Sachiel was the face behind the first year banquet. Probably for the best. Micah could not picture Josiah in Sachiel’s position.
Far too much impiety would seep through.
A plate of salad suddenly appeared in front of him.
Micah watched as the academy staff delivered the first course to the students. It was a plethora of grey robes as they balanced salad in both hands while interweaving between tables.
“I had expected more, I guess,” Keegan whispered to Micah while looking pointedly as the green lettuce and plump, ripe tomatoes.
Micah smirked. “This is only the first course.”
Keegan blinked. “Oh.” He watched as Micah picked up the appropriate fork and mirrored his actions. “You’ve been at the capital longer. I’ll just follow your lead. Let me know if I do something stupid, yeah?”
“I’m afraid it’s far too late for that.”
Keegan cracked a wide grin at the honest reply. “I’ve missed you, Micah.”
“Introductions will resume after our meal,” Sachiel informed, his tone somehow blending in with the lulling, inviting atmosphere of dinner. “Please enjoy the food and the company.”
A glass of red wine soon appeared in front of Micah. Unlike Keegan, who gawked at the free and unrestricted liquor, Micah simply moved it aside to access the dinner rolls.
“Lord Josiah,” Keegan suddenly breathed in admiration next to him. He adopted a look of awe and wonder. “I can’t believe I’m actually seeing him right now! He’s a lot younger than I imagined he’d be.”
“He just turned seventeen when the war concluded with Unda. He was so young when he fought for his Empire,” one of the Igni students responded to Keegan’s overzealous claim. “One of the most notorious warriors of Igni history. It’s a rarity considering his royal status. Not many princes and kings engage in warfare. We all look up to him.”
Micah chewed contemplatively.
It was unsurprising to hear such veneration directed toward Josiah. Ember informed Micah many people worshipped and respected the man to the point of fanatical obsession. It was just unnerving to hear the praise in person. Especially when Micah knew what truly lay underneath that powerful guise.
“I’m Aiden, by the way. From Region 10.”
The boy appeared younger, at least younger than Keegan and Micah. He was thin, yet he had plump cheeks. A baby face. His eyes were dark amber and his black hair hung past his shoulders.
“I’m Keegan, and this is Micah. We’re both from Region 20,” Keegan replied amicably for the both of them. He leaned forward, his nervousness clearly gone. “I assume you’re on scholarship? Region 10 borders Region 20. Both regions are impoverished.”
Micah glanced at the female from the corner of his eye, noticing her detached, cold expression as she daintily ate her salad.
“And you are?” he asked quietly, Keegan and Aiden talking zealously enough to drown out his words to everyone but her.
Her shoulders stiffened and her attention remained on her food. “Talia Bay,” she replied shortly.
Her blonde hair was tied tightly at the nape of her neck, exaggerating her feminine features. She had a square jaw, he noticed, something that gave her a unique appearance. Almost a commoner’s appearance.
“I assume you’re from the capital,” he continued easily, hardly perturbed by her cold and abrupt behavior. After all, he was a master of icy frontages. Everyone else seemed like mere novices in the art.
Her fork paused over her plate. “Why would you assume that?”
“Well you are, aren’t you?”
The blonde-haired girl gazed at him harshly. “Yes.” She considered him, her eyes tracing over his impassive expression. “I would assume you are from the capital as well, considering your appearance, though your friend confirmed you are an outsider.”
An outsider. That was a new one.
Micah raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “We all have curious assumptions, don’t we?”
He dismissed her formally and focused on his food for the remainder of the meal. Keegan and Aidan did enough talking for all five occupants at the table. Micah simply observed quietly, keeping his senses open to the surrounding tables.
As the main course concluded, some sort of poultry dish, Micah felt the unmistakable sense of being watched.
He followed the pull, locking eyes with Sachiel.
The councilmember sat next to Josiah at the head table. Though he engaged the Igni king in quiet conversation, his eyes observed Micah attentively. A hand went up to Sachiel’s mouth as he leaned closer to Josiah, veiling his words from possible onlookers. Josiah appeared unbothered at the proximity, though Micah was quick to take note of the malevolent glint in the man’s eyes at whatever Sachiel whispered.
Micah stiffened, looking down at the dessert.
His stomach protested. He’d eaten far too much already.
“Are you going to eat that, Micah?”
Wordlessly, he passed the dessert to Keegan.
* * * *
Another year with another harvest of new students.
Sachiel observed the younglings through the guise of polite interest. Internally, the sheer monotony of the scene before him caused him to submerge in the thickness and infinite currents of dullness. Every year, his hopes festered and swelled with whimsical desires that things would be different from the preceding year.
Each year, he chastised himself for such impulsive expectations.
As he gazed out at the first year cadets, he found the scene repetitive, monotonous. The same predictable pattern. Entitled students of Unda descent gathered in the middle of the room and fragranced the air with their noble blood and their dripping wealth.
Scholarship students of Igni descent peppered the outskirts of the room, scenting the room with their filthy poverty and fragile naivety that they could make a difference in the world. That their brilliance could make an impact at the capital.
Granted, there were exceptions to the repetitive pattern.
A handful of Igni students were noble and rich. Just like every year. Sachiel could identify each student as a son to a wealthy nobleman from the capital.
He sighed softly, nothing short of a breathless exhalation.
All the same.
With the exception of him.
Sachiel stared unabashedly at the young, biracial man sitting proudly at one of the outskirt tables. The boy’s posture was not stiff, though he had remarkable poise and regality for a child born in poverty.
Sachiel prided himself with having very few weaknesses.
Unfortunately, beauty was at the top of that cursed list.
He was fascinated with attractive things, objects, and people. As the years went on, not many things held his attention as they once had. With his position of power, he’d encountered far too many pretty possessions. He’d grown immune to their effects. However, this young man rekindled Sachiel’s weakness.
The cadet appeared older than his peers, certainly in his early twenties, as apparent in his confident self-awareness. His dark hair was shorter, clearly a deliberate effort to rebuke the traditions of long hair worn by male warriors.
That defiance, in itself, intrigued Sachiel.
There was an overall aura of rebelliousness around the young man, tempered down with proper breeding and cold features. Very cold, yet remarkably attractive features.
Sachiel turned to Lord Josiah, an exclamation at the tip of his tongue. Only, Lord Josiah’s eyes already focused on his own. The man stared levelly at Sachiel, as if he’d been watching him observe the first-year cadet and did not approve of where his thoughts were taking him.
“My Lord,” Sachiel addressed in astonishment. “He—”
“Do not,” Josiah interrupted coolly. The Chairman turned back to his dinner, dismissing Sachiel curtly.
For a moment, the Unda man considered the reaction he garnered from the normally impassive Igni king. For many years, he’d worked alongside Josiah, so much so that he could acknowledge and respect the man’s powers and intellect. Not normally one to tolerate the Igni race, Sachiel respected the man as much as he respected Calder. He knew never to deceive Josiah, nor attempt to cross the man.
Alas, for the many years he’d known the man, Josiah was never one to show his hand.
By dismissing Sachiel’s attempts to talk about the boy, Josiah revealed he did not approve. It was all very intriguing. Did the Igni lord already scope out the boy himself? It was something worth investigating and Sachiel was eager to find answers.
Even if that meant toeing the line with Lord Josiah.
“I was just going to express my thoughts regarding him.”
“There is no need to speak, Sachiel,” Josiah admonished nonchalantly. “You expressed your thoughts clearly on your face.”
“Was I that conspicuous?” Sachiel inquired airily, knowing it to be untrue. After all, he was raised properly. Not by barbarians. “I appreciate the observation, My Lord, and will adapt appropriately in the future.”
The boy in question suddenly looked up, snagging Sachiel’s undivided attention.
But those eyes.
Stubborn, familiar, and utterly captivating.
Sachiel covered his mouth, hiding his leering amusement. “You know my fascination with beauty is not of the physical nature, though I must say, he could be an exception.”
It was a lie.
He just wanted to observe Josiah’s reaction to his words. No matter how attractive an individual, he had no interest in touching them as long as they were students at the academy. Sachiel had his morals, after all. Boundaries needed to be kept. No, his interest in the young man was purely fascination and intrigue.
Josiah remained deadpanned, but his eyes sparkled dangerously.
Sachiel nearly purred with delight. Yes, the nameless young man was a mystery he would most definitely unearth.
“I’m only jesting, My Lord,” Sachiel soothed slyly, tickled he received such a reaction from the man, no matter how subtle. “Though, I will have to throw an early bid in with the instructors. I have found my frontrunner.”
Every year, the instructors and members of court enjoyed casting bets on who the top student would be for the year. Typically, it was a well-known name, an heir of a prominent family. This year, however, Sachiel felt like stepping outside the box.
He wanted to be bold. He wanted to create havoc.
He wanted fun.
“You don’t even know the name of your frontrunner,” Josiah countered scathingly. “A bit too early for a bid, especially based on a pretty face.”
“I admire your good tastes, My Lord. Pretty face, indeed.”
Sachiel stood up and placed his dinner cloth near the uneaten dessert. There was already a sweet taste on his tongue and he intended to savor it. Spoiling it with the noxious chocolate of the capital just wouldn’t do.
“I believe I will make my rounds and get the name of my frontrunner.” He tucked in his chair and paused. “Unless, of course, you already know his name.”
Josiah pointedly ignored Sachiel as he reached for his fork.
Hardly deterred, Sachiel made his way down to the tables of first-year cadets. As much as he desired to approach the enigmatic young man first, Sachiel knew he must keep up appearances. Though Lord Josiah knew his intentions, he did not want the others to know.
He greeted the children of notable politicians first. Inquired after their families and their studies. They replied with respectable aloofness and a hint of intimidation.
It would seem his reputation had not dwindled over the years. Such a fortunate thing, for he had not changed.
Slowly, he weaved through the inner tables, looping back towards the outside of the room. His attention remained respectably affixed on the student he engaged in conversation, though he remained aware of the closing distance between him and his intended target.
Finally, after what seemed to be an agonizing wait, he approached his last table.
“Talia Bay, a pleasant surprise.” Sachiel placed a hand on the back of his prey’s chair while facing Delmar’s daughter. “I hadn’t realized you were attending the academy.”
Another interesting student, he supposed. Delmar Bay had two sons and a daughter with his second wife. Talia was his firstborn child from his first wife, an incident he wasn’t inclined to share with others. Sachiel was surprised he allowed his daughter to enroll at the academy. However, he supposed much of the decision rested with Talia’s formidable mother.
“Yes,” the girl replied, lifting her chin. “I’m looking forward to my first year here, Councilman Sachiel. It’s an opportunity I am fortunate to have.”
A politically correct response. A predicted response.
“We are very happy to have you, of course.”
He allowed a respectable amount of time to pass as he savored the prodigious taste of exhilaration, of unbridled excitement. There was something frustratingly sensual about wanting something so bad and denying oneself the pleasure.
However, today, Sachiel gave into temptation.
He looked down at the boy.
The eyes looking up at him were blue, very pale, but undoubtedly Unda blue. Yet, the hair color and the sun kissed skin indicated Igni descent—lighter in color, yes, but darker than the typical Unda paleness. Sachiel admired the mixed heritage.
Exotic, most definitely.
“And who might you be?”
The boy’s thick, dark lashes lowered, as if coy, yet his eyes were bright with sharp intelligence. “Micah Egan, sir.”
Micah. Micah Egan.
A name with an ambiguous origin, not a typical Unda or Igni name.
Ever since the Unda and Igni cultures combined into one, there were several citizens who were mixed race. This boy was not a rare specimen by any means. Sachiel had seen many biracial offspring since the end of the war who possessed unique features. What made this boy unique, however, were his painstakingly aristocratic features and his eyes.
Familiarity itched at the edge of his conscience.
Sachiel pushed it aside in favor of casually nodding to the boy. “What region do you come from?”
“Region 20,” Micah responded. “I am here on a scholarship.”
Region 20, one of the furthest regions from the Concordia capital. Sachiel struggled to imagine such a boy growing up in slums and filth. In poverty and ruins.
It did not conjure itself.
“I imagine you are also from Region 20,” Sachiel stated to the boy sitting next to his intended prey. They’d seemed familiar with one another, not an ordinary occurrence during the first few hours of the banquet, especially amongst scholarship students.
“Keegan Flint, sir. And yes, we’re both from Region 20.” The boy, a typical Igni, had an air of enthusiasm about him. Not to mention an air of naivety.
Sachiel observed the two slyly.
One was also a weak link Sachiel could exploit if need be. “I am certain you both will enjoy the trips into the capital. A very unique and exhilarating experience for those who come from the outskirt regions,” Sachiel commented airily. “Assuming, of course, you make it past the trials.”
Willfulness and a glint of challenge crossed Micah’s expression. “Keegan and I will most certainly enjoy the trips into the capital. We’re looking forward to them.”
Defiance. It hung and suspended in the air.
A very sweet aroma and fragrance.
There was no if. There were no assumptions that they would not make it. He possessed an air of unrelenting confidence and promise as he boasted his imminent success in the trials. Sachiel fed off the boy’s victory and made it his own.
“We shall see.”
Sachiel stiffly spoke to the other two Igni students before making his way back towards the staff table. On his way to gloat to Lord Josiah, he paused and leaned down to whisper to Instructor Bryce.
“I will place twice my annual wager on Micah Egan, the boy from Region 20.”
Bryce narrowed his eyes at the early bid, but nodded nonetheless. “I will make note.”
As Sachiel turned back to his seat, he overheard Bryce and his fellow instructors speak quietly amongst each other. Flabbergasted. Intrigued. Scandalized. It was unusual for early bids, especially bids of such hefty sums on outskirt scholarship cases.
Overjoyed at causing such an uproar, his eyes fell on the royal flag hanging proudly at the back of the room. He admired the majestic blue and the passionate red colliding and creating an explosion of regal amethyst in the middle. Two powerful kingdoms united after centuries of antagonistic relations.
His spine suddenly stiffened and his breathing turned still.
That irritating familiarity encased and engulfed him with suffocating remembrance of a time long ago. His memory brought him back to a long lost child with angelic, cherub features and ice-like eyes who was destined to seal the two races together as one.
Ezra, crowned and destined prince.
The royal heir and also, amusingly so, Lord Josiah’s Chosen.
Sachiel had been close to King Calder during the earlier years. He’d interacted with the young Ezra a handful of times. He considered the deep purple of the royal flag, pleased his interest revolved around a lost, royal heir and not a simple commoner. The boy truly was a rare amethyst.
King Calder would be most pleased to learn of his son’s presence.
No. Sachiel would not deny himself this game. He wanted to see how this played out.
He pivoted and approached his chair, a light smile gracing his features. He’d gotten his wish. Already, this year proved to be far more interesting than previous years.
He was eager for it to begin.
My hand aches.” Keegan paused. “But last night was the best sleep I’d ever had. The beds are extremely comfortable! And the showers? I didn’t think I could ever get out!”In the hall, a chorus of scornful laughter sounded upon Keegan’s admittance.Micah looked apathetically at the group of blond-haired students as they gestured towards him and Keegan. Their expressions ranged from hilarity to aversion as they watched the two scholarship students pass.Talia stood amongst their group, positioned at the outskirts, desperate to be a part of them but no doubt an outsider. She looked at Micah, her mouth scowling and her eyes averting.“Enjoy it while you can,” one of the boys remarked spitefully. “You and pretty-boy may be smart, but as soon as we start the physical assessments, you’ll be eliminated and sent back to the desert.”<
“Stop… shifting.”At the cold command, Keegan abruptly realized his knee bounced uncontrollably and he hastily stopped moving. “We’re going to get expelled from the academy,” he explained in a high-pitched tonKai Edlen had already exited the office a few minutes earlier. Besides the dark expression on Edlen’s face, Keegan couldn’t discern what had transpired inside that office. Not only did they face possible banishment from the academy, but the man inside that office also petrified Keegan to the point of nauseJosiaThe true King to the Igni peopl“We’re not going to get expelledKeegan rubbed his sweaty palms across his trousers and looked at the younger man sitting beside hiAs usual, Micah was the picture of serenity and composure. He ran a critical eye down Micah’s f
“I acknowledge what you did for me.”Micah and Keegan both turned toward the voice, their mouths full of food. Aiden approached them purposefully, having found their hidden alcove within the maze of the academy’s massive layout.Instructor Candace had called for a short recess after Kai and Micah’s duel.Food, in massive quantities, was made available for the cadets as they waited for the instructors to deliberate the teams. The observers from earlier were sent home and the students, who did not make the final cut, were told to pack their things.Having both succeeded in the trials, Keegan and Micah had grabbed a heaping plate of food and ducked out of the dining hall before the other cadets made an appearance. Micah had wanted to eat without disruption and Keegan was more than willing to accompany him.Across the room, Aiden focused intently on Micah as h
“Where is Edlen?”They didn’t seem to hear him. Otherwise, they were intentionally ignoring him.Undoubtedly, it was the latter.Micah watched Cain and Viktor fly hurriedly across their side of the room, stuffing things haphazardly into their school bags.Both their uniforms were askew, and while that was nothing new for Viktor, whom apparently favored the unkempt and nonchalant aristocratic appearance, the prim and proper Cain seemed just as disheveled.Almost as if they were in a hurry to avoid Micah completely….Next to Micah, Keegan shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t think they heard you, Micah.”Under the watchful eye of Aiden and Keegan, Micah crossed the room and abruptly cut off Viktor and Cain as they tried to exit their quarters. He appraised the two Unda cadets, sensing their awkwardness.
Another week went by, as did another.The nobles remained stubborn.As did Micah.He kept busy avoiding Josiah and concentrating intensely on his schoolwork. He also read up on modern technology in his free time and made a few more feeble attempts to get to know his teammates. All of them, with the exception of Keegan and Aiden, continued to ignore his efforts at unification. Edlen, and his three loyal aristocrats, remained elusive.If the other boy’s mission was to avoid breathing the same air as Micah, he’d excelled beautifully these past four weeks.Despite his exasperation, Micah was reluctantly impressed.Who knew someone could be so immature and childish to the point of skillful and impressive elusion? The boy and his trio of Unda cadets ate at different times, showered at different times, and stayed up late to study in living quarters belon
Once a month, Concordia Academy held liturgy.The academy expected all cadets to attend.Today was their first liturgy and Micah couldn’t imagine better timing. His team hadn’t slept well the past few nights, still haunted by their mission and their comrade’s gruesome death. News of the incident traveled quickly across the academy and gossip eagerly raged.Enduring the looks, the talks, and the accusations hadn’t been easy for some members of the team. While Micah could shoulder the attention, he knew the others had trouble dealing with Wayde’s absence and functioning under the negative scrutiny.Liturgy would at least soothe their troubles, at least for an hour or two.Micah wasn’t so fortunate.He wasn’t a religious individual. While he acknowledged the existence of the gods, or, more appropriately, the
The barbed wire was like a crown of thorns and a cruel mockery of manipulated twine. With the wire wrapped tightly around his arms, his captors lifted his limbs in a ridicule of a broken marionette, pulled by relentless and cruel strings.A punishing puppet master.Micah was past the point of scheming up poetic metaphors to his abductors’ intentions. All that mattered was that he’d lost feeling in his limbs long ago due to their painful and purposeful arranging.Positioned on the ground next to the dying and gnarly maze of the academy’s gardens, Micah could only stare blankly at the other side of the hedge. One leg curled inward and the other, by painful contrast, curled outward. His left arm stretched far above his head while his right arm angled awkwardly to the side.A fitting position for a discarded toy.He’d tried to move to a more comfortable position long ago, but the bindings were tight and the barbed wire dug agoni
“Yes?” Micah inquired wryly when he felt the stares. “What is it?Looking up from his eggs, he gazed at the trio of Unda students who’d sat across from him that morning at breakfast. Their faces were a mix of frustration, anger, and guilt. Micah didn’t find he had much, if any, energy to decipher the reason behind their mood.“We may have found a lead to who was behind your attack,” Viktor informed.Micah lowered his gaze to his breakfast, suddenly uninterested. “Oh?”The situation, or more appropriately, theattack,as his team liked to call it, happened several days ago.He’d been too weak to move during his first day of consciousness. His second day of consciousness, Healer Destan and Kendra refused to let him leave the infirmary. The two Healers fed him enough tonics to upset his stomach. He spent most the day kneeling in front of the toilet and was far too fat