Authors: Lola Lebellier
“I’m afraid we are not at liberty to say.” Cyril answered.
Aless rolled his eyes. “This affects me too. Kateline knows, doesn’t she? You and Piers both know, and Selena
knows. Why am I the only one not allowed to?”
“It was my, and Selena’s, wish,” Cyril answered, quickly turning to Piers. “Before I forget, another one of Kateline’s shattered today.”
Piers raised an eyebrow. “Again? I have only two left. I can’t spare any more.”
“I know,” Cyril replied, ignoring Aless. “I gave her one of mine. I’m going to head back to the library before the scribes get there. I’m checking the forbidden documents. See if you can delay dinner a little bit.”
“Gotcha,” Piers replied, giving him a thumbs-up and sighing, turning to Aless. “Sorry about that. It’s not important.”
“Like hell it isn’t,” Aless replied.
“Okay, so it is, but that doesn’t mean I can tell you anything.”
“It’s fun being the only one in the room excluded from a conversation,” Aless deadpanned, waving to Cyril as the clan leader left the room, “and I assume you still won’t tell me anything that’s going on?”
“It’s not really my stuff to tell. Selena’d probably be the only one allowed to say anything without asking for permission.”
“The more I find out, the more I dislike this girl,” Aless replied, glaring.
Piers frowned. “Look, I know this will sound weird but she
have a reason for acting the way she does. Just trust me, okay?”
“And I’m guessing I’m not allowed to know
reason either, now, am I?” Aless asked, propping an elbow on the table.
“Sorry,” Piers said. “How was your time with Corin? Was it everything you dreamed of?”
“He’s agreed to train with me during the early morning. How did you distract Selena for so long?” Aless asked.
“Lighting random things on fire,” Piers said. “She now possesses no dresses that extend to her knees, I’m proud to say. After a certain point she just dragged me off to Cyril to try to get me punished. What did you do with our dear apprentice?”
“I brought him with me while I made an offering to Serac. Did you know Selena forbade him from speaking with me?” Aless asked, resting chin on his palm.
“She lacks the authority to do that, but Corin usually obeys her either way. Ah, I’m fairly impressed you managed to get the kid to follow you into a temple—and to make him train with you in early mornings? How are you planning to work around Selena?”
“I told him to claim he was asking for time to research. Hey, if he asks her in front of you, back me up on this one,” Aless requested.
“Of course! I’m still amazed you managed to get that done—and to bring him to your prayers? You’re pulling out the big things awfully fast, aren’t you?”
Aless smiled at this. “I have to mention something. Before we left Serac’s temple, I convinced him to show me his mana,” Aless boasted.
“Really, now? That’s more than I expected. No one else has tried that, shockingly enough,” he answered. “What effect did his mana have?”
Aless blushed at this, remembering the incident earlier. “Like having sex.”
“Like having sex,” Aless repeated. “There’s honestly no better way of phrasing it.”
“Did you… you know, get hard or anything?”
“Yeah. Had to change before dinner—it’s why I was late,” Aless confessed.
interesting enough. Makes me wish I had felt his mana before I dismissed him as my apprentice,” Piers replied.
Aless shrugged. “I bit my lip open trying to cover up my moans. It was pretty overwhelming.”
“Sounds like it,” Piers replied, shrugging. “Anyways, if what Cyril said was true, I really do need to get out there and distract the crowd. It doesn’t matter if he’s the clan leader—being caught in the Forbidden Archive is a pretty big scandal.”
“Doesn’t sound like any of the guardians care—why does it matter?”
“The scribes do, and we only unofficially don’t care,” Piers answered. “They’re forbidden for a reason, you know. Reading one is as bad as removing the guardian’s restraints. It’d worry the clan if they caught us poking around.”
“And we’re letting Cyril look through them despite all of that?” Aless asked.
“We’re out of options.”
“About something you can’t tell me about.”
“Yes,” Piers replied. “Now, it’s up to you, but I’m gonna have some fun distracting the dining hall, care to join me?”
Aless smiled, flashing back to some of the old jokes they used to play before his exile. Finally he was beginning to feel as if he had never left.
for training?” Aless asked, glancing at his blushing apprentice.
Corin smiled. He still couldn’t believe how well everything had worked out. It felt almost surreal to be standing in front of Aless for a second time. Aless’s advice had proven to be incredibly helpful, Corin noted. He had approached Master Selena while she was talking to Piers and the man had backed up his claim with surprising enthusiasm, mentioning something to Selena about Kateline having shattered something that afternoon. The exchange confused Corin, but he was grateful he had Piers’s support; it had certainly helped when he had dealt with Master Selena.
It gave Master Selena an unnervingly panicked expression when the two talked, though, something Corin had never seen on her face before. Selena was generally not easy to frighten, even when she was sparring with much larger apprentices. That something Piers said had made her panic was unnerving, and Corin was tempted to do some research late at night for the sole reason of figuring out what the two were talking about.
Aless smiled at Corin’s words, quickly stretching his arms over his head. “All right then. We don’t want to get in any trouble with Selena, I figured, so we’re going to go out of the monastery for today.”
Corin’s eyes widened. “Out of the monastery?”
“Sure,” Aless replied with a small shrug. “We’re not forbidden to leave, and I’d rather you not get in trouble.”
“Out of the monastery,” Corin repeated, staring at the large wooden fence. He hadn’t left the monastery in a
long time. In fact, since being allowed to join the Cult of the Elements, he had never left the monastery.
“You haven’t been outside before, have you?”
Corin immediately shook his head, looking up. “No, I wasn’t born here, so I have seen the outside world. Just… I haven’t since I began my training,”
“Well,” Aless began, “if it would make you uncomfortable, we can stay in here. Though I assure you we will remain very close to the monastery.”
“It’s fine!” Corin blurted out. “I’m willing to try.”
Aless smiled, walking over to the main gate. “Today won’t be too rough. It’s mainly about getting to know you and assessing your strengths and weaknesses,” he insisted, releasing the seal on the gate and stepping out, gesturing for Corin to follow suit.
Corin took a few deep breaths, finally taking the step out and looking around. The area of the monastery hadn’t changed, he noted. It resembled the area near the Earth Temple, covered with moss and tall trees. Aless quickly shut the gate, grabbing Corin’s arm and tugging him down a small hill.
At the bottom, through the trees was a long river, surrounded by numerous shiny rocks. Corin stared, unable to resist the urge to lean over and grab one of them.
“See something you like?” Aless asked, examining the stone Corin had grabbed.
Corin smiled. “It reminds me of where I grew up. We had stones like this, here.”
“Your features are quite unique,” Aless commented, reaching over and touching one of Corin’s pointed ears. “Where do you hail from?”
“Teron. It’s a small village in Central,” Corin answered, staring out into the river.
“You don’t look like a typical Centrallian,” he commented, examining Corin.
Corin was a tiny bit shorter than him, but still a decent height. He had a reddish skin tone, quite typical of those from Central, but eyes and ears that were shaped similarly to Cyril’s. Corin had a large amount of muscle definition too, Aless noted, and his limbs were far too long to be purely Centrallian. People from that region were generally short and stocky, allowing them to more easily sleep in caves during the rough volcano seasons.
Corin flushed at this, looking toward the ground. “My mother was a courtesan. My father was a soldier in Far East’s military.”
Aless frowned. He had not intended to bring up any painful memories. “I apologize for prying,” he immediately stated. “You never had a chance to meet him?”
“Not at all. I’m sure he was a good man in his own right…. Mother always said he was kind enough. It’s fine, Mas—I mean, Aless. I have learned to live with my past.”
Aless took a seat beside the river, prying off his boots and dipping his feet in the cool water, inviting Corin to do the same. “Have you ever tried to track him down?”
“I’ve never had a chance,” Corin explained, sitting beside Aless, closing his eyes. “My mother was poor. I worked to help feed us before I joined the clan.”
“And what of her now?” Aless asked.
“She died before I joined,” he answered, “only about a month before the recruiters came by. I don’t mean to be rude, and I don’t mind, but why are you asking me all these questions?”
Aless smiled. “I’ve already told you I’d like you as an apprentice, and guardians are supposed to know their apprentices. It deepens the connection the two are supposed to have.”
“Master Selena never did,” Corin insisted.
“Selena doesn’t seem to do a lot of things, now, does she? Before my exile, this was the standard we were all expected to follow.”
Corin paused. “Master Aless,I know we’re not supposed to talk about this… well, Master Selena said we weren’t supposed to, but… why were you exiled from the clan?”
Aless widened his eyes. “You mean you don’t know? I knew Piers said it was forbidden, but I figured someone would have told you.”
“We were told to never speak of it,” Corin replied, looking down to the river. “When I joined, there were still rebuilding efforts in place, but I was told not to ever ask of the events.”
Aless sighed. “I can’t believe they’ve been keeping it under wraps.”
“I’m sorry…” Corin muttered.
“No, it isn’t your fault at all,” Aless replied, running a hand through his hair. “How much of the clan’s history do you know?”
Corin blushed. “Very little. I was told to train my elemental skills from the first day I joined.”
“Ah, well,” Aless began, “you know how the spirits are quelled, don’t you? I mean, how we stop them from warring with one another.”
“Sort of. I know the spirits are sealed inside guardians—it’s what gives them their powers. And what causes those marks,” he replied, pointing to the blue lines on Aless’s skin.
“Correct,” Aless said, “but the spirits had a side effect. They turned their guardians into feral beasts, essentially. Feral beasts with the power to control the elements.”
Corin frowned. “The guardians I’ve seen don’t seem feral.”
“That’s because we’re not,” Aless replied. “Roughly a thousand winters ago something happened. The details on it are pretty scarce, but there was a citizen in love with the clan’s future leader, before he accepted Alvah.”
“And?” Corin asked, staring.
“She didn’t want him to go feral,” he explained, simply, “and somehow, I don’t know the legend too well, I admit, she created five sets of restraints. When a guardian puts them on, they quell the demon’s anger, allowing the guardian to live a somewhat normal life. We’ve been using them for all that time. They’re passed from guardian to apprentice.”
“And you wear them too?” he asked.
“Want to see them?” Aless offered.
“If… if you don’t mind.”
Aless stood up, rolling up his pants slightly above his mid-thighs, pointing to the thick silver rings on his legs. Corin reached a hand out hesitantly, feeling the skin around Aless’s leg restraints, eliciting a loud hiss from Aless.
Corin pulled his hand away as if he had been burnt. “I’m sorry!”
“It’s nothing,” Aless replied. “The skin around the rings is just extremely sensitive. You can touch them if you like.”
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Corin insisted, averting his eyes.
Aless blushed, laughing a bit. “They aren’t sensitive like that.”
“What do you—?” Corin began asking, before flushing bright red. “Oh.”
Aless laughed. “As I said, it’s completely fine,” he insisted, grabbing Corin’s hand and moving it back to his restraints.
Corin furrowed his brow, examining the rings. He read the writing on them slowly, not bothering to translate it into Common, letting his thumb run over the intricate patterns.
“What?” Aless asked.
Corin shrugged. “It’s what the ring said, isn’t it?” he asked. “‘Bind your spirit.’”
“No, I mean, you can read that?” Aless asked, crouching down.
“Yes. It’s Centrallian,” he answered, reading it over again. “Same variant as the village I grew up in. It’s not widely used.”
“That’s amazing. I didn’t even think those were words.” he explained, laughing. He reluctantly pulled Corin’s hand off and unrolled his pant legs, sitting back down.