Chapter 3

When Zipha finished her story, Queen Tianne pinched the bridge of her nose.

When she spoke, it was in a very tender voice, “I believe you. She has his eyes; I see that now. I’m sorry you had to go through all that, but King Barnard didn’t abandon you. He was killed on his way back from Zodya.”

Zipha nodded, accepting Queen Tianne’s consolation.

“King Barnard was my father too. Although I never met him, it still hurt me when I heard the news of his death. I had to step up and become the monarch of this kingdom. On the day of my coronation, I made a silent vow to avenge him,” Queen Tianne revealed.

“I have investigated my father’s death and I’m led to believe that he was murdered by Ka’apnari assassins.”

“Assassins? Why would anyone want to kill King Barnard?” Zipha asked, confused.

“It’s no secret that Ka’apnar wants to take Galtea’s place as the greatest kingdom. They sought to destabilize us by killing King Barnard. They didn’t expect him to have an heir. Me.” Queen Tianne said proudly.

“Oh, and just so you know, the Ka’apnari were responsible for the destruction of your homeland, Zodya,” Queen Tianne finished.

Zipha gasped loudly, “What? Why would they do that? Zodya had no feud with them. We had no feud with anyone.”

Zodya had been a neutral kingdom that never instigated any wars or took sides in them. They were pacifists who had no army and were generally left alone because of that.

“Yes, they were shameless and ruthless enough to send Skrulls to do their dirty work for them.”

Zipha felt like her tears would never stop flowing. Discovering her daughter’s thaumaturgy and the culprit of her kingdom’s fall at the same time was too much for her to bear.

“I know it hurts you to know this,” Queen Tianne observed.

“More than you can imagine,” Zipha concurred in a shaky voice.

“But there’s a way to get revenge on Ka’apnar for their evil ways, if you’re interested,” Queen Tianne said slyly.

Zipha rose and grasped the queen’s hand, forgetting that a peasant was not supposed to touch a royal without being granted permission.

Queen Tianne’s guards made to shove Zipha away, but Queen Tianne stopped them with a look.

“Tell me what I can do to help. Those Ka’apnari bastards should be made to pay for everything they’ve done,” Zipha said harshly.

Queen Tianne nodded, “Good, good. I only need one thing from you. Your daughter.”

Her words brought Zipha out of her rage and she withdrew from the queen, stumbling over a pebble on the stone floor.

“What?”

“I need your daughter,” Queen Tianne repeated patiently, “you see, she has the blood of my father flowing through her veins, and you know that means she’s a thaumaturge. We can help her harness her power and turn her into a formidable thaumaturge warrior. Then, she’ll lead my army and defeat those Ka’apnari pigs once and for all.”

“B-b-but that’s impossible,” Zipha exclaimed, “Kiara is Zodyan. Zodyans don’t fight except in self-defense. It goes against everything we believe in.”

“This is self-defense. The best defense is a good offense. If we do not attack Ka’apnar, they will attack us sooner or later.” Queen Tianne expatiated, “Moreover, she isn’t just Zodyan, she’s Galtean too.”

“I know, but—” Zipha’s protest was cut off by Kiara, who squared her shoulders and said in a chilling voice, “I want to fight.”

*   *   *

A week later

Kiara tried her best not to cry as her mother hugged her for the last time. Although she never voiced it, sometimes she wished she hadn’t agreed to learn how to use her thaumaturgy.

That day, the queen had praised her for being patriotic, whatever that meant, and had freed them from the dungeon, telling her mother to take her to the Galtean military academy in seven days’ time.

And here they were, surrounded by other parents who were also giving their children last hugs before they were officially enrolled in the academy.

Kiara noticed that there were many boys and few girls, and she looked like she was the youngest. She was surprised to see some of the children crying.

Some minutes later, a muscular man in a kilt walked out of the gates of the academy.

Putting his hands behind his enormous back, he said in a booming voice, “My name is Scrapolus, advisor to her Majesty, Queen Tianne on war matters. I have come to tell you that I will personally see to it that your offspring are honed into becoming the finest warriors in the four kingdoms.

And the first step towards that direction is to separate them from you, at least for the time being. So, I’m sorry, but I’ll have to ask you to leave!”

Zipha hugged Kiara tightly for the last time and whispered into her ear, “Be good.”

Kiara nodded and removed herself from her mother’s embrace, feeling all grown up compared to a boy clinging to his mother as he bawled his eyes out.

She fell into a file with the other trainees, and they quietly shuffled into the walls of the academy, wondering what it had in store for them.

When they were behind the gates, Kiara was dumbfounded at what she saw. A large expanse of land housing many stone buildings and a few wooden shacks. It also had extensive fields. From where she stood, she could make out people running, sparring, riding horses, and practicing archery.

Kiara smiled. She was sure she would like it there.

Suddenly, the sight was cut off by a bare-chested Scrapolus, whom she and the other three hundred trainees very afraid of.

“Now that we have gotten rid of one of your weaknesses – your family – we can proceed. I know why you are all here! You all have heard tales of great soldiers who fought honorably on the battlefield, slaying thousands of enemies and you think you want to do that. Well, let me disabuse you of that notion, because there is nothing honorable about battle!

“Here, we will mould you into ruthless killers, able to kill people no matter the situation you find yourselves in.

“We will subject you to grueling physical exercises, you’ll be tutored on strategies and tactics of battle and you will be taught how to obey orders.

“Your stay with us will not be fun, I can assure you of that. You will be overworked. You will be up before dawn every day and you will work throughout the day.”

Hearing Scrapolus’ words, Kiara wondered what she had led herself into. She would probably die before the first week ran out.

She was pulled out of her depressing thoughts by a girl standing next to her. The girl elbowed her and whispered, “I’m so excited to train under Scrapolus. He is the greatest warrior in the four kingdoms. No one can lay a finger on him while sparring.”

Kiara believed everything the girl told her. Scrapolus looked like he would tear apart anyone that had the misfortune to fight with him.

Scrapolus walked around as he continued his speech and when he had his back to Kiara, she made out angry-looking red welts on his back.

Turning to the girl, she whispered, “You said people can’t touch him while sparring. Then, why does he have those welts on his back?”

The girl laughed quietly, covering her prominent nose and her white teeth.

“Well, Scrapolus likes his women to whip him!” she whispered excitedly.

Kiara was so confused, she turned and stared at the girl with her mouth agape.

“Why would anyone want people to whip them?” Kiara asked, repulsed by the idea.

The girl laughed some more, “Some people derive pleasure from the pain.”

“Impossible!” Kiara whispered loudly, remembering one time she’d dislocated her thumb from playing Ni-jü. It had been difficult to bear the pain, much more gain pleasure from it.

The girl gave her a once-over and shook her head, “I can see you’re still an innocent. Don’t worry, soon your eyes will be opened to the various things that go on in the world.”

Kiara frowned, not liking that the girl was talking to her in a condescending manner.

“I’m Tiya by the way. What about you?” the girl asked.

“I’m Kiara,” Kiara said curtly.

The girl didn’t notice Kiara’s curtness, “I’d like us to be friends.”

“Sure”, Kiara nodded to the girl, and turned back to Scrapolus who was still speaking.

“Now, you all will have to cut off your hair. I don’t care if you’re male or female. Here, we don’t give privileges based on gender. You aren’t boys or girls, you’re soldiers!”

Kiara was very happy to hear the news since she considered her long hair a bother, unlike Tiya who twirled locks of their hair around their fingers, looking as though she wanted to cry at any moment.

“That will be all for now.” Scrapolus concluded, “You’ll be shown to your various sleeping quarters. Get acquainted with each other, in battle you have to trust your fellow soldier with your life.”

He left, and some other soldiers in full armor came out and guided them to their destination.

*   *   *

Some hours later, Kiara had been shown her way around the dormitory. It was actually an old manor with two wings, which had been divided into sleeping quarters for boys and girls. Since the number of female trainees made up only one-third of the entire population, their quarters were more spacious, although that only went so far. Their mattresses were thin and lumpy, and the same applied to their pillows, but that didn’t bother Kiara. She was already used to sleeping in such conditions unlike some of the other girls, who were from noble and wealthy families, whose parents had sent to the Galtean military academy as a way of gaining the queen’s favor.

Kiara’s only problem was that the girls had to bathe in a nearby stream which the boys also used. Upon seeing the stream, she vowed to always wake up as early as possible to take her bath and avoid being seen by boys.

She laid on her bed and put her hands behind her head, thinking of the time she’d spent with her mother. Realizing that this was her first time away from the cocoon of home, tears came unbidden to her eyes as she wondered who would console her whenever she got injured.

“Come on, get up and get yourselves to the barber!” Kiara was pulled out of her melancholic state by a loud voice.

It belonged to a tall dark woman with a shaved head and thin lips, Barletta. She was a soldier who doubled as the dormitory mistress.

Kiara immediately jumped up from her bed and joined the rest of the girls as they walked down to a secluded building made of wood, that looked out of place next to the sprawling manor.

There, the girls waited in line, whispering among themselves as they awaited their turn. Some girls made a scene by crying and refusing to let the barber cut their hair, but they were quickly brought to line by Barletta, who made sure to give them a hard slap or two and remind them that soldiers showed no signs of weakness, such as crying.

When it was Kiara’s turn, she happily settled down on the rickety stool which served as a barber’s chair and waited as the huddled old man used his blade deftly to cut off her hair.

Kiara felt no regret, even when the man swept the lush locks that once sat atop her head into a bag in the corner of the stall.

After she left the shack, she felt the cool evening breeze on her scalp and goosebumps arose on her skin. She rubbed her slim hand on her head and sighed with contentment.

Now, she wouldn’t have to waste time washing or combing her hair, she thought.

She was about to follow the other girls whose hair had been cut back to their dormitory when a hand clamped down on her narrow shoulders.

She turned around and found herself looking up to a scowling Barletta.

“Scrapolus wants you to meet him in his quarters, immediately,” she informed Kiara.

Kiara’s heart began to thunder in her chest.

Why did Scrapolus want to see her? She wondered. She tried to recollect if she had already committed an offense and came up with nothing.

“Yes, Mistress.” She replied while straightening her spine and keeping her arms at her sides.

Barletta gave her directions to Scrapolus’ quarters and Kiara left.

On her way, she crossed trainees who were classes above her in various types of training, but the fear she felt at the prospect of meeting Scrapolus didn’t allow her to appreciate their skills.

When she got to Scrapolus’ quarters, she was shocked to see it was made out of wood too and looked like it had been hastily erected. It was a bungalow situated in front of a thick forest which encroached into the academy’s compound.

“Is this even the right place?” she mused. Surely, a man as important as Scrapolus did not live in that dump.

“But Mistress Barletta wouldn’t give me wrong directions, would she?”

After much thought, Kiara came to the conclusion that she had misinterpreted the directions Barletta gave her. She decided to search the premises for another building, when she heard harsh agonized cries emanate from the shack.


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