Chapter 4

Kiara looked around to see if the cries had attracted a passer-by but didn’t see anyone rushing down to the house. She wondered what was going on and if someone was in danger.

When the cry sounded again, harsher this time, Kiara balled her fists, steeled her spine and burst into the shack, knocking its rickety door open without putting in much effort.

When Kiara entered, she followed her ears and made her way through the disorganized sitting room.

She stopped when she came to a door. She listened closely and after hearing a scream of pain, she tried to break down the door and failed, only succeeding in bruising her elbow.

Belatedly, she realized that that door was newer and firmer than the front door, so she decided to knock.

She rapped twice in quick succession and the cries stopped. Muffled voices spoke and Kiara heard footsteps before the door opened.

Kiara’s mouth fell to the ground when she beheld the sight: Scrapolus in only a loincloth. The other exposed parts of his body were red and covered with what seemed to be candle wax.

Kiara noted the huge bulge in Scrapolus’ loincloth and her cheeks bloomed with embarrassment.

Scrapolus glared at Kiara, “What do you think you’re doing here?”

Kiara looked down to the ground and replied shyly, “Mistress Barletta said you wanted to see me.”

“And who are you?” Scrapolus asked, picking at the layer of wax that covered his nipple.

“I am Kiara.”

Once Scrapolus heard her name, his expression changed from anger to curiosity, “So you are the Kiara the queen told me about?”

Kiara nodded quietly.

“That’s no way to reply to your superordinate!” Scrapolus barked, picking at another layer of wax on his abdomen.

“Sorry, Sir!” Kiara replied immediately, “I am the Kiara the queen told you about, Sir!”

Scrapolus smiled and scratched his beard, “In that case, wait here. I’ll be with you in a minute.” Before Kiara could reply, Scrapolus closed the door in her face. Seconds later, the door opened and a young woman in full armor came out, bearing a crate of large candles.

She ignored Kiara’s greeting and walked away as fast as she could.

Kiara waited for almost half an hour before Scrapolus came out, dressed in a green and black kilt, his body devoid of wax and glistening with water. Water dripped from his beard and unto the floor.

“So you’re a thaumaturge?” Scrapolus asked.

Kiara nodded.

“Answer me!” Scrapolus said, hitting a fist on his palm.

Kiara jumped and replied, “Yes, Sir!”

“What powers do you have?”

“Well, I—, uh, I don’t know, Sir!”

“Do you know how to summon your powers?”

“No, Sir!”

Scrapolus scratched his chin and looked at Kiara, “It looks like I have my work cut out for me.”

“Yes, Sir!”

“Shut up!”

Kiara was about to reply to Scrapolus’ command but bit on her lip to prevent herself from doing so.

Scrapolus continued, “Now, listen. You’re a thaumaturge. You know what that means? That you are different from the rest. The other soldiers use weapons, but you are a weapon. Because of that, you will have to work and train extraordinarily hard.

“Every day, after your normal classes, I expect you to come down here. I’ll teach you how to use your thaumaturgy to fight.”

“Yes, Sir!” Kiara shouted as she wondered how she was going to cope with everything.

“Now, see yourself out!” Scrapolus ordered.

“Yes, Sir!” Kiara said and ran out of the house without looking back.

*   *   *

So scared and embarrassed was Kiara after her encounter with Scrapolus, that she ran away from his living quarters as fast as she could, stopping when she collided into a thin frame. The force of the collision drove her to the ground.

“Watch where you’re going,” She heard a familiar voice say as she picked herself up, dusting the dull calico daywear of the trainees.

When Kiara looked up, she saw it was Tiya she’d run into.

“I’m sorry, Tiya,” Kiara said, relieved that Tiya was not hurt. When she saw Tiya properly, her eyebrows shot up. The girl’s shaved head made her features, like her nose, look more prominent than they were.

“Where are you coming from?” Tiya asked, her brow furrowing with curiosity.

“Scrapolus sent for me,” Kiara replied. Changing the topic, she asked, “Where were you off to?”

Tiya shrugged and fell into step with Kiara, “Nowhere in particular. What did Scrapolus want from you?”

Kiara shook her head at Tiya’s one-course mind. After an internal debated that lasted only two seconds, she sighed, “Promise you won’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you.”

A glint came into Tiya’s eyes as she nodded vigorously. Kiara wondered if she was about to make a mistake.

 “I won’t tell a soul. Not one,” Tiya said repeatedly as she drew closer to Kiara.

“I’m a thaumaturge,” Kiara whispered to Tiya.

Tiya looked disappointed and alarmed, “What lies are you spreading? Do you know what you’re saying? You could get killed for this.”

“I’m not lying,” Kiara said defensively, already regretting opening up to Tiya.

Tiya’s eyes widened, “You know the only thaumaturges in Galtea are descendants of the royal family. Are you trying to say you have royal blood?”

“I might not look it, but yes, King Barnard is my father. I’m—”

“Just stop. This has gone too far. I won’t stay here and let you spout such balderdash,” Tiya stated before stomping off angrily, leaving a bewildered Kiara behind.

Kiara got over her shock and ran, catching up with Tiya in no time.

“I apologize if I offended you with my words,” Kiara said, placing her hand over her chest to show her sincerity.

Tiya folded her arms and looked the other way, ignoring Kiara.

“I said I’m sorry,” Kiara reiterated warily.

“I don’t know why you would lie to me. Aren’t we friends?” Tiya queried.

Kiara closed her eyes. No one would ever believe she was a thaumaturge, she realized. Maybe, it was for the best. She didn’t want people giving her strange looks and thinking her to be some preternatural freak.

“We are friends.” She replied at last.

Tiya turned and grinned at her, “I forgive you.”

Kiara marveled at Tiya’s sudden mood change and returned her grin.

The girls stood on the rich green grass that covered almost all parts of the compound and looked at their new home.

After a while, Tiya said softly, “I miss my home. I miss my sisters.”

“I miss my mother, too,” Kiara said, patting Tiya’s shoulder comfortingly.

“Will you be my sister?”

Tiya’s question took Kiara so much by surprise that she stepped back a little, “Um, I—”

“Please, just for our stay here,” Tiya pleaded.

“I’ve never had a sister before,” Kiara replied, scratching her scalp.

“It’s so much fun. My sisters and I get to play a lot of pranks on the staff, especially on our uptight cook.” Tiya smiled with nostalgia.

“I don’t think anyone will appreciate us playing pranks,” Kiara said, “but still, I agree to be your sister.”

Tiya gave a whoop of joy and flung her arms around Kiara, bringing her in for a tight embrace.

“We’ll be sisters forever,” Tiya sang.

“Wait!” Kiara pulled herself away, “I thought we’ll be sisters just for our stay here.”

“No, silly.” Tiya chuckled, “You never stop being sisters. Once you’re sisters with someone, you become sisters forever.”

Kiara let Tiya’s words sink in as she contemplated the fact that she now had someone she could call a sister.

A loud cry followed by deep chuckles shattered their bonding moment.

“What was that?” Kiara asked warily, the event with Scrapolus still fresh on her mind.

“I have no idea.” Tiya grabbed Kiara’s hand, “Let us find out.”

Before Kiara could offer up any form of protest, she found herself being tugged along by Tiya, who was surprisingly strong for a girl with such a lanky stature.

They passed a few trees and shrubs and came to a halt in front of the stream – allocated to the trainees for bathing.

There, they saw a dark girl with huge eyes inside the stream, looking terrified.

At the bank, stood a couple of boys with a bundle of clothes.

It took Kiara no time to deduce that the girl had gone to bathe in the stream and the boys had seized her clothes.

“Please, drop my clothes and leave. It’s quite cold in here,” the girl begged as she hugged herself.

“If you want your clothes, come and get them yourself,” one of the boys said, and they all burst into raucous laughter.

Kiara felt herself turn red with rage and was pleased to see that Tiya was annoyed as well.

Without speaking, they nodded and made themselves seen.

“Hey! What do you think you are doing?” Tiya asked the boys fiercely.

They were startled and turned around to look at them.

Kiara was shocked to recognize the one who seemed to be leading the boys. It was none other than Klup, her Ni-jü nemesis.

“You!” They said simultaneously, with as much venom as they could muster.

“You know her?” Another boy asked Klup, who took a few steps back from where Kiara stood.

“Yes, she did this to me,” Klup replied and raised his neck, showing faint white scars.

“A girl beat you up?” One of the boys asked and they all laughed.

Kiara watched with satisfaction as red creeped into Klup’s pale cheeks.

“She is not normal. She’s a witch or something!” Klup said fearfully, visibly trembling.

The boys regarded Kiara critically, so she decided to feed on the minute seed of fear Klup had planted in them, “That’s right. Ask Klup. Not only did I do that to him, I also did it to four grown-ups.”

A murmur rose from the boys, and they collectively took a step back.

“Ask Klup, I’m sure he recalls how excruciating the experience was. If you don’t want that to happen to you, drop her clothes and leave,” Kiara said confidently, hoping that they would not call her bluff. She had no idea how to summon her power if they did.

“It was so painful. I don’t want a repeat,” Klup said as he took off, leaving his friends behind.

The other boys followed him, leaving only the boy holding the girl’s clothes.

“You want a demonstration?” Kiara asked, narrowing her eyes intently.

The boy dropped the clothes on the bank and stomped on them, “You might have won today, but note this: witches are not invincible. They can be tortured and killed. So, don’t be too confident.”

With that, he turned and sauntered away.

His parting words sent a shiver down Kiara’s spine, and for the life of her, she could not figure out why.

Dismissing his words as the empty threats of a teenage bully, she went over where the clothes lay and picked them up.

Together with Tiya, she tried her best to get rid of the sand on them. When they were through, they made sure to cover the girl as she got out of the stream and dressed up.

“I can’t thank you enough,” the girl said between sneezes.

“There’s no need for that,” Kiara replied, feeling uncomfortable because of the girl’s appreciation.

“Yes. Just get yourself something hot to drink and something thicker to wear,” Tiya advised.

“What are your names?” the girl asked, looking at them as though they were battle heroes.

“I’m Kiara and this is my friend, Tiya,” Kiara introduced.

“I am Lashira.” The girl smiled, “It was nice meeting you two. Thank you, once again.”

With that, she left them.

Once the girl was out of earshot, Tiya turned, “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Kiara asked, confused.

“For doubting you earlier. You really are a thaumaturge, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am,” Kiara replied. “And it’s okay. I didn’t know I was a thaumaturge until recently.”

“So if they’d wanted to fight, you would’ve used your thaumaturgy on them?” Tiya asked enthusiastically.

“Not at all,” Kiara answered. “I don’t know how to summon my thaumaturgy. I don’t even know if I still have it.”

After that day at the market square, she had tried repeatedly to do something, anything, magical in the privacy of her room and had failed repeatedly.

“Then it was stupid of you to do what you did just now.” A voice rang out from behind them.

*   *   *

The girls turned and came face to face with a boy who looked to be two or three years older than they were. Although he wore clothes that marked him to be a trainee, his brown hair was long enough to reach his shoulders.

Gazing at him, Kiara noted his thick eyebrows and eyelashes, his amber eyes, aquiline nose, and full lips.

“And who sought your opinion?” Kiara asked resentfully, wondering why a total stranger was admonishing her.

“Kiara,” Tiya elbowed her reproachfully. To the boy, she curtsied and said, “I’m sorry, Lord Jannen, she won’t ever do it again.”

Kiara was shocked at the level of respect Tiya was giving the boy. She knew they were supposed to respect cadets who were ahead of them in the academy, but Tiya’s groveling was out of hand.

“I’ll do whatever I want to,” Kiara retorted, refusing to act like Tiya.

The boy’s amber eyes flashed, and he said gruffly, “It seems your friend has more sense than you do. Do well to listen to her if you want to survive here.”

With that, he marched off before Kiara could come up with a fitting retort.

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