The Apprentice: The Academy, Part 2

image from A Voice in the Corner
image from A Voice in the Corner

Kyria’s story began here

Kyria drew herself taller as she returned Master Cyrus’s stare across the council chamber. She shivered just as she had the last time she had faced him down, and she hoped that her heavy robes would conceal that sign of fear. Was that a smirk she saw? The shadows made it difficult to tell, though she got the clear impression that he was enjoying her discomfort.

He had gotten the better of her once, but she was determined to win this round; too much was at stake.

***

The lighting of the classroom seemed inordinately bright in the evening. The cold white light had no source but illuminated every corner of the room expelling the shadows that would otherwise linger in the corners. Kyria remembered her pride at mastering the spell in her second year, becoming the first of her classmates to no longer study by flickering candlelight. Of course, she had plenty of motivation to study the spell after fusing the pages of an old book from the library with wax from an accidentally spilled candle. She had managed to shove the book deep onto a high shelf before Madam Timmons, the old librarian who seemed to have a sixth sense for when her precious books were in danger, had flounced around the end of the aisle.

The light was something that Kyria had come to associate with the academy, one of the little details that made the imposing fortress seem like home. Today, however, she wished she could find a shadowy place to hide. Standing in the empty room before Master Cyrus, she felt as though he could see right through her, as if any excuse she could offer for her earlier lack of effort and attention would be immediately punctured by the wizard armed with is cane.

***

The lighting in the council chamber was altogether different. The colour was the same, but it had a sinister quality and was contained to the ring in the centre of the room where Kyria stood. THe twelve masters seated around her were barely visible, appearing in the robes as spectres from another dimension. Considering their immense power, they might as well be. Still, she would rather have faced the rest of the council ten times over if it would save her from Master Cyrus’s piercing gaze.

***

Master Cyrus had not blinked since Kyria had entered the room. Watching him watch her, Kyria knew he was aware of her gulp as he swished the cane through the air. “I see the significance of the rod is not lost on you, though I believe you do not have any prior first-hand experience,” Master Cyrus began. It was not a question. He was speaking as if he intended to use the thing. She knew it was technically allowed, but had never heard of a teacher resorting to such means before. Then again, Master Cyrus was not a typical teacher.

“You lack discipline; that much is clear from both your performance and words in my lesson. In my experience, the rod is an excellent teacher of discipline. Come.” He swept to the front of the room, pausing by the large desk that Master Wells usually occupied. Kyria spared a quick moment of longing for the absent teacher before following.

“Have you anything to say before we begin?” he asked.

***
Kyria wished Master Cyrus would look away. The Master of Archive on the opposite side of the chamber began reading out the ritual opening for the council session, followed by her formal written appeal. Kryria felt as though she should face the man as he read out the words, but found herself unable to break eye contact with Master Cyrus. When the opening was over, she was invited to speak.

She had practised her appeal many times, and had thought that she was prepared. Nothing could prepare her for this experience, however. Under the intense scrutiny of the council chamber, she stammered her way through her speech, attempting and failing to sound confident as she detailed what she had thought to be her greatest strengths, the skills she had picked up that set her apart from her classmates, her conviction in her calling and ardent desire to continue her education as an apprentice.

In her mind she was transported back to the classroom where she had faced Master Cyrus before. Her appeal on that occasion had hardly been more eloquent, and had certainly bought her no leniency. Distracted by the memory, her appeal to the council faltered to an uncomposed halt as she fell silent and awaited the next phase of her trial.

***

“Bend over,” Cyrus instructed when she failed to give an acceptable excuse for her earlier outburst.

Determined not to let her fear show, Kyria quickly complied, lowering her body on to the desk and grasping the far edge. It was solid and sturdy, and she focused her thoughts on the object as she prepared herself for the ordeal.

“Twelve is a number of special significance in the arts, as you no doubt have gathered by now. You will receive twelve strokes, and I want you to count them.”

She had been expecting him to lift her robe; the handbook had made it clear that it was within the rights of any teacher to do so. She knew this well, as she had read that particular passage many times in horrified fascination. It came as a surprise, therefore, when she heard the swish of the rod and the sharp crack of impact on her clothed bottom.

The slow build of pain brought her out of her confusion as she finally realized her punishment had commenced.

***
Kyria’s head ached as she realized her trial had begun. Quickly she cleared her mind, setting a vast expanse of nothing between herself and the unseen attacker on her mind. Slowly, the pressure faded, but she did not let her guard drop.

She heard a voice come from far away, though the master who spoke was a mere few metres to her side. Keeping her defenses in place, she struggled to understand and abide by the simple request. An incantation, a simple spell that any third year should know. She tried to gather the ether around her, but it felt as though she were drawing power through a sieve. It trickled in, but far too slowly to amount to anything significant. She struggled against it for a moment before relaxing. Rather than grasping harder, she drew softly, steadily until she was ready.

As she recited the words, she felt the pressure on her mind mount again. As the requests for demonstrations of spells rained down from all sides, she slipped into the special state of mind she had learned to cultivate: a hyper-awareness coupled with deep serenity. A state from which she could react to the requests- the threats- as they came without lingering on them, rolling with the demands of her trial. She allowed herself a slight smile. She was in her element, having practised such drills with Marcus over and over in the last few months before he had left to begin his apprenticeship with Master Poscario.

It was like a mental dance, fluid yet controlled.

Then punctured with a sharp pain that brought her awareness firmly and fully to the council chamber.

***

Kyria rocked with the pain of the first stroke, her world shrinking to the burning stripe he had laid upon her. She let out a small quivering yelp as she rode the waves of pain, forgetting her promise to not show weakness.

“You are supposed to be counting,” the master had prompted after a moment’s pause. Before she could utter the count, she heard another swish and crack of the rod.

“Two!” she cried out.

“That was one, as the first stroke went uncounted,” Cyrus remarked, “and you will address me as ‘Sir’ when you are undergoing correction.”

“One, Sir,” Kyria amended quickly, lest the second stroke fail to count as well.

Cyrus acknowledged her count wtih another crack of the rod. Kyria gripped the edge of the desk harder as the pain blossomed. “Two, Sir,” she counted as she gasped.

As the punishment continued, Kyria struggled for breath between strokes. By the end of the punishment was barely able to choke out the required words between her sobs, utterly distraught by both the pain and that she had allowed this man to reduce her to this state.

***

Kyria’s knees crumpled under the pain and she collapsed to the floor of the council chamber. This was new, something she had never encountered before. She cast her awareness out for the source of the telepathic attack.

She closed her eyes to solidify her focus and leaned into the pain, following it back to the source before opening her eyes again to find herself still staring at Master Cyrus. Of course. She felt an irrational anger well up in her chest. He had already tested her, already defeated her. He was doing it again, and before the council, at a time of great importance. He was forcing her to show her weakness, killing her chances of persuading the council she had what it took to become a full wizard.

Unable to shake his attack, she glared at him with fire in her eyes. She couldn’t win, but she was determined not to crack as easily as she had the last time. She felt her anger and resolve burn within her, and could almost see the inferno engulfing the man who stood between her and her vocation.

And then she could see it. Smell it. The flames started small, a hint of a flicker from the middle of his chest. Then they grew as his beard caught fire, the flames spreading rapidly. Wide-eyed with shock, Kyria watched the fire grow, unable to believe what she had done as she watched the master engulfed in a sinister corona. Coming to her senses, she quickly conjured a stream of water which she sent in the direction of the flames, quenching them with a sharp his and puff of steam.

***
“Twelve, Sir,” she uttered through clenched teeth as tears streamed down her face. Still shaking, she rose and gave the traditional bow to the instructor to formally complete the lesson before hastening out of the room.

She returned to her dormitory without bothering to join her classmates for diner. As the only woman in her year, she had a private room and had never been truly grateful for the privacy before that night. As the door closed and left her alone in the sanctuary, she broke into sobs on the bed.

***

The council was silent. Kyria turned a quick circle in place, as if looking for some other explanation for what had happened, but could find none. It was her fault. She had attacked a master. Attacked a master who was charged with deciding her fate.

Kyria ran from the council chamber, knowing that there was only one decision they could make after this outburst. She heard the doors slam shut behind her, shutting away her shattered dreams. She ran on, stopping only when she got back to her own room and dropped onto the bed in defeat.

To be continued

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