The Apprentice: The Academy, Part 3

Kyria’s story began here

Kyria flounced down on her bed with a dry sob. She bade the tears to come, to bring some relief, but they stubbornly remained hidden. Probably for the best, she thought to herself, this stuff won’t pack itself.

She gazed around the tiny room that had been home for the better part of ten years. What a lot of junk had accumulated in that span of time! She had known that she would be moving on soon, though she had hoped it would be on to the life of a wizard’s apprentice rather than leaving the academy in disgrace

Her hopes of apprenticeship had dwindled slowly over the last few weeks as her twentieth birthday approached- the deadline set by the council after which all students must depart, either in the company of a master magician who would take responsibility for the rest of their training, or else back out into the civilian world to seek employment with the skills they had gleaned from their time at the academy. She had held out though, never imagining that her last appeal to the council would end so unambigously poorly.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad, Kirya thought, after all, many of her friends had left the academy years ago. It might even be nice to see them, to be with other women again. Perhaps they might get along better than they had when last they parted.

Yes, she would make the most of this new life she had be relegated to. She could use her same stubborn nature that had been directed toward securing an apprenticeship to make a name for herself in the world, albeit as a minor magician.

With new resolution and a flick of her wand, she conjured a simple, sturdy box to begin packing. Eyeing it disdainfully, she had to admit that it was perfect for the task at hand. Uncomplicated and durable, just like everything else she ever managed to create. Her classmates had mocked her over the years; it had been apparent early on that, try as she might, she just couldn’t manage the frilly patterns and details that her female friends had managed to produce. The boys never seemed to mind. Sure, they joined in the teasing, but always with a light-hearted attitude and a quickness to forgive, forget, and move on, sometimes sped along the process by a sharp punch to the upper arm when the instroctor’s attention was elsewhere. Her efforts there were feeble as well, but her victims had the good sense to respond with indulgent ouches and smiles.

They were so much easier to get along with, she had quickly worked herself into the circle of boys in her year. As her male friendships deepened, she found herself speaking to the girls less and less often. Her interactions with the women were limited to brief encounters in the dormitory. They were pleasant enough on the surface, but she was always left with the uncomfortable feeling that they were talking behind her back.

Her friends never let her dwell on these thoughts for long, although the boys never talked about it directly- they never talked about much directly when it came to feelings- they were always there to distract her and draw her into their latest little plot or prank.

It seemed a simple decision, therefore, to stay on after the fifth year when the girls traditionally departed. Although there was no hard and fast rule, it had been nearly fifty years since a girl had stayed on, not since Brunhilda- Brunhilda the Brute, as she was called behind closed doors, due to her notable lack of finesse with either her immense power or small vocabulary. Kyria had only seen her a handful of times when the great wizard had visited the academy. The students had treated her with deference, but Kyria had heard enough of the whispered conversations that followed in her wake to know the treatment was more from fear than respect. There were many theories as to where Brunhilda got her unusual powers, none pleasant. Although Kyria was keen to avoid association with the wizard, she wouldn’t let such a silly notion get in the way of her education.

She had been called before the council on that occasion. She remembered reeling at the unfairness of it all. None of the boys were required to present a petition to remain on, why should she? Marcus had finally managed to calm her over dinner the day before her council appearance. “No, it’s not fair,” he admitted to her, “but not much of life is fair. You want to remain on, and given what I’ve heard about our course of study for the next five years, a council appearance should be the least of your concerns.”

Marcus had followed her up to the the council chamber the next day, steadying her on the long climb to the top of the tallest tower and giving her hand a quick squeeze of support before stepping back to leave her alone on the threshold. With a display of courage that contrasted sharply with her quivering insides, she strode through the open doors and into the centre of the council chamber.

She had thought her appearance that time had been difficult, though it was nothing compared to the events of this morning. In hindsight, her first appearance had been a simple, administrative procedure, nothing to get worked up about. A few questions, a few nervous answers, and she had been dismissed, leaving the chamber to find Marcus waiting for her.

She sorely missed Marcus, who had accepted an apprenticeship to Master Poscaro the previous week and had departed on his next great adventure. She could have used another late-night chat with him now. She didn’t particularly want to talk about her latest experience with the council, but desperately wanted some sort of assurance that she hadn’t just made a complete mess of things.

No, that’s exactly what she had done, she admitted with a sigh as she began to chuck her things into the box. No point in denying it, there was no way anyone would have her as an apprentice after hearing of how she had handled herself.

At least now she would never have to see the council members again. They didn’t meddle in the affairs of the lesser magicians whose powers did not qualify them for membership in the magical elite, one of the very few perks of failing to secure an apprenticeship. She tried to hold on to this one semi-pleasant thought as she conjured another box to continue packing.

A knock at the door brought her back to the present. “Come in,” she called dejectedly over her shoulder. Looking up, she found herself face to face with Master Cyrus.

“Come to gloat, have you?” Kyria snapped, taking advantage of her non-student status and associated freedom from the requirements of respect to express her true feelings. She had meant to continue, but a quick moment of eye contact killed the words unspoken and she quickly averting her gaze lest she cause another accident. She turned her back on him in a huff.

He remained still and silent in the doorway until she turned to face him again, glancing in his direction only long enough to note that he had managed to repair the damage to his beard.

“That was not my original intention, though it seems that even now you fail to recognize the importance of controlling your emotions.”

He waited for her to reply, though Kyria mutely continued her packing.

“That was quite a display,” he continued evenly. “Care to explain what happened?”

“I lost control. I didn’t mean to, I am sorry.” Kyria mumbled, not truly sorry at all as she swept the contents of a shelf into a box, not bothering to investigate the tinkling sound of broken glass as she set the box down before conjuring a new one to continue with the next shelf.

“That lack of control is precisely why we were inclined to deny your appeal,” he continued.

Kyria paused and caught her breath. ‘Were inclined.’  It was a thin ray of hope, and from an unlikely source. Perhaps it was a mere gramatical slip, no that Master Cyrus was noted for slips of any sort Still, she had to ask, “Were inclined to deny?”

“Several members of the council are quite convinced that it is not worth continuing your education. You are gifted, there is no denying that, but to train you further is a great risk.”

“Then why are you here?” Kyria asked with a mix of confusion and frustration. “I’m leaving, you’ve won.”

“Perhaps,” Cyrus said tentatively. “Like I said, that was an impressive display. I am sure you have heard whispers of the chamber’s original purpose. It was designed to contain suspected dark wizards, and as such, it is immensely difficult to perform any magic within the walls. We have removed several of the enchantments over the years, as tastes for certain. . .interrogation techniques have changed with the times, but enough of the original spells remain to make it an ideal location for examination of students. We can see your attempts, sense your intentions, but the chamber should prevent you from actually doing anything. Occasionally a student has managed a partial conjure or somesuch, but never has one managed to attack a council member. Not even in the ancient records as such a feat been documented. To do so requires immense power and control.”

Kyria paused. Through her lingering confusion she saw her ray of hope grow, yet she still resisted the urge to grasp it.

“You lashed out in anger, which is a type of control, though a crude and dangerous one. It shows potential, but you will need to continue to improve your discipline if you wish to succeed as an apprentice.”

“Succeed as an apprentice?” Kyria asked as she struggled to keep her hope in check.

“If you wish, I would be willing to continue your training, but you must be willing to agree to my terms.”

“And what terms are those?”

“I expect complete obedience. I cannot demand respect, though it would be appreciated. Nevertheless, I expect you to do as I say, when I say so, without question or hesitation. My work is dangerous, and the consequences of the slightest interruption can be severe.”

He paused and gave her a severe look, determined to impress upon her the seriousness of his words. Kyria held his gaze, eager to seize this one last chance. She nodded, almost imperceptibly, seeing no choice but to acquiesce to his demands if she wished to continue her training.

“You require discipline,” he continued. “Your outburst in the council chamber was as much an indication of your lack of control over your emotions as of your power over magic. One without the other is of little use. I can teach you, but you must be open to my instruction.

“I believe you recall my methods from our encounter last year. Do not expect me to go as easily on you as my apprentice. You are no longer just a student, and I will expect greater effort. Likewise, failure will incur greater consequences. Am I understood?”

Again, he held her gaze as she gave a small nod. The memory of her last punishment at his hands remained remarkably sharp despite the passage of time. She was loathe to repeat the experience, but wasn’t about to let that stand in the way of her last chance for an apprenticeship.

“Very well,” he acknowledged. Without delay he drew the rod from nowhere as he had on the previous occasion, and, flexing it between his hands, instructed her to bend over.

Kyria complied with a shiver, though as she settled her elbows on her mattress, she couldn’t help one small plea for mercy and looked back over her shoulder to implore him, “Please, Sir, I accept responsibility for my actions in the council chamber, but at the time I was, I still am, just a student.”

She thought she saw a shadow of a smile pass his face as he paused. “Very well. You may keep your clothing in place as last time. Again, it will be twelve strokes. Enjoy it. When you rise, you rise as my apprentice- no longer ‘just a student.’ Therefore, this is the last measure of leniency you shall receive.”

True to his word, he delivered only twelve strokes. As if to prove she had indeed learned something from her first punishment, she counted each one promptly despite the burning pain. The first count was easy, the sound of it was clear enough, and she broke through her initial shock to offer the count before the pain truly set in.

Each stroke cut her like a line of fire. The sensation was the same as last time, but far more intense, underscored by those that had come before. With a start, she realized that he had been going easy on her before. As she wriggled and bobbed, she sincerely hoped that this time he was using his full strength- she didn’t want to consider the possibility that he could lay the rod on harder than he was doing now.

As before, she did her best to maintain her composure. However, by the sixth stroke she lost that battle and emitted a wet cry of defeat. As the cane struck again she wailed her heart out before sloppily counting the stroke. She continued in this manner throughout the rest of her punishment until she dissolved into sobs after counting the twelfth stroke.

As she gradually calmed, she became aware of a gentle pressure on the back of her head. Brushing the last tears from her eyes, she looked up to see Cyrus standing over her, stroking her hair.

“You took that well,” he said with as much tenderness as she had ever heard from him. “While I hope we don’t need to repeat this exercise, I highly doubt this will be the last time you feel the cane.”

Kyria nodded again. The gamut of emotions of the day left her exhausted and unable to deny the truth of his words.

With a gentle pat, Cyrus turned toward the door, pausing as he opened it. “You’d best unpack those boxes,” he said, “you may be an apprentice now, but we have a great deal more work to do before you leave the academy.”

Kyria’s story will be continued, of course, but this first chapter has come to an end.

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