Heir Arising - Ordained Book One

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Chapter Three: Induction


Tatiana had arrived at two o’clock the next day, in her family’s carriage, to escort Valeria home, where they would both be getting ready for the induction ceremony.
“Mum sent you some tarts and pastries,” said Tatiana, placing the box of baked goods on the kitchen counter.
Valeria, who loved anything made of pastry, fell upon the confectioneries like a starved Fae.
“Ugh, you’ve made my day,” Valeria sighed as she munched on the flakey buttery goodness.
She devoured a chocolate pasty while Tatiana trimmed her hair, evening out the ends. Following which, Valeria headed off to the bathroom for a much-needed bath. Standing under the shower, she let the hot cascading water ease the tension from her muscles and silently thanked Katya. Her skin around the wound was entirely unblemished, and any pain had subsided, the only lingering sensation was perhaps a slight tenderness in her side ... As she changed into her Ares uniform, of combat leathers, a thrill went through her ... the day had finally arrived ... she had succeeded ... the last three years of gruelling training had paid off ...
“You look like you were born to wear that uniform,” Valeria complimented her friend as she strode into the room after also having changed ... she took in Tatiana’s tall frame clad in the black gear, which seemed to accentuate her curves and small waist. “You look like a complete knockout,” she said, whistling as Tatiana spun around, showing off her uniform.
“And what about you lady, those leathers definitely highlight that behind of yours,” Tatiana winked in response.
“Please,” countered Valeria, “I don’t have your height or your ‘ample heaving bosom’ as your romance novel would describe it.”
Tatiana laughed, “And I don’t have that hair of yours; it’s not even dry yet, but it’s pin-straight.” “I wouldn’t have thought something that fit this snuggly could be so comfortable,” She added, referring to their attires, as she executed a perfect high kick.
“Speaking of hair, please work your sorcery and transform mine into something presentable?” Valeria pleaded.
Tatiana acquiesced and braided the pieces of hair at Valeria’s temples, joining them, at the back of her head, into a single long braid while leaving the rest of her hair loose.
“There …” said Tatiana, stepping back to admire her handiwork. “I like this style on you.”
“Thank you! And please thank your mum for the confectioneries,” Valeria stated, tucking into another pastry.
“You’re addicted to those things,” Tatiana chuckled, “Ivan should be here with the carriage to fetch us in a bit.”
They spent the remaining time discussing the romance novel Tatiana had lent Valeria – titled ‘The Desirable Duke’ – which mainly involved Tatiana lamenting over why she couldn’t find a male with the Duke’s chiselled abs and jawline … and going into detail about what exactly she would let the Duke do to her, much to Valeria’s entertainment.

§

After being dropped off at the Ares compound, they gazed around in awe. The training grounds were located in another part of Somnium, and this was the first time they were setting foot on the compound. The Ares estate consisted of accommodation – where each member was allocated living quarters, some used them as permanent residences whilst others resided elsewhere and only stayed on base when the need arose – multiple training facilities and gyms, cafeterias on each level, and libraries where they could brush up on demonology and battle strategy. Tatiana and Valeria took in the portraits and sculptures of fallen Ares warriors as they walked through the halls on the way to the auditorium. When they reached their destination, they found their family and friends already seated, and they headed towards Tatiana’s family. Valeria thanked Tatiana’s mother, Jada, for the scrumptious confectioneries, before walking over to Tristan and Caelum, leaving Tatiana’s family to fuss over her.
“You look awesome in your uniform,” said Tristan, hugging her in greeting.
“Very badass,” Caelum agreed.
“Who knew these things were so comfortable,” she told them.
As the friends caught up, more Fae filled into the auditorium. Valeria caught sight of two other recruits who had trained with Tatiana and herself, Kali – who was dark-haired and favoured a spear as her weapon of choice – and Freya, the ginger who had been the best at archery. She was glad to see that they had passed the final exam and would also be Ares warriors. She waved at the females, and they returned the gesture, grinning, clearly bursting with as much excitement as she was. Soon Selene was signalling that they were about to begin, and the new Ares members left their friends and family to take their places on stage.

Selene called for quiet as Benzaiten – a slender Ares member with pale skin, inky hair, and dark slanted eyes, who was renowned for being one of the best vocalists in the queendom – took centre stage. As she began to sing, a hush fell over the hall; her ethereal voice captivated them all with a ballad about legendary warriors. Every eye in the room was fixed upon her, Valeria felt as though she couldn’t look away, Benzaiten’s singing was almost hypnotic, her beautiful clear voice was mesmerising to behold …

“Greetings,” began Selene from the podium when Benzaiten was done, snapping everyone out of their enthrallment. “This evening marks a momentous occasion for these recruits, who have spent the last three years undergoing gruelling training and lessons in order to join the elite ranks of the Ares Battalion … The Fae beside me have passed their examinations and were victorious in the duels – where eighty recruits were whittled down to twenty … these remaining twenty are the echelon of their class, and it is my honour to welcome each and every one of them as new members of the Ares unit … It is also a personal point of pride, that of this group, twelve are females … so thank you, ladies, for proving that females are fiercest among the Fae,” applauded Selene, her moonstone eyes taking in each of the female recruits, and the crowd cheered in response. “I will now call upon each of you individually to receive your badges from instructor Noctis, following which, you will take the Ares pledge and finally be inducted into the battalion,” she announced.
As Selene called out her peers’ names, Valeria thought that it would be most odd not to refer to themselves as recruits after answering to that title for the past three years. Each of them had a badge with the Ares crest – two swords crossed in front of a shield, surrounded by a ring of fire – pinned to their uniforms by Noctis and their hands were then shaken by Selene. Thereafter, they walked to the opposite end of the stage to await the rest of their peers. “Valeria Andarta,” called Selene. Valeria could faintly hear Tristan and Caelum cheering for her, but she walked across the stage in a daze without being fully aware of her movements, and in a brief moment, her turn was over. She waited for the last of her peers, Wyatt, Xiomara, and Zaria, to be called, after which they all took the Ares warrior pledge in unison. And within minutes, they were officially inducted into the unit. A sense of surrealism washed over Valeria … the moment just didn’t seem real…
“Now that the formalities are over,” said Selene, interrupting Valeria’s thoughts, “Please proceed to the banquet in the great hall … After what this lot have been through over the last three years, they deserve to let off some steam … So, celebrations are in order for the rest of the night!”

They followed suit and headed to the hall, where a band was playing upbeat music, and multiple tables were laden with various food and drinks.
“I’m so proud of you warrior goddesses!” exclaimed Tristan catching both Valeria and Tatiana in a massive hug.
“Thanks, Tris,” Valeria responded as they broke apart.
“Well, this warrior goddess is in need of some grub!” announced Tatiana, steering them towards the tables.
“Argh, me too,” agreed Valeria heading straight for the mini, round, savoury bread topped with mushrooms, peppers, and cheese. “These are so good,” she moaned.
Convinced by Valeria’s reaction, Tatiana also bit into one. “So delicious,” she concurred.
Tatiana’s mother, whose confectionary store had provided the baked goods for the occasion, was luring any passer-by’s into tasting her products.
“You have to try Jada’s chocolate pasties,” Valeria said to Caelum and Tristan, indicating a tray of the delectable dessert that was at their table.
“Val ate about three of those before we got here,” teased Tatiana.
“Don’t judge; you’re just sick of pastries because you’re around them all the time,” Valeria retorted.
Caelum, having bitten into a pasty, exclaimed, “These are brilliant!” and promptly reached for another.
Tristan, who was also a lover of chocolate, chided his partner to save some for him.
As the libations flowed, and the Fae let their hair down – some literally, Xiomara undid her bun, allowing her seaweed green hair to flow freely – a few took to the dance floor. Tatiana had just finished drinking a delightful cocktail made with berries when Kelemen sauntered over, holding out his hand to her.
“Would you care to join me for a dance?” he asked.
Tatiana turned to Valeria with a shocked expression on her beautiful face.
“He’s certainly got the jawline and abs described in ‘The Desirable Duke’ that you were pining over earlier,” Valeria whispered into her friend’s ear. “She would love to!” added Valeria out loud, hip bumping Tatiana towards Kelemen.
Blushing, Tatiana took Kelemen’s hand and let him steer her onto the dance floor. Valeria was chuckling at her friend’s expression and thinking to herself that the two of them would make a handsome couple … when she was startled by a voice behind her … she whirled around and came face to face with Elrik, who was smirking at her disconcerted reaction.
“It isn’t considered polite to sneak up on someone,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him.
“I wasn’t sneaking,” he replied with mock offence, “I was merely going to welcome you to the Ares Battalion and ask if you would honour me with a dance?”
Valeria scoured the hall for Tristan, who she could silently gesture at to get her out of this situation, but he was near the entrance, introducing Caelum to his fellow engineers.
Following her gaze and knowing she was looking to her friends for help, Elrik smiled. Valeria squared her shoulders and placed her hand in his if only to wipe that smug look off his face and prove that she was unbothered by him.
The band broke into a rendition of a song that she liked, and she scowled at him for ruining her enjoyment of the music with his insufferable presence.
She could feel the callouses on his hand as he grasped hers, and she conceded that it seemed as though he actually had worked to earn his place in the battalion. She placed her hand on his broad shoulder as he splayed his over her back … they began to sway to the music… and there it was again … that odd familiar sensation … only stronger this time owing to their close proximity …
The melody was slow and sensuous, and as they danced together, Valeria glanced around the hall, looking anywhere but at his face, which was far too close to hers for comfort.
“Oh, come now, I don’t bite … Unless you want me to, of course, in which case I would be most happy to oblige,” he quipped, his eyes twinkling mischievously, as one corner of his full lips quirked upwards.
“Does that line actually work?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
“Always,” he answered, staring at Valeria long enough for her to grow conscious of the heat radiating off his skin wherever their bodies met.
“Well, it seems I’m the exception,” she stated, glancing away before he could tell that she was flustered.
“Is your grimace purely for my benefit, or is your injury causing you pain?” he inquired, with surprising concern.
“No, my wound has healed quite nicely … Katya did an excellent job,” she replied.
“I’m glad to hear it,” he smiled … “Although, that implies your expression is due to my presence.”
“I …” began Valeria, he was a dear friend of Caelum’s after all, and she hadn’t meant to blatantly offend him outright when he did seem genuinely concerned about her wellbeing… “It’s just overwhelming … being sworn to secrecy,” she lied, knowing full well that the real reason for her foul mood was that Elrik got under her skin and unnerved her.
“I do apologise for that,” he replied, “Caelum said you and your friends could be trusted implicitly, and I trust Caelum with my life … And I thought that sharing a secret of my own would engender some honesty in return…”
“And what exactly is it that you think I’m not being honest about?” she retorted, understanding the implication in his words.
She stiffened in his arms as he stared at her with his unusual multi-hued green eyes; he seemed to consider her for a moment … before letting go of her hand and pulling her against him, both hands grasping her waist ... giving her no option but to loop her arms around his neck. Valeria became acutely aware of every inch of her anatomy where his body was pressed against hers.
“Look …” whispered Elrik, his breath tickling the shell of her ear and stirring her hair, “… I know you’re a telepath too. You can’t say you didn’t recognise the feeling when we shook hands at the infirmary; I saw the expression on your face. The sensation is greater now that we’re close together … like calls to like … this conversation would be a lot easier, and wouldn’t run the risk of being overheard if you just lowered your mental shields and let me in …”
He pulled back just far enough to look at her, his piercing gaze searching hers.
So that’s what that odd familiar feeling was, recognising another telepath? she thought to herself, her mind reeling.
She felt a gentle prodding at her mental defences. While she didn’t entirely trust Elrik, she couldn’t disagree with the fact that it was safer to have this conversation in a manner that could not be overheard … so Valeria took a deep breath, and let him in… and gasped at the sensation as they linked minds … it was not remotely similar to the instances when she had used her ability to divine what others were thinking … this was far more … intimate… it was as though their minds were occupying the same space … as his essence mingled with hers she got the sense of ancient forests and dense evergreens ... never having communicated with anyone mind to mind before, Valeria was taken aback by the experience... which Elrik seemed to pick up on ... and she schooled her thoughts lest he uncover things that she’d rather he not be privy to ...
‘Listen, I’ve never met another telepath before ... My parents made sure my abilities were kept a secret, so I didn’t end up being turned into an interrogator... I didn’t know what the strange familiar feeling was between us... I wasn’t aware that you felt it too ... I thought it was perhaps some sort of déjà vu... I’ve only ever focused on keeping my mental shields up, so no one found out ... I didn’t even know speaking mind to mind would feel like this ...’ she thought at him.
His expression softened as he gazed at her, recognising the truth in her words. ’I thought you were pretending not to feel the bond ... I see now that you were unaware of what it signified.’
She tried to concentrate on not stepping on his toes as their bodies moved together, swaying to the tune, while they were simultaneously having a telepathic conversation.
’Multitasking while performing telepathy isn’t as easy as it’s made out to be, she huffed, causing him to chuckle, and she felt the rumble of his laughter reverberate against her body. ’Have you met many other telepaths?’ she added.
’Excluding yourself, I’ve only met two others,’ he replied.
‘And does it always feel like this? As though something about the Fae is familiar?’ she inquired, attempting not to focus on the fact that his lips were only inches away from hers.
’If you’re in close proximity or you make physical contact –‘ he added, adjusting his grip on her waist, and she felt the warmth from his hands seep into her skin through her uniform ’– your telepathic abilities recognise each other ... it’s as though your minds reach out involuntarily,’ he informed.
’From everything I’ve read about telepathy as a scholar ... none of it mentioned this strange ‘like calls to like’ phenomenon,’ Valeria stated.
‘Probably because there are so few of us left ... and things were different during the era of the Elder Fae when magic flowed through the realm... each Fae possessed every ability ... so I doubt they recognised the feeling if it occurred with everyone they encountered ... it was probably the norm and nothing out of the ordinary back then,’ he theorised
Valeria had to agree with his reasoning ... ’So that’s what all the odd behaviour was about? You thought I wasn’t being truthful because I was concealing that I’m a telepath?’
‘Well, there’s also the matter of what transpired during your duel with Mon-’ he began
The music stopped abruptly as an announcement was made for the owner of a carriage with a blue seashell crest to please move their vehicle. Startled, Valeria lost her concentration and severed their connection... she reinforced her mental defences instantly... whatever had occurred when she had fought Mons was something that she needed answers about herself, first ... before she allowed anyone, let alone Elrik, to find out about it.
“I’m afraid I must take my leave,” said Valeria stepping away from him and internally chastising her traitorous body for missing his warmth. “I have a long day ahead ...I need to move my belongings into my living quarters here,” she added, making up an excuse to depart.
“Don’t fret,” he smirked, bowing, as was customary at the end of a dance. He took her hand in his and pressed a kiss to her palm. “We’ll have plenty of time to talk ... I’m assigned to be your Ares mentor,” he smiled, with a glint in his eyes.
Valeria barely concealed her shock at his statement. And with that smile in place, he strode towards the exit. Tristan, who it appeared had been watching their exchange, arrived as soon as Elrik left.
“What on Asteria was that about?” he asked her.
“Apparently, he’s going to be my mentor,” she replied, massaging her temples; it had been quite a day. “I’m exhausted. Do you mind if I call it a night?”
“No problem,” he said, looking concerned. “We’ll leave with you.”
He fetched Caelum, who was chatting with his fellow guards, and the three of them bid farewell to Tatiana before heading out.

§

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