Chapter 6 – The Worst Champion
Outdoor hot springs were great for relaxing. The sound of water streaming and dripping was the only thing to break the silence. Seti focused on his breath. His arms floated on the water's surface. He was supposed to wash off the soot that had piled on him from the mall. He leaned his head against the towel that padded the rocky edge. He was alone. He wanted to be alone. How long had he stayed in the water? He didn't want to think about recent events yet. However, even as he blankly stared into the edge of his omniview, he could hear the echo of his sister's scream.
Seti Serio. That was his name now. He had made a life-changing decision in the heat of the moment. He desired change, to become something other than a company worker, and this was the best way to do it.
They all had teleported to the Serio neighborhood by lightning strikes, thanks to the Lightning Dragon, who had apparently done it from an entirely different city. He wasn't sure if they were even in Maybell anymore.
Many butlers and maids had greeted Faulkner when they first arrived. The place was like a palace of a home. Some whispered that the young master had finally returned after so long. Seti didn't care for it; he had simply placed one foot in front of the other. The excitement had caught up to him and now he felt exhausted. One of the first places Shanna brought him to was the hot springs.
Seti raised his hands out of the water. One was slow to respond, still recovering from the temporary paralysis that Sydria caused with her electromancy. He tried to shut out Sydria's scream again by amplifying his calm. The voice fainted a bit. She deserved a better brother, he thought. But if Seti was honest with himself, he just couldn't continue his old way of life. How many times had he wished to be born as a different person? When things settled, he would visit her. Maybe they could be on good terms.
He submerged his mouth underwater and exhaled. Bubbles raised and popped. His omniview didn't go deeper than the water's surface; he would need to restore his sight before the week was out. He came a long way in just the past few days. The blindness coming from Dream Eater seemed so far away, and insignificant in light of recent events. Thinking about Dream Eater helped distract him.
The dream sequence from that fateful night was still clear to Seti's mind, with no detail unforgotten. Maybe that was a result of the remembrance geas. Dream Eater had appeared and said she would fulfill a promised "petty revenge" against someone who adored him. He had played with the idea of a random woman fantasizing over him, but those thoughts were never realistic. Truthfully, if he could look back at it all now in hindsight, the only person that could possibly fit that description would be Sydria. Now even more so, since his sibling had been an electromancer all along. She could've made her own enemies, who in turn targeted him. But there was a small detail that discredited that theory: You would never guess because you actually don't know her, or shouldn't. Dream Eater had said those exact words. As long as she wasn't lying, the assumption was that Seti didn't know her, whoever this woman was.
Footsteps came into the hot springs. Shanna stepped into view. Seti scrambled to cover his private parts; he was naked.
"I cannot see anything specific," she said, indicating towards her blindfold. She wore the same clothes she teleported with—a sleeveless sweater and tight fitting jeans. The price tags that once hung were gone; they had stolen the clothes. It was a weird thing to think about considering they destroyed a section of the Maybell mall.
"Still, common courtesy," Seti said.
She turned away so her back faced him. "I've placed new clothes in the basket. Once you finished cleaning, get dressed and meet us."
Seti nodded, and then realized she probably couldn't see, so he spoke. "Okay." Considering all the butlers he saw, it was strange that an eighth tiered geomancer came to him. "Are you a maid here?"
"I am not. I am the Earth Dragon."
"Right. But what I mean is… Why are you here instead of one of them?" He clarified.
"Because your life changed in an instant. It would do you well to have familiar ground. I am familiar ground. The clothes are in the basket." After saying that, she walked out of view. It was considerate of her to think about his mental wellbeing. The kindness from Shanna assuaged Sydria's voice even further. Sure, he had left his own life behind, but his new life would bring new things.
Seti dipped his head into the water and rubbed his face and hair. He could only trust that he got all the soot off, as he was unable to confirm with his omnivision. He dried and got dressed in the clothes Shanna left him. The button-up dress shirt was a little tight around the stomach; he wasn't fat or unfit himself, but he definitely felt like it when comparing himself to the Serio family. When he finished buttoning the sleeve, he paused. The Serio family. That was him now. Seti Serio. A member of the mafia.
He fought back a smile thinking that.
His pocket weighed from an object inside. His cellphone. Sydria and Dora changed it back at the wind temple, to include several apps that helped with his blindness. He clicked on the screen button.
"7:03 PM. One missed call and two new messages from—" the robotic voice changed to a prerecorded one, "—best sister ever!"
That was a knife to the gut. Seti didn't want to read what she had to say. He held down another button until the phone vocalized once more.
He exhaled and walked. The outdoor hot springs were part of the mansion's backyard. Seti wasn't sure how large the entire plot was, considering he could only see within ten feet of himself, but he imagined if a hot spring was backyard decorations then the Serio family had it made. From what he understood, the entire neighborhood consisted of only members of the family.
When Seti reached the back porch, the door opened. A butler held it for him.
"Welcome back, young master."
Seti focused on the area behind him, expecting to see Faulkner pop out of a tree plant. There was no one else, and the butler looked directly at him. He was a young master, apparently.
"I'm expected to meet with Faulkner and Shanna," Seti said. He fiddled with the sleeve collar of his numbed arm. Sydria's electromancy lasted for a while. That would be useful in combat, or massively annoying if she was the enemy.
"I will guide you."
They passed by several servants, each one stopping and bowing until they passed. It was so different compared to walking down the hallway at his father's company. In Event Horizon, the lower ranked employees would avoid eye contact, knowing he was the son of their boss. The higher ranked people would force eye contact as if it was a battle they had to win or a way to prove themselves.
Seti arrived at a fireplace room where the cushioned chairs and couches littered around it. Faulkner sat in one chair staring blankly at the fire, a cigarette in his mouth. Shanna stood next to him, hands clasped behind. Seti expected to see Melvin or even Dora, but no one else was in the room. The butler bowed and left, which was Seti's cue to walk over and sink into the chair. It complimented his rear.
The flame itself was unusual to Seti's sight. Since his vision was based on his omniview, the fireplace looked like a void—empty of all air. The ember was gravity itself, sucking in any particles that got too close. Similar to a black hole. It was mesmerizing.
He could feel the heat bounce off the voided area, hugging his skin. Here he was, sharing a fire with what many consider as two of the most dangerous people in the lands. The Wind and Earth Dragon. How many would freeze if they were in his position?
"Sup," Seti said with a wave of the hand.
Faulkner peeled his gaze away from the fireplace. "I see you've composed yourself again. That is no surprise considering that the Blue Dragon made our hot springs. It reduces your age by a year every time you dip in it."
Seti looked at Shanna. It sounded unrealistic, but he was the one with the emotion amplifying wind.
"That is incorrect," Shanna said.
"And I see you're back to your lying ways," Seti said. "Who was that scary guy at the mall? Your twin brother?"
"You nearly crapped yourself, didn't you?" Faulkner said. "Shanna swore to never get on my bad side because of how scary I am."
"I did not."
Seti laughed louder than the joke warranted.
"Imagination is the greatest weapon. Let them picture how frightening you are without lifting a finger," Faulkner said.
The blindfolded woman turned her head slightly; she noticed something. "They are here."
Faulkner let out a sigh. "Get ready to be yelled at. He's going to be furious."
Seti figured they were talking about the elders. He didn't exactly have a wide database of who else was part of the Serio family. But Faulkner was the boss of the Serio family, so how bad could it be?
"He will only be displeased with you, young master," Shanna said.
"You think so?"
Seti heard the footsteps enter the room. They were off rhythm, meaning multiple people. A confirmation that it could be the four elders.
Who it really was, though, was someone he would have never suspected.
"Presenting Henry Adams," said the butler.
The Lambsgard University counselor stepped into visual range. The man who had inadvertently sent him down this path. Seti stood quickly.
He smiled. "Hello, Mr. Tutt. I'm glad that you decided to pursue your mancy after all." Mr. Adams turned to look at Faulkner, his eyes narrowed. "Or am I to call him Mr. Serio now?"
"Don't look at me like that." Faulkner raised his hands in surrender. "You sent him my way. What did you expect to happen?'
Mr. Adams pinched the bridge of his nose. "Yes, I sent him. Nonetheless, the intent was never to have him join the family. Does he even know what we want from him?"
"Nope." Faulkner grinned.
"He does not," Shanna said.
"Wonderful." Mr. Adams gave a pity smile to Seti. "I'm sorry, Seti. I expected you to come to me again if you had a desire to train your mancy. You were never to know the involvement of the Serio family."
"How are you related to the Serio family? Everyone acted like they didn't know you." Seti sat back down on the chair.
"He was banished," Faulkner said.
"I was not, and your voice isn't as pleasing as you think it is," Mr. Adams said. "I was a member of the Serio family, but I left of my own accord years ago. Some important things they had done was unforgivable."
"Well, you see—"
"Stop talking," Mr. Adams cut Faulkner off.
Seti's eyes widened. It was awkward enough that he felt the need to physically look away. Faulkner simply smiled though. Mr. Adams walked to an open couch and sat.
"Henry Serio," Seti said. He was trying the name on to see how it fit. He screwed his face in distaste as he might when feeling his oppressive air.
"My name wasn't Henry back then," Mr. Adams said. "Full name change to disassociate myself, and I did a damn good job of it until the need to step back in."
"Edgar. Ahem," Faulkner said as he faked a cough, and then cleared his throat. "Excuse me. And you weren't needed; you just wanted to give your input."
"I didn't trust you to come up with a proper solution," Mr. Adams said.
Seti could piece a few things together. The first was that something was happening at Prestige Academy. It was something that the Shepherd at the Maybell mall knew as well, based on the conversation Faulkner had with him. The second, with Mr. Adams involvement and certain comments, was that Seti could potentially do something about it. Specifically, his niche could do something.
Seti raised a hand. "Okay, how about someone explain to me what's going on? I feel like I just got involved in a mess that's kind of big. Even the Shepherd seemed to know something about it."
"Shepherd?" Mr. Adams looked at the two Dragons.
Faulkner gave an innocent smile but said nothing. Shanna spoke for him. "Cyrus Everstone moved in to detain Seti."
"Cyrus? The second immortal? Did he see you, Faulkner?"
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me." Mr. Adams rubbed his temples. "So we can assume that the Shepherds know you're back. Not exactly what we needed. The Vescios might make a move."
"Can someone tell me what's going on?" Seti said loudly.
Faulkner looked at the counselor. The blindfolded woman offered nothing.
"Okay," Mr. Adams said. "However, you should know that there are three things in total we must discuss. The most obvious is the situation at Prestige Academy. The second is how we can develop your mancy within the week. The last is tackling the unique problem that is your blindness."
"Unique problem?" Seti folded his arms. "What do you mean by unique? Can't we just get a super strong healing mage to take care of it?"
"Best to wait until Dora is in town." Mr. Adams turned to Shanna. "How long until the elders arrive?"
"We left them in Maybell. They will be here in less than ten minutes."
He nodded. "Okay, so we have limited time. Unfortunately, Seti, we'll have to save the blind talk for last. I would like to confer something with Dora before we go deep into that. For now, let's discuss the niche training so we have something to sell to the elders. What do we know so far?"
"It amplifies emotions," Faulkner said. "The emotions have to already be present or a desire for it needs to exist. Anything else causes a disconnect and fails to attach."
"So most would fail due to innate mana defenses." Mr. Adams tapped his chin. "Having the present emotion be a prerequisite could act as a backdoor that bypasses that line of defense. De-escalation?"
"Haven't tried," Faulkner said.
"Seti, what do you picture when you want someone to feel a certain way?" Mr. Adams asked.
"Uh, I don't really need to picture anything," Seti said. "When we tried to create happiness, I pictured what I thought might be related to it, but it didn't feel right to me. Now I just think in my head what I want them to feel, and focus on them, I guess."
"Like the brain moving our fingers when we will it," Mr. Adams said. "We may not necessarily know what's fully required to do it, but that's not needed to make it work."
Seti nodded to acknowledge the comment.
"Tell me about the wind light you've mentioned to Faulkner."
Seti described his omniview, how it had a ten-foot radius and couldn't go further than that. He explained how he could see no colors and that it didn't work when natural wind came into play.
"That would be because your grit is weak. Stronger grit will allow your air to stand its ground." The counselor stood and paced in front of the fireplace. "Regarding your visuals, I imagine you can only focus on one point and not simultaneously import every detail into your mind. Like peripheral vision."
Seti didn't even think to mention that. "As a matter of fact, yeah."
"That would be because our brains aren't wired to collect data from all angles at extreme detail." He continued to pace and muttered words to himself. A pause. "Have you ever interpreted what you saw incorrectly? Like seeing a person as a statue or a dog as a cat?"
"Actually… yeah, it happened twice before." Seti remembered the morning after they stayed at the temple. Shanna had been in his view and hadn't moved at all, so his brain "forgot" that she was there, causing him to jump when she finally talked. And when Sydria and Dora woke him from his nap—he originally saw Dora as a drawer.
The thought of Sydria took the air out of him.
"Incorrect data filtering." Mr. Adams nodded. He bit his thumbnail as he walked. "What our abilities can't do is a tell. It's likely your air is gathering way more information than you can process. You'll have to learn to sort that out. That means… information distortion… application… but no color… aeronite… Finalis Gatu, maybe?" He stopped and tapped his chin again. Faulkner tilted his head at the last comment. "I believe the remembrance geas broke the boundaries of his perception."
Seti nodded as if he understood what Mr. Adams said. Then he realized something. "Wait a second—the remembrance geas? How do you guys know about the remembrance geas?" He had told none of them about it. Even Sydria didn't know about it. The only people who knew would be Cassie and those she told.
Mr. Adams closed his eyes. "We'll talk about that later. If it'll sate your thirst, then for now just know that vivamancy leaves a data trail that our little Dora can see. Give me a moment, I need to think."
He went silent for a while after that. Seti decided to use that time to think as well. How much did they know? They were even aware of the remembrance geas, and considered his blindness to be a unique issue. He calmed himself when he started to get concerned. There was nothing for him to worry about as of now; they said they would tell him later. Faulkner stretched his arms and yawned. Seti amplified the boredom for no other reason than he could.
"Stop it," Faulkner said as he grinned. "This conversation isn't that boring. Henry is top notch when it comes to theorycrafting."
"Top notch? Even though he's a counselor?" Seti asked.
"He'll figure out more about your ability in an hour with a few questions than you could do in a few years. The Serio family is the only family that has two Dragons thanks to him."
"Really? Huh." Seti thought about what he knew about his school counselor. Lambsgard was a small city, and the university wasn't large either. So what was a former Serio family member doing there?
"For example, let's take a look at our beautiful Shanna," Faulkner gestured towards her. Seti jumped when she waved. He forgot she was there. It would be nice if he could learn to stop that from happening. "Before she joined our family, she was known as the cookie crumb."
"That's the strangest nickname I've ever heard."
"Remember when I said her niche was to weave her geomancy quickly? No one knew that until Henry found her like a stray cat. Before then, Shanna's geomancy broke apart as soon as she tried to mold anything—like dried dirt or a cookie that couldn't stay together. She couldn't do even the most basic of skills. Then lo and behold, Henry said he wanted her to be part of the family." Faulkner leaned forward and whispered. "He then goes and calls everyone an idiot for not recognizing it earlier. The quickness was a weakness because the dirt couldn't hold together, but under Henry's guidance, it transformed and now she's known as the cheating geomancer—the Earth Dragon that bypasses slow geomancy."
Seti tried to picture the three of them as children. What an interesting childhood they must have had. So what was Mr. Adams to Faulkner? Brother? Cousin? They did look similar, though Faulkner's ponytail and his toned body stood out more. The counselor was handsome in the sense that some women at Lambsgard University picked him for their imaginary older partner.
"Time's up," Shanna said. "The elders are here."
Mr. Adams stopped pacing when Faulkner stood and had them follow Shanna out of the room. The counselor walked next to Seti. "Don't say anything unless addressed directly. We'll do most of the talking."
"Who wants to wager that Henry dies before the meeting ends?" Faulkner asked.
"I will fight them if I must," Shanna said.
Both Faulkner and Mr. Adams gave her a look. Seti had to raise an eyebrow to that. Seemed like Shanna was more loyal to the former Serio member than she was to the elders.
"Well, let's just hope it doesn't come to that," Mr. Adams said. He stopped and placed a hand on Seti's shoulders. "A moment, Seti?"
Seti paused with him and watched Shanna and Faulkner walk out of view.
"Yes, Mr. Adams?"
"Please, just call me Henry," he said. "I feel that I should apologize again. When you came into my office a few days ago, I intended to become like salt to you, to see if you would begin to thirst for this world."
Seti remembered the meeting. Lambsgard University had every graduate meet the counselor before the end of the year. He originally thought Henry would just talk about each student's potential, but Seti's life had already been planned out. He was to join his father's company and become an office man. It was a secure way of life, and a lucky one according to most, considering that the young wind adept was only a tier one.
"Why didn't you just tell me what I could do?" Seti asked. "You were so vague that I couldn't help but wonder if you were mocking me."
"I would never mock you. I didn't want to forcefully steer the life you had set. I walked a fine line in how I dealt with this. If you ignited interest in your mancy after a slight push from me, then we would see what could be done. It also would have absolved any guilt I would have felt by… placing you in the danger you would unknowingly face. For that, I apologize. And now I must offer you a choice." Henry sighed. "By joining the Serio family, their problems become yours. You could find yourself in a situation where your life was at risk. This is not something that should be decided lightly. With that in mind, I could arrange it so that you would no longer be a member of the family. You could resume your old life and the safeties that go with it."
Sydria's face came to mind. If Seti were to go back to his old life, it would be because of her—not to be safe. If anything, the idea of being in danger ignited a fire in his heart. Danger was the thing that made the mancers so appealing. It was night and day when compared to the corporate life.
"Thank you, Henry. I really mean it. I definitely didn't expect these things to happen, but I don't want to leave. It's like I've been stuck in a desert my entire life and Faulkner gave me the drop of water I needed. Besides, danger is part of the mancer life, and I want to be a mancer."
Henry took that in and nodded. The former Serio member knew where to go and led Seti through the corridors until they came across both Dragons, who were waiting outside a door. Faulkner smiled when Henry inhaled and breathed out slowly. They opened the door and stepped inside.
A long table was on the other end of the room, with five chairs and five computers before each one. Three elders, Elder Poe included, sat behind their chairs with grim faces. It reminded Seti of a town hall setup, with the elders being the council members. But when they entered the room that was not the first thing he noticed. Elder Narn stood beside the table, his hand shaking and his nostrils flaring. He was livid.
Melvin was in front, eyes downcast, rubbing his cheek.
"What's going on here?" Faulkner asked.
"Play it again," Elder Narn commanded. He did not look away from Melvin. "Play it again so this fool can hear the damage he's done."
Elder Poe turned the computer screen to face them and clicked something.
"What you're looking at here is the remains of the Maybell mall cafeteria," said the reporter. Seti couldn't see what was on the screen, but it didn't take a genius to guess what it was showing. "Not long ago, the Second Immortal Shepherd did battle with an assailant. Information is scarce but if you look at this recorded footage," the sound of a low-quality shouts came from the screen, "the tattoos suggest that this man is Blade of the Serio family—famously known for his rivalry with the Octet's sixth seat, Eustuss. Now, let's go to our manceologist, Jorge."
"Thank you, Stacey. From this online footage you can see here, you'll notice that this isolated tornado sprung rapidly and powerfully. The scale indicates at minimum of tier six is at play here. It may be difficult to see through the dark clouds, but look at how the debris lifts off the ground—then look here! This tree is unaffected by the wind altogether; there is a hard stop on the destruction level of the vortex. All this suggests that the effects of the tornado did not go beyond what the aeromancer wanted. This level of strength requires a sevener or an eighter. And we only know of a few aeromancers in the great families that are tier seven or above, so I don't think I need to say any more about that. Back to you, Stacey."
"Great insight as always, Jorge. The appearance of the tornado over the mall only minutes later could suggest that the Wind Dragon may have returned to end the Serio exile. And it was only a few days ago when the Vescio family attacked the Orator office! With the tensions between the great families and the Shepherds being at an all-time high, could this be the start of war? The Shepherds offer no comment. This is Stacey Bately, reporting from the ruins of the Maybell mall cafeteria."
Elder Narn slammed his hand on the table. "Incompetent! Insufferable! What excuse do you bring me? Who gave you the authority to fight? Speak!"
Melvin shrank back. He dared not meet the elder's gaze. The powerful Blade that the newswoman reported on was definitely not here.
"Do not be mute now, boy," Elder Narn said. "You will speak."
Elder Narn called Melvin "boy" in the same way that he called Seti it when they last met. People who loomed over others just because they could irritated him.
"The pupil…" Melvin muttered.
Elder Poe slapped him; flesh pounding on flesh. The room echoed the sound. Henry flinched but made no move. Faulkner only smoked some more.
"Speak clearly," Elder Poe commanded.
"The pupil's niche made me—"
Smack. Another slap.
"You can't resist a tier one adept? Are you only useful for your swords? Do you have no pride?" Elder Narn clenched his fist. He was breathing heavily. "Stupid boy."
"Um, Faulkner," Seti whispered as quietly as he could. The aeromancer turned his head a fraction. "Protect me from dying."
He smirked. "Scared? Nothing will happen to you."
It wasn't so much because Seti was scared, but rather because he wanted to act. Seti knew it was his fault that Melvin fought, so he felt guilty over the punishment. Hoping he wouldn't make matters worse, he focused on Elder Narn and tried to push the calm emotion. A tinge of dread hovered over the young wind adept, anticipating that the elder would notice his actions.
Unlike Faulkner, who seemed to know every time Seti used his emotion thing, the elder was not aware. The room was silent until Elder Narn dismissed Melvin. The man known as Blade, holding a rivalry with a member of the Octet, didn't lift his head as he walked out of the room looking awfully small.
Henry was the first to speak. "I should think you of all people would understand that tiers aren't the real determination of strength. You belittle Seti for being a one, yet consider what he could do for us."
"The disappointment returned home to lecture us? Don't presume you have a standing here, Edgar." Elder Narn walked over to the table and sat with the other three elders.
"Don't presume the disappointment is me," Henry spat. "I left because you couldn't see further than your own ambition. Don't forget that Faulkner is the boss."
"My ambition is this family," Elder Narn said calmly. "We are where we are thanks to me."
"You believe you are the family."
Elder Narn flicked his hand forward and, almost simultaneously, Faulkner responded. The Wind Dragon swung his arm down, casting a cut of air forward. Aerial Slash. The air between Henry and the elder distorted and hummed softly. It lasted for a moment longer before the elder gave up, relaxing in his seat.
Seti had never seen Aerial Slash used like that before. It was a party trick, something the mediocre wind adepts used. They would set up cans across the yard and tried to knock them down by swinging a stick or a knife. The spell would propel wind forward, caused by the pressure of the held object, and they would knock the cans over. It wasn't an offensive spell for combat, despite the name. Yet, Faulkner's Aerial Slash felt heavy, as if it was a real sword made out of air.
The Wind Dragon turned to the counselor. "If you're going to be aggressive, you should at least give me a warning. This is unlike you."
"Poor character can get under anyone's skin," Henry said.
Provoking the elder didn't seem like a wise decision to Seti. Even when attempting to amplify the calm on the man, Elder Narn still lashed out. Though, if the angry old man didn't have any calm in the first place, then the amplification would only worsen the mood.
"And you've brought the boy back with you." He noticed Seti for the first time. "I seem to recall saying that he isn't what we need. Send this infant somewhere else so the adults can talk. "
Something inside Seti snapped. The young wind adept instantly knew what he was going to do next. His conscience was telling him to use the wind to calm himself down, but Seti didn't want to be calm. He gave the biggest grin he could possibly manage, focused on the elder, and then amplified the old man's anger.
"You want to know something funny?" Seti asked.
"Seti," Henry said under his breath.
Elder Narn said nothing, but his breathing quickened. The blindfolded woman was the first to turn her head towards Seti. He figured it was her way of showing that she knew what was happening. Faulkner flicked his eye once to Seti then returned his interest back to the cigarette. He did his best to hide his smile.
"You said Melvin had no pride for not being able to resist a tier one. Amusedly, neither can you. Old man." Seti expressed the last words in the same tone that the elder did when he said boy.
A force of power hit Seti. He flew back and crashed into the wall. The air knocked out of him. It was like an anvil had just hit him. The elders were out of the ten-foot omniview. Faulkner held out one hand to weave air at a point ahead of him. A ringing noise pulsed throughout the room.
"Stand down," Faulkner commanded.
The ringing stopped. Henry walked over and helped Seti to his feet.
"And here I was trying to draw their attention away from you," Henry said. "You always did have a problem with authority, however."
Seti caught his breath. He rubbed his back and looked at the wall he crashed into. It was different. That part of the wall had an extra layer to it. A slight move from the Earth Dragon and the geo-layer portion of the wall aggregated until the wall returned to normal. He realized that his back didn't hurt as much as it should have. But what did Elder Narn do? That felt more like a kinetic attack than anything done with wind, which was nonsense as psimancers were part of the myth mage category.
"Maybe I should just assume that everyone is aggressive today," Faulkner said. Then he laughed. "This is fun; just like old times. How's your back?"
"I thought you were fast enough to stop him," Seti said.
The Wind Dragon shrugged. "He was trying harder that time." He took a puff from his cigarette and then winked. "Well if we're all going to infuriate them, I guess it's my turn now? All right, listen up! I'm going to take Seti as my disciple."
Each of the four elders started talking at once.
"This decision is too hasty!" Elder Poe said.
"Young master, he is but a tier one."
"For this boy to represent us…" Elder Narn grumbled.
"But we have not decided!"
Seti stepped forward until he was next to Faulkner. The elders were in view again and the young adept saw Elder Poe standing with a hand on Narn's shoulders. Faulkner beckoned Henry to the table. Your floor now, he was saying. The counselor sighed.
"Seti is a tier one, yes. But like Shanna, certain boundaries have been broken," Henry started. "His niche could still be strengthened to do what we want, but his main strength is no longer that. The perception level has been broken. I believe we could start grit training immediately, among other things."
"But we have until Saturday for the last Exceptions exam," Elder Poe said.
"We could teach him the foundation. With Faulkner and me, together we could hit the most necessary parts so that he wouldn't need a teacher to continue growing. Then we just hope it's strong enough when combat comes to him."
Seti was confused. Perhaps if he knew what the overarching problem was, he would be able to piece everything together. And he never heard of grit training before.
"Grit training, at tier one?" Elder Poe stroked his overly long beard.
"Yup," Faulkner nodded. "He'll be the strongest tier one in the world."
"And the worst champion," Elder Narn said quietly. He was more subdued than he had been.
"At least we know he won't have a problem questioning the authority," Henry said with a hint of amusement.
The wind adept looked at each person in the room. He wanted to ask a question but had a slight fear that he'd find himself against the wall again. Seti considered using his wind to remove the feeling but decided to push past it.
"And what exactly is this whole champion thing?" Seti asked.
Elder Narn scrunched his face tightly. "He doesn't even know."
"Ah, well," Faulkner said, "it's a simple thing. Not that big of a deal. So as you might know, the families have something called the boss of bosses. Our noblesse. One thing led to another—minor events, really—and now the last boss is dead. Now, see, most families blame the Shepherds for it and want equal payment: they want the divine Shepherd to keel over."
"The divine strongest woman? Leader of the Shepherds?" If someone were going to pick a fight with the divine, they'd either have to be divine themselves or have a lot of firepower. No one could just kill a divine.
Faulkner nodded. "Obviously the Shepherds won't comply, and the Vescio family particularly are upset about that; it was their boss that was killed. Weekly skirmishes, destroyed buildings, and just a lot of pressure are what we have to deal with. We think it might end up becoming a full-blown war."
"Then something unexpected happened," Henry filled in. "The new noblesse, Tobias Vescio, claimed the Shepherd's broke the United Accords when his older brother died, but his response was different. When the peace talks went nowhere, he sent out an invitation to several people in secret, requesting that they submit their champions to attend Prestige Academy this year. To the Shepherds, to some families, and finally to some of the guilds."
"To do what?" Seti asked. "Does he plan to have a battle royale at the school? How does that help with anything?"
"A good question," Henry said. "No one but the noblesse himself knows. However, we have several theories."
"Give me the most plausible one."
The Wind Dragon smiled. Shanna stood unmoving, as she tended to do. The four elders were quiet, watching Seti's reaction. Henry finally answered.
"We think the noblesse is going to determine if he should spark the war by interacting with the champions of different ideologies. Being young himself, it could be that he wants the younger generation to decide the future."
"Congratulations!" Faulkner clapped. "You are now officially a piece on a secret board game called Play-Along-Or-War."