Someone bangs on the door to the private booth. Yuna opens the door to greet the person.

Cherry Sterling pushes past her and stares me down. She points at me and stammers.

“You… you piss me off… you know?

“This was supposed to be my debut!” Cherry exclaims.

“Debut?” I wonder. I scratch the side of my head not sure what she’s on about.

“I didn’t even get to use my darkness element. I had it all planned. You move a lot like Gibalter so I switched my debut to you. He’s a real piece of work and always makes fun of my chest, but his fisticuffs make the perfect target.”

Cherry babbles on for a while.

“I knew the ice shard wouldn’t beat you, so I was going to blind you and the audience with darkness, set the tone, make people wonder ‘what’s going on?’ or ‘We can’t see anything!’ and once the veil lifted I’d be the only one standing!” Cherry says while doing a pose in the form of a Y with her chest puffed out.

Cherry deflates and drops her arms, “But you had to ruin it.”

Wow this girl is something else. She has energy in spades.

“I’m the first four elemental cultivator in a few generations!” Cherry says as she stomps her foot. “Now I look like a run of the mill three elemental cultivator. Even if I bring out my fourth element now they’ll just think ‘Oh there’s the girl who lost her second round’” She moves to the side and changes her posture and continues, “‘How many elements does she use?’” The turns the other direction, “‘I can’t be arsed to remember, she’ll just lose again’.”

A grin sprouts on my face at Cherry’s antics.

Yuna taps Cherry on the shoulder which elicits a death glare from the small girl.

Yuna dips down and whispers in Cherry’s ear. Her glare disappears and her jaw falls open. She looks at me in wonder. Her mouth closes and her light tan skin gains a pink to it which deepens. She stumbles back and dashes out the door.

“Yuna,” I ask with a flat voice. “What did you say to her?”

Yuna closes the door and smiles. She informs, “Just that you have all sixteen elements, and that any kids you two have would probably have four or more affinities.”

She didn’t say that… did she? It’s my turn to blush as I place my hand over my face and shake my head.

“Hmph,” Alex mutters. “If that’s true, then I am Jorin Q’tar.”

Without missing a beat Yuna bows deep to Alex, “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Your Imperial Majesty.”

Alex’s hand goes to the sword at his waist. “So, you think you’re funny, do you?”

“Enough.” Vern says. Although it’s not a yell it’s much louder than it should be.

Can essence boost your voice?

“I expect you two will keep this to yourselves?” Vern asks Alex and the other girl that hasn’t said a word. She nods and Alex’s face goes through a range of faces from downcast to shock, annoyance and he agrees with a nod.

I sit down in one of the chairs they offer in the booth, next to Oliver.

“So, who’s older?” I ask.

“You are, by five minutes,” Oliver replies with a smile.

My finger points at him then me, “We’re twins?”

“Yes, and because you were never accepted into the Carlyle family, you’re in the register,” Oliver advises. He points to himself and adds, “whereas I am not.”

So I’m not a Carlyle. Vivi told me when someone is trashed by their family on their tri-trial they break all ties. The child isn’t even given the right to the surname.

“What’s this register?” I counter.

“Crap,” Oliver says. He turns to Vern, “Vern, ask uncle if I can discuss that with her.”

Vern nods and takes out a L-ROC jade stick and heads toward the door. “Alex, Rubi, with me.” He must know I can hear through them. Damn.

Oliver waits until they’ve left the room and looks at Yuna and Yalinda.

“They’ll find out, I tell them everything,” I note.

“Our mom, Lily, comes from a well known family. She threw away her rights, and any child from the Carlyle family’s rights, of inheritance to her family line.”

What does this have to do with a register?

A few minutes pass.

Vern returns and sets down a few jade sticks throughout the room. He holds out his hands and they start to glow. The walls, ceiling and floor of the room are covered in Dark Blue ‘v’s packed so tight they look like a wave.

“Go ahead,” Vern says.

“The register is the Royal Register of the Westwood Empire. Mom’s maiden name is Q’tar,” Oliver says.

He says nothing for a minute and I mull over his words. Surely he can’t be saying my uncle is Jorin.

Vern picks up where Oliver leaves off. “In most cases, if a child is trashed, either family of the parents have the right to accept them, but they usually echo the sentiments to trash them and the child grows up without a surname, like you have.

“In your case, when your mom trashed you, your uncle waited. Before that day, she hadn’t talked to him for two years. This concerned him because she would call every week and talk his ear off. They had no fight prior.

“Once you found out she was being manipulated, it all made sense to him. His decision to wait was a good one. He consulted Zane and there’s no law on how long a child can be without a surname.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Anessa Q’tar.” Vern says. He holds out his hand for me to take.

“Likewise,” I say.

A childish glee overcomes my mind. I’m not sure why but I want to say the name aloud. It’s irrational, even.

My excitement fades and I loathe to ask, “What happened to mom, anyway?”

Vern places his hand on my shoulder, and squats down to eye level, “She’s alive, but when the Grand art of the Puppet-master is used on a target, the longer they are under control, the longer they take to recover.

“She was under control for over ten years. The doctors say she may sleep for half that before she wakes up,” Vern looks away, “She may never wake up.”

The sound barrier Vern placed on the room breaks and Rubi darts in. She pulls him to the side and mutters in his ear.

“Oliver, I’m leaving. Good luck. If you don’t make it through, I’ll work you to the bone for a year and have you enter through the second year tryouts,” Vern says, the fervor in his voice tells me something is wrong.

Vern pulls out a scroll and activates it. A doorway like Undine used appears before him and he steps through. The doorway vanishes.

That was sudden.

Rubi stands there and clenches her fists. She’s pale as a ghost. What would make you angry and fearful at the same time?

Oliver approaches Rubi and his hand touches her face. Her hands relax and she looks at him. She leans forward and whispers to him. His soft voice is smooth, “It’s going to be okay, you can trust her.”

“Auntie Zahra and little Rina are dead,” Rubi notifies. She clenches her fist again and Oliver pulls her to a chair and holds her head against his chest.

“Sorry sis, I never introduced Rubi. She’s my fiancee, we can talk later, right?” Oliver requests.

A note from Allen Clark Copeland, Jr.

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About the author

Allen Clark Copeland, Jr.


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