“Congratulations, Elijah!” Solana’s parents applauded me when I returned to the table with my dinner.
“Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Valenti,” I scrunched my eyes and scratched my head.
“Looks like you’re one step closer to being the big shot around here,” Keith approached from behind, latching onto both of my shoulders.
“I don’t know about that.”
“Oh come on. Quit being so modest. When you finish your training, you’ll be the strongest Guardian in the Castle.”
Power wasn’t something I cared about, so none of Keith’s compliments phased me. None of that mattered, especially now. I was more worried about the imminent meeting with the Master.
“So, did the Master tell you which color you’ll be learning first?” Keith wondered.
I shook my head, “He said he’d let me know before I go to bed.”
“Are you excited?” Solana’s mother smiled.
“I mean...I guess so.”
“Is something wrong, Elijah?” Mr. Valenti asked.
“What? No! Everything’s fine. I’m not really sure what to make of all of this. Just a few hours ago, I was training like usual. But now…”
“You don’t know how to react because it’s still so new to you,” Keith finished.
Solana ate her dinner, intermittently expressing her concern. She managed to conceal it from her family and Keith, but her Essence read clear as day for me. Anticipation. Worry. I couldn’t blame her. The anxiety was building up within me as well. However, any concerns blistering up in my heart needed to be kept private for now.
“I hope I am not interrupting an important conversation.”
I winced at the imposing voice that came from behind me. No one in the Castle spoke as properly and authoritatively as the Master. He stood at the edge of the table, arms locked behind his back, smiling at us graciously. The time had finally come.
“Hello, Jude,” Mrs. Valenti greeted him. “Staying for dinner?”
In all of my time at the Castle, I never heard any Guardian call the Master by his first name. Solana and Keith always called him the Master, so I did the same to prevent disrespecting him.
“No, no, I already ate. I actually came to speak to Elijah about the next steps in his training.”
My heart sank to my stomach. If only that was all we were talking about. But, even the Master didn’t know what I had planned. A private audience with him was the golden opportunity to dredge up some answers.
But then, why was I so nervous? The Master had shown me nothing but benevolence the moment I first joined the Order. He respected me, revered me. At the core, he was kindhearted and generous. What did I have to fear?
“Alright,” I stood from the bench. “I’ll see you all later, then?”
“Right. See ya, Elijah,” Keith waved at me.
The Master beckoned me to follow him, and the two of us headed out of the mess hall. As we stepped through the doorway, I clashed shoulders with another Guardian heading in the opposite direction. Sparks of soft ivory and malachite Essence flew as we rubbed against each other. I shivered when I realized who had bumped into me: Celeste.
The contempt that resonated from her Essence burned into my memory. It was much worse than it was when she first met me. Her hatred for me was like a venom spreading through her body. It steadily circulated through her bloodstream, reaching her heart and being sent back to her nerves.
“Elijah? Is something the matter?”
The Master’s voice shook me from my trance, “No, sir.”
“To the throne room, then?”