Family, Whether It’s Royal or Not
Professor Stufford was mesmerizing to look at. It was as if he was a Greek god who escaped from an Impressionist painting. The longer you gazed at him, the more you were pulled in by his appearance.
The bush that made up his beard shook and swayed as if caught in the breeze, its flowers filling the room with a sweet scent. Though his head was covered in moss, it still somehow suited him. He wasn’t born, he was sculpted.
Che wasn’t sure why he was thinking about Professor Stufford or the era of Impressionism while gazing at the fake stars in Professor Lelele’s class. He had enough to distract him in this very room already. Still, what did he even need to distract himself from?
He noticed Lorenzo wasn’t in class and wondered what the Man of Mystery was up to now, though Reagan and Vista were present and accounted for. Reagan flipped off Che, while Vista merely glared at him in her usual, creepy way.
He looked over to see Nikki doodling in her notebook. She’d been quiet since lunch. He wanted to ask her what was wrong, but he didn’t want to disturb her. Maybe after class, he’d check in on her. It wasn’t like Nikki to not at least roll her eyes at him.
Then again, something about the way Bella was acting seemed to upset her. It also didn’t help that Tyson brought up everyone’s family coming to visit. Che was beginning to understand that Nikki, Bella, and Kim had once been quite close but weren’t anymore. Nikki probably felt alone, and this weekend would be a reminder of what she had lost.
Che had tried to divert the conversation as best he could at lunch. He didn’t truly know if Nikki had a family or not, but he knew he certainly didn’t have one here. There were so many times where none of this felt real, as if he’d soon wake up and find himself in his bed once again realizing it was time to get up and get ready for another interview.
He thought about his mother, who he likely wouldn’t see again.
Che shook his head. No, he had to focus. Thinking about that now would only make things harder. He had to keep preparing himself for when he finally found and confronted Yokan. Perhaps there was still a way home despite everything that had happened. He only had this class and Sparring left, then it’d be time to study. He couldn’t allow himself to be distracted.
He didn’t feel this way in history class when he noticed Kim was nowhere to be seen. He figured she must have gone to continue keeping an eye on Bella. Still, he couldn’t help but feel uneasy. Had he done something wrong? Maybe he shouldn’t have chased after her when she fled rehearsal.
Che had taken great care to ignore today’s tragedy Professor Stufford was going on about, something about a flat tire and spilled coffee. In fact, the only time he could remember listening to a word the professor said was when he’d asked the students about the significance of this year’s ToKyotchi tournament.
A girl had raised her hand and answered, “It’s the fifth year!”
Professor Stufford nodded, slowly closing his great watery eyes and opening them again. “And can you tell me what usually happens every fifth year?”
“A member of the Tomore royal family competes in the regional championship.”
Che had heard all the audible groans around the room. Professor Stufford had mentioned the royal family before, and based on his classmates’ reactions it seemed like it was a topic no one wanted to discuss.
Of course, Professor Stufford didn’t care. His watery eyes twinkled as he smiled. “Yes, every fifth year a member of the royal family competes in the annual ToKyotchi tournament. I believe it will be Prince Simon this year again. And as you all should know by now Simon’s team has never lost.”
Che’s classmates were all silent as Professor Stufford spoke. Whether it was respect or fear, no one seemed willing to speak about the prince in such detail. Yet, when Professor Stufford called on Che, it was as if he was waking up from a daydream as he realized his hand was raised.
“Why is it every fifth year?” Che asked, not quite sure why he’d spoken up.
Professor Stufford smiled and clasped his hands together. “Ah, I’m glad you asked. It’s hard to say for sure, but it can be assumed the royal family wants to remind the people of their importance. Despite what some may believe, this is a tradition that has been around for hundreds of years.”
Che nodded, understanding the implications of what Professor Stufford was saying.
“Now, what else can you all tell me about the Tomore region, as it will most likely be the region you compete in for the regional championship?” Professor Stufford asked.
Che felt relieved when none of the other students raised their hands to answer. It didn’t seem like he was the only one in the dark about everything. He sighed as he wondered what it would take to compete in the tournament.
The twinkle in Professor Stufford’s eye only seemed to get brighter. “You all attend Legaros Academy, and you don’t even know its relationship with the neighboring region?”
He paused, letting the silence linger before continuing. “Well, then. I’m sure many of you have wondered why Legaros Academy, as part of the larger Legaros Empire, is allowed to make its base just south of Daphne Forest. Why aren’t any of you attending a military academy in, say, the capital city of Camellia?”
“There are no military bases in Tomore,” Che heard a student say.
“That’s right,” Professor Stufford nodded. “And why is that?”
No one answered, and Che shifted in his seat. He hadn’t thought about it, but now he wanted to know. Why would a region now part of a bigger empire not at least have any of its own fortresses and military bases?
“Simply put,” Professor Stufford continued, his voice growing softer, “there is no need for the Tomore region to have an army so long as King Saul and the royal family agree to protect it. Legaros tried to invade Tomore many years ago, but it was King Saul who single-handedly thwarted the invasion. Since then, Tomore and Legaros have had a peaceful coexistence, and in return the people of Tomore allow Legaros to make its base just outside Daphne Forest.”
Che felt a chill run down his spine as he soaked in Professor Stufford’s words. Legaros Academy was a state-of-the-art military training facility, more advanced than any other military base or academy he’d ever seen.
Not only that, it had to have state-of-the-art weaponry and tactics to keep up with the ever-changing battlefield, especially in a world like Eden. The Tomore region had no army, yet it was still able to fend off Legaros’ invasion without fail thanks to one person, and that one person’s offspring was competing in this year’s tournament.
There were people with unfathomable strength in this world, and it terrified Che to no end.
Yet, if there was ever a scenario of one person taking on an entire army that made sense to Che, it would definitely involve a parent. His mother would have done the same thing if she could. In fact, she was probably still searching for him at this very moment, wandering the streets with flyers asking if anyone had seen him since he left for his interview that day.
Che looked up, having been lost in his thoughts. Professor Lelele’s ghostly blue form was standing in front of him, and the entire class had gone quiet.
“Yes?” Che replied, his voice barely audible. He hadn’t heard a single word the professor had said.
Professor Lelele smiled and nodded. “Would you like to share your thoughts on the Beorg constellation?”
Che scrambled to remember what he’d studied the night before, clearing his throat multiple times before finally finding the words. “Ah, yes. I…well…I believe it was supposed to be named after the Beorg race who inhabit forests. I think it was Hugo-Leon Malo who named it.”
Professor Lelele giggled. “Well, we don’t quite learn how it got its name until the next few chapters, but good for you for reading ahead, Mr. Rowan!”
Che slinked down in his seat, relieved that he’d gotten the question right. He heard someone suck their teeth and looked over to see Reagan glaring at him alongside Vista.
“Nerd,” he grunted.
Che ignored him and flipped through his textbook, glancing at another student’s book to figure out what page everyone was on. He’d never studied Astronomy on Earth or taken any interest in it beyond the solar system model he made in elementary school. Back then, his mother had always encouraged him to do well in school and to make something of himself. She would have been waiting on him to tell her how the interview with Legaros Inc. had gone.
He wished he could send a letter, paint a message in the sky, so that she would at least know that he was alright. That she wouldn’t have to search much longer.