Much later, looking back, Tarn identified at least four warnings that went unheeded. Given the circumstances, these were not incidents that he noticed at the time. There were likely other moments that would have served as signs, if only they'd known to look, perhaps witnessed by Fenris or Tranton, but dwelling on what might have been served little purpose after the fact.
Tarn's training continued for days. He remained as undecided about his fate as he had been when Tranton had come to visit but accepted Akila's reasoning that being prepared made sense regardless. He kept waiting for the path to be made clear, yet even as he worked through the physical and mental exercises set by the teachers he found himself only further confused and feeling as if he was dropping ever-deeper into a hole from which there would be no climbing out.
The other students in the training hall had been studying most of their lives, from the moment they were identified as having source affinity. After their time in the caves, they'd been brought up here to be nurtured. It was uncomfortably similar to Tarn's own story, though he was acutely aware that most of the students went home at the end of the day to their families - parents, or wives, or husbands, or partners. Their achievements had lifted up all of those around them, their emerging power benefiting their families. Tarn thought back to his escape from the machine rooms, wondering whether he could have helped others leave at the same time. That would have only resulted in them all being noticed and captured, he concluded.
He concentrated on the studies, pushing the impending decision from his mind. There were mathematical and language lessons, physical combat challenges and source manipulation sessions. The latter piqued his interest, as the teacher showed him how to manipulate a source field to enhance one's physical abilities, or to adjust the density of the surrounding air. He couldn't really do any of it, not yet, certainly not consciously, but the studies were unlocking parts of his brain and making sense of the world. The swirling, subtle blue aura that he'd sometimes perceived - apparently invisible to others - was all around them in the training hall; the teacher explained that he wasn't so much seeing it as sensing it, being sensitive to the source dust that was at the heart of the city and which lined the caves that they'd visited.
The first warning had come several months earlier, on the road to Bruckin. After successfully departing Treydolain undetected, their trail had been found by the pursuing King's Eyes with remarkable ease. Even while making haste and keeping a low profile, they had been identified and found in Bruckin after a very short time: almost as if their destination had already been known.
The training occasionally required him to compete with other students, most of whom were cautiously accommodating if not friendly. Some remained more aloof, refusing to talk even while carrying out the exercises. Tranton had mentioned that they were likely to be jealous of his sudden rise within the school and that he should be on guard. Tarn had needed to have the word 'jealous' explained, but it didn't take him long to realise that it was a feeling he experienced almost daily, whenever he saw children with parents, or couples walking hand-in-hand through the Aviar gardens, or students patting each other on the back after a rewarding session. He looked over to the side of the training hall, where Kirya sat quietly watching him. She wave a hand and he smiled back.
One student, perhaps ten years older than Tarn, went by the name Neall and swiftly made known his displeasure at having to train alongside him. The teacher set up a sparring session, in which Neall would demonstrate his ability to deflect thrown objects with an invisible concentration of source; Tarn's responsibility was to throw the items.
Tarn threw a ball, and it bounced off the air a foot in front of where Neall stood, the student doing nothing more than making a twisting movement with one wrist. The ball bounced off across the hall.
YOU ARE READING
The Mechanical CrownFantasy
An explorer, a princess, a slave and a sword. A belief that the world can be better. The Mechanical Crown is an epic adventure full of intrigue, mystery and romance. When Tranton Seldon becomes the first to cross the mountains in hundreds of years...