It was stuffy in the lowest levels of the Dark Vault. Stuffier than usual. Sweat was staining the coat sleeves pressed against the Headmaster's shoulders. Cold sweat. The kind that numbed the skin as soon as it oozed from the raw pores, freezing the arteries beneath.
Ronovi was surrounded by holocrons. Dozens of them. Who knew how long she had had them now. She had lost count of the months. Nearly a year as steward of the Shadow Academy, and she could feel her organic eye burning from the outpouring of information. It was like thick, thick code. She had to decipher it. She had to absorb it. All of the lore. All of the knowledge.
No one would take these holocrons away from her. Not even her Praetor. Not even the Grand Master.
The Epicanthix snarled like a feral animal protecting her young as she turned to face the Dark Adept. He was not smiling. His brown locks tumbled over his furrowed brow. His hand was locked against his belt.
"I still have that strand of your hair, Tavisaen," Benevolent Taldrya Whiner scoffed. "Though I'll admit myself that having it is a little creepy. Useful, definitely. But still creepy."
"How did - " Ronovi cut herself off. Ben had already answered the question. "What do you want?"
"Oh, c'mon," he replied. "Really? After my little visit? I thought I had left an impression on you. Am I really that unmemorable?"
"Again with the sass!"
"Let's just say I want my cup of sugar back, neighbor," replied Ben. "Because I still don't see you baking a cake. I see you hoarding the sugar."
He swept a robed arm toward the glowing prisms, which looked as crystalline as the very substance he was comparing them to. But even though he was pointing at the holocrons, his eyes were fixed firmly on Ronovi's face.
"Has Solus gotten you those new eyedrops yet, by the way?" he asked, his voice unnaturally low and menacing after his more light-hearted jabs. "Because the discoloration seems to be getting worse."
"I'm not done with - "
"Yes, you are." Ben put a finger up to Ronovi's lips, unafraid. "You're done with the holocrons. I'm taking them back to the Center."
"Like Hell you are."
"You told me to come back after I'd spoken with your good pal Ashen. Well, I did stop by for tea and mead, and he sent me here. So if you even think about - "
Ben suddenly leapt back and ripped his saber from his side as Ronovi's staff blazed blue from her flank. With a horrid guttural bellow, she sprang at the Holocron Keeper, lighting up the vast space with her double blades, her bulk framed in the monstrous glow, her eyepatch glistening with electricity. She had proven time and time again to be a formidable master of Juyo - a vicious dancer, quick and broad and brimming with power like a hot wine chalice. Therefore, she was more than surprised when each swing and stroke she threw her weight into missed by seemed like several yards, as the Taldryan bounded across the walls with red flickering on his face and around the sinister silhouettes of the collected artifacts. Even when she thought she had hit him, he parried effortlessly, a smile bouncing on his lips as he deflected slash after slash.
Ronovi stepped back, her chest heaving with impending exhaustion. Benevolent's form was almost impenetrable.
"Sokan," she growled.
"And awesome at it," added Ben cheekily, before sweeping at her.
Their blades only clashed one more time. They locked for only one more moment, jaws set, eyes stone. Ronovi first had thought she did not want to kill him. Now it was the only thing she ever desired. She decided to pull away. She decided to gut him like swine.
She didn't even have to look up to know who it was.
The saber staff deactivating in her hands, Ronovi nearly dropped her weapon as she stumbled back from her opponent. Standing in the now open doorway of the Vault was the last person she had wished to see. His visage alone was something to be petrified at. His hands angled at his hips only added to the tension. He nearly wafted into the room as if he were moving on a gust of wind, materializing like smoke in front of the Epicanthix.
His black eyes did not flutter. He would not blink.
The Centurion stammered. "Wh-what?"
"Your capabilities as Headmaster have been compromised."
He didn't say anything else. He didn't have to. Any other person would have diagnosed her like a medic. Mentally unstable. Crazed. Paranoid. Schizophrenic. Manic. Insane. Sick. Incapacitated. Unqualified. Untrustworthy.
He didn't have to say any of that. He just looked at her. Cruelly patient.
Ronovi stared blankly back at the Lion of Tarthos. Her mouth opened and closed. She felt her knees shake as they threatened to give out beneath her. For so many years, she had been built up physically and mentally. A warrior. A scholar. A behemoth. A golem. A messenger. A god. Now, as she was beginning to realize, she was still nothing but dust compared to Muz Ashen.
She was nothing.
He wasn't going to kill her. Not now.
"Your ship awaits you."
After nine months at the helm of the Shadow Academy, I have submitted my resignation to Muz and will be stepping down as Headmaster immediately.
I know, I know, we've had a few changes of the guard around here lately. First Deputy Grand Master, then Voice, now Headmaster. There were several reasons behind my decision to resign. Some of them involve the strain and workload of my real life career. Some of them involve my relationships with other members. But I'm not afraid to be honest about the main reason why I am leaving the post.
I have been in consecutive leadership or administration positions for five years now. I started as BTL back in Tarentum, then rose to Consul before becoming Praetor to Taig. I really expected to be the next great Headmaster. Who doesn't want to be? The Shadow Academy, as of now, has a glorious opportunity to be modernized. A model which relevance is regularly questioned can be modified to match the needs and desires of the membership. It's a hefty job, but it can be done, and only by someone with the capacity to be a designer and a determined producer.
Unfortunately, I've decided that I am not the proper person to carry out said job. I'm an administrator at the Academy, not a revolutionary. I've been good at maintaining the model, not moving it forward. I've been evaluating my priorities in the Brotherhood, and as such, I'm not afraid to step down when I feel like I cannot meet the expectations of my superiors. I think, honestly, I'd prefer doing this than trying to force myself into doing work A. I may not be happy with, and/or B. others may not be happy with.
That being said, I am not leaving the Brotherhood. Not by a long shot. I am, as someone best put it, taking a vacation from the pedestal. I will be transferring to Plagueis to help it grow and prosper. I will be re-connecting with lost friends and acquaintances as a mentor and a role model. Most of all, I will be returning to my writing roots. Because honestly, writing is my calling and my passion, and it's when I'm writing for the Brotherhood that I feel the most productive and useful for the club.
I wish the best of luck to the future Headmaster: You have a challenging but exciting adventure ahead of you. Thanks to everyone for their support, encouragement, and candor. I really appreciate every last ounce of your friendship.
Stay awesome, guys. I'll be around.
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