Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chapter 2: The Rising Tide Part 3

Terra ran down the dark hallway, dragging her satchel as she rubs her tired eyes, cursing under her breath. "Damn that cat! Why did he have to choose last night to get sick? At the very least he could have kept it to himself, and not done it on my bed. Maybe I should have strangled him and gotten it over with. He is such a..."

Already late as she emerged into the blindingly bright morning light of the practice field, she finds the remaining members of her class lined up on one side, listening to the wizened old instructor who spoke for the panel of judges behind him.

"Those of you here are the few who haves passed your written exams. You have proven yourselves able to memorize the tenants of the arcane. We like to pride ourselves on weeding out failures early, but of course, some of you manage to slip through the cracks."

His seemingly cataract-filled eyes peering out from underneath his bushy and unkempt eyebrows surveyed the students, stopping on each of their faces. As his gaze reached each one, they could feel the power behind those eyes, and although the day was warm, a shiver ran up Terra's spine.

"Now we will test if you can apply the knowledge that we have spent years pounding into your skulls. Knowledge is nothing without the power to use it, after all. First you will be run through a series of tests, to prove your mastery of cantrips and simple incantations. After that, for those of you who receive satisfactory marks, you will be asked to demonstrate a more powerful spell of your own design. Those with the most impressive displays will be considered for graduation. And the few who do may have the opportunity for a guild apprenticeship."

As soon as the instructor finished, dozens of servants came on to the field carrying large tables. These were set up in a large semicircle across half the field, with arcane objects and open tomes spread out on top of them, and for the next several hours, the few dozen students who had reached this point demonstrated the fruits of their studies.

Terra waited her turn at each of the tables with some trepidation, as some of those before her left the field in failure, having not been able to complete one of the demonstrations. After each table the crowd of students diminished, until, by the end, only nine students remained. These students were escorted, Terra among them, to the empty side of the field by the judges.

"Well," the same instructor begins, after clearing his throat, "I am proud of all of you that have made it this far. I only expected about half this number to make it to this point. Now we reach the final test. Take a few minutes to set up your demonstrations and prepare your minds in your assigned area."

Each student was led to a rather large circle that was seemingly painted onto the grass. Upon closer examination, Terra noticed a faint glow coming from the white boundaries of the shape, with much smaller lines leading towards the center. She recognized it from several of the tomes she had spent years studying from, but had never seen one until this moment. It was a circle of protection, meant to prevent any and all magical energies from penetrating the barrier.

Not something initiates into the world of magic generally encountered, the college seemed to have spared no expense to protect their students from accidents, Terra thinks to herself. Or rather, protect all of their students besides the one in the circle, of course. If by any chance something catastrophic did happen inside the circle, the student inside would bear the full brunt of it. Terra had heard the widespread apocryphal stories of such things happening during the final evaluations, as had every other student.

Terra, from her circle on the far corner, sat and watched the others rummage through their bags and books in preparation. After a couple minutes of relaxing and enjoying the warmth of the early spring sunlight and the smell of the grass, she stood, picking up her satchel. Taking from it several large plates, she carefully lined them up on the edge of her circle. She bent over them, examining the runic designs on them, turning them slightly, making sure they were aligned to her satisfaction before once again sitting on the grass and pulling on a pair of leather gloves.

The judges came to the first student, who had a small table of his own set up in his circle. Although she cannot see the exact demonstration, Terra knows it was something to do with alchemy, due to the large number of vials and beakers on the table. Apparently it pleased the judges, as her fellow student whooped for joy as they walked away from his table.

The next few tests passed much as the first, with small demonstrations of magical ability. The fifth student who was tested had something a bit more dramatic. This was the only other student that the introverted Terra recognized. A fellow elf like herself, although quite a bit older, she recalled his name as being something like Sertorii.

A column of water a dozen feet across gushed forth from the center of Sertorii's circle and reached a height of about thirty feet. Once at this height, the water stopped in place and begins pulsing. With each pulse, it changed shape slightly, coming closer and closer to the form of a person. Terra soon recognized it as an oversized replica of Sertorii himself. The giant form waved to the judges gathered below and at the nearby students before dissolving back into the ground. The applause from several of the judges surprised Terra until she notices that she is clapping as well at the impressive display of water magic.

The next couple of tests were nothing as spectacular as Sertorii’s hydromancy, with another alchemic mixture, and a classic spell of prestidigitation where a statue disappeared, only to reappear half way across that student’s circle.

Only two students remained to be tested now. Terra, and a quiet, light complexioned human boy from the northern wild lands waited for their judgments. Terra gave a mental sigh of relief when the judges walked towards her first. She dreaded this final test, but did not want to be the last one on the field to be judged. She knew she would crack under that kind of pressure. And if she failed after this much effort, after this many years of studying…

Shaking those dark thoughts from her head, she turned to face the judges and explained her magical demonstration. “For my demonstration of magical aptitude, I intend to show my mastery of a simple form of pyromancy, or fire magic. Having borrowed these disks,” she motioned to the meticulously placed plates on the grass, “which have been enchanted before hand with the power of flight, I will use fiery bolts of energy to destroy them in midair.”

With a theatrical flourish, she snatched one of the plates from the ground, and tosses it into the air, yelling out the word to activate its magical flight. “Akba!”

The plate soars into the sky, and began to dart around over the heads of those gathered below. As the disk reached the edge of the circle, it seemingly bounced off in invisible barrier with a small shower of blue sparks, only to fly in another random direction.

A smile came to Terra’s face as she watched for a moment, everything going just as it did when she rehearsed. Raising her right arm, she pointed at the flying plate, uttering the mystical phrase to release her power. The unintelligible words leave her lips, and a red aura surrounded her upraised glove. As she focuses her will, the aura forms into the form of a burning arrow and shoots towards the plate, shattering it into burning shards that tumbled to the ground several yards from her.

Terra, with growing confidence, raised two more of the plates into the air, sending them flying erratically around her circle. And with the same confidence, she sent out to more bolts of flame to shatter them both in turn. Light applause finally registers in her ears as she hazarded a look at the judges. Although nothing like the cheers for Sertorii's hydromancy, it still filled her heart with joy to know that her nightmares of failure weren't going to come true.

Raising up the last plate from the ground, she once again gestures towards it, gathering her mystic energies around her gloved hand. "Akba!" she said once again, sending her flaming arrow towards the plate. Unfortunately, the plate chose this time to bounce off of the magical barrier surrounding Terra's practice space. Her flame missed its target by a wide margin, dissipating into nothingness at the edge of the marked circle. The plate however, streaked back towards Terra, who only has time to raise her hands in front of her before the impact. With a shattering sound, the plate broke against Terra's right hand, sending sharp knives of pottery into her arms and face.

Darkness descended on Terra as she falls to the ground.

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