The Great First Class City of Crawfields was large, so large that it enclosed forests and even mountains within its walls. Like other first class cities, powerful factions, including schools, militia, sects, alliance headquarters, and high-end quality trading areas, were everywhere, some based in areas miles from the city itself. One faction in particular that was like that was the Crawfields Academy.
It was a chilly november. The leaves had already begun to brown and fall, shrouding the ground in foliage. As night became day, the cool winds dulled and the sky was left a clear blue.
Delias woke up with a start. He coughed and hacked, grabbing a nearby paper bag to spit in. There was a glass of water by his side which he chugged down, cooling his raw and sore throat. His body no longer ached. It seemed slower than usual, but with the pain gone, Delias was at least glad for that. Pulling the covers off of him, Delias brought his feet over the side of the bed and stood up.
He scratched his head as he looked down. Why am I naked? It was then that the door busted open. Delias quickly grabbed the cover from the bed and wrapped it around him.
“Oh good. You’re awake. Get dressed. Your clothes are over there in that bag.” Said the male averati, with a hulking frame, that had just entered the room. “It’s a good thing that you woke up. If I had to wake you, well… let’s just say that you would not have like it.”
Delias went to the corner and found a large leather brown bag. He looked in it and found clothes that were not his, or at least the ones he had stolen. It was a uniform, folded neatly. Delias paused. “These are not my clothes. Where are my things? Where is my satchel?”
The male averati frowned. “Your clothes were damaged and as for your satchel, I believe the managers have it. Anyway stop asking questions. Get dressed. Now! We don’t have much time.”
Delias hesitated. It was not that a fresh pair of clean clothes that did not implicate him in a petty crime were a bad thing, but a uniforms were usually symbolic and were an identifier of a particular faction. Factions were just overly large street gangs, if you wore their colors or signs, you represented them and their interests. Such a stance would make you enemies to any rival gang and place you in danger. As far as Delias knew, putting on that uniform and walking outside could forever assign him to a faction, even if he never officially joined them. I don’t want to get involved in anything that will hurt my chances of getting home.
“What’s your name?” Delias asked. He did not look from the clothes as if he was still hesitant on what to do.
The male averati by the door frowned. He was about to reprimand Delias, but there was something about Delias that kept him from doing so. He seemed to him as if Delias was set in, and no matter what he said, it would do nothing to move him into action. The averati sighed. “My name is Yioi. Yioi Hun. You can just call me Hunter. Everyone does.”
“Ok, Hunter. So tell me, where am I?”
The three words, ‘where am I’ shocked Hunter. “You don’t know where you are? This is Crawfields Academy… Well they did say you were asleep. You were carried here when you were injured. The managers had you cared for on the journey here. You should be glad that they did so. They normally would have left you back in the backwater city you came from. Anyway we got to go! We will be late. Get dressed!
“Hunter. I never agreed to come to Crawfields. Why am I here? Who brought me here?”
Hunter’s eyes widened. “That is way above my pay grade. If you never agreed to join Crawfields, then make your decision now.”
After some thought, Delias asked, “What benefits can this academy give me? I don’t like to be restrained.”
Hunter’s brow creased protruding three lines. He took out a pocket watch, glanced at it, and then put it back. He sighed. “This school is one of the top five schools in the nation. You should know that. Even children born and raised in the mountains with only beast to befriend know that. And at the top, Crawfields has access to resources that only the top members of the royal family could get their hands on. The-”
As Hunter finished his last sentence, Delias began to dress himself. If this school is so great, then I can most likely find out what I want here. If a simple primary school for kids had a lot of information, I cannot imagine what one of the top five school in the nation has. Besides. Once I leave this place, it won’t matter that I put on a crawfields uniform. I will be on the human side.
Hunter frowned, mumbled a curse under his breath, and then left to wait on the other side of the door.
Delias had put on a white coat, over an undershirt, with the collar fastened at the neck. The pants were black, and there were even a pair of nice black boots at the bottom of the bag. Each item of clothing had a symbol on it. The crawfields symbol. An uncommonly large ibex. The horns on its head were golden and grew long and curved slightly, reaching half the length of its body. The stitch displayed the ibex as black, with golden eyes on black sclera. It was truly creepy and fascinating.
Once Delias was dressed. He found a small toolkit at the bottom of the bag. Delias took it, not spending the time to sift through it, and fastened it on his belt. He then put the bag over his shoulder as if it were another satchel. Didn’t say I couldn’t take everything, now did he.
Delias walked out the door. The bright sun flashed in his eyes, and so he brought up his hand to shade them. Looking out, Delias realized that the small room he was in was just a part of a long row of outdoor houses. Houses designed for temporary use before they could be easily dismantled and put up for storage. The area was surrounded by trees. It was apparent at first that they were in a wood and not a place that was near a populated area.
“I’m glad you decided to join us. But if you don’t pass the test, you will be giving back the clothes.”
Delias nearly choked on that. “Test? What test?”
Hunter smiled. “Follow me. We’re going to be late.”
Delias followed Hunter as they travelled from the outdoor housing area and into the woods. There were no people around, just the two of them the entire time.
“Where is everybody?”
Hunter chuckled. “Creepy, ain’t it. Well, I felt the same way too when I was a First Year. I can’t believe it’s been a year already.” He shook his head and continued. “Just like you, I was late back then. Don’t worry. We’re almost there and then you will see.
After a few minutes of walking, their boots crunching on fallen leaves; their breath puffing out white clouds in the cold air, they finally broke through the wooded area and onto a flat open place.
Thousands of students, dressed just like Delias, stood in various groups chatting. A slightly more elevated platform was erected right in front of them.
As if on cue, once Hunter and Delias appeared, a swallow of an averati with short hair and bags underneath his dark grey eyes got up on the platform. He coughed once, and the crowds grew quiet.
“For those that are here, you are here for only one purpose. And that is to join the Crawfields Academy and become a pillar in your community. An unstoppable force in this nation. A wall that protects those you will rule as you grow and open yourself to limitless possibilities.”
Delias could feel the air get tense as many of the students brimmed with excitement.
“All the school expects of you is to get on campus grounds by yourself. That is the least you can do. It is a test in part. But also a requirement. Only those who can enter the school can be proved to leave it on their own accord and shake this world with their might.” The averati on stage paused and looked around. “Now I cannot say the journey will not be perilous. It will. I cannot say that all of you will come out of this alive. You won’t. But I will say this. If you decide to risk it. And suffer through, when you pass the boundary and enter the academy grounds, you will thrive!”
And the crowds cheered. The blood rushed to their heads, and their eagerness to partake bled through the atmosphere. “Now take a crystal card from the managers.” The averati gestured to the side, pointing at a row of managers with bags on their shoulders. “And start your journey.”
As the averati on the platform finished and he came down, by the thousands, prospective students flocked to the managers.
“You’re with Manager Ki over there. I believe he has your satchel.” Said Hunter. He then looked at Delias with doubt in his eyes. “It’s surprising though. Most managers would never keep a satchel safe. If a prospective student lost his bag to another during the process, if it were stolen or hidden, they would not care, but for you, he kept it in safe.”
Delias smiled. “It’s most likely because they brought me here when I had never agreed to anything. A deluded way of amends.”
Hunter thought a bit then nodded. “Well it’s a good thing you did. Chose to join us, I mean. No one gets out of here alive if they can’t join the academy. You see these cheering students. There are over five thousand students here, and no more than half will manage to get to the campus. The rest would be consumed by the trial. Even if you chose not to have went in the trial, the way back on foot is even worse. I doubt a freshman could make it. Either way, no one who is brought to this spot leaves alive unless they become an official student of the academy.
Delias frowned. Glad I chose right, but…
“Don’t worry though. Once you become a student you will have access to the school’s portals and other travelling methods. Passing through this area practically happens once in the entire time you’re here. And with that Hunter left.
Delias’s frown deepened. Just what did that damn Elder Lu get me into?! He walked up to Manager Ki, the averati that Hunter had pointed out to him.
“Senior. I was told that you have my satchel.” Delias inquired as he came up to him. Out of the hundreds of managers, the line in front of Manager Ki went by swiftly, an obvious display on how little their group was. The prospective students before him had taken their cards and left.
Manager Ki looked upon Delias and smiled. “So you have woken up. Yes I do have your satchel. Glad you decided to join us.” He passed the unopened satchel to Delias as well as a clear white crystal card. The card was a thin, but sturdy. “Place a part of your blood on the card’s surface and you may go.
“Manager Ki, is Elder Lu not here?”
Manager Ki sighed. “All the Elder, as soon as they got here, were called away. They do not run this section of the recruitment.” Delias sighed. He wanted to ask Elder Lu about what happened the night he came unconscious. He had many questions as well as blowing up on him for dragging him in this mess. He looked at Manager Ki. Even if the manager knew the answers to his questions, Delias knew it was not the time and place to ask them.
Biting the corner of his bottom lip, Delias wiped the blood off with his thumb and pressed the blood on the card. The card glowed once and then became dull. His blood infused in the interior of the card, now showing a translucent crystal card with a red blotch in the middle.
“Never lose that card. If you lose it, then even if you get to the academy, you will fail the trial… You do not wish to fail the trial.”
Delias nodded. He put the card within the inner pocket of his white coat, placed the satchel around his shoulders, cupped his hands and bowed slightly to Manager Ki, and left. If what Hunter said could be taken as fact, then if he failed, he would not be leaving Crawfields alive.
As Delias passed Manager Ki, it was then he realized that the entire time they were on a cliff. The land was so flat, and the students so many, that he had not seen anything past them. But now he could.
Prospective students were walking down a carved out road that lead downwards to the base of the cliff. Delis went to the edge, leaned over, and took a glance. Down below there was just darkness. On occasion, he saw green fumes waft up, dissipating into the air. His flesh crawled as a deep presence seemed to wash over him.
The dark place was a canyon. Delias looked miles ahead. In the distance was another carved out walkway came from the darkness, etched into a cliff’s face that was a part of a giant mountain. A banner with the word ‘Welcome to Crawfields Academy’ hung on top of the cliff, leading to the entrance of a pass that had endless rock on either side, showing the pass to be a dried out gorge.
Delias gulped. He looked down at the pit. He just knew that there were monsters and dangerous things inside. He was not going to like this trial at all. He looked around. More than half the students had already descended below. Some were like him, observing from above.
Delias sighed. He did not want to be the last to go down. He did not know what was waiting for him there. Some creatures liked to pick from the back of a herd. It was best to be in the middle of a large group, where nothing could easily get at him.
Delias went to the start of the walkway at the side of the cliff. He took a deep breath, never looking back, and descended.