Author’s Note: Only one chapter today.
Crawfield Academy had three testing sites, each one consisting of a trial. These trials were used to test three things. Survivability, leadership skills, and information gathering. And the purpose of the first trial included all three. The only problem though was the factors that played a role in decreasing the level of difficulty were gone. Factors like the keys, the amount of crystals available, the skill set of the students, and even the realm itself.
It was known that a quite a few dark creatures lived in the Realm of Stalagmites. So, based on the average skill set of the students, it was rarely chosen as many usually did not learn in defending against such arts. That was why the Stalagmite Realm was rarely chosen.
The other factor, like the crystals, are natural formations placed behind by the ancestors of the Crawfield academy. They produced items capable of combating the powerful types of foes within the realm As for example, if the realm had been where most of the creatures were those that reveled in the essence of fire, finding crystals that had a heavy water or ice essence was not to hard. But this did not happen. In fact, other than Delias, no one found any crystals within the Stalagmite Realm.
And as for the keys, a way to allow passage between realms, those were just not given out.
So with all these odds against them, the difficulty of the first trial was exceedingly high. So much so, that not many survived.
Standing up at the mouths of the gorge, where the entrance to the second trial began were several elders and leaders of the Crawfields academy. The Head Recruitment Elder was among them.
Looking around, the Recruitment Head could not help fidget. There are a lot more of them than last time. And some of them way beyond my status. What is going on? He looked at the faces of some of the others elders. They seemed calm, not a hint of distraught, malice, or nervousness on their faces. And yet, the Recruitment Head could not stop himself from being wary. Is there something I am not aware of? He looked to the side and saw High Elder Sun standing to his right a bit away, and soon, Elder Sun realized his stare and looked back in turn. Just when the Recruitment Head was going to walk that way, he stopped. A disgusted and angry look had flashed across Elder Sun’s face.
“Jona-” The Head Elder began to bark, but he quickly stopped himself. His bond with his aid had vanished several days ago. At first when he felt the broken link, he was livid as he thought someone dared to kill his aid. But as he delved deeper into feeling the intricacies of the torn link, he soon realized that his aid had not died when they were still bonded. Someone had forcibly broken beforehand. The only possibilities was that it was him,, the aid, or someone more powerful; and it was surely not him, and he did not believe his aid could have risen to such power already. Which left only one choice left. Who was it? It was question that bothered him ever since. It put him on edge.
“Aid!” He called. The replacement for Jonathan walts up from the area the other aids were located. The Recruitment Head could not remember the fat boy’s name. And usually he wouldn’t have cared to know. The only reason he remembered Jonathan was because that was the first aid to survive so long under him. “Book.” He said, coolly.
The aid fumbled with the several books until he got the most recent one.
“Tell me how many from the east under Elder Lu’s picks survived since the pre-trial”
The aid opened and flipped through several pages. He got to the information he was looking for and replied with a stutter, “A – All of t- them, Master.”
“All, huh?.. Wait. All?!” He roared.
The Recruitment Head’s face twitched, and seeing this, the aid scurried back.
No wonder Elder Sun is mad. But this is only the first trial. There are several, more deadly ones to come. But even if they passed all the trials, that would not constitute for the other, more powerful Elders here. There were even some elders that were there that had never shown up to the trials before, and some he did even know they had.
Something is terribly wrong!
Suddenly there was movement. All the Elders and those of status within the academy who had been watching at the time glanced at the gateway to the Realm of Stalagmites. This was where the students who survived and had a key were to come out. Each elder’s eyes gleamed with a slight hue as their sight pierced the barriers and arrays, looking at the nearby surroundings.
Several students in a group approached the gateway. And it could be seen as there was even one of them that was tied up. This was not an uncommon sight so the surrounding elders did not pay too much mind.
“Coming in such a large group. This one has thirty, no, forty-six students? That’s unprecedented. The way the trials are designed is to prevent such groupings.” An elder said. He did not glance around to see if anyone was listening, but the Recruitment Elder knew what he was trying to do. He’s making it seem as if I haven’t done my job. He’s trying to undermine my position and give leeway if they want to force me to step down later.
“This test is a lot harder than the others. Them grouping like this helps us see who are the leaders among the leaders. It’s a new way of sifting the dirt from the jewels” The Recruitment Head’s voice was calm and cool. He was not loud, but his voice reached the ears of all the other elders. He could not help but chuckle to himself. You know how long I’ve had this position? How many have attempted to bar my path? Way too niave.
But the chuckle was short-lived. The Head Elder could not help but think to himself. I’ve not delivered any keys. It makes sense that they would group up like that, and come here so quickly. But… Do the other elders know what I have done? Even so, they would not get involved in my business. Stuff like this happens every few decades. They would understand. But… Could it be that there is someone important among them? No, if that was the case, they would have given him an option of getting out without a key.
The Recruitment Head thought and thought but could not puzzle it all out. Soon, he just stopped and waited. There was nothing he could do.
As he and the other elders forced more energy into their eyesight, expanding their vision, they began to see students popping out of the forest; and they saw the flames dot the horizon. But because they were not within the realm itself, they could not hear a single thing. So, from the images alone, it was puzzling as to what was going on. The scene was just too odd. There were not just one or two large groups, but several, and they all seemed to converge at the gateway at the same time. But what was even more startling was that the more recent arrivals looked as if they had all just been in battle, and yet were not attacking or being attacked by other groups. But, by the scenery, it could be easily determined that they were all being hunted, and from all directions. Just would could have hunted a group so large? This is what confounded the elders.
“I can’t sense much life there. I count less than two hundred. Less than two hundred out of over five thousand that was started with from the first trial alone! This…this is nothing but a massacre.”
Some of the other elders looked the Recruitment Elder’s way. They all looked at him with scorn or impassivity, but all of them had the air as if he had lowered in their eyes. Of course, the elder that spoke was the same that spoke early. All this time, he had not turned to look the Recruitment Head’s way.
The Head Elder clenched his fist. The averati spoke as if he were not speaking to him, but just mumbling his thoughts. It would be unbecoming for him to speak now, even if he found a way to do so and not look like a fool. Words were pretty, but they usually did not change how people felt, not for stubborn old folk like them. Most Crawfield Elders were like that. Flexible in policy and what needed to be done to survive, but rigid in certain beliefs. They only mixed words with someone who was on equal footing. But for him, he was not. There were some elders that, even though they were less powerful than him, had a higher status because of their role or abilities. For all he knew, that elder could be one of them. He did not know who the elder was, and at firs, he thought he was just a recluse, but now? This is getting out of hand.
It was then that something happened.
An averati walked calmly up to the front of the gorge. No one had seen where he had come from, must have been from the road a ways east. The averati’s walk was smooth and calm, and he wore the white coat and black pants of a student. But unlike the prospective students, on his shoulder, underneath the school emblem that displayed a large Ibex, there was a symbol of three knives that indicated the house of the Kataruk Clan, one of the several lower clans.
The emblem of a student’s clan was only sewn on when a student had been accepted as a full student to the academy. So it was quite clear that this student had already been fully vetted and approved.
The only thing was, he was the only student there. In fact, there should have only been elders and aids on top of the gorge at that moment. So his appearance drew a lot of glances.
Soon, whispering began, and the atmosphere became odd. And that was not just because the student was a student, but because many of the elders recognized that face. It was the face of the averati that would come visit them when he bore a message. The same averati that would walk behind his master quietly and do his job diligently. One of the only averati to be an aid at the Crawfields academy for so many years and still be alive to tell the tale.
And his name was Jonathan.
The Head Recruitment Elder could not help but be furious. The veins on his neck were bulging. It was obvious he had not let his aid go. In fact, he was secretly known for killing off his aids that seemed to have too high of a propensity for gaining power. Although the aid/master relationship was more of an indentured servitude than slavery, no master wanted a servant that gained too much power. So he’s not dead, and this timing…
Jonathan appeared wearing a coat that signified his new status. To make someone a student without them going through the trials would have to be from someone of immense status and influence. And since the link was broken forcibly, it also meant that person was either a fifth star pupil or above, or had friends who were of a fifth star pupil or above.
To take my aid like that… You are clearly declaring me as an enemy. And everyone here now knows it. They may not know who you are, but this adds more doubt, confusion, and chaos to situation. If this does not end well, I will be finished! Let alone waiting for the trials to end, with the situation with those of the east and the western border, they could make a case to remove me. Is this their goal though? What is their goal? Why is everyone here? What don’t I know. Damn it. Damn it. Damn it. These Easterners need to die!
The Head Elder turned to the gateway with a heated gaze. “This needs to end.” He mumbled, and then he smiled. Good thing I’ve made some assurances. And all my plans go through swimmingly, jus you wait,