The sun had just begun its rise as she stepped up to the ferry, gold in hand for her fare. The price was steep, but that was to be expected on the first day of orientation. She held her head high and shoulders back as every step was taken as one who had lived a life of privilege. The image had not been difficult to duplicate, for she simply mimicked the way other girls carried themselves through the town. She took calming breaths as she claimed her spot at the boat’s rail. Storm clouds brewed beneath the hull and stretched all the way to the floating island ahead, like a protective moat that hid unknown monstrosities in the valley below it all.
She tuned out the hushed conversations around her, instead choosing to focus on the energies she felt from everyone. A young man buried in the cowl of his hood was a hydromancer, the energy in his body moving fluidly and in complete synchronization with all his organs. It was easy for her to spot other elementalists, for they were all that inhabited the Islands in which she was raised, though pyromancers as herself were the least common of the Saakarans. Another deep breath was sucked in as the boat lurched forward. She watched the mountain peak slowly grow smaller. This was it, there was no going back now.
The ride was painless and smooth, the boat gliding over boiling clouds at the experienced hands of the ferrymen. They would be doing this all week, day and night until all students had either been accepted or dismissed. Already she had her orientation talent planned, for all students wanting acceptance had to prove their worth. Her orientation envelope had given her specific instructions as she was hoping to gain admittance to The Winter Court. Evidently, the elementalists had a different orientation schedule from all other students so as not to take time away from all other Mages that would be deciding the fate of each initiate. She would be taken to a room to display her level of skill. She would then be judged and either immediately be accepted, declined, or asked to wait until all other candidates had been seen for the day. Then, upon acceptance, all students of The Winter Court would be ranked and assigned lodging from there. Or so her uncle spoke. How he knew so much of the inner workings of a private academy was beyond her, but she had no reason to doubt him so far.
The boat rocking into it’s dock brought her from her thoughts and she straightened her shoulders once more. It was going to be difficult keeping up an image she was so unused to. She made a final glance over the other passengers before stepping off and shuddered, for it seemed the cloaked hydromancer had been turned toward her, watching. Perhaps evaluating competition? Had that not been her immediate thought when she saw him, was the judgment of her power in comparison to hers? It was impossible to equally compare two elementalists of different class to each other, but she did not believe he would hold the upper hand in a battle. Her skills had been fine tuned since childhood. Once her family realized she did not have an affinity for Alchemy like them, they had shipped her off to the Islands of Hrovati to live with the native tribes. The Saakarans were the majority of inhabitants, and they were neither human nor particularly partial to the arrival of her and her caretaker. The islands were, however, well known for their elementalists. Not only did they hold each elemental ability, but the Saakarans were master elementals, and they had taught her everything she knew.
It had not been until her name day that she gained absolute acceptance into the Tribe. The day of testing it was called, when children believed they were ready to ride and take on their roles in the tribe. There were only two other pyromancers her age that chose to test when she had stubbornly stepped forward. It had been a brutal day, storm clouds brewing angrily above the active mountain that was the main island of their cluster. To pass her testing and move forward, she would be required to pass through the heart of the volcano and return unscathed. The first to enter had not made it out, and the second returned with a burn across his cheek which would earn another year of trial and study before he would be allowed to try again. She, however, had simply regulated the fire and lava to burn away from her skin, using the energy of the flames to her advantage as she sat in the heart, meditating and learning to understand the mountain. She was the first human to pass and gain acceptance into the Saakaran tribe.
Regardless, none here could know her true heritage, for it was vital to the image of her family that she not exist; much like her uncle though she knew his story not. Instead, she would forever be known only by the name in which she had earned that day at the volcano: The fury of the sun. Rage she always felt toward the world and her family, though hidden beneath layers of meditation and self discipline. It had been little protection from what she discovered in the fiery mountain’s heart.
The crowd gathering ahead was being filed into lines at the base of a huge tower in the middle of the island; the center of learning for the Academy. This is where the administration would spend the majority of their time, governing the Courts and keeping the school in check. It was also where the Academy’s policing force resided. The mages that went out into the world to keep others in check from using magic illegally. Even from her remote island she could recite horror stories about the people who found themselves in the hands of those Mages.
She showed her orientation card to one of the men at the front gate to the tower and was given directions to The Winter Court where her trial would take place. The path was clear and she followed a few other newcomers with the same nervous energy that she carried within herself, though the previous hydromancer was now nowhere to be seen. It was possible he had a ticket for a later day and chose to arrive at the school early. The path led her to a courtyard that diverged into five towers. The largest directly before her had a crest displayed proudly, each quadrant of the crest corresponding to the banners displayed upon the other towers; one for each of the four elements. She did not allow her feet to stop and take in the scenery, instead she kept her gaze forward, determination marking her features as she entered the main tower of the court. There were only three others ahead of her, standing in a line waiting for their orientation trials to begin. The school wasted no time in this matter as there would be many students in the days to come.
Now she could only wait until it was her turn to perform. This first impression would be the only opportunity she had to set herself apart from all the other students wanting to study at The Academy. In front of her was a petite woman with blond hair in delicate curls to her waist and eyes as blue as the clearest waters of Hrovati. The woman turned to her with a judgmental once over head to toe and then sniffed indignantly, throwing her nose in the air and turning forward once more. An obvious aeromancer, though the energy levels she held in her body were minimal at best. The tiny woman’s power was minute compared to the Aeromancer at the front of the line. He stood at least a head taller than any others in line, eyes dark and brooding as he leaned against the wall. He too eyed her up and down before fixing his gaze back to the empty hallway, obviously evaluating her power level with not a hint of emotion. She simply turned her attention to the lanky boy standing between the two Aeromancers. He was skinny and not particularly tall, though of the four of them his clothes had the most embroidery and lace. Did that mean his family was wealthier even than hers? It was difficult to compare her wealth to that of others since she had no point of reference. The Saakarans shared all resources among the tribe, only delegating objects of ceremonial value to the leaders of the tribes and then filtering down to those who stood worthy. She owned only a few gold beads and ornamental pins that held her fiery red hair from her face. She had no need of anything else the Saakarans wore as ornamental. They stood much taller than humanity, their body proportions unequal in every way. They were slender, tall and had eyes much larger that filled their round faces. Two horns protruded and rested atop their heads, curving down to the base of the neck and often decorated or carved with runes. The leaders would often wear gold bands around their horns to display their station among the tribe. She had always thought it beautiful how they each decorated their bodies so differently with paint and the different elemental qualities attributed to their skills. The northern hydromancers often had ice crystals protruding from their skin and hanging delicately from their hair. It was a sign of their control of the elements, and she hoped to one day be as skilled in pyromancy as many were in their own elements. She would have to be.
A figure clothed in brown robes came forward to collect the tall aeromancer at the front of the line and they disappeared from sight around a bend in the hall. Now only two stood between her and the trial ahead. She settled against the wall, eyes watching the hallway for any signs of movement. Her nerves were beginning to show as her fingers tapped rhythmically against the marble wall. She had an advantage over most of these people, this she knew, but the thought was not as comforting as when her uncle had said it. She worried for the man. What had he done to be cast out from the family? He was not an elementalist as she, in fact, she had not been able to figure out his affinity. It was as though he had shielded his energy from being read. The thought mulled in her mind as she watched the lanky boy saunter down the hall. She hoped his confidence was not short lived, but she did not give him any hope of succeeding. His energy was so minuscule that she could not even tell his element.
Soon after the petite woman left and a line had begun to form behind them. She could feel the different energies around her, but her focus was not on the crowd gathering. It was on the hallway ahead. Toward her future. Minutes felt like hours as she waited, going over her routine again and again in her head until… finally! The same brown robed man motioned her forward and she pushed off the wall to follow.
Down the marble hall did she follow him, their footsteps echoing quietly along the polished floors. Tapestries lined both sides of the hall, each alternating various scenes from the different seasons. Their colors were so vivid that it almost seemed to be snowing in one tapestry. She couldn’t tell the material, but found herself transfixed by each one they passed. The hallway abruptly ended in double wooden doors that were as tall as the ceiling. The same crest displayed on the outside of the tower was carved into the wood with such craftsmanship. She could only imagine the cost of having such a door made.
The double doors swung inward and the man motioned her forward silently before turning his back to the door and staring at the empty hall behind her. She took one last breath before stepping forward into a large chamber. A long table sat at the far end of the room filled with mages. These had to be administrators of The Winter Court. Her breaths were even as she walked toward them, stopping at the empty table centered in the room. A battery rested atop the table in the right corner, but she ignored it, instead focusing her attention on the people before her.
A man in orange robes sat at the center of the table and spoke loudly, quieting all soft conversation happening between the scholars. “You come before The Winter Court to display your skill and power in the hopes of admittance to this school. What happens next is entirely up to you. Impress us.”
He was direct in his motioning toward her, not in the mood to waste any time. She contemplated a moment before climbing to stand on the table, earning some incredulous looks from a few of the mages at the table before her, but she ignored them. Her focus was only on the energy she felt beneath her skin, and the energy in the air around her. She cast away all else, for what she had planned would take all her focus unless she wished to burn down the tower. Her arms went out from her sides as flames began to dance across the sleeves of her dress. She had assumed the gold thread had been embroidered with the intent to be used as a source of energy, but she simply used it as an anchor for the flames, letting them follow the stitches along the hem of her gown. Soon the flames danced across her dress, the fabric showing no signs of heat as she made the flames begin to dance. Now the fun part. She could control the heat of the flames and focused the fire in her hands to heat as the fire closest to the wood beneath her cooled. Then, a single quartz crystal was taken from her pocket and held out for the mages to see. Beginning with the tip of the crystal she allowed the flames to envelope it entirely until it was included in the mirage of fire surrounding her. The heat could be felt across the room and she smiled at the sweat that began to form on a few faces.
The flames around her body began to die down as she focused her energy on the crystal resting in her hand. It was nearly as tall as her hand standing up and a few gasps echoed as the crystal began to change colors. She knew the reactions were not from the people she needed to impress. No, the pyromancers all watched with no visible emotion, judging her control of the fire and her own skill in handling the heat of the flames. The battery lie forgotten, for she did not need it and hoped that would add to her impression. A few minutes passed as the colors along the crystal grew brighter and more vivid. Clear to white to yellow to purple to green as the quartz grew hotter and hotter. Eventually the base of the crystal became black and she eased the heat into a gradient. The flames around her died down as she began to cool the crystal. It’s final result was a gradient within the crystal. The point was still clear, but the color moved into yellow then to purple and green, ending in the black base. She saw a single eyebrow raise as she stepped off the table and moved toward the mages. With a small bow she placed the crystal before the pyromancer who had spoken to her before and turned to leave.
“What is your name, child?” He asked. The inflection in his voice has risen since his first words and he passed the crystal down the table to the other mages. A few were astonished by the transformation while others remained unimpressed. She could only hope it was enough.
Turning back to the table she nodded her head and spoke for the first time since her arrival at the school, voice ringing clearly in the marble chamber. “I am Lyssana Terasu.”
“So it would seem,” he grunted in acknowledgement, turning a final time to the other mages and receiving unanimous nods from each in turn. “Welcome to The Winter Court.”