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Graduation Day

 
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cliffwiggs
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 14, 2011 1:10 pm GMT    Post subject: Graduation Day Reply with quote

Graduation Day

==================================================================

What can we say? The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The world of Es'fah is nothing like ours, but it is exactly the same. The world of Es'fah has a diverse terrain, from mountainous highlands to the stinky swamplands; so does ours. The world of Es'fah has a multitude of races and animal life; so does ours. They have magical and wondrous and dangerous animal life, some of which can be captured and trained; so does ours. They have skilled workers who can do things that the common folk can't understand; so does ours. And for those who want to better their position, who want to learn something new, who are learning a trade... they have schools.

Naturally, not all schools look the same. The Selumari™ have grand universities of learning, which no one else is allowed to enter or even approach. They horde their knowledge as their prideful right. The Vagha™ schools are more like apprenticeships. You learn the skills and trades of your forefathers. An honorable tradition they dare not deviate from. The Trogs™ have more of a 'do or die' approach. When you live in the dangerous swamps, you either learn to do what you must to survive or you die.

However in all the lands of Es'fah, nothing is stranger and nothing is more like our world, than the Eldarim. This strange nation is a melting pot. They take people of all races or all religions or all trades and just throw them together. Scholars and Athletes, bullies and socialites are all together in a big mess. They would like to tell us that everyone gets along, that all learn from each other. But honestly, is that what your high school was like?

==================================================================

He was not having a good day.

BAM!

The stars in his eyes almost obscure the ground as it rushes up towards his face. The ringing in his ears almost drown out the cries of the crowd as they chant:

'Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!'

The scene is a familiar one. A crowd of random faces, upper classmen and lower. They appear out of nowhere like a flash mob. Creating a ring around the impromptu battlefield, both to observe and obscure the sight from the faculty. When it is over, they will just as quickly disperse. Anonymous, random, deniable…

'I wasn't there'
'I didn't see it'
'I don't know nothing'

The perpetrator is standing, fists clenched, feet spread slightly apart in a stable battle stance. Clothes and hair are stylish and immaculate. You might call him a pretty boy, but it would be the last thing you say until the swelling in your jaw goes down. You might call him handsome, if you were ever brave enough to look him directly in the eye. He is a bully, but in a privileged way. Like all the acolytes, he has been changing as his skills increase. His features morphing as he takes on the characteristics of his profession. However, the arrogant way he holds himself, the dark smolder of cruel hate in his eyes, the sharp angular features of his face. All of these things scream of his Morehl™ heritage. The faint reddish hue of his skin showing that he still follows the worship of Firiel. Traditionally the acolytes were rebels and outcasts who had left their homelands by choice or force. However some families sought after the prestige of having an Eldarim trained champion. They purposely sent their sons to train and supported them so they would not forget their roots. It was obvious that he came from a family of means.

'Come on, get up!' His deep voice, full of the promise of more pain to come.

'Get him, RaiDon! Hit him again! Teach him a lesson!' The faceless mob repeating the unspoken thoughts of the Hunter aspirant, without knowing exactly what the lesson to be taught was.

To those of us who have been there, the lesson is clear: 'Don't be different.' Anyone who even glanced at the victim could tell that this was his crime. The kindest way to put it was that he was a mutt. He didn't fit any molds. His clothes were mismatched. Boots were Selumarian, high as the knee, but caked in mud. Tunic was Vaghalian, broad in the chest and rugged, but a bit short to cover his stocky frame. His pants used to be the soft dark leather of the Morehl™, but were worn enough that they had obviously been rescued from the trash heap. All were dirty and slightly smelly enough to be Trogish, but that is just from his time spent in the Dragonkin pens. Unfortunately for him, his difference didn't stop there. Like his clothes, his physical features were a mess. You could tell he was born a Selumari™, but just barely. He did not carry himself as one of that noble race. He did not hold his head high, he did not have the glitter of intelligence in his eyes. Instead he had a dull resigned look of someone who had taken too many beatings and was growing numb to the pain.

'RaiDon, do we really have to do this again today?' He asked as he struggled to his feet.

The crowd gasped that he would speak back in such a manner. 'Ohh, You're gonna get it now, Kleph!'

'Don't speak to me you filthy DOG!' RaiDon struck him across the face with a right hook, followed by a solid punch to the gut with his left.

Kleph swayed and stumbled to the side, but did not go down again. He'd had a lot of practice and knew how to take a punch. If RaiDon had not hit him unawares from the back, he wouldn't've fallen the first time. He'd been… distracted. However he also knew that RaiDon was a better trained fighter than he. He wouldn't be able to defeat him with a direct assault. His refusal to fight back or to fall down, infuriated RaiDon to an even greater degree. If possible his black eyes grew even darker, without taking his eyes off his prey he spoke to someone standing behind him.

'Do it'

The crowd immediately grew silent with shock. They'd seen these two dance before. The unstoppable fist of RaiDon. The immovable body of Kleph. Neither could fully dominate and neither would give in. Only one thing could tip the balance... and it was illegal for students, unsanctioned magic. They knew what was coming and they knew where it would come from. Behind KaiDon, standing shoulder to shoulder were the two lackeys that always followed him around; Dis'un and Dat'un.

Born as Trog™ twins, you could tell the level of their families intelligence from their chosen names. While most students left their homelands to seek out the Eldarim, these two were just as likely to have simply gotten lost and not been able to find their way home. As they grew up within the Eldarim society they were true followers. They latched onto RaiDon years ago and had followed his every whim since. While they had kept their Trog™-ish looks more than most, they had definitely abandoned their roots and now both showed the reddish hue of the followers of Firiel. The only thing that kept them from being identical was RaiDon's foresight. He knew that he had the makings of two loyal and brainless servants for life, so he had ordered Dat'un to follow the path of the Dragon Master. It was not easy for the Trog™ to go against his breeding, but RaiDon had literally beat the magical ability into him. At the rank of Sorcerer, he was now able to summon the magic at will.

Dis'un glared at the crowd and anyone who might try to interrupt or prevent what his brother was going to do. Dat'un closed his eyes, clenched his face and concentrated. Small glowing motes of energy, like little red fireflies began to form and gather around him. He gathered a handful of them to his chest and formed them with his will. With a flash of red light from between his fingers, the motes were gone as the magical energy 'changed' the natural order of things. RaiDon looked down at his fists as an almost invisible flame began dancing across them. It did not burn him and he did not flinch. It was exactly what he had been wanting. He began stalking towards Kleph with murder in his eyes.

Kleph knew what was happening and knew that he had to keep from being hit. He couldn't just absorb the damage anymore. Maybe it was from being in fights for so long, but he began to feel a familiar tingle. It would get stronger as RaiDon got closer to throwing a punch. Kleph could use it to anticipate when the punch was coming and try to doge or block it.

SWING!
SWISH!
DUCK!
DODGE!

Kleph was doing well to avoid so many hits, but knew it couldn't last forever. Unfortunately he was then distracted by a flash of golden light from the crowd. His attention was diverted for a moment as he reflexively looked at it. Then several things happened at once...

Kleph felt his chest begin to grow tight and hard.
RaiDon's fist hit him square in the stomach.
The dancing flames immediately transferred to his body.
The punch lifted him off his feet and he flew through the air.
An authoritative voice shouted 'That's ENOUGH!'
The faceless mob evaporated as quickly as it had formed.
Kleph gratefully lost consciousness.
Then and only then, did he finally hit the ground 20 ft away.

==================================================================

Kleph awoke in the infirmary and could tell that several hours had passed. As his vision started to clear and he could focus again he saw an angel; at least someone as beautiful as an angel. It was actually his old friend T'fnae, a beautiful Master aspirant. It had been many years since the two of them had stumbled into an Eldarim camp all those years ago. Her features had change, as all acolytes do and her skin now shown a lovely earthen gold. All of which just made her more beautiful in his eyes.

'You almost killed me today you know' he accused her with a grin.

She was not grinning 'Actually I think I saved your life.'

'If your little light show hadn't distracted me he wouldn't've hit me.'

'If I hadn't cast that spell to turn your skin to stone he might've punched clear through your chest!'

'You're just lucky you didn't get caught.'

She had the decency to look away and blush as she said: 'I did. The Lord came by to break up the fight and saw what I did. Luckily he was able to cast a healing spell for what I couldn't stop. He's not happy with me though.'

'I'm sorry you got in trouble because of me. Why were you there anyway? You shouldn't hang around that RaiDon so much, he's bad news. I'm surprised he doesn't openly worship Death.'

'Well, he's not exactly easy to say no too. Especially not with his two peons following him around.'

Kleph didn't accept that as an answer, but knew there was nothing he could do about it. This was an old argument as well. Instead he could only sigh 'What are we doing here? As kids, We used to frolic together in the ocean. Now we barely speak to each other and have nothing in common. We don't even look the same anymore! Your skin has turned gold and mine has lost all its blues and greens.'

'Kleph, you know our history. Do you really need to hear it again? Our families were ambushed by a Vaghalian raiding party. The crossbows bolts were so thick they blocked out the sun. They didn't stand a chance. If we hadn't been playing in the ocean where we could hide we would've been slaughtered too.'

'Ah, the crossbow. It seemed like the perfect weapon to a little boy after that.'

'Yes and you looked so strange; A little Selumarian boy dragging around that large Vagha™ crossbow that you found. I think that was the first time I noticed you trying to do the opposite of everyone else. Whatever was expected of you. You had to do something else.'

'Can you blame me? Our parents did everything they were supposed to do! They did everything right and where are they now? How can I do what's expected of me when I see where it leads? Being different is what keeps me safe'

'You may believe that, but its not true. We live with the Eldarim now, there is something magical around them. It changes you physically, none of us look the same. RaiDon is becoming more like the Hunters with the more he learns. He's abandoned the worship of Death and his skin turned red to honor Firiel. I'm looking more and more like the Masters and hiding in the ocean scared me so bad, is it any wonder that I chose to worship Eldurim? My skin certainly reflects that. But look at you. You are trying so hard to do what's not expected of you. You came here demanding to learn archery. When you finally realized you couldn't you wanted to join the cavalry. When that was blocked you became a shield bearer. Every choice you have you pick the dead-end. That's why you look so different from everyone else. That's why RaiDon picks fights with you. That's why your skin looks like a dead fish. You don't believe in anything anymore, not the goddesses and not yourself.'

Kleph was stunned by this barrage of pent-up emotion, he could barely bring himself to whisper a response. 'Its the only way I know to stay safe, so that I can keep you safe.'

'This is graduation day, our promotion day. Some of us will pass the test and finally become champions. Some of us will not and can try again next year. But you've picked a dead-end again. You have no where to go. I'm going to promote, I'm going to move on and you can't follow me this time. You can't just pick a new vocation and keep up with me. After today, I'm going to be a champion and you will be stuck at the 3rd level. After today, I'm going to be all alone, just like in that ocean. Just like in that blood covered field. I'd rather be with a Trog™ lover like RaiDon than all alone again...'

After that, there was nothing more that either of them could say.

==================================================================

Later that night was the Testing and Graduation Celebrations. There was a very large class this year and it was expected to take all night long. All the hopefuls and their friends were gathered in the arena.

This was the night of the testing. Each student was given a chance to prove their skills against a clipped drake. Those who were successful got promoted. Those who were not... well at least they weren't hurt too badly these days.

A clipped drake, Kleph hated the idea. Younger Dragonkin could be trained. Older Dragonkin grew wilder but could be contained. However a full grown wyrm or drake could never be tamed except temporarily by a Master or the Lord. So clipping the drake was their solution. It was an awful practice. The wings were snipped so it could not fly. The tail and claws were cut off! The teeth were broken and rounded. The powerful beautiful dragon was mutilated, just so that it wouldn't kill some rich kid acolyte who was trying to be tested too early. Kleph spat upon the ground in his disgust.

Kleph wasn't in the arena with the others. After today's physical beating by RaiDon and the afternoons verbal beating by T'fnae... He just didn't feel like being told that he had failed and would be left behind to repeat another year of training. He was feeling sorry for himself and hiding in the Dragonkin pens. He was walking along the rows and petting the foals. They were simple creatures, they made sense to him. They didn't judge you or expect things from you. They could take care of themselves and didn't need protecting. There was a simple beauty in them. As much as the clipping disgusted him, he also hated the Masters ability to tame. The dragons were wild beautiful creatures; to force your will on them and ride them like a little girl on a pony. *Ugh* Even then they weren't really 'tame'. A Master could just barely keep them from attacking something. They didn't truly control them, they couldn't truly understand them. He didn't like the Hunters skill at killing dragons, but at least he understood it. At least it was kinder than what the Masters did, and T'fnae was training to be one of them. It wasn't the dragons fault, it was theirs. He felt sure that there was a better way, but all he had to show for it was bruises and burnt clothes. The teachers mantra to young acolytes running through his mind: 'Slay, Tame, Run or Die.'

To make a bad day worse, his solitude was interrupted by the last three people he wanted to see.

'I think its time you had a fatal accident.' RaiDon and his two lackeys were stalking towards him. All of their fists were already dancing with fire. Dat'un had been busy.

'Do we have to do this tonight?'

'Don't worry, it'll be the last time. I promise.' This wasn't going to be just a simple beating. This was for keeps. The fact that three of them were coming meant that he would have to watch his back. At least one of them would try to sneak around and attack him from behind.

The three spread out and approached Kleph and he began to feel the familiar tingle that indicated they were going to attack. The entire situation was ridiculous. There was no way he could survive against all three of them. Even if he did, they would just try again tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Something inside of Kleph snapped. He wasn't going to just take it anymore. If he was going to die, he may as well die fighting. As he felt the tingle grow, rather than dodge or run he grabbed a nearby shovel and rushed towards Dat'un. Dat'un pulled his flaming fist back to deliver a killing blow to Kleph's head. However, instead of his head Dat'un suddenly found a shovel flying towards him. It bashed into his fist harder than hitting a brick wall. The bones in his arm shattered under the impact and then got worse. The dancing flames starting traveling back up his arm. He was blown backwards from the impact and thudded into the muck at the bottom of the Dragonkin foal's pen. He was dead before he hit the ground.

'What did you just do?!?!' RaiDon roared! Kleph was just as stunned. A simple shovel should've shattered under the force of that blow, not done that much damage back. This turn of events caused Dis'un and RaiDon to rein in their anger, something was wrong here. They should have Kleph dead by now, it was going to take more than brute force to finish him off.

It was at this point that they all noticed something was wrong in the arena. The cheers and yells of the testing had changed to screams of fear and death. Unable to process this change in events they all just stopped and stared at the arena. A jet of dragon flame lit up the night, but it was coming from inside the arena. Accidents like this had happened before during testing, but this seemed like something much worse was going on.

As the glow of the dragon fire started to fade, the glow of normal fire began to grow. The Arena had caught fire. It was from this light that they saw an earth drake fly out of the arena and head towards them. But all the drakes used for the testing were clipped how was this one flying? As the drake grew nearer they could see that it had a rider. It had been tamed, but that still didn't explain where it had come from. The drake landed near them, causing the Dragonkin to scatter in fear.

'Run you Idiots! Vagha™ mercenaries are attacking the school!' It was T'fnae, yelling at them from the dragons back.

There was a whistle in the air as a cloud of crossbow bolts dropped into the Dragonkin pens wounding and killing half the herd with a single volley.

'We were caught completely unaware. They've got magical support from somewhere. They summoned this Earth Drake and I was just able to tame it. Guess I passed my testing huh? You wouldn't believe it, they've even summoned a...' She stopped as her attention was drawn from them. From the far side of the Dragonkin pens several red fireflies were racing towards them.

T'fnae yelled in triumph 'The magicians! I'll get them, remember Slay, Tame or Run. Dying is not an option tonight!' With that her drake jumped into the air and started flying towards the hidden magicians. The red fireflies, obviously a magical spell taking shape stopped near them and burst into the form of a Fire Wyrm. Almost before it was finished forming, it belched forth flame towards RaiDon and Dis'un. It narrowly missed Kleph, but engulfed the other two. As the flame died away RaiDon stood there, smoldering but unharmed. Dis'un was nothing more than ash settling to the ground, not even enough left of him to bury.

RaiDon, aware that he'd just passed a literal 'trial by fire', rushed the Wyrm. Dodging his whipping tail and slashing claws he ran right up under the Wyrm and stuck it in that secret place known only to the Hunters. The wyrm instantly began thrashing around in its death throes.

Meanwhile, T'fnae's drake was on the ground fighting and the sound of dying Vagha™ could be head even over the great distance. With a flash of golden light the ground opened up and T'fnae was sudden back with them. She was wounded, but alive. The three looked around taking stock of their situation...

An earth drake was on the far side of the pens making quick work of the Vagha™ magicians.
The fire wyrm had stopped thrashing and was lying dead among the foals.
They could hear the sound of the Vagha™ archers approaching from the other side of the pens.
The arena was still on fire, but the screams were less frequent now.

'Come on, lets get you out of here' Kleph tried to help T'fnae to her feet.
She replied 'You don't understand, we can't escape they've summoned a...'

At that point the side of the arena collapsed and T'fnae's unfinished statement was answered. Crawling through the hole in the arena was the largest Wyrm that any of them had ever seen. It was an ancient white wyrm. It was no longer a question why so many had died so quickly... and it was looking directly at them.

As the white wyrm began running towards them, RaiDon ran. Knowing that he was completely unable to slay this new wyrm like he had the last, he abandoned his classmates as raw fear took over him. Because there is karmatic justice in the world, he ended up running straight towards the ranks of the Vagha™ archers who filled him with so much wood he looked like one of the mythical Treefolk.

With T'fnae's wounded thigh, she was unable to even run, but was just paralyzed with fear.

Kleph was not having a good day.

It had started bad, progressed to worse, and was still spiraling into worst.

'Slay, Tame, Run or Die', the mantra ran through his mind.

He wasn't a Hunter, even the arrogant RaiDon had known none but the Slayer would have a chance against this beast.

He wasn't a Master, even the Lord could only temporarily control something this ancient and large.

Run? It hadn't saved RaiDon and he wasn't going to abandon T'fnae just to save himself.

That left only 'Die'... He had spent the majority of his life trying to protect T'fnae; ever since a Vagha™ bolt had shattered the lives of two small children. A bolt from a company of Vaghalian archers, just like the ones who were now waiting to finish what had been started so many years ago.

'Slay, Tame, Run or Die' The final list of unacceptable choices at the end of an entire life of unacceptable choices. He couldn't save himself and T'fnae. He couldn't live without her. He refused to just die. For the second time that evening, something in him snapped and he stood to face the great white wyrm.

As the beast rushed towards him, he took a deep breath. He pulled into himself all the pain, all the love, all the raw emotion of his entire life. He raised his hand towards the wyrm and yelled at it with all the power he had inside him, every fiber of his physical and mental being. 'STOP!'

The white wyrm was as surprised as everyone else... when it obeyed.

It stood over the two tiny beings unable to do anything but comply. Before he could realize that what he was doing was impossible, he moved his hand to point towards the remaining Vagha™ and released the Wyrm with a whispered word... 'Kill'

The white wyrm rushed towards the Vagha™, coating the ground before it in flame and returning the beings of earth and flame... back to just the dust of the earth. It barely stopped as it continued away from this strange being that had such control over it...

Kleph just stood there shuddering. Scared to death by what had just happened. Unable to explain it, unable to believe it, but knowing he could do it again if required.

T'fnae lay on the ground in complete awe and shock. From her vantage point Kleph was nothing more than a dark outline with the burning arena behind him. The only thing she could bring herself to say was...

'What are you?'
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