I never knew my parents … and never knew what they called me. Even if I had known, the name would be long forgotten by now. My one goal, which I have sacrificed everything for … is to bring back their memories –just once- before my skin withers away and my flesh rots off my body…
The Town of Egrof
I grew up in a small town, Egrof – once known to be one of the largest distributors of magical weapons across the land. As a child, everyone reminded me of that fact and I had to listen because those were the rules. Every day at least one of the villagers, usually Egas, would explain how the roads used to be crowded with tradesmen and soldiers; the shops used to be full of smiths blending dragon’s fire with frost runes to mold the finest of blades- as if that somehow saves the town from dying.
Yes, our town was dying. All the trade routes were deserted as no one dared wander those roads this far after ‘that’ happened. Other towns were too far from us and even the most skillfully forged staves were not tempting enough for anyone to make the trip. After a while, the materials were running out. There were still a few lumberjacks that only went out during the brightest hours of the day. No one was allowed out at night. Egrof’s most talented crafters were forced to learn other trades such as growing our own supply of food. There was hardly enough to go around, but just enough went to everyone. We shared everything we had because those were the rules. I was almost a decade old and I knew everyone was scared and on the verge of losing hope.
I wasn’t scared. But the elder’s wouldn’t let me out of their sight after they caught me as I returned from sneaking out one night. I still have a large branch from the sentient tree as proof to myself that I made it that far. Egas gave me an hour of lecturing, but it was worth it. I should explain, Egas was the oldest of the elders and raised me from a baby after my parents went away. He taught me enchantments of special spells, the arts of crafting, and how to channel magic through a weapon. He seemed to know everything about everything, probably because he is in charge of the town’s library; they called him the wisest man. Yet he was still so naïve to believe that one day the roads will reopen to welcome the return of our heroes.
It’s been 9 years already, since our town heroes set off to see the king. They promised to return with the news that the roads will be reopened with guards every quarter mile to keep everyone safe. Even though none of them returned yet, we still hear legends of their journey. For they were the bravest of us all- after ‘that’ happened, everyone was in panic and they still volunteered to challenge the monsters head on. But after 9 years of silence, it was clear that each one of them was resting in unmarked graves on the very road they were trying to defend. No one was going to come back; my parents included.
The Guild of New Heroes
My tenth birthday proved eventful. Not with cake and candles, but an invitation to join a hidden group; the Guild of New Heroes. Recruited by Rethgif, one of the older boys in the town, I followed him into a large tent. “This is the main training camp” Rethgif explained. There I saw a large group of children fencing, learning magic, and shooting targets – practices that I thought had long been retired. Recycled metals were being flared up in the old forges; the leftover wood from carving staves and bows were made into arrows and rings. It relieved me to see the townspeople weren’t just sitting on their thumbs; we were preparing to send another generation into the battlefield.
This was kept secret from the elders, all but Leber, as they are still clinging to hope that the previous party will return. Leber, who was the youngest of the elders, formed the GNH and spread his knowledge throughout the training grounds. Rethgif showed me around. He explained to me that everyone went through a training schedule, taking turns on each skill all in order to prepare for the Class Exam. “The Class Exam?” I was curious. “It’s the test to determine whether one is truly fit for the battlefield and will show you which type of warrior you will be.” Rethgif went on to warn me about the difficulty of the exam; it took him 6 years of training to finally pass.
He laughed when I asked him why everyone was getting so worked up about an exam. Then without saying a word, he went to pick up a sword. The expression on his face change, I’ve never seen anyone so serious. I froze, almost afraid of what he was about to do next and before I realized it I was being pulled towards him by an unknown force. He stopped his sword right before my neck and said “After passing the Class Exam, you can specialize in mastery skills and start hunting the monsters”.
Hunting the monsters. I had never expected that we could be doing this. After all the years of not being allowed to even go near them, all this time I only imagined on training how to defend ourselves from them. Rethgif led me out of the end of the tent, and into a smaller building. It was time for me to take a preliminary examination, personally with Leber.
Rethgif left me alone with Leber; the old man asked me to take a seat. Resting in front of him was a beam of wood and some sheets of metal from the scraps of broken shields. Leber told me I had 5 hours to make my ideal weapon and then went silent. Still as a statue, he ignored any questions I asked and simply observed my progress. I saw an old forge and a hammer for forming the metal, but no carving knife for the wood. I knew a regular sword would be too heavy for me to swing properly, and I was much better at crafting the wood.
An hour has passed and I was still looking through the shelves and cupboards for a simple carving knife. The rocks I found weren’t sharp enough and using the hammer to smash it would damage the inside wood. Finally I reached for the shield, and from Leber’s subtle smile I knew I found my answer. Two more hours in, I was sharpening and polishing the short sharp blade. The dagger glistened red as if some magic from the flame was still trapped inside.
Leber finally spoke and complemented my speed at creating a fine weapon. “I’m not done yet” I interrupted. I went back to the wood and began carving. I noticed the wood was enchanted, a common technique to make lower quality woods as tough as ironwood. But with the dagger I had, it felt like I was carving butter. The design was soon complete; I carved a flame that spiraled up the staff and at the top was a fierce head of a dragon- it seemed like the ideal weapon to channel the powers of mage.
“Now show me the power of that staff” Leber requested. Just like Egas taught me, I focused all my energy to my hands, and felt the power travel to the head of the staff. A blue and white glow surrounded the room but then faded away. The wood then began to crack and shattered like fragile glass. I must have failed. In an attempt to cheer me up, Leber insisted it was not my fault – just that the weapon was not compatible with my powers. But even Egas told me staves were my best weapon.
The next day, I returned to the main training grounds. A training schedule was already prepared for me; my first activity was armour crafting. It was all about getting the maximum strength for the least amount of weigh. Even the lighter armours were fairly heavy for me, impairing my movement. Instead I was taught how to enchant magic into simple cloth and combine it with braided horse hair to act as chainmail. Next was working on rings. It came as a surprise to me that they could benefit in combat, but I quickly got the hang of how to keep the magic trapped in circulation only to be borrow in battle. Each station had its own tutor; all of them had already passed the class exam. Each of them recognized that I wasn’t too far away.
It wasn’t long before I started drawing attention to myself. I was the youngest there, the minimum age possible to join the group, but still I was on the same level as those who have been there for years. They thought I was a prodigy, but it was Egas’ teachings. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that I was going to be the strongest one there. I could tell the other kids didn’t like me very much, but I didn’t care. I wanted to get out of this training as quick as I could, so I could join Rethgif and whoever else on the real training.
The last activity, everyone did together; it was a group study of actual combat. We memorized the different types of monsters and their histories. Gobins: not powerful but numerous, we must avoid getting surrounded and fight at a distance. Skeletons: the risen remains of the fallen; some still possess the faintest hint of passion in their eyes. Trolls: powerful and large, they are credited with the extinction of several Dwarven tribes. We discussed team compositions, which I was less interested in, but it gave me a sense of the different classes. Fighter, cleric, archer, fire mage and bard – each combat style had its uses and variations. The teacher was rather vague in the description of the classes. It seemed very little was known about them.
The Specialized Mastery Skills
On my spare time, I stayed with Egas in the library. Ever since Leber was supposedly giving me ‘music lessons’, I didn’t get to see Egas as often as I used to. Egas encouraged my new fascination with combat; he helped me find the books I needed, references to mastery skills. Yes, only references. There were no books specifically about these specializations as there was no one person who knew enough about them. I spent hours reading legends and lore, many were probably just fairy tales. A hunter, who chased an Ice Dragon to the ends of the earth for a decade, finally conquered it by causing thousands arrows to descend from the Heavens themselves. A single soldier, who charged through a stampede of 50 enemies, returned without a scratch. A cloaked mystery man was credited with causing multiple fiery sandstorms that destroyed entire towns. There was one I was already familiar with; a knight of the king had the ability to yank nearby enemies towards him before slicing them to pieces.
While I returned the books I finished to their place on the shelves, I caught the glimpse of a room behind the last shelf. I had never noticed it there before as that corner has always been pitch black. Curiosity compelled me to check it out; the creaking floors caused only a moment’s hesitation. As I stepped through the door, a small glow from a magma stone lantern suddenly shined. “Awahh!” I fell back startled as I saw Egas’ face in the darkness. “Sorry did I scare you? What were you doing back here anyways?” He questioned. “I never saw this room before and I saw the light” I answered. “This is just an old storage room, nothing here that would interest you.” Egas helped me up and then sealed the door with an old, bizzare lock. There was something here he didn’t want me to see, it would explain why he kept the lantern at such a low power.
Over the next few weeks, I’ve never seen Egas enter that room again; he’s being more careful now. I did sneak there a couple times and noticed the lock was shifting in position. He’s been there when I’ve been at my ‘music lessons’; I decided we all had our own secrets and left it alone. I had plenty of other books and things to focus on anyway. The GNH just announced that a set of class exams was to take place in a week. It’s a fairly rare occasion as there must be at least 5 people the teachers believe are eligible to take it for it to happen; this time, I was one of 7 taking the exam.
I was constantly reminded not to worry too much about it. No one passed on their first attempt, let alone after only a month of joining GNH; it was amazing for a 10 year old to even be taking it. It was clear no one was expecting anything from me, and I desperately wanted to pass to prove everyone wrong. It will bring me one step closer to learning mastery skills, one step closer to hunting the monsters. I want to measure with my own eyes the difference between me and the legends.
The Class Exam- The First Hurdle
The day of the exam finally came; the seven of us were excused from regular activities and led to a private room. We each received a different stamp on the back of our hand; mine was a simple circle. I didn’t know most of the others too well, but I knew them all by name. There were the Lacitnedi twins; the two best swordsmen that have yet to graduate from normal training. Bob and Rob Lacitnedi both took the exam 3 times so far. I knew of Elbert Felc since he wakes half the town up with his flute every morning. There was Delaif and Deppolf who took the exam 5 and 7 times respectively. And finally Worra; despite being here for 3 years, it was also her first time taking the exam.
After a quick congratulations for all making it to the exam, Leber reached for his staff and smashed it against the back wall. It appears as if the wall broke down, but it regenerated itself to include 7 doors; each one marked with one of our symbols. Separate rooms to prevent cheating? “No one talks. Two hours to complete the written portion of the exam; you may enter your room and begin”. He then left us alone in the room.
Everyone immediately approached their door – locked! I scanned the room for any possible places to hide keys, but was interrupted by Bob and Rob both opening their doors. Did they pick it somehow? Elbert starting whistling into the keyhole- he had to be kidding. The door opened and he giggled as he walked through; Delaif and Deppolf were gone as well. Worra and I remained. I was on the verge of panicking; I couldn’t fail without even seeing the test.
Worra was using a thin silver arrow working away at the door knob with little progress. There had to be some trick to it; all the others took the exam before and must have come across something similar. I thought back, none of them used any sort of special tool like Worra was trying. All they really had to work with was the knob itself! Using the knob itself like a weapon you could control; I never imagined something like this was possible. I focused my magic into the metal and it quickly clicked open.
There were seven desks; the others were staring blankly onto the paper. All the doors led to the same room after all. I sat down at the desk marked with the circle as I heard Worra come in. She must have gotten the clue. I picked up the pen and gave the single sheet of paper a look.
You are on a hill.
Your team has been assigned to find dragon scales.
The heat is melting the remaining snow.
You have a food supply to last another day.
An army of enemy goblins hides in the east forest.
The rest of your team is 30km north, heading your way.
The mountains are south, but far in the distance.
The sun is to your east.
A stampede of elephants is charging from your west.
The moon is faint, but still visible.
Masses of birds conquer the sky.
The closest forest is east 2km.
The next closest forest is 6km north.
The closest stream is south-west 0.6km.
The stream is running from north-west to south-east.
The other side of the stream is an Elven Tribe.
What do you do?
I started to understand why the others seemed so still… or perhaps they were each given a different scenario? It is hard to imagine there is a right answer to this type of problem, not enough is being told about the situation and some of the details given are useless. I drew a map, but that didn’t really clear anything up. What are the examiner’s expecting? I had about an hour and a half to figure it all out.
The charging elephants are probably the most immediate threat, but they aren’t normally aggressive beasts. They could be running from something, which could explain the disturbance with the birds. The Elven Tribe are normally friendly, but maybe it shows weakness to seek help from others? The dragon’s location is probably south, but the rest of the team is north. This was hopeless. Any direction I went, it seemed to make just as much sense to move in the opposite. Before I knew it, time was up.
The Three Scrolls
The pen vaporized and the paper disappeared into the desk. The examiner appeared at the front of the room holding our papers. “Today only two of you didn’t pass the written portion of the exam. Deliaf and Deppolf- you may leave the room and the rest of you remain.” I passed? I didn’t even write anything. “Most of you made the correct decision to stay on the hill. Bob and Rob charged at the goblins which is reckless but honorable. Anyone want to explain your decision?”
Bob and Rob’s hands shot up, but it didn’t really take a genius to figure out their reasoning. Elbert then volunteered to explain. “While we wait for the rest of the team, the hill is clearly the safest place to be. The elephants will run around it, and it is best to be on high ground during an earthquake. The charging elephants, birds taking flight, moon’s proximity to the earth, a hot winter day, and of course the presence of a dragon all indicate a likely earthquake. It is suicide to attack the goblins in these conditions, and if anything it is best to let the elephants reach them first. The Elven Tribes, while normally cooperative, would have used us as human sacrifice had we sought help. The search of dragon scales requires a lot of patience, thus it was best to just do nothing.” “Very Good” The examiner continued.
“This Class Exam will be different than the others. The prize for completing it will be handed out during the exam. By making it this far, you have already earned it, congratulations!” On each of our desks appeared three scrolls; each glowing with ancient power. “These are the Scroll of Preferred Weapon which supplies your most suitable weapon, the Scroll of Mastery Class which tells you your most suitable class and strengthens your ability to use that class, and the Scroll of Skill Treasure which gives you a rare ancient gem which can assist in learning a mastery skill. You will be allowed to use one for the next stage, and the two others are yours to keep after the exam. The scrolls aren’t marked, but sealed with riddles for you to identify which is which. Good luck”. Ugh, more riddles. I took a look at the scrolls.
War is such a rascal system which developed quite the sarcasm style
To wise men, it does not listen and only seems to favour the vile
What should you be? A cowboy with aimed pistols
Or an Archmage recycling all the same crystals
Possibly fine to be a fool? But just in case, smart, sly
Yes, calm stars fill the night sky…
My art classes showed me proof of the scaly streams
A single breath melts metal into crassly steam
Peace on earth right after you finish this test?
Surely a while before you will let the clay mass rest
Heavens possess the power to bring a strike to a stop
The greatest old kings feared newer prop
Deepen for prewar, the wanderer foe prep.
Spur of the moment or planned out to each step?
A thousand peasants with clothes papered, worn free.
Wielding, from their prof, redrawn epee
After the king defer narrow peep, a glace outside the sewers
Shows a referred open paw and they prepared no fewer
A sharper mind allows cuts to sink deeper
Enough from us, and challenge the deep frown reaper.
The retailer sulks, angry at his own works
Always afraid of a tireless lurk
Never is a killer surest, till his blade he could trust
Cut down the many churches to erase, kill, rust.
A stone wet with holy water, to keep it far from dull
And continue the slaughter; break even the arteries’ skull
Control your emotions, conceal irk, reseal lust
Choose the hardest rock and let the more serrate kill us.
Serial Elk ruts torn down all for this
Still they give it a, scented rallet, rue kiss
What is this nonsense? We were given ten minutes to select a scroll to be used. Without any idea what was going to happen in the next stage of the exam, I could hardly decide which of the scrolls I wanted. As the time ticked out, I arbitrarily chose the second.
The Great Stadium
Scroll in hand, I followed the examiner out of the room. We walked all the way to the beack of the village and onto one of the old unused roads. Behind the trees, which I always though to be a forest, was a giant stone structure hidden from the view of the town. The examiner made a gesture towards the marvellous collosseum and announced "Welcome to the Battle Arena".
As we entered the building, 5 expert warriors, who must have already passed the exam, were there to greet us. They split us up and lead us to separate corners of the building; my supervisor was Sei Dolem. Sei didn’t say a word. He simply twirled his dagger while whistling a tune as he walked; I followed in silence. The hallway grew dark as we marched on; all I had to tail was the glow of Sei’s dagger. I was lead to a room full of other glowing weapons and equipment, completely lighting up the room. Sei finally spoke and explained the rules for the next event.
“You are about to engage in a trial of combat. The Battle Arena is a place where everyone who passed the exam comes to practice and train to be a hero. When you die in the arena, although painful, you will be revived outside the pit so it is an ideal training ground. Generally it is used to combat with other people, but today is special. We have managed to capture monsters to be placed in the arena. Because they were kept in captivity, they are only about a tenth as strong as they would be in the actual world. Don’t underestimate them though, because that would mean your death.” It surprised me to see Sei be so chatty. He continued.
“Your objective for the next round is to win a badge. There are 5 special badges present: 3 Boss Slayer badges, 1 Undead Slayer badge, and 1 Last Man Standing badge. You win a Boss Slayer badge by doing the most damage to any of the bosses but the badge could only be claimed if the boss is killed. The Undead Slayer badge is given to the person who kills the most undead targets. The Last Man Standing badge is given to the person who survives in the Arena the longest. You may leave the Arena any time of your choosing; it is suggested you leave after earning a badge as having a second badge grants no additional advantage to the next round apart from removing the competition. Since there are 5 badges and 5 contestants, it is possible for you all to pass, but whether or not you choose to work together is up to you.”
He explained that everyone else was briefed with the exact some instructions. The scroll, which I had nearly forgotten about, vanished into flames and a blinding light appeared in front of me. Sei commented it was the preferred weapon scroll and as the light dimmed to a glow, I reached out to a beautifully carved staff. Sei helped me pick out the rest of my armor. Five minutes until we all entered the main pit of the Arena; I was ready as I’ll ever be.
The doors finally opened; the pit was much larger than anticipated. We were spread out equally across the circle; Elbert on my right, Worra on my left, and Rob and Bob were across from me. Five warriors holding shining weapons and impressive armor, and a black smoke opened up a hole in the ground at the centre of it all. We all watched as skeletons slowly crawled out armed with primitive weapons, but they clearly had an advantage in numbers. Just as I saw Rob and Bob start to charge forward, a light mist filled the air. I could only see about 5 metre ahead of me at best; an additional challenge to this trial.
I stayed clear of the thicker mist clouds, scared of a surprise attack. I took a few steps forward, but was hesitant as it felt like an army of skeletons could appear in front of me any second. It didn’t. There was commotion of the other side of the room; I could hear it. Rob and Bob were probably already on their way to earning themselves a badge, maybe even two! “I can’t let myself fall behind!” I said this out loud. As I was about to charge forward, I was interrupted with the distinct sound of clinking chains. A bizarre weapon? Before I could investigate further, my body froze- no, the entire stadium froze to the sound of a screeching roar.
When I regained sensation in my fingers and legs I jumped back in panic. It was too dangerous; I needed to stay back and come up with a strategy. No monsters were in sight, but I started launching attacks anyway. All the monsters were coming from the pit- even without eyes on the targets; surely some shots were bound to hit the enemies, right? I continued for several minutes still without a visible response. The staff’s golden glow started to darken; the balls of light seemed to become proper fireballs. I was getting the hang of things.
Finally, their silhouettes appeared. I counted 5 figures during the flash when my attack impacted; more must have been behind them. At the sound of collapsing bones, I was confident I could hold my position for a while. As they were slowly advancing, I was taking steps back. I delayed making a run for it, every extra kill was important to get the Undead Slayer badge. Others were probably after this badge as well; I’d imagine only Bob and Rob going after the bosses and as for the Last Man Standing badge, it was too unpredictable who it would go to. Since I gained the visual on the skeletons, I’ve probably already taken out a dozen. My thoughts were interrupted by a hot pain from behind.
They were behind me, to my left, to my right. The pain was on my left side, but caused the collapse of my entire body. I was on the ground, watching them close in as I covered the wound. I could only slow down the bleeding, but my panicked heart kept pumping more out. All this time I must have been screaming, but couldn’t hear it myself. From every direction… I found no path to escape.
A few seconds left to act, I desperately needed to pull myself together. I fired up the staff and pressed it against my side. It closed up the wound, but stung so badly I nearly regret it. I charged up the staff once more; if anything, I was going down fighting. Something happened that moment. Time seemed to freeze. I frantically swung my weapon sending fireballs at each of the skeletons; I took enough of them down, before they could even react, to clear an opening. I isolated myself to reflect on what just happened.
Somehow I survived, but the main concern was how I got surrounded in the first place. It must be dangerous to stay in the same spot for too long, so I circled the arena counter clockwise. Small groups of skeletons were easy to take out and I was sure to move quickly after, or as quickly as I could with my wound. Progress was slow as I was passing by less and less mobs, but more collapsed bones already on the ground. Through the mist, I saw Elbert wielding a blade clearly too big and heavy for him. Despite that, he took down mob after mob with incredible speed and grace; probably got hundreds by now.
In the middle of battle, while being surrounded like I was before, Elbert casually said “You better not be looking to take my kills.” Then he giggled and quickly added seven more to his self-build graveyard. It looked as if he was just fooling around, but so far he hasn’t even gotten a scratch on him. As I began to walk around his battle, he said “Oh… and beware of the giant chicken.” He could hardly control his laughter.
I tried to ignore him; thought he was completely nuts until indeed a cockatrice squawked and launched a peck dangerously close to where I was standing. This chicken is toast. My staff darkened again as more shots were launched up in the air. The flexible serpentine neck of the beast was swift; dodging all the attacks and countering with one of its own. The beak shattered the stone ground causing me to lose balance while dodging. Quickly returning to my feet, I began targeting its not-so-mobile body. It tried taking flight in panic, rather unsuccessfully due to the chain tied to its ankle. There were lots of scratches made on both legs, suggesting its ability to run has also been compromised. This boss wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had imagined it to be, and I wasn’t going to let it get away.
Soon it was clear I was in complete control of the fight. Occasionally it would thrust its head at me with its sharp beak or whip its snake-like tail, but most of the time it was just trying to put out the flame on its feathers. I continued adding more. Soon I noticed my pain has nearly disappeared, I suppose I was getting used to it or perhaps too tired to notice. I’ve never fought for so long before and with the heat, I was completely exhausted. But I had to continue, I couldn’t give it room to breathe. My accuracy was depleting; sometimes a fireball didn’t even come out. But I had to continue. Finally I collapsed with fatigue after the cockatrice collapsed in defeat. This was enough, so I retreated to the sidelines of the arena.
The mist was still too thick for watching the rest of the battle finish. Instead, the same examiner from the written test came up to me and led me outside. My wound was completely gone, and he handed me some water. The staff I was holding had a large unfixable crack and he took it for it to be discarded. Finally, he introduced himself properly as Etalumis rather than just “examiner”. Etalumis dismissed me for the day and told to return the next morning. I rushed to the library to find Egas as he’s been pretty worried from my constant absence. He seemed unusually stressed out.
I asked him what was wrong. “There is something happening to the town.” A rather vague reply- but when I pursued the matter further, Egas just smile and said “There is nothing to worry about, I am sure they are all just rumours. The next Elder Council Meeting will confirm it.” Naturally I was curious, and if anyone could inform me on rumours it was Elbis Ivni. I excused myself from the library to meet with him in secret. But finding him was no easy task.
Elbis was a couple years younger than me and planned on being a real ninja. He was practically a legend in our town; rumour was nobody has seen him in 5 years. Of course this wasn’t strictly true. It started out as the elders humouring the kid, pretending they couldn’t find him in obvious hiding places with his feet in plain sight. But then he got good. Really good. Swift and silent, a master of misdirection, he could maneuver through crowds easily without drawing any attention to himself. He loved going to the popular places, basically just the church and the farmlands, to listen in on conversations, yet no one ever remembers his presence. A perfect spy.
It was during the town church hours and they were serving extra soup, watered down no doubt, so many of the townspeople were gathered. It was common to cause general interest right before a Council Meeting. As I arrived, Redael, the Head of the Elder Council for 22 years, had announced officially that the meeting will take place at noon in two days. I saw swarms of people trying to ask him questions, to which he never gave a direct answer. Still no sign of Elbis. Spotting him wasn’t even the hard part; the hard part was keeping him in your sight. Elbis was always aware of the people watching him, so he moves around quick and with an unexpected turn, he’s gone. I glanced around at people’s shadows, cloths dancing to the wind, anything that could slightly resemble the movements of Elbis in my peripheral vision. But my search was cut short by a familiar voice.
“Congratulations on joining the GNH and getting nominated for the Class Exam”. Elbis was right behind me. “You’re not even 10… how did you…?” I was shocked my secret wasn’t that well kept. “I know things” Elbis was more impressive than I thought. “So you’re looking for information concerning the council meeting? I’ll tell you what I know if you do something for me.” Elbis wanted me to inform him on how Elbert Felc was doing. Why Elbert? “He’s the only one who I can’t sneak up on. I need you to tell me how he does in the Class Exam. By the way, rumour has it that a herd of elephant-pigs are migrating towards our town. Chased away by trolls apparently. That’s what the meeting will be about. I will have more for you after the exam, after you tell me what I need to know.”
Elephant-pigs, no wonder there is such a commotion. Hairy and stinky pigs that grow up to the size of a hippo, but have been known to save starving towns. Not only do they provide high quality meat, they are excellent at finding water, truffles, and edible herbs. They are too valuable to be simply hunted, but too hard to control for wild ones to be farmed. It is probably best to get them to settle in the Tibbar plains, the perfect habitat had it not been for the monsters. Unfortunately any action would require leaving the town perimeter and that is against the rules. I headed back, thinking about scenarios, wondering what we as a town were going to do. It was hard to sleep that night, but I had to as the Class Exam wasn’t finished.
In the morning, I arrived at the Arena as promised. Etalumis was there to greet me and we went into the preparation soon. “So what’s the next round going to be?” I asked impatiently. “You didn’t make it to the next round. In fact, the exam is already over” “What!? That doesn’t make any sense! Who won?” I demanded an explanation. With a sigh, Etalumis asked me to sit down.
“You never won a badge. In order to obtain a Boss Slayer Badge, you had to have done to most damage to a fallen boss. Before you even started fighting the cockatrice, Elbert damaged it around 60% and then left it for you to kill. I know it sounds trivial, but those rules were there for a reason. It could hardly be fair if all that was needed to earn a Boss Slayer Badge was to give the final blow. Elbert understood the rules as played them to his advantage; he even provoked you into killing the cockatrice for him. Furthermore, he won the Undead Slayer Badge by a landslide and took on Bob and Rob in the last round. I can’t explain the details of the final challenge, but I can say that it resulted in Elbert’s complete victory. Leber, as well as every judge has recognized that he was the only one qualified enough to pass the exam.”
Etalumis gave me a minute to take it all in. I knew that fight seemed too easy. “Elbert really out-did me I guess.” I tried to laugh. I was a little angry, a lot angry, but couldn’t deny my defeat. “You still hold great potential and I have been assigned to train you provided you could complete a few more trials.” Etalumis handed me the two other scrolls, pretending he didn’t see any tears. They blinded me while I clumsily opened up the scrolls. I knew they weren’t helpful, but just couldn’t get it to stop.
Etalumis was patient. He waited for just the right moment to say “The battle’s not over yet. I truly believe you have the potential to leave Elbert in the dust- I just don’t think it’ll be soon, but how soon depends only on you.” The blur faded away to reveal determined eyes. I focused on the two scrolls, proof of some accomplishment at least, but also the next step to growing stronger. They were still sealed with the same poems as before. “To open one, all you need to do is figure out which scroll it is. Guess incorrectly and it will burn. You can wait as long as you want and they will still open, but not if you wish to study under me. I’ll be here for only one hour and by then the seals should be gone.” He set the hourglass and handed me one last clue.
The seal on the Preferred Weapon Scroll has already been broken, but a copy of the poem was restored. If I could figure out why this scroll was the preferred weapon scroll, the same reasoning can be applied to the others. The terms “newer prop” and “redrawn epee” could mean freshly forged or old weapons, but that was thin- too thin. Too many meanings could be drawn from the terms in the other poems, but I was prepared to guess. If my hour out I would take a chance on one scroll and see if it burns and then open the other; either way, both seals gone.
It was no time to be thinking about which scroll I wanted more, there had to be a more definitely clue somewhere. When the glass transitioned from half-full to half-empty, I had the seals memorized. Something else was strange –apart from making no sense- about the phrases being used. “feared newer prop” “wanderer foe prep” “prepared no fewer”… the same letter being used, the same letters as “preferred weapon”! The other scrolls too. “retailer sulks” “a killer surest” “arteries’ skull” “treasure skill”! and “rascal system” “same crystals” “scaly streams” “mastery class”! I opened both scrolls at once before realizing it was safer to open them one at a time. There was a moment of panic, but then relief to see a small mirror glowing with blue power and a diamond dyed blood-red.
Etalumis rushed over as if he couldn’t believe his eyes. “First time I’ve seen an actual crimson diamond.” He stared at it for another minute, completely forgotten about me and I sat there uncomfortably. “Anyway!” He startled me. “First thing’s first.” He picked up and handed me the rectangular mirror. “Know thyself”. I stared into it and it showed me in battle against the cockatrice. The moments when my staff didn’t launch an attack, I saw my wound shrink smaller. “Cleric” The mirror whispered. I was a healer? The mirror started to fade away, but it gave a final mutter with its last breath “And firemage.” I was two classes?
“Well, well…a multi-class hero! Very few have the ability to take on the skills of multiple classes. Most people around the world believed the possibility to only be a legend. Now that the scroll is open, you should have more control over the powers of both classes. I guess I was right about your potential” Etalumis seemed to have taken an interest in me. “In fact, in this town there is only one other person known to have such power.” “Elbert?” I asked. Etalumis laughed “Me.”
Before I understood what all this meant, he moved on to the gemstone. “The crimson diamond is the rarest of all Skill Treasures. I’ve heard of it going for around 80-90 thousand gold!” “So what does it do?” I wasn’t interested in money; no one here could afford that anyway. “This rock is the key to learning a mastery skill; no amount of training or study could replace it. Pour your energy into it and once there is enough, it will cast the skill.” “How much is enough?” I grabbed the stone and gave it a try. “It took me about 2 months with a ruby and still a while longer to have it cast the skill properly.” “Will I pass Elbert in the two months?”
I had many questions, and Etalumis answered them all in the next few hours. My next objectives became clear to me. I needed a new weapon; one that can survive the stress of a multiclass user and balance the magic of both life and death. And I had to be able to handle the same stress. I needed to master the skill to a point where the assistance of the gem isn’t necessary. But the greatest lesson was “Know thyself”; It was too early for me to join Rethgif and Elbert and the other in hunting monsters. I was young and had the time to reach my potential. I was only a fraction of a percentage of who I'll become and the town needed that man rather than the current me.
The Elder Council Meeting
On the day of the EC Meeting, the streets were cleared and everyone was to stay home. Egas was helping me sketch staff designs that morning; I was going to make a staff that could remain durable even if it’s held by multiple users of different combat types. He always encouraged interesting projects, and probably wanted to keep his mind off of the meeting for a few hours. He seemed even more anxious than before. The people at the GNH had been whispering rumours that Leber was planning something. I was worried too.
Finally, Egas headed out. I was left alone in the big, empty library with tons of time to imagine every possible way things could go wrong. Leber was going to be stuck in a group with the wisest men in the town. He’s clever, but it would be difficult to hide the secret of the GNH in a head on debate. Furthermore, he wasn’t the type to simply let the opportunity of a herd of elephant pigs go, but it’s impossible to do anything underhanded when they are getting so much attention. As for the other Elders, I had no clue what their intentions were but with their passive mindsets, they may not even grant permission for distance hunting. Especially Redael, who will almost definitely make sure Leber doesn’t get his way.
Redael and Leber never got along. Ever since Leber proposed to send an additional army out consisting of Elders and the remaining adults to make a request to the king, Redael labeled him as reckless and tried to get his title removed as an Elder. That was why Leber created a secret group instead, and has been cautious of his movements ever since. All Redael needed was one excuse to demote Leber, and the existence of the GNH was more than enough. The Elder Council meeting normally lasts 6-10 hours, but how long will Leber be able to last? Nearly confirming my worst fears, Egas walked into the library almost an hour since he walked out. It’s over already?
Egas looked exhausted. The only thing he said before getting some rest was “The meeting was brief, but we will convene again tomorrow”. I ran out of the library seeking more information. Word of postponement of the meeting spread quickly throughout the town. Redael did publically confirm that ground tremors matched those of approaching elephant pigs to the public, causing even more interest. What is to be done has not yet been determined. Everyone had questions and Redael looked unusually annoyed at the commotion.
No answers were going to be leaked from anyone from the EC, so instead I rushed to the back exit of the council building. Surely enough I caught sight of Elbis sneaking away. “You knew I was watching?” Of course he was watching; if anyone had the will and way to get in, it was Elbis. We traded some information. Not too much happened during the council; just that the Elders agreed they needed another day to think of suggestions. “One last thing; although he barely said a word, it felt like Leber was in control of the entire meeting. I don’t know why; just a feeling.” Elbis said he would let me know what happens tomorrow. “I want to be there” I felt the need to see everything with my own eyes. Surprisingly, Elbis didn’t try to argue, and said he’ll notify me tomorrow.
Tomorrow came quickly. The moment Egas left, Elbis appeared and silently guided me to the building next to the council’s meeting. It was an old restaurant that wasn’t in use ever since a soup kitchen was introduced near the church. No one had the heart to tear it down since memories of great feasts still remained. Elbis had a tunnel in the basement that led up one of the pillars to the ceiling of the council building. A section of tinted glass in the shape of a dragon, no doubt matching the ceiling design, allows visual into the room. “Well, I’m off to get a closer look, but you need to stay here.” Elbis didn’t want me to ruin his cover or to know his best hiding place. It didn’t matter; I watched and listened as closely as possible. Redael started things off; fortunately he had a powerful voice.
“So you got any crazy ideas how we could keep those damn pigs here Leber?” “Yes I do.” The uncomfortable silence extended longer than it should have. Redael was close to popping a vein. “Care to share?” Leber was nearly expressionless, but his eyes seemed to smile. “An army of well-trained heroes could rid the Tibbar Plains of goblins. The elephant pigs are sure to settle there.” My heart nearly stopped as the room murmured in surprise. What was Leber doing? “HAHAH!” Redael interrupted and led the mocking laughter to which some of the Elders unwillingly followed. “You lost more of your mind than I thought! Just where do you imagine we recruit this army?” Redael was trying to conceal his joy; his chance to get rid of Leber has come at last. Leber remained monotone. “We already have one.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. The rest of the room was silent as Leber continued to explain everything about the Guild of New Heroes. Even Redael was at a loss for words. The doors opened and Leber began to introduce some of the members. Etalumis led the group followed by, Setul, Saeop, Rethgif… and a few others I’ve only seen around in the town, but were apparently members high up in the group as well. Then the last one to enter was Worra!?
What was she doing there? She hasn’t even passed the exam. Worra stepped forward. Her only words were “Hello Grandfather” before returning to the back. Redael’s entire body was red with rage. “That’s it LEBER! From this moment on you are no longer a member of the elder council! You crossed too many lines, which I am char…” Leber interrupted, raised his voice for the first time, and leaked the smile on his face. “Actually, you can’t do that. I am to be given three days’ notice”. Redael was more than annoyed. “FINE. You have three days!” “Actually you can’t do that either.” Leber pulled out a slip of paper with a shiny blue seal and displayed it for the rest to see. “A desperate move, Leber. You really think you could win a re-election against me? I’ll have you sentenced for treason after!” He was right. There was no way for Leber to win the election; is his entire plan to make Redael explode with anger? Leber regained his quiet composure and recited one last surprise. “I, Leber, a current member of the Elder Council, exercise my right to call for a re-election for a new Head of Elder Council. The current Head is deemed unsuited as he is blind to the activity in his own town. A new Head needs to be appointed, and I hereby nominate Egas.”