“Students! It saddens me as much as it does delight me to see all of us gathered once more in this room.” Professor Fall’s long eyebrows flickered as he blinked, his words slow to leave his lips while the spring light came in bright beams through the massive windows of the classroom. The towering stone ceiling hung with chandeliers and floating decorations, potted plants, and tapestries was a beautiful sight as any in the rest of the academy, and breathtaking this time of year.
The students strummed their desk, hands, and writing utensils as he considered his words. He had a habit of beginning his monologues at an unbearable crawl, until he reached a point of excitement in which his mouth could not match the pace of his mind. His demeanor would often shift from reserved and ruminating to a crescendo of expelling both personal insight and practical knowledge within minutes.
Professor Fell’s scarlet and black garments were a charming mixture of tight-fitting trousers and tunic, complemented by a few flowing pieces of robe, fluttered in a draft coming from the open window nearest his desk. Several locks of black hair fell over his face while the rest was kept up in a loose ponytail in the back.
Like many of the classrooms in the academy, the instructor’s position was raised several steps above the student’s, whose desks arch around in a half-circle.
“This is the last time many of us will be gathered together, unless you are to take the advanced course of Destructive Magick for the Adept for your next year, then you will be seeing a whole lot more of me. But for those of you continuing at a normal pace, this is something of a farewell.” He sniffled and wiped an imaginary tear from his eye, earning some scraps of laughter.
The students were just as nervous for their final day, as they were nostalgic to remember their first again, stepping into the classroom with barely any previous knowledge of offensive magick hardly a year before.
“But of course!” he continued, stepping off his platform to get closer to them, striding up the steps to pass by each desk. “This farewell is premature. After all, your final examination has just commenced. Enfell!” he exclaimed, and drapes appeared over the windows, casting the classroom into utter darkness. “You came into this room like empty journals, waiting to be filled with knowledge …”
Nervous gasps from the timid students, and chuckles from the more confident, went throughout the room.
“ … and I’ve watched you all fill up eagerly. You've done things you never thought you could do. I’ll let you in on a secret: I often swell in pride when I gossip with the other instructors, as you are all, clearly, more enthusiastic to conjure a firebox than mix some herbs to create a rather boring tincture. Bleh!”
Professor Fell, himself, laughed, his Moon-elven eyes gleaming in the darkness, along with the others from similar ancestry, who also joined in with the laughter.
“In any case, I trust you all prepared long for this examination. It will be the most difficult, and judged the harshest, of the others you had in my course. Kindly, stand from your seats, lest you be swept into the Nether with the rest of your desks.”
The students stood, taking with them their supplies, having witnessed this before, and losing more than just a spare quill or two.
“Cletter,” he murmured, a loud crack deafened the ears, and the room was cleared of nearly all the furniture touching the stone floor.
“Professor Fell?” a voice asked through the darkness.
“Hmm. I have over two hundred students, but I’d know that voice anywhere. Miss Aiyana! What is your question?”
“Could we have some light?”
“It would be rather helpful, wouldn’t it? But what is the first thing you heard when you entered this academy two years ago? I expect that Headmistress Cull recited this institution’s ideals as she always does.”
“She told us: ‘Only what is earned can be taken; the greatest things are earned by a powerful, joint force.’ ”
“Precisely! Doubtless, you said it as best as she ever could. Now, if you all are to leave this room alive, you will need a little light to do so. But unfortunately, we are weak creatures, elves, dwarves, humans, and demons alike. Even light, in some instances, must be earned. Listen carefully, if you wish to pass your examination, and this goes for all of you: each and every one of you is prepared to survive this trial. The students who dropped out this year would not survive this examination, which is why they were forced to leave, since death would not be a pleasant thing. Yes? However, that is to not say this examination will be easy by any stretch of the imagination. But do not doubt yourselves!”
“Professor Fell, what exactly is the examination?” Cora’s voice pushed through his monologue.
“Quite simply: if you escape this room alive, you have not only passed, but excelled. Simply enough? Yes? Yes?” He tapped a few students’ heads lightly as he walked around.
“Yes. In this next minute, all rules placed by the academy on spellweaving and casting, including illusion, destruction, transfiguration, necromancy, healing, and all spells under the umbrella of sorcery are hereby void. Cast freely, and cast well. Cast like you never have before! Just … try not to hit any of your peers. I’d hate to cart one of you off to the healing chambers with a missing limb.”
A wave of spells for light joined by laughter immediately burst from the three dozen students in the darkness, casting up faerie light to illuminate the darkness with silver.
It was what it illuminated that killed their laughter.
“Professor Arkus was kind enough to lend me some of his—erh—expertise, for this year’s examination,” Professor Fell clarified.
On either side of the massive room were six portals that the students had never seen before. Shaped like an average chamber door, but what was behind it was blackness, tinged by a violet glow exuding between the cracks.
“A lesser Nether Portal,” Leaf, one of the students, breathed, in equal trepidation and excitement, as he reached his hand out toward it, before thinking better and stepping back.
“An apt deduction, Leaf! Not just one,” Professor Fell added, “but a whole dozen. Now, you’ve all done a splendid job of lighting the chamber. But can you defend yourselves in it? Shall we begin the examination?”
At first, the students gave half-hearted protests at the prospect of an examination judged by combat prowess, until the room became silent once more, and all of the attention went to the professor’s ‘Are-you-serious?’ expression. He then cleared his throat and pretended he heard none of it.
“Leaf, you identified the summoning portal. It’s only fitting you’re the first to face one. Step up, if you will.”
Leaf stepped through several of his classmates and tightened the metal links of a charm wrapped around his right hand, as he faced the farthest portal on the right.
Professor Fell put his hand on the knob.
Leaf parted his fiery, orange hair, set his dark eyes in a cold stare, and nodded.
He wrenched the door opened, and slammed it after a blazing creature of fire and charcoal came roaring out, much to the Professor’s delight.
Leaf panicked and casted the first spell that came to his head. “Infernus Blades!” he yelled, conjuring several daggers of flame that flitted into the creature, only adding to its heat as it roared.
“A volcanic demon! I’m afraid fire will only make it stronger!” the professor yelled over the roars as Leaf dodged a massive, stone fist. It slammed the ground, cracking the stone tablets and shaking the chandeliers.
“Worry not! It’s not the first time a monster destroyed my flawless floors.”
The students rushed to clear away from the duel as the behemoth began rampaging toward Leaf, throwing its two sets of fists wildly, aiming to take off his head. Several spell shields went up as other students protected themselves from the magma and lava spewing from the creature.
“Professor, is this really allowed?” Aiyana asked after rushing next to him.
“Well—Yrrap!” A cluster of fire and stone hurtled toward them, deflected by his deft spellcasting. Then, an almost sarcastic, “But off course!”
Leaf conjured a mirror entity of himself and sent it waltzing to the other end of the room, confusing the beast. It followed the false copy as it danced away, giving him time to focus on a more effective spell.
Almost half a minute of demonic screams had passed after it figured it out could not devour Leaf's illusion. By then, everyone’s breath was being cast in the air, as the temperature in the room had dropped to that of a deep winter, and Leaf’s veins became the color of arctic ice. “Northeran Storm!” Crushing his charm in his hand, whirlwinds of frost and ice began circling around his body, as he tensed his muscles and began unleashing it through his right hand.
The volcanic demon turned just in time to watch the spell engulf it. It charged, but was stopped short, as the ice crawled through all of its cracks, freezing it in place. A massive plume of steam clouded the air, and set Professor Fell into a fit of laughter-ridden coughs.
“minor tempest,” Leaf exhaled in satisfaction, casting a gust of wind to topple the creature over, and bowing deeply.
It fell, and shattered into black, frozen splinters.
“Brilliant!” Professor Fell clapped, and the classroom erupted into cheers. “I do believe you earned yourself and your classmates some light, having defeated a higher class of a fire demon, after all. Flickers!” All the torches in the room blazed in their sconces, and the students sighed, relieved of putting energy into their faerie lights. “Just remember, Leaf, the spells within the frost category prefer to be expelled through the palm, first charged in the infraspinatus muscle on your back before being funneled to the triceps. Otherwise, impeccable form. Now, who is next?”
Aiyana tried to hide behind the tall, dark-haired Raymond, but it was no use.
“Aiyana! You were eager for some light. But how about a fight?” he took her hand and guided her toward the door, whispering with a smirk, “A bold move, to question a professor’s authority.”
Leaf slapped some hands as he went back into the ranks of the students, then nearly fell on his face, panting and shaking from depleting so much energy.
“Now this next one, I must say, may be a little unfair,” the professor admitted as he all but skipped to the next door. “But I have faith in you.”
Aiyana readied her staff, (half the length of her body and designed for striking maneuvers), she ran her fingers over the runes etched into it, stopping to murmur into each one.
“Look closely, my friends. You don’t all have to be heroes, casting the right spell at the last second to save your skin. No offense, Leaf. Aiyana here is taking what we learned in the second semester and putting it to use, charging her staff with spells so she won’t have to cast them later. Aiyana, you make me a proud elf. A gold coin to anyone who can tell me the name for this technique.”
“Premonitory casting!” Raymond shouted greedily.
“Aha, well done! I’m a man of my word.” Professor Fell tossed him a glittering coin that turned to air as it touched the student’s hand. “And that is illusion magick. Hah! Never trust a mage. Ready now, Aiyana?”
The door opened, and out charged five skeletal warriors in full armor, gnashing their teeth and already swinging their rusted, ancient weapons at her.
“Reanimated from the famous Battle of Brethren three centuries ago, these old bones are—oh, careful now!—endowed with countless decades of training. Keep up the pace, Aiyana! These knights died once, so they don’t have much to lose.” Professor Fell advised as she parried several of the blades with her staff, twirled around, and knocked the skull off one of the skeletons.
Raymond caught the skull in his hands and screamed like a child, throwing it before it could bite his fingers off.
Aiyana summoned a spectral shield in her left hand, and used the charged force in the staff’s runes to deal devastating blows to the warriors, battering them with light that erupted from her attacks. It was like watching someone wield a sword of lightning with a shield of stars, each of their ends bursting each time it came into contact with them.
The fighters were easy enough to defend against, and easy enough to attack, but the problem was the spell binding them together. Each time she knocked an arm, a skull, or a set of ribs from one of them, they’d come flying back together just moments later.
“Hmm,” Professor hummed as he stepped calmly around the fighting, “a bit trickier than you thought, yes?”
Aiyana’s clothing was already damp from perspiration. It had been from the moment she began charging her staff. She was buying herself time by smacking the hand off one fighter so that she could parry the attack of another behind her.
“They won’t die!” she complained.
A sword came down and sliced her calf. Not skipping a beat, she funneled her scream into a healing spell and joined the flesh together before retaliating, fighting back unconscious as much as she was their blades.
“Fight smarter, not harder,” the professor sang.
“Disenchantment!” someone called out from the back.
“I heard that, Raymond, you rascal!” Professor Fell laughed. “No helping!”
But it was too late. Aiyana rolled back out of the circle of skeletons closing in on her. “Major Tempest!” she wailed, sending them back with wind, as she summoned up a disenchantment spell and sent it hurtling through the end of her staff, hitting the flying cluster of bones and diffusing the necromancy from them before they had a chance to hit the ground.
Aiyana went down just as they did, gulping in air, her legs unwilling to support her. The room immediately became cluttered with the set of six twitching bones, weapons and armor, much messier now than when they were together.
“Well done, well done!” Professor clapped. “Fought a little longer than you needed to, but what a fight it was! Now I think we can all agree, watching these skirmishes is damned entertaining. But my, it would take hours to have you all examined. This year, let’s try something different. How about a group examination?”
And before they could prepare themselves, Professor Fell had summoned ghostly chains, attached them to the handle of the doors, and sent a whole set of demonic entities hurtling into the room, all the while laughing, and readying his own spells, should his students be in more peril than he anticipated.
“And remember,” he called as he kicked a cackling void imp to send it toward the unprepared mages, “the greatest things are accomplished by joint effort! Who will be the distractor casting illusionary spells? Who will heal fresh wounds? Who will be at the vanguard? Assume these positions! Survive together, or perish as one!”