“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 hovering tapestries whose bright azure and gold colors were done justice by the unclouded day.
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 shift from reserved and ruminating to a crescendo as he divulged 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 flowing strips of gold cloth, fluttering 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 arched 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 next year, in which case, you will be seeing a whole lot more of me. But for those of you continuing at the normal pace, this is something of a farewell.” He sniffled and wiped an imaginary tear from his eye, earning scraps of laughter.
The students were just as nervous for their final day as they were nostalgic to remember their first again. It was just a year before that they stepped into the classroom with barely any previous knowledge of offensive magick.
“But of course!” he continued, stepping off his platform to striding through the rows of desks. “This farewell is premature. After all, your final examination has just commenced. Enfell!” he exclaimed, and black drapes unrolled over the windows, casting the classroom into 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, conjured incantations you previously thought to be perilous and unmanageable. But 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 fireball than mix some herbs to create a rather boring tincture. Bleh!”
Professor Fell, himself, laughed, his elven eyes aglow in the darkness. “In any case, I trust you all prepared long for this examination. It will be the most difficult, and judged the harshest, of all the others you had this year. Kindly, stand from your seats, lest you be swept into the Nether with the rest of your desks.”
The students stood and took with them their supplies, loathe to lose more than just a spare quill or two as they had on previous occasions.
“Cletter,” he murmured. A deafening crack, and the room was suddenly 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? Tell me, what was the very first thing you heard when you entered this academy two years ago? I expect that Headmistress Cull recited this institution’s ideals with the same stringency that even I heard on my first day.”
After a brief silence, the pupil spoke out again. “She told us: ‘Only what is earned can be taken, but the greatest things are earned by a powerful, joint force.' ”
“Precisely! Doubtless, you said it as best as she ever did. Now, if you all are to leave this room alive, you will need a little light to do so. But even light, in some instances, must be earned. Heed these words ... if you wish to pass your examination, and this goes for this entire classroom: each and every one of you must be prepared to survive this trial. The students who dropped out during the 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. Regardless! Do not doubt yourselves! I have faith in all of you. You wouldn't make a fool of me, would you? I'll lose my position, after all, if one of you dies.”
Although it was meant as a joke, the room was utterly silent at this remark. That is, until another student pushed through the monologue. “Professor, what exactly is the examination?"
“Quite simply: if you escape this lecture alive, you have not only passed, but excelled. Simple enough? Yes? Yes?” He tapped a few students’ heads lightly as he walked around. "Unfortunately, that does not simply mean enduring my incessant rambling. You've all done that more than a few times."
“Yes, alive, and nothing less. In this next minute, all rules placed by the academy on spellweaving and casting, including illusion, destruction, transfiguration, necromancy, healing, are hereby voided in this classroom. 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 rose from the three dozen students in the darkness, casting up faerie light to illuminate the darkness with silvery orbs.
It was what it illuminated that killed their laughter.
“Now I know she tends to frighten you all a bit, but Professor Sarkana was kind enough to lend me some of her—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 breathe 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?”
At first, the students wailed 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 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 casting 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.
Professor Fell wrenched the door opened and slammed it after a blazing creature of fire and charcoal came roaring out, much to the his 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 causing its roars to become more violent.
“A fire demon! I’m afraid that spell will only make it stronger!” the professor yelled over the roars as Leaf dodged a massive, volcanic 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. Continue!”
The students rushed to clear away from the duel as the behemoth began rampaging toward Leaf, throwing its two sets of fists wildly, undecided between tearing his head off or cramming it through his body. 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 of 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. “Northern Storm!” Clenching his charm in his hand, whirlwinds of frost and ice circled seeped from his back and circled around his arm. 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 towards Leaf again, but was stopped short, as the ice crawled through all of its cracks. The behemoth stuttered, attempted to take a step, then was frozen 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, before 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. If I'm not incorrect, you used your pectorals, risking a minor injury. Otherwise, impeccable form. Now, who is next?”
Aiyana tried to hide behind the tall, auburn-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 himself.
“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), and ran her fingers over the runes etched into it, stopping to murmur into each one.
“Look closely, now. 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 instructor. 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. “Though I never said it had to be a real gold coin. 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 already died, 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 wailed 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. She wielded a staff of light with a shield of stars, each of their ends bursting each time it came into contact with her opponents.
The fighters were easy enough to defend against, and easy enough to attack, but the trick 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 to reassemble 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.
“Fight smarter, not harder,” the professor sang.
“Disenchantment!” someone called out from the back.
“I heard that, Raymond, you little bastard!” Professor Fell chastised. “No helping!”
But it was too late. Aiyana rolled out of the closing ring of the skeletal warriors. “Major Tempest!” she wailed, sending them back with wind, before 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. After the spell sparked, the room turned into an uprooted graveyard with six sets of bones, weapons and armor.
“Well done, well done!” Professor clapped, picking up one of the skulls to kick it like a ball. “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 evaluated. This year, let’s try something different. How about a group examination?”
And before they could prepare themselves, Professor Fell summoned twelve 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 cackling and readying his own spells, should his students be in more peril than he anticipated.
“And remember,” he called as he nudged a scampering void imp to send it toward the scrambling students, “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!”