This is what the lanterns that I described in Chapter 4 look like. They are used in almost every room of the Academy.
Drawn by the artist eman on the SprayCan app.
This is what the lanterns that I described in Chapter 4 look like. They are used in almost every room of the Academy.
Drawn by the artist eman on the SprayCan app.
“What?!” I exclaimed.
“You are a Warrior!” the professor smiled pleasantly, “Congratulations, my dear!
Okay. Okay. Not okay. I had gone through a lot that night. I had willingly accepted that a race I had thought only belonged in stories actually existed. I had accepted that my fears were caused by a bunch of monsters who haunted people in their sleep. I had accepted that my Gramma, my only family, had been taken by those monsters. I had gone on a wild crusade into the night, fought for my life, and done several supposedly impossible things, and hasn’t questioned any of it.
I was at the end of my believing rope.
“Listen. I’ve gone along with all of this pretty easily. But now, you’re expecting me to believe that I’m not what I’ve been for the past sixteen years, not what I’ve been raised to be, not what I always, with absolute certainly, believed I was, not human-”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait,” Richard stepped in, “‘not human’?!”
“What Master Richard means to say,” Professor Darius cut in kindly, “is that Warriors are very much human; we’re just a bit…extra.
“There is an ancient legend about the origins of the Warriors,” he said, hurrying to one of the shelves and pulling a book off of it, making the others leaning against it fall. He skimmed through the pages until he found what he was looking for and held the volume out to me.
On one page was a vividly painted picture of a dark world, much like the one we lived in now, and people, brows furrowed in anxiety. On the right hand page, there was a picture of a nightmare lurking in the gloom. “Before the Great One invented light, all the races if the earth lived in fear, fear of the darkness and the unknown. He From this fear, nightmares were born.”
He flipped the page, revealing a picture of a hand setting what I assumed was the sun into the sky; its rays illuminated the people, arms raised, rejoicing. In the picture beside it, it was nighttime, and the nightmare towered over the people, who were freaking out again. “To solve this problem, the Great One created the sun and the moon, to chase away darkness and fear. But, unfortunately, the moon was not strong enough to keep away the ever-persistent nightmares, and they came back to terrorize humanity.”
The next pages showed the hand again, this time beckoning, and some of the people raising their hands; the page after that showed a small armed group running to clash with the nightmares. “So the Great One asked the humans to form an army and eliminate the nightmares. He promised them that he would look after them in battle, and promised that with His help, they would defeat every last nightmare, if they would all help. But, despite His assurances, only a small portion of men and women were willing to fight.
“The Great One was appalled and enraged that so many had disregarded His words. ‘Are there no more among you who are brave enough to face their enemy and fight? What need you fear? If I am with you, none will be able to even lay a finger upon your head!’ So he declared, ‘Since you are not willing to help eradicate your threat, it will not be eradicated! I will take this army of willing servants, and I will use them to drive the hordes away, and greatly reduce them in number. But since you would not destroy them, they will remain, to haunt you in your sleep and cause all manner of trouble for you and your generations.’
“So the brave few suited up for battle, mounted their steeds, and, with the power of the Great One, they killed so many nightmares, that their queen ordered them to run away and hide.” Darius flipped the page again. The next two pages depicted the hand from above, first showering some sort of fog over many people, then held over the small group of soldiers, who were kneeling with smiles on their faces.
“When the battle ended, the army celebrated a victory. The Great One separated the soldiers from those who did not volunteer, bestowing upon them different gifts and roles in life.
“For the civilians, He gave the gifts of blindness and the mundane life; always merciful, He spared them the knowledge of nightmares, making them unable to be seen or touched by them, and while they would experience far less honor in life, they would have peace and safety.
“The Warriors had a very different job: to protect the innocent and the vulnerable, to guard against and destroy nightmares and the fear the brought with them. For their bravery and submission, he gifted the Warriors with courage, physical ability, and wisdom to help them through the trials they would encounter. He also put sunlight into their blood, to give them strength against the depths of darkness, and put a Mark upon each of them, that they may be set apart from the other races of the earth, and that nightmares may know their enemy.” The professor snapped the book shut.
I bit my lip, processing the story. It was a creation story I’d never heard before, and parts of it seemed to be fabricated, intentionally or not, to justify the sense of supremacy Warriors seemed to have over civilians. I bet with the right education or training, civilians could do everything Warriors could except see nightmares. But there was truth to the story, as there was truth to the story I told the children around the bonfire.
Then something clicked in my head. “That Mark you mentioned…do Warriors today still have it?”
“Yes,” Gwen smiled, catching onto my line of thinking. “Every Warrior is born with the Mark. Inside the City, we usually try to wear clothes that display our Mark, but we cover it when we’re hunting; nightmares can see a Mark from a mile away.”
She pushed her cloak cloak aside and slid her right sleeve down revealing an X-shaped birthmark with pointed ends. I backed up, hitting the edge if the desk. No, I thought, impossible.
Hand shaking, I pulled own the sleeve of my dress and shirt to reveal what I had always thought was just a really odd birthmark.
It was a a pointed X, identical to Gwen’s in every way except one: around mine was a circle, the outer edge spiked evenly. Whenever I had asked Gramma about its distinct shape, she would get very quiet and serious and a little sad, and told me I must always cover it up. She said she would tell me why when I was older, but it had always wracked me with curiosity.
I heard a sharp intake of breath from the Warriors around the room.
“What’s that thing around your Mark?” asked Richard tilting his head sideways to get a better look at it.
“Yes, that is a bit strange…” supplied Will, brow furrowed.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Professor Darius spoke hurriedly, “It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes Warriors do have peculiar Marks. Sometimes, they foretell an unusual destiny for the bearer-but not always. I remember a girl when I was younger who had a big dot in the middle of hers. Now she owns a tailoring shop. Who knows?”
We all turned to look at the Professor. His demeanor had gone from calm, composed wisdom to giving frantic explanations in an instant. Strange.
“What I mean to say,” he said more slowly, “Is that Sensa is one of us, in every way. ”
“But…my Gramma…why didn’t she tell me? She must have known, because I had the Mark…” At least now I know why she wanted me to hide it. It would attract nightmares to our area like bugs to a faerie lantern.
“Oh, yes, your lost grandmother. We’ll send out a search party for her immediately. What was her name?”
The Professor’s smile froze. “Ivene? Ivene Gregory?” He rushed over to a bookcase and skimmed along the shelf until he found what he was looking for. He snatched up a tall and immensely thick book and thumbed through the pages until he slapped it down to stop the next page from turning. “Here,” he said, handing it to me, “That’s her, isn’t it?”
I stared at the picture on the page. It was a detailed drawing of four kids, a couple years older than me. On the left were two boys who looked very much alike; definently brothers, probably twins. One had the other in a headlock and was messing up the laughing boy’s hair. To the far right was another boy, his arm slung casually around the shoulders of the girl in the middle.
And the girl in the middle was…Gramma. She was younger, of course, and dressed in Warrior clothes, but still obviously my grandmother. She was holding a book, laughing at something the boy had just said. She looked at comfortable, at home…happy.
I cleared my throat. “Yes, that’s her. But I don’t understand. Gramma looks so happy here. If she enjoyed being a Warrior, why would she leave? Why would she keep this from me?”
The Professor grew solemn. “This is a picture of your grandmother’s team, her fighting partners, when they graduated from the Academy. Your Gramma was at the top of her class, you know. She and you’re grandfather-that’s the boy she’s speaking to in the picture, Gregory-were married and had a son, Petyr.
“When he was young, we had a change in government leaders. Every six years, the people who used to be in charge of making decisions for the community leave their positions, and the people of the City choose new ones. Well, unfortunately, the people who were chosen didn’t follow through with what they said they would when we chose them.
“The government was corrupt. They began collecting more money for themselves, charging fees on buying weapons and gear, making people pay a good deal to send their children to the Academy. Warriors were sent out on dangerous missions, and many of them did not come back alive. Gregory was sent on one of these missions, and-Great One bless his soul-he died.
“Your grandmother was devastated. She decided to leave the City, declaring she would not live under the corruption of the people who had killed her husband . So she and Petyr packed up and left, and no one ever saw them again. Until you came along.”
“How do you know all this?” I asked.
“I was her teammate,” Darius pointed to the boy caught in a headlock.
“Wait-what about your parents? I don’t recall seeing them in your home.” Will frowned.
“They’re dead,” I replied frankly. “My father died in a hunting accident before I was born, and my mother died giving birth to me.” The room fell silent, its occupants solemn.
“That is a very unfortunate thing indeed,” The Professor said. “I assume your mother was a civilian, from the village you grew up in?” I nodded. “Well, I suppose you take after her, then. I see very little of your grandparents in you.”
Just then, a young girl rushed into the into the room. She seemed short of breath, and her face was red, but her eyes gleamed with wild glee.
“Professor,” she said, “all the teams are back. The feast is starting.”
“Oh yes,” Darius said, taking the book from me and shoving back onto its shelf, “I’ve forgotten myself. I have to give a speech tonight. You three,” he turned to look at the Warriors who had brought me here, “would you look after Miss Sensa? Show her the ropes, at least until I can find a team for her?”
“We’d be happy to have Sensa on our team,” Will said. “Wouldn’t we?” he looked at his friends for confirmation.
Gwenolyn smiled. “Of course.”
Richard sized me up, then shrugged. “I don’t see why not.”
“Well, that makes things a lot easier.” The Professpr rubbed his hands together. “These three will show you your way around, give you some extra training to make up for what you’ve been missing out on. I’m putting you in charge if that, Master Thomys,” he looked pointedly at Will, who nodded. “Master Willym here is at the top of his class. Excellent fighter, that one.” Will blushed a bit.
“As for Ivene, I will send a hunting party in search of her as soon as I dismiss the students. I assure you, Miss Sensa, you will find yourself very much at home here,” Professor Darius smiled at me. “Now come along, children, to the mess hall! Don’t want your food to get cold!”
As we made our way down to the “mess hall” I looked at Will in a new light. He had just volunteered to take hours out of his time to train a virtual stranger how to fight, and then cheerfully took me under the wing of his group.
“Why did you do that?” I asked.
“Do what?” he replied pleasantly.
“Take me onto your team.”
Willym laughed. “Because I want you on our team. You’ve never even left your village, most likely, and yet you insisted on galavanting off into the night and fighting monsters, without a second thought. And tackling a nightmare to save a girl you’d just met-that takes serious guts.You don’t have the skills yet, but you’ve got the spirit. I can already tell we’ll be friends.”
I looked at the trio of strangers who didn’t really seem like strangers anymore.
“Yes. I think we will.”
* * * * * * *
I don’t know what I was expecting from the “mess hall” but this was not it. It was a huge, spacious room, the sounds of laughter and chatter resonating throughout. The room was dotted with round wooden tables, and most of them were full, four or five students sitting at each. The students seemed to sit with their age group, children that couldn’t be older than seven or eight against the left wall, and young adults looking to be almost twenty sat on the far right. A long table sat on a slightly raised platform in the back, occupied by what I assumed were teachers. In front of the platform was an even longer table, devoid of people and chairs. Instead of being lit by bare house lanterns, as most rooms were, this one had dozens of large hand lanterns hanging from the ceiling on chains. The panes of glass in the lanterns were colored red and orange and purple and green, giving the room a cheerful and comfortable aura.
The Professor made his way to the staff table, where he took his seat in the center of the table. Richard led the way to an empty table towards the right, greeting people along the way. He winked at a blonde girl, but she just rolled her eyes.
Gwen rolled her eyes. “Richard thinks he’s a lady-killer. But as you can see, the ladies are still very much alive.” That made Will laugh.
When we sat down, I got my first good look at what was on each table. Atop the plain wooden table was a bowl of fruit. Wait, fruit?! Fruit was something of a delicacy where I lived. You could get it from the faeries, but only for a high price. My stomach grumbled and it struck me that I still hadn’t eaten since early this morning. I grabbed a pear and dug in.
Next to the bowl was a bottle filled with something green. At each place setting was only a tall wineglass, made of dark wood and filled with the green stuff.
As I took my seat I noticed that a lot of people were looking at me strangely, whispering to their friends. Of course; they’d never seen me before in their lives. I ignored them.
“So…what is this?” I asked peering at the strange liquid in my glass.
“Not wine,” said Rich ruefully, his glass already half-drained. “Just a sort of juice. They-” he jerked his head towards the oldest students, “get wine. Not us; apparently it’s “unhealthy” to drink wine at our age.”
“Or, maybe they just want to avoid the tragedies that would occur should you get drunk.” supplied Gwen. I couldn’t hold back a tiny snigger.
“Attention, everyone!” I turned to see Professor Darius, who had stood up to address the room.
“Welcome, children, back from your hunt! I assume you all were successful?” This drew a surge of cheers from the tables around me. “Good, good. Now, on to other matters.
“Some of you may remember that, this night, exactly sixteen years ago, the sun set. The next morning, it did not rise. This eternal night has taken its toll on every race living on this earth. The orcs have no creatures to hunt, and rely on the mercy of their Forest Class for sustenance. The faeries, once free and playflul, must work long and hard to keep the moon in the sky and keep the food growing. The civilians must rely on the faeries completely, working only to make trinkets for them and hope not to starve.
“The only creatures who have benefitted from this endless night are the nightmares. They run rampant through the countryside; the world lives in fear! It has become harder for us to contain them. We must fight constantly to keep the creatures at bay. In a dark world, dark things prosper-but we are the light! We are the Soldiers of the Sun! We must do its work, even when the Great One keeps it from us! It is our duty to our Maker, to the peoples of this land, to ourselves, to continue to fight these monsters in the name of righteousness!”
I listened to his speech through an outsider’s lens. Having just experienced a different anniversary acknowledgement of the sun’s passing a few hours ago, it was interesting to see what it meant to someone else. For the civilians, it was a rare excuse to celebrate, full of desperate hope and prayerful pleading.
But for the Warriors, it was almost a cause for mourning. Another year gone by, another year where the world hasn’t worked as it should. Another year people starve and struggle. I could feel the burden they carried; it was as if they had to replace the sun itself. Where before their work had taken up only the scant hours of the night, it was now a twenty-four hour job. They felt responsible for the suffering of everyone around them. They were the Sun Soldiers-but without the sun, what did they stand for?
“Now then,” the Professor continued, a smile dawning on his face. “Tonight, while hunting, one of our teams found something much more valuable than just a horde: a Warrior, alone amongst civilians.” Whispers broke out all over the room. The people who had seen me looked our way; I swallowed and waved tentatively.
“Her grandmother-also one of our number-has been kidnapped by nightmares; it is urgent that we retrieve her before they do any harm. In the meantime, Miss Sensa will be staying here at the Academy; I expect you will embrace her with open arms?” The students nodded, many of the ones near us flashing warm smiles at me. The tension that I hadn’t even known had been building in my chest subsided considerably.
“And to our dear sister returned to us,” Professor Darius smiled straight at me, “welcome home.”
Hi, there, readers! I just wanted to clarify something.
In the latter half of Chapter 2, you may have noticed that I switched to a third person narrative: this is because i switched to Willym’s POV. I realize that I probably didn’t make that clear enough, and I will try to make it more obvious in the future.
Thanks for reading! I will try to have Chapter 4 up as soon as possible.
There is nothing quite like riding a wild horse. The wind whipping through your hair, the feel of hooves pounding beneath you…it is possibly the most glorious, exhilarating feeling in the world.
Of course, when I first got on the nightmare, it struggled; I still can’t believe I held on through all of its bucking. But then, when I righted myself on its back, something…clicked. Suddenly, the horse and I seemed to be like one creature, hearts beating in tandem and movements synchronized. I could tell the horse had adrenaline in its blood and let it gallop; it seemed to feel that I was uncomfortable and formed a saddle.
The rest of my evening-or was it morning?- was less enjoyable. Mostly, it was just confusing. The Warriors seemed like good enough people, especially that Willym. He was kind to me, understanding. Richard seemed to be that cocky type of boy who carried himself too confidently, the sort of boy that was used to making girls swoon with little more than a look. Gwenolyn was a bit more confusing. When she first walked in, I was unsure of whether she was a boy or girl. She carried herself like a boy, and acted like one, and I had never seen a girl with hair cut that short-girls in the village always grew their hair long in hopes that their beautiful locks would fetch a husband. On the other hand, the lines of her face spoke of femininity, as did her not-so-generous curves. Girl I had finally decided. Judging by her name, I was probably right.
There was also the strange, box-like contraption, the carriage. The ride had been so full of fascinating notions. A school, place where you came and learned things, knowledge always at your disposal, more and more every day! And full of so many people, you had to have two names to distinguish yourself! I could hardly believe I was going to such a place right now…
And then came the battle. It was completely unlike anything I had ever experienced, the strong, dark creatures lashing out at you, hooves kicking, knife swinging, the desperation of struggling to stay alive. Thank goodness instinct had taken over and told me how to handle my knife-which startled me by glowing the second I collided with the first nightmare-, where to stab the creatures to make them explode into black sand. Truth be told though…it wasn’t all that bad. The rush of battle had been kind of…fulfilling. I felt at home, holding that knife.
I had so many questions. Why could I see nightmares? How come I could ride one when no Warrior ever could? And most importantly, Where was my Gramma?
“We’re here!” Will called, snapping me out of my reverie. Since we needed to bring the nightmare horse as evidence for their professor, and the horse refused to be tied behind the carriage, I had to ride it to the Academy. To make sure I didn’t get lost, Will had unharnessed one of the horses from the carriage and was riding beside me, though he had to keep his distance from my wild steed.
I looked around for the school, but I saw nothing but empty plains. “Where is it?” I called.
“In order to keep the Academy a secret from trespassers, the school if protected by a number of magical barriers. Some of them keep nightmares at bay, some ward off those with evil intentions, the list goes on and and on. Anyways, the school is enchanted to be invisible to any part who doesn’t know the password. Richard!” he turned to look at his friend as he opened the carriage door and poked his head out, “What’s this month’s password?”
“Bhfianaise!” shouted Richard.
The word echoed throughout the air. I felt a vibration coming from all around me, the air rippling like water. As the illusion peeled away, the most magnificent building I had ever seen came into being.
It was enormous, a castle at least the size of my entire village, with turrets and towers brushing the sky. Lights shone in dozens of windows, the dark outlines of people sometimes pacing in front of them. The outer walls were high and straight, an unclimbable barrier broken only by a huge drawbridge that spanned a moat. It was breathtaking.
“Wow,” I whispered. This was a school? Compared to this, I’d been “studying” in a clay box my entire life. I could only imagine what the inside looked like.
“Who goes there?” shouted a rough voice. I looked around for the source of the question, but no one else was around. Another magic trick?
“A returning hunting party!” shouted Will, looking up at the wall. I followed his line of vision, and saw a line of people, spaced apart on top of the wall. Sentries, guarding the school. The wall must have some sort of place for them to walk about. The speaker was probably one of them.
“Which party?” asked the guard.
“Willym Thomys, Richard Brent, Gwenolyn Laurya, and a civilian we encountered who must speak to Professor Darius!” yelled Will.
“A civilian? Why on earth would a civilian need to speak with the professor? They can’t even see this place!”
“I can!” I shouted. I was starting to understand how much of an anomaly I was. “I see the whole castle: the moat, the wall, the towers, the sentries on the watchtowers!”
There was a period of silence. I saw one of the guards, most likely the speaker, confer with a couple others, though I couldn’t hear what they were saying. At last: “She can come in. Darius will decide what to do with her.”
Will gave me a reassuring smile. “Professor Darius is an understanding man. He won’t turn you away.
“Be sure to keep that nightmare from galloping off into the moat,” he said as he guided his horse onto the drawbridge, “You wouldn’t want to meet the stuff they keep in there.”
I nudged the nightmare into a canter until I had caught up to Will. “What do they keep in the moat?”
“No one really knows,” he shrugged, “But the students tell stories all the time. Some people think they keep rabid mermaids, others say it’s a giant squid. I’ve even heard one story about a hydra-a many headed nightmare dragon-viscously jumping out of the moat and attacking some Warriors who got too close-but that’s probably just a story,” he added quickly at seeing the horror that just have been written on my face. “Most likely, it’s filled with kelpies-water horses created by the faeries. They drown their victims, but once you know how, they’re easy to fight off; only Warriors know the secret trick.” He winked, a joking wink that wasn’t at all like one I would expect from someone like Rich. Will was so easygoing and friendly, I already felt like he was an old, trusted acquaintance.
“Just wait until you see The City,” he said. “If you thought the outside was impressive…” Willym trailed off as we passed under the arch of the City entrance.
My jaw dropped. It was amazing. Tall stone building lined the twisting cobblestone paths that intersected everywhere; I realized that the place must have been enchanted from the outside so that these buildings weren’t visible. Some of the buildings looked like bigger, more permanent versions of the businesses i was accustomed to seeing: bakeries, coppers, blacksmiths, dairy stalls. Then there were places I had never seen the likes of, shops that sold shields, armor, and all manner of weaponry. I also saw places that sold art supplies, sheet music, instruments, books, paper, ink, maps, and many more things I didn’t recognize. There were grand buildings called libraries and museums, lovely music I had never heard pouring from “art halls” scattered scattered all over the beautiful City laid before me.
There were people everywhere, walking in and out of shops. Some went hurriedly, some took their time, some stopped and conversed with friends as they went about your business. The men and women all dressed alike, in dark trousers and sleeveless shirts. Many of them wearing the same leather over-clothing as my companions, and had weapons strapped to their hips and back as often as not.
At the center of it all, there was the castle I had seen from the outside. It was taller than I had thought, it’s highest tower spiraling into the night.
The whole City had such a lively feel, the sense that life was thriving around every corner. It was feeling you never got living in a tiny village on the plains, miles from any other human settlement.
“Welcome to the Soldier’s City,” said Willym.
“Wow,” I breathed, “This place…it’s incredible! Do all Warriors live here?”
“Well, sort of. This City is home to most of the Warriors in this part of the world, though some live on their own, making a double living in both Warrior and civilian societies. There are seven more Cities, seven more Academies, each home to the Warriors of a different part of the world.” Will looked at me again. “Shall we be going then?”
“Hurry up, we haven’t got all night Will!” Gwen shouted out the carriage window. I jumped; I had forgotten they were there.
“Well,” I recovered, “I suppose that’s our answer. Lead on!”
It took us barely fifteen minutes to reach the castle. The city people must have been used to horses and carriages in the streets, for they cleared out a path for us as we approached. I received a lot of strange glances from people. Could they tell my horse was a nightmare?
At last, the castle loomed tall before us, bigger and grander up close. The architechture was immaculate. Willym led me to a stable near what I supposed was the side entrance, where a couple of stable boys who were chatting around saw us and ran over to help with our horses and the carriage.
“Oh, hello Willym!” said the boy who came to help him, “You’re back early; I thought the hunt was supposed to converge again at ten o’clock?”
“Well, yes, but we had some complications.” Will dismounted and gestured at me. “The lady needs to speak to Professor Darius. Urgent business.
The boy followed Will’s line of vision and jumped back about four feet. “Holy Great One, is that a nightmare?!”
“Yes, that’s sort of what we need to talk to the Professor about…” Will rubbed his neck; it seemed to be a nervous habit of his. I just sat there awkwardly.
“Uh, John, this is Sensa, a civilian girl we found out in the villages.” Will continued.
“A civilian? Then why is she on top of a cursed nightmare?” John gaped at me and the horse. This whole ‘holy horses, the random commoner can do impossible things!’ business was getting old.
“Yeah, yeah, I can somehow not only see but ride a monster I didn’t even know existed until today,” I said as I dismounted, keeping a hold of my “reins”. “Can I please just speak with this Professor you keep talking about? I just want to find my Gramma.”
John looked surprised at first, as if he hasn’t known I could speak. He must have sensed the fatigue and annoyance in my voice, though, because he motioned a younger boy-probably no older than twelve- over.
“May I take your…horse…miss?” the boy asked, looking nervous. I nodded, but when I tried to hand him the reins, my nightmare reared up onto his hind legs and whinnied angrily.
“Whoa, boy!” I put my hands on the horse’s neck to steady him. The stable boy jumped back. I shrugged apologetically at him, then looked to Will.
“Hmm,” he said, obviously deep in thought, then shrugged. “I guess the creature’s as wary of us as we are of it. Is there any way you can keep it with you when we go inside?”
“I don’t know. Let me see.” I turned to stand in front of my nightmare and looked deep into his eyes, like I could see its soul. It must have understood what I was trying to ask, because a moment later, it morphed into a raven, perched heavily on my hand.
“That’ll work,” yawned Richard, who I could see had gotten out of the carriage along with Gwen. “Can we get going? I need my beauty sleep.”
“Ok,” Willym said as he opened a door set into the side of the building. It had a twin door to its right, only this one had the word “Headquarters” engraved into it instead of “Academy”.
“What’s that door for?” I asked as I moved the raven to my shoulder.
“Oh that?” Gwen replied. “You see, the castle serves a double purpose, as both a school to educate young Warriors and the headquarters of official Warrior activity.The doors are magic: go through that door and the building is the HQ, go through this one and it’s a school. Genius, really.”
I had to agree. As I ducked through the “Academy” door, I was struck yet another magnificent sight. We were in a long hallway with a high, arched ceiling, faerie lanterns hanging at regular intervals. The walls were covered in tiny pieces if colored glass. As we walked down it, I saw that the glass pieces formed pictures, pictures of people at forges, beating the strange metal the Warriors used for weapons into swords and shields and helmets. The glass blacksmiths were accompanied by leatherworkers, glass makers, tailors, jewelers, and architects.
Will noticed me staring, and launched into another explanation.
“The school has several different Halls, sections dedicated to a different aspect of Warrior life. Right now we’re in the Hall of Craftsmen. These are murals, depicting the craftsmen and women at work.”
“They’re beautiful,” I said sincerely, “this whole place is.”
Will smiled. “Thanks. The whole City is the work of thousands of dedicated Warriors. It’s our pride and joy.”
“Hate to break up your little friendly chit chat, but we’re at the Professor’s office now.” Richard drawled, leaning against the wall by the door. “Are we going to knock, or just stand here until our feet fall off?”
“We’re going to knock, of course.” Will smiled, unfazed, and rapped the big brass knocker.
Almost immediately, I heard a muffled “Come in!” from inside.
Will opened the door, and we filed into the office. The room had probably been spacious when it was built, before its current owner had crammed it so full of books and papers that it gave off a feeling of cluttered coziness instead. The walls were lined with bookcases, stuffed to bursting with scrolls and leather-bound tomes, the kind I had only heard about in Gramma’s stories. A desk sat near the far wall; above it hung a lance and spear. Sitting behind the desk with his feet propped up on it was a man, stirring his tea and reading book. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, with a mop of reddish brown hair, and a very casual look about him.
“What brings you three back so early?” the man said without looking up from his book. “Might it be the civilian you’ve brought with you?”
What? With his nose buried so far into that book, there was no way he could have seen us. How did he know I was even here, much less that I was not a Warrior?
The man looked up, revealing a pair of sharp but kind brown eyes. “Oh, don’t look alarmed dear, I heard an extra pair of footsteps. Much lighter than the others’ too, not made by the standard Warrior hunting boots; obviously civilian.”
He stood, hand outstretched. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Professor Conrad Darius of the Warriors’ Academy. And you are?”
“Sensa,” I shook his hand, “just Sensa.”
“I say, that is one exquisite bird you have there,” the Professor remarked.
“Well, that’s sort of why I’m here, Professor. My bird…he’s sort of…” How was I supposed to explain this if I didn’t even understand it myself?
“A nightmare.” Will finished for me.
The professor’s eyes widened. “Explain.”
“Today, while we were tracking our designated horde, I came across Miss Sensa here, whose grandmother had gone missing earlier that day. Amazingly, she was able to see the nightmare tracks I had been observing in her home. We put two and two together and realized that her Gramma had been kidnapped by the nightmares, and so she came with us on our hunt. When we found the horde, she ended up fighting with us-and did a fine job too, may I add. Unfortunately, we came across a second-class nightmare and-“
“It knocked me to the ground, and would have eaten my face off, had it not been for Sensa,” Gwenolyn chimed in, her freckled face stony and unreadable. Odd, she didn’t seem the type to easily admit defeat. “She tackled it with her bare hands, knocked the beast clean off me. I didn’t see much of what happened next, but next thing I know, the nightmare’s galloping across the plains, with miss Sensa sitting atop it as if the creature’s a regular farm pony. Magnificent, it was.”
All eyes turned to me, looking for answers that I didn’t have. “Hey, don’t look at me. I know as much as any of you. I saw that Gwenolyn was going to get hurt, and I just did what came naturally. Once I was on that nightmare, it was like something slid into place, and then we were galloping. It felt like the most natural thing in the world.” The raven on my shoulder squawked. No one said anything.
Just when the silence was starting to become uncomfortable, the professor spoke up. “Well, this is a very interesting situation.” Darius sat down again, fingers templed.”You say that everything you did was instinctive?”
I nodded. The professor closed his eyes, obviously deep in thought.
“You said she fought beside you, Master Willym. Did her Lightweapon glow?”
“Yes,” a look of realization dawned on Will’s face. “Yes, it did. It glowed gold. Do you mean to say that-“
“Yes, I do.” Darius opened his eyes and leaned forward onto his desk, this time looking intently at me. “Miss Sensa must be a Warrior.”
I just want to apologize for any grammar or spelling mistakes. Ususally I’m pretty good about those, but i write on my iPhone, and autocorrect can be a total pain in the rear.
Also, I need help with coming up with a title for this book. I really can’t think of anything. If anybody has an idea, please comment below.
“It’s the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.” -Albus Dumbledore