The Edge of the Wilderwood
Fifteen Minutes After Two Minds, One Body
"Just let the potion get through your system before you pull the cast off," warned Drysi as the group approached the gate to Safeholme. The night was still dark, but it howled with less certainty of horror. Only the chirps of crickets and the distant sounds of conurbation followed them. "Eyrk! Can you at least try to be graceful, Manon's a woman, not a sack of potatoes. Can you--..."
The triclops froze, looking back at the edge of the Wilderwood from the gate. While she was sure Bleddyn, her grandmother, was well enough gone, she was just as sure she felt the gaze of a third eye. She had spent many months with a presence watching and judging her every move, and the sense was now almost as supernatural as her own triclops eye. A shape moved in the treeline, followed by an orange glow, and a silver one.
Drysi took Willow's hand for a small sense of security, and the students made their way back to the dormitories in relative silence.
Eryl Maelgwyn watched the young mages until they turned the corner from her spot in the gloom. A pair of faeries followed her, each taking a spot on her shoulders. The elder Maelgwyn sighed, and relaxed her hands, her mind, and her heart. While it had been made clear to her that her duties that evening were to be difficult, she hadn't expected the intensity.
"Ms. Maelgwyn," asked the orange fae, "Are you okay?"
"Yes, it is... was... difficult to stand back and watch," Eryl answered carefully, realizing that a lot of her participation in the recent months and years could be described as much. As if sensing the unease in the triclops, the fae spoke again with a smile that warmed the chest.
"But you were protecting them. You kept them safe."
This time, the Maelgwyn didn't reply to the faerie, a small torrent of emotions choked a proper response. Instead, she walked across the grounds of the school as the night began to wane. She had been instructed to meet at the front lobby of the school, explaining that to Laoise, along with everything else, had been difficult. The familiar had to shoo off the gate-guard to let her in, and those embarrassing encounters had set the tone for the whole night.
She considered the door, shut tight; probably locked. Eryl wondered if she would pull at the door, only to find it barred and be accused by some other passer-by as a 'creep' or a 'trespasser'. She had come to be used to the idea of being an outsider, but not in so an overt a status. To her relief, the door pulled open, but the knob did not turn. A steady glow filled the front of the stairway leading outside, so Eryl put herself inside quickly.
A gust of wind and a wash of heat struck her face, and the sounds of a mid-summer day greeted her and a roaring fire.
When she opened her eyes, she found herself standing in a field that opened from the boundary of a forest wreathed in flames. Around the peaceful space were car-sized chunks of earth floating and colliding with one another. The wind blew over the space, fanning the inferno and small tongues of fire that trailed in dark lines that were traced through the grass and throughout the countryside. The air was charged with an overwhelming stench of mana, wreathed in an emotion that her the wards over her mind resisted. Eryl looked down, realizing that she was standing amid one of dark lines burnt into the earth, a resistant barrier preventing the sear of the charred earth from hurting her.
At the center point of this chaos stood a being who was enveloped in flames, the lashes of the fire were rounded and gel-like, but they resonated like natural embers. It looked like a man who had erupted from the waste up, he hunched over the remains of a crushed table, wrecked chairs, and a desolate scene of what looked like afternoon tea. The searing energy on the creature's back pulsed with what looked like pitched breathing.
Eryl took a step back, considering her options.
You have nothing to fear from me, Eryl.
"I am sure the forest felt the same way," stung Eryl, unconsciously knowing the creature.
It looked at her, with a silhouetted skull and eyes like stars. She could make out a crowning halo over the head, the symbol of the Elementalia at the center. The Triclops stared back, her mind resisting the flow of information that threatened her stability by looking into those twin-suns.
"Mr. Caxton! Willow got hurt!" the orange fae shot over the woman's shoulder and raced across the desolation. Without an ounce of fear, Jakku the fire sprite approached the creature, admonishing it, "You said no one would get hurt."
The flames peeled back slowly, revealing the head of a man considering the statement. As he thought, the flames receded until all that was left was a Welshman in tatters. The glowing signet-halo glowed around the crown of his head.
"I distinctly remember saying that they would be learning valuable lessons in a controlled environment," politicked Percival, which only caused Jakku's cheeks to puff out.
"You were watching," alleged Eryl.
"How can you tell?" smiled Percival.
"Do not play games with me, Mr. Caxton. You called me here to discuss the performance of the students."
"Of course, of course," Percival began to comb his ruffled hair back with his fingers, "The Functional Exercise. I would say they all passed, pending a fair assessment."
Eryl felt as though there was a more pressing issue to address, but the bright eyes of Mr. Caxton looked poised for anything but a subject of druids.
"At the grade of difficulty, I believe surviving counted for passing."
"Not quite," the man looked over to a bundle of stones and dirt that rose into the form of Michizaki Katerina and Manon Laframboise. "A bare pass for these two, considering what we're preparing for. We'll come back to them."
Another set of stones rose into the forms of Willow Fairburn and Eryk Kashevski. "For now, our star pupils. Top marks for their functional exercise. Both displayed elements of leadership, resolve and aptitude in handling the task before them. Both worked with the skills of a team, while also bringing their skills to the fore when it mattered. Selfless determination. An excellent application of theoretical and practiced knowledge."
"Albeit reckless," argued Eryl, "both of them possess an unreserved talent for charging headfirst into danger. Ms. Fairburn could have easily died during the infection spell, and Mr. Kashevski relies purely on his own tenacity if he does not understand a situation. They lack a proper sense of self-preservation that will protect them, especially if their first response to trouble is to rush-in. While they performed well here, I believe they will not do as well when the wick burns slowly."
"Fair, their merits won't last if they cannot preserve them," agreed Percival. Jakku took a position on his shoulder as Zippo remained on Eryl's.
Another statue arose, accompanied by two more. Drysi Maelgwyn, Vrey Hallinel and Johann Krieger.
"I am astonished you can restrain your bias enough to place your niece in the secondary bracket," teased Eryl with a kernel of truth.
"I love my little niece, but she needs improvement," Percival posited, placing a hand on the bald girl's head. "Everyone in this category shares a similar quality in a lack of assurance. Your distant cousin still cannot rest her focus on a singular school of magic, which makes her weak in the field. Further, as an adolescent triclops..."
The two mages stared at each other, a small breeze scooting by in the silence, a tepid air taking the conversation. Eryl sighed.
"Her emotions. Yes. She has not learned to balance them. I was the same when I was her age."
"When you were her age, you were nailing boys to rocks and stealing their souls for power."
"If only I had succeeded, I would not need to suffer through this quip."
"It's the little things. At any rate, we're lingering. My little niece performed her parts well, but the overall appearance doesn't warrant an outstanding grade. Vrey is very capable, but her teamwork is lacking, I'm not sure she understands that to the fullest extent."
The woman brought a hand to her chin, considering the bald statue. "I'm not sure anyone understands her fully. That makes it difficult to mesh with her as a unit."
"She did better during the practical exercise, I theorized there was too much emotion going about prior to the activity, which brings me to our next student."
Percival stared for a long moment at Johann, looking at the boy in a state few had seen him, without the turban. Eryl caught on to the air that had come over the Alchemist and started first.
"Mr. Krieger... I can understand his placement. He performed well at the end of the exercise, but his behavior and temper up and to the final event was not controlled. From the moment we met, I could tell he does not fully understand the breadth of his power or his ability. Had I not my barrier presented at our first meeting, he would have caused me tangible harm."
"And the Spriggan Warm-Up..." pondered the man, staring off into the burning forest fire. "We all have our fears and trepidations, but Johann could end up being a detriment to his allies if he doesn't gain a more intimate understanding of his knowledge. He reminds me a lot of myself when I was younger, but there is a great deal more below the surface we cannot... will not see. I can only hope he can channel what he found during his sealing spell in the future; if so, he will be an excellent asset to the team."
At this point in the conversation, the winds had begun to die down, and the mages came back to the first two statues. A gentle storm began to brew in the distance, calming the distant fire. This time Percival went first.
"These two... They weren't suited to this form of functional exercise, but they made it through, if not barely. Michizaki is still struggling with the control of her power, and that led to a great deal of difficulty tonight."
"She was rather silent on the walk back," commented the woman, a wry smile of sympathy on her face, "I believe she understands where she stood in all of this. With proper guidance, she could be rather strong. Perhaps... she could..."
"Learn from Miyuki?"
Eryl had been pensive about bringing up anyone else, still deeply aware of her tenuous standing with the Safeholme mages. Percival seemed to consider it seriously, though, "Miyu would a good teacher for Michizaki... While she's always been very strong, she had a great deal of trouble coming into her own when she was the girl's age. I'll talk to Rook and see how if the school can budget a proper evoker."
Lastly, they came to the clown. Manon was not dressed as she had for the night, she was instead dressed in the normal Safeholme uniform. The triclops was unsure what that meant, as all the others had been done up in as close to full battle regalia as their impromptu preparations had provided.
"Ms. Laframboise did not add much to the group," came a bit of harsh honesty from Eryl, "Her contributions were only as measurable as much as the others used them. She seemed to unsettle most of them with her behavior, and she may be part of the reason Mr. Krieger performed so poorly up to the last exercise."
"True, one doesn't get by in the world by just participation," agreed Percival, but with a sympathetic frown. "It must be difficult for her, considering her situation. Legitimate magic users, the ease at which they can perform their feats without constraints placed upon them. None-the-less, Manon provided a sense of self-sacrifice that only Willow matched this evening."
"By sacrificing her foci?"
"Yes, without them she cannot channel any magic. Without them she could face a serious threat to her future at Safeholme."
"Mr. Caxton, do her clown arts prevent her from using a wand? I am sure the school can produce something to help facilitate standard spell-casting."
Percival stared down at the statue of Manon and put his hand on its shoulder.
"After all this time, Eryl, you still can't pick out a font when you see one?"
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