Crimson clouds danced across the sky as the sun began its descent on the horizon, the breeze from earlier in the day transformed into blustery gusts. The group of young mages, having finished choosing their rooms in the Apprentice Residence, rejoined High Wizard Yaga outside. Yags's robes flapped heavily in the strong winds, the silken white fabric rippling like water. Leif swept back his shaggy, messy dark brown hair, and gazed up at the clouds.
Raised in a town where fishing was practically required, he was taught at a young age to recognize different kinds of clouds and winds, and could easily determine a large storm was approaching. Even if he hadn't been taught about the weather, he could still sense a storm coming just from the prickly feeling of the air on his skin. Daylight had faded much faster than he'd anticipated, and he wondered if they'd still have time for training today. He also wondered how long it'd be until the rain would come cascading down from the sky. From the looks of it, they didn't have long before the clouds would burst open, unleashing their torrents.
Yaga mentioned they'd be going to meet the other High Wizards of each School, and be broken up to receive instructions on rules and have their questions answered. They walked back the way they came from, towards the entrance with the pale stone fountain. Waiting for them at the fountain were five others, each with distinctly different-colored robes.
High Wizard Yaga introduced himself as the master of Light magic, bearing white robes. A large man with a heavily bearded face and deep, verdant green robes was designated as the Earth instructor. He smiled heartily and said his name was Brutus. His voice was quite masculine, his words seemed to rumble in his throat. Karyn, seemingly the youngest of the High Wizards, most likely in her late 30s, wore cerulean robes that looked like water as they flowed in the wind, and defined herself as a Water magician. Two twin brothers introduced themselves as Enzin and Zenzin, the Dark and Psych High Wizards, dressed in dark purple and bright pink attire, respectively. The last to be introduced was a tough-looking woman dressed in robes as crimson as the sunset, the sleeves rolled up to reveal heavily muscled arms. She had short red hair and glowered disapprovingly at the group before naming herself as Aris, the Fire magician.
Leif thought that it seemed like a lot to remember, but then realized that must be why the Schools are color-coordinated, each color defining the type of magic. Six High Wizards in total, and most of them seemed friendly, with the exception of Aris. Karyn was quite beautiful, and Leif wondered if Eirik would even be able to talk to her without blushing. He chuckled quietly to himself. Leif and Baxter would be trained by Brutus, which, ironically enough, Baxter and Brutus looked so similar in terms of physical build, Baxter may as well be his son.
"It would seem our time is running out, Yaga, did you even bother to feed the poor kids before you dragged them around all day?" Brutus spoke up, his deep voice cutting into the wind. Yaga's face went blank, as if he suddenly realized he forgot something. He turned to the group and gulped, preparing an apology. Before he could say anything, Brutus broke the silence again as he chuckled. "Why don't we get these guys something to eat at the Mess Hall, and we can all sit down in a big group for the orientation? That would save time, effort, and then everyone gets to eat. Doesn't make much sense to split up the group when there's only six of 'em."
Yaga seemed to like this idea, and agreed. The six High Wizards led the six Apprentices down the path that went straight, further into Alfheim. It didn't take long before they reached a large, single-story building and saw a bunch of magicians leaving, some finishing off bits of food they'd brough with them, some rubbing their stomachs contentedly. Leif's own stomach grumbled, and he suddenly realized he hadn't eaten since yesterday when they boarded the mage convoy that came to his town.
"Looks like we managed to avoid the dinner rush, lucky us." Yaga mentioned, as everyone took a seat. The Mess Hall was one long, giant building, filled with elongated tables adorned with plain white cloths. The tables were empty in the middle, with plates, bowls, and utensils lined up on the outer edges. There were twelve total tables, each able to accomodate twelve people on each side, so their whole group only took up half a table, the High Wizards on one side, and the Apprentices on the other.
The young magicians waited quietly, expecting instructions from their teachers on what to do. They said nothing. Before long, Leif noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. Food. Floating food. A few dozen dishes were levitating in the air, packed with all kinds of food, gently streaming towards their group. Not long after, the rest of the group noticed, a couple gasping in pure awe. Dozens of platters and some pitchers lined up perfectly in the air above the group, then slowly drifted downwards before resting gently on the table.
The food on the platters was almost more impressive than the magic that brought it to them, and the Apprentices stared, completely awe-struck. Directly in front of Leif was a large, roasted turky, heavily buttered and covered in sprinkles of seasoning. To the left and right were various other dinner entrees, mashed potatoes and thick brown gravy, seasoned and fileted fish, fresh-baked dinner rolls, several kinds of soups, among others. The High Wizards immediately dug in, passing platters back and forth, filling their plates, so the Apprentices followed suit.
The first few minutes consisted mostly of everyone stuffing their hungry faces, especially the young magicians. Leif assumed most of them had gone probably as long as he did without eating, and their appetites were voracious. The group tore through the food, and as soon as a platter was empty, it would float and away, presumably to their kitchen, and another filled with a hot, fresh entree would take its place. Once everyone hated sated the majority of their hunger, High Wizard Yaga brushed his mouth with a napkin, and spoke up.
"Now that we've filled our bellies, it's time for some more information you can digest along with it. Here at Alfheim, we've broken down our society of magicians into five ranks. For the most part, each rank signifies your mastery over magic, and the status you hold. We have many collective names, such as mages, magicians, wizards, sorcerers and sorceresses, however your title is what holds meaning. Apprentices like yourselves, are those who have come to Alfheim, and committed themselves to staying here and training. Once you pass a test devised by your respective High Wizard, you'll become an Ensign. Ensigns are what many magicians here are, as you typically spend anywhere from two to five years in this rank, studying magic and improving your base life aura. Once your High Wizard deems that you have sufficiently mastered your type of magic, and displayed excellent control over your power and emotions, you will become a Graduate. Graduate magicians have essentially completed their training at Alfheim, and may enter and leave the city whenever they please." High Wizard Yaga paused, pouring himself a drink of water from a pitcher in the middle, and taking several large gulps.
High Wizard Karyn took over, her smooth, calm voice washing over the silence of the Mess Hall. "The reason we keep you here as Apprentices and Ensigns until you are promoted to Graduate, is the same reason we make sure people are committed entirely to their path before starting the initiation you all experienced. We don't want untrained, possibly emotionally unstable magicians leaving Alfheim and causing disturbances or violence in the world around us. Magicians are already looked down upon after the Wizard War, because of the significant casualties suffered, and we don't want to risk tarnishing our reputation further. If you're going to leave Alfheim, you'll be leaving when you've grown enough that you'll have a positive effect on the world outside our city."
Yaga nodded in agreement with Karyn, and started speaking again. "Magicians who have achieved the rank of Graduate may choose to stay in Alfheim and further practice their arts. Magicians who display immense skill, and also peform a deed worthy of notice for Alfheim or its people are promoted to the rank of High Mage. High Mages are the ones who will aid the High Wizards in your training, and are essentially your superiors. You would do well to follow their instructions, just like you've followed ours. Beyond that are High Wizards, meaning the six of us." He motioned to the other elder magicians at the table.
Brutus' manly voice broke the pause, "High Wizards have an extremely profound knowledge of magic, and some of us have learned to use a secondary type of magic in addition to our first. High Wizard Yaga is the exception, as he is the only magician alive that's mastered three completely different types. Us senior magicians hold the highest rank in Alfheim, and we dictate promotions or demotions in the other ranks, depending on performace and individual acts. The six of us also fought alongside the Archmage in the Wizard War two decades ago, but you'll learn more about that another time."
All six Apprentices were nodding along, until they stopped after hearing Brutus' last sentence. Leif was astounded. Most of these High Wizards seemed to be in their early 40's, except Karyn and Aris who looked late 30's. That means, if they fought as the Archmage's allies twenty years ago, they were close to the same age as his own? They were practically kids, and they managed to save thousands of lives? Leif had only heard stories of the Wizard War after he'd grown up, but he always wondered what was accurate, and what was exaggerated. He'd have to talk to one of the High Wizards later on, or see if they had some books written about it. Leif was beyond impressed, and almost felt like kneeling before them, if he wasn't sitting. He looked to the Apprentices around him, and they all had similar expressions, with the exception of Allen. Allen still had an angry, unimpressed look about his face, and Leif wondered why he looked so apathetic.
"That's the gist of the ranks here at Alfheim, so now we'll move on to our rules, which are mostly basic. You are here to live and train, so act appropriately. We have no specific rules on curfews or communing with other magicians, but please make sure to get enough rest for training and don't be late to the meetings with your trainers. You may visit the Mess Hall whenever you're hungry, and food will be served according to the time of day. Remember that the only people that can give you orders are High Mages and us. Don't cause trouble, and try not to instigate fights or provoke other magicians. We use the same currency here as the outside world does for purchasing goods, but you don't need to pay anything to use the Mess Hall. If you find yourself needing gold, in your free time you can ask around for work, or when you're more experienced participate in Beast Hunts. Most magicians here respect the rules because they came to Alfheim of their own volition, and devoted themselves to training, however, if you are found breaking rules or causing disturbances, you will be punished. The largest rule you'll need to follow for the next few years is that you are not allowed to leave Alfheim, unless accompanied by a High Wizard or several High Mages for specific occasions." High Wizard Yaga explained, pausing afterwards.
Aris, who had been shoveling food into her mouth the whole time, finally stopped eating and spoke up. "Yay, I'm sure you're all just brimming with excitement listening to rules. We're running out of time, so if you have questions, you'll have to wait until tomorrow during training. We need to get you branded before we send you back to the AR. Everyone stand up, and hold out your right hand in front of you." She said, raising from her seat at the table.
The Apprentices followed her orders, and Leif gulped. Branding? That certainly didn't sound like fun. Leif was first, and Aris approached him. She grabbed his hand, turning it over so that the back of his hand faced upwards. She held her other hand over his and stated firmly, "Hold still. It won't hurt. Not a lot, anyway." As soon as she finished talking, Leif felt a searing pain on the back of his hand, like his hand was exposed to fire. He looked down, and saw a skin bubbling and burning in a line, then quickly being healed and repaired to form a scar. Before he could protest, it was over. The pain was gone completely, and he now had a two-inch straight line of scar tissue on the backside of his right hand, parallel to his knuckles.
Aris continued through the group, most of them reacting the same way Leif did. It took a few minutes of consideration, but Leif realized that Aris' secondary magic type must have been Light magic, applying it to the wound as she burned skin simultaneously, minimizing the pain and healing it in mere seconds. Aris finished branding the group, and they looked towards the other High Wizards as the platters and dishes floated away from the table.
"The line indicates your rank of Apprentice here at Alfheim. Each time you're promoted, another line will be added. The branding concludes your orientation at Alfheim. At this point, you may return to the Apprentice Residence to rest, but I would advise making haste, as the weather outside looks quite unpleasant." High Wizard Yaga stated, as the other High Wizards rose from their chairs. The Apprentices headed for the door, and stepped out into what could only be called a torrential downpour.
In seconds, Leif and Eirik were soaked, but luckily the rain was warm, as it was still summer in Terran. Puddles formed on the pathways of white bricks, and the rain slapped against the buildings around them. The group hurriedly made for the AR, sprinting through the city. Lightning arced across the sky, followed a couple seconds later by rumbling thunder.
They reached the AR, and headed inside, their clothes dripping and shoes squelching on the floor. It suddenly occurred to Leif that he'd be able to watch the whole storm from the giant window in his room, and that excited him. Falling asleep to the sound of the rain and the thunder always resulted in restful sleep for Leif; he loved it. They ascended the stairs and before opening the door to his room, he nodded in approval to Eirik.
Leif stripped down to his underwear, shaking his head to flip the moisture out of his soggy hair. He headed for the bed to his left, and the down mattress and silken sheets felt like heaven to his tired body. He glanced behind him, watching giant swathes of rain cascade down from the clouds, and smiled. He laid down, resting his head on the pillow, and almost instantly drifted to sleep, his thoughts centered on tomorrow being his first day of real training, and his fingers tracing the new scar on his hand.