Rigel is an ancient city. Built on the ruins of a civilization lost twice over.
Deep within the bowels of the Middle District, the blossoming mercantile neighborhood of the city, lays an ancient set of tunnels, once the streets of a bustling ancient civilization, repurposed to serve as the sewer system of the current city.
Large hexagonal tunnels of brick and mortar extend under the street, given shape by architects and arcanists, creating a network of hallways and large cisterns all over the underside of the city.
The darkness of these tunnels is matched by the atmosphere that covers the city, as right now what will be called “The Year of Terror” is underway.
Traversing these shadowy and damp corridors, a trio of figures make their way through human waste, only guided by the flickering blue light.
-I can’t believe you dragged us down here, your Royal Highness.- Bellator Extorris, the one leading the group, carried the lantern in one hand and a short blade in the other.
His disgust was evident under the azure light of the bluegrain oil flame, as he stopped for a second, shaking some indescribable piece of wet trash off his boot.
-I just got this new uniform after what we did back in the Mudhole and it’s already ruined.- he complained to the next person in line.
-Please, do not speak. I am trying to concentrate on tracking our quarry.- Callis Nomene, another member of the guard, replied with a slight tinge of frustration in his voice.
They had been tracking a criminal for the better part of the year, always being just a couple of steps behind the villain.
-And stop calling me that. You should not use Highborn titles in vain. I might come from a Highborn family but I hold no official rank or office, thus I do not deserve deferential treatment.- Callis added, now with quite easy to notice irritation on his tone, the kind of tone of somebody who has said the same thing dozens of times and is ignored.
-Let’s stop chit-chatting and focus more on smashing.- Alexa, who closed ranks behind them, seemed to be more focused on their destination than their bickering. She was taller than both of them and her armored frame barely fit in the tunnels.
-You sure we’re close to him, kitty-kat? This is the third time you got us draggin’ our feet through the sewers. Last time around my mother didn’t let me enter the house.- The massive guardswoman asked Callis.
-I can smell the ninferi, it is getting stronger, so much stronger that even with the sewage, I am surprised you two cannot smell it too.- The blond haired guardsman replied to her question.
Bellator let out a small snort followed by a sardonic chuckle.
-What?- Callis asked, beginning to get quite frustrated by his comrade’s attitude.
-You keep saying stuff like that, but you keep forgetting our dads weren’t hairy mutts like yours.- Bellator quipped with a sardonic smile plastered on his face, really trying to get under Callis’ skin.
He was successful.
In a blur of motion, Callis had grabbed his comrade by the neck and slammed him against the wall with just one arm.
Callis gritted his teeth as he glared at Bellator, his gloved hand gripping his comrade’s neck ever tighter.
Bellator, who wasn’t looking for this kind of reaction, attempted to calm down his comrade-in-arms.
-Callis, you actually nee…- He attempted to talk, but Callis grip got even tighter, his fingers more akin to iron clamps than flesh and blood.
-SHUT YOUR MOUTH!- Callis snarled, his blue eyes glaring daggers at Bellator.
Alexa quickly interceded, separating them, but as they handle this situation, we will go to the outskirts of the city, crossing through a mountain pass that runs in parallel to one of the rivers that join just below the Royal Castle and become part of the Hyacin, which crosses the city.
This treacherous road zigs and zags through dangerous terrain, all throughout the Septen region (North) of the Kingdom of Via.
Resting on the side of a mountain, half built and half carved into it, is the Royal Academy of Arcane Sciences.
This magnificent building, built during colonial times stands as one of the last purely Imperial style architecture buildings in the whole Kingdom and is revered as such.
Inside the hallowed halls of this academy hundreds of generations of Highborn Arcanists have learnt about Arcane Science and became integral parts of society, wielding their powers for the good of the Kingdom.
But many of those ancestral arcanists would raise their voices in one single dismayed and scornful cry of indignant wrath upon learning what currently was happening inside the almost sacred classrooms of this so honored institution.
In one of previously mentioned classrooms a test was being held, a test that would define if this generation of students would be deemed talented and wise enough to acquire the title of “Arcanist” in the eyes of their teachers and the Seven Ancient Magus of ancestral times.
This test only allowed 7 students, each of them representing one of the Ancient Magus, but in this luxurious classroom, with crimson carpets and curtains, covering the delicate and intricate mason work that formed floors and walls with currently impossible to replicate precision, there were 8 students.
-Students… and Novus.- The authoritative voice of the teacher leading the exam, a balding older man with a ring of short grey hair around the exposed crown of his head and a thick mustache of the same color, reached all 8 students.
The last name he added was more spat out than mentioned, as if the mere thought of saying it disgusted him to his very core.
That’s because Novus, under all intents and purposes for him, shouldn’t be part of this exam.
The young student was a lowborn, in fact he was the first lowborn ever to be accepted in the Academy, as lowborn usually never had any kind of talent for the Arcane Sciences.
He was isolated from other students, surrounded by people who hated and underestimated him, yet through insults and abuse he managed to open a path through sheer stubbornness, granting him good enough grades to participate even without the sponsorship of one of the Seven Masters who represented the Seven Magus of Old.
Novus, knowing all his suffering through three years meant nothing if he didn’t pass this exam had studied with utmost intensity and care. He was ready for anything they could throw at him.
What he didn’t know is the depths of hatred from his fellow students, many pressured by their families, traditionalists to a fault, who wanted them to represent the obvious superiority of their bloodlines.
They first attempted to block Novus' acceptance to the academy through economic means, but they failed. Seemingly the young student had some important people backing him, both economically and politically.
They attempted to bully him out, isolate him and force him to quit of his own volition. They underestimated how much mental punishment he could take, lowering his head and taking the insults while working diligently on his studies, pouring all his energy there.
Now at the eleventh hour they still plotted against him, ready to attempt to ruin his exam and his chances to get the coveted title of Royal Arcanist this year.
None of them talk, but the glares directed at Novus make evident their intentions and the lack of restraint they currently have on their actions, knowing that failing here would make their families exile them at best, and they didn’t even want to think what the worst outcome could be.
-You may begin.- The reverent silence of the classroom was interrupted by the hoarse voice of the stern teacher sitting in front of them.
The scratching noises of inked quills sliding over parchment filled up the classroom as this theoretical exam, focusing on advanced Spell Formulas and Arcane Coefficients, was the most writing-heavy test among the 7 final tests of the Royal Arcanist exams.
Each of the participants needed to prove an elaborate Arcane Theory involving advanced utilization of one of the classical elements of the Seven Ancient Magus. Usually this kind of work took weeks, or even months, but the students were asked to balance out the equation of Vis Coefficient and perform it to prove their thesis in only hours.
Given the uncommon number of students this year taking the test, as the usual number meant each of the applicants would be given one of the elements associated with the mythical founders of the Empire, somebody would repeat the same element.
Novus wasn’t lucky in the draw, or maybe luck wasn’t involved, as his element of choice was “Wind” but not only he didn’t get it for the exam, as two others got it repeated, but also he got the most difficult among the elements, “Lightning” a force difficult to study, unlike the other elements.
The minutes of the exam seemed to extend like the horizon being warped by the afternoon sun, twisting and turning, as the bluish light of the arcane lamps radiated enough warmth to make Novus sweat like a pig about to enter the slaughterhouse.
On more than one occasion he had to catch a thick droplet of sweat before it landed on his parchment, as it could ruin the ink and mess up his exam.
Much like the humidity dripping off his face, we shift to another location with a similar level of moisture.