I awoke to the smell of bacon. “Breakfast is ready, you lazy freeloader!” A gruff voice shouted up the stairs. I rolled off the bed, and unceremoniously fell face-first to the floor. The first few moments of consciousness were always rough for me. A morning almost never passed where I had the forethought or coordination to get out of bed with my feet on the floor. Thankfully, in a moment of utter brilliance, I had the idea to pad my fall with pillows last night.
After remembering I still had two working legs, I stood up and walked to the wardrobe. There was no mirror there anymore. Father had stress-eaten too many times for us to keep anything metal in the house. Instead, I had a basin of water to view my reflection in. I had short hair with the texture and color of grass. My Eyes are hazel, and my hands and feet, calloused by years of manual labor, have turned to wood. Besides that, I appear basically human. Finished being enamored by my own reflection, I put on a leather tunic and long stockings, and headed out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and into the kitchen.
“Good morning, Sylas.” Mother spoke in her usual cheerful voice, with her usual bright smile on her face. She was a tall woman with long, curly, brown hair that reached halfway down her back. Her hair was adorned with a crown of white and pink flowers. Her skin was olive-green, and she had leaves instead of fingernails, and wooden fingertips. A dryad through and through. She usually wore a floral-pattern dress, or went au naturel, to my chagrin, and father’s pleasure. Today, though, she was wearing a brown ceremonial robe. She only wore that when she had to travel.
Sitting in front of plates of bacon and eggs were my father and one of our neighbors. Village elder Amos’s grandson, if I recall.
Father was a middle-aged human with jet-black hair and stubble. He wore a fur-skin vest that showed too much of his chest hair, and around his neck was a cord containing multiple thin bars of various metals and minerals.
“mornin’ ma’, mornin’ pa’” I replied, then turned to the other man and bowed, continuing my greeting in a formal tone. “Good morning, sir.”
“Good morning, Sylas. There is no need to be so formal with me in your own home.”
Taking his cue, I sat down next to a plate with a spinach and bacon omelet, a side of toast, and three glasses of water. “You’re wearing your travel cloak today. Going somewhere, ma’?”
“Yeah, thanks for noticing! It’s so nice when people notice my efforts.” She replied, still smiling, but staring disappointedly at my father. He shrugged, and went back to eating. “The local wolves have been acting unusually aggressive, and there are reports of a monster nearby. Amos sent Arnold here to ask their resident nature-druid to go investigate. We'll be in Almer forest for a day or two. Three if we visit my family at Tycoed.” She finished, and reached out as the branch of an apple tree grew in through an open window and deposited its fruit into her hand.
“The bacon is delicious, Hald.” Arnold commented, and Hank grinned. Arnold turned to my mother “You sure you don’t want some, Olewydden? Do dryads not need meat?”
“Dryads technically don’t need to eat at all. We can get our nutrition from the soil, but most of us choose not to. As for digestion, there are a few who can’t digest meat, but most Dryads, those of us born of Coeden included, are omnivores. But I still can’t have any. My Powered Deprivation was my ability to digest meat.” Olewydden explained. “And after all these years, I’m still surprised at how many people tell me someone who eats rocks every day is a good cook.”
“Minerals, Olewydden. And metals. Only Rocks I’ve eaten were back when I was a boy.” Hald turned to the Arnold “I Can’t use my stone-skin without them.”
"Hald, you were eating rocks before you knew it was related to your powers." Olewydden snarked
“Well yes, but in my defense, I was a dumb kid.”
I finished my breakfast and decided it was time to go, grabbing an extra slice of toast before heading towards the door. Before I could leave, mother stopped me. “Don’t you leave without a hug!” She exclaimed, squeezing until my eyes began to bulge and I tapped out. “Say hello to the kids for me”, father said.
"Say hello to Uncle Rhannu if you see him." I replied. Rhannu was mother's brother, born of Coeden, the great tree, like most Dryads from Almer Forest were. Technically, all other Dryads from Almer were my aunts and uncles, but none of them were as close to my mother as Rhannu was. He's the only dryad I know of, other than mother, that spends any meaningful amount of time in Norbury.
The sun beamed down as I walked towards the village’s school. Norbury village was mostly just a bunch of newly built farms, fields, and houses in a three mile radius in the plains of Ostea. Its population is currently 1,500, but it was twice that ten years ago, before the band of elven suns came. To the East of Norbury was the Ostea-Kyhun river, which defined the border between the two countries of its name-sake. To the West was the Almer forest and Tycoed, the Dryad town where my mother was born. To the south were various villages, the closest being about a four day walk from Norbury. To the north was the city of Aurelia. I had been there once before, but hadn’t traveled much. It’s usually too risky to leave the area of the mana-well as a Powerless.
I arrived at Norbury school half an hour after leaving home. A few of the staff, Johnson’s parents, were setting up a stage for the graduation ceremony later this week. It was rather rare that anyone ever bothered. There was no graduation ceremony between school years, and almost nobody made it all the way to graduation. Most people left the school when they gained their powers, either to start adventuring or to take specialized lessons. That typically happened to humans and halfs when they were ten years old.
From our class of 20, only Johnson and I were Powerless. We’re both 18 already, and at our age, very few people ever gained powers. Johnson was born of two other Powerless parents, so it was impossible for him to gain powers. It was still technically possible for me, but I've given up hope.
Heading through the crowds of 4-10 year olds, I arrived at the building where we held fencing class. I stopped at the door to put on boots before heading inside. The instructor wasn't there yet, but some of the kids were. Thankfully, Johnson was there too. Not that I'm too thankful, but the kids might be. If John wasn't here, one of the younger kids would have to spar with me, and I take great pleasure in winning. Even — no, especially — against opponents weaker than me. Of course, I'd never admit it out loud.
"Hey Sylas. How's it going?" Joseph asked
"Same as any other day, I guess. I saw your parents setting up the graduation booth just outside. It's almost time for us to say goodbye to this place… Or at least for me. Are you still planning on becoming a teacher like them?"
"Yeah. It's not like there's many other jobs available for Powerless like us. It's the only thing in the village that doesn’t basically require a relevant power. Unless of course I plan to become a freeloader like you."
"Hey now, you know I spend most afternoons and weekends tending the fields."
"Yeah, but your mother could do what you do in a day with the snap of her fingers. The only reason she doesn't is because she doesn’t want you to feel like you’re completely useless."
I gritted my teeth. Johnson wasn't wrong, but belittling my efforts seemed unnecessary. It wasn’t like I could become a teacher too. Years of dealing with classmates half my age has shown I don't have nearly enough patience to deal with kids all my life.
"You'll pay for that comment once we start sparring, dick."
"I'd like to see you try." Johnson grinned
10 minutes later, the fencing instructor arrived. As usual, Johnson and I were paired up. We donned our masks, grabbed our foils, and headed to the piste. The moment the instructor called for the spar to begin, we engaged.
I aimed straight for John’s face with the first lunge. John tilted his head a few inches, dodging the point, and took a step forward, stabbing at my torso. I couldn’t retract my sword arm fast enough to parry the attack. Instead, I stepped left and shifted my torso just enough to dodge the blow, and palmed Johnson’s arm away with my other hand. I retracted my sword arm as I twisted, then turned back the other way, going for a thrust at Johnson’s chest. Johnson blocked from below, and forcefully deflected the strike upwards. With both our foils still above our heads, I used the opportunity to kick at Johnson's stomach. Johnson jumped back before the kick landed, blunting the impact. He forcefully grabbed onto my boot, and twisted. Before I fell, I pulled my foot out from my boot and rolled to the side, off the piste. Before I could recover from the roll though, Johnson had already stabbed me in the back of the head, winning the match.
The instructor glared daggers at me for my numerous rule violations, but years of dealing with my antics had shown him that calling me out on it would do nothing. I would do them again in a heartbeat if I thought it meant winning the fight, rules or disqualification be damned. “Sylas, Try to aim for center mass when engaging. Too easy to dodge otherwise. And make sure not to show your back to the enemy, especially when you’re still in their range.” The instructor called. “Johnson, textbook work there. I know it’s not easy to fight someone who doesn’t abide by the rules, but I’m sure fighting Sylas all these years has helped with that. Good fight.”
A few hours of bouts and exercises later, the fencing class was dismissed, and I headed for my other class of the day: history. It only took a few minutes of lecture for my eyes to glaze over. I used to love history back when I still had aspirations to be an adventurer. Now though, I felt there was no point in a Powerless who would never be able to leave the village in learning about what happened in other cities, countries, and planets centuries ago. I suppose there's no point in fencing either, or any of the other fighting courses, but at least those were fun.
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