The students were all gathered in the training hall where Teacher Markel gave his lessons. Today instead of simply sitting and getting lectured to, they sat along the walls. Watching as a small impromptu arena was set up through a creative use of floor mats and magical warding.
Today, was an exam day. The day to test all that Markel and his assistant teachers had taught them.
The examination method for today would be a practical test. The twenty-seven or so students of Markel’s hall would be called up into pairs of two.
They would be made to fight till a winner was decided or till the end of the two-minute time limit. If they lost they’d step down. If they won you’d keep fighting till they lost.
This was what they would be doing for the majority of the day. Similar processes were being carried on in the halls of most of the school’s other teachers. Especially for those teachers who taught the Academy’s first and second-year classes.
Passing the test meant winning at least three out of five matches. Passing with honors and winning four or more matches would bring glory and rewards.
Dusk-Sea Academy was not a particularly large establishment. Where other schools and sects held entire kingdoms, the school only possessed a tenuous hold over the few small towns and cities that neighbored it.
Thus there were limits to their resources. Small schools like theirs had to be particular about who they cultivated and who they let go. They couldn’t afford to take as many chances as the bigger schools did. They couldn’t afford the waste.
This was the time of the year where the school’s jewels and dross were separated. The beginning of that special period where the Academy sorted out which students would actually be students. Treasured seedlings to be groomed for the future glory of the Academy…and which students would either have to themselves prove of some nominal worth, or risk being sent away.
Markel stood at the front of the class where he usually stood. Calling the names of his students. Behind him were seated an old man and an old woman. Magisters of Academy, elders who held the esteemed rank of Professor rather than being considered mere Teachers.
At first the students came in twos, then after the first match they were called one by one. Squaring off within the little arena. Generally just throwing out rudimentary spells of water, fire, air, earth and force. Mixing their magic with hand to hand fighting.
More than a few of them showing shameful displays as the children fell and rolled about like well….children.
Eventually, the name of a certain extraordinarily tall, but otherwise plain-faced young lady was called.
Innes entered the arena. Masking any trepidation she felt with the same stoicism that she always bore. Her expression empty of either fear or anticipation. Her stride even. Her bearing steady.
Her manner was enough to draw a bit of appreciation from the teachers and friendlier classmates. It was also enough to draw sneers from those who were wondering what means the seemingly mediocre girl had for her to be acting so confident.
She faced the winner of the last match, a young man with blond hair and broad shoulders. She bowed once, before standing calmly on the opposite end of the arena, either failing to, or not bothering to, take a proper stance. An action that bought her a few disapproving looks from the observing teachers.
“Begin!” bellowed Markel.
In a single instant as if electrified and jolted to life, she moved. Striking out like an angered serpent before her opponent.
He cried out as he was flung into the force field that made up the walls of the arena. Smashing against it before sliding down in a heap.
A moment went by before anyone did anything as if no one knew what to make of what they just saw. Out some thirty or forty matches, each spanning around three minutes each, this one had ended in the shortest time. The male Professor who sat directly behind Teacher Markel was the one who snapped out of it first. Wrapping his knuckles on the table to remind the young Teacher of his duties.
“…Excellent showing. Next Match. Olivia Winster, you’re up.” said Markel.
Innes’s next opponent was a girl with brown hair and drill type pigtails. She carried a wand that was long enough and sturdy enough to double as a bow staff and used it accordingly. Or at least that’s what she’d done in her prior matches.
In this case however, just as soon as Markel, shouted that they could begin she found herself knocked off her feet and into the wall. Sliding down and landing in a heap, just like the first boy had been.
She wasn’t particularly hurt, nothing had been broken. But it was perhaps for the best that both she and Innes’ first competitor had already one three of their matches.
Again there was silence, but this time it was shorter. Markel and the two professors behind him looked at the white haired student in the arena. Quietly appraising her in both senses of the word. Trying to figure out if what they were seeing was real talent or just some petty trick.
The next competitor was called. He’d learned from the first two and immediately dashed forwards and out of the way of that first palm strike, that had gotten the first two competitors. He tried to maneuver around the girl, so he could launch an ice-ball spell at her blind spot. He juked and jived dashing forwards, only to find his feet swept out from under him.
Less than ten seconds after it had begun the fight was over. Despite his attempts at cleverness the boy slid down the same wall that the others had.
Aching but whole the boy, named Robert Carlson, Robbie to his friends, looked behind him as he left the arena shortly afterwards.
He sat with his fellow students as he and they all waited to see who would be called next. Wanting to see if the girl would keep up her winning streak.
The fourth competitor was called, a broad young woman, with blue hair, spiked and frosted, in a style that was in vogue for the region.
She stepped into the arena, a bit of haughtiness in her stride. Her blue eyes cold, her gaze imperious.
“I’d like to see you try that nonsense with me, yeah?” She said.
Stretching, her knuckles and neck cracking as she limbered up. A slightly sinister smile spreading across her lips.
For her part, Innes said nothing, for she had nothing to say. She already guessed that this was probably be the hardest of her matches for the day.
And the guess proved to be correct. The moment Markel gave them the go ahead they fought in earnest. This wasn’t a match between students, this was grudge match between foes.
Never mind that Innes had never spoken to the girl, nor did she know what she’d done to offend this person. She’d seen enough the kind of look that the girl had been wearing in her former world to know when she was hated.
And strange inexplicable enmities were nothing strange to her either. The few friends that the girl had had in her old world had often joked that making enemies was probably her super power.
The girls fought, and the fight was an ugly one. Markel frowned as he watched it. Ready to step in if it looked like either of them was about to seriously hurt the other.
Technically this was just supposed to be a match, a short trading of blows. The children weren’t supposed to be bringing their petty grudges and personal disputes into things, and yet such happenings were a common thing to see in the schools and sects. It was all fine so long as both parties knew not to go too far.
Innes danced away from a tiger strike with flames coming out between the claw-like fingers. She dodges a kick that blazed hot enough to cook a few strands of her hair. She spent most of her time with the big girl on the defensive, being chased around the arena.
Waiting for an opportunity. Then she saw it. The girl took a step that was just a little too wide, while throwing a blow that went just a little too high. It was just enough for the white-haired girl to act.
She darted in and grabbed the broader girl, grabbing the corners of her clothing and lifting the girl off of her feet.
The girl, a Debbie Something, was made to suffer a force amplified, over the shoulder throw. Slamming into the ground hard enough that the warded walls that made up the arena actually shook a little.
Markel’s eyebrows gathered as he reproachfully stared at the victor. He strode through the walls to make sure the other girl was alright. She wasn’t…this time a few bones “had” been broken.
“I’ll warn you only once Kaufman…this is just an instructional match. No need to be doing harm to your classmates. Am I understood.”
“Yes, Teacher.” said Innes. Having the grace to look chastened. Even if it was entirely disingenuous.
All in all this match had lasted, a short forty-five seconds. The others who’d faced the girl and now sat at the wall, frowned. Making sour faces as they had it confirmed to them that A) they were perhaps not as skilled as they thought they were and B) the white haired girl had gone easy when she faced them.
Time came for the fifth match, it was another student, who already had three wins under his belt. He looked at the girl and then he looked at Markel and then he looked at the girl.
If this were one of the schools proper tournaments, he’d have forfeited but this wasn’t a tournament. It was just a classroom test. No forfeiting was allowed.
He sighed as he stepped into the arena. Mumbling softly so that only he and the girl would hear.
“Go easy, okay? I bruise like a peach.”