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Chapter 9 – Exam Start

"If someone tries to steal this, kill them."

Seti examined the coin Faulkner just gave him. It was small, with a designed engraving on it. An S-shape serpent was on one side and a chair on the other. It was the proof that Seti was indeed the disciple of the Wind Dragon.

"How…lovely." Seti stuffed it into his wallet.

An entourage of people was seeing him off. The morning chill wasn't too bad, but his body had yet to fully wake. His sweater pockets did its part to keep his hands warm. A butler was moving his traveling bags into the back of the vehicle. Most of his clothes would only be used occasionally as Prestige Academy supplied their own uniforms. Of course, that wouldn't matter if he couldn't pass the exam in the first place.

"Kind of joking, but not really," Faulkner said. "I really would rather not have to hunt this coin down."

He nodded as Faulkner stepped out of the way for someone else to meet him. Elder Poe walked up with Dora. They both would be coming as well, which totaled four in the vehicle when counting the driver. Seti was glad for their company, but their reason for coming wasn't his comfort. Faulkner had promised Shepherd Cyrus that they could scan him for geas effects at the exam, so Elder Poe and Dora would act as the representatives of the Serio family when that happened.

Melvin walked up to Seti next. He wasn't sure what to expect. The two of them didn't click and barely talked throughout the week. Maybe that would have been different if he wasn't directly responsible for the punishment Melvin received. But despite that, the two of them trained on the fundamentals of combat postures.

"If you see Eustuss, kill him," Melvin said.

Seti gave his best half-smile and shook the man's hand. A weird comradery. Henry came up next.

"On record, you're still known as Seti Tutt. That won't officially change until a few business days. You're free to decide when you want the public to know about your discipleship with Faulkner, but I believe the families will learn about it tonight. Right, Faulkner?"

"Yeah, Tobias called for the gathering of bosses. I'll let them know then," Faulkner said.

Henry nodded. "When asked, the recommendation comes from Lambsgard University."

Faulkner gave a devilish grin that Henry didn't see. That was concerning.

Shanna was in the back, doing something to the ground. Cracks were appearing here and there. She continued to move her hand around until she finished whatever she wanted to do, and waved Seti over.

"What's this?" Seti asked, gesturing to the ground. Except she had a blindfold and likely didn't notice.

"My farewell." The Earth Dragon flicked her hand. The ground rumbled for a second. Then, arising from the cracks she had made, a massive hand folded upwards. It went higher than Seti was tall. It nearly went beyond his omniview's height when it stopped, then leaned side to side. It was waving.

"Holy crap!" Seti walked around the giant hand. "Is this an earth elemental's hand? Can you make the whole body?"

"Yes," she said.

He remembered that she had made something similar during the Maybell mall skirmish. All the excitement from then had made him forget. An elemental of this size was an amazing feat.

"The full elemental has to be at least titan-class!"

"It is. But I only use the waist and up." Shanna used her hand to indicate her stomach to her head.

"That's a shame." Seti touched the hand. It was rough, like cement. Only the wrist and higher came from the ground. It even had fingernails, which was an unnecessary detail to add. "Walking giants are the coolest."

"Coolest, but they have a major weakness," Faulkner said. He walked up to the geo-hand and gave it a look. He held up his own hand, like he was about to slap someone, then swung across. A cut of air struck one of the fingers, lobbing it off. It broke off into chunks and fell to the ground.

"My finger." Shanna knelt and petted the broken parts.

"An earth elemental requires a complete contact with the ground to exist," Faulkner explained. "Remove that and you cut off the mana flow, ending its existence. You lose mobility by not calling forth legs, but you won't have that heavy fault. Similar restrictions exist for other elemental types, so remember that when you run across them."

"Enough lessons," Henry called out. "He can text me more questions later. They have a long drive ahead of them."

A long drive was right. The destination was Blue Castle, the location of the Exceptions exam. It would be a three-hour drive—or four-hours if going directly from Lambsgard. Seti bid his farewell. The other elders were supposedly seeing him off as well, but his omniview wasn't large enough to cover the entire yard. With no one else to say goodbye to, he sat in the back of the vehicle. He had intended to sit in the front, but Dora was adamant that it was her spot because she called it first. Soon after, the four of them were driving out of the neighborhood and onto the road.

Elder Poe was content to not talk, so Seti pulled out his earphones and plugged it into his phone. He turned it on. He was mentally refreshed and ready to take on the world, and that meant taking on the texts he received.

Sydria's two texts were now five. He also had one text from Henry from the necromancy talk, so he added that to his contacts. The process was slow, as he had to hear the app read out every option he highlighted. Once that was done, Seti listened to the five texts in order. The female metallic voice took out some of the emotion that should have been conveyed.

"Monday, 5:09 PM. I'm so mad right now. Ugh-exclamation point. I keep telling myself that you were tricked, or something else. If you don't call me, I'm going to tell the Shepherds everything about your wind."

Wonderful. So now they knew he had an emotion amplifying niche.

"Monday, 6:18 PM. Did you really not like having me as a sister—question mark. Was our family really that bad—question mark."

Even with the robotic voice reading the text, that still cut. He decided not to linger on it and moved to the next one.

"Tuesday, 9:28 AM. Dad knows. He said he'll doing something about it. I told him I'll come back if he can make you come back."

She said she would come back? Come back from where? Did she run away? And his father would do something? Hard to see what his influence would do in this situation.

"Wednesday, 5:50 PM. I lied. I didn't tell them about your wind. I'm mad at both them and you. They threatened to write me up for using my mancy. Hmm… what else should I say—question mark. Whatever, you owe me one—exclamation point."

That was fortunate. He was surprised she didn't blab everything out of resentment. She seemed much calmer after only two days.

"Thursday, 2:42 AM. See you soon—exclamation point."

Seti sighed. That didn't bode well. That statement could be in relation to several things. The first would be a sudden appearance at the exam. He really didn't want to meet her there. Less so, with her niche of paralysis. It could also refer to her potentially attending Prestige Academy. She was a tier five electromancer, after all. He didn't know what the standard application into Prestige was like, but the Exceptions exam didn't allow anyone above tier four. Considering the school was for the top (which he doubted she was), it wasn't likely they would have a spot for her. So Seti could safely assume she wouldn't be a student.

At that point, his imagination went wild. What if she joined the Serio family as well? Or another family, for that matter? Tsk, she could be annoying. Not knowing made him think of all sorts of scenarios.

Ah—that was a plus in Faulkner's favor. His master had told him that imagination was a powerful weapon. Sydria withholding information caused him more discomfort than she probably realized.

The most realistic scenario was the likeliest. Seti figured he would be seeing his sister at Blue Castle. But to do what? Maybe she would try to carry him off. With that in mind, her paralysis electromancy was a real worry. He wouldn't put it past her to zap him in public. Hopefully, the people there would step up. Would the non-mafians even help him now? But with Elder Poe at his side and the vivamancer Dora present, he really shouldn't be worrying.

Seti typed out a text. It was a long and painful process since he would fat finger a letter and then fat finger the delete button. Having the app vocalize every action lengthened the process. Several moments after he sent it, the recipient responded. Henry Adams.

"Saturday, 8:36 AM. Defense against paralysis-niche electromancy—question mark. Innate defense would stop the full effects, which increases as a mancer's grit gets stronger. I recommend looking up mancy versus nature. Several online sources talk about it. And a three-hour drive is enough time to research—exclamation point."

And so that was exactly what Seti did. The topic of mancy versus nature was the comparison of mancer-made elements to the natural ones of the world. Mancers needed their elements nearby to weave it. So a hydromancer couldn't weave water unless a body of water was in the area. The same applied to geomancers and aeromancers with their element.

Pyromancy and electromancy didn't follow that rule. While they could use surrounding static or flames, they also could create their element with nothing but their mana. As a result, those two elements had a special weakness. Innate magic defense. A mancer's fire was less effective against people, depending on the opponent's tier.

The article said tier, but Henry had said grit. If it were actually tiers, then Seti would be screwed from the start. The interchangeable use of grit and tiers was something he would have to keep an eye out for.

A video link showing an example of a pyromancer calling forth a pillar of flame on an opponent. Unfortunately, Seti couldn't benefit from it. He had to imagine what was shown based on what else the article said. It seemed like the opponent was barely burned and even his clothes didn't catch fire. If the clothes were also protected, then the innate defense was like an aura of sorts.

While pyromancy and electromancy had that weakness, the other elements did as well, but to a much lesser degree. So wait a second. If a geomancer threw a rock at someone, and that person had a high tier, that rock would hurt less? Probably not enough to notice a difference.

Seti wondered the details behind that. It took mana to weave elements around, so maybe the element's strength was based on both the natural properties and the total mana used? If that were the case, it would make sense that an opponent's innate defense could negate some of the mana. He was going to get a headache trying to figure everything out. At the end of the day, pyromancy would still burn things, regardless of minute differences.

Hmm... What if using a mana marble would give him an explosive increase of innate defense? The defense was based on grit, and it seemed like the marble gave him several tiers worth. It was another thing he would have to test once he got enough ammo. One per day just wasn't enough.

When he had a basic understanding of mancy versus nature, Seti looked up other things online. The first thing he determined to know was what Blue Castle was like. With no sight outside of the vehicle, that was the only way to know what he would've been looking at.

During the Second Age, a divine from that time helped forge Blue Castle to be what it was now. Bruno Hugo was his name. Bruno was most famously known for ending all earthquakes—permanently. As a divine, his mancy assisted heavily during the restoration attempts. He did something to Blue Castle's ground, allowing geomancers and adepts alike to weave the earth with much less effort. It became a beacon to earth mancers.

It was a mountainy area. Most of the hills were geo-made, as part of the culture. When an earth adept became of age, they would raise up part of the land. The website went into detail as to what each hill represented, but he skipped over that. The town itself was on a slope, and he figured they were getting close once the vehicle started to tilt up during the drive.

Dora struggled against her seatbelt, undid it, and turned around in her seat to give Seti a piece of candy.

"Eat it," she said with a mischievous smile.

A plastic wrap covered the ball. Seti squeezed it a little. It was soft.

"Is it chocolate?" He asked.

"Eat it," she said again.

Seti undid the wrapper and threw the ball in his mouth. He took a bite. An intense flavor filled his mouth in an instant, causing him to scrunch his face in disgust. Dora started laughing, and even Elder Poe smiled. Seti spat it back into the wrapper.

"That's disgusting," he said. The taste stuck to his mouth.

"It is." Her face glowed. "I can turn off my tongue, so it's super fun to trick people into eating it."

Turn off her tongue? That would be one way to eat vegetables.

It wasn't long after when they arrived. Seti was about to step out when Elder Poe stopped him. It was the butler's duty to open the door. That could get to his head quickly if he wasn't careful.

A smell of pinecones and forest trees greeted him. They were in a parking lot, surrounded by cars in every spot. Rather than using yellow paint as the separator (which Seti wouldn't be able to see), this parking lot had a small bump of cement, raised by earth mancy. An aesthetic choice, if nothing else. Another car drove into the lot and stopped at the center. The ground shifted and slowly moved the stopped car into a parking spot. That was one way to control traffic.

The butler stayed behind as they hiked up a trail. Dora took Seti's hand. He wondered if that was to guide him since he was blind, or simply because she was a little girl. The natural wind was more common at this altitude, and the air was thinner. He placed his free hand in his sweater pocket when he noticed that the air moved and clumped in such a way that the three of them could breathe normally.

"Are you controlling the air?" Seti asked.

"I am," Elder Poe replied.

Interesting. So an aeromancer could negate the negative effects of higher altitudes. Though, didn't higher altitudes also have some positive aspects? Seti was sure he heard about athletes sometimes training in the mountains. He would have to look into that and see if he can't replicate the positive effects while on ground level.

The chattering of a crowd came from up ahead. Seti did a quick check of his resources. He felt his two mana marbles and noted that his omniview was roughly eleven feet out. It would bend out of shape when a gust came in but otherwise remained intact. He also had his emotional niche, which wouldn't get past anyone's innate defense unless they allowed it by having the emotion in question.

As they walked up the slope, there were people standing off to the side, looking at statues that geomancers likely molded. Five in total. Dora let go of his hand to go look at one. Seti stopped and let him omniview get a read on them. They stood on a pedestal, with engravings written on it.

Amy Thorn – Age 32 – Geomancer Tier 6 – Shepherd

Gary Yam – Age 18 – Earth Adept Tier 4 – Student at Sierra High

Dan Davis – Age 17 – Earth Adept Tier 4 – Student at Sierra High

Linda Johnson – Age 17 – Geomancer Tier 5 – Student at Sierra High

Jenelle Serio – Age 11 – Earth Adept Tier 3 – Student at Brockton Junior High

The three high school students were on one side of the trail, and the other two were on the other. The last one, where Dora was, caught his attention. Jenelle, the youngest of the five, was a member of the Serio family. Each statue had a likeness of a person. The Shepherd had a smile and clipboard in her hands. The Serio girl had a book in hers.

"What's with these?" Seti asked.

"I can answer that!" Someone said just as Elder Poe opened his mouth. A woman turned from a statue and walked to them. She was…unique. Her hairstyle was a braided twintails that looped and clipped above her ears. She also wore the largest glasses Seti had ever seen. "They're the Maze Makers, the saviors of a hundred people. Died in action. Hi! My name is Vivian, journalist. Question-for-question? Partaking in the Exceptions exam? Or just viewing?"

He looked at her outstretched hand before shaking it. He side-eyed Elder Poe in a way that asked permission to talk to a journalist. The elder made no response so he decided to humor her.

"Partaking," Seti said. "Saved them how?"

"By making mazes, of course!" Vivian beamed. Her glasses slid down a notch. She pushed it up. "A primal attack. Three years ago. The five made mind-maiming mazes in the massive mole mountains. Say that quickly five times. They evacuated the area with their geomancy. My turn! Are you an elementalist, crafter, or healer?"

"Wind adept." Seti looked at the Serio statue. Dora hadn't moved from it still. "They let an eleven-year-old participate in battle?"

"We can't pick and choose our help during a crisis. Primals don't care about your age. Tier four? Three?"

He hesitated. "One." Then he quickly added, "Why do you wear glasses? Can't you vivamancy it away?"

"And ruin the style!?" She took off her glasses, held it up like a prize, and then put them back on. "But in seriousness, vivamancers are expensive. I'm not rich. A one, you say? In all my years, the lowest I've ever seen attempted is a three. Do you think you'll pass the exam?"

Seti paused. He would have to be careful how he responded to people's questions. He was a tier one, yes, but he could also weave spells with the use of his mana marbles. He was unique. "I will pass the test." He noticed that she held nothing in her hands. "A journalist that doesn't take notes?"

Vivian tapped the temple of her head. "Good memory—not a geas! Partaking in the exam as a tier one? Why the hope?"

He shook his head. "Because I'm exceptional. I have no more questions."

"Aww. My question-for-question has ended."

She gave thanks and waved as she walked up the trail. Seti went to Dora, who hadn't left her spot. Jenelle Serio. Eleven years ago. Barely older than Dora was now. They stood in silence for a moment.

"Did you know her?" He asked.

Dora shook her head. "But I know Eddy. She saved him. Her brother."

He read the markings on the statues again. Three students, a Shepherd, and the Serio girl. He imagined what might have happened to unite them. Maybe the three students were friends, hanging out when the attack started. Maybe the Serio girl was walking with her brother somewhere—could've been a birthday celebration even. Then the primal would come. The Shepherd would try to do her part by fighting but recognized her inability to stop the primal. The five would unite and create mazes throughout the mountains to help everyone evacuate.

Then they would die.

It was probably intentional the Exceptions exam was happening here. Over half of the Maze Makers weren't even tier five, yet they saved lives. It might be the academy's way of saying that they were exceptional.

Dora finally broke away from the statue and they continued their way up the slope. She would stop to pick up the petals that flowered the ground. The higher they went, fewer petals remained. The slope eventually flattened out to a plateau. Several porta potties lined up on one side, and a large crowd awaited on the other. He doubted this many people were trying to pass the exam. Maybe family members? Or those that just wanted to watch the show? From what Seti knew, the exact details of the exams was not public knowledge. It was a different test each time, kept secret. Considering the history and culture of Blue Castle, it would be a fair guess that the test would be in favor of earth adepts.

"Wow! It does look like a castle," Dora said.

"Mountains that appear as watchtowers." Elder Poe nodded.

Both of them looked around and off to the distance. His omniview was amazing in all its right, but not having long distance visibility sucked. He pictured blue watchtowers in the distance but knew he was off.

"What am I supposed to be seeing?" Seti asked.

Elder Poe looked around and stroked his beard. "In the distance, there are mountains that look like castle walls. A city sprawls at the base. On this field, I see quite a few people." He stopped talking. His mouth opened slightly, and he nodded to the distance. "Word travels faster than we thought."

"Hm?" Seti turned to him.

He shook his head. "There's a table for the registration, where you'll have to go. A building to our right, and a cave directly in front."

"A cave? Lovely."

Seti looked around to see if he could find Sydria anywhere, but his limited view wasn't doing him any favors. A cameraman grouped the crowd behind a rope line and instructed them to cheer when he ran past. He gave the signal and the crowd hollered. The cameraman ran down the line, recording everyone's reaction. When he was done, they stopped cheering.

"Is this some kind of show?" Seti asked.

"I'm not certain if they'll televise it, but the feed goes directly to that screen." Elder Poe pointed diagonally up. Seti couldn't see what he was referring to. "It seems we'll be able to watch the exam from here."

They walked past the crowd to the registration table. A young man was at the table. His hair was shaved to the skin except at the top of his head, where he had it tied back into a mini ponytail. He wore baggy clothes and had his own squad of people, a total of five. Four of the guys all had their own baggy clothes and unique hairstyles, and the fifth woman revealed way too much skin. She was more heavyset.

The young woman behind the table was typing away at her laptop. She had a plastic card stringed around her neck. Her uniform consisted of a blazer with a tie, and a skirt that had stockings underneath. A special sowing designed around the shoulders and sleeve collar. The sowing also wrote words on her front breast pocket: Abigail Pritchard. On the back it said Prestige.

"Name and recommendation location?" Abigail asked the man.

"Listen to the itch pretend she don't know me." His squad started laughing. "Tyronn, and me recommendation from the Sentinel Guild."

Seti knew the Sentinel Guild. His mother was a member of it.

"Oh my, how fearsome." Abigail stopped typing to look at him. "You might be a big bad boy where you're from, but here you're just another contestant." She side-eyed her laptop. "A tier three crafter. Not even a four. You must be very proud."

Tyronn held up his right arm. His baggy sleeve slid down to his elbow. With a turn of the arm, strange particles formed around it. Soon after, a spinning drill covered his right arm. It hummed silently.

"Aye, you right, itch, I be tier three. But you see me drill here? It cuts through any barrier. Take a wonder why the Sentinel Guild want that." Tyronn lowered his arm and the drill vanished. "I be no contestant. I'm only here for they formality. I already passed. Just you see."

Abigail sighed. She pushed forward a paper and a wristband. "Whatever. Sign this and be on your way. If you want to nominate yourself for the camera feed, please check these boxes."

"Stupid itch, I don't need that." Tyronn took the paper and signed at the bottom. Seti took note of the signature location, so he could mimic it when it was his turn. A moment later and Tyronn was gone, along with his five groupies, but not without saying some vulgar stuff as they left.

A phasm drill. Tyronn claimed it could pierce through any barrier. That made Seti think about Shepherd Cyrus, who was also a crafter and could create a barrier around himself. He even earned the title of Second Immortal. Could the drill pierce through that barrier even though Tyronn was a tier three?

Elder Poe leaned close to Seti and whispered. "According to her tag, her name is Abigail."

He knew that from the sowing on her clothes, but perhaps Elder Poe didn't fully know what he could do with his omniview.

"Sorry you had to go through that, Abigail," Seti said as he stepped forward. Dora and Elder Poe hung back.

"It's fine," she typed away on her laptop again. "Name and recommendation location?"

"Seti Tutt, from Lambsgard University."

She clicked a few more keys then stopped. "Tier one?" She looked at Seti. "Usually the applicant's tier is—"

"Four, I know," Seti said. "But circumstances could allow people even lower to apply."

"Well, yes. But according to this, your special trait is… 'Because his teacher is the most handsomest to ever live.'" She looked away from the laptop to him again. Abigail pursed her lips.

It took a bit to process the information. Seti laughed. Somehow, Faulkner must have gotten his hands on the application after Henry completed it.

"Well, that was unexpected," Seti said. "I still intend to apply. The recommendation isn't invalid, is it?"

"Well, no." Abigail typed at her laptop again. "It's quite in order, but I can't imagine you clearing the exam at all, or drawing any useful attention for that matter. Even if we exclude your tier, you have no prior experience and today is the final exam for the year. I don't know what—" she stopped to read something on the screen, "—Henry Adams sees in you, but this is probably more of a private lesson from him to you. I can't disallow you from continuing, but you definitely shouldn't get your hopes up."

She gave him the wristband to wear and the paperwork to sign. He looked at it as if he was reading, which obviously wasn't the case, then readied himself to sign the bottom portion.

"Maybe you should consider checking the camera star box," Abigail said.

"What does it do for me?"

She leaned forward and pointed a pen at the middle of the paper. "If you volunteer to be the camera star, there's a chance that you'll be selected to represent the Blue Castle exam. You would get a lot of publicity—you know, get your name out there—which couldn't hurt your chances when the judging happens."

"Couldn't hurt my chances?" Seti gave her a look.

"Actually, maybe you shouldn't." She switched back to her proper seating posture. "I mean, if your special trait is that your teacher is handsome, there probably isn't much you want people to know about yourself."

Seti laughed. He signed his first name and paused before writing his last. He had always signed his name as Seti Tutt up until now. It was strange to think that signing his birth name would only be partially true. He scribbled a bunch of loops for his last name, so it was neither Tutt nor Serio.

Abigail took the paper and smiled. "It would be fun if you could make it into Prestige, though. I would love to see Professor Dawn's face."

"What year are you?" Seti asked.

She held up the plastic card around her neck. "My second; my colors represent it too. Student council members don't usually attend these exams, but I think I ticked off the wrong person. Ah! I probably shouldn't talk about that. Good luck, Seti."

That was his cue to leave. The three of them left the registration table and made their way to the building. Dora made a comment about knocking Tyronn unconscious, but Elder Poe lightly rebuked her. Others had plastic cards around their necks and vests that had Volunteer edged on the back, directing the flow of traffic and answering questions. The adobe building itself was a single floor and had no actual doors or windows, only openings in the walls. Seti suspected that a geomancer made it.

The exam people separated Seti from Dora and Elder Poe, and had him enter an interview room. At the center was a table, with a laptop and a small paper pile on it. A woman sat on the opposite side. Her coat collar was neck-high. She had a badge on her breast pocket. A cane.

She was a Shepherd.

Seti froze. He hadn't expected to run across another one so quickly. He knew they were supposed to do their scan or whatever, for the geas event, but Elder Poe and Dora should be present. He readied his two mana marbles in case he needed it, then prepared his niche so he could have the element of surprise. Whoever struck first would—

"Welcome, contestant," the Shepherd said. "I am Shepherd Christella Webber. Please take a seat." She motioned to the empty chair at the table. "This'll be an oral interview."

Ah. Well. He overreacted.

"A Shepherd doing the interview?" Seti pulled up the chair and sat.

"Of course. We have a stake in Prestige as well. Many graduates join the guilds or us. I'm teaching there this year as well, unbelievably. Let's get started. Let me pull up your records. First and last name?"

He considered briefly saying Serio as his last name. The look on her face would have almost been worth it. "Seti Tutt."

Christella typed away on her keyboard. She rested her chin on her hand while she read her screen. The sleeve of her outfit slid down a little, revealing an armguard. The communication device of the Shepherds. She had pixie short hair, with a portion covering part of her face. It was hard to tell how old she was. Her brows furrowed at one point; likely the moment when she read the special comment about his handsome teacher.

"Lambsgard University. I know that place. There's a student named Aiden from there that made it in. Did you hear about him?"

"I did," Seti said. Aiden was allowed in on the condition that Cassie accepted attendance as well. The Shepherds had planned that out.

"I won't spite you for being tier one. If you're here and someone of authority recommended you, then you must think you have something of value."

Seti noticed that she said "you must think" rather than "you must have." It was indeed incomprehensible that a tier one could achieve anything. If not for the mana marbles, he wondered how he would've advanced using just his emotion niche. Maybe he would have had to manipulate his way through. Perhaps he should do that anyway?

Christella began asking the interview questions. It started out vague, like what he wanted to accomplish there. Vague questions got vague answers. ("I want to expand my boundaries and knowledge, and make networking connections.") They went into the enrollment process, explaining how residency worked, and what was expected of students. For someone who believed he wouldn't make it at all, she left no detail out.

"As you know, Prestige is in New Vox; home to one of the primal gates," She said. "Despite that, it's a very safe city. The Octet's sixth seat has overwatch, and there's plenty of Shepherds at the ready—moreso with some teaching at the academy. And if that wasn't enough, the Sentinel Guild relocated there as well."

Quite the defensive measures; more than what other gates had. The Sentinel Guild transferring to New Vox was overkill in consideration… Sentinel Guild?

"W-what?" Seti blurted. "The Sentinel Guild? Why are they at New Vox?"

"Because they're a defensive group? I'm not sure what you mean."

It wasn't so much the Sentinel Guild itself that interested Seti, but rather it was who was a member of that guild. If he did get into Prestige Academy, he would be living in the same city as his mother. He had not seen her in years.

"No, I don't mean anything by it," Seti said.

She gave a confused look but continued. "You may be concerned about your obligation during a primal assault, but students are not required to help. We have an abundance as is. There are exceptions to these rules, of course, but generally, that's how it goes. Ultimately, New Vox is one of the safest cities in the region."

New Vox may be safe from primals, but what about from the mafia? Seti wondered if she thought the same thing he did at that moment. The noblesse was cooking something at Prestige. Did she know about that, or was it kept secret from her?

Christella switched topics to the Exceptions exam. The details of what the contestants must do wouldn't be revealed until moments before it started. Any family or friends that came with the contestants would receive their own screen that would follow them. For those that opted in for the camera star, the main screen would show their progress while the commentator spoke. They would also be the ones shown online. It really was like a sporting event. It couldn't be too entertaining, considering so few would pass the exams.

There was the rule of three failures. Each year a contestant could fail three times before they weren't able to apply anymore. But it wasn't as permanent as Seti had thought. Those failures would reset for the next year, so they could try again. The age group at Prestige varied wildly as a result. Some would be as young as eighteen years of age, while others could be nearly thirty. However, it wasn't age that mattered, but the capabilities of each mancer.

As Seti was about to leave, he turned back to ask one last question.

"What are your thoughts on members of the mafia going to Prestige?"

She was taken aback by the question. "They have rights to attend, and some do. You shouldn't worry about them; they come to learn like everyone else."

He gave his thanks and left the room. Another contestant entered on his exit. Seti took awareness of his surroundings. Vivian, that private journalist, was talking to another wristband wearer. She was easily noticeable with her strange hair loops. Seti realized he probably wouldn't recognize her if she made her hair differently. A Prestige student was working with a power box. She held a finger out and let sparks come out, hitting the box. She must be the technician on site.

"Care for a cup?"

Seti turned to an elderly lady sitting by a tall water container. She filled plastic cups and gave them to those that walked by. He took the cup.

"Stay hydrated," she said. "Most of the water in the area is in here."

He thanked her and explored around the building. It was a maze in itself. There was no way this blueprint would have been approved with normal buildings. The two Serio members he arrived with were nowhere to be found until someone directed him outside. Elder Poe and Dora awaited him, holding a small flat screen.

"We can watch you with this!" Dora said as she held it up. "They put cameras inside the cave. I asked grandpa if we could cheat but he said there's a dally."

"Delay," Elder Poe corrected.

The atmosphere was changing. People were talking with excited voices. The exam was about to begin. Volunteers were directing traffic to separate the watchers from those that were participating. Just as Elder Poe was about to depart, someone called out his name.

"Seti." A voice cut through ambient voices.

He looked in the direction where it came from, but the person was outside the eleven-foot visibility range. However, Seti didn't need to see the person to know who it was. This was the one time he could recognize the voice instantly. The benefits of living in the same household.

It wasn't Sydria.

"Hello, dad," Seti said when his father stepped into view.

Jacob Tutt, owner of Event Horizon and father to Seti and Sydria, stood before the three of them. He ignored the orders shouted out by the volunteers that tried to get the show started. His face was clean-shaven and he wore a polo shirt. One hand in pocket, and taller by an inch or two.

A tinge of worry began to rise. Seti thought to use his emotion niche to calm himself, but he decided to go a different route. He amplified his own bravery.

"I see your eyesight was fixed. That's one less expense. We're going home," his father said. He looked at Elder Poe, almost asking him to interfere.

"Can't," Seti said, "I'm taking the exam."

Dora looked at both of them and at the person directing traffic. She was conflicted about not obeying the instructions. Seti didn't need them here to defend him, so he turned to her and Elder Poe and waved them off. After a pause, both Serio members left to stand with the other observers.

Seti turned to face his father head-on. Did you know I caused your divorce? The thought appeared in his head in an instant. He pushed it aside.

His father spoke first. "You'll only embarrass me. Learn to grow up and be a man. You won't get anywhere in life if all you do is dream."

"Ah! The ever supporting father," Seti said. "Did you know that there are some people who think I could do quite well as a mancer?"

His eyes narrowed. "Watch your tone. Have you ever considered that you're being swindled? I raised you better than that. The consequences extend beyond you this time."

"Good thing I have you here to think for me. Speaking of consequences, did Sydria run away? What's with her saying she'll be back if I come back?"

"A fallout of your stupidity, certainly," he said. "She went to live with your mother."

Oh. That explained why Sydria thought she would see Seti soon. If she left to live with his mother, and his mother was part of the Sentinel Guild, and the Sentinel Guild relocated to New Vox, then they all would live in the same city.

His father's phone vibrated. He took it out and texted a reply.

"I'm going to take the exam," Seti said again. No response. His father's focus was on the phone.

The crowd was thinning out. "Last call! Contestants line up over here!"

Seti started to walk away when his father grabbed him by the shoulder.

"Where do you think you're going?" He asked.

"You're too busy with your work to have a conversation, so I figured I'm free to go."

"You will not participate. We're leaving." His shoulder grip tightened.

The two had a stare-off. Seti was determined not to blink, but the last thing he needed was some disqualification because he couldn't line up in time. His father wasn't a bad guy; their family was provided for and mistakes of the children were erased. But at the end of the day, not letting him choose his own path and make his own mistakes was a mistake in itself.

"I'm an adult. I can make my own decisions. When I pass, you'll see that everyone—yourself included—was wrong about me." He took his father's arm and pushed it away. "But if you want to negotiate, I'll listen."

His father didn't reply at first. Seti became anxious when the commentator started speaking. As he was about to leave, his father spoke.

"When you fail, I want you and your sister back home."

"Sure." Seti ran off and followed the volunteer's directions.

"Thank you all for coming! I will be your host, Leonard Kinsley. And if you're watching online, please note that rebroadcasting, reproducing, republishing, uploading, posting, transmitting, copying, and publically displaying or otherwise for commercial use without written consent is strictly forbidden and punishable by law. Our electromancers are onto you! Today, we're at Blue Castle to see if anyone here will start the new school year at Prestige Academy! We have a total of nine contestants—all from different walks of life!"

Seti lined up with the others. He saw Tyronn, who yawned in boredom, a few feet away. An eleven-foot radius was large indoors but was left wanting outside. A few other contestants were in range, and a cliff rose up behind him. They were close to the cave entrance.

"Today's exam will be centered around a piece of history that happened right here. Three years ago, a primal made its way to Blue Castle. Four unlikely heroes teamed up with Shepherd Amy Thorn and became the Maze Makers. A moment of silence for these brave heroes."

Someone coughed during the silence.

"And now, to reveal the exam! Inside the cave is a specially designed maze, a similar concept to what the Maze Makers made. All throughout the tunnels, we have our cameras lined in the walls or ceilings. As you can see, we've placed dolls within. The contestants must collect as many of these dolls as possible, then make their way back to the surface. Too simple, you say? Of course, there'll be obstacles! But first, a word from our sponsors. The next generation of hybrid vehicles is here! Combining the tech between mechanics and electromancy, cars are now capable of driving an entire month before requiring a recharge!"

Someone walked up to the contestants. He had a thick belt and several walkie-talkies hooked to it. "Okay listen up! When the announcer calls your name, you may cast a flashy spell—do not hit anyone with it. If you're not capable of a flashy spell, feel free to pose. When you're done, go immediately into the cave and stand in front of the torches. Do not take the torches from the wall until the start. Please listen to the instructions from the commentator, as he will disclose several key rules. If you're claustrophobic and want to escape the exam, take your wristband off and we will rescue you."

"Welcome back! Here at the Blue Castle Exceptions exam, our constants must gather as many dolls as they possibly can, and then return to the surface. But how hard can that be? Allow me to reveal the geomancers of the freelancer guild: Vaguely Competent! What an interesting name. The Guild Association gave permission for the creation of standard-class earth elementals. They'll wander the maze, and if they catch you, they will melt on you—locking you in place! The more time passes, the more elementals that'll form. It's a risk and reward game. How long will you stay? Is it heroic? Or is it arrogance? Let's meet our contestants!

He called off some names and Seti heard oohs! and aahs! when they showed off their spell. But they were too far away to be seen with his omniview.

"Representing the Sentinel Guild, I introduce to you: Tyronn Zhwan! Tier three crafter."

Tyronn walked forward and shouted. He pounded his chest and then raised his right hand. With a turn of the arm, the phasm drill appeared, and he plunged it into the ground. The drill ripped the ground apart. Chunks of dirt hit several other contestants as it tore up. He pulled out and let the phasm material dissipate. The hole in the ground remained.

Obnoxious cheers and ugly shrieks came from the already loud crowd. Tyronn's squad made themselves heard.

The commentator called off several other people. One guy to Seti's right, Ivan, stepped forward and created a quick burst of flame between his hands. A woman named Libby pulled up a slab of dirt into the air and stepped on it. Just before it was about to collapse, she stepped off and bowed. That was similar to Seti's own Carry spell—or maybe he should call it Air Step? It wasn't like he was going to carry anything other than himself, with the time limitation.

Mindy was an unfortunate girl. The commentator called her next and she tripped on the hole that Tyronn had made. Too embarrassed to pose or cast a spell, she ran off to the cave rather quickly. Then it was Seti's turn.

"Don't worry, we're almost done here! I present Seti Tutt, representing Lambsgard University! He's a… A… A tier one wind adept? Tier one? Is this right?"

The crowd quieted down. Then someone—probably from Tyronn's group of people—erupted in laughter. Others joined in the jeering. He was certain he heard someone call him itch.

He stepped forward. As of right now, no one knew that he was Seti Serio, the disciple of the Wind Dragon. They would laugh because he was a tier one. The superiority wouldn't last forever, and when they found out, they would rewatch these clips. It was important to send a message to those future viewers.

Seti raised his right hand and made a claw, where he paired the outer fingers together and held the thumb out wide. He smiled. With no context, they might think he was just making an aggressive gesture. Once they learned who he was, though, they would know that this represented Faulkner's spell: Wind Claw. At that moment, tier one would no longer be synonymous with weakness without exception.

Doing nothing else, and ignoring the laughing crowd, Seti walked to the cave entrance.

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About the author

Gelifyal

Bio: I work full time at a bank and write during free time on the weekdays.


Aeromancer is the first time I've ever let the public read a story I've come up with. Please leave a comment if you enjoy it!

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