[x] Shy - Uncertain and adorably adorable.
"N-Neianne," you manage through a stammer.
Smiling kindly, the clerk is still flipping through her dossiers, but she repeats herself, offering reassurance in the face of your nervousness: "Welcome to Faulkren, Neianne. We don't get many dryads here, but I'm sure you'll fit right in." Her glance returns to the documents in her hands, and she plucks a piece of paper from out of the stack with a clear tone of satisfaction even as she reviews the document. "Ah, here we are. We've already received payment, and no extra paperwork..." she makes her final checks before looking back up at you with a smile, "...so you're good to go! You'll be staying in the West Wing, Room Three." She snaps her fingers, and from the side, a young human girl - perhaps only thirteen summers of age, if not younger, looking like she works as a serving girl from a peasant family - skips up to the table. "Dorothy will take you there."
"Follow me, please," Dorothy chimes after giving a bow in your direction. You greet her with a small bow of your own, picking up a bag of your own belongings and bidding the clerk a shy, polite farewell before following the child at least two or three years younger than you.
The Academy itself isn't overly large, and the centuries have transformed a fortress into an institution. Even if you haven't seen them, you know of larger castles, military fortifications such as those in the capitals of the Confederacy's five regions: Apaloft, Elspar, Fulwaite, Lindholm, and Sandria. But the Academy - at least at first glance - is structured in a somewhat confusing mix of whitestone buildings that seem to lean onto each other. The West Wing, at least from your vantage point, looks as if it's close enough to the wall to be connecting, but still not quite the same structure. You suspect it will be some time before you get used to the architecture here.
You are halfway down your trip through the courtyard when Dorothy suddenly turns around, starts walking backwards, and asks you, "Are you a real dryad?" There is an excitable tone to her voice as she looks at you with wide eyes, the sort that hardly looks out of place on the face of an innocent young child.
You manage a smile; you tend to be less shy around young children. They're less likely to judge you. "Have you n-never seen a dryad before?" you reply with a question of your own.
"I have," pouts Dorothy a little, "but I've never really talked to one." Then, almost immediately, without ever waiting for you to answer whether or not you're a "real dryad", she reaches up in the direction of your head, pointing and asking, "Are those real leaves in your hair?"
Taken aback at how readily Dorothy invades your personal space, you answer in a somewhat flustered manner, "Y-Yes, they're real."
"What happens if I pluck them?"
"Th-They'll grow back," you answer hurriedly even as your hands clutch at your hair as if protecting them from being plucked, "but p-please don't do that!"
"Is that real hair?" continues the young serving girl without pause. You get the feeling that she isn't actually supposed to ask these sort of questions to the newly arriving apprentices, but that she can't help her curiosity in your case.
You also get the feeling that maybe you - shy little you - are being bullied a little by a girl of, at most, thirteen summers.
"W-Well, yes," you answer truthfully, your fingers sliding down your hair just enough to stroke the few leaves intertwined with them, "m-most of what grows out of my head is still h-hair instead of lea..."
If Dorothy's questions were rapid-fire before, now she doesn't even wait for you to complete your answer before she's already excitedly racing for the next subject of her curiosity. In this case, she points at the gentle patterns and textures that run like vines and branches across parts of your body, looking like a light mix between a tattoo and embroidery, demanding, "Is that tree bark on your skin?"
"N-No, it's a n-natural skin formation that a-all dryads have. It's s-something like a giant birthmar..."
"Do you grow flowers in your hair?"
"Not yet..." You're thinking about explaining how most dryads don't grow more than a dozen flowers in their hair in a lifetime, and that a flower actually blooming there has traditionally be interpreted as a sign of good fortune.
But, of course, before you can even think about explaining this, Dorothy - quickly, loudly, excitedly, innocently - immediately fires off another question with all the innocence of a child: "Is it true that dryads meet every month in the forest under the full moon to dance and frolic naked?"
You try very hard not to turn red and choke on your own cough. You're not entirely sure you succeed. This is going to be a long walk to your dormitory.
There's a saying on the continent of Iuryis, and although variations of it exist, it broadly goes: "The elves formed civilization, the aseri invented trade, and the humans built industry."
The historical veracity of this statement is, of course, heavily suspect; broad overgeneralizations of races - assuming they aren't outright falsehoods - never truly capture the nuances that are all too often lacking in these conversations. But they do serve two purposes: To inform the broad sentiments directed amongst the different races of Iuryis, and to highlight the conspicuous absence of the dryads in this saying.
No one is entirely sure where all the races of Iuryis came from, but for as long as recorded history has existed, the dryads coexisted with the elves in sacred woodlands, the cradles of Iuryian civilization. Unlike the elves, who congregated in the skytowns built amongst the canopies of the great forests, dryads lived more solitary lifestyles deeper into the heart of the woods. This isn't to say that dryads were reclusive; on the contrary, regular contact with the elves, fellow dryads, and other humans and aseri were entirely commonplace. But the physiological needs of the dryads are different compared to the other races, and while dryads require food like any other race, they can also last on water and sunlight for quite some time before the next meal.
Diminished requirements in terms of food and shelter means that dryads never had a strong need for things like permanent housing and concentrated agriculture, nor for a large population; they existed to some degree, but were never really mandatory. Like the aseri, dryads were a nomadic race, but whereas the aseri traveled in communities and hunted in packs like a mobile village, dryads often live alone or in small family units, content with self-sustenance until it was time to pay friends and family a visit.
Of course, if the saying about elves, aseri, and humans is to be taken at face value, then the humans changed everything.
As the story goes, dissatisfied with living under the shadow of the elves, humans - having lived in small communes on the outskirts of the skytowns - led a social revolution that steadily began to change how societies and populations formed. Mass agriculture was developed to sustain larger populations, and roads connected increasingly large communes. Smithies and forges were built, and while elven armor was still of lighter and superior make, increases in human production quickly began to outpace those of the elves, and human wares began to outnumber elven stock when aseri convoys made their sales.
Precisely how it happened is still a matter of intense academic debate. Did the elven leadership see the writing on the wall and move to co-opt human ingenuity to stave off the possible decline of their kind? Or was there simply a cultural migration from the woodlands to the plains that happened organically? Was industry ever a solely human-driven endeavor, or was the involvement of other races erased from oral history for the sake of a popular story about the differences amongst races? Regardless, the end result was the same: The elves gradually left the forests, migrating into towns and cities, urbanizing and forming great countries and empires alongside - or atop, depending on whom you ask - humans and aseri. The skytowns became historical relics and vacation spots, a place for elven children to learn of where their ancestors came from.
This left the dryads alone as caretakers of the woods.
For centuries, the dryads resisted the allure of urbanization. Interaction still happened - even if they became less intimate and more complex - but there was the understanding that the forests were their home. The cities held little charm, with their grime and squalor, crime and corruption, prejudice and oppression. It was not to say that dryads didn't have their own problems - blood feuds with no arbitrating mechanisms, undeveloped measures to handle blights and disasters, several religious conflicts - but they found their own way of living to be superior.
But as the years passed, as humans and elves and aseri multiplied aplenty, as walls and castles and palaces were erected, a line of thought, a shred of concern, began to develop amongst the community of dryads: What if the world was changing without them? What if they were being left behind? What if there came a day when those of the plains found themselves in conflict with those of the woods? How can a small population of dryads hold their own against an ever-increasing number of plains-dwellers and their steel?
Slowly, mentalities began to change. Driven by fear or plain curiosity, there came a demographic shift amongst the dryads, as more of them began to migrate out of the woods and into towns and cities. It has been a slow trickle, but now dryads - hardly a numerous population to begin with - are merely "uncommon" as opposed to "rare" on the plains. A sizeable dryad population still remains in the woodlands across the continent, and although relations between the two demographics of dryads are amicable enough, they've also grown increasingly complex.
The good news, at least, is that unlike the other races, dryads have had relatively little historical baggage, having been relatively absent from the jockeying for power, wealth, and influence that took place amongst the elves, the aseri, and the humans. At worst, some elves think dryads are backwards-thinking and have been far too slow to embrace the future, and some humans resent that dryads have "never lifted a finger" to challenge the social structures that disadvantage them. As a whole, though, most treat dryads with a wary but intrigued sense of optimism, even if there lingers an air that - as newcomers - dryads don't quite "fit in" just yet.
This has been a state of affairs that has lasted for almost two centuries.
After guiding you to your dormitory room on the second floor of the West Wing, Dorothy informs you that meals will be served in the Great Hall, and small helpings of light food will be served around the clock until schooling officially starts; it's there that you'll have the highest chance of meeting the people you'll be training alongside for the next three years.
Mercifully, Dorothy leaves with a small curtsy as soon as she's done. You're not sure how much more of her innocent but candid questioning you can take.
The West Wing is a somewhat sizeable two-story building, with a common area on the first floor and dorm rooms on the second. Rooms accommodate two, and arrangements are decent; this is clearly not the vacation home of an aristocrat in the Confederated City of Stengard, but lodgings are clean and comfortable, certainly better than your own housing conditions back home. Those of noble lineage can tolerate it for the honor that being a Caldran mercenary brings, and those of far lesser means enjoy the "luxuries" of schooling and the chance of socioeconomic advancement it brings.
You notice that a bag has already been dropped off on top of one of the beds, an indication that your roommate - whoever she is - has already arrived. It is clear, however, that she has not settled in, nor has she unpacked; it's almost as if she came in, placed her bag on the sheets, and then left just as quickly. Will she be in the Great Hall? Or perhaps she has gone to the town of Faulkren?
It probably doesn't matter at this point. Your best bet of meeting anyone here - making your first friends - is probably to head down to the Great Hall so as to see who else has arrived. You're obviously not the first apprentice to arrive at the Academy, but it's still a number of days before the schooling begins, so you're probably not so late for fear of intruding on cliques that have already formed. Still, first impressions mean a lot, so you step over to the full-length mirror to check that your appearance is as favorable as you can make it.
[x] Very short.
[x] Slightly short.
[x] Slightly tall.
[x] Short and simple, shoulder-length.
[x] Twintails, down to shoulder blades.
[x] Straight and regal, waist-length.
[x] Wholesome: Modest blouses, long skirts, and dresses iconic of the freeholder class in Caldrein.
[x] Dainty: Light sundresses, wispy shifts, and shift dresses, fashionable for the more maidenly.
[x] Youthful: Colorful frocks and frilly boleros giving off a more girlish impression.
[x] Stylish: Figure-hugging sheath dresses, scarves, pleated skirts, and stockings popular with city girls.
Attire style refers to the general fashion Neianne dresses herself in on normal occasions, and does not necessarily reflect a permanent or specific clothing setup. While write-in's are permitted, disparity with the shy persona increases the possibility of a QM veto.
Satisfied with your appearance - or at least as satisfied as you can be with it - you finally step out of your dormitory, down the stairs, out the West Wing, and for the Great Hall. Signs show you the way, but you don't really need it; the Great Hall, after all, can only be in the largest building in this fortress complex.
Stepping through the giant doors of the Great Hall, you admire the architecture that keeps this chamber aloft. Whitestone blocks form graceful gothic arches characteristic of traditional Caldran architecture, elegant and bright. Wide windows admit a healthy amount of sunshine into the hall, framed by stained glass with muted colors depicting various warriors and famous battles in the history of Caldran mercenaries. Tables are arranged across the hall, looking like they can easily seat at least a hundred apprentices. Some of these tables are occupied by a handful of new arrivals; a cursory glance scans about a dozen youths seated there, all of them roughly the same age as you. Although they're all seated close enough for everyone to talk to each other, plenty of them are also gathered in smaller groups for tighter conversations.
Some of them greet you cheerfully as you enter, while others acknowledge you with polite nods; you shyly offer a greeting in return. No one seems to be in a rush to invite you to their table, but given that they all have plates at their tables, they're probably just giving you enough space to grab some of the food and snacks that have been prepared on the tables to the side. You see that the offerings are nothing particularly heavy, mostly an assortment of breads, cheeses, bite-size slices of ham, and cooked vegetables. You suspect that the choices of food will become more impressive come mealtime. As you quietly pick out a few foods onto your plate - not a lot, just enough to fill your stomach after traveling across the Caldran countryside to get here - you risk a few glances in the direction of those already seated to get a sense of what they're like and whom they're seated with.
The largest and most obvious group is that of a group of five, in part because one of the girls is an excitable aseri, her words fast and loud, her smiles and laughter easy. She is one of those who greeted you verbally when you first came in. Her attire isn't particularly extravagant, but still casual and stylish; does she come from a merchant family, perhaps, or maybe a particularly well-to-do freeholder household? The elf who sits with her is almost certainly a noble, though, wearing a pretty dress, elegantly poised even as she watches and listens with a small smile that radiates a sense of natural confidence and self-assurance. There is another elf with them, her attire looking like a halfway compromise between the semi-formal fashion of her fellow elf and the stylish casualness of the animated aseri; similarly, although not quite as talkative as the aseri, this second elf certainly seems much more amicable than the first one, happily talking her fill. She too acknowledged you with an open greeting when you entered. The fourth of the group is human, but although she is dressed to look presentable, you can see that her clothes are a hair worn. She alternates between holding her silence while remaining attentive to the other discussants, and suddenly speaking up in an excited burst of chatter comparable to the aseri of the group. The last member of this quintet is again a human, dressed in a semi-formal but sharp manner that looks like she's the apprentice of a clerk in a trading guild. Like the elven noble, she is content to sit back and let the more talkative conversationalists drive the discussion, but whereas the elf exudes an air of high dignity, the human seems much more laid-back, relaxed, and approachable in general.
The second group has three members, and looks more modest by comparison in more ways than one; they are relatively quieter - still cheery, but it's hard to beat the fast-talking aseri - and dressed in a way that indicates that they're most likely freeholders. The human seems to be doing most of the talking, waving her hands in storytelling gestures as she does so. She seems to be funny enough - or at least friendly enough, in case her humor isn't actually spot-on - because a second human, dainty in physique, giggles in a somewhat reserved ladylike manner. Both of them waved at you when you entered. The aseri, looking a fair bit more athletic than the other two, resorts to short snorts and terse chuckles in response, and speaks in an amused drawl that makes it sound like she's counter-quipping against the first human, but in good humor.
Two apprentices make up the third group, and you're mildly surprised to see that one of them is a dryad. Dryads are not so rare that you did not actually expect to never meet one here, but given Dorothy's reaction upon seeing you, you guess you didn't think to meet another dryad so early on in your journey through Faulkren Academy. The cut of her dress - although not as formal as one may expect of a lady of her station - indicates that she is perhaps nobility, but despite speaking in relatively quiet tones with her conversational partner, there's a hint of playfulness to her demeanor. This is in contrast to the other girl, a smartly-dressed elf with a fairly serious countenance that makes her look a bit authoritative and dependable. Despite this, she looks anything but unwelcoming of the company, and speaks softly with the dryad.
The fourth group is again a duo, and it's fairly clear that the two humans are not as well-off as the others; their plain, worn clothes suggest that both are either from the peasant or laborer classes. Whether they chose their own space or were excluded from the other groups is not known to you, but they seem content in having a much more subdued conversation between the two of them. Despite this, they seem to be interacting in a fairly friendly manner; if they are bothered about not being in a larger group - whether by choice or otherwise - they don't make the signs obvious.
The last two individuals in the Great Hall don't seem like they're part of any subgroup. They aren't sitting entirely apart from the group at large, but nor do they seem to be actively engaged in conversation with anyone in particular. The first is a tall, well-dressed elf who quietly alternates between listening quietly to the conversations around her, gently picking at the small pieces of food on her plate, and reading a book. Her pale skin and long dark hair give her a strong air of aloofness, along with an air of someone who is not to be trifled with. By contrast, the second elf is short and petite, wearing a white sundress that matches her long wavy blond hair. Sadly, you can't tell much else about her because she seems to have nodded off; she doesn't seem to be fully asleep, but it's pretty clear that she has fazed out of the conversation at this point.
And so you choose to sit down with...
[x] ...the first group of five, with the two elves, the two humans, and the talkative aseri.
[x] ...the second group of three, with the two humans and aseri.
[x] ...the third group of two, with the dryad and the elf.
[x] ...the fourth group of two, with two humans.
[x] ...the tall, aloof-looking elf with her book.
[x] ...the petite elf nodding off in her own corner.