The butterflies dancing in Tavia's stomach wouldn't be stilled no matter what she tried. She attempted not to scowl at everyone she saw as she and Evos took their seats in the stands of the arena. It was probably good Evos was actually more than a sword, because if she had tried to come here alone, she would have turned back before even getting out of the convei.
Located on the fringes of the Avel'lier campus, the second arena was much smaller than the main arena found near the center of the campus. Though she had been to both in the past when she had visited the school to watch her brother's team fight in the matches, she was more than a little relived it was the smaller one they had chosen for the try out. With her nerves as tense as they were, she probably wouldn't have even made it to the other arena.
The turnout was small. Though this was a trial for the Martial team the prince ran, his team was neither popular nor well-ranked. That was probably why his trial was the last one before the semester began. The only people left now were those who had failed the rest, or those like Tavia who had never had the chance to try before.
After checking in, Tavia and Evos chose seats far away from everyone else. She could see the prince sitting some distance away, too far to make out his features. She'd met him before, one or twice, but though she recognized him, it was unlikely he was recognize her. There was someone with him, another teammate perhaps, and they were surrounded in a loose circle by most of the other people participating in the trial.
"Are you alright?" Evos asked.
Tavia gave him a tight smile and nodded. He didn't look convinced, but he only gave her a smile and turned his attention to the arena floor. There was a man standing there, watching as people filtered into the arena. Five minutes after Tavia and Evos had sat down, the man began speaking. His voice was amplified by a device wrapped around his throat, so despite the scale of the arena he was easy to hear.
He spoke in a dry, bored voice as he explained what the exam would be covering. He must have been a professor at the university; surely they were the only people that could make fighting a young Scarver as bland as a lecture on spell-set construction.
After the Scarver, the examinees would be put together in pairs and commence one-on-one combat. The examiner made it clear how thrilling he expected that to be.
"Why a Scarver?" Evos asked.
"Have you ever seen a Scarver before?" Tavia asked.
"Of course," Evos replied, making a face at her. "I know what they look like."
"Well, seeing one for the first time in person can be fairly intimidating, so they're probably trying to weed out the people too cowardly to stand up to a Scarver," Tavia said.
"Seems a bit dangerous for a test," he said.
"It'll be muzzled, and probably under some kind of magic to subdue it somewhat," she said.
Izak had mentioned a fighting a Scarver during his test, hadn't he? Even so, she hadn't really expected that they would be fighting a Scarver for this test as well. This wasn't her first time seeing a Scarver, though it would be her first time standing before one with the intent to fight it.
The examiner called them all down to the arena floor after his explanation finished. Tavia took a deep breath and stood up. Evos remained sitting. He stared up at her with a small frown.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked.
"Are you coming?"
Evos sighed and held out his hand to her. As Tavia reached her hand out, his form disappeared into blue light, and the Ageless Sword was left behind. She looked around, but no one seemed concerned about the light. No one was even looking in her direction, but the flashiness of the transformation was something to remember. She wasn't looking to attract attention, and besides, though Abram had given his implicit permission for her to have the sword, it was still a priceless national treasure. Not everyone would be as flexible as Abram.
With the Ageless Sword in hand, Tavia headed down to the arena floor, using the stairs that led straight from the stand to the ground. She was joined by the other seven examinees, and they gathered together in a loose semi-circle around the examiner.
Nervous tension filled the back of her mind.
"That's not helping," she muttered.
She didn't need Evos feeling nervous for her. She was doing just fine all on her own. It had only been yesterday that Tavia had learned to channel, and though she had been sure to practice last night and today as well, she knew she was far behind the others here in terms of experience. If only she'd met Evos before this, even a few meager weeks before this would have been enough for her to feel at least competent if not capable.
A young man, holding a sword of green alther, glanced over at Tavia after she spoke. He smirked at her, letting his eyes run over his body, noting her dark skin, and stopping at her short, pointed ears.
"An earless rabbit?" he asked, "Shouldn't you be carrying a book instead of that huge antique?"
Funny wasn't he? The slur was nothing she hadn't heard before; it might have bothered her more, but the surprisingly powerful surge of anger she felt from Evos distracted her, and she lost her chance to say anything.
The examiner ordered everyone to be quiet and then pulled a grimoire from the holster on his back. Tavia hadn't realized he was an Althiest, but the small detail of the leather straps over his clothes had been easy to miss from so far away. He made his way to the edge of the arena and then activated a spell from his grimoire. A large door in the arena wall opened near the examiner, and a screeching sound echoed through the air.
A Scarver—a small one, around the size of a convei—skittered out of the doorway, stomping into the arena. It leapt to the center of the arena and hissed, stamping its six feet as it took in the sight of the examinees before it.
A small size did nothing to make the Scarver less unpleasant. It perched on spindly legs that wouldn't have been able to support the fat, hunkering body were it not for the Althier running through the shell, but despite the insectoid appearance, it moved with the fluid motions of a cat.
It spun about, hissing and snarling as it waved its long tail in violent circles. There was something odd about it though, something wrong and Tavia couldn't place her finger on it.
She set her mouth in a grimace. She'd seen Scarvers dozens of times before while visiting the Scarver wastes in the north with her family, and this Scarver looked just like them, albeit a little smaller. Around her, the other Martials were holding their weapons before them, prepared for the Scarver to leap towards them on the attack, and the two Althiests in the group stood behind them, grimoires at the ready.
"It's just a little one," the snide man from before said. "I'll finish this in an instant."
He rushed forward, and as if afraid he would get all the glory and the credit, the other examinees launched attacks of their own. Tavia alone held back. It wasn't as if a Scarver of even this size would be defeated so easily. Small size meant the Scarver was young, but it was still an adult Scarver, and she intended to treat it as the threat it was.
The Scarver turned to face its attackers, and its mouth opened, revealing a cavernous maw, and Tavia realized what was so strange.
It wasn't wearing a muzzle. That was normal for a wild Scarver, of course, which were the Scarvers Tavia had seen in the past, but captured Scarvers were all fitted with muzzles. It wasn't their teeth that needed to be feared, no; it was their ability to deluge the area before them with Althier when they roared. It seemed a terrible oversight to let this one go without a muzzle, even if it was small. There was no time to wonder about what might have happened though, an un-muzzled Scarver was too dangerous for distractions.
The Scarver took in a deep breath, its body shuddering, and then, before Tavia's warning shout could be heard, it let out an earth shattering roar. Tavia moved out of the way as the air before the Scarver began to ripple. The sound was terrifying, but it was the cyan glow saturating the air that sent a chill down Tavia's spine. The man who had led the charge collapsed with a soft groan as the dense Althier enveloped his body, and he was followed to the ground by those behind him.
The only people left standing were Tavia and the two Althiests. They had been too far away to take the brunt of the attack, but Tavia could see them already staggering. Over exposure to external Althier was just as bad as having too much in your body. It would disorientate you, causing temporary blindness, loss of consciousness, and had even been known to cause memory loss. If exposure was continued, it could result in death, but at the moment, the fallen Martials were more at risk of being trampled beneath the feet of the Scarver.
The examiner shouted something, but his voice was lost under the snarling and hissing of the Scarver. A blue glow appeared around the Scarver's neck, and the creature began to squeal and trample the ground as if in pain. Tavia looked to the examiner, he had one hand on his grimoire and his eyes locked onto the Scarver.
The Scarver twisted its head around to find the source of its pain. It opened its maw once more, and before the examiner could cast his next spell, it roared again. The examiner seized up, clutching his chest, and the grimoire tumbled from his hand. He followed it a moment later, and the Scarver shook itself free of the remnants of the spell before turning to face Tavia.