They finally arrived at the Court steps, falling in behind a short line of other students registering. Eldan looked down at his wet, muddy boots and pants hems, grimacing. This was exactly the impression his mother had been afraid he would make.

“I’m sure it’s all right. They must know some of us had to travel through the storm.” Eldan smiled at Cale gratefully, she always seemed to know what was worrying him.

Finally they approached a table where a young man, probably a fourth year, sat checking in the new students. He was wearing a scholar’s robe and eyeglasses, and had hair that curled neatly to his shoulders, looking every inch the academic.

“Name and place, please?” He glanced up briefly and looked back to the paper in front of him, pen poised.

Eldan stepped up, taking a deep breath. “Eldan, son of the 32nd Ironsmith and Scholar of Music.”

Eldan immediately realized he had said something wrong. The scholar slapped his pen on the table and glared up at him, and he heard Cale hiss something softly at his side.

“What are you playing at? Can you repeat that annex please?”

Eldan glanced at Cale, who was looking at him in consternation, then back at the irritated scholar.

“The 32nd. Sir.”

The scholar sighed loudly, rolling his eyes. “There is no 32nd annex. I don’t have time for this, want to try it one more time?”

Cale jumped in this time, shooting Eldan a stricken look before pushing in front of him at the table. “I can go first, it’s been a long day for all of us, I’m sure. Cale Ward.”

The scholar’s eyes softened slightly at that, giving Eldan a pitying look before picking up his pen. “Ward, eh? I suppose this might be a hard day, then.” He began filling out forms, handing some copies to Cale and putting others on top of a neat stack to his side on the table.

Eldan’s mind spun, his half-formed memories of his experiences during the storm starting to click together with a horrible certainty.

“What happened to the 32nd annex?” He butted in, frantic.

The scholar signed again. “The annex dissolved, either through rebellion and inability to enforce the city laws or by economic collapse. It should be common knowledge that this has happened on occasion since the formation of the annexes.”

“But when?” Eldan pressed on, heedless of the increasingly concerned looks Cale was giving him and the mumbles of irritation from the students behind them in line.

“I don’t know exactly..” the scholar’s forehead crinkled slightly, “but to my knowledge it had to have been unformed for at least a century. When a new annex forms the numerical assignations should be corrected.” His eyes glazed over briefly in thought, pen hovering over the form he was filling out, before he shook his head and went back to writing.

“What happened to the people?” Eldan pushed past Cale and gripped the table. The scholar didn’t look up this time, just lifting the nib of his pen slightly as he spoke, his voice clipped.

“This is hardly the time or place but I can see what you are hoping I might say. It is not possible, the annexes have been as they are now for generations. Whomever your family might be they have nothing to do with the 32nd annex. To answer your question, the dissolution of an annex is rarely a bloodless affair. Many would have been lost to in-fighting and those who survived would have been driven past the borders.”

Finally he completed the first stack of forms and handed Cale a key and a small map. “Do you wish to apply to be tested in a particular area of study?”

Cale cocked her head, looking confused. “I.. think I would like to be tested in the jeweler’s arts.” Eldan felt a surge of wild hope at her words.

“Do you have any training? It is nearly unheard of for someone to test into that field without prior experience.” The scholar took off his glasses and began polishing the lenses.

Cale shook her head slowly. “I don’t think, so, no. I just have a sense, I guess.” She shook her head harder then, as if to clear her thoughts. “Never mind, I will start with the circuit studies. I have a chance to try the jeweler’s arts through that, right?” Eldan’s heart constricted painfully, sickened as he watched this unfamiliar version of Cale come to her decision.

The scholar put his glasses back on, nodding and dipping his pen in ink to fill out another form. “A smart choice. If you were to fail the initial tests it is extremely unlikely you would be accepted into an apprenticeship even should you excel in that portion of the circuit studies.” He signed this form with a flourish and set it to the side, turning his attention to Eldan with a long look.

“I need your name and place, the real one.” His voice was soft this time, devoid of any authority, pretended or otherwise. “I don’t know what you’ve been through and I know it’s probably easier to think you came from somewhere else, but right now you have to face the truth. Whatever came before, this is where you can earn a name and place of your own.”

Eldan’s hands were trembling, and he could feel tears burning at the back of his eyes. “Eldan.. Ward” He finally choked out the words he knew he was expected to say in a near whisper.

The scholar glanced meaningfully at Cale and then started filling out Eldan’s stack of forms. Eldan took the ones handed to him numbly, feeling his hands clenching too hard at the paper. Finally the scholar handed him his map and key. “Do you wish to apply..”

“Circuit studies.” Eldan blurted out, cutting him off. The scholar filled out his last form, finally setting it aside, lacing his fingers and cracking them.

“Since neither of you will be testing you have two days to familiarize yourself with the facilities, and you will report to the circuit at first bell on the third.” He continued on for a moments, saying something Eldan couldn’t make out over his own roiling thoughts before pointing at a staircase and sending them off.


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