Chapter: 1

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“Wow…!”, I couldn’t help but to awe.

There were hundreds, thousands of buildings around, and each of them built in a distinctively unique way; some were large multi-leveled pyramid structures made out of stones, many meters tall; others were very long wooden houses with beautifully sculpted entrances in the form of animals, whose mouths opened and closed, functioning as doors. Weirdly, many of such buildings seemed to be half-empty temples, but anyway, there was so much more.

The noise was almost deafening, so many voices speaking in many different languages, so many products being moved around, a myriad of things and people I didn’t know a thing about, so much to discover!

And the smell! Food, drinks, desserts, beauty products, pets and plants, all emanated an incomparably unique scent that overstimulated my nostrils.

I would definitely have lots of fun in that place. My hopes for the city life couldn’t be higher!

“But first, I’ll have to find some answers”, I said to myself, looking at the 99 remaining ominous links of my chain tattoo.

I walked towards the Bear Mountain ahead; the city being built a few kilometers away from it; a smile on my face.

Leaving the city behind, sure that I’d come back soon enough to explore it, I came across some trees between the settlement and the Bear Mountain, and after that, another open grass field. Finally, as I approached the astonishing entrance to The School, I-

“Uh?”, looking around, sick and disoriented, I found myself back in the forest between the city and The School.

Had I lost myself in my own delusions so hard I started to hallucinate? Recovering from the sudden dizziness, I got back to walking towards The School ahead, and-

“What?!”, Falling on all fours, I found myself back in the forest.

Frustrated, I looked ahead, and finally sensed some kind of powerful magic imbuing the grass field that led to the Bear Mountain. Was it some kind of defense system? How did I get in, then?

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…The only solution I could think of was to wander around the city, until I found someone with who I could communicate, and ask for instructions. And so I did.

I quickly learned that the place which concentrate the most people was what looked like an open market, in which the customers came in with the most unique objects, and changed them for what, I could sense, were magical items and services. Was that the way The School magicians obtained their supplies without getting away from their studies, prays, and meditations? The vendors looked just as uniquely dressed as their customers, with no indication that they were students of The School, but still, it was worth a try.

Bypassing a trio of annoyed thug-looking guys, I found a vendor who seemed to speak my language seating under the shadow of a tree; he had a shiny green hairpin with some kind of rat carved in it, and was exposing many rings, earrings, labrets, and other magical ornaments. I asked:

“Excuse me, sir, could you tell me how I get inside the Bear Mountain magic school?”

For a moment, the vendor stared at me with what seemed to be surprised, before answering:

“Well, you need a proper offering first. Then, on the day of the Selection Festival, you humble yourself before the Mountain, and if everything goes right, you reach The School and that’s it, you automatically get accepted.”

“Thank you”, I smiled. “And what can I use as a proper offering?”

“Usually, everyone offers something different”, the vendor shrugged. Then he frowned: “When youngsters are sent here, the spiritual or political leader of their land gives them an offering good enough to enter The School… Have you run away from your village, or something like that, boy?”

“I- I have to go now, thank you for everything”, I nodded, and hurried to get away from the vendor with complicated questions.

On my way, however, I bypassed a man carrying a basket of cornbread, which smelled deliciously, and was reminded by my growling stomach that I haven’t eaten anything since that morning, and it was already early afternoon:

“Grooowl~”

“Boy!”, The vendor with the green-rat hairpin called me, apparently having exchanged one of the rings for the bread. “It’s impressive you’ve gotten here on your own, but you should hurry back home!”, he threw me one of the breads, and I caught it, eyes going wide and thanking him profusely. “I bet your family is worried.”

What a nice guy!

I almost asked him for more information about the offerings, or if he knew a place in which I could stay until the Selection Festival, but I decided to not bother the man anymore, and left the open market.

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“I can throw some fireballs for you?”, sweating nervously, I offered the inn owner the only thing I could in exchange for the bedroom.

“…Yeah. Like, half the of people here can throw fireballs”, the owner replied, deadpan. “If you have nothing to offer me, then, out, boy!”, he finally shouted me away, tired of me begging him for a place to stay during the night… like a dozen other inn owners had done before.

Sighing, I walked away from the building with the symbol of a black eye on top of a white one.

Night had fallen already, and the pretty streets had become eerily dark, the city turned from interesting, to scary really quickly. Plus, my stomach was already once again empty, and I wasn’t really excited to sleep on the ground in a random alleyway…

“But I guess, I have no choice”, dispirited, I turned the next corner, in between two stone buildings. And saw a group of three men brutally beating and kicking a child, not taller than my waist.

My body moved by itself, before I even had fully registered what was going on, or realized what I was doing.


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