Derrick yelled as the vines he was climbing gave way, sending him sliding down the Academy's slick outer wall. He landed painfully in an ungraceful heap of limbs and foliage, groaning as he tried to sort out what had happened.

"You know, trying to escape the Academy is punishable by a lifetime in the dungeons of the royal palace."

Derrick half rolled to see the advanced combat master staring at him with a bemused expression. "Really? I…uh…don't suppose you would be willing to not mention this Master..."

"Call me Ailyn, please. And don't worry, if I reported every student who tried to escape after being asked to join my class, my classes would be very small indeed."

"Um…thank you." Derrick said as he breathed a mental sigh of relief. She thinks I'm worried about her class? Guess I'm still safe for now.

Derrick finished freeing his legs from the vines and pushed himself to his feet, only to find Ailyn had suddenly moved right in front of him, eyes flashing with gold and red sparks as she continued speaking, "I must insist, however, that you do not continue your attempts to leave as I will take it as a personal insult. If you are caught and are unable to attend my class, I will personally ensure that you do not remain alive long enough to see the inside of your cell."

"Right…um…I'll be sure to be here." Derrick stammered.

The sparks disappeared from Ailyn's eyes as she smiled and took a step back. "Thank you, I appreciate it." She said, and disappeared.

Derrick jumped back and stared at the dissipating glow that was all that remained of Ailyn's presence, shaking his head as his heart rate slowed back down to normal. This place keeps getting weirder and weirder. I guess escape is out of the question for the time being, so now what do I do?

REPORT FOR NEXT CLASS! Derrick winced. Fine! Um…locate? A looping map appeared in Derrick's head, a single room highlighted with the words "Color Specialization Class: Basic Light Magic."

Derrick let out a loud sigh, this time not caring who was listening. Terrific, another class where I get yelled at for being incompetent. I'm starting to miss the good days of four hour math seminars and physics lessons. Almost.

As it turned out, Derrick was wrong about being yelled at, but by the end of the light magic class he was feeling more depressed than ever. The class had mostly consisted of a very blond female magor who flitted around the class giving very backhanded words of advice to the students like: "That's a good start, I'm sure you'll be able to do better with time," and "It's ok, there's plenty of famous magors who never manage to fully develop their color magic." She seemed to be especially fond of hovering around Derrick after it became clear that he was completely unable to perform the first light magic task of summoning a soft glow to surround his body. The master would give him sympathetic looks whenever he was supposed to be calling on his power which, in Derrick's case, mostly consisted of scowling fiercely and feeling ridiculous. Eventually after it was clear he had no ability to summon any sort of magic, the master sent him out of the class saying, "It's quite alright dearie, with your limited potential it's a wonder they even let you into the Academy to begin with, I'm sure you'll find something better to occupy your time with than my class," before slamming the door in his face.

Derrick leaned against the wall, sulking as he tried to rationalize his treatment. I knew that I couldn't do anything, I can't let some stupid teacher make me feel bad. I'm almost looking forward to Master Thotan now, at least he actually expects something from me. Derrick shook his head and sighed. Ok, stop the pity party, this isn't a popularity contest, you need to worry about getting home.

Derrick yawned and stretched, feeling the fatigue of the early morning finally catching up to him. Maybe a short nap is in order first. Derrick trudged back to the barracks and collapsed on his cot, falling asleep immediately despite the uncomfortable pad.

Time to wake up Derrick. You're late.

Derrick opened his eyes and sat up, eyes blurry as they tried to adjust to the near-darkness of his room. He walked to his door and opened it, finding himself in an empty hallway, the only sound a faint snore coming from a room several doors down.

About time, now hurry up and get dressed, it's time for class.

Derrick jumped. I swear, if Elyx woke me up as some prank I will destroy him. He looked around suspiciously, straining his ears to catch any signs of muffled laughter, then turned back around and let out a strangled curse as he found himself face to face with Master Ailyn.

Ailyn frowned and gave Derrick a stern look that seemed slightly out of place on her youthful features. "I do not tolerate students being late for my class. I suggest you get dressed immediately. I wait downstairs, if you are not there shortly, I will be very displeased."

Ailyn disappeared, leaving behind her telltale glow, leaving Derrick rubbing his eyes as he tried to adjust to the darkness again. In the dim light Derrick could just barely make out a small bundle of clothes sitting on his cot. How did those get there? Derrick picked up the bundle and was relieved to see that it seemed to be comprised of a snug fitting shirt, pants, and a soft shoe with a sole similar to leather. After struggling into the outfit and taking a moment to wonder who at the school had the magical ability to guess clothing sizes, Derrick noticed that the shirt had a small hood attached to the neck that came up to cover the wearer's head and lower face, leaving just the eyes visible. Derrick gave a small shiver as he remembered Elyx's warning of what Advanced Combat entailed. This doesn't look like any military uniform I've ever heard of, so just what are they teaching us?

Derrick slipped out of his room and down to the dormitory entrance where Ailyn was waiting. "Follow me," she said, and suddenly Derrick was standing alone, watching Ailyn glide smoothly along several yards in front of him. Derrick took a deep breath and ran after, sprinting in order to try and keep up. Ailyn headed around the main building, and towards the back of the academy, quickly widening the gap between herself and Derrick until Derrick lost sight of her as she disappeared into a small grove of trees near the back wall.

Derrick ran through the outer ring of trees and paused, startled by the sudden change of scenery. He was standing in a dense forest, the trees so tall and so close together that they blocked out all the light coming from the sky above. Derrick took a quick glance back and could see the Academy grounds, moonlight barely illuminating the buildings. Slightly reassured, he slowly walked into the forest, suppressing a shiver as the darkness quickly enveloped him.

I should just turn around and go back to bed. Derrick thought sourly. He had gotten deep enough into the forest that he could no longer see anything in front of him. Even moving slowly he had managed to run into several trees and trip over hidden roots in the darkness. I don't even want to be here right now, why am I putting up with this? Wait…what was that? Derrick paused, straining to hear. Somewhere off to his right he could hear catches of conversation. With a sigh and a quick thought of, I'm going to regret this, Derrick began to make his way towards the sounds.

As he got closer he could begin to make out two voices. The first one was Master Ailyn, the second was female and slightly familiar, but Derrick couldn't quite place where he had heard it before. They seemed to be arguing as Derrick got close enough to make out the actual words.

"I told you, we'll start as soon as the new student arrives." Ailyn said.

"I don't know why we need another student, I've been doing just fine training with you."

"You may think so," Ailyn sounded amused, "but I fear I've been neglecting to add a certain amount of social interaction in your training. I've gotten several reports that all say that your social skills need significant improvement. Advanced Combat students need to know how to be discreet when necessary, not cause a major disturbance everywhere they go."

Derrick pushed his way through a group of large bushes and suddenly found himself in a small clearing lit by a circle of hanging lanterns. Master Ailyn and another student clad in the same fighting garb as Derrick were standing in the middle of the clearing and turned at the sound of his approach. As the other student turnede to face him Derrick was surprised to see the girl who had thrown him halfway across the cafeteria earlier in the day.

"Ah Derrick, glad you managed to join us." Master Ailyn said with a smile.

Derrick gave a weak smile of his own and glanced at the girl standing next to the Master, the angry scowl on her face quickly convincing him that Ailyn's sentiment was not shared.

"Evaline, this is Derrick, the new student who will be joining us. Derrick.."

"We've met." The girl said, her eyes still locked on Derrick.

"Really? That's very good news," Master Ailyn said, "Now Derrick, I assume from what I saw this morning that you have fairly extensive experience with sparring."

"Yes, I suppose I do." Derrick stammered, slightly unnerved by Evaline's stare.

"Excellent, then let me just let you know that in this class we will not stand on any sort of ceremony or honor. You are being trained to win, and I expect you to show no mercy, either in this class or to your enemies. Is that understood?"

Derrick nodded mutely.

"Good. Then let's start with a test of basic skills, no abilities for right now, and...GO!"

Before Derrick could react the Evaline launched a spinning kick at his liver, moving so quickly that Derrick could only turn so that landed low on his ribs. Derrick felt his breath rush out of him but instinctively got his arm up to block the next blow aimed at his neck. He tried to take several steps back, but the girl paced him step for step, aiming lethal blows that he barely managed to dodge. Derrick moved around the edge of the clearing, his martial arts training kicking in as his entire focus narrowed to the fiery-eyed girl who was attacking him, studying the pattern of her strikes. Evaline's entire style seemed to be based on single fast strikes aimed at sensitive parts of Derricks body, flowing between one strike and the next before Derrick had any chance of retaliating. Derrick was able to minimize any serious damage to his body, but he could feel his arms and legs becoming numb under the girls attacks.

In a desperate attempt to gain some room Derrick took several quick jumps back, Evaline following closely. Derrick landed on his back foot and immediately pushed off, closing the distance between himself and his opponent, earning him a breath-stealing blow to the solar plexus, but allowing him to capture Evaline's arm before she could pull back. Derrick saw the girl's eyes widen briefly before he stepped in and twisted his body, using his natural leverage to throw the girl toward the edge of the clearing. Breath coming out in gasps, Derrick watched as the girl twisted in midair, and landed feet first against a tree trunk, then pushed off in a leaping kick. Derrick threw himself backwards, the kick missing his face by inches, and pulled into a roll, coming to his feet with Evaline's fist pressed against his throat.

"Enough." Master Ailyn's voice cut through the clearing. Derrick swallowed as Evaline pulled her fist back with a smirk. "Very good first try, I will of course be expecting significant improvement in the future."

Derrick just nodded dumbly, arms hanging limply at his sides as he gasped for breath. Evaline seemed to be barely winded and bounced lightly on the balls of her feet, not taking her eyes off Derrick.

"Alright, enough resting!" Master Ailyn barked. "Let's move on, this time spar using powers only. Go!"

Derrick turned to look at the girl as the memory of their last encounter flashed through his mind. "Wait! I-" His words were suddenly cut off as an invisible force smashed into his chest sending him hurtling back towards the forest. He was air-born briefly before slamming into one of the large trees, smashing his head against the trunk and trying to hold onto consciousness as his vision blurred. Derrick tried to move and felt pain blossom through his chest, he rolled his head forward and saw that he was suspended in mid air, a sharp branch pushed straight through his body. He thought he saw Ailyn and the other student rushing towards him, but the pain and the shock of the injury quickly caught up to him and his consciousness faded away.

Derrick jerked back to life with a gasp and the feeling of fire burning through his chest. Evaline and Master Ailyn were crouched over him, faces tight with worry. Derrick looked down and almost passed out as he saw the gaping hole in his chest, his heart somehow beating in the center of the wound. Muscle and bone started to form and knit together, slowly filling in the damage done by the tree branch, and as Derrick watched the last few splinters were pushed out of newly formed skin.

Evaline fell back heavily, breathing heavily. Derrick touched his chest in astonishment, and glanced at Master Ailyn who was nodding grimly. "I think that is quite enough for tonight." She said.

Derrick slowly sat up, feeling the newly formed skin on his chest in astonishment. "How?"

"You owe Evaline quite a bit of thanks," Ailyn said with a frown. "Not many life magors could have saved you, and don't expect her to come to your aid again. I expected better from you Derrick, in this class you will face life and death situations, be prepared to face them or be prepared to face the consequences."

Derrick opened his mouth to protest but shut it with a click when he saw the flash in Ailyn's eyes. "Yes Master. It...uh..won't happen again."

"Good. Then I think that's quite enough for tonight. Evaline, if you would show Derrick the way back. And get some rest Derrick, next week we start the real training."