The snow's falling harder than usual this winter. It's fine though. Our bodies are so used to the cold that we venture into even snowstorms poorly-clothed to hunt and return with little damage to our bodies. If you didn't get used to it, you were one of the poor folks who died earlier on during your stay here. It's tragic, but true.
Given the poor weather, I'd say about fifty of us will die this year. I would also say that forty of us will survive the coming trial but will require immediate medical attention. That leaves the remaining ten of us to actually clear the trial unscathed. Whoever those people are, they are definitely the lucky ones.
Despite all of this doom and gloom, I'm actually pretty excited. After all, I just have to do is hope that I'm one of the lucky ten. That's all. If I succeed, I return to our home village, Velka. I pray that the goddesses keep me safe, but hey, I am feeling kind of lucky today. I can feel it! Today, I will at last be free of this frozen hell.
At least, that's what I thought back then. I didn't have the slightest inkling that on that fateful day four years ago, my life would never be the same. I had no idea that this particular incident would make my six years on Mt. Dragnor seem petty in comparison. My name's Yuji Shirogane and on this particular day, I went from your average village knight in-training to being known as a weapon sought after and feared by the gods and mankind- a Synchronizer.
- Synchronizer -
Arc I: Overture
Level 1: The Grim Omen
***Act I: Just a Regular Snowy Morning***
Arc I Opening: Kuroi Hana
[Guardian Era, Year 20XX, Four Years Ago]
I remember that morning clearly. It was as dreary as ever up here and the snow seemed to have no intentions of letting up for today. It was just a regular snowy morning to me. I guess most people would consider it cold up here, but it's not that big of a deal to us. After being stuck here for six years, you kind of get used to it. If anything, it helps get you up in the morning.
I looked over my attire once more. I was clothed in a dark-red, sphinx hair tunic with black sphinx hair pants lined with orichalcom threads. I may look like I'm wearing a normal dark-red shirt and pair of black pants, but trust me, it would prove a quite difficult task to kill me with magic in these clothes. Clothes of this caliber are close to magic proof, and in some cases bullet-proof. Dragon fire however is a different story.
At the time, I was slipping on my armored gloves and boots. They were nice and warm, but they were also relatively useful for slicing my targets since my gauntlets were equipped with small blades.
After that, I slipped my hammerspace pouch onto my belt. These useful little bags are able to hold virtually anything because they're enchanted with dimensional distortion magic. Despite barely being larger than my fist, I could stick a sword in there and it'd fit just fine! No one in our village can actually use dimensional distortion magic though, so we import these from our neighboring country Chronos; however, they are incredibly expensive. My folks got me this before I left to train on this mountain, so it's one of my most prized possessions.
Okay, I should be good. Just one last thing, I thought to myself. Shuffling over to a small box next to me, I pulled out the Neowulf, my personal magic-gun, and slipped it into the gun holster on my belt. Looking back on my time on that wretched mountain, I was a lucky guy to have gotten this gun. It had a well-placed knife towards the end of the bottom side of the muzzel, similar to that of a bayonet's. I took one last look at myself; I was ready to go.
Suddenly, the sound of footsteps reached my ears. Tap. Tap. They were light. It was made obvious that someone was trying to sneak up on me. If I hadn't been listening carefully to my surroundings, I probably wouldn't have heard them. Turning towards the sound, I smiled at what stood before me.
"Olivia, it's pretty early you know. Are you sure you should be out of the girl's barracks yet?" I asked quietly.
The blonde girl before me grinned. Her emerald-green eyes were almost shining with glee. "What's a matter Yu-chan? Scared of getting busted by the teachers again?" she teased.
I rolled my eyes with a hearty chuckle. Olivia is always like this. She's the daughter of the first-ranked noble of our land. It wasn't too surprising that she was so carefree with all of the special treatment she got. To be honest, it used to seriously piss me off when we first got here.
Despite that issue, Olivia and I were surprisingly good friends. She kept me on my toes, and she was my equal in almost everything. There would be things I'd excel in, and there would be things she would excel in. It was a constant struggle between us to see who the better knight was.
Olivia preferred her hair long, which in our village was a symbol of confidence. It's simple really. It showed that even if the girl had long hair, which is really easy to grab in a real fight, they were confident in their ability to prevent their hair from becoming a weak point in real-time combat.
"Well? What did ya come for?" I asked, "I know you didn't come here just to tell little ol' me good luck."
It was Olivia's turn to roll her eyes at me. "Oh please," she said, "I'm sure it'll be easy as pie! You're taking this too seriously," said the blonde reassuringly.
"Don't blame me when you get hurt, Olivia. Even your dad isn't allowed to interfere during the rite of passage," I told her stiffly.
I had a reason to worry I guess. Olivia was dressed in a similar garb to mine, just without the blades on her boots. I still hadn't put my barrier jacket on yet, but it was clear to me that Olivia had no intentions of wearing one. Seriously, this girl was way too overconfident for her own good.
"Oh don't be such a worry wart. I never knew you cared so much," she replied.
"Ugh, Olivia, Yuji, you both know you're not supposed to be hanging out this early in the morning. Geez, I figured you two would have that in your heads by now after getting busted for it for six years. Continuously," a voice complained.
Turning to the owner of the voice, I tilted my head. I was actually pretty surprised. It wasn't a teacher, lucky us. A boy about the same age as myself stood before us. His hair was black in contrast to my auburn hair and his eyes were green in contrast to my blue ones. This boy was completely covered in armor and chainmail. I had actually forgotten to put some on myself.
I had him to thank for reminding me. "Thanks a bunch, Clow, I would've completely forgotten about that if you hadn't reminded me," I said, ignoring the boy's complaint.
Seeing me dive back into my tent to fetch my own shirt of chainmail, Clow snickered at me. "Now that would have sucked," teased Clow.
I laughed with him. "So sue me," I said back. "It's early in the morning and I'm still sorta waking up."
Clow shrugged his shoulders as he uneasily gripped the handle of his weapon: a large, red halberd. "We're going to be the first group to run this version of the trial in an entire century. Aren't you two the least bit worried?" Clow asked us.
Olivia shook her head. "No sweat, I'm wearing my best gauntlets today!" she answered. "Besides, I've been training hard. When I go back, I'll only need to grab my chainmail and I'll be set to go."
"No barrier jacket?" I asked.
"The tunic and chainmail should be warm and safe enough. Sides, a barrier jacket'd only add weight hiking up the remainder of the mountain!" she explained.
I nodded. "Hmm, makes sense."
We were all sort of on edge this morning. The last time the nobles let the proctors run this trial, more than half of the children who underwent the trial died. It was a huge incident and it left our home with few new youngsters to help out around with the village wide trade- mercenaries for hire. Deciding it was to our benefit, we ventured off to breakfast from the boys' barracks. I had no idea at the time, but in a few minutes I was going to wish that I had never woken up this morning.
***Act II: Dead Man Walking***
Roughly a quarter of a kilometer from the boys' barracks we arrived at a large, forest green tent with a series of cooking instruments in front of it. To the left of those were several wooden benches and tables. They were long to accommodate the one hundred children currently living on this part of the mountain.
Looking at the benches, Clow let out an exaggerated sigh. "Ah Division Six. Words cannot even describe how much I won't miss being here," said the raven-haired boy merrily.
Olivia and I laughed a little, understanding Clow's sentiments all too well.
The lower level of this mountain is divided into six divisions. Each division is equivalent to how long you've been here. The higher your division number, the higher up on the mountain your living quarters will be. Your living conditions also become progressively more dangerous as you progress through your six years here. Where we live, those who have managed to survive all six years anyway, is Division Six, which is on the highest part of the mountain's base.
To be honest, I found Clow's enthusiasm amusing. He was usually more gloomy and moody than this. "I still remember when we all first met back in Division One," I said quietly.
"Yup. All of us were nine years old and forced away from our homes. Good times," said Clow dryly.
There was the Clow that I'm used to. I guess he just needed to wake up a bit.
Olivia snickered. "Whatever Clow, you were the biggest cry baby in Division One," she teased.
"At least I wasn't the one who almost got killed in my sleep by a fenrir last week," argued Clow.
I laughed a little, but said nothing.
In Velka, we have a bit of an odd tradition. All children currently at the age of nine must gather during the Fall at the village central to be taken in by our teachers and mentors to travel up into Mt. Dragnor where we will live, learn, and train in the way of the warrior for six whole years. It's a grueling hell given our conditions and there's no way out of it.
Ignoring Clow's retort, Olivia asked, "So what are you gonna do after this Clow?"
Clow hummed to himself thoughtfully. "No idea. I'll probably either work to become the new head scribe of my family, or I'll leave Velka and become a scholar," answered the raven-haired boy.
I laughed knowingly. "I hear you there man. I'm still not sure about what I want to do either."
After you finish your training here, there are all sorts of things you can do. While most people do go into working as a mercenary, some become mentors for the children to come after them, others go off to work in the orichalcom mines or as blacksmiths, and the remaining few usually either become ranchers, hunters, and farmers. On rare occasions, people will leave Velka altogether to establish a new life elsewhere in the world. Personally, I find being a mercenary more fun-sounding, but I'm not entirely sure if that's what I want to spend the rest of my life doing yet.
Olivia grinned ear to ear. "Still, today's the day guys!" she cheered.
"Yup," began Clow, "goodbye Mt. Dragnor and hello freedom!"
I said nothing, but smiled anyway.
Today was a special day for us. At the age of fifteen, all of the sixth-years usually gather at the breakfast lodge where we eat a final meal together and begin our last test: the Velkan rite of passage, and the most dangerous of situations we're ever put into during our years on Mt. Dragnor- the Trial of Dragnor.
"Hey, what kind of item do you think you're going to get?" asked Olivia excitedly.
I shrugged my shoulders. "'Dunno. I'm not really worried about the item, I'm more worried about the beast that I'll have to kill to get it," I answered honestly.
Clow crossed his arms, pondering the idea for a moment. "I'm not sure. I think I'm honestly more worried about the journey to the item and back rather than the battle itself," answered the raven-haired boy.
The Trial of Dragnor is a traditional rite of passage for Velkans who have come of age where we have to hike up to the higher part of this frozen hell of a mountain to acquire a specific item that we're given a photo of at the start of the trial. Everyone's item will be different and all of the items will guarded by some kind of beast. On the bright side, if you pass, you finally get to leave this frozen hell of a mountain.
I grinned at the thought. Free at last, I thought excitedly.
I wasn't even paying attention when I realized that I had grabbed a plate and was standing in front of the chef. He was a large man dressed in a long sleeved shirt. His hair was dark like coal, and his eyes were green. Sort of like Clow's. I was amazed when I looked down at what the cook was giving me. This looked good, unusually good for something the cooks here make! It was a large platter of eggs and some kind of meat. I had never seen it before, but it was a large cut and it caused my mouth to water.
Normally, we only get some kind of gruel and eggs so a surprise like this was great! I may even stash some away for later in my hammerspace pouch.
"Thanks Loki!" I exclaimed with a glowing smile.
Loki laughed at me and ruffled my hair. "Yeah, yeah, run along now kid. You've got a big day ahead of you, and today's not the day to get lazy!" he exclaimed.
I smiled and saluted him as I walked away. I sat down at the closest table. Soon enough, Olivia and Clow joined me there.
"It's a surprisingly grand treat for a day so grim," said Clow dejectedly.
Olivia nodded to him, cutting a piece of meat off of her large cut and shoving it into her mouth. "Yeah, it's great!" she said in-between bites.
"That's real unbecoming for a noble," teased Clow.
Olivia rolled her eyes. "Whatever! At least I survived longer than most of the nobles," she countered.
Oh yeah, that's right. A good number of the nobles' children died this year. I wonder how well that will go over at the parliament. Ah well, that's none of my business.
"Yeah," I began, "don't be surprised when they give you something real hard to retrieve since your lineage gives you special powers."
Olivia's surname is Kaizerin, a family of warriors who've lived in Velka since its founding. Their genetic skill The Aura of Kings has made them famous throughout the continent. It allows them to learn virtually any elemental skill, regardless of affinity. It also grants them unnatural strength, and more durable bodies. Sadly, or should I say amusingly enough, Olivia sucks at using it.
Pumping a fist, Olivia said, "No worries, I've got this."
There was a moment of silence. Even if we were calmly exchanging banter, we all knew we were just trying to psyche ourselves up. None of us have ever been up there and have no idea of what to expect. We can say we're feeling lucky all we want, but the odds of surviving in one piece are depressingly low.
"Hey," Clow began grimly, "I heard they're going to put that mission in this year's drawing," he told us.
Olivia almost choked on the milk she was sipping on. "No way! No one's ever managed to complete that mission! It's basically a one-way ticket to a permanent dirt nap!" yelled the blonde.
I took silent sips of my water. I couldn't believe this. The mission to retrieve the Prometheus was once again in the drawing.
"I heard that the Prometheus holds the power of five goddesses and is so powerful that it can slay other gods in a single swing. Heh, wouldn't that make for a nice weapon?" asked Clow somewhat dryly.
Olivia shook her head. "Nah, I heard that it could take another god's or goddess's power away by force. I'd say it's more of a weapon for humanity to use if we ever feel that the head honchos upstairs are getting too cocky. Put someone else in charge! Viva la revolution!"
Clow sat back, contemplating this for a moment. "The sword's supposed to be locked away within a temple at the top of this mountain, but no one has ever even caught a glimpse of the temple, let alone the sword," muttered the raven-haired boy.
Looking at me, Clow asked, "What do you think about it Yuji?"
My fingers twitched a little as I gripped the handle of my cup a little more tightly. In the years I had been forced to live up here, this was the first time in a long time that I had ever been so nervous. No. I was legitimately scared, because I knew that if I got that mission, I could kiss my chances of getting off of this mountain goodbye.
Realizing that Clow was talking to me, I replied, "Oh! Uh, yeah, that's real interesting Clow."
The raven-haired boy sighed as he eyed me with exasperation. "You weren't even listening were you? Olivia and I were talking about the Prometheus!"
Oh yeah, that's right. They were talking about that weren't they? "R-Right. What about it?" I asked.
"Aren't you worried?" asked Clow curiously.
Olivia shrugged her shoulders. "Anyone who has been tasked with retrieving the sword died of unusual causes. The poor bastards," muttered the blonde girl as she continued to woof down her food.
"Olivia!" yelled Clow.
"Back off! I'm eating! You can bother me about my manners after I'm fully awake," argued Olivia.
Clow attempted to keep continue glaring at her, but suddenly burst into laughter. "Ah whatever! We're finally getting out of here so let's drink up!" exclaimed the raven-haired boy as he sipped more of his drink.
"Agreed!" cheered Olivia as she greedily sipped down what was left of her milk.
I snickered at Clow and Olivia's exchange. I honestly had felt no sympathy towards those who had been tasked with that horrible mission. At the time, I was selfish and naive. It was just a bad run of luck, I thought. Little did I know, karma was about to seriously bite me in the ass for that thought.
We all perked up. It was the sound of a hammer near the announcement board. We all looked at each other and after a synchronized nod, we all proceeded toward it.
Holding the hammer was a man with long, black hair, his eyes a similar shade of blue to my own. The man seemed tense from the angle we watched him from. When he finally stepped away from the board, he turned to look at us for a moment. It was the head instructor, Claus Ingvol.
Claus and I locked eyes. I saw something in them I had never seen before. I had always seen a stern coldness in his eyes, but today, all I saw was pity and remorse.
Claus walked toward us and patted my shoulder gently. "I'm sorry kid. I wish you the best," he told me soberly.
With that, he walked away.
I remained motionless, blanching at the thought of what his words could mean. He couldn't mean- I thought worriedly.
I approached the board with Clow and Olivia and read the notice:
"There will not be an assignment ceremony this year. This year, you will retrieve the photo of your item here and return to this spot once you have acquired it. You may start as early as you wish. Just be sure to leave as soon as you are ready and able. Do not dilly dally. Best of luck kids. - Claus"
Claus wasn't a bad guy, but be tough for the job. In fact, he's the older brother of our other friend, Alicia Ingvol, who didn't seem to be up yet.
Uneasiness swept over me. First the legendary death-sentence mission was put back into the circulation, and then Claus comes up and wishes me luck as if I were off to my own grave. Today went from being a day of celebration to a day of fear and uncertainty real quickly for me.
I felt my shoulders quiver. I dreaded reading what I had been assigned. I flinched when I felt a soft hand gently grip my shoulder.
"You alright?" asked Olivia worriedly.
I put on a strong grin for her. I couldn't let my nervousness get to her. She had to make it out of here too. "Kickin'. Now let's see what the assignments are," I answered. Reading it, I shook my head. "Looks like you got a hard one Olivia- a phoenix feather, my condolences."
Olivia grinned at me. "No worries, I've got this one. You just watch," she told me confidently. To this day, I truly envy that confidence of hers.
Clow pumped his fist. "I got an easy one: a pair of fenrir fangs," he cheered. "What did you get Yuji?"
"Yeah, yeah Yu-chan! What'd you get?" Olivia asked curiously.
I shook my head. "Dunno, didn't read it yet," I answered.
We all looked for my name, being a little more towards the bottom of the chart since it was alphabetized. Olivia and Clow's items had pictures. Olivia's was hard, but Clow's was a cake walk!
I prayed with every fiber of my being at that moment. Anything but that mission, anything but that mission, I mentally prayed. I had hoped to the heavens that Claus' grim face was perhaps a well-done prank.
I paled when we finally reached my name. Clow gasped, and Olivia raised a hand to her lips.
"Oh no," muttered Clow.
"My god," said Olivia worriedly.
I paled as I read my assignment, or should I say what I thought at the time was my death sentence: "Yuji Shirogane - The Prometheus - No Existing Photo"
Suddenly, I regretted my lack of sympathy for those who had been dealt this awful mission in the years before me. There was nothing else to say or do at the time. We were all thinking the same thing: I, Yuji Shirogane, was a dead man walking.
***Act III: Rules are Made to Be Broken***
Tap. Tap. The sound of light footsteps almost ripped me out of my state of numbness. I couldn't believe my eyes, but I stepped away from the board so whoever was behind me could see their mission.
"You don't look too good Yu-chan. Are you okay?" asked a familiar voice. Noting that it was a girl's voice, I assumed that it was Alicia who was talking to me. I couldn't tell. I had too much going on in my head to pay attention at the time.
"I'm fine Alicia, no worries," I said with a hearty grin. It was definitely a fake grin now, but I couldn't have everyone worrying about me. I would keep the act going for as long as I could.
When my sight finally refocused, I saw a girl with silvery hair standing before me, her hair down with two small pigtails on each side. Her eyes were a purplish-blue color. Yep, this was definitely Alicia. Good thing I guessed right. The people around here could get kind of grouchy if you mix their names up.
The silver-haired girl frowned at me, worry written all over her face. "I saw what you were assigned. I give you my condolences," Alicia told me gently.
Alicia was always like this- gentle and sweet; however, she was incredibly shy with strangers, so I would take advantage of this to tease her when we were younger. Right now though, it didn't seem appropriate, so I just shook my head and kept up my false smile.
"No, no. It's fine. What did you get?" I replied casually.
Alicia raised an eyebrow. She knew I was lying. Well, I'm actually pretty sure everyone knew I was lying about being okay with this at the time. "I see... Myself?" she paused for a moment. I suddenly understood why Claus was so tense earlier when I saw a picture of red-colored scales before me. "Dragon scales. Fire-dragon scales," she told us with her ever-silent voice.
Alicia's a wind elemental fighter so the last thing she wants to do is stare a fire dragon in the face without a plan. Elemental dragons are much more dangerous than the average dragon. They live towards the top of the mountain where I'll be headed. Alicia had a real tough road ahead of her.
"Want me to go with you half way? I doubt we'll get caught," Olivia offered quickly.
While Clow and I were good friends with the two girls, Olivia and Alicia were best friends. It didn't surprise me that Olivia wanted to at least partially ensure Alicia's safety for as long as she could before taking care of herself.
Alicia smiled and shook her head. "Your item is a little lower on the mountain than mine Olivia. You should go there and complete the mission," she replied.
Olivia sighed. "Fine, but please be careful," pleaded the blonde.
Alicia nodded. "Of course," answered the silver-haired girl. Even as a young woman, she really was quite the formal lady.
Noting that she didn't have a plate with her, I asked, "You eat yet?"
Alicia shook her head. "No, I saw you three over here and decided to see what all the fuss was about. From behind, you looked like you were going to cry with how badly your shoulder was shaking Yu-chan," she explained.
I laughed a little. So that's what it was. "I'm sorry to have interrupted your breakfast then. Please do go on and enjoy yourself," I said sheepishly.
Weakness was looked down upon around here so being caught in that state was kind of embarrassing for me. At least it was just Alicia and not someone else.
Alicia nodded and did a quick bow. "Yes, thank you," said the girl. Always with the formalities.
Alicia started to turn around, but stopped mid-turn. "Say," she began, "why don't we all start the hike up the mountain together? We can just let each member of the group off at their individual stops."
I raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that against the rules?" I asked.
Olivia shook her head with an unusually serious look on her face. "Rules are made to be broken. Besides, you two need all of the help you can get," she told me silently.
"It's a sound strategy to me. We can at least ensure your safety for a good portion of your trip up the mountain," added Clow.
I shook my head. "If we get caught it could end real badly for us," I countered.
Alicia hung her head. "That's why we have to leave in ten minutes," she said with an unusually stiff voice.
I raised an eyebrow. Alicia's voice was never so firm. "Are the proctors not on patrol yet?" I asked. "That's pretty irresponsible since they're saying we can start as early as we wa-"
"That's not it," Alicia interjected, "My brother posted the missions early because he didn't agree with what they had given Yu-chan and me. Claus knew that patrol won't start for another five hours so to help us out he-"
Alicia choked on the air around her, forcing the girl to take a breath before continuing. "He told me about the missions last night and to meet everyone here as early as possible so that we could get out of here before they start the patrols at noon after the selection ceremony," she finished softly.
I lowered my head. Claus sure was risking his hide for us. If word got out that he purposefully set things up so that we could get a head start and operate as a team, he could easily be sentenced to execution. It'd be considered an act of severe insubordination. Claus was well-liked in the community, so I prayed that no one would say anything. Still, Alicia had a point. We couldn't let this chance go to waste.
"Fine. Let's get out of here ASAP. Alicia, go and eat. You'll burn out if you're low on energy. I assume you're already packed. Olivia, get the rest of your stuff," I said with a commanding voice.
Olivia mock saluted me. "Yes sir!" exclaimed the green-eyed girl as she zipped back towards the female quarters. Alicia on the other hand, went to eat.
Clow elbowed my side. "Sure this is a good idea? Claus's hide's seriously on the line, and from how Alicia explained things, we already know what'll happen to him if we leave," he asked worriedly.
The raven-haired boy raised a good point, but the deed's already been done. Unless we could demolish a poster and hide any evidence of its existence in a matter of minutes, there would be no way to undo what Claus has done.
I shook my head. "I honestly don't know," I answered solemnly. "If we leave now, I'm pretty sure we'd be disqualified anyway, but if more people see this board, they'll be forced to start when they notice what's going on. Then we'll be fine."
"That's just it," argued Clow. "We have no idea as to when the proctors will actually be on the mountain with this thing up. If they catch us we'll be killed-"
"Well, I guess we'll have to be stealthy about it then, won't we?" I interjected, tired of Clow's questions.
Clow had a right to be worried. It's our hides and Claus's hide on the line. If any of us get caught, we could be imprisoned or killed. There are all sorts of things that could happen. Right now though, our survival rates have just shot up through the roof with a team. And, as Olivia said, "rules are made to be broken."
Clow just stared at me incredulously for a moment. After that, he rolled his eyes and looked away while crossing his arms. It's his silent way of saying, "I seriously don't like this idea, but since you guys are all gonna do it with or without me, I might as well join in."
Sometimes I almost felt bad for him. We really did drag him into all sorts of messes.
About eight minutes later, Alicia joined us once more from the tables. "People are taking note of the sign. This just might work," she whispered.
Clow sighed with exasperation. "That's all fine and dandy but where's Olivia? She's late," he whispered back.
"Hey guys! I'm back!" yelled Olivia as she ran back to us. Panting a bit, she stood back upright and smiled at all of us. "Well? We all ready to rock?" she asked excitedly.
I had to admit, breaking the rules like this was kind of fun. At the time, I figured, "Hey, if my life's gonna end today, I might as well make it the most memorable day of my life."
We all nodded to each other and without another word, stealthily looked around for anyone who might be watching, and slowly crept behind the board and out of the camp towards the trail leading up the mountain.
1) "The Immortal Land" by BrunuhVille - Introduction (Prologue)
2) "Celtic Music - Guardians of the Woods" by BrunuhVille (Acts I-II)
3) "Celtic Music - Prophecy" by AdrianvonZiegler (Act III)