For as long as I remembered, I always woke up earlier in the morning than almost anything else. Perhaps it was because of my time spent in dangerous areas, or perhaps it was due to some paranoia caused by my family's history of being banished or killed in horrible ways. Either way, I opened my eyes before the human child lying adjacent to me.
The cold of the morning struck me as odd, as did the darkness. The explanation came when I sat up. My wings did not appear to have any weight. In fact, they did not appear at all. Neither did my tail. I was, physically, a human.
I attempted to remember what my mother had told me about dispersing spells, failing miserably and infuriating myself further. I swung my fleshy fist in frustration, nearly breaking my hand and the small table set up next to the bed. Without scales to protect me, I had no innate defense against physical attacks. Or spells.
A new sensation caused me to instinctively scratch at my forehead, relieving the irritation. The fact that I had not rended the skin from my now fleshy face gave me pause. I looked down at my hand, scrutinizing it in more detail this time. My claws no longer grew long and sharp, instead barely growing past the tip of my finger. How do these humans survive at all? Our greatest enemy has no advantage over us.
After some time, my weak new eyes adjusted to the darkness, allowing me to inspect the room with greater detail. Every structural element was made of wood, and this pattern included the door. A small window let in very little light, the sun blocked by heavy rain clouds, the drops smacking harshly against the pane. Both beds in the room sat in the same corner, facing opposite directions with a table between. On the table sat a simple self-lighting lamp, one of the first magical items created. I touched it, activating the magical field imbued upon the object, and filling the room with a dim but warm glow.
The lamp greatly increased the visibility in the room, and the flood of color forced me to blink rapidly until I could see once again. I noticed a red scarf around my neck, so bright it reflected in a manner similar to gold. Holding the scarf up to the light, I attempted to decipher the material, and drew back out of surprise when I did. These are my scales. I left the scarf on, resisting the urge to hold it closer.
The door boomed sharply before an adult human female walked through. "I'm glad you're awake. Saves me the trouble of having to wake you up myself. Let's go," she said, no hint of curiousity in her voice. I found this strange, since they found me in a field the night before. Even with this anomaly, her voice pleased the ears, smooth and sweet but somehow capable of snapping my neck. I assumed she was a teacher here.
"Where are we going?" I asked, dutifully obeying.
"Your induction into the system. You're going to fight. Since you don't seem to have anybody looking for you, the Third Slayer's Guild of Artimus is considering adopting you itself. Some law about unclaimed children."
She grinned maniacally. "Let's find out," she practically cackled, her crazed smile pointed directly at me. Adrenaline burned through my torso as a minor fight or flight repsonse activated.
Noise resonated through The Guild, children and teenagers preparing for a day of training. Every hallway had rooms running down both sides, most of them with doors open, and humans walking in and out, sometimes carrrying unidentifiable objects. My "escort" dragged me through the hallways faster than would allow me to fully observe the actions taking place.
"Where does such a young child get a scarf such as that?" she asked, staring as we meandered through the hallway.
"It was a gift." I gripped the scarf tightly, the only remaining physical evidence of my previous form.
Once outside, all I could hear was rain. A large courtyard stretched out in front of me, the ground turned almost completely to mud. Seven children stood, lined up and at attention, despite being pelted with large droplets of freezing water.
"You must choose someone to fight," the female began. "The farther to the left are stronger fighters, and those to the right are stronger mages. However, do not assume those who fight cannot use magic, or that those who use magic cannot fight. I advise you to choose carefully."
All of the children stared at me expectantly, save for one, who seemed to be contemplating the best way to eat me, his tongue darting in and out of his mouth. I decided not to fight him. Inspecting all the children closely, I saw someone who I never expected to see again. There stood Jovis, right in the middle of all seven children, staring at me with a fiery intention to maim me should I choose him. I took his challenge whole-heartedly.
"Jovis is a lightning mage. Are you sure you wish to fight him?"
"Then be prepared to leave The Guild in shame. No weapons. Begin your fight."
Jovis took a stance clearly taught to him by a Dragon Slayer. It was closed, defensive, and more for running away than actually fighting. I laughed slightly and took my own stance, the opposite of his, open and made for attacking quickly and often.
"Why do you laugh?" he asked angrily.
"You are very serious, Jovis." He released a magic wave almost immediately, shooting lightning across the field. I tried to reroute the bolt, but my magic worked differently. I ended up taking most of the attack, only just routing it away from my heart.
"And you're at a disadvantage." He lept towards me and I let him punch me in the gut, grabbing him and holding him tightly to me. I could see Jovis feel the effects of the spell, overheating and becoming tired. A spark shot into my gut forced me off, twitching slightly. Jovis lazily shot another lightning bolt, missing horribly.
Realizing his previous spell would not be adequate, Jovis changed his strategy, diffusing a different sort of magic. This time, lighting rained from the sky, indiscriminately destroying whatever it touched. Trees in the courtyard took the brunt of the onslaught, refusing to burn in a surreal display of landscaping foresight.
Thank you, electrically grounded tall things. Rolling forward, I lept up and grabbed Jovis' hands, rendering him unable to cast another spell. Preparing myself, I breathed a wave of fire, careful not to burn him. He fell back, and only lie on the ground, too exhausted to stand up again.
I could only stand over him briefly, as a wave of nauseau split through my head, causing me to kneel and grab my head. My throat burned as vomit threatened to emerge. I could only just force it down before the teacher pulled me back up to glare at me.
"Who taught you the dragon's breath?" she asked.
"A traveling man," I replied quickly. "He belonged to a circus going through Fyord."
She seemed to consider this for a moment before asking, "What is your name?"
I knew Jovis would recognize my real name, so I gave her one of the names I heard in the hallway, one similar to mine. "Seth."
"Welcome to The Guild, Seth. Your field name will be Red Dragon, in honor of your scarf, and your high level magic." She clapped twice. "All recruits, return to your rooms."
Jovis glared as he walked past.
"You," she said, pointing a sharp finger at my heart, "will come with me."
Three hours of the teacher's voice began to wear on my sanity. Every wall and floor in the main campus building boasted a meticulous craftmenship the resulted in every single floor and wall being exactly the same color, exactly the same shade, and remarkably, the same texture, even after wear and tear. There were no seams between any two planks, giving the impression the entire building had been carved out of a single, gigantic tree. No untrained creature would ever succesfully navigate the building without accidentally being discovered in a forbidden wing, and thusly dispatched. She made that abundantly clear.
She also made it clear, through no effort of her own, that she could only navigate her own, native wing.
"This is the west wing, where you will stay. Your room is different from the one you stayed in last night, and as you did not have any belongings, you have been gifted your basic outfits. You are expected to know when to use each one. Should you have any more questions, ask another one of the apprentices."
"Thank you very much." I attempted to head to my room, reading a map I'd been given shortly after the conclusion of my personal tour of the main building, but something affixed my wrist to its position.
"Listen, here." She spoke quietly, sharply, like a far off storm approaching the shore. "Children do not learn the kind of magic that you just used. I don't know what you're trying to pull, but nothing that gets in this building is allowed out without explicit permission."
"I don't know what you're talking ab-" I pulled my arm weakly, fearful of the consequence of too much resistance.
"If I find out you're doing anything unsavory, or cheating the system somehow, I will ruin you."
I put my free hand up to my face, mouthing various confused incoherencies. "Do you think I'm taking enhancements? Am- Am I being accused of drug use?"
She gave me back my hand. "Of course not. No parent would ever allow me to be employed if I went around accusing every magical prodigy of sneaking magicka onto the campus." Her arms found their way to each other across her chest. "I would simply like to inform you of the requirements of your enrollment here, as well as warn you of the danger of becoming over-embued."
"I don't even have parents. Where would I even get magicka?"
"We found you unconscious in a field, suffering from every symptom of over-embument currently known to medicine. If your magic performance drops any significant amount during your stay here, you're being dropped off at the nearest hospital." She poked me in the chest once for good measure. "Other than that, here is your class schedule." She pulled a piece of paper from her clipboard, handing it to me. "They start tomorrow morning for you. Know that because you do not pay tuition here, your performance will dictate your ability to stay here. I recommend you sleep well tonight." She clacked away, boots noisy on hardwood.
I waited until I was sure she was actually gone before sighing and grabbing my chest. I stayed like that for a few moments before resuming my previous activity of walking to my room.
When I walked in, Jovis was casting small bursts of light into a small glass sphere.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"No magic can be cast inside this building, except using one of these," Jovis explained putting the device away, under one of the beds.
"And what is that?"
"A small field generator. Somehow, the entire campus is null. It isn't magic that prevents casting indoors. There just isn't any magic to use indoors."
"There is a nullified wood maker somewhere near here?" Jovis squinted at me. "What?"
"How can someone not know what a basic field container is, but know about the existence and purpose of nullified wood?"
"What do you mean?"
He stood up and started poking me in the chest. "You clearly have had no formal training, yet I've spent six years here. How did you beat me?"
"A fluke. A traveling man taught me a trick, and I used it in the fight." I put my hands up in surrender.
"There's more than that. No one comes into the Guild already owning a dragon scale scarf. Who were your parents? How can they afford to give you the most potent magical defense item?"
"I'm an orphan," I tried to remind him.
"Then who gave this to you?" The sound of distant bells made him look out the window. "I'll see you after class." He stomped out of the room, grumbling something about rookies and beginner's luck.