Terria reached inside herself, feeling for the familiar pool of energy that was her magic. She had grown used to this practice since she had been drafted into the Academy and learned she had magic
- or at least the empty pool where magic was that she absorbed from the world was stored within her, as her tutors had so frequently reminded her. She wasn’t particularly powerful, in terms of her
magical potential, but she did have powerful Gifts. Her original Gift, the Gift of Sight, was the one she despised the most. She hated being able to See the future, the past and, most disturbingly,
even the true desires of people. She hated it because her life now held no surprises, she had seen it all, and she was feared and hated by all but the most accepting of people. She was especially
feared by men most of all because... well they’re men and having their deepest, truest intentions known by others inspires fear in them. And fear turns to anger, and anger turns to outright
destruction. She had been run out of three villages for being drafted into, and saved by, the Academy.
The Academy was beautiful, in certain respects. It was the pinnacle of architecture in all of Somhat, with its pure white walls with pure golden runes crawling majestically throughout the walls.
The gardens within were beautiful and brimming with plant life that existed nowhere else in the world, though only because of all the magical energy that had become part of the soil and air and all
the things in between. The magical radiation had mutated the plants; some were crystalline, some were sentient, but all were beautiful. Though the gardens were beautiful, they were a blackened
stain in comparison to the Towers. The Towers had always inspired awe in Terria – they were impossibly tall and decorated with runes made from liquid diamond, a memory of the ancient power the Old
Ones had, that they could create five towers from the raw powers of life and creation and then decorating them with powerful runes had always inspired fear in anyone that entered either the Temple
of Five or the Academy.
The Towers were actually made from the five revered powers, though most people in the outer regions of Somhat thought it was a rumour used to attract tourists. There was Fire, the Tower of war and
power, with its flaming brilliance cutting through the very air and clouds around it. There was Water, the Tower of peace and healing, with its structure flowing towards the spire and spraying
outwards only to return to the bottom and continue back to the top of the Tower. Together Fire and Water formed the Upper Towers and they are equal and opposite in power. They represent, to the
people of Somhat, the duality that is at the heart of creation and the balance that must be kept to stop the destruction of everything. Fire and Water were the first of the five powers to exist.
The Lower Towers were Earth, Forest and Metal and they are worshipped by the non-magical as the trinity of life. Earth is where life appears and is born; Forest is the growth and length of life and
Metal cuts down life. Altogether, the Great Towers form the Temple and form the inner sanctum of the Academy.
Terria had never been in the Towers, but her tutors had taught her that the Towers each contain one room – the crystal room. According to her tutors the crystal rooms were at the very top of each
of the Towers. You had to climb a bright white marble staircase up to a single wooden door and beyond that door lies the crystal room. Inside the crystal room is a brilliant gem that mysteriously
floats in the exact center of the crystal room as if held there by invisible hands, but her tutors had told her that it is held up simply by the raw magic that each of the crystals exudes. The
crystals release raw magical energy that spreads out into the world and is absorbed by those who have magical potential. However, no one had ever been in any of the crystal rooms because the raw
magical energy that is created in the rooms is so great that the fool that enters the room is consumed by the magical energy and they are destroyed instantly. Such power from a simple gem baffled
Terria and her curiosity was always peaked when her eyes strayed towards the Towers spires. It was also one of the few things that made her thankful, and also irked her somewhat, for her Gift of
Sight because she had always wanted to See into the great, revered and powerful crystal rooms.
But she couldn’t.
Her Sight had evolved recently to allow her to See with eyes that weren’t hers, yet no eyes were in the crystal rooms.
Ugh, how come a Gift of such power is so useless, she thought. Having gathered her power in her hand and then putting it all back, the practice that apparently taught control, she wandered to her
wardrobe and changed from her shapeless bag of a nightgown to her slightly less shapeless green and blue robes, signifying her as a novice healer. The robes weren’t entirely drab ... or perhaps she
had just grown used to them.
At least they’re not that dull grey that initiates have to wear, she thought. After putting on her robes she left her shoebox of a room and aimlessly wandered through the novice quarter of the
Academy. The novice quarter was quiet, but that was expected, with it being approximately two hours after dawn. Terria had always been an early riser ... well not always. Not before the nightmare
had begun. She could remember the first night she had the nightmare. She had had the same nightmare since that night. Five beings all draped in white and glowing brightly. The first time she had
the nightmare it had seemed good, the pure white glow gently heating her. Then the claws came. The five beings all had these imposing claws that grew from nowhere that constantly snapped at her,
edging closer and closer. Yet the claws were not the most horrifying part of her nightmare. Nor were the voices that screeched and squawked at her. No, the end was always the worse. Terria found
that she could not move at all and then the black being that soon followed chilled her spine and froze her further into the already petrified state that she was in. The black thing that scooped up
the white beings, at first seemed like a blessing, soon came back and showed Terria its face. Those big, black soulless eyes and the voice. The voice. Even thinking about it gave her shivers. The
voice was laced with power and completely devoid emotion. Then, finally she woke up. Dripping with sweat and breathing short and fast, as if she had almost been smothered to death.
Bringing her mind back from her memory, Terria had realised she had wandered into the library. Wait, why am I worried, she thought. All novices had to go through the library just to get out of the
dormitories; it was one of the ways in which the high mages, her tutors, had designed the novice quarters to ensure that ‘knowledge was impressed upon novices right from the beginning of the day’.
Even as Malphas’ words echoed through her mind she selected the aisle that she needed to reach the gardens and, from there, to the healer’s school.
The gardens were, as always, on a scale of beauty that was impossible to reach anywhere else in the world. The delicacy of the crystalline flowers that grew and the majesty of the winding oak
trees, with their golden leaves and twisting trunks left Terria breathless. However, Terria’s favourite aspect of the gardens around the Academy was the spring. The spring provided all the water
for the gardens and the stream that trickled into the spring went directly underneath the Water Tower, resulting in exceptionally clear and magically intense water. This, Terria thought, was the
reason for the unusual array of plant life within the garden. How else could trees have golden leaves and flowers be made from crystal, she thought, slightly chuckling to herself at the, apparently
obvious, idea. The gardens structure was similar to the novice’s quarters, in that you had to go to the centre just to get to any of the three schools; the ominous gateway that allowed newly
graduated High Mages the choice to leave or new initiates to enter and the final path that led towards the Temple – the most magically potent place in all of Somhat, perhaps even the world, and, of
course, the living place of the great, almighty and all powerful Sages.
No commoner was allowed to see the Sages; the wealthy and powerful Families of Somhat rarely saw even the entrance to the Sages living quarters. Not even the King or Highest of the High Mages could
see any of the Sages without it being an emergency, but their power was always felt; like soft and gentle hands caressing anyone who was Gifted of magically sensitive. This is what gave the Sages
their reputation that they were all seeing, god like beings. It was almost fear inducing to know that the people that the crystals had selected to be their guardians lived only a few miles from
where Terria slept. It was also sort of pleasant to know that the most powerful beings in all of Somhat, perhaps even all of the world, lived so closely that any thieves, murderers or anything
moderately evil were instantly put off the idea to even come within a mile of the Academy.
As Terria returned to her thoughts of healing and not musing about the most powerful beings living so close was either a blessing or a curse, she noticed that someone was waiting within the inner
area of the gardens, which was unusual since no one was up this early. Terria wasn’t too worried about the fact that someone else was up so early, but as she got closer she felt a sharp tingle up
the back of her spine. That sensation was familiar and it sent uninterrupted horror through all of Terria’s body. It was the same sensation she had when she woke.
It was the nightmare.
It was happening in reality. She froze in horror as the light hit the person, who had been recently hidden within the shadow of a twisting Oak. The person’s features were not visible, but the
clothing was horrifying enough. The person ... No the Thing was draped all in white and looking not at her, but through her. Even though no features were visible Terria could somehow sense that it
was looking through her, right into the depths of her soul. She thought about seeing with its eyes just to check, but she was paralyzed by the intense gaze of the Thing. And then it spoke.
“You have been Chosen” it said.
It had been five years since the Thing had spoken to Terria. Her nightmare’s had stopped since she had woken up three weeks after it had spoke to her. Whether this was a blessing or an omen, Terria
didn’t know. However, the gardens now were impossible for her to stay in for any prolonged length of time. The crystal flowers were harsh to her eyes. The twisted oaks golden leaves were blackened
in her vision. The once awe inspiring beauty of the gardens was now a living nightmare that constantly reminded Terria of the Thing in white.
Terria had changed too. The fear from that moment had turned her hair from a dark, shiny brown to snow white and her eyes were now windows not to the carefree soul of a promising healer to a more
mature, far beyond her years, and somewhat depressed woman. Although the trauma of the event had left Terria broken for three years, her spirit was slowly repairing itself and she was more
motivated than ever to heal others both physically and mentally. She had finished her Novice-hood at the Academy and was in her final few weeks of her Mage-hood. Soon Terria would be free of the
shackles that had bound her to the Academy for so long. Soon she would become a Free Mage and be allowed to leave the Academy and see the world for all its splendour and magnificence. She would be
free of the living nightmare the Academy had been these last five years. And she would finally be able to use her Gift of Sight without living in fear that the Sages would tear out her Gift.
Returning to the attention of her tutor, Malphas, she noticed that most of her lesson had passed. She had taken no notes in this lesson, she had learnt all there was to learn about the human body
and how magic affected it. “Now class, because you have all been bundled together whilst the other classes are being rebuilt after someone thought it wise to mix an acceleration and healing spell
into a small body, resulting in the explosion of three of our healing labs, two of our operating rooms and half of my own classroom” Malphas said, gesturing towards the charred remains of what was
left of his classroom, “I am going to remind you of the cardinal rules of magic and the cardinal uses of magic”
Oh joy, another lecture on how magic is meant to... Terria’s thoughts petered out as Malphas began his lecture. Though she had heard it hundreds of times before, the lecture always made the
curiosity that was wound deep within Terria’s being.
“Magic is to be used to serve and assist people, never allow it to corrupt you. Magic can only manipulate what is already there. It cannot create objects and – yes, what is it?” Malphas said,
clearly annoyed at being interrupted.
“If magic cannot create, how come we learn to make light and fireballs and all the other stuff” someone said. A novice, Terria assumed.
“Good question. What you are actually doing when ‘creating’ balls of light or fireballs can be explained, but the mechanics behind it are difficult for a novice to understand. Basically, what you
are doing is focussing impossibly small objects together. For example, when you ‘create’ a ball of water you are actually gathering tiny amounts of water vapour ... err, steam ... and as it gathers
it turns back into water. That is the easiest explanation of ‘creating’ objects, during your Mage-hood you’ll learn more in depth about the mechanics behind this practice of magic during your
Mage-hood”. Malphas’ explanation was slightly confusing, as it was meant to be. Novices were not meant to grasp the concept that magic manipulates millions of tiny objects when ‘creating’ objects
such as fireballs and globe lights. It even confused Terria she heard the first in depth explanation of the mechanics of magic. \"Now, those of you in your Mage-hood at the moment will have already
learnt most of the mechanics behind magic, but you have yet to learn about objects and how magic affects them. This is known as magical reactivity. Objects that are magically reactive are
incredibly useful in healing. There are three objects that are the most useful, other than herbs, for healing.\" This wasn't new to Terria, since she was nearing the end of her Mage-hood and had
learnt all the theory behind magic.\"The first is Oak purely because it is, so far, the most magically reactive plant material. It can be used for anything from rapid healing, both internally and
externally, to a minor re-grow ... Any questions before I continue”, a new mage raised his hand, \"yes. You\" Malphas said, clearly not satisfied that questions were already popping into the minds
of his large class. Malphas didn't like being asked questions, because he thought that his explanation were always good enough for even the most inquisitive of young minds. \"What's a minor
re-grow?\" he asked. Both Terria and Malphas groaned at the thought of having to lecture one young mage on the aspects of re-growing body parts and then the practical where Malphas cut off his hand
to show this. \"A minor re-grow\" Malphas said, with no attempt to hide his aggravation, \"is a complex method of healing used to re-grow body parts that have been removed somehow. A minor re-grow
is where you re-grow smaller body parts, such as fingers, toes, hands and feet. Minor re-grows can use any magically reactive material, but oak is the most commonly used since a lot of power can be
put into it which makes the re-grow more effective. It is a complex method involving blood, a lot of magic and whatever material you are using for the re-grow. And again, before a novice interrupts
me\" Malphas glared in the direction of the novice who had asked him the previous question, \"this is not 'creating', it is manipulating tiny objects impossible for the human eye to ever see. The
blood acts as a template for the new body part so that the body does not reject what has been re-grown. You will see the practical in a few months, when the operating rooms have been rebuilt.\"
Malphas looked at the sundial in the window and saw his lesson was almost over, \"Finally, before I dismiss you to your next lesson, some body parts cannot be re-grown. The head for example - you
lose that and you're dead. Other body parts include: The heart, lungs, stomach and kidneys, though internal re-grows are incredibly difficult. The genitalea cannot be re-grown. The reason cannot
be explained why these body parts cannot be re-grown, but it is accepted that because these are the body parts of life. The heart pumps your life blood. The brain is where your soul resides. The
genitalea make life and so on. Right - class dismissed\". Terria rose from her seat, gathered her notes and was about to leave when Malphas spoke again, \"except for you Terria. I need to talk to
* * *
Rorrim filled the last water skin. Why must master Rodin send me all the way to this stream to fetch his water when there's a pump in the middle of the village, he thought. He knew the answer
though, it was because he was the only advanced Shifter in all of Rodin's land. After filling the three large waterskins he called his dog and gathered the waterskins. He then proceeded in the
painful process of changing his seperate body parts. He transformed one of his arms into a hollow space for the first waterskin and covered the opening with what was left of his fingers. He then
forced his spine to enlarge and exit his body. He hollowed out the bones with his Gift and put the second waterskin in, followed by the incredibly painful process of putting the bones back in. The
third skin would be a problem, he needed at least three limbs so he had spare bones and muscles to channel to his legs. Carrying it would be too diffcult. Hunter ran past. That gave him an idea. He
placed a hand on the dog and began to channel his Gift into the dog and made it grow. And grow. And grow until it was the size of a horse. Why didn't think of this before, Rorrim thought. He
altered his arm until it was the same as the other one and put the waterskin into it. Riding would be difficult with no way of holding onto Hunter. One last incredibly painful transformation and
Rorrim was able to ride Hunter.
Hunter was surprisingly swift when grown and they made it back to the Manor in record time. He dislodged his feet from Hunter and put the dog back to its original proportions. \"Mater Rodin, Master
Rodin\" he called, \"I have your water, will that be all\"
\"Yes, you may go\", a voice called from the stairs. \"Just ... Take the water out ... erm ... elswhere\" Rodin said, now having looked at the grotesque shape of Rorrim's arms. \"Yes master, of
course master\". Rorrim went into the kitchens and pulled out the skins from his arms and re-shaped them back to theirorginal proportions. Now for the back, he thought with a grimace. He forced out
the parts of his back bone that heput the waterskin in and therehaped his bones so thatthe skin would just fall out. He then rapidly put the bones back in and put them back to his original
proportions. \"It had tobe three today, didn't itHunter?\" Rorrim said.He would ache for most ofthe day. Rorrim collected his payment and left for the healer's to get his balm.
\"Morning, healer Madhav\" Rorrim said, with no attempt at hiding the pain in his voice. \"Ah Rorrim, I have your balm ready, though it looks like you may need a double today - and a numbing tonic,
no extra charge for the tonic. Was it three today?\". Healer Madhav was popular among the people for his generosity and acceptance of the Gifted. He never charged extra if the patient was in
serious pain. \"It was three today, unfortunately\" Rorrim said, rubbing his back, \"I don't understand what's so special about water from that stream and, to be honest, I prefer something a
little stronger than water\"
\"You see, the water from that stream goes underneath the Tower of Water so it has special properties and Rodin is a Mage after all\" Madhav explained it so plainly it would have made perfect
sense, had Rirrom been listening. No, something outside had caught his attention. A mysterious figure all dressed in white. No one else seemed to pay attention to the figure, but, then again, very
few people were out this early. \"There you go. And take some of this\" Madhav said, holdind a vial full of green liquid. Rirrom downed the vial in one go and felt the familiar tingle that told him
the tonic was working. \"Thanks Madhav\" he said, placing his weekly payment on the counter.
Leaving the healer's, the melodious tones of the bell on the door soothing him, The bellsmith really did a great job of creating that one, Rorrim found himself thinking as he walked to where that
mysterious white figure had stood. The figure was gone, but a note had been left. It read:
Head for the Academy and wait there until a person comes to the gates.
You must take this person as far from the Academy as possible. Do not return.
Head south to the black cliffs and never look back.
Most importantly of all, They are watching you.
Rorrim didn't know if it was thedrug-like quality of the tonic or some sort of compulsion magic, but he felt the urge to do what the note said. He gathered his things, transformed and headed
towards the Academy.
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