Isaac’s eyes burst open. The frantic sound of his heartbeat filled his chest and echoed into his head. The brown sheets of his bunk were as itchy as usual, and all the other boys were still sound asleep.
He placed his hand to his chest, feeling his pounding heart, and silently rolled out of the bed. He wore his hair short like all the boys were told to, but even that didn’t prevent it from messing itself as he slept. On the right side of his head, a tuft of white hair interrupted the midnight black that took up most of his head. Marked onto the pale skin under his left eye was a small, orange rectangle. A mark of the home he came from, a home that Isaac could barely remember.
The bunk room itself was long and rectangular, the floor and walls were made of smooth, damp stone that could never hold in as much heat as Isaac would have liked it too, and several clothing-filled shelves were spaced out along the inner wall. Light streamed in from the three triangular windows that were carved into the eastern wall, each letting the rising sun leak into the room.
He grabbed his assigned gambeson, a dark grey outfit made of rigid boiled leather, off a shelf and quickly changed into it. He put his bedclothes onto the shelf and then held his breath as he snuck out of the room. Entering the cold, stone hallway, he slowly shut the door and exhaled. No one had noticed. He’d done it again.
Isaac hated talking to these people, more than anything else in the world. He was fairly certain he hadn’t made a single actual friend during the entirety of his two years in training, only a few loose acquaintances, and if any of them considered him a friend he’d be surprised.
Luckily after today, he only had to wake up like this one more time. Then, he and everyone else here would be divided up and sent either to an apprenticeship under an experienced Blut Hunter, if they showed promise, and get to avoid actual combat for a bit longer, or they would be shipped off, right to the front lines.
Isaac shivered at the thought of the front lines, and the Spearhead Legion. Everyone heard the horror stories. Some delighted in them like they were tales of glory, things to be sought after and emulated, but anyone with half a brain knew the truth, only the truly skilled Magic-Users survive long in Spearhead.
He wasn’t quite sure what being alive meant to him, but he knew for a fact that he wanted to stay like that. That’s why he was hoping and praying to the Three Predecessors and every Orange Ancestor with all his might, that by some miracle he would be assigned to the Auxiliary Legion, have a cushy apprenticeship, and never even get close to seeing the front lines.
He reached the end of the hallway, where a large wooden door emblazoned with a beautiful carving of a rose rested. Isaac grabbed onto the metal handle of the door and yanked it open. Cold morning air blasted his face as he walked out onto the stone pathway.
The rising sun’s light danced across the pinkish roofs of the capital city of Roserum, slowly melting the frost that had accumulated on the windows of its residents. A great stone wall covered in twisting carved thorns surrounded the city and provided a sense of calm and invincibility to its people. Some small shops and stalls were beginning to open and sell what little goods they had to the few passersby that were awake at this hour. A small river passed through the heart of town where men would sit for hours trying to fish up something they could take home and eat, and, more importantly for these Reds, boast about.
Above it, all, where Isaac stood, was Castle Burgund. An ancient fortress of reddish stone that was constructed for wars long since passed and by a king nobody could remember. It hung over the city like a stern father ready to scold a child, it was made of seven thorn-shaped spires with a large two-story octagon as its base. Each tower was covered in the vines of intricately carved stone roses, with the central and greatest of the towers being carved into a twisted rose itself.
The entire city was laid out in such a way that would make the houses of the citizenry into a second bulwark against an invading army if Roserum’s famous thorned wall was ever breached. It was not a move that made the first king popular with the people and was said to be one of the reasons that mounted his head on the wall, like uncountable Fallendean leaders thereafter.
Castle Burgund had played many roles in the history of Fallende, but none more crucial than its role now as the home of the country’s Grand Kopf, Agape Weisrose, and as the home base for the Hunter Legions. Isaac had heard that the country’s true capital was in the very middle of the country, a land of death and blood now called Leiche by some, that had to be abandoned after the Bluts appeared.
The only building that came even close to rivaling Castle Burgund in size was the Great Ossuary of Roserum with its twinkling, scaled roof and made up of a central dome surrounded by three large pillars. The Great Ossuary was where the city’s dead were stored, and where pasters lead daily sermons of prayer, so that the Three Predecessors and the departed of Roserum may offer their wisdom and protection to the city.
This view, during this time of year, had been Isaac’s favorite part of the training. Once in a while, if he was lucky, he’d be able to catch the scent of the bakeries in town cooking their famous toad cakes. They only cooked toad cakes on the Divider’s Day in mid-autumn or when soldiers were heading out to, or returning from, the southern swamps. These next two days might be the last he would have in Roserum, and with how things were going for him, they probably were. Becoming a Blut Hunter was never a choice that Isaac, or most of the other kids here, got to make for themselves.
Another wooden door waited for him at the end of the walkway, he opened it, and inside, waiting for him, was a large windowless room with a cracked stone floor, flickering torches dotted the walls, and a second door was embedded in the wall across from him. Isaac walked up to the closest wall and slumped against it, making sure to keep his head down.
His morning routine was a trade-off, he might be able to avoid the initial conversations with his fellow trainees, but the looks he got when they all flooded into this room made him wish that a Blut would tear out his throat. Although not everyone in his class inspired the same gut reaction in him.
Daphne, a super talented Color Mage, made his stomach feel all twisted up and warm whenever he saw her, but he knew she’d never show interest in someone like him. He wasn’t the best looking in the class, he was an Orange, and she was a Red, native to this Canton, and he couldn’t even project his Magic. Just pathetically manipulate what already surrounded him. All in all , the most useful role he could play as a Blut Hunter would be as a shield for someone better than himself.
Isaac knew his limits, he had to face them very early into the training when Instructor Hans made them fight in mock combat, and any little confidence or pride that he had in his Magic melted away before his very eyes. He was an Elemental, and his chosen discipline was rare granted, but he didn’t know how to use it very well, and there were other Elementals there with much more common specialties that could kill him before he could even try and manipulate his.
Magic was split up into four distinct types, three of which could be used by anyone that made the effort, but once one chose a discipline and sub-discipline, there was no going back. Ever.
Elementals could manipulate and create a chosen element; however they choose. Color Mages manifested their magic through a specific color, with each color having its own distinct ability, along with a host of universal but useful talents like projecting concussive blasts.
Artifact Mages were very versatile, they filtered their magic through objects to bring about the desired effect, which could range from a pen that can write for itself to a sword that fires its blade as if it were an arrow. Lastly is Symbol Magic, which can only be performed by an Undling, a people that originally came to Fallende from somewhere below the ground. Isaac didn’t know much about Symbol Magic, besides that it killed Bluts just as well as the other three.
He’d even heard some of the more ambitious students talk about becoming Magicians, the highest level a Magic-User could reach, and one that granted god-like power. Though Isaac never thought any of them would live long enough to attempt reaching such heights.
Isaac scrunched up further against the wall. It will all be fine if I can make it into Auxiliary, he repeated over and over in his head, If I can make it in there, then I’ll have a chance to at least get to thirty.
The door in front of Isaac flew open, and he jumped. A tall man entered the room with embroidered blue robes and with the white sash around his neck that marked him as an instructor. The instructor’s hair was blonde and to his shoulders, he had a small goatee of the same color, hazel eyes, and a small blue rectangle under his left eye. Isaac began to nervously chew on his thumbnail.
“Isaac Schwarzschild,” the man remarked, his tone a perfect mix of curious and condescending. “You are early again. Now that I think about it, you’ve been early every day, since your second day of instruction.”
The man’s face changed to one of approval. “I’ve always appreciated people that go the extra mile, and your enthusiasm for my teachings has not been lost on me.”
“Thank you, sir.” Isaac quickly replied, before putting his head down once again.
Instructor Hans gave a satisfied nod. “You Oranges,” he began, “are known to be quite willful people, some of the most stubborn in all of Fallende, so imagine my surprise when one of the most diligent students, of this class cycle at least, turned out to be an Orange. Honestly, I still have a hard time believing it now and it has been two years.”
Isaac clenched his hands tightly. He hated when people brought up his mark, especially the way that Hans was now. He barely remembered what it was like in his home canton of Oranalone. He couldn’t even remember his people’s virtues on a good day, much less strictly adhere to them the way Hans expected him to. Besides the Canton they were in now was Redfall, not Bluerise, so Hans wasn’t a native here either. Isaac had no idea why he always acted so high and mighty about his mark since he was in the same position as he was.
“That, plus your rare Magic selection, made you quite the interesting student to teach,” Hans continued to muse aloud.” Not as interesting as Malcolm, mind you, now that is a Trainee with talent, but it would be a shame to waste you, Schwarzschild.”
“Thank you, sir” Isaac repeated, hiding his discomfort the best he could behind the soft clack of his teeth on his nail.
“You know your place, Schwarzschild, that is something that a lot of your peers could learn from, more so than any Magic you could ever possibly cast.” Hans laughed.” I do hope some of your classmates have learned at least a little from your sterling example. Mostly the Greens, you know how lazy they are, and always scheming about like criminals.”
Normally Hans would just ignore Isaac, as he stood and waited against the wall, but today something was different about the instructor, a glint of pride in his eye that the class of students he had overseen for two years was finally going to graduate. Isaac wondered if the pride was legitimate, or if Hans was just thinking of all the achievements he could take credit for, if anyone in the class became a big-time Hunter.
The door opened and the sound of footsteps flooded into the room. His classmates had arrived, and Isaac watched the group of twenty with bated breath, sinking a little further into his stance with every glance he got from his classmates. Ancestors he couldn’t wait for this to be over.
One of the students, a larger boy with short brown hair, a green rectangle under his eye, approached him. The boy wore two swords at his side that clicked oddly as he walked.
“Trying to sink into the wall again, huh, Baby’s Breath?”
The boy was named Adrian, and he was one of Isaac’s few acquaintances. The two of them met when they were much younger, both being placed in the same state orphanage. Adrian used to bully him, one time forcing him to eat several handfuls of baby’s breath flowers from the orphanage garden, hence the nickname.
“You could be a bit nicer than that, can’t you Adrian?” a girl’s voice asked from beside Isaac. “This is one of the last times we are all going to be together like this. The least you could do is call him by his real name.”
Isaac turned towards the voice and saw a sickly-looking girl with her black hair tied back into a ponytail. The rectangle under her eye was red. Her name was Velonia, and she was his other acquaintance.
Velonia was a bit of an enigma in the class, even Isaac had heard all sorts of rumors about her. She never practiced Magic with the class, nobody knew where she slept, and as far as he knew, nobody knew had ever heard her last name.
The three of them were the definition of acquaintances by convenience. None of them fit into any other group for one reason or another, and they just kind of drifted towards each other. Adrian and Isaac learning to tolerate one another was a development that the younger him would have never dared imagine, but Castle Burgund was a different beast than the orphanage; and a familiar face was almost a friendly one.
While Velonia and Adrian began an exchange about the morals of referring to Isaac by a nickname he received via an act of cruelty, Isaac’s eyes were drawn to another girl in the class who was talking and laughing with a friend. She had brown hair and a delicate face, her rectangle was red, and she had blue eyes that were like two beautiful blue lakes that Isaac felt like he could swim inside forever.
Daphne was the only person in the world that Isaac wanted to spend more time with. He wanted to approach her so bad and start a conversation, he knew they’d hit it off if he could only approach her. But the simple idea of rejection, or of him making a fool of himself in front of her, made it damn sure that he wasn’t going to say a word.
He hated himself for it. There were only two days left where he would be able to form any type of bond before one, or both, of them, was sent to the front lines to die for Fallende and bring forth a brighter future, or whatever nonsense the instructors always prattled on about.
Isaac watched Daphne’s eyes shift focus from the freckle-spattered face of her best friend Violet to someone else. A well-built, handsome classmate of theirs, with two daggers at his hips, a demeanor that oozed confidence, short black hair, and a blue mark under his eye. The boy calmly walked up to Daphne like he couldn’t see how intimidating her beauty was and started a conversation with her and Violet, like it was nothing.
Isaac’s face turned into a rotten scowl, and he whipped his head away. He hated Malcolm. He hated him so much. He wanted his power so bad, the power to walk up to and talk to people, to feel comfortable in his skin, and seize the world by the horns.
“Baby’s Breath, you okay?” Adrian asked, staring down at him.
“Y-yeah,” Isaac managed to stutter out. “Why?”
“You just stared at Daphne for a solid two minutes, then got angry and whipped your head away when Malcolm walked up,” Velonia replied plainly before Adrian could respond.
Isaac felt himself deflate.