Tessa focused on the orb of light in front of her, the little device next to her ticking away. Each beat of her heart echoed inside her head as the light in front of her began to lose its shape and sputter. She put every ounce of her energy into maintaining the orb, but she was running on fumes at this point. Quickly becoming unstable, burst into a shower of shimmering and sparkling lights in front of Tessa. Falling onto her back, she stared at the sky. More physically exhausted than she ever expected to be in her life, she watched as the clouds slowly sailed across the light blue sky. Every now and then blocking the sun’s light for a brief moment. Reaching for the device as it kept on ticking, she wanted to see how far she’d come. Holding it in her hand, over her face, she saw the dial was now just past the half-way mark. Putting it back on the ground, Tessa closed her eyes to try and relax.
Just as her eyes closed, Hei returned to check in on his student, “Done already~? You’ve only just reached the half-way point, can you do no better~?”
“I...I’m at my limit.” Tessa took deep breaths in and out before leaning her head back to see her mentor looking down on her from above. “I’ve no energy left to draw on for more training.”
Hei reached down with his hand, offering to help Tessa to her feet, “Well, that’s to be expected. No one becomes a master overnight. Well, most people don’t at the least.”
Tessa reached out her hand to meet his, but Hei then moved his hand a bit further and grabbed Tessa by the forearm. And with a swift and powerful tug of his arm, Tessa found herself pulled up into the air and landing on her feet. She stood there for a moment, stunned by how Hei had pulled her up in such a way so effortlessly. His body type had led her to believe that Hei was more agile than he was strong. She couldn’t help but wonder about how many different kinds of things Hei was hiding. Just what IS Hei exactly?
“Your training is over for the day,” he let go of her arm, turning around to start walking back the way they’d both entered the park, “and do you have a place to stay in Faethun already?”
“I don’t, unfortunately…”
Tessa followed after him, now wondering where it was she was to stay. She was healthy enough to move around, and Torgrak’s estimation on how long it’d take her to recover being spot-on where would she stay? She no longer needed to be in the infirmary, but also didn’t have enough money to stay at an inn for much longer than two weeks.
“Then it’s a good thing I know people.”
As she thought about her finances, Hei threw something over his shoulder to her. Quickly changing her focus to what was going on now, she caught what looked like a bookmark.
“What is this?”
“That is the key to your new place. We’ll be there soon.”
The two walked out of the park and then took a turn down the residential district’s main road. Continuing for a bit in silence before stopping at a complex. Looking at it, it seemed like a smaller version of the dorms back at Unity Academy.
“This will be your new home going forward. There are other residents, but you’ll have your own private room. Down the road you’ll find a public bath house and a laundry close by. They’re both fairly priced so you should be fine. As for food, you can find plenty of good food around town. Just follow your nose and you should be fine. And with that, I’ll be taking my leave.”
Hei turned around and started walking away before Tessa had a chance to ask him any questions or potentially talk his ears off with gratitude. Caught a bit off-guard by his lack of interest in sticking around, Tessa quickly bowed graciously to Hei. Incredibly grateful for being given a place to live.
“Th-thank you very much!”
Hei only threw up his hand to wave at her as he continued walking away and eventually disappearing in the distance amongst the crowds of people. Tessa did wonder if she had to worry about paying rent or such, but her exhaustion was starting to get to her and she’d rather not look a gift horse in the mouth right now. Walking into the building, she looked at her key for the room she was staying in. According to it, it was room 205. Walking up the steps in the building to the second floor, it wasn’t long before she found it.
When she came to the door, she found that there wasn’t a normal keyhole. Instead it was more like a fully round door handle with a slot in the top. Assuming that’s where the key goes, she put her key in the slot followed by a loud CLUNK. That seemed to unlock the door, and now it seemed she also had a door handle to turn. And with that, she was now in her own room.
Walking in she noticed it was a fairly small place, roughly half the size of the dorm room she shared with Sylvie back at the Academy. However, she was just glad to have a proper room to herself. The last few days, not including her trip to Faethun, had been a lot more chaotic than she ever expected. So this was the first true moment of silence she’d ever had to herself to enjoy. No chaos or destruction. No lessons or homework. Just herself in her own room.
Excitedly, she explored her small space. There was a decent-sized bed, small table and accompanying chair, closet, dresser, bathroom with a clean sink and toilet, and window that allowed her to see the street just below the building. Opening her closet, she noticed some clothes had already been provided. A note from Hei briefly explaining that he got these for her so she’ll have something to relax in that isn’t her armor. They weren’t anything extravagant, but they felt soft to the touch and it was enough to at least have her own clothes again. On the table was a wooden box from Torgrak. Atop it was a note from him that also briefly explained the box contained some beginner supplies for her to practice her alchemy along with pre-drawn and prepared papers with accompanying, short explanations so she can practice on her own time.
Having now checked out the entirety of her room, Tessa sat on the edge of her bed before happily falling back and relaxing on it. It’d been a very long three days for her. From arriving in Faethun, to nearly dying, and now being taught by two incredibly powerful mentors in things she’d never expected to learn. Her eyes slowly began to close, the exhaustion from today’s training quickly catching up to her. She struggled to keep her eyes open, not wanting to sleep just yet, but she was too tired and passed out. Her room’s ceiling being the last thing she saw before the darkness took over.
As she drifted away to sleep, a small light appeared in the darkness and floated towards her. It was a faded light, but grew in size the closer it got. As it drifted ever closer, the light soon engulfed all she could see and her vision faded back to darkness for a moment. And then it came back, fading in on a scene before her. There were several figures, with one in the center and the others around it. Additionally, with their positioning, it looked akin to a trial of some sort.
The figures were all too vaguely defined to make out any particular details, however they did have two specific things about them that Tessa could see. Each figure had a silhouette made up of a colored energy that wisped about and made up their bodies. The sole figure in the center had a black and smokey silhouette with bits of darkness coming off and drifting to the ground, along with an evil green eye in his chest. The others all had a dark red energy that moved up and along their bodies, bits sparking off their shoulders and hands like wildfire as a chaotic and ever-sputtering ember burned in their own chests. As Tessa’s view on the trial grew ever closer, she started to hear their voices as well and listened in on what was going on.
“Why did you turn on those under your leadership! I give you a home after your failed war and you turn around and spit in my face?! What reason could my second-in-command have for committing such blatant treason?! Why have you turned against the Great Flame?!”
The dark-figure took a relaxed stance, putting what looked like a hand on his hip, before answering, “Heh, I did it because I was bored. I’ve already done every interesting thing I could while a part of your cult, so a bit of treason felt interesting to me. Think of it as my ‘parting gift’ to you for being such a gracious host~.”
“You arrogant heretic! You think yourself able to just leave after committing such a heinous crime and expect no consequences to your actions?!”
“It wouldn’t be the first time, so get in line~.”
The dark-figure started to turn around and walk, giving a flirtatious gift to the one holding his trial in as condescending a way possible. The sarcasm was so palpable that even Tessa felt intense disgust from it. The leader of the trial, rightfully and expectedly, was infuriated by this.
“Wall of Hellfire!”
He conjured forth a wide geyser of flames to block the shadowed figure’s path, preventing him from leaving before the trial was over.
“To have the gall! You know too much about us to leave in one piece. If you will not remain and take your punishment, you shall leave as ashes in the wind!”
The leader of the cult began to cast another spell, the other cultists in attendance readying themselves for a skirmish. However, the dark-figure scoffed before suddenly disappearing and reappearing right in front of the leader. And before he could even respond, the dark figure drew his sword and cut the leader’s face thrice. Crying in pain, the leader fell to his knees with his newly disfigured face.
“You know, I could have killed you. But that would’ve been much too easy~.”
Now taking his leave, the dark-figure began to walk to the exit of the trial’s hallway without a care in the world in each step. All while the other cultists in attendance ran to their leader. However, the leader slowly got on his feet to give the dark-figure a final damning.
“Your kind have no place in this world! The war saw to that! You’re already being hunted, and now no place will ever shelter you again after this! And if the gods themselves will not exact their revenge upon you, I swear I shall!”
Turning to face the cultists’ leader one final time, he happily accepted being forsaken, “Then don’t disappoint me like the others did~.”