Tessa and Sylvie ran as fast as they could to the Great Hall, most of the other students around them walking, the excitement having a hold on the two. As they got closer, Tessa slowed down and had to stop to catch her breath. Gasping for air and holding herself up at her knees, she was exhausted from the short run.
“Oh, come on now! We didn’t run that far you know.” Sylvie laughed out how silly they were being. Certainly they could’ve just walked over and taken their time, but there wasn’t any fun in that. At least not to Sylvie anyways.
Tessa had always been jealous of how Sylvie was much more physically capable than her. The young elf was always a straight shooter, both socially and with a bow. Sylvie always hit her mark no matter what it was or how tricky it would be. Always taking the direct route over an intricate plan.
“Well...now that we’re...here,” Tessa was starting to recover her stamina. As one of the miracle division students, she rarely had time to exercise with studying and practicing taking up most of her time, “We should...probably...meet up with our...divisions.”
“Alright, I’ll catch you after the ceremony then, ‘kay?” Sylvie reached out her hand, offering a handshake.
“Yeah. Sounds good.” Tessa extended her hand, taking hold of Sylvie’s, but was suddenly pulled into a tight hug. While the elf was on the shorter side, her strength was well above average and Tessa had to tap her on the back repeatedly to get Sylvie to let go. “Sylvie! Sylvie let go! Too tight! Too tight!
“Sorry, just had to make sure I got at least one in before you left. See you after the event Tessa!”
Tessa waved off to Sylvie as she ran off to join the other rangers, massaging her shoulder from Sylvie’s bear hug, and met up with the other clerics. Their white cloaks were easy to spot.
Soon enough, it was time for the graduation ceremony to begin and Tessa entered the Academy’s Great Hall beside her peers. Taking a seat in the many rows of pews, she was reminded of how crowded things got for being such a large Hall. Remembering back to the day when she first entered Unity Academy, there were nearly as many students at the first year’s entrance ceremony. It was so packed, Tessa was nearly bumping shoulders with those around her.
As the students settled in, parents and guardians were also let in to observe from the Hall’s second and third floor balconies. Excited chatter between the students and amongst the observers filled the Great Hall. The Headmistress used her magic to draw the curtains and focus the incoming sunlight onto the main stage, giving everyone the signal to be silent.
With things growing silent, the Headmistress welcomed everyone in attendance, “Good morning to you all. We have been gathered here today in celebration of these students’ accomplishments and to congratulate them as they end their journey here at Unity Academy. But I would like to ask that all students, parents, and guardians keep your cheering low as we have many students here and we need to make sure they can hear their names when they’re called.”
The Headmistress paused for a moment, the spotlight fully on her for the moment, “Well then, let’s begin then. If you would be so kind, please welcome my head professors of each division as they call the students to the stage to receive their diplomas. Thank you.” The Headmistress gave a slight bow and exchanged her place with one of the seated professors on stage with her as the audience clapped.
Tessa knew it would be a while before she would receive her own diploma, her last name starting with “v”, but she made sure to congratulate each of her peers as they walked up onto and off of the stage with respectful applause. One student of each central division--war, magic, miracle, and scholar--was called each time. All four students received their diplomas and a handshake from the respective head professor of their division before turning to the crowd and bowing again before leaving. The audience clapped in congratulations as they walked off the stage.
Eventually, it was Tessa’s turn as she heard her name called, “Tessa Vivuk!” She got up and made her way through the pews and walked to the main stage. Tessa’s heart raced as she walked up the stone steps. She wished that her parents could have been able to attend, but her father had been sent on a scouting mission and her mother was caught in the middle of her work’s busy season. Tessa let out a disappointed sigh, but knew they were cheering for her from far away. She was happy that both of them had sent her letters of congratulation for working hard, and Tessa wanted to greet them as a fully fledged Hero the next time she saw her parents.
As Tessa met the lead professor of the miracle divisions, she was surprised to be complimented by him in particular,“You’ve worked hard Tessa, and I hope to one day soon see your name in the papers as a new Hero in the world.” He outstretched his hand and looked her in the eyes respectfully. It was rare that he complimented anyone, even the top students would receive sparse praise even when they did well.
“Th-thank you, professor.”
Accepting his handshake, Tessa accepted her diploma and took a bow before the crowd. Tessa heard the clapping of the crowd and the drowned out cheers from Sylvie as she left the stage to return to her place among the other clerics. Leaning back on the pew, she let a sigh of relief as it was now officially over. No more returning to Unity Academy as a student. No more tests to evaluate her abilities. And especially no more late night studying just to keep up with everyone else. Tessa was still going to practice and train to keep her skills polished, but there’d never again be a need to do some last minute cramming. She stared up into the Hall’s ceiling, the other names of the students just fading into a muffle of words as Tessa relaxed.
As the main event of the graduation ceremony came to a close, the last few remaining students receiving their diplomas, the Headmistress took center stage once again to address everyone.
“Thank you all for your patience, and congratulations to all of our new graduates!” The crowd of students and the onlookers in the balconies all applauded, some giving cheers, before the Headmistress continued unexpectedly, “But we aren’t done quite yet.”
There was a murmur amongst the students, Tessa snapped out of her daze to look at the Headmistress confused. None of the professors had let the students know that there was something beyond receiving their diplomas. What was the Headmistress up to?
“There are some of you among us here today that have performed above and beyond expectations. We believe that those feats deserve to be recognized on your final day here at Unity Academy. And so, when you hear your name called, please return to the stage to receive a personal gift from me.”
Every one of the students was confused, talking in hushed voices. Some of them thought maybe they had achieved something worth being recognized, while others speculated who performed so impressively well to be rewarded personally by the Headmistress. Tessa had been complimented, but she couldn’t think about anything in particular that she’d done to get recognized. She wasn’t one of the special ones, was she?
And so, the Headmistress began to read off names, “Amber Ashton!” The first of the students, confused just like everyone else, approached the stage to join the Headmistress in the spotlight. The Headmistress told her what she’d accomplished and to hold out her sword. Levitating it into the air, the Headmistress began to enchant it with some kind of mystical flames and carved runes pulsing with red light before letting it slowly fall into Amber’s hands. The Headmistress told her to swing it into the air and show off her new gift.
Uncertain but following the instructions, she swung out into the air above everyone and gouts of fire extended from the sword’s blade. Everyone gasped at the power of this gift and soon were a buzzing hive of speculation. Tessa’s mind raced, thinking back over every bit of training and studying she could remember, trying to figure out if she’d done something worthy of receiving one of these amazing enchantments. If she received one, it would probably and greatly assist her in becoming a Hero. Maybe the Headmistress would enchant her staff to improve her healing abilities or something, but just like all the other students it wasn’t clear who would be chosen.
With the first gift given, the Headmistress called for the second person. And soon the third, and fourth, and continuing on and on. There didn’t appear to be any rhythm to her choices as they all seemed to be called to the stage at random. Some of the students that were chosen did make sense as it was a highly respected or high performing student among their division, but others didn’t as it seemed to be out of nowhere. One of the recipients, a scholar division student, being rewarded for their secret research into making a strong antidote that was able to cure five different kinds of common poisons near instantly.
“And for the last gift…”
Students, parents, and onlookers sat on the edges of their seats, all wondering who would be the last student to receive a personal gift from the Headmistress. She’d given out incredible gifts ranging from enchantments to amulets, bracelets, circlets, weapons, armor, and more from her own personal collection; each one perfectly suiting the student. Tessa knew in her mind that she wouldn’t be called, but she held a small hope in her heart that it would be her that gets called.
Sylvie, startled awake and wondering who had called her name, searched around the Hall to figure out what was going on as she planned on sleeping through the remainder of the ceremony.
“Sylvie Greenwood, please come to the stage on more time if you wouldn’t mind.”
As Sylvie walked back into the spotlight, the Headmistress waited for her to be up on stage before continuing, “For your accomplishment of being the best ranger in your entire division, evaluated by measuring your accuracy per shot taken throughout all of your years here at Unity Academy, I would like for you to hold out your bow to receive your reward.”
Sylvie was deeply confused as to how Headmistress or the professors knew how accurate she was, but it was even more shocking to the audience that she was the best among all of the rangers. Holding out her bow, the headmistress did as she had done before. As it levitated into the air, Sylvie was mesmerized as the Headmistress’s magic flowed into it. A green light shining through the carved-in grooves before being slowly lowered back into Sylvie’s hands. The Headmistress gestured for Sylvie to demonstrate her reward for everyone to see. Drawing the bow back, the green light that had soaked into the bow shined brighter and brighter until it was at full draw. Sylvie released the string and out came a shower of green sparks and a burst of wind filled the Hall from behind her.
“Th-thank you. Headmistress”
“You are welcome, child.”
Sylvie bowed in gratitude to the Headmistress and returned to her place amongst the other rangers. Tessa left wishing that she could’ve been just like one of those who’d just been on stage. Tessa wasn’t happy that she was jealous of Sylvie and that Sylvie was recognized above her stung, but Tessa knew that one day the positions would be reversed. Some day Tessa would receive some kind of treasure as a reward for her hard work as a Hero. Maybe she’d even be thanked by some royal family who’d asked for her help and they would reward Tessa with something that dwarfed all of the gifts from today. It’d be some greater prize of recognition for her hard work. Maybe that would be the day when she would become a Hero among Heroes.
With Sylvie back with her fellow war division students, the Headmistress returned her attention to the audience, “Now, you’ve all worked long and hard to get here. Many of you braved challenges you had never faced before, but now it is time that all of us here must say goodbye. Goodbye to not just Unity Academy, but to your teachers, clubs, homes, and more that you found here. You are no longer students of Unity Academy, and can never again be students here. It is time to close the book, and open the next. Never forget what you learned here, and utilize your knowledge as a foundation to build from and start your next journey with your best foot forward!”
Pausing for a moment to let her words settle in, the Headmistress continued, “And I ask all of you, as a final moment of solidarity, to stand at attention one more time.” Every student seated stood up. Clearing her throat, the Headmistress gave the graduating divisions their final command, “You, the 97th graduating class of Unity Academy, are dismissed!”
The crowd of students let out a loud cheer as the largest wooden doors that guarded the entrance to the Great Hall swung outward. A fresh breeze of morning air flowed in and the new graduates rushed outside to greet their new beginning with overwhelming happiness.
As Tessa left with the rush of students out into the large plaza of the Academy, she scanned around looking for Sylvie.
Tessa to the voice that called out to her.
Sylvie was standing towards the edge of the plaza, one hand on her hip and the other raised high into the air waving towards Tessa. Seeing her friend, Tessa quickly ran over to Sylvie.
“Sorry, it was a bit difficult to spot you with everyone rushing out at the same time.”
“Don’t worry about it. At least now we can finally leave behind our student lives!” Sylvie stretched her back, enchanted bow in her hands as she popped a couple joints.
Tessa couldn’t help but stare at it, Sylvie’s newly enchanted bow, as her repressed envy ate away at her in the back of Tessa’s mind. She wished she could’ve been the one to receive a gift from the Headmistress. After all, she spent countless sleepless nights in a row just to keep up, and yet Sylvie just got one for existing? Sylvie mostly just slept around and was late to her classes most of the time while Tessa often barely made it! Why should Sylvie be rewarded for barely trying?! But then Tessa snapped out of her negative thoughts, she knew it wasn’t right to think so badly of her friend. Sylvie had helped Tessa plenty and Sylvie was a crack shot, so the reward was fairly earned. Tessa would just have to try harder.
Sylvie was smiling ear to ear, just glad to finally be out of that stuffy Hall. She couldn’t be happier to finally be out of Unity Academy with all of its confining rules and curfews, “No more having to worry about tests or quizzes or memorizing abstract formulas that won’t mean anything out in the field.”
Tessa wore a small smile, agreeing, “That’s true, but if we fail out in the real world, the consequences could be worse than a failing grade.”
“Ugh, don’t remind me.”
Tessa chuckled to herself, Sylvie never was one for studying. Often Tessa would have to lend Sylvie her notes. Sylvie did actively procrastinate when it came to anything written.
“Speaking of the real world. What are you gonna do now Tessa? Gonna head off to one of the Temples of Aeon or somethin’?”
Tessa shook her head from side to side, “I’ve had enough studying to last a lifetime. I’m actually hopping aboard one of the merchants’ caravans headed to Faethun to join the Heroes’ Guild.”
“‘Heroes’ Guild’ eh?” Sylvie was concerned, but it quickly left her, “Heh, then I’ll be waitin’ to hear about your adventures!”
“What about you Sylvie? With your skills, you could attend officer school and easily become a high ranking ranger.”
“Nah, I’m headed back to Venris. Gotta check in with my family first and then gonna join the Silverleaves. Always wanted to be a scout for the elvish homelands.”
Tessa and Sylvie smiled and laughed to themselves as the two had such different ways they were going to go, both enjoying the moment as it could be the last one together for a while.
“Oi! What be ye two talking aboot o’er there?!”
One of the scholar division students ran over to Tessa and Sylvie, joining them in their conversation. He was a dwarven boy, and barely passed either of their waists in height but had a fully grown beard with braids and metal adornments scattered about it.
Sylvie smirked, clenched fists on her hips, “Looks like Mr. Banter got his diploma too.”
“It’s Banfer! Banfer! Nae ‘Banter’ ye chil’ si’ed chicke’ nugget!.”
“What was that you boulder roller?!” Sylvie lifted the short dwarf up into the air by the collar.
“Good morning to you Aavron.”
“An’ good morn ta ye Tessa.” Aavron gave Tessa a smile before turning his attention back to Sylvie, “Now let me down ye growth stunted saplin’!”
Tessa chuckled at their back and forth. Aavron and Sylvie were always at each other’s throats, but Tessa was always able to get the two of them to get along somehow.
“I think he’s had enough for today Sylvie, think you could let him off the hook? It is our final day together.”
Sylvie shot an annoyed look at Tessa before a look of disgust, eventually resigning to Tessa’s rationality, “Fine…” She let Aavron go, dropping him to the ground as he landed with a heavy thud.
Aavron rubbed his back before hopping back up to his feet, dusting himself off. Aavron was curious as to what Tessa and Sylvie were talking about, “Anyways, what were ye two talkin’ aboot jus’ now?”
“Sylvie was telling me about how she was going to join the Silverleaves back in Venris.”
“And Tessa was reminding me of how she was going to be a Hero once she leaves here.”
“Heh, dinna know they let small children become soldiers in Venris. Maybe I shou’ tell me niece.”
Sylvie blushed from ear to ear as Aavron gave a hearty laugh. She stomped her foot hard onto the brick tiling just before the dwarf, “I told you I’m still growing dammit! Forty-seven is young for an elf you damned metal mutt!”
“Whatever ye say, seedlin’.” Aavron scoffed at her insults, always one to enjoy a good bout of insults with other races. “An’ I’ll be keepin’ me ears open ta hear any good news aboot ye Tessa, bein’ a Hero ain’ easy..”
“Might even get to see her as the centerpiece of some fancy parade. Would be fun to brag to my fellow Leaves that I know the great Saint Tessa.”
Tessa blushed from ear to ear from the compliments, “Oh stop you two. I’ll make sure to always remember my friends from my school days. Maybe if I make it high enough, I’ll be able to invite you both over to celebrate!”
Sylvie, with a cocky grin on her face, wrapped her arm around the back of Tessa’s neck and poked Tessa’s face teasingly, “You better!”
The three of them laughed to themselves for a while before a loud whistle was let out. It was the final call for the next caravan headed out of town and towards Faethun.
Snapping out of her good-time-daze, “Huh?! Oh crap! I gotta go!”
“‘En get going! Nae need to waste more time wit us!”
“For once I’m in agreement with picky here. Get a move on or I’m gonna have to send you some screaming mandrakes!”
Tessa started running to the merchants’ wagons, looking over her shoulder and waving back to Sylvie and Aavron, “I’ll make sure to write! To both of you!”
“Good luck wit’ tha Heroes’ Guild!” Aavron waved back with both hands in the air as Sylvie had one hand on her hip and the other waving, but with the biggest smile on her face as Tessa ran off to pursue her dream.
With her full attention on the wagons, Tessa ran as fast as she could and climbed aboard the first available wagon. Just as she boarded, a whistle blew and the wooden wheels creaked while the horses’ hooves tacked on the cobblestone road. Tessa waved back to her friends, slowly seeing them disappear into the distance. Eventually, even the Academy itself disappeared behind the stone walls that protected it, all Tessa could see were the spires, Great Hall, and other main buildings. Soon enough, she couldn’t even see those as everything was eclipsed by grassy hills.
Tessa stared out of the back of the wagon until she couldn’t even see the last bits of the Academy. She stretched a bit before taking off her crown of leaves and let her staff rest on the floor of the wagon.
Tessa was both happy and sad as she left, thoughts of how she wouldn’t be able to see Sylvie or Aavron for a long time settled in and brought tears to her eyes. She brushed them away as while this was only “goodbye” for now, she was on her way to becoming a Hero. It wasn’t a long ride to Faethun and this was just a part of the Hero-lifestyle. Tessa decided to take a nap and catch-up on her sleep, thinking more about how long it would take to become a Hero as she stared at the open, blue sky. Would she have to do something to prove herself, or would they just accept her when she appeared? Whatever it was, she was going to meet the Heroes’ Guild’s expectations one way or another.
It wouldn’t take too long to be a Hero…