The Final Challenge

Arc concentrated, staring at the small group of colors that drifted before him. The Spells he had woven so far pulsed faintly, waiting for the Will that would tighten their weaves and draw Power from the world. He muttered carefully under his breath, keeping the Spells alive but not yet fully realized. They still needed more Power to truly demonstrate his mastery of Spellweaving.

One of the Spells, a purple cloud of the Aspect of Earth, had grown to the point of becoming a Bound spell. At this point in his training, he knew of no other combination of Action and Target words more potent. Other Apprentices, seeing his Bound spell, had groaned in disappointment. None of them could now attempt to duplicate a Bound Earth spell and expect to impress the Masters. Such copying was not allowed during a Challenge.

How much time was left? Arc glanced quickly over the other Aspects in his Spells, comparing them to the Words in his mind and trying to find Aspects to bolster. Two orbs of Ether danced together in a complex but ultimately weak Spell. Elyan had Bound Ether early in the Challenge, as he loved to do, but Arc still hoped to make something of his own efforts.

Another weave, Air, suddenly flashed as half of it turned from yellow to orange. What? He scanned the Training chamber. Another apprentice, one he didn’t know, smirked at him as one of her own Spells shifted to a stronger yellow color. She had Traded the Stone Aspect in her spell for the Air in his, ripping the Power away from him and replacing it with some of her own. Noticing his dismay, her smirk widened into a full grin.

Well, she hadn’t won yet. Concentrating on his Bound Earth Spell, Arc used it to sift through the fragments of Words drifting through the chamber, some of which other Apprentices had briefly spoken and then abandoned for more powerful spells. He found just the one he needed. With a small chuckle, he deftly severed the Stone from his half-woven Spell, replacing it with another Word of Air that he had reserved in his mind. Fueling that with the Growth from an overheard Wood, he sent Power into the Air and just managed to Bind both halves of the Spell. He smiled in satisfaction.

Outside, the twilight bell tolled long and low. “Time!” Master Oakhwen called.

The other Apprentices let out sighs of relief or groans of defeat. Their swirling Spellweaves froze, waiting for the handful of Master Weavers present to wander among them and score the efforts of the Apprentices. As they walked, the swirls of color popped out of existence. Of course, nothing beyond that ever happened, not in the Training chamber. This was, after all, only practice. The Spells only lasted long enough for the Masters to see the Weaves and offer praise or correction.

“Two Bound Aspects this time,” a voice stated beside Arc. He jumped as he turned to see one of the Masters wave away his weaves. “Impressive, young Arceantus. You may make Apprentice of the Year with such skill.”

“Thank you,” Arc managed to reply as the Master moved on to another Apprentice.

As the last of the Weaves scattered throughout the chamber dissipated, Master Oakhwen clapped his hands once, his favored method for making sure he had everyone’s attention. “All right, Apprentices, that’s enough for the day,” he declared from his usual position in the center of the chamber. He wore the familiar attire of a Master Spellweaver: long, loose robes with flowing sleeves. His hair and beard, a dark brown only starting to show hints of gray, also flowed long.

“All of you have worked hard and learned much this past year,” he began. One of the Apprentices softly groaned. Technically, class was over with the bell, but Master Oakhwen often gave them one last lecture before releasing them. As this was the last day of class this year, this would also be his last opportunity for such a speech before the Deepwinter break. Based on the start of this one, he appeared ready to make this one memorable.

“On the morrow,” the Master continued, ignoring the Apprentice, “at three bells, you will have the opportunity to demonstrate what you have learned in your Final Challenge. Each of you will return to this chamber and display your most powerful Spellweaving. You will also be given a personal Challenge to include certain Aspects in the Weaves you choose to attempt. Note that you can still score a passing number of points if you ignore this Challenge. However, you must also keep in mind that the Apprentice who scores the highest total points for their Weaves will be named Apprentice of the Year. Also…”

One of the other Masters tugged on Master Oakhwen’s sleeve. “Surely they know all this,” she muttered, “and are eager to go to their evening meal.”

He looked at her, blinking. “Yes, I suppose so,” he sighed. “Just … please be ready for your Challenge on the morrow. The Ghenesati know we need as many of you to graduate as we can get…” Pausing for a few beats, he abruptly coughed. “Yes, well, off you go, then.”

The Apprentices muttered to each other as they left the chamber. Arc lingered behind, concerned. Something about the Master’s final words about needing them to graduate bothered him, but he felt unsure about asking him what he had meant. Perhaps his concern about the Challenge on the morrow put him on edge. He sighed.

“Apprentice Arceantus?” a voice called. Arc turned to see one of the other Masters approaching him, the one who had interrupted Master Oakhwen’s speech. “Is something troubling you?”

“Master Jhinalia,” he replied, bowing. “I’m just … concerned about the Challenge.”

She looked at him for a few beats. Her long, dark hair streaked with silver draped over her right shoulder, framing her ageless Alvhendri face and ice-blue eyes. “I have watched your class for some time now,” she finally said, “and all of you will do well. But I think something else may be bothering you?”

Arc blinked. No reason to try and conceal his thoughts from a Master, he supposed. “What did Master Oakhwen mean about needing us to graduate?”

“Surely you have heard the rumours of troubles in the West.”

“Rumours, yes.” Apprentices love to talk.

The Master took a deep breath. “There are some,” she slowly began, “that feel that these are more than just border skirmishes and posturing. Some feel that the Oghari are once again forming into a Horde.”

Horde. The word sent a chill down Arc’s spine. According to legend, the last great Oghari Horde, the Second, had nearly destroyed all other life on Mythos. Only a final combined effort, led by the hero Seht, had destroyed the Horde and scattered the Oghari, never to rise again. Or so the legend said. “But what does that have to do with first year Apprentices?” he asked.

“If war comes, and I’m not saying it’s inevitable, yet; but if it comes, we will need as many Spellweavers who wield the Power for freedom and life as we can muster.” She placed a hand on his shoulder and smiled. “But such thoughts are not for now. You must be ready for the morrow, and your Final Challenge. Off you go, then.”

Still troubled, Arc smiled back as he turned and left the chamber. Morning would soon bring Challenges enough to worry about. He tried to shake his somber feelings as he left the Tower and crossed a large courtyard to enter the Apprentice’s Hall. Most of his fellow Apprentices already sat at long tables laden with food, chatting and laughing. A group of his friends huddled together, whispering. Curious, he joined them.

“There you are,” Belgat said, slapping Arc jovially on the shoulder. “What kept you?”

Arc began filling his plate with food. “Master Oakhwen’s last words concerned me, and Master Jhinalia asked me about it.”

“What did she say?”

Arc related her concerns about an Oghari Horde, and the need for strong Weavers. “What I don’t understand,” he added between bites of food, “is if we’re so worried about Oghari, then why do we still teach them here?” He gestured to a small cluster of Hahb-Oghari at a far table.  The group of green-skinned beings quietly muttered among themselves, glancing furtively at everyone else. None of the other Apprentices approached them. “Aren’t we just teaching the enemy?”

“There are no enemies at the Tower,” Belgat replied, his tone serious. “All who seek understanding are always welcome here. Besides, maybe they aren’t enemies after all.”

“Yeah,” Mara agreed. “Oghari have the same right to learn and live that we all do.”

“I suppose,” Arc replied with a sigh. “Maybe I’m just worried about the Final Challenge.”

Belgat smiled as he glanced at the others, his eyes twinkling. “Actually, we have just the solution for that.”

—–

Arc groaned as he slowly awoke, his head throbbing. He remembered little of what happened after the evening meal, to say nothing of how he miraculously ended up in his own bed afterwards. Wait, he was in his chamber, right? In the dark, he had no idea. “Illuminate lights,” he whispered, and crystals set in the walls flared to life. At least now he could confirm that yes, he had found his way to his own chamber and bed.

The bed across from his was empty. Turan, his chamber-mate, had probably already left for the morning meal. But what time was it now?

As if in answer, Arc faintly heard the morning bell peal out, twice. Two bells! Only one to go before the Final Challenge began!

Quickly he threw on his robes and sandals, scrubbed his hand through his hair, and dashed off. He barely had time to grab a few bites of food in the Hall before running to the Tower Training chamber. At least his headache had faded, a little.

Stopping at the chamber’s entrance, Arc took a deep breath. Ready or not, the Challenge awaited him. He walked in, trying to appear calm. Inside, he noticed that the Apprentices were divided into smaller groups, no more than five to a group. Master Oakhwen smiled as he gestured towards a smaller group in one corner of the chamber.

Arc moved to join the group of Apprentices the Master indicated. One of the Apprentices handed him a small scrap of paper with three Aspect symbols drawn on it. His personal Challenge. Staring at the symbols, he struggled to recall any Words, any at all, and came up with a small handful. With time and a little luck, he hoped to recall more. Despite the fuzziness in his head, he felt a small spark of confidence begin to grow.

The third bell rang. In the center of the vast room, Master Oakhwen clapped his hands, once. Then, raising  one arm into the air, declared, “Begin!”

What happens next? Find out by playing Spellweaving 101!