Chapter 14: A Tour of the Grounds

“That over there is the Forest.” Ms Luxford called out to the class following behind her. After everyone had returned to classroom from lunch, Ms Luxford had told them that she was going to give them a tour of the college facilities that they might use during their time in the junior division and so, without further ado, they had all left the classroom again.

She had given them a brief overview of the buildings that lined the flagstoned courtyard which they exited the classroom building into, before leading them down the pathway to the Meditation Gardens. They had just now come out of the small alley between the two buildings and were gazing down the lawn to the mass of green that was, as Ms Luxford had just said, the Forest.

“The college does not advise that you enter that forest, given that there are all sorts dangerous creatures hiding in its depths, however, if you are feeling particularly adventurous, you can go exploring inside from your third year onwards. If any you try entering at an earlier stage, you will be punished.” She stopped and thought, then added, “And probably also injured in some way by the things that lurk inside.”

After Ms Luxford’s speech, most students were looking towards the forest with apprehensive looks on their faces. Kason felt less nervous, having grown up inside the outskirts of a large forest himself, but still couldn’t prevent a slight flutter of fear from appearing somewhere in his stomach considering that he had almost wandered off into that place the day before.

Next, they visited a place called the Training Ground. Ms Luxford explained that the large rectangular area of some grey material was for, as the name suggested, physical training that would begin in their next school year. She also stated that it was occasionally used by different societies from time to time, which prompted a new question from the students.

“Societies,” Ms Luxford said in answer, “are groups led by either a senior division student or a teacher where you can take part in various recreational activities. You can attend any combination of these you like during any free periods you have in your timetable.”

She then went on to enthusiastically promote the society she ran, called the ‘Pakaura society’ which spent their time playing a sport called ‘pakaura’. Unfortunately for her, none of the students had ever heard of the sport, which seemed to disappoint her, but she quickly got over it and led them towards their next destination.

The group next arrived at a place called the ‘Range’. It was a large stretch of verdant green, shortly clipped lawn with some targets placed at the other end from where they stood. Unlike the training grounds, there was a fence surrounding the area made of wood that, quite frankly, looked like a strong gust of wind could blow it over. A small clump of trees grew sparsely around the targets, seeming pretty pointless in the whole scheme of things apart from making the place look nice.

Ms Luxford explained that this was the area that was specifically used to train in the various forms of ranged combat, like archery. She gestured for them to look inside and observe the people currently inside, which were a group of five students and their teacher. They watched as the five students stood, bows in hand, in a ready position with arrows fitted to their bows’ strings which were pulled taut to their ears.

Upon some unheard command, the archers released their arrows, which sped down the Range. As they travelled, Kason observed that each arrow seemed to release a different ability. One sped up to extreme speeds, while another let loose some kind of tether and attached itself to the speeding arrow, allowing itself to be pulled along by it.

Kason watched, fascinated, as the arrows continued their journey. It seemed almost more like a race than any archery competition he had heard about before. The speeding arrow that had gotten ahead at the start was the only clear contender for the winner’s position if this was indeed a race and not a normal archery competition.

Just before it reached the target at the end, however, a deafening blast emanated from somewhere within the Range. Kason jumped at the sudden noise, as did most of the rest of the class, and just caught sight of a madly contorting arrow at the back of the pack before it combusted into a glowing fireball of purple flames.

When the back dots in Kason’s eyes faded away and his ears stopped ringing, he saw that one of the archers was currently looking rather sheepish while being scolded by the teacher who had been with the group. Kason assumed that it must have been his arrow that malfunctioned.

After letting the class recover from the surprise development, Ms Luxford got their attention and led them off to the next destination of their tour. “That woman who was in there is Ms Hargreve. She leads the Archery society and also is one of the combat magic teachers so some of you may be taught by her in the future.” Ms Luxford said as they walked.

Ms Luxford brought them next, to the Meditation Gardens which Kason had walked around in the day before. She explained that the gardens were split into two parts, the recreational area where students could relax and which technically wasn’t part of the meditation gardens but since they were both in the same area they were both called it for simplicity’s sake, and the actual Meditation Gardens. She showed them where the dividing line was as they walked around in the gardens and Kason realised it was the same fence that he had encountered before.

She then led them back to the main path and through the archway at which Kason had turned back when he previously explored the place. Through the arch was a small circular cobbled area surrounded by a low wooden fence, there were benches placed at regular intervals around the edge of the area with some older students sitting on them watching the class with mild curiosity.

In the centre of the cobbled ground though, was a magnificent tree. It sprouted out of a basin filled with golden water that overflowed from its container only to disappear into the ground underneath the cobbles. The tree itself was strange and wonderful, it was around three meters tall and had a multitude of branches sprouting from its gnarled brown coloured trunk.

The branches were the most peculiar parts of the tree, their appearances differed but could be roughly fit into four categories. Some of the branches were withered and dead looking like they might seem in winter, while others were covered in many bright green sprouts like in spring. Still, more had a lush and wholesome look, covered with midsummer leaves while others showed the small minute signs of wilt that come with autumn and were almost bare.

The class stopped in front of this tree and many of them let out gasps of admiration at its unearthly beauty. Kason looked at it in wonder, its weird yet wonderful shape and contrasting appearance made it look oddly profound, however, somewhere in Kason’s mind, a little voice couldn’t help suggesting that the tree might’ve just forgotten season it was in.

Ms Luxford let them admire the tree for a few moments before providing them with some background, “This is the Tau tree, it is said to have been planted in this spot by Constantine himself which makes it hundreds of years old. As you can see, it has a rather unique appearance and is currently the only known one of this species still around. Of course, we know that there is much of the world which we do not know, so there may be others out there, but in our country’s lands, this is the only one.”

“Why is the water around it all golden coloured?” Asked a student from the crowd.

“It is because of the tree. Its roots secrete a substance which turns the water that colour and, incidentally, can also be used to make a wonderful golden paint.”

Ms Luxford then led them out of the Meditation Gardens, saying that they wouldn’t enter the actual Meditation Gardens so that they wouldn’t disturb anyone. They were then led back past the Range and the Training Grounds all the way to the main building into the nexus with the statue of the monocled man. Once there, Ms Luxford pointed out each of the doors in turn, telling the students where each led and what they were for.

She then had them all cram into the library. Kason felt that the raised circular area where the door was situated was not meant to be filled with this many people but put up with it anyway. Once inside, Ms Luxford introduced them to a crotchety old man called Alivor, who was the custodian of the library alongside his apprentices. He gave them a short overview of all they needed to know before immediately disappearing back to wherever it was he had come from to begin with.

Ms Luxford gave them a look of apology for Alivor’s attitude and advised them to seek out his apprentices if they wished to borrow a book before shooing them all back out through the door to the nexus back to their classroom. Once back in the classroom she announced that they would have ten minutes to chat while she prepared material for the next session.

Immediately as she turned to begin her preparations, Harper turned to Kason and began to batter him with excited babble. “What kind of societies do you think there are? Do you think there will be places where I can learn sword fighting and stuff?”

“Isn’t sword fighting a thing of the past?” Kason asked curiously, he remembered books his mother had read to him as a child where there had been gallant men and women brandishing mighty swords and going on epic quests. He had thus been disappointed, when he had asked the teacher at the little school he went to back at his home if he could learn to fight with swords like those heroes and the teacher had replied that combat using swords and pikes and other weapons like that was outdated.

Harper looked at him with his blond brows raised in surprise. “Not at all!” He said indignantly, “If you’d seen any of the annual bouts then you wouldn’t think that. Every year you see people with all sorts of swords in the mock battles, although the swords are usually different to just normal swords. Last year there was a guy called Gareth who fought with a sword that was over a meter long and covered in raging flames, it looked really cool!”

After lessons finished for the day, Kason and Harper made their way back to their rooms to get some rest before dinner. They entered the corridor leading to their rooms which had taken on an orange hue from the setting sun hanging outside the large windows, they saw a familiar head of purple hair hobbling along a few meters in front of them.

“Fenston!” Harper called out.

The purple headed boy turned as he was walking and, noticing the two of them, stopped and waited for them as they walked over to him.

“Hello,” he said in his high-pitched voice, “How was the first day?”

“What do you mean?” Harper said, furrowing his brows slightly, “Weren’t you just in class yourself?”

Fenston rolled his eyes at Harper and gestured to his leg, “I hurt my ankle yesterday so I couldn’t attend, could I.” he replied slightly exasperatedly, “So? What did you do? Actually, can we go and sit in the common room first? My foot isn’t completely fixed yet.”

They all walked into the common room and sat down on some of the chairs. Harper and Kason then began to narrate their experiences during the day, giving great detail about the explosive events at the archery practice they had witnessed.

“Sounds like it was fun,” Fenston said slightly wistfully when they finished.

“Well, that’s what our class did. I’m not sure if the others all did the same.” Harper added.

“I’m IN your class,” Fenston said, rolling his eyes again.

“How did you know that?” Kason asked curiously, even the little rule booklet that Brent had dropped off with his uniform and that hadn’t had anything to do with classes in.

Fenston’s face froze for a second before he answered them in a slightly uncertain sounding voice, “I, read it in the- the rule booklet that we were given when we went and registered at the registry office. Our entire floor is in the same class.”

Kason frowned slightly, but then dispelled his doubts, thinking that he had probably just skimmed over this particular piece of information, or perhaps he had simply forgotten it.

“Really?” Harper said, sounding excited for some reason.

Kason looked over at him, eyebrow raised in an unspoken question. “That reminded me that Lexia and Alford are on out floor,” Harper explained, seeing Kason’s look, “This means I’ll be able to ask them about training to raise my ether saturation!”

“You could just ask me,” Fenston said, and sniffed, after hearing Harper’s exclamation.

Harper turned to look at him, “You’ve already trained your ether saturation? What’s your saturation level?”

Fenston made a satisfied smirk, “It was about fifty-five last time I checked, but it’s probably higher now.”

Harper made an incredulous look and then just leaned back in his seat with a helpless expression on his face. “Why did my family never teach me before I came here,” he lamented.

“I wasn’t taught either,” Kason reminded Harper, trying to raise his spirits.

They carried on talking, that is to say, Harper asked Fenston all the questions he hadn’t managed to ask Lexia, for maybe half an hour after which Kason decided that he would temporarily take his leave to change out his uniform. Although he was being besieged by Harper’s questions, Fenston still looked perfectly happy, so Kason decided to leave Harper at it and left.

When he arrived back in the common room a few minutes later, he found Harper and Fenston still talking as they had been before. He went and sat back in the seat he had been in and watched them as they bantered back and forth, Harper obviously having run out of questions to ask. After watching them for a few minutes Kason remembered something that he had been meaning to find out ever since he had arrived and raised his voice to ask the two of them something.



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