A glimmer of light sneaked through Yaya’s curtains, alerting the young girl that dawn broke across the skies and the night ended, allowing day to rule once more. No longer able to sleep, the girl got up from her comfortable, plush bed and she raised her arms high above her as she yawned quietly. Yaya flung her oversized sleeping shirt off to the side and waved a finger in the direction of her drawers containing her clean bras. The wooden drawer slid open, and a pastel pink bra floated over. A pink strap with lace ruffles looped itself on a slender index finger as she hummed her way over to the sink. Her arms slipped through the straps and her arms bent backwards as fingers brought the metal teeth to the catch, snapping the bra in place. The girl then lifted the underside of her breasts with the palm of her hand and side of her arm, sliding the underwire of the contraption over before she let gravity do as they wished with her flesh. Crystal-studded pins were pushed into her hair, pulling handful of bangs up and away from her face. Her hand twisted the hot water knob, allowing the faucet to dispense warm water into cupped hands. She splashed herself and washed her face with regiments made specifically from the certified derma-wizards at Apothecary. Yaya generously scooped the greenish-white salve onto her soft cheeks, spreading it all over her face and allowed it to harden before she washed it off with tepid water. There was that glow of radiance as magic-infused nutrients and superfoods enriched her skin!
The neon flashing of her calendar grabbed her attention. The notification pop-up appeared at her side, showing her the schedule for the day. Ever since she was a First Year at University Prep, Yaya made sure she never had any classes on Fridays – and it was a routine she kept true to this very day. This Friday was no different from any other Friday at school: no classes for the day! With the wave of her finger, her drawers opened, and a pair of blue denim jeans, no-show socks, and a graphic t-shirt floated over to the undressed girl.
With her nose and eyes focused on the handheld cellular device in her hands, the girl walked over to the Gate station with ease. The Gate station at University Prep connected the island with the world through the many portals contained in the massive structure. If a student wanted to go home, all they had to do was walk through the nearest connecting portal to their hometown; however, strict guidelines were in place. Only students, academic staff, or relatives of the attending students could use the portals to the traveling floating island unless national authority requested entry.
All the portals leading to the world outside of the islands were located on the upper levels. Yaya had no desire to use the lift for the place she was going was located on the first floor! The first floor had a total of four portals: one to the Elementary campus, one to the University campus, one to the shopping complex located on the island itself, and a portal to the Valiant Grounds. Her feet knew the path to the shopping complex’s portal like a routine to an old dance, and she carried onward with swaggering, confident steps. Her heart and mind focused on the Hallow’s Eve dance that wouldn’t happen for another two months; however, Yaya was a true believer of prepping early and gathering her necessities in a timely fashion in order to not cause herself any stress or grief when it came time to actually dressing up for the event.
The Hallow’s Eve dance was a tradition celebrated by the academic administration for as long as the schools were in operation. A chance for children to have fun and keep them away from the naughty mischiefs of the dead and reduce the potential misdeeds of the living. Every year the dance was a costumed party, and Yaya attended almost all the dances, minus the previous year’s dance. Determined to not miss any dance-related events this year, the girl was ready and eager to fulfill her want. In her mind’s eye, Yayua envisioned herself wrapped in shades of blue, green, purple silks and feathers, mimicking the beauty of the peafowl birds that lived in the south western regions of Zhong Guo that bordered the lands of Nanyue and Ayuthaya. Through her mother’s tales of the Old World they ran from, and like any daughter of immigrant refugees, what she took from it all was that her name was the word for the beautiful feathered animals.
When she stepped through the bright blue energy, time and the physical nature of living changed, twisted, and rectify itself as the energy of the portal dispersed, allowing her passage through space and time. And when she arrived on the other side of the disappearing portal, it wasn’t an image she was familiar with. Boom! Gone were the pink boutique buildings, and the colorful store fronts in the village. Boom! Roars of excitement and thunderous triumphant claps were commonplace here wherever she was. There were diverging paths to stadiums and colosseums made of concrete, marble, stone, and aether. In the distance, bolts of lightning struck into the center of the colosseum, and mini twister formed in the middle of a stadium – the contained, controlled magic were potent with energy, and zigzags of chills crawled down her spine! Holographic screens appeared everywhere, showcasing magicians weaving energy into magic, and warriors swinging their swords. The wind blowing through the crowded square carried with it the scent of something fresh and sweet like the sap of a pine or cedar tree and the pungent odor of chlorine – an unusual sanitizing, combinations of scents Yaya often associated with high concentrations of magic and aether.
Yaya could not help but compare school to this place, taking in all the whirling lights, magics and holographic screens showcasing different magicians and warriors and the crowds and spectators who watched them in the stands or out here where she was. The islands and the academies themselves were pure magic like the grounds beneath and the buildings before her, but stark differences manifested the longer she stood in place, taking in all the magic that tingled her senses. The islands and academies were controlled and sterile – a requirement befitting an academic setting. This place, however; even with the restorative wards in place, the protection barriers and containment walls held up for the benefit of consumers, and the chaotic, wild, frenzy bursts of energy and aether and manifestations of magic ran rampant!
Where was she?! The girl couldn’t help, but tuck her phone safely into her pocket, and make her way through the crowd. This was akin to a sporting event – a magical one. And when she finally made it pass the crowd, she spotted two young faces that she deemed looked easy to approach. There was a tall one wearing all black, and a shorter one with a sports coat and jeans on – both were young boys. She squared her shoulders and thrusted up her chin, pasting on her best smile. Like the brave soldier she was, her feet carried her over swiftly and confidently as she said, “Hi!”
The tall one turned to her first – his head was already looking her way before she was even near them to say hello at a reasonable audible range. He looked like her, but she doubted they were the same kind of people. The tall one was very handsome with milky white skin, large almond shaped eyes, dark pupils, short dark hair swept to the side, and his bone structure was both boyishly charming and sharp. He wore a black long-sleeved sweater with black pants and black sneakers. His full lips were set in a straight line, and he seemed like the type of fellow who only smiled and laughed amongst friends rather than strangers. Except for the occasional polite smile, Yaya would bet her inheritance that the tall boy before her was most likely very rude and loutish when no one was around to watch him with scrutiny. He said with a barely noticeable accent, “Hi…”
The boy was definitely born, Yaya was certain, in one of the Old-World countries on the Eastern hemisphere. Was he from North Eastern Zhong Guo like Chase’s family? Or was he from Goryeo? Yayoi could have been where he was from as well, but the girl just had a feeling he was not from the Land of Samurais. Nor was he from Amarapura, Nanyue, and Ayuthaya. But which one, wondered Yaya as she stretched her smile even wider against the icy disregard of his reluctant acknowledgement. The shorter one was more awkward and seemed warmer as a person. He was a Westerner with pale skin dusted with tiny, brown freckles, a mop of short bright red hair, and baby blue hues were staring at her. He wore a blue sports coat over a t-shirt, pairing it with jeans and sneakers. He could have been from the Mainland, or maybe he was not a citizen of the Gaul Empire. He could have easily been from anywhere outside of Gual. There were too many choices from Mahren to Helvetia to Bohemia! The shorter boy’s smile was crooked and seemed to border on uncomfortable as he greeted her in return, “Hello. What’s up?”
As a believer in asking too many questions, asking for help when needed, and asking for clarification when the situation called for it, Yaya chose the two boys for help because one) they were all smiles before she approached, and two) there was a yellow and white striped tie with XVI sewn onto the back peeking out of his coat pocket. The tie alone told her that at the least the shorter boy went to the same school she did. She repeated herself, “Hi!”
Yaya then took a deep breath before explaining herself in the most charmingly way she knew possible. A pink manicured finger scratched the side of her head before sweeping a loose lock of hair behind an ear and widening her eyes to make them look more vulnerable and bigger as she said, “I’m lost… I’ve never been here before. I don’t know where I am…”
“Okay…,” the red head said. “You’re here at the Valiant Grounds.”
“Oh!” The girl couldn’t contain her little burst of excitement, shedding her pretense of embarrassment. That was a name she heard many times before! A bright glow enveloped her face as she grinned opened mouth. Her head surveyed the grounds once, swirling and turning about in full circle, taking in the loud advertisements and the overflowing of so many magics used. “The controlled battle grounds thingy for mages? I keep hearing about this place, but I’ve never been!”
“Okay-” he made a face.
And then the tall one, his friend, stepped forward in a way that was neither aggressive or welcoming and interrupted the conversation, asking in a stern voice, “Right, so what do you want?”
One of her foot took a step backwards, whether it was from intimidation or steadying herself she didn’t know, and Yaya’s perfect teeth bit the inside of her mouth to keep a scowl from pulling her smiling lips down. The insides of her poor mouth were abused too many times by the accidental habit she developed up over the years when a situation called for mustering up as much patience as she could. Her skewed smile was small and lacked heart as she swallowed the curses that threatened to spill forth from her lips. Yaya took a good look at the boy before her, and she knew there would be no peace if she let her pride get the better of herself. Instead she inhaled a deep breath, and said, “…can you please show me the gate to Ivory Citadel?”
Ivory Citadel was the official name of the university preparation academy built on the middle island, Kalypso, of the Ogygia Floating Islands, but Yaya preferred to fondly refer to the institution as Uni Prep. While the Ogygia Floating Islands consisted of many islands, the islands dubbed Ceto, Kalypso, and Circe were the only islands allowed to become developed and inhabitable for human use. Ceto housed the Midnight Fortress, the elementary division of new students, Apprentices who were required to study for two years, learning the basics of worldly magics before awaiting graduation. Upon graduation to the level of a Journeyman at the Ivory Citadel, First Years were required to choose a Discipline for the next four years until graduation. Fourth Year Journeymen were required to take the International Competency Test (ICT) evaluated by a panel of registered Board of Magic Mages if they wanted to move beyond the Journeymen level. And if they scored high enough to pass the ICT, the student would graduate from Journeymen to Acolyte. As an Acolyte, they would spend the next three years of their lives studying a Major and Minor Focus under the direct tutelage of the Paragons themselves at the Iron Tower on Circe. And upon defending their thesis and passing the Exit Exam, the successful Acolyte would be registered as a full-fledge Magician of the highest order.
The walk from the market square to the gate station was almost five minutes long, and the boys ahead of her didn’t slow down, but their pace wasn’t crippling fast either. Yaya found it strange that the portal to the Valiant Grounds landed her in a place that wasn’t the gate station terminal. Rather than ponder on the strange incident, Yaya ran past the boys once the familiar terminal station design came into view. She then charmingly waved her hands at them as she peered over her shoulders, yelling at them, “Thank you!”
Without a second’s notice or even waiting to hear from the boys behind her, the girl stepped through the gate to Ivory Citadel and never looked back. The red head boy had his hand up, mid-motion waving as he quickly spoke to his friend about the girl who disappeared through the portal. “She’s weird,” he said casually, letting his hand down. “I hope she’s not in our classes…”
The taller boy nodded in agreement as he too looked at gate station in mild exasperation. The girl was short, so she was bound to be in their class, concluded the tall boy. He then said, “Probably in our year.”
Their backs were turned to the portal, and the walk to where they had come from began. The black-haired boy maneuvered his neck side to side before turning and asking, “Warm up first? Or are we going to climb?”
The shorter boy was confident with a pleasant look settled on his face as he replied with gutso, “Pssshh! Who needs a warmup? Warmups are for losers.”
His friend merely smiled, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the radical statement. Here at the Valiant Grounds where every magician was given the chance to make a name for themselves, confidence was key to securing victory, but arrogance was another story. The two young magicians were confident, borderline arrogant, but they were gifted and talented at 14 and 13 years old. The slender electronic band around their wrists were infused with the magic sourced from the Valiant Grounds, and together the holographic displays they maneuvered nimbly through were scrolled side to side and down. The menu screen showed their identification photo, statistics of each win and loss they had at the ground, every single spell they ever cast was recorded on the band. And after linking their bands together for three seconds and then separating, the two boys queued up to fight their own piece of the Valiant Grounds. After all, who knew which match that they played would be their call to fame?