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December 31, 2158
It was a chilly morning, frost had encrusted the windows of shops and office buildings with a crystal glaze that cast rainbows of reflected sunlight onto the streets and sidewalks. Pedestrians flitted about, some entering or leaving shops, others stifling yawns as they trudged their way to work.
A long line of people, all of them in their mid teens, stood waiting along the sidewalk next to an enormous pearly white building. The building was mostly unmarked save for a large sun carved into the middle, embossed in the center with a large capital I.
Almost everyone in line looked nervous or scared, some of them were muttering to themselves, others, talking quietly to one another, but most were completely silent, looking pale and uncertain.
Yet in line amongst the feeble and fearful sat a young man, whose brown hair was perhaps a bit too long, as it hung over his eyes in curtains, bobbing slightly as he slept, sitting on the ground with his back against the building. It seemed foolish at first glance to fall asleep in a line that would soon be moving, but the young man knew better. These nervous wrecks would do anything to put off their moment of judgement as long as possible. They would wake him up, if only to put one more person between them and the doorway.
Sure enough, the person standing before the entrance was called in, and moments later the person standing rigid behind the sleeping young man tapped him on the shoulder, waking him quietly.
"Thanks." The young man muttered as he hobbled to his feet and shuffled forward to keep up with the line.
His eyes were darkened by lack of sleep, but glowed a soft golden color under the early morning shadows. His face was kind and handsome, his mouth wide in a smile that was unnatural to his fellows.
As they watched this oddly jovial gentleman, the young man who had awoken him stared at his head. His hair, which was long enough to reach his neck moments before, had become short and wavy, only lying an inch or so off of his head.
"Wasn't... wasn't your hair long just a moment ago?" He asked.
The young man turned to him, his eyes rolled up towards his forehead, as though he were trying to see his hair.
He paused, then grinned.
"Ah, don't worry about it!" He laughed.
Disconcerted, the others turned away from him, finding his pleasant demeanor ill-fitting for the moment.
There they stood, waiting silently in a line that moved forward every few minutes or so, until a number of people gasped in surprise.
"It is... what's she doing out here?"
"You don't think someone's in trouble, do you?"
"Maybe, but she's already passed us, so it can't be you or me."
A figure, flanked each side by two more, was making its way down the road alongside the line. People seemed to be stepping back to avoid them, and the young man peeked his head out of the line to see the cause of the commotion.
Walking along the line was a young woman, flanked by two other women of the same age. She had long, blue hair that flowed down her back, and silvery-blue eyes that scanned the line like a hawk. The young man thought that she ought to be described as beautiful, but as he knew her personally, he might be slightly biased.
Their eyes met, and he ducked his head back in, a playful grin on his face. She walked over to him, her arms crossed tightly over her chest.
"Drake, would you be so kind as to tell me why you didn't report to the Student Center yesterday?" She asked.
"Oh! Was it yesterday? When they told me December 31st, I thought they meant next year." He said, stifling a yawn with the back of his hand.
The other two girls giggled, prompting the third to give them a swift, sharp look which silenced them at once.
"You could have contacted someone to clarify." The girl said, persistently.
"Yeah, I suppose I could have. But... if I had done that, then I wouldn't have been able to make you come all this way just to find me, would I?" He said.
The young girl sighed.
"I don't know why I'm surprised, I've known you for 15 years, after all." She said, shaking her head with exasperation.
"So, are you going to try and force me to come with you?" He asked, mildly. His tone was light and friendly, as though he had simply asked her about the weather.
She laughed, her long blue hair shimmering in the morning sunlight.
"No, I'm not fool enough to try and force you to do anything. I was merely hoping to convince you to skip this line." She said.
The young man stared along the long line of people in front of him. It hadn't shifted since the last person went into the main building.
"You don't think it's wrong of me to skip ahead of everyone?" He said, more to himself than her. "Shouldn't I just wait in line like everyone else?" He added thoughtfully.
"Waiting in line is for people who don't have connections with the Headmistress of Ivoria." The girl said.
"Connections, huh? I suppose being the nephew of the Headmistress might be a pretty decent connection. How is Aunt Allicity, by the way?" He asked.
"Oh she's -"
A loud, shrill wailing rent the air around them. It was similar to a Klaxon, but rang with a screeching note that sent shivers through the people who heard them. The siren stopped, then started again. It let out two notes, each ten seconds, and the young man looked around expectantly, before walking calmly out into the street.
"Ashlyn, put up a barrier, I'm going to draw them they get here, we don't need these newbies getting in the way." He said.
Without a word, the young girl lifted her hands, which had begun to glow with a soft golden light. In total silence, the onlookers watched as a shining golden orb expanded from the space between her fingers, growing until it enveloped the young man and a significant portion of the street.
Many gasps of amazement were heard as the shape of the light changed, becoming long and tall, engulfing the street but nothing more. The young man sat quietly in the middle, his arms spread wide and his eyes closed.
The others could feel something emanating from him, but the golden barrier prevented whatever it was from being properly felt. As they watched, one thing was certain: Whoever he was, he was quite strong.
A noise ripped through the air from nowhere, wholly incomparable with the sirens from moments ago. It was as though the world had been slightly broken, and as they watched, several holes tore open the space inside of the barrier, surrounding the young man on each side.
"Hathor's Barrier is ready, Drake. Go wild, but, eh, not too wild." Ashlyn said.
The four holes inside of the barrier widened, each filled with an odd metallic color that seemed strangely too vibrant. Then, without warning, from each hole erupted a creature.
They were strange things; large, quadrupedal, oddly featureless, their bodies all shared the same single, solid color scheme, and each of them looked to be made of a flat, mute-colored crystal. They had the shapes of animals that were common in the world. Two of them had shapes similar to tigers, and each one was green, like large, living jades. One of them was almost unmistakably a wolf, it's indigo color glowing menacingly under the sun. The final one had stone-like horns and was shaped like a large goat, it's gray head lowered, and ready to charge.
"Four, huh... and Edrynn, too. I've been told that they usually send the Erunia in first to soften the target up." Drake muttered to himself.
The two tigers had begun to pace around him, as the barrier that Ashlyn had created prevented them from sensing prey outside of the area.
The goat pawed the concrete beneath it with its grey hoof, cracking the asphalt and sending a spray of rocks across the street behind it. As its hoof returned to the ground, the rocks that had been unsettled shot past the goat towards Drake.
He held his arms outward, watching them closely as the rock began to coat his forearms slowly, forming two, solid black gauntlets of concrete over his flesh.
"Lower Earth: Rock Armor."
Without warning, the goat launched itself at him. Its head lowered to the ground as it prepared to flatten Drake. It was only feet away before;
With a sound similar to wall being demolished, Drake's concrete-clad fist had struck downward, catching the goat in between its horns and slamming it into the street, where its head shattered into a thousand pieces.
The crowd let out a gasp of horror as the two tigers pounced in unison, but Drake was ready. His stone hands wrapped themselves around the green throats of the tigers, and, with a grunt, he slammed them together, making them shatter the same way the goat had done.
Throwing the headless tigers aside, Drake focused his attention on the wolf, which had backed itself to the edge of the barrier, not out of fear, but in order to properly assess the situation. Unfortunately for the wolf, it really only had one choice, and that was to try and take Drake head on. Its maw opened, although there was no hole where the throat would be, and rushed toward Drake, bound on its enormous legs like a horse in full gallop. With a single large leap, it rocketed into the air and came down towards Drake.
The fight was over as soon as the wolf had left the ground. Drake cocked his arm back slightly, and, as the wolf neared him, he struck out, connecting with his fist right in the open mouth of the wolf, which, like its fellows, shattered into shards of colored crystal.
The tinkling sounds of of crystal falling onto the asphalt rang out for a few moments, before they were drowned by the sound of clapping and cheering from the crowd. Drake stood quietly as he watched the glistening stones fall to the street, before turning to Ashlyn, who was watching him with a slight smile on her face.
"Thanks." He said, simply.
She nodded, and the barrier's golden light evaporated into nothing.
Drake stepped out of the street, and stood next to Ashlyn as he addressed the crowd, who had fallen silent after a moment.
"If you can't see yourself ever being able to do something like that..." He began, jerking his thumb towards the street. "Then you probably aren't fit to walk the path of the Dei Hunter." He finished.
Several people murmured, some in agreement, others, in indignation. Seeing this, Drake frowned, a look of annoyance on his face, and he spoke again.
"You all have families, friends, and others who treasure you as people. You might clench your fist in this moment and proclaim that it is they who you are prepared to fight and die for, but do you truly understand what it takes to die? What it takes to leave everything you love behind forever?" He asked.
"That's enough, Drake."
A voice from down the street called out to him, prompting him to turn his head to find its source. His mouth curved into a light smile as he walked forward to greet the small woman who had spoken to him.
She looked almost like a child at first glance, although anyone who looked into her face for long enough would see the tiredness in her eyes, as well as the lines from constant fatigue and mental stress. She had a lithe body, and her hair was metallic purple, shining in the sunlight like her daughter's.
Drake leaned down slightly as the small woman wrapped her arms around his midriff, hugging her against his chest.
"You can't save them from themselves, sweetie, they'll have to do that on their own."
Her voice was barely a whisper, but Drake caught every word. His hold around the woman tightened slightly, before he released her, smiling down into the beaming face of his aunt.
"Hello, aunt Allicity... no, sorry, Headmistress." He said.
"Aunt Allicity is just fine, sweetie." Said the small woman, before turning to her daughter and adding; "We'll be on-boarding Drake ASAP, so let's get moving."
Ashlyn and her companions quickly made their way over to the two, taking up formation behind them. They began to walk towards the entrance to the Ivoria building, with the onlookers now remarking about that strange outburst from Drake.
He hadn't been wrong, however. More than a quarter of the people who were once in line were now walking determinedly away from the Academy's entrance. As Drake saw this, he smiled bitterly to himself, as his mind reaffirmed the one thing he had truly wanted since he was a child:
'I can't save them all, but I'm damn sure going to save as many as I can, even if I have to drag them, kicking and screaming, with me.'
And with that thought in mind, he followed his aunt and cousin into the dark doorway of Ivoria Academy, fully prepared for what he would meet on the other side.