Faye stood and slowly picked up the robes the Seeress had set out for her. There was no denying that it was beautiful or that she was meant to fill the position it signified. Still, there was something off about the situation, something she couldn’t trust.
A knock at the door caused her to drop the robe. She quickly gathered the fabrics back into her arms as she called out, “Who is it?”
“It’s Drax. You wearing those scarlet robes yet?”
“Uh, no. Not yet.”
“Then hurry up and throw them on. We don’t have all day, Princess.”
Faye scowled as she whipped the hospital gown off and replaced it with the robes. “I am not a princess,” she snapped, jerking open the door. “I’m not even close to one.”
Drax raised one white eyebrow, unfazed by the human’s glare. “You’re about as princess as it gets around here. The red looks good on you, by the way. That color never did anything for the Seeress’s complexion. All right, this way.” She moved away from the door and down to the portal cue, glancing back at the human pointedly.
Faye frowned. “The Seeress said Trorn was going to give me the tour.”
“His classes go late into the night, I made sure of it. Meanwhile, I ditched my class specifically to be your guide. My version of the tour is better anyway. Come with me, Princess.”
“Stop calling me princess.”
“Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”
Drax led Faye through the vast expanse of Mid-Realm using mainly the portal system, though she occasionally led her the long way down the halls. The half-dragon shared intimate knowledge of the Academy’s history, of how the great prince, Xasi, created the Academy at first as a sanctuary for the hunted, teaching them how to defend themselves and survive, of how the first chronicler, Chroniclus I, was the first to join the prince, taking down the histories of the worlds as they happened. She told of how the Seer and the Chronicler set up an oligarchy to govern the hunted, and how the title of Seer/Seeress and Head Chronicler had been passed down, Seer by talent, Chronicler by bloodline. She told of how the Academy eventually became a defender of the future, training those prophesied to save worlds and keeping darkness from taking hold. The Academy even went further, creating alliances with select worlds and accepting students from those worlds into the MRA’s rigorous training.
“Most of the warriors here have earned their own way into the program,” Drax explained as she and Faye stood on the turrets, watching a class of eighth-years run obstacles in the open air. “They proved themselves in a way that Mid-Realm felt their expertise could be honed and used across the dimensions instead of just being bound to one world. Others were prophesied to have great destinies, either on their world or another. ‘Chosen Ones’ have to be carefully picked though. Most can fulfill their destinies without our help or interference, others depend on us. Then there’s the apprentices, kids whose parents think can fight or have no other use for. They pay whole hoards to get their children into their school.”
“So, the apprentices pay to be here, and everyone else gets a free ride?”
“I’d hardly call it ‘free,’ but yeah. Your friend Trorn is an apprentice. He’s more competent that most, I’ll give him that much, but I know a few people who can have his head in the ground in two minutes or less.”
“Oh yeah? And what year is he?”
Drax grinned, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “He’s a third year.”
“Then I should hope years four through ten could whip him. He’s barely started.”
“Uh-huh. I’m hungry. Let’s go to the mess hall.”
The mess hall was crowded with hungry warriors, all chowing down on an impressive variety of foods. A few curious heads turned at the girl’s arrival, but one glance at the small Drax made most of them turn right back around. Drax called out to her friends, waving at them, but she didn’t drag Faye over to their table to hang out. Instead, she dutifully kept to her position as tour guide and showed Faye how to link with the cafeteria’s telepathic interface to get food.
After the mess hall came the Portal Ball fields. Drax took her to the championship field, explaining the rules of the popular campus sport.
“Portal Ball is simple enough,” Drax said, walking onto the field like a pro. “There are two teams, ten players each. The point is to get the ball into either of those holes,” she pointed to two plate-sized holes on opposite sides of the field. “The trick is the ball gets sucked up into game-controlled black holes, forcing the players to account for both the other team and for the game monitor—which is usually Railix, and he can be a wushard about the where the ball comes out.” She rubbed the back of her head and glared at the control stand where Faye assumed this “Railix” would be controlling the portals. “I’ve gotten hit in the head by him more times than I can remember. First team to thirty wins. The season opens with the last season’s champions and the ten best teachers.”
“Sounds fun,” Faye said with required interest.
“Even more fun when you consider that your boyfriend is currently on the number one Portal Ball team this season.”
“Yeah. He just has to win one more game, and he’ll be facing me in the opening match.”
“You? I thought it was champions against teachers. You said you cut class.”
“Teachers cut class. And I was only auditing. Chroniclus wanted me to audit some of the lower classes as some kind of stupid training exercise. I’m going to be teaching the element division of our training program.”
“Will I be in your class?”
“No. Seers get trained in private in a more self-defense role than our standard offensive training. Speaking of training, want to check out your boyfriend in his class?” Without giving Faye a chance to protest or agree, Drax programmed the numbers into the portal cue and dragged the other girl through.
They came out in a bare room, filled with a hundred students and one teacher. Drax guided Faye up to an observing platform where they wouldn’t distract the people below, and the girls leaned on the railing to watch. Faye spotted Trorn pretty quickly since his was the only face she knew. He was sparring in the center of the room with a blond boy his age, possibly his friend Quill he’d talked about. They seemed to be practicing some sort of martial arts, but Faye couldn’t tell if it was ninjitsu, tae-kwon-do, karate, or something else completely. Whatever it was, he looked good doing it.
“Aw, they’re not using the weapons today,” Drax whined playfully. She nudged Faye. “I was hoping you’d get to see Trorn die.”
Faye choked. “What?”
The half-dragon laughed. “Don’t worry. Death isn’t the same on Mid-Realm as it is back on Earth. You can die of sickness or old age, but not from any kind of battle wounds or violence. Our warriors are injected with a series of chips on arrival. One of those chips is the resurrection field that basically allows the warrior to get killed in battle without actually dying.”
“And how does that work?”
“A bit like the video games on your planet. The warrior experiences all the pain of his injuries and the additional pain of death. Then they’re brought back, pain-free and really wanting to stay that way.”
Faye shuddered. “That’s horrible. Why would you people put yourselves through that?”
“The pain teaches you not to repeat the mistakes that caused that pain. Dying—repeatedly—teaches you not to fear death. Because of our training methods, we’ve suffered very few true deaths on the field.”
“What do you mean, ‘true deaths’?”
Drax sighed. “The resurrection chips only wok while we’re here on Mid-Realm. If one of our warriors were to die on, say, Agril-Gael, they would really, truly, die.”
“Why?” Faye glanced at Trorn in the training room and pictured him lying dead and bloody on some horrible battlefield. “Isn’t there some way for you to get the resurrection chips working on other planets?”
“Life ends, Faye. We teach our warriors how to survive, but it’s up to them to apply it.” Drax and Faye stared solemnly at each other for a grim moment, then Drax turned away. “Let’s go. We’ve almost reached my favorite place.”
They walked silently out of the training rooms into the crimson halls. At the other end of the hall was a pair of onyx doors with ruby inlays. The right side of the door was a coordinates panel that Faye was beginning to recognize. Drax activated the codex and scanned the scrolling numbers before plugging in a set of even numbers. The doors opened. Drax glanced back at Faye and nodded for her to follow before stepping through.
Faye regarded the open doors suspiciously, both wanting and not wanting to know what other horrors this Academy held for her. Then she stepped through the doors and into the largest library she had ever been in. Considering the high-tech levels of the other rooms she’d been shown, she half-expected to see chutes racing up and down the multiple levels, or moving sidewalks crossing the vast floors. But, no. There was a tree growing through the center of the floors, bookshelves carved into its trunk and branches, yet somehow, it still grew. It grew surrounded by books, nestling books, shading books, and cradling books. It was absolutely beautiful.
“How did you get a tree to grow in here?”
“That is the Tree of Knowledge,” Chroniclus explained, coming up behind them and snapping a book closed.
Drax smiled at the elf and stepped aside respectfully. “Faye, you remember Chorinclus, Head Chronicler of Mid-Realm. Chroniclus, this is Faye Williams of Earth, America. She has been chosen as the Academy’s next Seeress.”
Chroniclus bowed to her respectfully, but his face twisted into dismay. “Vanessa, I thought you had rejected the Seeress’s offer?”
“I had. But then things changed.”
“I see.” The elf regarded her thoughtfully for a moment, then said, “You are welcome here any time, Vanessa. If you need anything, please feel free to come to me, my wife Aoife, or my second-in-command, Railix.”
“I’ll introduce you to him next,” Drax promised. “He’s working intently in the Earth sector of the Böchard. We’ll interrupt him, annoy him a bit. It’ll be great fun.”
Faye half-smiled in wry amusement at the smaller girl’s joke, then turned her attention to the elf. “I’d feel more welcome if you’d quit calling me ‘Vanessa.’ I’d much rather be called Faye.”
He inclined his head in polite acquiescence. “As you wish. Drax, don’t test Railix’s patience. He has been working for three days straight.”
“Oh good. That means he’ll be more fun than usual.” She nudged Faye and started to leave.
“Aoife will want to go over your lesson plans tonight at dinner,” the elf called.
“I’ll be there.” Drax led Faye back to the portal cue and plugged in a new set of seven numbers and walking through the emerging portal without hesitation.
Faye thought about hesitating again, then decided not to. She followed Drax through after a mere second and was confused when she found herself in another library, this one strangely reminiscent of the Library of Congress but with a wooden map of the Earth on the floor. The map was covered with medieval styled desks, complete with ink bottles and quill pens. One desk was pulled off to the side and tucked into the shadows, a man hunched over it writing furiously. He had black hair, was wearing the standard MRA uniform, and was unbelievably skinny. There was also something strange about his skin. Faye narrowed her eyes suspiciously, not taking her eyes off the man as she followed Drax closer to him.
“Still stalking your siru mwanimka?” the half-dragon asked, sidling up to the man. He completely ignored her, but it didn’t faze her in the slightest. She turned her attention Faye and nodded at the man conspiratorily. “He’s been at this as long as I’ve known him. Completed the Academy training, towering at the top of every pinnacle ever, turned down every mission or quest offered to him in favor of writing down some child’s every move.”
“First and only glimpse I caught of her was when I was ten. She looked like she was eight, but, like I said, it was a glimpse.” She threw a nasty glare at the man. “He won’t tell me who, where, what, how, or why she is. Anywho, this is Railix, our resident trallorp.”
“A trallorp is native of Trizac,” Railix said, answering both of Faye’s unasked questions of ‘could he talk’ and ‘what is a trallorp?’ He sat up and finally looked at her, his face eerily gaunt, his small eyes a piercing amber. “Trallorps are known for their high regard of knowledge, high appreciation and practice of pain, as well as superior strength and intelligence. Trallorps are not patient and have no concept of any pleasant emotions or feelings.”
“Can they read minds, or is that just a bonus with you?” Faye asked.
“I could hear your ignorance enter the room.”
Drax leaned in. “That reminds me, you might not want to mention you’re American, or that you’re even from Earth. That world is highly disregarded and will send whatever status you have or hope to have spiraling down into the negatives.”
“Why? America is awesome.”
“Americans are, as a whole, self-absorbed, fat, and lazy,” Railix snorted dismissively. “The country itself feeds that destructive mentality.”
“What about the army? They’re beast!”
He bent back over his work and began writing again. “Your military hasn’t won a war since before Vietnam. Drax, you are wasting my time. Get out and take her with you.”
“Oh, yeah,” Drax said as if she hadn’t heard him, “let me introduce you. Railix, this is Vanessa Faye Williams, the chosen—”
“I am well aware of who and what she is. Take her away.”
“Your siru mwanimka doing something interesting?”
“How old would she be now? Fifteen? Sixteen? Is she pretty?” She stuck her face close to the trallorp’s. “Is she fat?”
“Ku-hutish, she is fat!”
“Drax, get out.”
There was a bite to the trallorp’s voice that scared Faye, but Drax laughed. She did back off and take Faye’s arm, leading her away from him. She smiled at Faye, one eyebrow raised, impressed. “I rarely get that many words strung together. I think he likes you.”
“I highly doubt that. He was very rude and insulting.”
“Who, Railix? You think he’s bad, you should meet the other trallorps. He’s the nicest one around.”
“You have more of those creatures wandering around this school?”
“Nah. Railix is enough for us.” Her smile widened. “Oh, look at that, I’m hungry. Guess the tour’s over. Want to hit the mess hall for some gripulema?”
 Selarthin: meaning stunned amazement, awe.
 Selarthin: meaning culturally uneducated.
 Selarthin: meaning mysterious damsel
 Selarthin: meaning how horrible or so sorry. An expression of sympathy.
 Gaelian delicacy of lema and griearra berries wrapped in a sweet pastry.