Chapter 35

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Gong, Gong, Gong

The grandfather clock in the room chimed, sounding the alarm for Floris and Alvis to awaken from their slumber. It was a gift from Elizabeth after Floris had asked her how they would know when to wake up for their meeting with Flare. Already, he was starting to hate it and already knew why she had that evil grin on her face when he asked her about it.

Floris stared up at the ceiling with a very unamused look on his partially covered face, but slowly turned his attention to Alvis as he shot up in his bed and yelled, "WHAT THE HELL IS THAT RACKET?! MAKE IT STOP!"

Floris remained silent for several long moments, trying to find the urge to climb out of bed and leave his warm comfortable covers. Eventually, however, he got tired of hearing the gonging of the clock and threw his covers off before going to the clock and trying to turn it off. It took some tinkering, but he eventually made it turn off.

Alvis, with his hair in a mess and a face that would put any overhung drunk to shame, stared straight ahead of him with his eyes barely open and said, "We never had any of that kind of devilry in our village. What the hell even is that?"

"I believe Elizabeth referred to it as an "alarm clock"." Floris replied, far from amused with the device.

"Yeah? Well, it's gonna be a "broken alarm clock" if it does that again." Alvis said.

Floris sighed heavily and turned around to walk to his chest where he kept his belongings. He knelt down on the floor and started collecting his stuff, "Flare said to meet him at six this morning, and it's five right now. That should give us enough time to eat some breakfast and meet him and Kathrina at the east entrance." He said, grabbing his leather armor and his belts. But after not hearing a word from Alvis, he looked up to see Alvis passed out on his back again.

Floris rolled his eyes and started digging for something he could use to cover his ears. He managed for find two cotton balls and shoved them in his ears before standing back up and returning to the clock. He messed with the controls again, making the clock sound off again.


Alvis started to frantically search for something, eventually settling for his pillow, and threw it at the clock, "SHUT YER YAPPERING, I'M UP ALREADY!"

Floris stared down at the pillow for a moment, then looked up at Alvis again as he sat on the edge of his bed, and then returned to his chest. He started to put his armor on, but saw his robes folded at the bottom of the chest, making him stop for a moment to go over some stuff in his head. His armor, as comfortable as he may have been with it, was a burden from the past that he no longer had to carry with him. He had kept the armor in decent condition ever since he made it, but now, it was only a reminder of a time that has since passed on. His armor was heavy, but his robes were light and ultimately more comfortable. He looked at his armor with a blank face and with a mix of emotions running through his body. In his hands, he was holding one of the few bits of home that he had left, but its importance had more or less come to an end. Sighing quietly, he rested his armor on his bed and reached into his chest to grab his robes.

His robes were a mix of earthly dark green and brown colors that weren't far off from his old leather armor, which is what he was used to. He slipped on his robes, pulling the hood up over his head, hiding his eyes and upper face in the shadow of his hood. He then, out of habit more than anything, wrapped his scarf around his face to cover his mouth and nose. His scarf was one thing that he had no interest in parting with, however, as it was one of the few things he had left to remind him of his grandmother, Ajenna, who made the scarf for him when he was younger. And while he was leaving his old armor behind, the rest of his gear still had a use to him. He put his belts on and slipped potions and poisons into each of the holsters, snapping them shut as he continued on. Even though he didn't know what to expect from Flare for their meeting, he always prepared for the worst. He slipped four bottles of his most deadly poisons into his belt, and two of his most powerful potions.

Floris then threw his quiver over his shoulder and put about fifty arrows in it before grabbing his bow and slipping his arm through the string so it would ride on his back. He then slipped on his leather boots and gauntlets before grabbing his knives, twirling them in his fingers, and sliding them into their shieths on his hips. He then grabbed his backpack and loaded it with his basic alchemy supplies: a mortar and pestle, some reserve potions, and threw it over his shoulder.

Floris then closed his chest and stood up and watched Alvis get ready. Alvis, who had been watching Floris, seemed to have a similar idea with his armor. He held it in his hands, looking down it it blankly, before resting it on his bed and reaching into his chest for his robes. Even though he had a harder time moving on from the past, he was at least making small steps to leaving it behind him. He reached into his chest and pulled out his red hooded robes and slipped them on, keeping his hood down. He then slipped on his leather boots and gauntlets, and started preparing his gear: his backpack, his bow, and a quiver that held around fifty arrows.

Floris watched Alvis as he closed his chest and stood up to face him, and asked, "Are you ready to go?"

Alvis nodded, "Yeah, let's get something to eat."

As they walked through the halls up to the dining area, Alvis kept messing around with his robes and looking around him like he had missed or forgotten something. Floris could see him in the corner of his eye, but didn't bother to look at his friend, but kept his attention ahead of him as he asked, "What is it, Alvis?"

Alvis looked at Floris for a moment, then started messing with his robes again as he replied, "It's these robes. They're so much lighter than my armor, and it's not something that I'm used to yet. I feel like I'm walking around naked in some way."

Floris smirked under his scarf and closed his eyes as he lowered his head a little, "You'll get used to them. Just think how much more agile you'll be when it comes to making those tricky shots with your bow."

Alvis nodded, "True. I can't say that they aren't more comftorable."

"And lighter." Floris said.

The two boys continued on to the upstairs to eat their breakfast, and then made their way back down stairs to the main entrance. Once outside, the two boys were reintroduced to the strange new world that they had remained hidden from for the past few days. Neither of them had taken a step outside the building except for their meeting with Flare the previous morning. They looked at each other for a brief moment, then started down the stairs and into the busy streets below.

As they walked, the boys looked at their surroundings, taking in the new sights. They both felt a little more confident now that their initial culture shock had dissipated, but some things were still miraculous to them, especially the over abundance of food. It seemed that every place they turned there was some sort of tavern, inn, or some sort of storing area where barrels of fish, fruits, vegetables, and meats were being held, and that wasn't even counting the numerous horse drawn wagons that were moving up and down the streets, all carrying people and a huge variety of goods.

Alvis watched a coverless wagon packed completely full of livestock feed go past them, and watched it over his shoulder for a bit before looking at Floris and saying, "You know...I'm not sure if I'll ever get used to this."

Floris smiled under his mask and chuckled a little as he replied, "I'm not sure if I will, either."

Arriving at the eastern entrance of town, the two boys saw Kathrina sitting on the ground with her back against a tree trunk reading a book. She looked up at the boys, closed her book, and stood to her feet, "Good morning, boys. I hope you both slept well."

"Um...fine. But how long have you been here?" Floris asked, a little surprised to see their female companion already ahead of them.

"About twenty minutes now. I like to arrive early for things like this, just in case something unexpected happens." Kathrina answered, slinging her backpack over her shoulder and placing her book inside it.

"Have you seen Flare, yet?" Alvis asked as he skimmed the areas around them.

Kathrina shook her head, "No, but it's still a little early, give him another five minutes or so."

The boys looked at each other for a moment, then made themselves comftorable as they waited for their mentor to arrive. A few minutes passed, and footsteps could be heard approaching. The three aspiring mages turned their heads to see their mentor, Flare, approaching the meeting spot, right on time.

"You're all here, then?" Flare asked suddenly once he saw his pupils relaxing near each other under the tree.

Kathrina nodded and stood to her feet before saying, "Yes, master, we're all here."

Flare nodded, "Good. Let's not waste any time, then. Follow me."

The three young mages nodded; Floris and Alvis stood to their feet and began following Flare as he led them outside of the town. They followed the road for a distance before Flare turned and led them into the woods, which were the outskirts of a region called "Heaven's Forest". The trees that grew deeper in the forest were nicknamed "Ladders to Heaven" because the taller trees could reach above the clouds, but they were deeper in the forest. The trees that surrounded them now were tall, but not that tall.

Flare led the group to an opening in the trees, which was a large open grassy field with a small river cutting through the land at the far end. He then turned to his three pupils and crossed his arms as he started talking, "Alright, I'm not going to waste any time with you three. I want to test something very crucial that you will have to learn on your own."

"Okay. So, what are you thinking?" Alvis asked. "Are you wanting us to demonstrate our magic to you already?"

Flare shook his head, "No, nothing so advanced quite yet. You and Floris are still beginners, after all. What I want you three to do is very simple." He reached into a pocket inside his robe and pulled out two bells, "Your job is very simple, in fact. You just have to get these bells from me."

The three looked at Flare with a hint of confusion for a moment before Alvis spoke up, "Wait, what?! All we have to do is just get those bells from you?!"

Flare nodded, "Yep. It's literally that simple."

"Then what the heck are we waiting for?! Let's do it!" Alvis yelled as he started to run towards Flare. However, he was cut off by Floris as he held his arm out in front of him. "Hey, what's the big idea, Floris?! Let's get him already!"

"Don't be hastey, Alvis. It can't be that simple." Floris said, keeping his attention fixed on Flare.

Kathrina looked at Floris for a moment, then looked at Alvis, "Floris is right, Alvis. You can't rush at him and expect things to work out so simply! Don't forget that Flare is in the Elemental Guard - one of the most elite units the Mages Guild has to offer!"

Floris nodded in agreement with Kathrina, "There's more to this that he's not telling us. Think about it. There's three of us, but only two bells. Why is that?"

Alvis looked at Floris with a bit of confusion, but calmed down a bit once he saw what he was talking about. He sighed a little to calm his nerves, then took a step back and asked, " what's your plan?"

Floris looked at Alvis for a moment, and lowered his arm before looking at Flare again and asking, "What's your game, Flare?"

Flare dangled the bells out in front of him as he answered, "You're a sharp one, aren't you, Floris?" He looked at Alvis as he continued, "Lesson number one: don't be in such a hurry. I didn't say "Start" yet." He then directed his attention back to Floris and Kathrina as he continued, "Your mission is to get these bells before the noon hour. If you fail, this team will be disbanded and you will have to remain in this city until next year when a new team is formed."

Alvis, Floris, and Kathrina stared silently at Flare with a mixture of frustration and confusion in their eyes, unable to believe what they had just heard.

"Wh-what do you mean our team will be disbanded?! We've only just come together, and we can't stay in this city for a whole 'nother year!" Kathrina shouted.

Flare looked at Kathrina as he replied, "I make the rules, and you three have to follow them to the letter. If you are unable to get these bells before noon, you three will be trapped here until the next teams are formed."

"But you only have two bells!" Alvis shouted.

Flare looked at the bells for a moment, then looked at Alvis as he replied, "Oh, about that. Regardless of what happens, one of you will remain here until next year. I don't have the patience or ability to train all three of you."

"But that's totally unfair!" Kathrina shouted.

"Ah, yes. Fairness. That brings me to my next point." Flare said, looking at all three of his students, "This is to be treated as a one-hundred-percent battle simulation. You can use any weapons or spells you feel are necessary. You must come at me with the intention to kill me. If you are not able to come at me with the full intent to destroy me, you will never be able to take these bells."

The three mages looked at Flare, unsure of what to think about the whole situation, and gulped nervously as Flare tied the bells to his belt. He then looked up at his three students and raised held out his pocket watch, "On my mark....NOW!"

Without a second thought, the three mages retreated from Flare to get some distance between them, and hid in the vegetation to come up with an attack plan.

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