Part One: Extra Credit Opportunity
The young warrior climbed down from his horse and approached the cavern with caution. He had tracked the boarlaque this far and he could feel his skin prickle with anticipation. Dropping the reins to let the horse flee if trouble arose, he drew his sword from its scabbard and took slow, careful steps toward the cave entrance.
This monster he hunted wasn't any normal boarlaque. The beasts were terrifying enough as it was, what with their curved, sharp claws strong enough to rip open the trunk of a fallen tree and teeth that could crush bone. Their shoulders stood above six feet and they attacked without mercy. The boarlaque young Allion sought, however, was far worse. Tainted with cursed, evil magic, the monster had killed all those who hunted it. But Allion was determined to succeed. Taking in one last breath of the icy mountain air, he stepped into the cave and became plunged into darkness.
"Alright class," Professor Anthar's voice called out over the silent students. "If you haven't turned in your exam, please do so now."
Jahrra fought the urge to groan and reluctantly closed her book, running her hand fondly over the intricately worked leather cover. She had finished her test twenty minutes ago and after a swift last check to make sure she had answered all the questions correctly, she'd brought the parchment up to Dathian, Anthar's assistant. The studious elf had barely noticed her as he took the paper blindly, tucking it behind the other early finishers he had started perusing through.
Jahrra hadn't been offended by her friend's obliviousness to her presence. She had been eager to return to her desk and pull out the latest volume she'd found stowed in the large book shelf back home. Well, it wasn't really her home but her guardian, Jaax's, estate above the city. She had stumbled upon the display of books one day when she had needed to speak with her dragon warden about something. It was one of the few times she had entered his private study, and when the Tanaan dragon had caught her staring at the case of manuscripts, he had given one of his rare cheerful smiles and told her she could help herself to any of the books she found there. She had wasted no time taking him up on his offer, finding one volume after the other, unable to put any of them down. The books held tales of danger, mystery, adventure and even some light romance, which Jahrra found herself enjoying but couldn't understand why Jaax would own them. Perhaps they had come as part of a set at some point in time. Regardless, she had read them with a voracious appetite, always ready to start a new book a week or less after finishing the one before it.
The novel she was reading now, The Hero's Quest, was about a young man around her age who had taken it upon himself to hunt down a cursed beast in order to protect the people in his village. She immediately liked the story because like her, Allion was an orphan with humble beginnings. Jahrra was only a few chapters in, and already the hero was about to encounter the beast. Something told her, some voice in the back of her mind, that there was more to the curse than the author was willing to tell at this point. Jahrra felt her nerves tingle with curiosity and her fingers itched to crack the book open once again, but all the tests were almost turned in and Professor Anthar was strict about reading whenever a lesson was underway or when he or Dathian was addressing the class about something.
As her teacher waited for the last of the parchments to trickle in, Jahrra distracted herself by casting her eyes around the room. She was only one of two other students who had bothered to bring a book with them.
Most of her classmates had returned to their desks after handing in their exams to stare out the window or to lean back and shut their eyes for a moment. Senton, one of Jahrra's friends from her first days attending the University in Lidien, sat just behind her. His head was thrown back and his arms were crossed loosely over his chest. He was also fast asleep with his mouth hanging open, his breath starting to catch just enough in the beginning stages of a snoring session. She fought against the smile tugging at her lips and cast her attention onto her other friend, Torrell. The Resai girl sat next to her, her eyes, which had been glazed over in abject boredom, now glared with impatience at the two students in the front row who were furiously trying to scribble in some final words on their exams.
Jahrra only shook her head and waved the small novel in front of Torrell's face. The dark-haired girl sneered at her in slight irritation.
"You wouldn't be so bored if you brought a book with you," Jahrra said smugly.
"Reading is boring," Torrell quipped.
Jahrra only shook her head in disbelief. "I don't know how anyone can think that. Maybe you're reading the wrong books."
Torrell only sniffed, holding out one hand to examine her fingernails. She sighed, clearly not wanting to discuss literature any further. "Our sparring practice is destroying my skin."
Jahrra leaned over to see what she was talking about but could find no evidence of damage. She suspected the girl just needed something to complain about, since Jahrra had put her in a bad mood by bringing up reading as a hobby one might enjoy in their free time.
Before she could comment on Torrell's lack of broken nails or unsightly calluses, their teacher spoke up again.
“Before you all leave today, I wanted to make a quick announcement. At the back of the classroom I have posted many extra credit opportunities for those of you in dire need,” Anthar proclaimed with a glint to his eye and a wave of his hand toward the corner of the room where he posted general information about the class.
Several students turned in their seats to view the wall he indicated, Jahrra included. Half a dozen or so new pieces of parchment hung with the diagrams and charts that had been there the week before.
“Torrell!” Jahrra hissed, kicking one of the legs of the other girl’s chair. Torrell, who was showing no interest in what their instructor had been saying, shot Jahrra a vicious look.
“Let’s see what Professor Anthar has posted on the way out today.”
Torrell rolled her eyes and tucked a few stray curls behind her ear. “Jahrra, you hardly need extra credit. You probably have the highest grade in the class.”
“Maybe,” Jahrra whispered back, “you on the other hand …”
She let her voice trail off and Torrell made a face at her. Jahrra turned in her chair. “How about you, Senton?”
The blond boy jerked awake from his nap and blinked bleary eyes at Jahrra. "What?" he asked.
Jahrra sighed. "Anthar has posted extra credit opportunities. Want to go check it out?"
He shrugged, his sandy hair falling into his eyes. “Sure. It doesn’t hurt to look.”
Torrell snorted and smirked. “You two do realize that any extra credit assignment would have to be done outside of class time, don't you?”
Jahrra smiled. “Yes, Torrell, I’m very much aware of that.”
As their teacher gave a few last words and wrapped up class, Jahrra tried to catch the eye of the elf sitting at the large desk in the front of the room. She stood and looped the strap of her bag over one shoulder and waved. Only then did Dathian notice she was trying to get his attention.
Dathian blinked behind his glasses and nodded once. He was busy scratching something onto a piece of parchment. He quickly finished and rolled the paper up, tying it with a string before passing it off to Professor Anthar. The centaur nodded his thanks and promptly placed the scroll into one of the saddle bags draped over his back.
Jahrra didn’t find it odd that she had a centaur for a professor. She was in Lidien, after all, one of the most diverse cities in all of Ethoes. At least, that is what Jaax had told her. She may have been skeptical at first, but after living in this city for several weeks, she was now inclined to believe it. What she found comical, however, was the fact that Anthar used saddlebags.
His students had asked him about it once and he had merely smiled and shrugged. “Why shouldn’t I use them?”
The student who had brought up the question, a tall, dark-haired Resai elf, had replied, “I don’t know. You see them on horses and people usually fill them with all kinds of things. Basically, the horse is made to carry around their master’s junk.”
The class as a whole had nodded in agreement on that one, but Professor Anthar had only shaken his head and said, “But if it is my own stuff I’m carrying around, I’m not being forced to do anything, am I?”
And that response opened up a long-winded discussion about the history of centaur rights in Ethoes. Jahrra learned that day in class that centaurs were once considered a lesser species than the different factions of elves, dragons, dwarves and other intelligent beings in Ethoes. Before the rise of the Crimson King, the tyrant monarch who resided in the east and the very person Jahrra would one day have to face, centaurs had just overcome a great hurdle keeping them from breaking free of old prejudices. Unfortunately, the tyrant's rise to power stalled their social progress and in many places, centaurs were still considered lesser beings. But not, to Jahrra's relief, in Lidien.
Jahrra shook her head and returned to the present. Dathian was finishing up whatever he needed to discuss with Anthar and Torrell and Senton were standing patiently waiting for Jahrra.
“Come on,” she said, pushing through the small crowd that had lined up for the door. “Let’s see what the extra credit is.”
Senton followed her without questions, but Torrell was another story. She dragged her feet and huffed her slight irritation. Jahrra knew it was mostly for show. When she had first met Torrell, she had thought the other girl hated her. Turned out, she was just very blunt and straight forward with her feelings. When Torrell had spotted Jahrra sparring in the park, she had challenged her to a fight. As soon as she learned that Jahrra was no pushover, she had immediately extended her friendship. The two of them had been good friends ever since.
“There are at least ten different options up here!” Senton proclaimed, waving his hand to indicate the many pieces of parchment tacked to the wall.
Unlike Torrell, Senton was much less brusque in his manner. He had befriended Jahrra the moment he saw her. He had stuck by her like an annoying, forlorn puppy. At first, she was uncomfortable with his immediate determination to be her companion, that is, until she realized that was just Senton’s personality. He was a very outgoing person and Jahrra happened to be the first person he thought had a friendly demeanor about her.
“Really? Ten choices for extra credit?” Jahrra piped, still trying to move past her straggling classmates as she stepped closer to Senton.
By the time she made it through, Dathian had joined them. The elf was taller than all of them and had long dark hair he kept tied back. Jahrra could remember back to the first day of class with Anthar, when their centaur teacher had been running late and Dathian, his assistant, had had to make excuses for him. He had been standoffish at first, keeping the students at a distance in order to execute his role as a teacher’s aide properly. It wasn’t until one of the Coalition meetings that Jahrra discovered Dathian’s true identity.
The Coalition of Ethoes kept its headquarters in Lidien. Jahrra’s guardian was its leader, and Jahrra, being the human girl the Oracles had prophesied to come and end the reign of the dreaded Crimson King in the east, had to attend many of the boring meetings. It was during one of those meetings that she found out that not only was Dathian a pure-blooded elf from Dhonoara Valley, but that he was also one of the king’s sons.
Both of them had been shocked to see each other there. Later, Jahrra found out from the elf himself that he always feared people outside the Coalition would learn about his royal family. He preferred the anonymity of being a simple scholar. Jahrra understood completely, vowing not to give away his secret to anyone and happy to include him among her close-knit group of new friends.
"Looks like they all have to do with going on walks and observing the local wildlife," Senton said rather blandly, pressing a finger to his chin.
"Let me see," Jahrra insisted, pushing her way closer to the wall.
Senton stepped out of the way with a perturbed look. He, too, thought Jahrra was a little too excited about the prospect of extra credit.
"Oh! This looks like fun!" She jabbed her finger at one of the papers tacked over an older announcement about term papers that were due several weeks ago.
Torrell narrowed her eyes and began reading out loud. "Extra Credit Opportunity Number Four," she said, "Go on a hike with some friends along one of the trails outside of Lidien and observe the wildlife you find there. You must record observations about at least three plants or animals unfamiliar to you, and write a page about your findings."
She groaned upon finishing. "A page!? Not only are you trying to encourage me to waste one of my days off by traipsing down some muddy trail, but I'm going to have to write about it later?"
Dathian smiled, his eyes glinting behind his spectacles. "It is only a page, Torrell. And it's worth twenty-five points. Trust me, you could use the credit."
Torrell crossed her arms and snorted, but Jahrra could have sworn the color rose a little on her cheeks. Trying not to laugh at her friend's expense, she took a breath and said, "Please, Torrell! We can hike on one of the trails to the north west, right along the coast and still close to the city. I bet there are some great cafes or taverns over there and I haven't really had a chance to see that side of the city. Tell you what, lunch will be on me if you guys go with me."
Senton's pale eyes brightened and he perked up. Lifting a hand, he said with a smile, "I'm in!"
Dathian gave Jahrra a perturbed look and grumbled, "I guess I'm in, too."
Jahrra winced a little. She knew Jaax had asked Dathian to keep an eye on her for him, something that oftentimes annoyed her to no end. Fortunately for her guardian, and the elf as well, she enjoyed Dathian's company.
"It's got to be better than the alternative," she muttered, and he nodded his agreement. This would give him an excuse to get out of any Coalition meetings that might be taking place that day.
That only left one person. Jahrra turned to eye her other friend. She got the impression Torrell was trying very hard to be invisible.
"You don't have to do the extra credit if you don't want to," Jahrra pointed out. "You can just come along for fun."
"Right!" Torrell breathed, "Wandering around in the woods is so much fun!"
"Oh, come on Torrell! Jahrra's buying us lunch!"
Torrell turned her dark eyes on Senton. "Is food the only thing you ever think about?"
Senton turned pink and lost a little bit of his bluster. "Not always," he grumbled.
Torrell held up her hands. "Alright, alright, I'll go. I don't want to know what else Senton thinks about in his free time."
Dathian laughed out loud and Senton gave him a poisonous look.
"Great!" Jahrra chirped, ignoring them all. "Is tomorrow good for everyone? And where should we meet?"
"How about below the clock tower at nine in the morning?" Dathian offered. "It's easy enough to find and it's closer to the northwest end of campus."
"Perfect." Jahrra waited for everyone else to agree.
By the time the four of them had finished making their plans, the classroom was empty save for Anthar. He was finishing up at his desk, gathering the last of his belongings and storing them away in his saddle bags.
"What are you four still doing here?" he asked on his way out of the small cabin.
"Jahrra was perusing the extra credit board," Dathian stated.
"Ah, very good! Have you decided on anything?"
The centaur walked them out to the point where the path met up with the main part of campus. As they walked, Jahrra told him which activity they planned on undertaking and where they were going.
"An excellent choice," he said with a smile. "This is the perfect time of year to see lots of wildlife."
The group bid their farewells in front of Essyel Hall. Dathian continued into the building with Anthar to attend a late Coalition meeting and Torrell and Senton had to go straight home that afternoon. Feeling a bit forlorn, Jahrra made her way to the campus stables where she found her semequin, Phrym, waiting eagerly for her. She fed him an apple from her bag and saddled him up. On her way home, she imagined herself as the young Allion, riding off into the mountains, seeking adventure.
Only, I hope we don't encounter anything hazardous on our mission tomorrow, she thought. Jahrra knew of the dangers that awaited her outside of Lidien, but wouldn't let that fear keep her from enjoying her time in the City of Light. Thinking of venturing beyond the city walls made her think of Jaax. Her paranoid guardian would definitely not like the idea of her stepping foot beyond the boundaries of Lidien, but there really was nowhere else Jahrra could go to see real wildlife.
We won't go far, she told herself, no more than a mile or two beyond the city. I just won't tell him everything, that's all.
With that final thought, Jahrra encouraged Phrym to pick up the pace. She needed to go home and get a pack ready for her big adventure. Along the way, she tried not to think too much about her decision to keep information from Jaax, and she convinced herself that the little knot of unease in her stomach was simply due to the fact that she was excited for this trip and not because she was feeling guilty about being secretive with her dragon guardian.
Thank you for reading the first installment of this Legend of Oescienne Short Story! Hopefully I'll have the next installment up soon. In the meantime, discover the Legend of Oescienne with the first book in the series, The Finding. The ebook is free on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo and Smashwords!