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Petra Titanore ran through the cobble stone streets of Milshard with her knotted dark brown hair trailing behind like a whip. A radiant smiled plastered across her face. She reached Zane’s Square, one of the four main markets in the city and scurried through the late afternoon crowds in her school uniform. Jumped over carts and mules, cars and trucks when they did not move. Up alleyways and through side streets, she worked her way towards the centre of Milshard, the High Tower.

Built on the tallest hill in the valley, High Tower was once a monastery. Over the years with the countless wars and bloodshed it had become a haven and refuge to survivors. A town grew, then a city. A safe place nestled between mountains and lakes. The monks had long since departed leaving behind their legacy – Milshard – a city ruled by the people themselves. There was no king, or ruler, but a elected council of twelve who governed the city.

High Tower was not immune to the chaos of rulers and dictators in the surrounding countries. The Guards Keep kept order in the city and protected its citizens from outside threats. Petra ran towards it, their armour in particular.

Petra flew through the arched doorway of the inner gate admits the yells of those on duty. She turned, waved, then jumped back into her earlier direction. The good news she carried could not wait.

Crossing the courtyard, Petra reached her destination and skidded to a stop just outside the darkened doorway. Her arm caught the wooden frame, and she pulled herself inside. The blazing heat of the furnaces welcomed her, along with the grumblings of the workers.

“You’re late!” bellowed a low, gruff voice. It took Petra a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. Her excitement overflowed. Petra rushed to the large dark skinned man and jumped onto his back.

“I got in! I got in!” Petra yelled to the familiar faces working away. She waved a piece of parchment in her right hand. Everyone stopped mid swing and cheered. The man gave a hearty laugh, picked up his daughter in a large bear hug. They all congratulated Petra, the dwarves, elves, fairy’s and trolls. Hands stretched out towards her, patting her back or shaking her hand.

“I don’t know why you’re acting so surprise. You’re a Titanore, noble blood.” The man replied. “Congratulations daughter.”

Petra gave her father another hug before he tossed the leather apron her way. Her father was in charge of the armoury, and leader of the Guard’s Keep. After the war, he could have found placement in any castle, or kingdom in Aihine. A warrior, a legend, a Fairy crossing into the human world to fight the dark mages. He was her hero, and Petra looked up to him in awe.

“Well, you know how awful I am at magic. It took Mistress Rysin six months to teach me how to grow a flower… and it was still pathetic.”

“Blah! Rysin is a flower fairy, you’re an earth fairy, different magic is used.” Her father explained. “It only took you three tries to embed a simple protection spell into a dagger, now didn’t it?” He gazed at her with his golden eyes and winked.

“Still, it’s Silverleaf Academy, the most famous school of magic in this realm. They don’t take just anyone… and I don’t know how they judge who gets in and who doesn’t..”

“Relax dearie, like your father said – you’re a Titanore, a noble. Your name was on their list the moment your first cry rang out.” Tiblon a dark faced dwarf with a grey-silver beard said. He came up and handed Petra her work for the rest of the afternoon. “Not to mention that the Warrior Class deals more with physical and mental strengths than magic.”

Petra nodded and took the swords from the dwarf. She heard this before, how Silverleaf Academy enrolled all royalty and nobles from all over Aihine – regardless of their skill or talents. She should be relieved, but instead Petra feared she did not earn the acceptance on her own merit.

“Poppa?” Petra asked from her workbench. She had three daggers to sharpen, two board swords to fix, and the axe from yesterday to finish. Her father’s head tilted towards her. “They say I can bring a weapon… since I’m going into the Warrior’s Class. I was wondering…”

Her father raised his hands, cutting her off, “choose any weapon you like! You know that Petra.”

She gave him an impatient look until he closed his mouth, “I want to make my own.”

“As it should be.” Tiblon shouted out with a here-here echo from the others.

Her father laughed again and embraced his daughter. “Of course you do! I’m not surprised. What did you have in mind? A sword, or hammer… though those have gone out of style lately. How about a double bladed axe?”

“I… don’t know yet.” Petra said, her head bent down over the broadsword. She like an axe, but it seemed too aggressive for her first year. “I wanted to ask if I could go up Cinder Mountain to gather some raw materials?”

The warmth in her father’s eyes faded, his body stiffened, and he moved in closer to Petra. The others nearby tense up when she mentioned the mountain to the north-east.

“There is no need to go up there, we have all the materials you need. The councillors won’t mind if you use it.”

“But something is up there! I sensed it last year when Will an-” Petra caught herself too late.

“You went up there already?” Her father boomed. Petra felt a little frightened when he crossed his arms and lowered his voice. Rig Titanore was a huge softy, warm hearted and compassionate – but he was also intimidating foe with his height and the size of his muscular arms.

“Not really.” Petra quickly said, “Just halfway up, it was a dare, and curiosity… nothing happened. Gertrude freaked out, so we came back. Honest, I didn’t go all the way, but I still sensed an amazing metal in the mountain. Why hasn’t anyone mined it yet?”

“It’s not for you to know. Cinder Mountain is dangerous and should not be disturbed.”

“You talk as if it’s haunted.”

“It is, dearie.” Tiblon said in a soft tone. Her father gave her a look to say his word was final before walking away. Everyone went back to work, but the joy and excitement had disappeared. Petra wouldn’t believe the warnings about Cinder Mountain, how could a mountain be haunted?

***

It was dusk when the forge shut down for the night. Many headed towards the nearby tavern for their after work ale while others made their way home to families and loved ones. Petra waited outside the Armoury for her father, but instead of following him home he made a left towards the Weasel’s Hole. Petra’s shoulders sagged when she realized he was still angry with her. Did she upset him that much? It was just a question, a statement even. Why was everyone so scared of Cinder Mountain?

With hands clenched in fists by her side, Petra walked home by herself. Their place wasn’t that far from High Tower, a two story building with a small back garden three blocks away. The garden had long ago died and then replaced by a mini smithy her father set up to work on side projects at home, and for Petra to practice her own blacksmith skills before working up at the Tower.

Inside, their home wasn’t that special. Petra had done what she could to keep the place in order but she had little in the way of domestic skills. Weapons, shields and horns of all kinds and makes covered their walls. Some were her father’s creations, the majority were relics and antiques. Inheritance from past Titanore family members. The kitchen sink was full of dirty dishes, and upon inspecting the ice box and cupboards realized she had nothing to eat. Petra sighed and leaned against the counter, her stomach growling in protest.

There was one wall in the house that didn’t have a single weapon mounted on it. A small corner in the living room next to the fireplace. There instead hung a photo of a human woman. She had the same olive coloured skin as Petra, the same chestnut brown hair, and amber eyes.

Petra kneeled down before the alter. “You wouldn’t be afraid of the mountain, would you mother?” She placed her acceptance letter on the small table in front of the photo. So much for the celebration, laughter and congratulations. With one phrase Petra had ruined the entire evening. Now what was she going to do?

She stared at the photo, trying to remember the early days of her mother – alive. They were few and faint, nothing more that dreams. There was more to attending Silverleaf Academy than following in her father’s footsteps. Petra had higher hopes and a different ambition. Her face became hard as rock, the sign she had decided.

Standing from the alter, Petra rushed up the wooden steps to her room and packed a bag. Tools and equipment she needed to go mining; an axe-pick, rope, metal picks of various sizes and a hammer. She threw on her worn, ragged brown cloak and bounced down the stairs. Petra paused in the kitchen once more going over the less than edible looking bread and bits of fruit. She had to eat something, and all the bakeries would be close by now.

A knock on the side kitchen door made Petra jump. She grabbed her bag to hide behind her back just as Gertrude Baker stepped in. Suspicion passed over Petra as the flower fairy placed a basket full of food on the counter.

“What are you up to?” Gertrude asked.

“Nothing… looking for something to eat.” Petra answered and moved towards the basket. Her stomach rumbled and saliva filled her mouth. She was too eager to see what the Baker family had sent over to realize her arms with her bag dropped by her side. At once the flower fairy grabbed the bag out of Petra’s hand and rummaged through it.

“You’re going off on an adventure?” Gertrude asked, a sparkle in her eyes. The two had been friends since before they could talk. The Bakers were not just neighbours and friends, but owned one of the best bakeries in Milshard. It was thanks to them that Petra and her father never went hungry.

“I’m off to Cinder Mountain!” Petra said with an excited look on her face. She popped a bun into her mouth and continued to fill the rest of the room of her bag with bread, cheese, and cookies.

“That’s forbidden.” Gertrude said in a shock whisper. Her round face went white. “They say it’s haunted by the Cinderbluff family.”

“They say a lot of things… doesn’t mean it true.” Petra said, showing now fear. “I’ve decided… so say nothing until morning, okay?”

“I won’t.” Gertrude sighed. She looked worried, Petra couldn’t blame her. The mountains to the north of them were steep and jagged, full of dangers that made Petra more determined to succeed. “You’re not going alone, are ya?”

“Who else would I bring, who else won’t go tattling to my father when I ask them?” Petra said, swinging the bag on to her shoulders. “I’m not asking you to go, I remember what happened last time. I won’t put you through that again.”

“But what about the Monk’s barrier?”

“That’s easy enough on my own.”

“You’re magic’s weak, you’ll need at least one other to open a path for you.”

“Gerty, I’m not forcing you up that mountain, you almost fainted last time.”

“I don’t care. I don’t want you to go alone, especially at night. Besides…” The chubby fairy sighed. “You’ll be gone to Silverleaf soon and all these adventures will end.”

Petra paused, she could see the loneliness building up in her friends’ face. She had been so excited about gaining acceptance she had forgotten what she was leaving behind. Not just her father and the forge… but also Gertrude. They have never spent more than a fortnight away.

“Then let’s make this one count. One last big adventure before I leave!”

“But don’t do anything reckless… or dangerous… whatever you need up there you get it and we come straight back.”

“We’ll be back by daybreak.” Petra promised, taking Gertrude’s hands in her own. “You’ll always be my friend Gertrude, not matter how far away or how long we are separated.” The sparkle came back to Gertrude’s eyes as she emptied the rest of the basket on the counter and followed Petra out the door.

Nobody gave any notice to the two as the headed for the north end of the city. Everyone had their own destination to get to, from one pub to another or home for a warm bed. It was almost pitch black when the reached the outer limits, from there it was farmland, orchards, and pastures to cross. After that, was the Monk’s Forest, and within that, the Monk’s Barriers. Remnants of ancient times, the Monks wove spells in the trees they planted around their home. A protective barrier full of magic, its intention was to keep anyone who wished them harm from passing through. It was still active to this day, living magic within the trees that will continue to cast the barrier spell as long as the they remain.

Opening a path to leave was easy for anyone – except Petra, who’s wooden and flower magic sucked big time. She had to thank Gertrude for getting them through, maybe she can make her a bracelet? They two were reaching the edge of the forest and the terrain was already turning rocky when Petra grabbed hold of Gertrude’s hand.

“What?” Gertrude asked.

“I thought I heard something.” Petra may not be good and growing flowers with magic but her other senses were on par with an elf. “Come out!” she shouted to the darken trees, a dagger in her hand. A shadow dropped in front of them.

“Talk about ruining my stealth practice.”

“William!” Gertrude shouted. “You sneak. What are you doing out here at this hour.”

“Practising my magic.” Will said in a sarcastic tone. “Master Win want’s me to master stealth magic, and won’t let me back in until I can sneak past him.”

“That’s rough.” Petra said. Will was a wizard in training to Master Win, one of the council members of Milshard. “We’re heading up to Cinder Mountain, want to join us?”

“Seriously?” William laughed, then stopped when Petra and Gertrude walked past him. “Holy crap, you’re serious. Why?”

“To make a weapon to take with me to Silverleaf.”

“You know there are metals back in the Forge for you to use.”

“It won’t be the same.” Petra said. “Besides, there was something I sensed up there and want to find.”

“Something?”

“I think it’s Kli metal.”

“You think?” Will asked. “That’s not much to go on, Cinder Mount is in Nyr territory. Do you know the chaos going on there?”

“Chaos? It’s under new leadership – again. Ashwoods, right?” Gertrude asked.

“Nyr is close to a civil revolt, it won’t be long before refugees flood Milshard.” Will explained. “Meaning its boarders are well protected.”

“Meaning… I need to act now if I want any of that metal.” Petra smirked. They reached the base of the mountain and followed what could be a trail upwards. “There should be a mine shaft entrance around here… there.”

The three huddled around the entrance of the shaft – or what remained of it. A landslide or explosion had sealed any attempts to pass through. The only sign that told them they were on the right track were the wooden beams sticking out around the sides. Will and Gertrude exchanged questionable looks. Petra saw the challenge and went to work. She raised her hands in front of her, directing them at the rock filled entrance, closed her eyes and focused on the spells required. A yellow brown light circled around her hands, then around the rocks. Petra could feel their essence in her being, knew what rocks would move and which supported the others. Through her concentration and skill with earth magic Petra managed to shuffle the rocks around – carefully. One by one rocks would lift on their own and move to the side, Petra would stack others on top, finding their balance so they would not fall back when they were inside. Minutes pass until Petra moved the final rock that blocked their way.

“This way.” Petra said, leading the group into the darkness. She flicked her hand upwards and spoke the spell for light and a glowing orb of light appeared. Both Will and Gertrude did the same, making it as bright as daylight in the old mine shaft.

“So where to now?” Will said as he poked around the few remaining artifacts. Gertrude staid silent, Petra could sense the fear in her. It was amazing she hadn’t already freaked out and ran away. There were guts within her, strength and power.

Petra lowered herself to the ground and placed her free hand on the rock surface. A brownish-green light wrapped around her palm and created an intricate design on the ground. A searching spell. The Kli metal was nearby, the spell located what it was Petra was searching for and gave them a direction.

The trio walked for what seemed like hours in the tunnels until Petra found it. Encased in a slab of silver was the Kli metal, a grey-red colour that lit up when their orbs of light passed by.

“It doesn’t look like a lot.” Gertrude said.

“No… but it’ll be enough for a dagger… or a short sword.” Petra answered as she dug out her tools chip away at the silver. The sound of metal on metal echoed around them, making both Will and Gertrude nervous.

“Do you have to make so much noise?” Will asked.

“What, are you afraid I’ll wake up a beast?”

“What beast?” Gertrude shuddered.

“Nothing Gerty, nothing lives in these tunnels.”

“You don’t know that.” Will hissed.

“Then put up a silent barrier or something, great and powerful mage.” Petra hissed back. As much as she knew and understood her friend’s worry, Petra made sure not to rush the extraction. Rock and metals were trick to mine, one false chip could cause a cave in. She put her ear to the wall multiple times, listening to the sounds of the surrounding rock before proceeding. It was slow going, but Petra obtained three hand length shards of the Kli metal.

“Can we go now?” Gertrude urged when she saw Petra put the last shard in her bag.

“Yes, we can go.” Petra assured her friend. Gertrude didn’t need to hear anything else. She quickly headed back the way they came, her sense of direction amazing both Petra and Will until they reached the opening once more.

The land before them was alight in the pre-dawn orange glow. It had taken them the entire night to navigate to the Kli metal and back out. As Gertrude headed for the Monk’s Forest, Petra replaced the rocks overtop of the mine’s entrance.

“Why are you doing that?” Will asked.

“You said Nyr will increase their patrols around the border. I don’t know much about the Ashwoods, but I don’t want anyone to know we’ve been here. Including my father.”

Will nodded and the two joined up with Gertrude at the bottom of the mountain.

“Silverleaf Academy…” Will hummed. “I bet you won’t last the first semester.”

“Jerk.” Petra scoffed. “I will be one of the best warriors’ Silverleaf has ever produced.”

“What are you going to do after that?” Gertrude said.

“Enter the human realm.”


Part 1 of 4 Prequel series of 2015 NaNoWriMo story: Silverleaf Academy –  Cinderbluff

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