There was a teacher at the Berette’s Seer Academy in Xenda, by the name of Ms. Hannah. She was a gentle and kind lady who often wore purple blouses, grey skirts, round-rimmed glasses and a pair of bright red sandals that were the only bright contrast she had to her drab clothes. She had her brown hair bobbed and her eyes always shone whenever she demonstrated Seercraft to her young and impatient students. Yet she had never yearned for adventure, something a normal seer would do, for she was brought up in the countryside region of Eon.
Maybe that was why the Principal had sent her on a long field trip to Eon, away from the campus ground they were so familiar with. This was something ordinary teachers would have anticipated, but not for Ms Hannah, for it was her first time teaching 6th graders! Poor Ms. Hannah was the one who aspired the young souls that watched her lessons, for the very first time in their lives, flames of different colour spring from her fingers. Thus the principal had thought the trip with her students as a reward for her excellent contributions to the Academy and sent her forth.
But this story was not about this ordinary miss or whatnot, it is the story of the adventures of 3 of Ms Hannah’s students that she later came to learn of.
“Class!” The petite lady shouted, tiptoeing to project her voice further through the throng of students surrounding her. “Class!” She yelled again, this time sterner, harsher and louder; a tone that promised punishment to those that disobeyed. “Class, today, you are going to register yourselves as part of the Odd Jobs Guild where your future assignments will come from. Pay attention, for I am not going to repeat. You are to line according to your class register number and fill out this form that I will be handing to you shortly. Please do not attempt to make a fool of yourselves for there are powerful runes written on every slip, therefore the consequences that await should anyone you attempt are severe. The runes are hard to undo, so please do check before you submit.” She instructed while passing the small scroll-like slips to each and every one of her students. They had neatly filled up the forms and all of the applications had been accepted, much to her relief and now her entire class, including her, was a member of the Guild.
They were then taken for a tour around the guild building, which looked more like a tavern to them as every second passed. “There’s a canteen in the west wing, where you can have your meals. In the lobby area, there are also vendors selling various items such as herbs, runes, seals and other items necessary for your missions or tasks. Speaking of missions, there are 2 main types of missions. One is more commonly known as tasks, self-assigned and are mostly put up by others at the board over there. The other is rarer and mostly reserved for those higher-ranking; these are missions, mostly to investigate some place or something similar…” The guide continued with the basic information they would have require to start with their first task. They were then separated into groups and led to their dorms.
“Group Sierra-Umber-Jack, Miss Hannah requests to see you!” A classmate had cheerfully called out to Sierra who was walking along the east wing of the dorm building to her room. Sierra sighed and got to work unpacking her luggage. A sudden thump on her windowsill caused her to look up. It turned out to be a dark shadow with gleaming purple eyes. She strained her eyes to make out its form hidden behind the black cloak that it wore. The door creaked open behind her and Sierra threw a backwards glance. It was another boy, presumably the ‘Jack’ person that Miss Hannah had mentioned. He was fair-skinned and had ash blonde hair with dark green eyes; wearing a brown vest over a long-sleeved white shirt with brown knickerbockers. The ‘black thing’ had gotten up and was seated comfortably at the windowsill edge, watching Sierra with an amused expression. She whisked around after hearing a faint snortle coming behind her, ‘it’ was really a boy; a black-haired boy with cold purple eyes.
“You must be Sierra,” both boys uttered at the same time. The blonde proceeded to smile while the other smirked smugly, eyes cold and calculating. “I’m Umber, your teammate. Nice to meet you,” Umber got up and extended a hand to Sierra. “Yeah… and I’m Jack Russell. Nice to meet you …” Jack had trailed off, looking uncertainly from Umber to Sierra and back again. “Hello? Umm… is anyone there? Miss Hannah here…” A small voice came behind the door and the familiar face of their teacher peeked through. “So you’ve gathered and found your room. That’s good since your first task starts tomorrow,” Miss Hannah sighed in relief
Umber snapped his fingers, forming a glowing turquoise circle of aura around him. Miss Hannah stared, quite surprised. “Transportation spell, teleportation spell. Get their respective seals to obtain the privilege of using these… Am I right?” he mouthed, removing the white gloves he had been wearing to reveal the signet rings adorned on his fingers. Miss Hannah gasped at the sight of the rings. “Well, there’s a task ready for you, if you want to, you can start today. Collect the task at the counter, please.” Miss Hannah smiled for the last time before timidly exiting the room. Umber sighed, setting himself on one of the 2 beds in the room, ignoring the stuff that Sierra had put on the bed. She was a little frustrated indeed, but Sierra chose to check out the task that was awaiting them at the counter, as Miss Hannah had instructed and approached the desk clerk gingerly. “Uh… I’m here to request the task that Ms Hannah has reserved for Group Sierra-Umber-Jack. She mentioned that we could start today, so I’d like to get a look at it on behalf of my teammates. Oh, and I’m Sierra,” Sierra briefly explained to the desk clerk, a fair-skinned lad with ash grey hair who nodded and took an old and thick leather ring-bound folder from the antique-looking shelf behind the counter after punching a few keys on the computer keyboard. “Ah… this should be it. Not much of an easy task though, you’ll have to accomplish a total of 99 tasks; 5 D-class, 25 C-class, 2 B-class and 1 A-class task to each seer in the group as the requirements for this S-class mission. Materials necessary will be provided, such as your weapons so you’ll have to collect them from the lobby starting tomorrow. You’re a lucky bunch, you know. If you accomplish this mission, you might get a transfer to other guild branches all around Eon,” she had said, smiling sadly with a small hint of nostalgia in her slate grey eyes. “Eotra’s not the best place to train since only watchmakers come here. Well, it’s ‘Automaton Haven’ so it can’t be helped. Eotra is still probably one of the most undeveloped areas in Eon due to its low natural reserve of Aura…” Her eyes suddenly became clouded and downcast and she lowered her heads, allowing Sierra to catch her name. “Sierra.” Someone had called her name, causing Sierra to turn her head to see who it was. Umber was walking towards them, his hands in his pockets and his purple eyes staring straight at her. “Sierra,” this time Umber repeated it louder as if he was a young child learning a new word and smiled, ”Sierra, Ms Hannah requests we get the sleeping arrangements done by today and after that we can go around to explore the city.” The desk clerk Alcara handed Sierra a moleskine notebook and smiled. Sierra smiled back shyly before walking away towards the elevator that awaited them.
“Good luck.” She heard the timid whisper from the counter and waved back once she got into the elevator. The brass elevator was old fashioned and hummed slowly to the top floor, where they were greeted by the panoramic view of Eotra with its Victorian architecture. Sierra looked at Umber quizzically who in turn continued to smile while delicately raising an eyebrow. “We’re done with the arrangements though Jack was quite cooperative, so let’s enjoy the view for now till Jack calms down.” Umber pointed to the seat right by the window and pulled out a chair.
“So… where do I sleep?” Sierra couldn’t help but ask once they were seated. Umber’s smile faded for a moment before he replied. “Jack requested that he would very much like an individual bed. However, only two twin beds were provided upon our arrival and I have requested for another bed to be brought down. For the time being, you shall have to put up with me.” Umber’s last sentence took Sierra a few moments to process and the result left her in utter shock and disbelief. Part of her wanted to bash up Jack and the other wanted to bash up Umber. For a few moments, all she could do was to stare into Umber’s purple eyes in bright contrast to his black hair as well as clothing and fair skin while he set some cookies on a porcelain saucer before her. A distant yet loud thumping of footsteps shook Sierra out of her reverie and she turned her head just in time to see her fuming mad teammate make his way towards them.
“Jack.” Umber calmly addressed him, motioning to the empty seat in between Sierra and Umber. “What is it?” Jack growled as he sat down reluctantly. Umber’s grin only grew wider as he cast a sideways glance at Sierra. “The mission, of course. We’re here to discuss about the mission. After that you may excuse yourself to your private activities but for now, just cool down and listen. We’ve been tasked to 33 missions each, the allocation is as such: 5 D-class, 25 C-class, 3 B-class and 1 A-class missions to everyone in the group. However, not every task requires individual completion, so we might as well save time by doing the harder ones together. After the 99 missions, we get the real thing and then we’ll get transferred out. Chances are that we’ll end up in different branches as well as different class so you won’t get to see me again. Is that a deal, Jack?” Umber explained, his chin resting delicately on his right hand as he regarded Jack with those cold purple eyes of his.
“Fine.” The syllable was hissed with much annoyance but Sierra was sure her hotheaded classmate would’ve pulled punches had it not been Umber. It was pure awe on the account of how he managed to pull such a feat but it left Sierra with a sense of respect to the boy sitting right opposite her. Jack had hurriedly left, silently muttering curses under his breath. She stared at the scenery that was laid before her, the grey skies, and the clock tower that stood in the town center, the low-rise Victorian shop houses and the tall skyscrapers with buildings stacked atop each other like a mille feuille. Everything was a shade of grimy black, as if someone had accidentally smeared oil onto the entire city. The tall skyscrapers jutted out of the city line, though the Guild building was definitely not one of the tallest. Bridges connected the buildings to each other and passageways led to tunnels going to literally everywhere. Umber clearing his throat shook Sierra out of her reverie once again, only to see a cranberry cookie offered to her. Umber nodded, pushing a cup of tea that appeared out of nowhere towards her. “I’ll take you somewhere you need to know after this. Oh, and you should know, if we were to do those tasks together, the number would be reduced by half. If the total tasks we need to complete is 66, it’ll be reduced to 33 if we do them together. I hope you’ll understand,” Umber suggested, avoiding eye contact while stirring his cup of tea. Sierra took a quick bite of the cookie while pondering about his words. Almost immediately the cherry sweetness of the cranberry raisin overwhelmed her, leaving her craving for more. Umber broke into a thin smile as he sipped his tea. “Yeah… I guess.” Sierra timidly mumbled between bites of the delicious cookie. He nodded in return and both bathed in the awkward silence for a few moments. “Sierra, where are you from?” The question had caught her off guard, something he did not dismiss as her eyes became downcast and she demurred. Umber sighed, opening his mouth to quickly apologize but stopped when he heard a timid whisper. “Umm… Pumpkin Ville actually.” Umber raised an eyebrow and nodded.
“Sierra, you’re new to this region. I’ll teach you some things you should know here; the safe tunnels and streets. Mark my words when I tell you this: no place is safe except for the Guild building, your dorm room and the Library. Don’t go anywhere else unless there’s a need to such as for tasks. Don’t walk alone in the underground tunnels or even the streets, especially at night. Make sure your door has a personalized rune-lock. Understood?” Sierra looked up in surprise and shock at his words. He stood up and offered her a hand to steady herself. “The library has half a million runes protecting it, you’ll be safe there. If you know a transverse spell, try not to cast runes, use keys. Collapse any tunnels you dig, close all dimensions you transverse in. This isn’t a joke. Aura is more important you ever think it is. You know why it became like this, huh? Eotra’s history…” Umber sighed as both of them walked to the elevator that led them to a wooden door past the lobby,” is half the reason why this place resembles East End so much. You’ve read of it, haven’t you? The place is like a dark alley, or some slum if you prefer it that way. It looks nice, with those buildings and the reason why watchmakers come here is because of the freedom. The freedom to create any automaton they want since those don’t rely on Aura. Go to other places in Eon, you’ll wish you never came here in the first place. It’s twice as brutal as in the Victorian era, trust me on that. Bump into misfortune once and you’ll end up dead like those dogs in the alley. Commit crimes and soon justice will catch up with you, or else your conscience will. A moment of folly will cause to you regret for the rest of your life or have you kicking the bucket. People here are half as happy as those outside, you’ll see why later. It’s a sad place.” They were walking down one of the bridges, outside Sierra saw a lone watchmaker slogging away in his workshop, grey pigeons flying past, a figure praying in a church and a building full of people. Umber was right, so right, in a way she wanted to deny. She thought of the places in Eon, with smiles as bright as the sun and their sunny cobblestone streets with flowers everywhere. Instead of the azure skies and everlasting greenery that was supposed to greet her, she was met with grey skies and skyscrapers bundled with a hot-headed teammate. Umber’s footsteps ceased and they stopped at a junction, turning right before coming to a blocked wall. He clicked his fingers and a small key appeared. “Here,” Umber instructed, gesturing for her to place her hand on the key,” you open runes with this. Make it recognize your aura.” The bricks of the wall crumbled, revealing a passageway towards the large wooden door at the end. “Come on, we don’t have all day.” A faint chuckle was heard from Umber as he grabbed her wrist and pulled her along, her surprise at seeing the wall crumble very much amusing to him. “Welcome to the library, Sierra.” He said while opening the door and led her in. They found a comfortable spot surrounded by groves of shelves and Sierra sank into the comfort of the cushioned seats under the bookshelves that seemed to stretch on forever. Ladders were placed everywhere and Umber smiled inwardly when he saw Sierra’s eyes glow at the sight of the books. “Miss Hannah.” Sierra stared at Umber in surprise at the mention of their teacher’s name. “Have you heard of Jeckel Russell? He should be pretty famous in Pumpkin Ville and Eotra, in the other way. The famous scientist or alchemist that is with the Eotran congregation. Help me get a book on him, under the biography sector. Try the autobiographies if it doesn’t work,” Umber calmly instructed, flipping through the pages of the moleskine notebook Alcara had given her. Sierra promptly returned with said book and presented it to Umber, who simply nodded and continued. “Please don’t be surprised,” he said while flipping through the book, showing Sierra a page on his relations,” he used to conduct experiments on people before he was caught by the Council but the congregation requested for his release and he was brought to where he is now. Miss Hannah, or simply Hannah Russell, was his wife, Jack being his son. Both were his first succeeding experiments, though Miss Hannah has no memory of it but Jack has some part of it in his dreams. That’s the reason why he got mad just now.” Sierra nodded but her puzzled expression nonetheless was noticed by Umber. He pointed to the alternate page, one on his criminal record. The paragraph on Pumpkin Ville caught her eye and Sierra read on with utter disbelief. It was on the Pumpkin Ville Fair massacre that Sierra happened to survive. Dark memories were appearing in her mind and tears welled up in her eyes, dripping down messily on the pages.
Figures were appearing in her mind as her vision started turned foggy from the tears. Her head hurt, so did her heart almost suddenly. She staggered, clutching her head, Umber watching in mild concern. She stumbled and fell, Umber standing up just in time to catch her. She sobbed in his arms, tears rolling uncontrollably down her cheeks, staining his shirt. He held out the book, scanning through the paragraph. Sierra’s head rested on his shoulder, her muscles twitched uncontrollably and her tears were causing a puddle on his coat. He waited for a few uncomfortable seconds before straightening her body and pushing her shoulders backwards so that she almost stood straight against him. “Stop crying.” Her sobbing ceased and she stared blankly at Umber. “Take deep breathes to steady your breathing. Why did you cry, Sierra, please explain. I have hardly any idea as to why. Jeckel was indeed the mastermind behind assassin Alibadad. Don’t tell me…” Umber was slowly putting the pieces together, pieces of the mystery of assassin Alibadad’s death. Assassins hardly die, a ridiculous thing and a hasty demise of such the notorious assassin. Alibadad, at least before he died, was previously an assassin as well as one of the lords belonging to the Underworld in Eon. In fact, the very last one, if one were not to count Reverend John, the council head of the ever-corrupt Eotra congregation. The dirtily wealthy Arab assassin had a rotund figure, his belly protruding in the costumes he wore but his assassination techniques were hard to describe and even harder to discuss. However, he was dead and officials had the hundred percent proof of it. Jeckel, on the other hand, was a skunk of a criminal as compared to Alibadad and Rev. John’s ever-smiling figure. The scum worked like a scavenger, a timid hyena compared to the fierce and greedy lions they were. “Sierra, you survived the massacre didn’t you?” A nod between stifled sobs. Umber sat her down facing him and handed her a handkerchief. “That’s why you’re here. I see now…” She stared him, taken off guard from his words. Umber could see the fear creeping into her eyes, now blank. “Wha-“Shuffled footsteps approached them and Umber hurriedly placed a finger on her lips, telling her to keep quiet. “Oh, it’s just you two. Huh… what a waste of time!” The person whined, obviously annoyed. Once he was gone, Umber heaved a sigh of relief. “You’ve learned about Aura haven’t you? As living creatures have souls, non-living have auras. A place devoid of aura would have been already destroyed, if not an obvious illusion. There are certain special cases, such as the mortal Tartarus gates. A region can be destroyed and still have large reserves of aura enough for it to survive as an individual island, those can be found throughout the Mirage archipelago. Eotra is a region with very low reserves of that stuff, though it is not entirely without it. However, there is two sources of aura that are almost tenfold of its original aura. Unfortunately, both are external, only one is indigent to Eotra. The former is the gathering of seers, the latter is the Aurora golem of Hazard. Our mission, is to check out Castle Hazard, where the Aurora golem is said to be located. If need be, to liberate it since there are troll and kraken-troll populations residing in it. Our main objective is to wipe them out and report the rest.” Sierra nodded. Umber sat down facing her, clasping both hands over his chest whilst slumping back into his seat and showed her the very next paragraph. A thin gasp was heard from Sierra, almost inaudible as Umber’s lips twitched into a thin smile. “Wha- Why did they burn the place?” Umber’s eyes were closed but he slowly opened them, leaning back into the cushioned chair as he stared at Sierra, calculating his next move. “The rings on my hand, Sierra. They were carved from debris of the golem itself, considered the family heirloom. Eotra Congregation head Reverend John is older than he seems, craftier than he looks. He burned down Castle Hazard six years ago. You can never wipe out any human population, they are bound to come back and settle down after some time, just as you never can drive away birds; but you can destroy them, by taking away the things they love, milestones they take pride in. Only then have you truly destroyed a human; creating a monster in its place. However, you would have to live in fear of this monster. The first part was his reasoning when he made a deal towards my family to hand over the golem in exchange to a seat in the Congregate. We refused, after all, this was something that belonged to us, the people of Eotra. To us, it was an important part of history, of course we wanted to preserve it. What he wanted was to use it as a weapon to gain upper hand control of Eotra. Something…that my parents never wanted to give up. He took to burning the Castle, hoping to have them hand over the golem. Almost the entire household was killed, with the exception of a few. My parents… they were killed in the fire. They would rather have lived their lives as commoners than to give it up. We did them real good. Real good. Till now Rev. J still has not recovered his forces. The common peeps are less willing to work with him. He would’ve given up if not for Jeckel. The bastard had long joined with the Congregation since he was a nobleman’s son. The noble himself was killed in the fire too but due to lack of forces they had to find reasons for the public to accept him. He was a scientist, constantly seeking out avenues to test out his alchemistic theories. Your mother… wasn’t she one of the experiments? They lacked manpower but they make up for that in terms of power. He had divorced his wife and left his children once he heard of the scheme. In her grief, his wife, Miss Hannah suffered amnesia, causing her to lose part of her memory. “Sierra stared at him, dumbfounded in shock as her mind went blank. His eyes bore into her expectantly. It took a few seconds for her to gather her wits, but this time she knew the exact words to say. “Umber… forest fires destroy the place, but seeds are released afterwards. Everything will be fine in the end, but if it isn’t, it’s not the end. Not just yet. Everyone suffers, yet the thing that brings people together are sometimes the laughter, sometimes the scars. Scars that each of us bear. No pain no gain huh? It isn’t fun if you never get hurt.” Umber smiled, standing up and handing her the notebook, surprise eminent in those cold purple eyes of his “It’s getting late, so we need to get back before dinner.” He smirked and grabbed her by the wrist, dragging her out of the library back to the dorm.
“We’ll start out with setting the rune-locks first. I expect that you would’ve read of casting runes, after having dinner I’ll have you start out on weapons. Some tasks have due dates, or even specific dates for them. We’ll have to sort those out and complete the higher ranking and easier. For now, we must be going for dinner. “Sierra found herself staring into his eyes once more; through the enigmatic swirling purple ocean that swallowed her whole. Almost at once she knew in her bones that he was dangerous, very strong. Still she found herself stuck to him; fate must’ve been very cruel or fond of practical jokes. She saw both cold and kindness in his ways, not radiating through his skin but… the way was just so Umber. Oh, great, she thought. His words were like commands in some way or another, but she never saw him smile; he was so cold, yet an odd warmth radiated from within. All logic failed against him, Umber was an enigma himself; one she had no power to figure out. Perhaps all she needed was a break, a daydream, a hot bath or even a power nap from this monster before her. They trudged to the elevator that took them to the canteen where the others had long sat in the same silence. He paid no heed to Sierra, who was repeated looking at the ground. Yet she could feel his eyes boring into her, searching her face and scorching into her skull. “We’re here…” He stopped before the canteen door, opening it for her and motioning for her to step in. She forced a smile before walking away from Umber. As she passed him she caught sight disappointment in his eyes and inner guilt pierced her heart. Then he caught her arm and walked her to a table. Both of them sat down; Umber leaving shortly afterwards to get their food. Sierra turned and spotted the other girls, most with memorabilia in their hands and chatting among themselves, she had to clench her fist to prevent tears from rolling down. She suddenly felt so alone, she wanted to curl up and cry or even sleep everything away. Then Sierra felt a hand running through her hair and a bowl of mushroom soup was presented before her. She looked up but found her eyes covered by the same pair of hands. The person smelled like strawberries, oddly.
“Sierra, I’m back. We have mushroom soup, fried rice and cranberry pie for dinner. There’s an additional soya bean milk for each of us. Now, guess, who am I?” The voice had calmly instructed and she could smell the strawberries and the pie that caused her to salivate. “Umber…” The hands were removed, revealing Umber smiling at her. Sierra stared at the food and mouthed a thank you to him. He handed her a slip of paper and clasped it between her fingers with instructions to let her aura flow through the paper. Three symbols appeared on the paper: a flame, a lightning bolt and a teardrop. “You’re a natural tri-element seer, huh. That’s good, but it’s up to you if you want to combine any of the two to create something unique to you. Looks like we’ll have to make an early trip to the weaponry tonight. Butler doesn’t like it when he has unexpected guests though.” Umber said between sips of the mushroom soup. “Butler?” The question slipped Sierra’s mind as she stared at him quizzically.