A Crow's Dream of Clear Skies Chapter 2
A Crow’s Dream of Clear Skies -- Chapter 2
[Jasper’s Quarter’s, Pre-Dawn, Thirteen Years Old]
Jasper awoke, anticipating his first day. His internal clock had grown keen to the minute, allowing him to plan his sleep cycles at will.
He watched a haze of red flow over the horizon as he stretched his arms.
With due haste, Jasper erected from the sheets and moved to the armoire to dress himself. He pulled out a white band collared dress shirt.
Eloquently, he slipped it over his slender bare chest leaving it unbuttoned a third of the way, exposing a length of skin – a habit left over from his previous life. Jasper then reached back in for a pair of espresso trousers that he put on, one leg at a time – as any man.
Who could it be this early?
“Master Crowley, your mother has something for you.” Mrs. Fauna sounded from behind the door.
“Very well, you may enter.”
She walked in bearing a lavender waistcoat and matching ribbon.
“Martha sends her best regards on your entrance test.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Fauna for delivering this.”
Jasper graciously accepted the waistcoat and buttoned it over his dress shirt then retrieved the ribbon from her.
He walked over to his vanity and grabbed the wooden brush that bore faint teeth marks, brushing his long raggedy fiery red bedhead into neat locks. When Jasper was satisfied with the condition, he used the lavender ribbon to tie up his hair into a single high pony tail that still managed to reach his lower back.
“Would you like me to have the footman prepare the carriage for your trip into the city or will you be taking Tucker?”
“Tucker, as planned. Is the requested breakfast prepared?”
“Yes, Blu-Butt has a plate of scrambled firebird and singe-berry tarts at the ready for you.”
Jasper took one last look in the mirror, tugging on his open collar, then walked out the door and downstairs to the kitchen.
Blu-Butt sat on a stool in the back of the kitchen by the Dutch oven with smoking pipe in hand, watching the bread bake. He’d let out a puff, snort, then rest his snout on the pipe.
Jasper grabbed the silver fork from beside the porcelain dish and dug into the eggs, trading every couple of bites with some of the tart.
The pig-headed chef eyed him from over the shoulder and smiled as Jasper cleared his final bite of tart, “Good luck, Master Crowley.”
“Thanks’ Blu-Butt.” Jasper waived himself off.
[Crowley Stables, Five Minutes Later]
“Tucker, ready for a ride?” The smell of hay and fertilizer filtered into his nose.
“Caw! Caw!” A reptilian chatter responded cheerfully.
It came leaping down from the second story loft, picking up a cloud of hay, and presented itself gleefully.
A green beast that stood five feet at the withers with six legs. Two pairs of legs in the front and one pair of muscly ones for high jumping and speed. It had scales like tea saucers – harder and lighter than steel. As if to match the legs, it had six reptilian eyes – three on either side of its slender and elongated head.
Miraculously, this year-old creature was already at eighty percent maturity.
Its jaw gaped open, showing its rows of razor sharp teeth built for ripping through flesh and bone.
“No.” A distasteful, but calm look crossed Jasper’s face.
A long tongue rolled out of the creature’s mouth.
“Don’t do it.” He cringed.
It forced Jasper on the ground, licking his face – producing a thick layer of saliva.
Jasper reached behind his eyes and ears for the cluster of horns grabbed hold, steering him off.
“Tucker. I told you, ya’ have to stop this.” He wiped the saliva fro’, grabbing a towel off a nearby rack that was kept solely for this purpose.
Meet Tucker, a Vahl’Drac’ian and the last of his kind at that.
Shortly after Jonathan passed, Jasper was willed half of his indemnity.
Initially, He had intended to save this for later investment but one day he came across a peculiar specimen in the market. An ornate gold egg with green winding patterns.
In his previous life, he read a book that told of a loyal steed that rode faster than the very winds and could be trusted as a hunting companion. So, he inquired to the vender and he said the man who traded it to him, swore it was no more than an ornate egg hoarded in a six legged dragons treasure heap – he recommended it’d be a good decoration or knickknack.
His words lined up with the text, so he paid the man’s price – a fortune, but he indeed paid it.
Peering into Tucker’s glistening cantaloupe colored eyes, he knew he put his money to appropriate use – no, one might say he made a sound investment in a companion.
It was definitely a sight to behold when Martha caught wind that he’d spent his inheritance on a golden egg. She was furious, to be frank.
Jasper stroked the unscaled course hide of Tucker’s chest. “Time to go?”
Jasper grabbed a specially made saddle from the stable wall and strapped it on him. Tucker graciously kneeling to make the process an effortless cinch. The saddle was made with a good grip since reigns were not necessary – Tucker being much smarter than your average steed or even companion for that matter.
A Vahl’Drac’ian can understand complex conversation and accept multi-tiered tasks if needed. And above all, they are exuberant creatures, and can even be loyal to a fault.
“All good.” Jasper tugged on the saddle to make sure it was tot.
Tucker lifted a talon for a foot hold and Jasper hopped on. They trotted out of the stable and set course for the academy grounds.
Tucker leisurely galloped down the countryside.
“Hey Crowley, what’s this abomination you have with you?” Shen Fei shouted from the saddle of his family's prized vibrant gold skinned Palomino horse. So prized that the monetary offers have reached one million star currency.
Great, now I must deal with this pest.
He slowed to Shen Fei’s pace. He wore eastern garments with his black hair tied in a bun using a Kanzashi.
“This is my new companion, Tucker. If you insist.” Jasper made a forced smile. “Who’s your companion?”
Shen Fei rode the horse on a crimson silk draped saddle tapered in gold, leading with red leather reins.
“Who? It’s a horse. Why would I name it?” A snobby attitude stuck in his voice.
“Caw! Caw!” Tucker turned to the Palomino.
“Neigh!” It briefly responded shaking its head with a few jerks.
“What’s this? Make your beast stop.” Shen Fei began to agitate.
“Caw?” The Vahl’Drac’ian turned his long neck to face Jasper eye to eye, cocking his head.
“Yeah, that’s enough, bud.”
“Caw.” He lowered his head.
“So, you actually gonna try your hand at the entrance test? At your age? I mean, I’m assured with my family’s history of strong warriors and mages.”
The entrance ceremony is open to all who are willing to take it, though in practice the recommended age is fifteen. Usually, an individual won’t start showing an affinity for the arts till late in their fourteenth year and it’s only by the fifteenth that it is measurable. Yet, they still do not prevent younger individuals from attempting as the occasional prodigy does appear.
“I feel confident enough.” Jasper recounted the past years he spent training spiritually and physically to cultivate himself to where he is now.
“The low-caste feels cocky?”
Shen Fei’s words provoked him.
Shen Fei boasts his superiority as he hails from the Carnitine Family whom are both financially and politically insurmountable – for now.
“Cocky? You want cocky? How about a race?”
“I’ll have you know this horse is the fastest steed in Stardew! The Golden Palomino is the fastest and most reliable- neigh, the most esteemed steed in all the land.”
“Care to wager?” I deviant grin plastered itself across his mug.
Shen Fei paused in thought for a second looking at Tucker’s build, as if to reconsider.
Silver coins – part of the Stardew currency. ‘Star Currency’ is divided into coin and card. There are three coins’: copper, silver, and gold. Copper is base, 1. Silver is 100. Gold is 1,000. To put it into perspective, eating at a standard establishment would cost about 14 Stars on average.
“Pfft. Pocket change. I could raise it to one gold if you’re not too chicken.”
I only have a silver, but if I don’t lose he’ll never know.
“I’m game. First to the Nine Gates Academy Stables?”
“Hyaa!” He mushed his horse without warning.
Cheating right off the start?
Shen Fei galloped down the road heading for the five-meter limestone city walls; all the while creating a sizable distance between the two.
“Ea-sy Tucker.” Jasper laid down into the specially made saddle, placing his legs on the custom shin rests and hands on the textured grips. As he stretched his neck and readied his next words, his heart began to race. “Alright- Let loose.”
Like a bat out of hell, Tucker pushed off the dirt path with his bulging hind legs, propelling them like cannons. With each stride, they covered twelve meters. With each instant, his pace grew from one to two strides a second.
Before Shen Fei could realize, his opponents matched pace with ease – Jasper taking a moment to wave boastingly.
“Hyaa! HYAA!” Shen Fei whipped the reins with disdain slowly gaining ground.
They reached the outer gate, completely bypassing the guards.
“Hey! Kids! You can’t-” Their demands were quickly drowned out by sheer distance as they bolted through the multi-racial city streets. Both in skin tone and other natures.
Jasper might have been Caucasian, but he was second to the majority – easterners, followed by fair skins, then a verity of dark tones.
Although Stardew was primarily a human city, it didn’t lack its share of other races. Halflings, gnomes, and the occasional slightly pointed ear. But what truly stood out were the handful of warriors and mages walking the streets. Although they were once human, they no longer looked it.
Since the human spirit and body can only process so much mana, mankind formed the practice of [Demon Spirit Fusion]. It allows the user to take in the spirit of any one demon of equal rank and grow with it.
The reason these users stand out so is the [Demon Spirit] fuses with their physical form. Some boasted horns, scales, fur, some even wings; the effect varies from user to user, spirit to spirit. If the bond persists, so does the appearance.
Pedestrians jumped to the sides left and right. “Watch it!”
Jasper thought through his options. The crowd was slowing him down too much and their headed straight for the market square. Nine Gates is on the other side, on the plateau.
“Caw!” He reflexively leapt high over a fruit stand and unto a nearby building knocking a few of the turquoise shingles off, and continuing the stretch from rooftop to rooftop with ease.
His strides traversed from building to building like it was natural. As it should seem, since Vahl’Drac’ian’s are native to a jungle were small land masses frequently float about creating a three-dimensional hunting ground. This ability to jump from mass to mass with ease was essential to their survival.
Jasper continued to eye Shen Fei in the streets below forcing pedestrians to clear a path.
He’s keeping a good pace considering the circumstances. None the matter.
Jasper tapped his foot against tucker’s armored scales with a click, clack – signaling him to through the same alley as Shen Fei.
Tucker leapt for the shear faced wall, grabbing hold of the brick and mortar with his four front legs, then pulled his hind legs in to jump from the wall to its parallel. Back and forth he did this with great speed and precision – like a lemur through the rainforest – flinging a few bricks down towards Shen Fei in the process.
The jarring motion was starting to wear on Jasper – back and forth, back and forth.
A clearing in sight – the Nine Gates Academy Entrance boasted a large area before the main gate where streets and alleyways intersected.
Shen Fei was the first to break out of the long alley, past a mound of debris, and gunning for the gate.
With one last jump, Tucker ran out of room – his four front feet lay at the edge of the alley wall.
“Caw!” He pulled his muscled hind legs past his fore shoulders and placed it on the vertical ledge, using it to vault far over Shen Fei and his Palomino.
The path was clear and they took it – zooming through the school yard, over the lush green pasture, and right to the stable doors – wooden and hand carved, marvelous pillars and beams.
“Woah, Tucker.” He patted his neck, slowing him down.
They came to a crawl, admiring the other [Magical Creatures] being held in the gates.
A brown feathered griffon was in the stall to the right. A majestic unicorn laid on the left. There was even a Ehecatl coiled around one of the pillars. A long-feathered serpent, gentle and stoic.
SHINK! The sound of a drawn sword shifted turned the heads of Jasper and all the [Magical Creatures].
He turned to a young woman wearing a white kimono and red hikama – both traditional wear of an eastern shrine maiden.
What’s going on here? Oh, she’s kind of cute. Not a bad Katana too.
Jasper looked to her slender figure, immature bust, and soft autumn eyes framed by long black silk locks.
“What are you thinking bringing a [Ragnarok] here!?” She bellowed, piercing through his daydreams.
“Caw?” Tucker let out whimper.
“That beast!” She pointed exuberantly.
A common mistake to those not knowledgeable in magical species. Even if she was, I doubt a Vahl’Drac’ian would be in the books…
There are two types of [Demon Beasts] in [Yggdrasil] – [Ragnarok] and [Magical Creatures]. [Ragnarok] are children of the apocalypse and extremely dangerous. [Magical Creatures] are potential companions in the war against such a foe.
The reason this shrine maiden hast forsaken Tucker is most likely due to his scaled exterior. Tucker is one of very few [Magical Creatures] to exhibit such a feature. On the other hand, it is common place for [Ragnarok] – for instance: Dragolisks, Wyverns, and Knuckers.
Jasper calmed himself, keeping a close eye on the maiden. “Stay your, sword if you would. Tucker here is a Vahl’Drac’ian. Last of his kind, and he is a [Magical Creature], not a [Ragnarok].”
“How can I trust you? What if you’re a shapeshifter?” The naivety reigned in her voice.
“Of all people, a shrine maiden should now that the acclaimed Nine Gates Academy is protected by a seventh heavenly seal, yes?”
“Good heavens, even a dragon would have to scrape and claw to some extent before breaking the seal. How could a mere shapeshifter get by?”
“Th-that does sound about right… Okay, I believe you.” She sheathed the blade of her red-stained, wooden-handled katana.
With the blade out of the picture, Jasper slid off the saddle and rubbed the bridge of Tucker’s nose.
“Good race, Partner.”
A pessimistic look crossed the shrine maidens face, “To think I thought I’d studied every [Magical Creature] out there.” Sudden vigor filled her eyes as she turned to Jasper. “Do you know of any more species?”
“Huh? Oh. Well, yeah, but-”
“CROWLEY!” Shen Fei erupted into the stables, pissed.
“Ready to pay up?” he sneered, joyously.
“Tchh. Here. Deals a deal.” He tossed a gold coin to Jasper then tended to his Palomino, putting him in an open stall.
Catching the coin in the ball of his fist, Jasper turned back to the girl, “My name’s Jasper Crowley. It’s a pleasure to meet the ineffable shrine goddess of Nine Gates – Ms. Kanzaki Aoi, am I right?”
“Oh? So you're one of those. I hope you fail your test.” She retorted, raising her chin and walking out the back door of the stables. Hikama flowing in her wake.
Tucker turned to Jasper with soft eye’s, cocking his head – what was that about?
“A snob, just like last time. Extorting others for her own means.” He shook his foot as he felt a lick of electricity flow through it.
“Cooh.” He extended his head downwards.
“Alright Bud, I’ve gotta get to the testing. I'll be back in the afternoon.”
[Nine Gates, Just Outside the Ceremonial Testing Hall]
The overbearing metal gates towered above the group of 14 and 15 year olds from varying nationalities. It was engraved with the Stardew’s birth story. Of how forefather Yun’nie’tie discovered The Valley, bringing our ancestors to lay its foundations. One peculiar thing to mention is the rings of doors – nine layers to be exact; The nine gates of Nine Gates Academy.
Click, click. The fuchsia haired instructor walked in front of the door, dressed in a flowery lavender kimono. It was apparent that the twenty something year old teacher was a mage – boasting a pair of plain wooden like antlers from her head. Her arms were crossed inside her long dropping kimono sleeves, as if to conceal something.
“My name is Instructor Xia Yuning. I will now lead you into the testing hall to begin. One through the door at a time if you please. I’ll go first.” Turning to the door, she unveiled violet scaled arms with white talons, and she pushed on the massive slabs of iron.
Purple aura flowed from her scaled hands branching out to cover five of the nine gates in a flash.
Exponentially getting heavier as the number of doors increases, you could feel the sheer power behind Xia Yuning as dusty air filtered into the crowd and she stepped to the other side – doors shutting in her stead.
“What just happened?” Shen Fei’s voice emerged from the other side of the crowd.
While everyone was confused Jasper was distraught having forgotten of this test.
How will I conceal my soul force that I've built this far? I’m already six times stronger from my rigorous training. The instructors will know. Can I conceal it? Should I?
“Enough of this…I'm first!” A cheerful gnome girl followed from the crowd and pushed on the doors, forcing three to open and then skipped on to the other side.
Confusion turned to uproar as individuals left and right jumped at the chance, thinking it was that easy.
An hour went past and the majority opened but one. The occasional opened two. Yet, none the same as the gnome. Though some ended with none, returning home empty handed.
Only a handful was left. Jasper, Shen Fei, and four others.
“What’s the hold up, Crowley?” He prodded.
“Why ask me that when you’re still here?”
“Gotta save the best for last, right?” He sneered. “So, you chicken or something, Crowley?”
“Not at all.” Jasper let out a heavy exhale.
“It’s a shame that your daddy couldn't be here to see how big of a failure you are.”
Jasper's blood boiled in his veins.
I forgot how much of an ass you are.
“You want me to go?!” Fine! I’ll go!” Jasper turned to the towards the door shoving a guy out of the way that was about to try his luck and slammed his hands against the door.
He pushed his soul into the door like a torrent of his rage.
Just like that, it opened like a pissed of kid throwing a door. Except this door was ten meters tall, a meter thick and made of iron.
Jasper was the only to open the door with such force and on top of that, so far. Most of the other kids could only manage enough to get through the door. Yet, Jasper slammed these gates wide open.
He turned around to jeer at Shen Fei only to receive a look of anguish – he was appalled at his strength.
“E-eight?!” Instructors and students alike erupted in disbelief.
I should have probably laid low… too late now.
As Jasper walked into the crowd he gave a devilish grin over his shoulder, then continued into the vast hall of pillars set up with individual tables. One for every potential student.
Soon Shen Fei emerged with four and an utterly defeated expression.
“Wow Shen Fei!” One of the other students approached him – a halfling dude – trying to cheer him up.
They were avoiding Jasper. Though he couldn't tell if it was due to status, respect, or simply fear at the time.
Phase two would soon begin.
Kanzashi -- Commonly and Incorrectly referred to as a ‘hair chop stick’
Ehecatl -- Pronounced e-e-kat and derived from Mayan mythology.
Kimono -- Japanese floor length robe worn with an Obi (tied sash) – for my non Weeb/Otaku readers
Hikama -- A shrine maidens garment that looks like a floor length skirt tied below the bust (Breast)