In the middle of a garden somewhere inside a valley, there’s a young man in white robes with bands of green strapped onto his shoulders casually relaxed by a tree, gazing out at the splendor. A gentle breeze runs along his face, something that could only be considered a gift of serene peace.
And yet, he couldn’t quite bring himself to be at peace. Instead, he appeared quite distraught, adding an intermittent sigh every now and then, as if he was resigning to a certain reality far beyond this garden of his. The boy’s sharp, green eyes flitted between the azure sky with its puffy clouds, and the green cascade of the flowers, trees, and beautiful shrubs that surrounded him. None of it seemed to put him to ease, even though it has many times before.
“Today’s really the day, huh?” The boy muttered to himself, closing his eyes as if to fully accept what will happen.
In this valley, there are more than a dozen buildings that seem to form their own terraces built into the slopes. To the boy, Joran, these buildings were faraway and almost irrelevant, things that he rarely could bring himself to venture to. But today, that would change, and even moreso, permanently change.
A deep sigh escaped his lips, as he started to stand up, brushing off his robes, “I guess I’ll head over now…”
Joran took another look around him and started walking at a casual pace towards one of the terraces with a structure that looked to be white and green in shades and hues.
Beyond this valley, there was a world vaster than any little garden. In this world, there laid a Hero Realm, that Joran was a part of. The citizens of this realm were normal people, who lived rather normal lives, with one exception.
They hold incredible, innate power within them. Some could wield this power in the form of physical strength, while others would manifest it within the elements. All would agree that their one absolute law, no matter what walk of life they choose to live, would be: “The potential one holds determines their place in this world.”
Of course, Joran doesn’t necessarily care for this, although he wouldn’t argue the truth behind it. This world holds faith within this law, almost to the point of it being a part of common sense, a religion one practices. While some would argue that fate is cruel, and destiny can be twisted to become malicious, or that human calculations can’t ever determine one’s potential for their future; this world possesses such capabilities.
And that capability, is why Joran had resigned to this so called “fate”.
Walking up the stone steps up to the structure he was walking towards, now in full view before him, Joran could observe the smooth white steel and metal that was used to erect the building. He could see through the glass panes that appeared at set intervals for the different rooms they let light filter through into. And the green, somewhat transparent bands that diagonally laced the building designated this building as his Class’s, and where the rest of his class was most likely at.
And yet, Joran could care less. The only thing he felt was a tinge of bitter remorse for having to let down the one person here that mattered to him, simply because of how things worked were against how Joran wished things worked.
A tall, lean figure walked out of the building, directly heading towards Joran. Through the thick, round glasses, piercing grey eyes could be seen, along with disappointment. To this, Joran could only smile bitterly.
“Student Joran apologizes to Teacher Hando for his lack of dedication to his studies these last few years.”
With a deep bow, Joran finished his rather sincere apology, to which the man, Teacher Hando, could only sigh towards, “Even though you continually disobey my wishes, and you continually forgo your studies; I suppose I must be somewhat happy that you fulfilled your desire to do as you have wanted to do all this time. Are there any regrets towards this, I wonder?”
Without hesitation, Joran responded, “My only regret is that I have let you down.”
“Well, this much is fine I suppose,” Hando said while stroking his short white beard as he showed a faint smile.
In the end, Joran was never once a malicious person, and as one of his students, even though he failed in every single aspect as one, Hando could praise his character.
Hando made a slight gesture towards the door that he had walked out of originally, “Then, shall we make our way inside? The preparations are going to be done soon… Once you come in, there’s no going back from taking the ‘Exam’.”
Joran winced at the word “Exam”, but after coming all this way, he could only nod.
Walking through the door and inside, the interior could be considered much less cold, as the rooms seemed to almost possess a wooden design, and the floors and walls seemed even so to the touch. Such a design betrayed much of Joran’s hope for when he originally first arrived here. But none of that mattered now.
He would have to take the Exam like everyone else tomorrow.
Going to the end of the hallway they were in, they arrived at a room with about 15 other people inside; all of them wore the same white robes that Joran did. And when Joran walked in, all of them just about sneered in disdain.
“Oh? So he actually is going to try to take the Exam? And here I thought he would choose to disappear somewhere, hahahaha…” A loud voice rang out from the middle of the room, where a large, barreled person sat, his red eyes painting clear hostility towards Joran.
Before Joran could even respond, Hando stepped in front of him and spoke authoritatively, “Jeremiah, you of all people should understand the magnitude and importance of the ‘Exam’. It should be instead said, that even Joran cannot evade its importance.”
This exact exchange is what led to Joran’s respect towards Hando. Although he looked like a rather old man, with long wavy white hair, and subtle wrinkles in his face and hands; Hando possessed quite a sharp mind, and towards Joran, always defended him. To the point where Joran has spent some days considering to finally take his studies seriously.
To this, the room fell silent, but Jeremiah let out a faint scoff, “Fine, but we all know what the results will be of this. Joran, why don’t you come over here, I could give you some pointers!”
The group started snickering, as it was an open insult; however Joran simply made his way to his empty seat, almost all the way in the back of the room, by the window. Hando waited until he made it all the way before finally proceeding with the rest of today’s session.
“As all of you know, today is your final day with me, and also within the Central Districts as a Student. Although we have spent these many years together, it is important to look forward to the future and to embrace your potential, so that you can live fruitful lives!”
At this the class stood up in unison, including Joran, and spoke in unison, “We thank Teacher Hando for his teachings!”
As they sat back down, Hando gave a stern nod and continued, “Tomorrow, the ‘Exam’ will be taken place at the base of the valley, within the Pavilion. There, you will meet with your Uranaishi, and they will begin the ceremony. Likewise, a handful of other Classes will be participating in this year’s ‘Exam’, so be sure to be on your best behavior!
“Now, for today, I will end the session of Class today, and you will all prepare for tomorrow. Once again, I thank you all for your dedication and hard work. Dismissed!”
The class affirmed in unison and all left the room, until it was just Hando and Joran, alone in the room. Not that they wanted to be alone here, but that Joran had already spent his time outside plenty enough, and that he figured he should get used to this kind of environment.
In the midst of the silence, Hando finally asked the question that weighed on his mind all these years, “What do you think you’ll get?”
Joran raised an eyebrow, and muttered out his sincere belief, “If I’m lucky, a 5 of Spades, if I’m unfortunate, probably a 2 of Spades.”
Hando sucked in his breath as he stared at the youngster who muttered those words. To anyone else, that could only fill them with dread, and could only instill a sense of uselessness in them. But this kid…
He basically said it indifferently.
“Are you… Really OK with something like… a 2 of Spades?”
“That’s how it works isn’t?”
Eventually Hando took his leave and left only Joran by himself. He gazed out the window, towards the garden he was in all morning, daydreaming about his time there, rather than facing the cruel truth that he would soon be faced with.
In this world, this Exam would be the turning point of many people, from fledglings still learning how to walk, to soaring through the skies, wielding power and glory for the sake of the realm. But to Joran, it was a cruel fate. Living a carefree life could only be possible with enough work, and for him, that work wasn’t worth it to be frank. An entire lifetime spent for the sake of having the worry-free life as of now; who could say that was worth it? He would rather choose to become a wastrel and live his life at the base of society. That was the choice he made early on in his time in the Central Districts. Fame? Glory? Power? All of that was a joke to him. If it meant becoming “those kinds of people”, he would rather spit on his own dignity.
And now, this was the result.
After some time passed, Joran could hear the faint sound of footsteps approaching; and for the first time all day, Joran cracked a smile that could be seen as happy and sincere.
The door to the classroom slid open, and in the frame stood two figures. One was a bit short, while the other was taller than Joran himself. The shorter one was a slender girl, who had amber brown hair tied back into a ponytail, her sharp, yellow eyes resonated with a sort of innocent concern. The other figure was a somewhat lean boy, who had a firm, toned physique. His black hair was blown back across the top of his head, spiked at the end, and his golden eyes pierced Joran with a more knowing concern.
Joran got up from his seat and smiled warmly, “You two are pretty late aren’t you?”
The girl huffed, “You weren’t in the garden like you usually are! So it’s your fault!”
The boy next to her patted her back and chuckled a little, “Eliza, you should understand why that was so.”
Joran shrugged, “Nope, I have no idea what you’re talking about Drekor. I simply decided to show up to class for once.”
The boy, Drekor raised an eyebrow and curiously probed, “Oh? The day before the ‘Exam’ and you’ve had a change of heart? I can’t help but feel that’s bullshit?”
With a wave of his hand, Joran pressed onward, “Absolutely! Teacher Hando finally convinced me to become a good student, so here we are!”
“Uh huh… So Joran, how are you feeling about this?” Drekor asked this while the two in the doorway made their way closer to Joran and took random seats near him.
“Well, to be honest, I’ve been avoiding thinking about it. I mean what good would it do for me to think about it? I’m sitting here now, but I’ve avoided this for the last 7 years; so how could I possibly get a good Card at the Exam?”
“You know it works off of potential more than anything else, right? Besides, the Uranaishi have never even met us before, so how could they assess off of our studies?”
Joran snorted slightly, “Then why do we study in the first place?”
“Obviously to better understand the world.”
“Yet we sit in these classrooms every day, every waking moment of our time here; instead of--!” Joran started to get worked up, feeling pent up anger surging from within.
Drekor calmly responded, “You know that after tomorrow, we’re no longer going to be here. So who’s to say it’s the same once we leave?”
At this Joran lost himself and replied coldly, “That’s easy for you to say. I’ve got nowhere for me to be, even if I leave here. Why should I care about anything this world gives me? They didn’t give it to them!”
Eliza at this point shifted in her chair, clearly uncomfortable, and spoke up, “That’s the whole point, isn’t it? We find our place because of the cards. We have a place to call home because of our potential!”
Drekor nodded in agreement, but Joran was too far upset at this point, “And then what? I get put into some backwater place, where I work to the end of my days? Then what?!”
After an awkward silence, with no response from his two friends, Joran sighed, “Forget it, I’ll see you guys tomorrow,” and left the duo for his room in the facility.
Calming himself, he could feel his pulse through his forehead, understanding he’d gone slightly overboard. It’s been 8 whole years since he had come to the Central Districts, meaning it’s been over 10 years since he’s seen his parents. Even so, these emotions were as raw as if “it” had happened yesterday. Joran quickened his pace towards his room, the steady footfall echoing through the hallways. Finally he reached his door, lathered in paintings of trees and flowers, a mockery of his absolute desires.
An insult he would no longer have to see after tomorrow.
Slamming the door behind himself, he stood in front of a cubical room, that was about 10 feet wide and long. On one side was a desk that clearly has seen little to no use, and even a layer of dust over it. The bed on the other side of the room, by comparison, has been used far more. Joran flung himself towards the bed, burying his face into the sheets.
The day waned away like so, the twilight rays of the sun filtering through his shades on his window. Joran felt less angry over time, and likewise more and more remorseful. He knew he stepped out of line from earlier in the day, but there wasn’t really a way he could apologize now. The entire valley was silent from the anticipation building for the Exam tomorrow, and as it stood, there was no way he could go to the others’ Classes, even if only to say sorry.
Joran groaned, lamenting and silently waiting for the point where he’d drift off to sleep.
Why did I have to say those things…?
Why must I live my life like this…?
Resurfacing from the darkness of sleep, Joran realized first that he had woken up, before the fact that he fallen asleep. Looking askance to his somewhat dusty desk, he could see a digital clock set up, with the numbers lining up to 7:30.
A slight sigh came through his mouth without thinking about it.
Still an hour before the Exam…
Joran cared little for the schedule of Class, so naturally, he slept and ate as he pleased. This could’ve spelt bad news for him in regard to making it to the Exam. However, he got up, and with plenty of time to spare at that.
Getting up, Joran stretched a bit, letting out a slight yawn in the process. The sunlight was a dim, pure orange that slowly grew to be more yellow as time went on. He went over to open the window, to see outside.
When he first arrived, he found the view to be rather breathtaking, in comparison to the sprawling megalopolis he grew up in. The valley itself was covered in a slight mist that latched onto the ground, giving a sort of hazy glow to the sunrise’s rays of light. On this side, the garden he was in couldn’t be seen, but instead the entire other side of the valley. Here, he could see the stone slabs cut into the side of the symmetrical, gentle incline towards each terrace that held a Class as well. Another dozen or so others from the ones he could see yesterday. Joran noticed some people making their way downwards towards the base of the valley. Needless to say, they were headed for the Exam.
A sigh once again slipped from Joran, and he turned away to see the closet opened slightly. He walked over with a slightly raised eyebrow and slid open the closet to find a new set of garments.
It was sleek black pants that fitted to him perfectly, as well as a short sleeved white shirt, with a green blazer that also seemed to be tailored for him specifically. Putting them on, Joran was a little at a loss of words.
… Since when did they care enough to make something like this for me?
He shook his head to clear his thoughts and made his way out. Most everyone had already made their way towards the Pavilion at the base of the valley, but there were still some people up here. One of them being Hando.
“… Student Joran once again apologizes to Teacher Hando.”
“It’s fine. The Exam is going to start soon, let’s go.”
Hando was wearing similar attire to Joran, except his blazer had bands of green on his otherwise solid black suit. Noticeably, all the students with Joran, from the same Class, wore the same attire he did.
Descending down the steps towards the Pavilion, Joran’s heart started to flutter a bit, as if he was slowly but surely descending from his paradise in the sky to a brutal, harsh reality. He couldn’t help but start darting his eyes around, looking everywhere and anywhere to stow away the increasing nervousness.
Hando noticed this after some time and chuckled, “Heh, having some stage fright?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Hm, alright. Just know that once we’re there, there’s really no going back.”
“Yes, I understand this, don’t add so much emphasis to it, sheesh.”
“No stage fright, huh?”
The Pavilion at the base of the valley was surrounded by people right now and was a ginormous structure that sprawled across a huge span of ground, despite being only one story tall. The brown and red bark beams held up an otherwise grey, sleek metal building that was opaque for the most part; the roof slanted upwards, as if facing the sky. The main doors were gigantic, black oak doors that were swung open, and held for the people to enter freely. The Pavilion was usually a place of overall gathering within the Central Districts, whether for a large event, convention, or even crisis. Today, it was the centerpiece of attention as a handful of Classes were going to participate in the Exam.
All of the administration staff, similar to Hando, wore attires similarly, with only the varying colors of respective Classes. Likewise, the same was true of the students. There were Red, Blue, Black, Purple, and even Orange mixed in with the Green that Joran recognized as students from his class. Seeing the red and black blazers, Joran couldn’t help but dart his eyes around, scanning for his friends who seemed to be nowhere to be found.
They’re likely already inside…
Before Joran could enter, Hando collected him, along with the rest of his class, and started speaking in front of the group, “I’ve already said what I’ve wanted to say, but I do want to let you all know that the Uranaishi that is administering your exam goes by the name of ‘Uranaishi Goureau’. From here on out, you’ll be out of my jurisdiction and in the hands of Goureau, good luck!”
“Yes, Teacher Hando!” The group of students responded in a resounding unison.
After Hando nodded and walked off, the group dispersed towards the Pavilion; all but a few remained. Joran was one of them.
So was Jeremiah.
Standing there with his arms folded, his eyes sneering, detesting every fiber of the person before him, Jeremiah stopped Joran from entering and spoke, “Well, I suppose this is the last time we can really stand here as ‘one’ from that family. Could I maybe get an explanation for how the Gouriki family spawned such a pitiful thing?”
Some chuckles came from behind Jeremiah, clearly people who tried to garner favor from him. Joran could only retort coldly, no longer having to restrain himself for anyone’s sake.
“Hm, it’s strange you’re asking me about how the Gouriki family spawned you… I think that’s a conversation with your family, is it not?”
“Heh… Well, whatever. Your family died in that ‘accident’, so it would be prudent that you’d hurry up and follow them.”
“You….” At this point, Joran’s voice turned into a low growl, “You really want to say such a thing?”
“HAHAHA! Of course I do. What about you, Joran ’Gouriki’, do you dare?”
Before Joran could close the distance to lunge and get into a fist brawl, a voice resounded from within; a calm, feminine voice that seemed to almost dance through the wind like a fairy.
“All students participating must come in for the Exam right away. We are nearly about to start.”
As if launched into a dream, the two that were about to face off slowly walked away from each other and paced towards the interior of the Pavilion.
Once within, the Pavilion had a slight, amber glow to the rooms within, chambers being almost as large as the Class Terraces themselves. Windows peered out to the sky, letting light flow through as well; and the clamor within the marbled halls echoed and resonated throughout, letting the impression of a bustling city come to one’s mind.
After some time, Joran lost himself through the crowd, and eventually managed to make it to the chamber where he and his class would take their Exam. Stepping inside, away from the halls filled with people, the chamber was relatively calm. About three rows of seats were placed for his class, which was where the majority of them sat. These seats were facing a sort of stage, where velvet curtains were strung up onto the wall as décor. It was obviously the stage where they’d draw their Cards. Within the chamber, aside from him and his fellow classmates; Hando was off to the side sitting in a seat himself, along with a few others that ran the Class Terrace with him. Although he was the only teacher they’ve ever been under, they did have some other people such as a Nurse, a Dean, a Chef, and people who took care of their rooms as well as other things. There was no sign of an ‘Uranaishi Goureau’, however, so the people in the room could only bide their time.
Joran took his designated seat, which was one of the very last seats. Although potential is truly indeterminate before the Exam, most people can gauge where one sits; and so the arrangement is done literally. The finest of the group are more towards the front, where Jeremiah was.
At this point, it was only a matter of waiting for the Uranaishi to arrive. The rest of the Class trickled in and took their seats, and Joran was starting to get more and more restless, his heart now pounding, threatening to break his chest. A slight trickle of sweat slowly made its way down his back, and at this point, it wasn’t just him. The rest of the Class started to get more and more restless.
Right as soon as Hando was about to get up and see where the Uranaishi was, a sudden portal appeared on the stage, right in front of everyone’s eyes. The spatial portal came into existence, in a largely blue hue, with shades of red and purple distorting around; and after a short moment, a lone, meek figure fully covered in a magenta robe walked out, their face covered by a hood attached to the robe. A golden eye could be seen on the center of their chest, and gold bands were embroidered around the wrists and shoulders.
As soon as the robed person stepped out of the portal, it disappeared with a sort of blink sound. Afterwards, the slight hum it presented died out, and the room went fully silent, the students somewhat surprised by the sudden turn of events.
Eventually, an old, frail voice rang out from the person, a deeper voice compared to even Jeremiah, “I apologize for keeping you all waiting… These days, us Mages have been quite terrible with this, forgive me, Teacher.”
“Teacher Hando greets Uranaishi Goureau, it is quite alright.”
An old, heavy cough emanated from the Uranaishi, as he proceeded forward, “Alright then. Youngsters, you should already know what this means for you, and what the prospects of this Exam entail for you all. This young generation will rise up, and take over for old dogs such as myself, and to this extent, I sincerely hope you all get the results you were looking for today. Remember, however! That no matter the results, it is absolutely the one which you deserve.
“The potential of today has already been written by the future; ‘What Has Happened, Already Will’. As the Divination Order’s representative today for this fine group of students, I, Uranaishi Goureau, shall begin this Divination Exam!”
The class responded in somewhat dissonant unison, “We greet the Uranaishi!”
Following this, the class began to go up as they got called upon. During the Divination Exam, the only real occurrence is the drawing from the deck of cards that was now in the robed man’s hand. Each individual draws a card from the deck, and this card is the physical manifestation of their potential. Some will succeed, and rise to become great leaders, while others will become the backbone of society… As workers for the greater good.
As it went, the class obtained a handful of such characters. Jeremiah for one, obtained a Jack of Clubs, which meant he was someone that would best fit within the Megalopolis that is Terrene Metro. A numbered card would obviously mean 10 is the best; and a Jack would then naturally be a higher ranked card than 10. However, if one were to grab a Queen, it would be comparable to all of the cards before it, combined. A King would be comparable to two decks combined; and an Ace…
The same ethereal, feminine voice from before whisked through the Pavilion once more, announcing, “Drekor Idaten, Ace of Clubs.”
Everyone in Joran’s room sucked in a breath. For this to be announced beyond just the respective chambers, showed the extremely high potential that Ace holders possess… Likewise, their rarity could be considered just as extreme.
Murmurs within the chambers throughout the Pavilion could only be of praise.
“Well, an Idaten is still an Idaten.”
“I forgot that Drekor was someone of such prestige… Then why would he be friends with that trash?”
“Shush, enough of that now!”
For Joran, he could only feel joy in his heart for his friend as he murmured to himself, “Well, at least he got what he deserved fully.”
The ceremonies resumed, and the rest of Joran’s class were average, most getting numbered cards, some for the clubs, others with diamonds, and most noticeably, the majority of his class getting hearts. If potential was rated by the value of the card, then the classification of the card determined where that potential laid. A Club card meant that the holder possessed an affinity with physical abilities and powers; a Heart card meant the holder possessed Elemental affinity. A Diamond card signified an affinity with Mage abilities, and a Spade meant really a jack of all trade type card; but in reality most Spade holders would, from then on, spend their time within the Central Districts or as the backbone of society… as workers in agriculture or flat out labor.
This was why a 2 of Spades caused someone like Hando, to tremble slightly. Joran understood more than anyone else what a 2 of Spades meant…
Finally, the time came.
“Student Joran…” The Uranaishi’s voice rang out, a sonorous echo bouncing a few times, as Joran got up from his seat, and walked towards the stage.
Closing his eyes helped slightly, but for the most part Joran’s thoughts ran rampantly, his inability to contain them remaining a mostly internal battle. Joran took the steps up the stage slowly, as he could feel more sweat pouring down his back. The rest of his class had already gone into the backroom, where they would spend their afternoon getting to know some of their respective regions’ Examinees. For Joran, he didn’t really care what would happen; yet, even now, his lone resolve of living a regret free life came hurtling down towards the ground, threatening to shatter like a dream that never existed.
“Pick your card and see what life shall grant you.”
Being this close, Joran could now faintly see a short grey beard, and a bald man with deep wrinkles in his face, even his hands showed wrinkles that Joran previously thought couldn’t be so deep or exist in the first place. In the grey-green eyes that peered at Joran, there was some pity, as the Uranaishi naturally knew that Joran had to be the worst one of his class to be dead last.
A sigh escaped Joran, relieving some anxiety, and he reached his hand out to grab the card. Touching the deck felt as if he gripped light. A slight warmth, from an otherwise easily transparent deck threw Joran for a loop, but still, he felt a firm, solid card and he pulled it from the deck.
Turning it over to see it, Joran’s eyes shrunk, as his mouth fell agape as his voice cracked and stammered, “… W… What… is… this…?”
Seeing Joran’s reaction. Goureau took it as an Examinee getting a horrendous result, so his pity deepened as he asked, “Let me see the card…
A violent gasp came from Goureau, as his robes shook. Seeing the card only granted more questions within his mind, as a gulch formed between his thoughts and what he saw before him.
If an Ace card was already such an extreme case, then just what kind of existence was…?
Goureau’s voice boomed within the chamber as he steeled himself, letting out a tenor voice that sang away the disbelief that Goureau and Joran both possessed, while announcing the result to the administrators within the room still.
“Student Joran, Joker Card!”