Khailin woke up before day break from the nightmare that she could tell every other girl inside the room was having. She slowly sat up and swung her delicate legs over the edge of the futon and stood up rubbing her eyes with closed fists. She walked towards the window of her tower and looked out onto the misty hills around her. The stars glistened in her shimmering brown eyes and for one moment, she allowed herself to feel like a princess, just to calm her nerves.
"Khailin?" A mousey voice whispered in the dark of the room, and amongst the many small bodies sleeping on the floor, the smallest body of all sat up, unfurling like a lotus.
"Khay, did you have a nightmare too?" Even though it was pitch black, Khailin could sense that Khay nodded as she stood up and made her way towards the window too. As she reached Khailin, the two girls became bathed in the silver moonlight like glimmering spectres. The twins looked almost identical at that moment, and they both held hands, waiting for the beautiful sunrise that awaited them on this most horrible day.
One by one the other twelve year old girls in the dorm woke up, and started chatting with nervous talk about almost nothing at all. There were about thirty twelve year old girls crammed into the tower, and in their uniform nightgowns, they all looked like one large family, all with various shades of brown and auburn hair. None of the girls really knew what to say that morning, so as they sat and prepared each other's hair for school, they completely avoided any mention of the Reaping at all.
They all dressed in their grey and blue robes, with their pig tails plaited down to their shoulders and waited with a tense excitement, this was their first reaping, and while they all dreaded this day, there was a buzz in the atmosphere. Each with their name in the pool twelve times, the young ones were rarely picked, but it did happen, and they were all aware of it but found it hard to remember that fact.
As the bell sounded, they walked down in two neat lines to the dewy lawn outside their castle. The corridors they walked through were ringing with whispers and the grey stone echoed all the curiosities as to who may be chosen this year. The large paintings watched the girls walk down towards to front lawn and gave them courteous bows and wished them all the best of luck for the Reaping.
Hillson Evergreen School of Divine Magical Arts was one of the oldest schools in all the territories and were very proud of that fact, yet they kept themselves to themselves, with unknowing arrogance and were often forgotten about by the other territories. The school was founded by Hillson Evergreen, one of the most talented Diviners in early modern history, and the curriculum here focused on Divination and the quiet intelligence of such a misjudged art.
The students were quiet also, their intelligence was modest and they had this sense of aloofness to the other territories which came across as if they thought themselves privately superior. The school liked to have it's secrets, for they knew that not many wizards and witches truly understood the skill of diving the future. Previous victors from Hillson Evergreen were in an average abundance, the territory was spectacularly average, and they were pleased to fade into the background, just as their hills faded into the mist.
Khailin and Khay were just as average as everyone else. They blurred into the crowd of other girls from their year. They all looked the same in their uniformed robes with their uniformed hair styles and their uniformed vacant eyes. The two lines of twelve year old girls were led by their matron, Professor Olivieri, a strikingly beautiful witch with a serene ghostly quality. She was marked out in this school because of her dark skin and pale eyes, but she was the greatest living seer in the whole of Diesirae.
Khailin watched the back of Olivieri wondering whether she had seen who the tributes were going to be this year. One thing was certain when it came to the Reaping at Hillson Evergreen, there would be no volunteers. It was an unspoken law here, nobody shall take the place of another, it was Fate that had decided and it was a cardinal sin to go against her choice. It was also rumored that Professor Olivieri knew each year who the tributes would be for she had a personal connection to Fate herself. She never explicitly told the children this, but it was always assumed.
Khay turned to look at Khailin with wide orb like eyes. Her stomach was twisting uncomfortably inside her. Khailin tried to look back with a comforting gaze but instead felt the force of fear upon her. For their whole lives, the twins had shared an empathy, they could almost feel each others emotions as if it were their own, and right now, Khailin was experiencing the writhing motion of Khay's stomach. Together, they held hands as the lines finally reach the lawn, ready for the Reaping.
As they walked out into the bitter and misty air, Khay noticed their father stood amongst the crowd of other parents and their children, bidding their love and support for whatever Fate may decide. The girls then rushed to their dad, smiling in a way they hadn't smile for a while. He bent down on one knee and swooped them both up into his large and muscled arms. They were dwarfed even more by his size.
"My beautiful girls, it has been too long. I hope you have been enjoying school." The girls nodded. "We don't have long, but no that your mother and I truly love you, and may Fate be generous with her decision." He squeezed them tighter as their eyes started to well up, they kept quiet though, in fear that they would both cry. Khay especially. "Now go line up before you get reprimanded, and don't worry, your names are only in there twelve times, I have faith.' He kissed their foreheads and then watched with a faded smile as they both walked towards their year and lined up neatly for the Reaping.
The field was separated into the seven year groups, two lines of boys and two lines of girls each. It was an orderly affair, and the students were well rehearsed in knowing their place. Everything had a place, and even the first years understood this. Master Yerwood of Toningwah from The Academy stepped onto a wooden stage, and the whole field went silent, even the birds stopped singing. He was a short and slight man, with a long ponytail of white running down the back of his charcoal robes. He had a withered face that exuded a quality of knowledge, he was a renowned wise man. He looked out towards the field with caring eyes, and slowly spoke in a gentle voice.
"Years ago, before the territories were untied, there was the fifty year war that killed many of your ancestors and kin, completely unneccessarily. The scholars of The Academy could see the bright future of a new land, Diesirae which required the unyielding support of every territory. Unfortunately there were many rebels who wanted independence, which would have meant disaster. These rebels were from the lands which you now inhabit, and their blood is in your blood." Khailin listened intently, mesmerized by his voice.
"Now, to repent for the sins of your forefathers, and to remind you of the disaster that the rebels nearly enforced upon you, The Academy instigated The Wizarding Trials, a way for you to remember the past of your territories and instill the importance that any rebellion against a united nation is not a good idea. The victor of The Wizarding Trials represents all that is good within The United Territories of Diesirae. They become the symbol of a strong and bright future ahead of us."
"Khailin, I'm scared." Khailin turned to her sister, whose voice barely scratched a whisper, how she had heard it she didn't know, but she softened her look of shock and held her sisters hand once again.
"I know, me too." She had missed the last words of the speech, but she knew just how much of a nightmare those words were to her sister, she felt it too. Instead they closed their eyes and imagined a world without The Wizarding Trials until Yerwood's voice broke their barrier with a stronger tone than he spoken with before.
"Now, the Reaping will begin, may Fate be generous with her choice." Khailin opened her eyes immediately to watch Yerwood pull out a long, elegant and spindly wand, he gave it the tiniest flick which bought towards him a large bowl which shimmered with the white and silvers of the moon. It levitated infront of him and he smiled to his crowd in an almost apology. "The female tribute will be called first," he spoke as he dipped his arm in the bowl and slowly pulled a strip of parchment from it "and that girl is... Khailin Mihou."
The crowd gave a delicate clap which Khailin didn't even hear. She saw their hands doing the motion, but she had become momentarily deaf as she looked at her twin sister, who was close to collapsing to her knees with tears. Another girl on Khailin's side gave her a slight nudge and said something which again, Khailin couldn't hear. This was the end of the world for her, everything screamed with fear yet felt numbed and paralyzed. Slowly she started moving.
With a look of vacant uniform, Khailin marched towards the stage. She still couldn't hear anything around her, but she saw the faces of all the other girls she shared a tower with. They had teary eyes and were mouthing words which she couldn't make out at her. Khailin finally looked towards Professor Olivieri whose eyes had taken on a strong stern look, the woman drew her hands together to make a circle with them and signified that she had faith in Fate.
After what seemed like an eternity, Khailin stepped up onto the wooden stage, with the help of Yerwood, and stood their with her knees knocking together. She felt so young, so small and so weak. She couldn't face The Wizarding Trials, she was so completely inexperienced. It was now that she wished beyond all hope that someone would volunteer for her, but she knew nobody would. All she had left was the hope that Fate had made the right descision. Yerwood held her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze as he introduced her to the crowd. He continued holding it as he called forward the next bowl and reached inside, pulling out the name of the male tribute.
"The male tribute form Hillson Evergreen is Focale Olivieri." There was a slight gasp from the audience, or perhaps it was the wind, as the son of their most famous seer was called. The sixteen year old boy stepped forward with a brave face and held his head high as he walked towards the stage. There was a tingling sense of shock at this tribute, but it went to show just how unsafe everybody was when it came to The Wizarding Trials.
"Ladies and Gentleman of Hillson Evergreen and the surrounding Territory of Toningwah, may I introduce you to your tributes to this year's Wizarding Trials. Khailin Mihou and Focale Olivieri." Yerwood lifted both of their arms and there was a gentle applause ringing across the field, muffled slightly by the mist that was settling in over the crowd. Khailin couldn't see her father now and that was the only person she needed at this point, she thought she was just going to break down.
Yerwood turned, and put his arm around the shoulders of Khailin, calming her ever so slightly as he whispered kind words into her ear. He clutched the arm of Focale and together, the three of them walked back up to the castle where they were guided by Academy officials into a small room where already a little crowd had gathered. There were few people in this room, the headmaster of the school, Professor Knight, was the first to take note of their arrival and cast a silence over the room. With the deputy headmistress by his side, he spoke to the crowd and to the two tributes.
"Witches and Wizards, Khailin and Focale, Fate has made her decision and we respect this, may she have chosen our tributes generously and for the best of our school. Let us now take this time to share kind words to our dearly loved and cherished tributes." Khailin looked around, unaware of what was going on, but she soon spotted her father stood by a large vase. He smiled at her warmly and once again went down onto a knee and scooped her up into the tightest hug he had ever given.
"My dearest Khailin, Fate has chosen well, you are such a strong little girl and I am so incredibly proud already of what you're going to achieve in there. Your mother will feel the same too." He held her arms and looked into her tearful eyes, his were welling up too. "Now, be brave for me, I know you're frightened, I am also, but this is the best decision that Fate could have made, I have faith. Now let me see your palm."
Khailin's father had a special gift with palm readings, everyone in the territory was aware of it, and he slowly traced the lines of Khailin's hand, diving her future from it. He showed absolutely no emotion on his face as he did, and Khailin hadn't a clue of what he was seeing. Her heart was slowly dropping as he remained silent and continued tracing with his fingers. He kept going over the same few creases of her palm but still not showing any idea of what was being said.
He slowly looked up back into the eyes of his daughter and sighed. "Your future is looking good, I have no worry of what you will be able to do in these Trials, and I believe Fate has chosen you well. You will cope like a hero." She smiled at him as he finished speaking and felt such a warm flow of love for him. She wrapped her small arms around his thick neck and buried her head into his warm shoulder. She wasn't going to cry.
"Khailin, please don't leave me!" She looked up from her fathers hold and saw a tear stained Khay standing next to them. Their father pulled her into the embrace too, and she cried hysterically, even Khailin started to mutter reassurances to her.
"It's going to be okay, Daddy says I will be fine, you will see me in absolutely no time. C'mon Khay, you've gotta be brave for me because you're making me want to cry too and we don't want The Academy thinking I'm weak now do we, and plus, Professor Knight is watching us right now." Khay's eyes opened wide and she dried them as best as she could trying to gain composure for the headmaster. Khailin couldn't help but release a soft giggle at this.
The twins' father stood up and acknowledge the headmaster to smiled at the three of them but daren't interrupt their conversation. The three of them instead held hands and started remembering stories from when the girls were younger and how much fun they used to have at home. It was a strange feeling for Khailin as they thought back on these memories, they were really happy ones and it lightened their spirits, but the shadow of what was going to happen cast over them unconsciously, stopping them from being truly happy.
Professor Olivieri broke away from the moment with her son and walked up to Khailin with a calming manner. She held onto the girls shoulder and took a moment to decide whether or not what she was going to do next was a good idea. She clearly decided it was for the next thing Khailin knew was that she was suddenly wrapped in the arms of her matron, a woman who seemed to barely notice her throughout the school year so far.
"You will be missed while you are in the Trials, but I am sure Fate has made a good choice with you Miss Mihou. You are an excellent witch within my tower and I have the utmost faith. Do your school proud, and don't forget that my son will always be there to help you if you desperately need it." She slowly released Khailin from the hug and gave her a gentle pat on the head, her pale eyes glistening with something mysterious as they always did. Khailin bid her thankyou and looked over to her son who smiled at her. There may be hope after all.
"Family and friends, I apologies, but it is time for me to get the tributes to The Academy. Last farewells please and bring your children to me, I will look after them from then on" said Yerwood in his gentle and almost caring voice. Khailin quickly jumped into her fathers arms, grabbing Khay on the way into an awkward embrace and kissed them both so many times across their faces. She took a deep breath and walked towards the door where she stood with Yerwood until Focale joined them.
Once again, they walked off together as a three and made their way to the tunnel which led the underground train station situated within the hill next to the school. It was a long walk, but Yerwood's aura was a calming on and Focale was speaking as if everything was absolutely normal to her, and for the first time since her name was announced, Khailin felt as if things were actually okay.
On the platform, the three of them met up with two previous victors from The Wizarding Trials, both of them relatively young, a similar age to Khailin's father. They were the Leopold brothers, the intelligent victors who won their Trials with sheer smarts and imagination. Kito and Ledan won consecutive Trials before Khailin was born, but everyone within their territory was aware of the talent that the brothers had shown. Khailin's confidence was growing, with these two as their mentors, her chances were slowly improving.
The brothers smiled with a shy nature and welcomed the two tributes with warm, yet soft, words. The five of them waited for the train and as it finally approached the platform, all the boys were quick to help Khailin onto it and make her feel as comfortable as possible. She walked into a carriage designed with mahogany and deep green colours. She felt a warmth exude from it, The Academy clearly offered the tributes the best of the best.
She sat down at a table and started to look at all the curious foods that lay before her. Kito quickly summoned a plate for her and he helped her choose all the best tastes for her. The group were already getting closely bonded, and Khailin immediately latched onto the Leopold brothers as if they were her father. She was so comfortable around all the men on this train that she soon forgot about the Trials as they made jokes and played games together. She was happy for now and didn't want the train journey to end.