“UGGGHHHHH, how much longer will this take?” Vance groaned loudly.
“Stop complaining Vance,” Auron snapped. “It won’t help the line move any faster, try and sit patiently with your sister.”
The caravan from Greyhallow was in the middle of a seemingly endless sea of travelers, waiting in a queue to enter the capital city, Nomia. Nomia was surrounded on three sides in a crescent shape by the gargantuan roots of the Branch of the World Tree. Curtain walls were built on both sides of the roots for support and an added layer of protection. Large cylindrical towers bordered the end of the roots and connected with the curtain walls. Ramparts extended from the towers and converged at the ornately engraved city gate. The gate was made of fortified wood and the royal symbol, a silver six-pointed star with wavy lines, was carved into its center. Guards bearing the same symbol on their dark hauberks were moving up and down the line, thoroughly inspecting all the carriages and travelers that had recently arrived at the city for the Bloom ceremony. Upon passing inspection each group was given a certificate to be presented at the gate to allow entry into the city.
After passing their inspection and spending few more hours shuffling slowly through the line, they had finally made it through the gate and into Nomia. Vance stared around in awe, the city was swarming with activity. Bright lamps illuminated the cobblestone paths as merchants hawked their wares eagerly to the new arrivals. Houses made of a strange russet wood with brightly tiled roofs lined the streets, but what amazed Vance the most was the pseudo night sky above. A rainbow collection of star-like orbs clung to the leaves of the Branch of the World Tree above.
“Well it looks like this is where we part ways for now Auron,” Baron Balor proclaimed “We will be heading to the Noble’s district to stay with my brother. How long will you be staying in town?”
“Ah, of course Lord Balor. We will be staying for at least a couple of days following the Bloom ceremony. Vivian is taking the entrance exam for the Scholar’s Academy at the beginning of next week.” Auron replied.
“I see… we will be leaving tomorrow directly after the ceremony. I can’t stand staying in this place any longer than I have to. I wish you luck Vance, and you as well Vivian.” Balor waved farewell and began walking towards the western part of the city, followed silently by Bale and the retinue of guards. Vance didn’t understand how anyone could dislike such a remarkable place.
“Father, Baron Balor mentioned a Noble’s district, where are we currently in the city?”
“Right now we are in the general residential district Vance. Nomia is broken up into two halves. The southern half is further divided into five main districts that form a semi-circle. The western most district is the Noble’s district and directly next to that is the Merchant’s district. Normally vendors wouldn’t be able to set up stalls here near the gate, but the city makes an exception for the Bloom ceremony. To the east lies the Academy district which is where Eldrin attended school and Vivian will take her exam. Finally, the eastern most district is the Organizational district. That is where the military and the Bureau is headquartered, along with the Mercenary Guild. Tomorrow, the Bloom ceremony will be taking place in the Branch Plaza in the northern half of the city,” Auron explained.
Vance hadn’t paid much attention to Auron’s explanation as he was still lost in the sights and sounds of the city, but he got the general idea.
“Where will be staying Father?” Vivian asked before flicking Vance on his forehead, noticing his lack of focus.
“I made a reservation at an inn in the Merchant’s district a couple of months ago when I came through the city on a trip. Let’s head there quickly. Hopefully we can get some food before the dinner crowd rolls in.”
Arriving at the inn, Vance was surprised by the diversity in the crowd. He saw massive, hairy Ogren hulking near the bar, beautiful pointy-eared Fraye laughing melodically in a booth by the window, and mischievous Hobbs nimbly playing card games in the corner. The strange scene was a lot to take in for the inexperienced Vance. Luckily, Auron rescued him from his stupor as he escorted Vance and Vivian to an open table. Following a hearty meal, the family retired to their room. Vance was exhausted from all the travel, but his excitement for the coming ceremony kept him tossing and turning all night, long after Vivian and Auron’s soft snores echoed throughout the room. Vance eventually climbed out of bed and pulled a chair up to the sole window in the room. He sat and stared up at the lights above, entranced by their beauty until the innkeeper knocked on the door announcing breakfast in the morning. Despite his lack of sleep, Vance felt completely energized as he wolfed down his food.
“Haha, slow down Vance the ceremony won’t start for another couple of hours. No need to rush,” Auron chuckled as he watched Vance’s ravenous display. Vivian seemed similarly amused; although, she hadn’t spoken a single word the entire morning.
The atmosphere in the inn was significantly more subdued than the previous night; however, there was a tension in the air that hadn’t been present before. Most groups ate in silence, and Vance noticed many children were now present at the tables. It appeared everyone was anxiously awaiting today’s spectacle.
It took Vance and Auron nearly an hour to traverse through the crowded streets into the northern section of Nomia. Vivian had claimed she was still weary from the travel and wouldn’t be accompanying them to the ceremony. Auron had looked disappointed that she wouldn’t come to support Vance, but didn’t press the matter. Arriving in the Branch Plaza, Vance could barely make out the platform that had been erected for the ceremony at the base of the tree. It was nearly impossible for Vance to hear Auron next to him over the din of the massive crowd.
“Go ahead Vance!” Auron shouted. “Go join the rest of your peers on the platform!”
Vance did his best to shoulder through the throng of bodies, but was making slow progress. Fortunately, a nearby Ogren noticed his plight and began to help clear a path for him. Vance finally squeezed his way past the edge of the crowd and dashed forward to the stage to join the others. Thousands of children aged ten milled about Vance. Some knelt quietly in prayer to the goddess, others chatted boldly, already bragging about the Seed they would receive, but most just fidgeted nervously in silence. Vance didn’t have to wait long before a deep voice, accompanied by a strange pressure, reverberated throughout the square.
“Welcome all to the Kingdom of Tauregin’s 256th annual Bloom ceremony!”
The crowd erupted into a cheer, causing the ground to quake, as Vance searched for the location of the voice.
“Before the ceremony commences, I would like to thank all the brave young souls who have traveled from far and wide to make it here today. We hope that those who receive Seeds will blossom into this great Kingdom’s future leaders,” Vance noticed that many of the kids around him now held a resolute glint in their eye. “It seems we do not have much time left as the buds in the Branch of the World Tree look fit to burst any second. So… without further ado let the ceremony BEGIN!” The voice proudly declared.
Immediately, an unnatural silence fell over the crowd. The lamps illuminating the plaza were snuffed out and the only source of light now came from the twinkling orbs above. Every eye in the city of Nomia strained upwards expectantly.
Loud pops soon echoed through the silence. Vance was dazed as bright trails of light began descending slowly from the canopy above. Hundreds of dazzling unique colors twirled down gracefully through the darkness in a breathtaking dance. Vivian had been right. The scene was truly impossible to describe. Hushed whispers swept through the crowd as the first of the lights glowed softly in front of their chosen. Vance witnessed a human boy in ragged clothing next to him reach out for crackling ruby sphere of energy. As the boy’s hand made contact, the mysterious energy immediately enveloped his entire body and he began to glow with a fierce red light. Vance swore he saw a fire burning in the boy’s irises before he collapsed onto the ground. Many children around Vance began collapsing in a similar manner. However, the vast majority of those on the platform still stood, but no more lights fell from the tree and a cacophony of crying soon erupted as thousands of children had their dreams crushed to pieces. Just as a similar realization began to dawn on Vance, a bright purple light flared through the sky from above and landed in front of him.
Vance froze and then began scrambling away from the gem that now hovered before him. It was the same purple crystal from the forest. ‘No please… it can’t…’ Vance pleaded desperately in his mind. The crystal danced mockingly around Vance as he desperately tried to escape, but the crystal would not give him the chance, and it soon shot into his chest in the same manner it had in his nightmares. Although, this time there was no pain and blood. A euphoric sensation rushed through Vance’s body and he felt an untapped power surge through his limbs, but the sensation left as quickly as it came and Vance’s vision began to blur as he too slowly lost consciousness.