June 24th, 2002
The Flying Test of Doom - By Eldarina
Books and scrolls had been strewn liberally over a pinewood desk, illuminated by a narrow shaft of light from the attic window. Minute dapples of light reflected from the few pieces of desk that were visible to send flecks of gold onto the magnolia-painted walls. The current fashion for magically glowing paint, candle holders and other expensive features was not in evidence suggesting a certain 'rentedness' about the place. Continuing this theme were the small dimensions of the room which was barely sufficient to hold a bed, simple furnishings and the desk. A casual observer would draw breath at the skill of one who managed to find space for the pictures and paintings that adorned the walls. Scenes of the Refuge and the Great Tree competed for space with a speed-artist's sketch of a recently deceased janitor, evidently a treasured possession.
That same casual observer would, had they been there, noted the burn mark on the door, the result of a fumbled spell, possibly. An attempt had been made to cover this with a number of posters of notorious dragon hunters, suggesting a certain interest in these reptilian beasts.
The scrolls on the desk, had the casual observer fingered their way through them, continued this theme. Diagrams of the anatomical structure of dragons competed for space with drawings of signs could only mean one thing.
This person was taking their flying test.
The avid student was not, however, currently studying, or even in her room. Indeed not, for in time-honored tradition she was enjoying a dinner that many zombies in the Graveyard would die again for. Expertly she speared a piece of fried potato that rested on top of a battered fish and skirted the stalls in the fish market. Amidst all of this activity she perused the available sections of the MUDslinger within which her meal was wrapped.
"What are you doing?" asked a genial voice. The student glanced about her wildly, looking for the owner of the voice. Thankfully, it wasn't someone who held an unhealthy grudge toward her. Just Melissant. "How are you, Eldarina?" she asked. "No-one's seen you for ages."
Eldarina swallowed and wiped her lips with a napkin. "I've been revising in my attic for ages," she replied, smiling weakly. "I had to get some fresh air and food." She offered the avatar a portion of her lunch which was gratefully accepted.
"Yes, revising for your flying test does that to you," Melissant agreed.
"All those flyway signs!" Eldarina sighed. "You'd think they did it just to annoy you."
Melissant nodded as she chewed on her snack. "Maybe if a special occasion comes up, like Christmas, then perhaps a pointy candycane or something could help."
"Christmas isn't for another six months. I'm taking my test tomorrow. Unless I feel like stabbing my examiner in the back, it's not going to happen."
The avatar shrugged. Her eyes became glazed, and she began moving her lips silently, as if in prayer. Shaking her head to break out of the trance, she sighed and looked as if she was going to depart.
"Newbie in trouble. Got to go," she explained. A slight rippling in the air appeared. "They appear to be telepathing me more often than any other avatar, though. Even for the most menial jobs. Seems quite serious this time, actually. A dragon sat on them."
Melissant waved then turned to the tear in reality and stepped through. When the last remnant of her robe entered the rift, a gentle suction sound was heard as reality sewed
itself up and returned to normality. With a smile Eldarina continued down the street, paying little heed to obstacles as she finished her meal. One of these was more obtrusive than the others and she fell back as she collided with the pole. Muttering slightly she looked up at it and blinked. It held a sign that said, "Beware of the pole."
"You're joking," Eldarina gasped as she looked around to see the reverse of the sign. "No, I'm not," it read. Shaking her head and bearing her bruises with dignity, Eldarina made her more way more carefully home. The door squeaked open and she rummaged through her papers to extract a battered copy of the "Flyway Code".
"Serious cramming needed," she muttered as she opened it at the first page.
It took an infernal rapping at the door to wake Eldarina. Pausing only to run her fingers through her hair in a vain attempt at straightening it, she opened the door to see a friend.
"Gwendoplin!" she said as a familiar figure smiled at her.
The thief beamed her broadest smile and brandished a large cake vigorously. The words "good luck" were iced onto it with only two typographical errors.
"Everyone in the street contributed to the cake," smiled Gwendoplin. "I personally donated that little silver ball there." She pointed to a cracked ball of glass on one side.
"Well, thanks." Eldarina took the platter holding the cake from the thief and set it down on her desk. A small avalanche of papers fell off the far side but that couldn't be helped.
"Everyone sends their best wishes, and so forth," said Gwendoplin, "and there's going to be a party tonight, so come along." The student blinked and grinned in a slightly bemused fashion. "Oh, and everyone in the town's betting on whether you'll pass," she added. "Elennór's got you passing on odds of 10/1. All proceeds to local charities, of course." Eldarina smiled weakly. Gwendoplin's words were not exactly soothing "So, good luck!" The thief waved at Eldarina and slipped away.
Eldarina shrugged and shut the door. She exhaled deeply and stared at the cake. It had been piped with cream and decorated with silver balls. Someone who was very good with decoration (obviously not Gwendoplin or Elennór) had used magical icing to create the illusion of a dragon puffing smoke and snorting every so often. She opened a drawer and removed a dagger. Carefully she cut a thin portion and carefully levered it out on to a plate. The cake had a colorful layer of strawberry jam in it. The platter itself appeared to be an old 'L' sign.
"Tasty," the cleric muttered as she munched, the jam smearing itself over her hands.
Within seconds there was another firm knocking at the door. Eldarina opened it and said, "Thanks for the stuff and everything, Gwen, but this is really..." She paused.
Standing in the doorway was a stout-looking dragon of a woman carrying a green clipboard and a quill. Her eyes were on the jam-smeared dagger in Eldarina's hand.
"Eldarina!" the woman exclaimed. "What do you think you're doing?"
Eldarina looked questioningly at the visitor, then followed her gaze to the dagger in her hand.
"Mrs. Zeiweliger, it's not what it looks like," Eldarina stammered to her landlady. A thought in her mind stood up and spoke, "There's really no point. You're dead now."
"When I let this room out to you, I thought we had made some things clear," stated Mrs. Zeiweliger. "No pets, no loud chanting after 10pm and definitely NO KILLING!"
The thought in Eldarina's head was saying, "Go on, whack her one in the back. No-one'll notice." She pushed it back into the darkest recesses of her mind.
"Mrs. Zeiweliger, this really isn't what it seems," tried Eldarina. "This isn't blood, it's
strawberry jam, Mrs. Zeiweliger."
It made no difference. Mrs Zeiweliger had started one of her infamous rants. "It's always the same with you newbies," she said and Eldarina rolled her eyes up in her head. It always started like this. She could almost repeat it word for word. "When I was a girl we had to do things properly. We didn't just sacrifice our victims, oh no - we resurrected them like good girls should."
"But Mrs Zei..."
"Not like you younger generation. No respect for death you haven't. Just a quick prayer to the gods and the body is disposed of - you have it too easy," the landlady screeched.
"But I haven't even had my name approved yet," Eldarina said. "I'm cannot resurrect yet."
"A properly brought up girl would buy something off auction!" Mrs Zeiweliger retorted with her hands firmly on her hips, a sure sign that she was going to continue for some time.
"Can I help?" an amiable voice asked out of nowhere.
"And who might you be?" the gruff tones of Mrs. Zeiweliger queried in a pompous manner. She turned on her heels and drew breath at the sight before her.
"Polimyrocadebatista Macmiliana, certified flying instructor," the woman answered, holding out a hand. "Eldarina's flying instructor. Also known as the Prime Hellwench of the Third Dragon flight of the Black Sun Flock, Lady of the Dragons - first rank - and duty examiner for today. Polly for short. I won't bother to ask who
are." The owner of the voice, a stern faced woman in thick riding leathers, glared back. The landlady sniffed briefly before turning back to Eldarina.
"You still owe me rent, young lady," Mrs Zeiweliger complained. "Two months now."
"I know," Eldarina said with a weak smile. "My next aurellium bar's not due for a few days yet..."
"And as soon as she can fly legally she'll be able to earn more money," Polly stated firmly. Mrs Zeiweliger gave each of them a long, cool look and Polly just grabbed Eldarina by her shoulder and dragged her out.
"Is that your full title?" Eldarina asked nervously Poldarinania chuckled and broke out in a smile.
"Not exactly," she admitted. "However I've not paid rent for three years now. We'll get you a title if you manage to pass." She led the way down the road to where a pair of dragons waited patiently, scorching stray imps from the mage's quarter when the mood took them. "You'll be riding Millie, the Brass dragon."
"Hello, Millie," Eldarina greeted, patting the creature. The dragon bowed its head in supplication but Eldarina caught the sidelong look it gave its companion. The gesture was returned with a universal 'I know how it feels' serpentine shrug that Eldarina hardly found comforting.
"Your first task is to take off and circle for two minutes around a fifteen hundred yard radius," Polly read from a sheet.
Polly mounted the silver dragon and took off into the air. Eldarina managed to spy a shiny figure hovering and waiting. Waiting for her.
"Let's go, Millie," Eldarina whispered. She mounted the dragon and softly gripped on to the dragon's shoulders. She could feel the rippling muscle and the toughness of the scapulae under the scaly exterior. The student clicked her feet on the dragon's sides. She could feel the waves of air being compressed and pushed as the dragon flapped its leathery wings.
The next second later, Eldarina was ascending into the heavens. She leant to one side, and soon she was circling the fifteen hundred yard radius like she had been told.
"Your next task," shouted her instructor, is to do a three-point turn in a thick canopy of trees." Polly indicated a wood to the east and her dragon glided toward it. Eldarina did the same. She soared prudently through the maze of vegetation to the place where her instructor was near. "In your own time, Eldarina." The student gritted her teeth and cautiously maneuvered her dragon through the three-point turn and into a glade in the woods.
Polly scrabbled a few notes with a sharpened goose-feather quill. "Now, I want you to do a double backflip, loop-the-loop, a 360º, followed by a quad axel. Points will be given for technical ability and artistic impression."
Eldarina almost choked on her own breath. This wasn't part of the test! She had only revised dive-bombing Scruff and managing to take his collar off when pulling up at the last minute! She accelerated and whilst attempting the loop-the-loop, clipped the highest turret of Castle Medievia. Eldarina could feel the dragon grumble and pull out of the 360º.
"Hmmmm," she heard Polly mutter. "When I fire this platinum wand I want you to perform a emergency stop and perform the procedure for dodging."
Eldarina hovered. The dragon grumbled. The magic missiles span through the air. Eldarina swooped down, pulled the dragon back and put her head and body flat against the dragon's back.
The missiles landed in her shoulder.
"AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHH!" screamed Eldarina, pulling out of the maneuver. She touched the wound with her finger and felt it heal instantly - being a cleric had some advantages but that spot would be sore for weeks.
"And your final task," Polly shouted, "is to parallel park between two objects - living or not in the city of Medievia."
Eldarina urged her dragon back toward the city, looking desperately for a place to land and blissfully unaware of a conversation far below.
"Can she do it, you reckon?" Elennór asked.
"She better," Gwendoplin answered. "I've got like half a million riding on this bet."
"Parallel parking, though."
"I've seen worse."
Eldarina began her descent into the gap between a tethered morgan horse and a dead janitor. To her relief, the dragon curled its tail around so it could fit into the space without touching either corpse or horse.
"Good dragon, Millie," whispered Eldarina. "Have a dead janitor on me." She dragged the steaming corpse of the janitor to her mount, which snapped it up and swallowed it immediately with relish.
"Now for the theory test," smiled Polly. "If you would come this way, please?" She led the student to a bench in Avadale Park. "What must you do when there is a hurricane in the area you want to land?" asked the instructor.
"Either keep circling in the air and wait for the hurricane to disappear, or fly further on and look for a place to land where the weather is nicer," Eldarina dictated. And with a smirk, she added, "Or have a deliberate moment of suicidal thoughts and land in the middle of a tornado?"
Polly's quill snapped at the nib. Sighing as she pulled out another, she shot a look of
'Don't be so childish!' at the cleric.
"What is the stopping distance when flying through a rainstorm?"
"Twice a large flock of migrating geese in a pincer formation."
"And the thinking distance?"
"A cumulus cloud and five cirrus clouds."
The instructor nodded encouragingly. "What is the minimum altitude and velocity for flying over a group of people on a trade run in wilderness?"
"Well, half an inch and 150 leagues per hour if they're newbies, a quarter of an inch and triple that for newbies if they're of a rival clan, and if they're friends, cruise next to them and chat about the weather and what's for dinner, watching out for trees and mob factions on the way."
"What does this sign represent?"
Eldarina glanced at the sign. It was a red-bordered triangle with a large black thumb in the middle.
"Danger: Hitchhikers ahead," she answered.
"Oh, I know this... don't tell me... don't tell me! Turbulence ahead, beware!"
"Thank you." Polly put away the picture of a plummeting phoenix. The sound of the quill scrabbling on rough parchment seemed to be amplified as Eldarina contemplated all that had happened. Had she flown too fast as she circled? Did she clip a tree on the three-point turn? Had she Farsighted for oncoming pedestrians? The questions drew longer and longer.
"Here you go, Eldarina," Polly replied, passing her a slip of parchment. "I hope your shoulder's better. I did warn you to dodge." The student glanced at the paper and smiled weakly. "Well, I'd better be off," Polly grinned. "Some newbies starting a new course - wouldn't want them to die so soon!" She chuckled cordially and strode away.
Eldarina didn't notice anything. She wouldn't stop staring at the slip of parchment.
The evening drew on, and Eldarina had now decided to return to her attic room. The slip lay immobile on her desk. A memory, having been suppressed for the test, came back in full.
"You haven't forgotten that party that Gwendoplin invited you to?" it asked. Eldarina stood up with a jolt. She had forgotten. In fact, it had slipped her mind and fallen down the drainpipe.
"Typical of you. Really," it snorted. Eldarina could swear that she could hear a laugh of malice in her head.
"Shut up, you smug nutcase," Eldarina muttered. She opened her door and slid quietly down the stairs into the hallway. She passed the soft snoring of Mrs. Zeiweliger. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to listen to her thoughts once in a while, she thought as she walked to the local tavern, tucking away a sleep wand as she went.
"Eldar! Nice to see you!" greeted Melissant as the student promenaded into the tavern. Various other members of the street bade the cleric good day, but Elennór and Gwendoplin rushed up to her and said:
"How did you do?"
Eldarina smiled weakly like she always did.
"Don't smile weakly at us, just tell us!" they pleaded.
Eldarina passed the slip of parchment to them. She watched them intently as they bickered over who should read it first. Finally, it was Elennór who had the upper hand, distracting Gwendoplin by tweaking her nose sharply.
"Yes!" cried Gwendoplin, rubbing her nose with her left hand. "I won the bet!"
The thief danced joyously around the oaken dining table which was laden with various foods from all over the continent.
"Yep, I passed," Eldarina told everyone as she perched herself on a chair near the head of the table. Deftly plucking a small snack from a plate of hor d'oeurves, she explained all that had happened.
As the banqueting began, words of Eldarina's success were whispered around the table, but then forgotten. She didn't mind. After all, she forgot to tell them that she had bribed newbies with misty potions to telepath Melissant all the time.
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