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TehUltimateMage

~ Heavenly Branches ~

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It felt like she was on that boat forever. Realistically, it barely took half a day.

 

The anticipation leading up to this moment was felt in each of her limbs, as if an electric current was making her skin tingle. She ached to go out and run and each time she resolved to walk her energy off, each time she would find herself on the ship's deck, facing water and a shore of unchanging greenery. The boat itself was nothing special, although one couldn't say the same about its hundred-or-so passengers, all of which were going to attend the most... interesting school. This was the moment she had been waiting for, for about two years now.

 

She did not mingle. There would be plenty of time for that once they were actually at the school. But instead of taking a seat in one of the many benches in the ship or helping herself at the snacks set up in the lounge, she perched at the prow, squinting into the distance.

 

And now, she saw a little bit of land sticking out into the river. A dock. And what seemed like human shapes standing on it, waiting. If it weren't for the fact that it would have taken her longer to get there by swimming, she would have jumped into the water right away, but all she could do was wait. Their destination drifted closer, and the view became clearer. The people standing there were students, second years maybe, clothed in full uniform -- neat blazers with shoulder patches paired with skirts or pants -- despite the sunshine and warm air.

 

The teen herself was dressed for the summer with shorts and a sleeveless shirt, her dark curls tied up in her usual ponytail. The thought of those restrictive garments made her frown. And yet, those students didn't seem to be too bothered by it. The second years must have gotten used to it.

 

Once the ship was stopped and anchored and the new students began to file out in to the unfamiliar environment, the welcome committee began cheering. There were only perhaps a half a dozen of them in all. She wanted to skip the line and jump out, but a dark-skinned guy (with a patch of blonde at the top of his otherwise shaven head) leaped over the railing with a resounding cry, breaking the impact of his fall by tumbling onto land. She made a grimace as the stunt proved too much for him after a few hours of seasickness. Even though she turned away, she could hear the sounds of him losing his breakfast.

 

Following the crowd was probably the more sensible solution. And like socializing, the gung-ho portion of getting there could wait just a little longer -- she was glad that she was back on land.

 

Once it looked like everyone was accounted for, the two rows of second years gave them their first taste of magic. Each of the three pairs high-fived their partner, and even in the light of the afternoon their bodies shone with a fierce glow as the light materialized into new garments taking the place of their uniforms. The pair of girls struck a pose as their transformation bestowed frilly dresses upon them, while the others were more varied.

 

"Welcome to Heaven's Gate Academy!" she bellowed, a strong voice coming out of that small frame. "I'm sure you're all excited and maybe a little nervous, but follow us!"

 

The magical girls lead the way, while another pair -- two boys, one a high fantasy knight and the other who looked like he hopped out of a cyberpunk convention with otherwise black garments overlayed with glowing blue circuit patterns -- made sure no one was left behind. Though, where were the other two? The guy in the tuxedo and that girl with the short shorts... She guessed that they were probably flanking. Or maybe something else?

 

~~~~

 

The march to the school was shorter than anticipated. The tall trees and lush greenery provided ample shade for them to travel under. It was almost like walking through a tunnel, on a path of beaten earth. Sounds and sights and smells flooded her senses. For her, it felt good to be moving again, and it was an experience completely different to the routine of the city she was so used to. Forget going to school; this almost felt like camp.

 

The white arch marking the entrance of the school stood out against the greenery. Upon closer inspection, some of the bricks were a different color from the rest, as if the stone was broken then repaired. They were led into the central courtyard, where several long tables were set up along the wall, each with a huge box full of what appeared to be brooches. Picking one of the lines, it was a surprisingly quick wait until she was at the front. At least this time, the person there looked to be an adult as opposed to the teens who seemed to rule this place.

 

"Last name?" the man asked.

 

"D'Orazio. First name, Aria."

 

He searched for her name on his tablet and selected it. "Can you give me your hand?"

 

What kind of request was that? Reluctantly, she extended her right hand, as if to shake. Instead, the man placed one of those brooches -- a gem of a dull grey -- in the palm of her hand. Aria felt an unexpected little pinprick, like a jolt of static electricity, and the gem turned a vibrant orange.

 

"Don't lose that," he said while typing something in. Fire, it said. He also wrote down a 2 on the corner of one of the envelopes taken from the pile, and gave it to her. "You're in homeroom class two. Next!"

 

Once Aria was out of the way, she snuck a peek into her envelope. It looked like one of those envelopes containing report cards. There was a school agenda, an extra copy of the rules, pamphlets of all kinds with a summary of the school and of its clubs...

 

In short, nothing she would actually read. Who printed paper resources in this day and age, anyway? There would probably be a copy of it emailed to them. Which she wouldn't read either.

 

~~~

 

((Welcome to Heavenly Branches! tl;dr: You get your Branches and homeroom number -- #2 for everyone unless you want to be a little different. wink.gif You have the option to look for people with the same homeroom number, study the contents of the envelope (the contents of the OOC first post, plus a map and some other stuff I will add), or even try to find out more about one of the "Welcome Committee" NPCs. We're going a little bit sandboxy before I herd you along (perhaps somewhat forcefully) for Night 0 and Day 1!))

Edited by TehUltimateMage

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You look into the welcome package. The contents of the envelope are:

 

--> A note on a small piece of cardstock.

I wish you a grand welcome to Heaven's Gate Academy! Our staff and returning students have worked hard in the preparation of another big year of protecting the planet. I hope that everyone can experience to the fullest all that we have in store for you. Good luck on you studies, both fighting and academic!

 

Here's to a great second year of Heaven's Gate!

 

Chanel Leroux,

Headmistress

 

--> A map that unfolds. One side of the sheet is a map of the school grounds and the roads it has, including the lake in the far northeast and the river that you traveled up to get here. A spot is labelled as a greenhouse with a surrounding farm. Much of this side is uncharted forest. The other side of the map is a map of the school itself, with the courtyard and the most important rooms noted, such as the library, the assembly hall, and the disproportionately spacious Nurse's Office. The dining hall and kitchen are both found in the same building as the dorms.

 

--> A schedule. While it does not tell you which classes are when, it does show the times when the kitchen is open, that curfew is at 11pm, and that the Combat class apparently happens all day on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

 

--> A tentative calendar of events. It repeatedly tells you that these dates are subject to change. There is a swap period, and an estimated range for midterms and exams.

 

--> A colorful, if not over-the-top brochure. There is a small plastic bag stapled to the bottom corner. It contains a thin chain.

 

The World of Branch Customization!

 

By now you would have gotten your little gem-like things! Congratulations! Named Branches, they are they key to most of your abilities, as you'll learn soon enough. School protocol requires it to be visible, but that doesn't mean it can't be stylish as well. They're a visual shorthand for someone's element (you'll see what I mean when you get to your first Combat class): red or orange for fire, blue or purple for water, brown or yellow for earth, and white or green for air. What element you have also impacts which dorms you have and when you have your combat classes.

 

It is really important that you do not lose your Branch! A simple chain has been included with this message, so you can thread it through the gem's metal backing for now. For a more permanent and fashionable solution, come find the Branch Customization shop, near the main office, and we'll help you fix something up free of charge! The school would like you to put it on your tie, but there's thousands of ways to do it, like on the back of gloves, or as bracelets...

 

--> A simple checklist of school clubs. There are a surprising number of clubs for such a small student body... Each club has an estimated meeting time, be it early morning like the cross-country runners, during lunch like the chess club, after school like volleyball, or in the evening like the retro gamers.

 

--> A pocket-sized paper agenda containing rules and a calendar to fill in homework assignments the traditional way:

~ Heaven's Gate Official Guidebook ~  [Excerpt]

(Updated April 2115)

 

Our core mission involves empowering students against all global threat, all while providing an enriching learning experience unparallelled anywhere else. Seamlessly blending practical combat training and traditional academics, we strive to help develop life skills essential to this day and age and build confident, engaged, and innovative leaders for the future.

 

Rules and Expectations

 

Students are to be treated with respect and dignity. In return, students must demonstrate respect for others, for the space around them, and for the responsibilities set upon them. Respect is demonstrated through acceptable behavior as outlined by the Code of Conduct, including (but not limited to) respecting school property, listening to staff, performing school duties in a well and punctual manner, and being inclusive. The school reserves the right to apply a full range of negative consequences -- up to suspension and expulsion -- for inappropriate behavior going against the school's Code of Conduct.

 

Examples of inappropriate behavior include, but is not limited to:

- Harassment of any kind, including bullying, intimidating, or threatening another person.

- Unexcused absence from classes

- Unauthorized departure from campus grounds

- Improper uniform

- Academic dishonesty

- Engaging in fights inside the building

- Acts of vandalism and deliberate destruction of property

- Inappropriate use and abuse of the Branch technology

- Any possession or usage of illicit substances

- Unauthorized possession of school keys, and

- Swearing toward a teacher.

 

In addition, unauthorized pets and animals are prohibited. (July 2113 amendment)

 

 

Facilities

 

In exchange for the free opportunity to attend Heaven's Gate and use its facilities, students must treat the school ground and buildings with respect through helping with the cleaning, maintenance, and repair of the academy. Duties are assigned by homeroom and rotate bi-weekly. Every student is expected to do their part.

 

Dorm rooms are managed by their respective Elemental Heads and may be routinely inspected. Individual rooms can, however, be customized to the occupants' taste.

 

 

Uniform

 

Uniform is required to be worn during classes. A full uniform, mandatory during special events, consists of the school's dark green blazer, a white dress shirt, grey pants or skirt with green socks, black shoes, and a tie corresponding to a the student's element. A partial uniform without the blazer (with a short sleeved dress shirt or polo, or shorts) is also acceptable for daily wear. Extra added items of clothing are disallowed.

 

The tie may be substituted with other appropriate neckwear, such as bows or light scarves, in the correct elemental color. Branches must be worn and visible at all times for easy element identification.

 

Uniform is not required after school or during weekends (with the exception of students attending Combat Studio that week). Students may wear what they wish at those times, so long as it is not sexualized or deliberately provocative.

 

[...]

Edited by TehUltimateMage

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[Reserved. Information will continue to trickle in, but feel free to post whenever.]

Edited by TehUltimateMage

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Out on the horizon, a shape formed and began to grow with each passing minute. Moving figures began to appear as the boat neared its destination. Students, and perhaps staff as well, were standing at the dock, eagerly waiting the hundred or so new arrivals. The feeling was mutual, evident by the horde of students gathering at the railing to sneak a glance at the prestigious academy. Alistair was no exception to this. He had spent most of the day mingling with the other students of the boat, telling jokes and exchanging pleasantries as both he and everyone else ardently awaited the boat's arrival to the monster fighting academy. Why wouldn't they be excited? Who could possibly turn down the chance to get superpowers and save the world from an invasion of monsters? The school sounded like a the setting you'd hear out of a children's story but it was oh so very real. Just seeing the school get clearer as the boat closed in towards it brought a smile to Alistair's face. Feeling a wiggle in his pocket, Alistair, after making sure no one was watching, discretely flipped open one of the sides of his jacket to momentarily reveal two fluffy chicks sitting within one of his jacket's inner pockets.

 

"Aren't you two supposed to be sleeping?" he hissed quietly to the chicks as he frowned down at them. The blue chick looked up at Alistair quizzically and let out a questioning chirp. "Shut it, Shakira," Alistair huffed. "I've fed you enough already. Why can't you be more like your sister? I haven't seen Beyoncé complain so why should you?" The porcelain chick had barely moved since the boat took off. The only time Alistair saw, or felt, her move is when he fed them some crumbs from the snack table, but, beyond that, she had been silently dozing in the boy’s pocket while her sister persistently squirmed around. Shakira glanced up at Alistair and chirped again to which he shook his head at her. “Keep quiet, will you?” Alistair whispered as he closed his jacket, making sure not the crush the chicks in the process. “I’m doing this for your own good.”

 

About ten minutes or so after Shakira finally gave up her constant wiggling in favor of dozing with her sister, the boat finally made it to the dock. Students formed into a line and began to file off of the boat. Alistair normally would have simply vaulted over the railing and skipped the whole nonsense with walking formally in a line, but he had a few passengers on his person to worry about. A dark-skinned guy with a wicked haircut apparently had the same idea. He leaped over the railing with a victorious cry and landed safely onto the ground before doubling over and spewing out the contents of his stomach. A howl of laughter escaped Alistair as he passed by the vomiting teen.

“Nice jump, bro,” Alistair called to the boy as he followed the rest of new students towards where the welcome committee was gathered. The two rows of second years in the committee suddenly high-fived each other and began to emit a bright glow before the light around them materialized into some spunky clothing. Alistair couldn’t help but find himself grinning when a pair of girls struck a dramatic pose after they became adorned in some over-the-top dresses. One of the girls shouted out a quick welcome to the new students before beckoning for them to follow. The two girls led on while two boys whose clothing looked liked they came out of the opposite eras, one being Medieval and the other being futuristic, marched behind them. Alistair was tempted to try initiating small talk with the second years, but he was stuck in the middle of the line and nowhere close to either of the pairs so he decided to keep his mouth shut and take in the scenery instead.

 

As it turned out, the march was quite short and it didn’t take long for the group to leave the tunnel of trees and find themselves in front of the great white arc that stood over the entrance of the academy. Alistair let out a whistle as the main building came into view. It was modern enough; its surface was white with some discoloration in certain areas as though select sections of the building had been built a different time than everything else. It wasn’t the strange coloring or the structure of the building that was impressive, it was the building’s sheer size. It was imposing, to say at the least, and stood profoundly within the forest. There was only couple hundred people attending the school yet Alistair could easily imagine a thousand or so students inhabiting the building. Someone had funneled a lot of money into the school. Not that Alistair was complaining that the monster fighting school he was attending had a large budget. In fact, he looked forward to see what sort shenanigans he could get into with the high tech gizmos the school had. What was the point of having cool gadgets if you weren’t going to test them out and see what you could do? Of course, there was probably going to be some rules involving not screwing around with fancy-shmancy devices, if there were any, but when was the last time rules had stopped Alistair?

 

Just inside the entrance was a large courtyard and in it were an assortment of long tables propped in front of the walls of the building. Lines formed in front of the people sitting at the tables where they seemed to be handing out small circular objects. Seeing as this appeared to be where everyone was going, Alistair hurried on over to a line and waited a surprisingly short time before reaching the front of the table. A rather dull looking adult for whom Alistair could only assume was a staff member drearily looked up at Alistair as he approached.

“Last name?” the woman asked as she made eye contact.

“Greenwood.” Alistair retorted cheerfully before quickly adding, “Alistair Greenwood” when the woman gave him an inquiring glance. Alistair quietly watched the woman swipe her finger down on her tablet as she searched for his name. After a moment’s notice, she selected the name from the list.

“Give me your hand.” the woman demanded without giving Alistair so much as a glance. Alistair blinked and stared at the woman as though she just asked him to dance in front of everyone naked. She wasn’t going to try and take a blood sample or something, was she? What would they school ever need his blood for? Plastering a loopy grin on his face, Alistair elegantly presented his hand forward.

“As you wish,” he chimed happily as watched the lady not pay him any heed and instead turn her attention to a nearby box she was leaning over. She plucked a small gray gem out of the back and gently placed it in Alistair’s palm. A sudden jolt shot through Alistair’s body and he froze momentarily as he stared at the gem the woman had placed into his outstretched hand. A light green surfaced from the middle of the gem and hastily surged outward, completely consuming the gem's gray body in a wave of mint cream.

“Take care not to lose that,” the woman warned as she typed Air into her tablet before yanking an envelope out of a pile and scribbling a two on the corner of it. “You’re in homeroom class two.” the woman said blandly as she handed Alistair the envelope. Alistair tentatively snatched the parchment away just as the woman loudly shouted, “Next!”

 

Once he had put a distance between himself and the long tables, Alistair flipped open the envelope and began to view its contents. Most of it was the usual stuff you would expect when arriving at a new campus. There was a welcome card, a map of the area, a calendar, and other boring informative junk like that. Alistair skimmed most of papers, knowing he would look them more in depth at a later date. While most of the papers looked banal and simply uninteresting, there was a colorful, if not somewhat tacky, brochure folded with the papers that caught Alistair’s eyes. He took out the brochure, noting the thin chain contained in the plastic bag stapled to the brochure, and began to read it. Alistair clasped a hand over his mouth to conceal a giggle as he read the “”but that doesn’t mean it can’t be stylish as well,” part of the brochure. Was the staff trying to be hip or something? Were the school’s uniforms what the staff thought good fashion was? Probably not, but they were better looking than the combination of a black jacket, jeans, loose white undershirt, and bright red shoes Alistair was wearing. He had to give the staff credit, they were trying to sound cool, but it felt like they were trying to hard. Shaking his head, Alistair continued reading the article before folding it, along with the other papers, back where they belonged.

“Main office,” Alistair mumbled to himself as he stuffed the envelope into his pants pocket. “Now where would that be?” Seeing as he had nothing better to do and would have to get his Branch fixed upon somewhere permanently anyhow, Alistair decided to go ahead and look for the strange Branch Customization shop, firmly holding his Branch within a fist all the while.

 

It didn’t take too long to the find the shop. The staff was nice enough to point Alistair in the right direction and the crowd wasn’t terribly hard to fight through. What Alistair wasn’t expecting was just how blinged out the shop was. It was set up in what appeared to be an old classroom. There were no desks or staff inside of the room. It had been completely refurbished in a fantastical style. Everywhere you looked, there was shiny chains, sparkling rings, and other such glamorous materials out on display. There were a few first years fresh off the boat browsing the store’s wares pointing at the array of sparkling materials spread across the room, but it appeared as though the crowd hadn't reached the store just yet. At a counter stood what appeared to be a second year. He looked around eighteen or nineteen and had smooth dark skin, brown eyes, dimples, and rowdy neon green hair. His most notable feature was a comically large dolla sign chain necklace that looked as though someone covered it in yellow glitter. Set in the base of the necklace was a small golden gem which was practically identical to Alistair’s gem save for the color. The second year grinned graciously as Alistair, who was glancing at the assortment of scintillating jewelry spread across the walls, made his way towards him.

“Ah, welcome!” the shopkeeper boomed as he clasped his hands together. “I take it you’re a first year looking to have your Branch fixed on something.”

“You read my mind,” Alistair replied, throwing a smile on his face as he stopped at the counter. He opened his closed fist to reveal the mint cream Branch within it before softly dropping it on the counter.

 

“An Air Stem?” the second year mused. “Well you definitely seem like the type. So, where are you looking to put your Branch? I assume you already have the piece of clothing you want it stitched into, yes? Unless it’s not clothing you want it placed onto. I’ve been given some pretty wild requests in the past.” The man pointed down to his dolla sign chain with a lopsided grin.

“I would hope so,” Alistair chuckled, feeling his smile get wider as the shopkeeper laughed. Now that the second year mentioned it, Alistair hadn’t really thought about where to put his Branch. He didn’t want it in a tie, that was for sure. Ties were cool and all but they weren’t good for wearing all the time. If Alistair wanted to sneak out and mess around, having a tie on would just hinder the experience. No, he needed the Branch to be on something he could slip on and off comfortably. Glancing down at his hand, Alistair stared at the open glove on his hand, drumming his fingers on the counter as he did so.

 

“You think you could stitch it into my glove?” Alistair asked as he pulled off his right glove and held it in the air. The second year took the glove away from Alistair and began to examine it from different angles as he pondered.

“You’re talking about stitching the Branch into the back of the glove, yes?” the shopkeeper asked as he lowered the glove onto the counter.

“You are correct, my good sir.”

“I’ll see what I can do for you. Have you thread the chain through the metal yet?”

“Alas, I did not.”

“That’s quite alright! Would you mind handing me the chain?”

“Not at all!” Alistair ripped the staple out of the brochure and handed the shopkeeper the plastic bag. From there, Alistair simply watched as the second year weaved the thread through the metal base of the Branch and began stitch the gem into the back of the glove. He seemed fully concentrated on his work, not looking up for a second as he diligently sew the Branch into the glove. For someone who looked so wild, the second year sure did know how to work a thread and needle.

“Might I say that your dolla chain is perhaps one of the most majestic objects I have ever seen,” Alistair commented as the second year finished up the last few stitches.

“Is that so?” the second year asked, allowing the tips of his lips to twitch upwards.

“It’s gorgeous,” Alistair replied smoothly. “Certainly the second most gorgeous thing in here if I do say so myself.” That comment brought a grin to the second year’s face.

“You flatter me,” he chuckled as tore the needle out of the glove, taking a moment to look over his handiwork.

 

“I try,” Alistair said nonchalantly, shrugging his shoulders as the second year lowered the glove, seemingly satisfied with his work. He held out the glove towards Alistair who gently took his possession from the shopkeeper. The green gem was neatly stitched into the back of the glove. It was centered awfully well and didn’t appear to be crooked. Alistair could clearly see the stitch marks around the edges of the gem, but they didn’t take away from the beauty of the glove nor would it be easy to see the stitch marks from afar. Putting the glove on, Alistair could distinctly feel the light weight of the Branch pressing against his skin. It wasn’t a heavy object and Alistair was sure that he would eventually get used to the extra weight. He clenched his hand together, feeling the fabric stretch against his skin as he turned his hand around experimentally.

“That’s it?” Alistair asked as he looked up at second year.

“That’s it,” the green haired man replied. “That is unless you have plans to bling your glove out. I’m sure an Air Stem would want more than just plain old stitching.”

“Perhaps once I figured out what’s going on and just what’s expected of me, I’ll come back and bedazzle my glove,” Alistair replied as he lowered his hand.

“I’ll hold you to that,” the shopkeeper retorted. “The shop is usually open after school on Mondays. I’m a student as well, y’know? I got stuff I have to do.”

 

“Don’t we all,” Alistair sighed as he turned away and waved the second year goodbye. He walked out of the room and began to wander aimlessly around the campus. Alistair was used to hanging out with a group of people and when he was alone he either painted or tried to find people to hang out with. He wasn’t good with being alone but, at the same time, he wasn’t sure what to do. The welcome committee had been cool and all, but they hadn’t really given anyone any direction. Normally, Alistair would rejoice at the thought of being able to do whatever he wanted but he usually was with someone and had some idea as to what he could do. He had no clue what the terrain was like or what sort of buildings he could go explore. Not knowing anything was lame and being alone was even lamer. At the least, Alistair could attempt to read over the papers he skimmed. Maybe he’d get some direction from there. Pausing by a wall, Alistair leaned his back onto it, flipping out his envelope and pulling out one of the papers stuffed in it. He held the page with his newly stitched glove and began to read all the wonderful events to come as dictated by the official schedule.

Edited by Doctortear

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The sea breeze felt good despite the taste of salt coating her lips. Latoya's hair rested against the back of her neck in a tightly-done braid, preventing the wind from stirring it into knots. She watched the horizon with excitement, watching as the ship's destination steadily grew closer. The young girl couldn't wait to step off the ship, so full with new students of various ages and backgrounds, and onto the soil that was the property of her new school. Hoping she would make lots of friends, she had been mingling for most of the trip and, while some students didn't seem to really take to her company, more of the others did. A good start, so she told herself.

 

As the ship came to port, Latoya waited anxiously for the mass of bodies to begin moving off the deck and onto the pier. Finally, her own feet touched the wooden boards, the dock creaking with the wait and movement of the students. There was laughter up ahead and one boy appeared to be recovering his composure. Passing him, she could barely see the Welcome Committee, her attention only directed towards them when brief flashes of like caught her eye.

 

With thriving forest to either side of the procession, she couldn't help but smile at the amount of beauty she saw. The walk wasn't long before the students began to split up into smaller lines, tables with a single staff sitting at the start of each. Curious, she picked one at random and gradually made her way up to the front.

 

"Name?" the man asked her, barely looking up at her. His tone seemed a bit bored, disinterested. The lack of pleasantness in his demeanor made Latoya frown.

 

Inhaling, she parted her lips to speak. "Latoya Bennings. That's B-e-n-"

 

"I found you," the man interrupted sharply, digging into the box at his left elbow. He pulled out one of the small grey pebbles, finally shifting his full gaze upon her. "Hold out your hand," he instructed and she complied. As the item was placed in her palm, she yelped in surprise at the pinprick flair of sensation and gaped in awe as the gem became filled with a spiral of colors, emerald green and pearl-like white. "Air... Interesting. Take this; you're in homeroom two." A plain envelope was shoved into her other hand, stirring Latoya from her shock. "Next!" The man waved her away as he shouted for the next student behind her.

 

Left only to comply, Latoya drifted from the tables and waiting students, walking through the main entrance of the school. The building was massive and certainly impressive. Making sure she wouldn't be in anyone's way, she fumbled with the envelope and brooch in her hands, putting the latter into the pocket of her capris before focusing on the former. A two was scribbled into the top right corner, a reminder of what homeroom class she was part of. Inside, an assortment of paperwork greeted her and she pulled the small stack free. A note, a map, a schedule... too much to properly inspect while standing.

 

Glancing about, she spotted a bench a little ways off and chose to sit down where she laid the envelope and all the paperwork (except the cardstock and agenda) at her side. She quickly read the welcoming note and then the rules expected to be followed by all students. Briefly, she skimmed the blank calendar; she'd spruce it up with decorations later. The brochure was next, the attached chain holding her curiosity for only a moment. Now, customization she would happily attend to. The rest could wait.

 

Excitedly, she stuffed all the paper back into the envelope and started searching for the Shop that had been mentioned. However, it took getting lost before she thought to pull out the map. Finally, though, she found the shop. A handful of other students filled the place, an older boy with expressive hair towards the side of the room with another boy. Certainly, the green-haired kid was a Second Year, given how at-ease he looked when compared to the gawking expressions of the other First Years. Once the two boys were done conversing, the First Year walking away with a newly accessorized glove, Green Hair noticed Latoya's presence and smiled welcomingly.

 

Flustered by his attractive looks, Latoya blushed and diverted her gaze, nibbling on her lower lip as she busied herself with looking at the displays. There were dozens of chains, fabrics, straps, ties... everything! She almost giggled with excitement; she could live in this shop and die of accessory happiness. However, she needed to focus and come to a decision on what to do with her gem - Branch, as it was called. "Need any help?"

 

Startling at the voice in her ear, Latoya spun and almost collided with Green Hair. He seemed to be amused by her reaction, chuckling warmly in response. "Um, I... I'm thinking of making a hairpin out of this," Latoya replied, recollecting her wits.

 

Gently, the boy plucked her Branch out of her fingers and inspected the green and white brooch. "A hair pin? For an Air Stem? Not really something I'd recommend but, if you can keep a good hold on it, there shouldn't be a problem. Give me a sec to see if I can find something." Before she could respond, the boy strode away, examining various shelves and stands before appearing to find something suitable and returning. As he walked back towards her, he clicked the brooch into place. "Will this do?" he asked her, handing the object over.

 

The clip was a simple gold piece about half the length of her index finger and just wide enough at the end for the gem to fit comfortably. She smiled and proceeded to fashion the clip into her hair above her left ear. "Yes! Thank you! It's perfect!" she exclaimed, quickly giving the boy a hug before blushing and running out of the shop.

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If anything, the air smelled like an adventure.

 

Nilma was leaning against the railing of the ship, their hands firmly holding themselves from toppling over and falling into the muddy water of the river. The ship had been going upstream the jungle river for a couple of hours now, a quite different setting to the days of sea voyage they had just endured. At the sea, Nilma had been at home with the salty breeze and the screaming seagulls, both which reminded them of the long summer vacations they and their family had spent in the archipelago. But now, they had entered the jungle river, and the air was heavy with the scents of muddy water, decaying exotic plants, and the moister air. They had never been abroad, so the tropical scents were new to them. A warm breeze ruffled their short hair and cooled the burned, red and irritated skin. They should've known better and slathered more of that SPF 50 sunscreen this morning.

 

"I think I see a dock over there!" someone exclaimed a few meters ahead of them. Excited, Nilma leaned even further and stared wide-eyed to the direction the ship had been steadily going. Grinning with excitement, they saw it was just so; a dock jut out from the shore, with a welcome committee waiting for the ship already. When the ropes had secured the ship to its place and wooden boards were taken out to get the students off the ship, Nilma carefully slipped their way to the front row of the crowd which stopped before the welcome committee. From there, they saw the glamorous show the four people put up and they couldn't stop from smiling. Now this was the reason they were here!

 

The group led them deeper into the jungle, where Nilma fell a little behind from their position at the front when they slowed down to inspect their surroundings. The trees grew high, higher than any tree they had earlier seen, and covered with colorful flowers, thick vines, and other plants which they couldn't identify. The jungle ended somewhat abruptly, as the group walked under a white archway to the campus and to the inner courtyard, where the group divided into lines, each one waiting to be addressed by the adult who sat behind the table, giving the students something from the boxes beside them.

 

The wait was short, but Nilma still found themselves anxious, bouncing on the balls of their feet and peeking every now and then to see if the line was moving at all. They thought they heard someone sigh with irritation behind them, but soon forgot it as a sharp voice pierced the air.

"Next!"

Nilma took a few quick steps to the table and smiled brightly to the sullen-looking male behind the table. Well, who wouldn't look sullen doing a job like this, they wondered to themselves.

"Last name?"

"Lunden, sir!"

"Lunden, eh... L... La... Le... Lu..." the man muttered to himself as he scrolled down the name list, squinting as he did so. "Spell it out, would you?"

"L-u-n-d-e-n," Nilma said, confused why he hadn't found their name already. Their name was there, right? After a stomach-wrenching minute, the man sighed with relief and tapped at their last name.

"Found it. Can you give me your hand?" the man asked. Lifting an eyebrow, Nilma did as so, wondering would the man give them a palm-reading on the dark future that would be ahead of them. Instead, he gave them a gray brooch, dropping it on their palm. A blast of icy energy ran up their arm and Nilma's smile twitched at it. The gem turned light green, with ivory white wavy stripes on it.

"Air Stem. Take care not to lose it. You're in homeroom class two. Next!" the man said as he gave Nilma a bunch of envelopes and then motioned them to move aside.

 

After walking a good distance away, Nilma leaned against a wall and opened the envelopes, quickly scanning them for anything interesting, the brightly-colored catching their attention soon. The words "Branch customization" made them decide immediately to get their branch customized. It was not hard to find there, simply following the steady stream of students, newcomers and old students both by the looks of it, and the looks of amazement as newcomers walked the opposite direction.

 

Soon the shop came into their view and Nilma couldn't help but grin. It was filled with students, all of them walking around the shop or discussing with a friend or two, a steady chatter flowing into their ears. The walls were a rainbow of different colors, alongside glittery and shiny stuff for everyone's needs. There were necklaces, ribbons, bracelets, ties, scarves, gloves... Everything. Nilma spent a few minutes just walking around, until their eyes caught a small section in the wall for leathery stuff, including wide bracelets. Fitting one wide bracelet into their left hand, they made a decision. Walking up to the cashier, which wasn't as busy as Nilma would've thought, they inspected a older student with rad, green hair customizing people's Branches, his skill apparent.

 

"Hello, how may I help you?" he said cheerfully as it became Nilma's turn to walk to the desk. They smiled brightly and handed over their Branch and the leathery bracelet.

"You think you could embed this into the bracelet?" Nilma asked, lifting an eyebrow and grinning.

"You doubt my skills?" the boy replied with a laugh and a wink, before disappearing for a few moments and returning with the bracelet. "Here you go! Leather is quite sturdy, so this might actually last until the end of the school, but feel free to come here when I'm open!"

Nilma nodded their thanks and said they would do just so should the need to come, before leaving the busy shop and finding a somewhat quiet corner where they could read the brochures more carefully. They noticed many other student were also doing so and they couldn't stop their smile from widening. This year was going to be fantastic.

 

~~~

 

Aline sighed as a chattering group of students passed her spot at the back of the ship, where she had been reading since the early morning. The group was loud enough, but it was probably to be expected since they were to arrive to the school today. Aline swore she could almost taste the excitement. She, herself, wasn't sure what to feel. Worried? Anxious? Thrilled? Sighing again, she pulled her book back to her eye level and continued to read, despite the slight wind which wanted to turn her pages too early. Inevitably, though, the ship seemed to come closer to its destination as the massive motors which had carried them upstream became silent, and the students became louder. In an unorganized wave, they left the ship, only to be greeted by the Welcome Committee. Aline was far back, so she couldn't see anything of what happened there, save for a few flashes and a booming welcome. The group begun to move out, soon, and Aline then noticed when two older students kept the tail - the other looked like he had jumped out from a fantasy novel, whilst the other seemed to come from a Sci-Fi movie set in the 6000's. She lifted an eyebrow at these costumes, unsure what to think of them. Sure, they looked fancy and attention-drawing, but were they practical? Did they choose the appearance themselves or-

 

Aline didn't have much time to think before the group lurched forwards, entering deeper into the jungle. The warm, moist air reminded Aline a little bit of home and for a moment she struggled with overwhelming homesickness. She was so far away from home and what for? To show off a fancy costume for newcomers? Of course that wasn't all that there was, she reminded herself. This was the first day - it would get better. Continuing their steady walk, Aline noticed how the jungle around them seemed strangely quiet. The wildlife must've fled the noise the group made, or then was there generally an absence of it at this time of the day? She didn't know.

 

After passing an archway, which seemed replaced at some parts, the group was taken to the inner courtyard and then lined up before some tables. It was a well-organized place, Aline noted with satisfaction, and the sign-up went on smoothly. A few people ahead of her, a tall person bounced up and down, as if they were unable to stay still while waiting. Aline sighed with irritation - they could wait for a few minutes and not just rush ahead! When it came that person's turn, there seemed to be a slight problem of some sort - this was noted through the whole line, as people begun to peek what was taking so long.

 

At last, it was Aline's turn, and she walked briskly to the man behind the table when he called for the next person.

"Last name?" he asked, his voice weary. Aline sympathized with him; to be stuck there, working on a seemingly endless line of students.

"Álvarez." The man nodded in response as he tapped at her last name.

"Give me your hand." Aline did as so curious about the request. Reaching into a box beside him, the man pulled out a gray gem and dropped it on the extended palm. Aline had not expected the icy blast of energy and gave out a soft hiss as she inhaled air sharply. The gem turned light brown, like latte, with soft yellow splotches sprinkled across it.

"Earth. Please do not lose it. Your homeroom class will be number two. Next!" After the man had shoved a pile of envelopes into her hand, Aline walked briskly away. Following the steady stream of students before walking slightly aside and finding a somewhat quiet corner where she could inspect the contents of the letters. She read everything carefully, making mental notes on the important rules, dates, and places. She also read the brightly colored leaflet about Branch Customization, but the chain which had come with it would work for now just fine, she decided as she strung the Branch to it. She then put the necklace on, the Branch weighing on her chest.

 

The students had begun to explore the school, most of them going in pairs or with larger groups. Aline couldn't help but wonder how could people befriend so quickly? She needed at least a month of good interaction, good luck, the stars in the right position, and the Feng Shui in her room correct to have even a chance to get a friend, she thought sullenly and got up, brushing the non-existing dust off. She might as well start wandering about the school and get familiar with it. With that, she began to walk aimlessly down, finding herself before the Branch Customization shop. Seeing it full of people and busy, Aline decided she would visit it on another occasion. Right now, she'd stay clear.

Edited by Gildraug

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