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Unholy Omens
by Orakio of the Domes


There was a great commotion in the learning town of Piata. Whereas the home of Motavia's finest school was usually boring and painfully routine, things seemed to have been stirred up, at least for a little while. Hahn followed a swarm of excited students and bewildered professors out the main entrance of the Academy, wondering where all the noise was coming from.

It was a relief to get out of his climatology class, but he was kind of annoyed that everyone just suddenly sidetracked to see what was going on. As the group of people approached the center of town, he could see curious citizens poking their heads out of windows to observe the situation as well.

Standing on his tiptoes and trying to see over the sea of multi-colored heads, Hahn realized what was causing the cacophony.

There were a few dozen students cavorting in the massive fountain that stood like a strange, square beast in the center of town. They were still whooping and hollering with glee, all drenched from head to toe in the debatably sanitary water. They seemed oblivious to the crowd that had gathered around the fountain, and kept their livelihoods up.

Hahn felt like he was watching an odd exhibit in a particularly twisted zoo. "Some nerve they have, right?" came a voice from his left. He turned his head and saw the grinning face of his friend and classmate Rita.

She seemed more disheveled than usual today -- her deep magenta hair was clumped up on the top of her head, and even her glasses were tilted on her face. "Yeah, I guess so," he replied. "They're going to be in some hot water later, though." He looked around, scanning the congregation, and saw that no one had made a move to stop this.

"Scalding." corrected Rita cheerfully. The two of them had met a few years ago when they had first enrolled in the Academy. They were close friends, but had vastly different personalities: while Rita was extremely energetic (sometimes overbearingly so), Hahn was more of the meeker type, partly by nature and partly by his unfortunate circumstances in life recently.

"Well, there's the end of their little escapade," muttered Rita as a figure stomped its way towards the frolicking students. The figure was maneuvering through the crowd with ease -- people backed away from it like it was a disease-ridden crawler from the sands.

"Suspensions for all!!" it roared. The principal of Motavia Academy was most definitely not pleased, wrinkled face revealing even more creases as it contorted into a mask of rage. He grabbed one of the students in the fountain by the collar and yanked him out forcibly, splashing water all over himself in the process.

Then, he proceeded to remove the rest of the merrymakers. Meanwhile, the few professors out with the group used what little authority they had to shoo the students back inside, before the principal's wrath could be turned to them.

"Well, I gotta get back to anthropology," said Rita glumly. "See ya some other time!" Hahn gave her a small smile and waved as the two were parted by a rush of people thankful for the little break, but eager to get back into the building where it was cooler and they could hide from the oppressive mid-day Motavian sun.

* * *

Towards the end of his classes, Hahn was getting even more distracted. Not from the fountain incident, though -- he thought that was just stupid. No, he was awaiting a letter from his fiancée Saya. It had already been quite a few months since he had last heard from her.

But it was to be expected, anyhow. With monster populations on the rise, one was hard pressed to find someone to deliver mail in between towns, especially if the towns were as far apart as Piata and Krup.

Still...a few months was too long to wait. What if Saya decided she didn't want to put up with it anymore? The thought made Hahn's blood run cold. He loved her dearly, in his own clumsy way, and hoped that she didn't mind his pursuing an education at the Academy. But...what if she decided to give in to that thickheaded brute, Kolb? That would be the ultimate defeat -- crushed and scorned at the same time. Kolb was a local dullwit that had his eye on Saya.

"Hahn?"

Hahn looked up from his desk and opened his eyes, for the first time realizing that class had been dismissed. He had been sitting at his unbalanced desk, too swamped in his own thoughts, and now, Professor Ovis, who taught his astronomy class, probably thought he hadn't been paying attention throughout the entire lecture.

"Oh, uh, sorry, Professor," he sputtered, face turning red. He was never good with explanations, so he picked up his worn sand newt-hide textbook and quickly headed out the door.

"Not so fast," interrupted Ovis, who had an amused look on his round face. Hahn turned around and twiddled his fingers uselessly. Ovis turned to his own desk, and hunched over even farther, to pick up a sheaf of yellowed papers. He presented the papers proudly to Hahn, as if they were a Watramansa gift. "Since you're here, why not save me a trip to the principal's office and deliver these?"

Hahn politely accepted and took the papers. "There's a good boy," returned Ovis, his bent form chuckling. "Thank you," he called in a sing-song voice. "and try to pay more attention." By the time he got around to finishing his words, Hahn was already out the door.

Instead of going down the stairs as he usually did, Hahn turned left and headed towards the principal's place. The office was unusually dark when he got in. The halls outside had quieted in the last couple of minutes, and Hahn felt like he was exploring some ancient citadel. The Academy seemed to have been deserted in a matter of moments -- students were already back at their dorms, and professors were finishing up reviewing term papers or whatnot.

The blinds in the office were closed, Hahn observed as he walked over to the principal's desk. Thin bars of sunlight streamed through the window and lay on the floor like rigid yellow worms. As he set Ovis' papers down, Hahn noticed something else on the classically-designed maruera desk. He squinted. It was a commission verification slip. Picking up the rectangular piece of paper slowly, he held it up into the sunlight to read.

"Dear sir," it began. "We have received your request for a monster extermination by one of our hunters. We will notify you of any sign-ups when they occur, and send the said hunter to Piata with your specified message. Thank you for bringing your business to us."

It was dated just yesterday and signed illegibly by someone who was apparently associated with the Aiedo Hunters' Guild.

Monster extermination... The words rang in Hahn's head as he thought back to the principal's suspicious behavior recently, along with the disappearance of his mentor Professor Holt, and persistent rumors he had heard from other students.

Breathing heavily, he put the slip back down and ran back to his dorm room to process this new information which might very well confirm his fears.

*     *     *     *     *

Later that evening, after a solitary dinner in the rowdy student cafeteria, Hahn went outside to think. The letter from Saya had finally come, but the news wasn't that good. Despite their best agricultural efforts, the crops in Krup were still poor and malnourished at best. The water supply was often sickly and unsafe to drink.

His family's armory wasn't making much profit with the recent lack of visitors, and the nearby Motavian village of Molcum had become openly hostile to them now.

On top of all of that, Hahn remembered the verification slip and his worries about Professor Holt, whom he worked for as an assistant prior to his disappearance, plus the Birth Valley connection, if there indeed was one.

"Are you okay?"

Hahn turned to see who had spoken. It was Rita again. She walked over to him. "I saw you looking kinda distant at supper today, so I decided not to intrude. But I can't ignore the fact that you seem really down." She looked at him from behind the glasses with concerned eyes.

Hahn smiled wanly. "Yeah, you're right." he said. "It's just that I've got problems of all kinds piling down on me, and I feel...trapped, I guess." He looked up at the sky, which was already a deep sapphire. Hints of red and orange fringed the horizon, and twinkling stars were scattered across the heavens.

"I mean, I want to help the planet along in any way possible, what with Motavia dying before our very eyes, but I'm already caught up in so many other less grand, but just as important issues that it's hard to keep up with it all." He took a deep breath. "I've been taking some classes to kill some time, but I can't get my mind off of more pressing things."

Rita patted him on the back. "It's okay, Hahn-man. I know a little about how you feel." For a moment, the two of them stood silently, and it seemed that she was going to say something else. But Hahn interjected before she had a chance.

"Look up there!" he exclaimed, pointing at a brilliant streak of red in the sky. Rita gaped at the thing, which was moving westward at an incredible speed. "What the hell is that?!"

"I...I don't know!" said Rita. She thought for a moment, and grabbed his hand, leading him back into the Academy. "Come on, we've gotta check this out with a telescope!" There was no lighting at all inside, and it was kind of hard to find their way to the staircase. When the two got there, though, they scrambled up the steps and into Professor Ovis' classroom, where Hahn had been hours earlier.

Rita peered into a telescope that protruded out into a small crevice just below the domed ceiling, and scanned the western skies, trying to find the red thing again. "There it is!" She moved aside for Hahn to take a look. He gasped.

"It's a comet!" he realized after glancing through the telescope. "A red comet..." he murmured. "How extraordinary." It looked like the sky was bleeding, oozing out its life force and letting it drip slowly.

No one was listening to him, though. Rita was rooting around in a bookshelf near Professor Ovis' desk, and Hahn went over to her. She pulled out a thick volume titled "Anomalic Celestial Objects and Their Correlating Properties" and gave a small triumphant shout.

Flipping through hundreds of pages quickly, she finally stopped at one and showed it to Hahn beneath the moonlight that filtered in through the slits in the domed roof. "I knew I had heard something about a red comet before!" she told him. "Old man Ovis' books were bound to have something on it."

"Lashiec's Comet," Hahn read from the dried parchment. "was named after a legendary king from space century 342 (AW 200 - 300). It is said that a high amount of...some big chemical word, I guess...contributes to the color of the comet, which seems to have no definite orbit and appears sporadically every couple of centuries. The name was coined by the people of Parma who lived under Lashiec's reign, for the king had become a tyrant within years of coronation. It is said that the red comet, formally named Rheblinolia neufaer, was first seen in the skies around AW 284, the year of Lashiec's death, and is a powerful omen for all who dwell beneath it."

There was a moment of silence as the two absorbed this information. Hahn thought about everything that had happened recently and decided that they were simply experiencing the calm before the storm. Finally, he looked up, and into Rita's excited eyes. "Well," he said. "somehow, I don't doubt that last statement's going to come true."

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