The trials.

Far beyond you and I… far beyond our respective countries… far beyond the boundaries of the realm we call "earth"… is a place called… Graphia. Graphia is a land to which the normal laws of our world do not apply. It is a place where great evils brew, and where great deeds are done. Graphia is a place… where heroes are born… Ah, but let us not get ahead of ourselves. Heroes, great and mighty, are of course a key element of our story. But remember, every hero starts somewhere. And in Graphia, every hero starts… at a school.

"Let the entrance exam… BEGIN!" shouted a burly man from the examiner's box. The rest of the stadium went wild with pent-up excitement. Old students, teachers, parents, and friends filled the stands of the Graphia hero academy stadium. The cheering filling the stadium was deafening as returning students wondered who would join the ranks this year. As mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters of the new recruits worried for their family member's health and future. As friends shouted and cheered for their friends, wishing them the best of luck in what they knew to be quite the rigorous test.

The burly man sat down in the examiner's box and folded his arms, ready to pry only the ripest from the bunch of them all. The shorter, scrawnier man beside him leaned over to his side.

"You seen the new recruits yet, Gana?"

The burly man turned to him. "Verikk, I don't need to see 'em. I already know how it's gonna be. 100 youngsters go into the stadium; 30 youngsters come out of stadium. It's the same routine every year."

The one called Verikk smiled and laughed a bit. "You're not the kind for wishing, eh Gana?"

Gana smiled back. "Well you know me Verikk. I'm old. I've been here for 53 years and it's a routine brawl session." He faced the stadium center again. "Once you've been here for 53 years, you expect nothing less. You'll understand in a couple decades."

Verikk stared at him for a moment, and then faced the stadium center, too. "I don't know, Gana… I really don't know."

Trumpets blared as the large, iron barred gates on either side of the sand-floored stadium slowly opened. The crowed unleashed a roar of immeasurable volume as a dark shape came out of both of them.

From Gana and Verikk's point of view, this was going to be a quick fight. To the right gate, a snarling niidhog sleekly walked out. Its body, like a lynx's, was smooth and perfectly proportioned for speed and agility. Its ivory horns protruding from its forehead gleamed in the sunlight from the roofless stadium, as did its fire red coat. Its eyes surveyed the area, it remembered this place. It had been brought here many times before. It extended its fangs and claws, as it showed off its twin tails, zipping back and forth, side to side, thin as piano wires and sharp as a skinner's knives. It knew what it was being used for… to harm creatures weaker than him for food and good care. Part of it liked its job. Most of it loved its job…

To the left gate, a short, confident young teenager slowly walked out onto the sand. He brushed off his tunic and slops, and looked admirably into the crowd. He raised his fist into the air and shouted confidently. Most of the crowd went wild, some of the crowd was laughing at his antics. They knew the cocky ones were always the failures.

The young man walked further out onto the sand, milking the crowd for all they had. Absent mindedly, he walked right in front of the niidhog. He instantly forgot everything he was doing and gazed in absolute terror at the niidhog. His knees started shaking and the crowd grew much quieter than it had been. The niidhog took one step towards the boy and he fainted.

The niidhog crouched down, ready to pounce in a matter of seconds to feast on his prey, as was instinct, when Gana stood up again and took a black ring from his blue uniform pocket. He placed it on his hand quickly and shouted "Bind!"

For a brief moment, the crowd fell completely silent, as the niidhog was an inch away from the boy, completely frozen in mid-air. The crowd immediately broke into a thunderous roar as two uniformed men came onto the field and took the limp boy to the medical tent outside the stadium. The niidhog unfroze and struck the ground hard, hitting nothing. It snarled and went back to its gate.

Gana sat down and removed the ring, placing it back in his pocket. He sighed and said "Well, one down."

Verikk eyed the old yet spry man. "Don't think they'll all be like this. They only have to avoid it for three minutes and they pass."

"What, you don't think I know that? I came up with the idea for this trial!"

"I know, I know. But I saw some pretty keen kids in the briefing room. We might have to dock it up to four minutes."

Gana brushed back his graying hair with his hand and turned to see a new challenger walking in from the left gate. "That's the problem with you new teachers… you have too much confidence in these kids."

Verikk couldn't help but laugh at the cynical old man. Gana went on: "Who's coming out to fight now?" He took a sip from the crystal glass of red wine he was drinking.

Verikk look closely at the clipboard he was holding. "A black mage… Rinn Orunitia."

Gana immediately choked on the wine and began to cough hysterically.

"Uh… Gana? Are you okay?" Verikk inquired, patting his colleague on the back. "What's wrong? Bad wine?"

Steadying himself, Gana turned rapidly to Verikk with a look of exhaustion, shock, and joy. "Orunitia! Verikk, did you really say Orunitia!" Do you know who this boy is, Verikk!

Verikk, now slightly afraid of the ecstatic man, backed into his seat a bit. "Well, er… to be honest sir, no. Do you um… know him?"

Gana ran his hand down his face; he couldn't believe his good friend Verikk didn't realize the gravity of the situation. "You are of course familiar with the 'Great Heroes', I assume…"

Verikk looked at Gana in puzzlement. He was offended; of course he knew! The legends of the Great Heroes were taught at a kindergarten level. "Why yes, Gana. The hero Cecil… the hero Titus… The hero Squall, Zidane, Cloud… the list goes on. Why do you ask?"

"Yes, those are the primary heroes, but what do you know of the mages by their sides?"

Again, it was obvious. "Let's see… Lulu, Rosa, Rinoa, Yuna…"

"Besides the women, man!"

"Oh, um… Tellah, Palom, Vivi…"

"Stop right there, my good man. Do you happen to know any more than just their first names?"

Verikk was wondering what Gana was getting at. He smiled and replied: "What, you want the last names?" He laughed, and then saw the serious expression on Gana's face. "Oh, um… er… well most Tellah and Palom's personal information was lost… the manuscripts were too old… But I believe Vivi's last name…" Then it struck him. "Was…" It struck him like a train crashing into a wall of steel. "Ornitier!"

Verikk and Gana stood up and clapped their hands on each other's shoulders in unison. "We have a descendant of one of the Great Heroes at our school!" And they immediately started shouting and cheering at the top of their lungs with the rest of the crowd, rooting for Rinn.

The young mage walked further out onto the stadium ring, countless butterflies in his stomach. His navy blue robes brushed the ground behind him; its silk sheen gleaming in the sunlight. He clutched his redwood staff tighter as the assorted charms hanging from the end jangled with each step.

What if I forget my spells? He nervously thought to himself. What if I wore the wrong armor? They are all purpose robes, but still… what if my opponent is fire-based or water-based? I'm not prepared for that!

He arrived at the center of the ring and began to feel faint. A second, icy blue niidhog began to stalk its way out of the gate, slightly larger than the last one. Rinn tried to reassure himself.

You're okay… you're okay… you're not going to forget my spells and you know you can pass this test. Your grandfather was a great hero, anyway. You got this, Rinn. It's all you, it's all you…

And then he saw the niidhog about a dozen meters away, approaching steadily. It's not all you, it's not all you!

Gana stood up again and shouted: "Let the entrance exam… BEGIN!" as the crowd went wild again.

The niidhog began to slowly, yet surely, circle Rinn, drawing his sharp black claws. Rinn turned at the same pace so to stay facing it, while nervously adjusting his pointy straw hat, strewn with patched of all sorts, to get it just the way he liked it: hiding most all of his face in shadow and revealing nothing of it but two circular glowing yellow eyes.

The niidhog continued to circle Rinn until Rinn fell into its plan. Rinn attacked first, charging at the niidhog with his redwood staff above his shoulder, prepared for a diagonal blow. But just before Rinn could reach it, the niidhog turned to a sandy brown color, very close to the color of the sand in the stadium.

But Rinn was too close to stop now; he swung the staff right through the niidhog, which exploded into a cloud of dust, as though it was only a sand sculpture. Rinn, confused and embarrassed to fall for such an obvious trick, spun around in just enough time to catch the niidhog charging at him, almost in pouncing range. It lunged at Rinn, claws outstretched, ready to dig into the soft flesh of the human before it.

But Rinn quickly raised his staff to block its two front claws. He succeeded in throwing it off balance, but the momentum knocked him over in the process.

The niidhog landed gracefully and skidded to a halt, immediately turning to lash out at Rinn once more. Unfortunately for Rinn, the niidhog was much faster at recovering than he was. Rinn could barely get up on his knees before he had to raise his staff to block its fore claws once more. The recoil from the block was worse this time, and Rinn's skull collided with the hard earth.

Again the niidhog turned around and charged once more, the killing strike at the ready now. Rinn barely lifted his head to see the icy blue figure charging at him… slowly getting blurrier and blurrier until it went black.

Gana was heartbroken… the Orunitia child had failed the exam… he stood up and reached for the black ring the old red mage used for black magic. But suddenly he saw something. Rinn, with his eyes closed, got up almost effortlessly and placed his staff firmly in the earth, facing the charging niidhog.

"Verikk… I never thought I'd be able to see this is a thousand lifetimes… and here it is, happening right before our eyes."

Verikk, mouth wide open, was staring at the small cloaked figure in disbelief. How could he still be standing? "What, er… exactly is it, Gana?"

Before Gana answered, Rinn's eyes burst wide open, now a piercing white light in the stead of yellow. With the niidhog only a foot away, Rinn raised his staff and in one lightning-fast motion, smacked it harshly across the face. Then, in a fraction of a second, moved around to its side the bluntly smashed it in the ribs, the back of its skull, kneecaps, spine, and jaw.

The crowd blinked, just barely realizing what had just happened, when finally he ducked and delivered a fierce uppercut and automatically began target the now airborne beast with magic. Rinn dropped his hand to his side and the searing energy of a fireball began to condense in his palm. In seconds, he hurled it up at the niidhog and it exploded, showering the ground in sparks and fur.

Rinn's eyes returned to their former color and he collapsed on the ground. Gana was already almost down to the stadium floor, running as fast as he could from the examiner's box. The crowd was completely silent as he ran out into the ring towards the near-unconscious mage. He helped Rinn up and grabbed his wrist, holding it high in the air.

"Examinee number two: Rinn Orunitia… PASSED! With the astounding use of the rare "trance" ability!"

Immediately a roar of thunderous applause never before heard of rang out across the stands. While Gana helped Rinn across the ring to the resting area, Rinn looked up tiredly at Gana. "Did I make it?" And he finally passed out. Gana couldn't help but smile.

"Yes Rinn, you made it. I have a feeling you will be quite successful at our school."