Eagle Perfect: Legend of the First is a parody of dystopian young adult novels, in which two ‘chosen ones’ vie for the status of world-saving protagonist. New readers should start at Chapter 1, or you can consult the Table of Contents.
Chapter Eleven: The Classification
As the sawdust obscured his vision and choked his breathing, Eagle recognised the strange, familiar scent in the Classification Arena. It was magic. Either that or a tomato (the two scents were remarkably similar), and it was either stronger magic or a bigger tomato than he had ever smelt before.
Terrified children scrambled around the stage. The sawdust was settling, but not like typical sawdust. As it landed, it clumped and formed into monstrous figures: giant spiders, dragons, small moths, Administration Guardsmen, and others Eagle didn’t recognise. And even more out of character for sawdust, each figure was coming to life.
Eagle glanced around. Every exit was sealed. And he noticed something else - there was one sawdust creature moving menacingly toward each child. But no creature was pursuing him. Instead, at his feet writhed a confused mound of sawdust, trying various ideas for a shape, but unable to settle on anything.
And Eagle understood.
“It’s your greatest fear!” he cried with inappropriate self-satisfaction at the children as they ran screaming in horror. “The sawdust is manifesting your greatest fear!”
“We know!” replied a nearby red-headed girl. She was backing away from a sawdust crowd of people demanding an impromptu public speech. “They explained that before you came in!”
The sawdust at Eagle’s feet was no doubt struggling to manifest his greatest fear - that he would somehow be unequal to the challenges that lay before him as either the Lyceum’s saviour of humanity or an intrepid double agent for the Administration. It was an uncomfortable manifestation to watch, but at least it wasn’t life-threatening. He had to help the other children, who were genuinely scared.
The Lyceum was a school, so Eagle reasoned that this might all be a lesson. “Maybe if we face our fears,” he shouted, “we won’t be harmed!”
Across the stage, a bespectacled boy turned, attracted by Eagle’s booming voice and potent logic. A giant sawdust spider crushed the distracted boy, killing him instantly.
“They also said we definitely will be harmed unless we stop these creatures!” the red-headed girl yelled.
A gangly boy across the stage was having some success, exhaling a powerful wind that obliterated a sawdust dragon. Others were huddling together, exhibiting only the feeblest magical abilities, such as double-jointed thumbs. Eagle saw that his own powers were just as worthless here: not because he was weak, but because he was too dangerous. He hadn’t learnt to control his time channeling, and could easily send the entire school back to before the Event, amongst all the name-calling and the Twitters.
But perhaps there was another way.
“These creatures are magic,” he realised, shouting again in the hope he hadn’t already lost all credibility. “Which means there’s a Magic Knight nearby. Help me find them!”
At last the red-headed girl didn’t offer an immediate, knowing reply. Instead, her eyes rolled back into her head and she gave off a tomato-like aroma.
“They’re not at the Lyceum!” she replied, in a voice two octaves deeper than before.
“Then where are they?” he asked, deepening his own voice to avoid embarrassment.
But the girl was now completely engulfed by the crowd of sawdust people, whose cries for a three-minute speech on an unprepared topic drowned out any reply she might have made.
He realised that she had already told him enough. He knew what he was looking for, and found it immediately. At the rear of the stage, embedded about ten feet up a wall labelled ’scaenae frons’, was an egg-sized, mauve crystal.
He sprinted to the wall, sidestepping a screaming boy and a sawdust man with enormous shoes, whom Eagle would later learn was a replica of a Physical Humour Operative from Comedy Sector AA2. With his customary grace, Eagle launched himself at and up the wall, reached for the crystal, and plucked it from its setting.
He landed and threw the crystal hard against the wall, smashing it into tiny fragments. All around the stage, the sawdust creatures collapsed into lifeless piles of wood shavings, now useful only for soaking up spills, starting fires, killing weeds, cleaning floors, keeping ice frozen for long periods of time, and filling defects in wooden surfaces.
As Eagle caught his breath, the crowd did something extraordinary. As one, they began to slap their hands together. The sound was rapturous. It was group adulation, communicated by this simple hand-slapping gesture. Eagle almost joined in, slapping his own hands against each other in praise of his valiance.
Instead he found himself asking what kind of place this Lyceum was. Perhaps Viper Sloen had been right about the renegade Magic Knights. What kind of people would use their powers to make sawdust manifestations of children’s greatest fears, even going so far as to crush several of those children, in front of still more children, all as part of an enrolment process? He didn’t have a reasonable answer to his own rhetorical question. But he knew one thing: he had survived the Classification.
“Now it is time for the Classification!” called a familiar voice, echoing through the Classification Arena.
The Schoolmaster had appeared on the stage. Eagle suddenly found that he felt much more at ease about the crushed children and the Lyceum in general. The children arranged themselves into a single row as they had earlier, though it was slightly shorter now. He was surprised, and for some reason pleased, to see that the red-headed girl had survived the sawdust mob and was at the other end of the line.
“I remember when I stood on that stage,” the Schoolmaster said to the assembled pupils, “just as you do now. Like each of you, I was excited but mildly apprehensive. And for good reason. You will now be classified into your category, and your category is who you are. It will determine who your friends are, what colour tunic you wear, and even what colour shoes you wear.
“One at a time, I will call out each of the three categories - Brave, Cunning and Nondescript. You will know in your heart when to step forward and take your tunic.”
Eagle prepared to learn who he was. From what he had seen of himself, he was quite sure he would be Brave.
“Brave!” the Schoolmaster called.
Either side of Eagle, other children stepped forward. Eagle tried to lift a foot, but it wouldn’t move. So he wasn’t Brave, after all.
The Brave students, all attractive, vigorous types, were handed red tunics and red shoes. Eagle found it hard to believe that they were more courageous than him - he had destroyed the mauve crystal while they all ran around shrieking. Nevertheless, if he wasn’t Brave, with his formidable intellect he was certain to be Cunning. There was no shame in that.
“Cunning!” the Schoolmaster called.
Again he tried to advance, and again he felt glued to the stage. The Cunning children, generally the ugliest and palest in the group, received black tunics and shoes, and filed off the stage.
So after all that, Eagle was Nondescript? He looked around at his fellow Nondescripts: all dull, forgettable types with blank faces. It didn’t seem fair.
“Nondescript!” the Schoolmaster called.
All of the remaining children stepped forward.
Except for Eagle.
The Nondescripts departed with their tunics (Eagle had already forgotten what colour they were). Only Eagle remained, facing a crowd of children as perplexed as he was.
The Schoolmaster alone seemed to know what was happening. He smiled at Eagle in recognition.
“As I suspected,” the Schoolmaster announced. “You, Eagle Perfect, are neither Brave, nor Cunning, nor Nondescript.
“You are all three.”
* * *
Eagle lay on his mattress, examining the beams that ran along the bare ceiling. As the only current student classified as Brave and Cunning and Nondescript, he had an entire dormitory room to himself. He waited there while someone sewed him a tricolour tunic.
As he pondered why there were no second-hand tricolour tunics available, his door swung open.
It was the red-headed girl from the Arena, now wearing a red tunic, and carrying two stacks of books.
“Teacher sent me to give you these,” she said with a warm smile. “I’m Wren.”
“Eagle,” Eagle replied, sitting up on the edge of the bed.
“I know,” Wren replied, “otherwise I wouldn’t have known who I was looking for, would I? These books are for our Advanced Placement classes: the Schoolmaster selected us because of what we did at the Classification today.”
We? Eagle wondered, before remembering that Wren actually had done something when she rolled her eyes back into her head. He would have to ask her about that.
“So it looks we’ll be seeing a lot of each other,” Wren said. Her tone indicated that the sentence was intended to have a second meaning, though Eagle was unclear on what it was.
“So it does,” Eagle replied, mimicking her tone anyway.
Wren sidled into the room and placed the books next to Eagle on the bed.
“I just wanted to say,” she added, sitting close beside him, “that you were amazing today.”
Eagle nodded in complete agreement. But why was he feeling nervous?
“Oh, it was nothing,” he said, setting a new standard in false modesty. “I’m just glad I wasn’t a few minutes later. I hear the late enrolment process is worse.”
Wren laughed like Eagle had said something witty, even though he hadn’t. He had been told that the late enrolment process really was worse, being designed to humiliate prospective students for their tardiness.
“I was wondering,” she said, biting her bottom lip. “How did you know that breaking the crystal would work? You haven’t seen one before, have you?”
Eagle looked back up to the ceiling while he concocted an excellent lie. But as he did, Wren’s hand shot into his tunic pocket. He tried to swat it away, but he was too slow. She stood and backed away, holding Viper’s mauve crystal just out of Eagle’s reach, and whispered: