16: Results
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I yet live...

A warm smile dissipated the formal aura that the priests sudden entrance had brought.  "Welcome everyone.  It's always a happy occasion to see so many healthy children gathered for the ritual and blessings of Methorma.  I'm sure you're all eager to  get started so why don't you all follow me."  With that the friendly priest half turned into the Church and gestured for the gathered families to follow before leading the way.  His actions and tones were completely incongruous with his elaborate dress.

A slight hum of noise started up as the gathered families started buzzing with excitement for the upcoming test.   Like ants following a scent trail they all followed after the priest.  The muted conversations became tinged with awe and respect once they stepped inside.  

Adults murmured softly while wide eyed cubs clutched at their parents.  While holding on for comfort the children nervously scanned the surroundings. Fidgeting with whatever part of their parents clothes they'd managed to get a hold of.  The solemnity of the buildings and the occasion seemed to repress the energy and enthusiasm many of them had displayed before.

The nervous energy seemed to be contagious.  Spreading and amplifying itself with every child it encountered.  Luca subconsciously started his breathing exercises, in order to stay calm. Trying to distract himself Luca cast his eyes around, trying to shut out the hushed, nervous whispers of the other cubs.  Depression settled around Luca's shoulders as he realised, from half whispered conversations, the other children seemed to be worried about what possible alignment and abilities they might have.  However judging from the lack of discussion on the topic, he seemed to be the only one stressed out by the fact that this ritual, test or whatever was going to literally determine his gender.  

Glancing around, Luca noted that the riot of colour outside the building also extended inside.  The pink, green and orange theme was still very prevalent. But hints of yellow and red, were scattered throughout as well.  Especially on some of the smaller buildings they passed.   The church's large exterior building surrounded a collection of smaller bulb-like buildings growing on the inside.  In the very centre of the open courtyard there was a serene garden, scattered over and around small, rolling hills. The sound of hidden water features lent a tranquil air to the garden.   The soothing sound effects washed away the nervous energy as they wandered through the garden.   As if it was by design, once the trickling water had chipped away at the nervous atmosphere, they ended their meandering walk at one of the many buildings nearby. 

The ever smiling priest led them into a large, oval building.  The outside had hand sized bumps scattered across the walls.   Looking around to stave off his nerves Luca got a strange sense of familiarity.  Staring at the stair like platforms that circled the walls it only clicked when the priest directed the parents to sit in the stands.  It kinda looks like a miniature sports stadium.  Unconsciously smiling at the comparison, Luca bounced over the centre of the field where the children were gathering round the priest.

"Please spread yourselves evenly inside the outer ring."  Luca's eye dropped down to where the priest was pointing.  His smile stiffened, Why does it look like some kind of demonic summoning circle! The moss glowed ominously as Luca stood rooted to the spot.   Glancing around Luca was relieved to see he wasn't the only one with doubts.  A few of the children were looking uncertainly at the priest, the occasional repressed whimper could be heard.  Luca eyed the stands only to see the parents chatting away, a few smiling down.  Luca took a deep breath.  Well if even my over protective parents aren't concerned I guess it can't be dangerous.  Gathering his courage Luca slowly edged one foot into the circle.  When nothing happened he let go of the breath he was holding and stepped all the way in.  Looking up with a grin Luca found himself the centre of attention as all the other children watched from outside.  They relaxed visibly and after observing him for a little longer followed Luca's example. Luca's smile froze for the second time that day.  Did they just use me as a guinea pig?! Luca flinched as the priest patted him on the head.  

"Well done," the priest quietly murmured so only Luca could hear.  "Please hold out your hand, palm up."  

Fine I guess if I'm going to be silly enough to volunteer as the test case I may as well commit.  Luca resignedly held out his hand.  His new found resolution was tested when the priest pulled out a bone dagger with strange patterns covering its surface.  Internally crying Luca looked towards his parents. Using their still cheerful expressions as a tether, Luca grabbed hold and reined in his wild imaginations about ritual sacrifices and demonic cults.  Too lost in his own thoughts Luca didn't even feel it when the priest pricked his hand.  

A small white seed was then placed in his hand and with a nod to Luca the priest moved on to the next child. Luca watched uncertainly as the priest carried out the ritual for the rest of the children.   Luca continued to distract himself from the magic circle he was standing in by staring at the white seed in his palm.   The once pure white seed was now stained red by the small pool of blood that had seeped up from the cut on his palm.

"Alright, make sure the seed stays in contact with your blood and hold it out in front of you."  Luca observed the other children for some kind of clue, determined not to be the test case this time round, only to see them all hesitantly obeying the instruction in slightly different ways. Some of them held the seed in a tightly closed fist stretched out in front of them.  Others awkwardly cupped it in one hand and carefully held it closer.   A few sandwiched it between both hands pressing down hard.  Luca waited for the Priest to correct their postures.  Luca wasn't the only child still waiting for more instructions but he just smiled serenely not giving any clues. He gave the impression that he'd wait all day.

Hoping the lack of direction was just the adults way of enjoying the kids squirm and not of any actual relevance to the test Luca sighed and held out his seed.   Cupping the small, white seed in both hands, careful to keep the seed in the small pool of blood, Luca hesitantly extended it out in front of him, keeping his eyes glued to the priest for any clues as to what he might be doing wrong.

Luca was bound for disappointment though as the priest's  smiling expression remained unchanged. There wasn't even a twitch of an eye as if the vicissitudes of life couldn't touch him.  Luca wasn't even sure he was still paying attention. Contrary to Luca's suspicions the priest moved once all the children had finally held out the seeds in various strange poses.  His serene gaze turned piercing as he briefly examined the children then nodded to himself.

"We shall now begin the test, remember to keep holding the seed at all times no matter what happens," A nervous ripple flowed through the children but they all remained in their positions. Luca was sweating internally.  So in the end is the way we hold the seed important or not?!

Luca didn't really have time to contemplate though as the Priest extended his hands down in-front of himself.  Bowing slightly from the waist. Then he began to pray. 

"Goddess Methorma, we come here today to celebrate these young cubs taking the next step in their journey."  A soft white light surrounded the priest as he began speaking.  The moss which had only been softly glowing lit up, various colours undulating over the circle out from the centre where the priest was standing to the children at the edges.  It's not some ominous magic circle, it's definitely normal.  Luca shiftily peeked at his parents in the stands and their calm expressions reassured him. "We ask that you bless this ceremony and these young ones as they come here seeking to garner a small portion of your vast and wondrous knowledge." The priest solemnly stood up from his bow, though his hands were still facing the ground. The light from the moss floated up from the circle like dancing fireflies that started to swirl around the nervous children.  

"May they ever be guided by your gentle hand as they grow under your grace." The priest looked upwards and turned his palms to face the sky slowly raising them. The swirly specks turned into a storm of colours, different coloured hurricanes began to focus in on the children. .  All of them holding their chosen pose with a desperate focus.  Luca stared as the lights began to zoom towards the seed cradled in his hands.  As if the light was some kind of miracle-grow, the seed split down the centre as a bud sprung out. His eye's flickered to the other children to see the same phenomenon happening everywhere. The swirling lights spun faster and tighter focusing in on the sprouting seeds in the children's hands.  

Luca starred as his own seed sprouted and grew at an accelerated rate. However unlike the other children who had only a few or in some cases only colour concentrating on their flower. Luca seemed to have a disproportionate variety of specks being absorbed into his flower.  Until within a matter of seconds a gorgeous opalescent flower bloomed in his hands.  At first it appeared white but as it caught the light it shimmered with a plethora of colours. The lights quickly began to scatter and fade as the priest lowered his hands however while the lights vanished of the other children. Luca notices the lights lingered on his flower continuing to linger on it's petals.  As the ritual came to an end Luca heard, or perhaps felt a whisper of a thought.  Love and a hint of humour fading with the lights.

"The evaluation is now over. Please remain seated while I come and check your results." He turned to the eagerly waiting parents with a smile. "If you want to now come down and wait behind your cubs you may but please don't touch them just yet."  Some of waiting adults leapt from their seats as if on springs. and rushed to stand behind their children expectantly watching the priest, Luca's parents among them.  However the majority took a much more leisurely approach as they wondered down from the stands chatting.

The priest slowly started to circle around simply observing the flowers without touching them.  Luca nervously watched as the priest went around the circle first telling the children and expectant parents the element's they were aligned with and next the gender of the child.  Luca couldn't help fidgeting while waiting for his turn. His antics didn't stand out as all the children were behaving in a similar manner. None of the parents seemed disappointed in any way but there was the occasional bubble of excitement when the priest gave his assessment.

Once his turn arrived Luca swallowed as he nervously gazed at the priest.  His hands ached as he repressed the urge to clench them into fists, not wanting to damage the flower in his hands. The priest kept observing Luca's flower closely but unlike the other children where he gave the results almost immediately he continued to stare at Luca's flower and a frown slowly started to appear.

Luca finally couldn't take the silence any longer and blurted out, "What is it?" The priest gave him a startled look and there was a slight murmur from the surrounding parents and Luca realised he maybe shouldn't have spoken. He rapidly blinked to prevent tears as he hung his head mumbling a sorry.  Galen had placed a hand on Donovan's shoulder as he unconsciously stepped forward towards his distressed cub. 

The priest shook off his mild surprise and smiled kindly at Luca's bowed head and drooped ears. "No, I'm the one who should be apologising.  I was trying to determine your element and made you worried.  I'm afraid I can only answer that I'm unsure what element your child is aligned with as I don't recognise this particular colouring. However I can tell you that Methorma has already helped awaken an ability for you.  You'll have to discover it on your own though. I will spend some time going through our records later to see if I can identify your element."

The priest looked at Luca's parents "I can also tell you your child is a sub-beastman," Luca looked up at the kindly smile and decided to push his luck a bit. "Is it alright if I ask how you can tell,"

"Luca," Galen gently reproved,

Laughingly the priest reassured him, "There's no harm in telling him that curiosity is a wonderful trait to have."  Smiling again at Luca "The flower that blooms will reflect your gender, I can tell by the gender of the flower as to what the gender of the child is." eyeing his flower doubtfully Luca forgot all about his previous concerns "How?" 

"Well it actually isn't that hard, and as an apology for not being able to properly fulfill my duties for you I will answer any questions you have." The priest eye's twinkled as he glanced to the side and continued, "After I've finished evaluating the rest of the children," Luca twitched guiltily glancing to see the rest of the children and parents who were waiting with a mixture of nervousness and inpatients then flushed and ducked his head again "Right, sorry."  The priest nodded graciously and continued on to the next child as Luca continued to dubiously examine the flower in his hands.

Releases are still going to be very slow for now as I just have alot less time, and energy.  If you prefer to read several chapters at once I'd recommend waiting till after this whole Covid-19 business is over as there should be a few by then.