(A/N: Oh boy, this is my largest update yet. For the entire account. I worked really hard on this so please tell me what you think. Also, to my regular reviewers, you may notice there is a lot of scene-jumping in this chapter. I would love it if you could comment on every scene in full, as this is a pretty massive update and I would very much appreciate the additional feedback. I want to at least attempt to continue this series as a side-project while I focus on Million To One. Also, it's the fifteenth anniversary of when principal filming began on Lord of the Rings! That's pretty cool, right? Oh yeah... and it's my brother's birthday but nobody cares about that! What am I doing? This ain't a blog! ON WITH THE CHAPTER!)
Just Outside Dutchroot Prison Complex
The night ring passed overhead, casting a veil of darkness over all the land in sight. The floating orbs that lined the streets flickered on in a flash, illuminating the road. Along this road walked a young man clad in a glossy black cape. He pulled up his arms and tightened his snow white gloves. Reaching up, he realigned his short top hat into a more level position. He did not like to let up on appearances.
His boots squeaked ever so softly as he trotted along the dampened pavement. It had rained recently, he surmised. As such, a thin veneer of mist coated his surroundings, which would make it hard to spot him from a distance. There might have been a faster way to reach his destination, but the man enjoyed his night time strolls. One could look up to the sky and see the slight illumination of five large moons, and a dozen smaller ones in the distance.
'How beautiful the night sky is… I couldn't imagine being on a world with a barren sky", he thought to himself. The cluttered sky gave him some degree of comfort. The man grinned mischievously as he cracked his knuckles. 'Of course, the night ring always grants peace of mind to those who live in the shadows...', he thought.
He tapped his earpiece as he continued down the path. 37:19, his augmented vision clock read. 'Hm… I'm a little early, so I might as well have some fun', he decided as he approached his destination. A large sprawling gate lay before him, the walls stretching out quite a bit before wrapping around a central structure. There was two security guards standing duty on both sides of the gate. Both of them female.
It wasn't long before they spotted him, though the mist helped delay their reaction. "Hey! What are you doing here? You can't be here without authorization!", one of them shouted, attempting to shoo the man away. The young man stuck his hands in the air as he approached. "No no, you misunderstand! I'm just a travelling magician, honest! I was hired to come here!", he said in his defense.
"A magician? Who authorized your visit? And for what reason?", the other guardswoman asked sternly. The young man reached into his pocket, pulled out a card and handed it to them. They looked puzzled. "W-What is this?", one of them exclaimed in surprise.
In the guard woman's hand there was a small picture depicting a swordsman standing alone, victorious on the battlefield over a pile of corpses. "Oh, my bad. Flip it over", the young man cautioned them. They did so, revealing an ordinary business card.
"Tureinn; Professional Magician For Entertainment Purposes. So you're Tureinn then?", one of the guards asked aloud. Tureinn nodded and pulled off his hat in a quick bowing motion. His jet-black bowl-cut just barely reached the nape of his neck, and his face was ghastly pale. He glared up at them with sparkling violet eyes, "At your service", he replied humbly.
"So if you're a magician, what kinds of tricks can you do?", one of them inquired. Tureinn put his top hat back on and stroked his chin elegantly. "Hm… my dear madams, how about I cut you in half?", he asked.
The two guards looked at eachother and chuckled, deciding to humor the man. "Sure, we volunteer… but how are you going to do that without a table or box?", one of them asked. Tureinn chuckled loudly as he spoke, "Like this!", he declared, reaching up to the sky and snapping his fingers.
Instantly, the two guardswomen were sliced in half as a shadowy figure blurred past them. Their blood splattered on the gate behind them as their top halves were severed from their bottom halves and collapsed to the ground with a thump. A short girl stepped out from the shadows, her crimson eyes piercing through the darkness.
"What were you doing? You arrived three minutes before the assigned time", she asked bluntly. She wore a short-sleeved black jacket with coat-tails that fell to her knees, on top of black shorts that reached her knees as well. Her long, sleek boots also reached almost up to her knees. Her knees were kind of an unintentional focal point.
The girl held a long, sharp nodachi in her hand, before wiping the blood off with a cloth and inserting it back into its sheath around her waist. Tureinn had to chuckle, "Why bother? You're gonna be using it again in a few minutes", he pointed out. The girl's short and messy black hair swayed slightly in the breeze as she stared him down.
"This blade is everything to me. I like to keep it clean whenever possible", she stated directly. There was a certain animosity in the air, as the girl clearly had a history of not appreciating Tureinn's company. "Oh, lighten up, Kuroah. Nobody likes a sourpuss", he egged her on.
"I would have killed you long ago had the master not forbidden it", Kuroah threatened, trying her best not to look at the man, as if she'd catch some kind of disease just from making eye contact. Tureinn found her obstinence endlessly amusing. "Aw, can't you atleast pretend to be nice to me? I'll give you a cookie", he chanted jovially.
Kuroah gritted her teeth. Ever since Tureinn learned of her hidden sweet tooth, he hadn't stopped pestering her as if she were a child. "I would not take any food that your filthy hands have touched", she proclaimed defiantly. Tureinn reached over and flicked her forehead, "I'm wearing gloves, you silly girl", he taunted.
Kuroah slapped his hand away. She hated Tureinn, which wasn't so unusual. Everyone hated Tureinn. Absolutely nobody on this world or any other even remotely like Tureinn, but everyone had to deal with him. That's the kind of position he held. "Come now, we have to go through procedure. This is an officially sanctioned mission after all", he stated.
Tureinn and Kuroah both turned to face the gate, standing straight at attention and placing one hand behind their backs and held the other out in front of them. Their auras glowed faintly around their beings.
"We of the Obsidian Cascade, utilize the weapon known as despair to break free from the chains of fate… All bonds are meant to be broken, all ties meant to be severed… we are the hands of the one who shall shatter illusions and set forth a shift in the nature of the world…" the two of them chanted simultaneously, as it had been imprinted into their brains.
Tureinn ran his finger across the gate, drawing a circle with an X running through it. The symbol was burned into the gate, leaving a silent calling card.
"Remarkable! You're one of them!", the Director squee'd as he rapidly shook Vita's hand. Everyone in the amphitheatre was deadly silent as Vita stared into the Director's blank helmet… was he smiling under there? Vita had no way of knowing, but he was just as confused as anyone. "Um… one of what?", he asked bluntly.
"You're an Amaona user! Oh, I never thought I'd live to see this day!", the Director rubbed his hands together. Someone in the audience stood up and demanded, "Amaona!? You mean the white-colored aura of legend!?". The Director pointed directly at the person and shouted, "THE VERY SAME! … But remember to raise your hand before speaking!".
"Um… sir, what legend?", Vita inquired, his tone somewhere between baffled and flabberghasted. Ziltch looked down at the boy with presumably a curious expression on his hidden face. "You've never heard of the Amaona, the Legendary Hero!? What rock have you been living under, boy!?", the Director asked aloud. Vita scratch the back of his head in embarrassment.
"I-I'm from one of the reserve patches, sir", he uttered, his voice uncomfortable. "Ah, a backwater hillbilly neanderthal numbskull dirty rotten stinkin' cheatin' inbred pile of horseshit reserve patch boy, eh?", the Director spewed callously. Vita's brain literally just shut off there for a moment, unable to process what he'd just heard.
The Director quickly swung his arm around Vita's shoulder and let out a hearty laugh, "Hahaha! I'm just messin' with ya, boy! I didn't mean a word of that!", he proclaimed. Vita was still somewhat clusterfucked after hearing that…
"You see, a thousand cycles ago, the world was engulfed in a cataclysmic war between the five great empires of the time. Each of these empires was ruled by what we now refer to as The Demon Kings, insanely powerful users of black aura… or Laoten", the Director began to explain. Vita's eyes widened when he heard the term.
"...B-Black aura?", Vita blurted out a question without thinking.
"Yes, black aura occurs when a person has faced true despair and lost. When they no longer care who lives and who dies… when they truly have nothing left to live for. It is the most devastating type of aura… but also the most self-destructive. Nobody who possess black aura lives for very long… it's only a matter of how many lives they take with them", the Director continued.
"Regardless, it is said that Amaona rose up to defeat the five Demon Kings and put a stop to that great war. Tragically, legend says that he lost his life as he struck a final blow against the last Demon King… who stuck a battle-axe right in his head…", the Director concluded.
"But… what made Amaona so special? What does white aura do that the others don't?", Vita asked, both entranced by the tale and anxious of his own fate. Ziltch let out a chuckle, "Actually son, you have it backwards. We named the white aura Amaona after that great hero, and what it does is allows its user to utilize all the other types of aura… to change your aura at will", he told Vita.
"And… y-you're saying that I have t-that same power?", Vita inquired nervously.
"YES! … I mean… yeah, probably…", Ziltch replied, sounding unsure. Vita honestly didn't know if this man was brilliant or completely insane. "We'll have to test your abilities to be sure, but the important thing here is-", he began to say, before being cut-off by the sound of the large doors in the back of the building being forcefully swung open.
"AW YEAH! I HAVE ARRIVED! THE GLORIOUS AND SHINING HIRO! THE BEST FIGHTER IN ALL OF HAUKUI VILLAGE! THE AMAZING STEEL-FISTED TIGER WARRIOR, HIRO SHAINAYH!", screamed a short boy standing in the doorway, his foot extended. Clearly he had kicked the doors open from the outside.
This boy has spiked brown hair above a thick headband and a blazing look in his eyes. He wore only a low-cut red training vest and rough-looking black pants. He had bandages covering his feet and hands, and quite the muscular physique for a boy of only 21 cycles. Everything about him exuded confidence and bravado.
...Until he took a step inside, and proceeded to trip and fall over, causing him to tumble all the way to the bottom of the stairs… it looked very painful. Finally, he crashed face-first into the side of the elevated stage where he started incomprehensibly screaming for help. Everyone in the audience burst out into laughter as this happened. Avylyn, naturally, was the one to assist him by pulling him out of the wooden stage. "Are you alright?", she asked, her voice tinged with friendly concern.
Hiro's eyes lit up as soon as he saw her and he was soon on his knees looking up at her. "You! You must be the beautiful princess I've been searching for!", he declared proudly. Something immediately snapped in Vita's head when those words reached his ears. He quickly ran away from the Director and leapt off the stage.
"Get away from her, you goddamn prick!", Vita yelled as he kicked the back of Hiro's head in mid-air, causing him to slam into the floor. Vita managed to regain his footing next to Avylyn, who seemed quite irritated. "Vita! You'll never make any friends if you attack people for every little thing!", she shouted directly at Vita.
Vita was shaken by her sudden anger. "I-I.. I'm s-sorry, Avy…", he admitted, hanging his head in shame. 'I guess I did fly off the handle there… in front of everyone… it shouldn't be surprising that she's upset', he thought to himself. Avylyn sighed and stuck her hands in her pockets. "Well… it looks like you knocked him out cold…", she observed.
The Director, on the other hand, seemed downright pleased. "Oh, thank goodness, that one was annoying. Oh well, that's what he gets for being late. Buunbyu! Mark this one as tardy! … No wait! … Super Tardy…", the Director called to the short bald man backstage. "Um… sir… there's no such thing as 'super tardy'...", the meek assistant mumbled back.
The Director simply turned to face the student body and shouted, "Listen up! From now on, any degree of tardiness can be elevated to super tardiness level at my discretion!". Buunbyu sighed… this was what he had to work with.
"Regardless… I expect all of you to keep this on the down low, you understand? Someone with white aura… is a valuable asset in the wrong hands. Anyway, you are all dismissed for now! You'll find your dorm assignments in the student roster, located on the bulletin board outside!", the Director announced, and then vanished behind the curtains.
Vita looked back at Avylyn, who still seemed a bit upset. "C'mon Avy, let's go check out the roster", he said, placing a hand on her shoulder. Avylyn sighed and nodded as all the students began filing out of the amphitheater.
Office Building 34th Floor
A tall, slender man in a pinstripe suit stood next to his wall-sized window and looked down upon the city below. All the cars zipping around, all the people walking about, a bullet train passing by. The man could only smirk as he watch them all from on high… but still it was not enough. This man was aiming higher… aiming right for the top, in fact.
Yes, he had a luxurious office space… but there were still places his eyes could not view. There were still things that weren't in his grasp… and the feeling of incompleteness disgusted him. One day he would reach the highest office, and then build an even higher one. He hated things that were still… he wanted to always strive for something. He saw no reason to live otherwise.
The man paced along the windows for a while before returning to his leather chair. He pulled out a bottle from under the desk and poured himself a glass of his mid-afternoon spritzer. He sipped it elegantly… it was good, but there were better liquors in the world. But for now atleast, the man could find some comfort in how far he had already come.
There was a slight buzzing sound in his ear, which he knew all too well. This was different from an ordinary comlink buzzer… this meant it was a priority call. He reached up and tapped his earpiece and waited for the voice on the other end.
"Mr. Jilanu", the voice spoke clearly. Jilanu leaned back in his chair and replied, "Ah, my favorite clients… what is it you have to report?". There was a brief silence before the voice on the other end continued, "We have retrieved Mr. Derulo from his cell. Please inform Mr. Magnukt that we'll be returning with him shortly".
"Excellent news. I assume then that Mr. Derulo is willing to cooperate with us?", Jilanu asked, his voice a bit warmer than before. Just as the voice on the call was about to speak, another voice came in overlapping it. "Yo, to whom do I gots the pleasure of speakin' to?", a thick yet melodic voice asked.
"Ah, you must be Mr. Derulo", Jilanu stated plainly.
"Ah yeah, dats right. Listen, I wanna know who's springin' me from da slammer", Derulo asked as forcefully as possible. Jilanu had to chuckle at the man's abruptness. "Mr. Derulo… how would you like to reclaim your former position?", Jilanu asked politely. Derulo seemed a bit confused.
"Man, I dunno… I been out da game so long, I ain't even sure I know how ta play any'mo… but shit, I guess I owe ya'll for springin' me like dat. I been locked up in 'ere for nearly five cycles, ya dig?", Derulo responded, his voice rambling on.
"Yes, I am aware. And I assure you the scene has changed a bit since your incarceration… but I'm sure with our help, you'll manage just fine", Jilanu told him earnestly. Derulo seemed satisfied with that and hung up. The other voice then came back on the call, "I'm apologize about that. He just wouldn't be satisfied unless he spoke to you personally", it said.
"It's quite alright. Just make sure Derulo Brown is well accommodated, and I'll handle the rest. We all stand to make quite a bit of money from this operation…", Jilanu stated calmly. The voice on the other end seemed a bit irritated, "We don't operate based on money, Mr. Jilanu. Whatever wealth there is to be gained from this venture is secondary", it said.
Jilanu backpedaled a bit, "Of course, of course. We all have our reasons", he muttered before ended the call. He leaned forward, took another sip of his drink and grinned. Things were going well.
Vita glanced at the Holographic Information Display Terminal, more casually referred to as 'the bulletin board'. It was four aligned metal edges that created a holographic display in the center. There were three main functions of this particular terminal;
First, a comprehensive map of the school grounds, both inside and outside the building. Second, a general student roster which showed basic information about everyone, most relevantly their dorm room assignments. Third was the mission listings, which displayed all currently active requests from different regions. Once they had the basics down, Seekers in-training were expected to complete missions like these.
All of this information could be linked directly to any personal devices, such as Vita's Holo-Visor. A dual-ear mounted device that created a holographic display over his eyes like a low sun visor. Basically, it summoned a holographic monitor in front of his eyes. Humans once had to take drugs to adjust their eyes to staring at such displays up close for extended periods of time. But that was no longer necessary, as people had adapted to it eventually.
Vita activated his Holo-Visor and noticed a pop-up asking him to confirm registration to receive updates from the Institute's notice system. Vita pulled out a small metal ball from his pocket. This was one of the Control Interface Orbs, which were used to control the device. Their predecessors were once called "mice", due to their resemblance to the small critter when placed on a desk.
The Control Orb responded to a complex series of touch-based gestures as well as utilizing tactile buttons. You could easily get fully touch-sensitive ones, but Vita preferred the old fashioned physical buttons. There was a certain satisfaction to them that a purely touch-based interface couldn't match, not even with vibration emitters.
Most Holo-Visors were designed for use with two Control Orbs, and Vita's was no exception. But he only needed one to click a simple notification. With a single click he was registered to the school's notice system. He then scanned the roster to find out where he and Avylyn were staying.
"Looks like the middle tower on the left is the Dormitory Tower. Boys and girls alternate floors up to the twentieth. I'm in Dorm 13-4… the fourth room on the thirteenth floor…", Vita muttered to Avylyn, who was checking on her own.
"I'm in Dorm 12-8. I'll be right below you, Vita", she stated. Vita felt a little tinge of uneasiness, "Huh… this is the first time we'll ever be staying in different rooms, huh?", he remarked. Avylyn only smiled, "Well, it had to happen sometime!", she replied enthusiastically. A little too enthusiastic for Vita's liking…
Avylyn seemed to notice this and patted him on the back, "I didn't mean it like that. I just mean it'll be fun to get to know other people, ya know?", she chirped happily. Vita shrugged and sighed, "Yeah… I guess…", he said with absolutely zero confidence. 'Why is she so stuck on that?', he thought to himself.
"Anyway, we should go check in. Keep an eye out for a message from me later. Bye Vita!", Avylyn exclaimed as she ran off towards the dorm tower. Vita watched her until she was no longer visible. He sighed and walked towards the tower himself. 'We could've atleast walked that far together… we're going to the same building after all', he thought to himself.
As he approached the entrance, Vita noticed the pair of twins from before sitting together along the stairway leading inside the tower. He smirked as he walked by them, "Guess this means you two are gonna be separated, huh?", he taunted them. The twins didn't even look up from their gaming consoles before laughing in Vita's face.
"Think again, runt", Kotae snarked.
"We've rented out the entire top floor to ourselves", her brother Taeko proclaimed. Vita took a step back in surprise, "Y-You can d-do that?", he stammered out. Kotae grinned, "You'd be surprised at what we can do…", she said menacingly. Vita gulped… these twins were not to be messed with.
As Vita took a step inside the tower, he felt himself losing his balance and beginning to fall forward. He quickly looked down to see he had tripped on a thin string that glowed deep green. His eyes widened as the string wrapped around his ankle. 'Aura!', he thought instantly. It instantly pulled Vita up off the ground, suspending him in mid-air. He struggled to break free, but soon felt a small electrical shock run through his body…
… rendering him unconscious.
Dormitory Tower - 12th Floor Lobby
When Avylyn arrived on the twelfth floor, she was surprised by the scene laid out before her. In the twelfth floor lobby, there was a boy in some kind of traditional cloak and wooden sandals, perched on top of garbage canister. He had light brown skin and a bushel of deadlocks atop his head. He appeared to be meditating.
Next to him, there was a girl with long, disheveled silver hair. "How many times do I have to tell you!? This is a girl's floor! Get out!", she yelled at him. The boy however, did not even flinch. He simply stated calmly, "There is an abnormally high concentration of spectral energies running through here… I need to absorb them…".
"I don't give a damn about your made-up energies! And last time you said cosmic interference!", she shouted back. There were two other girls sitting on the couch towards the back wall of the lobby. One of them had messy shoulder-length hair, that was blond on top, red at the tips and as orange as the sunset in-between. She wore a low-cut brown T-shirt with some kind of sun logo on it, as well as bright orange shorts and sandals.
The other had tanned skin and straight pink hair, clipped to the side. She wore a pastel sky blue dress… she must've dressed up for the occasion of the entrance ceremony. She seemed concerned about the squabble happening in front of her, whereas the other girl seemed amused by it.
Avylyn felt the need to stand up for the boy. "Hey! Boys are still allowed in the lobby! We're only forbidden from entering eachother's rooms without permission!", she declared towards the silver-haired girl, who turned to glare at her angrily. "Why are you sticking up for him!? This filthy beast is making a stench of the lobby!", the girl shouted at Avylyn.
The girl whose hair looked like a sunset jumped out of her seat and got right up in the silver-haired girl's face. "Look, Vivao. He's not bothering anyone and he doesn't smell. The only one getting all pissy is you, as usual. So why don't you run off and blog about it?", she stated with maximum bluntness.
The Vivao girl clenched her fists, realizing she was alone in her arguments. She pouted and stormed off towards her room, Dorm Room 12-2. The boy leapt off of the garbage canister and bowed towards the girls, "Coincidentally, I've finished gathering the phantom fragments. Thanks for keeping her at bay", he said nonchalantly as he walked off.
Avylyn turned to the orange-haired girl and asked, "Huh… Who is that guy anyway?". The girl stared at the boy for a moment until he went up the stairs. "Oh, that's Nanner. Says he's a psychic, but everyone just thinks he's kinda weird", she answered, as she extended a hand to Avylyn. "Anyway, I'm Raebel. Raebel Quo. What's your name?", she inquired excitedly.
Avylyn smiled back as she shook the jumpy girl's hand. "I'm Avylyn, it's nice to meet you. I'm guessing your room is on this floor too?", she said. Raebel nodded and pointed behind her to the door marked Dorm Room 12-7. "Ah, I guess we're neighbors, huh?", Avylyn pointed out.
"Looks like it. So, how'd you manage to ditch that boyfriend of yours?", she inquired, her eyes looking sinister. Avylyn scratched the back of her head, "Boyfriend? You mean Vita?", she said plainly. Raebel nodded, "Yeah, the Amaona boy. Everybody's talking about it, especially that epic first impression he made", she told her.
Avylyn let out a soft laugh out of politeness.
"So tell me, does he always act jealous like that? Aren't you guys a little young to be dating? C'mon, you can tell me!", Raebel pried incessantly. Avylyn sighed, "No, it's not really like that. We're just friends who grew on the reserve patch together", she explained. Raebel didn't seem dissuaded though, in fact she seemed more intrigue.
"Oho, the childhood friend angle, huh? I'd say your odds are better than most", Raebel commented slyly. Avylyn felt uncomfortable with where this conversation was going. 'Why does everyone have to jump to that conclusion? It's kind of rude...', she thought to herself. While she was used to this, she kind of wished people were more interested in her than her relationship with Vita.
'Perhaps it can't be helped. With his white aura, it's only natural people would be curious...', Avylyn thought.
"Well, whatever. Anyway, this here is Nanima Tiesto. You'll have to excuse her, she's very shy", Raebel said, introducing the pink-haired girl on the couch. Nanima squirmed a bit in her seat as she nodded towards Avylyn. But Avylyn knew how to handle these types. She smiled, "Hey there, I really like your dress! It looks hand-made, was it?", she asked directly.
Nanima was slightly taken aback by the forward question. She stammered out, "O-Oh, yeah… my mother made it for me. She still likes to sew the old-fashioned way… even though 3D printing is easier…". Avylyn chuckled, "Trust me, I'm from a reverse patch. I understand the value of the old-fashioned ways. Grandma nearly beat that into my head".
Nanima seemed a bit more interested now. "Ah! What's it like on a reverse patch? I bet it's nothing like here in the city, right?", she inquired with a bit more enthusiasm. Avylyn took a seat next to Nanima, with Raebel sitting on the other side. "Well, it's way louder here in the city. And I don't just mean sound, I mean everything and everyone is always moving here, ya know?", Avylyn answered.
Raebel chimed in, "Aye, city life is nothing if not exciting! And exciting stuff is fast!". It only took a few seconds for Raebel to start talking again, "Hey, I know! Since classes don't start until tomorrow, why don't the three of us go out and explore a city?", she asked excitedly. Nanima slumped a little, "Are we allowed to do that?", she questioned.
Raebel nodded and leapt in the air, "Of course! As long as we're back in time for mandatory events, like classes, then we have free range! C'mon! We should find some grub, I'm starving!", she continued on. Avylyn nodded, "I think it's a great idea. You'll have to make sure I don't get lost though… I'm not used to all the tall buildings", she said.
And so the three of them went off to explore the city.
A muscular dark-skinned man wearing nothing by ragged black jeans was still idly on a wrap-around couch, surrounded by scantily-clad women giggling. He raised a glass full of fizzling liquor towards the two people standing by the doorway. "Aw yeah, baby. Ya'll aight by me. Dis shit is just what I need after all dat time in da slammer", Derulo shouted merrily.
Tureinn rubbed his hands together, "I'm glad everything is to your liking, Mr. Derulo. You've been through so much, so take it easy tonight. We can talk business tomorrow", he said in suave voice. Derulo threw his hands up in the air, and then wrapped his arms around the women's shoulders. "Mmm… dis gon be a good night…", he muttered, rubbing up against the woman on his left.
Kuroah yawned and scratched her head. "I'm gonna grab a bite to eat and hit the hay… there were waaaay more guards than we thought…", she said. They had to fight their way through the entire prison complex, as they were holding Derulo at the very back end of the facility. And as usual, Tureinn just sat back and barely did anything, letting her do all the work.
Tureinn then tapped her shoulder, "Ah ah ah! Not so fast. We have one more assignment", he chirped sincerely. Kuroah blinked, "...We do?", she asked. Tureinn chuckled, "Well, you do anyway. See, take a look", he said, holding out a small memo. Kuroah took it and read it over carefully. She then growled as she read the bottom line.
Tureinn had crossed out his own name and wrote hers. That bastard! He was shoving his work onto her! She glanced up to see him crack his knuckles and stretch his back, "Oooooh man… I am sooooooo beat. Nothing like a nap after a day's hard work", he taunted. Kuroah clenched her fist, crushing the memo as she gritted her teeth. That Tureinn… she hated him so much.
Tureinn blinked innocently, "Oh don't look at me like that, this is important. That rookie agent we picked up went rogue and we don't know where he went", he explained. Kuroah tried not to sound absolutely livid as she asked, "What was his name?".
"Rhombus Neumo. He basically vanished overnight. But we do know the location of his older sister, Parallelia Neumo. She and his other siblings live out in the South Haven Slums. We just need you to see if they know where he is", he continued on. Kuroah sighed and asked, "Am I allowed to use force?".
"No. Not this time. Parallelia isn't small fry, she's got connections who could be a problem. We don't need her more angry with us than she already is", Tureinn stated with particular clarity. "And yes, we do need this done right away. Don't go sleeping on the job now", he taunted once again.
Kuroah stormed out of the suite, her brows furrowed. Damn that Tureinn… with every second she had to the deal with him, her desire to slice him into tiny pieces grew larger.
Central Haven Mall
Avylyn sipped her soda casually as she watched the crowds pass through the buzzling food court. She, Nanima and Raebel were seated at a table towards the back of the large open space filled with hundreds tables. Reasonably close to the food stand they had ordered them. Not that it mattered, they were given a tracking card that would alert the server to their location anyway.
"Ugh! I hate sitting around waiting for things!", Raebel shouted, her voice tinged with self-awareness at her childish impatience. Avylyn chuckled, "Raebel, you just ate a whole bag of potato chips not five minutes ago", she remarked.
Raebel scratched her head, "That was then, this is now… gah, what is taking them so long!?", she bellowed irritably. Avylyn could only smile at Raebel's forcefully straightforward personality. She seemed like someone who didn't have anything to hide… Avylyn didn't want to start a friendship on a complicated note…
Avylyn turned to Nanima and politely asked, "Are you sure you're fine with just a light salad?". Nanima nodded with a faint smile, "It's fine, really", she replied in her quiet tone. Which made it somewhat difficult to understand in the loud food court. A more advanced Comlink would let her filter out unwanted background noise, but sadly Avylyn had no such thing.
"What is our first class going to be about tomorrow?", Avylyn inquired, peering over at the food stand on the lookout for their orders. Raebel sighed, "It's an entrance evaluation. According to Mez, it's little more than a formality that they don't expect anyone to actually pass", she explained. Avylyn perked up slightly, "Mez? The guy with the mohawk? You know him?", she asked.
"Not personally. I just asked him. He and his buddies have been at the Institute for a few cycles now. They were only on the train because they were returning from a mission", Raebel told her. Ah, so the older students were picking on someone weak-looking like Crauw. It almost made too much sense.
Raebel nearly jumped out of her seat as she excitedly pointed to a nearby ad and exclaimed, "Ooooh! Star*Child Hoshiko has a new album coming out!". Avylyn turned sharply to see an ad with a perky-looking girl with golden hair tied back in the shape of a star. "Who's Hoshiko?", Avylyn asked naively.
Raebel was too busy squeeing and energetically pumping her fists in the air to answer. Nanima seemed content to answer in her place, "She's like the princess of pop idols, with a super angelic voice! She's like a shining beacon in the deluge that is modern pop music! Her talent is recognized even by metalheads! Everyone online tries to garner cheap clicks with tasteless remixes of her songs!", she explained, a bit more enthusiastically than Avylyn had expected of her.
Raebel regained sanity long enough to ask, "How haven't you heard of her!? I'm sure even people in reserve patches know of her!". Avylyn awkwardly shrugged, "I guess I never paid that much attention…", she admitted, feeling as though she was disgracing royalty.
"Oh man… if there's a new album, she'll probably do a live tour to promote it! We should totally go!", Raebel shouted. Nanima tapped her shoulder, "But Raebel, tickets to an event like that would be impossibly expensive", she warned. Raebel dismissed her outright. "Ah, we'll find a way! We're gonna be Seekers after all! We gotta show Avylyn the magic of Hoshiko in person!", she proclaimed.
Avylyn smiled at Raebel's glowing face. She was glad she was motivated at any rate…
Miraculi Institute - Arena
Vita hazily awoke on cold metallic ground, his head still throbbing slightly. He slowly picked himself up as his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. He was in a large black and grey pit, with tall walls all around him. He rubbed his eyes and shook his head, trying to awaken fully. It was then he noticed several figures standing in stands above him. This was clearly some sort of arena…
He recognized two of the figures. One was Rhombus, the redhead Vita had bumped into right off the train. The other was easily identified by the fact that his arm was in a sling. That was Auncel, whose arm Vita had broken earlier. Vita could only hope he didn't hold that big of a grudge. But the third figure in the middle… Vita had never seen him before.
He was somewhat shorter than the two beside him, but he somehow had far greater presence. His vibrant emerald eyes were hidden beneath long locks of ink black hair, which reached halfway down his back in a fashion that was both messy and strangely appealing. He wore a dark green tunic with ragged brown sleeves poking out, his legs coated with patchwork black pants with brown shorts layered on top.
There was an exuberant aura about him, a kind of intensity that Vita could feel even so far beneath him. In fact, Vita had an eerie feeling… that somehow he belonged so far below this person. That was the kind of forceful presence this person exuded. As if his mere ubiety made the entire arena significantly more aphoristic… if that made sense. The boy grinned with something resembling malicious intent, though not quite.
"Vita Vaavrin… the so-called amaona-user. If such a claim is true, then I desire you greatly", he called out, his voice high and raspy… somewhat contrarian to his appearance. His voice was almost unnaturally scratchy… it was kind of disconcerting. True, he was but a boy, but even still…
"Desire me? Sorry pal, I'm not looking for a boyfriend at the moment! And to be honest, abducting someone doesn't make the best first impression!", Vita yelled back, suddenly finding himself wide awake. Perhaps that was an effect of his person's intimidating emanation? Whatever the reason, Vita found himself completely focused on this boy.
"All actions are necessary to achieve one's objectives. It isn't really you, so much as your potential that I'm interested in…", the boy declared with a certain elegance. Vita furrowed his brows… something about how this person justified himself ticked him off. Vita cracked his knuckles and stared him down.
"I couldn't care less about your objectives. It's none of my concern", Vita called back defiantly.
"Are you so certain? My objective is the very ground beneath your feet and the very air you breathe. No man is an island to himself, for we're all bound to the space we all share… a space I wish to obtain", the mysterious boy continued on. That grin… that grin only grew as the boy kept speaking.
"You… want the world? That's adorable. Now let me go or I'll call the authorities", Vita threatened. The boy seemed amused by this proclamation. "Go ahead and try it", he taunted. Vita activated his Holo-Visor and tried to call emergency services, only to find his outgoing signal blocked.
The boy chuckled, "No outside interference of any kind is allowed in the arena. That isn't my doing by the way, that's simply school policy", he explained.
Vita lowered his arm and once again stared towards the strange boy, "So what do you actually want?", he asked directly. The boy crossed his arms, "I want to see if you are worthy of joining me in my organization", he told Vita, who crossed his own arms in return. "How presumptuous of you… hate to break it to ya, but I ain't interested in such lofty dreams", he answered.
"All great accomplishments began as nothing more than dreams… people are so tragically accustomed to the status quo that they can't imagine the potential right before their eyes… to them I have nothing but pity", the boy stated bluntly. Vita stomped his foot down, "And just who the hell are you to pity all the world?", he demanded.
The boy brushed aside one of his long locks and declared, "My name is Ezeren, the one who shall conquer the world. The two beside me are the first members of the World Domination Club".
Vita spat on the floor, "Pfft… so ridiculous", he commented snarkily.
Ezeren reached up into the air and snapped his fingers, "Let's bare witness to this supposed amaona-user with a simple test of strength", he announced. Vita heard a sharp clacking sound behind him, turning sharply to see a large black serpent slither out of a nearby chamber, the gate closing behind it. "Behold the Khakkrihan Anaconda, a native hunter of the dense jungles of Khakkrin whose primary diet consists of humans and other large mammals", Ezeren elaborated.
Vita knew full well that there are places, especially on remote moons, where entire ecosystems revolved around humans as a primary food source. But he never expected to see such a creature in the middle of Haven. The serpent's golden eyes glowed viciously in the dim light provided by the floating orb lanterns above. Vita stood frozen still for a moment, until the beast lunged forward to strike.
Vita rolled out of the way and ran around behind the serpent, looking desperately for a means of escape. What was this crazy kid thinking? And why was there such a dangerous monster at the Miraculi Institute!? The snake followed closely on his trail, occasionally lunging to take a bite of Vita, who barely managed to keep dodging. "Why don't you fight back? Surely an amaona-user would have no trouble dispatching of such a low-level threat", Ezeren taunted from upon-high.
'What a stupid question, we haven't even had a single class yet. How am I supposed to know how to control my aura?', Vita thought to himself as he leapt off the wall to avoid the serpent's tail whip. Vita kept running around the arena, but he couldn't find any way up out of the pit… he was stuck there with the man-eating monster. What was this kid thinking? If Vita died, Ezeren would surely be expelled, if not arrested outright.
Was that how much he desired the power of an amaona-user? Or rather…
'Is that how much potential he sees in me?', Vita thought to himself, nearly tripping at the idea. Vita didn't appreciate his life being thrown in mortal peril like this, but he had to admit that he had to respect someone who was willing to risk his own dream on someone else's potential… such an uncontrollable variable. This Ezeren… was he even sane?
Vita looked up at Ezeren from so far below… he still had that self-satisfied grin across his face… Vita wanted nothing more than to wipe that arrogant smirk off his face. In fact, he focused on that desire exclusively… channeling every fiber of his being into it… envisioning the end result… and before he knew it…
Vita's aura flowed from his body like steam off of a boiling kettle pot, as he swiped his arm in front of him, casting his aura out like a wire towards Ezeren. After a moment, it connected to the balcony in front of him and began to pull Vita up off the ground. Soon he was soaring through the air up higher and higher until his eyes met Ezeren's shocked expression.
"CHOKE ON THIS YOU STUPID PRICK!", Vita bellowed as he launched a powerful fist at Ezeren's face, making a direct hit and knocking the boy off of his feet and into the stands behind him. Vita managed to regain his footing on the balcony floor, panting heavily. That… whatever he just did… really took it out of him. Rhombus and Auncel just stood there, exacerbated at the sight of the scene.
Ezeren wasted no time in pulling himself up on his feet. "That's more like it… that's exactly what I need… someone who can see beyond what's in front of him and reach his true objectives... ", he muttered softly, his voice filled with ambition. He chuckled to himself as he extended a hand towards Vita.
"I recognize your potential… Vita Vaavrin", he stated respectfully.
Vita looked down at the boy's hand… carefully thinking things over. He closed his eyes and couldn't help but laugh incessantly on the inside. Such a lofty dream… might be right up his alley. Of course he didn't believe a word of Ezeren's nonsense but… Vita had to admit that up until now, nobody had ever offered him such a future. This kind of challenge… Vita couldn't ignore it.
Vita never had any direction in his life. Hell, he had only came to Haven because of Avylyn… to have such an impossible goal to strive for… it seemed strangely ideal for him. No matter what anyone said… they wouldn't be able to deny that he was aiming for something. That kind of convenience… suited Vita just fine.
Vita took Ezeren's hand firmly. "I think you're fucking crazy, and I'm only agreeing for my own reasons", he clarified to the ambitious young man before him. Ezeren smirked with satisfaction, "You have no idea… the significance of this event. Welcome to the World Domination Club, Vita Vaavrin… Member #4", he declared brightly.
"Wow! That's amazing, Vita! I never expected you to join a club on your first day!", Avylyn exclaimed happily. Vita blushed a little at her excitement as he scratched the back of his head. The two of them were sitting on the edge of the outside of the tower, just as the night ring was starting to pass overhead. The sky was a vibrant display of pink and purple as the various moons danced in orbit.
"Well… it was kind of an impromptu thing, ya know…", Vita said dismissively. It wasn't like he had really made any friends. Ezeren seemed to view him more as a potential asset, Auncel still held a grudge for his broken arm, and Rhombus argued against his inclusion afterward. What were their reasons for joining such an absurd club? Vita assumed he would find out at their 'meeting' the next day.
Avylyn leaned back against the wall and looked up at the sky, "Still, I'm proud of you, Vita", she said sweetly. Vita couldn't help but think he might have cheated a bit, but he was too satisfied with her words to care. Getting to know other people… that is what she wanted. So he supposed the end result would be the same. Suddenly, Avylyn leapt toward Vita and wrapped her arms around him.
This was a kind of warmth one couldn't find anywhere else. Vita felt an almost indescribable swelling of emotion when this happened. It was as if his very existence was being validated… that was the closest he could get to articulating how he felt when Avylyn hugged him like this. So tight… so warm… there was a kind of energy here. Simply put, she was an extraordinary hugger.
"I told you I'd give you a reward if you made a friend today, right? And then you went ahead and joined a whole club…", she whispered in his ear… or atleast into his Holo-Visor receptors at any rate. Vita gulped in embarrassment… they were just next to the dorms after all… someone could see them like this. This momentous embrace lasted seemingly forever in Vita's mind.
Eventually, she did pull away though and then whipped something out of her pocket. "Ta-daa! Here is your reward!", she exclaimed as she shoved a large silver piece of paper in Vita's hands. Vita looked down at the unknown item and raised an eyebrow. "Um, thanks Avy, but… what is this thing?", he asked as he examined it.
Avylyn smiled warmly, "It's a Miraculi Prize Ticket! There's a Prize Machine on the fourth floor of the main building. If you give it this, it'll give you something good! Atleast, that's what I heard anyway", she explained.
Vita did note that it did sa on one side. Vita had no idea what kind of things would be in a prize machine here… but he nodded and thanked Avylyn anyway.
'Honestly, that hug was the real prize… to me anyway. Though I should visit the prize machine tomorrow anyway', he thought to himself. The two of them continued to stare into the beautiful sky… when Avylyn perked up, "You think Grandma is looking up at the sky right now?", she asked. Vita shrugged, "Unless there's an eclipse, it's broad daylight over there… so… I don't know…", he replied.
"Vita… thanks for coming with me. I know you had second thoughts about it, but I really think this is right for us", Avylyn stated appreciatively. Vita blushed… for some reason, he liked it when she talked like that. "Eh, it's no big deal… I can't imagine ever leaving you alone. I don't know what kind of trouble you'd get into on your own", Vita responded. Avylyn seemed a little surprised, but just continued smiling normally.
"Let's become great Seekers together, Vita… just like mom and dad…", she said, her voice tinged with a slight loneliness. Vita wrapped his arm around her shoulders, "I knew it… you still want to find them, huh?", he said plainly. Avylyn hesitated for a moment before answering, "Yes and no… that's just… one reason out of many". Vita nodded in understanding.
"Whatever happens… I want to be there with you, Avy", Vita declared valiantly. She wrapped her own arm around his shoulders in return. They watch and watched the sky for quite some time… just the two of them.
South Haven Slums
Kuroah swiftly navigated her way through the piles of trash and cardboard lodgings on her way to her destination. Every now and again, she would have to push aside beggars and step over rotting corpses of the more unfortunate. If it wasn't close enough to smell from where they slept, nobody cared much about moving the deceased. This was a place where people could just sudden collapse from starvation or illness and hardly anyone would notice.
Haven Central Government even recommended the use of high-immunity drugs and protective clothing if someone were to visit the slums. Many unprepared visitors could easily contract a sickness and become nauseous just by spending an hour in the place… if they weren't mugged first. An ordinary person would need to make several precautions, but Kuroah was not such an ordinary person.
Common thugs were no threat to her, and a simple expenditure of aura coating would protect against most pathogens in the area. There were many benefits to being a FLO-user, though she wasn't a registered Seeker. Haven Central Government might not want to admit it, but there were many FLO-users that existed outside their system of influence.
Kuroah noted that the people who lived here didn't seem all that upset about their conditions however. 'I'm betting they just avoid over-thinking it… alcohol, drugs, sex… those things are useful for helping people forget their lot in life… if only for a while', she thought as she passed by a local whorehouse… conspicuously one of the nicer-looking buildings in town, by sheer virtue of having some structural integrity.
When she arrived at her destination, she noticed a little boy in a rugged patchwork hoodie and tattered sneakers playing with rusty toy trucks outside the wooden shack. The boy's face was covered by a dusty old gas mask, with his curly red hair sprawling out from the back. He couldn't be older than ten and half cycles or so. He spotted Kuroah and ran up to her.
"Hello! I think you're the cutest visitor we've ever had!", the child exclaimed with a kind of innocence Kuroah did not expect to find down here. She knelt down and patted the boy's head, "Thank you… you're awfully polite to strangers for a slum-dweller, what's your name?", she responded. She wasn't used to getting compliments, but somehow it was easier to accept with a little kid.
"My name is Balbis Neumo… Big Sister says that we should be nice…", the boy replied plainly. Kuroah tilted her head, "Do you know where your sister is now? Can you take me to her?", she asked directly. Balbis seemed a little nervous… Kuroah wondered if she was really cute enough to provoke timidness in young boys… she didn't think so.
"She's inside, but she usually doesn't like visitors coming unannounced", Balbis said.
"Tell her that the dusk is on her doorstep", Kuroah instructed, invoking an age-old phrase that indicated importance. Balbis nodded and ran inside. Kuroah noticed a crow fly off in the distance in the time it took the boy to run back. "She says she'll see you", the boy told her. Kuroah followed Balbis inside where Parallelia was waiting.
She sat on an old armchair that was clearly falling apart. "What does the Obsidian Cascade want now? Isn't it enough that you took my brother?", she demanded, her tone strict. Kuroah had to be careful with her words… "I see… then you aren't aware that Rhombus decided to quit the organization and flee", Kuroah replied. Parallelia's eyes widened, "No… I was not aware of that", she said, her voice drifting off.
"Then I see little point in asking if you know where he went", Kuroah said dismissively. Parallelia sighed, "He's not here and even if he quit, he isn't likely to return. You can search the place if you so desire, I have no objections", she said. Kuroah shook her head and turned around to leave.
"You seem surprisingly soft for a member of… that organization", Parallelia stated boldly.
Kuroah stopped in her tracks and replied, "I don't know what you're talking about". Parallelia seemed amused, "I just wonder how committed you really are to their cause… you seem out of place… like a orange trying to blend in with a crate of peaches", she jested.
Kuroah nearly reached for her sword before taking a deep breath, "You don't know anything about me…", she stated bluntly, as she walked out of the shack.
Miraculi Institute - Main Building - Fourth Floor
Vita stood before what looked like an enormous gumball machine… or rather one of those old trinket machines you'd find in grocery stores. But… this one was truly massive. It was easily thirty feet tall and fifteen feet wide. The huge glass ball with filled with smaller colored balls of various sizes. Each one contained a prize, or say the sign next to the machine said. One ticket, one prize.
There was a slot next to the big door that needed to be opened to retrieve one's prize. It looked like a giant pizza over door… Vita briefly wondered how heavy it was. What kind of prizes would that tricky Director put in here? He hesitated for a brief moment before feeding the machine his prize ticket. A series of lights along the edges of the machine lit up in sequence as the prize balls were jumbled around at random.
After a moment, Vita could hear a single orb knock against the door. The machine had spat out his prize. He lifted open the door, which was not unlike opening the backdoor to a car, and pulled out a black orb the side of a dodgeball. He closed the door and twisted off the top half of the orb, pulled it back to reveal…
"...Hm?", Vita mumbled as he pulled his prize out of the ball and let the two halves fall to the floor. It was a book… a black book with shiny white embedded edges and a metal question mark on the cover. Vita had never seen a book quite like this… he reluctantly opened the book to find a page with a single word printed on it.
"Volumoire? … Is that the title?", Vita muttered to himself as he scanned a few more pages, which contained seemingly random information. Different species of indigenous birds on Gartuhl, techniques to repairing damaged hoverboards, an historical account of the Battle of Mount Jaqueiquia… what was this thing? But the strangest thing was that when Vita revisited the same pages again… the content of them changed.
A page that once covered the biology of the Yutra Wolf, now contained information on how to accurately predict eclipses… what was going on here? 'Is this book enhanced by FLO somehow?', Vita thought to himself. The book was randomly cycling through different topics, but it seemed very comprehensive. This had to have something to do with FLO…
Vita looked on the back of the front cover, where he found some consistent information.
This is the only Volumoire in existence.
A book which holds the answers to any and all questions.
A book that absorbs knowledge from the world around it.
Keep it safe, use it well.
That was all that was written. But Vita had to wonder what the point was… a book that knows everything but can only give your random information? It seemed almost like a joke… but the more Vita thought about it, the more he realized it did make some sense if he recalled something he learned from researching the Institute online.
'The more you restrict a FLO power… the more powerful its effect. Maybe this book is able to know everything because it can only give information at random?', he theorized. Although that was a reasonable explanation for the book's existence… it still didn't make it any more useful. 'Maybe it could be combined with another ability? Oh, what am I saying… I don't know any of this for certain...', he thought to himself.
As he was pondering that matter, a young girl ran past him and tripped on the discarded black orb caps Vita had left on the floor. Vita jerked his eyes away… he had read enough manga to know where this usually lead. After she had gotten up off the ground, he turned his eyes back to the girl he hadn't ever seen before.
Her hair was cherry red and resembled a lengthy bowl that reached almost to her neck. Her skin was pale with a few freckles around her button-like nose. She wore loose sea green hoodie above her black and white checkered skirt. "I-I'm s-so sorry!", she panicked, waving her arms around frantically.
Vita shook his head, "Nah, it's my fault for leaving this here…", he admitted as he picked the orb shells up off the floor and tossed them in a nearby recycling chute. "Ah! You got a prize ticket too?", the girl asked excitedly. Vita nodded, "Y-Yeah… who are you again?", he asked. The girl had an apologetic look on her face.
"Oh! I'm sorry… I'm Azaka Arika. I'm starting here today, just like you! Of course… nobody bothers to remember my name, unlike you. Everyone's talking about you", she said, sounding rather depressed. Vita raised an eyebrow, "Really?", he asked. He hadn't heard anyone talking about him… though he had been kind of avoiding people.
"Yeah, it's been a long time since any amaona-user appeared… I'm a zabroso myself", she admitted. It hadn't really sunk in for Vita that he might be a big deal, even after everything that happened with Ezeren the day before. Vita was just kind of humble that way, for better or worse. Azaka then turned her attention to the prize machine, where she inserted her own silver ticket.
The same mechanical process repeated itself from before and Azaka pulled out a bright yellow orb from the door. She had a look of pure anticipation on her face as she twisted open the orb and pulled apart the shell cover. Her face instantly turned to confusion and depression as she pulled out a slip of paper from inside the orb.
She held the paper out towards Vita… it read HA HA! BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME, SUCKER!
"Yeah… more or less what I expected from our Director… he's missing a few screws", Vita said as she shrugged. Azaka hid her face inside the discarded half-shell as to not show her ashamed face. While her vision was covered, Vita went over to a nearby vending machine and bought a single bottle of cherry soda for 5§. He flipped the shell off of her face and placed the soda in her hands.
"Oh no! I couldn't possibly-", Azaka was about to say, before Vita cut her off, "Take it. It's fine… I feel like if I left you like that… it would somehow be my fault", he said. Witnessing luck that awful almost made him feel guilty.
"Come on, we'll be late for class", Vita told her, as he started walking in the direction of the classroom. Azaka stumbled a bit as she followed behind.
Fourth Floor Classroom
Vita took his seat in a large circular room, with rows of ascending platforms with long circular surfaces constituting as big desks. The teacher stood in the center stage, surrounded by holographic screens displaying a variety of information. The teacher was a stout bald man in a black blazer. Vita noticed that the man had a tattoo of an eye on his forehead. One of the holo-screens displayed his name as: Instructor Roxas Esinue.
Vita noticed a familiar figure approach him and take the seat next to his. Those dreads were unmistakable, it was clearly Nanner. He was carrying a large wooden plank of some kind, which he laid out on the deskspace before him. Vita was somewhat intrigued, "What is that thing?", he asked. Nanner wore a faint grin as he answered, "This is a Ouji Board. It's used to pull answers from the ether".
"Oh, for the entrance evaluation, right? Wait… are you allowed to use something like that?", Vita asked, not entirely sure why he did so… obviously such a cheap trinket wouldn't actually work. Nanner nodded, "We're allowed to use anything we think will help. But they don't actually expect anyone to pass", he explained. Vita shrugged, wondering just what the point was then.
Esinue then started explaining the guidelines of the evaluation. "You have twenty minutes. If you don't finish, it's fine. This is mostly a formality. You can use anything you think will help you. Just give it your best shot. Begin in thirty seconds", he elaborated in a completely uninterested manner. He sounded like he had been teaching here for some time, but Vita had no way of knowing if that was true.
A holo-screen popped up in front of each student, as well as a holographic keyboard interface on the desk itself. The questions displayed were mostly about FLO and Aura-Control… some stuff about Seekers and a bit of world history as well. They were actually pretty difficult questions. Vita was only confident in a few of his answers… but there was one question at the end that he was completely stumped by.
Please Explain Star Theory.
Vita had never heard of such a thing, and a quick internet search revealed that apparently nobody else had either. Was it just some made-up phrase? Vita was absolutely puzzled by it, and couldn't stop thinking about it even as he skipped it to answer other questions.
But he eventually returned to it… still baffled. Vita then remembered the mysterious book in his pocket… a book with all answers. Of course, he had no control over what it would tell him, so there was no point in pulling it up. That's what he told himself but… he couldn't resist gambling at least once. 'Just one try...', he thought to himself.
He made sure to open the book under the view of the others. To his shock and amazement, the random page he landed on… just happened to display information on this Star Theory thing. 'Well… I guess we all get lucky once...', he thought to himself, before reading it in his head:
Star Theory, in basic terms, is the belief that the stars themselves are actually human souls that we are all connected to. That there is a quantum connection between the human vessel and the soul far beyond. That a person can reincarnate endlessly as long as their star still burns out in space. Some even believe that FLO-users' specific auras are determined by the color of their stars, which is determined mostly by their chemical composition and temperature.
There is of course, little evidence to support this theory. It died out long ago and has mostly been lost to history.
Vita couldn't deny that it was an interesting idea but ultimately one that had no proof. Still, he had his answer, so he paraphrased the book's explanation as he filled in the answer space. He closed the Volumoire and stuffed it back in his pocket without a second thought. After the twenty minutes passed, Vita hit the confirm button to send his test form into the system.
After that followed a brief lecture on the responsibilities of Seekers in society. Class was dismissed early and that was that.
Director Ziltch's Quarters
Vita was surprised to receive an e-mail directly from the Director several hours after class ended. He had been invited to the Director's Office to discuss something or other. Vita figured it had to have something to do with his white aura, which apparently was a pretty big deal. The Director's quarters were divided into four areas, located in the exact center of the Institute.
The first was a big lobby area that had a hardwood floor and lots of plants. It also had leather couches and floating holo-displays. There seemed to be an artificial breeze coming from the ventilation system. There were four doors on each side of the room, the one in the back obviously lead back outside.
The one in the front lead to the actual office, and the one on the left lead to the Director's living chambers. The one on the right… well Vita didn't actually know since there wasn't a holo-sign on it. He stared intently at the old-fashioned wooden door… it was actually pretty similar to the kinds of doors one would find in the reserve patch.
What could be behind this door? Some kind of server room, or secret library? Maybe it was just a storage closet… so many possibilities. Vita found himself strangely intrigued by it… 'Ever since I came here… I've been acting much more curiously', he noted. Vita had always been a nosy kid, but lately it had increased significantly.
Vita scanned the lobby again… the Director was late. He did say he'd be a little awhile but Vita had purposefully shown up late to counter that. Probably not the most polite thing to do but…
That was when Vita heard a loud crashing sound coming from behind the mysterious door. 'D-Did… something fall over? Actually… it sounded like a lot of things', he thought to himself. There was completely silence afterward, but Vita's curiosity was reaching maximum. He just couldn't help but grab the handle and pull the door wide open. What he saw was not at all what he was expecting.
It was a very messy room, filled with all kinds of games, toys, books, and shelves lined with discs of all kinds. The right wall was covered in multiple flatscreen monitors and holo-displays, which were the only sources of light in the room. There was all kinds of machinery below… mostly game consoles both old and new. On the left there was a massive couch that looked extremely cozy. It was obvious that someone was living in here.
But Vita couldn't see anyone… so what had made that sound earlier? Walking a bit into the room, trying not to step on anything lying on the floor, the door slowly closed behind him. Vita turned his head around and almost lost his balance at the sight of what was behind the door in the corner of the room. It was a massive mountain of empty instant ramen cups and other packaging.
But what stood out most was a small hand poking out. Vita cautiously approached the trash heap and tapped the palm of the hand with his finger. The hand reacted with a slight tinge. 'Well whoever it is… at least they're alive', Vita thought a relieving thought to himself. He then wrapped his fingers around the hand and gently pulled.
Suddenly, a figure burst out of the junk pile and flew at Vita, colliding and knocking him over onto the couch behind him. When he opened his eyes, he saw a pair of sharp golden eyes staring back into his. It was a girl's face, pale in the dim light provided by the screens to their left. Her long light blue hair almost acted as a curtain, creating a small space where only the two of their faces existed. There was a long silence in which the two kids just kind of… stared at eachother in mutual bafflement.
Vita swallowed a lump in his throat and asked the obvious question, "Um… are you alright?". The girl took slightly longer to respond than normal, "Y-Yeah…", she answered timidly.
"You're the one… the amaona-user everyone's talking about on the school forum", she noted. 'So people are even talking about me online… but never to my face, huh?', Vita thought to himself.
"Heh… yeah. But I'd prefer it if you used my name… I don't like being called 'the amaona-user'...", Vita responded, his voice a bit nervous. He had never been this close to a girl who wasn't Avylyn before. It was surprisingly intimidating. "Oh… I'm sorry… what is your name?", the girl asked, her tone apologetic.
They were still in the same position… Vita was starting to blush but he wasn't sure if she could see it in the dark. "Vita… m-my name i-is Vita", he answered directly. Had nobody online actually mentioned his name? ...Did they even care what it was? Vita wasn't exactly comfortable with that.
"Ah… that's a good name… very main character-ish…", the girl muttered, her tone indicating she was in her own little world a bit. Vita shrugged, "I guess… I've never thought about it like that", he stated truthfully. He was finally started to break out in a little sweat from how close their faces were… so he spoke out, "Could… you please get off me?".
The girl's eyes widened as if she had just realized their position herself and pulled herself back into a regular sitting position. Vita also sat up and took a deep breath… that was kind of intense in its own way. Now that he had a better angle, he could see that the girl had pale, thin frame and very, very long hair. It reached down her ankles!
She wore only a loose black t-shirt and black volleyball shorts. The ultimate 'stay at home' outfit. She must be comfortable… in fact, her whole room screamed comfort. "S-So… ah… what's your name?", Vita asked, trying to sound polite, but ending up sounding awkward. The girl tilted her head slightly, "Miziu", she answered calmly.
"Ah, that's a nice name too… it's unusual. I can't think of anything that sounds like it, ya know?", Vita stammered out, trying to forget his earlier embarrassment. Miziu seemed appreciative as she nodded.
"So, what are you doing here?", he asked.
"I live here", she answered.
"Oh… right, yeah that's obvious. Stupid question, don't know what I was thinking", he backpedalled awkwardly.
"It's fine. Dad never tells people I'm here before sending them to his office, I'm used to it", she explained. Vita would have done a spit take if he had any liquids available.
"Wait… Director Ziltch is your father!?", he exclaimed in shock.
"That's right", she stated plainly.
Vita fidgeted a bit in his seat as he spoke, "I-I… I didn't know he had a daughter". Miziu shrugged, "Not many people do…", she said. Vita couldn't pick up on any sentiment from her statement there. "So… you live up here with your dad. Where's your mom?", Vita inquired, trying to keep the conversation going.
"I never knew her. She died after I was born", Miziu stated with no emotional inflection in her tone. Vita looked down at the floor… "Oh… you're probably used to hearing it, but I'm sorry I asked", he apologized. Miziu shook her head, "Actually, you're the first one to tell me that", she said. Vita blinked in surprise… 'Really? What inconsiderate people she must have been talking to...', he thought.
"Oh, well… still. What's it like having him for a dad?", Vita asked, trying to change the subject a bit. Miziu had a faint smile on her face as she replied, "Well, it's never boring, I guess…". Vita could imagine… the Director was kind of… well… intense.
Vita wanted to change the subject more radically… he took a look at the biggest screen on the wall and noticed something. "Hey, is that Dream Trigger?", he asked aloud. Miziu's eyes lit up like a dragon had breathed fire in a dark cavern. "Y-Yeah, it is!", she exclaimed in a more enthusiastic voice than before.
Vita scratched his head, "Heh, yeah I had it back home. I love old run & gun arena shooters… they have more… um… energy than cover-based ones", he said. Vita used to spend whatever allowance he was given on importing games from the city back when he lived in the reserve patch. If he wasn't working the farm or getting into fights, he was playing games in his and Avylyn's room.
Miziu scooted closer to Vita, "Yeah I know! They're so frantic but also strangely relaxing, don't you think?", she remarked with way more energy in her voice. Vita nodded, "Yeah, I always loaded up a custom playlist and just played to the music… though the in-game music is great of course", he said.
"Mhmm! It really is! I bought the collector's edition of the soundtrack. It came with six bonus tracks and an artbook… um… it's up there I think…", Miziu stated, gesturing to a high shelf above them. "I love Jester's Cradle, their stuff is so intense but has that sort of flow to it, ya know? It's addicting stuff! Did you know they also did the music for Armor Assault IV?", she went on.
Vita was fully engrossed in the discussion now. "No way, really? Though it was similar now that I think of it…", he replied, recollecting memories of playing the tactical squad-based mech action game. "Yeah, totally them. They didn't come back for the fifth game though, which was disappointing", she told him.
"Well that wasn't the only thing. I didn't like V as much, the maps felt imbalanced towards ground-based artillery units", Vita stated.
"Ah right. I rolled with agility-based striker units, which weren't as effective which the game's increased emphasis on defensive strategy", Miziu said. Vita suddenly realized that he was actually having a legitimate conversation with someone for the first time since coming to the Institute.
Miziu just kind of sat there smiling for a moment before proclaiming, "Ya know… you're really easy to talk to, Amoana-boy". Vita raised an eyebrow before she lightly elbowed him, "Ah, I'm just joking with ya… um… Vita", she said defensively.
Vita stuck his hands in his pockets, "Heh, yeah", he mumbled. Miziu reached around the couch and grabbed a controller off a side table and handed it to Vita, "Listen… um… do you wanna play with me? I mean… just for a while, if it's cool…", she asked nervously.
Vita saw no reason to refuse, things were actually going well for once. "Yeah, of course. Just don't get too mad if I fail hard… it's been a while", he said. Miziu seemed to excited to acknowledge his warning though. And soon enough they were playing some old ol' fashioned Dream Trigger. It actually split the video signal to another monitor automatically, which was nice.
"No screen-peaking", Miziu muttered under her breath. 'Why would I screen-peak on my own teammate? And… couldn't that be helpful in some cases?', he thought to himself. And so they played several matches against other teams online together. Vita found himself doing slightly better than he thought he would, frequently making the top five on the scoreboard.
"So just looking around, you have hundreds of games in here…", Vita absent-mindedly commented. Miziu shook her head, "325,584 actually, though I've only managed to play a tenth or so of that", she corrected him. 'Oh… is that all...', Vita thought to himself, feeling both jealous and amazed. A lot of them seemed quite rare, as far as Vita could tell.
Miziu could tell where his mind was going. "I hope you don't think I'm leeching off Dad's wealth… I do important work for him you know", she stated bluntly, as if trying to refute some preconception. Vita wasn't about to judge her for being spoiled but figured he'd hear her out. "What kind of work?", he asked politely.
"Secretarial and Investigative", Miziu replied earnestly. "Ah, work you can do from a comfort of your home", Vita commented, shooting an enemy in the face. Miziu slumped on the couch a little bit, "It really is important though… I'm just not good at dealing with people face to face…", she said, sounding a bit depressed. Vita shrugged, "Truth be told, neither am I. I have this friend… I usually just let her take charge of things like that. I tend to get into trouble when I open my mouth around others", he explained.
"Ah yes, they were talking about that online too. They said you hide behind your girlfriend and get violent with people behind her back", Miziu informed him bluntly. Vita shook his head, "She's not my girlfriend", he stated with impunity.
"Classic line", Miziu said.
"Ha… yeah. But it is true… in fact I think she might be upset with me, or at least tired of dealing with me", Vita said, his voice a little bit shaken. He took a deep breath and changed the subject, "Hey, are you actually enrolled here?", he asked.
"Technically, though I don't bother showing up to class", Miziu replied.
"You should. I might have someone decent to talk to that way, hehe", Vita told her snarkily.
"I can see why you get into trouble…", she muttered.
"Hm, yeah. I guess that was harsh, but really, you are the nicest person I've run into since I got here", Vita casually declared.
"Oh… ah… really? You don't think I'm… awkward to talk to?", she asked, her voice a bit insecure. Vita shook his head, "Heh, not really. But I guess our… mutual awkwardness cancel eachother out?", he theorized on the spot. Miziu scratched her head, "Huh… mutual awkwardness… interesting…", she mumbled to herself.
Miziu stared at the device on Vita's ears for a while before commenting, "You're still using that dinosaur?". Vita suddenly felt very self-conscious about his ears, "Is it really that outdated?", he asked. Miziu chuckled, "Most people just use simply comlinks so they don't have to worry about stuff like that, but people who want the best out of their mobile rigs moved on from holo-visors. That thing is atleast ten cycles old", she explained.
Vita pouted, "Okay then, Ms. Cutting Edge, what's the latest and greatest then?", he asked almost sarcastically… almost.
Miziu pulled back her hair and showed Vita the base of her neck, which had had a silver device hooked up to an integrated docking station grafted onto her body. Vita was taken aback by her bodily modification, "Aaah! What is that!?", he exclaimed in shock. Miziu let out a tiny laugh, "Ha, everyone reacts like that at first", she said.
"This is an Augmented Reality Interface Neural Implant Device. Otherwise known as an ARINID. You can't see them, but I also have tiny implants in my eyes and ears. This device sends audio-visual feedback directly to your brain, which you can control with both thought and motion gestures", she explained.
She pointed to the silver device itself. "The actual processing goes on in here. It's a compact super-computer that interfaces directly with your nervous system. It never needs to be recharged, as it uses the bio-electricity and thermal energy produced by your own body. Some have even called it an artificial organ", she continued on.
"That… all sounds incredibly dangerous. If hackers could break into the thing… couldn't they have directly access to your body and mind?", Vita asked.
"These things have the best security the world's ever known. Nobody had been able to crack them yet. And even then, the processor can easily be removed, mitigating all danger", Miziu explained. Well… if she's confident in it.
"Anyway, you should really consider it. They're invaluable for Seekers due to their thought-based control. You can communicate and manage data in complete silence and secrecy.", she said. 'Huh… I can certainly see how that would be useful… for covert operations and stuff...', Vita thought.
"The adoption rate of the ARINID for Seekers is over 80% for this reason. It takes awhile to adjust, but it's ultimately too useful to pass up… in fact…", Miziu continued as she waved her finger in the air a bit. Vita couldn't see it, but she was actually interfacing with her own brain. "I've now just ordered one for you", she finished saying.
Vita jumped back in surprise, "Aaah! Wait, what!? I couldn't ask you to do that! How much does one of those even cost anyway!?", he exclaimed in near-horror.
Miziu calmly replied, "This one was about 800,000§".
Vita nearly fainted after hearing her words… the entire farm back home probably wasn't even worth that much. "Aw great… I'll never be able to pay off a debt like that…", he whined, about five seconds from cradling himself in the corner, under all the ramen cups.
Miziu impatiently tapped through menus to set up the next game lobby. "Oh relax, I gotcha covered", she said. Vita couldn't believe his ears… who spends that kind of money on someone they've known for fifteen minutes!? Just how rich was the Director!? "It'll take awhile to build and ship here, and of course you'll need to have an operation to implant the device components into your body", she explained.
Vita waved his arms in front of him. "No! I'm sorry but I can't just let you do something like that for me!", he cried out. Miziu looked away and twirled one of her long strands of hair around her finger. "...It's really not a big deal", she muttered defensively. Vita sighed… there wasn't any getting out of this. And if she really didn't mind, it was probably best to just accept her generosity. To deny it might come across as rude.
"Well… if there's anything I can ever do for you, just tell me. I can't just let things stay this way", Vita told her, clenching his fists. She held her finger up to her forehead for a moment before speaking, "Okay then, we should exchange contact info then", she said. Vita blinked in surprise, "Oh… yeah. Okay then", he responded in a bit of a daze.
Ezeren had already made the members of the World Domination Club exchange contacts as well, and he had received a request from Nanner during class. And of course, he had Avylyn's info as well. So with Miziu, that made a solid starting list.
Miziu sighed, "Well dad's probably gonna be back soon, so you should get out there", she said. Vita nodded and got up to leave the room, but just as he was standing in the door frame, Miziu called out, "Hey! I-I'll… I'll call you tonight, okay? You're welcome to come back anytime… I have… ya know… games and stuff…".
Vita turned back to her with a smile on his face. "Yeah, don't worry about it", he said as he left the room. That seemed to please her.
"Mr. Vaavrin, thank you for coming by on such short notice. I trust my daughter kept you reasonably well entertained?", the Director said as he swivelled around in his swivel-chair. Vita nodded, "Yeah, she's really nice and all", he said plainly. The Director launched himself over his desk and wrapped an arm around Vita's shoulder.
"Yes yes, I'm quite proud of her. By the way, she's single don't you know?", he almost whispered in Vita's ear. Vita had to take a moment and process that, as was the case with many things the Director says. 'What kind of father tells boys that? ...He must be an exceptionally open-minded parent...', Vita thought to himself. If anyone was chasing after Avylyn, Grandma would smack the crap out of them.
"I-I'll… keep that in mind. Anyway, what am I here for?", Vita replied, his voice wavering. The Director paced back and forth along the window behind his desk before answering, "Oh, it's just a small little matter but… I noticed something strange about your entrance evaluation…".
"Did I flunk it?", Vita demanded.
"Oh yes, most definitely. As did everyone… well except one. But that's not the issue, we expect everyone to fail the evaluation", he said, sounding a little bitter. "But one of your answers intrigued me… the one about… Star Theory", he told Vita, his voice emphasizing the latter half.
"You see, Star Theory is an ancient and obscure superstition… one that I have a rather difficult time believing anyone so young could possibly know about. So I'm curious as to… how you knew the perfect answer to that question?", the Director inquired, his faceless visage staring right into Vita's soul.
'Something is telling me… that I shouldn't tell him about the book', Vita thought to himself as he fidgeted slightly in his seat.
"Well? Where did you learn about Star Theory? Did you perchance… read about it somewhere?", the Director prodded once more. Vita could feel a sweatdrop forming down his neck… 'Does he know?', he thought.
There wasn't any reason to lie. And it's doubtful anyone could ever prove Vita had any conclusive motive to act the way he did but…
"Ah well, there was an old scholar in the reverse patch where I grew up, see? You know how those old codgers love to take kids aside and ramble on about whatever? He told me about it ages ago, though I didn't think anything of it at the time. Who knew it would ever help me on a test, huh? Heh…", Vita lied, trying to sound as innocent and authentic as possible.
The Director leaned back in his chair and looked out the window. "Is that right? Well… nevermind then", he mumbled under his breath as he continued to stare intently at the horizon. "But I'm just giving you a general warning… there are dangerous things that one encounters as a Seeker… things that should never fall into the wrong hands… if you ever feel you've discovered one of those things, please let me know, alright?", he concluded.
There was a significant silence between them, before Vita eventually nodded.
"Yes, sir", he said.
He had never addressed the Director like that before now.
Director jumped out of his chair and thanked Vita for his time, before pressing a button on the underside of his desk… that opened a trap door beneath Vita's chair, sending him through a series of wind-tubes before launching him back into the hallway outside.
"That man… is still crazy", Vita remarked as he walked away. Just then, Vita received an incoming call from Ezeren on his holo-visor. 'Oh right… the first meeting of the World Domination Club... ', Vita thought to himself.
There was a strange excitement in the air…