The Subtle Mage

Three things I knew for certain:

First, that my captors had gone to great lengths to make me comfortable.
Second, that my stay was going to be a long one.
Third, that I may possibly have some superpowers.

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7. The Facility

Ode to coffee: the earthy-brown ambrosia that kept me from insanity.

 

Being an insomniac, I had learned to appreciate coffee for not only its remarkable ability to keep oneself awake, but also its taste; something often missed in wee hours of the morning. Since what I drank during the day had no effect whatsoever on how much sleep I got the following night, coffee had been something I’d had in my daily schedule for a while.

 

I help a piping-hot mug of the stuff gingerly as I impatiently paced the floor. I’d been told by one Dr. Isiah Scott that I was to expect him this morning, I had gotten up, brushed my teeth (to be negated somewhat by the coffee), showered, dressed and made coffee in the space of the time it took for the sun to come up.

 

That was at least three hours ago.

 

Since then I’d sat on the sofa, thoroughly read the files once more (the contents were just as terrifying as they were the previous day) and burned through a considerable amount of my paper stock on doodles of various bits and pieces, most prominently the view from my window.

 

I paced the floor again, wondering what my day was to be like. Isiah had mentioned new accommodation, something I looked forward too, but he also mentioned a training regime, something I did not.

 

Three neat knocks on the door stopped my thoughts dead in their tracks.

 

Eagerly, I jogged over to the door and waited; there was no handle, so I presumed it would open by itself.

 

It did, and Dr. Scott was stood outside.

 

“Aaron. Good morning.”

 

“Good morning.”

“Are you ready?” He asked me, a slight smile on his lips.

 

“As I’ll ever be.” I replied, heart racing.

 

“Come on then, follow me.”

 

***

 

For the first time in however long, I was to leave my quarters, at least, consciously. My first step outside was to a smaller room, one fitted with a more sturdy door. The door slid open with a grating sound automatically, blinding me with the light outside.

 

We were standing on the rim of a giant crater, roughly circular and miles along at least. At the foot of the crater was a crisp, verdant forest. Trees of every variety stood shoulder to shoulder, waving mildly in the slight breeze. At the edge of the forest, in the center, was a immense, cobalt blue lake. The sun shimmered over the glassy water, defining every tenuous wave and ripple on the surface. Nestled in the middle of the lake was an island, big enough to hold the a dozen football pitches. The waves rolled along it’s beaches, leaving the sand glistening. But what lay on the island was what made my breath catch in my throat.

 

A very modern facility of sorts, all glass and marble. It was shaped like a five-pointed star: five points extending from the middle, flat on the grass, glimmering in the sunlight.

 

Dotted around the grass were several figures, garbed in clothes like mine, but of different colours. Some were stood in groups, some were sat alone.

 

“Artemis Experimental.” Announced Dr. Scott proudly. “If you read those files you’ll know that until recently there were only thought to be four classes. Because of my work, the existence of a fifth has been verified. They’re all very eager to meet you, yes indeed.”

 

I paused.

 

“Do you mean to tell me that I am the only Maelamancer here?”

 

“Yes.”

 

The abruptness of his answer stunned me. I was beginning to understand that Dr. Scott was not one to beat around the bush. I was still deciding whether that was a good thing or not.

 

“Let’s go.” Dr. Scott said, gesturing to a flight of stairs trailing around the crater.

 

I followed him, treading carefully on the steps as we descended. As we did, Dr. Scott told me of where I’d be living.

 

“Five wings for five classes. So, that means that you’ll have an entire wing to yourself.”

Admittedly, I liked the sound of that.

 

“Here at Artemis, we believe in personal progress.” He told me, sounding like he’d swallowed a promotional leaflet. “You will be expected to put in a minimum amount of hours training per week, but other than that you are free to explore, relax, and otherwise do as you please. You will be notified if we have use of you.”

 

I smiled a little as we reached the bottom of the stairs and stepped into the forest. The smell of rich earth and mowed grass welcomed me. This place had an undoubtedly natural feel to it, no doubt. Maybe I’d actually like it here.

 

We wove our way through the forest until we reached the shore. Five bridges snowy marble and smooth glass handrails spanned across the lake. We stepped onto a gravel track that seemed to circle around the beach and over the bridges to the centre. Following the track, I saw it weave back and forth up one side of the crater. I guess that was where the supplies came in from.

 

Some of the figures dotted around the flawless glass turned to look at us, which made by face burn a little. Attention and I were not the best of friends, especially when I was the centre of it. This passive blending thing I’d read about would’ve been great about now, however it only worked in crowds.

 

Dr. Scott lead me to a pair of glass doors which opened smoothly as we drew close. There was some sort of check-in desk by the door, which Isiah leaned against and rang a bell. Inside there were more kids, moving towards one door or another, the first I’d seen up close. Some of them were older than me, perhaps seventeen or so, and some were younger. All of them regarded me with suspicion on their faces.

 

A beaming secretary, evidently well practiced, appeared through a door behind the desk and shook hands with Dr. Scott.

 

“You must be Aaron.” She said to me, the smile never leaving her face. I nodded, avoiding her eyes.

 

Just then, a tall man dressed in a sharp black suit strode through the door and muttered something inaudible in Dr. Scott’s ear.

 

“Aaron, I have to go.” He pointed to the floor as he spoke. “Follow the grey line to reach your quarters. There’ll be some stuff waiting for you there and a copy of the schedule.”

 

And with that, he turned on his heel and followed the tall man out of the sliding door. The secretary had already disappeared, leaving me alone with the kids. Without speaking, I kept my head down and began to walk.

 

I earned more than a few backwards glances from the kids inside. Through another set of sliding doors was a glass wall. Behind it, an amber garden lit with shades of autumn. The trees were ghostly still behind the screen, not a single one fell. A whole vista trapped in a state of perpetual beauty. The wall angled away to another, ensnaring the garden in a pentagon.

 

The wall next to me ran parallel with the glass, unmarred concrete with a single blue line painted about a foot from the bottom. Across the garden I could see where the two ends of the corridor joined. I counted three sides of the glass pentagon before the grey line turned down another corridor. I followed it, my reflection sharp in the windows on either side of me.

 

The grey line ended abruptly at a door. A simple plaque marked it as the ‘Maelamancy Dorm’ Tentatively I pushed it open.

 

I found myself standing in a spacious, triangular lounge. This room alone could’ve easily fit my house into it. An obsidian black staircase began to my left and followed the three walls into the ceiling, where another floor above began, apparently. A fire burned merrily in the center of the lounge, contained by a glass triangular prism that seemed to stretch up into the ceiling. Around the fire were a handful of high-backed armchairs, all done up in black leather.

 

I followed the staircase up a level to a corridor with punctual doors running along it. I opened the first door. The room inside contained a single triangular window, looking out over the lake. A comfortable, king sized bed was tucked away in one corner. The duvet was a charcoal grey, with a simplistic - a wisp of smoke- blazoned across the top. A bedside table with a clock, announcing it was four in the afternoon. There was a desk underneath the window, with a swivel chair, also grey. Off to one side I found the room that contained a shower and toilet. On the desk was a letter addressed to me. I opened it and pulled out the piece of paper within.

 

Aaron,

 

Feel free to use any of the rooms in the Maelamancy dormitory. Meals are at 0800, 1200 and 1900hrs, and enclosed is a map of the facility.

 

You are expected to train a minimum of three hours every day except for weekends, feel free to practice in our gym etc. Every Friday night is team game night, so make some friends.

 

You understand that we cannot allow you to leave the facility or its grounds unless you have been granted permission to. Even so, why would you want to leave?

 

Regards,

 

Dr. Isiah Scott.

 

I set the letter back down on the bed and promptly crashed on the bed, allowing the past few days of stress to be released as I drifted off for the first time in an age.

 

***

 

I awoke feeling surprisingly refreshed. Usually, when I fall asleep I feel more tired than when I’d nodded off. Now, though, I felt ready for anything. I took it as a good sign.

 

I glanced over at the clock, which announced the time as only a few minutes past seven. As if on cue, my stomach rumbled and I remembered that supper had only started a few minutes ago. I rolled out of bed, still fully dressed and leafed through the papers on my desk. I found the map and, memorising the route I was to take, set it down and headed for the canteen.

 

The hallways were ghostly empty as I wove my way through the corridors. Judging from the map that Dr. Scott gave me I could assume that the building had multiple levels. Upstairs contained the dormitories and downstairs was where the canteen was along with all of the training facilities. Plodding down the stairs, I began to get worried that there was nobody around. The only footsteps I heard were my own.

 

The fact that I passed a couple of lounges on my way down only added evidence that I was alone. Either everybody else had left or they really cared about their food.

 

My question was about to be answered as I rounded another corner to see a pair of doors, above which hung a sign identifying the room as the canteen.

 

Hesitantly, I nudged the door open.

 

The instant I did, a wave of sound rushed past me and flooded the hall, threatening to take me with it.

 

Most of the kids inside sat together in groups wearing the same colour hoodies. There were a few that sat in mixed groups though, which made me wonder if they’d come to the facility together.

 

There was a second or two of pregnant silence as the group studied the newcomer, then they forgot about me, returning to their conversations.

 

As I glanced around the room my heart plummeted.

 

Rows of tabled with benches, just like school. I groaned internally and plodded towards the food. There were no servers, we were seemingly left to ourselves. I grabbed a tray and piled it with food: sausages, mashed potatoes and beans. Meh.

 

Tray in hand, I settled down on a bench in the corner of the room, away from the others.

 

I had not taken a single bite when my meal was interrupted by a boy in a green hoodie. I glanced upwards, keeping my head down.

 

“Er, hi.”

 

“Hello.” I replied.

 

“I’m Ryan.” He told me, his tone was semi-awkward.

 

“Aaron.”

 

“Nice to meetcha, Aaron. Never seen a grey hoodie before.”

 

“Great.” I was about to send him away when I remembered Dr. Scott’s advice.

 

Make some friends.

 

Sod it.

 

“Yeah… I’m the only one here, I guess.”

 

For the first time I looked at him properly.

 

I had to crane my head further than anticipated to meet his gaze. He met my eyes with a friendly smile. His hair was shoulder length and chestnut brown.

 

“Still can’t control my powers, though.”

 

“Hey, that’s cool. When I first turned up I couldn’t either.”

 

I shrugged, and looked back down to my food.

 

“You know,” Ryan said, “you’re the only person here that I’ve met that treats this as something negative.”

 

“Isn’t it?”

 

“Well,” he shrugged, “most kids would do pretty much anything for superpowers. Food for thought.” With that, he got up and left me to my meal.

 

Realising that nobody else was going to talk to me I got up and stacked my tray with the others by the food service table.

 

As I made for the door, a Pyromancer with wavy brown hair strode over to me.

 

“That was a sweet entrance, Shadow-Dude.” He drawled, with the tiniest hint of ill-disguised contempt. I straightened up to look at him. I was taller than he was by an inch or two, but he was bulky and broad-shouldered. His nose was a little on the long side, and he had a chisel-like jaw. His mocking smile widened as he extended his hand. I shook it.

“Uuh, thanks.” I said, walking past. He held me back by my arm, and I turned to him, tensing.

 

“Team games in two days. You up for it?”

 

“I’m not sure.” I told him, somewhat stiffly.

 

“Aw, don’t be like that,” he laughed, clapping me on the shoulder. I shrugged and he chuckled, walking off to sit with some other Orange-Hoodies. I rolled my eyes and made for my dorm again. The Team Games were undoubtedly a good way of making friends, but I would be of no use if I couldn’t control my powers.

 

It was settled.

 

I didn’t like it, but the only way I’d be able to make any headway here was if I was to make some friends. But since talking wasn’t a great strength of mine, I was going to have to find another way.

 

I hurried back to my room and settled down on the bed. By the time I was in my room it was around eight, so I doubted I was going to be able to make any headway tonight.

 

Although…

 

It would be empty at night, I presumed. Unless there were other insomniacs around, in which case maybe I’d have something in common with them.

 

I decided to give it a few hours before I headed down. I figured I could see if the training facilities were still open, at least.

 

***

 

I got impatient at around eleven. I checked the wardrobe in the corner of the room for exercise clothes, and my search returned a deep grey shirt with the Shadow Emblem etched on the breast. I changed and carried my hoodie in my right hand.

 

The hallways were, as I’d predicted, deserted, as I went down the stairs to the training rooms.

 

I followed the signs and pushed open a pair of double doors.

 

I was met by a commodious room, painted pale white and despite being underground, seemed surprisingly airy. The room was air-conditioned, which was the only sound besides the door thudding closed behind me. The left side of the room was dominated by something that looked a little like a target range. Mannequins painted harsh red stood a little way away from a waist-high barrier.

 

Directly in front of me were some mats, laid out in squares, for sparring, I supposed. The right side of the room was taken up by a series of pillars, not unlike those in the ‘Jungle’. Various heights and thicknesses. Some were interconnected by walkways (without railings) and beneath it all, a net for catching people who fell. All around the room was a climbing wall. In some places it was high enough to be lethal, but for the most part all I would get from falling was perhaps a hurt ankle, not to mention hurt pride.

 

I had the better part of two days to master my powers.

 

Better get started then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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