The World As We Know It
Mess Hall, the Academy, 9 years later.
Considering Atticus' intense rivalry with fellow cadet Vid Snowdin, it became a surprise to him that he found himself entranced to what Snowdin was dictating to the crowd. The mess hall was originally one of the few places where cadets were allowed to relax from their strict and hectic lifestyle at the Academy. However, tonight started out differently when Snowdin, who probably in a drunken fit, decided to stand on top of a dinning table and dramatically proclaimed his idealistic speech which was met with thunderous approval from the audience.
"... and we are approaching the third year since the President's death at the filthy hands of those elves! Look at yourselves, why are we smiling and laughing at this moment when we should be out there avenging for the fallen? We should remember to look eastward and be prepared for our march into Atlantis to make them pay for their crimes!" Snowdin yelled at the top of his lungs idiotically while taking another gulp from his flask, before continuing with his slurred speech.
Standing at the outskirt of the audience, Atticus although did not cheer nor share the same enthusiasm with his fellow cadets, he couldn't help but be impressed with what Snowdin was capable of saying. As he leaned in closer to catch onto the next part of Snowdin's drunken exclamation, he felt someone pulling him by his forearm and yanked him away from the converging crowd. He turned around to find Clara clutching his wrist and guiding him out of the hall.
"Let's take a stroll," she said monotonously while displaying her usual blank expression.
"Cut it out," Atticus resisted, but finding himself unable to free his hand from Clara's strong grip. Soon they were out in the courtyard, where Clara tossed Atticus against a pillar. Though physically smaller than him, Clara was known to be a surprisingly strong and fit cadet at the Academy, a reputation she was never boastful of.
"Hey what do you think you are doing?" Atticus complained as he picked himself up.
"You don't need to listen to any of his crap," Clara responded without changing out of her seemingly emotionless stance.
"Don't tell me what to do."
"Please stop, Atty."
"No Clara, I am serious. Quit chaperoning me and just leave me alone."
"Listen to yourself Atty!" Clara snapped back, breaking her blank expression to Atticus' surprise. "Just listen to what you are saying Atticus. Remember what the Pastor advised you? Is this why you signed up for the Academy?"
It was Atticus' turn to stare blankly at Clara, whose outburst had reddened her face, making her completely different from her cool usual self. He slumped down against the pillar and looked down from her.
"I am sorry Clara," he apologized softly while Clara slid down next to him. "I shouldn't have."
"It's okay Atty. That's why I am here."
To Atticus and especially Clara, having found one another made the chaotic world warmer to them. While politicians bickered amongst themselves in the Capitol for control amidst crisis lurking around the corner of the Republic, the two spent the the rest of their childhood in relative peace at the orphanage which was located in an area known commonly as the Fringe. The region was situated in between the Capitol - the core of the Republic which served as the center for politics and economy, and the outer uninhabited rim known as the Frontier. While the Fringe was mostly farmlands and small villages, the Capitol was a grandiose metropolis resided by the rich and elites. The Frontier was supposed to be the next step for the Republic to construct small yet modernized counties to transform the Republic into a giant metropolitan connected by railroads that could easily transport its citizens from one county to another. However, such plan was scrapped when towns in the Frontier were claimed and garrisoned by rebels at the onset of the Civil War. During the five years of infighting, the entire Frontier became a desolated land which saw some of the bloodies battle of the War. By the end of the war, the idea of populating the Frontier was abandoned as it became scorched by the War and made uninhabitable.
On the south side of the Republic were also former colonies freed from the dominance of the Canterbury influences. To the inhabitants of the Republic, they were simply known as the Colonies. However, unlike the Republic, the Colonies were geographically unfit for production and farming while the Fringe were lush farmlands able to provide the Republic with sufficient resources to thrive. Over decades, the Colonies had waged incursions and raids into the Republic, and the only thing separating the Republic from a full invasion from the Colonies was a large outpost at the border between the Republic and the Colonies. The outpost was known as the Alamo which was defended by brave men and women constantly vigilant against any threats from the south.
To the east of the Republic laid the forrest land of Atlantis, separating the new world from the continent of Canterbury. The most mysterious part of Atlantis was its inhabitants. The Atlantans, although looked mostly like humans except for their slightly paler skins and sharper ears and eyes, were viewed as a separate species by many. They possessed equal intelligence as humans and able to learn human languages and communicate efficiently with them. While many theorized they were once humans who were adapted to Atlantis' environment, some also speculated that they were extraterrestrial species or even exiled products of human experiments. Biologically, Atlantans were same as human, except they possessed heightened senses plus sharper reflexes as compared to their counterparts. Culturally, they live in one giant society similar to that of the middle age. In fact, their lack of technology made them looked backwards to many. However, their highly self sufficient and harmonious society made technology an obsolete element.
The Atlantans tried to live peacefully alongside the humans, yet the resourceful land of Atlantis had attracted many attempt to colonize it. So far though, none had been successful. The Atlantans were expert in jungle fighting and guerrilla warfare. Even with guns and artilleries the kingdoms from Canterbury could not set a foothold in Atlantis. As the Republic had faced multiple problems from within the New World, Atlantis had never been an agenda in the Capitol. Yet, the Atlantans' lack of interest in trade and diplomacy had caused friction with the Republic. Overall, the Republic and Atlantis were able to coexist albeit on fragile terms.
Growing up in the Fringe, Atticus and Clara were never influenced by the lifestyles and culture from the Capitol and therefore were never interested in politics or diplomacy. On the other hand, although Atticus hardly knew his father, he always fantasized about the military life his father had and as such he wanted to continue the legacy to enroll into the Academy, the military officer school of the Republic. Also located in the Fringe, the Academy was seen as a prestigious college for those who wished to serve as future leaders in the Republic's military.
The Pastor had gone through a lot of discussions with Atticus over his decision. Even when Atticus was still a kid and would still need to attain good academic assessments in his teenage years to attend the Academy, the Pastor was uncomfortable with such decision. Having served as a chaplain during the Civil War, the Pastor had witnessed the carnages from both side of the War and attempted to shield not only Atticus, but every child at the orphanage of having to go through what he had. Still, he never outwardly disapprove Atticus' dreams. When asked why he wanted to serve in the military, young Atticus would always answer idealistically; he would claim to desire to protect his fellow citizens and seek justice for the weak. Even he never provided with an in depth response, the Pastor would always smile kindly back at Atticus and pat his head without elaborating much. He would never convey the horrors he had seen during the Civil War to Atticus, as he believed the child was too young and innocent to understand the different faces of war.
However, knowing his time was up and did not want to leave Atticus without any guidance if he truly decide to pursue such dream, the Pastor had given Atticus one advice that he should always keep in mind: be the knight who seek true justice and serve with valor and honor, but never become a pawn to blind hatred and vengeance.
Such advice was something both Atticus and Clara would constantly keep in mind, especially when the Pastor passed away not long after they turned twelve. The orphanage was then closed. The young ones would be sent to different orphanages in neighboring villages while older kids like Atticus and Clara were sent to boarding schools.
Losing the Pastor was devastating for both Atticus and Clara, yet knowing they still had each other, the proceeded with their new lives at the boarding school. While Atticus would continue his impulsive behavior that frequently got him into trouble, Clara continued to stick by him and tried to act as a voice of reason in Atticus' life. However, Clara was also willing to put herself in harm's way to protect Atticus. Although hardly resorted to violence, Clara could agilely knock down anyone who tried to bully Atticus albeit her petite appearance. While Atticus would continue his trouble making lifestyle, Clara had matured and risen academically to become a model student. However, she would always tried to look out for Atticus, as she viewed him as her only friend. Though Atticus initially struggled with his studies, his motivation to get into the Academy and with Clara's help he was able to improve his grades as the days went by.
It seemed both Atticus and Clara were able get their lives on track again, until that day happened.
Four years after they were transferred to the boarding school, the President of the Republic was assassinated. His body was found by the wreckage of his personal train cart and was riddled with arrows of Atlantis origin. No witnesses were left alive, and when the Vice President was sworn into office, he attempted to extract a confession from the Atlantans, who denied any involvements. Judging by the fragile relationship which was perceived as hostility, the government of the Republic quickly accused the Atlantans to be behind the attack. Soon, mass protests calling for stronger stance against Atlantis rose in different parts of the Republic, and to certain extent calling for an invasion into Atlantis. Even the only evidences linking to Atlantis were the arrows used in the assassination, the Republic cried for retribution. Shortly afterwards, radical groups and government bodies lobbied for war against the "elves", a derogative term to refer to the Atlantans.
Still suffering from the massive casualty of the Civil War, an instant declaration of war would be unwise. To rebuild the bulk of its military, the government had stepped up in its recruitment effort. While drafting was still unnecessary given that a surprisingly number of youths from the Fringe had enlisted, the Academy changed its four year program into a three year crash course and significantly lowered its enrollment requirement. As for Atticus, even with marginally acceptable grades, he was instantly accepted into the Academy. On the other hand, Clara achieved top grades in all her classes at the boarding school. She could have been accepted into any prodigious universities at the Capitol with full scholarships. Yet she also chose the Academy, to the surprise to her peers and teachers. Her class instructors had attempted to persuade her otherwise, but she insisted to become an officer along with Atticus.
Shortly after turning eighteen, both became full fledged cadets at the Academy. While Atticus emerged as an average student at academy, Clara continued to excel in all subjects and was known to be a prodigy in all fields. Besides acing all in-class lectures on military history, logic, and strategies, she was also ranked top in physical trainings not only amongst the small community of female cadets but also her male classmates as well. Yet, she had maintained a low profile despite attention she had received from other cadets and instructors, and all through her three years at the Academy she had continued to support and help Atticus.
Both continued to sit on the ground silently. Eventually other cadets begun to exit the mess hall to return to their respective quarters. Seeing this, Atticus stood up right when Snowdin showed up to his annoyance.
"Saw you leaving early today, Lincoln," Snowdin said slyly with a smirk. "Thought you will be interested in what I was saying"
Atticus tried to ignore him and leave with Clara, but one of Snowdin's mates stood in their way.
"Say, what happened to that usual attitude of yours? The one who is always fired up about anything?" Snowdin continued. Seeing there was no way he could leave quietly, Atticus turned to face Snowdin.
"Funny that a spoiled brat like you knows anything about fired up," Atticus shot back. "Oh yeah I forgot. You love getting fired up when it comes to being an obnoxious drunken prick." A few onlookers giggled at his statement. Snowdin turned red and signaled one of his goons to grab Atticus, but was met with a punch from the side that sent him flying across. Everyone turned at Clara, who still had her fist clenched.
"Touch him and I will get you all fired up... in the medical ward," she breathed out the last part while retracted her arm into combat position. Despite her humble and reserved nature, Clara also held a notoriously aggressive reputation at the Academy when provoked.
Snowdin frowned as he watched Clara dragging Atticus away from the scene. Unlike the rest of his cronies who did not dare to cross with Clara, Snowdin refrained from doing so not out of fear, but an infatuation towards her that he made no efforts of hiding it.
"Why an awesome girl like you will stand up for such a loser?" he whispered beneath his breath, but his face turned pale when he saw Clara turned back with a deadly glare. It was Atticus' turn to pull Clara away to prevent any further damage that would pit everyone in trouble.