“An unauthorized training exercise. An unauthorized use of Ferals. Improper security protocols. Reckless endangerment of our students. Should I go on with your list of offenses Mason?”
Mason stands in attention with his hands crossed in front of him and looks down. “No Sir.” He responds with a timid tone, which is uncharacteristic of his usual arrogance. “I apologize Academy President.”
“Oh? Aren’t we very compliant today? What’s with the formality?” Academy President Hiro Mitoki looks at the usually hot-headed General bowing before him and he finds himself strangely disturbed, unsure of how to respond to this level of respect from him. “Actually, you don’t have to answer that. I would like to know however, just what reason did you have to place those kids in such risk?”
“Well Sir, to be honest I felt that they were getting too lax with their exercises. The last few haven’t really benefited them in my opinion as they take down a single feral easily and don’t learn any new skills. More importantly, they have terrible teamwork skills, which ultimately led to today’s conflict and was the point I was trying to make with this training. If they had been working effectively as a team, they would’ve never found themselves in that situation. Teamwork is the only way to have a successful unit and definitely vital to the Battle of the Elementals which will be here in no time.”
“Well what have you been doing all this time? I thought that the entire reason you requested those Sunday training sessions were for the sake of giving them advanced battle skills and team building. If they are still lacking in teamwork, then perhaps these exercises are a waste of time and should end.”
“With all due respect Sir, the training exercises are not the problem, they are. They work well together when I give them everything on a silver platter, but it’s when they are tested in real time, unpredictable situations that they suffer. This shows me that they’ve gotten spoiled by the easy, predictable task of slaying one feral and have become cocky to the point that they think they can take on anything just because they’ve never failed an exercise I’d given them before now. The fact that they fell apart as soon as things changed shows that they’ve never truly been a team, just cooperative, which is different.”
“Well regardless if that’s the case or not, it’s still your fault because you failed to notice this sooner and put them into a situation they were not ready for, endangering their lives. When we entrusted you with our children’s lives we had faith that you’d be able to adequately protect them, but clearly our trust was misplaced. Don’t even get me started on that little monster of yours, he should’ve been put down years ago, just as the dog he is. Keeping beasts like that away from our children was the whole purpose for this Academy.” Vera Nickels, Chief Fire Elemental speaks with a snobbish tone as she glares at Mason.
Mason had kept his temper in check for as long as he could, but he finds himself unable to ignore her harsh words. “That beast Vera, is probably going to save your life one day, so you had better not put him down so easily. Also, if my memory serves me correct, you voted yes to having him stay and head their unit along with everyone else, so you have no right to complain now.”
“That was simply a lapse in judgement, nothing more. I thought it would be a good idea at the time, but I soon regretted it afterwards. It’s just that by that point I was outnumbered so even if I had tried to change my mind, nothing would’ve come from it. This incident however proves my point that there is no place for those beasts at this Academy, domesticated or not. He’s still craves human flesh.”
“I’ll have you know that he’s never once shown an interests in human flesh or otherwise. He’s been just fine with his tomato juice substitutes and is in complete control of himself on a normal basis. This was an unusual incident that was triggered as a defense mechanism his body activated to save his life from a wound that would have ultimately killed him if it hadn’t. I never expected that to happen, but naturally I had a fail-safe planned just in case. It was that fail safe that knocked him out and removed the very brief danger your kids were in. Their lives were never at risk. So don’t you dare blame him you old crone!”
“There you go, always defending him every time he becomes a risk. You defended him back then too with that girl from your lab. He transformed into that thing that time as well, but even with your fail safe, that didn’t stop him from killing her in his rage. That was an innocent young girl who had so much promise ahead of her, yet that beast took away her life without a second thought. How sickening.”
“Hey now! That wasn’t his fault. He didn’t know what he was doing and he didn’t even remember what he had done afterwards. When I did finally tell him the truth a couple of years later, he was absolutely distraught after learning what he’d done. He’s just an innocent kid who happened to be born into a world that he didn’t ask to be a part of. No one hates his demon side more than he does, so he tries his best every day to keep it under control and suppress it. He’s just wants to be normal like anyone else, but unfortunately he can’t because of his cursed existence. I can assure you though that he’d never hurt anyone intentionally. That’s what separates him from the true monsters of his bloodline.”
“Say what you will, a monster is always going to be a monster no matter how well you train it. It’ll only be a matter of time before he loses total control and slaughters the entire Academy. Will you still defend him then, as he takes a deep chomp into your neck and drains you dry like a leech?”
“Listen Vera, I’m getting real tired of your shit! How many times do I have to tell you-?”
“Enough you two, enough!” Hiro interjects between them. “You two always go at it like cats and dogs.”
As they are silenced, Viktor Mainer, Chief Water Elemental, adds his opinion. “With the way you two argue, it’s not hard to see why Noah and Nikoli are always getting into their squabbles. They definitely take after their guardians. I know Noah isn’t actually your blood Mason, but as his guardian for the last six years of his life, he’s definitely taken up some of your traits. In your case Vera…well I think we can all agree that Nikoli’s temperament stems directly from your bloodline. You could be twins.”
Vera says nothing, just scoffs. However, Liam Guthrie, Chief Earth Elemental does. “I’m not so sure about that Viktor. When it comes to butting heads, I think Noah and Mai are more representative. Most of the “arguments” between Noah and Nikoli are in good fun, and I’d even say that they are probably good friends. However, Noah and Mai seem to actually fight over what seems like such trivial reasons. I can see some serious tension between them and Mai can be quite cold towards him while remaining respectful as she accepts him as her leader. She definitely gets that trait from you Viktor.”
He seems to be at a loss for words and so Viktor too goes silent. Kira Leanna, Chief Air Elemental takes the opportunity to add in her two cents as well. “I can see what you mean Liam, they do seem to have a strained relationship and it appears that it’s making things difficult for Lili. She and Mai are very close and Mai is protective of her, but for whatever reason, when Noah interacts with Lili, Mai seems even more agitated. I’m not sure what Lili’s relationship with Noah is exactly, but it seems that Mai isn’t a fan of their closeness and I can see Lili tries her best to alleviate that tension between them and bring them together. I know she gets that from me, but your Gunther, like you, is also very outgoing and great at compromising, so he’s much better at easing the tension in the group then Lili, who’s very introverted. Though given her past, no one can really blame her for being so.”
Everyone is silent for a moment, but the Hiro finally speaks. “Ok, I think we’ve gotten heated enough for one day so now it’s time to decide what needs to happen going forward. First your training must-.”
“Sir, I’m sure you’re about to say removed, but I really don’t think that’d be a good idea. They need to learn to fight properly as a team so that things like this won’t happen again and they’re prepared.”
“I wasn’t going to say removed, stop jumping the gun. However, they need to be restructured in a way that’s safer and more productive. That means using our training machines and the resources, not Ferals. Until you can give me solid proof that they can handle them, you will not deploy Ferals, understood?”
Tahno grits his teeth and wants to protest, but he knows it wouldn’t be wise to test him, so he simply says, “Yes Sir, understood. I will take my leave then. Good day to you Sir, Council.” He salutes them all and walks out, the large door slamming shut behind him. He clenches his fists and curses the air.
“So, how much do you wanna bet Tahno is getting his ass handed to him right now?” Nik tosses a fireball back and forth between his hands as he lies stretched across a sofa red as his hair and matching eyes as his crossed legs sway back and forth. He’s got a devilish grin and gives Noah a side glance.
Noah lies within a long hammock, stretching from the farthest corner to a spot just adjacent to Nik’s sofa. He lies quietly with his eyes closed, lightly swaying as he listens to David Bowie. He’d heard he used to be a musical legend in the Old Age and with a sound like this, it’s not hard to see why. Despite blasting the music that could be easily heard from his headphones, he’d still heard Nik’s question loud and clear thanks to his supersonic hearing. However, he still chose not to answer, to Nik’s annoyance.
“Dude, I know you heard me!” Nik tosses his fireball, no bigger than a tennis ball at Noah, but before it could even reach him, the flame disintegrated into nothing. “Screw this needing a weapon to amplify our powers shit, what’s the point of having these elemental abilities if we still need weapons to use it? Shit!”
Without opening his eyes or altering his steady motion, Noah finally responds. “Has anyone ever told you that you are a very angry man?” He can sense Nik’s annoyance and smirks.
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re a fucking freak? At least I’m not a bloodthirsty beast like you.”
Noah simply smiles, not phased in the slightest by his harsh words. If it were anyone else he’d be offended, but coming from Nik…well he wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t make comments like that. He’s a total ass who likes to act brash and intimidating, but Noah knows just how kind he really is.
“I may be a freak, but at least I don’t blow up about every little thing like you. You’re such a hot head.”
“Well at least I can actually express emotions unlike you who’s about as emotional as a rock. I mean you rarely interact with anyone outside of our little group, keep to yourself in class, show no enthusiasm for class activities and even with all the fangirls chasing after you, you’re still expressionless. The only time you even laugh is when you’re making jokes at me, but even I can tell it’s as empty as your cold, dead heart. You play at emotions with us sometimes, but in truth you’re practically lifeless.”
Even though he knows he means well, Noah couldn’t help but feel a tinge of agitation at his words. Agitation because he knows everything he just said is completely true. “Well, you’d be lifeless too if you lost your entire family and life in one day, at the hands of monsters like yourself, unable to do a thing. Don’t judge me until you can understand how it feels. Emotions bring nothing but pain and bad decisions, so I don’t want anything to do with it or anyone. I only tolerate you guys because Tahno asked me to. My body is here, but Noah Gremory died that night and is gone forever.” His tone is cold.
“That’s just an excuse.” Mai walks into the social room and takes a seat on an orange sofa, holding her glass of juice as she does. In her usual, calm tone, she continues. “We’ve all lost things, we’ve all got demons, but that’s no reason to stop living. Just be honest and admit that you’re an antisocial jerk.”
Having had enough of her attitude, Noah finally loses his temper. “Listen, what the hell is your problem with me Mai? What have I ever done to you to make you despise me so much? Actually you don’t even have to answer that question because I already know the answer. You act very stiff and proper so no one would think you’d have emotions yourself, but your jealously levels are through the roof and they have been for quite some time now. You make it seem like there’s some competition, when there isn’t!”
“Oh, so I guess you can show at least one emotion, anger. That’s all you are, just a big sac of anger and resentment wrapped up in a bow of guilt because you couldn’t save your family. And jealousy? Where would you even get an idea like that? Jealous of what? What do YOU have that I’d ever want?”
“Lili.” Noah answers abruptly and matter of factly, causing everyone in the room to freeze, including Gunther who had just walked in with his pet bunny Tooru. “You’re jealous of our relationship, right?”
Mai is silent and her face goes dark as she grips her glass. “What? What are you even talking about? I’m not jealous of anything. Lili’s a big girl and can make her own decisions, so it’s none of my business what she does. Though hooking up here and there is hardly something I’d call a relationship, but whatever.” Mai looks away with a neutral expression and is silent, hoping to end the conversation.
“Silent now aren’t we? You didn’t deny it, just deflected, which means it’s obviously true. I don’t know how many times I’ve made it clear to everyone, including Lili, but no I’m not “with” Lili and so in the dating sense, we are not in a relationship. It’s exactly as you said, we hook up now and then, but that’s not for my benefit. I’m doing it for Lili’s sake, to help her overcome her past trauma and gain confidence. That’s the only reason, not for myself.” Mai looks at him once again with fire in her eyes.
“You’re “helping” her? Please, that’s such a lame excuse. No guy would have sex with a girl if it didn’t benefit him in some way. Guys are selfish and shallow like that, only seeing girls as objects. That’s why I….” She trails off, deciding not to finish the sentence. Noah doesn’t let her off the hook though.
“Only like girls?” Mai looks at Noah with eyes full of fire, so much so that he thinks she may seriously attack him, but he doesn’t stop. “That’s what you were going to say right? Or is it just Lili you like?”
“…up.” Mai whispers under her breath and Noah hears it. However, he presses on, hoping to get a rise out of her and make her admit what he’s suspected for quite some time, even if she doesn’t accept it.
“Hey, it’s ok to be gay, Nik’s the gayest guy in this school, but people don’t treat him differently.”
“Well actually Noah, people are always making fun-.”
“If a loser like him can be open about it, then you have nothing to worry about. In fact, I don’t think you know how popular you are, especially with the girls. I’m sure they’d love you even more if you just…”
“I said shut up!” Everyone is silent at her rare moment of rage. “I’m not jealous, I’m not gay and I’m definitely not in love with Lili. I’m just looking out for her because she’s too weak to make it on her own!” Noah puts his hand up, motioning her to stop, but she thinks he’s just trying to brush her off. “No, I’m not going to stop now. You clearly wanted to get a rise out of me, so here it is. I’m not like you, I don’t need to exert my dominance through pleasure like you do and the fact that you’d think I’d ever want to do that with her is just disgusting. I just can’t stand to see the weak suffer, nothing more!”
As she finishes her rant, the glass in her hand suddenly shatters, crumbling under her icy grip. This abrupt event snaps Mai back to her senses enough to finally notice how uneasy everyone looks and how their glances are looking past her. She turns around to see Lili standing there, holding an empty plate, whose muffin had long since fallen to the floor during her rant. Mai’s eyes go big. “Lili I….”
Lili stands there trembling as she says, “I’m…disgusting?” Tears form in her eyes. “I already knew I was weak, but I never thought…I didn’t know I was such a burden to you Mai. I’m sorry. I’m really….” She falls to her knees and dropping the plate, places her hands over her face as the tears flow harder.
“Way to go Noah, this is all your fault you know. You just had to piss her off. Look what you did.”
“Me? What the hell are you talking about Nik? I was just speaking the truth, she’s the one who said such screwed up things. I didn’t make her say them and I even tried to stop her, but she ignored me.”
Mai just stands there with her fists trembling as she watches Lili crying on the floor as Gunther tries to comfort her. He attempts to ease the tension. “Who cares whose fault it is guys, let’s just agree that Lili is hurt and needs our support. Fighting isn’t going to help her or us. We just need to sit and talk like….”
“You ass!” Finally losing her composure, Mai charges at Noah so quickly that even he can’t avoid her until it’s too late and she’s tackled him. “You made me say such terrible things that made Lili cry. I’m going to kill you!” Without hesitation, she punches him in his face as hard as she can, which would normally shatter someone’s head, but only turns Noah’s cheek slightly red. Unwilling to give up so easily, she continues punching him with both hands until they start to bleed. She sits over him, breathing heavy as she tries to catch her breath. Noah doesn’t fight back, but just lies there with his usual smirk.
“Did that make you feel better? I’m good for about another 1,000 punches, so have your fun. No matter how many times you punch me though, it’s not going to change the truth and you know it, no matter how much you deny it. It’s only going to keep eating away at you until you become broken, cold, angry, resentful and guilty of all the things you never did. You’ll be just…like…me….” Noah expects to see her rage, but he’s surprised to see her tears instead, that begin to fall on his face.
“Ahhh!” Mai cries out in frustration, feeling as exposed as a naked rat. She continues her onslaught of punches as she screams, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I HATE YOU!!! Just die already! You-.”
“ENOUGH!” With the sound of a loud clang, everyone stops and becomes silent as they turn their attention to the other side of the room where the kitchen is. Tahno is standing there with a scary expression. He begins to slam the pan into the wall, with each clang saying, “Drama “clang”, Drama “clang”, Drama “clang”, Always with the goddamn drama! This is exactly why you guys failed your training this morning. You fucking hate each other!” Tahno drops the pan and joins them in the room. “All this arguing about emotions and jealousy and whatever else that doesn’t matter, but not thinking about the real issue. You all almost died tonight. If I hadn’t had my fail safe in place, all five of you would’ve died. I say five because although you would’ve been the one to kill them Noah, you would have been executed afterwards without second thought by the council. Do you guys even get that?”
Noah hasn’t seen Tahno this riled up in a while and he can’t help but run with it. “I take it your summons with the council didn’t go well. He got his ass handed to him after all Nik!” Nik doesn’t smile or make any gesture as he’s aware that this is not the time for jokes. “Oh come on, it was your own-.”
Tahno grabs Noah by his shirt with both hands and pulls him close to him. “Listen you little shit, you’re the biggest source of my problems so don’t fucking joke with me because it’s not the time.” He pushes him back and then pulls out a cigarette. As he lights up he says, “Thanks to your incompetence, all of you are now under the council’s disapproving gaze. This means that you all had better be on your best behavior from now on. Also, they’ve forbidden Sunday morning training sessions, so instead you’ll have to sit around a campfire and sing cumbia until you can learn to work together. The only battle training they’ll allow is mechanical instances to prepare for battle of the elementals, so I’m ordering that you all prepare yourselves because as punishment for your failures you will be training with these instances every day after classes until 8 PM. You will do this for the next month, just before the competition starts. As my personal punishment to you, no one will be allowed to attend social events or any other club-sponsored events during this time. Also, excursions are strictly prohibited. So basically you all are under house arrest until the battle. If you’ve got issues with this…well that’s too damn bad. Now get to bed.” Leaving no room for opposition, Tahno walks out as he mutters, “This is why I hate teenagers.”