“Alright guys, we’re done for today.” Tahno disengages the machines and everyone meets out in the prep room. Each of them are lined up side by side as Tahno reads off their training results. “Mai let’s start with you. Your offensive training module clocked in at 30 seconds, your defensive module at 40 and your comprehensive module clocked in at 60 seconds. These were all personal bests and so not only have you surpassed your already impressive levels, but you’ve got the fastest times out of everyone else, including all the other students. Excellent job, though I’d never expect anything less from you.”
“Thank you Sir, it’s an honor to have the privilege of training under you.” Mai salutes and stands perfectly at attention, reminding everyone that despite how it may seem, this is still considered a military academy. Even so, Mai has always been the most serious about it which gets her favor with the officials.
“Alright moving on, let’s do you Gunther. Your offensive module came in at 150 seconds, your defensive came in at 45 and comprehensive at 175, also your personal best in each module. Good job.”
“Thank you Sir. I’ll keep doing my best.” He doesn’t salute like Mai, but he does stand in attention.
“Alright Noah your turn. Offensive module 33 seconds, defensive 42, and comprehensive 61. These were all your personal bests and not just that, but you’ve had the largest jump of everyone else, just seconds away from surpassing Mai in each module. If this wasn’t our last session today, I’d bet you’d beat her next time.” He looks at Noah with a raised eyebrow. “What have you been doing? I’ve never seen such fast improvement in anyone before, even for a demon. Care to share your secrets?”
Noah looks at Tahno smugly and then with a smirk says, “I guess I’m just good like that Tahno.”
Tahno scowls, annoyed with his smart ass comment, but then he grins. “Ok, I guess I’ll leave it at that then, good job you little shit.” He moves to Nik next. “Alright Nikoli, your offensive was 120, your defensive was 160 and comprehensive was 180. You went up in everything but your comprehensive, in which you actually went down 2 seconds. It’s good you improved in everything else, but it’s not good to be going down in anything at this point. Make sure you work on your compound skills.”
“Yes…Sir.” Nik grits his teeth and clenches his fists. He’s pissed, angry with himself for going down in anything. If there’s one thing he prides himself on, it’s his superior skill above all other fire elementals.
“Alright Lili, let’s see….” Tahno looks at her with a disappointed expression and before he even says a word, tears are already forming in her eyes. The others all look on in remorse, especially Mai, knowing she had no improvement before he even started reading her results. “Lili…where do I even begin?”
“Just tell her the damn stats already!” Tahno glares at Noah for his sudden outburst, but says nothing.
“Ok then I’ll just cut to the chase. Not only did you not improve, but you went down significantly in everything, continuing your steady decline over the last month. Your offensive was 300 seconds, down 15, your defensive was 290, down 10 and comprehensive was 400, down 50. This has been your worst performance to date. What’s going on Lilianna? You should be at your best by now, not your worst.”
“I, I’m sorry Sir.” She looks down, unable to say anymore. She can feel his eyes of disappointment glaring down on her, but she can’t say anything. She has no words to explain that ever since that night, her world has been falling to pieces and she’s sinking deeper down to the ocean floor, slowly drowning.
Mai knows though and she’s been trying her best to keep her afloat, but the chains are latched on too strong. Ever since Noah cut her off, she’s been slowly sinking into a deep depression, becoming withdrawn and slipping in both her academics as well as training. She’s realized over this past month just how deeply rooted her trauma is and has come to realize that perhaps Noah’s unconventional methods were helping her more than she would’ve thought. She’s even considered offering herself as a replacement for Noah, which is what Lili had initially wanted, but she turned her down and stuck to her decision because even if that is indeed a solution, it’s only temporary. She doesn’t want Lili to just manage by leaning on others for comfort, she wants her to heal, but she can only do that on her own.
Noah knows that his abrupt ending of their relationship is to blame for her slip ups, but as remorseful as he feels for her, he doesn’t regret it and doesn’t want to go back. He’s done all he can do for her, so it’s up to her now to stand on her own two feet, though watching her now as the tears stream down her face, he’s not so sure she’s going to make it on her own. Even still, it’s not his problem anymore. None of them are. Just as he promised, he went to Tahno the very next morning and told him he was done and to his surprise, Tahno didn’t even care. He told him to “do whatever the hell he wants” and then kicked him out of his office. He’s probably just as fed up with all of them and their so called “team” himself, that he may have just given up as well. What was the point of the Junsui Task Force anyway? It’s not doing much good in a world that’s more or less at peace. The Junsui military forces have been doing a fine job at managing any rouge Junsui, so a high profile team like theirs was never really needed. Noah’s convinced that Tahno just wanted to command a fancy sounding unit or something. Whatever the case though. he’s finally free, in more ways than one and he’s never going back, not for anyone.
“Alright, I can see you have nothing more to say about it, so neither do I. However, I’m sure you’re aware already, but as a reminder, if you fail to qualify in the Battle of Elementals to the standard required of all prospective graduates, you will not be allowed to graduate. Furthermore, if you are not able to improve yourself to the standard that’s expected of you…well all I can say is it’s not good.”
Lili’s eyes go wide and she trembles, suddenly struck in fear at Tahno’s ominous words. They all fear a bit fearful after hearing that, but no one asks for clarification, as they’re not sure they want to know.
“Alright, with that, you all are dismissed. As I said, this is the last training session before the Battle begins on Monday. So you’ve got the weekend to do as you please, but please be reasonable as there will be dire consequences to anyone who misses the qualifiers first thing Monday morning. That’ll be all.” Everyone immediately removes their gear and start to file out of the training sector one by one. “Oh Lili, please stay back a moment, I’d like to talk to you.” He says this as he reviews some documents.
Lili stops and looks at Mai, who also looks at her with concern, but then she offers encouragement. “It’ll be fine Lil; he probably just wants to make sure you’re ok. Tahno’s tough, but not evil. So relax ok?”
Lili tries to give a reassuring smile, but can’t really bring herself to do it. She turns her attention to Tahno and then slowly walks over. With a trembling voice she says, “You wanted to see me Sir?”
He looks up to see that everyone is out of the room and then looks to at Lili. He stares at her for a moment, unsure of how to begin. He’s good when it comes to barking orders at them or running them ragged, but at times like this when he needs to be gentler, he has a hard time. Her hands tremble, though he can tell she’s trying to be strong and so he takes a deep breath and finally just comes out with it. “What’s going on Lili? I thought that maybe you’d been going down a bit this last month due to the pressures of finals and classes, but your performance today was just a mess. It’s only aggravating to me because I know you’re better than this, much better. So what’s going on, there must be something?”
“Um….” She’s unable to get words out and this only raises her anxiety. “I…um…I…I don’t know ok!” Tahno is surprised by her sudden agitation and Lili immediately regrets it. “I’m sorry, I’m just….” The pressure finally mounting and becoming too much to handle, Lili begins to shake more aggressively and feeling like the world is closing in on her, she starts to hyperventilate, alarming Tahno.”
“Lili are you alright? What’s happening?” As she continues to hyperventilate, she clutches her chest and sweat starts to pour down her face. He realizes that she’s having an anxiety attack. “It’s ok Lili, you’re ok.” He grabs her shoulder and like a trigger, Lili reacts to his touch with a blast of air to the face.
“No! Don’t touch me!” Reacting in fear, Lili subconsciously creates a whirlwind in the room, sending several papers and small objects flying. Even Tahno is knocked back to his surprise as Lili hovers.
“What the hell?” Tahno quickly recovers, but is shocked to see that Lili is still going at it and that the twister is only getting stronger. “How is that possible?” It’s long been known that Marked Children cannot project such powerful energy without a conduit, yet somehow she’s able to not only manifest a full twister, but keep it going. He always suspected she was strong from his observations of them over time, but what he was seeing now has far surpassed all expectations. “Lili calm down, you’re safe!”
His words are lost in the wind and Lili isn’t hearing it. She’s not even fully aware of what’s happening. Just as Tahno starts to reach for a tranquilizer, suddenly the wind stops. It happens in an instant, leaving the floating papers temporarily suspended a few seconds longer and then they drop to the ground. Tahno is finally able to get himself up and once he has, he looks over to where Lili was, to see another person.
“Kira?” Sitting before him is Kira, the Chief Air Elemental, holding Lili in her arms as she sleeps.
Kira looks at the girl in sadness and then turns to Tahno with a frown. “Just what are you doing to my daughter Mason?” She asks this in a stern, but mostly concerned tone as she strokes Lili’s head.
“I was hoping you could tell me! I simply asked her to stay back a moment so I could talk to her and discuss her slipping performance, but then she suddenly freaked out on me and did that! How did she even do that? Even you can’t make a twister of that magnitude without a channel, yet she did that with nothing more than herself. That shouldn’t even be possible should it? Have you ever seen this?”
“No, I’ve never seen this happen in all my years of teaching here or as a council member. I’m a bit at a loss myself with this. Even just getting close enough to hit her pressure point and settle her down took some effort. It’s concerning I suppose, but in all honesty I’m much more concerned about why she reacted that way in the first place. She hasn’t had an attack like that since the abuse stopped has she?”
“Not that I’ve seen. She seemed to be doing pretty well actually, especially once they were all together as a team. She’s been much more sociable and confident in recent years, it’s only these last few weeks that I’ve noticed her slipping back into old habits, which is why I wanted to talk with her. And to you?”
“From what I’ve observed personally and from progress reports from her teachers, there’s been nothing to show any significant occurrences, but their most recent updates have been unanimously reporting a slip in her academics this last month or so. It’s actually why I was coming here, to talk to you about it.”
“So basically, it seems like something’s happened within this last month that’s affecting her mental stability and as a result affecting her academics and training performances. What could it be I wonder?”
“I’m not sure, but whatever it is, it must be significant. I’ll talk to her and see if I can get to the truth.”
“Do you think Lili will be alright?” Gunther asks as he walks with the others back to their rooms.
“Hopefully, as long as Tahno’s not in a seriously pissed mood or anything. I’m sure he’ll be gentle.”
“That’s oddly nice of you Nik, what happened to your normal attempt at making a classless joke?”
“What can I say, I’m just a classy guy.” Mai rolls her eyes at his idiotic response to her jab.
“If anyone is safe from Tahno’s wrath it’d be Lili, so I wouldn’t worry. Anyway, I’m off, see ya!”
Noah hurries off, leaving the others scratching their heads. “Where does he always go in a hurry?”
“Maybe he had to go to the bathroom or something. Though it seems like it’s the same every Friday.”
“Nah I think you’re giving him way too much benefit of the doubt Guns, I think he’s meeting someone.”
“Really? Who do you think it is? Do you think he’s got a girlfriend? Maybe that’s why he….” Gunther looks at Mai and stops himself, worried that finishing his sentence would be offensive to Lili.
Mai shakes her head. “It’s ok Gunther, I know what you want to say and I’m not offended. However, I don’t think that has anything to do with what he’s doing now. That being said, I really don’t care and you two shouldn’t either since he certainly wouldn’t care about us. He’s shown that this last month.”
Gunther pouts. He knows that she’s right, Noah has been very distant from them over the last month. He doesn’t hang out with them in their living quarters, opting to stay in his room all the time, he barely eats anything anymore, which is kind of concerning and he’s been ditching them as soon as class or training is over to hang out with that mysterious student they saw in the clinic. “What about that new guy?”
“New guy?” Nik thinks for a minute. “Oh! Do you mean that guy Noah’s been talking to a lot lately? Actually, is that even a guy or is it a girl? He’s never said and honestly it’s hard to tell. You know Mai?”
“I’m not sure.” She thinks about it more carefully. “Oh wait a minute, I think I may know who you’re talking about. One of the students in my class, they’re like the only transfer student in the entire school. I think their name was…Or…O…Ouran! That’s it, their name was Ouran and actually no one really knows what they are. When they showed up and introduced themselves, they said then that they were both a boy and a girl. No one really knew how to handle that, so no one talks to them often. Honestly, they don’t seem to care much since they keep to themselves. If I recall, they are also kind of strange. I get an uncomfortable vibe from them sometimes. I know that their element is supposedly water, but I get a different feeling from them compared to all the others in my class. Their energy feels dark somehow.”
“It feels dark? What are you even talking about Mai? Did you find some secret stash or something?”
Mai simply sighs at Nik’s idiocrasy and Gunther laughs. They drop the subject and start to discuss something else. From the shadows of an empty corridor, someone watches them intently as they pass.
Lili slowly stirs, feeling the cotton sheets brushing across her legs as she does. Her eyes suddenly pop open and she pulls her knees to her chest, alarmed at the realization that her uniform was removed.
“Relax Lili, you’re in no danger here.” Lili looks to her right and sees a woman smiling back at her. She looks at her chestnut hair up in a bun and her almond eyes staring back at her and she suddenly feels calm. She begins to slowly recall a memory. “Have we me before?” The woman smiles tenderly.
“I was hoping that you would remember me. It was quite a while ago, but I haven’t forgotten that day since it passed, not for a moment. That was probably the happiest day of my life. Do you know why?”
Lili shakes her head. “Did you have a baby? That’s normally the happiest day for people right?”
Kira smiles. “Well, you’re not too far off actually. I didn’t have my baby that day, but it was the first day I got to see her again after the day she was born. It was the day that I got to hold her in my arms once more as she cried into my chest. It was like the day of her birth all over again, just 14 years later.”
“That’s great, I’m happy you could see her again. Why was she crying though? Is she ok now?”
“I don’t know, it’s what I’m hoping to find out. So please tell me, why does she cry and is she ok?”
“I don’t….” Lili looks at the woman in confusion, unsure of why she’d be asking her about her daughter but then it suddenly clicks. “Wait, are you the same woman that came to visit me that time?” She nods. “But I was the one who was crying in your arms that day, we cried together. So if that was also the day you got to see your daughter again as she cried in your arms, then that would have to mean…that would mean….” Lili’s eyes go wide as Kira smiles wider. “So then you…you’re my…I’m your….?”
“Yes that’s right Lilianna, I’m your mother and you are my daughter.” Tears start to pool in her eyes. “I’m here for you now. I’m sorry I couldn’t be before; it’s forbidden for parents to have any contact with their children if they are marked. However, my position on the council made it that I could see you at times during my academy rounds, but I was never allowed to actually interact with you as your mother. That day was the one exception that Chairmen Hiro gave us to meet with you all, but we still couldn’t tell you the truth until after you had graduated. I may get in some trouble for telling you now, but I don’t care. I can’t bear sitting next to my daughter and her not knowing who I am any longer.” Her tears fall.
Lili begins to tear up too, the weight of what she was hearing finally coming down on her. She looks into that woman’s eyes, her mother’s eyes and suddenly just as she did before, she begins to cry harder. Her tears begin to stream down her face, soon both of their faces are drenched in tears. “Ma…mama?”
Kira’s eyes go bright and her stomach flutters as she hears the words she’s only dreamed she’d hear for the first time, making her tears fall in a downpour. “Yes, that’s right. I’m here. Mama’s here.”
As though she’s five again, Lili starts to snuffle and then in eager desperation she calls out again. “Mama, mama!” She jumps up and grabs on to Kira, wrapping her arms around her shoulders and leaning into her chest. “Mama I…I….” She desperately wants to tell her everything and more.
Kira wraps her arms around her in return and reassures her again. “That’s right Lili, I’m here. I’ll always be here for you now. I’ll never abandon you again. So please tell me. Tell me everything.” She does. She tells her everything that’s ever happened. From the first time she was touched, to what happened today after training. She cries through it all and as she listens intently, Kira cries through it all too, just as they did on that day four years ago. When Lili is done, they simply sit together, saying nothing. As the crying stops and the tears start to dry, slowly, very slowly, Lili can feel her world being put back together.
“Are you sure Tahno’s not going to find us out? We’ve never headed down to Tourer this early before.”
“No, he doesn’t really bother us once our training is done. Even if he does stop by, it’s not usually to check in. He won’t enter my room if my door is closed, so since I closed it, it should be fine.” Ouran shrugs and starts to respond as they make their way through the tunnel, but he suddenly stops.
Ouran looks around and then smirks. “Noah, I know this is sudden, but you’re about to finally have your question answered. Try not to freak out, but I’m about to change into something interesting.”
“What are you talking-?” His sentence is cut short when he notices that suddenly, Ouran is glowing. She starts out standing with her arms at her side, but then with a stomp, a vortex of light shoots up and around her, so bright that Noah thinks he might be going blind. When the light fades, Noah’s jaw actually drops, not quite able to believe what he’s seeing. Standing in front of him is Ouran, but he looks different. Most noticeably, a large pair of wings, black on the top and white underneath stretch out on either side of him. He turns around to reveal his slit eyes, one is his normal color, but the other he’s never seen appears red. His forehead contains a gold tiara and his clothes have changed to a holy like garb and in his hand is something that looks like a light saber emitting strong energy. “What the...?”
“Pretty gross right? Well now you know, this is what I am. I’m a denizen of life and death, a Reaper.”