She didn't have to ask us to be silent. Her presence was enough for us to not speak a word at all. We all stared at her, as she looked at all of us and smiled, friendly and satisfied. "Look at all of you wonderful young specialists, I'm so glad you are all here today. It has been a long journey for me and my colleagues to turn this academy into something real, so I'm very proud to be standing here right now, facing our first batch of new talents."
Talents... that was a word no one had ever used to describe me. How could I be a talent if I didn't even possess any magic? Really, my whole presence here was stupid. Still, I decided not to fight it anymore. It really did seem like they had genuinely invited me here. Or maybe the Empress just didn't know I had no magic? I doubted it, she knew everything.
"I'm sure all of you have a ton of questions about the way things will go on this academy. Right now I will try to inform you all about the most important basics. You will get more familiar with our training program as you go along with it.
First of all there is the fact that you are all divided into units of seven trainees and one commander. As you might have noticed, each unit has two specialists of each specialty. This is so that each unit is balanced and able to reach maximum efficiency and power. You will train with your unit for six years, and then receive your diploma and work contract together. If one of you fails, the whole team fails. Keep this in mind, it is really important that you all work together so each of you passes the final exams. The first year, every unit will be taught the basics which you need to be a decent agent. You will learn about offence, defence and stealth, while also attending theory classes about the history of the universe, the society of both Pan, Ayao and other major planets and you will learn how to do research and analyze information properly. During this year, your commander will figure out which aspects your unit succeeds best at. For example, if you all receive higher scores in offense than in any of the other courses, you will become an offence unit. Other specialisations for your unit can be defence, stealth or intelligence. Offence units are the brute strength needed in heated situations where direct combat between us and the enemy is involved. Offence units focus on combat strategy, tactics and develop their magical abilities to the highest level.
Defence units are stationed on all friendly planets and inside the GSA headquarters to defend us and our allies from enemy attacks. You will train yourselves to get civilians to safety and to keep the enemy from reaching its goal. You will work together closely with offence units to create a strategy together that will defeat the enemy as efficiently as possible.
Then there are stealth units. They are the ones who sneak into enemy territory and gather intelligence for the intelligence units. They will train in infiltrating the enemies headquarters. Some of our best stealth agents are undercover in Cecillio's palace as we speak. Besides going undercover, stealth units also perform missions without ever being seen. Combat-wise you specialize in assassination: taking out the enemy before they even notice you.
Lastly there are the intelligence units. These units are stationed at headquarters and don't bother with combat. They are the researchers, hackers and analysers of our agency and they are the most important. Going on a mission without any information on where you are going or what enemy you are facing, is suicide. Intelligence works closely with stealth. They hand out assignments to the stealth units, who gather the information intelligence needs for their research."
For the first time I realized that maybe I was in the right place after all. I had never thought of things like intelligence units, or jobs that didn't require any magic in general. Though I realized my teammates -especially Cedric- would probably not want to be an intelligence unit, I felt most comfortable with these kind of tasks. No need to worry about magic. Just gather information and organize it in a way that it makes sense. It was the perfect job for me.
"Remember my dear trainees, you are only as strong as your weakest link. Do not bully teammates who have a harder time than you learning some skills. Help them, make sure they keep up their motivation and work together to be as strong as you can be. Don't worry about making mistakes. You are here to learn, to fall down and stand up again. And most important, you are here to help up your teammates when they need a hand."
I glanced at Cedric, and he looked back at me. We both immediately looked away, and I felt a tight knot in my chest. Really, being in a unit with Cedric was absolutely the worst luck. I was sure he thought the same about me. How were we ever going to get along? I hated him and he hated me. I was probably a thorn in his eye, the weakest link the Empress mentioned. I was going to be that teammate who would force us into an intelligence unit, just because I was the only one incapable of doing magic. I looked at Jade. She seemed like a strong specialist as well, someone who would want to become an offence unit, or maybe stealth. I wondered if I could do stealth... maybe there was a way to succeed in a mission without using any magic. As long as no one saw you, it should be possible.
"Now, some practical information," the Empress continued. "Tomorrow we will start our year with an introduction camp which will take place on The World of Elements. We will travel by space shuttle to the planet and stay there for two days and one night. The purpose of this camp is to get to know your fellow teammates and to have a little taste of how it feels to work together. We will do some challenges and have some social activities in the evening. Trust me, you guys will have a lot of fun! You are expected to gather in the dining hall at 6 am for breakfast. After that, we will all leave together."
The silence amongst the trainees finally got broken by this announcement. People started whispering to each other, excited about travelling to another foreign planet. The World of Elements was a huge planet with a unique physique. The planet had multiple layers, each representing one of the five elements our powers were based on. Inside the planet, at the Core, there was a city where specialists lived who didn't feel home on either Pan or Ayao. It was the only place in the universe where you would find Shadow or Psychic specialists living together with the other races. The Core was a dangerous place though, as there was no government and there were no laws. I doubted we would visit the Core during our stay.
"Now, some house rules. We don't have many, as I believe our training program is strict enough by itself and you are all teenagers who need a certain amount of freedom. There is no curfew. You are free to wander the corridors of the academy during the night as much as you want. Just make sure you keep your volume down not to disturb anyone that does want to sleep. You will find your sleeping quarters on the upper floors, together with some common rooms, a library and a roof terrace. The roof terrace is off limits at night. Each of you shares a room with one of your fellow unit members, except for one, since the commanders sleep in their own quarters and there's only seven trainees in each unit. These leftovers will be partnered amongst each other. At the end of each year, you will rotate so that everyone shares a room with a fellow unit member at least once. Boys will be put together with boys, and girls with girls. On the table in front of you, you will find a smartphone device. This is your main form of communication within the academy. It also provides you with your schedule and is the key to your dorm room. All numbers of your fellow unit members have been stored into the phone and there is an easy way to connect with each other in a group call or group chat. During your training you will use this device to communicate with each other during missions. Don't worry about headphones, I have set each device up so it connects to your head telepathically. You will hear your team members as if they are your own thoughts. This is a security measure to make sure the enemy doesn't tap in on our communication. Please do not lose your device, as they are very expensive!"
I never noticed the smartphone in front of me until now. I wondered if it had always been there, or if it had just appeared... I grabbed it and took a look at it. It worked like a normal smartphone, which made it easy to understand. There was an app that showed me my profile. It mentioned my name, my age and current year in the academy. It also showed my room number and roommate. I was put together with Edana, the Wind specialist who knew everyone's secrets. I was still debating whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe, if I became friends with her, she'd shut up about my lack in magic.
"Alright, that's it for now everyone. Today, you are free to do whatever you want. Go to your room, take a shower, hang out with your new unit or explore the grounds of the academy. Dinner is served at 6 pm. Don't go to bed too late! Tomorrow will be a long day." The Empress showed a wide and friendly smile to everyone. "If there is anything you need, my office is on the third floor. You are always welcome to pay me a visit if you have any questions about the academy or yourself. Have a good day everyone!" she walked off the stage. As she moved herself towards the exit, she stopped by some tables here and there to shake some hands and chat a bit with a few commanders. Our table wasn't as lucky though, and soon enough she had disappeared through the glass door leading towards the central hall. As soon as she was gone, the crowd exploded into a chaotic murmur. Everyone was super excited about what was to come. I smiled to Edana, my future roommate, and she smiled back. "This is going to be great! Do you think they gave us the code name Star Team because we got two famous people in our unit?" she asked me with an excited expression on her face. She loved being around famous people, I could tell it immediately. I guess it made sense, since she wanted to become a journalist. I really couldn't care less about Cedric's fame, though I was curious towards Jade. She had this royal aura around her that made you want to call her your grace. "I don't know, really, but it's a cool name." I replied. "Shall we go check out our room?" Edana nodded and jumped up. "Sure, let's get settled! If there's a bunk bed, I want the top bunk!"
Edana was a really easy going person. It didn't matter at all that I wasn't very talkative, because she talked plenty for the both of us. It was nice, she made me feel comfortable very quickly. I had never met anyone that talked this much before. I was impressed by how much she already knew about the other trainees in the academy. I wondered if she had spent all summer researching possible candidates.
"It's so cool that Jade Lightning is in our team! She's amazing. You know how they hold combat championships in the Land of Flame every year? Even though she's only fifteen years old, she got to the semi finals last tournament! Her magic must be really impressive... my magic sucks, really. I can't do much at all. Maybe blow out a candle with my mind or make sure we don't need air-conditioning in our room but other than that... they didn't teach us much in middle school. What about you? I heard you talk with Cedric Frost at the station. What is he like? He's very handsome!"
Handsome? I never once in my life thought of Cedric as handsome. To me he was a hateful bully and I hated his face. But something told me I was better off not telling Edana this. "We didn't hang out much. My magic sucks as well. I hope we can be an intelligence unit," I said, not going into detail about how exactly my magic sucked. It seemed like she didn't really hear my conversation with Cedric after all, so I was relieved. Edana clapped her hands in excitement. "That's exactly what I'm hoping too! It's good to know I'm not the only unit member wanting to go for intelligence, though I doubt people like Jade, Cedric or Yuu would want to miss out on combat..."
"Yeah, me too..."
We chatted on about our teammates, though it was mostly Edana telling me all the things she knew about Jade, Cedric and even Marcus, the other Wind specialist. Apparently they were from the same city, though they didn't come from the same school. By the time both of us unpacked all our stuff and took a shower, it was time for dinner. I followed Edana as she secretly pointed at the people we passed and whispered things about them in my ear. "Look at that hair, you'd never see such a colour in the Land of Clouds! It's bright orange!"
I only listened to half of it, as I was distracted by all the glass doors we passed on our way to the dining hall. Some classrooms looked like normal classrooms, but there were also rooms with huge control panels and glass cages. I wondered what kind of training we would get in those...
Both Yuu and Seth already sat at our table when we arrived. Seth was completely focused on his food and didn't look up at all when we sat down and said hi. Yuu waved at us enthusiastically. "Hey guys! All settled in?" He asked with a broad smile on his face. I nodded. "Are you guys roommates?" Edana asked. "Yeah," Yuu answered, grinning at Seth. I witnessed how Seth stabbed his fork into a piece of meat way too aggressively. Something was definitely up with him, but I didn't dare to ask.
"What do you think we can expect from the introduction camp tomorrow?" Edana wondered. Yuu shrugged. "No clue, probably a bunch of silly games which force us to work together or something. Maybe they will make it exciting by letting us compete against other units."
"Ohh that would be so awesome! I hope there will be a campfire at night. Maybe we can tell each other ghost stories."
Campfires, ghost stories... these were all things you would never come across in the Land of Frost. Now that I thought about it, besides throwing an occasional snowball at each other, the people of Frost didn't really know how to have fun. We were a bunch of stiff specialists with cold hearts. Emotion wasn't really our thing, so fun wasn't either. Most of us just focused on school and after that on getting a decent job. Family was important, though most Cold Specialists married at a late age since it was hard to find love when you never interacted with strangers. It was interesting to see how other races lived such different lives. I liked the idea of campfires and ghost stories. I enjoyed how Edana and Yuu talked with each other like they had known each other for years. Even though right now I had some trouble adjusting to their outgoing personalities, I hoped that someday I could be more like them. I never really felt happy living the lifestyle of a Cold Specialist. Maybe I was born in the wrong race? Wouldn't that be hilarious, if I suddenly started spitting fire or if grass started to grow beneath my feet...
The others dropped in slowly. Jade was the only one who didn't have a roommate from the same unit. She got paired up with a Cold Specialist and couldn't stop complaining about her. I felt sorry for the girl, whose name Jade didn't remember, but I also felt lucky that I wasn't the one who had to share a room with the Flame Princess. "She's like, twelve years old or something? She doesn't speak a word and she just says sorry every time she's in my way. It's so annoying I just want to punch her in the face but I feel like she'll break in half if I do that. Seriously I've never met such a weak person in my life. How did she even get into this academy? I feel like she would get blown away by the slightest summer breeze."
I wanted to say something, to tell her to stop trashtalking her roommate behind her back, but I didn't want to become her next target. Jade felt like a raging hurricane. Anyone who would get in her way, would be destroyed in a second.
On my way back to our dorm, I bumped into Fallon. I told Edana to go on without me. "So how was your day?" I asked her as we walked towards her room. "Is your unit nice?"
"Yeah. They are nice... the Heat Specialists are a little overwhelming..." she said with a faint smile. I nodded in agreement. "I get what you mean, it's hard to get used to, but I think I can get used to it eventually. At least it's not hard to guess what's on their minds, you know?"
"You're right. My roommate is a heat specialist and she has no trouble telling me what she thinks about me." I noticed a sad glance in her eyes when she said that. My thoughts went back to Jade's rant at the dinner table and I covered my mouth in shock. "No way, don't tell me your roommate is Jade Lightning?" I whispered. "You know her?" Fallon asked, looking at me surprised. "Yeah, she's in my unit. She's a total bitch. I'm sorry you got to be so unlucky to be paired with her..."
"Well, at least I only have to share a room with her for one year. You have to be her teammate for six years," Fallon said, laughing at our misery. I sighed. Fallon was right, I was the unlucky one. It was going to be a tough ride to get our unit to bond together. I mean, Jade wasn't going let anyone tell her what to do and Cedric and I hated each other. Seth also seemed to be scared of Yuu somehow. Marcus and Edana seemed to be the only normal members of our unit, though it would be hard to trust Edana considering that she was such a blabbermouth.
"This is going to be one hell of a year," I sighed. Fallon nodded. "Yeah, let's hope we survive. Good night."
I waited until she had closed the door until I walked towards my own room. When I opened our door, Edana jumped from her bed and ran to me, super excited for some reason.
"Oh my GOD, Hali, you will never guess who I bumped into on the way to our room!" She had both her hands on my shoulders and was shaking me. I tried to step back, but I was already standing against the door. "W-who?" I asked, pushing her hands away.
"The most handsome guy in the whole fucking universe! Seriously, I have never seen anyone like him. He was tall and he had these unique eyes, a golden colour that I've never seen before! Do you think he wears contacts? Golden eyes don't exist! And his hair was gold too! It was curly and messy but in a perfect way, you know! Like he stepped right out of a movie. I think I'm in love, Hali!"
I managed to sneak past her and put some space between us. "Sounds strange, a guy with golden eyes. Is he a trainee?" I asked. I never really cared for guys, so I didn't pay much attention to how handsome he must have been. Edana was right. In our universe, everyone's eye colour matched their race. Heat Specialists had red eyes, Wind Specialists had grey eyes, Cold Specialists had blue eyes and Plant Specialists had green eyes. Shadow Specialists had eyes as black as the night, and the eyes of Psychic Specialists, like the Empress, were purple or pink. There was no race where people had golden eyes. Maybe he was indeed wearing contacts, but that wasn't a common thing people did. Unless he wanted to hide his specialty of course, which made him suspicious.
"I don't know, he seemed like he knew his way around pretty well. I think he might be an assistant or something like that," Edana said, frowning as she was thinking of possibilities.
"We should go sleep soon, we have to get up early tomorrow," I said. I was excited about the introduction camp tomorrow. Not just because we were going to a whole new planet, but also because I wanted to get started with the training. Now that I knew magic wasn't the only thing that mattered in the academy, I wasn't as afraid as I was before. So what if I failed at all the combat classes? There was always intelligence.
I couldn't sleep. It was past midnight but I was wide awake. I wondered if Edana was awake too, but I didn't dare to ask. After laying in bed for a while, staring at the bottom of the bed above me, I decided I was never going to fall asleep like this. I silently slipped out of bed and sneaked out of our room with the intention to go grab some water in the shared bathroom on our floor. But when I stepped onto the corridor, I noticed how I wasn't the only one not asleep. It was actually quite crowded. people were hanging outside their rooms, sitting against their doors on the floor, chatting with each other in low voices. In the common room at the end I saw Cedric on one of the couches, surrounded by a bunch of girls from all kinds of specialties. Since the bathroom entrance was right behind his couch, I decided to take a stroll in the opposite direction instead.
Without really paying attention to where I was going, I just wandered through a bunch of corridors, climbed up a stairs and wandered some more. I found another staircase which ended at a door, and my curiosity lead me to it. It was the only door I found not made out of glass, and when I opened it I realized why.
The cold night wind shivered through my clothing. I looked around and noticed some lantern posts, wooden benches and pots with plants in them. I realized I was on the roof terrace, which was off limits at night. I wanted to turn around and go back inside, but then I saw him.
Golden curly hair, waving in the wind.
In his hand he had a golden bow, which was glowing in the moonlight. He was standing on one of the many rooftops surrounding the terrace with his back towards me. In his left hand, he suddenly created an arrow out of thin air. The arrow was shining and sparkling like fireworks, a beautiful piece of unknown magic. He strained the arrow between his bow and shot it into the air. I watched how it flew up high and then started falling down, until it disappeared in one of the rooftops. Another arrow appeared in his hand, and he shot it towards a different direction. After it had also disappeared in the roof, he turned around and suddenly looked right at me with two sparkling golden eyes.
"Are you just going to stand there and stare at me or will you introduce yourself?" He asked, a playful grin on his face.
I was petrified in shock, as I felt my cheeks blushing. "I-I'm so sorry to disturb you! I know I'm not allowed to be here, I will leave right away!" I said, stumbling backwards.
"Oh please, don't go. The night is boring and lonely without company. I promise I won't tell anyone you came here, if you stay with me for a while." He sat down on the rooftop he was standing on, laying his bow beside him. He patted on the empty space next to him as he looked at me. "Join me for a bit, strange girl," he said.
"I'm Halinor," was my instant reaction, as I realized how rude I was not to introduce myself. With trembling knees I walked towards him, too shy to refuse his offer. His eyes were truly mesmerizing, with that strange colour. "Nice to meet you, Halinor," he said. "My name is Cupid."