Time had never gone by more slowly. Ages seemed to have passed by the time it was finally September 1st. After going through a few more weeks of hell at school, where everyone kept pestering me about the two agents that had visited my house, I spent my full summer break preparing for the academy. For the first time it was kind of nice to have no friends. At least I didn't have to make up stories to explain why I didn't sign up for high school, or why I was spending most of my time reading books about the planets Ayao and Akhata. I met Cedric only once during the break, in the library. After the day I signed the contract, he was strangely enough the only one who didn't bother to bully me about the agents visiting my house. He didn't stop the others from bullying me, but the fact that he didn't join in did help a little. His usual followers had mostly left me alone. When I met him in the library he also didn't bother to make one of his nasty comments as I passed him to head to the Ayao section. From the corner of my eye I saw he had just grabbed a book about the different specialties of Pan. I didn't really think much about why he would want to read such a book, but it did make me wonder about the academy. There was no doubt that specialists from all four countries would be there. Would everyone be separated according to their specialty? Or would we train in mixed groups? The thought of mixed groups made me both excited and uneasy. I was extremely curious about other the other specialty races, but after meeting the two agents I also realized that our cultures, even our way of talking, differed significantly. Mixing us up would probably cause a lot of misunderstandings and clashes. Agent Firesparks had been way too friendly for a first meeting. Were all other Heat Specialists like that as well? If so, I doubted if I could become friends with any of them. I preferred to keep my distance, especially to strangers.
As I spent a significant part of my summer break wondering about answers to such questions, the days passed by slowly, until it was finally time to pack my bags and get ready for departure. On the day of my enrolment my magic was still as absent as ever, but for once in my life I was too excited about the years to come to actually be bothered with it.
"Are you sure you have everything you need?" My dad asked for the hundredth time today. I nodded. He was driving me to the GSA Space Station, where a shuttle would transport me to Akhata with the speed of light. The flight wouldn't take more than an hour, since the planet was very close to Pan. It was the first time ever for me to fly to another planet, so I was a little nervous.
About a week ago, I received a letter from the GSA including all information I needed to get to the academy. Next to a list of necessities I needed to live on campus, there was a note with instructions on my transport. To avoid people from noticing a big group of teenagers from the area leaving the planet at once, everyone got assigned a separate scheduled time to arrive at the space station, ranging from 6 AM to 12 PM. I had to be there at 11:30 AM, so I was probably one of the last ones to go. Four other Cold Specialists from the Glacia area would travel with me. I wondered if there would be anyone familiar amongst them.
About fifteen minutes early we arrived at the space station. I was happy to notice none of the other Cold specialists were familiar faces. It gave me hope that I would actually be able to start a new life on a new planet, without my silly failure of a past still haunting me. It probably wouldn’t take long until they all noticed I sucked at magic, but until then I’d enjoy not being the target of bullying for a bit.
I gave my papers to a GSA Agent, who told me to go stand with the others and get ready for departure. They were all waiting in front of some sort of elevator that would probably take us to the space shuttle.
“Well, this is it then,” my dad said with a broad smile on his face and a few tears in his eyes that he tried to blink away. “My little girl is finally fleeing the nest!”
“Finally? I’m only fourteen years old you know...” I said, trying to lighten up the mood. I hated crying but whenever I saw my dad with tears I couldn’t stop from having a few of my own. I hugged him quickly to hide my teary eyes and only stepped back when I had gathered enough strength to smile at him. “I’ll be fine and I’ll see you the first holiday we get. I’ll try to call at least once a weekend.”
“That’s ok Hali, just have fun! Don’t worry about me, I’m a grown up remember.”
He patted me on my hair and pushed me towards the four other specialists who were waiting for departure. It was only after he left completely, that I turned around and took a good look at my fellow trainees. One of them, a tiny girl with black hair, a pale face and the familiar icy blue eyes that all Cold specialists had smiled at me. “Hi,” she said. Her voice was soft. She seemed fragile, as if a light breeze could shatter her. “Hi,” I said back, feeling a bit uncomfortable as we were both strangers. It wasn’t common for Cold specialists to interact with strangers, but I guess we were going to be familiar with each other sooner or later. “My name is Halinor,” I said.
“Fallon, Fallon Swift,” she replied. The guy standing next to her stepped into the conversation as well. He was very tall, with dark hair and pale skin as well. He seemed a bit older than me, maybe sixteen or seventeen years old. “Hey! I’m Sander. Nice to meet you both.” He shook both our hands and smiled. An awkward silence followed, since none of us really knew what to say. We were all probably thinking hard of something interesting to say, but as Cold specialists we weren’t very talkative to begin with. “So...” I started, biting my lip. “Are you guys nervous? I’m a little nervous... like, what can we expect, you know... They didn’t give us a lot of information.”
“Yeah,” Sander replied. “I guess they didn’t want to tell us too much in case we would accidentally tell friends about it or something like that. I’m sure things will clear up soon.”
“I wonder if the Empress will welcome us...” Fallon said, almost like a whisper. The conversation died again, but luckily the doors to the elevator opened so it was time to go. The fourth specialist, a girl with short blond hair, had ignored us the entire time and stepped into the elevator first. I followed her and tried to smile at her in a friendly way, but she clearly didn’t feel like talking so I decided to keep my mouth shut.
The doors closed and the elevator started going up. I squeezed the handle of my suitcase, feeling extremely nervous about the flight, the destination, everything. I noticed Fallon was biting her lip more often than natural and Sander had red spots in his neck. Only the fourth girl didn’t show any kind of emotion at all. She was a perfect Cold specialist, being all cool and stiff. Though I was used to it, I didn’t like this aspect of the Cold specialists very much. It made us very hard to approach and it created a lot of uncomfortable situations. But since I was raised the same way, it was also hard for me to be any different. Maybe interacting with specialists from other races would help me improve...
The flight to Akhata was quite comfortable. Fallon and I sat next to each other and we managed to talk a bit more. I found out she was thirteen years old and an only child. Her parents were both very strict and didn’t want her to go at first, but in the end the GSA agents managed to convince them of the importance of her enrolment. She was just as surprised as me to be invited, though unlike me her magical powers did bloom two years ago. I hadn’t told her about my lack in magic yet, afraid that it would ruin the conversation and the chance to a new friendship.
By the time we landed on Akhata, we felt familiar enough with each other to have a natural conversation where neither of us had to actively think of stuff to say. It felt good to have a normal conversation with someone my age. It had been a while.
Akhata Space Station was very modern. It was crowded with students in the arrivals hall, who were all waiting for instructions as to where to go next. This was the first time in my life I saw so many different specialist races together in one place, though I did notice that most were still standing together in smaller groups of their own race. I decided to stick with Fallon myself. We dragged our suitcases across the hall, trying to find some GSA agent that could tell us why we had to wait or where we had to go. We found one near the exit, blocking the way. Neither me or Fallon dared to walk up to him to ask what was going on, but a girl with black hair, dark skin and red eyes like fire took the trouble for us. "So, what's going on? Why aren't you letting us all through? Is something the matter?" she asked to the unknown agent, who was a Cold specialist like me.
"We are leaving the station in small groups of seven. You will all use the underground tunnel that will lead directly to the academy. This is a security measure. Please stand back and wait until your name is called for departure."
The girl snorted, but she didn't dare to oppose him any further and walked back to a crowd of other Heat specialist, where they started whispering with each other. My eyes were on the Cold agent, who clearly wasn't pleased at all with the way the Heat girl treated him. It seemed that even current GSA agents weren't quite used to the whole mixing of specialists yet.
Fallon and I decided to just take place somewhere on the floor of the arrivals hall and wait until our names got called. It took a while before they summoned the first batch of trainees for departure, but after that, the arrivals hall started to get empty quite fast.
I kind of expected to be in a batch with Fallon, since our last names both started with an S, but Fallon got called way before me. She seemed pretty nervous to leave me behind and I didn't like the idea of being all alone again either, but we had no choice.
I waited and waited while the crowd in the hall got thinner and thinner.
"No fucking way, Halinor Snowflake, is that actually you?"
That voice. I'd recognize it anywhere. If there was any colour still on my face, it was gone now. I turned around and there he was, standing alone just a few feet away from me.
Cedric Frost. Of all people, it had to be him.
"This must be a mistake right? You can't be here! You don't even do magic!" he said, his voice way too loud for my liking. Luckily the hall was nearly empty, but I did see one girl look our way to check what was going on.
"Keep your voice down Cedric. Don't be a dick for once and just let me enjoy this while I can, okay?" I said to him, my teeth gritted together. Cedric laughed. "What are you gonna do? Turn me into an ice sculpture if I tell people? You can't do shit, Halinor! Even if I don't say anything, in a place like this they'd notice you lack power within a day! You'll be sent back before you know it. You know what, that's actually a good plan! I won't tell anyone about your little problem. It will be way too much fun to see you try to work your way out of it and fail."
I wanted to punch him in the face and I might have, but right at that time they called both our names.
"Seth Connor, Cedric Frost, Jade Lightning, Edana Sky, Halinor Snowflake, Yuu Takano and Marcus Tanner, please gather your things and move towards the exit tunnel."
Jade Lightning... that name was familiar somehow.
"Time for the show to begin," Cedric said with a nasty smirk on his face as he grabbed his bags and went ahead to the exit. I gathered my own things and followed him, slowly starting to feel sick. I knew I shouldn't let his words get to me, but they did anyways. Mostly because he was right. They'd probably send me back within a few days once they noticed I couldn't do any magic. Ugh... why did Cedric have to be here? Was I never going to escape this stupid curse of mine?
"Hello everyone. Listen up. My name is Mae Sagara and I am your commander from now on. Take a good look at the fellow trainees around you, because you will be seeing a lot of them in the following years as this is your unit. We are unit 7, codename Star Team. From this day on, all training that happens on the academy will be with your unit. You will eat together, sleep together and fight together. From this day on, you are soldiers. This means you follow my orders at any cost as I am your commander and the captain of this unit. Is all of this clear?"
We were still standing in the underground tunnel with the group of seven that got called together. We had walked all the way to the end of the tunnel, where Mae Sagara was waiting for us and told us we'd be stuck with each other for the following years.
Unit 7, Star Team. Together with Cedric Frost no less. Was this a joke? I just stood there, staring at my new commander, waiting for her to say that I was in the wrong unit and would be transferred immediately, but it didn't happen.
"Wait, Mae Sagara... as in General Mae Sagara? Aren't you one of the Immortals?" one of the guys from my new unit said. His hair was white blond and his eyes were the red colour of a Heat specialist. He was very tall, maybe almost two meters. The Immortals he was talking about were a small group of specialists that managed to get their magic to such a high level that they simply stopped aging. There were only a few people in the universe that managed to reach this level of immortality. One of them was The Empress, another was Cecillio. General Mae Sagara was the head of command for the GSA. She had reached immortality at the age of 16 and was the youngest known Immortal. Now that I took a good look at her, she did look extremely young to be a commander. Bright green eyes, slightly too big for her small sized head, short red hair and lots of freckles on her nose. But why would general Mae Sagara waste her time with being captain of a trainee unit?
"Yes, that's me, though I'm not a general anymore. I'm the captain of Unit 7 and your commander, that's all you need to understand. Now if you all have no further questions, I'd like us to go inside and join the others in the dining hall. There will be a table assigned to our Unit. You will eat your breakfast, lunch and dinner at that table from now on."
Mae sounded so strict, like true military, that no one really dared to say anything else, not even the Heat specialists. I glanced at my teammates as we walked through the door and entered the academy together. I recognized one of the girls as the girl that had noticed me and Cedric talking. I really hoped she never actually heard anything we said.
The academy was just as modern as the Akhata train station. The whole atmosphere was kind of futuristic, as if we had stepped into a science fiction movie. We entered a central hall through a secret door that was covered by a huge mirror. On both sides there were metal staircases going to the upper floors. In front of them was a grand door, probably the actual entrance. To the left and right there were two corridors with signs above them giving directions. Both the floor, walls and ceiling were completely white and they also seemed to be the source of light, as if everything was just one big giant lamp. The doors in the corridors leading to classrooms or administration offices were all made of glass, so you could look inside. It was kind of ironic how transparent it all was, considering we were now at the heart of a secret agency. Mae lead us through the corridor left of the main entrance. We passed a bunch of classrooms and small offices, even a broom closet which also had a glass door. At the end of the hallway we entered the dining hall, which was nothing like the cafeteria I was used to at my old school. Round tables with each eight seats were scattered around the big open area. In the centre there was some sort of grand buffet, but instead of there being food everywhere, it was just a major control panel with a bunch of hatches. My guess was that we just had to press the button of the meal we'd want to eat and it would appear in one of the hatches. I wondered where the meals would come from, or who cooked them.
We walked to a table which had a floating holographic seven above it. I sat next to Mae and the Plant Specialist. He was the only one who didn't have a partner of the same specialty. Probably because Mae was a Plant Specialist too. I imagined being the only Cold Specialist besides the commander and figured he must be lonely.
"Alright everyone, let's take some time to get to know each other while we wait for the Empress. We should all introduce ourselves one by one. Jade, you can start," Mae said. I looked at Jade. She was very beautiful. Her hair was a unique dark red colour and her eyes were red like fire. The black eyeliner she was wearing made them even more expressive.
"Do I seriously have to introduce myself? Everyone should know who I am," she said. I raised my eyebrows. Some confidence this girl had. Though I had to admit she seemed kind of familiar. Still, it wasn't like I knew anything about the Heat Specialists and I doubted any of the others knew who she was, with the exception of the guy with the white hair maybe.
"You are dealing with foreigners now, Jade. You have to get used to people not knowing who you are," Mae said. Jade rolled her eyes. I had the feeling she wasn't very friendly.
"Well alright then, since most of you apparently live under a rock. I'm Jade Lightning, Third Princess of the Land of Flame. My dad owns the country, you know. You'd think they at least taught every country some of these basics."
Wow, a princess... now I realized why I recognized her name. It was indeed mentioned at school one time, but back then the information wasn't significant enough for anyone to actually remember any of it. Now that I took another look at her appearance, she did look like a princess.
"May I ask why a princess came to this academy to become an agent? Don't you have a super busy royal life to attend to?" It was the other Heat Specialist who asked the question. He was probably the only guy that dared to talk so casually to a princess.
"I didn't want to come at first, but the Empress came to our palace personally to beg me to come here. I couldn't really refuse such a gesture."
The Empress had come to beg her personally? I refused to believe there was any truth to this. The Empress would never beg to anyone. She was the Empress after all.
"I would like to remind everyone that your social status back home doesn't matter here. In this unit, you are all equal. I don't care if you're the queen of the universe, as long as you are under my command you are just as good as anyone else."
Jade shrugged. I glanced at Cedric, who didn't seem very pleased with this rule either. He and Jade could become good friends, if it weren't for the fact they were of opposite specialties. Jade would probably think Cedric was utterly boring.
The next to introduce himself was Yuu. "My name is Yuu Takano, I'm a Heat Specialist like Jade, though I don't carry any fancy titles like her. I'm just normal, really."
I looked at him more carefully. He had red eyes like Jade, though his were a bit more dark, like blood. In the modern lighting of the dining hall, his hair looked more white than blonde. It was a strange contrast with his eyes, but somehow it suited him. Next up was Cedric.
"My name is Cedric Frost, first born son of Jack Frost, the current head of the founding family of the Land of Frost. I'm of course a Cold Specialist. It is a great honour for me and my family to have been invited to become one of the protectors of our planet."
Typical politeness. I was quite sure his father forced him to go. Cedric was incredibly lazy and if he could he'd live of his parent's inheritance for the rest of his life. Maybe the Empress invited him here to teach him some discipline and to make a decent man out of him. I noticed how he glanced at Jade, to see if he caught her attention by mentioning his royal status, but it seemed like she didn't even notice his existence. I couldn't hide a satisfied grin.
"My name is Edana Sky, I'm a Wind Specialist. I don't really know what else to say... maybe the fact that I'm an expert at gathering information? I always wanted to become a journalist, but then this invitation came around and I decided that secret agent would fit my skills as well!"
Gathering information, hm? More like eavesdropping... now that she mentioned this skill of hers, I was pretty sure she heard my conversation with Cedric. Great. The girl that aspired to become a journalist now knew my biggest secret...
The other Wind Specialist was Marcus Tanner. He seemed pretty normal, no royal titles or anything to distinguish him from the others. I realized I didn't even know what kind of government the Land of Clouds had. Our schools really didn't bother much with educating us about other specialties than our own...
The Plant Specialist next to me was Seth Connor. He mentioned that he had a special gift: communicating with animals. Mae was positively impressed by this. Apparently it was rare for Plant Specialists to have this gift, though it was very convenient. I noticed how Yuu winked at Seth and wondered what that was all about. Seth coughed in an awkward and uncomfortable way and urged me to continue on with the introduction so the attention would divert from him to me.
"Well, I'm Halinor Ocean. I was born in Glacia like Cedric, we were in the same class together... this means I'm a Cold Specialist of course. Other than that I have nothing interesting to say. I'm just glad to be here, really!"
Yuu smiled at me, and I smiled back before I realized it. He seemed like a nice guy, a little strange maybe, but he wasn't as extravagant as the other Heat Specialists I had met so far. Except for that wink towards Seth of course, but I didn't mind it as long as it wasn't directed towards me. Maybe, just maybe, Yuu could teach me how to be more open towards strangers.
Not long after our introductions, everyone in the dining hall suddenly got quiet. In front of all the round tables, on a small stage, a woman had appeared with a loud bang. She was wearing a lovely purple dress with a long black coat. Her eyes were a sparkling bright purple colour, framed by glasses with a thick black rim. Her hair was curly and ash blonde, hanging loose on her shoulders. She was beautiful and had an authoritive aura surrounding her. I recognized her immediately. The Empress.