Chapter 4 - Part 4
Passing over the threshold of the dreaded right-hand corridor revealed nothing unusual. As far as hallways went, it had a high-end office feel, complete with canvas paintings and living plants. He suspected that the first door to his left lead into the receptionist's administration area where they could interact with the registering students behind the safety of their glass partition. He peered down the hall, checking for signs of seating or even a hint as to where this waiting area might be located.
Moving slowly down the hall, he stuffed his hands into his pockets while keeping an eye out for helpful non-existent signage. He was flagged for something. He wondered if his father was angry enough to prove that he could make Seth's life difficult. He didn't exactly leave his father on the best of terms; their last argument had been about his potentially enrolling in the E.M.I. Upon graduation. His father's adamant disapproval of the plan instantly solidified Seth's plan to enroll. It wasn't like he could avoid war duty.
There was one other possibility. His term project may have been flagged as a weapon. He had been meticulously gathering components over the summer at great expense to his credits account. Though the project had yet to be assembled, the combined elements may be just enough to flag him as a potential threat, assuming they knew what he was attempting to build. He only brought with him the parts he couldn't get at the school, which he had bought from a black market dealer specializing in demon components. If that was the reason he was being held then he might be able to explain his way out of it. Worst case scenario, he'd be exiled as a terrorist and sent to the war fields. Not much different than his current fate.
Had his project been the case, wouldn't he have been flagged before boarding the train that morning? There was no sense worrying about what it could be. He'd have to wait to see why they were detaining him. Whatever it was, he was sure it was some misunderstanding.
The hall took a sharp left turn, revealing the space he was meant to seat himself. It was a small seating area, meant for four people. A set of two doors suggested the presence of two offices. Seth glanced back down the hall he had come from, noting doors on either side at regular intervals, each one bare of nameplates or signage. He noted a faint yellow veil shimmering along the doors, as well as the faint buzz of electricity that marked the presence of the security fields. These energy fields were different from the demon wards. The security shields were barely seen when active. For the most part, the barriers interacted with the access permissions inside a person's implant. People without the required personnel chip were barred from certain areas. It was hard to come up with a list of places where these security fields didn't come into play.
Seth took a seat, debating if he should knock on one of the doors to signal his arrival. He thought it best to stay put. It was lunch time now; people would be leaving for lunch or arriving from it. He sat back and waited. Twenty minutes later, he took up pacing to help pass the time. He knew that pacing would suggest to anyone watching him that he was nervous, perhaps going as far to assume that he was getting increasingly agitated. He tried to look inconspicuous, first by checking the authenticity of the potted plants followed by considering the meaning of various abstract paintings.
By the time he had reached the reception area, no one had entered the hall, nor did anyone leave the hall. He tried to step over the threshold into the open space ahead of him. His efforts were rewards with a nasty shock. Realizing he was now a forgotten captive of the administrative staff, he called out. "Hello? No one seems to be back here."
The screens were empty of activity. He couldn't hear the chatter of the receptionists. He did what anyone would do in this situation, he yelled louder. "HELLO! SOMEONE PLEASE LET ME OUT!"
Still no one. He half expected a voice to thunder down at him over the speakers, but nothing came. He searched for a clock, light, anything that would tell him roughly what time it was. He could only see the shimmering veils of the demon wards ahead and an empty train station. Someone was bound to be arriving soon. He waited. Someone was bound to come along soon.
He had taken to sitting near the threshold; legs stretched out as he leaned against the wall. He didn't know how long he had been sitting there, wishing he had brought something to occupy his time. He toyed with the idea of carving his name into the frame as some sort of reminder of his existence to the outside world. He heard the sound of stilettos on the laminate surface of the inner office. "Hello!" He tried again.
There was a pause. "Someone, please!" Seth called.
The sound of hurried heels echoed across the room. The door to his left unlocked and opened. A younger administrator peered into the hall, spotted him and glared. "The waiting room is up the hall to the left. It's impossible to miss." She spoke to him in such a way that she thought he was intentionally dense; it was a tone his father often used on him when Seth couldn't answer questions that he found simple. "I know that," he couldn't help but snap. "No one is there."
"Do you have somewhere else you need to be?" She spat at him. "You'll wait where you are told. Someone will be along to collect you at their convenience, not yours." She slammed the door behind her.
'I'm not some criminal!' he wanted to shout, but decided that it would only make him look guilty. 'So much for prime training slots,' Seth sulked his way back to the waiting room. Erick, Seth's default second in command after Wallace, would be thrilled to take Seth's place as captain. For all he knew, Erick was the one who had him flagged hoping to get him kicked out of school.
Seth remained seated in the designated waiting area. Hours passed at a high-velocity speed that glaciers were renown for. He debated napping but suspected that someone would be along the instant he dozed off. He compromised by pretending to sleep, just in case interrupting to sleepers was an actual job. He conjured up the vestiges of his nightmare, opting to analyze them into less frightening imagery.
The image of the child dashing toward the undead remained burned in his mind. What if he wrote a different ending for the girl in his dream? Was she really running toward them, relieved to have found survivors? What if she knew they weren't what they pretended to be?
He focused on the memory of the dream. He focused on his feelings at that moment. What he wanted was to protect that child. What if it was that desire that allowed for this memory to cling to his consciousness? What if he was never meant to protect her? He imagined the nightmarish scene all over.
The girl was running ahead of him. What if instead she could defend herself? He chased after her, knowing that the road beneath his feet would pull him away from her, as though something was preventing him from helping her. He stopped; the shape of her lost in smoke and rubble. He felt himself wishing that these thought were true. In the haze of shifting memories, there was no way for him to witness the end of this dream. The was no way for him to reassure himself that his wishes had rewritten that little girl's fate. Normally he'd feel relaxed with his new endings, and he'd be free of the emotional burden that came with the nightmare. It wasn't the case this time.
He happened to glance at the ruined building nearby the remains of the bold word 'Clearwater civic center' had fallen in parts to the ground.
His world shook. Realizing that the source of the quake was coming from the real world, he jolted awake, eyes wide with panic. Seth clung to his seat. An older man stood over him. He had deep brown eyes and tufts of neatly combed, graying hair. He was clean shaven and sported a pair of spectacles, it did little to disguise the deep scars set across his face. Seth noted the white hat tucked under the man's arm before he saw that he was wearing a matching military dress uniform, complete with gloves, though it was clear that his left hand lacked three of his fingers. Two rows of medals hung over the man's heart, none of which Seth could recognize for any particular feat. He had never taken an interest in such things.
"I apologize for the wait," the officer told him. The words came across as a formality. It wouldn't have matter if he had been waiting a few minutes or a few hours, the officer would have said the same line in his empty greeting. "This way."
Seth followed the officer, debating if he should ask for information. He thought better of it. The officer opened a door along the hall, seemingly at random, allowing the captive student to enter first.
"Take a seat," the officer gestured to the chair furthest from the door, placing himself and a sturdy desk between Seth and the exit. Possibly protocol, the student reasoned or a psychological play. Either way it didn't matter, as he walked into the lightly decorated room, he felt the hum of the security shield pass over him. He wouldn't be allowed to leave unless the officer allowed it.
He took his appointed seat, noting that there was nothing that he would be able to use a weapon. The room's decor was simple, designed with comfort in mind, but just barely. It was ultimately an office on loan, very possibly an interrogation room for less combative participants. He noticed that there was no window, adding to the foreboding sense that embodied the office.
"We wish to know of your relationship with one Wallace Rivera," the officer stated taking his seat.
Seth was at a loss for words. Had Wallace gotten into trouble? Was he in trouble by association? "I don't know what to tell you?"
"He was a member of your squad, 2nd in command, according to your records. Is this true?"
"Yeah." What did his record have to do with anything?
"Did you record these result?" The officer accessed the digital interface on the desktop, accessing the records. Did Wallace hack into the system and alter his records? Seth examined the scores; nothing looked unusual, not that he would have committed the information to memory. "He was one of my best squad mates. Strong, resourceful. Smart too. What's this about?" Seth found the courage to ask.
"We are in the process of determining what Mr. Rivera's odds were in surviving the attack on Hallow Haven. He was one of our best." The words hung the air with a hidden intention. The Council's Academy had once been a military school geared toward training an elite core of soldiers. It was one of the reasons why Seth had worked hard into achieving his scholarship for his attendance. There were plenty of decent schools back at the capitol. A handful of schools even had decent clout. He had hoped that the dedicated training program was still in use. It stood to reason that if one of their top students got caught up in a demon raid, they would want to know if he managed to survive it.
"I haven't heard anything, Sir. Not since he resigned in early August." Seth felt as though the floor beneath him had given way. His words felt empty. Wallace hadn't responded because he was dead.
"Is this your report?" the officer asked, pulling up the file of the last game he and Wallace had participated in. Seth nodded.
"I found some of the details rather disturbing. This nonsense about moving shadows. None of our video feeds have caught any of that information. You did take a blood test before and after the event?"
Seth nodded. He saw what he saw. He didn't care that the feeds didn't pickup on it. The shadows were moving with a life of their own. Lurking. Waiting. Both teams were in danger. It was why he had his team carry their unconscious bodies to the goal. It was why the weak hadn't been left behind. It was why his need to seek additional training had become so important. He realized during that last game that he was underprepared for the dangers that lurked in the shadows.
"You will re-write the report to exclude your nerves," the officer ordered.
"But it's true."
"I don't care."
He pulled up another file. A holographic projection of a fourteen-year-old girl slowly spun on the surface of the desk. "Do you know this girl?"
"This is Astral Alexandria Daamon."
"Oh her. I've heard of her." She was going to be one of 'those' people; the sort of person who felt that they were entitled to the best just because they had money, influence, whatever.
"Forget what you've heard. She's a survivor. That's all you need to know about her."
"Survivor?" Did he mean that she's survived a demon attack? Is that even possible? Of course it was possible, hunters did it all of the time. "Don't the Red Order recruit survivors?"
"I'm sure they tried. You will do the utmost to recruit her to your squad."
Seth arched a brow. "Doesn't she want to join by default. Isn't that what this is about?" He couldn't help himself, wincing at his outburst.
"No. Yes. She does not want to join, most likely out of spite. Her grandfather sees an opportunity, one that I wholeheartedly agree with."
"None of your concern. You will be compensated of course."
"I can't be bought."
"I hate to tell you this, Mr. Wright, but everyone has a price. It's not always credits. Let's just say that your story about shifting shadows is not entirely unfamiliar."
"You ordered me to strike it from the record. You called it nonsense."
"I did. That is a discussion that should be shared with someone who may see things in a similar light. You can understand how a survivor would be hesitant in discussing the issue. Getting her to join your squad will give you some common ground."
That wasn't all he wanted, Seth suspected, but it would have to do. He was curious about her. Knowing that she was a survivor changed everything. "She had to pass the trials in order for it to look legit."
The officer nodded and held out his hand for Seth to shake. "I'm happy to see that we could reach an agreement."
- If you could rewrite an event in your life what would it be? How would you have liked that story to have ended?
- Seth is being asked to omit a few details in his report. What purpose do you think this serves? Why would the officer ask such a thing?
- Seth is on course to meet with Astral. What do you expect that interaction to be like?
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