Chapter 5 - Part 1
Philip held the car door open for his passengers. William barred Astral's exit, stretching noisily, arms raised in the air, back arched, pulling at the tension in his muscles. A few cars were parked along the designated passenger unloading area, each with automatons servicing the vehicle. Students working their way toward the magnificent, three-story glass building, stopped for a brief moment to glance at the newly arrived group before moving on, their curiosity appeased. Personally owned vehicles were a high-end luxury item. Though cars could be rented for a steep fee, the model of vehicle was what made a real impact on the net worth of the passengers inside.
Philip had been diligent in his maintenance duties, keeping the government model car in pristine condition. The car was longer than the average model, offering generous legroom and seating for up to eight people. It was designed for impromptu meetings for the time restricted politician. Tinted windows hid participants from the public eye.
It was all for show, Astral knew. Apparently, so did William, who counted the number of people who had noticed his grand arrival. She had no doubt that he would chase each one down to gloat about some delusion of grandeur he had conjured up for himself. She debated if she should kick William to remind him of her presence. She didn't mind his antics, but she would have liked the opportunity to leave the car.
She was satisfied that by the time the surveying students had their fill, they wouldn't even notice that she too had been a passenger. Sure, it defeated the purpose of the show, but the design of the plan wasn't of her choosing. She was a pawn in her grandfather's schemes, and she knew it. In the end, all that mattered was the mission, everything else was trivial time wasting.
Then again, going back to Serenity with Philip didn't strike her as a bad idea either. She could swing the door shut, activate the locks and cry out for Philip to take her home. It would have been a juvenile move that would only serve in getting her grounded for life. She could see the administration building admits colourful gardens and fountains. She felt the knot in her stomach tighten. It wouldn't be long before she received her first real solo mission.
She had hunted hundreds of times on her own, taking out some of the most vile forces that had killed hundreds of experienced Hunters. It was different this time. This time she wouldn't have Mathias to fall back on if she made a mistake. A mistake could cost more than just her life. One demon could easily infect the hundred thousand young minds who called the Council's Academy home during its three term school year. One mistake could cost the nation a generation of hope. The devastation would be too much to bare. That's why she was sent. Her, the saviour of Clearwater. 'Some saviour,' she thought bitterly. 'Mathias and myself were the only ones who survived the demon king.'
'Focus,' her core chimed.
'Right,' she acknowledged, swallowing her worries before her soul could broadcast her emotions to hungry predators.
Mathias exited through the other passenger door, and she shuffled after him.
They were greeted with a majestic garden, whose prominent feature was a large stone fountain that spat up a changing pattern of water. Walkways led up and surrounded the central feature before breaking away to guide pedestrians up a series of steps to the main building.
The three story glass building's wings stretched out far on both sides. Its presence suggested that something beautiful could exist, which would no doubt bring peace of mind to those who saw it. Astral felt that it represented a lie. They were already miles deep within the safety of the shielded area, as though a closer proximity to the barrier meant an increase in danger. It didn't. If the shields went down, there wouldn't be a safe place to hide. Until then, students could nuzzle up flat against the barrier and not a demonic claw would be able to reach them.
A row of automatons stood in wait while two of their brethren pulled luggage from the trunk of the car. They carted it away to be sorted and delivered to the students' place of residence for the school year. Two more robots came alive to tend to the remaining cargo as the two attending automatons rolled away, each equipped with a suitcase in either hand.
"I'm going to sign-in and catch up with friends," William announced, casting a half wave to his father and a partial nod to Astral, who nodded in return. If she didn't find him after she finished enrolling, he would no doubt seek her out.
Astral adjusted her tinted glasses, ensuring that her stigma could not be easily seen and activated the scanner tool by tapping on the corner of the frame. She watched the people around her, arms cross below her chest, leaning against the car. She guided the scanner with her eyes, shifting from group to the next, watching as data appear on the interior of her lenses.
She noted sibling groups barely tolerating each other, shouting about the urgency of registering so they could meet up with friends.
Grade Average: B-, Top score in Advanced Mathematics
Parents: Rutherford Lane (Father), Mother: Laura Shelly (Breeding Contract)
Tuition: up-to-date paid by Rutherford Lane'
Grade Average: A+
Parents: Rutherford Lane (Father), Mother: Nicole Delacroix (Breeding Contract)
Tuition: up-to-date paid by Rutherford Lane'
She saw student groups made up of friends. Some groupings were rushing back down the path to greet a new familiar arrival. Other students were waiting by the fountains or further up the garden, where benches were positioned for their convenience. The warmth of the day allowed for such casual lingering.
Nothing jumped out at her as being important to her mission. It was just a group of the nation's youth, living out a perfectly normal day. She worried that there were some key pieces of information that had flitted passed her scanners. She wanted to strike the send command that would trigger when she applied pressure to the right corner of her glasses. The information sent to her personal console, could be inspected for further analysis? People weren't her strong suit. She wasn't sure what she needed to do with the data she was collecting. Her team had already gone through all the preliminary data. Maybe her uncle was kind enough to flag a few people for her to watch. Or maybe the lenses were just one more tool to monitor her with; to see the world through her eyes.
'Sometimes the problem with the scene isn't with what you see, but rather it's what you don't see that's important,' she recalled the most important lesson her father had taught her. "Where are all of the adults?"
Mathias glanced up from his tablet to their surroundings. "On the inside." He returned to the document in his hands.
"No, I mean the parents?" Astral corrected.
"Unless they're trying to barter privileges or dealing with a dispute, it's unlikely that you'll see parents here." He returned his tablet to his pocket. "A majority of the people believe that it's too dangerous to travel and won't risk it. The opportunities to be gained here, however, make it a worthy risk for their children."
"Opportunities for their children?" Astral sensed something was not quite right with Mathias' statement.
"Mostly, yes. In theory, the parents gain through their child's advancement." He looked to the sky for the words he sought. "Sort of like a proxy or an extension of themselves. For example, you're here because Dezmond can't be, neither can I. You are acting as our proxy."
"Seems selfish," Astral concluded. She could feel the weight of the world on her shoulders. No matter the origin of the threat, she was there to defend the lives of over a hundred thousand students, plus a fraction of that in adult lives that made up faculty, administration and service staff. She found it difficult to breathe. It was so much easier to deal with the mission when she didn't think about the people.
"It can be," the Master Hunter acknowledged. "But is it selfish of us to send someone to defend the populace in our stead, when we cannot be present ourselves?"
"Only if it's about saving your own hide," Astral retorted, forcing the words to freedom.
Mathias' grim demeanour suggested that she was here for the very reason he stated. The sympathy in his soulful brown eyes and the sag in his shoulders were enough to tell her that he wished he could take her place.
Philips' watch chimed. Dezmond was calling for his silent attendant to return home. The Daamon family's bodyguard was a bald man standing a full six feet six inches tall. Unlike Astral's tinted lenses designed to reduce the impact of the deformity caused by her stigma, his thick glasses hid his eyes completely from view. His shades, like hers, were monitoring the area with tons more data than what she was able to filter; a detail she had gleaned when she was fitted with her new tool. He wore a black, fitted three, piece suit. It lacked the character of a the suits worn by politicians or businessmen, which lent themselves to popular fashion while setting a respectable tone. There was something classic to Philips' wardrobe, an element that called for respect and distance. Astral had never seen Philip smile, not once over the period she had joined the Daamon household some six year ago.
Philip regarded his charge silently, plunging a hand into his coat and pulling out a small pink and purple teddy bear. Receiving a teddy bear in greeting and departing was now a part of a long standing tradition between Astral and Philip, starting the day she first arrived at her grandfather's estate at Serenity Lake. She felt that he was trying to assure her that she wasn't alone. The teddy bears became something to look forward to, dulling the trials that lay beyond the gift.
She beamed with joy. "Thank you, I can use all of the help I can get," she told him, giving the bear a light squeeze.
"You shouldn't keep Dezmond waiting," Mathias told Philip. "You know how much he loves public transit. I'll take the train back to Clearwater when my business is concluded here." The corners of Philip's mouth curled ever so slightly, combined with the way he shifted his weight, suggested something rebellious in the family bodyguard.
"Have it your way," Astral smiled appreciatively. "I'm sure Mathias will tell you all about how my registration went." She was sure that the Master Hunter had no such plans, but now he'd be obligated to tell Philip something about his charge's reaction to knowing she would left on her own, surrounded by strangers. She forced the thought from her mind.
Philip leaned against the car, mimicking Astral's previous pose and watched the world from behind dark glasses. She saw the shifting of his soul, the turmoil he felt at leaving her behind. She saw it every time he left her in Clearwater. He was worried about her.
"I'll be fine," she offered her best broad smile. "It's nothing I can't handle!" She wasn't so sure. Demons, sure, people...she'd rather sleep in a nest of demons. Philip's expression remained stoic, and the clouded hue of his soul remained the same.
- When characters are described in a book, what's the physical information you need the most about them?
- When reading about a fantasy setting, which bits about the setting do you enjoy the most?
- By this chapter you've met Astral, Seth and William. Which character do you relate to the most? Whose journey do you look forward to the most?
You can share your answers to these questions over on the Awakening Facebook Group.
If you have questions of your own that you would like other readers to answer feel free to post them to the group.
If you want me to answer your questions directly remember to tag me in the group, or you can email me directly.
Feel free to post your comments about the Awakening in the discussion section of the Awakening Facebook Group.