Chapter 5 - Part 2

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Awakening: Prodigy a dark fantasy novel

Author's Note: 

In a quick a reader based edit to test a theory, I added softer traits to Astral. Traits that readers might be able to relate to, such as the nervousness of attending a new school, and at being left alone surrounded by people they don't know.

This was a personal creative challenge - one which I have to acknowledge a problem the readers have expressed and test creative methods that don't involve tell the reader that they're wrong to perceive the character in such a way (happens a lot in reader circles which has rapidly changed the way I handle feedback) - because that's time consuming and maybe one out of a thousand readers may reach out with an opinion answering the very questions I need/want answered, especially as a writer who wants to tell the kind of stories that engage readers.

The challenge was to see if I could fix the relatability issue between Astral and the readers. The good news is: I understand how to create the emotional link; the bad news is: the details I added aren't exactly true to Astral's character. Sure she needs something for character growth, but I don't think overcoming her fear is the thing I want to explore with a character that is accustomed to the job she has to do. It just feels false somehow. I also don't want all three characters exploring the same themes in the same way. Astral's fears are very different from Seth's and William's fears for reasons that are unique to each character. Unfortunately for her, those fears aren't exactly relatable either, but I may have a way to tie in the ideas to survivalist types and the fear of loss of identity - which is a bit ironic for a character that's so mission oriented.

The other major fix I have to do with this chapter is that by this point, I forgot a major detail about Astral's perspective, a detail I'm not going to share with you right now because it's revealed later in the book and I don't want to spoil it for new readers. But when you get to that point, you'll have a WTF moment where that little detail comes out of left field. It doesn't really - I do hint at it in a few places, but with a scene like the one above, I do a poor job of continuity for the sake of building up a painting for my readers. A mistake that will need to be corrected in the forth draft.

"Shall we," Mathias gestured toward the administration building ahead.

They proceeded up stone walkways surrounded by carefully manicured flowerbeds whose colours resembled something of the ancient impressionist paintings of the late 1800's. Student's watched them; conversations falling to quiet whispers as the Master, and his charge passed them. Her company would not go unnoticed. Word of the girl escorted by the Red Order Master Hunter would reach the bulk of the campus long before she found out her address for the school year. It was all part of the plan. Mathias made sure to pin the symbol of his rank, a silver X trapped in a series of elaborate circles, to his crimson red scarf.

"You'll be expected to excel," Mathias told her, as though he wanted to give the lingering spectators something to talk about. "After all, you are representing the Daamon family. Given your heiress status, you are expected to outperform your peers." Astral smirked, watching the hues of listener's aura's shift in intensity, some due to excitement others in indignation.

Master and charge paused to take in the splendor of the fountain's water show. There was a message in their slow pace. Scanners would have picked up the government registered vehicle and sent a notification to administrative and security staff. They were early for their appointment, not so early to appear eager or that the threat was no longer a rumour.

Astral closed her eyes, shutting out the noise of her mind. Water kisses caressed her cheeks, drying quickly in the hot sun. She welcomed the coolness of the water. Birds and insects shared in their respective chorus, announcing to the world that everything was as it should be. She couldn't satiate the longing in her heart, the part of her that knew that moments like these never last. There was always something that she had to prepare for, always something that threatened the safety of the people.

'If demons are drawn to me, then an attack on the school is inevitable.' She dare not speak the words out loud, out of fear that the idea hadn't occurred to her colleagues. 'Mathias should know better.' She forced the memories of Clearwater's destruction from her mind. There were plenty of other contributing factors to the broken seal, her presence alone was barely a drop in the bucket.

Mathias urged her onward. "You will be mindful of your activities. Make sure that they do not conflict with your primary objective. Your priority is, of course, to ensure that the family legacy remains fully intact." Translation: join groups at your leisure just don't lose sight of the mission. The mission is all that matters.

Entering the reception hall was like stepping into a different world. The sounds of the natural world had gone silent, replaced with squeals of delight echoing through the glass chambers followed by cheerful laughter as friends from distant towns recounted their summer adventures. She could hear excited students running some distance away, their shoes squeaking against the floor. The chatter of conversation dulled most other sounds. It was colder than what Astral expected, a welcome break from the hot afternoon. The light was different too, filtered through barely white washed glass that added a strange pale hue to population inside.

Tall archways, each with an intricate flowery design, lead to the adjoining wings. Trees worked around the open concept areas, barely managing to brush against the glass ceiling. Shielded banisters prevented risk takers from attempting any feat that would have them leap for the trees. The majestic greenery set in neat rows in the center of the main halls, inadvertently dividing the students arriving from the train stations, from those waiting on friends.

Astral felt it was strange to have so many students mingle outside of the designated school grounds, as though resisting the inevitability of the school year to come. Although, it resonated with how she felt. She focused on the tall glass screen, blasting advertisements, listing school activities, and other unique opportunities. She noted the lack of interactive stations.

Straight ahead, set in the center of the main entrance was the map of the campus, with six stations, set on either side of it. The map was set as a decorative feature, white set against the crystal display. The display reminded Astral of a large trophy, a symbol of self-congratulatory importance. The map was much more intriguing. In her preliminary research, she had seen maps of the campus, including blueprints and drone surveillance images. How she managed to fail to notice the sigil the roads formed? "Ah, Dezmond wondered if you'd notice." Mathias patted her on the shoulder, drawing her attention to him. "Now is not time to discuss it."

She nodded. Mathias wouldn't have been her first choice to discuss angelic seals. He was a great source of lore, but terrible for arcane significance. As far as she could see, the sigil wasn't complete, but of the symbols it could make, she knew of barely a handful. The first was an angelic protection symbol. The angel itself would need to be researched for its significance. The other was the symbol of ascension beyond that of a higher power. One might argue that it could be the symbol of perfection. The symbol of a god.

'This is so going to be one of those jobs.' She hadn't even begun, and the assignment was already getting convoluted with layers of meddling. Was she here to deal with the repercussions of old cult behaviour? Or were demons coming to destroy the seal because it could be complete? 'I want to go home.'

She passed her hand over the console, triggering its active status. The word 'Welcome' appeared on the screen, followed by the time: 3:15pm. They were scheduled to meet with the Headmaster in fifteen minutes. She was sure attendants were hurrying to make sure that all the crusts were cut from their tiny bite-sized sandwiches and that the tea was at just the right temperature the instant their car arrived. She did find a certain level of humour to the process. Here they were rushing at making a good impression because they thought she and her colleagues could help them. Her station alone made these impromptu get-togethers delightfully chaotic on their host.

She glanced at the registration station set some hundred feet between the map display and the main campus entrance. New arrivals, who had passed through the preliminary screening, flooded the final registration administrators. The attendees were busy handing out school tablets and activating permission settings for residential wards, right down to a specific room number. Occasionally a couple of attendees would glance in her direction. Perhaps it was Mathias' presence that had alerted their attention. The hue of their souls were flustered, she'd go as far as stating that their souls strained under chaos. It could be that they were curious. In a place where adults refused to see off their offspring, here was a Red Order Master.

She played with the station a while longer, watching the cycle play out. The attendees processed another group of students, glancing to Mathias every few minutes. The most vigilant of the registration administrators' soul flickered. It was a strained, controlled flicker flushing with a soft yellowing teal. He was expecting them. She was certain the worker didn't know why they were on a watch list, but was no doubt assured that it was fine.

It dawned on her that if the registration staff noticed Mathias, the students were bound to have seen him. It was part of the plan, but she hadn't anticipated on just how many people were going to be in the registration hall. She held her breath, stealing a quick look at the students all around her. There were so many people. She had this idea of maintaining some level of mystery, like Sasquatch. She wanted them to wonder: Was she the girl escorted by the Red Order Master? Now she just felt stupid.

It was a small relief to see that Mathias' presence hadn't drawn too much attention. As unusual as an adult of his rank might be, the general population was much more concerned about meeting with friends, sharing the latest gossip, and finalizing the registration process to pay any attention to them. She let her breath go, though the anxiety that had pooled in her stomach hadn't escaped with it.

There was nothing else to do. At this point, she was only delaying the inevitable. She could feel tears forming, her anxiety would manifest if she didn't find a distraction. Issuing the order to proceed to their appointment didn't feel like a viable option. She wanted to run away. 'Keep focused. They need you, even if they don't know it.' Her core assured her. She cringed. Now was not the time for her core to wake.

It was the words she needed. Hundreds of thousands of lives were depending on her. It was too bold of a statement for her tastes. She didn't like the idea of being the only person between the youth of her generation and whatever it was that had issued the threat. She saw Mathias in a new light.

Though she understood what his job was and what it entailed, she had never thought about what it meant. Every night for the past fifteen years, he'd head out to patrol Clearwater, protecting hundreds of thousands of people from being slaughtered by some demon that decided to claim the territory as its own. Without the proper defenses, a whole town could fall within hours. She realized that she was being groomed to be the Mathias equivalent for these students.

She wondered how he hadn't succumbed to the pressure. No, she knew why. Failure wasn't an option. If he failed, they would all...

Failure wasn't an option. "We should get going," Astral suggested, ignoring the way her heart clenched in her chest. The colours of his soul didn't change. She had expected an inky purple to filter through the pale blue as some indicator that he understood what she was going through.

Instead, he gestured to the registration counter and guided her, hand on her shoulder, as though expecting her to make a run for it. She glanced over her shoulder at the shrinking exit, debating how far she could make it before Mathias caught up with her. 'I wouldn't last long in the wildness anyway,' she pouted.

What did you think of this segment?: 
Reader Questions: 
  1. High school can be an exciting and scary time for students - especially if they're going to a school where they don't know anyone. Do you share a similar experience?
  2. For those of you who attended College, what was the big difference you noticed between High School and college?
  3. When I graduated High School, they had started implementing a career path education in the curriculum. As a 13-14 year old, did you know what you wanted to do with life? As a parent/adult, do you think it's important that teenagers start thinking about life after school early?

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