Chapter 5 - Part 3

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Awakening: Prodigy a dark fantasy novel

Author's Note: 

I set this segment up to introduce the reader to the Enhanced people. Much like all of my early mistakes, I was trying to introduce the reader to everything that was coming so I wouldn't have to explain it later. The things is, story telling doesn't really work that way. Readers retain information when they have context to associate that information with. We can start to see the realization here, when instead of just talking about the Enhance, I'm showing an Enhanced person - granted from Astral's POV - which doesn't tell the whole story. What bothers me is that the way it's shown does very little for self-contained story in the chapter and ends up serving as more of spoiler about the Enhanced people.

Later in the book, Astral's reaction to the Enhanced people is indifference which doesn't really suit her initial reaction and most certainly doesn't build a sense of wonder or discovery about these special people. Honestly - I chose the wrong character to develop the Enhanced with. :) Later we get the impression that Astral's been working with Enhanced people for years, so her 'OMG what is an Enhanced?' reaction doesn't make any sense. Knowing that I have this scene purely for the reader's benefit means that this scene may not exist in later drafts.

"Master Mathers and Lady Daamon to see Chief Warrant Officer LaRiviere," Mathias greeted the administrator with a small nod. Astral mimicked Mathias but found herself distracted by the one of the attendees who was in the process of finalizing the registration process with a student. The student put her hand through a large opening of a round apparatus. Hundreds of little lasers lit up, creating a pattern of light against her red skin. The machine set to work, imprinting the security data onto her arm, leaving a thin silver residue embedded in something resembling a cross between a tattoo and a bracelet. "It'll fade come winter break. In the event you choose to leave us, you will be required to go through the data cleansing process. Failure to do so is punishable by law," the attendee told the student who rolled her eyes, uttering 'whatever' and taking her tablet.

"Astral?" Mathias' voice pulled her back to her current task. She nodded in acknowledgement, taking in the sight of their retreating attendant. They followed a few feet behind their hurried guide, who had, on several occasions, stopped to allow them the brief opportunity to catch up.

Astral kept pace with the Master Hunter, who had intentionally slowed his pace to match her usual casual stride. It was his silent order to appear relaxed. The thought crossed her mind that maybe there wasn't a threat on the academy and that this whole thing was a setup to send her to school. Sure, her people skills were lacking, and she preferred the company of her stuffed teddies and grandfather's old books to that of people. She was pretty sure that she didn't need to be tricked into attending an Academy.

She narrowed her eyes at thought. 'Damn, he's good.' One day, she might be just that good. One day, she could use her own visual cues to tell one story when another one was really taking place.

They caught up with their guide at a series of elevators. Like most else in the hall, the lifts were made of a combination of glass and steel. The steel was weaved into intricate designs resembling a tree when the doors closed.

"For security purposes, non-registrants aren't allowed passed the registration hall," their guide informed them once the glass doors slid shut. He didn't elaborate. He didn't say a word as the group rose to the third floor. The doors slid open, and their guide resumed his hurried pace.

They followed him along the walkway, overlooking the floors below. The top floor maintained the open concept appeal of the lower levels. Banisters worked their way around the parameter of several walkways that served as a quick connection between one side of the building to the other. It was quieter than the chaotic chatter of the lower floor and significantly warmer.

There were six areas, each with six seating circles, all along the elevator side before breaking off into walkways, suggesting a quick access point for the newly arrived. The public area to the left lead to elaborate displays of historical artifacts, people of importance, and large scale maps depicting successful campaigns. The area to the right, lead to a wing full of trophies, celebrating three hundred years of champions.

Astral spotted single students dotting the casual meeting areas. Each one maintained a near comical distance from one another as though to make sure that any onlooker wouldn't make the mistake that these random students might know each other. There were six casual areas set in a circular sub floor. Comfortable seating was set along the interior of the wall, with facing seating running along an inner circle whose center bore tall leafy foliage. Each area had a coloured theme.

They were lead to the north side of the building, toward a series of offices. A large twelve foot desk manned by an a young woman served to impede their progress, suggesting that walking around the imposing feature would be unwise. She glanced up from her work as their guide introduced them. She nodded. "The Chief Warrant Officer is expecting you, please see yourselves in."

Astral stared at her, glimpsing cracks along her porcelain skin. If she cocked her head just so, she could see fiery red like slow moving lava course underneath her skin. Her soul shrunk beneath Astral's gaze.

Mathias urged her on. Once they were closer to their destination, he whispered, "You shouldn't stare like that. The Enhanced take offence to purist staring at their scars."

"What scars?" She couldn't help herself glancing back at the woman who watched them in return. Astral waved. "I think you're pretty!" she shouted. She didn't really. But it was easier to disarm an enemy with compliments than to threaten them, and she knew she was young enough that naivety would play in her favour. The woman's soul flushed with a dark inky pink that faded into white, flattered, comforted, replacing the tumultuous hues of her fear. If Astral had her way, she would have a good look at that woman. It was hard for Astral to tell what other people saw, but from her perspective, the woman skin was like a spotting a crack on a dish, whose cracks happen to form regimented patterns. These patterns, Astral reasoned, must be the scars though she doubted they could see the flow of energy beneath her skin.

Mathias shook his head, his soul showing signs of embarrassment. "She's average," the guide sneered. "Best you not befriend that sort," he advised. His soul withered as though fighting itself, the darker colours strangling the lighter ones. Though, Astral understood the impact of the negativity, she struggled to understand the complex colours and their meanings. The combination of colours she could see with Mathias did not mean the same for Dezmond, nor for William.

"I'll keep that in mind," Astral replied curtly, her tone sharp with the clear undertone that she felt that she was speaking to an inferior being who had overstepped in his role.

Their guide held the door open, allowing them to step inside before shutting the door behind them. Task complete, he left the Master Hunter and his charge.

The Chief Warrant Officer's office was large and mostly empty. It was fashioned in such a way to impress the feeling of insignificance on those who came to meet with him. The public viewed his secondary role of Headmaster as one of personal appeasement, a public service whose position was dictated by the will of angry parents. That was likely true for other institutions who weren't run by retired war heroes. The governing Council appointed Chief Warrant Officer Vincent LaRiviere to this station. His was a political station with a hand on the nation's future leaders.

The feeling of insignificance was heightened by the tall ceiling-high windows that span the full width of the room. On a taller building, the view would have been amazing, giving the owner of such an office the notion of godhood. In the distance, they had a clear view of the three white towers where the nation's education was broken down into three schools: Military, Technology, Leadership. All theory training would take place in one of those towers. During the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. most of the student population would be in those buildings.

Chief Warrant Officer LaRiviere rose from behind his heavy elongated desk and closed the distance between the Master Hunter and himself. "Master Mathers," he greeted. There was no warmth in the older man's voice. Deep scars marred his aging features, his spectacles doing little to hide the intensity of his battle scars. "This must be Lady Daamon," he nodded to Astral.

Astral stared up at the old veteran. His soul was a deep violet with a light blue core. She assumed that he was a good man who had been forced to do terrible things, judging by the way the tendrils of red danced inside of him, desperate for his pure center. Sending a child in to do an adult's job was weighing heavily on him. "I expected a proxy, but I didn't expect one so young." That's right, in this plot, her grandfather didn't want to risk the embarrassment of revealing that his granddaughter had followed in her traitor father's footsteps. Not having a suitable Hunter at his beck and call, the politician sent her as a last resort, under the condition that Astral pretended to be her own proxy.

"You've trained younger soldiers," Astral retorted, revealing that she had done her homework on the war hero, who turned away to hide his shame.

"They were different times, desperate times. Please take a seat." He gestured to the chairs in front of his large desk. They complied. Mathias was rigid with attention while Astral crossed her legs at the ankles and leaned back in her chair. Astral noted the plate of bite-sized cucumber sandwiches with a thin layer of shaved ham, crusts removed, sitting a small table between their seats. The setting was complete with tea, likely just a little above room temperature and most certainly made to sit just long enough to suit their tastes. It was all wrong, of course; Astral had 'adjusted' her profile a few weeks prior when William accused her of breaking into the secure network databases. It was true, but he didn't need to know that. Technically, it wasn't breaking-in because she had acquired the appropriate access codes. The acquisition of those codes may have been on the dishonest side, however...

The headmaster's left hand worked deftly across his desktop interface, pulling up records from the desk's surface to enable easy viewing for his guests. The other documents remained stationary and flat on its smooth surface. Astral noted how only two of his fingers on his left hand moved at all beneath his white gloves.

"I'm aware your presence here does not mean that the threat against our future is real," the veteran began. "However, I was expecting that the Council would send someone with more experience."

"Rest assured, we are treating this threat seriously," Mathias intervened. "You would be hard pressed to find a Hunter of her talents while passing for the appropriate age group. The level of security protocols, which someone of my station would have to go through would attract unwanted eyes. Since a threat has not been officially issued, the Council is hesitant in sending senior agents to investigate. Our proxy is acting in good faith on behalf of Lord Daamon, the Councilman's son. Look at it as though he's protecting an investment. Failure in his shield technology will hurt business."

Astral listened carefully as he wove the story. He provided just enough truth to make the scenario plausible. Step one, convince the veteran that in the event that the threat is real, sending a child would avoid suspicion. Step two, deny any affiliation with the Council or the Red Order to avoid political backlash. Step three, as the old saying goes, "follow the money". It's the default search process for a variety of investigators; most won't look any further.

Astral marvelled at the underlined information that Mathias was setting up, which was the real fabrication of his story. Neither Dezmond, nor Damien were likely to send the last of their legacy into a zone currently under threat by demons, playing up the family values card. As heiress, she would need to have firsthand experience with the technology, or at the very least an appreciation for what it can do for the population. This action could result in absolute blind faith that the product works, and depending on other factors, could result in a price hike or widespread distribution to protect more people.

Even if rumours of an agent surfaced, Astral would be one of the last people they would look at. She had too much to lose: a secure and prosperous future. It would be rational to seek out the ones who had everything to gain.

"And what of Lady Daamon?" The veteran thought to inquire. "The real one. Is she to take the credit for your work? "

"You're absolutely right to ask," Mathias redirected the question to himself. She figured it was because he didn't trust her to answer diplomatically. He was probably right. "Lady Daamon will remain within the safety of her home for as long as our proxy is in play. Lady Daamon will be doing the required assignments from home in order to keep up with the illusion."

The headmaster's chortle surprised them. "That won't work. All of our data is maintained on a secure network as I'm sure you're aware. The only way Lady Daamon would be able to hand in assignments and do exams is if she were on site."

Astral arched a brow at Mathias. She wanted to see how he'd wiggle himself out of that mess. Sure, she had access to the Academy's public feeds, and with Philip's help, gain access to secure data, but that's not something either of them was able to boast about.

"I guess I'll have to do them," Astral shrugged, buying the Master Hunter a moment to wallow in his oversight. Homework was going to bite into her patrol time. "Naturally, all of my achievements will be stricken from Lady Daamon's record. I can imagine that Councilman Daamon doesn't want to deal with the backlash of this little stunt, should it ever come to light." Sure, it was the right thing to say, which caught Mathias off-guard, but she resented the idea of having to work hard only to have it vanish into cyberspace.

"You understand that you will have to keep up appearances," Mathias informed her. "Lady Daamon is a B student."

Astral shrugged. "With the intensity of the curriculum, I'm sure a C student is well within the range of acceptable."

"It is not," Mathias growled.

"It's not," the veteran agreed. "A single C will put you on a probation list which would draw negative attention to you. This whole school is built on the idea of over-achieving and becoming the absolute best. Being perceived as a troubled student, or worse a slacker whose riding the coat tails of entitlement, won't help you in getting your peers to look the other way as you perform your daily routine."

Astral had to admit, those were some valid points, but it meant more work and less sleep. "Besides," the veteran continued. "It interferes with my plan."

What did you think of this segment?: 
Reader Questions: 
  1. I'm deciding if there is any ideas worth salvaging from this segment. Will you help me out with your reader eyes? Any bits in this segment that you'd like me to build on or keep in later iterations?
  2. Can you share a personal story about a time you met someone so very different from what you were used to? Was it a positive experience?
  3. What are your impressions of the Enhanced people?

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