Chapter 5 - Part 4

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Awakening: Prodigy a dark fantasy novel

Author's Note: 

This chapter's story was all about establishing the mission and getting Astral into the school. There's no real conflict in this chapter. Ex: No one is trying to stop her from getting in. Even with my false relatability experiment, Astral's inner conflict real doesn't stop her or even cause her to pause her task. As I review more of this chapter, the more work I have ahead of me.

Intuitively, I picked up on these problems when I started brainstorming the revised story structure for the first 9 chapters. A lot of the trigger elements and quest elements for Astral are moved to a much earlier chapter and a setting like this would serve more as revealing who knows, and who doesn't. There are a lot of ideas and world-building that does with this chapter that I'd hate to lose, but as I dive deeper into the my edits, I'm doubting just how much of this chapter is really needed to advance the story.

"Your plan!" She exclaimed, a large smile gracing her lips.

"Bare with me," he grinned in return. He accessed the file he had lingering on his desktop. A digital screen hovered in the air between them, revealing key events from last years' championship game. "This is Seth Wright, captain of Squad VII, and reigning champion three years in a row. I'm well aware that winning the games is not same as going toe to toe with...Hell! A human enemy, not to mention a demon or their spawn! I wouldn't have contacted the Council at all if it weren't for his report. Have you reviewed the files?"

Astral frowned; she hadn't seen any reports. Mathias nodded. "It's normal for a soldier to manifest hallucinations under dire stress. Your analysis of that period of his life and his growing concern of his service supports that theory." She scowled. As soon as she could help it, she'd stop being a pawn to her grandfather's scheme. This 'need to know' crap belonged to someone who wasn't putting their life on the line.

"No other soldier in the history of this school has ever mentioned something like that during the games," the veteran continued. "Soldiers who think they're on training exercises, don't report the things that Seth thinks he saw, when they damn well should have. Naturally, we had him do a course of therapy to analyse his headspace and to dissuade the idea that he had seen anything at all."

Astral shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "I only know of one other instance where someone saw the demons before they manifest, and that is the Councilman's granddaughter."

"And you know this for certain how?" Astral asked.

"It's political," the veteran replied.

"This presents new concerns," Astral pondered. "In the event that Seth can see demons, his therapy may have helped to develop filters to prevent him from seeing them." She couldn't remember a time when she didn't see demons. It was a talent that first her father, and now her grandfather, took full advantage of. She wasn't sure if it was a blessing or a curse. She wasn't sure that if she was given the opportunity to lose the stigma at the expense of not being able to see the demons, if she would take it at all. Her monochrome world was one that she had grown accustomed. It wasn't like she didn't see colour at all...just differently.

"I acknowledge that we could have potentially ruined an asset," Vincent agreed. "That is why I ordered just enough therapy to get him back into working order and to verify that he wasn't a threat to the students. Given that Lady Daamon is not here to determine the validity of Seth's abilities, we are left with the obvious issue. If there were demons at the tournament's final setting, then there is reason to believe that someone is planning an attack."

"Why the games?" Astral wondered.

"I believe it's your job to find out, my dear."

"We will increase our search parameters to include the records of all parties involved in the selection process for the viable settings. In addition we shall monitor the Gaming Committee's members, past and present," Mathias volunteered. "We have thoroughly reviewed the student body, and will do a secondary review once we receive this year's registration records."

"We have taken the liberty to alter your profile to exhibit certain exploitable weaknesses. You will keep me informed through communications about my son. I shall arrive in person when you use the code phrase: 'I'm sorry, but William's at it again'. Given his pre-disposition toward trouble, it's not unlikely to be said. If there is trouble with my son, use any other phrase. I will be our Hunter's primary contact. Your interaction with her must be limited. In the event that it suits your weakness to communicate with her, you will clear it with me first," Mathias continued.

"I advise joining with Squad VII," the veteran's eyes flit from Mathias to Astral. "There is an opening available and I'm sure I can convince their captain to recruit our inexperienced proxy."

"He'll want answers," Astral assumed. She wasn't sure she wanted to deal with that burden. How does one tell someone that for the rest of their life they're going to be running from shadows? How does she tell him that there's nowhere to hide?

"But you'll be able to get answers out of him," Mathias considered. "A cute young woman is a boy's weakness, especially if he thinks he'll be that much more appealing to her due to his unique talents." Astral rolled her eyes. That's exactly what she needed, another William, only this version wanted more from her.

"I don't want him to be suspicious," Astral decided. "I'll reject his offer until he comes up with a compelling reason to have me join. I'm supposed to be an elitist snob, right? Why would I bother getting all sweaty and stuff?"

"I'll let the boy know that he'll need to work for it," the Chief Warrant Officer agreed. "As for you, Huntress, you will be expected to attend classes and abide by the academy's rules. If you can't trust yourself to be civil, keep a still tongue. We have arranged for a private room in the leadership quadrant. You'll be sharing the space with three other girls, each from wealthy backgrounds not unlike Lady Daamon's."

"Each room is restricted to the user. In your case, we have altered the security protocols to top level, to match with your security clearance. You will be embedded with a master key to the campus." The veteran's soul clouded with the colours of uncertainty as he struggled with the potential repercussions of handing over the keys to the school to a teenage girl.

"I understand that it is not a privilege to be abused," she acknowledged, watching the headmaster's inner storm calm. "I trust that's everything you need from me." Astral rose to her feet and held out her hand for the veterans, who shook it firmly.

"It's Vincent LaReviere to civilians," he told her. She felt her stomach lurch. Did she just conclude her portion of the meeting? That meant she absolutely needed to register now. As though he were an apt mind reader, Vincent gestured to her seat, "I will handle the registration myself. If you will, please take your seat. Please confirm that this data is correct."

Mathias read it over, maintaining Astral's illusion of being a proxy. He nodded. "Looks correct."

"Please place your hands here and here." Astral placed her hands on the highlighted green squares that appeared on the headmasters interactive desktop. 'Scan Complete' appeared over the twin squares moments later. "Now for your retina scan."

"That won't be necessary," Mathias interrupted the veteran from activating the portable scanner.

"I'm afraid that it's very necessary," he replied. "Full security authentication calls for it. You're not asking me to skip security protocol are you?"

"It's okay," Astral removed her glasses revealing the full extent of her stigma. A brilliant blue shone from deep within her crystalline gaze, blending in with the pale blue of her eyes. "The scanners won't work."

The headmaster nodded, his quiet realization blooming in dull oranges and reds. "Keep those lenses on while in public. We can probably play it off as an Enhancement instead of what it really is. But if we have to go down that route, it'll make your job that much harder. The students don't take kindly to Enhanced as is, but to an Enhanced that actively hid their enhancement... They'll be outright hostile."

"One last thing." The Chief Warrant Officer struck a button, causing a desk drawer slide open. "I'm sure you've seen this in action at the registration office." Astral nodded. "Lady Daamon is a puritan like every other member of her family. On the positive side, the code we're about to embed into your skin won't interfere with any implants that you might have. The band will degrade with time, usually within five months of registering. You will notice problems within four months. It is not uncommon for a rash to form. Scratching at it will cause the code to degrade faster." A cylindrical machine was placed on the desk with great care. The desktop interface detected the machine causing a new interface to appear.

Vincent punched in the requirements, pulling a pre-existing profile from his records. "This is your registration key and your skeleton key. It's also the tool that will recognize you as Lady Daamon. Everything you do is tracked or access with this membrane." The machine broke apart with a jerk, creating a wide berth for Astral to push her hand through. A seat to steady her arm shot out from the base.

Astral reluctantly placed her hand through the opening of the machine. The lasers danced across her skin before settling on a pattern. All at once the lasers bit into her. She expected pain of the searing hot variety but was relieved to feel the tiny pricks of mosquito bites. The machine chirped, signaling that the process was complete.

She examined the pattern burned into her skin. Thin gold stands twisted and wrapped itself around her wrist forming an elegant bracelet.

"I'll finish up here," Mathias told Astral. "You're going to be late for your entrance ceremony at this rate."

Astral's shoulders sagged.

"Your tablet, Miss Daamon," the veteran said while handing her a small light weight white tablet. "You have all the usual accesses through that device. I wouldn't recommend doing anything mission-related on it. The opening ceremonies are held at the center of those towers that you see over there, you can't miss it."

Tablet in hand, Astral swallowed her anxiety and made her way to the exit. "Once again, Miss Daamon, we personally thank you for your noble sacrifice."

It would be a sacrifice if the demons breached the shields. She felt mildly guilty that the thought made her feel a little better.

What did you think of this segment?: 
Reader Questions: 
  1. Where you ever asked by a teacher, professor, minister, community leader to go above and beyond your status as a student? Can you share what that way and why you think you were asked?
  2. Which would you prefer? The ability to see: ghost, a person's soul, or demons and angels?
  3. If you were Enhanced (a person who can use special abilities in exchange for their lifeforce) what kind of powers would you want? How would you use those powers for the greater good, for terror, and to serve yourself?

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