Chapter 5 - Part 5
She skulked passed the Enhanced secretary's desk, barely acknowledging the twenty-something woman who took a moment to nod and smile at her. Astral felt like someone had pulled the cork on her stomach, allowing her insides to pool to her feet. Along the walkway leading to the elevators, she leaned against the banister to watch floors below, emptying of the latest student arrivals.
Astral inspected the small teddy bear in her possession, idly pulling its arms wide and testing the girth of its stuffed belly. "Don't you worry, little teddy," she told it, her voice barely a whisper. "It's not as scary as it looks and I made sure to bring Sgt. Scruffy. He'll have you trained up in no time." The bear stared up at her with dark threaded eyes. "It'll be fine," she assured the bear.
In a few minutes, Mathias will be exiting the meeting, proceeding to the waiting Philip, who would escort the Master Hunter to Clearwater. In a few minutes, she'd be stranded without an extra credit to aid in her escape.
She wouldn't run. Running was for cowards. She was not a coward. Though the prospect of a demon skirmish hardly phased her, she wasn't sure she could bear the sight of watching Mathias leave her behind. "I don't need him," she told the bear with a touch of resentment in her voice. The bear stared up at her, doubtful. "Don't give me your lip!" she poked it firmly in the tummy. "We have work to do."
She didn't want to risk losing her nerve, breaking down into tears, and begging to return to Serenity. Her grandfather would never let her live that bout of personal humiliation down. 'I want to be here,' she tried to convince herself.
'You need to be here,' her inner core spoke, it's voice as clear as someone speaking into her ear.
She held her breath, uncertain of how long it had been active, watching her wrestle with her nerves. "I'm not going to run," she assured her core.
'You never do,' It replied. She felt it's presence lift.
'I never do?' Astral pondered.
There was a time in her early childhood when she thought of the core's presences as something like an imaginary friend. The core was someone she could trust and confide in when the people in her life seemed to fall victim to the demons who threatened to consume her world. Clearwater's destruction would never allow her to escape the reality of what her core was.
She couldn't afford to linger much longer. One foot in front of the other, she proceeded to the elevators. She prayed she wouldn't catch a glimpse of Mathias' coat through the lift's glass cage as it made it's slow descent to the ground floor. Though her core's presence shook away the bulk of her anxiety, it wouldn't take much for her nerves to reinstate themselves. The doors to the elevator slid open, revealing the Council's Academy map set in crystal.
The student crowds had died down to a hand full of stragglers. A notice flashed across the panel atop the registration desk, drawing attention to the countdown for the opening ceremony, scheduled to start in a little over an hour. Beneath the countdown, in smaller print a second notice remained. 'Registration closed at: 7:00 p.m.'
She felt the static cold of the security shield wash over her as she stepped through and out of the registration hall. Her mission had officially begun. The fear was gone, trapped behind the security barrier, in its absence, she felt hollow. No, cleansed, free from the illusion of what she pretended to be; free of the illusion that her grandfather had trained her to become; a false version of herself.
She felt like herself again, free to do what she needed to be here for. If only she could remember what that was. Sure, there was the mission, protect the nation's future leaders, blah, blah, blah. But there was more, another layer to why she needed to be here, at the Academy. Something...important. The memory lingered at the cusp of realization, but eternally fleeting, like a word needed, known, but out of reach. She was sure it would come back to her, sooner or later.
William would have found his friends by now. He'd want to show her off just to prove that he had connections. There would be favours asked of her, she suspected, but he was her way into a lot of the social cliques. An introduction from him should help her avoid pushing her way into social circles or appearing desperate for a friend. Her aloof predisposition combined with the stories that had been circulated on the nation's network was designed to have people tripping over themselves to prove themselves to her. It wasn't an eternal opportunity, but it was one that needed careful execution. She needed time to decide on which opportunities suited her immediate objectives. She couldn't do that with William on her heels.
She had forgotten how warm it was outside and considered removing her short, white jacket. With a teddy in one hand and a tablet in the other, she didn't want to risk making the light burden awkward to carry. The lack of pockets on her uniform would be problematic in the future, an obstacle she was all too willing to solve in the next few days. She shielded her eyes from the sun and peered down the wide avenue sighting masses of clustered students migrating toward the towers.
The campus was divided into three tiers, whose districts were separated by ringed segments. The outer ring was home to plain modern buildings, one to two stories high, made of steel, glass, and granite. The tall windows showcased empty lab classrooms designed to emulate real-world situations to serve as case studies. The signage at the entrance that bore the emblem of a scale signalled that she was in the leadership tier of the campus. The technology workshops were to the North-West and the Military storehouses were to the North-East. She wouldn't have the time to check out the tiers properly. Not until after dinner, when the first years would be sectioned off into groups and given a tour of the tier that would hold the majority of their tutelage. The guided tour was unlikely to be as comprehensive as she needed it to be, but it was enough to get started. She was sure that could milk the excuse of having gotten lost for a the first day or so while stole the opportunity to scout out less familiar tiers.
Dezmond has selected a combination of first-year classes in all three tiers, hoping to give her the access she needed to the campus while avoiding arousing suspicion. To the public eyes, her education choices would be played off as seeking a well-rounded education in the areas that affected the growth and protection of their nation.
Given that her inheritance would include several large agricultural compounds previously owned by her grandfather, and Omega Corp Ltd, Damien's technology company, no one should question it. If her requirements changed, she could put in a request, and her grandfather would make the necessary calls.
The residential ring was the largest of the ringed districts. It was elaborately designed, complete with decorative lighting from which large cloth banners hung. The purple banners along the street all bore the white emblem of the leadership tier, a constant reminder of where she was.
The deeper into the circular campus she went, the more elaborate the decorations became. Raised flower beds appeared around the base of the lighting, where climbing vines would wind their way up showing off brilliant yellow blooms. Flower baskets hung from the lights in cross formations with little white and purple buds dangling from the knotted greenery. Astral couldn't help but smile, noting the wonder on some of the student's faces. The openness that wide avenue offered, combined with carefully tended display of living colours had always been something that Astral had access to.
Once passed the residential ring, the crowds of student grew thick. Astral found herself, squeezing passed her peers, barely noticed as they remained focused on whatever had caught their fancy. She jumped up and down in a vain attempt to get herself situated. From what she could see, the inner ring before the towers was home to various clubs, some of which were putting on shows to attract new members.
The road that wound its way around the towers was triple the width of the avenue she took. It was packed with students waiting for the opening ceremony to begin. William hadn't given her much information on the subject, and her research had failed to reveal any details of the event. According to William, the headmaster made a pretty speech welcoming new students; followed by an introduction of the school's squads who would regale their fans with a showcase of their skills one by one. During the showcase would be one of the few times the whole student body would receive a warm meal made of real food. After that, William lost interest in what was going on and the details got hazy from there.
She smiled to herself; it would be impossible to find William in this mess. More importantly, it would be impossible for him to find her. Not being a planner, he had never given her a location to meet. This slight oversight played in her favour though she would admit that having a place to avoid would have made things easier. He already thought that she was childish idiot, what was one more strike toward his assumption?
She accessed her tablet to check on the time. The ceremony was scheduled to begin at exactly 5p.m. giving her...
...A lengthy ten minutes to reach the central courtyard. She felt driven to hurry, though she wasn't sure what she was supposed to do when she got there. The courtyard was a large space set between the three towers. It represented the focal point and the division of the three tiers that made up the circular campus. Students were working diligently on the final set up, checking tech with their tablets, speaking with other students, likely relaying instruction.
A stage was set up to block off one of the three exits of the courtyard. Black, white, and purple banners hung behind the stage, complete with the emblem for each educational tier.
Black banners with Roman numerals, ranging from I to XVI, hung from the tower walls, no doubt marking the positions of participating groups. "Are you a fangirl?" someone asked. She noted that the female student's uniform was different from her own. The student's coat was long and white, reaching her chins. A patch on her left arm, held the emblem of a sword and shield, on the other, was a VII. She had dark hair wound tight and held in place with a toothy clip.
"Excuse me?" Astral asked, her scanners pulling data on the student. "I was told to meet someone here."
Residence: Whitefield Crescent
Grade Average: A+, Top score in Marksmanship
Club: Squad VII, ranked 1st tier
Parents: Bartholomew Meyers (Father: Marriage Contract), Mother: Samantha Meyers (Mother: Marriage Contract)
Tuition: up-to-date paid by Adrian Rider '
"No badge. Newbie, huh?" the older student sighed and wrapped her arm around Astral's shoulders, guiding her toward the nearest exit. "Don't take this the wrong way, but your friends probably wanted to send you in to get the full worm treatment. But you ran into me instead, so count your blessings."
"Oh...I see." Astral considered mentioning that the headmaster had sent her here to look for Seth. It would be too suspicious. The chase was meant to add a level of believability to her story.
Astral's tablet chimed, startling her. "Where you at?" William messaged. "Sorry," Astral offered up her best shy smile to her guide. "It's them...err him."
"Okay, he's probably looking for a few good laughs at your expense. Just tell him something vague, that way he doesn't need to know you ever had this little encounter," she smiled.
Astral shrugged; that worked for her and responded to William with: "No, clue. There are buildings."
"No, shit. What colour are the banners?" he replied.
"White." The black banners with the white shield and sword emblem would have placed her in the military tier, whereas the white banners with black helix grid would have put her in the technology tier.
"You see the towers?" came his next message.
She glanced at the towers surround her. "Yes." Her companion shrugged.
"Head there, we'll meet you in front of the courtyard entrance with the purple banners."
"That's over there," Regina pointed to the entrance behind Astral. "So go that way," she pointed to the entrance with the white banners, "and circle around." Astral nodded, thanked the older student, then proceeded to the exit she had recommended.
She glanced over at the exit with the purple banners, spotting William chatting with whom she assumed were his friends. She hastened her pace toward the white bannered path, limiting the risk of William chancing a glance into the courtyard.
Digital screens lit up along the building facades, allowing the attending students a clear visual of the events that were to follow. A five-minute countdown was displayed against a black backdrop. The excitement in the air was almost palpable. It made Astral nervous.
"Will Lady Daamon please proceed to the inner courtyard?" An announcement called over the campus, repeating twice, just as she crossed the threshold that separated the courtyard from the rest of the campus. She decided to pull a page from Mathias' playbook and lingered by the entrance. She could make her way to the purple bannered entrance, but she'd be certain to have to fend off an overexcited William's barrage of assumptions. She had her own to deal with.
The countdown reached two minutes.
"Don't worry about, Regina!"
"Seth! You don't have time for this; we're counting on you!"
The name rang Astral's soul like a gong. It wasn't a feeling, whose root she recognized. On one hand, she was excited. She could feel her entire body shake with anticipation. She was mildly irritated at not being able to stop the wide toothy grin from spreading across her lips. She could feel her joy resonate with her core. On the other hand, she felt like the stars had aligned, and the next phase of some cosmic plan had been set in motion.
'Right on time,' her core chirped. In that instant, she knew that he was the reason she needed to be at the Council's Academy. He was the reason she had been drawn to this mission.
She struggled to calm herself; the time apart had been too great. Yet, they hadn't met for the first time. She felt like she was reliving a moment from a beloved book, whose name she couldn't quite remember, whose story she would only remember as it was happening. It occurred to her that she was experiencing a severe case of déjà-vu.
She could feel the warmth of his soul as he closed the distance between them. Each step, an eternity away. Seth's soul was a beacon of colours to her monochrome world. Washes of colours filled her world that went beyond that of peering into a person's soul or observing the hues of their aura.
"Lady Daamon." There was no doubt in Seth's voice, he knew she was the one he was hunting. "Please, come with me."
- When the person you love bestest walks into the room, how would you describe your presence of mind, your feelings?
- Have you ever had a friend that you just connect with? Like became inseparable the moment you met them. Can you describe how you met and your relationship with them?
- What's your first impression of Regina? Like/Dislike? What do you think her story will be?
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