All posts by Emanuel D

“Stop! That’s enough!”

Golyan’s words echoed through my fatigued mind with a painful sharpness, but even that didn’t help me break the telepathic link that connected us. My cloudy, unfocused vision could work out a couple of shapes at the edge of my vision, and before me, the Stallion’s muscular form, who was shaking his head. The anxiety of hiding so many uncontrollable thoughts made me launch a torrent of irrelevant garbage instead, which obviously irritated my tutor.

Soon after, I felt a sudden repelling sensation which pushed me back, and I blinked in momentary panic as I realised that our telepathic link had broken. Golyan stood in front of my swaying form, staring hard.

“That’s precisely how you do NOT communicate telepathically, Kral Fenley. There was no control whatsoever,” his tone tinged with displeasure. I gladly took the criticism. It was better than accidentally sharing my coveted secrets.

“Can I have another volunteer?” Golyan asked the crowd while dismissing me with a wave of his hand. I quickly made my way back to my group, trying my best to ignore the prying gazes ahead of me.

We had swiftly moved onto the second session after my capa release, and the deafening silence that ensued. I couldn’t have been more glad to start with, as it momentarily shifted the focus away from me, but my joy was short-lived. After introducing the second introductory session known as STEM, which stood for Sonsory, Telepathy and Energy Masking, Golyan had conveniently volunteered me to showcase telepathy, perhaps because I was rooted to the same spot and had failed to make my way back to my companions. I didn’t make the same mistake this time.

The crowd now parted to reveal a relatively short capasian wearing a red thobe and matching red fez hat with a navy blue trim. Golyan scanned the youth with his Rimmpanel. “Greetings, Alin Wanjem from Ipsis. Thank you for volunteering. Position yourself where your comrade stood, and relax. Feel your muscles go soft and your mind open itself. Telepathy is an intimate connection, and it doesn’t work if you’re fighting against it, so relax and let me in when I probe you. You will know what I mean in a moment.”

“What happened, Kral?” Moria asked me when I reached her. “Did you say something you shouldn’t have?”

“No. I just couldn’t control my thoughts.”

“I bet you just blasted loads of nonsense his way to hide stuff right?” asked Luton. “As good approach as any,” he muttered, almost as if he was talking to himself.

Alin Wanjem, Golyan’s volunteer, had his eyes closed. He exhaled deeply, his body slumping as he pushed out the last of his air from his lungs. Golyan’s eyes had closed as well, but nothing about his posture had changed. He must have done this a thousand times before.

Gallant was looking between the two, trying hard to glean as much information as he possibly could. “So how did it feel, Kral? How did you do it?”

“Hard to explain. I relaxed, like Golyan told me to. It felt like… like my consciousness was expanding. Like I was no longer myself but also Golyan, and I could hear him, or rather his thoughts.”

Golyan addressed the volunteer. “We will now communicate telepathically Alin, by exchanging memories and then describing them to the audience. First I want you to share with me the most pleasant memory of your childhood. Just relive the memory, and we will both experience it together. There is no need to speak just yet.”

Alin’s lips shuddered, and he opened his mouth, but no words came out. He slowly thrust his head forward, perhaps not realising he had done so. Witnessing this exchange made me wonder how I looked like when I was practicing it.

“A vast blue sky, with no clouds in sight,” Golyan spoke. “A huge Jharim bird, with a beautiful, rainbow coloured egg in its claws, quickly flapping its wings, heading towards its nest, high up in the treeline at the edge of your town. And then the egg slipped, and your father was the one who caught it. The bird did not even seem to notice, and then your brother told you that it was hurrying to meet its long-lost mate, and that it knew that the best way to raise its child was to abandon it, and have it struggle to survive, for such is the way of the Jharim. And that was the day you met Mynah, who hatched in your arms a week later.”

Despite being caught in a telepathic trance, Alin nodded, and smiled at this memory.

“Now relate my memory to your fellows. And take it easy when you speak. It can be difficult in the beginning to both relive a memory telepathically and narrate it verbally.”

Alin took a deep breath, and tried to speak. He croaked, and a couple capasians around me chuckled. “You are in your garden,” he managed to say at last, though his voice was weak. “Your home is in a grove, surrounded on all sides by jagged mountains of limestone. You are play-fighting with your mother, who seems more than happy to engage in this. Her smile radiates with joy,” he continued, his lips now trembling ever more. “She says that she’s so proud of you, and that you’ll become a great capasa one day. She says she knows it for a fact, and hugs you, so tight. So warm. And then… the sky… then,” he gulped, his words stuck in his throat. He staggered for a second, before Golyan quickly shook his head like a wet Jagurga drying itself, and rushed to help him regain his balance.

“That’s enough, Miradi. You’ve done well. Relax now. Telepathy can take its toll on the inexperienced mind.” He placed a firm hand on Alin’s shoulders, before nudging him back towards us. “Since the advent of rimmpanels, our race has all but forsaken telepathy. But it is a skill that, when mastered, can far surpass the communication capabilities of these panels we hold in our hands. Technology may have made it easier for us to communicate with each other, but it will never replace the intimacy or the richness of the experience that telepathy brings.”

Golyan then called for a couple more volunteers, and took them through the process of Telepathy. A good amount of them did not seem to be very attuned to this intrinsic ability of ours, their telepathic communication being faint or non-existent. Nevertheless, Golyan congratulated them on their attempts, and told them that they would make quick progress if they set their minds to it. “Even the best of our race have struggled with Telepathy at first. It is hard to grasp the concept of thinking as multiple beings at once. But do not be dissuaded by this. Practice and perseverance.”

Luton seemed to have greatly enjoyed volunteering, bearing a big, wide grin by the time he returned. “Golyan’s a right nuff, he is.”

“A what?” Gallant tipped up the rim of his top hat with his knuckles when he scratched his ear.

“It simply means that he likes Golyan,” explained Moria. She was getting better at diffusing Luton’s outlandish remarks. When we were on the run, Moria had always kept us entertained with various bits and bobs of trivia. Her mellow voice soon turned into a chatter when it came to any conversation, intellectual or otherwise, leading us to inadvertently dropping our guard and getting ambushed. Fortunately, Luton was a great outdoorsman and always had a knack for getting us out of trouble, almost as if his imagination could map out the lay of the land with startling accuracy.

The past days, I mused, had lulled me into an illusion of being in far less danger, yet the contents of the mysterious letter in the Medicon constantly nudged the back of my mind. I looked around out of instinct. There was a crowd of capasians, similar yet so different, inundated with a posture and a bearing that spoke of a culture much more refined than and isolated from that of our lands. Everyone was pampered, and some were embroiled, no doubt, in some sort of dynastic intrigue. Whether it was by choice or birth, it didn’t matter. They were foreigners, and so were we.

Golyan cleared his throat. “Now, we move onto the skill of Sonsory. Have any of you noticed that your elders, perhaps, seem able to hear a raindrop from a mile away?” he asked the crowd as he paced up and down the length of it. Almost everyone nodded, including myself. If only we had this skill when we were on the run. Maybe this is how the Hunters found us so easily. I had to learn it.

“That is Sonsory. One of our many natural abilities that do not bloom until they awaken through practice and willpower.” He beckoned the crowd with a wave of his hand. “A volunteer then, please!”

I didn’t hesitate this time. I strode up to the training area, determined to get something out of the session. A deep desire to learn and improve fueled my sudden courage despite my earlier failure.

“Ah, Kral Fenley! Eager to go again, are you? Promising. Try harder this time.” For a second, he looked just like my father. A shard of the same sort of calculated personality was found in Golyan Dol’s expression, no doubt forged by a military background and dozens of life-changing experiences that lent a permanent stoicism to his character.

“Yes, honourable sir.”

“Good. Lay down. Flat on the grass.”

I laid down on the freshly cut grass, scented with ichor and soil. An infinite blue sky of pillows was all that I could see – and its various sounds, broken on occasion by a word or two in the crowd, which masked the chirps and shrieks of the populous birds.

I closed my eyes, and heard Golyan squat next to me. He breathed deeply and exhaled calmly. I closed my eyes and tried to emulate him, filling my lungs with the smell of nature and fresh air.

“Absorb the area around you, expand your senses mildly but decisively, and picture anything that, to you, represents a greatly increased awareness. Now, breathe,” he said.

I inhaled, and felt a slight pop in my ear. Someone in the crowd laughed. Are they laughing at me? No time to think. I exhaled, and tried to drown out the sounds of laughter with my breath.

I held it for long, and felt my hearing dull. Soon after, I felt a great sense of awareness, and was assaulted by innumerable conversations and the sound of constant movements. It was overwhelming in the extreme, and I panicked in terror at this brutal attack on my senses.

I choked on nothing.

“Where are we going, father?” I was in a time in the distant past, when it had all started. Too long ago, I thought. Like an eternity. My body felt like it was melting, and my consciousness was swept away by a wave of memories.

“No time for questions.” In the darkness of my closed eyelids, my father’s face stared at me. It was hard-set and grim, yet insufflated with a clear-cut determination. “We have enemies on the way,” his lips moved. He blinked. “Two of them are hunters. One is a non-combatant. All three have access to their capas.”

I jolted out my reverie and impulsively spread out my awareness even further, planting my concentration at the back of the field. I singled out a small, isolated patch of sound from the crowd almost randomly but as if drawn to it, and listened as if I was standing right next to them.

Sounds of soft material clashing. Then hushed murmurs, swathed in precaution. “You can’t deny he’s impressive, regardless of how you feel,” said a capasi. I heard someone dismiss her. “I still don’t like him.”

Then, a little closer to me, but still quite far apart, the sound of angry breath. Nervous scratching of dry skin. “Show-off. Ugly capasa. I’ll grind Fenley to dust. You’ll see.” Kiem’s voice?

“Sure you will. He’s a nobody,” said a thin, crackly voice from next to him, snickering.

“Your emotions are getting the better of you, Yasri.” I was right, it was him! “We have nothing to fear from the likes of him,” I didn’t recognise the throaty voice, but it had quietened all around it, as if sucking the life out of them. Was it the expressionless capasa?

The dominant screech of some bird, high above, rang as if it screamed right in my ear. Then the sound of soft wind, rustling a couple of leaves and bushes way down below, ever so quietly.

My temples then began oscillating, and I started to feel a bit nauseous. A slight headache creeped in. I tried to fight it, but then I heard Golyan’s voice, sharp as a blade. “That’s enough for now, Fenley. Get up.”

So determined I was to get out of this trance that I quickly pushed myself off the ground, only to be greeted by a flash of stark white and the ringing sound of tinnitus. I struggled to regain my balance and desperately reached out to keep myself from falling. Fortunately or otherwise, I found Golyan’s shoulder.

“Sonsory can be disorienting, take a moment to steady yourself,” he said, while slowly directing me towards my group. I felt embarrassed to be in that position with the whole of the crowd looking on. “It’s quite common to zone out and become disoriented but this will all improve with practice. In time, you will learn how to stay grounded.” Two capasians from the crowd nodded with patronising wisdom.

“Right, another volunteer!” he yelled. One of the students walked towards him. I nursed my wounds, massaging my temples and trying to blink the sun out of my eyes, which suddenly seemed much more intense.

“Did happen to me a couple a times,” said Gadget. “It’s like… like,” he smacked his lips, “like, uh… blanking out. You move too far away. You can do that, just that your body don’t take it.” He ran a hand through his spiky, oiled hair, which bent and swung back like strips of elastic. “When I was in my first year, this one doughy fellow puked all o’er his thobe ‘cause he blanked out, just like you, and then swore that he heard the sound of his lost brother somewhere far away. Nobody did ever find him but that’s a mighty lesson when it comes to teachin’ you how to stay where you supposed to be.”

Big-eyed Moria was nodding. “That’s fascinating, Gadget. And scary.”

He shrugged. “I guess. Ain’t nothin’ to be afraid of, though. Just the way it is.”

After Golyan taught his new volunteer the basics of Sonsory, he called for a break. “Take fifteen minutes to relax and dwell upon what you’ve been taught here today. Do not worry if you’ve not had a chance to volunteer and try out these new skills so far. You will all be practicing them in the coming days.”

Some of the students left the field instantly, with most of them headed towards the market. The rest remained on the vast field, discussing and attempting to practice the skills of Telepathy and Sonsory. I was going to ask my friends where we could go next, but then Moria laid down on the grass, and I also sat down beside her. The others did so as well, except Luton, who was scouring the field as if looking for something.

“Crazy thing, this Sonsory,” said Gallant. “For such a long time I thought that we could only use our capas.”

“Perhaps it’s the abundance of technology here which has removed the need for capasians to use their natural God-given abilities,” Moria replied.

“You have a point. This is all new to me and it’s fantastic. But, Rimm is as much part of us as these abilities. There’s so much we can do with it, and so much more yet to be discovered!”

He was certainly right there. Rimm seemed to be the end-all of steam-driven technology. The panels that had been given to us alone fascinated me in a manner that was hard to describe – how did they work? Why did they work? How could a single substance coalesce into what we saw on the panels? Then there were the steam-less airporters, and not to mention whole buildings floating in the air! It was mind numbing.

“Yeah,” I added absentmindedly, stuck in a torrent of my own questions.

“Have to say mate, I’m a bit jealous of your capa.” Luton suddenly joined us from his walk-about. “Blasting things is all good and all, but exploding them? That’s on a whole new level.” He had been extremely curious about my capa ever since I demonstrated it to him back in Rumess, and quite irritatingly, it seemed to have been rekindled amongst company with whom I did not wish to discuss personal matters.

“Yeah, Kral,” agreed Gallant. “You have so much destructive power, right there on your spine. Imagine how it will be in a couple of years from now – you’ll probably blow up this whole place just by sneezing!”

“Doesn’t quite work like that, Gallant. I’m quite terrified of it, actually.” That was the truth. I didn’t feel comfortable with my capa. Was there any way for me to use the Exploder and not hurt anything? Surely not. “I’m actually jealous of capas that can be used for creation or healing. They are more useful.”

“The grass is always greener on the other side,” whispered Moria.

“I’m ‘aight with mine.” Gadget looked very content. “Guess we all want something different than what we have.”

“True.”

We continued chatting for a while, philosophising about the nature of our capas. Others around did the same, some of them wandering about on the field. Moria never really stopped talking as we were discussing, showering us with a flurry of technical words and concepts we weren’t aware of, having too much fun to notice our lack of understanding. At one point Luton got up and disappeared for a couple of minutes, but he was right next to us when Golyan clapped his hands and called for everyone’s attention.

“We will now be approaching a topic some of you have been particularly interested in,” he said, tapping on his Rimmpanel. “Energy Masking.” I felt a surge of excitement. “Our capas radiate a tangible power. Most capasians solely feel it as a pressure bearing down upon them, with higher energy densities creating more severe pressure. But there are many reports of capasians experiencing additional sensations as well, such as insects crawling on their skin. An old friend of mine said his eyeballs tickled when he gazed upon a capasian whose power wasn’t masked. A few of you here today may have already experienced some of these sensations. For those who have not, there is nothing to be frightened of. My next action might make you slightly uncomfortable, but it is by no means harmful in any way, so do not panic and continue to stand your ground.”

“What are you going to do, sir?” asked a lanky capasian from the crowd, who was visibly anxious.

Golyan’s expression remained as stern as always. “I am going to deactivate the Shroud that suppresses our energies.” My heart started beating faster. This was not a new thing to me, yet I did not look forward to feeling the pressure of everyone’s capa, and that disappointed me greatly. How the luxuries of the academy had softened me overnight. “On the count of three. Second years, please mask your energies, as you’ve been taught – or you might make your fellow students highly uncomfortable. I will, however, stop masking my own energy, so that you know how the radiation from a matured capa feels. Remember – it might feel overwhelming at first, but that’s fine. Continue to stand your ground. It’s completely safe and normal.”

Poor Gallant was shaking. He must have been expecting immense pain. Luton put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed so hard I saw Gallant’s clothes fold around the fingers.

“One. Two. THREE!” he tapped his panel, and our shrieks coursed throughout the field.

There it was. That familiarly oppressive and overwhelming energy, and so much of it as well. Did we ever experience such power around the Hunters? I honestly couldn’t recall, such was the intensity of the energy that emanated from Golyan. The pressure bore down on my temples, and I knelt down further, clenching my fists over my knees and gritting in pain. Someone next to me groaned, and from the corner of my eyes I saw that Moria was on her knees as well, breathing heavily. Gallant sounded as if he was choking. Sounds of discomfort and pain spread throughout the field, and I fought desperately to remain conscious.

I looked towards the Stallion, blinking rapidly, trying to wash away this fog that was impairing my vision. Golyan said something, but then my ears felt as if they were covered by thick layers of cloth, and I could not understand his words. I reached out a hand towards Moria.

And then it all started to dissipate. The discomfort, the pain, the blurriness, the horror of being deaf. I took a deep breath and clutched Moria’s hand tight as my senses returned, trying to help her get back on her feet. She wiped her runny nose with the back of her hand and gave me a tense smile.

Gallant was less than okay. He was scratching himself so intensely that I thought he might claw his skin off. I quickly walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Are you alright, Gallant?”

“Skar, no! It feels as if I’ve been bitten by fire ants!” he croaked as he tore his top-hat off and started scratching his hair. “Is this normal? This isn’t normal, is it?”

“Relax yourself, Miradi.” Golyan was standing next to us, surveying the field. “The feeling will dissipate soon. It’s quite normal to experience light nausea and bleeding, so do not worry yourselves,” he said, and walked over to where a capasi was dealing with a nosebleed.

There were others that did not seem as affected. Luton, for example, was still standing up, yet beads of sweat ran down his face, and his teeth were gritted. Gadget looked to be affected by this natural malaise of ours as well, but just barely.

“You have all witnessed how much energy one capa can radiate, even when suppressed greatly. We all radiate energy at different levels depending on the proficiency and mastery of our capas. In groups, these energies can mix and easily become overwhelming unless they are masked or suppressed. The Shroud helps to suppress capa energies, and while it is becoming more commonplace here in Nehibia, we should not become over-reliant on this technology. That is why we must learn the art of masking our energies,” He continued scanning the crowd.

The field then rang with the sound of shrill beeping. My Rimmpanel vibrated. Other capasians swiped at their screens. I checked mine as well.

Next class:
Introduction to Medicine – Principle PS1 – Health & Medicine.

 Location: The Field.

Time left: 9 minutes.

“Unfortunately, we won’t have time to delve into the practicals of energy masking today, so we will pick this up in your next periodical. A final reminder for you all: unauthorised capa releases will give you a one-way ticket out of the Academy, so do not even think about it. You will all get plenty of time to practice your capa releases tomorrow, so be patient. For now, focus on exercising and developing your other skills, whether it’s Levitation, Telepathy, or Sonsory. There is plenty to keep you busy for now.” He then gave us a slight nod and left, back towards the ceremonial hall.

Soon after, a young capasi with her hair coiled around her neck stepped through the doorway and started heading our way. She calmly walked to where Golyan formerly stood, casting a few glances at the capasians around her, and then continued walking towards the edge of the field. She leant over the railing, taking in the rolling meadows far below us.

“Is that our next teacher? Her hair is amazing. She is so beautiful,” Moria stated the obvious.

Luton smirked. “Skar! Yeah, she’s smoking.”

Minutes passed, and the crowd continued to be mesmerised by the capasi as if in a trance, yet she paid us no heed as she walked the length of the railing. Suddenly, she turned around and started walking briskly towards us, her panel clutched firmly in her hand, and stopped just short of the crowd.

“My name is Samnia Deily, and I have the honour of introducing you to the basics of medicine. It is a great pleasure to meet you all.”

Many capasians were literally gawking at her, but Samnia paid them no notice. Our mysterious sponsor was right about one thing – capasis were something of a rarity here.

“Deily? Wow,” said Gallant. “That’s the most famous family when it comes to the field of medicine. Nlaia Deily, the current matriarch of the family, is one of our most important inventors and pioneers.” He was clearly impressed with her heritage, and I dare guess a few other things as well. His Strassty had lost its earlier fervour of scanning the vastness of the field at dizzying speeds, and was directly pinpointed at Samnia now without a flutter of a movement.

“Maybe Samnia’s her daughter?” asked Moria. Gallant shrugged.

“I’m sure that most of you are already familiar with common ailments and diseases, and also on how to cure them. We naturally have a strong immune system but there are times when it fails. That is when we turn to medicine,” Samnia continued, walking around the perimeter of the crowd, squinting her eyes at the assortment of faces before her, whose bodies twisted and turned to keep her in their field of vision.

“First thing we’ll address is the common cold. We’ve all experienced it, and we all know that while it may not be the worst of things, it is definitely very unpleasant. Natural remedies found in the wilderness include cloves, garlic, cinnamon, lemon, rosemary, or carrots, if you can find some. Your body will absorb the nutrients found in these vegetables, and your immune system will benefit. Simple, obvious, and something that we’re all aware of.”

“Cinnamon?” I asked, unaware of what that was. The greengrocer in our town rarely had more than what we produced locally, which was generally a mix of plants that exclusively grew in dry areas. The first time I tasted an orange was when I was fifteen.

“A tree that is native to Ernadieve,” Moria informed me. “Don’t know how it tastes, but I know it’s very popular with the aristocracy of Nehibia.” How many books had she read in the span of one night?

“Aristocracy,” repeated Luton, his lips curled in disdain.

“These common vegetables,” Samnia continued, “are simple cures to a cold. Yet they may not always be the most effective. In those cases, we must resort to using herbs that are more rare, and much more powerful as well. Take, for example, the blue plant our ancestors dubbed Colde, which is predominantly found in the Aaraon Peaks. It is quite hard to find, and very valuable as a result, but it cures your cold within the hour. With the advent of Rimmtech, we can now easily ingest this substance in liquid form and let the Mindurns do their work.”

Moria was clearly enraptured by all this knowledge. She whispered something to herself, but I couldn’t make it out.

“There are many similar substances that can help provide remedies for a variety of ailments. From mundane everyday extracts to exquisite wild herbs, nature has presented us so many options. But, we must also be aware of the pitfalls, as consumption of the incorrect substance can worsen symptoms, or even lead to fatalities if consumed in incorrect dosages.”

The session went on and on, but it was all a bit of a blur. Samnia spoke about various herbs and remedies, but I had trouble focusing on anything other than her figure, gesturing softly, pacing calmly, glancing tantalizingly, all ever so gracefully. It was mesmerising, breathtaking, and stirring, all at the same time. The strange yet alluring feelings continued to envelop me until I felt a sudden jab to my ribs.

“Not you as well, Kral!” It was Moria, and she was frowning.

“What?” I looked at her stupidly.

“Unbelievable. Come on, we have to get to our next session.” She grabbed my hand and started leading to me towards the hall. I wasn’t the only one waking from a deep slumber. All of Gallant’s eyes were still focused on Samnia, who had just disappeared through the hall entrance, and many, like him, were following her in pursuit.

“Kral! We’re not going there! It’s the hall next to it!” Moria rebuked me again, pushing me towards the adjacent hall.

Everyone shuffled in anticipation.

Dozens of capasians were bundled up in throngs on a large open field atop the floating Academy Rimmture, overlooking vibrant meadows that were teeming with herds of animals. The grass underneath our feet had been freshly cut and adorned our gathering with its pleasant smell; and a flock of long birds coloured in shades of white and orange flew overhead and sang their melodious hymn to the vast sky. The steady stream of airporters was still present between the various rimmtures, and to whatever lay beyond.

Everyone seemed eager to finally release this power they had been told they had since the beginning of their lives. There was palpable tension in the gathering as shoulders were tightened and breaths were held in abeyance all over the field.

Golyan Dol, known as the Stallion, was pacing up and down the front line of the mass alongside his aide, looking over his pupils. Several capasians were making their way through the crowd to be subjected to this inspection, eager to be noticed by the cohort head of the Stallion Knights. Gallant also seemed to make a move, but then stopped, looking visibly irritated.

“Want to go to the front, Gallant?” I felt sorry for him. It was quite ironic that he wanted to become a Stallion Knight, given that he wasn’t the most decisive of people. But who was I to judge? I knew nothing of the fascinating new technology of these lands, yet I wanted to master it nonetheless. Maybe we all wanted a piece of something we couldn’t quite grasp.

Gallant’s real eyes were locked on Golyan, but those on his top hat were looking at me. “Um, what? Go to the front? W-why would I do that?” He looked extremely anxious, and his hands were jittery.

“I want to see the Stallion up close. Come on,” I said, grabbing his arm and slowly leading him towards the front of the crowd. I owed him for being our guide to this strange new world. The rest of the party followed my lead. Golyan stood tall and looked mighty big with his muscular figure, and it made the absence of any pressure whatsoever even harder to acclimate to. It was too strange and out of the norm, and I felt so light-footed that I had to exert effort to stay rooted to the ground. It felt like I was gliding over it.

“Was wondering if we were just going to stand there,” Luton stated, initially following in pursuit but soon taking the lead. If there was anyone that could help bolster Gallant’s confidence, it was Luton. He was so assertive that it was infectious.

By the time we reached the front and made our way through, by virtue of Luton pushing aside a couple of capasians to make way for the rest of our party, Golyan had stopped pacing and was facing the mass of students dead centre. He cleared his throat, loud enough to be heard by everyone on the field.

“This is out of the norm, but I believe congratulations are in order,” Golyan boomed, instantaneously grabbing everyone’s attention. “You are no longer Eytes, what with the release of your capa. All of you standing before me may count yourselves Miradi.”

“You must now prove yourselves worthy of this evolution,” he continued. “The Academy in which you stand is the foremost out of all our academical institutions. What you learn here will last you for a lifetime… so make sure you take it seriously, because you will only be given one chance. Anyone that misses a single lesson without a valid reason will be expelled. That’s how seriously we take our pursuit of knowledge here.”

Murmurs spread throughout the passel, and Luton wore a scowl. “No way, mate. Skip one lesson and you’re out? That’s absurd.”

“It does seem excessive, but can you blame them? You’re supposed to come here to become somebody,” Moria replied, with Gallant nodding in agreement.

“Your first week with us,” continued Dolyan, silencing the crowd with his resonant tone of voice, “will acquaint you with the principles that are taught at the Academy. We will focus on education and general knowledge, rather than skilled work. You will be introduced to the refined facets of Capasian culture: the Traditional Arts which include CALEF and STEM, and the Modern Arts which focus on technology. You will also be taught about Medicine: how it works, why it works, and how to apply it. The Capasian Affairs class will detail the social dynamics of our peoples and of other races we share our planet with. And, finally, you will be taught how to defend your country through Military Service. All of these are the cornerstones of our edification, and in the coming days, you will be introduced to each one of them.”

“Hear that Kral? Military service.” Luton’s words dripped with sarcasm. I scoffed back. No doubt they were too good to get their hands dirty protecting the worthless folk of the Outer Lands.

“In your second week you will pick either one or two principles to focus on for the rest of the year. TA1, known as CALEF – the one you’re all attending right now – is mandatory for the first year of study. All Eytes – uh, Miradi, must learn to master their capa and their ability to levitate, and, eventually, fly. We will be touching on your use of capas in today’s session.

“You are also expected to carry out research in your spare time. We value independent thinking and initiative here at the Academy. A part of your spare time will no doubt be dedicated to earning your own funds. There are a variety of jobs available to you, like cooking and maintaining the Rimmtures. Ambitious and hard-working capasians can also acquire positions at one our facilities: Enaq Larantai’s Medicon welcomes prospective workers, and so do the famed Saydyn Rimmlabs, and of course, the Vorp.” Golyan placed more emphasis on the last part, as he continued to scan each one of us slowly.

“That’s my question answered,” commented Moria. I was glad as well. Relying on the generosity of our mysterious beneficiary was a dependency I wanted to be rid of as soon as possible.

Luton was nodding to himself. “The Vorp sounds nice. Would be nice to get the blood flowing again, and see what these royals are made of.” The Entim barracks was fitting for Luton, even though he wasn’t a particularly disciplined sort.

“Your second year is, more or less, the same as the first. Your first week will consist of mandatory introductory sessions for each of the principles. You can continue with the default principles during your second week, or you can choose to pursue a different path and change one of your existing principles. You also have the choice to study an additional one, if you so desire.

“The third year is when you will finally come into your own. You will be chosen for employment at one of the facilities that corresponds to your chosen principles. Your skills will be evaluated in order to confirm that you are capable of an apprenticeship. Be mindful: you can be rejected. More details regarding these subsequent years will be provided later. All clear?”

Nods were given by most of the crowd members, though a few of the faces bore worried looks. Whispers circulated throughout the crowd: “Sounds really rough. Maybe we shouldn’t have signed up for this.”

My party wasn’t really affected by this wave of doubt. Gallant was entranced, Gadget was at ease, and my weathered comrades and I had no other option. Being in Nehibia and building a future for ourselves was far better than being hunted in the woods of Rumess.

Golyan resumed. “Good. Now let us get started with the actual session. Does anyone here not know about this bulge?” He turned to the side and pointed at his capa. “This cloak-like extraction we are born with?” He was obviously having a laugh.

“Kinda hard to miss that, don’t you think?” And there was Luton’s smirk again.

“This is the source of our powers,” Golyan continued, his face serious and devoid of humour. “The capa courses with a substance called Liyadai, which empowers our cloak and allows it to release its ability. I have heard a lot of capasians compare Liyadai to blood; that is a fitting comparison, as you could say that the Liyadai is the capa’s lifeforce. Do not be misled, however: this substance is highly toxic to any living being except the Grodynn. If you come into contact with Liyadai, then you should consider yourself done for.”

“Grodynn?” I asked Gallant. He shrugged. I could see that some of the others were confused as well. I had heard this name before, whispered by the elders of my home town, but never found out what it meant. Hearing Golyan say it took me back to a time which now felt surreal.

“Yes, capasi.” Golyan was looking at our group, and the nostalgia embracing me in its bittersweet grasp dissolved in an instant. Moria had raised her hand.

“Um, what is a Grodynn?” I was glad she posed the question, because try as I might, I couldn’t recall what this word signified. To my surprise, I also felt a sense of foreboding, though the reason for it eluded me.

“Ah. You will be apprised of that information during the introduction of your Capasian Affairs session. Let us continue,” he said, scanning the crowd. Some capasians had started talking. “Settle down, please.” The commotion died out quickly. Golyan waited a few seconds before he spoke again.

“Our capas are dormant when we are born. They slowly develop over the course of our maturation, and fully unlock as we transition from an Eyte to a Miradi. Predicting the ability of an immature capa has proven to be impossible, despite our many attempts, and while some abilities are rarer than others, you should not let this affect your integrity. All capas are highly valuable tools that have allowed us to prosper and to reap the benefits of our pursuits.” He paused and scoured the crowd with his gaze once more.

“Since your seal has been released, you now have the capability of unleashing your capa. Be aware that releasing it without supervision is illegal and will be dealt with harshly, resulting in your immediate expulsion from the Academy. No second chances. We have LC counters tracking Liyadai energy spread all over school grounds, so we will detect each and every release, authorised or not. We can also identify the culprit of this crime, as each of your capas release a unique signature.”

Gallant’s Strassty kept its eyes on Luton, who was yawning. He made no effort to hide it, which was typical of him.

“Some of you might have already experienced involuntary levitation or outright flight after the release of your capa. This is to be expected. Your natural abilities will flourish, now that the seal which kept them in place has been removed.” That would explain why I’d been feeling so light-footed. I felt like I would fly if I jumped.

Golyan stopped talking when he reached our group and looked us over with eyes of a deep blue-grey, as if judging our potential. He then pointed the camera of his Rimmpanel in our direction and took a glance at its screen, gave me a hard stare as he handed the panel back to his aide, and clasped his hands behind his back once more. This was the perfect moment for me to ask what had been on my mind for a while now, and I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“Ehm, honourable sir, why do we not feel any pressure?” I asked.

Golyan stared at me for a few moments more. “What pressure are you speaking of, capasa?”

Really? What other pressure could there be except the pressure? I was determined to get an answer, though, so I continued: “The pressure around other capasians, honourable sir.”

The Stallion grabbed the panel from his aide once again, swiping and tapping on it before returning his focus back to me once again. “Kral Fenley, that is a very good question. I was wondering which one of you would be brave enough to ask,” he said, and I felt both relieved and flustered. The attention of the assembly was now directed towards me, and I felt its pressure. My cheeks were tingling, no doubt coloured scarlet, and felt like they would explode at any moment.

“You feel no pressure because you are under the Shroud, made possible through a conglomerate of rimmtech which link with and harness the power of Academy Neutralisers to suppress energies, and, when necessary, whole capas. This Shroud envelops the whole of the Academy, which is why we feel no pressure. We aren’t really in the habit of having everyone bow down whenever Principal Essitor makes his appearance,” he smiled while looking over our shoulders, the jest quite out of character from what we had seen of him so far, before turning his gaze back to me. “But fear not, Kral Fenley. We can deactivate this shroud when the need arises, so that you can feel more at home.” This time he was not smiling, and the steady gaze sent chills down my spine. Had he somehow found out where we had come from?

“Now then,” he shouted suddenly, almost making me jump. “It is time for your first lesson to begin. I need a Miradi in their second year to come assist me in the demonstration.”

A well built and tight-lipped capasian came out of the crowd and made his way to the Stallion’s side. “That’s my brother!” Gallant exclaimed. His sibling carried himself with pride and confidence, which was the polar opposite of Gallant.

“Ah, Agant Strasst. A great example to everyone,” Golyan spoke softly, mostly to himself, and then addressed the crowd. “Agant Strasst here is a lieutenant in the Stallions. He has excelled in all of his studies and has acquired a deep understanding of his capa. What ability does your capa hold, Agant?”

Gallant’s brother snapped to attention. “A Pusher of the 3rd degree, sir!”

“Of course. A capa that is universally appreciated. Neither focused on defense or offense, the Pusher features a straightforward ability that is not to be underestimated – an eponymous one that allows a capasian to propel an object towards their target. Tell me, lieutenant, what does the 3rd degree of your capa enable you to do?

“It allows me to push an object within 20 feet, sir!”

“Wonderful.” He dug a hand inside of his thobe and produced a small but perfectly circular ball. “Take this practice missile, Agant, and shoot it towards me when I call for it. Don’t hold back now.” Golyan handed him the ball, turned his back to his newfound assistant, and took about ten steps away from Agant.

The capas of both the lieutenant and the Stallion were now glistening with energy. Red fingers swirled behind Agant in wild shapes.

“Release your capa when you’re ready, lieutenant.” Golyan spread his legs and put both of his hands in front of him, as if he planned to physically catch the ball. Energy pulsated out of his capa as well – thicker and more solid energy, coloured a silvery grey. A mild breeze swept the field and set the grass to dancing. The airy sleeves of my thobe accepted the cooling gust of wind.

Gallant’s brother threw the ball up and shifted backwards. The missile traced a small arc and then started falling – he thrust his palms forward when it reached midway and discharged the missile with a deafening clap. The shockwave of the burst could be felt through the ground.

The Academy inscribed practice missile cut through the air and left behind a sharp whistle, heading directly towards the Stallion’s head. My group and I had once fought a Hunter who also possessed Golyan’s capa – all of our arrows had been deflected by its shield. I tensed up, trying to anticipate if the projectile would go stray and come our way, but what happened next made me realise just how little we knew about the true powers of even the most common capas. Agant’s projectile was not deflected by Golyan’s shield as I would have expected, but instead exploded in thousands of minuscule shards. Gallant wasn’t the only one who gasped.

“Good shot, lieutenant!” said Golyan as he relaxed his capa. “You have all witnessed the use of two common capas: that of the Pusher, and that of the Shielder. Both have served our nation greatly during times of strife, and should be appreciated for it. All you Pushers and Shielders should have something to be proud of.”

Gallant, quite understandably, had a big smile on his face.

“Throw it again!” He produced another practice ball, and swiftly threw it at Agant, who caught it effortlessly. “This time I want you all to observe the timing of our releases. Pay great attention to me and Agant. Inspect us closely. With a great amount of practice and no small amount of intuition, you can learn to detect when a capa is about to be released.” Agant then threw the ball up in the air again, jumped high in a flurry of spiralling red energy, and directed it towards Golyan by punching the empty air between him and the missile, which thundered fiercely once more.

The Stallion responded by manifesting his shield again. This time I was focusing more, and could see the silvery grey energy of his capa growing more and more solid, eventually coalescing into a protective dome. Agant’s bullet shattered against it in an instant.

Luton whistled. “Skar. Just like that.”

“That’s mighty crazy,” Gadget said as he ran a hand through his spiky hair, slick with fat.

“There you go. The release of a Pusher and a Shielder capa again. I hope you all paid attention to the timing.” An ominous glint flashed in his eyes before he turned to Agant. “Well done, lieutenant. I see that you are constantly improving. Let us hope others follow in your footsteps.” Gallant gulped while his brother nodded.

“Now I will call on each of you to come and release your capa for the first time,” Golyan continued, his attention now to his Rimmpanel. The next half hour was as flashy a show as I had ever seen: my fellow students, exercising their birthright with visible inexperience, sending tendrils of released energy all over the field, overwhelming those of us who were still waiting with a burning anticipation to finally use our own powers, or as was the case for me, with more reluctance than excitement. A rainbow of colours scintillated before us and danced in hypnotic waves and circles that slowly dissipated, or were absorbed back into the capas from which they came. A slight surge of adrenaline raced through my body and set my heart to skipping, because I knew that soon it would be my turn, and I had to be ready to pretend I had never released my capa before.

“Um, how are they going to test my capa?” Gallant looked worried.

“Who?”

“I mean, how am I going to do this? I activate my capa while something’s being shot at me?”

Luton snickered. “Sounds about right”.

That seemed to have agitated Gallant even further, whose eyes, both above and below, were frantically searching for someone. He soon found his target, as he turned to face his brother who was standing a little distance to the left of us.

“Next one: Gallant Strasst!” Golyan was looking at Gallant, who in turn was staring at his brother, and had become startled at hearing his name. Gadget was trying hard not to laugh.

Gallant’s head snapped back as if he had just woken up from a bad dream. “What!” He was visibly shaking. I tried to comfort him.

“Don’t worry, just… activate your shield—”

“It’s simple, Gallant,” Moria interrupted. “Focus your energy into your capa. Concentrate your force of will and direct it towards it. You’ll know what to do from there,” she said, nodding to herself as if she had released her capa many times before.

“Um, OK.” And then Gallant made his way over to Golyan, who looked slightly bemused by Gallant’s unease.

“So, you are Agant’s brother? I’ve heard a fair deal about you. Very well then, Gallant Strasst. Position yourself in front of me. You have…” he paused, taking a look at his panel, “the Shielder, I see. Wonderful. Then you’ve already seen me protect myself from your brother’s missile. You’ll have to do the same,” he paused once again, before adding: “Relax, Miradi, I’ll not shoot anything towards you just yet. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes and imagine the energy in your body, however you’d like to imagine it, moving towards your capa. Do you feel it tingle?

“A bit, sir.” Gallant was shaking so badly I thought he might faint.

“Good! And now, amplify that tingling. Feel the tingling, and grab control of it. Seize it, and cover your whole body with it, as you might with a cloak or a blanket.

Gallant swayed from side to side as his capa started radiating grey energy. It swooped over its sleek, bulging surface, and started licking down his arm, dangling from his fingertips like a puppetmaster’s cut strings. Then his capa popped, and the energy swept back up his arm, towards his torso. Gallant’s stomach became covered in a layer of what looked to be living rock, constantly shifting and contorting.

“Well done! And that’s all there is to it. You will grow more and more used to releasing your capa each time you do so. The more you practice, the easier it gets. It’ll soon be second nature.” Golyan assured Gallant.

A few capasians to the side of us were chuckling at Gallant’s swaying form as he made his way back to us. “Poor capasa’s about to faint.” Luton started looking their way, clutching his steambow. “Ignore them”, I quickly advised him, out of fear of escalating matters.

Miraculously, he listened. Perhaps it was the prospect of releasing his capa and not delaying the event any further, for he was brimming with eagerness when it was his turn. He strode up to the field with an unmistakable swagger and displayed his iconic grin for all to see. He looked quite formidable already with his muscular form, so the steambow strapped over his back only added to his powerful presence.

“Alright mate. Let’s blow things up.” Golyan then did his best to ensure Luton understood that you should never abuse the power of your capa. He nodded in agreement, but I knew the lesson wouldn’t really stick.

Under Golyan’s instructions, Luton closed his eyes and focused the energy in his capa. It started glistening, and he thrust his oversized palm forward, from which a bronze bolt of energy burst. It crackled across the field and exploded against the metallic dummy Golyan had placed to the left, leaving a small dent in the metal. Luton’s arm muscles rippled like a wave when he discharged his capa, and he whooped. “Skar, that felt good! Can I do it again?” Golyan gave a wary nod.

“Hey, that looks powerful.” Gadget looked quite impressed. “And that’s just the first degree.”

I thought the same. While Luton’s missile wasn’t by any means awe-inspiring, it was effective and flashy enough to make people think twice about jumping into combat with a Blaster like himself. My mind went wild with illustrations of how Luton’s bolt would look like when he would have achieved his maximum potential.

“It does, doesn’t it?” Moria looked more worried than impressed. “Makes it kind of hard to accept the fact that all capasians can just—”

She flinched when she heard the loud clang that came from the training dummy. A sliver of smoke was wafting from a tiny hole in the dummy’s head.

Golyan looked a bit uneasy. “Good shot, Voracia. Bit too good of a shot. You’ve done enough. Get out of here before you pulverise this thing,” he instructed. Another shot, and Luton would probably leave as much of a mark in the dummy as his fancy new Steambow.

“How about that?” he said when he got back to us. “I could do that all day. Would’ve been a fine thing to be able to do this when the Hunters came. Could’ve blown their heads clean off.”

Gallant raised an eyebrow. “The Hunters? Who’re they?” Gadget looked like he wanted to find out as well. Me and Moria tensed up, hesitant as always to reveal anything about our past.

“Ehm, an inside joke,” I croaked, desperately trying to fake a chuckle. I breathed in relief when Gallant shrugged and Gadget turned his attention on Golyan, who was staring at his panel again. I locked my gaze on Luton’s and squinted. Watch it.

“Next: Moria!”

A capasi a couple of feet away from us gasped loudly, and three capasians snickered. “She’s an orphan,” I heard someone say. “No family name. Nothing good can come out of her.” I had always known Moria was an orphan, but back in the Outer Lands, this was mostly seen as something to pity someone for, not hate him. It seemed to me like cosmopolitan capasian culture, instead of being more open-minded, was more steeped in tradition than that of those who grew away from the cities.

She gave us a pleading look before she headed over to Golyan. Almost all of the males on the field were leering at her, and it made me boil with rage. Some looked with disgust, others with simple interest, but most looked with lust. She kept her head down, clearly uncomfortable with all of this attention.

“Hello, capasi. Let’s see… it says here you have the Mister. One of my favourite capas. It enables you to release and cover your surrounding area with mist. To… adopt obfuscation, as Mirissa puts it. Direct your bodily energy into your capa and then, very slowly, start pushing it out.”

Moria focused, solid purple tendrils of energy dancing from her capa. They then started fading away and changing colour, melting into a grey mist that wrapped itself around Moria’s upper body. “With practice, you will be able to cover your whole body, and then expand outwards,” the Stallion remarked. After a couple of seconds, the mist slowly dispersed, like smoke being overtaken by air, and revealed Moria’s face. I could see a bead of sweat run down her forehead.

“That felt weird. Like my body was bubbling.” An uneasy smile had appeared on her face. “Like I could feel every particle that I’m made of. And then, I could direct these particles to become this… mist.”

Golyan agreed. “Quite so. We all experience these things when we release our capas, but it’s different for each of us. Not from capa to capa, but from capasian to capasian. I’ve heard other Misters describe it differently.” He took a quick glance at his panel and shouted at the crowd once again. “Timlis Oh… Oh… Owevome!”

“Ohfvomm,” said Gadget, his pronunciation presumably perfectly precise, though still incomprehensible. He sighed.

“That’s your name?” asked Luton, ever the inquisitive one.

He didn’t answer, instead choosing to roll his eyes and heading towards Golyan, who was waiting for him with his arms crossed. “Sir.” He looked calm and confident, probably because he’d done it before, being in his second year and all.

He was tasked with pushing a crate. Reddish energy swept up his body, swirling around his capa, and then surrounded his hands like a glove. He was tensing and breathing unevenly when he tried to direct his energy into his hand. A gust of air blew from his palm in a puff of red, and nudged the crate a couple of meters backwards
Golyan clapped a few times. “Good job. You’re getting better with each release.” He then turned towards the crowd. “Kiem Yasri!”

I snapped to attention immediately. I could see him heading towards Golyan, bristling with arrogance, followed by his lackeys, who were trying their best to adopt his grating personality. “That’s me,” he declared, locking his arms across his chest as he stood before the Stallion. “Son of Hiadaillo Yasri. You know, the Chief of the Nidaell,” he added for good measure. Oh how I detested this arrogant and over-privileged capasa more with each passing second!

“I’m sure everyone has heard of you, Miradi.” Golyan replied. “And of your little outburst earlier today. Your heritage will grant you no leeway with me. I accept only results. And discipline. Understand?”

“Yes,” Kiem answered reluctantly.

“Do not think that your earlier release has gone unnoticed, either. We are giving you another chance simply because we can’t apply the punishment before the rules have been explained. Now that they have, you’d best behave. Now, forget about everyone and everything else around you, focus on your energy, and demonstrate to us your capa.”

The air around Kiem started shimmering. Orange energy whirled around his capa. He brazenly walked up to the training dummy and reached for its neck. His fingers looked like they were boiling, red-hot billets of metal grasping for its kin. The dummy started sizzling, and the metal looked like it was slowly changing shape. Before it could turn to liquid, however, Kiem shot back his hand while shaking it vigorously, as if he had just burned himself.

“The Burner can be a terrible capa,” Golyan observed. “Most would argue that its powers are purely destructive. It can disrupt the machines of the enemies, and sear the flesh of their soldiers. But you can find opposing qualities in almost every force. Kiem’s capa can cause ruination, yes, but, in its own way, can also heal.” He turned towards Kiem. ” Envision, for example, a bloody, chaotic battlefield. Your comrade is lying next to you, bleeding from a wound. What can you do to help him?” he asked.

“Cauterise the wound,” muttered Moria as if on cue. She was a dutiful bookworm, after all, and had a reputation to uphold.

“Cauterise it,” echoed the Stallion. “You can seal his wound by applying the Burner. His tissue will be damaged badly, but the flow of blood will be staunched. You would save him.” He then addressed the rest of the students. “In my many years of service, I have witnessed countless capas utilised in completely unconventional and contradictory ways. Creative use of your abilities can save lives. Use your brain, not just your capa.”

The next batch of Miradi were mostly an assortment of Pullers and Pushers. A particularly pale capasian had made use of the Freezer, covering the training dummy’s head in a film of crackling ice, and then there was another Blaster, whose energy bolt missed the dummy entirely, and sizzled out as it hit the sleek transparent walls of the Rimmture to the far left.

And then it was Osrak’s turn, Kiem Yasri’s emotionless friend. He nonchalantly stepped before Golyan, and got to activating his capa after a short set of instructions from Golyan. His capa pulsated with a cirrus of intertwined red and blue energy. Osrak took a step towards the crate that Gadget and others after him had pushed and pulled many times, and put his now blue palm forward. Nothing happened. Golyan’s lips moved, but did not hear what he said. Osrak took two more steps towards the crate and focused again. This time, the object of his attention nudged, and was pulled towards him, its hard metallic edges brushing against grass.

“Osrak Eudora has the Magnet,” Golyan explained.

A couple of capasians started murmuring when Osrak’s family name was revealed. “Eudora? The Eudora family?” I wondered as well if Osrak was in any way related to Eudora the Majestica. If so, then it was a wonder he followed Kiem around, and with none the boasting of his boss.

Our tutor continued. “This capa features the abilities of both the Pusher and the Puller. Go ahead and push the crate away from you now, Osrak.”

He took a step forward, his palm still aimed towards the crate, which was now two feet away from him. It tumbled backwards twice. No sign of happiness, nor relief, nor that of any emotion, for that matter, appeared on Osrak’s stone-carved face.

“Well done. You made it seem so effortless. A natural, no doubt.” Osrak remained emotionless as he walked back to his position. “We’re almost done. Last one is Kral Fenley.” My heart skipped a beat.

“Good luck with your first release, mate.” Luton was trying not to giggle, and Moria gave me a knowing look that was also seeping humor at the edges. Gallant told me not to worry as I stepped out from the crowd. I could feel everyone’s prying eyes, no doubt eager to discover my capa. If it was up to me, they would never find out.

“Kral Fenley,” Golyan repeated when I was before him, then spoke in hushed tones. “You have an extremely rare capa, and must employ utmost caution in its release. Please focus your power on the test dummy only, and release when you’re ready.” The excitement in his eyes betrayed the emotionless expression he wore on his face, but I couldn’t achieve the same feat. The fear and the anxiety of the task set before me almost left me paralysed.

But there was no other way out. This was it. It was time to stop hiding in the shadows and embrace my true self. I searched deep within my being, within my core, and summoned up the energy that I needed. My capa responded, and it felt like a hole had opened up in my spine. Through my capa I breathed in – and through it I breathed out. I felt like I was emitting bursts of energy with each convulsion. “Like this?” I asked Golyan, trying to pretend I had never done this before. He nodded, croaking slightly as if caught off guard.

My veins coursed with what felt like bubbles. My body felt empty and hollow to begin with, but it then started to fill with this radiant, scarlet light that erupted from my capa. The light transformed into a warm liquid, which itself turned into a hissing, steaming gas. My vision went red, and the familiar headache started to pound at my temples with renewed ferocity. I was both scared and relieved, like I’d finally found something that I’d been searching for, but was terrified of finding it all the same. I knew I was ready when I saw that golden strands of energy interspersed the scarlet ones that were pouring out of my capa, tantalisingly weaving towards a focal point, ready to strike.

I channeled all that I felt into my target: the training dummy, the crescent shape of the Academy finely engraved on its chest, now peppered with marks from energy bolts and bullets. Time seemed to slow down. I could faintly hear what sounded like the whistling of a steam train.

And then its head exploded, showering our part of the field in shrapnel. A deafening boom silenced every noise around with a decisive finality. The birds, flying above us, screeched in terror as the explosion almost shook them out of the sky. What remained of the training dummy was vibrating, a constant brrrrrr that would not seem to stop. My face tickled, and I realised I was sweating. I quickly wiped my forehead with a shaking hand and turned towards my fellow Miradi.

Their mouths were all agape, and silence ruled the field.

Is that it? Come on! Where is it?

The market was bustling. Capasians dressed in all manners of fanciful garbs were jumping from stall to stall, their voices a confusing cacophony. Merchants were trying to outdo one another by shouting out discounts and special offers, while the customers were equally vocal in their pursuit of haggling for the best deals. It wasn’t that different from the market we had back home, except that there I knew where the merchants were, what wares they sold, and how to interact and haggle with them. The stalls splattered in front of us now had some recognisable foodstuffs, but all the other wares and goods on sale were alien to us. The clear lack of steamtech made it all the worse. I found myself missing the overwhelming stench of oil and the warmth of steam washing over my skin. In fact, I missed it so much that I started hallucinating steam rising out of something, just up ahead to the left.

Moria and Luton scanned the area, no doubt trying to get their bearings, like myself. Moria’s face radiated excitement and optimism, while Luton appeared more reserved and tentative, his eyes checking each and every capasian that we passed, taking in all of the sights of the marketplace with a thirst I couldn’t quite place.

Our clothes attracted a fair amount of attention once again, but none of it bad. Onlookers bore an appreciative look on their faces as they inspected our thobes, and I overheard a few compliments. Most of the gazes were affixed on Moria, and that was no surprise, as there was a noticeable lack of capasi in the market crowd. Perhaps it would be a good idea to purchase and wear something more subtle and ordinary.

The garments of the marketplace occupants were also quite varied. Plain thobes of many colours, worn with jodhpurs or khakis, seemed to be the most popular. Some of the thobes were embroidered with cloths of silver and gold, and looked similar in style to the green streak on my own garment, which ran down from my neckline and to each arm. There were also capasians wearing brocade vests underneath formal suits, though in much smaller a number. I could also make out a few emblems depicting the sigils of the cohorts stitched onto the fabrics. They were probably cohort officials, though none that I recognised from our earlier acquaintances.

It was good to see that hats here were as commonplace here as they were back home in Rumess. Most capasas wore fezzes, their distinctive tassels dangling liberally, while almost all capasi wore snoods. Bowler hats and fedoras were also common, but those wearing formal suits seemed to favour top-hats. I had yet to see a top-hat that came close to matching Gallant’s though.

“Where’s you at, buddy? Dontcha hide from me!” Gadget was waving his Rimmpannel all around the marketplace, animated by a fervour that made me feel sorry for the state of my race. He was trying to find the so-called essence he had been talking about non-stop on our way here. Gallant, to my distaste, was doing the same. They weren’t alone in their pursuit either: every other capasian was waving around their panel in a frenzy, trying to find this essence. Their craze over finding it was so intense, that if I could have swallowed my distaste for their folly behaviour, I might have actually found it amusing.

Gallant had tried to explain the rules of the game earlier. He talked about it at quite some length, dropping terms such as essence and ascension on us like sleet. Moria kept listening and nodding after every explanation, obviously interested in the rules and principles of the game, but me and Luton couldn’t care less. By the time we had reached the marketplace, I had forgotten most of what Gallant had explained, finding myself sharing Luton’s disinterest.

I still couldn’t believe it. Why would the Academy allow this? Weren’t you supposed to come here and learn? Why would anyone waste their time on a pointless venture, where in the end they would not get any tangible result out of their pursuits? And what stopped other students from playing this game of theirs when they should be studying and bettering their skills that would actually be useful in their daily life?

Back home, we were grateful for everything that we had, because we worked hard for it. Yet here we were in Nehibia, at the heart of our race, where you had every luxury you could ask for, and the people had resorted to occupying themselves with mindless entertainment. I had no trouble believing the rumours we had heard about these folk now – that they did not work the fields, or plough, or harvest, and that they did not roam the deadlands collecting spare parts and metal just so that they could have some source of income, so that they could survive; and they definitely did not have to oil the cogs of their machinery every morning, because of this fanciful Rimm of theirs. No, they had everything they needed and more, and they took it all for granted. Was this what my friends and family had died for?

“You get any of this, mate?” My strong-jawed companion was frowning at Gadget, probably affected by the same thoughts that were running through my head.

“Not at all, Luton,” I said quietly, not wanting to offend anyone. “Thought we were better than this, you know? It all seems so pointless.”

“Yeah. Stupid bunch of over-privileged folk. They’re weak.” I agreed wholeheartedly, though I wished he would have kept his voice down. “Think they have any steamtech around here? Want to get myself a new bow and some arrows.”

“I hope they do. It would be nice to see more of the normal and less of this crazy, but I can’t see much through this frantic crowd.” I looked over to the rest of the group and noticed that Moria now also had her panel out, looking through it as if it was a pair of glasses. I didn’t know what to think of that, but I knew we had to break away from this procession. “Why does the Academy allow this game, Gallant?” I raised my voice to be heard over the general commotion in the vicinity. “Doesn’t it distract the students from their learning?”

Gadget cleared his throat and answered instead. “This is the only Academy approved game, in fact. Says it’s educational or some’in. Ain’t nu’un educational ‘bout this. I gue—”

“Not educational?” Gallant replied, visibly irritated. He was no longer looking at his panel, and his top-hat was going cross-eyed. “You can’t just play absent-mindedly! For example, you have to use a Water Blast projectile to destroy a Fire landscape! And there’s combos that reward being clever! If you place a Gust landscape next to a Fire one, then they merge and create a Leaping Flames landscape! You can’t tell me that’s not educational.”

Luton laughed.

“Yea, guess youse right. Never paid much attention to that. I just did what everyone else did.”

“You’re never going to become a top player with that attitude,” said Gallant. “You have to think outside the box, anticipate what your opponent is going to do, and use the elements to your advantage. What’s the point of even playing if you can’t think for yourself?” he scoffed.

Gadget’s panel emitted the sound of a siren. His eyes, still locked onto the screen, suddenly went wide. “I caught one! I caught one!” he yelled and laughed maniacally at the same time, drawing the attention of others around us. Gallant rushed over to him, peeking over his shoulder in disbelief. “Gah, Skar! Was just a Sand landscape.” Gadget sounded disappointed.

“How do I find this essence?” Moria’s panel blared music as she started up her own game of Wuiga. Gallant had created accounts for both me and Moria on our way here, excited about the prospect of us playing together, but I didn’t pay it any attention.

“Tap the button that looks like a circle. The one with energy swirling around it. Then just scan the area around you with it. You should capture something.”

And then all three of them went back to waving their panels at the crowd. I sighed. “Any steamtech around here, Gallant?”

“Sure. You’ll find everything you need in Raydran’s Steamorium, behind these stalls. But there’s also Old Torm, who runs a steamtech stall just up ahead at the top.” He was still looking at his panel. The eyes on his top-hat, however, were scouring the marketplace. Maybe I hadn’t been hallucinating after all.

“Fine with you if we start heading over there?” He gave a slight nod as he started making his way through the crowd of shoppers and gamers, evading each and every passerby with practiced accuracy. Moria, unlike Gadget and Gallant, could at least take her eyes off of her panel as she followed us.

“This is pretty cool, Kral! Never seen anything like this! Even the film projectors back home weren’t as high quality as this,” she said, showing me the sharp projection of the marketplace on her panel. “It’s like a camera, but you don’t have to wait for the film to dry before you can see the pictures. They’re live!”

“That’s actually pretty nice, yeah.” My apathy was still present, but it was slowly being replaced by a mild interest. Let them keep their games. I can appreciate the technology. “Wonder if this is possible because of that Rimm thing.”

“Must be. Our cameras didn’t look all that well, compared to these, and they weren’t this small, either.” And then, so entranced she was with the game, that she bumped into Gadget and went keeling over. Before I could even react, Gadget’s hand shot through the air and grabbed her arm firmly.

“Gotta be more careful, capasi. Don’t wanna crack your panel, now.” His nonchalance left me both surprised and impressed, even if his priorities were clearly all muddled up. I would have been more worried about cracking a bone.

“Oh, sorry. Not used to looking at things other than the floo—”

Her panel let out a shrill sound, cutting off her sentence.

“Oh! That means you’ve caught some’in. Let me see,” said Gadget, as he descended upon Moria’s panel in an instant. “No way!”

“Skar! I can barely believe it! Congratulations, Moria.” Gallant was next to her now, his jaw agape as he stared at her panel. A ball of fire, flaming wildly in shades of darkened red, enveloped the whole of her screen.

“What’s this? Infernal Fireball? Guessing this is some sort of essence, isn’t it?” Everyone around us dropped their quest and turned to face us when Moria named her newly-found treasure. We had a crowd around us in a matter of seconds.

“Pretty sure that’s the essence everyone around here is looking for, in fact. Hell of a way to start playing.”

“That’s really awesome! How do I use it?”

Gallant gave her a sorry look. “Ah, there’s the issue. You have to unlock it with the shards I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, you don’t have any.” He anxiously looked around him, suddenly aware of all the spectators.

The look on her face dimmed instantly. “What? That’s so dumb. I found it!”

Gallant was about to respond – but then Gadget’s panel shrieked as well. “Hahaha! Yes! Got it! Sorry capasi. Ain’t no way you’d have known how to use it, anyways.” The same infernal fire that had blazed on Moria’s screen was now on Gadget’s.

Her pout would have been enough to melt the heart of a psychopath, but Gadget didn’t even notice it, as he quickly shuffled over to Gallant and started showcasing his new toy. The crowd adjusted to this change in power, leaving Moria behind, who was clearly saddened by this sudden betrayal.

“I’ve had enough of this,” she said. I couldn’t have agreed more.

“Yes, we’re wasting our time. Let’s look around on our own for a bit?” I suggested, to which they both nodded, and I took that as a cue to start exploring, continuing ahead to where Gallant had pinpointed the steamtech stall.

We found it instantly, as the hissing steam and the rotating sign at the top was a dead giveaway: TORMILET’S STEAMWORKS. The stall had a modest setup featuring gears, hydraulic and pneumatic pumps, flasks of oil, and all sorts of assorted machinery that was very common in the Outer Lands, dangling from the wooden beams overhead. An old capasian, sporting a white beard dappled in yellow, was rubbing a contraption clean. He, unsurprisingly, had no customers.

“Just what I’m looking for,” stated Luton as he headed towards the merchant, his walk a boisterous, confident swagger. “How’s it going, pops?”

The old capasian jumped to attention, startled. “What? That you, Cave? I’ll be damned! Haven’t seen you sin—”

“Cave? That ain’t me. I’m Luton, mate.”

“Ah, sorry. My eyes just aren’t what they once were. Name’s Tormilet, but the youngins call me Torm. Come here to see the relics of the distant past, have you?” His eyes, milky with cataracts, reflected a certain sadness that I could relate to.

“They’re not relics to us. We were brought up around all things steam,” I said. Gadget and Gallant were far behind us, constrained by an ever-growing and curious crowd of capasians.

Torm’s eyes went wide. “You were?! I can’t tell you how glad I am! There are only a handful of capasians around here that have any idea how this sort of stuff functions. What are you looking for, whippersnappers? Old Torm’s got all your steamtech needs, he does. Steamfists, Tinkerhats, Warmgarm – you name it, I have it.”

“Lost my bow some days ago. I’m looking to get another one.” Luton’s fingers twitched, a product of muscle memory.

“Say no more,” said Torm, digging under his stall. The sound of clinking metal reminded me of my mother’s kitchen during an earthquake. “Here.” He pulled out a steambow, carefully polished and thoroughly oiled. Certainly better than what we used to have when we were on the run.

Luton took a hold of it and drew the string back as far as he could, testing the draw weight. His muscles rippled as he struggled to keep it in place. The gears on the bow started rotating, letting out a consistent clicking sound as it helped relax the string. Steam puffed out of the holes in the riser.

“This is a real good piece,” Luton said, sporting a satisfied smile. “I’ll take it.”

“One Kres, if you will.”

Luton started rifling through his pockets. I didn’t expect him to come up with much, as we lived on scraps while on the run. “Skar! Looks like I’ll have to pass, pops. Only got 20 odd Vee on me.”

“How about you use the Vee we got from the Academy, Luton?” suggested Moria from behind.

“Forgot about that completely,” he replied as he turned around to face her. I had forgotten about that as well. We had stopped by the service desk earlier to claim the stipend, just before going into the Capasian Affairs Hall. The lady at the desk said that we’d be able to use the credits anywhere on Academy grounds. What she forgot to mention, however, was just how we were going to do that – as Luton was now also wondering. “Any idea how we use these credits?”

“No. Shall I go call Gallant?” asked Moria.

“Everything OK, Eytes? Let’s call it 90 Vee. How about I take your 20 Vee for now and you can pay the rest later?” said Torm.

“Actually, would you know how to take the remaining from the Vee in my panel?” replied Luton. “I’m afraid we’re not too familiar with these devices yet.”

Torm gave him a quizzical look, before extending his hand towards Luton’s panel. “Of course, not a problem at all. Hand over your panel, young one.”

Luton handed over the panel, and Torm pulled out his own. After tapping his a couple of times, Torm handed Luton’s panel back. “Just hit that green confirmation button and we’ll be good to go.”

Tormilet’s Steamworks
70 Vee requested!
Authorise?

    That was displayed on Luton’s panel. I found it really bizarre that you could exchange money this way without any physical coins, but “bizarre” was quickly becoming the norm in this place. Luton hit the green YES below the message and the panel’s screen displayed a different message:

Funds transferred.
Remaining balance: 230 Vee.

    “That does it, much obliged. Here’s your bow,” said Torm. Luton grabbed the bow while handing the remaining, physical Vee, and then slung it across his back, string over his chest. The gears dug into his skin, but we had all learned to ignore that discomfort a long time ago. “Fits like a glove, mate.”

“Good to hear that. Here.” He handed a quiver with a dozen arrows to Luton. “On the house. Ain’t all that often that I’m in business. Folk don’t very much like steamtech no more.”

I sighed. “Yes, I noticed that much.”

“You lot are not from around here, are you?” inquired Torm casually, but alarm bells started ringing inside my head nonetheless.

“Ehm,” interrupted Moria, clutching her Rimmpanel, “Our lesson is going to start soon. Shall we explore more of the market, while we still can?” She suggested to me and Luton, giving Torm a friendly smile. “Nice meeting you, Torm.”

Luton grunted in agreement while I sighed in relief. Her timing couldn’t have been better.

“Good luck with your lessons, Eytes! And please, do come back – Old Torm could use some company.”

“Sure will. Could do with some poison darts later.” I didn’t feel the need to ask Luton why he wanted those projectiles. He always liked to have as many types of ammunition as he could. Torm waved us goodbye as we pushed through the market crowd.

The enticing smell of cooked food reached my nostrils, and, even though I had eaten earlier, I started salivating. I followed the trail of smoke behind Torm’s stand and saw the grand food stall instantly: AIRISTI FOODS. Many chefs were inside, plying their trade with skill, serving food to a long line of customers with great quickness. The stall itself seemed to be on different elevations, or bobbing up and down every now and then – I couldn’t quite work it out. As tempted as I was to satisfy my aching taste buds, the long queue dissuaded me from lining up for a bite, and I decided to continue to explore a bit more before we had to go to our first lesson.

“We should be more careful about spending our money, at least until we can find out more about this place, the potential expenses, and how we can earn more,” said Moria.

“Agreed,” I replied. “But the bow was a necessity. We shouldn’t let our guard down.”

“That’s precisely why I bought it, boss.” Luton’s expression was as smug as ever.

“I know, but let’s just not spend it all without thinking, yes?” Moria continued.

“Fine. Don’t worry, I’m not as reckless as you think I am,” replied Luton, pushing ahead and taking the lead.

“He’s probably much more,” whispered Moria after nudging me, and I smiled back. It was nice with just the three of us, just like the old times but minus all the horror, and I felt ready to take on the world once again.

Somehow, we ended up making our way back to Gadget and Gallant, who, by now, were by themselves.

“Luton! You led us in circles!” shouted Moria. I was mildly surprised. This had to be a first for Luton. He was the best tracker among us three.

“It’s a land of new beginnings, your majesty,” replied Luton. “We should all try acquiring new skills.”

“Getting lost is not a skill, dummy!” She spoke loudly enough for Gallant and Gadget to stop discussing their game and detect us.

“Skar! Where’d you get that bow? Can I see?” Gallant asked as he moved towards Luton, his hand reaching out to touch the new contraption.

“Hands off, eye man,” Luton rebuked him sharply, freezing Gallant in place. Moria stared crossly at Luton, but it wasn’t going to make much difference. That capasa was beyond help.

“I, for one, think it’s high time for us to explore a bit more of the marketplace,” Moria addressed Gallant and Gadget, keen to gloss over Luton’s primitive behaviour. “Please join us, you two,” she pleaded to Gallant and Gadget.

Gadget nodded. “Sure. Let’s take a quick peek ‘round the gadget area. Must be so many beauties there. Whole bunch a things y’all might not know ‘bout, too.” He started walking in the opposite direction of where we had gone before, this time towards the right.

We followed. Right in front of us was a large stall with an assortment of artificial limbs and clip-ons we had never seen before. The neon sign read ‘BODY EXTENSIONS’. Gallant requested that we come back to this stall later to explore the latest body enhancements since there wasn’t enough time right now, and we all agreed. Gadget kept walking down the stall and then turned left, taking us through an alleyway with a shoe stall on our left and a fabrics shop on our right towards the wall. The fabrics shop was much bigger than the stalls and displayed a variety of clothes, shoes, top-hats and other types of apparel. I made a mental note to revisit the shop later to tone-down our current disguise.

Soon after, Gadget stopped in front of a glistening stall that seemed to be made out of metal in its entirety. We saw a variety of extraordinary gadgets I would never have believed existed, and would never have understood were it not for Gadget and Gallant’s continuous commentary: an LC counter, to detect and track Liyadai energy of capas; a TEMP-C, which tracked your body’s temperature at all times and offered vocal suggestions on how to adjust it; and microchips that could be embedded into your body to allow for the remote operation of gadgets. I was sure now, more than ever before, that I wanted to learn more about Rimm. I wanted to experiment and develop new gadgets and improve my knowledge of all these fascinating, new inventions, as my displacement towards this new technology was slowly being replaced by admiration. Moria shared my sentiment as she constantly asked questions about each and every gadget. Even Luton, who was usually uninterested in these things, seemed to be impressed, taking a very keen interest in the more destructive of the gadgets.

Just then, I spotted none other than Mirissa Lathe, our cohort head, walking from the book stall just ahead and turning the corner towards us. Her walk was so refined that she almost seemed to glide over the ground.

Gadget pointed a finger at her. “Isn’t that the Owl? That one scares me. Some’in ‘bout her that makes me feel strange.” Gallant had also said she made him feel weird, though for different reasons. I took a quick peek and sure enough, all his eyes were drilling their gaze into the Owl.

Moria had already made a move towards her. “Mirissa!” she chirped loudly, as she started jogging towards her. We reluctantly followed.

Mirissa was infinitely more casual than I imagined her to be. “Ah, one of my favourite new Eytes. How are you, darling?” She paid no attention to us, instead being focused on Moria with a motherly interest.

“We’re great, Miri! I’m really excited about everything here. When can we capa? I’m aching to see what I can do!” Um, it was “Miri” now was it?  When had that level of familiarity been achieved, I wondered. The only time we were separate at our dormitories yesterday was when we slept. Clearly, Moria had done a little less sleeping than me.

“Patience is key, dear. It is not just waiting, but knowing how to behave while we wait.” She looked into each of our eyes slowly. I felt them pierce my very soul. Then she turned back to Moria. “While you are at the Academy, you are only allowed to release your capa under supervision. In fact, I believe you have your first CALEF session in about ten minutes, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes, you’re right. I don’t want to be late. Great seeing you here! Can’t wait to learn from you!”

Mirissa smiled and walked past us. Gallant wanted to say something, but appeared to have thought better of it, or had difficulty formulating words.

Gadget was leading us once again as we started walking towards our first lesson, following on the heels of Mirissa. I would have really liked to explore the marketplace a bit more.

“You know,” said Moria, “I keep wondering about what happened when Kiem released his capa. You all felt that incredible pressure, didn’t you? Was that one of the staff members?”

Gadget gulped. “Yea, that felt really bad. Hurts just to think about it. Felt like somethin’ really heavy fell on top of me and I couldn’t get back up.”

“My brother told me about this sort of capa. Pretty sure that was Keos’ Neutraliser. It can suppress the effects of any capa.” Gallant informed. We had experienced a lot of capas while on the run from the hunters but we never really understood most of them because it was always about getting away from them as fast as possible, and that left no time for analysis, so any extra information about the capas was more than welcome.

But, I wasn’t satisfied by Gallant’s explanation, and it felt like we were still missing something. When we were being raided by the hunters, we could feel the power in their capas. Here at the Academy, I felt nothing, as if I was out by myself in the wilderness. “Do you think the Neutraliser can passively suppress a capa, Gallant? I don’t feel any energy around here. It’s as if this place is blank when it comes to capas. It’s hard to believe his ability is so strong that he can keep so many capas in hold, all at once. I’m sure there are quite a few powerful Miradi here as well.”

Luton spoke up. “Didn’t the Principal say something about that Keos guy reaching a high degree of capa?”

“Yes, that’s probably it. A higher degree must allow him to suppress more capas at once,” said Gallant.

“I should have asked Mirissa about this.” Moria had a point. We’re in a cohort famed for its knowledge, so maybe we should use the resources available at our disposal.

I still didn’t feel convinced with the current explanation, though, and wanted to continue the discussion, hoping that one of us could figure it out by ourselves. “But if Keos and Elmada, the other Neutraliser, were suppressing the energies of capas, then why did we all feel pressure when Keos stopped Kiem’s release? Can he only do one of these things at once? Suppress the energies or suppress the capa?”

Luton’s mischievous grin appeared on his face. “What’s clear from all of this is that you can release your capa, and probably won’t be stopped or even detected if they aren’t near you.”

Gallant shook his head. “Don’t know about that, Luton. Remember the LC counters we saw? The ones that measure capa energy? There must be a lot of them all over the Academy grounds to keep illegal releases in check.”

“One of us should release, then. See if you’re right.”

Moria’s palm shot towards Luton. “No! Don’t do that! Could get us all in a lot of trouble!” To this, Luton chuckled. Gallant didn’t seem very amused by it, either.

We walked out onto an open field, where a great amount of capasians were arrayed. There was excited chatter, and some capasians swayed from side to side like impatient children. Golyan Dol, the Stallion, was at the head of this congregation, his arms behind his back, waiting for everyone to arrive. By the looks of it, we were amongst the last to arrive as the stream of students coming to the field stopped behind us swiftly. “Welcome, all of you. Come closer, please. We will begin the lesson soon.” His voice could be heard from the entry of the field, even though he was at the opposite end.

I spotted Emhin Venn, by himself, not far from where we currently were. Unlike most capasians, he looked anxious and jittery, a trait which I mostly attributed to Gallant. “Look, Emhin’s over there. Let’s say hi,” I said, and started moving towards him. My party followed.

“Who’s this Emhin guy?” Luton enquired.

“He’s the fella that stumbled over in the queue earlier, ain’t he?” added Gadget.

“Yes, that’s him,” I replied. “We met him while getting our capas released, Luton.” He shrugged, and I started leading the way towards Emhin. The others followed as well.

On our way there was also a figure I dreaded to encounter: Kiem Yasri, and his group, gathered together. Seven of them in all, with their gazes fixated on Kiem who was boasting rather loudly. “My father obliterated him with his Blaster! You should’ve seen the chunks. He deserved it, of course. Who is stupid enough to run from Hiadaillo Yasri?” His chest was puffed out, beaming with pride. His group all nodded in agreement, tagging along for a chance at fame or just out fear. Kiem Yasri was turning out to be the stereotypical bully.

There was, however, one capasian who was not looking at Kiem: his giant, emotionless comrade, who was looking at me instead. He locked me with a steely gaze, just as he had earlier on our two acquaintances. I was getting rather tired of his arrogance. If you want to confront me, then do it. I’ve been through more than you ever will.

Luton broke the death stare competition. “Seems like you’ve got a giant admirer, mate. Fella can’t take his eyes off you. Charmed him real good, you did.” Both Moria and Gadget snickered.

I was finding it increasingly hard not to sling profanity at the giant. “This is getting annoying.” I backed out of the juvenile contest, turning my head back towards my group, addressing Gadget and Gallant. “What’s up with them, anyways?”

“Kiem Yasri is the son of the Nidael Chief. You know, the police force? He can afford to do a lot of things, what with his father’s position and him being a Noble,” explained Gallant, avoiding looking in Kiem’s direction.

Golyan Dol spoke before we could reach Emhin. “Attention all, quiet down please. Welcome to your first lesson, Eytes: CALEF, which stands for Capaing, Levitation, and Flight. Here you will learn how to master your capa, as well as how to get yourself airborne. Your first year of CALEF will get you acquainted with the nature of your power, the safety guidelines you must follow to ensure you don’t lose a limb, detecting who is about to release their capa, and the consequences for illegally releasing it, without supervision. All clear?”

This rhetorical question went mostly unanswered, except for a few Eytes who yelled in agreement. Gallant seemed to want to shout up as well, but his anxious nature got the better of him as he finished in a stutter.

Golyan nodded and unclasped his hands from behind his back. “Good. Now then – let us see what you’re all capable of.”

“The Pusher”

A tiny cloud of red mist burst at the end of the line we were standing in. Sir Gorak, a beast of a capasian seated in a raised chair overlooking the procession, had just released a student’s seal. He announced the nature of the capa to Elmada, who quickly started tapping on his Rimmpanel, recording the information.

Keos was also there, along with Principal Essitor Den-enald, who, as the mist spread throughout the room, shouted, “Do not breathe in this toxic fume, young Eytes. Hold your breath for a mere second. It will soon dissipate. Next!”

The line shifted forward, almost in perfect tandem. “A bit nerve-wracking, isn’t it?” I heard someone behind me say. I must have been shaking visibly, despite my best efforts to remain calm. I turned around slowly and noticed that it was the very capasa I had bumped into when I first arrived at the Academy. “Emhin Venn,” he announced. He didn’t seem to remember me, for which I was very glad. “A pleasure,” he continued. His mechanical eye, as protruding as when I first saw it, blinked on cue with each spoken word.

“Kral,” I croaked as I gave a curt nod before turning back. I could barely keep up the pretense of being calm and collected. Despite all of my efforts, my hands shook, and it felt like I had a lump in my throat. I shifted my weight, smearing sweat all over the screen of my Rimmpanel. I slid the panel back into the file case.

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“Kral! Are you alright?”

Moria’s subdued voice wasn’t enough to bring me out of my trance. I was staring at one of the many portraits dotting the hallway leading to the exhibition hall, the sound of heeled shoes stepping on marble a sharp cacophony, dulling my senses. “Everything fine, mate?” Luton’s husky voice, though, was distinct enough to grab my attention.

“Yes, Luton,” I said as I turned around, rubbing my eyes. It was comforting to see him again.

He snickered. “You sure? You’ve been zoning out real often as of late, you know that?” His hair didn’t look like it had been combed ever since we left the Medicon, and his wide, squarish jaw was starting to grow some stubble.

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I realised the choice was mine.

“Shall we check out the different cohorts?” asked Gallant, pulling me out of a deep pool of thoughts. “So you can decide which one to pick?” he continued, looking first at Moria, then at me.

“Right, where do we go?” A throng of young capasi were now lining up ahead of us to talk to the chestnut-haired capasa whom Gallant had informed us was the Eagle’s Reach head. The bold figure’s presence was inducing excited murmuring and inviting sheepish looks. A part of me was also excited to meet the cohort heads, and yet I couldn’t forego the lingering sense of betrayal. But this was not the time for such thoughts. We needed to settle in first.

“Like I said, there’s the Eagle.” Gallant pointed at the towering figure. I noticed his hat-eyes were staring at the line of eager capasi splayed in front of us. “Well, he’s not the Eagle, the founding noble died a long time ago obviously, but it’s common to refer to the heads by the title of the founders.”

“What’s his actual name?” chimed in Moria.

Gallant’s Strassty accessory was going cross-eyed again. “I’m… I’m not really sure. I know the head of the Stallion Knights is called Golyan. I don’t remember the names of the other two though,” he said, pausing. “No, no, I definitely don’t. I think I have their names around here somewhere though,” he said, swiping at his Rimmpanel. “Pretty sure I downloaded a pamphlet detailing the cohorts and the Academy a few days ago.”

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There were no more Entim left!

“Your name, please,” the spectacled lady in front of the desk said rather loudly as she stared at me disapprovingly, bringing me out of my trance. Gallant was to my left, being quizzed similarly by a younger-looking capasa.

“Kral Fenley, ma’am,” I replied. Best to be polite when far, far away from home.

“Kral Fenley,” she said, staring at me from the top of her silver framed glasses. I wasn’t sure on whether it was a question or a statement. She stood perhaps an inch or so shorter than me, and her wrinkled face seemed to be twisted in a permanent scowl. Soon after, she brought her panel up to my face and aligned it in front of me. “Look at the camera, please,” she said flatly. I could tell she had done this many, many times over.

She removed the panel as swiftly as she had brought it up, and I wondered if any sort of picture had been taken at all. I had encountered such devices before in Rumess as well but they were not half as subtle as these. The ones back home emitted an excruciatingly sharp and loud sound when the picture was being taken, and, worst of all, a flash that would blind a person for half a minute afterwards. While the lingering shadow of homesickness accompanied me everywhere, I was quite relieved that my senses weren’t assaulted in such a crude manner.

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