Chapter 1.1.2 The Academy

I was floating in the air!

Actually, it was the whole building that was afloat, and I struggled to make sense of it as I stood stupefied on the marble platform. A vast expanse lay before me as far as the eye could see, only interrupted intermittently by the sight of another floating cone-shaped structure. Some had spherical outlines, others more dome-shaped, yet others with no clear recognisable structure or form. Some were above and some below, and they seemed to cover the entirety like little ants crawling on a tree trunk.

Yet there was no smoke, so how were these powered if not by steam? How could anything provide anywhere near enough power to keep these gigantic monolithic structures afloat? But before delving on that matter, I still had to get around the idea of an entire building floating on thin air in the first place!

Continue reading

But it was too late…

I had already made a fool out of myself!

The next few moments were awkward to say the least. There were focused stares and hushed murmurs all around, but a few were even audacious enough to openly point and snigger. A pinstripe-suited capasa with a black and white tie and short-trimmed hair was the most brazen. His hands were covered in silver gauntlets that shone in the daylight. It didn’t help that he was in the queue to my left, almost beside me.

“You think he forgot to kiss his mummy goodbye Osrak?” He addressed a sturdy capasa to his right before resuming to leer at me. His comrade, outfitted in a creamy dress and wearing similar gauntlets, meanwhile, gave me a blank stare. If there were any emotions behind that plain look, they failed to register.

A hand on my shoulder diverted my attention from the duo, and I noticed Elmada’s towering presence converging towards my left and gently pushing me forward.

“Whatever’s got you in a bother, shake it off young Eyte. There’s no danger here.”

At that moment, my respect for the friendly giant grew tremendously. Overlooking my momentary lapse to save me embarrassment, he also positioned himself to conceal me from the pinstripe-suited capasa. Probably for the the first time in many, many years, I could truly say that I felt safe.

Continue reading

Anomaly 1

It watched the procession patiently.

The details were blurred and the focus wavered from time to time but that was OK. It was a price it was willing to pay to stay in this form. It needed to observe.

The scent of fear and nervousness was palpable and oh so, so, exciting! Seeking out the fresh ones hardly required any effort any more. It had almost become second nature, as easy as breathing, even. It could feel the nervousness which they disguised underneath hushed conversations and the fear which escaped through their ragged breaths. It could probably draw it out if it wanted to, paint in thin air with a million different strokes, each as vivid and clear as the realities unfolding before them. But it should probably check on the existing cogs first before it got overexcited. It wouldn’t do to lose progress.

It shifted, now overlooking the bulk of the rows stretching to the entrance of the hall and housing the majority of the larger, bulkier and more animated occupants. The nervousness was less here. Not quite absent, but noticeably less than the fresh ones. The vacuum was filled, instead, with hopes and aspirations, envy and hatred, pride and fear! Yes, the inescapable fear. No matter how brave, a trace of it lingered in all entities, waiting to be cultivated. But it didn’t need to sense the raw streams of emotions for this task, it wasn’t necessary.  Even with the blanket of suppression, it could identify the Chosen.

Continue reading

I was momentarily blinded…

The sudden transition from semi-darkness to the blinding daylight had caught me off-guard, and my hand moved to shield my eyes from the intruding sunlight. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the new brightness, and everything seemed to come to life all of a sudden.

The opaque wooden walls around me had miraculously transformed into glass panels, permitting bright sunlight to wash its way into the hall. My eyes darted to the roof, noticing that it had also followed the example set by its two neighbouring walls. Moving my hand away from my face, I straightened my slumped form and peered ahead at the dazzling subject of everyone’s interest.

Continue reading

The wave of nausea was overwhelming…

And I nearly buckled.

How many were dead now because this capasa, our ruler and King, had abandoned us? How many had given their lives for him, in his name? Their mutilated bodies flashed across my eyes as I glared at the Majestica, wavering between awe and anger. A decade of relentless persecution, nearly half of that period without any help or support from the Entim, from the Majestica! Were we any lesser than capasas who stood in this hall with me now, idolising their leader? Why had we, then, been abandoned? I gathered my courage. My people had given their lives to protect me, Dravon had died for the very same thing, surely I could muster a little bit of courage to say what needed to be said.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

“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.

Continue reading

“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.

Continue reading

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.”