“Stop it Luton!”

“Do you want to get us in trouble again?”

“Alright, just a little bit then. Just enough to bring him around… half a glass will do just fine I think.” Luton’s faint sniggering was really starting to irritate me now. Let him do it this time, he will regret every drop of spilt water!

It was my fourth day since waking up at the Academy, and I had experienced a rude awakening twice since then, of course, courtesy of Luton. So as I lay on my left side pretending to be asleep and peering towards the door from underneath my folded arms which covered my face, I waited as Luton persuaded Moria to let him bathe me with a splash of water for the third time. Poor capasa, let’s see how he enjoys an exploding glass of water! I didn’t want to injure him of course, but he’d been taking a lot of concessions lately and it was time to put him in his place.

But the real reason for my frustration was their constant side-lining of my questions. Either they really didn’t know what was going on here or they didn’t want to tell me, and I suspected the latter. But at least I knew that this was a state facility, a safe place, even though I still had my suspicions. From the little information that I had canvassed off my comrades and the ageing Kelia, my surprisingly elusive nurse, I knew that the Academy was a state-sponsored educational institution for Eytes and Miradi. I had been in one of these before, of course, one just for Eytes, before it was attacked and overrun by the hunters some 11 or more years ago. Since then, we had been on the run in the soon-to-become lawless parts of eastern Rumess where the hunters all but controlled large swathes of whole areas eventually.

I still remember how we initially hoped for some sort of state intervention, some of us even dreamed of the powerful Entim descending from white clouds and delivering us from our misery, but that hope slowly died away as facility after facility was taken by the hunters, forcing the state forces to retreat further back. It felt like the slums of Rumess had been left to fend for themselves as the few remaining facilities were quickly abandoned one after another and the hunters started to prowl even the most public places without any fear of retribution. What made it worse was that very few amongst us were Miradi who could capa, and even they succumbed to the more powerful hunters eventually. It wasn’t long before we turned into splintered groups and became even easier pickings for the enemy.

That was Rumess, and that was my life a few days ago. Now here I was in the supposedly notorious Academy at the heart of Nehibia, the seat of power for my race. This was supposed to be safe, but the scars of my previous life were fresh and I had a harder time than my comrades in accepting this new reality.

“Hey you! Didn’t I make myself clear enough last time?” Kelia charged towards Luton after bursting unexpectedly through the disappearing door and I couldn’t help but smirk as Luton frantically searched for an escape route. Kelia was having none of it, however, as she grabbed Luton by the collar with amazing speed and all but shoved the poor capasa out of the room before he even knew what hit him. Seeing the strong-handedness of Kelia and probably sensing the shift in her mood, Moria hastily retreated out of the room behind the stumbling Luton who was still struggling to regain his momentum.

“Next time I won’t be so gentle, Eyte,” Kelia warned Luton in a mockingly sweet tone before murmuring something at the wall. The door reappeared at once, but this time it was tinted, and I had a slight suspicion that my comrades could no longer see inside the room.

Scary.

Then she turned her attention towards me.

“Kral my dear boy, how are you feeling today?” She proceeded towards me as I recoiled inadvertently from the horrible stench of whatever it was she was pushing in the medical trolley. Noticing my discomfort, she immediately bubbled up her confession: “I’m so sorry my dear boy, no one likes this bit, not even me!” Scrunching up her nose, she took a wide bowl filled with a pitch-black gooey liquid from the trolley and placed it on my bedside table, before placing a metal spoon beside it. I had a bad feeling about this.

“Go on dear, drink up.”

“You’re joking, right?” I couldn’t help but retort in absolute shock. “You want me to drink that… thing?” It was taking everything I had to keep my stomach at bay from the horrible stench, and she wanted me to drink it!

“Of course dear boy. This will get rid of all the Mindurns in your system. Come on now, pick up your spoon and drink.” Obviously, I had no clue what a Min-whatever was.

“What in Bloodgard is a Min… thing? And how is it exactly… in my system?” Was I sick? I thought I was getting better. I had certainly been feeling better, and I no longer felt dizzy pacing around my room. I dreaded at the thought of having caught an infection and spending more time locked and trapped behind these four walls. Well, three and half to be precise.

“Mindurns, dear boy. Where are you from again? I’m surprised you know so little about our technology, anybody who’s been to a medical facility knows what Mindurns are.”

Kelia’s accusatory tone made me very uneasy and the discomfort was probably visible on my face because she immediately switched to her happy docile mode before I could make an attempt to recover. “I’m sorry my dear boy, I forgot you’re from the outer perimeter. We don’t get many of your kind here in the capital,” she said before pausing and adding: “Actually, you’re probably the only outsider I’ve come across in a couple of years now dear, the last one didn’t last very long.”

She realised her mistake too late.

“I’m sorry dear, that came out horribly wrong! He was injured very badly, that’s all. We couldn’t do much for him unfortunately. But you’re doing brilliantly!” She beamed gleefully as she filled the spoon with the gooey stuff. “As for Mindurns, they are microscopic mechas. We use them to monitor your vitals and to disinfect the rooms. They’re tiny so you can’t see them with your eyes, but there’s hundreds of them in this room, and mind you, a good handful in your belly by this time as well,” she winked in reference to some hidden context which obviously escaped my reasoning. Clutching my stomach, I asked her faintly: “There are machines in my stomach?” My head began to spin as Kelia burst out laughing and the gooey stuff threatened to spill over the edge of the spoon in her hand.

“Dear boy, what century is it in the outer lands? Everyone has bits of machines in them now, but you don’t want Mindurns inside you for long, unless you enjoy stomach cramps, chesty coughs and a bucket load of diarrhoea of course.”

We had mechas in Rumess, of course, but we never heard of one inside another capasian. Things were getting far too weird for my liking here, and I didn’t particularly enjoy being treated as a lunatic either.

But I couldn’t bring myself around to swallowing any of that disgusting ooze. Before I had a chance to object further, however, Kelia appeared at the end of an amazingly fast blur of white and red and a spoonful of the gooey liquid was forcefully shoved down my throat as I sat petrified, my legs dangling off the bed. Choking on the gooey liquid, I reluctantly swallowed it after having little other option other than to choke and gag further.

“There, now that wasn’t so bad was it dear,” the smile would almost feel genuine had it not been for the hunter-like intrusion earlier, and I couldn’t help but evaluate Kelia. Her earlier display of brute strength against Luton was no less impressive than her recent showcase of speed and grace. Definitely 100+. Maybe even 140, which would make her around 7 times older, and stronger, than me!

“Sorry dear, I do that now and then when things look… difficult,” Kelia tucked the bowl back under the medical trolley while performing a set of strange hand gestures over the transparent glass screen which formed the top shelf of the trolley. I, meanwhile, was still struggling to keep the disgusting liquid at bay as she continued murmuring a strange set of commands.

“Here, this should help take the edge off dear,” I eyed the offered glass of water suspiciously but eventually decided that it couldn’t be any worse than a bunch of machines and goo that was already in my stomach. The sparkling water trickled down my weary throat as I tipped the glass to drain the remaining few drops. It was surprisingly refreshing with an echo of sweetness and a subtle, slightly noticeable, sour after-taste which actually made it more exotic.

“I thought you’d like that,” chimed Kelia after reading my facial expressions, before adding further: “It’s something of a rarity here dear, that Merr water, not least because it’s brought all the way from the Narrii in Wyldra or the various myths and rumours surrounding it, but then you wouldn’t know about that would you dear?” Obviously not, but I didn’t bother replying.

“I bet you’re wondering why I gave you a sip of that Merr water if it’s so rare right dear?” Not really, I had more important things on my mind, but as always Kelia cut through my thought trail before I could form a distinguishable sentence. “Well, you see it’s the inauguration day today dear, and we don’t want you missing out on the opening ceremony now do we? No that won’t do at all, and you could probably do with all the help you can get right now, myth or otherwise dear.” I wondered what sudden feat of mine had earned such hospitality from Kelia, or maybe she was really and genuinely a kind soul. Maybe.

“About that, Kelia, I was wondering if…”

“I’m sorry dear no time for questions, we need to get you out of those dreadful pyjamas. Here you are, this will fit nicely I think,” I swallowed my irritation at having been interrupted once again and eyed the white thobe. It was similar in design to what Luton had been wearing lately, except for a green streak which ran from the neckline all the way down to the end of each arm. A handful of beige tich style buttons with a hint of green were sewn to the upper portion of the thobe whilst subtle creamy swirls could be seen decorating the remainder of the feet-length dress.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

The cloth felt soft, luxurious and warm. “That’s a pretty high-end piece dear, it will look good on you.” As Kelia walked towards the door to give me privacy for the task at hand, I quickly fired a question which was starting to disturb me:

“But… how did I get this? I mean…,”

“It came from the Academy. Do you know someone there? There’s also a note,” following the trajectory laid by her pointed finger, I scanned the protruding shelf to my right and sure enough, there was a sealed creamy envelope. “You seem to have an old-fashioned admirer. When you’re ready, come out and someone will escort you to the main hall dear,” she said as she walked out, all the while giving me a genuinely pleasant smile: “Take care of yourself, Fenley dear,” and then the tinted door closed behind her. The way she mentioned my surname, it almost felt like she had known me for a long time. Maybe I was reading too much into it.

Putting the luxurious cloth aside, I stood up and proceeded towards the object of my latest intrigue. A letter to me, but by whom? I was a stranger in these alien lands, and I certainly knew no one at the Academy.

Standing beside the shelf, I bathed in the warmth of the flooding sunlight and closed my eyes to enjoy the sensation for a few moments. I half-expected to see an airship floating by outside the window and leaving trails of smoke in its awake, so I took a peek, but all I could see were these strange airporters. No hint of steam. This place was so different from my home. Then I remembered my latest quest and my need for answers took over as I grabbed the sealed envelope, tearing it open slowly.

Who knew me here in the capital? I took the white piece of paper out of the envelope and unfolded it. The handwriting was stylish but neat, which ruled one thing out:

It wasn’t my dad.

You are probably filled with many doubts at this moment in time, and perhaps even more questions. There will be a time and a place for all this. For now, find solace in the company of your friends and you will undoubtedly discover some answers through your time at the Academy.

But I urge caution, extreme caution! You and your friends are an unlikely bunch, and I fear you will attract too much attention, too much of the bad and unwanted kind. The times are corrupt and the exploiters many. Keep your capa concealed at all times, no doubt you know that you are not supposed to have harvested it at this early stage which is a mystery in itself. Whatever happens, do not reveal your ability to friend or foe!

He knew about my capa! Could this be the person who captured and brought us here?

My second caution is directed towards your capasi. Keep her close and do not let anyone, and I mean ANYONE, get close to her. As you will soon come to learn, and I’m saying this without any exaggeration, capasi’s are worth their weight in Rimm.

Moria? If this letter was supposed to answer my questions, then it was doing a pretty poor job of it.

On the 12th of the next month, wait by Shackle’s Dormitory. I will meet you there. Come alone and do not tell anyone, not even your friends. I will be waiting for you at 10 O’Clock.

Great! Of course I knew where the damn Shackle’s Dormitory was, I mean, it’s not like I was abducted forcefully, spent 9 days in a ward, with those 9 days being my first in this cursed place! I probably also knew the names of every Jora and Bern in the capital as well! I contemplated ripping the letter to shreds, but then thought better of it. I had to control my emotions if I was to survive this maze of a place where everything had a question mark after it. Tucking the letter in my left pocket, I walked back towards my bed and wore the black laced shoes. Black leather, well polished, a small heel and soft, rounded toes. Finally something normal.

The door slid out of view as I approached it, and I walked out into a long, well-lit corridor. The opening in the centre was guarded by a transparent enclosure which was a couple of feet in height. Numerous labels in red identified the various wards along the corridor, and I turned back to peer at my room. J-11A. I wondered where Luton and Moria were. More importantly though, it seemed my entourage was missing in action, and even amidst the trepidation, I felt inclined to explore. The sense of adventure overtook my state of caution and I started walking slowly down the lengthy corridor and towards what appeared to be a set of doors in the distance.

White, glossy and bare walls surrounded me, their only decoration being the ward labels and the visitor guidance posters outside each ward. A few glass-like panels were also fitted alongside the enclosure, but they all showed the same single word: Medicon, the dot on the “i” shaped like a crescent facing upwards . Was that a company or the name of this place? Wasn’t this the Academy? I forced myself to walk past the tech, not wanting to do anything to make a fool out of myself despite my growing curiosity.

Most of the wards were concealed and I could not see inside, but there were a few which had open doors. A white-clad doctor was attending to the bandaged leg of a bearded capasa who was trying to stifle his moans, breathing in sharply. Every time he did so, I could feel the shift in gravity and the suppressing pressure. He was trying not to release. A few wards down, another doctor was punching commands at the medical trolley whilst a droopy faced capasa looked out of the door, catching my eyes momentarily. I started to see double for a moment, but my vision returned back to normal the next instant.

It was probably wise to walk on.

A few feet ahead of me, another doctor walked out with his medical trolley and headed straight ahead towards the doors which slid open as he approached. I followed suite, and stood wide-eyed on the open platform outside a second later.

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