“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.

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