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.

“Neos, kindly lend a hand to your brother, if you will,” the Majestica addressed the ageing, bald capasa to his left who had, upon instruction, sidestepped a short distance away from the Majestica before separating his legs and copying Keos’ stance. There was a noticeable change in Keos’s posture as he relaxed and his hunched form regained some composure. The taller capasa behind Neos and the Majestica, meanwhile, had withdrawn his hands from the duo’s shoulders as he stood behind them, alert and at attention. The hatchet-face was probably the Transporter who teleported the trio here, but I had no doubt he had many other skills as well.

The Majestica’s entourage was dressed in royal blue thobes which were slit at the sides and the front and back, revealing plain white trousers underneath. Regal gold curves decorated the collared dresses which were made all the more special by thin golden hemlines. The Majestica’s attire was similar except for the additional red cloak fastened around his neck and flowing down to his knees. All three wore brown cloth shoes with white rubber soles.

“Thank you, revered principal Essitor, for sparing a moment of your precious time and allowing us to address your assembly. I apologise for the short notice, it was the best I could manage,” the Majestica turned around to address the principal with a smile, receiving a respectful nod in return. Brown shoulder-length hair rolled across his curved shoulders as he turned around to address us again.

“Please take a seat everyone. I have a few important announcements to make,” he said, and everyone started to obey. I wavered for a moment, ready to hurl my complaints at the Majestica, but what could I say that could possibly do any justice to the suffering a decade of persecution brought with it? Were there any words to express the constant overhanging fear of being attacked, or the paralysing terror of seeing our friends, neighbours and colleagues torn to shreds, time and time again? Were there any words to express the state of utter helplessness we had been trapped in, clinging to false hopes that maybe, just maybe, today was the day reinforcements would come, but only to find out there would be no help? No, there were no words that would do any of that justice, so I sat down with the rest of the people, all the while cursing myself for taking the easy way out.

“What do you think’s so important that the Majestica himself had to come to tell us?” Gallant asked. I was in no mood to offer a reply so I simply stayed quiet, gritting my teeth. All around me, however, people were chatting amongst each other excitedly.

“As you all know, each and every capasian is sealed when he or she is born,” the Majestica said as the noise in the hall died down, and I suddenly found myself more alert. Still fuming, but more alert. He was talking about the Seal which I had somehow broken way before its time. I contemplated standing up and confronting the Majestica once again. Maybe it wasn’t important what I said as long as I made everyone aware of the betrayal, of how they had sold us out to the wolves. But could I trust myself to hold my ground, or would I make a horrible mess of the situation because of my shaky nerves?

“It is customary for Eytes to have their Seals removed on their 30th birthday, thereby transitioning them to the Miradi class, and making it possible for them to capa,” the Majestica paused, and I found myself wondering about the purpose of the prologue. I doubt there was anyone in the hall who didn’t know the information that was being parted to us. I learnt it in school when I was 9.

Before the hunters destroyed everything.

I clenched my jaw. I always played it different in my mind, that I would somehow find and storm into the Majestica’s palace and confront him in front of everyone, naming and shaming him in front of the whole world for failing to protect us, for not living up to the grand image of him that had been drilled into our minds since the day we were born. I had always thought that getting to his palace would be the difficult bit, but now I knew different.

“However, things have occurred in the past year, which have forced us, or rather, me, to rethink this process,” the Majestica paused once again as he said this, and murmurs rippled across the hall. Gallant turned to face me again: “This, will either be really good or really, really bad,” he said as he focused back on the Majestica. Before I could reply, the Majestica had started speaking again.

“My intention is not to alarm you, but I believe the truth, while it can be a little daunting at first, is the only way we can prepare for what lies ahead, and survive.

“Some of you will know about the numerous atrocities which have occurred, or rather, have been occurring for the past few years,” the Majestica said. Everyone was dead quiet, and my own heart was hammering in my chest. Atrocities… Hunters?

“At large, we have managed to keep the evil at bay, but it is spreading, so I am forced to address you today against my better judgement,” the Majestica sighed, and I caught principal Essitor doing the same, his glowing robes still riding the non-existent breeze. “We have already lost too much in pretending that everything is good and merry, but unfortunately, it is far from that.

It pains me to say this, but we have, whether we admit it or not, lost the Outer Lands,” the Majestica’s wrinkled face furrowed even further when he said this, and there was a genuine look of hurt and pain in his eyes. It actually moved me, the defeated posture he adorned just then, and for a brief moment I wondered if I was right to be angry at this capasa. Maybe he had sent the Entim to help us but they were overpowered, or he had no more to spare? Or maybe all this was just another act.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Gallant asked me once again, obviously unaware of my limited knowledge base. “Do you think the rebels have taken over?”

“The rebels?” I asked, confused. Is that what they called us? Rebels?

“You know, those folk who are turning people to machines, killing everyone?” Gallant answered, and I clicked on. The hunters. But turning people to mechas? No doubt it was some horror story coined to keep the good folk of Nehibia away from the rotting Outer Lands. So that they couldn’t see how badly we’d been betrayed by our own people.

“Silence!” Principal Essitor bellowed and the chatter died down instantly, cuing for the Majestica to continue his address.

“I feel it is important to set the record straight before things become even murkier, and to give you a realistic idea of what’s going on outside in the real world, so that you can have a clear focus in your studies, and hopefully, contribute.

“Some would rather not have me divulge what I’m about to burden you with, but the consequences of remaining ignorant, I think, are far worse. My dear children, I can say it no other way: our race is dying.” There was the briefest of a pause before the Majestica continued, and the tension in the hall was palpable.

“10 years ago, we numbered in the 50,000 range. Today,” the Majestica paused, everyone’s breaths caught in their throats: “Today, we make a total of less than 10,000!”

Gallant wasn’t the only one who gasped then.

“Bloodgard be damned! Are you getting this Kral? Only 10,000 capasians left in the whole world, this is some kind of joke right?!” he remarked in shock. Others were doing the same all around me, and all I could think was: they have absolutely no idea what’s been going on outside their walled and fortified realm. No wonder everyone here was so frivolous and worried more about one’s surname than the next meal, or whether they would be still alive to worry about the next meal!

The Majestica raised his hands for silence and then continued as soon as the hall had quietened: “I’m sorry it has come down to this, and I feel pained to take away these moments of joy from you, but we are running out of options, out of time, and it has come to the point where we need the support of each and every one of you,” he said as he took another pause.

“I have a really good and a really bad feeling about this Kral,” Gallant said nervously as he clenched his hands together. I noticed that he had another eye at the front of his hat as well, and it was blinking more furiously than the one on the side and facing me.

The Majestica, meanwhile, brought both of his hands together, and I noticed that he was wearing a pair of metal gauntlets: golden, extending a little above his wrists and down to the base of his fingers. He pressed both of his fists together lightly and there was a muffled clang of metal, producing a shock-wave which pushed me against the padded backrest. I grunted, more so because of the sudden intrusion than the actual shock-wave. I knew what was coming next, we had seen videos of this stuff back in school when we were younger and thought everything was sweet and fluffy in the world.

“I, Majestica Lariell Tyari, today on the 16th February, year 1174, pass a decree prohibiting the sealing of capasians upon birth,” the Majestica said while pressing his fists together. A golden aura hovered around his hands and I could swear that it was humming, strange as it sounded.

So we would no longer be sealed upon birth? I couldn’t see how that made much of a difference to anything. From what I knew, most people would harness their capas around 30 years of age, around about the time when the Seal wore off. So what good with not having the Seal do? Unless… the Seal was the reason people didn’t harness their capas earlier. I was speculating at best.

The atmosphere in the hall was tense, and I noticed that the group of capasas who were focused on Moria a while earlier were hanging on the edge of their seats as well, their entire focus on the Majestica.

“I pass a second decree authorising the unsealing of all capasians, effective immediately!” The Majestica spoke with greater force this time and the golden aura around his fists grew. There were gasps and exclamations all around the hall. I was stunned myself, but partly relieved as well since I wouldn’t have to hide my capa. But I was still confused about this whole facade.

“We wanted to preserve our customs and lost two nations. Now we are breaking tradition to save the last. Please forgive me for burdening you with the weight of this obligation, but for us to survive as a race, we all need to have a clear sight of what stands before us. Otherwise, we will not last for much longer. I prefer realistic expectations in favour of heedless whims.

“Principal Essitor,” he said as he turned around to face the principal. “I hope you will accept my apology for intruding on Academy business, as you no doubt will have to cater for this new phenomena of having more capaing students. I hope that by gifting Neos to your services, you will find the task of doing so slightly easier,” the Majestica pointed at Neos. “He has reached the 5th awakening, which allows him to mask all emissions within a mile and suppress all capas within a radius of approximately 700 feet. Neos will brief you regarding his full arsenal of capabilities later on,” Principal Essitor nodded tardily again. If he was annoyed, he didn’t show it.

It suddenly clicked, and I wondered how I had missed it all along. It was subtle, but so obvious at the same time: neutralisers were responsible for the lack of pressure which had been bugging me since leaving Medicon. Actually, did I even feel Kelia’s pressure? I couldn’t remember. But I could recall that I only began to notice Elmada’s pressure when Keos had disappeared inside Medicon. That also meant that Keos had a fairly short-range, which in turn meant there was at least one more neutraliser somewhere here who had enough power to suppress every single person inside the Academy! That was… a lot of power.

“I extend my gratitude, your Majesty, for your generosity, and will strive to put your plan into motion the best I can,” the principal replied.

“Thank you, principal Essitor. I believe you will do very well. Sir Gorak will be arriving shortly. Please make arrangements for his arrival so that he can begin his work immediately,” the Majestica said to the principal.

“As you command, my Liege,” the principal replied courteously once again, before turning around and gesturing towards a member of his staff. A moment later, two faculty members retreated hastily through the doors at the back of the hall. Then the Majestica turned towards us once again.

“Provisions have been made for early access programs and apprenticeships, so you may very well be approached for positions to serve in the military, as an Entim or in an equivalent supporting role. Similarly, you may be approached to help and aid in other vital industries of science, medicine and technology, as we are exhausting all resources to survive, and I will not dilute the matter, in the brink of clear extinction. Take these opportunities and put your all in them. A lot depends on you,” the Majestica said, and I sat there stunned. Was this really happening? Everything all of a sudden, when I least expected it? This wasn’t the type of vacation I hoped for when I decided to stay at the Academy.

“Thank you,” the Majestica finished, and turned around to gesture at the hatchet-faced capasa who stepped forward and placed his hands on the Majestica’s shoulders. The next moment, there was a pop and the duo disappeared, leaving behind Neos.

“Bloodgard be damned! What just happened?” whispered Gallant, to no one in particular.

“At least we can capa now,” I replied nonchalantly, and Gallant stared blankly at me.

“Huh? What did you say?” He asked, as if it was me who had initiated the whole conversation. He was really on edge.

“Nothing, just muttering to myself,” I replied.

“Settle down, everyone. Settle down,” principal Essitor said, as he took to the stage once again.

“Things have undoubtedly taken an unexpected twist, so we will have to amend our original ceremony.

“All new entrants and any remaining Eytes will be held in assembly again shortly, in a few days. Details of this will be communicated to you shortly. For now, please proceed to the staging hall to complete your enrolment and enrol in your preferred cohort,” the principal said as he started to disembark from the platform.

Gallant was fidgeting with his hands again, and I could tell that he wanted to say something but couldn’t quite compose himself. I was confused myself. The Majestica seemed like a genuinely caring man, so it was becoming hard for me to hold on to my belief that he had abandoned us. But that still did not explain why we had not come across a single military unit during the last four or five years. The Majestica had said that the outer lands were lost, which implied that there was some struggle in retaining control over them, so why did we not encounter any Entim? It didn’t add up, none of it did, especially with the bizarre address of the Majestica himself just now. Unless…

No, surely that couldn’t be true, could it?

What were the chances that…

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