“To be clever is to conquer any opponent regardless of the difference in ability. Remember this always.”
–The Dream and Dreamer authored by Talis Ranis.
“Good Hales. Bring it out again. You need to build the stamina to maintain usage of your Aspect for hours at a time.” Hales was working one on one with Professor Vandle. As the first to have awakened her Aspect in the Class of the Savant she had the privilege of experiencing the sheer exhaustion that comes with using powers. Hales had never felt more drained in her entire life. The last two months at camp were nothing in comparison to what she was going through now.
Every molecule of her body, mind and soul were drained to the bottom. It had been two weeks since she released her first solar system. With nonstop training the most she could bring out at one time was three. Hales was sore to the very core of her being.
“Again!” Vandle gave no quarter to his training, “Hit that tree!” It was twenty meters away and fairly large as trees go, it should be easy. But it wasn’t.
Hales summoned another solar system, the stars and planets emerging from her eyes as tiny specks. She expanded them into small fist sized objects. The star was hovering just above her right finger tip, which was poised straight up. Hales stomped with one foot, getting into a power stance. She grunted as the breath was taken from her. It took so much pressure, like her whole body flexing at once.
The solar system as a whole started rotating faster and faster. She began shouting her breath out. The solar system was a blur, visually looking like a single disc with a bright center. She stepped forward and flicked her hand at a perpendicular angle to the tree, launching the solar system. She could decide where to pin the gravitational force of her solar disc, as she called it, once it left her hand. She “connected” the disc to the tree, as if by an invisible tether. The gravitational pull of her disc was attached to the tree.
The solar disc flew, buffering at an angle and turning sideways, the speed and momentum of the disc carried it far past the tree.
Hales was heaving, trying to catch her breath. She watched her disc begin to turn back to its horizontal position, the gravity pull from the tree was enough to bring the disc in a wide arc on a path returning to the tree.
A moment later the disc crashed into the far side of the tree, the planets exploding on impact first as each completing its orbit hit the tree in lightning fast succession. The star hit a millisecond after, causing a bursting combustion, searing the tree in the process. Bits of rock and wood chips were sent flying.
“Good! Two more, hit the same tree!” Vandle demanded. Hales kept her same stance from the last disc and shouting through her fatigue she drew out a solar system with her right hand, and then another with her left hand. Dual wielding systems she began spinning them on her fingertips, though their rotation was slower than the previous disc, Hales managed to do two at once. She stepped into her throw for the first disc launching it at a slight angle, this time she tethered the gravitational pull to a boulder far in the distance.
Next, she turned once, bringing her back leg all the way around, gathering momentum, and once more stepping into the flick of her wrist and arm. Hales staggered.
The two discs collided into the tree at nearly the same time. The first disc had been set on a direct path straight toward the target tree. The second disc had been sent on a path that curved its flight enough to smash into the side of the tree.
“Excellent. Knowing your Aspect’s diversity will give you an edge in real combat. You can hit any target from multiple angles because you understand the physics of your solar disc attack.” Vandle was speaking with genuine interest. He couldn’t hide the excitement he felt. Training new Specters was his job, and secretly his passion. Hales could only try catching her breath, she stood hands on her knees gasping for air. Vandle continued.
“You also seem to possess an uncanny ability to read distances and gauge speeds. Find your strengths and build on them. As for your weaknesses, well, those we just have to train out.” Hales nodded in response, finally composing herself.
“What’s next?” Hales asked.
“Eat, hit the books, then more Aspect training.” Vandle listed.
Hales and Professor Vandle went back to their small camp spot they had spent the last two weeks training at. Vandle was skinning a rabbit and boiling water over a fire pit. Hales sat on a stump drinking deeply from a water bottle. She was bone-weary but elated at the progress she was starting to make. She knew the day was far from over but this was her life for the five month period the camp lasted for, which felt close to forever. She didn’t mind. There really was no stress other than the physical training. It was beautiful in the mountains, and Hales spent all her free time staring at different solar systems and all the unique planets that filled them.
Hales remembered two months before the bus ride when Talayia asked what Aspect she would like. Hales responded with something space themed. Her Solar Aspect was far better than anything she could have imagined. She had zero complaints, but it made her wonder just how much influence one could have on the type of Aspect one awakened .
Hales decided to ask Professor Vandle, “Hey, what decides the kind of Aspect you get?” Vandle looked up but continued to skin the rabbit.
“If you ever paid attention in class you might remember lesson four which covered that topic extensively.” Vandle berated.
“All I remember is no one really knows anything.” Hales shrugged, an entire quarter of classes shrugging off with her shoulders.
“There are theories, but in the end no one is sure,” Vandle agreed, and knowing he couldn’t change her, moved on. “Talis Ranis is our biggest source of information on the Aspect, but even he has only scratched the surface.”
“Hmmm,” Was all Hales could answer with. Professor Vandle finished skinning the rabbit. He tied its legs around a spit over the fire and began cooking it, he seasoned it with her herbs and salt.
“What you are really going to learn today are the classifications of different Aspects. Right now you are an Aspecter, but in more technical terms you are a Savant. Both describe someone that has awakened their Aspect.” Vandle turned the rabbit over and checked the meat. He continued talking after a brief pause.
“Specter is the common term, its simply an easier-to-say version of Aspecter. So a Specter can be anyone with an Aspect, but Savants are specifically for the first level of awakening. The level you are and I are at. The next level of awakening is the Master. Such as Master Klyle or Master Eberon.” Hales had heard that name before, Eberon. He was an old ruler of a neighboring city-state who had been assassinated a decade ago.
Odd to mention his name, but there are few Masters to use as examples, and Professor Vandle teaches a lot of history, Hales thought.
“Masters have complete control over their Aspects, often being able to merge and transform into or with their particular Aspect. The last is Fable. The obvious and only known example today being Talis Ranis himself. Fables are Aspect kinships, becoming one with the Aspect. Little is known of this level of awakening, only that you become considerably more powerful, even more so than going from an average person to a Specter.”
“Isn’t there one more awakening level?” Hales asked.
“According to mythology and folk tales there is a further level, referred to as Thaumaturge. Essentially you reach god-like levels of power and transform into something closer to a force of nature. There’s no evidence for this and Talis Ranis even said Fable was the final awakening and Thaumaturges from ancient cultures were simply really powerful Specters with ridiculous abilities.” Vandle removed the rabbit and began cutting small pieces of it into the bowl of water. He pulled other vegetables and herbs from his pack and began cutting chunks to add to the rabbit broth.
“Other than the levels of awakening, Specters are further divided by their class. These are more to help the Registry keep track of Specters and to give a more general sense to someone’s powers rather than a hard classification system. That being said there are five classes.”
“Firstly there are Mancers. Mancers influence and control forces, whether with different elements of nature or their own produced substance. For example, you Hales. You draw out planets and stars and then you can control them for different purposes.”
“So Mancers tend to be more ranged fighters?” Hales asked.
“Exactly. In general, Mancer’s are strong Specters with decent athletics and hand to hand skills. They rely mostly on their element and finding ways to use it diversely.” Hales nodded, it described her almost perfectly.
“Next are Sages. These Specters have intellect and mental based powers such as psychics or clairvoyants. They use powers that don’t usually have physical properties. Sage’s can be very dangerous and hard to spot.” Vandle had finished cooking the broth and poured a large portion into a bowl and handed it to Hales who gratefully accepted it. She began eating immediately despite the steaming heat.
“The most common Savant is the Augur. Augur’s are enhancers, usually providing physical boosts of some sort. They tend to be the front-line backbone of any squad.”
“Like Master Klyle.” Hales pointed out.
“Yes he is perhaps the strongest Augur in the world. I for one cannot imagine anyone being stronger than him.” Vandle began eating as well and paused his teaching to enjoy the meal.
They sat in silence as they finished the rabbit broth. Vandle worked to clean the bowls and utensils but resumed his lesson.
“Next up is the Coder. These Specters are the cheaters, wildcards if you will. They can bend the rules. Kind of like an Augur except Coders temporarily modify or change the world around, which may include themselves. Let’s say someone who can change the rules of gravity or the temperature or different elements of physics itself. Their use tends to be very broad but on their own they lack firepower. Coder Aspects are rather abstract so it can be difficult to comprehend. A good squad has one of these guys as support, which can really alter the course of a fight.”
“The last Savant classification is Color. Colors are the rarest Specter class. Their power is always a specific color and probably out of every class they have the most potential to become the strongest. That being said no Color has ever evolved to Master level. Colors tend to be hunted since their potential is feared universally.”
“So you are an Augur?” Hales asked Professor Vandle. He shook his head.
“Wrong, I’m a Mancer as well. It’s not fair since you haven’t really seen all I can do, but the demonstration will have to wait.” Hales pursed her lips and let her mind wander.
Vandle sensed her need to think and left the area.
Hales laid on the ground staring at the sky, she spent a moment meditating.
Vandle had taught her all about the connection to your Aspect. When you reach the mental state to activate your Aspect you then need to fortify your contact, usually by a hand gesture or phrase. The most common and effective method is to say the word of your Aspect, or a particular ability you have named, calling to it. Creating and reinforcing the brain’s pathway to using the Aspect is paramount for any Specter to activate their ability at a moment’s notice. Patience was indeed the key, hours upon hours of meditation not only preceding the awakening of an Aspect but also following it. Hales had a fairly strong connection, she would often use her Aspect just to watch the stars like her own personal planetarium. It helped clear her head. She gathered herself and activated her Aspect, calling out to it.
Her eyes changed from tawny brown orbs to spiraling galaxies. She drew out a single star. It was blue and spinning slowly over Hales’ head. She could grow the star making it larger and larger. It reached the size of her head twice over before she couldn’t increase it any more. She watched it for a short time, fascinated by solar flares and hot spots and the soft heat that emanated from the star. It was sad and alone in the air above her she decided. Drawing out asteroids she set their course to orbit around the star as a spinning ring. The asteroids were the size of pebbles. She drew out another asteroid and set its course directly into the star above. It had little momentum, melting into the star rather than causing any sort of implosion.
Hales drew out a gas planet next. She increased the size to about a fist and sent it straight into the star. This time flammable gases in the planet caught and the pressure from ignition triggered a fiery blast. Hales giggled at the sight, excited. It was entertaining and amazing to behold. Humans could only dream of seeing the celestial bodies of space up close, experimenting and observing the movements and interactions.
Hales began again her routine of brainstorming different ways of using her Aspect offensively and defensively. Her solar disc gave her a lot of range and versatility with angles of attack and variable speeds. Added to that as she grew stronger she could create larger solar systems and launch combinations of numerous discs and planets and stars and asteroids. Hales was beginning to really understand the emphasis on being clever and creative. Hales was anxious for her other classmates to awaken their Aspects, she wanted to test out different attacks and see their effectiveness, as well as comparing her own Aspect to other powers.
She could also launch large gas giants into stars triggering explosions like grenades or mines. Another possibility would be supernova’s used as flash bangs, blinding her opponents. Hales literally had a universe of options on how to use her powers. She smiled, lost in her reverie.
Hales added more planets and more stars to her tiny galaxy above her head. She had six stars rotating with two dozen planets orbiting them as well as hundreds of asteroids in a ring flowing around the outskirts. In all, her entire set spanned a few meters. She lay there relaxing, enjoying her cosmic show as she began to doze off.
“So Dartan explain how your Aspect works again?” Magun asked as the group was travelling through a trail back to the main campgrounds.
“I already told you I’m trying to figure that out. Essentially I can write out rules that effect either myself or the environment, or whatever.” Dartan tried to explain.
“Write where though?” Magun pressed.
“In the middle of the air with my finger,” Dartan said. Magun shook his head and responded.
“I can understand Jid’s power easier and he turns blue and see-through.” Jid raised an eyebrow at the remark.
“And then there’s Abagene who turns into a freak.” Magun said jokingly, and risked a glance her way. Abagene turned and punched him in the side. Magun grunted.
“You know you’re actually pretty strong.” Magun spoke through gritted teeth.
“Yeah, freaks tend to have superstrength.” Abagene said in the same sarcastic tone as Magun did.
The group of four were the next to awaken their Aspects, they had spent a half week with Klyle before being told to go see Professor Vandle to hone their powers.
“Can you get any more the soldier with your Tank Aspect?” Abagene asked, her turn to provoke Magun. Magun had short cropped hair and the only guy to stay clean shaven, he came from a long line of soldiers and it showed.
“Hey! Tank is awesome and you know it!” Magun made a fist and focused.
“Tank!” He called. His right fisted arm began to transform. His hand started to calcify first, into a thick muscly bone material which then grew into his upper arm and shoulder, and partly to his chest. His right arm was now twice the size of his left. Instead of a hand, his arm finished into a large open barrel. Magun hefted his cannon propping it under his left hand.
“You’re missing the treads and wheels and stuff,” Dartan teased.
Magun was about to say something back when he noticed a whirling stream of planets and stars, only they were miniature. Well miniature in comparison to actual stars and planets, these stars were only the size of children. It was quite the scene, with Hales laying under it all.
He didn’t notice she was asleep when he called out.
“Yo Hales, How’s it going?” Magun was practically shouting, he had a loud, projecting voice.
Hales was only napping so the sudden noise startled her awake. She turned to the group and without realizing it, launched her entire solar system at the group.
It was gaining speed fast, its momentum carrying it. There was no further time to react. Magun leveled his cannon, grabbed Dartan who hadn’t moved at all, and switched places with him, keeping Dartan behind him. Jid had called out, “Hunter” as the planets passed through his ethereal form. Abajem was nowhere to be seen.
Magun fired his cannon, exploding a line through the space rocks. More were orbiting toward him. He reloaded. It was an internal process. His cannon shots were made of the same bone-muscle material that composed his arm. The ammo drew from the mass of his cannon, reducing its size considerably.
Magun needed the extra shot as three stars were only a meter from engulfing him. He had no time to aim and just fired straight ahead. The bone-shot burst through the stars exploding them on impact. They were like mini supernovas, fire, rock, and wood projected into the clearing.
The dust began to settle, Magun and Dartan were somehow unscathed. Jid re-materialized. Hales was standing with a guilty look on her face.
“You startled me!” Hales felt bad and it was clearly an accident. Magun raised a hand up.
“Hey, no harm no foul.” Magun responded as the group approached the campfire.
Hales yelped, startled again. Abajem had snuck up behind Hales and hugged her. The yelp came from the fact that no one had seen Abagene move around the forest, on top of that she went behind Hales. Magun seemed surprised momentarily as he had been worried she got hit by Hales’ attack.
“Is that how you say hello!” Abagene mocked.
“No, it was an accident I didn’t realize I was controlling my stars.” Hales said apologetically. She also noted how her stars had grown far larger while she napped, despite the fact she was sleeping and her Aspect was off.
Magun had adrenaline pumping through him, he was hungry for more action.
“Hales, let’s duel!” He cut into the girls’ conversation, stepping toward them. Hales noticed he had crosshairs in his eyes, instead of irises and pupils.
“Did you four all awaken your Aspects?” Hales asked first, before answering Magun.
“Yup!” Abagene spoke for the group, the others nodded agreement.
“Just recently,” confirmed Jid.
“Okay, I’m game.” Hales was addressing Magun now, “I’ve had more experience with my power though.”
Magun moved back a few meters, creating space. The other three went off to the side to take cover.
“We’ll see.” Magun was confident. Dartan, Jid and Abagene were talking quietly, discussing the match-up.
This was the opportunity Hales was looking for, despite being drained from her earlier exercise she found herself waking up fast, re-energizing for the fight.
“What is your Aspect called?” Hales asked.
“Tank,” Magun replied. “Yours?”
“Solar.” Hales said, activating her Aspect.
“I could say the same to you.” Hales remarked, her eyes glowing with space and the lights that fill it.
“Ready?” Magun brandished his cannon arm. It had grown to the size of a tree trunk now.
“Ready.” Hales agreed.
Magun wasted no time firing his cannon directly at Hales. She dove out the way, expecting a quick shot right from the start. Her landing was hard but she recovered quickly and drew out a full solar system with a dozen planets and an asteroid belt. Magun was aiming another shot at Hales.
She started spinning her solar system over her fingertip. Magun fired his second shot aimed at her chest. Hales sent her solar disc to intercept the cannonball. The two projectiles collided, but Magun’s weapon shot through the system, its momentum and trajectory thrown off though, missing Hales by an arm’s length. The solar disc was mostly destroyed, Magun blocked the remaining planets and asteroids as they bounced harmlessly off of his bone cannon.
Hales was drawing out planets and stars, leaving them small and launching them at different angles in rapid succession, keeping Magun on his toes. His cannon arm was half its size and he was letting it grow back before firing again. A few marble sized planets found their mark but not doing enough damage to slow her brawny classmate down. Magun found relative cover behind a large tree. It was relative cover because asteroids were swinging around the tree to pelt him.
Magun noticed they were almost always hitting him, and if they missed they would wrap around hitting him on the second or third go. It seemed there was some sort of force that was attracting them to him.
Gravity, of course. Magun was beginning to see Hales’ strategy and how her power worked.
Time to go on the offensive.
Magun ran out firing a shot that tore through a long stream of asteroids, bits of rock exploding along the cannonballs path. Hales stood her ground as Magun charged. Not what Magun was expecting but he fired another shot, sticking to his offensive. Hales produced star after star in a defensive shield, it served another purpose other than taking the brunt of the smaller cannonball shots. Magun couldn’t quite see since light, fire and dust were creating a screen, but he knew his shots were missing their target.
Magun shouted as he fired three quick shots, each smaller than the last. One found its mark, tagging Hales in the shoulder. She grunted in pain. Magun closed the distance and jabbed Hales in the stomach with his barrel, she doubled over. The blow had less impact as his cannon was smaller than his left arm at this point.
Magun was about to send a hook with his left hand when a cluster of planets smashed into his back, staggering him.
Hales recovered, drawing out dozens of tiny stars. She was breathing hard, her stamina depleting. Magun stood straight, leveling his cannon right at Hales’ face, his cannon arm swelling up as it loaded another ball, preparing for a devastating point-blank shot but at the same time reducing itself to an emaciated arm. It would be his final shot.
As he was ready to fire Hales sent her stars straight into his cannon barrel.
They clogged the hole as Magun realized too late what she was doing. He fired despite himself and the explosion that followed blew half his arm off. He shouted in pain but shook it off after a moment.
The duel was over and Hales had won. She was horrified at the damage and rushed to his aide.
“I’m fine, this thing regrows within a day and it doesn’t actually hurt. I screamed out of surprise because I thought it would hurt. I forgot it doesn’t.” Magun took an exhausted seat.
“How do you know it grows back?” Hales asked taking a seat opposite him, equally as tired.
“The first day I used it I accidentally fired it while I was pointing at the ground and the shot bounced up, destroying my arm. Grew back by the end of the night,” Magun explained. The others approached the two.
Jid looked impressed. “That was a good fight.”
“You were awesome Hales!” Abagene praised.
“You alright tough guy?” Dartan asked jokingly but with genuine concern. Dartan and Magun had bonded a lot over the last couple weeks.
“Yeah I’m fine,” Magun turned back to Hales. “You had that planned the whole time didn’t you?”
“Pretty much, I figured in a ranged fight you’d have the edge, after I saw what you could do in our greeting, so I was working on harrying you until you were ready to charge out.” Hales explained, “Though you got me good, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off after you banged my shoulder and gut.”
“When did you set those planets that hit me in the back?” Magun asked, stretching his bruised back muscles.
“When you hid behind the tree, I launched a bunch to wrap around and hit you.”
“Your Aspect seems really useful, I’m guessing you have more tricks up your sleeve.”
“My main attack is using solar systems and spinning them until they’re discs and launching them at crazy angles. Only against you I didn’t have time to prepare anything since your cannons are so powerful.” Magun nodded and the conversation shifted to the other three. They spent some time chatting about their Aspects.
“So who else got their powers?” Hales asked after a pause in the conversation.
“When we left, Xander and Bria were the only other two to get ‘em,” Dartan said.
“They wanted to stay and do more training with Klyle,” Magun finished.
Hales was about to ask what powers they had when Professor Vandle returned.
“Testing out your Aspects I see?” Vandle said, his voice even.
“Yes sir.” Magun replied formally.
“Who won?” He asked.
“Hales did!” Abagene cut in. Professor Vandle nodded. These kids would grow fastest fighting each other, as long as nothing got too serious he would let duels like Hales’ and Magun’s slide and Yillo against whoever he fought for that matter. In some cases he would even encourage it. Magun suffered a blown off arm but he could tell it was already regrowing. His students were becoming deadly indeed.
“Well get ready because we have some training to do.” Vandle declared. The group nodded together.
Professor Vandle led them to a clearing and explained a lot of what Hales had already heard before. He asked one by one what Dartan, Jid, and Magun’s Aspects were.
“So Abagene, what’s yours?” Vandle asked the girl finally. Hales realized she didn’t know either, their chat earlier hadn’t revealed anything.
Abagene was talking excitedly, but in a cold sort of way, it chilled Hales to the bone because she could totally picture it.
“Oh it’s great, I ask an insect for help and together we bind ourselves into a cocoon, morphing into a super vicious killer freak!”