“A notable point to mention is this, never assume you know all of a Savant’s moves. Go into each fight with a clean slate of mind, even if you have faced that opponent in the past.
–The Dream and Dreamer authored by Talis Ranis.
Hales saw the visible relief in Emilo and Garriot’s eyes when the coin landed with heads faced up. Jonatan out of everyone in their squad looked the most sure of himself. Hales only knew Jonatan’s Aspect among that squad. And to tell the truth Hales thought that his Silence alone could be enough to beat Professor Vandle. He was that powerful.
The group relaxed, confident in their abilities and sure of their professor’s lack of them
Professor Vandle called for the ready up. Jonatan gave his response and the fight started with little hesitation. Vandle sprung into action, using Seeker and shooting off his light-beams. He had visual of his surroundings at all times, something imperative in a heavily uneven match such as this one.
Professor Vandle had an Aspect suited for a spy or a scout, not a combative power. That was the assumption of the Class of the Savant.
They learned the price to pay for underestimating their teacher. It happened within a few seconds of the fight, Veron was knocked unconscious just as she was beginning to draw her Jinx’s. A small rock rolled on the ground next to her head.
Professor Vandle had sent a stone through his Seeker light. No one had been able to react, the stone zooming through the path of the golden beam, emerging out the end, which positioned right next to her head. Hales remembered her conversation with the professor some weeks ago, he had told her he was a Mancer. Hales now understood why.
Jonatan, Benhan, Garriot and Emilo got more serious in an instant. They called on their Aspects. Hales heard the names all at once, she wasn’t sure who was associated with which Aspect however.
“Goblin!” “Steelskin!” “Lethargy!” Jonatan was waiting for the perfect moment to use his Silence.
Professor Vandle was slowly advancing. His Seeker zigzagged dozens of times over across the battleground. It was a like a vast web of golden light, only this web was moving and writhing at high speeds, constantly changing shape. Vandle was always moving his two Seeker beams which gave a dizzying and mesmerizing affect. Hales noted how distracting it was. An example of the clever application of an Aspect as opposed to a legitimate facet of that power. He kept his Seeker at eye level.
Vandle had all the vision he needed while reducing the vision of his opponents. Sticks and stones were constantly being fed into the Seeker beams, adding to the chaos and confusion.
A little green creature with an iron helmet appeared. Hales couldn’t make out what it was saying but she saw a round egg-shaped object appear in its hands.
It threw the object at Vandle, just as Jonatan was close enough to use his power.
The object and Vandle both slowed down to a near stop.
The scent of lemon thyme hung in the air, Hales could smell it from where she sat. Vandle’s beams of light were caught in the Silence field. Garriot, Emilo and Benhan circled around Jonatan’s power, standing behind Vandle only a meter away, careful not to be caught in the slowing field. The thing, Hales assumed to be the Goblin Aspect, was prancing around and making a throaty noise she assumed once more to be laughter.
Jonatan grabbed the egg object that Goblin had thrown, he hefted it in his hands. Jonatan was ready to humble his teacher. He stepped forward and placed the egg on the ground below the near motionless Professor Vandle.
“It’s a poison bomb.” Jonatan announced. For some reason his Silence Aspect muffled all noises, except for his own, which projects in a way that makes it sound as if he were talking behind your left ear. Hales shuddered from the creepiness.
Professor Vandle managed to finally raise his eyes upward. His beams were still connected to his eyes but Jonatan caught the movement and followed his gaze.
He looked in time to see a thin and long stick land on his forehead with very little momentum. The stick seemed to gracefully kiss his brow, and nothing more. The surprise was enough to shake Jonatan’s concentration and he dropped his Silence field.
Professor Vandle acted first, kicking up the poison bomb by scooping it under his foot. He launched it straight up to his Seeker and immediately it shot along the path at a blinding speed before detonating only heartbeats after, safely out of harm’s way.
Vandle in the same motion lunged forward, grabbing Jonatan’s wrist and twisting his whole body around it. Jonatan grimaced in pain as Vandle tackled him to the dirt, the pin threatened to break his arm in two places. Jonatan had no choice but to yield. He knew his professor wouldn’t have hesitated to break his arm if he hadn’t surrendered.
This fight wasn’t worth a broken arm is what Jonatan determined before cursing profanities.
Vandle knew from his Seeker that the last three opponents were rushing him, which is why one of his Seeker beams wrapped around the group a hundred times over, blocking their view. Emilo charged straight ahead anyways, only to find Vandle was gone. Emilo activated his Aspect, turning himself completely into steel, but immobilizing himself in the process. Emilo remained there, anticipating an ambush.
It never came.
Vandle was fighting in hand to hand combat with Garriot and Benhan. His skill in martial arts far outweighed both of his students combined. Perhaps not in raw talent, but with the use of his Aspect, Vandle could see from every angle and direction his opponent’s bodies. He could simultaneously read eye, hand, hip, feet, shoulder, and neck muscles as well as any twitch of the eyebrow, flow of blood in veins, the quickening of the pulse. Seeker allowed him to fight with full awareness of everything visual in the battlefield. His opponents were open books and he savagely beat them down. Benhan never had the chance to use his Aspect, and Goblin disappeared when Garriot received a punch that Hales swore was a rib cracking. She winced.
Emilo remained a statue, but his eyes were wrapped with Seeker beams. He had no way of knowing when to drop his Steelskin. Eventually he lowered it and took a deep breath. A drawback of his power was that he apparently couldn’t breathe during it’s use, Hales deduced.
At that same moment a rock clunked into his nose, causing it to bleed on impact. Professor Vandle touched Emilo’s shoulder from behind and he spun around, seeing his team out of the fight. He yielded, knowing with a busted breathing apparatus and his Aspect’s poor versatility that a fight with his teacher would end with a lot more hurting than just a nose.
He shook his head and pinched his nose, trying to stop the bleeding. Professor Vandle gathered that group and talked them through the fight, as well as giving advice. Hales stretched.
“I don’t get how he got out of Jonatan’s Silence.” Magun stated his confusion out loud. Hales was curious of the answer as well.
“That stick he launched through his Seeker, I think it was fast enough that the slow affect didn’t quite stop it from touching him. Maybe gravity still makes objects fall faster in that thing, even if its a slower fall than normal. Either way, we’re all new enough Specters that slight breaks in concentration can make us deactivate our powers. Professor Vandle took advantage of that.” Dartan hypothesized. Debate broke out and the topic shifted to Professor Vandle, who had turned a relatively weak seeming Aspect into a vicious tool. The training and hard work he put into his abilities were forged over a lifetime. Vandle exhibits the characteristics of someone that has learned from everything they ever encountered.
It was obvious for Hales to see that. She gained a new perspective as to why Professor Vandle was the primary teacher of her class. Who to train the deadly but the deadliest?
The third match was over.
The class met the next day under pouring rain. Pouring was perhaps an understatement, it was a torrential storm. Thunder boomed and lightning streaked across the sky. They had trained through most of the spring, though high in the mountains, the temperature was closer to a mild winter. The first of the summer rains had begun, and still the fourth match was about to start.
The coin flipped, revealing a tails.
Master Klyle’s turn.
He stood across, unphased by the storm, from his opponents on the muddy field. The five students at the ready were Aulus, Lo, Winnow, Xander and Bria. Winnow looked the most concerned out of them. The other four had determination written on their faces.
Hales assumed Winnow’s Aspect was affected by the rain. The pipe she always had with her was out of sight, unable to be used considering the extreme weather.
Klyle’s voice could still be heard through the thunder.
“You won’t always have the luxury of choosing the circumstances of a fight! Take this drizzle for example!” Hales decided to place a large star over her head in an attempt to umbrella some of the rain. It helped somewhat, the heat felt nice at least.
“Can you give me one of those?” Magun was shouting over the rain. Hales too embarrassed, sent a star over his head. She regretted even making the one star for herself. She felt like a wimp that couldn’t sit through the rain like everyone else, especially the five students who were about to fight in it.
Klyle continued speaking over the deafening rain, “Adapt your mind and change the way you use your powers! Ready?” The last word rumbled out as lightning shot over head. Thunder followed.
Aulus shouted back but the words were lost in the rain. His response was clear when the students sprung into action even before Aulus finished.
Xander and Bria took the front, sprinting ahead. Hales had seen them training on the logs for hours everyday. The twelfth challenge. Hales had completely forgotten about it as she had hardly finished the first one months ago. Walking one day along the river, Hales spotted Xander and Bria sparring with staves on the log bridge. An expert display of athleticism and martial skill. It turned out the twelfth challenge was a continuous practice that lasted indefinitely.
Hales was witnessing the results of all their log training.
Xander and Bria engaged Klyle in hand to hand combat. The unstable footing seemed not to exist with these fighters. Their movements were blurry and all Hales could see through the storm was the massive outline of Klyle’s frame as well as Xander’s gold glowing eyes. Ribbons were tossing and shooting in every direction, the result of Bria’s Aspect.
“Bria’s Aspect seems a little underwhelming.” Dartan had to raise his voice over the storm.
“Xander’s too!” Magun shouted.
“Xander’s Karma Aspect works subtly. He’s a Sage that can give himself good or bad luck.” Garriot overheard the conversation and explained their classmate’s Aspect since he had trained with him.
“Why would he ever give himself bad luck?” Magun asked.
“He has to maintain a balance, or something like that.” Garriot said unhelpfully.
“What about Bria?” Dartan was questioning Garriot now.
“She sheds ribbons from her skin.” Garriot kept everything simple, it was hard enough to hear.
The conversation died as the rain picked up in progressing waves.
Xander dodged a punch, and then another. Klyle was having trouble landing any hits on Xander. Xander’s eyes were still bright, his Aspect running strong. He was using his Good Karma to help his fighting, it was effective in that he hadn’t been knocked out yet. Bria had a fighting style more akin to a dancer or a gymnast. She would flow from dodge to kick to cartwheel, all the while spewing twirling streams of flowing silk and cloth ribbons. Some were long that stayed attached to her and some simply shot out. Each movement accented her power, a dozen ribbons shed from her skin every second. She was hard to hit or even see, akin to a wispy ghost in the rain.
Xander and Bria lacked firepower however. All they were doing was stalling for the heavy hitters to prepare their attacks.
Lo and Aulus crept up behind Xander and Bria.
“We’re ready, fall back!” Aulus was shouting. Hales noticed that Aulus was now a tall, black garbed warrior with two swords.
“I can hardly tell what’s happening.” Hales said frustrated. They already had to be farther away from the fight than normal, something to do with Lo’s ability apparently. The added rain and wind, and the natural shifting of the fight made it nearly impossible to see anything.
Hales could spot the occasional sparks, clangings of metal and claw, and then huge flashes of light, though this time it wasn’t from lightning. They were massive blue astral swords that swept over dozens of meters.
“Doesn’t look like Winnow can do anything.” Garriot pointed out. They could see the plumes of smoke and ash billowing around the dueling ground, but nothing significant stayed. Mother nature proved too powerful for Winnow’s Aspect.
The minutes passed by and yet the burly students fighting the Master were holding their own. No group had fought for as long as Aulus’ group. Especially not in a melee. Though no one watching could tell, they were hitting their limits. To the spectators, they were five silhouettes against one massive shadow.
“They’re beat.” Garriot pointed out again, “Xander’s luck as gone sour.” Hales looked for the golden eyed boy. All she saw was a glowing blue set of dots. A sign of his Bad Karma. Before long he was dropped and never got up again. Winnow was next to fall. Lo shortly after.
Klyle was sweeping the board. Punching and pouncing. Aulus was defeated too, but not before countering with a sword strike that sent a plume of blood spraying.
Bria was the last on her feet, but she raised her hands in surrender, exhaustion overwhelming her. That and the lack of an offensive power discouraged her from fighting someone twice her size any further.
The fourth fight was over, and the rain remained relentless, almost as if to say it was the true victor.
The class met in one of the barracks houses. Drying off and dining on a warm meal. Hales joined a table where Aulus and Lo were conversing about the fight with some of the other students. Winnow, she noticed, was not among them.
“You think you could have won if the weather was clear?” Magun asked with a mouthful of food.
“We were relying on Winnow to choke out the Master, giving us time to recover and prepare stronger attacks.” Aulus explained some of their strategy.
“Still, we got in good hits.” Lo spoke in his thick mountain accent, the consonances exaggerating.
“Winnow’s really beating herself up over it.” Xander noted the obvious.
“To answer your question Magun, no we wouldn’t have won but we could have done more damage.” Aulus said honestly.
Hales sat quietly, listening in and letting her mind wander as the debating became background ambiance.
Only one day left. Five months of mountain training, superpowers, and blood mixed with sweat. Have I changed at all? I have an Aspect, so that’s one change. I have more friends, even led a team at one point. They listened to my plans and carried them out, that was a pretty good feeling. But in real combat I couldn’t have deaths on my conscience like that.
It was getting late and the rain was reduced to a light drizzle. Everyone made their way back to their bunks. Hales laid in bed and created a miniature solar system. She kept all the planets and the single star in the center marble sized as she watched it orbit above her.
I never got to test my star shower out in combat. I think Klyle would have easily destroyed or dodged it. It could have been good against Professor Vandle to zone out an area, pin him down to allow for Magun to take shots. I want to think of more plans!
I could make a wall of planets or stars, kind of like Meanu’s Candle wall. That could be a defensive wall, since I can’t launch them after setting their orbits. I wonder if I can give a supply of stars to Magun to shoot from his cannon arm? That would allow him to use explosive rounds as well as saving his own ammunition. I’ll have to remember to ask Magun about that.
Hales daydreamed for hours, plotting and imagining. Before she knew it, dawn had arrived. She had burned through a dozen solar systems, the scaled down stars dying quickly.
Hales followed the students out to the clearing. The terrain was still muddy and the air hosted grey clouds. Hales got lost staring at the overcast sky, which was so much closer up in the mountains. It would be the last day she would be this near the clouds, she realized.
Someone said something, but Hales wasn’t sure if it was addressed to her or not. She shrugged anyways to be sure.
Hales was in a sleep-high state. She hadn’t slept at all through the night.
A group of students emerged from the forest. Looking ready to fight. She recognized them as Yillo, Talayia, Genjam, Antho, and Jid. Hales overheard someone say something about two of them having Color Aspects. The rarest classification for a Savant. She knew Talayia was a Mancer, Jid and Yillo were both Augurs. That meant Genjam and Antho had Colors.
Hales saw Professor Vandle step up. Not long after, the fighting began.
Hales thought that she was dreaming. Colors of all different kinds flashed on the battlefield. The Seeker beams zig-zagged. Genjam had some sort of blue and black swirling mass over his head. Antho produced a yellow aura around his hands, which left a trail in the shape of whatever they were in behind him. It was a trail of floating yellow. Yillo was turning red all over his body. His Aspect was not considered a Color, but it was still colorful and it added to the scene.
Talayia was shooting knives out. Cold steel with black handles flew in the air constantly.
If this was what Hales was seeing, she could only imagine what Jid must be seeing in his Hunter Aspect.
Hales was too tired to fully understand the fight, a lot happened really fast. The blue mass hovering over Genjam changed shape, forming into spears that he controlled and shot out from the swirling mass. It turned out Antho’s yellow was really like hardened steel. He was running around making a wall with his yellow trail.
Yillo was fighting in hand to hand combat, every time he punched or received hits, the red color would drain from his body, adding to his defense of offense. It would take a second for the redness to return to him. In those moments he was vulnerable. It was an all or nothing Aspect. Quick combinations would drain his Aspect leaving him vulnerable and without as much offensive power. He had to be careful to allow his Aspect to build up, giving him a deeper and brighter red.
Professor Vandle gave no such opportunity.
Despite all the projectiles and the sneak attacks from Jid, Vandle had complete dominance over the fight. His vision proved once again an effective tool.
Talayia’s Aspect backfired on her when Vandle caught one of her knives, sending it hilt first through a Seeker beam and clocking Genjam in the back of the head. The speed was far faster than when Talayia shot it. The end of the Seeker, where any object was launched out from, moved around from target to target. Vandle kept launching knives out, while dodging attacks from Antho, Yillo and Jid. He was multitasking with impossible timing and speed. Everything was exact and precise. Although Talayia stopped shooting knives out, there was enough for Vandle to kick up into his hand and send through his Seeker. His expertise in sleight of hand proving his strategy to learn various skills.
Professor Vandle set his Seeker to line up right around Antho’s yellow trails, making it hard to tell what was what. Yillo at one point had accidentally hit his hand on the steel. He had shattered that section of it but bruised his hand badly.
No one could lay a hand on Vandle. Hales didn’t realize when it occurred, as her mind had left her eyes, but the fight ended, leaving only Professor Vandle standing.
I guess Yillo didn’t even out his score with Professor Vandle like he wanted.
It took a few minutes for it to kick in, but the camp was essentially over. All twenty-five students had awakened their Aspects successfully, turning them into fully fledged Savants, or Specters.
Although no one had won their matches Master Klyle and Professor Vandle gave encouragement and pointed out effective tactics and strong moves.
Hales hadn’t been able to stay fully awake during it, so she missed almost all that they said.
As it turned out they were leaving the following morning, the rest of the day would be spent cleaning the campgrounds and preparing it for the next year’s group. Before boarding the bus home, Hales gave one last look at the mountain that transformed her to a weapon.
Her life had changed forever here, for better or worse…
Hales stepped out of the School building. It was mandatory for Specters to add themselves onto the Registry, an official third-party list that contained every known Specter, friend or enemy, in the form of dossier files with detailed profiles on individual Specters. Dossiers were open to the public domain all around the world and updated regularly by the technicians as new and relevant information was gathered on the Specters
Hales could finally go home for the first time in months. She said bye to her friends and parted ways from them back to her house.
It took a day, but a letter arrived labeled specifically to her. Neither her house address nor a return address were printed on it. It had been delivered by a specific carrier.
Hales opened the curious envelope and unfolded the document inside. There wasn’t a lot of text, the message clear.
Dear Hales Ailor, you are invited to join the Tournament.
A time and place was posted at the bottom.
“The Tournament” was two weeks away.
The end of Arc 1: Savant