Change is not real. What is real is the shedding of hypocritical membranes.
Forty-five seconds later Emilo lay unconscious on the ground, chunks of cracked stone broken on the ground in a trail that displayed the path his limp body took from General Garald’s mighty hammer to his indented humanoid shape on the soft ground. Garald walked back to the panel where the rest of the general-judges sat. Garald’s face was impressed.
“Pass.” He said in his chest deep voice. A few other generals nodded.
“His scores?” Another general inquired. General Vecar adjusted his glasses and flipped through a stack of pages.
“One thousand nine-hundred seventy out of two thousand.” Vecar said and looked at Garald.
“So pass. I want him in my Siege division,” declared Garald.
“Yes yes, of course you do.” Vecar waved the burly general away, “Let us move on to the next student. Who should it be?” He turned to the old one, Draje.
Draje scratched at his alabaster white beard and looked the lot of Specters up and down. He pointed a bony finger at one student, “Him.”
“Xander Tar please step up.” The loud speaker blared the voice of a judge.
“What a waste of Good Karma. They are going to regret this.” Xander said to himself and stepped forward shaking his head.
“Not worth your time?” General Draje asked shrewdly. Xander took a deep, chest filling breath.
“No, sir! It is not. It takes a lot of time and effort to build up my Aspect, to just throw it away for some show is meaningless. I signed up for the military not the play.” Xander finished with a crisp salute, meant as much for mockery as it did for respect.
Garald’s booming laughter only added to the growing tension. “You sure raised a cavalier bunch, Willem!” He said before chuckling again.
Professor Vandle turned beet red. Either from anger at his student or unease from the general’s remark. Typically one did not cross a General of Garghent, not if one enjoys the head to be attached to its shoulders.
“General Draje, take care of the pup if you will.” Vecar said, the boredom explicit in his voice. All too often had the scholarly strategist seen what became of the arrogant young soldiers, obsessed with their own strength and youth. Always they ended up the same way. Dead under a rock in the middle of nowhere.
Draje cracked his arthritic knuckles and pushed himself up with the support of his hands. “Teaching the newborn is ever the burden of the old.” He quoted.
Xander’s eyes shone golden. “It’s not worth it Xander!” Bria called out full of concern. However, her concern was for the old general.
Xander ignored her. If they wanted a show, they would pay the price. Draje took his steps slowly, a worn out walking stick assisting his leisurely pace.
“Karma form, Grand Awakening!” Xander exploded in a shower of light and gold glittering particles. The grass was smooshed around him in a large circle, as if blown by a powerful wind. The air was charged with energy so volatile that a mere spark might set off an explosion, that’s how it felt. This ‘Grand Awakening’ was far more powerful than his last one in the tournament a year ago. So much more saved up Karma. Karma that could be used saving lives in his squad.
What a disgrace.
“Sortilege.” the old general hackled. Nothing changed about his appearance, not even in the eyes.
Xander in his golden revelry hesitated. Draje shook his head and turned back to the panel of judges. “These kids haven’t the guts to stick with what they say.” Draje spat out something gross and brown.
Xander curbed his anger and cancelled his Aspect, to the surprise of everyone there. He dropped a few centimeters back to land, no longer levitating.
“I apologize, General Draje.” Xander bowed to his almost opponent, “and the other generals.” Xander bowed once more. “It is unacceptable behavior to threaten the life of a General. Fail me if you will, but I refuse to burn through my Karma to wound someone on the same side.”
Draje had little to say. He felt Xander’s raw power. It terrified him in a way not even time did. Not that he feared death, that would come no matter what, but something about the kid gave him chills that bit at his old bones. And what control! Holding back his bloodlust like that. Xander Tar, a name to remember.
Perhaps in his youth he could have taken the kid on…
“Very well if you will not participate then you fail,” said General Vecar sternly. On his way back Draje shook his head and hoarsely growled the words, “Pass him.”
Vecar’s eyes narrowed behind his glasses. He waited for his fellow general to elaborate.
“I’ll vouch for him.” Draje settling back in his seat, “If his scores permit a pass.”
“They do.” Vecar said without glancing at his papers. “I accept General Draje’s wise judgement. Moving on then.”
A silver haired general stood up. “All this excitement is making me itch for my own trial. I want to fight that one.” He pointed to none other than Yillo. “I like his expression.”
“Yillo Adealous, you have the ill luck of being tested by the silver duelist, General Anteran.” Vecar waved the general forward. Anteran was much younger than the other generals, perhaps in his early thirties. His suit was formal, with a cavalry cape and a ruffled collar. On his side hung an antique revolver inlaid with intricate silver patterns, on his other hip was a saber inlaid with matching silver lace around the hilt and sheath.
“Begin when you are ready.” Anteran said as he stood with both hands behind his back a few meters apart from Yillo.
“Paroxysm.” In the same proportion that Xander held back, Yillo did not. All fury and red skin. Yillo exploded off the ground and aimed a punch in midair. Anteran swayed to the side and Yillo sailed by. Anteran unholstered his pistol and fired at Yillo’s back. Yillo rolled head first in a dive and punched the ground as his momentum naturally lowered him to ground level. His fist exploded on the ground and propelled him out of the way of Anteran’s shot.
Orienting himself as he fell back to the turf, Yillo pounced again. Anteran ducked under the wild swing that followed and jabbed Yillo in the gut, draining his red as it absorbed the hit. The cold silver of the revolver touched Yillo’s throat at the same time before his red could return.
“Check.” Anteran declared. By then Yillo’s red returned far darker, but the implication was clear to them both. Anteran could have blown off Yillo’s head.
“Well you tried your best young student. Good luck next year.” Anteran reholstered his pistol and strode away. “Fail.” The silver duelist announced to the other judges.
“Like hell!” Yillo blurted, turning deep crimson and seering the grass around his feet.
“With all respect to my young hot-head, I bested you without the use of my power. It only follows that I could best you again, no matter how angry you get, with my power. The logic stands. Fail.”
For a quarter of a minute everyone watching, at least everyone that knew Yillo, thought that he would attack the whole panel of generals. He stood darkening with every passing second.
“This is what would happen my young rager, you would jump at me like before, speeding like a rocket, I imagine. And here where I stand I would unholster my pistol again, fire a shot that would negate your power and before you could regenerate it my sword would be pressed between your fourth and fifth ribs. You see? We would find ourselves in very much the same position as a moment ago. I’m not a man given to boring routines so let us spare the rest of these good generals their time.” He added, “you are far too predictable.” With that Anteran sat down and Vecar began searching through his papers, deciding on the next student to test.
Yillo finally cancelled his Aspect as guards started to approach him. He walked away, unconsolable to anyone.
“Damn, they do not play,” one student whispered.
“I can’t believe Yillo failed,” said another shaking his head.
Hales couldn’t believe it either. Recently, Yillo appeared more in control of things than ever before, finally a clear head and a straightforward goal. And now he faced a six-month setback.
“Magun Deavo, please step up and face your test.” A different judge from before. The general of the Heavy Weapons division, General Criue. The most veteran looking soldier that ever donned the warriors garment. That was General Criue, one could imagine his appearance without ever having seen him. And he was damn good at his job.
“Destroy this armored vehicle.” Criue said in his gruff war-aged voice.
“Aye.” Magun, ever the military dog, saluted formally. The armored car pulled up in a part of the field far from anyone. The driver swiftly left the premises.
“Tank!” The solid growth of bone and sinewy muscle replaced his right arm and half his chest. The transformation happened within heartbeats, a vital issue with his power being its slow reload or regrowth time, and something he worked incessantly on. The results of his training payed off.
Magun let his arm swell for a few more moments. He found he could focus all his energy on growing it faster. His cannon reached the maximum size obtainable, another thing he had worked on, though with far less progress. The size was still at a tree trunks circumference, a decent sized tree, at least compared to what a human arm should be.
Magun aimed the cannon and let loose a concrete bone-shot. It whizzed by the two dozen meters and crashed into the car. A loud clang and a dent was all that transpired. No real damage. The convex armor caused the cannonball to lose all its impact force. The bone-shot crumpled to pieces.
Before any judge could react or say anything, Magun fired another round. Only this time his cannon arm was shaped differently. Instead of a gaping barrel, his cannon was narrowed into a thin slit. His cannon regrew from his first shot. Already ready, Magun fired his javelin at the vehicle. This time the shot tore through the armor into the fuselage of the car. Although there was no explosion, the car was effectively wrecked as the engine leaked its gasoline.
“Versatility is good. What else can your Tank do?” Criue assessed immediately what he wanted from Magun and what his Aspect could be used for.
“I will need a series of targets to demonstrate on.” Ballistics tests catered to a man like Criue. Large weapons also catered to the general.
A few premade demolition shacks, simple plywood buildings made for testing guns, bombs and anything, were wheeled onto the field.
“Is this sufficient?” The general asked.
“Perfect.” Magun said grinning. Showing off his cannon’s capabilities was always a rush. The destructive power never got old.
“First is a shrapnel shot. I can crush a regular bone-ball into pieces and fire a shotgun blast.” Magun aimed and sent the bone pellets to riddle the wall. Every pellet left a hole and the wall barely stood. Magun fired another shot in quick succession from the first and the doorway was permanently opened.
“As you already saw cannonball and javelin shot types, I will skip over those. Next is machine gun.” Magun tightened his barrel to barely a finger’s width. His muscles tensed and he took a deep breath. To fire at an extremely rapid rate required his whole body to go rigid and slowly relax as he jerked his cannon arm in the process that was required for a regular shot. Rapid fire needed a series of intense jolts from fast twitch muscle fibers, constant squeezing and releasing of a muscle in a similar location as the tricep and bicep. This special muscle was unique to his cannon arm, and its development was integral for shooting and shaping his ammunition. The stronger the cannon muscle, the more firepower he had at his disposal.
His machine gun bullets were almost as deadly as his cannonball, size being the most obvious difference. The smaller shots used the same amount of propelling force. It was no easy attack to practice and develop.
Magun would sooner die than give up. The product of his machine gun shots, which were more like tiny cannonballs, reduced the shed to firewood and splintered sticks.
Criue had seen enough, “Pass!” he exclaimed in his gruff way.
“His scores qualify. Pass.” Vecar agreed.
The next student for the test was Bria. Her Ribbons failed to impress the generals, that is until none of the ten soldiers sent to fight her came out of her storm of silk. All had been apprehended, disarmed and tied up. One of the generals, a martial artist of great talent with thunderous eyebrows, announced his interest in the dancer for joining his Special Operations division.
Veron’s Jinx Aspect caught the interest of the general in charge of the Espionage division, a short haired woman with a refined and classy demeanor, a well regarded spy back in her day.
Bregan had a friendly duel with Draje, as both had Aspects considered to be more on the ‘magical’ side. Bregan synthesized grass and a bullet shell casing. So advanced with his power, he could now combine not only the element of a raw material, but also the potential use of that material. A year ago in the tournament he unknowingly touched upon this feature of his Synthesis when he used blood and hair to create bloody, viny tentacles. Only he didn’t realize the possibilities until almost a year later.
Bregan combined grass and brass, which allowed him to shoot strange metallic seeds that would sprout from the ground after a few seconds. Once the seeds cultivate and flower, the buds can then be directed to shoot brass bullets. This unique use of his power on top of the normal elemental combination of streams, balls, bursts and geysers that he employed gave Bregan a seriously useful weapon set. An almost entirely offensive Savant.
Bregan was compared to a sorcerer by his peers and teachers alike. Draje had been nicknamed the Wizard of Garghent, due mainly to his Sortilege Aspect. The two hit it off like a master and apprentice. Bregan had to be good as a candidate for captain school. He proved his worth.
Hijo the Wild, or Hijo the Beast as he was sometimes called went next. General Yivel, rugged looking man with a deep scar that ran from cheek to forehead, dueled the Wild for almost half an hour, pushing Hijo to transform to his deer-wolf form, even to the point that a sword emerged from his spine. The scarred general was in the Odd division, a small branch of the military that dealt with more… abnormal matters. The duel eventually ended with a conversation in a strange language and Hijo laughing in something closer to a guttural bark. No one questioned what took place. They simply moved to the next student.
Meanu with her Candle Aspect found herself being tested by the same judge who tested Magun, General Criue. Apparently he saw the capacity for demolition in her motionless candle flames that could burn through most anything. Meanu honed her sleight of hand skills, being able to deploy hundreds of tiny green flames all around her in mere moments. Her flames were hot enough to melt bullets if they entered in the flame. Her biggest enhancement had been being able to light candle flame up to a meter away from her actual hand. Though the concentration and length of time to actually light a single candle flame at such a short distance left much to be desired. Still, Criue passed her, saying he could “work with that.”
Jid in his Hunter state impressed a muscular general with dreadlocked hair. She was in the Vanguard division of the military and thought Jid would be best used in preemptive operations and strategic dragonnades. His near perfect test scores gave him an easy pass.
Hido’s Guardian was greatly sought after by multiple generals. Aspects that involve defense, healing or protection for people other than the user is rare. Hido easily passed, she even caught the eye of the martial artist general as her hand to hand combat surpassed most of her class.
Jillian’s Alacrity garnered favor from the two identical twin generals, leaders of the Defense division of the military. An army that never tires is crucial for a city to defend from a drawn out war.
Genjam of course passed, as another in the captain school he had far more pressure than his peers. His Aspect being a Color almost made him pass alone. Only missing one question in the exam also could have warranted a pass in and of itself. However, what really impressed the judges was his newest ability, Cerulean Knight. Genjam could encase his Chaos Blue around his body. Giving him a sturdy, full suit of body armor, strong enough to deflect bullets and swords. His weapon being a lance in one hand and a shield in the other.
General Vecar, who clearly was bored by the whole affair, finally met a student ‘worthy’ of his intellect. That student was Dartan Banister, the Rule Aspecter.
The two engaged in a series of mathematical debates. Discussing physics and trigonometry and the new and latest theories and breakthroughs. Dartan spent a good deal of time explaining his Aspect, which Vecar offered insights and suggestions for. Needless to say, Dartan’s perfect test score procured him a resolute pass in the exam.
Talayia Rin was called next. It was the last name that had heads turning and whispering among the panel of generals. Whispering about her brother no doubt. The reaction was either one of total respect or repressed fear, it was hard to tell which. Getting a reaction out of every judge proved to be the most difficult task. Her surname alone did just that.
“We have high hopes for you, Talayia.” One general said. Their excitement was contagious to the other soldiers, guards and spectating media. Everyone expected something crazy to go down.
“Stiletto.” Talayia said proudly, now was her time to show off her skills. She had the slowest start of any Specter, but perhaps the most intense drive to succeed and develop. Talayia now was levels beyond where she was a year ago at the tournament.
The tips of knives stuck out of her body like a porcupine, so covered in sharpened steel that she appeared to wear a cloak of needle-like blades.
“Stiletto Silhouette,” Her face was hidden behind the blades which didn’t damage her despite coming out of vital organs and veins. Talayia was menacing in her jagged mantle, tall and confident she stood, and proceeding her was an older brother’s reputation whom Garghent’s top generals remained weary of, even if it only was the sound of his last name. Who would want to be the one accountable for hurting his baby sister?
Talayia didn’t say a word. Sounding like any other person would break the tension. A few glances were exchanged between generals. Who wants to duel her? Should we send foot soldiers? Is Gavin Rin here? No one needed to say their thoughts out loud, they all shared the same ones. Vecar found himself with beads of sweating racing across his brow and down his neck.
A flashing grin broke the macabre air. The silver duelist rose to his feet, hair flopping from the sudden movement.
“I could never turn an opportunity such as this down.” Anteran said with a bow to Talayia. She nodded curtly.
“Electrum.” Anteran activated his Aspect. The brooding Yillo darkened from his place on the bleachers as Anteran didn’t even consider using his Aspect against him. The message clear and insulting to the upset student.
“He’s a Color Specter. Electrum is a gold-silver alloy.” Whispered Dartan to the students around him.
When Anteran drew his sword and pistol, Talayia made her first move. Like a phantom she ghosted across the field, the setting sun casting curious shadows and light glinting abnormally off jutting blades peeking their honed tips from her lean body. Anteran stood on the opposite side, a silver saint standing stalwart against the dark wraith.
Talayia launched knives from her skin, new ones replacing each empty space. Anteran deflected each soaring blade with his silver saber, the ‘ting’ sound like music in the dusk.
Anteran fired his pistol, clicked the hammer back with his thumb and fired again. Talayia threw out a special black knife, different from the other steel knives. Talayia disappeared and reappeared to the black knife’s position meters away, clearing the gunshot’s path. Anteran once more had to deflect another volley of speeding daggers. All of which he did easily. Talayia’s black knife was almost impossible to see amidst the flurry of other knives and the poor lighting of the orange sky.
Talayia moved to different angles, launching knives before and after teleporting locations, keeping a constant stream of projectiles rushing at Anteran, who seemed unperturbed by the whole fight. His attitude toward Talayia could be taken as arrogant or flippant but he was being cautious, feeling out his opponent before committing to an offensive.
Talayia needed to end the duel fast, showing the generals she was brutal and efficient. She tossed her black knife up, letting it rotate around its hilt. Keeping it hidden behind a relentless stiletto attack, she waited for the black knife to hit the crest of its trajectory, hilt pointing up and blade facing the ground, before teleporting to its location.
In mid air and falling head first she launched another volley at Anteran. Along with this volley she flicked her wrist, sending the black blade to sail over Anteran’s head.
When the knife passed him, Talayia once more teleported, before ever touching grass, to the black stiletto on the other side of the calm silver-clad general. He swiveled around and fired his pistol. Talayia was already on the move, reappearing meters to the side. The set up was finally complete. From a dagger launched at a previous location and one that was purposefully ‘off’ its mark, too minute to be perceived as purposeful, Talayia threw the black dagger to deflect its course, causing the stray knife to change directions back toward Anteran from his blindside. This knife, plus the normal flurry of knives from her still airborne spiky body acted as a pincer attack, blitzing knives from two sides. Talayia, already in a third position from either of the other two knife attacks, launched yet another volley, these ones coming out of her legs and stomach.
Her technique of bouncing knives and never staying still and being like a ghost of flying daggers finally overwhelmed Anteran, who blocked or dodged everything, save for a single spinning knife that landed hilt first on his chest. The deflected knife. A contrasting simulacrum to Anteran’s own method of defeating Yillo, with an implied mortal wound. She effectively avenged her fellow student.
Talayia at last touched the ground for the first time since going airborne. Anteran bowed, not saying anything nor even blushing. Perhaps he held back? There didn’t appear to be any use of his power after all. Talayia left no opportunity to do anything. Anteran merely acted as a test dummy, too anxious to fight back considering her brother. He fought diplomatically, neither wanting to embarrass the sister of Gavin nor slipping up and losing his own life. The subtle debates rang in everyone’s mind. One matter was agreed upon; Talayia is scary.
An easy and unanimous pass.
Benhan had an interesting exam. There was no use of his Aspect, he merely talked quietly with the panel of judges and after a few minutes it was concluded that he passed. Hales realized she had never seen Benhan’s power in action. Looking back he never used it on the mountain, and he refused to join the tournament, and during this senior year of school, she had been too busy to pay attention. He just went unnoticed is all. She knew his Aspect was called Lethargy but beyond that she had no clue as to its use and efficacy…
Uana made quite the impression during her exam, creating an entire blizzard that froze a lot of equipment, including the speaker system the generals used. Guns were jammed and vehicles wouldn’t start. On top of that she wiped out a few practice sheds of her own with a barrage of icicles. She even encased one car in a block of ice. Her performance justified her acceptance of captain rank in the judge’s eyes. Another pass.
Abajem was next. Fifteen minutes into her Metamorphose cocoon and the generals lost their patience. One ordered a soldier to ‘fire some rounds into the damn thing!’ Shortly after Abajem ripped through the impervious cocoon from the inside. A note on the sharpness of her serrated front legs where not even bullets penetrated. Her mantis body twitched, picking up on the scent of gunpowder and the trail it led to. A pompous soldier with a cruel presence. Abajem flew to him and towered over his spiteful frame. The soldier cursed and muttered something about bug spray.
His head bounced and rolled a few centimeters away on the ground. Abajem’s bladed leg struck and returned in a blur to its prayer posture before the man’s head even registered the decapitation.
“Odd division, please take her immediately.” General Vecar said, giving an irked glance to the scarred general. Vecar was done for the day and riffled his papers as he started talking to an aid.
Abajem was led away by a group of soldiers and the scarred General Yivel. He did grim work, but he was repressing anticipation as he administered some more tests of his own off the record with the mantis girl. Mainly getting a feel for her speed and durability, having already witnessed the killing power.
“Well, this concludes the examination process, congratulations on your hard work. We will see you again at the induction ceremony.” With that the generals all began standing up, ready to go about the rest of their evening.
“You never tested me!” Hales called out, in a voice embarrassingly weak. She cleared her throat and remembered who she was.
“Some military, can’t even keep track of a few students.” Hales’ temper flared, always in some way people had to screw her over. The short end of the stick. Was it not enough that she was dedicating her life to their cause and wars? They didn’t even have the decency to be thorough! Hales snapped from the excruciatingly long day, her patience at its end for this twenty-four hour period.
General Vecar stiffened before taking on a menacing expression. Pointing out an error in the highest ranking general in all of Garghent was not a smart idea. “Kill her,” he ordered to one of his aides.
The man hesitated but pulled out his pistol, checked its load and cocked the gun. By the time he aimed, only a couple seconds at most, he found himself staring into a whirling mass of objects that belonged outside of the atmosphere and far away.
“Gravity Field!” Hales screamed. The soldier fired, as per his orders. The bullet was lost somewhere in the hundreds of planets and stars orbiting around Hales at breakneck speeds. A veritable bubble of gravity surrounded the Solar Specter. A few other shots fired, probably from curious soldiers, and much to the same effect as the first shot.
Nothing entered the field but a slew of asteroids left it. From an opening two meters above her head, Hales launched hundreds of asteroids at attacking soldiers, the rocks relentless in pursuing their gravitational pull. Soldiers and guards were being pelted, though nothing meant to seriously injure. However they reacted by firing more bullets into the fray. Hales walked slowly toward the generals, some of whom were amused by the whole situation. Vecar was fuming. Cull Marcarios approached the general.
“You ought to pass her. She’d kill us all if she wanted.”
General Vecar rubbed tired eyes, revealing welts from where his glasses were pressed too deeply on his nose, “Is she that strong?”
“She probably doesn’t even know it herself. If you want to find out we can certainly throw everything at her.” Marcarios offered.
“Saying a single student could beat the twelve Generals of Garghent could warrant an investigation into your psyche, you’d lose your rank and standing, Cull Marcarios.”
“Even so,” he said, spreading his arms to indicate the advancing Hales, still knocking out shooting soldiers, her field getting ever closer to the generals.
“You tempt the generals with the prospect of a worthy adversary.” Added in General Draje, smirking his wrinkled skin. “How could we miss a fight like this?”
“If you would like to see Garghent’s military reduced to shambles by a girl throwing a temper tantrum then by all means.” Marcarios thought for a second before finishing the thought, “I for one do not relish the thought of explaining the leftover mess to Janiform Gemma.”
General Vecar gave a sigh. “She better prove valuable.”
“I think she already did…” General Garald said with deep respect, pointing to a floating Hales.
One of the core principles that Talis Ranis outlines in his book was this idea that any power had the capacity to be used and manipulated in such a way that flight be obtainable. That the mark of a brilliant Specter was this principle being achieved. In contemporary use, Specters typically associate this principle with being clever and diverse in one’s use of their Aspect. Actual flight being an unimaginable consequence for most powers…
Hales levitated from her gravity field, her eyes alight with a galaxy of potential arsenal.
“Pass.” General Vecar whispered, only echoing a consensus of thoughts.