Book one: The Seat of Power
Humans really are the worst.
A fact about life that Deo had known all too well growing up as a kid. Even as a young man he still held firm to his childish views of the world. The simplest ideals were often the most honest ones. Honest with whom though? Others perhaps, but the self definitely.
Deo could be found sitting at the edge of the park, a bed of flowers in front of him. A bright sunny day, the noise of dogs barking and kids squealing filled the green and brown landscape. The playing added atmosphere if nothing else. People were “over there,” as in not near Deo. People were always over there, or rather it was Deo who was always over there away from people. He didn’t mind the kids running around or the parents talking to each other in that show of camaraderie the way that everyone seems to do. There was nothing inherently wrong with humans, for the majority they looked after their own interests as any other species did. They, however, did seem to possess the uncanny predisposition to cruelty. A vindictive creature.
Deo did not mind the kids playing or the parents making idle chatter, he just didn’t want anything to do with them.
His mind had wandered far. Odd how one could completely space out while staring at an object directly in front. The ‘object’ was a gold-orange tulip, or rather was. Dying. Browning and greying the flower was withering before Deo’s eyes.
Not long left he thought. There were a few dozen other flowers in the bed, all various other colors and shades of yellows, golds, pinks and reds. This would be the first to die. Overall it was a healthy bed, yet this flower had not been able to overcome the hardships of survival. As mild as this winter had been it was weakened enough that it now limped almost to the ground. Winter was mild but challenges existed still. Perhaps it was too dry a winter.
Whatever had happened, it would be over soon. The sun had passed its zenith hours before and now on its way to setting. Deo focused on the dying flower in front of him.
Just a moment left.
He could feel its passing, the end of a life.
He reached out his hand and gripped the flower head, making a fist. He squeezed with enough force to crush the dried flower. Yet there was no crunching sound, no sensation of breaking. He felt energy course through his body into his fist. He could feel the energy condensing, coalescing into the dead tulip. His hand began to tremble and he increased his grip, squeezing even harder. All light seemed to fade from the park, as if it were being drawn into that very spot of Deo’s fist. The park was bathed in twilight.
In almost the same instance light returned and everything went back to normal. The dogs had stopped barking and the kids playing froze in fear at the sudden phenomena. A few seconds of eerie silence followed before one parent laughed it off and went to explaining that a cloud must have moved in front of the sun.
This of course didn’t make sense but it seemed to satisfy both kids and parents alike and life resumed in the park as dogs went back to their running and panting.
Deo was undisturbed, no one had given a second thought to the boy sitting by the flowers at the edge of the park.
Deo released his hold on the dead flower at last, and sat back.
Only it wasn’t dead. There was an unnatural stillness to the flower. Sure, plants generally don’t move but this was different. It was alive yet lifeless. The color had changed too. The once-tulip was now a grayish blue. It had a certain beauty to it, perhaps not in the presence of the other flowers. The contrast was too stark. But more of a haunting beauty. It was a dreadflower and Deo sat admiring.
“Welcome back to the living.” He spoke softly to the flower.
No response. He sat in peace and silence for a good deal of time before deciding to leave his pseudo abode. He plucked the flower from its roots and added it to his bundle, sliding the stem in its place securely. He stood slowly, his legs were stiff from sitting for the last few hours and there was a dull pain as blood flowed back into his feet. The temperature had dropped considerably. He pulled his hoodie over his head and kept his eyes lowered, casting his face in shadows. The sun was orange yet it was illuminating the sky in brilliant shades of red. Deo made his way across the park keeping to a path on the outskirts. He had no desire to come into contact with the few remaining people milling about.
No, no one had noticed the young man, all alone, tending to the tulips at the edge of the park. The quiet boy with his dark complexion and eyes the color of the deepest violet that gleamed unnaturally in the moonlight as he walked through the city.
A flower which had been dead but now was not. Even if an onlooker had observed the phenomena he would incorrectly exclaim “A miracle, that boy just resurrected a flower!” No not a miracle and no life was restored, yet dead does not describe the flower correctly either. So then what state could this not-flower be? If a third state of being could be indulged than perhaps all will be made clear. Alive yet entirely not alive. That flower is undead. And that lonely boy named Deo has the Aspect of Death, and the path he is on will lead the world to ruin.
“Abilities to transform and enhance, to bend and break the rules of existence- the Aspect.
A deep seated power that lies dormant within all humans. The Aspect manifests itself uniquely in each individual able to draw it forth. Only through intense physical and mental training can one awaken this power. The scope and scale of which seems to be endless.”
–The Dream and Dreamer authored by Talis Ranis.
The alarm clock surged to life, screaming its morning call.
Hales groaned as she swung an arm wildly to stop the alarm clock, missing the first press but ending the noise on the second. It was already six in the morning. She had only been asleep for a handful of hours.
Today would be the start of the rest of her life… And she couldn’t even get a good night’s rest. Taking care of three younger siblings was a nightmare. Always someone unhappy or crying or hungry or jumping around or hungry again and usually all at once. Times that by three. Hales couldn’t really blame them though. Even after getting them to sleep by midnight she ended up laying in bed, her mind wandering endlessly until exhaustion finally knocked her out.
A bad habit, to be daydreaming when she should be regular dreaming, sleep-dreaming.
Only half awake she began dressing and packing. Throwing clothes and a blanket into a shoulder bag. This was all they were told to bring. Some change of clothes and a blanket. Everything else would be provided. Which probably would amount to almost nothing. No point in eating, lack of sleep always seems to kill the appetite. She’d regret it later but, oh well. Phones had to be left behind as well as any other electronic devices. Not that she had much of anything anyways.
What else to do? The kids would sleep in today, father would be returning from his business trip later in the day. She was worried to leave him with the kids for the greater part of five months, he wasn’t always there mentally. Hales knew she couldn’t do anything and worrying wouldn’t change a thing.
Hales made her way to the bathroom to wash her face. Her reflection looked back at her. Tawny eyes, and light brown hair cut down to her chin. She had a few bangs that extended as far as her nose, which was maybe a touch too small. Her face was slightly rounded, ears hidden behind her hair.
She sighed. The bags under her eyes were growing ever darker, lines around her nose getting deeper and deeper set. Not so noticeable, but noticeable enough for Hales. She didn’t see herself as unattractive, but she knew insomniacs only got worse looking as they aged. And they aged fast.
She ran a hand through her hair, it was rough looking and showed obvious signs of bedhead. With no time to shower so instead she threw a hat on as she made her way out the front door, shutting it quietly and locking it.
It was dark and chilly outside, the sun barely starting to crest the horizon. She hid her hands in her sweater, which was purposefully a couple sizes too large. She had a few blocks to walk before reaching the school, no point in taking the bus as it was a relatively short walk.
“Hales!” That would be Talayia, a ball of endless energy. Talayia ran out of her apartment shutting the door loud enough to wake the dead. Hales cringed at the noise.
“Heya,” Hales turning as she spoke in monotone. Talayia faked a hug and punched Hales’ shoulder instead. Grinning the entire time. Hales shook her head and started walking, rubbing the punched shoulder. Not that it hurt, but she was tired enough where any form of stimulation was painful.
“Sooo, you excited or what!” Talayia was practically jumping as she spoke.
“Mmmm yea.” Hales was distracted trying to blink grit out of her eyes.
“What kind of Aspect do you want?” Talayia clearly ignoring the exasperation in Hales.
“Does it matter? There’s no way to decide what kind of powers you get.”
“Oh come on!” After a second’s pause Talayia added, “Some people say your subconscious can affect what Aspect you get.”
“Hmmm,” Hales hadn’t heard that before. “In that case I want something to do with space or stars, that’d be sweet.”
“Do I sense some excitement in you for once?” Talayia asked wickedly, smirking the while.
For once? Hales just shook her head. “What about you?”
“I’m going to be an assassin, thinkin’ invisibility or some type of danger sense would be ideal.”
“Because of your brother?”
“Because of my Brother,” Talayia agreed.
Silence lingered for a minute as the two girls walked side by side. Talayia was a few inches above Hales and was more athletically built. Talayia’s hair was long and curly and she was wearing running pants and a light jacket. Her pack slung over one shoulder.
Their school was in site. A charter bus was parked in a lot near the entrance of the school. The gate surrounding the property was open, a line of students shuffling in, passing through the security checkpoint. A sign written on one of the walls marked the building.
Garghent Elite Military Cadet High School for the Savant.
A bit of a mouthful, thought Hales, but this was the top school in the entire metropolis of Garghent. She and Talayia had been students there for the last two and a half years. They were midway through their junior year. In a brutal school where students are expected to maintain above a ninety percent academic score and complete monthly fitness tests, they were about to face their most trying challenges yet.
Hales flashed her school’s ID at the checkpoint officer. He gave a courtesy solute with an added “Good luck.” Hales nodded in response and continued. Talayia behind her was making conversation with the officer, which held up the line briefly. Hales entered the building and made her way down the hall to her homeroom.
Over half her class already settled, making conversations. Only cursory glances were made her way as she entered and found her seat. She wasn’t unpopular but she tended to isolate herself, minding her own business. Hales sat staring off in space, daydreaming. At some point the class had filled up and the homeroom teacher, Professor Vandle had arrived. He said a few words and began the routine roll call. She paused her thoughts briefly since she would be one of the first to be called.
“Yillo Adealous.” Professor Vandle’s voice called out, not booming, but still strong. Yillo responded with a quiet “Here.”
“Hales Ailor.” Hales simply raised a couple of fingers in acknowledgment. Professor Vandle was clearly peeved by the lack of a verbal response but continued with the roll anyways. Hales would get berated later no doubt. She was too tired to care.
More names were being called out but she tuned out the words. Hales busied herself with trying to remember a dream she had a few nights before. It randomly came back to her, but not enough to recall what the dream was, just that she had a dream.
Something about there being two suns in the sky, one was blue and the other was a yellow-gold. I was walking over a hill, only it wasn’t me me, it was some other me. Future me? I’m not the type to think dreams can tell the future though.
“Here.” A rather loud reply had interrupted her thoughts. That would be Hijo, he tended to not realize the strength of his own voice, at least that’s how it sounded.
Back to the dream. Walking under two suns on a hill, with some… friends? Abajem was there, odd to dream about people you know.
“Abagene Jem.” Her name was called out near the same time Hales had been thinking of her. Abajem was what Hales called her. The voice that called back was tiny and shy sounding.
Weird coincidence. Maybe I did dream about the future! I’ll ask Abajem if she had the same dream later.
Satisfied, she committed the dream to memory. She pulled out a notebook and a pencil from her desk and began doodling absently.
On to the next problem. The Dyson Sphere. Can it be done? Not anytime in the near future no doubt. Hales drew a circle and labeled it star, drew another circle and labeled it dyson sphere. Our sun is roughly 825,000 kilometers rounded down. We would need to make the sphere slightly bigger so it doesn’t melt straight away. She wrote down some numbers. We obviously wouldn’t be able to mine our own planet for the resources, neighboring planets would still not amount to enough mass for a project of that scale. Even if we could use one-hundred percent of the material of every planet on the sphere, the sun is just too huge. What about the asteroid belt? Possible solution there. Need to read up more on how much metals are there. Hales made more notes.
Professor Vandle had long since finished roll call and was making a speech on the upcoming trip and what the next five months would be like. The entire class would awaken their Aspects, or at least try to. Hales had been hearing this for the last few weeks. She was somewhat excited and more than a little anxious. Being in a remote location for five months would make anyone nervous. Nevertheless she returned to her thinking.
And another huge obstacle that is we couldn’t even use our own sun. A Dyson Sphere would effectively kill off an entire solar system. Using the sun’s energy when and how you want at the cost of its sunlight and heat. We’d kill our own planet if we did that to our sun. So finding another star is the obvious solution. Except just reaching another system would require immense energy. Or use the Dyson Sphere to power a synthetic sun but then what’s the point of even doing the whole thing. It was a bit of a conundrum. What if we make a partial Dyson Sphere, a half or quarter of the sun and opposite to our planet. Could work.
Hales wrote a note: check sci-mags on dyson sphere, space travel, ast. Belts. + check store for new mags.
A tap on her shoulder disrupted her writing.
“What are you doing!” It was Talayia.
“Lost in thought.” Hales said, tapping her pencil on her notebook.
“You know we’re leaving, right?”
“Oh. Hadn’t noticed.” It was true, students were filing out of the classroom. It had almost emptied.
“You daydream too much,” Talayia teased. Hales slid her notebook into her desk, and grabbed her bag as she stood.
“Thanks,” She spoke neutrally. It sounded like she couldn’t decide on a sarcastic approach for Talayia’s comment, or a serious thanks for the heads up. Talayia just laughed at the awkwardness and followed behind Hales out the class.
The two girls reached the charter bus last. Walking up the steps, she noticed that a majority of the class were all in the back with a few students here and there towards the front. Hales found a section with both seats empty and slumped down, Abajem was in the same row opposite her. The girl gave a slight nod and Hales nodded back. Talayia smiled as she passed Hales and walked to the back excitedly, striking a conversation before she even sat down. Talayia was such an outgoing person, always needing some sort of interaction. They were friends sure, but Talayia was friends with everyone and would choose whoever offered the most entertainment in the moment. Hales at least was grateful.
The bus driver on the com system started speaking. “Now that everyone is on board we can get going. The drive is a good seven to eight hours, we don’t plan on stopping. There are bathrooms in the back of the bus and we have water and snacks in the front. Please clean up any messes you make. Thank you.”
On that note the bus started to lurch forward. There were a few security guards on board as well as Professor Vandle sitting towards the front. The bus was fairly loud with chatter but not obnoxiously so. Hales wedged her bag into a corner around the window and the edge of her seat and rested her head on the makeshift pillow. It wasn’t the most comfortable position but at least the seats were cushioned. Hales dozed off before too long.
Hales woke and napped a few times before finally being too awake to sleep again. She looked out the window, the sun hung high in the sky, getting close to its peak. It was probably around eleven or twelve. She had slept on and off for three-ish hours. She felt a little less fatigued then she had in the morning. Most of that could easily have been the natural progression of the day. The more time spent awake the less tired one felt, up to a point, usually when the sun was close to setting. That seemed to be Hales’ experience on the matter anyways.
The route they were on would take them out of Garghent City. Other than it being remote, she and her class were left in the dark as to their actual destination. The Camp of Awakening. The purpose of which is to “awaken” their individual Aspects. Superpowers in a sense. Not exactly like in the movies and comics but pretty darn close. Since the school’s conception only six years ago the Camp produced almost a full hundred Aspecters, or Specters as they are more commonly called, which is no small amount. This year’s Camp promises to have a perfect success rate. A full twenty-five out of twenty-five students are to gain abilities and then join the military. They were being trained as weapons, some of the smartest and most athletic kids in the entire city. Students had to be in the top fifth percentile just to apply to the school. Of the thousands of applications the school received each year only a small percentage even got a chance to attempt the entrance test. There was no student cap, classes were merely as large a number of kids that could pass the test.
Hales had to awaken her Aspect. It was perhaps less than a million in one chance that she would. The truth was she never cared to join the military, yet her father’s condition was worsening every year. This was the fastest route to access the money she would need to take care of her siblings. That’s all she cared about. Just joining the military wouldn’t be enough, she needed her Aspect. It was the only way to secure a high enough position to receive the benefits. Hales was thirteen when she got a letter saying she qualified to apply to Garghent Elite Military Cadet High School for the Savant, GEM-C was usually what the public called it. It was quickly becoming famous around the world. Nowhere else in the world had even come close to the rate at which Specters were being awakened. Added to which they would all go straight to the military. Garghent, already one of the strongest city-states on the Sister continent, was becoming even more superpowered.
Hales sighed as she saw the scenery zoom before her eyes. Was this going to be her life? Just a quick passing trip through the world to a destination, the end. It seemed almost… futile. Her thoughts were quickly becoming macabre. She felt sad yet she couldn’t quite place the reason. Getting powers was supposed to be exciting, everyone on the bus seemed eager. It marked the end of one thing, a normal life in the city, and the start of another thing. A life as a superpowered soldier. Hales didn’t like the prospect of having to fight, let alone kill. Could she even kill? If her life was in danger, maybe. If her sibling were in danger, then definitely. She didn’t like the idea, but a better life for them was worth whatever happened to her conscience. She couldn’t let them go through the kind of childhood she had.
A bump in the road jolted her, snapping her back to reality for a moment. Maybe Talayia was right, maybe I do think too much.
Hales looked to her right at Abajem, who was staring out her own window. Then suddenly as if she had felt a gaze on her, Abajem turned her head around and gave a half smile. Hales smiled back and Abajem turned back to her window. Abajem was somewhat of a fey girl. Her round face, and large bug-like eyes tended to be off putting to the average person. Normally features like that lent itself to a more innocent character, but not so with Abajem. She rarely seemed to blink, and always looked you dead in the eyes. She was shorter than the average girl with hair that was cut unevenly, like the hair around her ears dropped as far as her shoulders whereas other parts of her hair was cut shorter. A beanie topped off her look, causing her hair to straighten, making the unevenness of it more obvious. It was a look that worked for her, and probably she was the only one who could pull it off.
Hales turned back to her window, hand against her cheek. Eight hours of doing nothing. It was the oddest sensation. One could spend all day doing a single mind-numbing task. In this case it was staring out a window. At the end of said task it would be as if it only had taken a couple of minutes. The mind had a way of cutting down or compressing all that the body just experienced. Was the human brain incapable of storing all the information? Or perhaps it was a coping mechanism. The easiest and most direct way to deal with trauma was to forget it ever happened. Sitting in a bus for an entire day was perhaps a sort of mundane trauma. Something that the mind unconsciously decides it doesn’t want nor needs to store memory of. Sure she remembers the trip and how it took most of the day. How uncomfortable it is to sit for hours on end. She remembers how big the city really is, taking hours just to leave the outer districts. She remembers seeing, forests and plains, and towns and farms but bringing any specifics to mind produced the standard ‘thought’ of those things.
Hales knows what a tree looks like but she wouldn’t be able to describe a single tree of the thousands she saw. A tree has basic qualities that are the same so she could only draw from her general knowledge of tree. The entire drive therefore is categorized as something inconvenient that happened at some point previous to whatever present time she was in.
The bus had stopped moving and students were eagerly walking out, stretching along the way.
Hales stood up and exited the bus, taking in her surroundings. They had parked at the base of a mountain. A river flowed from high up on the mountain, it was hard to tell exactly where it started since the view was obstructed by a forest that covered most parts of the mountain. Nearby a trail system started. Hales could catch glimpses of it through the breaks in the trees. It wound up and around the mountain in a spiral towards the peak.
A voice called out, it was deep and resonant, ringing with power and authority. There were a couple of gasps as students noticed the speaker. “Welcome lads.” He was massive, standing over two meters. He was covered in muscle, with arms thicker than most people’s thighs, not his own of course, those were on a sizing chart of their own. He had a baggy shirt and baggy shorts, and he was barefoot. Covered in a thick short layer of fur complete with a full mane wrapped around his head. Hales knew the mane extended down his back like a lion’s. No doubt everyone knew him.
This was Master Klyle. Standing at the starting point of the trail. He was the reason the school promised that this year’s Camp would yield a complete success in awakening everyone’s Aspect. He would be the trainer for the next half year.
“The Camp is up at the top of this mountain,” his arms were folded, his presence felt enormous, “It’s a good two dozen kilometer run, the sun won’t be up for much longer. We best be starting.” Master Klyle nodded to Professor Vandle, who saluted, Klyle then turned on his heel and started into an easy lope up the trail. Klyle had a powerful stride, covering ground way too fast. Around the same time the bus turned around driving off, taking the guards with it, leaving only Professor Vandle behind who was standing calmly arms behind his back.
The reaction of the students varied. The most athletic students hungry for a challenge broke off into a jog behind Master Klyle who maintained a ridiculous speed. No doubt he could maintain that pace for the whole hike. A full sprint up a mountain for the average person. That was probably still just a warm up for him. The first students to start running were Talayia, Yillo and Jid. Talayia was a long distance runner and would be the most likely to finish behind Master Klyle. Jid was a sprinter but still an athletic powerhouse, he would feed off the challenge and turn it into a competition with Talayia. Then there was Yillo. Not even the most athletic kid in the class but it seemed like he could push through anything out of sheer anger and willpower.
Those three had reacted the fastest, there was a couple hours to sunset but of everyone they had the most chance of finishing with the sun still above the horizon. Hales was standing still, observing how her classmates reacted. Some students were forming teams and strategizing, deciding the best course of action and processing the situation in general.
The next group to take action consisted of Lo, Aulas and Winnow. Lo and Aulas were pretty much like brothers, they were always on the same team and pushed each other to their limits. Two more physical powerhouses. Winnow was an addition, she was the tallest girl in the class and had a long stride, she’d be able to keep up easily. The trio set off at a jog running in a tight pack, maintaining maximum efficiency.
Most of the remaining students had formed a single large group, Hijo had taken the role of leader, the group was scouting the mountain pointing to different trail systems. It seemed to Hales that everyone was overreacting. Twenty-four kilometers up a mountain with only a couple hours before sunset was intimidating, but it was supposed to be. This was a test of sorts. Probably not anything with fail or pass conditions. Its purpose more along the lines of seeing how each students reacts in a high stress situation right after being in a long stasis.
Speaking of which, the bus ride already seemed like a distant memory. Something forgone, stored away in the recesses of her mind. The students that not only rise to any challenge, but also have the physical ability to meet the challenge were the ones to take off on a run, acting first. Professor Vandle would probably appraise them as types of soldiers you wanted on the front lines, being able to handle any sudden attack. Then there were other students like Hijo that could run the twenty miles but electing to stay with the group, a natural leader who would leave no one behind.
The group finally started to a slow jog, with some students running ahead in front of the main group and some lagging behind, trying to conserve energy. Master Klyle had long since disappeared from view. Abajem approached Hales, she had stayed behind.
“You figured it out too?” Abajem asked the question in a low, quiet voice.
“Yea, think so,” Hales seemed to shrug out the answer. Professor Vandle had only been a couple meters away, hands clasped behind his back as he approached. Speaking with genuine interest. “Do tell.”
“False trails,” When Professor Vandle said nothing Hales continued, “The way the trail spirals around the mountain is misleading. You allow some parts of the trail to be visible giving it the appearance that its a single trail with a clear-cut path.”
“What led you to that conclusion?” It was subtle but one could almost make out that he was impressed by these two students by his tone of voice. It was unlikely that any student in the previous Camps had figured out the ruse, at least this early.
“Two things,” Hales said holding up two fingers. “One, the river. It leads all the way to the top of the mountain. If I were to build a camp it’s obvious to do it near clean drinking water.” She dropped one finger, “Two, and this ties into the first point, nighttime. Twenty kilometers up a mountain is a ridiculous task even for some of the most athletic students in our class. For the majority of the students who don’t finish, they’ll be stranded in the dark. Except they can always follow the river up the mountain, even if the main trail splits off from it at times.”
“Not to mention it’s going to be a full moon tonight, clear skies and all.” Abajem remarked.
“Didn’t know that,” Hales pointed her finger at Abgajem. “Makes sense. They give us a challenge, see how we react, but we’re set up to fail from the beginning. And there’s really no danger…” Hales added after a brief pause, “Unless you fall for the fake trails.”
“In which case you’re totally fucked.” Abajem spoke, building off of Hales. Hales almost flinched, not that she never heard language like that, she just never heard it from Abajem. Professor Vandle was unfazed. Hales agreed with the statement nonetheless, “Totally.”
Professor Vandle was nodding his head, then stopped suddenly as a thought entered his mind. “You both have excellent deductive skills, I’m impressed, proud even. As a teacher it’s a privilege to see my students grow before my eyes, except in this scenario, according to your ideas of this test you both would fail worse than any of your classmates. Such a failure that might warrant a full expulsion from this school.” Professor Vandle was dead serious.
Hales raised an eyebrow and glanced at Abajem, she was grinning. Professor Vandle continued, “You see, Abagene and Hales, you two had knowledge of the situation, assessing it in an instant. A remarkable display of awareness, observation, and even instinct. All some of the most important traits in a soldier. But you made a pretty blatant failure, an oversight if you will.”
Abajem rolled her eyes. He was dragging this out a little much.
“Your class is your team, whether you like them or not, you’re on the same side and working towards a single goal. In a real situation you just got your entire squad killed. You discovered an ambush but hesitated to warn anyone. Talent can only get you so far, at some point you need to have a strong fundamental sense of community. Of teamwork.” Emphasizing the last words.
He really drove the point home, “Because of you more than half your class may end up lost in this mountain. Expulsion may indeed be the appropriate course of action in this situation.”
Hales didn’t react, instead she stood silently contemplating.
He’s not wrong. It didn’t even cross my mind to tell anyone, it’s like I was a distant observer and not someone participating. The worst part is, I don’t think I would change anything, even knowing this now. That thought scares me a little.