Welcome to NAA
It was a beautiful, sunny day in late Summer. A few white puffs dotted the sky above the large, campus quad. The cobblestone pavement was barely visible from the gathered students, awaiting their opening ceremony to their first year at Neo-Atlantic Academy. This group was the high school Freshman class. The gathering had a wide variety of ethnic representation, and the glances revealed most had not encountered each other before. It was clearly a new experience for the youths as a whole.
A microphone tap drew the young people’s attention to a platform in front of the secondary education building. A handsome gentleman with combed back, salt and pepper hair and a dark, three-piece, business suit smiled proudly back at the students from a podium at its center. He looked like a father, gazing upon his children before seeing them off on a journey. He adjusted the microphone position a moment before stroking his black tie.
“Young men and women of the future,” he began in a hopeful tone, “today, I welcome you to our prestigious academy. I am your headmaster here, Dr. Ernest M. Lyons. Neo-Atlantic Academy has always driven our young minds to look to the future. We ask you not to think of what you can do now, but what can you do then?
“Brilliance is not something that comes instantly, as a bolt from the sky strikes the earth. It is planted, cultivated, and nurtured. The great forests of this world did not grow overnight, and so, I encourage you to consider how you will touch the world with the brilliance you grow during your time here with us…”
The student body was drawn into the speech as Dr. Lyons continued. However, there were a few that did not share the same level of awe. One of them was a platinum blonde, young man, struggling to breathe. His light gray eyes gaped anxiously at the ground. As he reached for his chest, a shorter, pale youth with ash blonde, feathered locks to his right looked up at him with concern.
“Skylar?” He asked in a soft voice, reaching to touch the other’s shoulder, “Sky, what’s wrong?”
As soon as the hand made contact, Skylar’s legs buckled beneath him. Instinctually, his friend knelt beside him. To his confusion, none of the other students seemed to notice their peer’s distress. His red eyes gawked at how people could just ignore someone in trouble as if nothing was happening. Just when he was about to scream for help, a dark-skinned young man pushed through the enthralled mob, kneeling on the other side of the gasping student.
“Has he ever collapsed before this?” The foreign accent was blunt and urgent as the newcomer looked the side of Skylar’s face. It was flushing from lack of air.
“N-No, this isn’t like him at all!”
The student narrowed his eyes as he rolled the patient onto his back to get a better look at his face. The eyes were completely dilated, but whether that was a symptom or merely fear, he could not tell. Glancing up in frustration at the towering people around them, he grunted at the lack of light from their shadows. He looked at the albino youth at last.
“We must move from this place,” he stated flatly. “I must have more room to examine him properly.”
“Examine...?” The smaller youth gaped back, perplexed at the request.
“Pardon me,” came a thick Texan accent as a tall youth pushed through his smaller peers. Once he was clear of a young lady he had been trying not to upset, he glanced down at the three students below. His hazel eyes shifted from greenish-brown to a greenish-blue at he gaped at Skylar’s face.
“Oh, he don’t look too good,” the youth said, honestly. “Did you say you needed to move? I can carry him out of here, if you like.”
“That will do.” The foreigner stood quickly to let the strong youth kneel down. “Hurry.”
As the three youths busied around him, Skylar’s thoughts faded from the quad as his vision got dimmer. He began to wonder how he had gotten into this mess, reflecting on the past Spring. That was the day he had met Dr. Lyons. It had been after school, on his way home from the bus...
“Come on, Sky! Try not to hold onto it, okay?”
Skylar was staring at the ground as he walked beside his shorter friend. They had just stepped off the school bus, heading toward home. The gloom on his face seemed to amuse his friend, laughing lightly. His shoulders were hunched under his backpack’s weight, as if the globe itself were on his back. He didn’t look up when he replied to the chipper youth at his side.
“Easy for you to say, Matthew,” he groaned, tiredly. “It didn’t happen to you.”
“Oh, come now,” Matthew said as he put a hand on his friend’s shoulder, smiling brightly. “I’ve told you time and again. There’s no such thing as bad luck. You have to think positively.”
“You really think changing my state of mind will help turn things around?”
“So it will stop the teachers from losing only my assignments?” He glanced back with a skeptical stare.
“Well…” Matthew paused as he reflected on how often his friend’s assignments went missing from the teacher’s offices after he turned them in on time.
“How about fixing my tech jinx that makes electronics go fritzy on me?”
“That is a unique phenomena among our generation.”
“Or the shop class equipment from breaking in my grip? Or my uncanny ability to draw trouble to my path?” Matthew smiled up, silent from lack of words. “No such thing as bad luck, eh?”
“Tell you what! Come by my place and get some of Dad’s sun tea. You always feel better sitting among friends around a table. We can call your mom from the house.”
“Yeah, cause we wouldn’t want to risk my emergency flip phone blowing up, would we…”
“Not everyone uses smartphones, Skylar.” Matthew jogged on ahead, twirling around to grin back with encouragement. “Your mom hates them, remember? Besides, the sales rep said your battery was faulty from the get go, so you can’t claim that one on your list.”
Skylar made a grimace at the memory of his last cellphone burning his hand. Glancing up at Matthew’s fancy footwork ahead of him, he felt a grin sprout on his face. The youth was just one of those people you couldn’t stay depressed around.
“There’s my Sky! Let’s get some sun tea!”
Skylar glanced on ahead, seeing Matthew’s driveway. He paused, staring at the black limousine taking up the entry. Matthew glanced to see what had grabbed his friend’s attention, and for once, the pale youth’s smile vanished.
“Was your dad having a business meeting today?”
“No,” Matthew said in a concerned tone, “he doesn’t like to bring work home if he can help it. He always tells us if he has to host a dinner party or something.”
“Who do you think it is then?” Skylar glanced away from the vehicle at last.
“I don’t know…” Matthew made a pout as he narrowed his eyes, skeptically. “When I find out though, we better have won the lottery or a vacation.” He reached to grab Skylar’s wrist. “Let’s find out!”
“Matt!” Skylar was hardly in a position to resist when the shorter yanked at his arm that quickly.
As the two teens ran up to the front porch, Skylar stole a glance at the seated driver. He was wearing a tan, business suit, scrolling on his smartphone, so that ruled out the government. He noticed the plates were local as they passed the limousine up to the walkway. By the time Skylar turned his head back around, Matthew was holding a finger to his lips for quiet as he turned the doorknob to the front door. Skylar gulped, nervously.
The door opened with ease, but the two youths stared at the foyer a moment before Matthew walked in. Glancing about curiously, he waved his friend inside. Skylar entered more cautiously, nervous about who this visitor was. There wasn’t anyone in the foyer, but that didn’t mean they weren’t somewhere nearby.
“Dad!” Matthew called into the house, making Skylar yip, “Dad! Anyone home?”
“You keep that up,” Skylar whispered, “and my luck’ll rub off on you, dude!”
“Yeah… that would suck.” Skylar gawked up at the comeback, making Matthew grin with amusement. “I’m kidding.”
“We’re in the family room, Matt,” came a deep voice from further into the house.
The teenagers poked their heads around the corner to see into the room. On the large couch, two men sat beside one another. The taller of the two had a rich tan complexion and thick, black hair to his shoulders. The other was fairer skinned with short, golden blonde locks. This man looked back at the youths with sparkling, sea blue eyes.
“Oh, Matthew, we’ve been waiting for you,” said a soothing, feminine voice. “Hello, Skylar! Come for some sun tea?” Skylar blushed with a nod.
Matthew didn’t reply just yet. Instead, his ruby orbs glanced to the loveseat across from the couch. There sat a middle-aged gentlemen in a gray, three-piece suit. His dark blue eyes looked over in their direction, smiling with pleasure. He had a face that one could tell had seen a great deal of experience, but he was excited to see more. He made both boys gape in awe.
“Boys, this is Dr. Lyons from Neo-Atlantic Academy.”
“Neo-Atlantic?!” Skylar and Matthew both exclaimed with disbelief, fumbling over each other into the room. “The headmaster of the private island campus just off the coast?”
“You two know your stuff,” the deeper voice from before spoke up. He was obviously less impressed than his partner beside him about this visit. “He’s offering you a full scholarship for high school there, if you want to…” His honey brown eyes glared back at the headmaster, suspiciously.
Ignoring the father’s expression, Dr. Lyons stood from his seat to walked over to the two youths. The teens noticed the level of grace in his posture and stride. He was tall as well, at least six and a half feet but maybe more. It was like they were looking at a politician or nobility. He extended his hand to Matthew for a handshake, which the youth took nervously.
“That’s correct, Mr. Bennett,” the gentleman said with an encouraging grin. “I am the headmaster of the academy, as well as the president of the Neo-Atlantic Institute. We believe in cultivating the youth of the world to create a brighter future for Humanity. Youth is the most important stage of development for us all, so our organization seeks to offer the resources you require to further our great Human Race.
“Every year, we offer full scholarships for our secondary level education students around the world. Your academic achievement and volunteer work for your peers has impressed our board, Mr. Bennett. Someone with that level of excellence would be an asset in our upcoming, high school freshman class. Would that be something that would interest you?”
Matthew blinked up in shock as the headmaster complimented him. A full scholarship? For being Dean’s List and starting a peer tutoring group at school? He was speechless as he tried to wrap his head around what he had just heard.
Skylar looked down at the glistening tile of the foyer. He tried not to look wounded, but it was hard not to when he was hardly passing any of his classes. Being friends with a shining star made you see all the blemishes in yourself. As he took a step back, feeling out of place, he was stopped by Matthew’s hand.
“I’m honored to be considered for your academy, Dr. Lyons,” Matthew said calmly as he dropped his hand from the man’s, “but Skylar and I are the best of friends. It must sound crazy to turn down such an impossible offer, but I know Skylar and I are meant to go places, together. I’ll stick by him anywhere we go.”
“Matt, no,” Skylar’s voice cracked as he stared at his friend, “you deserve this more than anyone. You’re smart and talented. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t let me hold you back.”
“I know it is, Sky, but it’s like you said when we first met.” Matthew glanced behind him with a big smile. “It was ‘fate’. Can’t argue with that!”
As Skylar gaped back at Matthew’s overwhelming optimism, Lyons glanced between the two of them, curiously. He was studying their faces, searching for what kind of bond they shared. Finally, his lips sprouted a smile again.
“Mr. Skylar, was it? Tell me something. Do you truly believe in fate?”
The young man gasped as he looked up nervously at the man. He felt like he shouldn’t speak to someone of his station, like he was below the man somehow. However, the fatherly gaze helped him to calm down a bit, so he could at least reply.
“Well…” The youth looked at his friend for encouragement, which came with a quick squeeze from Matthew’s hand. Skylar finally looked up anxiously at the headmaster.
“I believe things always happen for a reason. My dad told me that there was no such thing as coincidence, so I shouldn’t take anything for granted. Just because it seems you’re dealt a bad hand doesn’t mean the game isn’t in your favor.”
“Your father is a wise man, Mr. Skylar. May I ask your last name?”
“It’s Majors, Skylar Majors, sir.”
“Mr. Majors, it has been my experience that a true leader is not as obvious as one would believe. Many of the greatest leaders in history possessed great humility, kindness, and uncertainty. Mr. Bennett believes the two of you are meant for greatness, and I sense that given the right motivation, you could bring about amazing things.” The headmaster extended a hand to Skylar, smiling proudly. “How would you both like to attend Neo-Atlantic Academy?”
Skylar stared at the hand a moment in disbelief before Matthew pulled it up to meet the man’s. The firm yet welcoming shake made Skylar grip back. He felt the faith the man possessed in him, but he wasn’t sure how to feel about it.
“You hear that, Sky?” Matthew cried with joy as he hugged his friend from the side, “I told you positivity could change your life!”
“Yeah… You sure did…”
“Drink this, slowly.”
Skylar accepted the plastic cup from the foreign student. He was still coming around, but at least, he could breath here. As he sipped the water, the student knelt in front of him, checking his eyes and face. He took his free hand, rolling it back and forth in his own. Skylar had no idea what was happening, but if it was what fixed his episode, he wasn’t going to complain.
Beyond his physician, Skylar noticed Matthew holding onto their satchels. A taller student stood beside him, dwarfing him in comparison. He looked just as concerned as his friend. He wasn’t certain what he had done to earn the favor of these strangers, but he was grateful to them both.
“Do you feel any better, Sky?” Matthew looked as anxious as a mother hen over her chicks.
“Actually, I feel better just being away from the quad.” Skylar’s voice was tired, but he smiled with relief. “I don’t know what came over me. One minute, I’m listening to Dr. Lyons speech. The next, I feel anxious, and my chest gets tight.”
The stern youth stood from his examine. Sighing heavily, he rested a hand on the back of his neck. The other three gaped back at him at what he might have discovered.
“It is as I suspected.”
“What?” Matthew asked, worriedly.
“You claim to have felt anxiety before your chest pain. Anxiety is a warning of the mind’s doing. This was a spiritual attack.”
“Spiritual?!” Matthew and Skylar both cried out, perplexed by the unexpected reasoning.
“Was my English not correct?” The student asked his patient, innocently. He glanced away to think of another way to phrase his diagnosis. “A living energy forced itself upon your spirit, but you rejected it. Is this more clear?”
“Spirits, huh?” The taller young man gave a whistle, drawing Matthew’s attention. “I’ve heard of stuff like that from Auntie. It ain’t nothing to take lightly, neither.”
The foreigner glanced behind him at the comment. Narrowing his eyes, he looked as if he were judging whether or not to take his opinion seriously. Seeing how his face showed concern though, he softened his expression, leaving the statement as it was.
“Then…” Skylar spoke up anxiously, glancing between the two new people, “What can I do if it happens again?”
“There is a way to protect yourself,” the apparent expert replied as he turned to face Skylar again. “I must fashion you a talisman to ward away evil.”
“Evil…?” Skylar groaned at the word. Matthew was still frowning from being told a spirit had attacked his friend. The third youth walked up to pat the foreign student on the shoulder with a grin.
“Well, if you know how to make them, he should be fine! That’s a mighty fine skill, making talismans!” The other did not look amused by the gesture, but he did not shrug the hand away.
“It is simple work with my training.”
“Thank you.” Skylar’s face relaxed as he felt the anxiety leave his chest. The other three stared at him, surprised to see tears welling in his steel gray eyes. “I don’t ever want to feel that way again. If you can keep it from happening, I would be so grateful. I’d give you anything I have.”
“You…” The student looked away, embarrassed by the humility. “There is no need to be so humbled. It is my duty to help those plagued by spirits. I was merely doing so.”
“Whatever your reasons,” Matthew said as he joined the others before Skylar, “Skylar and I are grateful to both of you. I guess now would be a good time for introductions. I’m Matthew Bennett. It’s a pleasure to meet you both!”
“Yes, thank you both!” Skylar spoke up, extending a hand to the taller youth. “I’m Skylar Majors. Can I ask your names?”
The Texan gripped Skylar’s hand for a hearty shake. His grip was strong, startling Skylar a bit. He could feel calluses on the large hand, conveying an active background. The big grin on his face conveyed his overwhelming positive nature, which told him Matthew was going to get along with this guy.
“Mighty obliged to make your acquaintances, Skylar Majors and Matthew Bennett!” The cheerful voice rang with excitement. “I’m Jared Ekapti-noobi Hastings! Looks like this year’s going to be a wild ride having y’all around!”
As Matthew extended a hand to the foreign student, his smile made the other gape in confusion. Hearing Jared’s introduction, he sighed heavily. Reaching to grasp Matthew by the forearm, the young physician gripped firmly but not too tightly. Matthew blinked in surprise, but he quickly adapted, gripping the other’s arm.
“My name is Masego. It seems the threads of Fate have tied us together.”
“Yeah, Fate,” Jared said as he stepped back in thought. “Funny how we were the only ones to notice Skylar was in trouble. I can relate about feeling anxious during the speech though. I don’t rightly recall feeling that way before.”
“I did, too,” Matthew said as he mulled over the topic, “but when I noticed Skylar was panicking, I forgot all about my anxiety.”
They all looked at one another, contemplating what the phenomena could mean. Masego cupped his fist around his lips in thought. Skylar noticed how intimidating his face was, gawking without realizing it. Masego saw the expression. He tried to relax his face, glancing to the doorway nearby.
“It is strange,” he said, stoically, “but for now, Skylar should try to regain his legs. This gallery looks to be an art exhibit we could tour.”
“Oh, yeah,” Matthew sprouted a grin. “Art can be relaxing, too! Come on, Sky! Let’s check it out with our new friends.”
Skylar gaped at the idea. New friends? He had struggled to make friends his whole life, and he just made two before the school year even started. A small smile grew on his lips as he thought about how many other new opportunities might open up for him now. He turned about slowly, making sure he wouldn’t make himself dizzy.
“Yeah, let’s check it out.”