Chapter One: Alec
The summons came early one morning. I was on my way from breakfast to my first training session when one of the senior drill leaders, named of Peter, stopped me in the hallway. His mouth was set in a rigid line, something that was unusual for him. Peter was in his early twenties, and was tall enough that I saw his regulation cut brown hair bobbing over everyone’s head as he made his way to me. He quickly told me that I’d been called into Commander Mecah’s office. When I asked if he knew why I had been called to the Commander’s office, Peter responded that he didn’t know why, only that I needed to go immediately.
I admit I was a little anxious as I followed Peter down the hallways. I’d never had a summons like this before in my three years of training at Edil Academy, and I didn’t know what to expect. At the same time, I wasn’t entirely surprised. I was only a month away from graduation, but before I would be allowed to graduate I was required to successfully complete a mission in the field. I figured that might be what this summons was about… except that I had heard from others in my class who had already completed their mission that they weren’t given their missions by any of the Supreme Commanders. They were just given missions by senior drill leaders.
Peter led me through the hallways until we finally reached a large wooden door with a golden plaque on it that read “Commander Horus Mecah” in big bold letters. Peter opened the door and stood back to allow me to walk through. As I entered the room, the first thing I noticed was that the office wasn’t as big as I had expected. It was square shaped, with bookshelves lining the left and right walls. The back wall was entirely made of windows that looked out onto the training quad. Commander Mecah’s large oak desk was meticulously organized, with the papers and books neatly stacked around the edges and a large cleared space in the middle for working. I was slightly shocked to discover that he wasn’t in the room and that shock turned to confusion when I noticed the other two people who were.
Sitting down in one of the couches in the center of the room was a boy about my age—either seventeen or eighteen—with long black hair that hung a few inches above chin length. I wondered offhandedly how his hair was regulation, since I had been told to cut mine above my ears. The boy was wearing the required uniform: polished boots, black pants, and a long sleeve button down dress shirt in the color of whatever specialization he was. His shirt was dark green, which I recognized as the color of drill leader recruits and commanding officer recruits. When I walked in, he looked up at me with a skeptical expression on his face. After one quick glance, he went back to studying the drill manual lying in his lap. It took me a few seconds, but I realized I recognized the guy. His name was Sabin Raider. We’d been neighbors when we were younger, before… well, before I moved away when I was ten. I hadn’t seen him since then until last year, when we worked together on a project. While I wasn’t opposed to him being here, I still wondered what business an officer recruit had here.
Worry about that later, Alec, I thought, shaking my head before turning to the only other person in the room.
She was standing at one of the bookshelves with her back turned to me, so the only defining features I could see of her was her mass of curly blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. She was wearing a light blue shirt, which told me she was an Intelligence Gathering Specialist, or IGS. She didn’t seem to notice when I walked in, but instead appeared to be pretty content scanning the titles on the Commander’s shelf.
“The Commander will be with you shortly,” Peter said from the doorway. With that, he left, closing the door behind him.
At the sound of the door closing, the blonde girl turned around. She looked me square in the face and I saw her blue eyes widen with surprise behind her glasses at the sight of me. She was a good half foot shorter than me, though that would still put her at close to five foot eight. I was confused at the fact that she also looked really familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I might have seen her.
“No way,” she said in an awed sort of whisper. “You can’t possibly… no, wait, of course you could.”
“Uh, I’m sorry, do I…” I started, but the girl cut me off.
“Know me?” she finished. “No, I don’t suppose you do.”
Our other companion snorted and she turned with narrowed eyes at him.
“Shut it, Raider,” she snapped.
I turned to Sabin.
“What are you doing here anyway, Sabin?” I asked. “Didn’t you graduate last year?”
He grunted and set his manual down on the glass-topped table in front of him before looking up at me. “Yes, I did. I’m a leader recruit now, training to become a mission leader.”
“And he’s the leader for this mission as well,” the girl said, leaning forward on the back of the couch across from him.
I turned to her, still put off by how familiar she looked. I’d been right about Sabin, but I doubted I could also be right about this girl, because the person she reminded me of had never struck me as the kind of person to come to the academy. “Do you know what it is?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Nope. I was only given a notice on who the members of the mission team were.”
“That’s more than I got,” I muttered. “I was just told to show up here this morning.” I paused before speaking again. “You said you knew who was part of this mission… who else is on it?”
“Well, there are us three, and one other. She’s a power-combat specialist. Her squadron was currently doing a field exercise in the lower fields, close to the river, and Mecah had to go retrieve her. They should be getting back shortly.”
Just then, right on cue, the door opened and Commander Mecah walked in followed closely behind by a tall, slender girl. She wore the deep royal purple shirt of the power-combat specialists and had her long brown hair pulled into a braid that reached to at least her mid-back. As soon as she walked in the door, my heart stopped. I recognized her.
It wasn’t the fleeting familiarity that I felt from the girl, and it wasn’t the delayed recognition I’d had with Sabin. With this girl, I was one hundred percent positive of who she was.
“Alia?” I asked in disbelief.
She turned towards me, her brown eyes blazing angrily at the recognition of my voice. Before I could say anything else, however, I was thrown across the room and into the bookshelf the blonde girl had been browsing earlier. My back pressed painfully into the shelves as I was held with my feet a good foot above the floor. The odd thing was though that there was no one holding me there, nor had anyone actually touched me when I was thrown across the room. I looked at Alia in disbelief as she glared at me from where she was still standing in the doorway. Her arm was outstretched in my direction, her hand positioned as if she were tightly gripping someone’s shoulder. I realized with a shock that she was the one holding me against the bookshelf.
“Please, Miss Parker, let him down,” Commander Mecah said calmly from her side.
Alia dutifully dropped her arm, and me with it. I barely managed a partially graceful landing on my feet in a crouch. I took a few seconds to regain composure over my surprise of seeing Alia before standing back up. The blonde girl stood a few feet away from me, her eyes wide with—was that anticipation? Behind her, Sabin Raider had stood from his seat with the arrival of the Commander. He looked completely unfazed by the sudden display of Alia’s powers. Alia herself had walked swiftly to the other end of Sabin’s couch and stood respectfully awaiting permission from Mecah to sit.
“I take it no one gave you a warning that Alia and you will have to work together, did they?” Commander Mecah asked, addressing me.
I turned to him and shook my head.
“No sir. I haven’t been given much information about this mission at all, except from what she mentioned,” I explained, gesturing to the blonde. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I got your name...”
I left out that I had an idea of who she was, mostly because I couldn’t honestly believe it was her. There was no way it would be the two of us with Alia and Sabin on this mission.
She grinned brightly. That’s when I realized she was exactly who I thought she was, even before she confirmed it. What was worse, I could tell she knew I hadn’t recognized her at first.
“No, you didn’t. I haven’t introduced myself yet.” She stuck out her hand, which I took. “First Zeta Megan O’Carroll, IGS. Undeveloped.”
Megan. I wasn’t sure why, but the sound of her name and the mischievous smile she gave me sent a wave of nostalgia through me. Like Megan had grown up in the same town as me. I’d known her since I was young, but like Sabin, hadn’t seen her in nearly seven years. I didn’t really have a reason to feel nostalgic about what few childhood memories I had, so this feeling now was strange and even unwelcome.
I didn’t reveal any of those thoughts though. Instead, I raised an eyebrow at her blunt introduction, complete with ranking, specialization, and power, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt me to follow suit. One thing I had learned in my years of training here is that IGS’s are masters when it comes to knowing correct procedures.
“Second Kappa Alec Parker, Situational Specialist. Elementest,” I replied.
Megan smirked, most likely having already guessed it was me before turning to the other two. “I suppose you already know them,” she said.
I glanced at Alia, who was refusing to meet my eye.
“Sort of,” I answered. “It’s been a long time since I’ve really talked to either of them. I worked a little with Sabin last year, but I haven’t seen Alia in well… in seven years.” I paused for a second, gathering myself. “It’s good to see you again Als.”
Her head shot up and she glared at me. I was scared she would throw me into a wall again, but instead she slowly walked over and stretched her hand over the couch between us. I reluctantly took it, studying her expression for any sort of tell. She gave none, of course.
“First Kappa Alia Parker, PCS. Telekinetic,” she said while giving my hand a quick shake before adding: “I wish I could say the same, Alec.” Then she turned on her heels and walked back to her position on the opposite couch, where Sabin had just left to follow her lead of shaking my hand.
“Delta Sabin Raider, OR. Shape-shifter,” he said firmly, using the abbreviated name for his specialty like both Alia and Megan. I had always had a petty jealousy of the specialties that had abbreviations, since mine—Situational Specialists—didn’t.
As Sabin walked back to his seat, Commander Mecah spoke up from behind his desk.
“Now, if you are all acquainted,” he said, “Or I suppose, in your case, reacquainted, come forward.”
We all quickly moved to stand in front of his desk. Sabin and Megan expertly arranged it to where they stood in the middle—between Alia and I. How they managed that without even speaking didn’t surprise me. I was too preoccupied by the realization that all three of them outranked me. Sabin, being a Delta, followed by Megan the First Zeta, gave our team two officers. Alia and I were both Kappa’s, but since she was First Kappa and I was Second, she outranked me.
“I’m sure you have all come to you own conclusions as to why you are here,” Mecah began. “And I’m sure you’ve all guessed correctly that you are here because the four of you have been chosen as a team for a very special mission.”
“What is that mission, sir?” Alia asked boldly.
Mecah fixed her with a look for a second before scanning each of us.
“It’s a specific reconnaissance mission. From what we know, there is a basecamp for the konna about a three-day journey from here. Your job is to confirm the exact location of this camp, and gather as much information that you can about their numbers and how big of a threat they would pose if they were to attack.”
“Will we need to infiltrate the borders of the camp, sir?” Megan asked.
The Commander shook his head. “Not if you don’t have to. This mission is dangerous enough for a first mission without having to infiltrate a major Konna basecamp. No you just need to get the numbers and get out.”
I frowned slightly. Something about this didn’t set right with me. “Sir, if this mission is so dangerous, then why were we chosen to go?”
My eyes didn’t leave the Commander, but I could feel the other three looking at me. I suspected Megan giving me a shocked/partially confused glance mixed with agreement. Sabin was probably wearing a suspicious expression at why I would be asking something like that combined also with a undertone of why he didn’t think of it first. Alia, of course, would be glaring at me with raging hatred and supreme annoyance.
Commander Mecah didn’t even really seem to have time to consider my question before answering.
“The other Commanders and I all believe you four are more than capable of doing extraordinarily well on this mission. All four of you are the top of your respective specialties, which also happen to be the specialties we need most for this mission. It only seems right to allow you to be able to prove yourselves worthy of graduation—or in Mr. Raider’s case, prove himself worthy of leading more dangerous missions in the future.”
Sabin looked pretty content with that and I could tell Megan and Alia were pretty eager about the possibility of graduation. I nodded in response, but I still wasn’t satisfied. There had to be a reason that the four of us were chosen for this mission other than the fact that we were a good fit. Most people would call it a coincidence, but I wasn’t really one to believe in things like that.
“Miss O’Carroll, I’ve sent further details to your brother. Today you will travel to where he is stationed in the Inon territory. He’ll provide you with further instructions as well as supplies. We’ll provide you with transportation to get as far as your brother’s house.”
He paused for a brief moment while looking each of us in the eye, meeting Sabin’s gaze last.
“Mr. Raider, you of course are going to be the mission leader for this mission. Miss O’Carroll, because you are the IGS as well as the second highest ranking, you will be second in command. I’m also charging you with the responsibility of gathering the information we need once you reach your destination. Mr. and Miss Parker, as the designated combatants for this mission, I trust you two will cooperate? And also listen to Raider and O’Carroll’s orders?”
I nodded my head and spared a glance at Alia. At the same time she shot a glare at me. This would be fun.
“Good,” Mecah said. “The two of you will be more than vital in whatever struggles you may come across. Now go and pack. You will need to leave promptly at sixteen-hundred hours.”
Later that day, we gathered in the stables. We each had our own duffel bags that loaded easily onto our horses’ backs.
Megan was tightening the straps on her palomino mare when I walked up.
“Horses?” I asked.
She nodded without looking at me.
“It’s the fastest stealth mode of transportation we have,” she explained. “Well, besides teleporting, but the mass teleport station in the Inon territory is offline and hasn’t been repaired yet, so we can’t use that.”
“Oh,” I said. “Right.”
“Anyway,” Megan continued, “We’ll be taking the horses down to the river, where we’ll be boarding a ferry to take us downriver to Inon. With any luck, we’ll be there by sundown.”
A stable boy handed me the reigns of a dark chestnut stallion with a white mark on his face.
“This is Pyralis,” the boy said. “He’s a good horse. Just be careful not to get him around fire. It makes him skittish.”
The boy walked away as I stared at him in shock. Beside me, Megan snickered.
“What?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing. It’s just that Pyralis… the name means ‘of fire’,” she said.
I looked at the horse with an exasperated expression. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Megan laughed. “Aren’t you a fire elementest?” she asked.
I nodded. “Yeah… it’s my main element. I can control the other three, but fire is the one I depend on the most.”
“Well then this should be interesting,” Megan said with another laugh. She pulled herself up into her saddle and looked out towards the southern gate. “It’ll be good to see Zig again.”
“Zig? Isn’t he…?”
“My brother,” she said, nodding in agreement with what I was about to say. “I haven’t seen him since he was transferred a year ago.”
“Was he assigned here before that?” I asked as I tightened my bag down onto Pyralis’ back.
Megan nodded. “Yeah, he used to be one of the senior drill leaders. But then they transferred him to Inon.” She took in a breath. “It was a huge honor for him to be assigned there, but it was…”
She stopped talking and looked at me with a small smile.
“I’m sorry. I don’t suppose you want to hear all of this, do you?”
By this point I swung myself up into my own saddle so I was actually level with her.
“No it’s okay,” I said. “And don’t worry about me being confused with the different territory names. Despite the fact I grew up in Einoth, I remember them talking about the different territories in training. As well as… well you know. Inon is one of the few that isn’t open to the public, right?”
“Yeah. It, Edil, of course, and Ligtas. Those are the three military territories. They’re also the smallest. The public territories, I’m sure you know, are Bundok, Valta, and the biggest territory Suba. Then of course the capitol city, Aelston.”
I nodded. All she had just said was basic geography training. I had been born in Satama and had spent the first ten years of my life there, but I had never learned much about the different territories there. I’d moved to Einoth, Sankruus’ neighboring realm, when I was ten, so of course there wasn’t any need for me to know about the Sankruus territories there. All I knew about the territories came from what I’d learned during training.
“So, where did you move, after…” I started to ask Megan as we reined our horses in the direction of the gate where Alia and Sabin were already waiting for us.
“I’m from the river-bend sector of Suba,” she answered. “I’ve lived there since… since moving from Satama seven years ago. My mom’s family lives in Suba, so that’s where we went. I lived there until I was old enough to join the Academy.”
“Why did you?” I asked. “Join the Academy, I mean.”
“Hey, let’s move! I would like to reach our destination before I die!” Alia shouted, even though by this time Megan and I had reached the gate.
Megan gave me an apologetic look before rolling her eyes and responding.
“Fine Alia,” she said, gesturing towards the gate. “Lead the way.”
Alia huffed and steered her black stallion southwards.
“Let’s go, Ace,” she said to him, and the stallion took off. Megan, Sabin, and I all followed suit with our own horses and soon the four of us were on our way.
to the river was the easy part. Getting the horses loaded onto the ferry was a
little more difficult, but turns out Sabin could communicate with animals (a
side-effect of his shifting abilities, he explained), so eventually we were
able to get them on board and into the horse stalls positioned at the very rear
of the deck. Then we set off down river.
Of course, the academy hadn’t thought to provide anyone to pilot the boat, so that duty went to me as I was the one who could control water. I didn’t complain, as it wasn’t a very difficult job and we’d all been trained in how to pilot the academy boats. Still, it was frustrating that the other three were able to lounge leisurely in front while I sat alone steering in the back.
We had been on the river for three hours before Megan came back to report we would be entering Inon’s waterways soon.
“We probably need to slow down some,” she said. “The gate shouldn’t be too far ahead.”
“We’d have to stop for the gate anyway,” I said. “Why slow down now?”
“The border patrol has orders to shoot anything moving too fast,” Megan replied. “Inon is a military territory, meaning it’s ridiculously secure. Also the fact that security is tighter at night, and it’ll be getting dark soon.”
I glanced at the sun slowly dipping towards the horizon. She wasn’t wrong there.
“Have you ever been to Inon?” I asked.
Megan shook her head. “No. I wanted to come see Zig, but my security clearance wasn’t high enough.”
“Well, apparently it is now,” Sabin said, as he and Alia joined the two of us. Alia still refused to meet my eyes.
“That’s what I don’t understand,” Megan said. “We…” she gestured to herself, Alia, and I “haven’t even graduated yet. They’re not officers, and I’m only a Zeta. We shouldn’t be allowed clearance to go into Inon. Even you shouldn’t be able to, Sabin, since you’re just a Delta.”
“There is something odd about this mission,” I commented. “I mean, how often do the send three graduation candidates and a leader recruit on a mission like this?”
“You do realize that Sankruus has been on the verge of war since our grandparents were our age, don’t you Alec?” Alia asked sharply. “Have you ever stopped to consider that maybe we were called out on this mission because things have finally gotten bad enough that they don’t have the luxury of waiting until we’ve completed our training?”
I started to respond, but she huffed and walked across the deck before I go the chance to. Sabin gave me a partially sympathetic glance before joining her. Beside me, Megan sighed.
“You two are going to need to figure a way to get along,” she said. “Otherwise this whole mission will go up in smoke.”
“I know,” I muttered. “I just… I don’t know what to do to fix it.”
“Well, we’ll be stopped at Zig’s for the evening. Sabin will have to report to the commanding officer of Inon for mission details, and I’m going to have to go meet with the head IGS there to find out just how much information they already have… maybe you two could talk then?”
I looked up at Alia.
“Maybe,” I said quietly, not really believing the word myself.
Megan looked like she was about to say something else, but right as she opened her mouth, her horse whinnied and drew Megan’s attention to behind us.
“Anaia, what is it girl?” Megan asked, reaching out to rub the mare’s neck.
“What’s going on?” Sabin asked as he rejoined us.
“Anaia’s spooked over something,” Megan answered. She scanned our surroundings with a frustrated gaze. “I’m not sure over what though.”
Sabin placed his hand gently on Anaia’s nose and focused on the horse’s face. We’d already seen him do his horse-whispering trick earlier, but I still admired the coolness factor of it. Shifting, especially the kind of shifting Sabin did, wasn’t a necessarily common ability, though it wasn’t one of the rarest either. But being able to communicate with animals while not shifted… that was extremely rare.
“She’s says there’s something – or someone – trailing us,” Sabin said after a few brief seconds. He dropped his hand and ran across the deck to get a better look at the banks on either side of the river.
“Still not over the fact you can talk to horses,” Alia muttered.
“It’s a rare talent,” Sabin admitted. “And not one I like to broadcast, but I figured if we’re all going to be working together on this mission, we should know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
“Uh, right,” Megan said, her face turning slightly pale. I raised an eyebrow at her but she didn’t notice. “But what…”
“Shh!” Alia hissed, cutting Megan off. “There’s something coming.”
It all happened at once. Something very fast blew past us while at the same time Sabin was yanked from the deck by a long green vine.
“Konna!” Alia yelled. She reached for one of the throwing knives at her belt, but didn’t get a chance to use it as a sharp breeze flew past her, knocking her from the deck and into the river. She came up a few seconds later with a long string of curses. Fortunately, Alia was a strong swimmer, and in no time was standing on the riverbank, shouting more profanities and sending her knives flying in multiple directions.
“A runner,” Megan breathed. She quickly moved to unlatch the doors on the horses’ stalls so that they could get out if the boat were to be attacked. Finishing that, she grabbed a gun from the holster on her hip. “Not good. Not good at all.”
I gripped the wheel tightly as the sounds of fighting started to fill my ears. An abundance of swears came from Sabin as he tried to break free of the vines that now entangled his body. He was constantly changing his shape, but that wasn’t working. No matter what form he took, the vines would just adjust. A ways away down river, Alia was shouting her own choice of profanities while she struggled to stay on her feet. Apparently, the runner kept knocking her off balance, and every time she managed to get upright, he would knock her down again.
“Alec!” Megan shouted. “Get us over there!”
With only a slight hesitation, I grabbed Megan around the waist and jumped over the boat’s railing, while at the same time summoning a wave to catch us and push us to the bank where Alia and Sabin we’re fighting. Unfortunately, we weren’t saved from getting drenched in the process.
Megan checked her guns to make sure they would still fire as I used the water to pull the boat over to the bank as well.
“I’m going to help Sabin,” Megan said. “You help your sister.”
The words hit me like a ton of bricks, and I didn’t even take notice of Megan shooting her gun at something off in the distance. The shouting quieted as blood rushed into my ears.
Help your sister.
Those were words I hadn’t heard in ten years. Not since that night… the night when everything went wrong. Since then, the fact that I even had a sister hadn’t been something that was commonly brought up. That is, until earlier today, when she reappeared in my life with the force of a hurricane.
Alia’s scream broke me out of my thoughts. My head snapped up in her direction as she grabbed her arm.
“You freaking…” she started, just as the runner made another pass at her. He slowed just enough for me to see that he was holding a foot long knife, which apparently he had already landed one blow on Alia with.
Alia managed to dodge the knife at the last minute by dropping to the ground and rolling out of the way. She jumped to her feet and yelled a few more swear words at him before thrusting out her good hand—which was now covered in blood from her arm. Knives flew from her belt and shot after the runner, but it didn’t seem like any were actually hitting their mark.
I took off running towards Alia. As I did, I concentrated on the ground below my feet, trying to sense where the runner was and where he would be next. It was difficult to do, since he was running so fast, but by the time I reached Alia, I had a decent trace on him.
“Alia, hold your knives steady for a second,” I said.
“What?” she demanded. “Can’t you see I’m trying to pincushion this jerk?”
“Just trust me!” I shouted back. I felt through the earth again, and this time I was able to pinpoint exactly where the runner was. In one fluid motion of my arms and legs, I concentrated on creating a barrier around him. The ground shook as three solid walls erupted from the earth, trapping the runner with only one exit… the one that was now blocked by Alia and me.
Alia’s eyes widened as she looked from me to the runner, who, now that he was stopped, I could easily see. He was dark skinned, with dark hair and eyes, like people from the Valta territory tended to be. Like most runners typically were, he was leanly built, but he wasn’t extremely blessed with height.
“Who are you?” I demanded.
The guy had the nerve to laugh. “You wish you knew, Parker boy,” he said.
Before I had a chance to respond, he vanished right before my eyes. Alia and I both shouted and braced ourselves, expecting him to try and run past us. It didn’t make any sense though. Runners didn’t have invisibility powers. Everyone—konna and sankrin alike—only had one power each. Sure, there were those rare—and by rare I mean once every millennium rare—occurrences where someone might have two powers, but if that ever happened, the powers were always very simple. Two powers as dangerous as invisibility and running at super speeds would never be combined. Which could only mean…
“There’s someone else,” Alia said. Then she let lose another batch of colorful language. “How could we have been so blind?!”
“Shut up, Alec!” she shouted at me. “I don’t want to hear another word from you, understand? Not unless we absolutely have to. We finish this mission, then we never see each other again, got it?”
She stormed away then, flipping her long braid into my face as she did. I was left stunned for a few seconds before I realized I wasn’t alone.
I tensed then wheeled around, aiming a punch as I did. The other person was ready though, and caught my punch expertly in his hand. I looked up into his face with more anger than shock.
“Who are you?” I snarled.
“The name’s Tyrone,” he said with a smirk. “And I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of more of each other, Alec. But right now, someone else wants to see you.”
“Who…” I stopped as an immense pain sparked in my fist that Tyrone still had in his grip. With complete shock, I saw that a black cloud of energy—or anti-energy, I realized—was moving down my arm, and along with it, the horrible burning pain, like if my very existence was being burned out of me.
“Enjoy dreamland, Parker,” Tyrone said, just as the black cloud reached my shoulder. It spread towards my chest and my head and suddenly I felt everything in my world going black. Tyrone dropped my hand and my knees gave out. I fell to the ground as my consciousness slowly faded. I remember hearing Megan and Alia shouting, and horses riding towards me, and Tyrone’s cold hard laugh. Then, everything went dark.