A Ship in Harbour is Safe
The rain was still beating steadily the next morning. I stood awkwardly at the front porch with a backpack slung over my shoulder, and the trunk at my feet. Pa and ma stood together at the door. His face was serious – as always, and her face was worried.
“Take care alright? Write to us once in a while,” Ma said, reaching to give me a hug.
My arms carefully wrapped around her smaller frame. I’ve grown taller than her, I noted distractedly. Taller and bigger than her and pa too.
“I’ll be alright. Take care of yourselves. You’re not getting any younger. And the weather is only going to get worse from now on, the Communion says,” I reminded them, unwrapping myself from my mother’s embrace and giving my dad a brief hug.
“If you want, there will always be place at my port for you,” Pa said. At this stage, I could just train a parrot to repeat the same words to me. I was saved from having to reply by the soft rumbling of a Zidan pulling up. I nodded at my dad and reached down with my left hand to tug at the trunk, and turned to the Zidan – it looked almost like the nib of a marker, streamlined and sleek. It stood probably a good meter taller than me, with a black top and white bottom, and the surface was unmarred except for a Yin-Yang symbol in the middle.
“See you, pa, ma.” I grunted as I jostled the trunk down the front porch and into the rain. Rain splattered against my face as I clumsily made my way toward the vehicle.
There was a soft hiss as a rectangular door ejected from the smooth surface of the vehicle and glided open. A man, who couldn’t be more than a few years older than me, stepped out from the vehicle and in front of me.
“Here, allow me,” he grinned and winked, extending his right fingers towards the trunk. The long sleeved shirt he was wearing rode up his wrist with the movement, exposing a white tattoo – a comma with a black dot in the middle. His fingers twitched and a shimmer of something enveloped my trunk, pulling it from my grip and into a little drawer that appeared at the side of the vehicle. A soft gasp came from my mum, and my dad sniffed noisily.
Show off. But I myself could hardly wait to be able to do similar things. I smiled and muttered my thanks to the man, realising that I was no longer being pelted by rain. There was a dome-shaped vacuum surrounding us, the rain pelting off an invisible shimmer. He reached up to remove his black and white cap, revealing long brown hair that was tied in a careless ponytail. Somehow, he managed to look quite stunning with the messy hair. I tugged on my own mane unconsciously.
“Hi Aletheia – I’m Tomokai, but you can call me Tomo or Kai. I’m your escort to the Congregate.” Tomokai introduced himself formally with a flourish of his cap and a bow.
“Good day Madam, Sir. Tomokai at your service. I would like to reassure you that your daughter is in good hands. I was from Minato before joining the Congregate. We take good care of our new entrants.” He continued as he turned to face my parents, placing his right palm over his left breast and bowing, the formal way to greet elders.
My parents bowed back slightly. “Thank you Tomokai. We will not keep you longer,” my dad intoned formally.
“Goodbye Theia. Take care.”
I took a deep breath and pressed my lips together in a tight smile at my parents, giving them a final wave. Tomokai ushered me in with an exaggerated flourish and turned to wave jauntily at my parents. Wordlessly, I climbed up the steps into the Zidan. Tomokai hopped in behind me, and the door slid close with a soft hiss.
The interior of the vehicle was lined with two rows of double seats, and they were almost full. A couple of empty seats were at the front and back. The rows of faces – well most of them anyway, some were sleeping – looked at me expectantly. Senno, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I felt my face heat.
“Okay new girl, introduce yourself!” someone from the back row hollered.
“Uh. Hi. My name is Aletheia. Or Theia for short. I’m enrolled in the Healing and Combat Faculty.” A smattering of polite greetings reached me – then they mostly returned to their own conversations. I heaved a sigh of relief as Tomokai patted me on the shoulder, giving me an encouraging grin.
I picked an empty double seat near the back, behind the boy who had hollered at me to introduce myself. Shrugging my backpack off, I stowed it under my seat. The scenery outside was already blurring, and I realised we must already be moving off to the next destination. This was my first time travelling on the Zidan – I’d only seen pictures before and the ride was so smooth that I felt no bumps nor lurches. The trains and horse carriages in Minato could not compare.
The round, olive-skinned boy leaned over the back of his seat to talk to me. “So... Theia! Healing and Combat Faculty, huh? I’m in Mechanics and Research. Xue over there is in H&C too. Tomokai is an Assistant there as well. I don’t suppose you know any congees? Ah where are my manners. Hi, my name is Nachin,” Nachin rambled as he pointed over to a boy with white hair, then stuck his hand out.
“Hi Nachin. Erm, what are congees?” I asked lamely, shaking his hand.
“You know they – people like Tomokai – are called Congregants after graduation?” I nodded.
“Congees are the entrants. People like us who have not completed training,” He smiled.
“I see... I don’t know anyone going to the Congregate,” I explained. This was something I was secretly happy about. A fresh start.
“That’s fine. Kavi and Zita over there are from Dato like me. Say, did you know that this Zidan is a prototype? I read about it in the news the other day. It’s supposed to run on Yin and Yang energy instead of just Yang energy like everything else, that’s why they can use it on rainy days like today. Must be an expensive little bugger though,” he chattered.
“I thought we weren’t able to harness yin energy for machines yet?” To my knowledge, everything widely available ran on Yang energy because it was easily convertible into electricity for household and industrial usage.
“It’s mixed I guess, it’s still mostly Yang in there, so we can’t rely on just Yin yet. They are working on it though. We’ll be learning all about it at the Congregate. Well, at least I will at my Faculty. What’s on the programme for your Faculty?”
I reached into my bag to pull out a programme list I had gotten a few weeks ago with my confirmation letter. “Here,” I passed the sheet to him.
Nachin whistled as he looked through the program, then handed it back. “Wow this looks so cool, honestly. It’s like some assassin-spy-ninja-samurai thing you read in books!”
I grinned, the enthusiasm of the boy was infectious. “Thanks, you’re the first person to tell me that.”
There was a little commotion as the next entrant – congee – boarded. I think his name was Kirei. He was from the city after Minato. The newest addition immediately piqued Nachin’s interest and he left me to talk to the new boy. Well, at least that first conversation went well.
It turned out to be the only conversation with a fellow congee, because Kirei – or whatever his name was – was the last one to be picked up and he was pulled to sit next to Nachin. They were absorbed in a detailed conversation about yin and yang energy in electrical usage. Since I was not about to go sliding into other seats and chatting someone up, I contented myself with pulling out my journal and a pen to write. Funnily enough, the journal was a farewell gift from Aunt Pora. Though the woman was nothing to like, she gave good presents, and I loved the leather bound journal.
“Already studying?” Tomokai jived, dropping into the seat next to me. I snapped the journal shut hastily, and I could feel heat on my face. I really did not like unexpected intrusions. Though he probably did not mean to.
“It’s a journal,” I said stiffly, feeling silly for sounding defensive.
“Relax, I’m not about to snoop through some kid’s diary.” He held his hands up. I’m not a kid, I thought, slightly annoyed.
“So, why the Congregate? And the H&C at that. Minato’s got plenty of lucrative possibilities for someone with grades that can enter H&C.”
I shrugged, shooting his question back at him.
“Ha. Nachin must be going around telling everyone my designation already. You could say I did it because it’s cool.”
I looked at him from the corner of my eye, crinkling my eyes slightly.
“Oh alright. I did it because Senno told me to. I prayed about it and that was my outcome. So far so good.”
Neewa bless us all, another one of those. I refrained from rolling my eyes and nodded. “I see.”
He cocked his eyebrow and nodded his head at me expectantly, as if to say ‘And you?’
“Well... I just wanted to learn about Yin and Yang, really. About the philosophy of life...and that kind of thing,” I trailed off. “Healing because I want to help people – yes I know that’s cliched.” I narrowed my eyes at him as he raised his eyebrow higher. “And combat – well I just like combat. So I can be strong.”
“Philosophy of life?” Tomokai guffawed. “What are you, eighty? Hydra bless us all.”
I felt a twinge of annoyance but tried to tamp it down – not everyone was interested in such unsubstantial musings anyway. After all, they did not contribute to the world in a tangible way. It was a privilege, in a way, to wonder about life while others wondered about how to stay alive.
“Yeah well. Don’t you wonder about Yin and Yang and good and bad and all the in between? It’s fascinating. To me at least.” I lifted a shoulder in a half shrug and traced my journal with a finger.
“Yeah well not to me...” He trailed off as if deliberating on something. “No matter. Do you have any idea what your affinity might be? What stream do you want to go to?”
“I’m guessing Yin,” I said, uncertainly. The thoughts in my head seemed of Yin influence. I rested my face in my left hand, tapping my cheek. “Oh and I’m left handed. Though I know that’s not a very strong indicator.” I was unsure if I should express my inclinations. I knew the current trend was to prefer Yang energy. There had been proponents in recent years that Yang energy was superior and “cleaner” than Yin energy. I wondered if Tomokai is one of them.
“Don’t worry about it. I know plenty of good Yin affinity healers and fighters. Anyway, your affinity doesn’t necessarily dictate that you have to follow it. Though... most natural Yin users end up sub-par Yang fighters because they don’t embrace their natural talents. But don’t worry too much about it. You’ve got a while to consider things before streaming will matter to you.” He reassured me – or attempted to anyway.
I hummed in agreement, though I silently disagreed. It was important to plan ahead.
“So, what was that bit of energy earlier on? Are you a Yang user then? I saw the Yang symbol on your wrist.” I asked, pointing to the white comma on his wrist that was now covered up by his cuff.
“Clever one, aren’t you. Yeap, I’m an almost pure Yang user. Haven’t got much affinity with the Yin arts, sadly.” He flicked his right fingers at my hair, and I felt a strange warm sensation rustle between my hair. Then, abruptly, it was gone. “Yang energy is better for manual labour anyway.” He gave me a lopsided smile.
“Well, nice chat. You should get some rest, the journey will take another three hours and the welcoming ceremony is rather a lot to handle. I’m going to talk to some other girls before they get jealous of you monopolizing all my time. I’ll see you around for classes, it’s nice to have someone from the same city,” Tomokai winked and got up from the chair.
With a tall and lithe build, long brown hair and a pleasant, if slightly androgynous face, I could see why he acted the way he did. Women – and maybe men – probably threw themselves at him. Well, whatever floated his boat. I shook my head slightly and turned back to my journal.
A/N: I already foresee Tomokai fans ...