First Steps 2-05

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“It’s not exploding. Are you sure we’re doing this right?”

My response to Columbus’s question was to lift the leather-bound text book, gesturing to the page that I had been reading from. “According to this thing, yeah. It should be blowing up as soon as we throw it.”

Believe it or not, we were doing homework. Magic homework, specifically. It was late that night, about an hour before curfew, and the two of us were standing down on the beach, facing the ocean.

The ocean. The sight of it still made me want to stop and stare at it for hours. I’d never been far from Wyoming before, and now I was standing on the beach of a tropical island, my bare feet wiggling in the damp sand. Columbus had questioned if taking my shoes and socks off was strictly necessary, to which I had pointed to the beach and huffed that of course it was. I wasn’t going to visit this pristine beach and not wiggle my toes in it, even if we were doing homework at the time. That would just be weird.

Honestly, I was a little bit surprised that we were allowed to go out onto the beach and away from the supposed safety of the environmental shield over the school grounds. When I’d raised that wonder with Sands earlier, however, she had pointed out that the shield hadn’t been any protection for poor Professor Pericles, so forbidding us from leaving it probably wouldn’t accomplish much. So, Columbus and I had been free to come down here and work on the assignment that Professor Carfriend had given the class.

The goal of this particular homework was to follow the instructions in the book to invest power in a small object that would then explode like a firecracker when it was thrown. We were doing the best we could to do just that, throwing the sticks that we charged down the beach to some empty sand. Yet the sticks were just landing where they fell, with nothing particularly special happening.

“Maybe it’s because we’re using sticks,” Columbus mused before looking at me pointedly. “The assignment said to use rocks. Maybe this spell only works with stone or something.”

I shook my head. “I already told you, we are not blowing up Herbie’s cousins right in front of him.” Gesturing to my little buddy, who sat enjoying the evening air on a nearby bit of driftwood, I then added, “Besides, I asked Professor Carfried about it and he said the sticks would be just fine. It’s the spell that matters, not the specific object. It just needs to be something hand-held that we can throw.”

“Okay,” Columbus stooped to pick up another stick from the pile that we had gathered. “You wanna just run it through for a third time, or try to work out what we’re doing wrong?”

Before I could respond, another voice spoke up. “He’s throwing it.”

Jumping a bit, I turned along with Columbus to find the blonde girl, Vanessa, standing there. She held a book clutched against her chest, and looked uncomfortable to be down here on the beach. Which might have had something to do with the fact that she was still wearing her red-lined school uniform.

Blinking at the sight, I voiced my confusion to her statement with an extremely eloquent, “Huh?”

“You’re charging it,” she responded after a momentary hesitation. “He’s throwing it. It doesn’t work that way. The person that charges it has to throw it. It’s your energy. He can’t just use it himself. I mean, he could, but that’s a whole different spell that we haven’t learned yet.”

“Are you sure?” Columbus asked with a slight frown. “It doesn’t say anything about that in the book.”

“Look in chapter nine, page eighty-four, third paragraph,” Vanessa replied while hugging her own book tighter to her chest. She looked a little embarrassed, but still confident about what she was saying.

After glancing toward Columbus briefly, I shrugged and flipped the pages in the book. “Okay.. page eighty-four, paragraph three.” Tracing my finger down the page, I found the spot and read aloud. “Within jointly created spells, objects empowered by each individual must be employed by that same individual. The energy is tied between Heretic and object, and cannot simply be used by another.”

Columbus whistled. “How the hell did you know that? That’s like, seventy pages away from where we are. You try to do a joint spell too or something and have to look it up? Or is this what happens when you have an actually competent team mentor.” He looked to me. “I bet it’s the mentor thing.”

Clearly embarrassed, Vanessa shrugged uncomfortably. “No, I just… I just wanted to help.”

“You did help, thanks,” I assured her quickly. “We didn’t even think about the whole sharing thing. But did you really read all the way through chapter nine already? We just got the books this morning.”

No longer looking at me, the blonde girl just shrugged both shoulders again. “I read fast,” she mumbled a little, face pink. “It’s no big deal. I just like to read. And I have a good memory.”

“You can say that again,” Another new voice spoke up as a girl came came down the trail that led from the school to the beach. I belated recognized her as Erin Redcliffe, a tall girl with short hair that had been dyed vivid blue. Unlike the other girl, Erin wore shorts and a crop top to visit the beach. “Do you know how hard it was to drag this girl away from the library? I practically had to threaten to burn the place down if she didn’t come out and have some fun.” Poking the girl beside her, she added pointedly, “You know I didn’t mean come down to the beach and read some more, right?”

From the guilty look on Vanessa’s face, it was clear that that was probably exactly what she’d been hoping. She held the book tighter against herself while mumbling, “You wouldn’t burn the library.”

“Hell no,” Erin gave her another poke. “You just needed encouragement, genius girl. Get you out of the library and into some fun once in a while. We’re living on an island full of magic! People like me are supposed to be used to it. I thought a Silverstone like you would want to get out and see new things, explore new places. Especially since you’re in the Explorer track.”

Looking even more guilty at that little reminder, Vanessa’s head bobbed. “I know, I know. It’s just that the library is familiar. It’s comfortable. I like learning things there. It’s like I’m learning all this new stuff about… about magic and monsters and everything, but it’s still familiar because it’s a library.”

“I know, I get it.” Erin’s voice had softened somewhat. “I promise we don’t have to stay out here long, okay? I won’t even make you change clothes. We’ll just go for a walk down the beach, throw some rocks into the ocean, look at some pretty stuff, and then you can come back. That okay, genius?”

While Vanessa nodded, I spoke up to ask, “Why do you keep calling her genius?”

“You mean besides the fact that she just helped you guys out with homework using information a hundred pages beyond where we’re supposed to be?” Erin replied before gesturing. “Check it out. Vanessa, see the book she’s holding?” She nodded toward my Introduction To Magical Theory And Practice textbook. “What’s the first word on page… thirty two?”

Squirming on her feet, Vanessa was silent for about five seconds before she answered, “Desperate.”

When Erin gestured to me, I quickly opened the book and scanned through to page in question. My eyes widened then. “She’s right,” I said while showing the book to Columbus. “But how did you–”

“Pick two numbers,” Erin told me, grinning a little. “Any numbers between one and nine.”

“Okay,” I thought briefly before answering. “Three and seven.”

“Three and seven, got it. You next,” Erin informed Columbus.”Two numbers. Trust me, it’s great.”

Looking just as uncertain as I’m sure I did, Columbus provided the numbers of four and two. Erin repeated them, then looked to Vanessa. “Right, Flick there gave the first number of three, Columbus’s first number was four. So page thirty-four. Flick’s second number was seven. Columbus’s was two. So seventy-two. What is the seventy-second word on page thirty-four?”

That time, there was no hesitation before Vanessa answered, “Rowing.”

With Erin and Columbus both looking at me, I flipped the pages to the right spot, counting the words carefully to make sure I had the right one. When I saw the word, I stared at it. “She’s right. How?

“I told you, she’s a genius,” Erin replied. “She remembers like… everything. Everything. She reads it, she sees it, she hears it, she remembers it. She could tell you what she had for breakfast ten years ago.”

Columbus whistled. “Damn, that sounds pretty damn useful. Why didn’t we get you on our team?”

“Hey, forget about it, buddy.” Erin pointed at the boy. “No poaching my awesome roommate.”

The two of them moved on to their walk, leaving Columbus and me to continue our homework, the right way this time. The boy looked to me. “Can you imagine having a gift like that?”

I shook my head at that. “I’m not sure it is one…”

Blinking, he asked, “What do you mean, you’re not sure.”

“I mean, look at the kind of things we’re going to see,” I pointed out. “Think about the situations they want us to get into. These monsters, the Strangers, they do bad things. They’re evil. They kill people in awful, horrible ways. They torture, maim, and… and do worse stuff to innocent people. There’s cannibals, Columbus. The stuff they do is kind of soul-crushing just to think about. So, you tell me to look at a girl who might see any of that and never be able to forget it at all, who will always remember everything she sees perfectly, who will always know what it smells like, what the air around it tastes like, who will never, ever forget any of it? I look at her and… I’m not sure it’s a gift.”

******

The next morning, I was picking at my cereal absently toward the end of breakfast. I had been slow enough about eating that almost everyone else in the dining hall had already moved on, heading for their first classes. Even most of my team was gone, leaving me with the twins. Eventually, after a couple more swirls of my spoon, Sands gave me a slight poke, asking, “Are you okay?”

Flushing a little, embarrassed that my distraction had been noticed, I nodded. “I’m fine. It’s dumb. I just… I miss my dad, that’s all. I’ve never really been away from him for a long time. I guess I didn’t really think about it at first because all of this is so new, but… my dad and I have always been really close. Now I can’t even tell him where I really am or what I’m doing. I hate lying to him, and I miss talking to him.” I swallowed hard, looking away. “I’m just homesick, I guess. Told you it was dumb.”

“Hell no, it’s not dumb.” Sands laid a hand on my shoulder, squeezing firmly. “I don’t know how I’d deal with having to spend so much time away from my dad. Ever since Mom disappeared, the three of us have been a team. Dad, Scout, and me. If they tried to separate any of us, I’d be pretty messed up.”

I winced, looking at the girl. “Your mom disappeared too?”

“About seven years ago,” she confirmed before glancing toward her sister. “Is this okay?” Waiting until Scout gave a very slight nod, she then asked, “Do you wanna take a walk?” That time, Scout hesitated before nodding. She stood up and walked out of the cafeteria, as quiet as ever.

Once her sister was gone, Sands sighed. “Scout was with Mom the day she disappeared. Only she wasn’t Scout yet. She was just Sarah. Mom and Sarah took our boat out on the ocean to watch this whale pod that was passing by. That was early in the morning. They wanted me to go, but… uh, I was tired.” There was a look of such guilt in Sands’ face right then that it was almost painful to see. She looked away from me, paused, and then continued. “They were gone all day. The boat never came back. Eventually Dad and Aunt Virginia—err, Professor Dare went out to look for them. When they came back, Sarah was with them but Mom was gone. They said they found her on the empty boat.”

Sands was quiet once more, and I noticed that we were the only ones in the cafeteria. Still, I didn’t interrupt. Eventually, she spoke again. “Dad said they couldn’t find her at first. They thought the boat was abandoned. He… he called their names, Mom’s and Sarah’s. There was no answer, but when he called again, he heard someone crying. He found Sarah under the cot, behind the fishing equipment. When he said her name, she started screaming at him. She wouldn’t stop screaming. He tried to help her, tried to pull her out from under the cot to find out what was wrong, but she was just… screaming at him every time he said her name. He said ‘Sarah, calm down. It’s Daddy, it’s Daddy, Sarah’ and she just cried and screamed even more. Finally, he realized it was her name. Her name was what was upsetting her. So he called her his little scout. That was just a silly little sometimes nickname that he used once in awhile because Sarah was always getting into things, ever since we could walk. Exploring. She was his little scout. So he called her Scout, and she stopped screaming. But she didn’t stop crying.

“We umm, we found out later that there was a… a Stranger out there. It took Mom. And it tried to take Sarah. She hid, and this… this monster was walking through the boat, calling her name. It kept saying things like, ‘Saaaaraaah, mommy misses you. Come out, Sarah. Mommy wants you. Come out, or Mommy gets hurt.’ Then he kept making her hear our mom being… hurt, tortured. Crying. Begging. That monster kept walking through the boat, but he wasn’t saying her name anymore. Mom was. She kept calling for Sarah. I… I don’t know if it was our real mom or a trick, but it was her voice. She kept calling for Sarah. Sarah, help me. Sarah, don’t you love me anymore? Sarah, I’m scared. Sarah, please stop hiding. Sarah, I’m going to die. Sarah, he’s going to kill me. Sarah, please, Sarah.”

There were tears in Sands’ eyes then, and she wiped them away before giving a shudder. “That’s why she doesn’t use the name Sarah anymore. That’s why she’s Scout now.”

I swallowed hard, staring at her. “I… I’m sorry. I had no idea it was anything like that.”

Her head shook. “It’s been awhile. I don’t usually talk about it. God, I’m not sure why I did this time. It just felt like something you might wanna know. You said your mom left you guys, right?”

“For some guy she pulled over for speeding,” I confirmed with a sigh. “Guess all three of us were basically raised by our fathers, huh?”

“I guess so,” Sands replied. Then the two of us were quiet, thinking until the bell rang to announce that we were going to be late for class if we didn’t hurry. I quickly dumped the cereal bowl and we joined Scout in the corridor. Then the three of us raced to reach the self-defense classroom.

We made it just in time, sprinting into the room a second before the late bell went off. At the front of the room, Katarin gave us a long look before gesturing for us to join our teammates. Then he spoke up. “What are the three greatest strengths that we have as Heretics?”

One of the boys that had grown up around all this stuff raised his hand before answering, “Our collective knowledge gained by those who have come before us, our ability to see through the Strangers’ disguises, and our ability to steal the strengths and powers from the ones that we kill.”

“Yes,” Katarin gave a nod of his head before folding his massive arms over his chest. “It’s that last one that we’re going to be working with today. If you’re going to survive the kind of training that we have to get through this semester, you’re all going to have to take a bit of punishment. But we can’t have you getting beat up and bruised, then just send you onto the next class. You need a bit of an edge first. That’s where this little guy comes in.”

Reaching down behind himself, Katarin straightened up with something grasped in his hand. There were several yelps through the room, as well as one muttered, “Fuck, that’s disgusting.”

Whoever had said that was right. The thing that Katarin was holding looked a bit like a poodle crossed with a cockroach. It had six legs and was covered with a dark brown shell with blotches of fur showing here and there. It was probably only about as long as my forearm, but that’s pretty damn big for something as ugly as it was.

“This,” Katarin explained in his booming voice, “is a Peridle. Ugly little shit, huh? Don’t worry, they’re only dangerous in packs. Keep them separated and the things are too stupid to do anything but sit there. They don’t attack, they barely move without a swarm leader, and they are almost entirely useless save for one thing. Anyone wanna try to tell me what that is?”

“They regenerate?” Someone else put in.

“Yup.” Katarin gave the thing a shake, and it made this ugly little squelching noise that almost brought bile to my mouth. “As long as they’re not dead, the damn things heal right up after you hurt them. So one of the first things we do with you new students is have you kill one of these things. That way you get to feel what it’s like to absorb a Strangers’ power, and we get to beat you up a little harder since you’ll get better a lot faster than you would have otherwise. It’s a win-win situation.”

The other thing it did, I realized, was give us something to kill that didn’t look the least bit human. For most of us, dealing with something like this would probably feel more like stomping on a bug than anything else.

“All right then,” Katarin boomed. “Separate into your roommate pairs, and then line up. One pair at a time go through that way.” He pointed to a door at the back of the room before reiterating. “One pair through at a time. You’ll find two of these buggers waiting for you. Kill them, watch your partner kill theirs, then come back out here. Shouldn’t take any of you longer than a minute.”

Looking to Avalon, I smiled. “Guess we’re squashing some bugs, huh?” Her response was a shrug.

We lined up, and one pair at a time passed through the doors. Professor Katarin stood right in the doorway, watching everything that happened. I heard a lot of screams of disgust every time one of the creatures was killed, and the awful stench that kept wafting back wasn’t making me any more eager to go in there. After each session, Katarin went into the room and spoke with the students who had just finished before sending them out. Then he took the time to clean it up a bit and put two more of the creatures into place before sending the next pair of students in. That continued onward, with each student that came out afterward looking dazed but fairly happy, and extremely energetic. They all gathered on the opposite side of the room, comparing stories and generally chatting quite enthusiastically. Whatever else killing one of those things did, it also seemed to give a jolt of energy, making everyone that came out seem almost hyper.

Eventually, it was our team’s turn, and Avalon and I were the first pair up out of the group. Without looking at me, my roommate strode past Katarin and into the room. I followed after her, tugging the cap off my belt sheathe before drawing the staff up and out, still a bit awkward with it.

Right, I could kill a little ugly poodle cockroach thing, couldn’t I? It shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Half the class had done so without any real problem so far.

The room smelled worse on the inside than it had on the outside. I gagged a little before taking in the sight. Sure enough, there were two of the damn things sitting a little bit apart from each other on a hard wooden floor. The walls were blank white, and there was bits of blood and bug-poodle body parts lying around that Katarin hadn’t quite gotten to.

Killing bugs, killing bugs, it was just killing bugs. I could do this. Gripping my staff in my hand, I took a step forward.

Then I stopped. “Uh, wait, why are there three of them?” I was looking at the third Peridle, sitting a short distance away from the one that I had been heading for. “Professor, why is the–” Turning that way, I blinked at the sight of the closed door. “What the…”

There was a sudden pounding noise at the door. Professor Katarin’s voice bellowed, “Open this door right now!”

I had just taken a step back that way when Avalon caught my shoulder. “Chambers!” Jerking me around, she pointed. “Look.” Her voice was dark.

Turning my head the way she was staring, I saw the literal writing on the wall. Someone had spray painted a message over the far wall that I swore hadn’t been there a few seconds ago. It read, ‘Eden’s Garden Whore Doesn’t Belong Here. If Headmistress Mommy Won’t Get Rid Of You, We Will.’

Avalon’s jaw was clenched, and I could feel the anger radiating out from her. Before she could say anything, however, a noise drew my attention. Blinking up, I stared for a moment before what I was seeing made any sense. Then I gulped. “Ummm…. Avalon?” Tugging her arm, I pointed.

She looked up as well, and cursed. “That’s a lot of bugs.”

She was right. The ceiling was literally covered in those damn Peridles. The ones that were harmless as long as they weren’t in a swarm. Yeah, a swarm like the one crawling around on the ceiling right above us.

A whimper escaped me before I whispered, “Okay, okay. We just go to the door, and–”

That was as far as I got before every head of those ugly bugs turned our way. With a collective screech, the ceiling itself seemed to collapse as they launched themselves straight for us.

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27 comments

  1. Well, crap. Apparently, there are multiple people with murder on the brain here. That’s not good.

    Oh, and Flick and Avalon are being swarmed by regen bugs the size of small dogs. That’s not good either. Unless they get out of it, in which case they should have really, really good healing factors. And the fact that they are fighting a swarm means they’ll get a healing factor after one kill. Hmm, maybe this isn’t quite as impossible as it looks. On the other hand, Flick is completely new at this whole fighting thing, though Avalon might not be. Should be interesting.

    And now we understand Scout a lot better. That would definitely explain the reticence, and why the whole “looking at the Heretical Edge is a family event” thing might not bring up happy thoughts for her.

    And Vanessa still seems rather timid for being in the explorer track. Though she also seems to have the appropriate levels of thirst for knowledge, so that might help. Also, I have to agree with Flick, that indelible memory ability, combined with hunting eldrich monsters, is not good. Reminds me of Wizard’s Sight from the Dresden Files, and looking at the wrong thing with that is a great way to go insane.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well. I guess Avalon’s secret is out… assuming, of course, that it was ever a secret in the first place. I look forward to the eventual revelations of Avalon’s backstory.

    Scout’s backstory is horrifying. Between that and Ammon, you’re starting to frighten me Cerulean.

    Actually, while I’m thinking about that, how do you pronounce Ammon’s name? I’ve been pronouncing it liki Avon, only with an em sound instead of a vee.

    Anyway, let’s see the roommates kick poodle-cockroach-thing ass!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Welp, things sure escalated there at the end.

    But before that, there’s plenty of interesting stuff going on.

    See that Flick’s using her magic practice homework to enjoy a little time on the beach, though she & Columbus have a bit of a hard time getting it to work, thanks to something else we find out about the Heretics’ magic system- turns out that they have to enchant items for themselves at this level since it’s based on infusing their own energy into the item, as enchanting items for the use of another is more advanced skill.

    Also, nice to see Herbie once again, particularly this bit: “I shook my head. “I already told you, we are not blowing up Herbie’s cousins right in front of him.” Gesturing to my little buddy, who sat enjoying the evening air on a nearby bit of driftwood….” 🙂

    Then we get to learn more about Vanessa. One might wonder why such a quiet bookworm would end up in the Explorer track, though her perfect memory would be really useful in spotting all the little details & remembering them for reports in the scouting expeditions into the dimension that Strangers inhabit. However, as Flick pointed out, for someone in the line of work they’re going into, that ability is a double-edged sword, since they’re fighting evil eldritch abominations who commit all sorts of horrific atrocities that they’re going to see the aftermath of, which would be bad enough, but Vanessa’s going to remember every last gory detail of those scenes for as long as she lives. For the sake of her long-term mental health, it might be for the best if she went into something that doesn’t really involve going into the field a lot, because otherwise, there’s a good chance of PTSD, other sorts of major psychological trauma, & all the knock-on effects of that in her future.

    After that, it’s time to learn something more about the twins- turns out that they lost their mother at a young age as well, thanks to Strangers. In their case, Scout & their mother went out on a boat that disappeared for several hours before it was found, and when it was, their mother was gone. Turns out that a Stranger attacked, and while Scout was hiding under a cot, it called out to her by name & taunting her with cries for help from her mother as well as torturing the mother before getting tired & taking and/or killing her, and ever since, Scout’s been called by that nickname instead of her real name, as that’s what it called out to her. Lasting trauma from that event must be part of why Scout’s so quiet & reserved. Plus, given how for Heretics by birth, that moment in the lighthouse where their knowledge & the Heretical Edge are awakened is supposed to be a family event, that must have brought back some really unpleasant memories for Scout.

    Though given what we know of how Scout was trapped with a Stranger doing unpleasant things to her mother while she had disappeared for several hours, kind of makes one wonder if there’s not something else going on with her…. (One question that might be pertinent here is whether Strangers can set up the equivalent of a Ziz-bomb)

    Oh, and finding out that Professor Dare is their aunt is interesting as well.

    Then, it’s time for class, and this time, it’s combat training. As that’s likely to generate a lot of bumps & bruises, they’re going to start by killing a Peridle- a small, grotesque, bug-like Stranger that’s harmless unless in large numbers & has a regeneration ability, so beyond the experience, they can also get a chance to feel what it’s like to absorb Stranger power & gain an improved recovery ability.

    Although most of the class gets to kill their critters & get a bit of a rush out of it, things go seriously wrong when it’s Flick & Avalon’s turn. Seems that someone knows about Avalon’s past & has decided to get rid of her, so they sabotaged the classroom so that she (and Flick) are locked in a room with a whole swarm of Peridles, which makes it dangerous. On the plus side, if they manage to fight off the swarm & get out of there, they ought to have a fairly decent regeneration ability, but that’s a big if, given the numbers & lack of experience. (Might be a good time for Flick to experiment a little with the kinetic boost abilities of her staff.)

    However, is the person responsible the same person who murdered the professor, or is there another would-be killer on campus, and how did they find out about Avalon’s past, as she’s gone through some trouble to keep that hidden….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Plus, given how for Heretics by birth, that moment in the lighthouse where their knowledge & the Heretical Edge are awakened is supposed to be a family event, that must have brought back some really unpleasant memories for Scout.”

      Yup, for one thing, it made her remember what the monster that was on the boat looked like, rather than just remembering him as a human being.

      “Oh, and finding out that Professor Dare is their aunt is interesting as well.”

      This’ll come out more in the story, but she’s not really biologically their aunt. It’s just a product of growing up with her always around as a friend of their father’s (and mother’s before she died) and at least in my experience, adult friends of parents that are around a lot tend to get labeled with the aunt/uncle title even when there isn’t a relation.

      ” (Might be a good time for Flick to experiment a little with the kinetic boost abilities of her staff.)”

      Nothing like being tossed into the deep end… of shark infested waters.

      Like

  4. Huh. Interesting how both Flick and the twins lost their mom to a Stranger. I mean, losing their parent to a Stranger isn’t that strange for someone born within the Knowledge, but what I find interesting is how Flick and Scout changed their name as a consequence of what happened. It doesn’t feel like a coincidence.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. “I shook my head. “I already told you, we are not blowing up Herbie’s cousins right in front of him.” Gesturing to my little buddy, who sat enjoying the evening air on a nearby bit of driftwood,”
    Me: Does Herbie even like those cousins? 😛

    “After glancing toward Columbus briefly, I shrugged and flipped the pages in the book. “Okay.. page eighty-four, paragraph three.” Tracing my finger down the page, I found the spot and read aloud. “Within jointly created spells, objects empowered by each individual must be employed by that same individual. The energy is tied between Heretic and object, and cannot simply be used by another.”

    Columbus whistled. “How the hell did you know that? That’s like, seventy pages away from where we are.”
    Me: One would think something like that would be on the same page as the technique being taught, not 70 pages away.

    “That time, there was no hesitation before Vanessa answered, “Rowing.”

    With Erin and Columbus both looking at me, I flipped the pages to the right spot, counting the words carefully to make sure I had the right one. When I saw the word, I stared at it. “She’s right. How?”

    “I told you, she’s a genius,” Erin replied. “She remembers like… everything. Everything. She reads it, she sees it, she hears it, she remembers it. She could tell you what she had for breakfast ten years ago.””
    Me: Wow, eidetic/perfect memory. Rather useful, although it likely has its downsides too. *reads on* And Flick catches on rather quickly to that. Rather astute of her.

    “Then he kept making her hear our mom being… hurt, tortured. Crying. Begging. That monster kept walking through the boat, but he wasn’t saying her name anymore. Mom was. She kept calling for Sarah. I… I don’t know if it was our real mom or a trick, but it was her voice. She kept calling for Sarah. Sarah, help me. Sarah, don’t you love me anymore? Sarah, I’m scared. Sarah, please stop hiding. Sarah, I’m going to die. Sarah, he’s going to kill me. Sarah, please, Sarah.””
    Me: This is…more than a little unsettling. It denotes a level of calculated action/sadism that I wasn’t expecting from the Strangers.

    “Turning my head the way she was staring, I saw the literal writing on the wall. Someone had spray painted a message over the far wall that I swore hadn’t been there a few seconds ago. It read, ‘Eden’s Garden Whore Doesn’t Belong Here. If Headmistress Mommy Won’t Get Rid Of You, We Will.’
    *SNIP*
    She was right. The ceiling was literally covered in those damn Peridles. The ones that were harmless as long as they weren’t in a swarm. Yeah, a swarm like the one crawling around on the ceiling right above us.

    A whimper escaped me before I whispered, “Okay, okay. We just go to the door, and–”

    That was as far as I got before every head of those ugly bugs turned our way. With a collective screech, the ceiling itself seemed to collapse as they launched themselves straight for us.”
    Me: Okay, this sounds like an assassination attempt based on the message.

    Let’s see how Avalon and Flick get out of this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Me: Does Herbie even like those cousins? :P”

      Nah, they’re beach bums that need to get a job. 😉

      “Me: This is…more than a little unsettling. It denotes a level of calculated action/sadism that I wasn’t expecting from the Strangers.”

      There’s an enormous range of intelligence levels among what Heretics call Strangers. Some are essentially brainless and operate purely on instinct, while others are as smart as any human being. Essentially any being from outside this world is lumped into one list as ‘Strangers.’ It’s basically like if you took the entire D&D monster manual and assigned a single name to everything in it.

      “Me: One would think something like that would be on the same page as the technique being taught, not 70 pages away.”

      The project 70 pages away was specifically about combining magic, whereas it wasn’t mentioned in this early chapter because they weren’t supposed to be trying to do it anyway. This was the very, very simple basics. Pick up a stone, follow these instructions, this will happen. Deviating from those instructions even just as far as someone else throwing it is what messed them up.

      Like

    1. Bite? It’s not supposed to have bite, it’s supposed to be Flick being perceptive enough to look past the immediate ‘gift’ part of having such a memory and see how it could be a bad thing as well.

      And it’s not hard to get to ‘strangers are evil.’ If people in the comments here can get that, Flick can. Remember, she has A: seen a vision of the orc monsters, B: visited the library to read about the Heretics, C: spoken to people, D: been told specifically that the Strangers include things like vampires and demons, and E: already attended a class specifically ABOUT Strangers, wherein the subject before the story cut away was about zombies, who are what? Cannibals. Hence her mentioning cannibals.

      Think about it. They had a class about zombies. Think about what zombies do. Think about seeing something like that and constantly retaining a perfect memory of it for the rest of your life. Flick, being established from chapter ONE of this story as a smart and perceptive person, would notice that.

      She wasn’t making a rant, she was explaining to Columbus why that kind of memory could be bad.

      If I misunderstood what you’re saying, please feel free to explain a bit more.

      Like

      1. That leaves me an interesting idea. Are all strangers evil? If no, are some of them actually benevolent? That would be an interest difference from “all supernatural creatures are evil.”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “That leaves me an interesting idea. Are all strangers evil? If no, are some of them actually benevolent? That would be an interest difference from “all supernatural creatures are evil.””

        Let’s just say I vehemently disagree with movies/stories/shows/etc that portray supernatural creatures as ALL evil. The rest would be spoilers.

        Like

      3. It just feels like it lacks impact. Apart from the memory, everything to do with strangers up until the bug beasts, everything to do with strangers is offscreen. It comes off less like our main character understands how things are and more like a side character is trying to hype up a villain by emphasising all the bad bits.

        If there was one change I would do, I’d have the Zombie lesson shown. Both the reader and the characters would be on the same (or at least similar) pages regarding strangers, since we’d both have the exact same info from the staff.

        Like

  6. The plot thickens even more.

    Also, poor Scout. For some reason, the situation seems very familiar but I can’t pinpoint it.

    Glad to see I was able to predict them using weak Strangers as fodder.

    How!? Just how? They managed to both write the message on the wall and smuggle/liberate a whole swarm of the dogroaches into the room and unto the ceiling and either managed to hide it from the professors view or managed to do all that in between switching people. Magic?

    Also, are the dogroaches your own invention or inspired by something?

    Like

    1. How!? Just how? They managed to both write the message on the wall and smuggle/liberate a whole swarm of the dogroaches into the room and unto the ceiling and either managed to hide it from the professors view or managed to do all that in between switching people. Magic?

      Good question. 😉

      Also, are the dogroaches your own invention or inspired by something?

      Those are mine.

      Like

  7. <>
    <>
    Especially the weapons/combat training is so fucked up that i can’t believe they’re actually getting somewhat capable warriors out of it.
    <>

    What weapons/combat training are you talking about? Literally the only combat stuff in there (that the school PLANNED rather than being an assassination attempt) is ‘go in this room and kill this bug that won’t fight back so that you get regeneration power.’

    So I have no idea what you’re criticizing.
    <>
    Seems like i have write this post afterall…

    First, while that statement is rather rash I will not apologise for it. I will however point out that it is not intended to insult the author or his/her/it’s writing.

    Now then, weapons/combat training at the CRA seems to consist of handing out magical weapons, that range from marginally useful (construction mace) to quite powerful (dog-minigun/Flick’s Staff), to teenagers with only a short info on what these do and a quick reminder not to fiddle with them on their second day of school!
    On their 4th day of school the teens are told to use those weapons, that they have no training with at all, to kill some regenerating bugs without a trainer/teacher actually overseeing the fight (Katarin stays outside of the fighting room/chamber)!!
    You seriously don’t see any problems with that? Really?

    K, let me tell you what realistically is going to happen:
    Some (mostly boys and the occasional girl) will go into the battle room, kill those critters and get out without any trouble worth speaking off.
    Some will get in there and stand dumbfounded before those bugs because they have no clue what to do. Eventually they will start to attack without dealing enough damage. If they are lucky they manage a kill before the time runs out.
    Some (again mostly boys) will over enthusiastically run in and start flailing their weapons around, injuring themselves and/or their roommates in the process but manage to eventually kill the bugs, get the regeneration and survive for their next stupid stunt.
    Some will get in there and DIE, either due their own fault or because of their over enthusiastic and/or extremely untrained roommate before they have a chance to get the regeneration.
    Some will even manage to take themselves AND their roommates out before either of them has a chance to grab the regen.
    Some might even manage to get him-/herself killed by those docile little bugs.
    And there might even be someone in that class who is simply unable to attack and kill something that doesn’t attack him/her first.

    Also, getting regeneration this early in the weapons/combat training robs the pupils of their chance to develop a proper instinct to avoid incoming damage. After all what’s the point of blocking/evading this incoming attack when I can simply soak it up, heal and continue whatever I was doing?

    You can’t seriously think that this is a good way to start training fighters, regardless of the warrior/soldier issue.

    If you want I can give you a rough outline of how to really train fighters that may become truly competent. But that wont help with this story unless you’re willing to do some serious retcons.

    On the other hand, it was nice to see Flick finally picking up an the whole “You’re here to learn how to kill once we’re telling to kill” stuff. Well, at least somewhat…

    Like

    1. Now then, weapons/combat training at the CRA seems to consist of handing out magical weapons, that range from marginally useful (construction mace) to quite powerful (dog-minigun/Flick’s Staff), to teenagers with only a short info on what these do and a quick reminder not to fiddle with them on their second day of school!

      Not really? That’s not what it ‘consists of’, that’s how it starts. Yes, they give them deadly weapons from the start. That’s kind of why they also give them regeneration very quickly. But that’s not ‘what it consists of.’ They literally have physical workouts every morning, as well as a dedicated combat class.

      That said, yes, they’re starting them off with weapons and combat training extremely quickly. That’s not an accident, it’s a major part of the school. And yes, it could be taken slower… say… give them weapons after a couple months in school. But that would be boring to read, and extremely slow to get into anything happening.

      RWBY, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, etc etc etc are all examples of schools/organizations that hand out deadly weapons right away. This isn’t something I invented. You’re kind of asking for total and complete realism at the expense of entertainment. Just because something is realistic doesn’t mean it’s exceptionally interesting to read.

      On their 4th day of school the teens are told to use those weapons, that they have no training with at all, to kill some regenerating bugs without a trainer/teacher actually overseeing the fight (Katarin stays outside of the fighting room/chamber)!!

      You seriously don’t see any problems with that? Really?

      There’s literally no fight. The bugs are supposed to be incapable of fighting back. One single peridle by itself is genetically incapable of fighting or doing anything but just sitting there waiting to be squashed. I get what you’re trying to say, but there is not supposed to be any kind of fight there. It’s just ‘walk in, smash bug, walk out.’

      Also, Katarin was standing right in the doorway, as mentioned. It’s stated that he’s watching everything that happens, and that he goes in and talks to every student after they kill their bug. It’s only after someone uses magic to close and seal the door that he’s not right there on top of things.

      I think you might have a slight tendency here to see what happens to Flick because of outside influence (her not being interviewed before the school year, or here with the assassination attempt) and assume that’s how everything goes, even when it’s directly stated and shown (as it was here) that it’s not how that normally goes.

      K, let me tell you what realistically is going to happen:

      Be careful here, because that comes off as incredibly condescending and is a good way to make people not want to listen to what you have to say. I don’t think you meant it to be that way.

      Some (mostly boys and the occasional girl) will go into the battle room, kill those critters and get out without any trouble worth speaking off.

      Some will get in there and stand dumbfounded before those bugs because they have no clue what to do. Eventually they will start to attack without dealing enough damage. If they are lucky they manage a kill before the time runs out.

      Some (again mostly boys) will over enthusiastically run in and start flailing their weapons around, injuring themselves and/or their roommates in the process but manage to eventually kill the bugs, get the regeneration and survive for their next stupid stunt.
      Some will get in there and DIE, either due their own fault or because of their over enthusiastic and/or extremely untrained roommate before they have a chance to get the regeneration.

      Some will even manage to take themselves AND their roommates out before either of them has a chance to grab the regen.

      Some might even manage to get him-/herself killed by those docile little bugs.
      And there might even be someone in that class who is simply unable to attack and kill something that doesn’t attack him/her first.

      None of this is true, because again, Katarin was standing right there watching what was going on and correcting when he needed to. And if they’re stupid enough to kill themselves or their roommate while doing the equivalent of stepping on a bug (it really, really, really does not take much to kill something that just sits there without fighting back or even MOVING) then they wouldn’t have been recruited in the first place.

      ALSO, you’re forgetting that the majority of the students in this case were raised by Heretics and thus aren’t going to act the same as you think the average mundane know-nothing teenager would.

      All of these things are answered by those three simple things. 1: Katarin is right there watching what’s going on. 2: The bugs don’t do anything. 3: These aren’t completely random teenagers taken off the street. The majority have been raised among this stuff and probably already have training anyway, and those who weren’t were heavily investigated to make sure they were the right type of person and were ready for it. They didn’t just draw names out of a hat. You’re declaring what an average, know-nothing teenager would do. Even then I think you’re being overly negative about how it would go, but discounting that, it’s not even relevant because that’s not what/who these people are.

      Also, getting regeneration this early in the weapons/combat training robs the pupils of their chance to develop a proper instinct to avoid incoming damage. After all what’s the point of blocking/evading this incoming attack when I can simply soak it up, heal and continue whatever I was doing?

      A: Because it still hurts, even if that hurt is lessened. B: Because being damaged can still slow them down/stop them from completing their goal. Let’s say they tell ten students to try to get across a finish line, and then start throwing things at them. The ones who manage to avoid being hit the most are going to get across the line quicker, and thus win that particular contest. Thus, even though the ones that were hit are healed afterward, they still learn to avoid being hit because the ones who weren’t hit completed the task faster. That’s just one example.

      I’m sorry, but the best way I can put it is that you’re kind of making a lot of assumptions. It’s not like they give them regeneration and then leave the training at the level it would be for people without regeneration. They’re teaching them, and yes, they give them a healing power because it allows them to push their students harder and hit them a lot more than they’d be able to otherwise. This way, someone gets hit ten times and then learns how to avoid it, rather than getting hit once and then being in the hospital for a couple weeks.

      You can’t seriously think that this is a good way to start training fighters, regardless of the warrior/soldier issue.

      Yes, I seriously can. You’re free to disagree, of course.

      If you want I can give you a rough outline of how to really train fighters that may become truly competent. But that wont help with this story unless you’re willing to do some serious retcons.

      Nope, I’m good with the way things are. It works just fine.

      Again, yes, I could slow everything down and only hand out weapons much later, show months of training before they let them do anything even remotely dangerous, etc etc etc. But that wouldn’t be interesting to read/see, as evidenced by all those other examples I gave, as well as many more besides. Sometimes realistic = boring. And that’s how you lose readers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for giving such in depth Answer. Also thanks for giving it despite my tone.
        I actually realised that i came over more harsh, rude or condescending then intended as soon as reread it after posting. Have to admit that that happens more often then then I like. The intended tone was lighthearted banter, if anyone wants to know.

        Not really? That’s not what it ‘consists of’, that’s how it starts. Yes, they give them deadly weapons from the start. That’s kind of why they also give them regeneration very quickly. But that’s not ‘what it consists of.’ They literally have physical workouts every morning, as well as a dedicated combat class.

        I think I should’ve put a “so far seems” in front of the “consists of” because the only time before this that combat classes were mentioned in story was the class were the pupils got their weapons.
        K, you did mention the physical workouts a couple of times but while the benefits of workouts for combat are obvious and undisputed, those two aren’t directly related

        That said, yes, they’re starting them off with weapons and combat training extremely quickly. That’s not an accident, it’s a major part of the school. And yes, it could be taken slower… say… give them weapons after a couple months in school. But that would be boring to read, and extremely slow to get into anything happening.

        Depending on how it’s written it doesn’t have to be boring. Hey, you managed to make the simple akt of Tayler lifting her arm in the hospital room in “Intrepid” extremly interesting. I think you could pull this off too.

        Sure Harry got his deadly (once he knows all the powerful spells) wand early too. But than Rowlings went out of her way to show that he had to learn how to use it, starting with very low level spells that would be hard pressed to hurt a fly.

        You’re kind of asking for total and complete realism at the expense of entertainment.

        Now you’re making an assumption about me. One that is less correct then the one about the intended tone of my previous post.
        What I’m asking for are internally consistent stories that I can recognise as such. That’s not to say that your stories aren’t internally consistent, but that I currently have trouble recognising it in this case.
        And you answering my questions and confirming/refuting my assumptions had me already realise that this story is more internally consistent than I originally thought.
        Even if you didn’t state whether to upcoming evil twist on the CRA was supposed to be that blatantly obvious or not. Hrmm … could be a false leed to make the true plot twist even more suppressing…

        Also, Katarin was standing right in the doorway, as mentioned. It’s stated that he’s watching everything that happens, and that he goes in and talks to every student after they kill their bug.

        Huh? It’s indeed stated that he’s standing right in the doorway. Must’ve over read that. Unless you’re cheating and added that bit… (Kidding, I really don’t think you would do such a thing and it’s not that unlikely to be a reading error of me)

        That does of course invalidate pretty much all of my assumptions about how things would pan out. Except for the one about someone unable/unwilling to attack and kill something that doesn’t attack first. That could still happen and there’s not much Katarin could do about it.

        I think you might have a slight tendency here to see what happens to Flick because of outside influence (her not being interviewed before the school year, or here with the assassination attempt) and assume that’s how everything goes, even when it’s directly stated and shown (as it was here) that it’s not how that normally goes.

        You might be right but I don’t think so, because I haven’t really warmed up with Flick as main character yet. I do like her interactions with Herbie though.

        ALSO, you’re forgetting that the majority of the students in this case were raised by Heretics and thus aren’t going to act the same as you think the average mundane know-nothing teenager would.

        Nope, didn’t forget that, you simply didn’t mention before what being heretic-born means beside having knowledge that Stangers and magic exist and that it’s a even more dangerous world that normals would think.
        So I made the assumption that most of them couldn’t be to far off from normal teens.
        Even reading the next chapter and learning that at least one of them must have had prior combat traing doesn’t invalidate that.

        The majority have been raised among this stuff and probably already have training anyway,

        And what of that is stated in-story? The knowledge about Strangers and magic can savely be infered but prior training, while certainly a good idea, wasn’t even hinted at. And as of 3.05 it’s still only pretty sure in one case.

        and those who weren’t were heavily investigated to make sure they were the right type of person and were ready for it. They didn’t just draw names out of a hat.

        I’m sure they didn’t just draw names out of a hat, that was one of the reasons why I don’t think that CRA is on the up’n’up, if you’ll remember. But did they employ telepaths to make sure that all of the mugles would be will to attack and kill a unmoving, defenceless and nontreating puddle-bug the first time they’re confronted with one? Did all of the mugles take self defence classes (’cause that’s whats it’s called when civilians take it)? Where was it hinted at or outright stated in-story?
        Somehow I don’t see Flick or her dad having feeled the need to take self defense classes in bumfuck, Wisconsin before all of this started. Nor does she akt like she had prior training when it was her time with the peridles.

        BTW, what i meant by realistically was realistically in your world and it’s rules as I understand them with those people created by you as I understand them.
        Sure I made a rather major error in my understanding of the rules but I can admit that and live with it.
        Also, given my experience in the real life I was more or less on par, maybe even optimistic about the expected outcomes. If I wanted to be truly realistic I would’ve mentioned that someone will somehow mange to off at least half of his/her/its class in process of kill on small critter every so often…

        A: Because it still hurts, even if that hurt is lessened.

        Yes and No.
        Yes, ’cause they will still gain some damage avoidance instinct.
        No, ’cause at the same time they’ll learn and ingrain some very bad and potentially deadly habits. Like attempting to block a knife/sword at the egde of blade to stop it from reaching something more vital and simply soak up the damage to hand/arm/leg instead of blocking it at the wielders hand/arm or diverting it via the flat of the blade. Which will get them killed as soon as somebody strong enough to power through or with a enchanted/monomolecular blade shows up. It’s also a bad idea to try that trick against someone with an axe.

        B: Because being damaged can still slow them down/stop them from completing their goal. Let’s say they tell ten students to try to get across a finish line, and then start throwing things at them. The ones who manage to avoid being hit the most are going to get across the line quicker, and thus win that particular contest. Thus, even though the ones that were hit are healed afterward, they still learn to avoid being hit because the ones who weren’t hit completed the task faster.

        Is trying to avoid getting hit really quicker than soaking up the hits and keep going? I can think of a lot of situations where it isn’t. It’s only when getting hit means losing the ability to move, serious injuries or dieing that avoiding the hits would be faster. Which puts us back in the bad habits area.

        I’m sorry, but the best way I can put it is that you’re kind of making a lot of assumptions.

        Of course I do. I’m even making assumptions about life-or-death situations like whether that cyclist is going to stop at that red light or if he’s about to find out how cushy the hood of my car is (Not very, it’s a good old real steel hood. Sadly no machine guns … ).
        And you know what? So are you and everybody else because none of us is all knowing. We have to use what little information we have (or think we have, there’s always room for error) to make assumptions about pretty much everything we encounter during our life.
        In this case I used the information your world, it’s rules and it’s inhabitants I have, or taught I have, to make assumptions about what would happen. Some of that info turned out false so the assumptions were false too. Shit happens. :shrug:

        And I’ve never said that the pupils shouldn’t get the regen at all, just that I think it’s way to early. But if the first class of actual combat training is likely to put somebody in the hospital if they don’t have regen, then something is seriously wrong with the lesson plan.

        Yes, I seriously can. You’re free to disagree, of course.

        Then we agree to disagree. Although to a much lesser extent.

        Again, yes, I could slow everything down and only hand out weapons much later, show months of training before they let them do anything even remotely dangerous, etc etc etc. But that wouldn’t be interesting to read/see, as evidenced by all those other examples I gave, as well as many more besides. Sometimes realistic = boring. And that’s how you lose readers.

        As I said way above it depends how you write it.
        And some things should be mentioned at least in passing, like “My head is still smoking from that trig class earlier.” or “Damn, Sands totally kicked my ass in combat class again.”.
        Leaving out too much can be a way of losing readers too.

        Admission time:
        No I’m no author. But i read. A lot!
        Also I’m a terrible slow writer. Even more so if I’m doing it on a smartphone.

        Like

  8. I think my favorite thing about this story so far is how very practical the school is. Great security, flexible rules, discipline that respects their students intelligence, clear and helpful explanations and demonstrations, and now this, a first Stranger kill in a safe controlled environment that also results in their students being less prone to future injury. I think the only dumb thing the faculty has done so far is handle out weapons right away in so carefree a manner. But that might even be on purpose. It would allow them to immediately weed out the immature kids who aren’t careful with their weapons and expel them before they become a problem.

    Like

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