Study and Scrutiny 20-04

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“Where the hell is Katarin?” The question, voiced more like a demand, came from a boy with a long, dour-looking face and light brown hair in a shaggy cut. His nose was a little too big, but other than that, he was the type of average-looking who would actually be quite good if he took better care of himself.

Preston, that was his name. Preston Scofield. I’d never interacted with him directly, but I did remember that he and his roommate were the first two students to be called by their mentor at the start of the year.

Shiori and I had joined the rest of the Hunter track students out on the beach a few moments earlier.

I could see a couple of the Hunter students practicing the Kevlar spell that we’d been working on earlier with Carfried. He’d made sure that everyone in the class could actually cast it before letting us go, and now they were testing it. Not with actual bullets, of course. Even Crossroads wasn’t crazy enough to let their first year students start shooting at each other just to test magic spells, healing or no healing.

Instead, they were chucking small stones at each other as hard as they could. The protective spell would slow the rocks down until it was basically like they were being lightly tossed, doing no real damage.

From what Carfried had said, the spell would only affect projectiles up to a certain size. It wouldn’t slow down any kind of melee weapon like a sword or a bat. Those were too heavy for the spell to affect. And projectiles that were big enough wouldn’t be affected either. Cannonballs, rockets, thrown axes, things like Shiori’s discs, none of that would be stopped by the Kevlar spell. It only worked on little things like bullets. Or, in this case, the rocks that the other students were throwing at each other.

There was no sign of Hisao yet, and even the people who weren’t practicing the spell seemed restless. There was a lot of pacing back and forth and muttering, and pretty much everyone looked agitated. Preston had just happened to be the first one to actually speak louder over the private conversations.

“I got a better question,” a girl announced while folding her arms over her chest. “Why do we get stuck with some psycho hack from that Garden place? Shouldn’t he be, like… locked up or something?”

My mouth opened to say something, but one of the other boys interrupted first. “I heard,” he started in a conspiratorial whisper (because that kind of phrase always preceded something easily verifiable), “that he had to leave Eden’s Garden because he was too psycho even for them. He was like… cutting the skin off Strangers and displaying it and shit. They made him go away because he even creeped them out.”

My mouth was still hanging open while my brain tried to wrap itself around that absurdity when Paul Calburn, the big Kentucky boy from Roxa’s old team, spoke. “Now if that was anywhere close to true, why would Headmistress Sinclaire let him join this place? Y’all think she’d hire someone like that?”

That kicked off a whole new round of arguments as some people insisted that the ridiculous rumors they’d heard (and helped pass around) had to have some kind of merit to them, while others continued to point out that anyone that over-the-top cartoonishly violent wouldn’t have been allowed within a hundred miles of teaching us. And, of course, there were the ones who thought that this was some kind of test that had been dreamed up by Gaia and the Committee. According to that theory, we were supposed to prove our loyalty to Crossroads by refusing to listen to the ‘intruder’ from Eden’s Garden.

Thankfully, there were enough people who insisted that Gaia knew what she was doing and that she wouldn’t have put Hisao in as a teacher if she didn’t trust him. Paul was one of those. I assumed his roommate was too, not that he said anything. Douglas Frey was too focused on the hand-held game he was playing to say much of anything. Actually, I wasn’t even sure he was in the right place at all, since his uniform had the purple trim for Investigation (previously, he’d been in the Development track).

I’d also caught him glancing up at me a couple times, though he wasn’t staring quite as openly as he had been before. Either he was losing interest, or learning to be a bit more subtle. I was guessing the latter.

“He’s gotta be a spy,” another voice announced, sparking off a whole new round of arguments.

“He’s not a spy,” Vanessa’s roommate Erin insisted, shaking her head with disgust. “Come on, be real.”

The voice persisted. “He could be a spy. A handsome, charismatic spy. Like James Bond, only cooler.”

That got everyone to turn that way, only to find Hisao himself leaning casually against a nearby fallen tree with his arms folded lightly. The Asian man was dressed in khaki shorts and a dark green tee shirt that showed his distractingly toned arms. At his feet there was a gray duffel bag lying in the sand.

“Cooler than Bond,” he repeated in a thoughtful tone while everyone stared at him, “and with a more stable girlfriend. I mean, say what you will about variety being the spice of life, but give me someone who actually knows what I like, you know? Or maybe I’m just more into cuddling than that guy is.”

Half the students who had been going on about how bad he had to be started babbling apologies (though whether it was more motivated by genuine embarrassment or fear that he’d punish them somehow was up for debate) while the other half of them simply stared as if convinced that any second he was going to start spouting anti-Crossroads rhetoric and trying to recruit them to Eden’s Garden.

The people who had been defending him (or at least Gaia’s decision to hire him), meanwhile, seemed just as surprised as the rest about his sudden appearance. Save for scattered whispers, there was silence for a few seconds. Finally, Paul stepped forward. “Ah, sir, I’m sure nobody really meant any kinda–”

“It’s okay,” Hisao interrupted. Pushing off the fallen tree to stand up, he continued. “You’d be a bunch of mindless lemmings if you didn’t have questions. And lemmings are terrible Heretics.” Pausing, he amended thoughtfully, “Pretty good games. Especially the first one. Classic. But terrible Heretics.”

Before anyone could figure out what to say to that, he continued. “The point is, questioning things is good. So let’s start with–” In mid-sentence, the man paused, head turning a little to look at Douglas. “I’m still getting used to your system around here, but are you in the right place, uhh… Doug, was it?”

The boy blinked that way, hand reaching up to self-consciously adjust his Rangers cap. “Wha—oh, the uniform. Yeah, I uhh—I was gonna go with Investigation, but I changed my mind. The headmistress said it was okay if I switched since this is the first track class, and I’ll get the right uniform tomorrow.”

Right. I wasn’t stupid or blind. He’d been staring at me for weeks off and on, and now he’d chosen to jump into the same track that I had been in before switching unannounced to my new track. Coincidences obviously happened, but that was just a few too many. What the hell did the guy want? Why was he paying so much attention to me? Was there a… relatively innocent reason like a crush or something (that was enough to make me blush, but at least I could deal with it), or something more sinister? Or had he somehow found out about my connection to Roxa and wanted to know what happened to his old teammate? I couldn’t rule that out. After all, if something happened to someone on my team and I tracked it to him, I’d probably be acting pretty similar to how he was acting now. But if he did suspect something, why? Roxa and I hadn’t even been seen interacting like that. And I was sure no one who actually knew what happened had said anything to him, or he’d probably be more direct.

“Good enough for me,” Hisao replied, stooping to pick up his bag from the sand. “So, questions?”

Erin raised her hand before speaking when the man looked to her. “Why did you agree to come here? I mean, this place and Eden’s Garden aren’t exactly on each other’s Christmas Card lists, you know?”

“You mean that whole bitter rivalry thing where your side is pissed off that they split off from you and stole some of your relics to make their own society, and their side thinks you’re a bunch of stuck-in-the-past fundamentalists who aren’t going to get anywhere until you adapt to the way things have changed?” Hisao asked conversationally, smiling at the flurry of indignant protests that it prompted.

I didn’t miss the fact that he said ‘your side’ and ‘their side’ without actually including himself on either.

“Take away all the bullshit,” the man interrupted once there was enough of a pause in the indignant retorts. “And what is your main purpose? Why does Crossroads exist? What are you trying to do?”

“Kill monsters,” one of the students answered flatly, arms folded over his chest as he stared at the Garden Heretic. “That’s why we’re here. To kill monsters and protect humans. Protect Bystanders.”

Hisao nodded. “Yup. Kill monsters. Take away everything else and that’s why you’re here. That’s why Crossroads is here, and it’s why Eden’s Garden is there. You can disagree on all the specifics that you want. But in the end, both sides want to protect humanity from the things that go bump in the night.”

There was some muttering, and then Preston spoke up. “Fine, but those differences are still there, ya know? Garden and Crossroads don’t get along. Never have. So why would you come here to teach?”

Hisao studied him for a moment, head tilting as he considered the question before replying casually, “Why? Well, to adapt the words of one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived, ‘when nine hundred years old you reach, give a shit, you will not.’”

Beside me, Shiori giggled audibly, drawing the attention of several others. There were a few muted chuckles, though most people seemed too worried about appearances to actually laugh at his words.

Finally rolling my eyes, I raised my hand before asking, “You’re really nine hundred years old?”

His response was a wink. “It’d be accurate to say that I’ve been alive for nine hundred years, yeah.”

The man’s exact phrasing with that reply made me wonder just how old he actually was. And how and why he’d gotten involved with Eden’s Garden if he didn’t actually care about any of the political stuff. From everything that I had seen, he seemed alternately amused or annoyed by the whole rivalry between the two schools. So how had a man who clearly didn’t care about group loyalty ended up as one of the oh-so vaunted Vigiles, one of the most important and powerful ranks in Eden’s Garden?

Or had I just answered my own question? After all, Vigiles were independent. They hunted on their own and judged on their own. Their word was law unless their tribal chief or the council of Victors overruled them. So in about ninety percent of Hisao’s actions, he wouldn’t have to listen to anybody else. Anything he did was solely at his own discretion without anyone to report to or ask permission from. That probably explained why he could be the way that he was, and why he’d do so at Eden’s Garden. Because as far as I knew, Crossroads didn’t have an equivalent rank. The Runners were the closest, but they were a lot more structured than that. Tribald didn’t have that kind of blanket autonomy.

“I guess what it comes down to,” Hisao finally announced, “is that I’m here because your headmistress asked me to be. For those of you who disagree with that, take it as a learning experience. You don’t always get to agree with your leader’s decisions. But you do have to obey them. So let’s make this as simple as we can. If you don’t want to work with me, you are free to switch tracks. After all, she let Doug here switch from purple to green, and I’m sure she’ll let you change to something else if you’re so sure it won’t work. But uh,” he paused before shrugging. “I should point out that I’m also teaching your self-defense courses, and that I’m pretty sure she won’t let you transfer out of. Just food for thought.”

“But for now, we’re all here. So to start,” he continued, “How about one of you tell me what the Hunters are supposed to be, in your own words.”

Paul was the first to speak up. “Well, sir, if Investigators are the detectives, Hunters are the SWAT team. The big guns that get called in to deal with Stranger infestations that are worse than just a single creature pulling people into alleys to have a little lunch here and there.”

“Good analogy,” Hisao confirmed with a slight smile. “Someone with a big Hunter background is probably gonna be the type of Heretic who ends up playing cavalry a lot. You spend enough time in this track and people are gonna expect you to be able to pull their butts out of the fire.”

Raising an eyebrow curiously then, he swept his gaze over the four of us before asking, “So, what do you think the most important thing for a Hunter to have? Take away everything else, what do you need?”

“Power,” one of the other students piped up. “You can’t kill things without power. And if they’re strong enough for Hunters to be called in, you need be strong enough to kill the bastards.”

“Well, you do need power,” Hisao agreed before shaking his head. “But it’s not the most important thing. And before you ask, it’s not your weapon either. And it’s not a magic spell. All of that stuff, that’s gonna help. But it’s still not the most important thing.

Thinking for a moment, I raised my hand. “Knowledge? Of their weaknesses.”

Pointing at me, Hisao nodded. “Close. Very close. Yes, knowledge is important. But the most important thing is patience. If you’re going to be a Hunter, you have to be patient. You see these monsters doing bad things, you’ve gotta be patient enough to watch. You wait, and you identify what the monster is. Because if you just run in there without a plan, you’ll get yourself and the people you’re trying to protect killed. It’s all well and good to want to save people. Like we already said, that’s why we’re here. But you get killed because you Leeroy Jenkins’d your way into the situation, and you won’t help anybody. So have your weapon, have your power, have your magic, have all of it. But also make sure you have the patience to examine the situation, figure out how to deal the thing you’re fighting, then involve yourself. Be ready, be smart, and be calm. That’s how you save people.”

After letting that sit in people’s minds for a couple seconds, he straightened up and cleared his throat. “So, to that end, let’s split up for a bit. Those of you who were in this little club last semester, stand over there.” He pointed closer to the water before pointing closer to the jungle. “And those of you who are new this semester, stand over there. We’ll let the old hats do their own thing for a bit.”

Shiori squeezed my hands, whispering ‘good luck’ before heading over to join the rest of the older Hunters, like Paul and Erin. Meanwhile, I made my way close to the trees along with Doug and a couple other people. There weren’t that many of us in the ‘new Hunter’ category. Possibly because people had found out about Hisao taking over the track before signing up for it. Either way, it was me, Doug, and two others, a boy and a girl. Both of them, I remembered from orientation, were Bystander-kin.

Hisao spent a couple minutes talking with the other, larger group. When he finally stepped away from them, they all started jogging off down the beach away from the school, following the water line.

“Just four of you, huh?” the man spoke easily. “All right. I know Flick Chambers there and Doug Frey there. What about you two?” He nodded to the other couple that were standing between Doug and me.

“Uh.” The boy shrugged a little, looking self-conscious. He looked like someone who had gone through an intense punk phase but had grown out of it mentally faster than he had physically, and was now almost embarrassed by his nose ring, dyed bright red hair, and visible tattoos. Actually, I remembered seeing him around the last semester, and from what I could tell, his change in attitude was new since Christmas. “I’m Viru—I mean–” Coughing, he amended with a flush, “Russell. My name’s Russell.”

“I’m Harper,” the girl chirped then. “Harper Hayes.” She couldn’t have looked more different from Russell. Honestly, she looked like a cheerleader who had gotten lost and wandered over to the beach. She wore her hair in pigtails and colored it a bright, bubblegum pink. I had never really interacted with her before, but every time I’d seen her, she had been smiling. As far as I could tell, she was always cheerful. And always trying to help. Plus, she covered her uniform with loud, brightly colored stickers.

“Russell, Harper, Douglas, and Flick,” Hisao announced, going down the line. “Got it. Well, look around. I hope you can all get along, cuz the four of you are probably going to be stuck with each other a lot until you get caught up enough with the others to put you all together.

“And the best way to get started with that,” he continued, “is to play a game.”

“A game?” I echoed.

He nodded. “First, split into pairs. Let’s say, Russell and Harper on one side, Doug and Flick on the other. I’m going to give each pair one of these.” With a flourish, he produced two manila envelopes. “In each of them is an identical report about a Stranger that’s out killing people. Each of your pairs will take your envelope, read the report, and try to write up the best way to deal with that monster. Use your books to figure out what it is. Try to identify it, how to track it, how to kill it. Next time we meet, the pair that has identified the Stranger correctly and come up with the best way of dealing with it will win a little prize.”

“… Roleplaying,” Doug blurted. “You want us to roleplay being Hunters and work out how to fight some kind of monster.”

“Exactly.” Hisao touched two fingers against his head. “Because if you can get the right mindset up here, then you’ll be ready for what happens in the real world.

“So go ahead and take your envelopes, and we’ll see just how smart you guys can be.”

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28 comments

  1. Pairing Doug and Flick together. This is obviously going to go swimmingly, huh? I’m sure noooothing will come of that and everything will just be simple. *cough*

    Anyway, there’s the first Hunter class for you guys. There’ll be more to see later on, but I hope you enjoyed seeing how Hisao interacts with them. Obviously, it’s going to take awhile for them to warm up to the guy (and some never will). But we’ll see more of that soon enough.

    If you like seeing this story, I would absolutely appreciate a quick little vote over at Top Web Fiction. Votes last seven days before needing to be renewed, which you can do by clicking right here! Thanks, guys and girls!

    And Tags for this chapter are: Douglas Frey, Erin Redcliffe, Felicity Chambers, Flick, Harper Hayes, Hisao, Paul Calburn, Preston Scofield, Russell Bailey, Shiori Porter, Technically He Was Telling The Truth. He IS Nine Hundred Years Old. In The Sense That The Story’s Readers Have At Some Point In Their Lives Been Six., The Patience Of The Readers Who Have Been Devoted Fans Of Preston Scofield Since His One-Off Mention During Orientation Dinner Is Finally Rewarded.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “I’m Viru—I mean–” Coughing, he amended with a flush, “Russell. My name’s Russell.”

    Hm, I wonder what he was about to say? Virus, possibly? Sounds like a pretty ‘cool’ (for certain values of cool) street name that a punk might have. Interesting that he’s growing out of it but seems a little embarrassed. Don’t be shy, Virus! Punk is awesome!

    Hisao seems cool, but we knew that. Not sure how much I agree with his assessment that patience is the ultimate Hunter trait, but it’s certainly important. I’d have pegged that as more an Investigator’s talent, really – the dedication to stick at a problem and just keep working until something cracks. So I guess, on that score, Flick should be a pretty good Hunter?

    Technically He Was Telling The Truth. He IS Nine Hundred Years Old. In The Sense That The Story’s Readers Have At Some Point In Their Lives Been Six.

    Speaking for the very important five-year-old demographic, I resent that.

    Also, I was thinking time travel, just because I’m usually thinking about time travel one way or another, but Time Abyss works too. I wonder if all this Heretic organisation nonsense is just a fad to him? If he got bored, would he just up and leave?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cerulean once said over on Spacebattles that Hisao was the single oldest character we’ve seen when he was first introduced. That makes him several thousands years old, given that he was introduced after Fossor, Fahsteth, Sariel, and Puriel.

      So I’d say it’s a good bet that you’re right and he probably sees the whole Crossroads-Eden’s Garden conflict as a fad or some other temporary thing that’ll eventually blow over.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I am betting that he used to go by Virus. Mostly because it isn’t too much of a stretch to go from Russell to Rus to ViRus.

      Also, that is one seriously angsty kid. Don’t get me wrong, I went through my punk phase as well in highschool, but good golly Holly does he have an edge on him.

      Like

    3. Speaking for the very important five-year-old demographic, I resent that.

      I knew I was throwing someone under the bus there.

      Also, I was thinking time travel, just because I’m usually thinking about time travel one way or another, but Time Abyss works too. I wonder if all this Heretic organisation nonsense is just a fad to him? If he got bored, would he just up and leave?

      As Hendy said, Hisao is the oldest character we’ve seen on screen. Not the most powerful, but the oldest. And yeah, I also said that he thinks the rivalry between Crossroads and Eden’s Garden is either adorable or annoying depending on his mood and the only reason he keeps his relationship with Dare a secret is because she wants him to and because he finds the secretiveness of it fun. .

      Like

  3. If I were to ever rank my favorite characters in this story, Hisao would be pretty high up there. He’s great.

    And Doug, shame on you. You should have known you’d give yourself away by switching tracks that quickly. I realize the point is to find out more about Flick, but you could have found out a lot from the Masons and Koren if you’d stuck with investigation. Not to mention that learning about investigating stuff probably would have come in handy. Paul’s still in the Hunter track, you could have picked his brain to get most of the same stuff. Granted, you’ve just been given a golden opportunity to interact with her one on one, but still, you’ve tipped your hand and put her on edge.

    Speaking of that revelation:

    Right. I wasn’t stupid or blind. He’d been staring at me for weeks off and on, and now he’d chosen to jump into the same track that I had been in before switching unannounced to my new track Coincidences obviously happened, but that was just a few too many.

    Something tells me there’s supposed to be a period between “track” and “Coincidences.”

    I’m curious as to the limitations of Doug’s power. It obviously isn’t telling him what Flick knows about Roxa’s disappearance, only that she’s a path to finding out. But how much can it tell him? Will it tell him that Flick has met Hisao before? Why am I even asking this question when it’s obvious that it’s plot-relevant and you won’t tell me?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And Doug, shame on you. You should have known you’d give yourself away by switching tracks that quickly. I realize the point is to find out more about Flick, but you could have found out a lot from the Masons and Koren if you’d stuck with investigation.

      He needs to get better at this. 😉

      Something tells me there’s supposed to be a period between “track” and “Coincidences.”

      Yup, whoops!

      I’m curious as to the limitations of Doug’s power. It obviously isn’t telling him what Flick knows about Roxa’s disappearance, only that she’s a path to finding out. But how much can it tell him? Will it tell him that Flick has met Hisao before? Why am I even asking this question when it’s obvious that it’s plot-relevant and you won’t tell me?

      Good questions. Especially that last one.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Min. 900 hundred years and mentioning Leeroy Jenkins ? Woah, I can see Hisao raiding heroic dungeons wednesday nights with his guild and yelling at teamspeak after wipes. I

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Keeping yourself involved with popular culture seems like it would be a key survival strategy for an immortal. That said it was a semi old reference for pop culture. Let’s see what he drops next time :p

      Liked by 1 person

    1. >Just think about the damn number of candles on the birthday cake, jeez.
      You’d start using number candles loooong before that point comes along, I wager.

      Like

      1. Well, either that, or they’d have to start using magic to make sure that all the candles got lit at the same time, or that the cake doesn’t melt or get set on fire from the thousand-plus candles that’d be on it.

        Like

    2. Usually for large numbers on birthday cakes I use binary (lit=1, unlit=0), and 900 is just about doable – it comes out as 1110000100, ten candles in all, although you might want to run them round the edge to make sure you have space. 9000 would require fourteen candles at 10001100101000, so possibly a somewhat larger cake than usual, but not impossible.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So like 1200 years based on that? Maybe 13-1400 if he grows to adulthood before becoming a “god”.

        Emperor Jiimu (his supposed son) ruled around 600 BC, not 600 AD. So it’s more like at least 2600-3000. And he’s older than that.

        Like

  5. “I didn’t miss the fact that he said ‘your side’ and ‘their side’ without actually including himself on either.”
    Me: I wonder how many of the others picked up on that little detail. Probably not many, since most of them are still parsing the “He’s Eden’s Garden! What’s Headmistress Gaia thinking?!” mindset.

    Overall, I’m liking how Hisao dealt with the suspicion and questions, and he seems rather interesting. Especially with his level of pop culture knowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Me: I wonder how many of the others picked up on that little detail. Probably not many, since most of them are still parsing the “He’s Eden’s Garden! What’s Headmistress Gaia thinking?!” mindset.

      Exactly. Went right past most of them.

      Like

  6. I remember Lemmings. Way, way back though it might not seem like that long to a millenarian (is that the right word?)

    A couple of typos:

    that kind phrase
    that kind of phrase

    I was remembered from orientation,
    either
    I remembered from orientation,
    or
    I was reminded from orientation,

    Liked by 1 person

  7. See that there’s still plenty of gossip about Hisao going on,

    However, he does seem like quite the chill guy, seeing the whole Crossroads/Garden rivalry as kind of silly, when, at the end of the day they both want the same thing, to protect Bystanders from the depredations of Nocen. And he seems to be quite in tune with popular culture, with the references to Lemmings & Star Wars, among other things. (It’d be kind of funny to see the twins boggling at all those references, but doubt their father would ever let them in a class taught by him.)

    Though it appears that Flick’s got a stalker in the form of Douglas, and they’ve been assigned to work together for a project. Won’t that be awkward….

    Liked by 1 person

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