Jackson sat quietly alone on the high mountainous ridge and absorbed the feel of the day into his skin. The whisper of the wind that flowed through his dark hair was a comforting friend, the cool summer breeze carrying the sound of forest glen and bubbling stream into his conscience. Time slowed in this world, space fluctuating in soft tones of gravity and light… he breathed deeply, dwelling in the moment, completely immersed in the peaceful absence. It was like the strongest drug, the clearest emotion, the purest definition of true energy. An energy suddenly tinged with worry.
His eyes slowly reopened; and expelling a soft sigh, he rose and began the long hike back to the ranch. Stocky, well-muscled, and with hair black as night; the man with an unmistakable Native American heritage picked up speed while traversing the narrow game trail. This would be his last sojourn to the mountains before departing, and it was already over too soon. Perhaps he could befriend a teleporter, there undoubtedly would have to be one in the program, even if they weren’t in the same year.
With these thoughts in his mind, he arrived back home in short order. Striding into the ranch yard and up the front steps of the mill house, he took a minute to greet Old Brett. The worn cattle dog was getting quite on in years, but his tail still wagged as hard as any young puppy when he saw Jackson walk up to the front door. As he was busy kneeling and scratching the dog’s ears, Uncle William stepped onto the veranda.
Tall and broad-shouldered, Uncle Will showed every day of his 40 plus years. His blond hair and light blue eyes were evidence enough of his thick Scandinavian blood, but his weathered face and hands depicted a work ethic few could compare to. He smiled at Jackson though, and with a shake of the head, motioned him to sit on one of the wrap-around benches surrounding the house.
“You have thoughts, what are they?” he calmly said, as a small pocket knife and short whittling stick appeared out of nowhere into his awaiting hands.
“I am worried. My future has seemed sure… but now on the mountain, I felt a disturbing emotion. Something is moving unseen, and those with eyes ahead do not like it.”
“Does this prevent your goals? Will you be unable to accomplish what you wish to?”
Jackson thought about it for a minute. “Unclear.”
Uncle Will nodded. “Then nothing has changed. You will go to school, you will become a hero.”
Rising to his feet, Jackson looked over at the man who had taught and cared for him since he was a child. Without this man’s guidance, he would surely have long ago fallen into insanity.
“Thank you, Uncle. I trust you will notify me if an emergency arises?”
“Ja. You will find transportation?”
“Of course. It might take a few weeks though.”
“Only natural. Be smart, remember your surroundings. You are unused to the city. This will be dangerous.”
“Dangerous yes, but necessary. I must learn my weaknesses, and this is the best way.”
“Agreed.” Uncle Will sighed, rising from his chair as well, knife and wood disappearing into the air. Walking over to Jackson, he placed an arm around the younger man’s shoulders. “Now, you have waited long enough. Go tell your mother goodbye.”
“Is she still upset?”
“Ja, but I doubt she will stay that way for much longer. She loves you too much to let you leave while angry. Go, talk to her. Show her the man you wish to become.”
Smiling softly now, Jackson gave a quick nod; and turned to enter the house.
“Oh, and Jac? You must find someone to confide in at this school. Another student would be a good choice, just make sure you are familiar with their desires before telling them of your own. Trust your power, and it will not lead you astray.
“Yes, sir. I understand.”
The deserted country road stretched for miles in either direction, connecting the horizons by its cracked blacktop. The lone individual walking quietly down the single lane was wearing what had clearly been a uniform at one time; though it was now little more than torn and bloody rags.
Closing his eyes, he breathed in a slow, deep breath. Ah, but the delicious quiet! He had missed the silence of this area of the world; the peacefulness of being surrounded only by rows upon rows of corn and wheat. How long had it been? Years at least. It felt like centuries.
The miles had slowly passed behind the plodding individual, his mind wandering, until he slowly glanced up to see a small skirting of trees beside a small creek. “Perfect,” he decided. Carefully, he crawled through the barb-wire fence and walked through the knee-high crabgrass to the trees. After deciding to pause for at least a short rest in the grove of sycamore, he slowly and carefully began laying out what was left of his kit in front of him. A sword (about a meter and a half long) was laid gently down, it’s blade made of a bright silverish alloy. A dagger followed; the once decorated sheath that had held it was now in poor condition. A brace of throwing spikes, a now thoroughly mangled set of revolvers, and a variety of damaged gadgets all joined the small pile of equipment.
Sighing, the weary man lay back and rested for a few minutes. Just a few minutes, nothing more. Just enough time to…
Waking with a start, he immediately gathered energy and let it roll across his skin. Flying upwards into a kneeling position, he took a fighting stance and prepared to destroy… the stray cat calmly licking its paw.
Slowly exhaling his pent-up tensions, the man scowled and sank back to the ground. He needed a place to rest. A safe place. Unfortunately, this was a world filled with impossible acts and incredible gifts; all directed by people with personal agendas. Nowhere was safe. In fact, the only reason he hadn’t already been found and pulled in was likely because he had been running a constant telepathic interference blanket since arriving. He could keep the interference up indefinitely, even when asleep, but almost all of his other skills required concentration and focus. Thus the need for sleep. He had lost so much in the transfer. So many skills, so many hazy memories.
Was there anyone in this world he could trust? Quickly running off a list of individuals in his mind who might consider helping him; he, unfortunately, had to discount many due to his current situation. “Hmm, wouldn’t understand, couldn’t comprehend, didn’t like them in the first place. Maybe, maybe, maybe… ahh.”
Smiling now, he gathered his weapons and equipment up. He had a destination, and he had a goal. He only hoped it was the right one.
The door to the sleek (and obviously modified) Lamborghini opened with a barely heard hiss. Its two-toned red on black highlights stood out brilliantly in the midday sun, and it’s silver-edged rims slowed their rhythm to a stand-still. The man who could be seen emerging from the vehicle’s interior matched its theme perfectly.
To most outside observers, they could have easily assumed that such a well-dressed individual would appear perfectly at home on the courthouse steps, or in the high rises of Wall Street and vast corporate kingdoms. Yet, he was here, on a simple university campus, walking briskly across the Commons adjunct to the Administration office. That wasn’t to say he didn’t enjoy the admiring glances his ride got.
The man continued walking in and around a variety of office buildings and boardrooms, before finally stopping in front of an innocuous-looking file closet situated down an empty hallway. Pressing his hand to the side of a cabinet, he watched disinterestedly as a small light flickered on the top of the doorframe. When the light turned a pale blue, he simply walked through the still visibly closed doors.
“Hello, Adrian.” A petite looking Asian woman smiled warmly at his entrance onto the elevator.
“Yoko! When did you get back? I thought you were going to be gone until at least just before the semester began?”
“That was the plan originally, yes. I changed my mind after hearing a few underground whispers about HCP schools being under watch.”
Adrian Steels peered down at the much smaller professor beside him. “We already knew about Overton though.”
“Overton, yes. They’re not the only one though, just the most obvious.” she shrugged off his further questioning glance with a wave of the hand. “I’d rather not go over everything twice; you’ll just have to wait till we’re in the meeting.”
“Fine. But I expect all the juicy details of your vacation later. And don’t think that getting back early gets you a pass on our sparring session on Tuesday. I need the practice more than you do anyway.”
“I wouldn’t dream of missing it. After all, it’s not every day we professors are allowed to destroy the reputations of our fellow peers.” She smiled to lessen the blow.
“Ha! That’s funny. You can try, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up. I might be inexperienced when it comes to sharp steel and bloody maces, but I’m perfectly capable with these.” He held up his hands to emphasize the comment.
Kiyoko Masuyo smiled softly once more. “We shall see.”
She might have said more, but the elevator dinged at this point and opened to show the HCP center. Walking past the auditorium and into the office’s section of the underground facility, the two friends continued to bring each other up to date with what had been happening over the summer. Pausing before heading into the boardroom, Adrian looked closely at Kiyoko. “It really is good to have you back, you know. Chicago just wasn’t the same without your smile brightening its streets.”
“Thank you.” she dipped her head in response, then looked distantly away for a few seconds. “It means a lot to hear that.”
“You’re welcome. As long as you don’t forget it. Now, let’s go get this mess started.” he stated as he swung the door open to allow her entrance ahead of him. “Ladies first.”
Entering the boardroom revealed the rest of the staffed heroes gathered around an oval-like table, student files and many piles of paperwork scattered about haphazardly.
“Good.” Dean Jackson looked up from his position at the head of the table and thoroughly scanned both of them. “Glad you guys could make it,” he commented dryly. “Now sit down and buckle up. We have a lot of work to get done, and no time to do it in. Amery, would you mind giving us a quick update on the upcoming senior class? Any issues we should be made aware of, or concerns with the students?”
The older focus instructor shifted in his seat and thought for a few seconds before answering, his Swedish accent more prevalent than usual after the summer break. “That would be a negative sir. Perhaps we’ve gotten lucky, but this year’s senior class is fairly straightforward. No situations have arisen as of yet, and I don’t foresee any in the near future.”
“The same could be spoken for the junior class.” Coach Langston’s matter of fact tone broke in. She continued to peruse a few separate files before nodding to the dean. “Should be all good for the beginning of the year, at least until trials start.”
“Okay, then let’s move on to our more immediate subjects.” He motioned towards the display in the middle of the table. “I’m sure you’re all aware of what’s been happening in and around Overton lately. Now, there isn’t much we can do to help them directly; but I’ll be damned if I let some scrubmaker politicians try to take over our schools. In the interest of cooperation, I agreed to allow the reentrance of an extra student or two into the program, albeit if their original dismissal was unjust, and if they had the necessary potential to continue. As such, we have one applicant currently in processing.” He shuffled a few papers before pulling one out and focusing on it.
“Susan Owens. A shifter with some interesting properties. End of second-year dropout, so she’ll be quite a bit ahead of the current sophomore class. You all have the same file in front of you, so in the interest of expediency, we’ll skip the basics. This could be potentially throwing something of screwball in our current class, but I’d like to see how they handle the changeup. Thoughts?
Adrian grinned before mentioning what was certainly on everyone’s minds. “Meredith Hopkins is going to have a hard time handling a new top dog.”
Langston nodded quietly. “We’ll have to keep a close eye on Miss Hopkins. Regardless, I believe Susan will be entering with quite an advantage due to her extra experience. Is there anything you wish us to implement with her training? No point in wasting forward movement.”
Dean Jackson shook his head, though he did seem to ponder the thought for a few moments. “I’ll tell you what, let’s judge her combat matches for ourselves before we make any further commitment to her future training. Regardless, I want an advanced roster and schedule replanned. Let’s keep on track with everything else we can.”
After receiving multiple nods of confirmation, he turned to the largest mixture of paperwork and files lying in front of him. “Alright, then without further ado… let’s figure out who we want to see get beat up this year.”
As the rest of the teachers good-naturedly chuckled, a screen projected to the wall on their right; filling up with a tournament-style bracket, aligned vertically with a long list of names. The Freshman beat down was about to begin.