Hearts Dawn

Synopsis:
Earth 2021. An apocalyptic event occurs, forever changing the world and its inhabitants.

490 AG, Beasts that have evolved from animal life threaten humanity. Plant life grows at an incredible rate and poses its own issues. humans have preservered and managed to build strongholds that give them some respite from the dangers that plague their daily lives. However Beasts are not the only danger to their survival, but also their own kind.

Humanity fights amongst itself, perhaps posing more danger to their survival than the many other dangers in this unkown world.

Battle brings glory and rewards, be it with humans or beasts. After all this is a new world, one that belongs to the strong. It takes power, strength, to survive in this world. Seek strength to protect and provide yourself and what is important to you. "Always remember son, history only tells the story of the winner. The loser, regardless if they were in the right, will always be known as the villan. So be strong."

Keros Vaolair struggles in this world to live a life he can be proud of. He will walk on a difficult path, exploring the mysteries that this world holds. Perhaps the more difficult journey will be self discovery though. Regardless, power is needed to brave any path he decides to walk, and he will fight for his goals.
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This story is about Keros Vaolair, Humanity, and this new world that they live in. Follow Keros as he goes on a journey to explore the unknown, and fights for whats important to him. Hidden dangers await him, and humanity as a whole. Will Keros and Humanity perservere, and if so what heights will they reach?


Important Details:

Credit to USD ratio: 10 / 1.~ 1,000 credits = $100 USD.
@TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn

Comments

  • Prologue-

    Earth, July 4th 2021, disaster struck. Natural disasters started to occur ceaselessly, when one disaster would end it seemed to segue into the next. Thunderstorms raged, earthquakes shook the land and the seas rose up to strike the coasts. 

    Every natural disaster known to man plagued the earth over two months, until eventually the apocalypse reached its crescendo. The lands sundered, some of which sank beneath the torrential sea, while the majority shifted and converged into a large land mass. Lava seeped through the cracks before solidifying almost as if to fill the gaps and bind the new land together. 

    Finally, the survivors experienced what they believed to be the final blow from destiny. A Bright Blinding light blanketed the globe, and everything went still. There was a level of calm that had been lost over the course of this apocalypse and when combined with the beautiful visuals, imparted a strange mix of emotions, both relaxing and unnerving. The calm departed along with the light, swiftly, and everything became dark.

    No one knows how long the darkness lasted, actually no one knows much about the darkness at all. Only that even though it was the least destructive it had the largest impact as a whole. When the veil of shadows lifted everything was different. 

    Vegetation seemed foreign, the forests became congested with all species of plants growning a darker and more lush green. Trees were much larger, and towered over the lands with huge canopies overhead. Plant life seemed to have grown uninhibited by anything, even the ruined buildings, the only assurance that this was still the same planet, were draped with vines and flora.

    Even the concious life on the planet underwent changes. Animals of all kinds 'evolved', some growing larger to an incredible degree, while others had less dramatic evolutions. However it became apparent to our ancestors that the vast majority of these 'evolutions' made all animals far more dangerous, even what was previously prey had potential to be a fierce predator. Obviously Humans were no longer at the top of the food chain.

    While Fate might seem like a cruel and fickle bitch, it gave to humans as it gave to the rest of life on earth. We evolved too.

    We became stronger, faster, more agile, more durable, and even more intelligent as a whole. At first the difference was barely noticeable and chalked up to results of a more strenuous life, but as time passed and humans fought to survive and carve out their place in this strange new world, the changes started to become more apparent. 

    The increase in speed was the first change to be noticed, since humans had to run from everything, speed became invaluable. Other changes were noticed and documented shortly after. The survivors could lift more and strike harder than ever before, their stamina swelled which allowed them to work harder for longer. They were no longer injured as easily allowing them to take greater risks even in every day life.

    -----------------------------------------

    Life forever changed on the planet earth, on July 4th 2021. The historical records we retain today all interpret the reason for the event differently, and as a consequence it was termed in a few different ways. 

    Some believed it to be gods will, and thus they called it the 'Rapture'.

    while some believed it to be the earth attempting to wipe out the human infestation that was destroying it and so it became the 'Apocalypse'.

    Even today, all these years later, it remains a hot topic. You'd think at my generation we would be so detached that it wouldn't seem important, but it is hard not to be enamoured with the good that accompanied the tragedy. 

    As such, us humans started calling the event something different. we named it something inspiring. We also stopped calling our world 'Earth', after all earth is completely different than what our ancestors knew. right?

    We call it 'The Genesis'. The origin, the beginning.

    Welcome, to 'New Genesis'.
    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • edited April 21
    Chapter 1:

    *BRIIIIIING*

    The bell sounded throughout the building

    "Remember to do your homework, and present it at the beginning of class tomorrow. Everyone have a good evening." Ms. Grendle said

    The students weren't paying much attention, as they were busy packing up their supplies in haste. It is always like this, everyone is happy that school is finally done for the day and they can move on to more exciting activities.

    Who wouldn't be? School lasts for 10 hours, and doesn't seem relevant when compared to the importance of training. Nor is it as enjoyable as playing, and hanging out with friends.

    There is a lot to get up to after school. You can go to the game center, which has obstacle courses and various physical activities. Your results are recorded and used to compete for spots on the leaderboards for each game. The higher your spot on the leaderboard the more recognition you get from others, which is a great source of pride for the youth and young adults.

    Some will go to the cafes to watch sports and have a snack with friends. The sports on new genesis are always brutal in some form, and the most popular sport 'Synergy' showcasing that fact perfectly. As does the second most popular sport 'Clash'.

    ------------

    "K-Ros, my man, what are we doing today?"

    a young dark skinned youth approached Keros. Short hair, a sharp jaw, and the same height as his peers. wearing a dark red jacket with sleeves that came to his elbows, and loose black pants. his name is Booker Red, and he has been Keros' best friend since he was 3 years old.

    "Training.. My dad will be home, so i'll probably be training all night." Keros responded before slinging his book bag over his shoulder.

    "Training is important and all, but we are still just kids.. Come out and have a life!" Booker said.

    "you know i'd like to have some fun, but you know how my dad is. I don't want to make him mad by skipping out and not training. I'm not brave enough to face him when he is mad."

    The two youths followed the line out of the door, down the hall way, and out of the building.

    "Hahaha, i don't think anyone would want to face your pops when he is angry." Booker said with a laugh

    "I'll come do your daily training with you, but when uncle J steps in i'm leaving."

    Keros shot Booker a glance looking as if he felt betrayed before showing a bright grin.

    ---------

    20 minutes later the two boys made it to Keros' home. It was a modest duplex building. there were a few other similar building next to it, but the majority of the area had apartment style buildings. The Suburban style area looked similar to the favelas of the distant past , as did most of the housing areas within the City state that Keros and Booker lived. the only difference is how clean it is.

    Keros' home is gray, single story, roughly 83 sq meters(900 sq ft) in size. The front steps exit directly onto the street, with the back yard being 35 sq meters(400 sq ft) and shared between all residents in the duplex. Keros' family lives in the unit on the right of the building, towards the east.

    "I'm home! Booker came over to train with me." Keros called out as he entered the house with booker following behind him.

    waiting for a short while, he doesn't hear a response so he figures his parents are out of the house. they take their bags to Keros' room before changing into atheletic gear and heading out into the back yard.

    In the backyard, on the east side there is a punching bag, ropes, weights, pull-up bar, wooden swords and knives, and various other objects with visible wearing on them, showing that they are used often.

    the two immediately begin stretching, and doing a few warm up exercises. Transitioning into more intense exercises, they go through Keros' daily regimen. Jumping rope > shadow boxing > footwork maneuvers > punching bag, spending roughly 20 minutes on each exercise. 

    Next they start on core workouts, sit ups > push ups > leg raises > pull ups > and rope swing, doing three sets of ten. by the end of the exercise both youths were breathing heavily, drenched in sweat.

    Booker walks over and turns off the music he had started earlier. 

    "Whew, I'm always so exhausted after training with you."

    Keros glances over, giving a look of pity

    "Maybe if you worked out for longer than an hour a every other day my training wouldn't be so exhausting to you."

    "hey now, i do cardio every day. that counts right? besides almost no one else our age even bothers to exercise out of school. Your the exception when it comes to working so hard, it's freakish really." Booker grins characteristically

    "doesn't look like your pops is back yet, wanna go get a something to drink while you have time? I'm craving a red riot!"

    Keros frowned, red riot is an energy drink of sorts. It's very effective at restoring stamina and clearing a bit of fatigue, and they are addictive. The bad part is that they cause you to crash pretty hard after a few hours and you feel worse than before.

    "Nah, Those things are disgusting and i don't like how i feel after they wear off."

    Booker chuckled, before taking off his gloves and heading toward the door "Alright bro, well i'm gonna head out. If you can get out tonight then come to the game center, i'm gonna try to get in the top 1000 on the obstacle course!"

    It was Keros turn to laugh. Booker had never even breached the 1500th rank. Sure Booker is pretty good for his age, especially considering how many people compete, but obviously it becomes much more difficult the higher you make it on the leaderboards. Jumping over 500 ranks will be extremely unlikely.

    None the less, Keros' wasn't about to be a buzzkill and crush his friends enthusiasm 

    "yea yea bro, after i finish up ill come by."

    Keros walked with Booker, seeing him out before going to the kitchen and getting some water. quickly finishing his first cup, and immediately filling it up and gulping down another.

    The truth is, Keros is also fairly worn out. his training constantly gets more intense over time. Every time his father returns he increases the difficulty in small increments. Keros has been indignant about it for quite some time, but what can he do about it? 

    "dad must be unhappy with me. why else would he make me do such hard exercise every day? what did i ever do to him?" Keros thought to himself as he watched his hand shake a little from fatigue while holding the cup.

    *creeeak*

    *Thud*

    Keros heard the door open and shut, and by the time he had turned around he saw his father entering the kitchen.

    Keros' father is a large muscular man standing at 186cm (6'1"), with broad shoulders. He sports a 5'0clock shadow, and short dark hair. His eyes are a darker blue, clear and sharp. his face shows the usual stoney expression he uses. wearing a dark grey tight well fitting shirt, and dark green pants.

    "Finished your workouts?" He asks, his voice is deep and steady.

    "Yes, just a minute ago." Keros responds

    "Alright. Lets spar."

    Keros follows his father to the hall, where they both grab their gloves. His father pulls out a few mitts, a pad, and a few long strips of cloth. Both then head to the backyard.

    "Hey Jack! when did you get back?"

    Keros father turns. Sitting in a chair on the west side of the backyard is an older fellow. Mr. Fengas, who lives in the other unit of the duplex. Keros' parents are gone often, so Mr. Fengas and his wife sometimes look after Keros' and his younger sister when family is busy.

    "Yesterday evening. how were the kids? Did they cause any trouble?" Jack asks as he tosses Keros a pair of cloth strips, before using the other pair to start wrapping his own hands.

    "No, none at all. Quite well behaved as usual. Anyway, don't mind me, i'll just watch from over here." Mr. Fengas says as he sips his beer. Mr. Fengas often watches when Keros' spars with his father, seemingly enjoying the excitement of it all.

    After his hands, Jack comes over to examine the wraps. Keros' is experienced at wrapping his hands by now, but Jack still checks every time.

    "I know how to wrap my hands dad.. You don't have to check every time." Keros says with an exasperated tone.

    "Quite boy. Regardless of how well you think you know how to wrap them, i still need to check them." Jack responds, seemingly ignoring Keros tone.

    "Come on, they are good enough, its not like they have to be perfect!" Keros says as he pulls his hand back.

    Jacks lips curl downwards, and he slowly lifts his head staring direct into Keros' eyes

    "Good enough? Son you need to understand. I'm not looking for perfection, perfection doesn't exsist. I'm checking for improvement. Just because you think something is 'good enough' doesn't mean it cannot be improved upon. When you stop caring enough to improve is when you become stagnant, and stagnation is the curse of the mediocre... We are NOT mediocre." Jack says in a commanding tone, showing disapproval in his expression.

    Keros looks down, avoiding his fathers gaze. Jack grabs his hand and finishes checking the wraps before stepping back and picking up the mitts, before sliding them on his hands. Keros takes a fighting stance.

    "JAB!"

    Jack shouts, before calling out combinations for Keros to perform. Jabs, straights, hooks, elbows, knees, kicks, Dodging, and countering. Jack takes Keros through one combination drill after another. Jack watches attentively, occassionally commenting on footwork, power, follow through, and speed, and reactions.

    Keros begins, striking the mitt with a jab before twisting his core and landing a heavy hook onto the mitt at his fathers command. His technique is good, his experience shows that of a well trained fighter. 

    Keros begins to unconciously tune out the background in the area as the training starts to ramp up. Soon sound fades and all he can hear is the sound of his strikes hitting the mitts, his father calling out the combinations, and his own breathing and heartbeat. This has been happening more often as of the last few training sessions with his father, however Keros hasn't realized that his senses have started to optimize for the situation when fighting. Almost as if the instinct how to fight is being engraved into his heart.

    After some time, Keros is breathing heavily once again with sweat accumulating on his brow, and dripping from his chin.

    "Enough, we will move on to the pad." Jack says, stopping Keros before pulling off the mitts and picking up the pad.

    Jack says as he places the pad between himself and Keros, and takes a stance. Keros takes a second to catch his breath, before taking his stance one again. The pad is used for practicing on a moving target, letting Keros experience and train the flow of combat. During this training there is less instruction, only a few calls here and there.

    Once again, the training becomes intense. Jack uses the entire back yard to evade, and circle Keros. Keros chases, throwing punches and kicks when the opportune moment shows. Sometimes Keros jabs to test the waters, before moving to block off a path and throw a quick combination before getting a bit of distance. Other times he find the moment to deliver a heavy kick into the pad. Jack sometimes calls for a knee or advises to retreat a little.

    "Ok, enough." Once again, jack calls out. Then puts the pad down before donning his gloves.

    Keros frowns, his indignation flaring back up. No approval, nor compliments come from jack. 'am i just not good enough?' Keros thinks. 'No, i train so much and i'm better than any other kids my age. Maybe dads standards are just freakishly high...' Keros calms himself a bit. He is accustomed to his fathers stoic attitude when it comes to him. His father compliments Keros' sister, but that doesn't bother Keros anymore.After all,he is happy for his sister and wants the best for her. 'I just wish he would praise me once or twice.'.

    Jack notices Keros expression, and sighs

    "come on son, time to spar."

    once again, training resumes are the short respite.

    By the time they are finished sparring, an hour and 20 minutes have passed since they began training together. Keros' movements show exhaustion, and his clothes are drenched by his sweat. Jack, his father, is only breathing slightly harder and barely broke a sweat.

    "We are done for the day.. Go wash up and finish your homework before any plans to go out."

    ------------

    Keros climbs out of the shower, drying off and standing before the mirror. Wiping off the steam from the mirror and taking a look at himself. Black medium length messy hair, Clear sharp eyes like his father, with a childish face, and sharp chin. Slightly taller than the majority of his peers at 166cm (5'5"). His muscles are well defined from his daily work outs. He notices the swelling on his face from sparing his with father, which will soon bruise but that doesn't bother him. In battle scars are obtained, and some warriors consider them trophies from a good fight, so his bruises are like temporary tattoos that showcase his hard work. Though not many 11 year olds show up to school with bruises, in the world today it isn't as big a deal as it might have been when humans were weak and fragile.

    Todays world is one that requires you to be tough, and battle is glorified. If you can't take a few punches then you aren't worth a damn, and if you can't return a few punches then you need to get stronger. These even apply to the youth at the age of 12, so keros just started a bit early.

    feeling reinvigorated after showering, Keros puts on his clothes before quickly doing his homework and going to the kitchen. As expected, his mother and little sister are back.

    Jessica, his mother, is standing at the sink rinsing some vegetables. She has long black hair, a delicate face, and sharp chin. She is just slightly taller than Keros at 170cm(5'6"). She has narrow shoulders, and a smaller build. When coupled with her gentle demeanor, she seems fairly delicate. However that couldn't be further from the truth. Like his father, she is in the military and well accomplished.

    He has seen her spar once with his father and was astounded at the spectacle. Her fighting style was starkly contrasted when pitted against his father. She was nimble, seemingly floating around Jack while delivering lightning fast strikes. Sure her power couldn't rival his Jacks, but she made up for it with sheer quantity. The spar didn't conclude with a winner, but Keros was sure that they were closesly matched.

    "Mom, you're back." Keros called out

    "Hey sweetie." Jessica said as she turned to look at Keros.

    "Bah, that brute. i wish he would take care when training with you." she says with slight irritation in her tone.

    Keros beams a smile. Another way his mother different from his father. She showed worry for him. She is the gentle warmth that thawed him after he experienced the frigid storm that is his father.

    "Is it alright if i go to the game center? Booker wanted me to meet up with him there when i was free.." Keros said

    "Sure, as long as your homework is done. remember to be careful though son." jessica said as she glanced at the window.

    the sun was going down, and the city could be dangerous at night especially for the young. The days were longer now than before Genesis. Books say the days used to be 24 hours, but now they are 32 hours. The days are longer, but so are the nights. Humans only need 8 hours of sleep on average and as one grows stronger that time is reduced. So when nights last up to 16 hours, it can get pretty boring if you only stay inside for the rest of the night. But that considered, Jessica still worries for her child.

    Jessica fished in her bag for a little and pulled out a small card, handing it to Keros.

    "alright, i will. Thanks." Keros said as he took the card before heading out the door.
    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Authors Note:

    Release schedule should be one chapter every 2-3 days as it stands.

    Please feel free to message me through the forums or @TheTaliWaya on twitter with feedback, and even suggestions. I am developing this story as i write it, and there will be some mistakes as well as things that i wish to go back and change as the story progresses. Right now i have a general outline in my head of big events, cultivation paths, arcs, and a vague idea of an ending.

    I've already come to realize that sometimes what i have written down doesn't translate well into my idea of the future of Hearts Dawn. Such as Character growth, where sometimes i feel Keros is too mature for his age, or he contradicts himself. Obviously this is common in many Chinese and Korean light novels, but i would like to avoid it as much as possible.

    I also feel like i spend too much word count on world building. I've tried to slowly integrate it into the chapters as you'd come across it. An example would be that 'Credits' aren't explained until chapter 4 i believe, because that's the first time it has become relevant in the story. There is so much i that i want this world to be, but i would feel goofy explaining things before they seem relevant. Such as the overall setting, being in a post apocalyptic but heavily technologically advanced society, and in return lacking in other areas such as an advanced government. Thinking on it though i think this can lend greatly to the story, since it will feel as if you are learning these things with the character and trailblazing a way of life in the unforgiving world of New Genesis. Feedback on that point would be GREATLY appreciated.

    At the end of the day what i want this novel to be is a good entry into a lacking genre. I want it to take influence from the foreign cultures and novels we all enjoy, but to add a western flair to it. I also want Hearts Dawn to do away with many of the disliked commonalities of some of the novels that inspire it such as an overpowered protagonist, shallow supporting characters, lack of world building, etc (personally one of the ones i've grown to dislike is Harems.). I only hope that i can succeed in making Hearts Dawn all that i want it to be, and after beginning on this novel i've learned that its extremely difficult to avoid some of these points. So i'm hoping your feedback will help me looked passed my bias and allow this novel to become a favorite among its readers.

    Thanks.

    I apologize if this spoils anything for you all, but i wanted to point this out so no one becomes disappointed in this novel as it progresses.
    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • edited April 21
    Chapters 2:

    Shutting the door behind him, Keros surveyed the street. As usual the street had a lot of foot traffic. 

    The stronghold is called Enceladus, and there are a lot of residents. There aren't many places that humans can reside safely on New Genesis, no more than 4 that are known of, and the larger the stronghold the more difficult it is to protect. The consequence of this is congestion. Tons of people living in a space that doesn't seem quite large enough for them.

    Keros blended in with the busy crowd, heading east.

    If you want to get around in New Genesis then you have two choices. You hoof it or you take public transportation, Unless you're in the upper class of course as they enjoy luxuries that the majority do not. Personal transportation is one of those many luxuries, which serves to show the status and give conveinence to those that enjoy it.

    Unfortunately Keros' family did not enjoy such luxuries. While being accomplished in the Military holds its own prestige, it's not enough to join the upper class in Enceladus(in-cell-a-dis).

    There are perks to walking and taking public transportation though. You can get some exercise and mingle with the people, absorbing the liveliness that accompanies the hustle and bustle of so many people.

    As keros moved through towards his destination, he listened to and observed those around him. Some were boisterous, laughing and bumping into those around them with no courtesy to be seen. some were having serious conversations, and though Keros couldn't make out the words, from their tones and expressions he would guess what the topic was about. Gossip about neighbors, complaining about their family, worried about someone, terrified of beasts. He made it into a game, but he couldn't find out if his guess was correct so there was no winning.

    It didn't take too long to reach the game center, Keros was quick and learned how to move amongst a crowd long ago.

    Keros navigated to area where the obstacle course was and began looking for Booker. Coincidently he found him at the start of the course. Booker was about to challenge the course and was just waiting on the Alarm that signaled the start. Keros looked up at the leaderboard hanging opposite the viewing area. The screen showed a list of 120 ranks, as well as the name and time that correlated with each rank. Every 30 seconds 100 of the ranks would change and descend to the next 100, only the top 20 ranks remained on the screen constantly. The board was currently at 1300-1400 and after a few seconds it changed. Scanning the board Keros found Bookers name at rank 1496. Surprisingly Booker already went through the course once, and he even broke into the top 1500 with a time of 1:53.92! He wasn't done either, obviously Booker thought he could do better, or he wouldn't have paid for his second attempt.

    The game center offered a subscription that allowed you to challenge any game once a day at no charge though you still had to wait in line, but any consecutive attempts would cost a few credits, and it would cost even more to jump into the priority line. It could take some time to get a second attempt unless you paid extra for priority considering that so many people attempted and any success could take minutes.

    *Briiiing*

    The alarm sounded. Keros quickly moved his eyes back on Booker just in time to see him rush passed the starting line. He moved fast, and reached the first obstacle at at full speed. A wall stood before him at 5 meters, with a rope strung from the top. He leaped, clearing a distance of 2 meters before his foot slammed into the wall just shy of the halfway point, and using the leverage gained from his momentum he kicked out propelling himself upward. while flying up he grabbed the rope just before losing momentum and used it to assist him in reaching the top, then grabbing the top of the wall he kicked out again vaulting himself over and falling 5 meters, landing on the ground firmly before bolting toward the next obstacle. Booker started blazing through obstacle after obstacle, showing the techniques he had learned or developed in order to increase his speed. People cheered as their blood pumped from the exciting sight. Booker was in the zone, and it showed. If he could keep this up then his rank would definitely jump a few more places.

    Towards the latter half of the run Booker started to slow down. The consequence of pushing his limits were showing and his stamina began to run out. It was a good tactic in a short time trial like this, come out of the gate at full throttle and get through the challenge before you ran out of steam. Unfortunately Booker hadn't built his stamina up enough to last this full course. Never the less, he still beat his previous time.

    1:49.55

    Looking at the leaderboard Keros watched as it immediately swapped to display Bookers time and rank. That run allowed him to jump 72 spots to 1424. Quite the jump and well deserved, but he still had a long way to go before he could breach the top 1000. It would take a time around 1:20 to compete with those below 1000, and as your time got lower the harder it would be to improve your skills and beat your personal record.

    Keros made his way toward the exit of the obstacle course so he could meet up with Booker.

    "Well done! that was pretty awesome." Keros said as he approached

    "K-Ros! So you made it in time to catch my run?" Booker replied with a cocky grin

    the youths walked over to the viewing area to watch the next few challengers. They talked all the while about the performances. Booker did most of the talking since he challenged the course so much he had a level of expertise that Keros didn't. Before too long they both left the game center and stopped off for drinks at a place that is popular with the youths in Enceladus called 'Mango'. they ordered drinks before taking a seat close to the entrance.

    "Why don't you give the obstacle course a try?" Booker said between sips of his fruit smoothie.

    "I don't know... I guess i just feel like im too busy with other things. with school, training, and homework, i don't have much free time afterwords. The free time i do have is spent hanging out with you and my family, martial arts, and learning cool skills." Keros said with a sigh while glancing out of the entrance of the shop.

    "I bet you'd do good." a feminine voice sounded out.

    Keros and Booker simultaneously look over to see a blushing girl. They recognized her because they shared a classes with her. Her name is Millie.

    "Why do you say that?" Keros asked, unsure why she would think so since they don't know eachother well.

    "You always do well at physical education in school... Its like a walk in the park for you, but a lot of us struggle to catch our breath." Millie states lightly.

    "I didn't know anyone paid me any attention in P.E... Maybe i could do okay, but i think it would be pretty difficult to match up to Book on the course." Keros said with a light chuckle. He was surprised, but glad to have been noticed for his hard work.

    "It's all good K-Ros, any newbie would find it hard to surpass an expert like me." Booker boasted, seemingly happy with the unexpected compliment.

    "Do you two go to the game center often?" Millie asked

    "Whenever we have some free time. I usually stick to the obstacle course, and K-Ros fights in matches. We are pretty good." Booker said, confidence and pride oozing out of his mouth along with the words.

    "I'll bring my friends to watch you two sometime, a couple of us compete in games there too just for fun." Millie said with a smile.

    Shortly after the two finished their drinks and left, heading home. They lived close together so they often walked home together after school and when they finished at the game center. After arriving at the entrance to an apartment complex 150 meters from Keros' house Booker waved Keros off before disappearing behind the door.

    Keros entered his house which is dimly lit. his parents were sitting on the couch with wine in their hands having a quiet conversation. They both had smiles on their faces, clearly enjoying their private time and each others company. Keros briefly greeted them, letting them know he was home before making his way towards his room.

    "Keros, lets talk for a minute." Jack called out. before taking Jessicas hand and giving it a kiss and standing up beckoning Keros to follow him. He led Keros to the backyard.

    Jack looked up at the night sky, maybe contemplating something, or perhaps just enjoying the view. The moon was big and bright, shedding a pale white light down on New Genesis. many stars were visible as well, with some slight variance in the colors.

    "The view at night is so much better when out in the wild." Jack said lightly, which was very unlike him.

    he continued "Enceladus has a lot of lights on through the night and that makes it more difficult to clearly see the stars. From what i've heard, its call light pollution. So i developed the habit of looking up at the stars when outside the walls. its a small relaxation to me, but invaluable in this world."

    silence ensued, Keros didn't know what to say. He was still unsure why he was brought outside to talk... 'does he really just want to talk about the stars?' Keros thought.

    "Do you think the training i set for you is too hard? Do you think that i push you too hard?" Jack broke the silence

    "W-what? why do you ask?" Keros stammered, slightly nervous

    "Your tone, expressions, and body language when i'm around. Especially when i'm training you. It feels like you're always tense around me." Jack said calmly, his eyes still focused on the sky.

    Keros thought for a little bit. his father seemed oddly calm, with an air of gentleness that the man never shows. maybe he could tell his father how he felt.

    "I-it's hard... You always have me train until i'm exhausted, and my body is aching. I don't like it." Keros said, looking over at his father to see his reaction

    Jack sighed "I know it's hard, but thats what it takes to be strong."

    "But why do i need to be so strong right now? I'm still a kid! I want to be able to have more of a life like my friends!" gaining more courage from his fathers demeanor Keros spoke again, slightly raising his voice

    Jacks eyes twitched and some sorrow crossed his face briefly, unnoticed by Keros, before his expression tensed. his gaze left the sky and focused on the wall in front of him.

    "In 5 years, you'll no longer be a kid. Then you'll understand why i force you to train so hard, and you'll see it was for your benefit." Jack said, his voice having become firm and slightly forceful

    Keros was oblivious to the changes his father was going through as they had the conversation. Drunk with false courage his attitude and actions continued to inflate

    "For my benefit? How is it for my benefit? Most kids havent even started training yet, and the ones that have train for a quarter as long as i do, and a fifth as hard! They get to conserve their energy and go out have fun while i'm stuck at home or in the gym working to the bone for strength i don't need!" Keros bellowed, practically yelling at his father at this point

    "You don't know anything. You think strength is just something thats always there for you to use when you need it? That isn't how it works, you have to constantly train and improve yourself so that when the time comes that you need power, you'll have it! It is a lifestyle!" Jacks voice became deeper and he turned to face Keros

    "Us Vaolairs have made a tradition of being hard workers with a high level of willpower. Hard work and strong willpower allows us to walk a path that most cannot, a path that power and pride! As long as one carries the Vaolair name, they need to be able to perservere through hardships!" Jack said with a mix of a commanding tone, confidence, and pride

    "The strength i have now is good enough!" Keros yelled, his voice becoming hoarse

    "and all i know of the Vaolairs is you, and i think your tradition is torturing your son! You don't even treat me like a son! I follow your training and never miss a day, I do what i'm told and what i should do!"

    Keros' face twisted exposing anger and dismay in his expression, and started using more body language, his arms helping to convey his feelings as much as his expression

    "I get good grades, and i don't cause trouble. What more do i need to do for you to be proud of me?! I understand now though, you'll never be proud of me. You'll never love me! and if what it means to be a Vaolair is to be an asshole like you, then i don't want to be one!"

    at that moment jacks face crunched, moving with incredible speed he closed the gap between the himself and Keros. Swinging his arm out he slapped Keros across the face. As Keros began to fall from the sudden slap, Jacks arm fired out and grasped the front of Keros' shirt and pulled him up, nearly lifting him off the ground and closing the distance between their faces. Even in his anger Jack was able to control his strength. The slap wasn't even as powerful as some of the strikes given when they sparred even with a swollen face Keros didn't feel much pain, but it wasn't the strength behind it that made it impactful. It was the meaning it conveyed.

    "First off, you watch the way you speak to me. I am your father and you can't begin to understand why i do the things i do. Secondly, you will never curse me like that again, i expect you to show me the respect i deserve."

    he spoke in a calm steady voice, but with a fierce tone.

    "You have no right to claim i don't love you. I provide for you, and i spend more time than you can imagine planning for you. I'm doing everything i can to set the foundation for your future, and instill what little i have knowledge about into you. You might not have realized that, or maybe you just don't think thats love, but you'll know eventually how much i've cared for you."

    stopping for a short while to regulate himself, jack took a second to study Keros' face. Fear, hurt, and regret were the primary feelings he observed. Jacks breathing calmed more, his hand loosened a bit allowing Keros' heals to touch the ground again, and his voice became more gentle.

    "And maybe you don't want to be a Vaolair, but fortunately son, you ARE a Vaolair. I know you're still just a kid and you can't understand just how valuable our tradition is, but one day... One day you'll grow up, and mature. You'll face the hardships that life throws at you, and you will struggle. You'll fight, and you'll go to war against the darkness that is hidden within the secrets of this world. And when that time comes you'll learn to have pride in this name of ours, because the legacy of our name lies in the 'tortue' that i have put you through. It is an incredible boon that isn't easily obtained without a lifetime of hardships."

    releasing Keros' shirt, Jack continues

    "I know i've never given you a reason to doubt me, so trust me on this Keros. Learn to accept this discomfort of training. Because while you might not need what it teaches right now, but in the future you will and you won't have to learn it on your own because you will have already learned it from me."

    silence. Keros' mind was jumbled, thrown into disarray by his fathers actions and sudden changes in demeanor. Gathering his thoughts and running what his father said back through his mind he started to calm down a bit as he processed the words his father spoke.

    Keros nodded

    jack turned towards the door and started towards it

    "I know i don't express my emotions often... even less when it concerns you. That doesn't mean they aren't there though, son."

    he opened the door

    "You've done well so far, but you can't stop improving." he said as he walked away.

    ------------------------------------

    Keros laid in bed, thinking about what had just occured. Maybe he had been too childish. There was truths in his fathers words that even he recognized. His father must have spent a lot of his time planning out the training regimen that Keros followed, added with the time he spent personally sparring with Keros, observing his techniques and progress, altering the regimen as needed. Surely that was an example of love.

    And what was that about expecting his father to be proud of him for doing what he should be doing anyway? That was definitely a childish way to think. He has to do these things anyway, why should anyone be proud of him because he is taking care of his own business? The more Keros though, the more embarrassed he became. Sure doubts were still there, since he saw how others kids interacted with their fathers, but maybe his father was right and he would understand it better as he matured.

    Resolving to change his mindset, Keros drifted to sleep.
    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 3:

    In the living room, Jack and Jessica sat beside each other. The atmosphere in the room was gloomy, and jacks face was sullen.

    "He is still too young my love. He doesn't have the experience needed to understand how much you've given him. So please, don't take his words to heart. He will appreciate all that you've done in time." Jessica said, before reaching over to stroke Jacks hand

    Jack sighed

    "I know Jess. I keep telling myself that, but it still pains me to know how he feels. I have flashes of doubt at times, that maybe i am wrong by depriving him of the enjoyable childhood he could have."

    "I believe losing a few years of your childhood in exchange for being prepared for the real world is worth it. The struggle you have introduced to him early will allow him to live an easier life down the line." Jessica consoled him

    "that's what i've believed... If that's so, then why haven't i started to prepare Catherine?" Jack responded, seemingly stating an observation rather than asking a question

    "Well, what's the reason? I know you've thought about this all before. so you must have a good reason." Jessica asked him, with an inquisitive gaze

    Jack spun his hand, so he could grasp his wifes. He turned his head to face her

    "Catherine is different than Keros.. I don't believe that she could handle it. She is carefree and whimsical, without the drive needed to accept the hardship."

    Jacks eyes brightened

    "Keros though.. He has the qualities needed in order to become extraordinary. In his eyes i see fire, a determination to fight against whatever stands in his way on the path to achieve what he wants. I feel his desire to improve when we spare, even if he doesn't seem to enjoy it, he still trains to become better than he was yesterday."

    Jack showed a huge grin

    "All of that is just a byproduct of the most important quality. His heart. You've noticed it too haven't you?"

    "Elaborate." Jessica said, flashing a smile before bringing her wine glass to her lips

    "My father told me that a man needs to 'have heart'. I thought he meant that a man needed to be compassionate and kind, but that isn't quite right. 'Having heart' is about self confidence more than anything. Believing that you can overcome any obstacle, and face any challenge put before you.  It's about having the courage to confront the most terrifying enemy, and steady your legs."

    Jacks grasp on Jessicas hand became tighter

    "When a man can have such courage and self confidence, then he will never falter on his path. Fail? he might, but he will try again and again until he succeeds. He will stand up for what he believes in, and he will protect what is important to him. He will become a pillar that holds the sky up for those around him. And oftentimes as an effect of these qualities, he will be compassionate to those around him, because his only true rival and enemy, is himself."

    jack breaths deeply, composing himself and takes his own glass of wine, taking a large gulp.

    "And Keros has all of these qualities already?" Jessica asks as she raises an eyebrow

    "No, and i don't expect him to, He is still too young, and developing these qualities take a lot of self exploration. What's important is the potential. I've noticed small hints of a few, but that is already surprising. I believe that one day, if he finds out what type of man he wants to be, he will grow and become a man with 'Heart'. I think such a man would be an inspiration to all, and achieve the impossible." Jack closed his eyes, savoring the emotions he is feeling

    "Well, i certainly believe our children are special and that they will lead great and entertaining lives." Jessica responded playfully

    Jack pulled on her arm, wrapping his arms around her and kissing her forehead before fully embracing her.

    "Thank you Jessica, for helping me dispell the doubts i had."

    --------------------


    *Bzzzzz!*

    *Beep! Beep! Beep!*

    Keros eyes slowly opened. He shifted in his bed so he could see his alarm clock. 5:45 was shown in on the digital clock in a bright orange color. Shutting off the alarm, he leans up and wipes at his eyes to clear the muck caused from sleeping and to attempt to reduce the groggy feeling.

    He slept for almost 6 hours. 7 hours sleep would be considered average for Keros. The days are long, but his responsibilities take up quite a bit of that time. While he still has some unallocated time in his day, much of that gets spent on the random things throughout the day.

    His mind drifted back to the events of last night. Even after a good sleep, he still felt that he was in the wrong. Even if he didn't have much free time, he now thought that he had enough. Even the things he despised doing still returned benefits, he just didn't see the benefits clearly. Like yesterday when Millie commented on his performance in P.E., it's true that it wasn't as difficult for him as it was most of the other kids. Or how Booker was winded mid way through the obstacle course, Keros was confident that he would last longer before running out of steam. There were countless small almost unnoticed benefits that came from his rigorous daily training regimen, but when compiled into a whole were awesome benefits that offset the discomfort of the training he despised so much.

    Were things truly as terrible as he felt they were? Likely, no. Keros had just been too immature, and too ignorant. He had failed to see the good that was a result of his struggles. He had been short sighted, and he didn't see the effort his parents put into raising him, and he had only took everything at face value. Now he knew better, and now he needed to change, he needed to improve. He knew changing would be difficult, and it wouldn't be immediate, but he knew he could do it.

    after the short session of self reflection he climbed off of his bed and sat on his floor. He sat cross-legged, adjusted his posture, and straightened his back. He closed his eyes and began to breathe deeply allowing his mind to let go of all the chaotic thoughts swimming within. He was meditating as his parents had taught him. The goal was to enter a state of immersion and feel the changes of the surroundings, and the changes within him.

    Meditation was a form of training, and one of the only ways known of to train your mind and soul. It also had benefits for your body as well. Eventually you would be able to draw energy in from your immediate surroundings that would nourish your body, strengthening your muscles, bones, ligaments, and a very slight increase to your organs. The benefits were accumulative. Not much was increased each time, but as long as you kept it up over time the changes would be significant.

    However, it isn't easy to reach a state of immersion. Some achieve it quickly, But many struggle for sometimes for years. It's said that an experiencing something that causes powerful emotions can play a role in how fast you reach immersion, and battle is often considered a good way to obtain such an experience. 

    It's also possible to  find one day that you can no longer enter immersion, usually after a significant event in the persons life. It's said that immersion requires you to know yourself to a certain extent, and if you lose sight of who you are then you also lose your immersion. Losing the ability to enter the state of immersion causes a big impact to the person, sometimes breaking the person to a point that they are never able to recover. After all, Immersion is said to be one of the tools needed to become strong and without it, you are destined to stagnate.

    However, even without being able to reach the state of immersion, meditation still brings benefits to your mind and soul. When you meditate you are clearing your mind of all thoughts, some let go of all negative and positive thoughts, while others accept them and integrate them into who they are. Either way, it cleanses the person in a sense. It's like a thick fog that always obscures your vision suddenly lifting, allowing you to see the sunrise on the horizon as that fog clears. The feeling his marvelous.

    Keros hasn't yet attained the state of immersion, but surprisingly he can feel some of the fog within, lift before disappearing. He has made it further than he had ever before, and this was the first time he had felt a change in the fog that obscured his being. He sat in silence after his meditation, organizing the thoughts that rushed back into his mind. 

    'There is only one reason that makes sense for this to have happened.'

     Last night was very impactful to him, and when he thought back on it he was able to glimpse his flaws. He discovered a bit of who he truly is, and the person he strives to become.

    'Like two sides of the same coin, the darkness brought with it the light. One couldn't exist without the other. Both Darkness and Light are essential, and they are equally balanced.'

    Keros hadn't realized it yet, but he had just touched upon an obscure truth of life. An essential rule that existed in everything that there was. It didn't require fortune or luck to be enlightened on this truth, it did require an understanding of both the negative and the positive in life.

    Keros smiled. He stood up and went about his daily routine. Cardio, hygiene, and preparing for school.

    -----------------

    Keros left his room, well groomed and looking more self confident than he had ever before. He was dressed in light blue jeans that bordered white, with his dull black long sleeve dress shirt that had the school's sky blue logo on the left pec, and dark brown leather boots. His hair was styled and pulled back unlike his usually messy hair. He wore a necklace that he wore every day, Booker had one just like it, and it was a token of their friendship. The necklace was a pendant in the shape of a wolf, suspended on his neck by a thin metal chain.

    Walking to the kitchen he found his mother and father. His mother was busy making breakfast, and his father was sitting at the table drinking coffee.

    "Good morning son." Jessica said, without turning from the stove.

    "Morning mom, dad." Keros said, before getting a cup and filling it with tap water. he sat at the table, to the left of his father.

    Nothing more was said. They sat in silence, and the only noise was coming from the stove and his mother lightly humming. Shortly Keros had finished his glass of water, and his mother finished breakfast. Four egg sandwiches on paper towels, one for each. Before Jessica could bring the sandwiches to the table, Catherine came skipping into the kitchen.

    Catherine is 8, and she has a very carefree personality. It's rare to see her downcast, and she is almost always happy and energetic. Catherine and Keros didn't get along very well, he thought she was annoying and she thought he was too serious and boring. 

    Catherine is short, with medium length dark brown her like her father. she had a round delicate face slightly resembling her mother. She wore clothes that suited her personality, bright and colorful, and she rarely followed the school dress code. She could get away with it because she was well liked, and didn't cause much trouble. His personality was intoxicating to most, and affected the people around her, making it hard to be anything but joyful. She was like a Daisy flower able to brighten anyone's day, hence her nickname given to her by her father, Daisy.

    As witnessed this morning, Catherine did whatever she wanted and didn't follow the normal flow of life. She also had a habit of bending the rules to make the situation more favorable for her, but she did so without stepping on anyones toes so no one saw it as a big issue.

    She certainly seemed spoiled, or she had the personality of someone that had been spoiled.

    "Morning mommy, Morning daddy." she said in a childish tone as she took her sandwich and sat down. immediately digging in.

    Jessica brought a cup of juice that she had poured earlier in preparation, and put in by Catherine "Morning little Daisy."

    "Morning Daisy." Jack said with a small smile.

    The family ate relatively quickly, after all everyone had things to do and time waited for no one. The majority of the sound came from Daisy, who hummed a song to herself and ate in a boisterous manner. Jessica seemed to have also been infected by Catherine and was more lively as a result. Only Keros and Jake sat and ate in relative silence.

    Shortly everyone had finished, and they all began to rise and get on with their day. Keros and Catherine would be going to school, and who knew what their parents would be doing. As Catherine and Keros headed to the door, Keros hesitated for a moment before stopping and turning his head to look at his father.

    "Sorry, and thanks, dad." he said before following Catherine out of the door and down the street. This was the best he could manage right now. He had resolved himself to change and improve, but it wouldn't happen overnight.

    Jack stood, slightly stunned. A smile briefly flashed across his face, before he gathered himself and left with Jessica.

    Keros forced Catherine to stop in front of the apartment that Booker lived in, much to her annoyance. Luckily it wasn't long before booker came out and joined them as they walked to school.

    "What are you all dressed up for?" Booker asked in a grainy voice, noting Keros' well kempt appearance

    Keros laughed lightly, he knew Booker wasn't a morning person and it always made him laugh at the stark difference between morning booker, and normal Booker. "I just thought it might be nice to make a change, and maybe take a bit more pride in myself."

    --------------------

    *Briing*

    A short bell sound rang out, signifying a 10-minute break in between classes.

    Keros gathered his things into his bag and stood up to leave the room, Booker closely followed. They shared all the same classes which was unusual but likely due to intervention by their parents. Truth be told, Their parents were the reason they had become friends in the first place. They were two entirely different people. Keros was more reserved, calm, and serious. Booker was energetic, loud, and charismatic. For some reason though, they got along well. They were as close as brothers and were often seen together. They weren't super popular in the school, but when one was mentioned the other would undoubtedly be mentioned right after.

    The two went to the cafeteria, and up to a vending machine. Keros pulled out the card his mother had given him. This was a small thin card with an incredibly thin screen on it. It could be loaded up with credits and scanned to buy things. His mother had put some credits on it yesterday for him to use for a while. When his parents were gone working for a long time, Keros would have to do small odd jobs to get some spending money. Some of the elders would pay him to do basic labor, and he could work at the gym as a sparring partner for some of the younger members.

    He chose a drink he enjoyed called 'Sunrise'. It came in a sunburnt orange can and had a mild fruity color. It was his favorite partially because of the flavor but also because it was healthy and didn't contain that junk that 'Red Riot' had in it. Booker was next and chose a weaker energy drink, as the school didn't sell the stronger drinks that were his favorite.

    Leaning against the wall Booker observed Keros, noticing the bruises that had started to appear overnight "I guess you lost when sparring against uncle J huh?"

    "Sparring isn't about winning or losing. It's not a competition. But yea... I guess I would have lost if it was." Keros said in an educating tone. The bruises stung just a little, but he figured it was worth receiving them if it meant he could reap those benefits he was thinking about this morning.

    "even though i lost, i still won too. I feel i'm a better fighter now if even just a little bit." Keros said with his lips curving upwards just a bit.

    -----------------

    P.E. was class was about to start. Everyone gathered and went to their respective locker rooms to get changed. Gym clothes were the one set of clothing that the school didn't require to have a logo on them, instead, every student was issued an armband that had the logo and school colors on it. The armband also monitored the vitals of each student so the school could more accurately reference the students performance with the difficulty, and they were able to adjust the activities and exercises based on the average of the class as well.

    All of the students gathered in the gym and awaited to be addressed by the coach.

    "Alright, Today we are officially at the end of the first quarter of the school year. As such we will be conducting the quarterly assessment. All of you will need to follow me to the Franz Gymnasium!" The coach yelled so all of the students could hear him, checking over his tablet to make take attendance thanks to the armbands. Whoever had the armband on would have their name highlighted on the screen of the tablet.

    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • edited April 26
    Chapter 4:

    Meanwhile, far from the school on the northeast side of Enceladus, Jack and Jessica we standing amongst 138 other people. Everyone was wearing military attire, with a few of them having more embellishments that indicated a higher status or ranking.

    "Squad 3 has reported some changes at the abyss. We aren't entirely sure what is happening, but we believe that it requires our immediate attention. As you all know, the threat posed by the abyss is great, and affects the entirety of humanity." A man in a pure black military suit, adorned with multiple bright golden circles on the shoulders, and a blue wave embroidery on the left pec addressed the 140 people.

    "As a result, we are issuing a command for 9 of the 10 squads to station around the abyss 32/7. The final team will rotate shifts with one other team every 5 days." the man glanced over the crowd to see their reactions before getting a consensus and adjusting his next words accordingly

    "I understand that this means you will be away from home for long periods and you won't have much time when you do get to come home, but this is incredibly important. We can't afford to be careless about this. This is a sacrifice all of you are expected to make. When you joined the Covert Corps, you were all explicitly informed about the sacrifices you might be required to make. I don't believe this needs to be said, as you all are amongst the most brave warriors on Enceladus, none the less i feel its only right that i am as transparent as possible." pausing to take a deep breath, he continued

    "Since communication will also be limited with this arrangement, you will be trusted to make decisions as necessary depending on the situation. However you are NOT to engage in battle with the soldiers from other Strongholds unless you have no other choice.... Any questions?" The man observed the crowd.

    a short discussion started within the various groups. Eventually one spoke up

    "Sir, Is it correct to assume that if we have noticed these changes, then the other strongholds have as well?" The captain of squad 7 asked.

    "Yes, that is what we believe. We expect them to have a similar response as us." The man responded. his words implied that this was serious enough that every stronghold would throw everything they could at the issue. Also that this was just an educated guess.

    "Thank you, Sir! Squad 7 has no further questions." Squad 7s captain responded.

    It seems no one else had any questions. Even if they did they believed they wouldn't receive an answer. Some things were concealed from even them, and other things just had to be experienced.

    "As always this information, as well as your mission parameters, must remain a secret. Even from your families... You set out tomorrow." The man said, surveying the room one last time.

    "You are dismissed."

    Everyone grouped up in their squads before leaving. Jack and Jessica were both in Squad 4. Each squad had 20 people in it, with a Captain and two lieutenants. The Captain was the leader of the squads, and the two lieutenants were 2nd in command and held equal power within the team. The lieutenants were there for the Captain to delegate tasks to them in order to reduce the burden on their shoulders, but also to take command should the Captain be incapacitated. 

    Jack was one of the two lieutenants, with a good reputation within the team. He was well respected and was widely considered as the only second in command within the team. Even the other lieutenant would follow Jacks order should the time come for Jack to take command.

    After leaving the building, Squad 4 traveled to a nearby building. This was their squad 'barracks'. Each of their 10 squads had their own barracks in the same area.

    Silence. Everyone sat in a rough circle, but no one spoke. The atmosphere was tense. Everyone understands that this mission would be difficult and dangerous. They were no strangers to danger but this mission felt different. If even the higher ranks were so solemn, then the situation had to be bad.

    "Jack." the captain said, breaking the silence.

    "How's that brat of yours doing?" he said after a brief pause

    This caught Jack and the rest of the team off guard. It seems the captain was trying to diffuse the tension in the atmosphere, and it certainly worked.

    "Calling him a brat is accurate. He has yet to mature enough for me to teach him everything i'd like to." Jack said, before pausing for some time to think.

    No one spoke. Everyone was waiting for Jack to continue. They knew quite a bit about Keros and Catherine. The squad members were all quite close, and the captain would always ask about Keros since finding out that Jack was training him so intently. Of course when he learned about Keros he never failed to ask about Catherine, and Jessica was always the one to respond.

    "We had a fight last night. The training has been hard on him, and he felt it was unfair for me to force him into it. But i'll be damned if the kid didn't apologize and thank me this morning." Jack said, as a grin appeared on his face towards the end.

    everyone of his teammates sported a small smile at the last sentence. Only the captain had ever met Jack and Jessicas kids, but they all felt some attachment to them since they heard stories about them every mission.

    "looks like Little Vao isn't completely lost."

    "thats what i'm talkin about. I wish my kid admitted he was wrong."

    "I'll pay you to teach my kid how to respect his elders Jack!"

    The team broke out, many of them commenting about the situation.

    "From what we've heard, it sounds like there is potential for him to rise up and join us sometime, huh?" the captain asked.

    Jacks grin grew wider "Sure, i think he has the potential to rise up to this level. He won't be here long though, he will surpass all of soon after!"

    The captain started laughing, and the team was jeering. the atmosphere was lively, but shortly reality crept back in.

    "I just hope im here to see it, and guide him when needed." Jack said adding to the tensing environment

    "No worries brother!" the captain said, placing his hand on Jacks shoulder

    "You're strong, and you're in the best team in Enceladus. Hell, maybe the best team on New Genesis!" the captain boasted arrogantly

    "We won't die easily, but if the day comes that you go out... The team will pick up where you left off and do what we can." his grip tightened in a comforting gesture.

    many of the team nodding, in agreement with the captain. Jack took comfort knowing that he had friends he could count.

    "Now, how about Daisy? I bet there are a few funny stories you guys can tell about her yea?" As usual, the captain asked about Catherine.

    Jessica chimed in, detailing some of the excitement that Catherine brought them. Catherines whimsical nature always brought a few laughs.

    After hearing about Catherine the captain spoke up again "Well i don't think any of us gruff soldiers would be good a good fit to look after Daisy, but we won't allow her to suffer any injustice!"

    once again the team nodded. It was rare for spouses to both be in the military, much less in the same squad. Coupled with the fact that the Covert corps we assigned more dangerous missions, there was every possibility that their lives could be lost. If so, what would happen to their kids? That was the biggest worry, and why the team seemed to care so much about Keros and Catherine.

    Their parents were in a noble line of work. Protecting everyone in Enceladus and fighting for a better future. While some thought bad of them for taking the risk of leaving their children alone in this world, there were some that understood how much courage it took to risk so much so the ones they loved could have a better life.

    "Obviously i've worried about our children, since what we do is dangerous. So i've taken some actions to set up a contingency. My sister is similar to Catherine and will take care of her." Jessica said with a firm expression.

    the team continued on the same topic for a little longer before things became more serious.

    "Brothers, Sisters, i think its time we face our current situation." the captain said, squashing the idle chatter.

    "We know things have become difficult. We weren't briefed on the specifics on what 'changes' have occurred, but we can assume that it is serious since they are deploying every team simultaneously. Normally they only deploy 3 teams at a time." the captain leaned back in his chair, stroking the stubble on his face

    "Obviously there is danger from the abyss, however we can't discount the danger that the other strongholds will pose. If they have the same response as our superiors, then we will likely be surrounded by our enemies. While i understand 'an enemy of my enemy is my friend', i also understand that some might use this as an opportunity." his eyes closed, and scrunched up and he stopped speaking

    After a short while Jack decided to continue "I know none of us are happy with the situation. Everyone will be tense, and a single spark can cause a fire with dry tinder. It will be a volatile combination." Jack looked to the captain to see if he wanted to pick back up, but the captain remained the same

    "The important thing is that we look after one another. This way none of us will have a knee jerk reaction and allow the situation to get out of control, should something happen. We will have each other to block snuff out the fire before it grows." jack said.

    the captain finally spoke up again, picking up there "We will spend some time developing plans once we understand the situation better. Then we will act accordingly, and decide what the highest priority is, be it protecting the team as a whole, or sacrificing for the mission." the captain said with a sullen expression. it was clear that he truly did not want to see his team be sacrificed for any mission, but such was the plight of their profession.

    -----------------------

    Each class participating were assigned an aide to supervise and guide them even if they were familiar with the route to the Franz gym, only the trouble makers would split and cause trouble for the coach and other teachers. As Enceladus had a high population the schools also had a large number of students and it was difficult to lead such a large group any amount of distance. So the school assigned Aides to assist, and their jobs were to devise a route to the gym and ensure the entire class assigned to them made it safely and on time.

    The Franz gym was not part of the school. It was built by the Franz Academy, a school for the upper class, so that the middle class and lower could have access to proper equipment and was used by all of the schools in the lesser districts on special occasions, as such it was in the most convenient location for all schools to access. Unfortunately that meant that there was quite a distance between each school, and the gym. Building the school wasn't entirely a benevolent act by the upper class but partially for the accuracy in testing, to ensure that none that they considered beneath them would be able to 'Cheat the system'. It also gave the upper class some control over the physical activities of the lower classes. There were even times that a class or two from Franz academy would also test at the Franz gym under the guise of inspiring others, though everyone knew it was just so they could boast and get some enjoyment from looking down on others.

    Physical education was taken more seriously than most other subjects in Enceladus, because power was most important for life on New Genesis. While knowledge is an important part of power, many believe it to only be secondary to physical prowess. 

    Most youths didn't begin serious training until they were 12 years old, as such the last 4 years of their education focused heavily on Physical improvement and combat knowledge. Consequently their scores matter more as well during the last 4 years, their final year being the most significant. At 16 they would graduate and they would begin finding careers. Many aspired to follow a career path that would bring them glory, and in Enceladus there was nothing more glorious than combat. So the military was many students primary goal, while others preferred the idea of being a mercenary. If one couldn't become one of those two, they started to settle for less prestigious positions. Such as a wall guard, or a scout. 

    Some even settled for being an enforcer. Enceladus could be considered fairly lax when it came to rules which meant that enforcers didn't have much power. Most of the laws were centered around how you should interact with the upper class, but of course the laws would benefit them, they have a say in what laws are approved. See even though Power is king on New Genesis, personal strength isn't the ONLY way to obtain power. Politics, commerce, networking, these are some of the things that you can use to your advantage in order to stand above the rest. Therefore the nobles quarreled over the laws. The physically strong don't believe they have any need for laws to protect them or their way of life because their power come from themselves, but the ones without physical power wanted to make sure that it was as difficult as possible for someone to topple their ivory towers. Eventually they came to a compromise. The physically strong realized that other paths were important too and so they needed to allow safety measures for the ones focused on things other than personal strength, in order to maintain their way of life.

    When the laws were implemented there needed to be people who would enforce those laws. The only downside is that most of the population consists of the middle class and lower, and who would want to protect the same people that want to keep you under their boot? Besides, if you become strong enough or obtains enough merits you could become join the upper class yourself, so why limit yourself as an enforcer? Realizing that the upper class decided to give enforcers some perks such as enjoying some things that only the upper class could obtain. This successfully enticed some of those that couldn't get into the military or a mercenary group.

    Some kids understood that they weren't suited for conflict, and there were many jobs that needed to be done. So not everyone aspired to obtain glory through battle. Even if someone couldn't find something they enjoyed they would still take any job they could get. No one wanted to be labeled as 'useless', or a bum. 

    Though humanity has come a long since Genesis, and in certain aspects surpassed humanity before Genesis, there was still a long way to go before humanity was stable. Therefore anyone who didn't contribute in some way, would be looked down upon. The only exceptions are for housewives, and the upper class. It was acceptable to become a house wife, to look after the children and take care of affairs concerning the household, though few took advantage of it. The upper class had the advantage of relying on their status and coasting by and some did, but some still had to worry about their status declining if they were inactive.

    -------------

    Keros arrived with his class to the gym. Luckily their aide this year had planned well and they made it to the gym a bit early. They were the second class to arrive. He surveyed the gym for a long while, and he noticed an odd attendant. The woman was wearing very nice clothes made from soft and colorful material, with many expensive accessories. She had a Curvacious figure, with a confident and haughty demeanor, and was quite beautiful. Looking at her most would assume that she is a part of the upper class based on these observations

    'Is she part of the staff?' Keros wondered, he had seen many of the Franz Staff over the years and a few had been a part of the upper class, so she could be as well. The only other reason for her to be here would be if a class from Franz academy was coming. If it was the latter, then trouble would likely follow.

    'At least it would be interesting' Keros mused.

    The aide led the class to a section of the gym and took attendance to make sure that no one was missing. She advised them to limber up and stay put before walking off to meet up with the other aides and teachers. Now the just had to wait for the rest of the classes to arrive. There were 2 classes per school, and usually 2-3 schools that participate each time.

    Before long, classes start to arrive one after the other and were led to the area designated for each school. It seemed there would be 3 schools participating this time, luckily the gym was large enough to comfortably accommodate everyone. When the other class from his school arrived, he spotted Millie who arrived with them. after mingling a bit with her friends she noticed Keros and Booker. She gestured to a few friends and led them over to greet the two.


    "Hey guys! these are my friends i was talking about yesterday." Millie said as she gestured the to three following her.

    there was one girl, and two boys. All of them had light smiles on their faces and seem polite. Keros could tell from their builds which ones like to compete at the game center.

    "I'm Sasha, its nice to meet you both. The two behind me are Phillip and George." the girl said as she stuck her hand out.

    "Keros, its nice to meet you too. My buddy here is Booker." Keros said as he grasped her hand. Her handshake was firm, but that came as no surprise to Keros since he had already guessed that she was one of the ones that competed. She had medium length blonde hair tied into a ponytail, and bright blue eyes. she was taller than most of the other girls in either of their classes, and had a somewhat stocky frame.

    Booker took the initiative to introduce himself and Keros to the two guys in the meantime. Phillip wore glasses that resembled goggles, he had messy light brown hair and a pointy nose. he was thin and short. He certainly didn't look like a fighter but looks can be deceiving sometimes.

    George had a medium height and also had a stocky frame, but he sported a bit of extra weight that gave him a bit of a round look. He had short kempt blonde hair, green eyes, a square jaw, and a chubby face. and from the conversation Keros found out he was right again, George also competed.

    "I heard you guys compete at the game center a lot." said Sasha

    Keros moved his gaze back to her "I do sometimes, not often. Mainly Booker competes and i go cheer him on."

    "I prefer trying just about everything there, its fun to see my rank improve on so many games. I guess it can be fun to watch sometimes too though." she replied

    the gym seemed to go mute for a second, before breaking out in hushed whispers. Looking at the doors Keros saw another two classes entering. They wore pale blue uniforms with a black F circled by a dragon tail embroidered on the shoulder, the signature of Franz academy. Apparently, today would an interesting day.

    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 5:

    Keros watched them cross the gym. they seemed to have an arrogant air around them as they walked with their chin elevated, as if to show their superiority. They seemed to be enjoying the attention, and used the opportunity to show off their expensive accessories. Accessories seemed to mean a lot to the upper class, they felt that it showed their status. Some shot cocky glances at the various students from other schools, while others went as far as to make wild gestures. Even the Aides, who were supposed to be more mature, took part in these antics.

    Keros and Booker couldn't help but snicker. It was an inside joke amongst them concerning when the upper class acted like that. Some others didn't take it well though. It was a sore spot for many of the common people to be looked down on, and it caused them to become bitter when they saw the Franz academy students act that way. Even Sasha and George seemed upset about it.

    "What's so funny? how can you guys be laughing while they are mocking us like that!" George spouted, his face reddening slightly.

    "What about that isn't funny? Look at them peacockin like idiots." Booker said after he composed himself.

    Unfortunately, his voice was louder than the low gossip from the other classes and some of the Franz students heard him, as well as one of the aides. They quickly jerked their heads over, casting disgruntled frowns towards him and the group. Most of the Upper class were prideful people, and also hypocritical. They could dish it out, but they would get irrational when they received it. When they made it to their designated area, it was apparent from the change in their demeanor that what they had heard was spreading through their class.

    Eventually, the last class made it, and they were only 5 minutes late which was better than normal. Once everyone was inside the doors were shut and everyone assembled in their areas in a neat formation. The Teachers, Aides, and the head of the gym grouped to address all of the students.

    "Everyone should already have some experience with these procedures, but regardless, we are going to explain them. This is the first quarter of Physical examinations. We have devised some events to test your fitness levels. Each class will be tested one at a time, consecutively for all tests. This will give everyone some time between tests to catch their breath. We will not move on to the next test until all classes have completed the previous test."

    "First, you will be weighed and your senses will be tested by our staff. Next, we will move to the gym track, and we will test your speed and stamina. After we will test your reaction time, and finally, your strength. If you have any questions, speak with your aide. We will begin in shortly." the gym head stated

    "I'd like to propose some incentive for the commoner students!" the woman Keros saw earlier spoke up

    "What did you have in mind Mrs. Gellard?" The gym head turned to the woman and said in a polite tone.

    "Any commoner students that can get within the top three on the leaderboard will receive 5,000 credits from me personally." Mrs. Gellard said with a proud expression

    "That's very generous of you Mrs. Gellard! I'm sure the students will try their best thanks to your incentive." The gym head replied with a kind smile

    All of the coaches smiled as well. The students performing well would reflect kindly on them, and might result in a raise. In their eyes, Mrs. Gellard had helped them greatly.

    "Yes, i only hope that the commoner students have something extra to motivate them. Though, i doubt any commoner will manage to even make it onto the main leaderboard since my students are here." Mrs. Gellard stated in a cocky tone and with a smug grin

    The coaches and staff had a change in expression, morphing from warm smiles to awkward frowns.

    She was clearly taunting the students. It wasn't uncommon for nobles to try and assert their dominance by taunting and being condescending towards others, but that didn't ease the tension brought by her words. Even the students could tell that the 'Incentive' was nothing more than another way to insult commoners. However, even the coaches would find it difficult to speak up about it, especially when his status was taken into account.

    No one believed that they were any worse than the Franz academy students. However, the fact was that being a noble granted a person certain advantages even in bodily cultivation. If resources were used correctly, the nobles would be able to increase their strength a little faster than a commoner would.

    "If we were able to get tonics we wouldn't lose to those snotty nobles." someone couldn't help but complain with an indignant tone. unexpectedly his voice carried in the quiet gym, and caused the attention to be focused on him.

    his face paled, Mrs. Gellard was staring daggers at him. She didn't appreciate a student, commoner no less, retorting with insults at her. Nobles were known to be spiteful in regard to some things and insults were on that list. She could make things difficult for him during this examination which might prove detrimental to his overall grade this year. The other commoner students sent looks of pity at him, while the noble students had satisfied grins.

    *Pfft haha* a snort was heard followed by a stifled laugh

    all the eyes that were focused on the misfortunate boy, swapped to focus on Keros who was covering his mouth to try and silence his laughter. their expressions were ones of confusion. What could be so funny in such a tense situation? Laughing would do nothing but worsen the situation and drag the person into the middle of it.

    "You think it's funny to insult nobles?" Mrs. Gellard asked, her unfriendly gaze now trained on Keros. She remembered that just a moment ago one of the aides told her about a couple of commoner students making insulting comments about her students, and this boy was one of the two pointed out.

    "That's not what's funny." Keros said after calming himself

    "Oh? Then tell me, what was so funny about what that boy said." Mrs. Gellard said, her tone commanding.

    "Making excuses to comfort himself so he is prepared to lose." Keros said with a slightly mocking tone.

    He had been taught by his father not to make excuses for himself. They would cloud your perception of yourself and would slow your progress. He always says 'If you fail or you make a mistake, learn from it and work harder!'. Only the mediocre make excuses. Keros had been working hard on his physical fitness and combat ability for a few years now and had started to agree with his fathers' beliefs on the matter. He had realized this morning, partially thanks to his improvement in meditation, that as long as he kept working hard he would continue to improve. He might lose today, but he will work harder and when faced against the same obstacle he will crush it. Today he would strengthen that resolve by seeing just how far he had come so far.

    "I see. I suppose you're not going to make the same excuses when you lose then?" Mrs. Gellard responded while raising an eyebrow. She didn't expect his words to criticize another commoner.

    "I try my best not to, and i haven't made an excuse for myself yet. Besides, i don't plan on losing today." Keros said in a confident tone, his chest inflating slightly. 

    he chose his words carefully, because he understood that he isn't perfect. He might not like making excuses, but one day he might do exactly that. If he does, he will just have to work passed it and do better to not make any more.

    Booker was surprised. Normally Keros is more reserved than this, and he wouldn't do things that would draw so much attention. He has always had a certain level of confidence but today his confidence seemed to be a notch higher than before. Something was up, Keros groomed well, he was acting more outgoing, he was more animated than usual, and his confidence higher than normal.

    "Quite the confidence you have, i wonder how long it will last." Mrs. Gellard said, before letting the matter drop for the time being.

    ----------------

    Keros class just finished their pre-examinations and were waiting at the track for the rest of the classes to finish. Their class went third, after both noble classes. Maybe Mrs. Gellard had something to do with that, or maybe it was just coincidence.

    "What's up with you today bro?" Booker asked with a confused but curious expression

    "What do you mean?" Keros asked in reply

    "You're acting differently than normal. That's the first time i've seen ya step into the spotlight like that, and i mean come on, you never style your hair!" Booker said making wild gestures to illustrate his point

    Keros thought for a minute, and agreed with Bookers observation. He came to the conclusion that it had was likely related to the bit of fog that dispersed when meditating this morning. He remembers being told by his parents that as the fog was dispersed you'd gain a better understanding of yourself, and that might cause changes to your attitude and personality as if you were unlocking parts of yourself that had been imprisoned in your mind.

    "I think it might be because of a breakthrough in meditation." Keros said with a furrowed brow. He still wasn't sure, and would have to asked his parents about it later.

    "Meditation? how could that cause your changes?" Booker asked, he didn't know much about meditation

    Keros briefly explained the main benefits of meditation, the bottlenecks, and what he experienced so far. Bookers excitement grew as he listened.

    "My folks never told me any of that! You gotta teach me K-Ros!" Booker said enthusiastically.

    It wasn't surprising that he hadn't been taught about meditation yet. Not all parents started their kids early like Keros', and the school didn't start teaching Meditation until the 8th year same as with training. The act of training in meditation and bodily fitness at the same time has been named 'Cultivation'. Cultivation was a word from before Genesis that roughly meant 'the process of improvement' or 'growth', and in this sense, it means to grow and improve your internal power. Cultivation is the path to power and it requires constant work to grow your power, if you stop you won't regress but you will stagnate. Very few are ever satisfied with the level of power they get and will continue their cultivation every day so they can continue to grow more powerful.

    It's odd that kids aren't taught cultivation from an earlier age, but the reason has been explained before. On average, children are not mature enough mentally nor physically to get significant progress with cultivation. Depending on their build physical fitness training could produce decent results earlier, and martial arts could be learned early as well, but meditation required mental maturity and experience that someone under 12 was extremely unlikely to have and even starting at 12 years old, some might not see any improvements for years to come. While there isn't a risk of starting training earlier, people believed they could use that time more wisely to teach more necessary information that would be neglected later.

    Another reason Cultivation normally starts at age 12 is because a person would experience the fastest rate of growth during puberty. The speed of growth one would see during this time would be faster than any other time, and was considered important because the advantage in speed lasts a short time when compared to their lifespan. It was rare for someone to be unable to cultivate, but not unheard of. So everyone who could cultivate wouldn't miss the chance to cultivate during puberty, the benefits of cultivation were just too enticing. Cultivation would result in a longer lifespan, increasing more the more powerful you became, and you would retain your youth for longer. Your physical abilities would all grow becoming even faster, stronger, more durable, and your senses would become more acute. Your mind would able to process information faster, retain information better, and you would learn things quicker. Some of the benefits paired extremely well with the natural evolutions humanity experienced during Genesis.

    "ill teach you sometime after school, but you might have to skip going to the game center." Keros said with a grin, and Booker nodded like a chicken pecking at grain

    "Now, what do you think about Mrs. Gellards challenge?" Keros asked

    "I've never seen a noble kids strength, but i don't think i'd lose to them easily. It's annoying that they think so highly of themselves." Booker said with a sneer

    "Agreed. You know 5,000 credits is a lot. I'm already thinking about what we will buy with it." Keros was sporting a cheeky grin

    "Ohhh you're gonna put some effort into the examinations this year huh? ya know i'd really like to knock them down a peg or two, so you better start thinking of what we would buy with 10,000 credits" Booker said with confidence while holding his fist out.

    Keros made a fist and bumped it against Bookers. Today they were going to use this challenge as a way to take a jab at the Nobles that look down on the commoners. If they won, it wouldn't be an insignificant victory. 10,000 credits would be a lot to them, especially when 150 credits could get you a good meal and a few thousand could get you a cheap comm link.

    Keros didn't have a good understanding of the value of money. Even though he worked some odd jobs, and his parents occasionally gave him money, he never had many credits. 5,000 would be the most he had ever had at once by a large margin, and he had seen a few older model comm links that he wanted, so the challenge tempted him.

    However, his primary goal was still to experience the results of the hard work he had put in, and understand the efforts of his father.

    --------------

    *Ding Ding*

    A notification alarm was sounded as the results were shown on the digital leaderboard above the track. The screen that displayed the leaderboard was huge, and had designated sections for each school as well as one section to display the top 25 total scores from all students participating that day.

    Multiple values would be recorded and used in each individual statistic score, before being calculated and added to the students' total fitness score. Students' electronic armbands would act as an electronic I.D. which would be immediately scanned every time they passed the lap strip. Every lap taken around the track would have the time recorded. Students were advised to run as fast as they possibly could until they couldn't continue, and the results would be calculated in real-time. The results weren't displayed on the leaderboard until every student finishes in order to prevent slackers from stopping when they felt they had a sufficient score.

    The students knew what results mattered the most. Their lap times, the number of laps ran before their times failing to meet a threshold, and their total amount of laps. Obviously their lap times would be referenced to establish their speed, and while their electronic armbands would record and display their top speed, for the highest accuracy their times would be cross referenced and included in the calculations for their results.

    The number of laps run before failing to meet the threshold would establish how long a student could maintain a high rate of speed.

    Lastly, the number of laps run would establish how much stamina they had.

    The speed and stamina test was by far the most complicated, because two statistics were being evaluated and many values had to be used in their calculations for accurate results. There were faster methods to test these statistics, but the equipment needed would be too expensive to buy a sufficient quantity.

    -

    Keros focused on the top of the leaderboard, and focused on the top three names.

    ~Rank 1: Judas Nevir
     Fastest lap: 45s
     Laps completed: 22
     Score: 120
     Fitness Score: 120

    ~Rank 2: Lisa Ekkle
     Fastest lap: 48s
     Laps completed:21
     Score: 99
     Fitness Score: 99

    ~Rank 3: Tony Surmack
     Fastest lap: 55s
     Laps completed: 14
     Score: 77
     Fitness Score: 77

    Keros' goal was to test his limits, but without something to compare his results to he might not understand them fully. He knew none of his class could match up to him, even Booker wasn't quite strong enough to match up. He was happy that Franz academy had gone first because his class was up next. Franz academy is considered the best school with the highest achieving students, so they must be the best students to compare himself to. He was excited to see how he compared.

    -

    "Goldrose academy, class one, take your positions on the track and wait for the signal." the head yelled.

    Following the class, Keros and Booker took positions in the middle of the pack. Keros took a few deep breaths and lightly bounced on his feet, before assuming his stance.

    *GWAAAAAANG*

    The sound of a gong being hit sounded throughout the building, signaling the start of the test.

    Keros applied strength and kicked off, his body straightening as he took long strides. He had good acceleration and reached his top speed faster than his classmates. He shifted to the left a bit before weaving in between the classmates that started in the row ahead of him, blowing passed them as he quickly closed the gap with the next row. Within moments he passed the people at the front and began putting distance between himself and the rest of the class.

    By the time he started to feel himself slowing down noticeably he had already completed five laps, and lapped everyone in his class more than once, except for booker. By the 15th lap he began to really feel the fatigue, and he was becoming slower with every lap. By lap twenty his breaths were labored, sweat drenched his face and stung his eyes, his calves were burning, and it felt like he was running barefoot on rocks. Even though it was difficult and painful, he knew he hadn't hit his limit yet.

    On the 26th lap, he finally felt as though he had finally hit his limit. He was struggling to pull air into his lungs, his legs felt like they weighed hundreds of pounds, the pain had turned from burning to a sharp searing. The feeling caused by his sweat soaked gym clothes seemed amplified by the pain, adding to his discomfort. Soon the coaches would stop him due to his speed slowing below a threshold, but Keros decided he would continue until he was stopped. Maybe he could manage to squeeze out another lap and increase his score.

    Sure enough, he managed to make it to lap 27 and halfway to 28 before the coaches stopped him. Losing his momentum caused his steps to become legs to become shaky, and he had to hobble over to the resting area for his class due to the pain. He found Booker and sat down beside him before leaning against the wall and taking a moment to catch his breath. By the time he looked up the leaderboard had just updated with Goldrose academy section now halfway filled, and the main section displayed an update showing some change.

    ~Rank 1: Keros Vaolair
     Fastest lap: 47s
     Laps completed: 27
     Score: 126
     Fitness score: 126

    ~Rank 2: Judas Nevir
     Fastest lap: 45s
     Laps completed: 22
     Score: 120
     Fitness Score: 120

    ~Rank 3: Lisa Ekkle
     Fastest lap: 48s
     Laps completed:21
     Score: 99
     Fitness Score: 99

    ~ Rank 4: Booker Red
     Fastest lap: 47s
     Laps completed: 17
     Score: 94
     Fitness score: 94

    The students broke out in loud conversation. Everyone seemed surprised at the change, and no one expected a couple of commoner students to take spots so high on the main leaderboard so quickly. Some of the commoner students that had been irritated at the noble students' arrogant behavior even jeered towards them as if the accomplishment was their own.
    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • edited April 29
    Chapter 6:

    Keros smiled. It felt good to teach arrogant people that they weren't as special as they thought. It also felt good to be at rank one, and it boosted his pride a bit.

    After he finished patting himself on the back, he compared himself with rank two. Keros' top speed was a bit less, but his stamina was quite a bit higher. He guessed that he was able to maintain higher speeds for longer, and that probably gave him the edge and allowed him to take first place. He was a bit impressed with himself, but also with Judas. Keros knew exactly how hard he had worked to achieve the results he had, which meant that Judas probably put quite a bit of effort into his training. Keros didn't know how large the effects of herbs, tonics, and other supplements were when it came to physical improvement, but he knew they weren't so amazing that they could completely replace rigorous training.

    -

    It took over an hour for the rest of the classes to finish with the first test. Luckily the rest of the tests were much faster and more simple.

    The students followed the coaches and gym head to another section of the gym, which had 20 computers in a row. The gym head spoke up, getting the attention of the students.

    "The reaction time test is very simple and will be conducted on these interfaces. All you have to do is play the game that is programmed on the computers. The game lasts for one minute, and the goal is to strike the blue moons that appear before they vanish. The faster you are, the more moons you will collect and thus, the higher your score will be. We will maintain the same order, and you will be tested by your leaderboard ranking within your class."

    Once he finished providing information on the test, the coached and aides organized the classes so the test would be streamlined. in less than 10 minutes it was Goldrose academies turn. Keros only had enough time to glance up and see Judas' score which was currently 242. Keros knew that each moon collected would equal one point, so Judas had managed to collect 122 moons.

    Keros stepped up to the interface. It looked similar to a canvas, with a transparent screen. Most computers and handhelds had transparent screens, and from experience Keros knew that the screen would darken when certain apps were launched to in order to make them easier to use. This was the case with the game, the background would turn black. He could still see through it if you focused, but it wouldn't cause a hindrance to performance.

    The screen displayed a countdown from five, and then began.

    Keros didn't focus on any specific point on the screen. He didn't want to miss a moon that was in his peripheral vision because he was focused too hard in one area. Instead he decided to trust his accuracy that had been trained when sparring to make up for the deficiency caused by doing so. Keros felt this was the best way for him to get optimal results.

    The moons appeared quickly, but they vanished soon after. At the beginning Keros wasn't too bothered by it, but as the time got shorter his frustration grew. sometimes he would see a moon and go for it, but it would vanish right before he managed to tap the screen. Other times a second moon would appear right before the one before it vanished, causing him to hesitate. By the time the test was over he was so irritated that he wanted to restart and try again because he missed so many moons by such a small margin. Unfortunately this was a test, so no one was given a second chance.

    Keros returned to the designated area, and waited for the leaderboard to update. Shortly, their updates score was displayed.  236, he had collected 110 moons, and now Judas was ahead by six points. It would all come down to the Strength test to determine who would take the top spot. This irritated Keros, but he also felt impressed by Judas' performance.

    Judas felt the same way. He was raised not to look down on the strong simply because they were a commoner, but it certainly wouldn't do any favors for his pride. After all he was a noble, and that granted him some small advantages. Apparently he hadn't been working hard enough.

    Mrs. Gellard on the other hand was feeling many different emotions. She wasn't accustomed to her actions backfiring on her in such a manner, and embarrassment wasn't something she felt often. Because of this her skin wasn't very thick, causing her to feel many different negative emotions.

    -

    within the hour every school had completed the test and the leaderboard was finally updated.

    ~Rank 1: Judas Nevir
     Moons collected: 122
     Score: 122
     Fitness Score: 242

    ~Rank 2: Keros Vaolair
     Moons collected: 110
     Score: 110
     Fitness score: 236

    ~Rank 3: Lisa Ekkle
     Moons collected: 103
     Score: 103
     Fitness Score: 202

    ~ Rank 4: Booker Red
     Moons collected: 100
     Score: 100
     Fitness score: 194

    Surprisingly two more spots among the top twenty five were taken by commoners. While the main leaderboard would still be dominated by the Franz academy in the end, the schools that had a student occupy a top twenty five rank still took pride in the achievement and would boast about it for the rest of the year if the students could remain on the board by the end. The more prideful nobles, on the other hand, felt the same as their teacher Mrs. Gellard. What a shame it had been to act so arrogantly yet perform so poorly, though they wouldn't acknowledge or admit to these feelings. In their eyes they were still better than their commoner counterparts.

    -

    "Now we will do the strength test. Like the previous test, this one is simple. Just approach the machine and punch it as hard as you can. Your results will be calculated automatically by our advanced systems."

    These tests were supposed to test ones base attributes without any other supporting factors. Obviously some things couldn't be accounted for, and techniques were one of those things. While it was unlikely that someone their age would know a solid movement technique due to the sheer difficulty of learning one, It wouldn't be very uncommon for someone their age to know how to throw a proper punch in today's world. Knowing the proper techniques for throwing a punch allowed one to generate more power from their legs and torso, before guiding that power into the object they were punching. So those with some form of Martial arts training that focused on striking would have much higher scores than those that had no training.

    Keros had started training a few years ago, and he had been training in a custom mix of Martial arts taught by his father the entire time. Combined with the time that he spent sparring at the local gyms and fighting at the game center, Keros could be considered a proficient striker. He had no doubt that this was the test he would perform the best on, plus he had a small advantage than some thanks to his size.

    This time he watched Judas closely. Since they were so close in score and this was the last test, he was heavily invested in how his opponent performed. He believed that Judas focused primarily on speed, and he would be able to verify by watching closely.

    Judas stepped up, taking his time he adjusted his stance and took a deep breath.

     Judas' arm shot out and his torso twisted, lashing out at the machine. His punch was fast, reaching the machine in a blur.

    *POW*

    He followed through a bit before quickly retracting his arm swiftly and taking a few steps back, waiting for this machine to display his results. The transparent screen at the top of the machine blinked a few times before displaying the number 950.

    Keros knew that the number displayed on civilian machines like the ones being used now displayed the psi of ones strike. 950 psi was a high number for their age. Keros confirmed that Judas does primarily focus on speed, but his strength also had to be decent if he got a 950 with the speed he displayed. If Keros could beat 950, it wouldn't be by too much.

    Shortly after, the Leaderboard updated to show Franz academies' final scores. Judas had a score of 190 on the strength test, bringing him up to a fitness score of 432. Lisa got 135 points, bringing her to 337. A difference of 95 points, 55 of which were from the strength test. The strength test could have a big impact on someones Fitness score, and the Main leaderboard might change more drastically than from the other tests.

    Keros didn't care about the majority of the Main leaderboard. He only cared about the top three places. He wanted to get first, and he wanted Booker to take one of the other two ranks. Keros is a competitive person and though his main goal was to test his limits, he still cared about winning too. All the better if his best friend could join him at the top. Of course the 5,000 credit reward only fueled his competitive spirit.

    Soon it was Keros' turn and he stepped up to the machine. Even though this would decide if he got first place or not, he wasn't nervous. He had already seen the results of his training and he was confident when it came to his striking technique. He took a few deep breaths to bring himself to the optimal state before taking his stance.

    He focused his sight on the target, taking one last breath before moving his body. He pushed with his right foot, feeling a pressure building as the muscles in his legs started to tense. The tension traveled up his legs like a wave and quickly made it to his torso. He twisted his torso at the waist, generating more speed and power. His arm shot out as he released his breath, his muscles remained loose so as not to affect his speed until the moment his fist contacted the target. He felt the force he had generated flood into his fist and the target. He followed through the target with his punch, allowing all of that force to get absorbed by the target until no more force flowed out.

    *POW*

    The sound was loud, suffocating the sounds of his classmates' punches. He retracted his arm and twisted his torso back at the same time, returning to his previous stance before relaxing and taking a few steps back so he could accurately view the results. Keros grinned as he stared at the number displayed. 1050. He managed to beat Judas' results by one hundred, and hopefully that amount would be able to make up for the 6 points that he was behind by.

    a whistle was heard, and Keros turned to see Booker a few machines over. He had finished his test and immediately compared his score to Keros'. Keros decided to do the same and saw 750 displayed on Bookers machine.

    "How'd ya manage to get 1050, but i only got 750?!" Booker said in a joking manner

    "Must be all the milk and vegetables," Keros responded in kind.

    They both chuckled before going back to their designated area and watching the leaderboard intently.

    Soon Goldrose academies second class finished and their leaderboard was updated. Keros got 210 points, and Booker got 150. Their Fitness scores jumped to 446 and 344 respectively. They had done it! It was safe to assume that would remain in first and third place, as the only two that had been close enough to surpass their scores had already finished the examination and had their scores posted.

    They bumped fists with smiles on their faces. It felt good so good to be at the top that they could become addicted to the feeling. They had accomplished a lot today.Keros had tested his limits against strong peers, they both achieved top three out on the main leaderboard, they had displayed their capability and showed the noble students that they were just as good if not better than them, and as long as Mrs. Gellard followed through with her promise they would be 10,000 credits richer. Today had been a great day for them so far.

    Judas and Lisa were looking over at the two, but unexpectedly their gazes were filled with respect and acknowledgment. They didn't seem to share the arrogance that of most nobles, instead they respected those that were capable. Keros and Booker decided to return the same gaze since they felt the same way. No one could leave their designated zones until the examinations were concluded, or maybe they would have started a conversation with the two Franz academy students.

    -

    All schools had finished the Strength test and the leaderboards were updated.

    ~Rank 1: Keros Vaolair
     Strength(psi): 1050
     Score: 210
     Fitness score: 446

    ~Rank 2: Judas Nevir
     Strength(psi): 950
     Score: 190
     Fitness Score: 432

    ~ Rank 3: Booker Red
     Strength(psi): 750
     Score: 150
     Fitness score: 344

    ~Rank 4: Lisa Ekkle
     Strength(psi): 650
     Score: 135
     Fitness Score: 337

     the gym head had everyone assemble back inside the main section of the gym before addressing the students.

    "The Physical Examination has concluded. Your results have been recorded and will be sent to your respective schools. Hopefully,all of you have gained an understanding of where your strengths and weaknesses lay, and are able to improve your fitness before the next examination. That being said i have to say some of you have impressed me with your results, and i am excited to see your results in the next examination." he said with a warm smile

    "Now before everyone leaves, i believe we have some other business to wrap up." he said before turning to face Mrs. Gellard

    Mrs. Gellards face turned a shade of red. it was embarrassing to be called out in such a manner, however,she couldn't rebuke the gym head in such a situation. Of course she would follow through with her earlier promise even if she was unhappy about it, after all her reputation was the on the line. 10,000 credits weren't much more than pocket change to her, so she wouldn't sacrifice her reputation for such a measly amount.

    "Keros Vaolair, Booker Red, Please come up here and see Mrs. Gellard for your reward." the gym head said in a loud voice without waiting for Mrs. Gellard to speak.

    Keros and Booker made their way through the rows of students casually before appearing before Mrs. Gellard.

    "Present your Credit badges." Mrs. Gellard scoffed.

    Keros and Booker pulled out their badges and held them out. Mrs. Gellard brought her arm up and pressed her comm link a few times before swipping it over each of the boys badges, before gesturing them to return to their class.

    After that had been wrapped up the aides lead their classes out of the gym and back to their schools. 



    -

    Comm links have many uses, and transferring credits is one of its functions. Transferring money this way is better for many reasons.

    Credits are the main currency on New Genesis, and are completely virtual. The only physical variant came as chips that contains up to 1,000 credits called 'Credips'. The primary way credits are stored and accessed are credit badges and comm links. 

    Credit badges are thin, green, and slightly transparent. They have a small rectangle at the top that would display the amount of credits stored on the badge, and they can only store up to 25,000 credits. Credit badges are primarily used by youths under twelve, because the banking function of a comm link was locked to anyone under the age of 12.

    Comm links came in many different forms, and some had specialized functions, however,the most common form used was an armband. The armband version comes in many sizes but normally no longer than half of an average size adult forearm. They lock or strap to your forearm starting just behind the wrist. They could be quite thick, or fairly thin. The thinner ones are usually more expensive since they don't impede daily life as much as the thicker ones. They varied wildly in style ranging from many different colors, shapes, materials, and even had accessories that you could buy for them. The were bought with style and fashion being almost as important as function.

    Speaking of function, comm links are probably the most useful tool someone could have. You needed to obtain a compact ID chip and slide it into the slot on a comm link, which would link all of your basic personal information to the comm link. A comm link normally couldn't be used without the ID chip, since almost every function required your basic information. Video calling, messaging, banking, accessing the network, and many more features required you to be identified for one reason or another. The ID chip also acted as a key of sorts as some functions were locked behind various requirements such as age, status, rank, security level, and others. An example is that you can't use any function other than the video call and messaging fuctions until you were 12. The age of 12 is considered a preliminary to adulthood because that is when one would be able to truly begin cultivation and unlocked a lot of restrictions in life and on a comm link, but there were still some retrictions even on your comm link until the age of 16 when one would be considered an adult.

    -

    By the time they got back school was about to end for the day. Keros gathered his things into his bag and joined booker to wait in the school gym for the bell.











    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 7:

    It wasn't long that the school bell rang out.

    Keros and Booker weren't in a rush though, so they took their time. Even though they had just made a good about of Credits and were eager to go shopping, Keros' training always came right after school and before free time.

    Before they made it through the school gates they heard a high pitched, childish voice yelling out to them.

    "KEROOOOS, wait up!" Catherine yelled as she weaved through the crowd of students leaving the school.

    She was followed by two girls who the boys recognized but didn't know the names of. They were often with Catherine, likely friends of hers.

    "Let us walk home with you guys." Catherine said while huffing a bit

    Keros didn't reply, but he waited on them to catch up and steady their breath before starting home. Keros often walked his sister home, with the only exception being when his neighbors or the siblings of friends would walk them home. Even with all of the people on the streets it could still be dangerous for the young if they were alone, and since he was the older brother he felt obligated to protect his sister even if he didn't enjoy her company.

    Truthfully, he knew he couldn't provide much protection. He was still just a kid himself after all, and many things were out of his capability. It was common for accidents to happen, and there were times that students were injured, lost their lives, or even went missing on the way to and from school. The streets were rife with chaos at times, and it was easy to be part of the collateral damage. The best thing Keros could do was to help them navigate the chaos and act as a buffer for any threats. 

    -

    Booker observed Keros' expression. Once again the difference showed. Normally Keros wore a brooding expression after school which clearly displayed his displeasure of what was to come, however today Keros seemed almost apathetic. He was even more patient with his sister, though not much more.

    "Meditation really changed you so much?" Booker asked questionably

    "Well, partly... Some of the change came from an argument i had with dad." Keros replied. He knew why Booker was so curious, after all he was acting different in many ways. The fog lifting wouldn't suddenly make him enjoy training nor did it increase his patience, instead these changes were actions he took after realizing some of his faults. He was trying hard to change but such changes wouldn't come quickly, and the best he could do right now is to display a facade.

    The group become a bit more quiet, even his sister and her friends seemed to be curious.

    "A fight with uncle J? What happened?" Booker asked

    "He asked me if i was upset at all of the training he made me do, and the difficulty of it all... He was more calm than usual and i kinda became a bit arrogant." Keros said with a slight blush of embarrassment

    "I started complaining and at some point i started yelling at him. I told him everything that had been upsetting me... I also said some things i shouldn't have and things got out of control." Keros continued

    "How so? I imagine it couldn't have been too bad since you're still alive and came to school." Booker jested

    "It wasn't bad. It's not like we started fist fighting or anything. Dad just said some things that made me realize i was wrong." Keros said

    "Is that why you had that breakthrough with meditation that you told me about earlier?" Booker had an understanding expression

    Keros nodded, he was sure that must be why.

    Catherine was a bit surprised. She had heard the yelling last night but wasn't able to make out what was said, so she only knew that something happened. She didn't know that the training was forced on Keros, but even knowing that she believed her father had a good reason for forcing him. Keros must just be stupid if he didn't understand that. Before long though she lost interest and started up her usual mischief

    "Look, its a daisy necklace. It's so pretty!" Catherine exclaimed as they were walking by a crafts shop. She broke from the group to check out the shop

    "Catherine, don't run off on your own!" Keros said sternly, quickly following her. Booker lead the other two girls over as well.

    Catherine grabbed the daisy necklace and studied it for a moment. It was a wooden pendant carved into a daisy and painted with purple petals and a yellow head. It had a loop at the top that had a piece of thin leather tied to it. It wasn't very detailed, but it was smooth and colorful which gave it a simplistic attraction. Soon Catherines attention was drawn to other things around the craft store and she went around exclaiming loudly about anything that she liked, the necklace in her hand the entire time.

    Keros sighed. He just wanted to make it home, and though he wasn't in a rush he did want to finish his responsibilities sooner so he could go shopping. His sister frequently slowed them down by running off on her own and causing them to chase after her. She was always so curious about everything and her attention changes easily. The cashiers would always make things worse by showing off more items, hoping the girl would buy something on a whim. Unfortunately Keros would have to bear with it for now since rushing his sister out would cause more problems then it would solve.

    "Keros, do you have any credits, i don't have enough." Catherine said

    it had been thirty minutes since they entered the little craft shop, and after finally seeing everything that interested her she still decided she wanted the daisy necklace. Unfortunately the cashier wanted more for it than Catherine had.

    "How much is it?" Keros asked

    "500 Credits. i have 135." Catherine replied.

    '500 Credits for a piece of wood?' Keros thought to himself. How ridiculous. They were given 150 credits a week for food, and only a little bit would be left over for fun like drinks with friends.

    "Those credits are for your food for the week, you can't spend them on a necklace just because you think it's pretty! I'm definitely not giving you mine for it." Keros scoffed. Sure he had just over 5,000 credits, but he earned those himself and he already had plans for them.

    "Come on, it's just 500 credits! You get some from helping neighbors so don't be so stingy and let me borrow some!" Catherine begged

    "I said no. 500 Credits is a lot for just a colorful necklace. Now put it back and let's go home." Keros said with a hint of irritation in his voice.

    "NO, I WANT IT!" Catherine screamed at him.

    She was throwing a tantrum. She was so used to getting what she wanted and became a brat when she was told no. Of course she wouldn't act like this with their parents, but any time Keros didn't let her have her way she would cause a scene and annoy him to no ends. She wasn't even thinking about how to explain to their parents why she needed more money for food.

    "Well good luck paying for it, and good luck telling mom and dad why you don't have money for the rest of the week!" Keros said crossing his arms

    Catherine huffed and puffed for a little while longer, unable to find an excuse to continue her tantrum. Eventually she put the necklace back and left the shop with a red face. Keros was relieved that it was over, as was the cashier who had been getting angry at the commotion driving away business.

    The group left and continued on their way home, and Catherine was working extra hard to annoy Keros in retaliation. Her friends were quite the help in her endeavor, but at least they were good enough friends to have her back in such a situation Keros thought.

    -

    Keros followed the three girls into the house. Apparently the girls weren't going home but instead coming over to their house. Their parents were already home, in the kitchen making snacks. Catherine briefly spoke to them asking if her friends could spend the night before leading the girls to her room after she was told yes.

    Keros got a glass of water before looking to his dad

    "Are we sparring again today?" he asked

    "Yes, in fact i'll be joining you to train today. We have some things we need to talk about. Put away your school bag and meet me in the backyard." Jack responded before leaving the room.

    Keros put his things away and changed into his training clothes before going out back. His father had already swapped his clothes and had begun stretching, so Keros joined him.

    "Me and your mother will leave tomorrow, and we will probably be gone for a while." Jack said

    "You guys are usually gone for a while. Will it be longer than normal?" Keros asked, he already had a guess

    "Yes. When won't be home for long when we do return." Jack said

    "I'm guessing even shorter than normal too." Keros responded

    "That's right." Jack said.

    They continued stretching and began working out in silence for a while until jack spoke up again

    "We don't know how long it will be like this, but for now we assume it will last indefinitely." Jack said

    Keros didn't respond. They were used to their parents being gone for a couple of weeks at a time, and only spending at most a week home in between assignments. Surely it wouldn't be much different.

    They continued, eventually finishing and preparing to spar.

    "Since we won't be home as much, I'm going to spend some extra time tonight teaching you some things i won't have the time for in the future. You'll need to take care of your sister while we are gone, and don't neglect your training." Jack said while wrapping his hands before continuing

    "I know you do these things normally but this time will be different. I need you to grow up a bit and take on more responsibility. You need to take these things more seriously since we won't be around as much and we can't expect our neighbors and friends to help so much." Jack said with a sigh.

    Jack thought that this was a bit much to ask of Keros especially after last night, but he needed to rely on Keros. There would be a lot more work than normally and their neighbors and friends were already doing so much to help them as is, they couldn't ask them to do more. Keros was the Oldest of their children, and he was less than a year from entering preliminary adulthood. It might be early for them to put such responsibility on him but they had no one else to ask.

    "The other things are fine, but are you sure Catherine will listen to me?" Keros asked

    "Your mother is going to talk to her about it tonight. She'll know that while we are gone she needs to listen to you. You have the authority but with it also comes the responsibility. You need to protect her and make sure she takes care of her own responsibilities. If something happens, we will take it up with you first since we left you in charge." Jack said his tone firming up as he talked.

    "Alright, i get it." Keros replied.

    They didn't have much time to talk when they began sparring. They had to focus more, and it was more taxing on Keros making it hard to talk between labored breaths.

    They finished sparring in about an hour and a half. They went to wash up, and afterward Jack told Keros to get ready, that they would be going out on the town tonight.

    "Can we swing by and pick up Booker? We planned on going out tonight anyway." Keros asked, to which his father agreed.

    -

    Keros pushed a button at the apartment building. A buzzing sound went off for a bit, before the screen lit up showing Mr. Red who quickly called out for booker.

    "Hey bro, you ready?" Booker asked with an excited grin

    "Yea, my dad is coming out with us this time." Keros said

    shortly booker came out of the apartment building dressed in nice clothes with a bit of pep in his step.

    "Hey uncle J! what's made you come out on the town with us?" He asked as he gestured for a high five, Jack held out his hand and received it.

    "I just need to show Keros a few places and introduce him to some people." Jack said with a light smile before leading them off.

    He went quick, Keros and Booker almost struggled to keep up with him. They spent quite a while running all over the district. Jack introduced Keros to a bunch of people and places that he would need to know of to take care of the new responsibilities he would have starting tomorrow. He also introduced him to some people who could help out if there was trouble, as well as a few that would hire Keros should he need a bit of extra money.

    After they were finally done Jack didn't separate from the boys. They had spent enough time out that before long they would be heading home anyway so he decided to stick around and walk them home after they finished what they wanted to do.

    "What do you two plan on doing?" Jack asked

    "We want to go check out a comm link and see if we can buy a few!" Booker said with excitement

    "What? Comm links aren't cheap you know, and i doubt you have enough to buy one, much less two." Jack said with an eyebrow raised.

    "hehe, we made some Credits today! Maybe we won't get the best ones but i think we can find a couple we can afford!" Booker responded with pride.

    "How much did you each make?" Jack asked, his expression hid a couple of different feelings.

    "5,000 Credits each." Keros spoke up, also with pride.

    jack didn't respond immediately, instead he gave Keros an odd look.

    "5,000 Credits each huh. You know, i heard from your mother that you and Daisy got in a bit of an argument earlier over a necklace." Jack said with a questioning tone, seemingly asking even though he already knew.

    "The necklace was 500 credits! It was just a piece of colored wood. Besides, i earned these credits myself, is it my responsibility to buy it for her?" Keros asked a little defensively. He understood that his father was hinting at him having had so much money, and that he could have just bought it for her.

    Jack sighed

    "No, no. You're right. You earned those credits on your own, and it isn't your responsibility to buy things like that for her.. 500 Credits does seem like a lot for something like that anyway. I was just curious on learning more about the story, and your reasoning for refusing to lend her the money." Jack said with a wave of his hand as he leads the way

    'If he isn't saying that i should have bought it for her, there is probably some other reason he brought it up.' Keros thought to himself. Maybe he was trying to point something out to Keros in a roundabout way.

    "I already had something i wanted to buy and i don't know how much it will cost. I wouldn't be lending it to her either, she couldn't pay me back. Do you think i should have bought it for her?" Keros said, pressing the topic hoping that he would understand.

    "Hmm... Well, it's your money to spend how you like, and i'm not going to admonish you for doing the responsible thing and not buying an overpriced necklace that she didn't need. You're also right that your sister probably wouldn't ever pay you back. If you're asking what i would have done in your position, knowing what i know at my age, i might have bought it for her." Jack said after thinking for a moment

    "Really, why? You just said what i did was the responsible thing to do." Keros said, confused.

    "While yes, not spending 500 credits on a low quality necklace can be considered smart, and it could be considered responsible to not loan your sister 500 credits. However, did you think about how much it would have meant to her if you had bought it for her? Sure, she might have enjoyed it for a few days before getting bored and throwing it in a drawer to gather dust. Maybe though, she would wear it every day and cherish it until the color and detail was worn away." Jack said, pausing at the end before continuing.

    "If the latter were to be the case, then the value of the necklace would have been worth the 500 credits spent, right? Though what would likely make it so valuable would be the thought behind the necklace. For example, how would you feel if someone important in your life gave you a gift? It would mean more to you right? To be honest, credits don't matter much when it comes to a gift. The gift could be expensive, or it could be inexpensive, because the important thing is the thought behind it." Jack said, explaining his reasoning

    "When someone puts thought into a gift, or anything concerning someone, it shows that they care enough to give up their valuable time to make someone happier. That is a truly valuable gift. Showing that you care for someone can do a lot for both parties. It can mend or deepen relationships, and it can make up for mistakes and arguments. It doesn't have to be a gift either, just like this morning when you apologized and thanked me. To me that showed that you had put thought into what happened last night, and that shows me that you cared." Jack stopped and rested his hand on Keros' shoulder

    "I'm not at all saying that you should have felt obligated to buy your sister that necklace. I just want to give you a different perspective of the situation." jack finished with lightly squeezing Keros' shoulder before letting go and resuming their walk

    they walked a short while in silence. Keros was thinking over what his father had said, and who knew what was going on in Bookers head since he remained silent.

    "How did you guys manage to get 10,000 credits anyway?" Jack asked, seeming very curious

    The two boys explained the situation, how the nobles had acted arrogantly at the examinations and the teacher had proposed and 'incentive'. As well as how they performed and their ranks.

    "Haha, well done both of you. Be careful though, Some nobles get upset when their pride is hurt and in turn they can become vindictive." Jack said, sporting a rare grin

    shortly after their conversation they arrived at a shop that built, refurbished, repaired, bought, and sold electronics. Jack had led them there and was familiar with the shop owner. The shop is small, with shelves crammed with various electronic parts and boxes that were packed with parts littered the floor. The counter is transparent and filled with many different types of electronics, organized into groups.

    The owners' name is Frank and he has a good relationship with Jack, seemingly old buddies. Frank is a small man, just a little taller than Keros. His hair is a bit greasy, and he was ungroomed. He is quite scruffy and pale, as if he didn't go outside much.

    After a short conversation with Jack, Frank addressed the two boys

    "So ole Jacks kid is lookin to get a comm link huh? How many ya got boys?" Frank asked

    "We each have 5,000 credits." Keros responded

    "Failure. Lesson one my boy, Never let the seller know how much ya got on ya." Frank said with a snort

    "Know what ya want and how much it costs on average before you even enter a shop to buy something. Crooks will drain you dry in mere moments otherwise." Frank said before walking through a door behind the counter. He returned shortly shouldering one case, and carrying another one on his other arm. He put both on the counter before opening them up and swiftly taking out a bunch of comm links

    "These are the comm links i have in your price range that will fit you. Do either of ya notice any of them? What can you tell me?" Frank asked with an expecting expression

    Neither responded and just donned embarrassed expressions. They had been too excited to bother thinking about doing the research beforehand.

    frank soon understand that both of the boys were completely ignorant and were just enticed by the thought of the comm link. While he might seem a bit rough, he was a pretty good guy and took the time to explain the major differences between the models before waiting on the boys to pick a couple out.

    Booker saw a red one, and though it was a tad bulky, he immediately wanted it. He pointed to it with a shine in his eye.

    "Wouldn't be my first choice, but i see you have your reasons. 3,500 credits young one." Frank said

    Keros, on the other hand, seemed indecisive. From what they were told there wasn't any huge difference between these comm links, but the high prices and small differences made him worry if he would make the right choice.

    "Ah, he is indecisive i see. If you would boy, let me make a suggestion." Frank grabbed a medium sized one.

    It is mainly grey, with electric blue accents. The screen wasn't huge like on some, and it only just covered the top of his forearm. It was made of mainly polymer materials and highly durable. It has a black forearm sleeve with grey straps.

    "This one is a good choice for a few reasons. First the size and shape of the module, It's practical for you. You're going to grow significantly soon and since this module is flat and medium sized you'll be able to have it altered to fit well even if your arm doubles in size, which is a service i offer. Next is the aesthetics, it's simple but beautiful. It won't draw too much attention, which is good thing when you think about the risk of being robbed. Also i believe that while men should be stylish but they should never be gaudy, and this model is the perfect mix in my opinion. Finally, there is a lot of room for accessories and upgrades. This model already has many features and capabilities, but it comes with enough expansion ports that will make it easy for even the ignorant like you to install upgrades. Overall this is just a great, well balanced model, and worth every credit that it costs." Frank said, accurately detailing the most important reasons that he recommends the device.

    "How much is it?" Keros asked, seemingly sold on it already

    "4,000 credits. Believe me when i say that this is a good deal, Ole Franky won't do ya dirty." Frank said with a creepy grin

    "Ok, i'll get it then." Keros replied while taking out his Credit badge. He would still have 1,000 credits left which is more than he had thought he would have.

    Frank typed on his comm link for a minute before pressing a button. The totals for both comm links were projected as a hologram, then he swiped over each card. This was caused by an accessory that could be installed onto a comm link, which allowed you to display commerce information as a hologram for customers to see.

    "Alright, give me your electronic IDs." Frank said holding out his hand.

    Both boys handed over their IDs, and Frank disappeared into the back once again. A short time later he re-appeared with two small clear chips, with copper lines running through them.

    "These are your ID chips. I've already registered them so they are good to go. You might not know this, but they can be used for more than just connecting your comm link and they are very important and personal. Take care not to lose them or let them get stolen!" Frank said, before showing the boys where and how to install them in their comm links.

    "Alright, all set. Congratulations on your purchases, and be sure to return whenever you need any other tech. Ole Franky has all kinds of good things!" He said with a prideful smile while thumping his chest

    Keros, Booker, and Jack left after a short conversation.

    -

    Keros and Booker spent a lot fo the time fiddling with their new comm links, learning how they worked and adding each others contact information. Jack showed them the features they had access to and a few tricks that would make general use easier and more comfortable.

    By the time Keros had finished messing with his comm link, he realized they weren't far from home. Oddly enough they were fairly close to that little crafts shop they had been to earlier today.

    'If they are still open, i can get that necklace.' Keros thought. He still had 1,000 credits leftover and while that was a lot, he realized that there wasn't much else he wanted right now that could be bought with 1,000 credits. He would likely just end up spending it when splurging on food and drinks occasionally. Surely his dad was right, and the overpriced necklace would bring his sister more joy than the 500 credits could bring him right now.

    As they came closer, he noticed that the lights were still on. He told Booker and Jack to wait on him for a moment and went into the shop. He returned with a little flimsy box. Jack smiled once again, apparently today was a good day for him.

    A short while later they bid Booker bye and walked the short distance home. When they went inside they found Jessica, Catherine, and the girls sitting in the living room chatting.

    Keros greeted his mom, before telling his parents that he was going to bed. Before he left the room he pulled the box out of his pocket, called out to Catherine, and tossed her the box. He disappeared toward his room right after. Jack took a seat beside Jessica and watched Catherine expectantly.

    When she opened the box and saw the necklace her face lit up with joy. She truly did want this necklace, because it was pretty and it was carved into the same flower that she was nicknamed after. She quickly put it on and found a mirror to look at herself in. It suited her, and with a little altering to the strap it would be perfect in her opinion.

    "Thank you, daddy!" She exclaimed

    Jack chuckled lightly

    "I didn't buy it for you. Keros did." Jack replied

    "What, why? He wouldn't lend me the money earlier today." Catherine asked, confused. She had thought that Jack bought it for her and made Keros give it to her because of earlier.

    "I guess he thought that it was worth the credits if it made you happy. He had some credits left over after what he bought what he wanted, and on the way back he disappeared into a crafts shop for a bit and came out with that box." Jack explained, knowing that Keros likely wouldn't want to.

    Catherine wore an odd expression for a short while, then smiled. Even she knew that 500 credits could be considered high for such a simple necklace, but the liked it very much. She didn't want it to be sold before she could save up the credits to buy it, and she was upset that her own brother wouldn't lend her some credits so she could buy it.

    "I'll pay him back soon!" Catherine said with her smile still beaming

    "How are you gonna do that?" Jack asked with a playful look

    "Well, i'll save up and work like Keros does." Catherine said

    "It will take a long time for you to save up a little extra every week Daisy, and you're not strong enough to do the same type of work as Keros. That is why he didn't want to lend you the credits, because you can't pay him back and even if you did you would have had to sacrifice too many meals in order to save up." Jack said before continuing

    "That's why he bought it for you when he had found out that he had enough leftover instead of 'lending' you the credits." Jack said in a calm and soothing voice.

    Catherine thought about it for a short while, before nodding. She was curious as to what Keros bought, and how he got so many credits. Jack slightly bragged in Keros' sted about what had happened at the exam. Everyone in the room showed various expressions, needless to say they all showed quite a bit of interest in the matter.
    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Author Note: Sorry for the delay in releasing this chapter. I have been enjoying writing too much and time got away from me. Hopefully, you all will think chapter 17 to 21 is worth the delay.

    Chapter 8:

    The next morning, Keros woke up and checked his clock, 5:59 he woke up before his alarm went off. There was no school today, but he still had his daily routine to go through. He sat up and began his morning routines by meditating. His progress was incredibly slow, but he was still making which was a win in his book. Next he cleaned up before going to the kitchen to get some breakfast. He found a note on the table, it was from his parents. The note detailed where they had put the extra credit badges, and a few of the most important things that he needed to keep in mind. He folded the note up and slid it in a pocket on him comm link.

    He made some eggs and toast before sitting at the table to eat. Between bites he sent a message to Booker, letting him know when he would be free. On days off they would usually hang out, or find some work to make a few extra credits. While they still had quite a few credits left over, neither of them would decline having more.

    After eating Keros decided to get an early start on his training. The sun hadn't risen yet so it would be nice and cool, not to mention he would have more time later in the day since he was getting it out of the way in the morning. After a couple of hours he had finished his training and went to shower, luckily the comm link was waterproof so he didn't even have to take it off. It wasn't even nine in the morning yet and he already had a large portion of his daily routine done.

    Returning to the kitchen he found Catherine and her friends. Looks like he would have to make breakfast for three, since they didn't have any microwaveable food for Catherine to make. 'Looks like i'll need to go buy some today.' he thought to himself as he started preparing a meal.

    "Have mom and dad already left?" Catherine asked in a tired voice

    "Yea, they were gone by the time i woke up." Keros responded

    "Okay... What are you going to do today?" She asked

    Thinking about it, he checked his comm link. He hadn't realized that Booker had responded. He wanted to go to the usual gym to practice and spar, since they could have a bit of fun and make some money while there too. They did this occasionally on their days off. Keros responded that he would be ready in an hour or two before speaking up.

    "I have a few things to take care of this morning, then it looks like me and Booker will be heading to the gym." Keros said

    "Can we come?" Catherine asked

    Keros thought about it. His parents asked him to keep an eye on Catherine, so he liked the idea of her following him to the gym. If she seemed interested then it would be easier to watch after her while still getting to do what he wants, and maybe it could turn into a regular thing. However, he didn't really know much about her friends, only their a little bit. Rena and Willow had been friends with Catherine for a while now. They shared many classes together and though they were opposites in some ways, they got along well. Rena is boisterous, and enjoys fighting and sports. Willow is shy and quiet, and she is very calculating for her age and retains information well. They could make a dangerous team, but more importantly they could cause him endless trouble when together.

    "Sure, but you all can't cause trouble if you come with us." Keros said, hesitantly

    All of the girls nodded enthusiastically.

    Keros finished their breakfast, advised them to stay in the house until he got back, and headed up to complete some of the responsibilities he had been given. First paying some bills that his parents didn't have a chance to pay before they left, then picking up supplies and groceries for a few days. He decided not to use the Cyber rail public transport since it would save a bit of money and let him get some more exercise, but he ended up regretting this since it took longer than he thought to walk around the district. It took him almost two and a half hours to finish and get home. He would have to find a faster way to get these things done or he would never have any free time.

    -

    It was just passed 13:00 by the time they made it to the gym. Keros was carrying his gym bag with the three girls in tow, and they met up with Booker who had already made it to the gym.

    "Sorry, things took longer than i thought they would." Keros said

    "No worries bro, we still got plenty of time." Booker replied in a leisurely manner

    Keros told the three girls a few of the rules and advised them, once again not to cause trouble, before heading to the lockers to change. A short time later he came out dressing in his gym clothes. Skintight dark grey shit, and form-fitting black shorts that came down just above his knees. Booker followed shortly after in a Red tank top, and white shorts. They spent some time warming up by stretching and doing a few drills.

    After they felt warmed up, they went to the gym owner and let him know that they were available for work as sparring partners. As usual they would spend time practicing and doing drills until they were called for a spar. It was long until someone called for Booker to spar with them. He quickly climbed in the cage and readied himself.

    Bookers style was fast and agile. He liked to avoid his opponent and chip away at them slowly, conserving his stamina until he found the right moment. His opponent was aware of this and chose Booker so he could practice against the type of opponent he struggled with the most. His opponent was a slightly older boy at almost 13 years, and a bit closer to Keros' size. At this age he should be practicing cultivation, however there was no telling how far he had progressed. Since the objective was to learn techniques, most would control their strength if there was a cultivation difference.

    They began, and Booker kept to his usual style. He bounced around the cage, staying on the edge of his opponents reach and throwing exploratory jabs occasionally. The fight seemed uneventful, and eventually Booker was able to pull off the win. His opponent wasn't upset, and took the time to ask Booker some questions about how to deal with such a fighting style. After they finished, Booker left the cage and was applauded by the three girls who had been enjoying the fight. Of course, Booker relished the attention and showboated a bit, flexing and such.

    A group of kids watched Booker acting goofy for the girls, and seemed to dislike it. Be it out of jealousy, disdain, or whatever other feelings one might have, one of them challenged him to a spar. The one that challenged him seemed just slightly older than the last, but around the same size. When challenging Booker he spoke in a condescending tone, and though Booker had the option to refuse it wouldn't be good for further work. So he begrudgingly accepted despite how he was treated.

    They began almost immediately, with no time given to Booker for rest. The opponent this time was extremely aggressive, charging Booker and throwing a barrage of wild punches. He didn't display much technique, but he was successful in forcing Booker to the edge of the cage and locking him down. Booker was forced to block, which was the complete opposite of his style. This resulted in him taking a lot of damage in a short amount of time, and making it more difficult for him to find a rhythm.

    By the time Booker managed to slip away, he was already in a bit of pain. He hadn't been able to block a lot of the strikes thrown at him and had taken a few blows to the face and many more to the body. His cheek was bleeding, and he was covering his right ribs tightly. None the less, he still performed the best he could and found his rhythm. He succeeding in extending the fight for a while, but his endurance was quickly being depleted and the damage he sustained prevented him from retaliating in a significant way. Before long he would lose, but he planned to get one good hit in before that happened.

    When the moment presented itself and Booker caught the chance perfectly. twisting his hips to gain momentum he lashed out with a roundhouse kick to strike his opponents ribs. After landing the kick, his opponent became winded which would be a golden opportunity for Booker, unfortunately he was too drained to follow up with any hope for success so he decided to put a bit of distance between them. His opponent took a moment to catch his breath, and everyone could see his anger flare. This had been the first significant hit that he had taken in the fight and he didn't enjoy it at all.

    He rushed down Booker once again, and let loose everything he had. The blows quickly destroyed what little endurance Booker had left, and caused his guard to slack. His opponent kept it up, slamming fist after fist into him and soon it stopped being a fight and turned into a brutal beat down. Booker was obviously done, He couldn't even bring his guard back up. Though Booker tried to forfeit the spar, it landed on deaf ears. His opponent had no intention of stopping, and kept throwing various strikes. It didn't last long thanks to the gym staffs quick reaction, however Booker had already taken quite the beating by that point. He was having to support himself on the cage, with blood pouring out of his nose and mouth. His shirt was slowly developing spots of crimson and his left eye was already showing signs of swelling.

    Keros quickly entered the cage and helped support Booker out of the cage with a member of staff. Once he was up close he could see the state Booker was in, and while it wasn't life threatening, it certainly wasn't deserved. The gym ran on an honor system of sorts, and for that reason, they didn't have referees in the cages. It was an unwritten rule to control yourself since these were just spars, and it was a requirement to stop when the enemy forfeited or couldn't continue. Though accidents happen so rarely were people punished on the first offense, it would be heavily frowned upon and bring disdain from those with better morals.

    This guy though. He didn't do this on accident, he had targetted Booker from the beginning. Maybe things got a bit out of hand because of the kick, but he should have been able to control himself better than that. Keros planned to take it up with the gym leader and have the rules more defined, but before that he had business to take care of.

    The guy was in the cage still. He had somehow managed to convince the staff that it was a mistake and it wouldn't happen again. By this point, the majority of the gym was watching him in the cage as he went about gesturing in victory and laughing with his friends that had been watching from outside the cage.

    "That's how you deal with the pansies that run all the time!" He said in a loud voice toward Bookers previous opponent.

    "yea, you catch them right after they are tired after sparring with someone else and capitalize on the handicap." Keros said as he walked into the cage, closing the gate behind himself.

    "Who are you?" The guy said as he turned to face Keros with a scorn

    "A freelance sparring partner, and that guy's friend." Keros said, pointing over his shoulder toward Booker with his thumb

    "Oh, just another pansy then. If you're looking to fight then give me some time to catch my breath and then i'll give you a beat down too." The guy said in an arrogant tone

    "Yea, no problem. What's your name?" Keros said with an oddly calm demeanor

    "Trent." The guy said as he leaned against the cage to rest

    Keros nodded and began waiting patiently on his side of the cage, with his eyes glued to Trent. By this time the gym owner had heard of what happened and was watching from the door to his office. He was very familiar with Keros and Booker since they came to work for him often, and he thought highly of the two. Naturally, he knew their capabilities well, and had a pretty good idea of their personalities. He knew that Keros was seeking revenge, and while he didn't condone it he had no plans to stop it. He could simply kick Trent out of the gym and ban him from returning as a punishment, but he wouldn't deny Keros' opportunity to release his pent up emotions. Maybe he could teach this guy some humility and give him a taste of his own medicine.

    The gym owner was one that believed in an eye for an eye. He had no intention of having his staff enter the cage to referee. If Keros ended up beating Trent in a similar matter then the situation would be forgotten, and if the opposite happened then Keros brought it upon himself and he would deal with Trent afterward.

    -

    After 10 minutes Trent was rested up and ready to go. He bounced around a bit to limber up and entered his stance. Keros entered his stance as well before calling out to the gym owner.

    "Call it."

    He had noticed that the gym leader was watching, and was resolved to accept the consequences of his actions. If he hadn't stopped them yet, then he had accepted it and wouldn't step in.

    "Begin!" The gym owner called out.

    Trent charged out again, just like before. He was tucked in like a boxer, and he was coming at Keros with speed. When he was close enough he threw out a wide right. Keros didn't dodge nor block, and instead retaliated with a left hook. Both punches landed at the same time. While Trent had more momentum, Keros was willing to bet that he would be more jarred from the retaliation than Keros would be from accepting the hit.

    Keros was right, Trent was surprised and took to long to enter a rhythm. His barrage never had a chance to begin. Keros, on the other hand, was prepared. He had stepped in slightly, which disrupted the timing of his opponents strike and was able to reduce the damage by a bit. This also put him in a good position to follow up. Keros immediately followed, adjusting his footing and twisting his body. He swung out with a right hook. Trent already had his guard up but it was sloppy, and the strike caused his own arm to be blown back into his face. The impact of the strike was reduced, but it forced Trent to focus on his guard rather than going on the offensive.

    Keros was the one to throw the barrage, but unlike Trent who fought in a basic manner like a street fighter, Keros used a larger variety of strikes. Jabs, straights, hooks, knees, and low kicks. He strafed around Trent, throwing body blows when he could and applying as much pressure as he could. Trent couldn't find the opportunity to retaliate with the constant barrage of strikes interrupting and chances he would have. Trent decided to disengage in to break Keros' rhythm and reset.

    Keros let his happen. He wouldn't achieve the results that he was looking for if the fight kept up as it had. He could continue striking at his opponents guard and occasionally his own body, but that wouldn't return the same pain that Booker had received. Keros' ragged his mind on how he could get through Trent's guard and do some real damage, and an idea came to mind. It might not be a good idea, but Keros was confident and determined.

    Shortly they re-engaged and things seemed far more balanced this time. Both were throwing out their punches, but very few were getting through each others guard. Something odd began to happen. Keros seemed to have become bored, only throwing jabs occasionally and guarding. He had stopped retaliating with the same fierceness he had been before. Even his expression seemed to show boredom and utter lack of concern as if to say 'Is this all you've got?'.

    It was a taunt. Showing disrespect to his opponent by underestimating him. Trent began to grow upset. He hadn't been able to break Keros' guard so he could land any big hits, and now his opponent was acting as if he was no threat. The words that Keros had spoken when he stepped into the cage rang out in Trent's mind. 'Maybe this brat seriously thinks i can't deal with him?' Trent thought.

    Slowly his strikes started to grow in power and speed. Keros could feel his arms beginning to ache, and knew that Trent's frustration had caused him to release some of the strength he had gained from cultivation. Obviously this wasn't fair as Keros hadn't been able to begin cultivating yet. Cultivating allowed you to nourish your body by drawing in external energy, and it would allow your physical capabilities to grow to incredible and otherwise unattainable heights at a fast speed. Cultivating also allowed you to generate your own energy and store it within your body. You could use that energy in many unique ways, though Trent hadn't reached that point yet, and it could be a long way off.

    While Trent hadn't been cultivating long and hadn't accumulated much strength, he still had a significant advantage when he used his full strength. Trent would be faster, stronger, and have more endurance than Keros. Not to mention a more durable body that couldn't be restrained in any way. Keros could only rely on tricks and technique to subdue his opponent.

    Some of the spectators noticed the difference and understood what was happening. They contemplated stepping in after all Trent wasn't fighting fair, and based on his earlier actions he could take it too far. In the end they decided to refrain from stopping the fight, since Keros showed no intentions to back down then they would respect his decision.

    Soon Trent had released everything he had and Keros was able to gauge his full strength. Trent was around fifteen percent more powerful in every aspect than he was before. Keros didn't know how difficult it was to cultivate, but he didn't believe that Trent had made much progress since he started. Regardless fifteen percent was a significant difference when it was a wholistic increase. However, as bad as the situation seemed, Keros believes that he still has a chance. He decided that he would maintain his previous idea, even if it was risky and self destructive.












    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Authors note: I plan on keeping my schedule, but I find myself spending more and more time pouring my thoughts into this book. I'm becoming pickier and as more details get added, I find that I'm forced to spend more time maintaining continuity. My grammar and the flow of the book has been steadily increasing. All of these minor details combine to form something that I'm quite satisfied with. Granted, there are small things that i would like to change as the story progresses. However, I've resolved to accept the issues and improve my next book.

    That is a long way off though, so for now I'll continue to push out chapters! So far I'm up to chapter 28 with an average of 3000-3800 words per chapter. Volume one is almost finished, and I am extremely happy with the pacing of the novel so far! I'll leave with a request, please leave feedback by either messaging me on this forum, or visiting my twitter and tweeting me @TheTaliWaya
    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 9:

    All Keros had to do was wait just a bit longer, and he could draw his opponent into his plan. Once his opponents' frustration grew to an acceptable point, Keros would ignite it by dropping his guard entirely.

    BRAWL!

    It was a stupid idea, entering into a slugfest against an opponent stronger than him. Keros planned on relying on his superior technique and experience. He could reduce the damage he received by leaning with the punches and he knew how to inflict the most damage with his strikes. Not to mention that he had been taking harder hits from his father when they sparred. Keros could take the hits, the question was could his opponent? He couldn't wear down his opponents' stamina, but he could destroy his willpower. That is exactly what he planned to turn this fight into. A battle of willpower. Who could endure the pain for longer!

    Consequences be damned, Keros was going to make sure this fool would leave the cage covered in blood!

    Keros found the moment and dropped his guard, stepping in he threw a big straight connecting solidly with Trents face. Trent was both stunned and angry. Had this idiot completely dropped his guard?! Trent understood, he wants to brawl! So be it! He started to strike, but was interrupted by another hit to the face. His anger rose, and he recovered quickly enough this time to retaliate.

    Both fighters had dropped their guards and were trading devastating blows. One after the other strikes flew out, somebody blows while others struck the head. It seemed that Keros had better accuracy. Keros connected solidly with every strike, but Trents strikes would occasionally only glance Keros. Blood started to accumulate in the ring, and the fighting grew more intense. The sounds of the strikes landing were mixed with the grunts from the two fighters.

    The spectators were stunned. This wasn't sparring, it wasn't fighting. This was mutual destruction, and few would take this route. It took resolve, and often times desperation for a battle to reach this point. The brutality that both fighters were showing each other was both disturbing and beautiful. It was truly exciting to watch! 

    The three girls were terrified. They had already been worried when checking on Booker, but now Keros was in the ring trading blood for blood with the same guy that had put Booker in such bad shape. They worried that he was going to be severely injured as it was common in fights, and this fight was far more dangerous than normal. However, among the feeling of worry, they were enthralled. The aggression, recklessness, and willpower being displayed by Keros right now was enchanting. He was like a wild beast wreaking havoc, with no regard to his own safety.

    The brawl seemed like it had lasted for a long time, but only a short time had passed. The fight began to slow down. Blood flowed from the lacerations on both fighters' faces. The fatigue of the fighters was evident, as punches came slower and with less impact. Both fighters had managed to persevere up to this point, and the dominant fighter had yet to be found.

    Keros' vision was blurred and his eyes burned from a mix of sweat and blood that had flowed from his forehead. His head was pounding and his torso felt like it had been hit with a sledgehammer repeatedly. He couldn't clearly see how his opponent looked, but he could imagine how he felt. Keros had been throwing powerful strikes at the most vulnerable spots at the beginning, and though it was hard to maintain accuracy when his vision became blurred he still threw powerful strikes. He could see the silhouette in his vision seemed just as unsteady as him, and its punches had steadily weakened. Soon the only action being taken in the cage was heavy, strained breaths.

    Keros felt something press on his should and instinctively shot his fist in the direction it came from. His fist impacted something incredibly solid not budging it in the slightest.

    "That's enough, buddy." a deep and gentle voice spoke out.

    "It's a draw, neither of you can continue. It might not have been graceful, but that was a hell of a fight." the voice rang out again.

    It seemed familiar

    "Trent, we'll call someone to pick you up. Don't come back."

    'Ah, it's the gym owner. He stopped the fight, if it could even be called that any more.' Keros thought as he rested against the firm hand.

    Keros and Trent were supported out of the cage and given some first aid. The gym was quiet, and yet it wasn't. No one spoke loudly, hoping to let them rest comfortably. Shortly someone arrived to take Trent home. Keros was taken into a room with some cots, cleaned up, and given some medicine to speed up his recovery. After an hour or so he was well enough to move and his vision had returned, though his body still ached and his head still hurt.

    The gym owner, Booker, and the three girls had all been waiting quietly in the room for him to recover. All of them were experiencing different emotions. Catherine and Willow displayed worry and admiration in their countenance, while Rena had the addition of enthrallment as if she was staring at her idol. Booker showed worry as well, but it was mixed with sympathy and shame. The gym owner carried a stoic expression, but his impatience was apparent from the way he was tapping his leg.

    "That was stupid... But i have to admire your loyalty and willpower." The gym owner said calmly

    "Rest up for a bit longer, then come see me to collect your payment." he said before leaving the room.

    next up the girls spoke

    "That was dangerous! What if you had been seriously injured?!" Catherine cried out, berating Keros

    "That really was... n-not smart." Willow stated quietly

    "THAT, WAS, AWESOME!" Rena declared loudly

    Keros was dumbfounded at the difference in their reactions. He was berated, educated, and praised repeatedly for some time. Eventually, the girls calmed down and left when they noticed the awkward atmosphere

    "Keros... I'm sorry." Booker said, his eyes becoming wet.

    "I was too weak.. and you had to step in to try and salvage my pride. now look at us." tears started streaming down his swollen face

    Keros chuckled lightly, an odd response no doubt

    "What is there to be sorry about? We're best friends, and i'll always have your back. Just like i know you'll always have mine." Keros said with a smile, though it was warped due to pain

    a short silence ensued before Booker spoke up again

    "I don't ever want to feel that weak again.. I can train with you right?" Booker asked as he wiped as his face

    "Sure, you know how rough it can be but it's worth it." Keros replied as he laid back down

    "Thank you. and thank you for having my back."

    -

    After the rest, they went to see the gym head. He paid them for the day, as well as a bit extra. The fight would generate a bit of reputation within the circle of fighters and bring in more business, so he felt he needed to reward the boys a bit extra. 200 Credits each to be exact, bringing the total to 300 credits each. He told them to come back and work anytime before shooing them out.

    Keros and Booker left with the girls in tow. They still had a lot of time left since they spent less time at the gym then they planned. So they decided to go out to eat with credits they made. The meal was pretty cheerful, and the entire ordeal seemed to have helped them all bond. Needless to say, the boys weren't feeling up to much else and decided a quiet night home would be nice. Both Rena and Willow wanted to spend the night again since school was out again tomorrow. Keros didn't have a problem with it so they stopped by their houses on the way home to get permission and clothes. Booker decided he would stay over too since they would wake up early for training anyway so he went home to grab some clothes and let his parents know as well.

    -

    The boys washed up, cleaning all of the sweat and blood off before resting on the couch in the living room.

    Catherine was in her room with Rena and Willow, discussing the events of the day

    "Your brother is soooo cool!" Rena said in a quiet but excited voice.

    "I thought it was cool too, but aren't you too excited? What do you have a crush on him now or something?" Catherine asked as she brushed her hair

    "It's not like that! I just admire his courage and strength!" Rena said defensively, sporting a blush

    "I think it was stupid and too macho." Willow said

    "Well, at least we can all agree that he is strong. After all, we saw the other guy." Catherine said in a matter of fact tone.

    The three girls chatted for a bit before joining the boys in the living room. Keros and Booker got to know Rena and Willow better, and all five of them bonded. Keros didn't find his sister as annoying as he usually did, and maybe that had something to do with the necklace. His dad was probably right, it helped bring them closer together.

    After a night spent enjoying each other's company, they all went to sleep.

    -

    The next morning Keros woke up to his alarm at 6:02. His body still ached after yesterday's fight. Regardless, he had to get up and start his daily routine. He shook Booker awake and began teaching him how to meditate but one lesson wouldn't be enough and it would take some time for Booker to fully grasp the technique. They went through Keros' entire daily regimen. Booker didn't complain a single time, which was evidence enough of how bad his loss affected him. After finishing training they spent the day escorting Catherine, Rena, and Willow around to have fun. It was relaxing and gave them time to recuperate while also letting the girls have a fun day in peace.

    That night. Booker, Rena, and Willow had already gone home because tomorrow would be a school night. Keros laid in bed thinking about his life and the future. In nine months he would turn 12 and the world that he knew would open up for him. With his fathers' help, he had laid a good foundation for cultivation. He already had the tools for success, and in just nine short months he would begin chasing that success. He had a great friend that would walk with him on this path. He had very few fetters in his life and soon he would shed those fetters and struggle against countless more than would fall upon his shoulders. He was excited, more so than ever before. Those nine short months seemed so much longer because of his anticipation.

    -

    And so time flowed. Seasons changed but Keros' life remained the same. School, training, taking care of his sister, doing odd jobs to save up some credits.

    Months passed. Keros continued to grow, feeling his limits slowly crumbling as he grew closer to the ability to cultivate. His bond with his sister improved steadily because of the time they spent together. Keros became friends with Rena and Willow as an effect of spending time with his sister. Booker quickly learned meditation and would meet up every morning and everyday after school to practice and train. They went to spar whenever they were free so they could improve. They even became acquainted with Judas and Lisa through coincidence and developed a friendly rivalry with them.

    Almost a full nine months passed. Their parents had only returned three times over the span on nine months, and only for a couple of days at a time. They understood, but it was still a bit disheartening. Keros grew more mature due to the responsibility he had in the absence of his parents. He had always kept up with his training in this time and sparred so much that he was confident if he had to face a low-level cultivator again, he wouldn't lose.

    Booker had grown alongside Keros. The training and sparring did wonders for him as well. The shortcoming of low stamina had been fixed in these nine months. He matured a bit as a consequence of spending so much time with Keros. They basically spent every waking moment together so how couldn't they influence each other? Booker also made some progress with Lisa, and they seemed to grow from being rivals to good friends.

    Catherine hadn't changed much but that was to be expected. Her daily life didn't change but she had aged, now 9 years old as were her friends. Catherine, Rena, and Willow had been spending much more time together and had a very strong friendship by this point. Her life was steady and relaxed, like a stone on a mountain.

    The next year of school had already started.

    -

    Keros laid in his bed. The time on his digital clock displayed 30:32. His eyelids were heavy, yet he was having difficulty falling asleep. In less than two hours he would turn 12 years old. At the stroke of midnight, his body would begin undergoing a fundamental change, but the process would force him into a slumber and would last until 8:00. He would be late for school. April 4th, his birthday, and the day that would mark the most significant event he would have experienced in his life up to this point, and maybe ever. He was excited, but that wasn't the only thing keeping him awake. He had a sense of unease. 

    He wasn't sure why, but he couldn't calm himself down. He kept telling himself that he had the book that his father had left for him. The book explained cultivation and detailed his fathers' experiences. His father forbade him from opening it until he turned 12. Should anything unexpected happen he could just refer to the book, so why wasn't his uneasy feeling subsiding?

    The feelings of excitement and unease mixed, causing his stomach to knot. Maybe this is how everyone feels before evolution. Keros kept trying to find reasons for how he felt in order to calm himself down. He would surely feel silly tomorrow when everything had completed smoothly. No matter how hard he tried, he failed. Eventually, he drifted to sleep as the clock displayed 0:00.

    -

    He dreamt that he was standing upon a thick, vibrant, blue cloud. He slowly sank into it, feeling a warmth enveloping his ankles and climbing up his body the more he sank into the cloud. He felt at peace, kindness, joy, and love. He felt by far the most comfortable that he had ever been. He felt power within his bones and a fire in his chest. He sent a punch forward and the blue cloud followed. the winds would part, the seas would recede, and the earth would split. It was a majestic feeling, like he was the King of the world, and elements honored him with respect.

    Everything Vanished in a split second before another scene appeared before him. Grey arcs coated in a black shining light were streaking around him. He was quickly engulfed by the streaks, and suddenly felt an influx of emotions. Anger, Arrogance, fearlessness, and cunning. He felt as though he could achieve anything and no obstacle could block his path. Twisting his body, he spun and sent out a lightning fast sidekick. The arcs followed his body and launched from his leg like a bullet. The skies cried out with thunder, The seas became turbid, trees quaked and leaves burnt to cinders. It was a feeling of pure dominance, as if the elements were terrified of him and bowed out of fear.

    Once again the scene changed. He was standing on a desolate land. The sky was a dull crimson color, the land was flat and covered in soil. From his right, he noticed the blue cloud from before floating over. It looked Majestic. Then on his left, he saw the grey arcs chaotically headed in the opposite direction, giving a feeling of dominance. When the cloud passed land plat life would grow instantaneously, giving life wherever it passed. The arc displayed the completely opposite reaction, and as it passed the soil would corrode, destroying any chance it had to produce life.

    These two powers seemed to be on a collision course and destined to meet. He understood. This was a battle between two completely different powers. One represented everything good, while the other one represented everything evil.

    Soon, the two condensed and formed into wolves. They ran towards each other before flashing 3 meters in front of Keros. The impact was astonishing, yet Keros felt no impact on himself. He could feel the elements crying, the earth was shaking, the wind was howling, and the sea became torrential.

    After some time Keros grew weary of watching the scene. Both wolves were fighting each other brutally and each displayed certain qualities that Keros couldn't understand. He had experienced both of these powers and vaguely understood them. It was easy to claim one and good and one as evil, but when he was immersed within them he felt neither. He felt that the only truth was that they were different.

    He didn't know what he could do, but one thing was for sure. He could watch no longer. He waved his hand out and bellowed "STOP!". His voice was thunderous and rang out across the world. Suddenly both wolves stopped and turned to face him.

    'W-What? What is this? They actually listened?' Keros thought to himself. It didn't make any sense. He was utterly insignificant when compared with these two. And what was with that voice? It was so deep and commanding.

    He was too shocked and didn't know what to do next. Maybe due to his inactivity, the wolves resumed their battle.

    The world before Keros' eyes began to darken before everything faded to black.
    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 10:

    Keros woke up at exactly 8:00. He felt no grogginess, despite sleeping for eight hours. He felt different as if there was nothing to stop him from continuing forward, like there had been before. Before he was akin to a full cup, but now he felt like he was a dry pond. He had so much to more room to improve than before!

    He was more excited than he had ever been.

    He sat up and immediately began to meditate. This time was different than usual. His consciousness didn't withdraw into his mind like usual. Instead his inner sight was enveloped in darkness. He could sense his surroundings, and he sensed two anomalies. The first was a force emanating from his head. This must be his mind. He guessed if he made contact with that force then it would pull him into the fog like normal. For now he chose to ignore the mind force.

    He observed the second anomaly. It came from his chest, and felt warm. If he could put it into words, it would be as if there was a minuscule flickering flame buried in his chest. He tried to move close to it so he could get a better feeling of it and understand more. Oddly enough, nothing changed. The warmth didn't increase, even though he knew he was closer than before. He reached out toward the warmth and felt as though he was being blocked from touching it. Suddenly he felt a force of rejection, and multiple barrier appeared preventing him from getting close. He could still feel the warmth, but he could get no closer to it.

    He spent what felt like a long time sensing the changes and thinking on ways to get past the barrier. His consciousness slowly became heavier, and he began to feel sluggish. Though he wanted to continue experimenting, eventually he was forced out of meditation. The digital clock showed 8:35 which meant he spent thirty-five minutes in meditation. Five more minutes than he was usually able to maintain the state of meditation. What a surprising improvement.

    He climbed out of bed and began to get ready for the day. He was incredibly dirty, likely from the changes that he experienced during his sleep. He showered, groomed himself, got dressed, and gathered his things before heading into the kitchen for a quick breakfast. Catherine was already in the kitchen, and had made him some toast and a drink. She had waited on Keros since he insisted that she needed to walk to school with him for safety. Keros greeted her and started a conversation while he ate. Catherine had a lot of questions, and he had the time to explain his experience while eating.

    Soon they left for school. He was still very hungry, so they took the time to stop for some street food on their way to school. He didn't need to rush. The school expected for the students to be late on their twelfth birthday, and even if they didn't show up at all, that would be accepted. He felt that since he had to walk his sister to school anyway, he might as well attend.

    By the time they made it to school it was already 10:00. Keros and Catherine checked in, and Keros explained to the school principle why Catherine was late, before they parted ways. Keros went to his class and took his seat beside Booker. Starting from year 7, you could choose the courses that you attended. Since things like wilderness survival, tracking, foraging, combat training, and teamwork needed to be taught to those who wanted to enter a career that involved combat, other subjects could be omitted. The same applied to those who chose a more mundane lifestyle. The only exception was the cultivation subject that everyone was required to attend.

    The class Keros was in now described various plant life. It covered their appearance, danger levels, if it was edible, which plants were poisonous, which ones were beneficial,and which regions they were found in. It is an important class for anyone who had to leave the stronghold for their career. Keros had only missed one class this morning, and he made it early enough to catch the majority of this class.

    -

    At lunch Keros and Booker grabbed a meal in the cafeteria.

    "So what's it like?" Booker asked impatiently. In a few weeks he could be turning twelve too, so he wanted to know what to expect.

    Keros explained how he had felt the night before, a detailed description of his dream, and the changes he felt this morning during meditation. He had thought about that dream a lot this morning because it was completely different from what is commonly described. Normally people experience a single strong energy and feel a conglomeration of vague emotions. Keros' experience was much more detailed, and he was able to accurately feel two completely different powers and the emotions they brought. It was weird that his experience was so much different than normal, but no one's experience was exactly alike so he didn't worry much.

    "That sounds so cool! Maybe I'll experience something wild like that too." Booker said with a gleam in his eye.

    "Well, whatever you do end up seeing in your dream, pay attention to it. I have this feeling that it's more important than it seems." Keros replied.

    After lunch, they went to their next class.

    -

    *Thump Thump*

    There was a knock at the classroom door. The teacher stopped her lesson and checked the door. A look of surprise crossed her face briefly before you calmed herself and opened the door.

    A man and woman entered the class wearing military uniforms. They stood at the front of the class with confidence and discipline as they surveyed the classroom. All of the students stared with admiration since the people in front of them were who the students aspired to be. Everyone speculated on the reason that two military personnel came to their class.

    clearing her voice, the woman spoke up

    "Keros Vaolair! Which one of you is Keros?" She asked in a commanding voice.

    Keros was shocked for a moment before standing up and replying

    "I am Keros Vaolair." He said back with a confident tone.

    "We need you to come with us." She said as she locked eyes with Keros

    "Okay... Why?" Keros asked curiously.

    "I can't tell you that, but you'll understand later." she said

    Keros thought for a moment

    "Will my little sister be coming?" He asked.

    "No. Now enough questions, come quickly. We don't have much time." She said with her voice becoming more stern.

    "Booker, can you walk Catherine home?" Keros asked.

    Booker nodded and gave a thumbs up.

    Keros followed the man and woman. They quickly led him out of the school and to a road designated for vehicles and into an SUV that was parked on the road. It was a black SUV that was commonly issued to the military. Everyone was quiet as they drove toward the northeast of Enceladus at a high speed. The SUV was incredibly quiet and only had a slight whirring sound as it sped down the road.

    Keros knew he wouldn't get any information from these two that would calm the tension and unease he felt. He figured it most likely had something to do with his parents since he should be too insignificant for the military to look for him otherwise. He tried to take his mind off things by observing the two. The woman was sitting in the passenger seat. She had short black hair that was tied into a high ponytail, a narrow face, and seemed to still be in her teens. The pins and symbols on her uniform denoted her rank, which Keros recognized from his parents' description. She is a corporal.

    The man was driving. He is Bald, with a small stocky frame, and a clean-cut blocky face. Keros guessed he was in his mid-twenties, and he is a sergeant.

    Keros wondered why a corporal in the military would be sent to pick him up. He guessed that she was the one with the assignment to escort him, and likely the man was only there for support and guidance. Keros racked his brain trying to figure out the reasoning behind all of this, even though he knew that he would understand soon.

    -

    They arrived at the main military base. The woman directed the man to return to the barracks before she led Keros to a smaller vehicle that was for use on base. It seated four but with little personal room, and was open to the elements with only a small room that covered the cab area and a windscreen. It was fast, and the woman pushed it to the limit as she raced through the base.

    Soon they made it to a section that had ten buildings that resembled small warehouses. The woman stopped the car at the fourth building, and lead Keros through the door. Inside, there were 8 people. They looked bedraggled, and all of them had injuries of various degrees. They wore expressions of sorrow as they all focused their gazes on a door, the sorrow on their face deepened when they looked over to Keros.

    'Why.. Why do they look at me like that?' Keros thought to himself, his throat tightening. He had thought that he was here to see his parents, but they weren't in this room. He hoped that they weren't in the room behind that door.

    The woman Saluted, and Silently left through the door they had entered. One of the people in the room lightly knocked on the door that they were staring at, before stepping back and gesturing Keros to enter.

    Keros's steps were unsteady as he walked up and grasped the door handle. He hesitated for a moment, before turning the handle and slowing entering. The room was smaller than the last, and the lighting was dim. The smell from inside was strong, and it made Keros want to heave. He closed his eyes before he fully entered, and closed the door behind him. He took a moment to steady himself before he opened his eyes. There were two beds, one was covered with a thick sheet that was bulging, the other one had a man laying on it. 

    It was his father. He was hard to recognize at a glance because of all the wounds on his body. He was in horrible shape, with his stomach ripped open, his limbs were mangled, and part of his face was torn. His left eye was sunk in, likely destroyed. His breathing was heavy, sporadic, and sounded closer to wheezing. His one open eye stared at Keros as if to commit his image to memory.

    Keros' heartbeat sped up, his mouth started to dry out, and his hands began to quiver. His father looked... Terrible. Keros moved to the left side of the bed before noticing another person in the room, who was already standing to the left of the bed. He was stocky and muscular, around 177 cm tall, with dark hair and green eyes. His eyes were locked on Keros, and his expression was fierce. He spoke, his expression calming

    "Talk to your father boy... I'll make sure no one bothers you." He said as he walked to the door and stood right in front of it with a straight back, his gaze pointed forward and locked onto the wall.

    Keros took his previous position. There was a chair there that the man must have been sitting in before Keros entered. Keros pulled the chair closer and sat in it. He studied his father's body now that he was closer and he could better see the severity of his injuries. His clothes were torn and drenched in blood, his left leg had bulges likely caused by broken bones, there were grotesque lacerations and bruises on every area of his body, his stomach was cut diagonally and his intestines were visible, he had a few puncture holes in his chest, and his face had mangled flesh hanging.

    'Why hadn't he been taken to the hospital?!' Keros thought. His father needed immediate medical attention or he was going to die! Why wouldn't these people have immediately taken him to the hospital?! Unless... 'It's too late.'

    "K-keros... You need to grow stronger!" Jack's voice was quiet, and it was mixed with the sound of fluid which must have been the blood in his throat.

    "Work harder... T-this" He coughed violently and his face contorted into agony, blood splashing from his mouth.

    Keros panicked, not knowing how to help without making things worse. His fathers' coughing calmed and he spit out some more blood before continuing

    "This is why, this is why you need to become stronger!" Jack said with a firm voice, his eye starting to shine from the tears building

    "You wanted to know.... why i pushed you.... so hard." Jack said between pauses for breath

    "This is why. Because i was too weak... Your mother..." Jack stopped.

    He began to sob. Keros had never seen his father cry. Most of his life he had known this man to be a Stoic, yet now.... He is sobbing uncontrollably. How much pain must his heart be in for him to sob in his condition? His body had to be in an incredible amount of pain when sobbing like that, but he couldn't stop himself. It took a while for him to steady himself and continue

    "Y-your mother.. is dead. because i wasn't strong enough.. That is why you need to.. pick up your suffering... AND BEAR IT!" Jack said, with his voice rising at the last part.

    "Bear with all of the pain... The pain of our deaths.. The pain of your training... The pain of your responsibilities." He was having to stop every few words to compose himself

    "And become powerful..... So you don't end up like me."

    "So you aren't one... Day dying on a bed... Cursing yourself.. because you.. couldn't protect what is... important."

    "So you don't... Leave your loved ones all alone.." Jack said in between mild sobs and shallow breaths. He steadied himself and prepared for the next part he wanted to say.

    "We'll have left you here alone and we have nothing to give you. You and your sister will probably be kicked out of the house... And the little credits we have to leave to you won't go far." he paused to take some breaths and ease the pain

    "And you'll have to take care of your sister on top of it all." he gave a laugh of self-derision

    "You're going to have to climb up from the bottom. You're going to struggle and you'll have to make sacrifices. Don't ever kneel before another in life. Hold your head up high and have pride. Remember your name and its legacy... I know all of this is going to be hard... But i know you can do it."

    He paused again, starting to tear up a bit

    "I know you can do it... Because you're strong... And I'm sorry. I'm sorry i didn't tell you enough how proud of you i am.." he moved his hand, trying to touch Keros.

    Keros reached out and grasped his hand lightly. He was taking this astonishingly well. The only thing that betrayed his calm demeanor was the quivering and a solemn expression.

    "It's okay dad... I understand now why you did what you did... Don't worry about us, you left us plenty already. You gave me a good foundation to become strong, and Catherine will have a strong brother to take care of her... Thanks to you." Keros said in a mostly calm voice

    "You've taught me skills that i can use to support us and live a better life. You've taught me to endure the struggles so that i can reap the rewards. You've given me enough... You don't need to regret leaving us, dad. We will be okay, i promise." he said as he brought his fathers hand up and grasped it with both hands

    "I don't know what happened, or why mom died.. But i don't blame you for that. Mom was a warrior! She was strong and brave! She protected us and our way if life! Just like you... I'm sad that she's gone, and that you'll be gone too. But I'm also proud! Proud that i had such amazing parents, who had the courage to fight so that we could have better lives!" Keros said as his voice began to quiver.

    Keros and Jack looked into each other's eyes in silence. Some things couldn't be put into words, so the looks in their eyes conveyed those words. Soon Jack would be gone forever, and Keros would never get to see him again. Only in memories would he be able to visit him, and even though having this memory would hurt, Keros wanted it more than anything.

    This was a man who had cared for him. Who had taught him how to be a man, and prepared him for life. Who put a roof over his head, clothes on his back, and food in his mouth. This was a father that struggled through the agony of losing his wife and the pain caused by his wounds, just so he could speak with his son one last time. He had suffered so much just so that he could teach Keros one last time. Even with the pain it would bring him to remember this it was worth it since it showed how great of a man his father was.

    "Please... Let me see your mother one last time." Jack said as he struggled to turn his head toward the other bed.

    Keros stood up slowly. He gently laid his fathers hand down and went between the beds. He took a deep breath to prepare himself before pulling the sheet back.

    His mother was in worse condition than his father. Her throat had a huge gash in it and was coated red, and she had a hole in her chest. Though it didn't look like she suffered as many wounds, and likely passed quickly. That was the only solace that he could find.

    His mother had always been gentle and loving, like the sun on a warm spring day. She was the kindest and loving person he had ever known. She would give up anything for her children, would never show anything but a happy smile. Yet she ended up like this. His mother who was kind to all, was given such a poor end.

    Keros felt anger. It boiled and rapidly grew to the point that he was almost consumed by it. He did his best to maintain a calm demeanor, but inside his heart was raging and his soul was screaming. He never felt such unbridled hatred. He wanted to find whoever did this to his parents and crush them slowly beneath his foot. He wanted to hear their screams as they begged him for mercy. That seemed to be the only way he could think of to soothe the inferno that raged inside.

    Despite how he felt, he stepped back so his father would be able to see his mother. Though Keros didn't want to look any longer, he couldn't look away. His rage forced him to commit this image to memory. He promised himself that one day he would get revenge, and this memory would ensure that he wouldn't let something as ridiculous as mercy hold him back.

    They both stare at her for a long time. Keros was the one to break the silence.

    "One day when I'm strong enough... I'll rain hell down upon whoever caused this. Not even the heavens will hold me back from getting justice." Keros said with a hoarse voice filled with resentment

    "Good... That eases the pain in my heart a bit." Jack said as he turned to look at Keros

    "I don't think i have much time left. Stay with me until I'm gone." Jack said as he turned his head back toward the chair.

    Keros covered his mother back up before returning to sit in the chair. He grabbed his fathers hand again and waited on his breathing to stop. Less than ten minutes passed before his fathers died. Keros held his hand for a long time after that. His eyes were closed and he remained completely still. Two hours passed before he finally moved. He very gently laid his fathers hand back on the bed before grabbing a sheet and draping it over him.











    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • edited May 19
    Chapter 11:

    He turned to walk out of the door and noticed that the man was still there. He recognized the man. He hadn't before because of the chaos in his mind.

    He had seen this man once or twice and had been told to call him 'uncle Rod'. All he knew about his 'uncle Rod' is that he was a lifelong friend of his father. Keros had never guessed that they worked together, though it made sense. How could they be such good friends if they see each other so rarely?

    "Uncle Rod... What happened?" Keros asked in a flat tone

    "I can't give you details... At least not right now. All you need to know is they were heroes who blocked the greatest danger the team had ever experienced, so some of us could escape." Uncle Rod replied in an equally flat tone

    "Of course.. I knew they were heroes." Keros said, reassuring himself.

    "What relationship did really you have with them?" Keros asked after a short pause

    "Their Captain, their loyal friend, and your godfather." Uncle Rod spoke up. He wasn't quite as calm this time and Keros noticed his voice shake briefly

    "You'll tell me the full story eventually... won't you?" Keros asked in a slightly defeated tone

    Uncle Rod observed him for a bit before making a declaration

    "One day. When I feel you're strong enough to beat the enemy, or mature enough to endure the truth until you become strong enough. That's when I'll tell you." Uncle Rod said with a gentle tone

    "Soon, then." Keros replied with arrogance.

    The two stood before each other in silence. They seemed to be observing each other, but their eyes were unfocused. Eventually uncle Rod broke the silence.

    "I'll send someone to pick you and your sister up tomorrow so she can say goodbye before the cremation and funeral."

    "No... She can't see them like this. Can we cremate them now, and just let her say her goodbyes at the funeral tomorrow?" Keros replied with a question almost immediately

    "Are you truly okay with depriving her of seeing her parents one last time?" uncle rod asked, seemingly growing angry

    "Depriving her? I'm saving her from the mental anguish. She can't handle such a sight, especially not when it's of the ones that are most important to her. If she could, you all would have brought her here today." Keros said with a firm tone, not intimidated by the man in front of him at all.

    Uncle Rod thought for a moment before nodding and walking out of the door without another word. Keros followed him.

    Uncle Rod addressed the team, informing them that they would have the cremation today and funeral tomorrow. The team seemed surprised at first until the Captain explained the reason. No one said anything as they prepared the necessary items. They told Keros of the ritual, and he followed beside uncle Rod as his parents were carried on stretchers behind him.

    They lead him into a small field behind the warehouse-like building, and to a spot where a pyre had been built. This was a warriors send-off. Their bodies would turn to ash and their souls would be cleansed in the fire before moving on. Normally a cultivators body would be too strong to full destroyed in any reasonable time by normal fire. That's why special materials were added that would increase the intensity and burn away their bodies completely at a quick but steady speed.

    Everyone had their own way to honor the dead during the ceremony. Squad fours way was to share a bottle of strong bitter alcohol while chanting a short song, with someone ending the chant by shouting a short farewell that included their true feelings of that person, good or bad. Then the chant would continue with the same words, and once again someone would shout their feelings. It would continue this way until everyone had a turn to bid farewell. If their bodies hadn't been reduced to ash by this point, everyone would watch in silence until they had.

    Afterward, someone would recite a spontaneous eulogy. It would fully end after their ashes had been collected.

    Keros and uncle Rod watched as Jack and Jessica were put on top of the pyre. Uncle Rod took this time to hand Keros a ring. It had been his fathers. Uncle Rod explained that this ring had been ordered as a custom ring, and he had one just like it. It was a signal of their friendship and was to be passed down to their firstborn child, in hopes the friendship would continue with their children.

    It wouldn't fit on Keros' finger.. It was too big. So he held it tightly and stared at his parents motionless bodies on the pyre.

    -

    Everyone stood around the pyre with straight backs and steady gazes. A torch was handed to Keros. It was considered an honor to light the pyre of a warrior, and Keros was given that honor. What could be more poetic than a child sending their parents off? Nothing.

    Keros approached and stood close in front of the pyre. His face was twisted in a mix of emotions. Anger, agony, sorrow, and pride. Soon his face turned stoic and he gently pressed the fire onto the pyre. The pyre immediately lit up. Keros stepped back slowly, enduring the heat.

    Someone on the far left took a large swig from a gallon jug, before passing it to his right. This continued until the bottle made it to the middle, where uncle Rod and Keros stood. Uncle Rod was on the left, so he took a swig, and then another, and one more. He passed the bottle to Keros. Keros had never had alcohol and normally one wouldn't drink alcohol until they turned sixteen, and anyone planning to become a warrior wouldn't drink until returning from their first battle.

    Keros lifted the jug and gulped. He didn't know any limits and took five big gulps. The taste was bitter and burned his throat. When it made it to his chest he felt as though ice was poured over his heart, before an intense burning sensation overcame him. He passed the jug to his right and returned his gaze back to the inferno in front of him.

    The alcohol was meant to imitate their bitter feelings over losing someone. When the feeling of a buzz came they would become boisterous and it was used as a way to cast off that bitterness. Keros didn't know, but the alcohol he just chugged five gulps of was special and much stronger than normal. It had to be or it wouldn't affect a cultivator, much less ones as strong as those in squad four.

    Soon everyone had their swigs, and the chanting began. Keros didn't know the words and hadn't had time to learn them so he simply listened.

    "A warriors journey is hard.
    Fraught with dangers and plagued by struggle.
    Warriors fight for tomorrow, and live for today.
    Brave and strong, is what a warrior must be.
    For they give those behind them, a tomorrow to see.

    A cultivators' path is long.
    Contested by the heavens, and challenged by peers.
    Cultivators' fight for power, and look to the future.
    Determined and selfish is what they are.
    For power is needed, to reach the stars.

    Goodbye to the warrior you were, and the cultivator you have been. We'll meet among the stars, for we are kin." Their voices were perfectly in sync, and each person spoke with resolution. When their voices combined, it roared out like thunder.

    One continued the chant with his farewell

    "ONE WAS STERN, AND THE OTHER WAS GENTLE. BOTH WERE FIERCE. THANK YOU, YOU'LL ALWAYS BE MY HEROES!" He bellowed, releasing the negative emotions he had at that moment. Though the words weren't sophisticated, it was still beautiful.

    The chant continued, as did everyone's farewell. Soon the only ones who hadn't given a farewell were uncle Rod and Keros. Keros wasn't a part of the team, so it was understandable that he wouldn't get a turn. The Captain of the team should be last, so that also made sense.

    After the chant, Uncle Rod began.

    "FRIENDS, PARTNERS, TEAMMATES, PARENTS, WARRIORS, CULTIVATORS... THESE WORDS DON'T DO JUSTICE WHEN SPEAKING OF YOUR MEMORY. NO WORD DOES JUSTICE, SO I'LL USE THE CLOSEST WORDS I CAN THINK OF... HEROES. LEGENDS. UNMATCHED! TODAY WE SEND OFF THE BEST OF US. IN THE NEXT LIFE, ALLOW US TO FOLLOW YOU!" Uncle Rod said with a roar. His voice quivered. His stoic demeanor was crumbling, but he did his best to pick up the pieces.

    'A good ending.' Keros thought, as his eyes glossed over. He was happy that his parents were thought of so highly.

    Unexpectedly, the chant rang out again. Everyone started back singing at the same time, and no one faltered. Why did they continue? It was supposed to end with the Captain's farewell. After the chant, all eyes locked on to Keros. They were giving the boy the opportunity to say goodbye to his parents as a warrior.

    He had been brave. He had held himself together even after seeing his parents' lifeless bodies. He shielded his sister from the pain of experiencing such agony, regardless of the consequences. He had stood respectfully and acted as a warrior should. He was already resolved to take the path of a warrior and a cultivator, and while he might not be one yet, he was deserving of this respect.

    Keros didn't begin immediately, instead, spending a few moments with bated breath before calming himself and speaking from his heart.

    "STRONG AND BRAVE? ABSOLUTELY. DETERMINED, SURE... SELFISH? NEVER... YOU FOUGHT AND BEAT ENEMIES THAT WOULD GIVE LESSER HUMANS NIGHTMARES. YOU CONTINUED FORWARD EVEN WHEN YOU KNEW THE RISKS AND FACED ALL OBSTACLES ON YOUR PATH REGARDLESS OF THE CONSEQUENCES... YOU GAVE TO OTHERS WHEN THEY DIDN'T HAVE, WITHOUT EXPECTING A RETURN. YOU BURN ATOP A PYRE DUE TO YOUR SELFLESS NATURE... AND FOR THESE REASONS, I AM PROUD. YOU HAVE TAUGHT ME WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A MAN, A WARRIOR, AND A CULTIVATOR. AND YOU HAVE TAUGHT US ALL WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN..." He paused, but it was obvious that he wasn't finished. He just needed to collect his words and steady his breathing

    "I'LL FOLLOW YOUR TEACHINGS, AND YOU WERE RIGHT, LIFE IS HARD AND UNFAIR. BUT TODAY I HAVE LEARNED SOMETHING ON MY OWN... LIFE IS ALSO FRAGILE AND CAN BE INFLUENCED BY POWER... SO I'LL BECOME STRONG. I'LL CRUSH EVERYTHING THAT IS BAD IN THIS WORLD AND REMOLD IT INTO SOMETHING BETTER... AND WHEN I STAND ON THE TOP, I'LL PULL YOU BOTH UP TO STAND BESIDE ME. BUT FOR NOW, I'LL SAY GOODBYE." Keros finished while panting. His eyes were fierce, and a warped grin adorned his face.

    His words were shocking, and his demeanor was terrifying. At first glance, one might think that he had gone crazy, but those of squad four felt the emotions in his words. He was determined. Resolved to fight against the fate that every human before him has succumbed to. It was an immeasurable challenge to attain such power, but Keros would endure the hardships that would accompany him, and he would face that challenge with confidence.

    His words were more intoxicating than the liquor to those of squad four. Heads nodded and expressions hardened. If this boy would face this challenge, he would do so with squad four at his back. And when the day came that he stood at the top, they would exclaim in vigor 'That's our little Vao!'.

    -

    The fire had finally died out. The only remnants of Jack and Jessica were bright white ash. It stood at the center of a soot-covered ground. Everything else had burned away completely.

    The last part of the ritual involved everyone grabbing a handful of the ashes and pouring it into a container. Since it was impossible to differentiate between the ashes they were all gathered into a single container. Which was also poetic in a way. They had lived and died together, and now they would rest together.

    Soon all of the ashes had been collected and the squad stood in a circle. Keros stood beside the Captain, uncle Rod.

    "Keros. would you mind telling all of us what your parents were like at home?" Uncle Rod asked while holding the jar.

    "Father was stern, and most of the time stoic. When he was home he directed my training and sparred with me. When he wasn't spending time on me, he was playing with Catherine. The rest of his time was spent with mom..." Keros didn't even think, he just rattled off from the top of his head.

    "Mom was gentle and caring. She always wore a smile, and rarely rebuked us. She cooked our food, tended to our wounds, and encouraged us when things were hard. She spent a lot of time with Catherine, nurturing her kindness. She always made the time to listen to my complaints and cheer me up. After she had shown us that motherly love and would spend time with dad." He continued almost immediately

    "They were two halves of the same whole. They balanced each other. When Father was too stern, Mothers' gentle nature would calm the storm in our hearts. When Mother coddled us too much, Father brought us back to reality... I never saw them argue. I only saw trust and love between them. They accepted each other in every way. They were amazing parents." He ended. His tone would rise and fall to better illustrate the feeling they gave.

    Everyone listened with rapt attention. This was a description of Jack and Jessica that they had never heard, and though they had a similar impression of the two, it was nice to hear a more detailed description from a different viewpoint. They all nodded to show their understanding and appreciation.

    "You did well today. Your words were inspiring, and I think your parents would be proud to receive such a send-off from you. You have my respect." Uncle Rod said

    The 8 other members of the team all nodded and said various words to explain how they felt about his participation in the ritual ceremony.

    When they finally turned to leave, they saw many people standing in the distance. They were the warriors of the military. As squad four got closer, the warriors saluted toward the container. This was a show of respect for the fallen who had given their lives on the battlefield. They weren't allowed to participate in the ceremony, but they would witness it. It affected all of them in a different way. Some had tears in their eyes, while others had a smile of admiration. They parted to allow the 10 people to pass through.

    Keros and the rest returned to the barracks, and uncle Rod informed everyone of the details for tomorrow's funeral. It would start at 13:00 and would allow the civilians that had a relationship with Jack and Jessica to attend. It couldn't be helped that there would be such short notice. Times were unstable and so the events would have to commence sooner. It was inconvenient but anyone that cared deeply would show up. He asked when Keros would like to be picked up, and he chose 9:00. He wanted Catherine to have plenty of time to mourn alone.

    After everything about the funeral was explained uncle Rod took Keros into another room and began to explain how Keros and Catherine's lives would change. He explained that Catherine would likely be going with their aunt as that was their parents' plan. They expected Keros to take care of her, but for now, she would be given a stable environment to continue her schooling.

    Keros's situation was more complicated. He would have to choose what he wanted to do, and though this gave him freedom he didn't feel like he had many options. He could stay with uncle Rod and continue school. He could transfer to the military academy and get free board, but he would be heavily restricted and wouldn't have as much freedom on his path to strength. Maybe he could stay with Booker and continue his life as it had been. None of these seemed right though.

    School would teach him many things, but he already had the foundation which was the most important aspect. He couldn't go to the military academy, that wasn't even an option. He wasn't willing to follow the path that the academy required its students to take. While he could stay with Booker, that would ease his pain. He couldn't allow that. He felt that the pain would be one of his greatest motivators and a reminder of why he needed to keep moving forward.

    That narrowed his option to staying at uncle Rod's place. Though the school part would have to be changed. He needed faster progress than the school could provide, and he needed money. He needed money so he could afford to live and provide for his sister. He didn't like the fact that she would be reliant on the family that they only saw occasionally. He didn't know his aunt and her husband well enough to be comfortable with such a situation. He expressed these thoughts to uncle Rod.

    Uncle Rod thought for a long while. Seemingly contemplating on whether he should condone the path Keros seemed to want to take. Eventually, he spoke. He told Keros that he could become a mercenary. The military wouldn't accept someone under the age of sixteen and while it was rare for mercenaries to accept those under sixteen, it had happened before. 

    He explained to Keros what a mercenary did in greater detail than Keros had heard before. Mercenaries were essentially warriors for hire that formed a group. They would leave the stronghold on missions accepted at the mercenaries guild. The missions would require the group to do or obtain something. Sometimes they might have to clear out some beasts, map out new lands, or scout dens. Most of the missions involved obtaining things such as materials from beasts, herbs, special stones or wood, and anything else that could only be found outside of the stronghold. He told Keros that they sometimes hired as general labor and a porter, but would be able to move into a combat position if he grew strong enough.

    A mercenary was the best solution to Keros's dilemma. He could make a lot of money compared to civilian jobs. He would be in constant danger which would promote growth, and give him the chance to improve at a higher speed than any of his previous options. However the danger high. He was still weak since he hadn't cultivated at all yet, and even being a porter would be dangerous. He could turn into collateral damage, get picked off during travel, or touch something that he shouldn't. While this option fulfilled all of his requirements, it was by far the most dangerous.

    Uncle Rod told him that he could help by calling in a favor he had from one of the mercenary groups, but that was the only help he would provide to Keros other than a roof over his head. Keros would have to feed himself, clothe himself, and pay all of his expenses on his own. He wanted Keros to struggle because only through struggle could one reach certain heights. This would also allow him to mature into someone who wouldn't need to rely on anyone to survive.

    Keros thought for a short time, before agreeing to this path. It was his best option, and he wouldn't ignore it simply because of danger and hardship.

    They talked for a little longer, and uncle Rod gave Keros information that he should have been able to get from his father. They exchanged contact information. Uncle Rod told him that he would inform him of when and where to go to become a mercenary tomorrow. After finishing with the important conversation, uncle Rod contacted someone on his comm link before starting a casual conversation with Keros.

    -

    There was a knock on the door. It was the woman who had picked him up from school. She was there to take him back to his house. Keros learned from uncle Rod that her name was Aiyanna and that she was seeking promotion into their squad. She wasn't quite strong enough though and would need to improve before she would be allowed to join.

    Uncle Rod bid Keros goodbye and told him that he was looking forward to when Keros would join their squad as if it had already been decided. Keros gave a brief goodbye before following Aiyanna out and onto the same ATV they had arrived in.

    The ride was awkward. Aiyanna paid more attention to Keros and constantly showed various expressions. She hadn't known the reason that she had brought him here for. Surprisingly he attended a warrior send-off ritual. He must have had a significant relationship with the fallen warriors. The Captain had even shown a side of himself when around Keros that she had never seen. Almost as if he was doting on the boy.

    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Wow, it's been a hot minute since I last updated! I apologize for my absence, I allowed myself to get wrapped up in other things.

    That being said, I have returned! I began writing again a few weeks ago and I'm currently writing the 47th chapter! When I started this I only expected to do it for fun and that maybe I'd grow bored of it with time, but the truth of the matter is far different. I'm really enjoying writing, and though I have plenty of criticism for myself and this story, this is the first thing I've ever done that I've truly enjoyed like this.

    I hope that, eventually, this will become my career. I can promise one thing for sure though, Hearts Dawn will not be my only work and my next novel will be with all of the experience I gained from writing this one.

    Also, I realized that perhaps my initial schedule was a bit optimistic for me right now. Perhaps in the future, I will be able to produce and release a chapter everyone other day. For now, I will stick with 1 chapter per week promised, and maybe sprinkle a few extra in every now and then.

    Thanks.
    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 12:

    Who was exactly was this kid? What relationship did he have with the fallen warriors that allowed him to participate in the ritual? What was his relationship with the Captain? What was with the Captains' expectation in that last sentence? 'I'll be waiting for you to join squad four'? Did he truly think so highly of this kid that he believed it to just be a matter of time before he had the ability to stand among them? These were just a few of the questions she had when regarding this kid.

    Of course, it wouldn't be appropriate for her to question him out of the blue. Honestly speaking, it wasn't any of her business. Not to mention the circumstances of the kid having lost people that he evidently cared greatly for. Even her current actions were inappropriate. As trained military personnel and an officer to boot, she should have more discipline than to allow her emotions to show.

    Her inner thoughts continued. Soon they made it back to the SUV and switched to it before hitting the road and heading towards his house.

    Keros had noticed her behavior. While his thoughts were expectedly chaotic, he was still able to maintain some level of awareness of his immediate surrounding. He knew from her expressions that she had many questions and not knowing the answer was irking her, but she couldn't be the one to start the conversation. Maybe he should. Maybe speaking with her would calm him enough to organize his thoughts before he made it home.

    "Slow down... please." Keros said while turning to look out of the passenger window

    This time Aiyanna was driving, and Keros was sitting in the passenger seat. Keros watched as the surroundings passed at a slower speed. She had slowed down considerably

    "You've been glancing at me from your peripheral vision since we left the barracks... if you have questions, then ask them." he said before turning to look at her.

    She didn't hesitate and immediately blurted out the first thing on her mind

    "Why did you want to slow down?"

    "I'm not looking forward to reaching home.. I need to gather my thoughts at the very least. The more time i have to do that the better." he replied flatly

    "What is the Captain to you?"

    "My godfather... I call him uncle Rod." Keros replied, again flatly.

    She paused, realizing that she had been rapid-firing questions at him. She had almost blurted out the next question but since it was a sensitive subject and had to rethink if she should ask it. Eventually, the desire to know outweighed her reservations and she asked with a gentle tone.

    "What relationship did you have with the fallen warriors?"

    Silence ensued for quite some time. It seemed as though Keros wouldn't answer her question. That would be understandable, however, he eventually replied.

    "They were my parents. I am their son."

    She was stunned for a moment. That made sense, why hadn't she put two and two together and figure that out on her own? Instead, she had to ask such a sensitive question. She knew Lieutenant Jack, and she knew Jessica. She only knew their first names and nothing else about their lives outside of the military. She was unaware that they had a son. She admired them greatly though. While she didn't know much about them, she knew they were strong and kind. They treated her with respect and gave her small pointers on how to grow stronger. When she heard of their deaths she was saddened, by both losing people she considered friends and by losing strong and brave warriors.

    How must Keros feel? He was forced to come and see his parents like that, without any prior warning, and at such a young age. She felt guilty for being the one to bring him to the barracks, even though she hadn't known the reason before doing so... Now he was being sent home to be alone after such an experience. How thoughtless, and brutal.

    "I'm sorry. I didn't realize... They were amazing people." She said solemnly

    "It's okay. Yes, they were." Keros replied

    she paused for a moment before speaking again

    "Will you be okay at home, alone? You can stay at the barracks or i can take you to family."

    "That's okay. I still need to explain things to my sister. Thank you for your concern."

    She froze up. 'That's right!' she thought. He mentioned that he had a little sister when she was picking him up from class. She had completely forgotten about that fact. He was going to be the one to tell her about her parents? He was only 12 or 13, yet it was left to him to explain death to a girl younger than him? Surely not. Maybe she should step in and be the one to break the news.

    "That is a big burden to put on to your shoulders. You shouldn't have to bear that burden... I'll tell your sister!" She said with a sympathetic voice

    "No. Again thank you, but she should hear it from me. I can't accept her hearing about this from a stranger." Keros replied with a firm, resolute tone.

    "Then I will come with you to give you both support. That should be fine right?" she asked

    "Sure." he responded.

    They drove the rest of the way mostly in silence, only occasionally speaking about less tragic topics. It took quite a long time to eventually reach their stop since the stronghold was big and they had reduced their speed earlier. It would be difficult to drive directly to Keros' house because the streets were filled with pedestrians, which would slow them down more than if they just walked. The only reason for someone to drive through these crowded streets was for comfort, or to show off.

    They both exited the SUV and Aiyanna followed behind Keros. He led her through the street, however, he wasn't headed directly home. He went to the southwest and entered an electronic shop. Aiyanna was confused but didn't question it.

    "Ole Frank." Keros called out as he made his way around the clutter.

    The same man who had sold him his comm link appeared from the room behind the counter

    "Oh, my friend Keros! Have you come for some accessories or upgrades?" Ole Frank said with enthusiasm

    "Not today. I need another comm link." Keros replied

    "What, why? The comm link i sold you before should still work perfectly! Do you dislike it?" Ole Frank could see the comm link on Keros' wrist and it didn't look damaged in any way.

    "It's not for me. Someone else needs one. I don't have her ID with me, so I'll bring her by tomorrow to get her ID Chip. I just want to get the comm link tonight since i won't have much time tomorrow." Keros replied, trying to be as concise as possible

    "I understand! Give me some details about her so I can present the best fit." Ole Frank said, returning to his enthusiastic tone

    Keros gave Ole Frank the basic information he needed such as her size so that he could pick out a comm link that would fit her while also accounting for her growth. Ole Frank went to the back and came out with a comm link. He knew Keros would accept his suggestion. The comm link cost 3,800 credits and Keros paid with some of the money that his parents had left.

    Keros said waved back to Ole Frank as he left the store with Aiyanna in tow.

    This time they headed toward his home, but when they were close they made another stop. Keros hadn't eaten since lunch that day, and it was already late. He decided to grab some food from a street vendor. He bought food for himself and Aiyanna, as well as Catherine and Booker. Aiyanna tried to refuse but Keros insisted as a thank you. He assumed Booker would still be with his sister since Keros' had been abruptly taken from class. They continued on their way and soon made it to Keros' home.

    -

    "Where is Keros? What is keeping him so long?!" Catherine asked with an annoyed and worried tone

    "I don't know. Maybe his performances at the exams were noticed and he is being scouted by the military?" Booker mused. He was a bit worried himself, but wanted to ease Catherines' worries.

    "Would that take so long though? It's been so long already!" she continued to complain

    "Well, that depends. If they decided to put him through a physical examination then they likely took him to a military exam center. Who knows which one they would take him to, and some of them are pretty far. If that's the case, then it could take a long time. Either way, I'm sure he will be home soon!" Booker said with a smile

    Catherine wasn't satisfied with his guess, but she accepted it since she didn't have a better guess. Keros had been gone for a long time and they hadn't been given any information when he was taken. They hadn't heard any news since, and Booker wasn't getting a response to his messages sent to Keros. Hopefully, everything was okay.

    Surprisingly, they heard a sound from the electronic lock on the front door. The door was opened and Keros walked in followed by a woman dressed in a military uniform. He flashed a bright smile at both of them and held up a bag

    "Who's hungry?" He asked

    "Where have you been?! What happened?" Catherine immediately bombarded him with questions

    "I'll explain everything but first, let's eat! I got both of your favorites." Keros said as he waved the bag before introducing Aiyanna

    Catherine and Booker were both impatient and wanted to know right away, but if Keros promised to explain after they ate then they felt they could wait. Besides they were really hungry! They hadn't eaten yet due to their worry.

    They all went to the kitchen and sat at the table. The table was rectangular, with six chairs around it. Two on each of the longer sides, and one on each of the ends. The ones on the ends were their parent's chairs, and they always sat there when they were in the kitchen. No one sat in their parent's chairs. Keros was in a sensitive state and noticing this fact gave him some solace.

    'That's how it should be' he thought to himself. The chairs were insignificant normally. They were just places to rest while you ate or talked. However, now that his parents were gone it seemed like such an important fact that these chairs were where his parents always sat. He took it as a form of respect that no would ever sit in those chairs even though they would always be there.

    They ate slowly. They were too busy in conversation. The atmosphere was bright and joyful, as it usually was when they were together. Aiyanna was surprised by Keros's smiles and laughter. It was hard to hide pain and sadness, but perhaps he felt he had to. Maybe he had lost his resolve to tell his sister when he saw her. She would wait, and if that was the case then she would take it upon herself to break the news.

    After some time they all finished eating. The atmosphere slowly calmed. Catherine and Booker hadn't forgotten that he promised to explain things, so they mentioned it and silently waited. Keros didn't immediately begin, instead, he took some time to look around the table.

    Aiyanna sat to his right. Catherine was sat directly across the table from him, with Booker on her left.

    He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again they were incredibly clear and firm. He stared directly into his sister's eyes and spoke.

    "It was about mom and dad." He said with a gentle and soft voice

    Catherine's demeanor slowly changed. Their parents always just showed up back at home, so why would Keros be taken by someone from the military over their parents.

    "W-what happened?" Catherine asked in a concerned tone

    Keros kept his gaze locked onto Catherine. He could see her worries and fears build. He had to continue, even though he didn't want to speak the next words.

    "Catherine... They died." Keros said quietly

    He watched as Catherine pupils dilated, and her eyes quickly glossed over.

    "N-no. No, that's not true." Catherine said with a quivering voice. She didn't want to believe it, though she knew Keros wouldn't joke about something like this

    "It is, Catherine. I saw them. I was even there when dad passed." Keros responded to her disbelief

    she began to shake uncontrollably. Tears quickly flowed out and she began to sob. She didn't want it to be true. She wanted it to be a lie, but the woman from the military hadn't refuted Keros. That was enough for her to understand that he was telling the truth. She cried for a short time before speaking.

    "You were taken to see them? Dad was still alive and you got to see him? Why wasn't I taken too?! Why didn't I get to see him before he died?!" Her voice was rising, her tone held indignation mixed with sorrow and sobs.

    "I told them not to bring you." Keros said immediately.

    Aiyanna was stunned, though she didn't let it show. That was a lie! She was instructed to bring Keros Vaolair, alone, to the squad four barracks. She had been reminded in the car about Keros specifically asking 'will my little sister be coming?'. She didn't understand why he would lie to his sister about this.

    "WHY?!" Catherine screamed

    "They told me about mom and dad's condition, and I didn't think you could handle seeing them like that. After seeing it for myself, I'm sure you couldn't handle seeing them." Keros responded flatly, as that was the only way he could mask his sorrow.

    Keros lied because he knew the truth. Uncle Rod had told him after the ritual that it was Jack that requested for Keros to be brought to him, and Keros only. He knew his father well enough to understand that he was also trying to shield Catherine from the sight, just like he had by requesting the cremation to happen sooner. He couldn't bear the thought that Catherine might blame their father and misunderstand his intentions. He couldn't accept the fact that she would feel hurt by their father's final actions. So he chose to take the blame instead.

    "B-BUT THAT WASN'T FOR YOU TO DECIDE! I COULD HAVE TALKED TO HIM! I COULD HAVE SAID GOODBYE!" She yelled, her voice hoarse.

    Her sobs turned into bawling. Her face was contorted and bright red, and she had snot coming out of her nose. She occasionally choked on her rapid breaths.

    Beside her, Booker had a shocked and stunned expression. Tears had filled his eyes too and were flowing down his cheeks. His Uncle and aunty were gone? They weren't blood relatives, but he grew up seeing them often. He was deeply saddened by their deaths, and even more upset that his best friend had just lost his parents. It was unfair!

    "You're right... Still, I think I made the right decision." Keros said lightly

    "YOU DIDN'T!!! H-HOW COULD YOU?! I HATE YOU!" Catherine screamed out as she quickly got up, kicking her chair over with a loud bang before she rushed to her room and slammed the door. He crying could still be heard from her room.

    Keros, Booker, and Aiyanna sat in silence. It was difficult to find something to say. No words could soothe such pain.

    After a short time, Keros stood up and walked around the table. He picked up Catherine's chair and slid it back into position. He was gripping the chair tightly. He stood, regulating his breath for a moment before leaving the room. A light knock was heard before Keros spoke

    "I know you're upset Catherine. I know it hurts that they are gone. I know that I did something terrible by keeping you from seeing them. I know that my actions aren't something that can be forgiven. I just want you to know that I did it with the best intentions for you and that I'll be here when you're ready to talk." His voice echoed throughout the house. While his voice seemed calm, anyone could hear the pain hidden within.

    His footsteps were heard, as they slowly became quieter. The sound of a door opening and shutting was heard.

    Booker didn't follow. He wanted to help console his friend but he didn't know what to say. He felt that words would be pointless right now, and the best thing he could do was be here when Keros needed to vent. So he would stay as long as it took. He would be here for Keros and Catherine. He brought his arm up and typed on it for a second, explaining briefly to his parents why he would be staying at Keros' tonight. They were good friends with Jack and Jessica too and he felt they should know. He would have to explain either way if he wanted to stay.

    Aiyanna also sat in the kitchen with Booker for awhile. She thought about what just happened, and was relieved that she hadn't been the one to break the news. She felt guilty for feeling that way, but it was hard for her even watch as Catherine broke down. The longer she thought about the sight the more she wondered why he had said certain things. He could have omitted some things and made it easier on himself. The only thing she believed he lied about only made things worse. It began to irritate her. Didn't he know that he was only making things worse? Eventually, she couldn't handle it anymore and had to find Keros to sate her curiosity. That's not to say that she isn't disciplined enough to control herself, but after the car ride with him, she became more comfortable and felt she could speak freely with Keros.

    She asked Booker where Keros had gone, and Booker told her that he believed that Keros went to the backyard.

    She stood up and walked down the hall to the door. She opened the door and walked through and closed it behind her. Keros was standing on the right side of the backyard, with his back to her. His head was tilted upward as if he was gazing at the night sky. his back was straight, and his arms were at his sides. He was rolling something between his fingers in his right hand.


    -Authors Note-

    It's pretty difficult to read my own work, especially the early chapters. I think that I've improved a lot and I also think that the later chapters show that. Hopefully, you all as the readers can stick with me through the rough start.
    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 13:

    Aiyanna spoke

    "Why did you handle it that way?" She asked

    Keros didn't respond and just kept staring toward the sky.

    Aiyanna walked closer and after a moment she asked again.

    "How do you think I should have handled it?" He asked lightly in response

    "You could have kept the part about your father being alive when you saw him to yourself." She began with her first observation

    Keros sighed.

    "I could have, but she deserved to know. I got to speak with him before he passed, and she didn't. I feel I owed her the truth even if it would upset her. Besides, it's better she learns this from me now and not from someone else later." Keros replied

    Aiyannas' eyebrows furrowed. He felt like he needed to be honest with her about this, but lied to her right after? What a hypocrite!

    "So you hurt your sister with the truth and justify it by claiming you 'owed her', and then decide to hurt her by lying to her right after? That's bullshit." Aiyanna said with an angry tone. She had lost respect for Keros. She felt that he had unnecessarily hurt his sister with his hypocrisy.

    "What do you know?" Keros replied with a light mocking chuckle.

    Aiyanna grew more irritated

    "I know that your sister just had to hear that her parents died, and you only made it worse with your hypocritical methods!" Aiyanna rebuked him.

    He remained silent. Which irritated her just as much as if he tried to refute her. She found herself finding more and more faults with Keros as her anger grew. Her mind raced and made wild opinions about him in seconds. He was insensitive with how he handled the situation with his sister and likely wasn't genuine with what he said in the hall. He acted far too calm over his parents' deaths and seemed to care very little. He was even able to laugh and joke at dinner! He had acted well enough to deceive her during the car ride, but now she saw right through him! She ignored the consequences and began to speak her mind.

    "Do you even care? Do you care about anything?" She said as her voice rose slightly.

    Keros didn't respond. Aiyanna wouldn't accept this and stepped forward, placing her hand on his shoulder and pulling back so he would have to face her. He spun easily.

    Aiyanna was shocked by what she saw. Tears were streaming down his face. His eyes were red and puffy which showed that he had likely been crying since before she even got up from the table. His face displayed deep grief and exhaustion. He was staring directly into her eyes now, and she felt as though she was plunged into ice water from the emotions she saw within the depths of his blue eyes. The pain, heartache, and regret in those eyes was haunting. It was as if she could see his soul screaming out within his eyes.

    She realized she had been mistaken. He had been acting, that was for sure, but he wasn't acting upset. He had been acting calm and collected. He had put on a strong facade the entire time to hide the pain he was feeling. He had kept everything in from the beginning and only lost control of it when he was alone. Even now he was doing everything he could to keep it bottled up within himself, only allowing a few tears and emotions to escape onto his face.

    Keros withdrew his gaze and directed it toward the night sky once again. speaking out.

    "Of course I do. My parents' deaths is the worst thing that has ever happened in my life. I don't want my sister to have to go through this, but I can't shield her from it. I can just be honest and support her until she can accept it." Keros paused and sighed before continuing

    "You're right, I did lie. I lied because the truth would have hurt her far more." Keros didn't elaborate but continued on

    "I'm not perfect. I don't know what I'm doing, and I'm just taking it as it comes. I've accepted that, and I'll just learn from my mistakes." Keros said before going silent.

    Aiyanna felt terrible. She had let her ignorance grow into irritation, and irritation grow into anger. She had jumped to conclusions and thought terrible things about Keros. She felt ashamed of herself.

    "I-I'm sorry. I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions." she said quietly

    Keros turned his gaze back to her. 'I wonder if that's how I looked when I lashed out at dad.' He thought. That night that he had argued with his father about his training had been on his mind all day. He fully understood now why his father pushed him so hard, and it pained him to think about how he acted that night. He lashed out with anger due to his ignorance, and the calm demeanor his father had. Now, Aiyanna had done the same thing. It almost mirrored the situation perfectly. He had even questioned if his father cared. He understood how she felt.

    "It's okay. No one is perfect, and it's easy to get ahead of ourselves sometimes. Besides, I remember when I acted the same way with my dad." Keros said lightly. If his father had been able to forgive him, then Keros could forgive her.

    Aiyanna still felt ashamed. She held herself to a high standard and planned to learn from her mistake. Even considering his forgiveness, she was a soldier and should have displayed better discipline. She had become too comfortable and allowed that to influence her actions.

    "Thank you... I wanted to stay and support you, but I guess I've messed that up pretty bad. I don't think I'm fit for doing so anymore though, so I'll see myself out." Aiyanna said with a blush before stepping to the door and opening it.

    "I'm sorry for your loss Keros." She said as she walked in and closed the door.

    She said goodbye to Booker when she passed the kitchen and left the house.

    -

    Keros sat in the living room with Booker. He had just recently come back inside. It had been a few hours now since his sister had locked herself in her room.

    Keros and Booker talked. Keros explained everything, even the truth that he hid with the lie. He planned on taking that lie to the grave with him, but he trusted Booker fully and knew he would never tell a soul. They talked about the wounds on his parents and how they seemed weird, and they took guesses at what inflicted the wounds. Booker vowed that he would follow Keros in his revenge, even if it cost him his life. They even spent some time talking about the memories they had of his parents.

    Keros told him about his plans. That he wouldn't be continuing school, would be joining a mercenary group, and would be moving to live with his uncle Rod. He also told him that Catherine would be staying with their aunt for a while. At first, Booker tried to persuade Keros to come to live with him and continue school, but when he found out Keros was determined on his plans Booker tried to follow him. Keros managed to convince him to stay at home and continue school with the promise of teaming up after they were both sixteen.

    Booker proposed that they become sworn brothers and Keros agreed. They held an impromptu ceremony. The cut their hands and clasped them with each other while they recited an oath swearing to always have each other's back regardless of the situation. To them, the ceremony simply reinforced the bond that they already had.

    By the time they finished talking and holding the ceremony, it was already 7:30.

    -

    Aiyanna made it back to the military base and immediately headed for the squad four barracks. She is a soldier in the army, the main branch of the military. She would be assigned on missions outside of the stronghold and work with her troop. However, when she was within the stronghold she was assigned to work with spec-ops squad four and reported to Captain Rodney.

    When she made it to the barracks she went to the door that lead into the captain's office. She stood before the door, hesitant, before she collected her emotions and knocked.

    "Come in." Captain Rodney called out through the door.

    Aiyanna entered and saluted

    "At ease. what do you need?" Captain Rodney asked

    "I'm here to make a report about my assignment." Aiyanna said

    "What could there be to report? All you had to do was take the kid home." Captain Rodney said with a light laugh

    "I made a mistake Sir." she said while avoiding his gaze

    She explained what happened from the moment she entered the house. How they had a joyful dinner, how Keros broke the news to Catherine, how he lied to Catherine, and what he said in the hall. She then explained how she confronted Keros, how she grew irritated and the things that made her grow irritated, and the things she said to him. She even included his response to her outburst. When she finished, she waited and prepared to be rebuked and punished.

    Captain Rodney started chuckling. It didn't last very long but, it was unexpected.

    "That brat. He'll grow into a good man!" he bellowed without regard to those that might be sleeping

    "S-sir?" Aiyanna was confused.

    "Tell me something. Did he explain his reason for lying?" Captain Rodney asked as he stood up and went to a cabinet, pulling out a bottle of liquor before returning to his seat.

    "No sir. He just said the truth would be worse." she replied.

    "Hm, Only Keros and I know the truth. I assume the only reason he didn't tell you is that he doesn't know you well enough to trust you to keep it a secret. I on the other hand know you will keep it to yourself, so I'll tell you to clear up your confusion." Captain Rodney said as he twisted the cap off the bottle and poured a glass for himself, before taking a sip.

    "Jack, Keros' Father, was the one who requested that Keros be brought here to see him before he passed... Only Keros." he said before downing his glass and pouring another

    "Why? Wouldn't he want to see his daughter too?" She asked, still confused.

    "Of course he wanted to see her, but do you think she could have stomached the sight of seeing them? He didn't want her to have to see her parents in such a terrible condition."

    "Okay, that makes sense but I'm still confused. Why did Keros lie to her about that?" she asked

    Captain Rodney sighed

    "I think its because he didn't want her to feel hurt that her father didn't want to see her. He didn't want it to tarnish the memory she has of her father. Because even though she might have understood the reason, she probably wouldn't be able to accept it... He was protecting both of them in a way." he down another glass. it would be difficult to determine how he felt right now

    "I see." Aiyanna felt like she could understand, and maybe even sympathize with the decision to lie.

    Captain Rodney pushed his glass aside and leaned on his desk, resting his elbows and crossing his fingers

    "Why did you report this? Were you afraid that Keros would inform me of it tomorrow?" he asked

    "No sir. I just feel ashamed of the way I acted and represented the military." she responded

    "Even after you followed him home for moral support when he informed his sister? Even after forgave you for how you acted, you're still ashamed?" He asked with an eyebrow raised.

    "Yes, sir." She replied

    "Alright, then to absolve you of your shame you can clean the barracks until Noon. That will be your punishment for your mistake." he said while studying her reaction

    she sighed before nodding. Cleaning the barracks as a punishment was monotonous but other than that it could barely be considered a punishment in her opinion.

    "Sure what you said to Keros was extremely brash considering the circumstances, but the fact that you felt so strongly about the matter to breach your discipline shows just how much you care about the people around you. I agree you should feel bad for how you acted, but don't beat yourself up over it. Learn from it and move on." he said before dismissing her

    -

    *knock knock*

    Keros knocked on his sister's door

    "Catherine.."

    there was no response so he knocked again, and he kept knocking until he heard one.

    "Go away." a tired voice sounded from within

    "You need to get ready. At 9:00 someone will pick us up and take us to the funeral." Keros said softly.

    he didn't get a response, but he heard some movement so he figured she must be getting ready. He took a quick shower and returned to his room to get dressed. He wore his best dress clothes and styled his hair meticulously. When he had finished he went to the living room to wait. His sister came out shortly after wearing a floral dress that had daisies on it. Her eyes looked dull, and there was a gloomy atmosphere surrounding her.

    "you look nice. The dress was a good choice." Keros said. Their parents nicknamed her daisy, and he felt this was a simple way of respecting and remembering them.

    Soon there was a knock at the door. It was the same bald man that was with Aiyanna yesterday. Keros and Catherine followed him out, and Keros told him that they needed to visit a shop nearby before they leave the district. Keros led them to the electronic shop and told Catherine to give Ole Frank her ID badge. He made the ID chip and brought it to the counter along with the commlink Keros had paid for last night. He demonstrated how to install the chip before handing the commlink to Catherine. Keros thanked him, before setting out with Catherine and the bald man.

    The car ride to the military base was long and quiet. When they arrived, the man escorted them to squad fours barracks before departing

    Keros led Catherine inside and asked some of the squad members where the Captain was. He was directed to a door on the left. He knocked and entered after he heard a response. Inside uncle Rod sat behind a desk with the container that held his parent's ashes resting on it. He gave a light smile and they had a short chat.

    He consoled Catherine and expressed his condolences before telling her about the container and how he held their parent's remains. Catherine broke out in tears again. Keros and uncle Rod took turns consoling her for a while before leaving the room to allow her some privacy with her parents.

    They had a seat in the lounging area and entered a conversation. The situation yesterday managed to jump-start the friendship between the two, and they got along well. Most of their conversation was about the future and what Keros' goals were, but some of it was about Aiyanna. Keros had a few the time he had spent with her yesterday.

    Uncle Rod told him that Aiyanna is seventeen years old and joined that she joined the military right out of school. Two months ago she applied to join the Special Operations sector specifically squad four. Likely because her father had been a part of this squad at one time, and she was following in his footsteps.

    "You haven't accepted her yet?" Keros asked

    "I accepted her as a probationer, but she's still too young." uncle Rod replied

    "Too young? I thought capability was more important than age." Keros said, almost mockingly

    "Of course age isn't a significant factor, as long as you're an adult you can join the Special Operations. What I meant by that is to say that she is too weak and inexperienced. It's extremely rare for someone as young as her to have the strength experience needed to work well in a small unit. It's even harder to get that experience in her current troop." Uncle Rod explained

    Keros was thinking about uncle Rod's answer when he saw something odd. Aiyanna walked out of a room with a toothbrush and a bucket full of soapy water.

    "Speaking of Aiyanna... What is she doing?" Keros asked with a furrowed brow.

    "Oh, she is cleaning the barracks with a toothbrush as punishment for how she treated you last night." Uncle Rod said nonchalantly

    Keros was baffled. she told him about last night? It must have affected her quite a bit for her to mention it. Why was she being punished over it though? Surely it was a forgivable mistake considering the thought behind it.

    "You seriously gave her punishment for that?" Keros asked with irritation.

    "Yes. She was out of line." Uncle Rod said as he narrowed his eyes

    "She just spoke up when she thought I had intentionally hurt my sister. Sure she made a mistake, but her heart was in the right place. I don't think that deserves such a humiliating punishment." Keros said, his voice getting firmer and louder.

    "She negatively represented squad four. Squad fours reputation is important and I expect the members to act with more class than that." Uncle Rod replied, matching Keros' tone

    "Screw class! You're warriors, not politicians! You fight with your bodies, not your words!" Keros was had almost grown to a yell by this point.

    The squad members in the vicinity heard the commotion and watched with rapt attention

    "Being refined is an important part of being in the military brat! Even warriors need a certain level of sophistication or they will drag the squads' reputation down!" Uncle Rod refuted, once again matching Keros

    "Your reputation should be built on your accomplishments in battle! If you need fancy words to compensate then your reputation isn't worth squat old man!" Keros bellowed and stood up

    "Watch how you speak to me! I am a captain in the military and your godfather! Show some respect!" Again uncle Rod matched Keros in every way.

    The team members thought it was a little comical at first, but it seemed to be getting out of hand quickly.

    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 14:

    The two faced off against one another. Their faces showed signs of anger and their muscles were tense.

    Uncle Rod seemed serious and ready to start brawling at any point. He didn't seem to care that his opponent was only twelve years old, he wouldn't be disrespected in such a manner.

    Keros was just as serious. He believed that the situation was handled poorly, and nothing uncle Rod had said so far had changed his mind. He wasn't just going to let the matter go. Someone was being humiliated for trying to do what was right and help him. If fighting uncle Rod would be his consequences for standing up for that person, then so be it.

    The tension built rapidly

    "You think that just because you're my godson that you can influence the way I run my team? Don't be mistaken brat, family or not I won't be disrespected by anyone. I've been a Captain for years and I know far more about being a leader than a punk who hasn't even grown hair yet." Uncle Rod said with ridicule on his face

    "This has nothing to do with you being my godfather. It's about what I believe to be right! I won't accept you humiliating Aiyanna for trying to help me! Maybe its time for an old dog to learn some new things if you think humiliating your subordinates is okay!" Keros replied with a mocking sneer.

    Uncle Rods' eye twitched. Did this punk just call him a dog? and what was with calling him old? He wasn't old at all! Damn, this brat needs to be taught some respect! Originally he had been trying to see how far Keros would go for something he believed. He felt satisfied and was about to explain the situation, but he decided to release his frustrations instead. He could explain after.

    "Come teach me then, brat!" Uncle Rod said as he took action

    He stepped in and struck out with his fist.

    Keros had anticipated that they might fight, so he had prepared himself. Even so, he could barely get his guard up in time. The fist struck his arms with incredible force, sending him tumbling backward as pain shot through his arms. He stopped himself from tumbling and immediately looked at uncle Rod, noticing he wasn't advancing but instead wore a condescending grin. Keros had some time to organize his thoughts.

    'He didn't use qi.' Keros thought. He had read a bit of the book his father had left for him. He learned that internal energy was called Qi, and there were a few methods to sense when it was used. The most simple method was to notice the differences when struck by an attack. Unfortunately, this crappy method was the only one he could use right now.

    'Of course, he would hold back, since he isn't trying to kill me.' regardless though, Keros knew he held back more than his Qi. Uncle Rods' strike was incredibly powerful, but there was no way that he was even close to his bodily limit. Even though that was the case, Keros knew that he would suffer greatly if he didn't concede here.

    Uncle Rod was giving him a chance to back out. As long as Keros didn't retaliate, this could be solved with words.

    Keros wouldn't take that chance. It had already escalated to this point and he wasn't going to be a coward. This would be the consequence of standing up for what he cared about, and he would take it like a man.

    Keros looked down at his arms. They were still aching. He released the straps to his commlink and slid it away since he didn't want it to get damaged in the fight. He took his dress jacket off and unbuttoned the cuffs of his dress shirt before rolling his sleeves up. He took his stance and stared at uncle Rod. He was ready.

    'This brat... Fine, let's see what you've got." Uncle Rod thought to himself before advancing quickly, closing the gap and throwing another punch.

    Keros was ready for it and had a small grasp of the speed. it wasn't smart to keep taking these hits, if he did he would never get a chance to retaliate. In that case, he would dodge!

    Keros stepped forward with his left leg and bent his knee, tilting his body forward a bit, shifting his upper body down and forward to duck the punch. He felt the punch graze his hair, it had been close! Now was his chance though!

    He pushed off with his right leg, twisted his torso, and brought his fist up into uncle Rod's exposed chest. When his fist impacted he felt like he had punched a brick wall. It had been a good tactic and was executed beautifully, but his opponent was just too durable.

    Keros felt a surge of pain in his stomach and a rising urge to vomit. He had just been struck in the stomach by a knee from uncle Rod, but his troubles were just beginning. Before he had time to process the knee he felt the arm that he had just dodged wrap around him. With a slight spin, Keros was tossed out and slammed into a nearby wall.

    Keros knew he had to recover quickly. He had allowed the pain from being kneed stun him and that gave his opponent another attack. He couldn't make that mistake again. He scrunched his face and endured the pain coming from his body as he pushed himself off the ground and to his feet. An attack was already headed in his direction, but at least this time he would see it coming. He threw up a hasty guard and blocked the right kick aiming at his ribs.

    once again he was sent tumbling with a sharp pain in his arm. He shot up to his feet using the momentum. This allowed him to get up quickly, but he still had to take the time to stop stumbling. Again by the time, he readied himself another attack was headed his way. However, this time he had been faster! He was slowly getting better at blocking these strikes and recovering from them!

    This continued for a while. Keros kept getting hit and tossed around. The team members in the room would have to quickly move out of the way to avoid getting mixed up in it. The furniture in the room was being knocked around as the two fought. they even broke a table and scattered the things on top of it around the room.

    'Finally.' Keros thought. He had finally improved enough that he could fully recover after most strikes and prevent himself from getting hit for free. Unfortunately, he had paid quite the price to get to this point. His lip was busted, he had a cut on his arm from slamming into the table, and his left eye was slowly starting to swell.

    'Now, maybe I can get in another hit.' he would be able to give uncle Rod another attack. However what would be effective? If he wanted to do some damage he would have to either hit somewhere vulnerable, or he needed to try something different. Ground game? Uncle Rod was too strong and would just overpower him to break free from a submission technique.

    'What do I have that will work against a stronger opponent? WAIT'. That's right! he knew a judo technique that he could use. They wouldn't do much damage and didn't have a good follow up, but they would work since uncle Rod wasn't taking this fight very seriously. He might be able to at least put uncle rod on his back. He would improvise at that point.

    Uncle Rod hadn't been using any techniques and relied purely on his stronger body to dominate the fight. He had to hold back so he didn't seriously injure Keros and he didn't think Keros could pose any threat to him.

    When the next attack came, Keros executed his plan. He dodged the right punch that uncle Rod had thrown by moving in and to the right, grabbed the extended arm with his left hand pulling it close, and twisted his body. He wrapped his right arm around uncle Rods' head and twisted his lower body before extending his right leg and sweeping back at uncle Rod's legs while pulling him forward.

    In one fluid motion, Keros used leverage to toss uncle Rod to the ground.

    The spectators were shocked. They hadn't expected Keros to be able to get the better of the captain. Even if he wasn't being serious the captain was still ridiculously strong, and Keros hadn't even begun cultivation yet! The toss wouldn't do any damage to the captain, but it was impressive none the less.

    Keros was a bit stunned himself. Truthfully he didn't expect his plan to work. All it would have taken was for uncle Rod to exert a bit more effort and he could have prevented it. He wouldn't miss this chance though, so he immediately went for an armbar. This was the best thing he could think of right now.

    Uncle Rod was stunned too. He hadn't expected the kid to use a judo throw. It was a good idea! Though it wouldn't hurt him at all, it would give Keros a bit of breathing room and give him the upper hand for the moment. Now the kid was going for an armbar. If he kept holding back and messing around so much then the kid had a chance to win the fight here! He would have to let loose a bit, after all, he couldn't let the kid win. As long as the kid kept fighting, so would he.

    Uncle Rod became a bit more serious. He displayed greater strength, and immediately twisted his body. Keros already had a firm grasp on his arm and his legs were locked in. Uncle Rod hadn't allowed him to pull his arm in though. Uncle Rod got his feet under him and stood up, lifting Keros with him.

    Keros' face was twisted with effort. He was pulling as hard as he could to try and extend uncle Rod's arm even though he had already been lifted off the ground.

    Uncle Rod lifted Keros a bit higher and slammed him down on a nearby table. The table immediately split, and they both fell through it, landing hard on the concrete floor.

    Keros' grip loosened as he struggled to catch his breath. His back was hurting pretty bad right now. Luckily he had been slammed into the table, which lowered the overall damage he sustained. Had he been slammed into the concrete from that height, and with that much strength... He shuddered at the thought.

    The spectators watched with wide eyes. That was pretty intense. It wasn't over yet though! In just a moment the captain shot to his feet and had already pulled Keros up by his shirt. Next, the two started trading blows. Keros wasn't being knocked away anymore because the captain had a grip on his shirt.

    'Screw it!' Keros thought. He was going to just start throwing strikes and let his instincts take over!

    It wasn't good for him to be locked down like this. He didn't have the time to plan things out as he had before. He was struggling to block because of the grasp uncle Rod had on him. His opponent was so much stronger than him and had suddenly become stronger. Uncle Rod had become more serious and was squashing any tactics Keros tried to use. His only option was to clear his mind and just focus on retaliating.

    It wasn't long before Keros was at his limits. He was fatigued and his body was aching. He felt similar to when he had brawled Trent 9 months ago. However this time his opponent was still at peak condition, and none of Keros' strikes had an effect. If they kept up Keros would lose consciousness and this stubborn captain would have won so without any repercussion!

    Keros swiftly lifted his leg and kneed, striking uncle Rod in the groin with all the strength he could muster.

    'Not very honorable, but you know what? Neither is fighting a kid!' Keros thought. This was the last move he could think of and while he felt bad using it, he wasn't going to let uncle Rod get off without any pain. He had suffered too much to let that happen!

    Uncle Rod grunted, his face turning a bit red very quickly. It hurt like crazy! Nurturing your body with external energy definitely increased the durability of one's body, but only so much could be done and certain places were still pretty vulnerable. While the knee wouldn't have any lasting damage, it did cause quite a bit of pain. It also served to infuriate uncle Rod. In anger uncle Rod retaliated harder than he should have.

    His right arm swung out at incredible speed and his open hand struck Keros on the face. Uncle Rod had released Keros' shirt when he was kneed, so when the Slap hit him Keros went flying.

    Keros' feet lifted off the ground and he flew a few feet away before they touched again. He fell to the ground and the momentum caused him to slide a few more feet.

    His eyes were unclear and his thoughts erratic. The slap had been brutal for him and was far more painful than any of the punches before it. He tasted metallic. However, the largest blow from the strike was mental. He had only been slapped by an open hand one other time. The time he argued with his father. The scene replayed in his mind over and over again in only moments. He was flooded with the same emotions he felt at that time, and he even thought he could feel the slap from his father. He hated the memory of that day and the emotions he had felt. He wanted to forget it... Soon it stopped, but his thoughts remained erratic. He realized something.

    'I. HATE. IT!' Keros thought. Being slapped felt humiliating, and reminded him of his only regret. He felt that it was a level of disrespect that cut into his soul. He could accept if his parents slapped him, if his sister did, or even if the woman he loved did. Because to him, it meant something different coming from someone you loved so much. However, he couldn't accept being slapped by anyone else. Never again would he allow it to happen, and if it did he would crush the person who did it.

    -

    Aiyanna left the building to dump out the dirty water, and filled it up with clean water and added soap. She took a moment to shake her hands. She had been cleaning since late last night and her hands had started to tense up from scrubbing with the toothbrush. Her wrists and knees ached a bit too from scrubbing the floor. She had already cleaned most of the common areas, and next, she would be cleaning the bathrooms. She would be cleaning for a good portion of the day before she finished.

    She decided it would be a decent time to take a break and sat on a nearby bench. She had seen Keros talking to Captain Rodney, and she wasn't eager to go back in yet. She still felt embarrassed about last night and didn't want to draw his attention when she passed through the lounge area. Besides, it's not like she was excited to scrub toilets.

    The door opened and she saw Catherine come out.

    'why is she coming out here?' Aiyanna thought. Shew knew Catherine would be coming early today to see her parents ashes. She didn't think that Catherine would be done so soon.

    "Catherine. how are you?" Aiyanna called out to her.

    Catherine looked over, seeing the familiar face, she walked over and took a seat on the bench beside her. She had puffy red eyes from crying, and her cheeks were still wet.

    "I'm sad. I don't want to believe it." Catherine said in a quiet voice.

    "I'm sorry that they are gone. They were always nice to me and I thought highly of them. They were good people." Aiyanna said with a sigh. She reached over and gently rubbed Catherines' back to comfort her.

    "They were great. I just wish I could have seen them one last time." Catherine said as she began crying again

    Aiyanna didn't know what to say to truly comfort her over the loss of her parents. She hadn't experienced the same loss that Catherine had. Maybe she could help mend the relationship between Catherine and Keros though since she understood the situation now. That would certainly help them both, as well as herself.

    "Do you blame Keros... For not getting to see them?" Aiyanna asked.

    "Yea... It's not fair! He got to see them... He got the chance to say goodbye!" She said with a tinge of anger mixed with her cries.

    "Catherine... Your parents were in really bad shape. It would have been hard for anyone to see them like that, much less their child... Maybe Keros wanted you to remember them at their best, instead of like that." Aiyanna spoke softly

    "But I could have said goodbye! I didn't get to tell them that I loved them!" Catherine replied

    "Well, you can do that now. right?" Aiyanna said

    "It's not the same!" Catherine replied

    "It's not the same, you're right, but that doesn't mean its worse. You might think that it's just a container, but I think it represents your parents... In the same way, as if you had seen them yesterday, but without the pain of seeing them in the shape they were in." Aiyanna did her best to explain her viewpoint.

    Catherine was silent. She thought for a few minutes and nodded her head. She wasn't fully convinced, but speaking her thoughts out loud would be better than bottling it up.

    "Well then, go back and tell them everything you feel!" Aiyanna smiled.

    "I-It's hard to, and it was hard to think with the loud noises," Catherine said looking down in sadness.

    "Loud noises? What do you mean?" Aiyanna asked. It had been quiet when she was there just a short time ago. Everyone was trying to stay quiet so they didn't disturb her.

    "It started to get loud, there was a bit of yelling and then I heard some banging noises. It upset me so I came out here after it started." Catherine said

    "Come on, we will find out what's going on and I'll stop it. If I can't I'll tell the captain!" Aiyanna declared.

    She would be hesitant to meddle after last night, but this situation was different. Even Captain Rodney would be angry at whoever caused a ruckus today.

    The two got up and made their way back to the building. When they entered they immediately heard scuffling and a bit of shouting. It was coming from the lounge. With a confused look, Aiyanna led the way toward the lounge, opened the door, and entered with Catherine right behind her. What they saw shocked them.

    The room was pretty big since it served as the lounge for at least twenty people. Even so, the entire room was a mess. Furniture was scattered and knocked over, and some of it was even broken. Everything that had been on the tables now littered the floor, and there was even some blood. Standing near the center of the room was Captain Rodney and Keros. Keros was in the middle of kneeing Captain Rodney in the groin.

    They watched with wide eyes. His knee struck and Captain Rodney grunted. The next thing they saw as a lightning-fast strike land on Keros' face before he went flying and ended up on the ground.

    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
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