Hearts Dawn

edited May 2020 in Original Stories
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 2020
    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 2020
    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 2020
    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 2020
    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 2020
    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
  • Chapter 15:

    They were fighting? What could have happened for things to get so serious? It had only been a few short minutes since Aiyanna had seen them having a nice conversation, yet now they were at each other's throats. The captain even seemed like he was angry. That slap was pretty heavy-handed. Was Keros ok after that?!

    Catherine in a fragile state, and while she was still upset at her brother, it pained her to see him get knocked across the room.

    Catherine and Aiyanna were stunned. Aiyanna couldn't step in because it involved the captain, and Catherine was too scared at the moment to speak up.

    They watched as laid on the ground with blood at his lips and a pained expression. Tears started to coat his unclear eyes. They watched as his expression warped and his eyes cleared. He stood up.

    The other spectators observed him. They recognized the look on his face. It resembled his face yesterday when he bellowed those words about crushing everything. Rage, arrogance, and a bit of superiority. What was up with the kid? Had the captain knocked him senseless?

    -

    Keros stared at the Captain. His mind was blank. He wasn't thinking about anything, and he was engrossed in his emotions. The trauma from the mental stress of everything had been agitated by uncle Rod's slap and caused an explosion to occur within his being. He had lost control.

    Uncle Rod returned the stare. His anger had subsided a bit, but now this kid was giving him such a look as if to say 'You're beneath me.'.

    'You haven't had enough? Fine, I'll teach you some humility!' Uncle Rod thought. He had lost his temper and used too much strength. He assumed Keros would have been done after that, but he planned on continuing. Uncle Rod seemed as if he was upset by this, but deep down he was excited.

    Keros didn't move from his position. He stood with a stance that displayed a lack of concern even though his opponent was just a few meters away. His body was angled in such a way that his left shoulder was directed at his opponent. His arms were at his sides, and his left leg was forward. His head was turned to the left so he was facing uncle Rod. He was waiting.

    Uncle Rod displayed a similar lack of concern, however, his body seemed tenser than Keros'.

    'What's with this feeling?!' Uncle Rod thought to himself. When he looked at Keros he had the impression that he was facing a beast. Not just any beast though, a King among beasts. The arrogant calm that he exuded wasn't unfamiliar to uncle Rod. He had felt it a similar feeling once before when he was younger. His troop had come across a terrifying beast, and they only left with their lives because the beast seemed to view them as nothing more than ants. Uncle Rod felt that once again today.

    He wasn't the same person he had been, and he knew his opponent. He wasn't going to back off today as he had all those years ago just because Keros had the same aura. Since Keros wanted this fight and he wasn't going to engage then uncle Rod would!

    Uncle Rod began to stride forward, and the closer he got the more guarded he became. It was a reaction when confronted by the aura Keros was giving off. One stride, two, three!

    Keros moved! His hips twisted the right, followed by his torso. His arms bent and raised as his right leg lifted off the ground. He pivoted on his left foot and swung his body the rest of the way around. His knee came up high and his right leg extended as he pressed off with his left leg. His right leg struck at uncle Rod at an incredible speed, aiming directly for his stomach.

    Turning sidekick!

    *BANG*

    The kick struck uncle Rod, who had brought his arms down to guard the kick. His feet lifted off the ground and he flew a meter or two back before he landed on his feet and took a few steps to steady himself. His arms were stinging, and his breathing became deep. That was an astonishing attack!

    Uncle Rod looked at Keros. His right leg was already back on the ground. His eyes seemed clear again and he seemed unsteady, swaying lightly. His face contorted in pain when he swayed to the right and pressure was put on his right leg. Eventually, he collapsed to the floor, unable to continue.

    Uncle Rod relaxed his body.

    -

    The moment Keros executed the kick, the sound of something dissipating rapidly rang out in his mind. He immediately sobered up and his eyes cleared. Pain shot up his leg, feeling as if it was being shocked continuously. He must have overexerted himself!

    He wasn't sure what had happened to him. He didn't even know how to perform that kick! He had only experienced it executed in his dream, and he hadn't been in control of himself at that time. He felt similar to how he had in that dream as if he was a bystander watching from a first-person view. He had no control but he felt everything. The emotions, the way his body relaxed and tensed seemingly at random and the tingling sensation that followed. He even felt an empty feeling the moment his body acted. It felt as if it was trying to draw on something within him, but there was nothing there.

    When he lowered his leg and put pressure on it he felt excruciating pain. He was swaying from exhaustion, and he would feel that pain every time he swayed to his right. Soon, he couldn't stand to put pressure on his leg anymore and he collapsed to the ground.

    -

    The fight had ended, but the tension in the atmosphere was still high. It was quiet except for the heaving breathing coming from Keros.

    No one had expected the argument to escalate to such a point. The fight had quickly grown in seriousness and the bystanders had worried that could soon escalate into a deathmatch.

    Uncle Rod started to slowly walk towards Keros. The people in the room finally began to speak up out of fear that he would kill Keros. They yelled at him to stop and started towards him

    "Shut up! It's over, I'm not going to attack the kid!" He yelled

    Uncle Rod was still a bit agitated by that kick, but he had no intentions to hurt Keros. He was both impressed and worried about Keros. He had only been testing Keros, but it devolved into a brawl and got out of hand. Keros had lasted longer than he thought he would, and he adapted well in the fight. He had tried his best not to overdo it and hurt Keros too much, but it was a fight after all. He worried that he had gone overboard. However, what impressed and worried him the most was that final exchange! That kick was amazing, and it had incredible power for someone who hadn't even begun cultivating. However, the consequences of Keros using it were apparent.

    He walked over and squatted down by Keros

    "Are you alright kid?" Uncle Rod asked

    "I'm fine... I just can't put pressure on my leg." He said with heavy breaths

    Uncle Rod helped Keros up and put his arm around his shoulders. He led him over and the other team members flipped the couch back over so he could sit. Uncle Rod helped him sit down, before plopping down beside him.

    Uncle Rods' face was still a bit red from the knee earlier.

    Keros on the other hand was quite the sorry sight. He had lumps all over him, and a bit of blood on his lip. His shirt was torn open at the buttons, and his arm was still bleeding a bit.

    "Whew, that was intense." Uncle Rod said with a grin

    "Intense? For you? I couldn't even put a scratch on you..." Keros said mocking himself.

    "Well, yea. You didn't hurt me much, but that throw was pretty good. You even resorted to kneeing me in the crotch you little brat!" Uncle Rod replied.

    They were speaking to each other quietly, so others couldn't hear them.

    "What did you expect? You were beating the crap out of me and I couldn't get away." Keros said without remorse.

    "It was dishonorable!" Uncle Rod replied

    "Who are you to talk about honor when fighting me?" Keros switched from mocking himself to mocking uncle Rod.

    Embarrassment briefly flashed across uncle Rods' face

    "I had my reasons." Uncle Rod said with a snort. He continued

    "You were being a little brat. I had to teach you to show me some respect. Plus, I wanted to see how far you would go to stand up for what you cared about." Uncle Rod said nonchalantly

    "I will show you respect when you show it to me. You're constantly calling me a brat, so I'll call you an old dog." Keros replied in the same nonchalant tone. He didn't need to explain anything else since he had already shown how far he would go to defend his beliefs.

    "Fair enough. I guess... By the way, I didn't want to punish her." Uncle Rod said as he stretched his legs out

    Keros adorned a confused expression and looked at uncle Rod, urging him to continue

    "She was upset about how she acted, so I gave her the least severe punishment I could think of so she could forgive herself quicker." Uncle Rod explained

    "That's... An odd way to handle the situation. Why didn't you just say that from the beginning?" Keros asked.

    "I wanted to test you to see how you would act to the thought of her being punished unfairly, and how far you'd go if it upset you. Also, it was kinda fun messing with you." Uncle Rod admitted.

    "You're a jerk." Keros said flatly

    "Haha. Hey now, don't act like you didn't get anything out of it. You seemed to be agitated from the moment you walked in here. Letting off some steam helped right?" Uncle Rod chuckled and said

    Keros didn't reply. Uncle Rod was right, he had been in a bad mood. Bottling everything up recently was making him irritable and gloomy. Though he wouldn't be happy at a time like this, he was more relaxed after the fight. He might have had to pay a heavy price but he thought it was probably worth it.

    "Keros!" Catherine exclaimed as she ran over

    Keros looked to his left and saw her running towards him while crying. What was she doing here? wasn't she supposed to be in the office saying goodbye?

    "What's wrong? Why are you in here?" He asked as she leaped over and hugged him. He grimaced from the pain.

    "I heard some noise and went outside because it was bugging me. I told Aiyanna and we came to see what was going on. Why were you fighting? You got hurt again!" She cried out.

    "It's okay. Uncle Rodney and I were just sparring. Sorry, we didn't mean to disturb you." Keros said as he rubbed her back.

    Catherine looked over at uncle Rod and gave him a hateful stare. She was angry that he had hurt her brother, and she blamed him for disturbing her too.

    "Alright, alright! I'm sorry. Please, stop looking at me like that." Uncle Rod said with a defeated look on his face.

    They both took turns comforting her and assuring her that it was okay.

    "Go back and spend some time with mom and dad." Keros said as he released her.

    -

    Aiyanna came over to get Catherine and lead her to the office, and uncle Rod got up to follow and spent the entire walk apologizing. They let Catherine go into the room alone and shut the door behind her.

    Aiyanna began to head back outside to get her cleaning supplies, but uncle Rod stopped her at the entrance.

    "You've done enough already. Go get ready for the funeral." He said

    "Captain? I thought I was supposed to clean the entire barracks?" She was confused.

    "You don't deserve to be punished. I think you represented this squad well and displayed everything that we stand for. I should have been able to find those words to say last night. So enough, go get ready."

    Aiyanna was surprised. It felt nice to hear those words. She saluted and left the building to go back to her troop barracks and get ready.

    She returned an hour later. Keros and captain Rodney were gone, but the lounge was still lively with the other team members joking about the event. They were still cleaning up the last of the mess that was left. She helped before taking a seat and joining the conversation.

    "I didn't think little Vao would get so upset." One person said

    "Yea, he let the captain know how he felt." another said with a chuckle

    'What do they mean? Weren't they sparring?' Aiyanna thought. She thought it was a bit weird that it seemed so serious, but she didn't think too much into it earlier.

    "Did you guys hear when he told the captain that his reputation wasn't worth crap, and called him an old dog? It was so funny that I could barely contain my laughter!"

    "Haha, yeah it was pretty funny. Though things got a bit out of hand. I started to get worried at the end. They looked like they were going to kill each other."

    Aiyanna was confused and didn't like being out of the loop. Eventually, she spoke up.

    "What do you all mean? What actually happened?" She asked

    "The captain and Keros got into an argument. I didn't catch the beginning, but I think it was about your punishment. Eventually, it caused a fight. It was pretty tame at the beginning but it even started to worry us toward the end." They told her. They knew since she was cleaning with a toothbrush that it was a punishment, but they didn't know the specifics.

    'They fought over that?!' She thought with a frown. The captain must have told Keros about her punishment, but why would that cause a fight? Did Keros think the punishment was too light? No, that didn't seem like him, plus he had forgiven her last night.

    'Then... Was he defending me?' She was as confused now as she was before.

    "I guess little Vao might have a crush on you if he was willing to fight with the captain." One of them joked

    'Surely not. He is just a kind person' Aiyanna blushed a bit.

    -

    Keros and uncle Rod were at the Special operations med bay. They were getting Keros examined.

    His leg was scanned, and shortly the results were displayed to the attending physician. The physician spent some time looking over the results on the display before turning and speaking to the two.

    "There are some fractures, and the muscles have quite a bit of damage. The channels that would normally allow Qi to flow through your leg have also sustained a bit of damage from overexertion. Luckily it's nothing major and with our help, you should be good to go in a day or two. However, you need to understand that the biggest issue here is your ignorance." She said before continuing

    "When you use your Qi it flows from your Dantian to the other areas in your body through channels, hence why we say 'Channeling Qi'. Think of it like a river or a circuit, and what happens when a river overflows, or a circuit is overloaded? Irreparable damage can be caused if you overload your channels. Luckily you had no Qi, so your channels were only over-exerted when your body was trying to channel your non-existent Qi." She explained

    She began treating Keros. She helped him undress before locking a band over the bend in his arm. She pulled a cart over that had a long cylindrical machine on it that had a padded hole on it, and unlatched the locks on the side. She folded down the part of the bed that supported Keros' legs before lifting his leg high and rolling the cart under it and placing his leg inside the machine with the upper part of his thigh resting on the padded crescent. Keros whimpered a bit at the pain.

    She locked the machine back together with Keros' leg inside before she began to make adjustments on the display. The padding began to inflate and bulge, tightly locking around Keros' thigh. Soon Keros felt something wet and viscous filling the machine on his leg, and he felt a momentary sting in his arm as if he had been stabbed by a needle before it was quickly withdrawn.

    "The bulky mechanical band on your arm serves to allow us to inject some medicine, and then monitor your vitals. This big machine on your leg seals your limbs inside and is flooded with a medical concoction. The medical properties will be absorbed through your skin. This is the best way to target a specific location to apply the treatment for and injury such as yours." She explained as she was working.

    Soon she finished and told them that he would need some time to absorb the medicine before leaving the room.

    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 16:

    "You tried to channel Qi?" Uncle Rod asked after the physician left the room.

    "I guess." Keros replied absent-mindedly

    "What do you mean you guess? Did you, or didn't you?" Uncle Rod asked with a firm tone

    "I wasn't in full control. My body just acted on its own... To be honest, that's the first time I've performed that kick outside of my dreams." Keros replied.

    "Elaborate." Uncle Rod said

    Keros explained what happened when he awakened, the dream that he had, and how he lost control during the fight.

    "Having a vivid or lucid dream during awakening is rare. Some believe that its a glimpse into the power that you could obtain, and others think that it's more spiritual than that. However, I've never heard of it playing an effect in the real world. You could have just subconsciously imitated the kick, but your execution was flawless so I'm not sure I believe that." mused Uncle Rod.

    "Make sure you keep this information to yourself. If people learn that you had a unique experience due to your awakening that allowed you to exert abnormal power then it will cause you endless trouble." Uncle Rod said seriously.

    Everyone was looking for more power and would do almost anything to get it. They would be ruthless if they thought that they could get answers from Keros.

    Soon the physician came back in and removed the band and machine. She did a final examination before telling them that he should be recovered.

    Keros did have some cuts and a bit of bruising was forming but all of the swelling had disappeared and he could put pressure on his leg again. Although he still felt some pain it wasn't nearly as bad as it had been.

    Uncle Rod and Keros left and returned to the Barracks.

    -

    Keros checked himself in the bathroom mirror. He was still a mess. He had dried blood on his lip and arm, his shirt had the buttons ripped off, was torn in a few spots, and drops of dried blood covered the shirt. His hair was messy, but he could fix that quickly.

    The funeral would be soon. He wasn't worried about his cuts and bruises since he often had minor injuries, but he didn't want to wear a bloody white shirt to the funeral. He didn't care what others thought, but he wanted to present his best self when sending his parents off for the last time.

    He took off his shirt and threw it in the trash can with a sigh before washing the blood off his body in the sink. He did his best to style his hair before leaving the bathroom.

    He found uncle Rod and explained his situation.

    "Hmm. We don't have anything that would fit you, but... You said you want to present your best for your parents? Then go as you are right now." Uncle Rod said with a slight smile

    "Shirtless?" Keros raised an eyebrow

    "Yes. I never knew your parents to be more proud of you than when they spoke about your accomplishment in training and sparring. You endured the training and worked hard to achieve the body you have today, so why not display it to them? Show them what you've accomplished since they last saw you." Uncle Rod explained his thoughts.

    'Poetic...' Keros thought. The idea was quite romantic. His parents had helped him achieve a strong, muscular body and always reinforced the belief that it was incredibly important.

    Keros decided that it was the option he liked the most. Rather than wearing an oversized shirt, he would show his respect for his parents by proudly displaying the body that they helped mold.

    -

    The funeral would begin in 1 hour. It wouldn't take place at the barracks of course. There was a section on the edge of the base that served as a funeral home of sorts for those that served. People would likely be showing up soon so they would have to make their way over. All of squad four gathered outside the building and waited on Keros and Catherine.

    Keros knocked on the office door lightly, then entered.

    "Catherine. It's time to go." He said softly

    "Okay." She replied before standing up and grabbing the container.

    Keros lead her out, holding the doors open for her to pass through. They joined up with the team and took a few ATVs that Keros had taken to calling army carts.

    Soon they made it to the funeral home and went inside. Inside there were already a few people. Booker and his family showed up early, as well as Keros' aunt. The funeral home was simple. It had 10 long rows of benches, a white lectern, a stand for the container to be put on, and a screen that would have a picture of the deceased displayed. It was decorated modestly with a few drapes and carpets.

    Booker waved but before he could come over Keros' aunt had already rushed over in a fit and hugged them.

    "Oh, my babies! I'm so sorry this happened!" She exclaimed with tears in her eyes. This was his aunt Kate She wore a long black dress. Her hair was long and black similar to Keros' mothers and was tied up into a bun. She wore black heels and silver hoop earrings. She was loud and slightly dramatic.

    Keros freed himself from her hugs and stepped back. He liked this aunt of his well enough because she was kind and lively, but he always felt that she was a bit over the top. While he didn't mind it normally, today he wasn't in the mood to endure her constant hugs and boisterous nature.

    He watched aunt Kate hugging and trying to comfort Catherine. Catherine seemed to take well too it, and her mood perked up a bit. They were very similar after all, it made sense that aunt Kate could cheer her up. He wanted to put the container on the stand, but Catherine seemed to be holding it tightly. Rather than upset her by taking it he figured it would be best that she kept it if it brought her comfort. He stepped away to meet with Booker.

    "Uncle D, Aunt Pat" Keros said while waving. He was addressing Bookers' parents, Darius and Patricia.

    "Hey, buddy. How are you holding up?" Darius asked

    "I'm hanging in there. I know I don't need to say it, but thank you for coming." Keros said with a light smile.

    "I knew you would be okay. You're a strong young man. Of course, you don't need to thank us, in our eyes you all are family and if you ever need anything we will be there for you!" Darius and Patricia said before giving Keros hugs.

    Keros spent some time with the Red family, before leaving to greet those that had arrived.

    By the time an hour had passed quite a few people showed up. Ole Frank, all of the people that his father had introduced him to that night, as well as some people that he didn't recognize. It warmed his heart that these people cared enough to show up on such short notice. He greeted them all warmly and thanked them for coming.

    -

    The funeral was starting. It would be incredibly simple. Everyone would go up one at a time and pay their respects to Jack and Jessica's ashes, and afterward, a few people would go up and tell some stories. It would end with a loved one speaking about them, which would be Keros or Catherine.

    The proceedings went by quickly. A few people had spoken about Jack and Jessica including uncle Rod, Darius, aunt Kate, and even an officer of the army that had made an appearance. Finally, it was time for the final part.

    "Catherine, would you like to end it off?" Keros asked

    "Yes!" Catherine said with determination in her voice.

    She took to the lectern and poured her heart out. She spoke about her love for her parents, and their love for her. She spoke about their family and the many happy memories they had shared. It took her quite some time before she finished, and it was difficult to find a dry eye in the building.

    Everyone stayed for a while longer and socialized, before taking their leave. Bookers family spoke with Keros and Catherine again before leaving as well. Only squad four and aunt Kate were still there.

    Aunt Kate had calmed down a lot by now. She was currently looking Keros up and down, as she did her face began to scrunch up.

    "What happened to you, and why aren't you wearing a shirt?" aunt Kate asked with irritation

    'You only mention the lack of a shirt now?' Keros thought. He found it a bit funny that his aunt was so scatterbrained some times.

    "I sparred with the kid and his shirt got messed up. We didn't have time to go pick up another one so we decided he should show off his muscles!" Uncle Rod chimed in before chuckling

    "Rodney Walker, I should have known! Still, as unrefined as ever I see." aunt Kate hissed

    "Who needs to be refined? I've got by just fine being as rough as I am. Where is that husband of yours?" uncle Rod replied playfully.

    aunt Kate began to bicker with uncle Rod. It seemed like he hit a nerve when he brought up her husband.

    Keros wasn't her husband's biggest fan. His name is Josh and he is loud, arrogant, and rude. Jost treated his aunt badly sometimes too and would insult her when he got irritated. Keros' Parents didn't like him either but their reasons were more than just his attitude, though they never went into specifics.

    After a while, things calmed down. Catherine was told that she would be going to live with her aunt for a while.

    "What about Keros?" Catherine asked hesitantly

    "He will be coming to live with me." Uncle Rod said softly

    "Why won't he be living with aunt kate with me?" Catherine replied

    "The best place for him is with me. He won't grow as much at your aunts as he will with me." Uncle Rod explained

    Catherine was upset, but she understood. She didn't want to be separated from her brother but it couldn't be helped right now. She knew her brother didn't like it either and he would do everything he could to change it as fast as possible.

    The details were ironed out. Uncle Rod would follow the two siblings' home and help them pack up. All of the important belongings would be taken from the house and tonight they would say goodbye to their home, and each other.

    -

    Keros couldn't take everything he wanted so he only packed his clothes and the important things. He made sure to get his training equipment, as well as his father's gloves. He took all of the pictures and even the two kitchen chairs that his parents used. Luckily Uncle Rod had come and endured the hassle of bringing a vehicle into the streets so they could transport all of their things.

    Once both had packed up their things, they got in the vehicle and slowly made their way northwest to their aunt Kates house. It wasn't far and was still in the same district.

    When they arrived Keros and Catherine said their goodbyes.

    "It won't be long. I'll get stronger and then I'll come to get you. You can contact me through the commlink." Keros said with a quivering voice.

    "Okay... I'll be alright, and I'll wait for you." Catherine said with tears in her eyes.

    "Take this. Only use it for important things, and don't waste it. Don't let anyone know you have it!" Keros whispered firmly as he got close and slid a credit badge into her hand.

    It contained 10,000 of the credits their parents had left. It was the majority of the credits they had left. Keros wanted Catherine to have enough credits for emergencies. He only kept a little to himself.

    The two hugged for a long time before separating.

    "Thank you Aunt Kate" Keros said sincerely

    "Oh, no need to thank me Keros. I wish I could do more for you." aunt Kate replied with an apologetic smile.

    After their goodbyes, Keros and uncle Rod left.

    -

    "Tomorrow you'll go to interview at the mercenary group I set you up with. They call themselves 'Dusk Hunters'. Don't be nervous, and just act the same way you act around me." Uncle Rod said

    Keros nodded. he wasn't in the mood to speak. Uncle Rod wasn't bothered by this, and just kept talking

    "They are a rough bunch. I don't think you'll have trouble getting in but it isn't going to be fun by any means. They only respect those that earn it, so do your best or learn to endure the disrespect."

    "Between missions, you can either stay with them or you can come back to my place on the base. I won't be around much so even though you can stay at my place, you're still going to be alone starting tomorrow."

    "Whatever you want out of life will have to be obtained with your own hands. You'll have no one to rely on and no one to blame. Don't make me attend another funeral kid."

    "Do you want to join the military? Squad four specifically." He asked

    Keros was surprised. This was the first question that he been asked. Keros did indeed want to join the military, but he hadn't much thought about joining squad four. He thought for a minute before responding

    "Yes. I've wanted to join the military from the beginning, and now that I know mom and dad were in squad four, it seems like a good choice. Besides, I'm already familiar with most of the team." Keros replied

    "Good. A spot will be open for you. It won't be open forever though! Get stronger and learn what it takes to work in a team outside the walls. I'll accept you when I think you're good enough." Uncle Rod said before going silent.

    Those were the last words spoken that night. They arrived at a small house on the military base and unloaded Keros' belongings. Keros spent the rest of the night training and trained for over twice as long as his normal routine. He cleaned up and went to sleep.

    -

    Keros woke and checked the time on his commlink which displayed 5:45. He sat up and immediately began meditating.

    When he began he wanted to try unlocking some of the barriers preventing him from reaching the warmth in his chest. He had learned a lot from the book his father left him and now knew that this was named the middle dantian. He would have to unlock this dantian to begin drawing in external energy to nourish his body and to have access to his lower dantian. He would have to unlock his lower Dantian too, but he wouldn't have the ability to do so until he first unlocked his middle dantian.

    Oddly enough, he found that the warmth was much stronger and vivid. He felt that he could reach it without any resistance, just like he could his mind also known as upper dantian. He snapped out of his meditation with a shock.

    'W-what happened?' Keros though. Last time there had been so much resistance and he had no hopes in reaching it, but now it was suddenly unlocked?! WAIT! Yesterday he had heard a dissipating sound when he had executed that kick. It sounded similar to when he had dissipated the fog after the argument with his father!

    He immediately began meditating again and went straight for his mind dantian. Sure enough, much more fog had dissipated. Now he could see up to ten meters around himself, rather than the three meters he could see before. He was stunned but maintained his meditation. He began to understand what had happened and why. The mind dantian focused mainly on self-discovery, and it could be affected by learning more about your true self, and the truths of the world. Yesterday he had been out of control and it was almost as if became a small part of that incarnation from his dream, and the dissipation of the fog happened the moment the experience ended. That incarnation must be his true self or at least part of it. He felt like he figured out a small part of the mystery surrounding his awakening.

    Keros decided that he would indeed focus on his middle heart dantian for now. While meditating on his mind dantian would allow for steady progress in self-discovery, he needed the strength that he could obtain from his heart dantian more urgently.

    He shifted his consciousness to the warmth and entered its area. He observed the changes. His surroundings were grey, and it looked as if he was immersed within a sphere of water, with chaotic currents of water all around his sphere. All around him were dull lights of various colors that mixed into the streams of current within the water. Those dull lights were the external energy that he could pull into himself to nourish his body. He couldn't move, so he knew he had to find a way to bring those lights to him.

    He spent some time experimenting before using the techniques in his father's book. The technique involved breathing in a specific pattern rhythmically to help you feel a pulling power that one's heart dantian could exert. Once the person could feel that power, they could control a small portion of it to influence those lights and pull them into the calm sphere of water that surrounded them and separated them from the chaotic flow outside. Within the sphere, they would be absorbed to grow the persons' strength.

    Keros began the breathing technique and slowly began to feel an odd power that flowed through his body growing in strength. When that power reached his heart it would pulse. If you could control a bit of that power and let it build up, you could release it all at once and cause the next pulse to strengthen. The strengthened pulse would cause a ripple in the sphere, which could be controlled and directed to a specific area and drawing the lights within that area into the sphere. It sounded simple, but it was difficult to execute. It required you to maintain focus on withholding that power in your body and releasing it before it became too big, then you had to guide the ripples created by the empowered pulse which also required a large amount of focus. Lastly, you would have to accurately guide it to the perfect spot to draw the light into your sphere.

    Keros took some time to learn each part. He wasn't amazing but he felt like he could draw in a light with a little bit of luck. He tried multiple times and felt failing. He would miss the timing of the ripple, or lose control of it. The times that he managed to guide it to the edge of the sphere it ended up being too weak.

    He tried again. He held the power in his body back, spending longer than he had before to gather up energy. The moment he released it, he prepared to catch the ripple, help it condense into one direction, and guide it into the edge of the sphere. His heart pulse and he felt a strong thump and a slight roar before the sphere shook and a ripple began to emanate from the center of the sphere. He blocked off the ripple in a horseshoe pattern, causing the ripple to impact against the barrier had created. He allowed the barrier to spring a bit, almost like a cushion. This caused the ripples' power to be redirected toward the only section that he hadn't blocked. Next, he focused some attention on the part of the ripple that he hadn't blocked, and began to guide it while trying to keep it as narrow as possible. The ripple struck the edge of the sphere causing the ripple to transfer to the walls of the sphere.

    Keros watched as the ripple struck the wall. It looked as if a pebble had been tossed into a pond. A small section of the sphere protruded and, as chance would have it, happened to touch a passing blue light. The protrusion retracted quickly pulling that light with it. The light passed through the sphere wall as it reformed and floated within the calm waters of the sphere. He could feel warmth from the light and his body began to tingle comfortably. He watched it slowly dim as his body began absorbing the energy it had.

    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 17:

    Before he could watch it be absorbed completely the mental exhaustion forced him out of meditation. Luckily he could still feel the sensation in his body which let him know that the light was still being absorbed, and didn't just disappear.

    'I got so lucky!' Keros thought to himself. From what he read in his father's book, it would be difficult to draw in any external energy in the beginning until you become proficient enough with the technique. He had been lucky enough that a light happened to enter the area that his ripple struck!

    Keros spent a few moments in elation before he moved on with his morning routine and began planning out his day. He left the couch that he had been sleeping on and went to get dressed. He wore his training clothes and carried a bag with his equipment in it with him out of the house. He went towards the gym that was on base. The gym was for military personnel and their families that resided on base, and it would be where Keros trained today. It had all of the necessary equipment for his normal training as well as much more.

    He began his training at 6:25. He had decided last night that he would increase his training drastically starting today. He would go as hard as he could for as long as he could. He wanted to progress as fast as possible and thanks to the years he had already spent training, he had a foundation that could support the difficulty. That wasn't to say that he was going to be reckless though. He would make sure that all of the progress he made was just as solid as his foundation.

    He checked the time on his commlink, it displayed 9:05. He had been training for almost three hours this morning. He needed to clean up and head out to interview at 'Dusk Hunters'.

    Keros gathered his things and went back home. He quickly showered and threw on some decent clothes before heading out. He wasn't authorized to use any military vehicles so he would have to walk. It would be quite a way to the nearest public transport.

    He ran through the base to save time, and after forty minutes he made it to the train station. This was a monorail train that ran in a large circle within the stronghold. It made a stop at each district and was used often for far distance travel within Enceladus. Thankfully he only needed to go to the next district and the train was pretty quick. he arrived at the district within thirty minutes and set off to navigate the streets.

    This district was named the 'Wild District' because it was a bit more chaotic than any other district. This was where all of the mercenary groups and other non-military battle groups had their base of operations. A rowdy and callous nature tended to accompany those that left the walls for pleasure and profit. When they were back in Enceladus they would let off all their pent up stress and steam, often causing fights over the smallest inconvenience. Most of Enceladus was fairly lawless, but the Wild District was on another level. If any place encapsulated the expression 'Dog eat dog world' then it would be the wild district.

    Keros learned this first hand as he slowly weaved between the boisterous crowd. Shady characters were lurking all around, eyeing the others as if they were prey. Arguments were frequent and even the occasional brawl would happen. Keros had to focus on his immediate surroundings so he didn't catch everything, but he knew this would be both a dangerous and entertaining place for him. Keros didn't know why, but he enjoyed this chaos to a certain extent.

    After what seemed like a long time Keros came to a fenced-off plot of land. The plot of land was medium-sized with a large rectangular building toward the back. There was a large open area in front of the building that had tables, chairs, and other furniture that seemed to be for lounging out in the sun. There was another smaller building on the far right that was also rectangular and ran perpendicular to the main building. The entire plot seemed somewhat shabby. The buildings weren't in the best shape with discoloring and some minor damage. The land out in front of the buildings was patchy and had many areas with the grass worn down.

    Keros didn't think too much of it, likely this group just didn't prioritize the appearance of their base. He entered the gate and walked to the main building and banged on the door after not finding a doorbell. Uncle Rod hadn't given him any information other than the location, the name of the group, and the name of the leader. Everything else he would just have to wing.

    After roughly forty seconds the door opened. A woman stood before him with medium length messy hair and an irritated expression on her face

    "whadda ya want?" She asked loudly

    "I'm here to see Kitty Manello"

    There was a long silence.

    Keros watched the young woman's eye twitch and her face to scrunch up. She started to shake a bit, and her face began to turn red before she burst out in uncontrollable laughter. Her actions became more exaggerated and she even slapped her knee in her laughter. Keros could see people coming from behind her to see what the fuss was all about.

    "Shelbs, what the hell are you laughing so hard about?" One asked as his gaze shifted between Keros and the laughing woman

    She continued for a short while longer before being able to compose herself enough to respond

    "This... HAHA. This kid is.. Bahahaha!" She struggled to get out what she wanted to say

    "Whew, This kid is lookin for the captain. Captain... Kitty." She said before breaking out in more raucous laughter.

    The one that questioned her had a look on confusion on his face.

    "You must be the kid sent by Rod. C'mon, I'll take you to the Captain." The man said as he pushed the laughing woman called 'Shelbs' out of the way to make room for Keros.

    Keros nodded and followed him into the building and to the left. It was a large open area with some chairs, couches, and small tables. The man told him that this was the waiting area that was used to accept guests and customers. The man instructed him to wait here while he went to tell the captain. He then went through the only door on the left wall. Shortly after the door opened again.

    A large man came out, followed by the man that brought Keros to the waiting room. The large man stood at around 180cm with broad shoulders and a muscular frame. His hair was thick and shaggy, and the man had it swept back almost making it look like a lions mane. He had a thick medium length beard. He was very well-kempt but he gave off a rough and wild aura.

    He sat on the couch across from Keros, and observed him with sharp eyes, seemingly judging him in every aspect.

    "You're Keros? Don't you know you're supposed to come to an interview while dressed in your best?" The man asked with a rough voice.

    "Yes sir, Keros Vaolair. I would have worn my dress clothes, but they were ruined yesterday when fighting with my uncle... I assume you are Kitty Manello?"

    The mans' countenance changed the moment 'Kitty Manello' was spoken. Anger quickly flooded his face and a shade of bright red followed.

    "ITS LIONELL, YOU BRAT! HANK 'LION' MANELLO!" He bellowed, spittle flying.

    Keros adorned an apologetic face.

    "Ah, sorry. I thought it was weird that someone leading a mercenary group would call themselves 'Kitty'." Keros replied

    "ENOUGH... with that." Hank said as he slowly calmed his tone

    Laughter echoed through the building, and hank snapped his head over to look in the direction it was coming from with a vindictive expression. Soon his expression calmed but his countenance was dark. He turned back toward Keros.

    "I bet that scumbag Rodney told you that was my name huh? I won't blame you this time, but never call me that again! you hear? Call me Mr. Lionell, and if we agree today, call me Captain Lionell." Hank said firmly.

    Keros thought it was both amusing and admirable that his mood changed so quickly and he was able to control it. He also secretly cursed uncle Rod for playing him for a fool.

    "Okay, Mr. Lionell." Keros responded respectfully

    "Okay, Good... So you said your best clothes were ruined in a fight yesterday? Explain, who were you fighting with, and why?" Hank asked as he leaned back on the couch, adopting a relaxed demeanor

    Keros briefly explained his fight with uncle Rod and a vague description of the reason.

    "Haha! So you stood up for what you believed in, and even gave that scumbag a knee to the crotch? Good job! I'm starting to like you already." Hank said with a laugh

    Hank asked Keros many questions but it seemed more like a casual conversation rather than an interview. Almost all of the questions were simple and many of them seemed completely irrelevant to being a mercenary or a porter.

    "Working outside the walls is dangerous. We have to communicate well and use teamwork to survive and complete the mission. There are also times that people get separated from the team and we might not have the luxury of coming to find and assist them, so one also needs to have the ability to survive on their own. Can you accept that fact?" Hank asked while closely studying Keros

    "I'm still inexperienced and I've never worked with a team outside the walls so I'm not sure how my teamwork will be. As for being separated... I know I'd likely die if that happens, but I acknowledge and accept that fact. I can't let the fear of death keep me from growing." Keros replied resolutely.

    "Even birds stay in the nest until their ready to fly, kid. You could stay within Enceladus until you've grown stronger and can better protect yourself." Hank said soothingly. He was still watching Keros Closely.

    Keros' face scrunched up and he gritted his teeth

    "Not an option. I don't have the time to wait until I'm ready. I need to throw myself into the fire and forge myself in danger." Keros growled

    "Good, you're driven. I like that. Though, when it comes to teamwork and missions you best show patience. I'll kill you myself if you put the team in danger because of your impatience." Hank said firmly

    "No many teams are willing to accept someone as young as you. The inexperience, immaturity, and lack of strength can cause a lot of issues when in the wilderness. Not only can you cost us team members but you'd also ruin the reputation of my group. That being said, I'm the type of person that is willing to accept some risk now and then. Don't make me regret extending this offer to you." Hank said as he swiped his commlink

    Keros' commlink lit up with a prompt asking if he would like to accept a file. He accepted it and found that it was a contract for joining Dusk Hunters as a probationer. The contract was very lax and just locked him into employment for three months as a probationer. After three months he would have the opportunity to fully join Dusk Hunters. Keros signed the contract and sent it back to Hank.

    Hank raised his eyebrow

    "The contract doesn't stipulate pay. Why did you sign it?" He asked

    "I know you'll pay me what I'm worth and I'm fine with having to prove myself if I want more money. Besides, I'm not really in the position to negotiate." Keros replied

    "Why would you blindly trust that I'd pay you what you're worth?"

    "I don't trust you, but I do trust uncle Rod. He sent me to you so I don't think you'll do wrong by me." Keros said

    "Naive. Very naive... I treat my team well so you'll get what you're worth pay wise, but I'll give you a bit of advice. Don't blindly trust anyone! This world is one where the weak are devoured by the strong, and the cunning will bleed you dry." Hank said before tapping his commlink a few more times and standing up

    "Welcome to the Dusk Hunters. Zimmer will show you around the base, introduce you to the other team members, and give you all of the other information you need." Hank said before disappearing back through the door he came out of.

    The other man stood up and gestured for Keros to follow him. He led Keros back towards the front door. This time they went through the doors to the right. It was a large lounge area, with a kitchen in the back. There were five people in the room, including the woman that had answered the door.

    Zimmer introduced Keros and explained each of the five members' roles. Four of them were Combatants and one handled logistics. There were four other members but they weren't at the base right now.

    "So you're joinin the team huh? I'm surprised you still have your head on your body. I thought for sure that the Cap would have killed ya for callin him kitty." Shelbs said as she grinned

    "A porter is a good addition. It's pretty upsetting to leave behind so much good loot. Though, a runt like this kid will probably just hold us back." The man named Ross said to Zimmer in a dissatisfied tone

    "The Captain liked him well enough to accept him, so deal with it. If he can't hang then we will just drop him like a sack of rocks." Zimmer said.

    Everyone else held their tongues. Though, their expressions showed their lack of excitement over having a new teammate.

    Zimmer guided Keros around the building showing him his room, the communal bathroom, utility room, and conference room. He led Keros outside to the other building. This building was for storage and contained all of their gear and goods from outside the wall. After they had toured the entire grounds, Zimmer took Keros back to the conference room and went over the necessary gear he would need for his role.

    Some of the basic gear would be provided, such as bags, medical items, and an earpiece for communication with the team. Other gear he would have to purchase himself. He needed to get a weapon, combat clothes and boots, knife, and basic survival gear.

    Keros set off to the shops that Zimmer had told him about. He was a bit downcast since he would likely be spending all of the money he had saved up as well as the little bit he kept that was left by his parents. He needed these things, and these were just the basics.

    After some time he had finished and collected almost everything he needed. Now he just needed to find a suitable weapon and a good knife. He checked his commlink to find out where he needed to go next. Zimmer had told him about a good tech smith in the district that had good quality goods. He quickly went towards the shop.

    -

    Keros stared at the shop with a look of doubt. It was in an area with much less foot traffic than usual in Enceladus. The shop front didn't look grand like he had imagined, but instead very ordinary and unassuming. There was only a small sign made of engraved metal that read 'Fe-C Tech Smith' with the name 'Ekker' just below it. From the looks of it, the owner didn't care much for advertising his shop.

    Regardless of how things looked, Keros had no other choice. It was getting late and he couldn't be out for too much longer. He didn't have time to look for somewhere else to buy a weapon and knife. He sighed before walking through the door. Inside, it was quite clean and tidy. The room wasn't large at all, but it was filled with different tools and weapons made from some type of metal. Keros walked up to the counter and pushed a button to ring the bell. Shortly after, a thick looking door was opened and a stout man came through. Heat wafted into the room, and a loud noise was heard through the doorway.

    "Eh? What do you need?" The man asked in a gruff voice

    "I need a weapon and a knife." Keros replied

    "What weapon? Sword? Axe? Scimitar? Something ranged? You gotta be specific kid! Be specific about the knife too!" The man said impatiently

    "I-i'm not sure... I've never used a weapon.." Keros said, slightly embarrassed.

    "Bah. What type of idiot comes to a smith but doesn't know what he wants?!" The man said angrily

    "Sorry. I'm going outside the stronghold soon and I need some type of weapon." Keros said

    The man observed Keros for a while with his eyes squinted.

    "Fine. Then I'll take some liberties and decide for you." The man said as he walked over to a display and pulled off a short spear

    "This is a short spear that I crafted. It's not the best quality since it is just a common weapon, however, that doesn't mean that it isn't effective! It's good because it doesn't take much skill for a weapon like this to do serious damage. A thrusting weapon is also good because it can penetrate deeply on the larger beasts and reach their vitals. Not to mention the size will fit you well." The main said as he placed the spear on the counter

    "How about a knife, any idea what you want?" He asked

    Keros thought for a moment before responding

    "Heavy, balanced, short serration near the guard." Keros listed off the only properties he knew of. He was familiar with the knife that his father carried with him, and he had practiced a bit with it. Having a similar one would fit him well.

    "Not as specific as I would have hoped, but good enough I suppose." The man said before walking around the shop and grabbing a few knives and spreading them out on the counter.

    Keros picked them up and fiddled with them each individually. The only big difference between them was size and blade length. Keros swung the knife around a bit, testing how they felt in his hand and if any would impede his actions at all. Eventually, he found the one that he thought suited him the best.

    "Alright kid, the spear and knife will cost you 12,000 credits." The man said

    "Uhh... I don't have that much. How much is just the knife?" Keros asked with a frown. He only had 5,200 credits left.

    "The knife is 2000." The man asked with a steely gaze

    "Well. I can at least afford the knife." Keros said with a mocking smile.

    "I'm guessing you just joined a mercenary group?" The man asked as he pulled out a wooden box and placed the knife Keros chose inside

    "Yes. How'd you know?" Keros asked as he watched. The box seemed much too large for the knife

    "Well, you're in this district and you're going outside the stronghold. Only the military and mercenaries go outside the stronghold, with exception of a few fools. You look too young to be in the military, and you don't seem foolish enough to go out on your own." The man responded before putting the spear inside the box as well.

    Keros watched on, confused.

    "How many credits do you have?" The man asked as he closed the lid on the box

    "A little more than 5000." Keros said

    "Give me 4900. The knife is 2,000 and the spear is 10,000. You can pay me 2,900 for the spear now and pay off the other 7,100 when you have it." The man said as he tapped his commlink a few times and presented it to Keros so he could transfer the credits.

    "Why? What if I don't make it back?" Keros asked

    "Look. I'm not fond of knowing that a kid like you is going to be going outside the stronghold unarmed. So I'll let you make payments on this one. If you die outside the stronghold then so be it, I'll just chalk it up to a small loss. If you do make it back then I expect to be paid! If you try to give me the run-around, then I'll come find you myself." The man said before impatiently shaking his arm.

    Keros nodded and transferred the credits. He also sent his contact details to the man's commlink at his request.

    "Alright, we are good to go. I'm Reginald Ekker by the way. The best smith around these parts. When you get some more experience, you can come to me and pay me to smith you the perfect weapon!" Reginald boasted before shooing Keros out of the shop.

    Keros was grateful and thought about the interaction on his walk back to the Dusk Hunters base. Even though the weapon was just a common steel spear without any tech augmentations, it would still be of great use in protecting himself outside of the stronghold. While he was now 7,900 credits in debt, Reginald had given him a tool to survive. Reginald had also, unbeknownst to him, earned Keros' loyalty when it came to buying anything that could be smithed.

    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 18:

    Keros was slowly adopting the principle of treating others how they treated him. Those who treated him well would be treated just as well by him. Those that wronged him? Well, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

    Reginald had treated him well, so Keros decided he would return that kindness that was shown to him today. All the better that Reginald seemed to be a skilled smith.

    -

    Keros walked through the door and immediately headed to his room to store the things he had purchased. Afterward, he went to see Zimmer and let him know that his gear was ready.

    "Good. Be up early tomorrow. I will be testing your physical capabilities and teaching you the team formations, tactics, signals, and your duties." Zimmer said before waving Keros off

    Keros didn't have much more that he needed to do today. He sent uncle Rod a message letting him know that he joined the Dusk Hunters and that he would be staying in the base with the team. Next, he needed to find someone to recommend a place to grab some food nearby, as he was quite hungry. He had found that he needed to eat far more since he awakened.

    He went to the lounge since that was the most likely place that he would find another team member. Sure enough, three people were in the lounge, including Shelbs.

    "Is there a cheap place to eat nearby?" Keros asked the three

    Two clearly didn't care much for Keros and ignored him after a glance. Shelbs however, didn't seem to mind.

    "There's a small noodle shop close. It's not the best but it's cheap and they give huge portions. C'mon, I'll show you where it is. I'm pretty hungry myself." Shelbs said as she stood up and stretched.

    The two left the building and hit the streets. The sky was already dark by this point, and the neon lights from the nearby buildings were shining brightly on their surroundings. The lights warmed the atmosphere in the area and gave people an energetic feeling.

    Keros hadn't known of much outside of his home district, so it was fascinating to see how different some of the other districts were. His home district didn't have these neon lights all around and instead, they just had flat orange lights. Even the people were different. He saw people with tech augmentations, bionic limbs, flashy clothing, jewelry, and weapons. He had never seen these things in his home district. The difference between the two was akin to the difference between night and day.

    His home district felt simple, and like everyone was close and connected with one another. Like a village, or a large community. This district felt more lively, but it also felt like everyone was detached from each other. As if everyone was in their own little bubble, and nothing outside of their bubble mattered. It was an odd feeling, and difficult for him to put into words.

    However, Keros sort of liked the feeling. It felt freeing. All he had to worry about was himself, and he could do pretty much anything he wanted. It was odd having almost no one to rely on, but the freedom that came with it was intoxicating. Anything he would achieve now would be of his own effort.

    Keros smiled when he thought of this. Maybe he couldn't live this lifestyle forever, but he was going to enjoy it while he could.

    Soon they reached the shop. There wasn't much on the menu but, like Shelbs said, It was cheap. Cheap is what Keros needed right now. He only had 300 credits left and who knew how long that would have to last him.

    Keros was actually quite worried about how poor he was currently. 300 credits wouldn't last him long at all, so he would likely have to find a few odd jobs if they didn't get a mission asap.

    It pained him a bit to spend the 40 credits for the bowl of noodles. Luckily the portion was indeed huge, and though the noodles wouldn't support his growth much, it was enough to keep his stomach from growling.

    "So, why did you join the Dusk Hunters?" Shelbs asked between slurps

    Keros gave an odd look. It was a bit uncouth to talk with your mouth full, not to mention her slurping.

    "Money, experience, growth." Keros replied before digging back into the noodles.

    "Why not stay in school and just get a part-time job? You'd still grow and make money, and it would be a hell of a lot safer than being a merc." Shelbs asked with an eyebrow raised

    "Not enough. I need more money than that would provide, and the school wouldn't help me get stronger fast enough." Keros replied languidly

    Shelbs stopped eating and studied Keros. She was trying to figure out if the boy was hungry for power, or just ignorant. Every young person wants to go outside the stronghold, that is until they learn the harsh truth of life on New Genesis.

    "I think you're mistaken about this life. About mercenaries and the outside." Shelbs said before beginning to eat again

    "Why do you think that? You think you understand my reasons?" Keros asked slightly irritated

    "Because being a mercenary isn't as glamorous as people think. All young people believe that mercenaries are loved and welcomed like celebrities but, the truth is the opposite. The lifestyle we live causes some mercenaries to become quite rough and callous, and that doesn't mesh well with the soft civilians inside the stronghold. Not to mention some seem to think we are just dogs that do the bidding of the truly strong." Shelbs replied with a hint of disdain in her voice when she spoke of the 'soft' people

    "And it's dangerous outside the stronghold. You can't understand just how dangerous is it until you experience it. There is a reason we have to live cramped in this little bubble that is Enceladus. You might think that we are strong enough to rule this world but, we are STILL at the bottom of the food chain." Shelbs continued, and she wasn't finished

    "The beasts outside are incredibly terrifying. Some are giant with a tooth as big as you are, and some are small but can be even more dangerous than the big ones. You might have seen a dead one on the media but make no mistake Keros, It is completely different when you face down a beast while it's breathing." Shelbs finished while staring directly into Keros' eyes. Her demeanor was completely different than usual and while it was firm and steady, a hint of fear could be sensed within her.

    Keros thought about what she said. It was true that he was ignorant, even he understood that fact. He wanted glory and fame. who didn't? That wasn't his reason for becoming a mercenary though so it wasn't a deal-breaker if he couldn't obtain fame. As for the danger, he wanted it. He knew the only way he could grow to become truly strong would be by facing constant danger and honing his skills while perched on the edge of a blade.

    "Why did you become a mercenary then? Better yet, why are you still a mercenary? Surely if it is that bad you would have left the life." Keros asked

    "Ignorance. I was ignorant of the truth as many of the young crowd that decides to become a merc. I stay in it because it has already become a part of who I am. I don't have many other options, and there is no way I'm going to become a civilian." Shelbs said before sighing.

    The conversation ended there. Neither would elaborate on the details in their lives that lead them to this point. They continued eating, and after Shelbs finished off the second bowl of noodles, they left back to the base.

    Keros paid more attention to Shelbs on the walk back. She had returned to her carefree demeanor. She didn't seem to care about the opinion of those around her, and she didn't bother putting up a facade of grace. The way she walked, spoke, and ate all seemed to show that she was comfortable being who she was. She didn't need other people's approval. Keros liked that about her. That is the attitude that a confident strong person should have.

    What was the use of grace, or a refined demeanor, in their life? Would it help when fighting a beast? Would it help when dealing with the cunning people that surrounded them? No. No, it wouldn't.

    Strength. Capability. That is what mattered to people like them! Grace and refinement were for the weak that liked to peacock and pretend that they were superior. The strong had no need for it.

    Keros didn't know if Shelbs was strong but regardless, she had the attitude that he believed the strong would have. Maybe one day Keros would act the same way.

    -

    *Beep. Beep. Beep.*

    Keros raised his arm to his face and tapped on his commlink to shut off the alarm. The clock displayed 5:30. He sat up and began his morning routine.

    During meditation, he was able to pull in another light. Most of his gains came in the form of increasing his proficiency at the technique. The lucky experience the day before allowed him to get a feel for the strength and control needed to pull in that energy. Today he spent much of his time honing that control, and he noticed that it was considerably easier to manage the power and ripples. If he kept up at this pace then before long he would be pulling in tens of energy streams per meditation session.

    Keros put on his work out clothes and headed outside. He would use the open area in front of the building to do his training today. It wasn't as convenient as the gym at the military base, but it was familiar. Luckily there was training equipment in the storage building that he could use.

    He trained for three hours again today, and he was exhausted by the time he finished. He spent more time than he would have liked putting up the equipment he had used. Keros finished the rest of his morning routine by washing himself and went to the lounge. Zimmer would likely be coming to him soon to test him and teach him.

    Until that happened though, Keros had nothing to do. He was in an unfamiliar district, surrounded by people that he didn't know.

    He thought it would be best to become acquainted with the team members. They would be a huge part of his life, indefinitely. The better their relationship, the easier his life would be in the coming days.

    Keros spent some time trying to have a conversation with the only other person in the lounge right now. However, all he received were very curt responses from the thin man. The man was either too engrossed in his commlink, or just didn't wish to converse with Keros. Keros took that as a cue to stop bothering him.

    After a few minutes, the silence was broken by a plump young woman coming into the lounge. She appeared to be around 16 and was dressed neatly in colorful clothing.

    Keros observed her for a moment.

    'She probably hands clerical duties, or is a part of logistics.' Keros thought. She didn't look like a fighter, and she had a relaxed aura. It wouldn't make sense for her to be a part of the combat team.

    The woman noticed Keros and began to scrutinize him. Her eyes darted around his body, remaining on one spot for a moment before darting to another spot.

    "You're Keros, I assume?" She said with a soft dainty voice after she had finished

    Keros nodded

    "My name is Tasha. I'm one of the three that handle the clerical work for the Dusk Hunters." Tasha said raising her chin in a proud manner

    "Nice to meet you, Tasha. I guess you already know, I'm the porter." Keros replied

    "Yes yes. It's good that we have a porter now. We can take on an extra mission, or just collect more treasures since we now have you to carry it all!" Tasha said enthusiastically.

    "Mhm, hopefully, we get a mission soon. I'm not used to being idle." Keros replied hoping to get some information from this bubbly woman

    "Hope no longer Keros. The details on the next mission will be ironed out today. We managed to find two great missions yesterday, and luckily when we got back we found that we can accept them both! All thanks to you joining." Tasha said with a shine in her eye. It seemed Keros was her idol.

    "Awesome." Keros simply replied though he was more excited than he let on.

    "Quite excited aren't ya brat? Let me fix that. You hold us back, and we will leave you behind! We don't have any need for those that hold us back." The thin man finally chimed in

    Keros frowned. These people barely knew him at all and had no right to treat him like crap. Their assumptions that he was weak might not be entirely misplaced, but shouldn't they at least give him and chance before they ridiculed him? He would take it for now, but he would remember how these people treated him, and if their attitude didn't change when the tables turned then he would act accordingly.

    "I understand oh great one. I wouldn't want to drag someone of your caliber down. I'll do my best." Keros said mockingly

    This was all he could do to console himself. It burned at his pride that he had to accept such treatment, but he didn't have much of a choice if he wanted to reach his goals.

    "Joke now brat. If you weren't one of my teammates, I'd take your head right now. I'll settle for watching a beast take it from your shoulders." The man said with an almost sinister grin.

    "Alright, enough! You two are acting like a bunch of hooligans... Seriously though Keros, you need to put some meat on those bones! As you are now, it's going to be hard to carry all the treasure!" Tasha stepped in to stop the two

    "Hard is fine... Actually, hard is good." Keros responded. He wouldn't bother to argue anymore. His actions would speak for him.

    Tasha kept up lecturing Keros about getting bigger so he could carry more loot. Keros simply listened and kept his mouth shut.

    Luckily, Tasha was called out of the lounge shortly after she began.

    The lounge began to fill with the other team members, and all of them were from the combat team. It appeared that all of the clerical team, as well as the Captain and Zimmer, were handling something, likely the mission details that Tasha had spoken of earlier.

    Keros kept to himself while the rest all conversed merrily amongst each other. He observed how the ones that treated him bad, acted when they were talking to others. The indignation from how they treated him fueled his desire to get stronger.

    'Soon. Soon these people will be beneath me.' Keros thought.

    -

    The doors to the lounge opened up and the Captain came through. He was followed by Zimmer and the three clerical members including Tasha.

    "We have two new missions. Prepare today, we will be heading out early tomorrow morning." Captain Lionell bellowed with a grin

    Everyone in the room showed excitement and happiness at the news

    "The details are as follows. We are tasked with obtaining the gallbladder of a Blue Tongue Snake, as well as the ovary of a Tenrec. We will get an increased reward based on the size of the Snake, and the species of Tenric. For every five meters increase in size over twenty meters the Snake we will get a fifteen percent higher commission." The Captain said before taking a moment to observe the team

    All showed enthused expressions. Looks like the snake would be a good payout for them!

    "The Tenrec bonus will be more difficult. First, Any adult Tenrec will be accepted for the full commission. However, The bonus will be double the price for a Tailless Tenrec, and quadruple the price for a White-eyed Tailless Tenrec." Caption Lionell finished

    The team sighed. Tenrecs were common, but Tailless Tenrecs were rare and difficult to handle. They are highly aggressive and the sharp quills provide a natural deterrence. While they have bad eyesight, their other senses are increased which makes it very hard to sneak up on them.

    Tenrec ovaries were heavily sought after treasure since they could be made into medicine and ingested. This would increase fertility in women. The male counterpart was also sought after since it could improve a male's potency. People who were having trouble conceiving would resort to ingesting these in hopes of having a child.

    As for the White-eyed Tailless Tenrec, most of them hadn't ever heard of it. It must be either extremely difficult to find, or out of their capabilities.

    "Enjoy today, because this trip outside Enceladus will be a long one. We won't be coming back until our bags are full!" Captain Lionell yelled out with a big grin, sweeping his eyes over and locking onto Keros.

    He didn't say anything, but his eyes showed his expectation. He was hopeful that Keros would be an addition that would allow them to bring back much more treasure than usual.

    The Captain said no more and left back towards his office. Zimmer called out to Keros and gestured him to follow.

    -

    "Lift this bar over your head. After every rep ill be adding ten kilos. You'll continue until you can't lift the bar." Zimmer said after moving many weights onto the front yard.

    The bar had 45 kilos on it to start. Keros could lift this much easy.

    Keros began. The bar flew up at a fast but steady rate. Soon the bar was back on the ground and Keros seemed relaxed.

    Soon he went through twenty-two reps. He felt as though he had almost reached his limit. The weight was up to two-hundred and sixty-five kilos already. He knew of none his age that could overhead press more than one-hundred and eighty kilos. He had even broken his record of two-hundred and twenty kilos.

    Zimmer added more weight and stepped back to observe.

    Keros ground his feet into the grass, mashing it down and getting better traction. his hands wrapped around the bar and his wrists curled back and forth a few times before he found the grip he liked. He took a few deep breaths before he gritted his teeth and pulled up.

    The bar was yanked up with a burst of power and Keros caught it with his chest. His left leg had stretched out in front of him to steady himself. He took a moment before pressing up as hard as he could.

    The bar slowly lifted, until his arms were nearly at full extension. He had done it. Two-Hundred and seventy-five kilos!

    Keros dropped the bar forward while taking a step back. The weights slammed into the ground with a heavy thud. Luckily they were made from strong materials so there was no worry that they would be damaged.

    Both Keros and Zimmer knew that he couldn't lift the next one, so this test ended there.

    Zimmer tapped a few times on his commlink, probably documenting the results, before going to the storage building. He came back with a thick vest and a jump rope.

    "We don't have the amount of room I'd like for the next test, so we will do it this way. Put on this vest, it's weighted. You'll jump rope until you can't continue." Zimmer said as he handed the vest to Keros.

    Keros weighed it in his hand, it's about ninety kilos. He put it on over his shirt and tightened it so it wouldn't rub too much. Taking the jump rope and stepping back, he began.

    He kept a steady brisk pace for a long time, and when he felt like he was running out of steam he would dial back the pace a bit. He had started at a speed akin to a fast jog but now, after almost an hour and a half, he was at the speed of a slow walk. He managed to keep going for more than thirty more minutes before he fell back on his butt, leaned to the side, and retched.

    Zimmer once again tapped on his commlink before speaking

    "That's all. Since you shouldn't partake in combat we won't bother testing your battle capabilities. I can see you're pretty much tapped as is anyway. I will start teaching you the formations and tactics now." He said.

    Hours were spent with Zimmer explaining the various tactics, formations, procedures, safety measures, and other important information. They went over many areas multiple times so Keros could commit them to memory.

    "put all of the equipment back and go prepare for tomorrow." Zimmer said before returning to the building.

    Keros spent some time recuperating before returning all of the equipment to the storage building. He was covered in sweat, and the musk of it wafted off him for meters. He went to take a shower before anything else.

    After, he began preparing his things so he would be able to find them quickly in the morning. Zimmer brought him an odd large backpack that he would need to carry. It was already filled to the brim with many things. He would have to carry all of the extra supplies the team would need, and when the bag was emptied of the supplies, it would be filled with the things they obtained to sell.

    Keros wore a mocking smile when he thought of how he would look with all of his things and this huge bag. Now he understood why he had to jump rope with ninety kilos added.

    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 19:

    *Beep. Beep. Beep.*

    Keros shut off his alarm. It was 3:30 in the morning. He had gone to sleep early last night so he could wake up a bit before the team. They would be leaving at 4:30, and he needed time to do his daily meditation. Training would be substituted with the work he would be doing.

    Progress was steady, and his control continued to improve. He still only brought in one energy stream, and he planned to continue this way until he had the skill to pull one in on every attempt. The years of training had instilled in him the importance of a good foundation.

    Having a solid foundation would ensure that one's strength wouldn't crumble at the slightest shake.

    after he finished he began to get ready. He donned his survival clothing.

    The shirt he wore was a dark green color, with the sleeves coming down just short of his elbows. His pants were black and well-fitting, with many pockets and pouches. He slid his feet into matte black combat boots that covered a third of his calf.

    He checked himself in the full-sized mirror on the wall. The shirt he wore was tight but stretchy and would allow him to flex as much as he needed without it tearing. His shirt was tucked into his pants, and the colors fit well. The boots were tucked under the legs of his pants which ended slightly lower than his ankle.

    He liked this look.

    Next, he put on his rig. It was a vest-like piece of equipment that had many pockets and slots for various items. Its purpose was to have essentials in a place that could be accessed quickly. He didn't have many things to fill it with, but it would be nice to have the extra storage regardless.

    Finally, he put on a belt pouch that rested below his left kidney and strapped his knife to his right thigh. His short spear was slotted into the sheath that he had attached to his rig, and it rested vertically by his right shoulderblade.

    He looked to the almost full bag that had been brought to him last night. He wouldn't put it on until they were leaving out. It was too big and bulky for him to comfortably wear right now.

    By the time he had finished and toted the bag down to the lounge, it was 4:20. A few of his teammates were already in the lounge fully prepared. He wasn't the quickest, but he was still ready before a few others.

    Time ticked by and everyone made it to the lounge, even the clerical team, just before 4:30. Right on cue, Captain Lionell and second in command Zimmer came into the lounge.

    They observed to make sure everyone was ready, and Zimmer specifically checked Keros' gear to make sure everything was good to go.

    "Let's head out." Captain Lionell said

    The combat team followed behind, and the clerical team waved them off.

    The Dusk Hunters didn't have any vehicles, so they had to walk to the gates. Luckily this district had a gate in it, which was the primary reason for the mercenaries to reside in this district. The shorter trip was more convenient.

    The team conversed amongst each other while they traveled through the stronghold. Once they left the security of the walls they wouldn't have as much freedom to chat, so they wanted to use every opportunity they could right now.

    The trip wasn't too long, as they walked fast, and soon they arrived at the gate.

    This was the first time Keros had been this close to the walls.

    The wall was very tall, likely thirty or forty meters high, and an odd hazy light blue color could be seen emanating from the top of the wall. There were large structures at the top that likely contained defensive weapons. The entire wall was a dark grey color and had different colored panels. It almost looked like metal.

    The gate was about fifteen meters high, and eight meters wide. It had a lighter color than the walls, and it wasn't paneled. It had a long crease down the center and looked like giant metal double doors. Many buildings lined the road that led to the gate, and guards surrounded them. Five guards blocked the path to the gate, and upon the wall, guards could be seen peering down at them.

    "Halt." one of the guards shouted out.

    It was the middle guard in front of the gate.

    "Lionell. Going out on a mission?" The guard asked as he approached.

    "That's right. We will be out for quite a while this time." Captain Lionell said cordially

    "Alright. Well, you know the drill." The guard responded before holding out his hand.

    One by one, the team produced badges and handed them over. All except Keros, who didn't have a badge to provide.

    "Who's this kid?" The guard asked

    "Our new porter. He doesn't have a badge yet since he is just a probationer. He'll fully join the Dusk Hunters after three months if he is a good fit." Captain Lionell responded.

    The guard grunted before nodding. He left and disappeared into one of the buildings, before returning shortly with a round token.

    "Keep this on you. You'll need to present it to the guards when you return. You'll get a new one every time you leave the stronghold." The guard said with a stern tone while shoving the token at Keros.

    Of course, Keros accepted it and stuck it in one of his pockets.

    "Alright, You're good to go Lionell. Return safely!" The guard said with a smile before reaching out to shake hands

    "Will do, George." Captain Lionell responded while shaking the guard's hand.

    The guard, George, made a gesture. The gates began to part at the crease, and each side slid to the left and right respectively. A gap just large enough for the team to move through was created. Keros was ushered into the center of the team before they left the walls of the stronghold.

    Before Keros was a large field. On the edge of that field, was a huge expanse of forest. The trees were absolutely massive, and though Keros couldn't judge their height from this distance, they are likely quite a bit taller than the walls. The canopy of the forest created a very dark shade. It looked like a thick strip of eternal darkness sat upon the world.

    Keros didn't have much time to take the sight in, as the team began to pick up speed quickly. Captain Lionell set the pace, and it was currently at Keros' maximum. Keros wondered how fast they would move if not for him.

    Even at Keros' max speed, it took almost twenty minutes to reach the tree line.

    When they made it into the forest, Captain Lionell slowed the pace drastically down to a jog.

    Keros wasn't sure if this was because he had been eager to get out of the field, or if the terrain change caused them to slow.

    The land beneath the canopy was thick with various plant life. Roots, vines, bushes, leaves, plants, and broken branches covered the ground.

    It wasn't long before Keros began to feel some regret. He wished he had run the obstacle course more like Booker had asked him to. It would have helped him navigate the rough terrain here. At this point, he would still be able to keep up, but it was more draining on him than he expected.

    -

    The team had weaved around the obstacles in this forest, which was more akin to a mix of forest and jungle, and eventually, their pace slowed even more.

    "Keep your guards up, we are about to enter the danger zone." Zimmer whispered to the team.

    He had told Keros about this 'Zone' earlier. It was like a line drawn in the dirt. The area passed that line became more dangerous, with more beasts and hostile plant life. Part of the reason that the stronghold had been built in the location it had, was because it was in a relatively safe area. The further you traveled from the stronghold, the higher the danger became.

    Soon Keros was able to see the first beast of his life. It was a Buck. The deer itself was big, but not ridiculously so. Its antlers looked almost comically big, with many sharp points. Its fur was a dark shade of brown, with a white underbelly. It gnawed on what looked like the thick stem of a flower.

    A few of the team members quietly separated from the group and set up a circle around the deer. They began to close in. The tall stout man shot out with his shield hefted in front of his shoulder, he was going for a ram.

    The deer became alert, and its head swiveled towards the brute. With incredible agility, it bounded sideways before turning its body and darting away from the man. It didn't get far before two silhouettes dashed out from nearby cover and pincered it. Two blades pierced the deer from both sides.

    All three fell to the ground and ruckus began to ring out as the deer cried out in pain and fear. The sound of rustling could be heard from the struggle. The large man came vaulting over and brought an axe down at the deer's throat. The sounds stopped after the sound of flesh being rended and bone breaking.

    The rest of the team came over, and Keros was called to the front to observe.

    Zimmer knelt and began field dressing the deer. He started by cutting around its rear end and dragging his knife up its belly creating a large opening. He cut the diaphragm, separated the spine, and severed the windpipe before removing the entrails. He tossed all of that to the side and quickly began to cut out chunks of meat.

    He was quick and efficient. The meat was put into special bags that would be sealed tightly. He managed to prevent a lot of blood from getting on him or the bags. By the time he was finished, four bags had been filled. There was a lot of meat still left on the deer, but it would be inconvenient to carry, and they didn't have the time to get as much as they like anyway.

    Zimmer stood up and began to clean his hands with a wet wipe, which was one of the only places covered in blood. He worked as quickly as he could. The team quickly departed the moment he was finished.

    Zimmer joined Keros in the center of the team and began to explain at a whisper.

    "We needed to get some provisions. The deer was a good choice because most deer aren't very strong, but have a lot of good meat. That allows us to deal with it quickly and get enough food. When dressing the animals, you need to be quick, and make sure you're not getting much blood on you. Other animals and strong beasts will be attracted to the scent of the blood. Soon that area will be filled with hungry monsters looking for an easy meal. If you get too much blood on yourself then you will attract danger to the group as we travel." Zimmer explained as they walked

    "You'll be expected to do most of the field dressing, except when it comes to expensive organs and materials that we are extracting. So, I hope you paid attention." Zimmer said before returning to the front of the team with Captain Lionell.

    -

    The team traveled for many hours, and even a bit into the night, before finally stopping to set up camp.

    The camp wasn't anything special. Everyone pulled out some sort of blanket or sheet to lay on, and a few utensils were brought out, as well as an appliance. It was a relatively small circular machine. It was a hot plate. It was powered using energy cells, similar to many appliances used in the stronghold.

    Lighting a fire in this forest would be bad for several reasons. First, creating light would not only give away their position, but it would also make it difficult for them to observe anything outside of the light's influence. Second, they were in an overgrown forest. Unless someone wants to risk starting a forest fire, no one would light a fire in this type of environment.

    A large bowl with a lid was placed onto the hot plate, and water was added. Shortly after, some of the meat that they had cut from the deer earlier, was added to the bowl before the lid was tightly sealed.

    After, oddly enough, everyone began to eat some of the rations they brought. Keros wondered why they would begin to cook food, and then eat their rations. He wouldn't ask though, he could figure the reason out on his own later.

    Keros just imitated his teammates and began to consume one of the rations he brought ravenously. He was exhausted, and very hungry, because of the time spent traveling. Even though he didn't have to do any of the fighting, he was carrying a heavy load.

    Though there was still quite a bit of time left, it wasn't smart for them to travel at night. The light that broke through the thick canopy illuminated the forest quite well, but when night fell it became pitch black. Cultivating and using energy to nourish their bodies improved their eyesight, but it was still difficult to see in such darkness. Many beasts didn't have this problem. Finding a safe area and bunkering down for the night was the best option.

    Some of the team took this time to meditate, while the others kept watch. After some time the shift changed so that everyone could meditate in the downtime they had.

    Keros noted that fact. While he was used to meditating in the mornings, it seems he would have to meditate at night when in the wild.

    He tried to meditate even though he had meditated this morning. Normally meditating could only produce effects for a limited time, though no one knew the exact reason. If you tried to force the meditation it could do damage to your vitality that would take a long time to recover from. That's not to say that one couldn't meditate for longer though, they just had to be careful and stop when they reached their limits.

    As expected, he wasn't successful in pulling in any energy streams. He did however increase his skill in the technique, even more so than normal. The heightened attention and care that he put into his meditation allowed him to feel the intricacies of the technique and flow of power. Though this came with a price that he should have expected. When he left meditation he felt incredibly sluggish.

    He felt a great deal of mental exhaustion, and coupled with the physical exhaustion he felt, he was miserable.

    Captain Lionell noticed that Keros was acting odd, and after observing him for a bit, began to cackle.

    "You won't make that mistake again, will you buddy?" He said

    Keros shook his head slowly. His surroundings seemed to be warping.

    "Good. You need to have peak mental awareness in the wild... You don't need to keep watch tonight, but tomorrow you'll have a shift so take care not to exert yourself too much in meditation." Captain Lionell said

    The Captain assigned watch duty and shifts, and the team divided. The majority of them slept, while two kept watch.

    -

    The next day the team set out when the sunlight began to penetrate the canopy. Their pace remained slow and cautious, and their grouping was tight. Growls of beasts and the rustling of the vegetation could be heard echoing through the forest.

    The ambient sounds made it difficult for Keros to differentiate between sounds that were normal and those that signaled danger. Luckily he was surrounded by those that were far more experienced.

    Suddenly, the team came to a halt. The Captain stood at alert for a moment before quickly ducking down, followed by the team doing the same.

    Keros knew danger was close, but he hadn't sensed any trace of it. However, he began to feel a very light vibration transmit to his feet. The ground... was shaking?

    Soon, the vibrations intensified and intermittent thuds were heard. As the sound and vibrations became stronger, a new sound was added. It sounded like light bursts of heavy wind. It too began to increase in volume.

    Cracking was heard, and in the distance, Keros saw the first terror of this trip.

    A huge ape was moving through the forest floor at a casual stride. It had to be around fifteen meters tall. The teeth were incredibly sharp, and the sizes of them were proportionate to its body. The power exuded from it was suffocating.

    The noise of rushing wind came from its' breath being exhaled from its' nose.

    Nothing could convey power at a glance as size did. It conveyed the pure strength that must accompany such a large frame. All the more terrifying when it was a gorilla that was so huge. Gorillas were known for their incredible strength, so how strong would this monster be?!

    Keros struggled to take a breath when he watched the gorilla move.

    It had seen prey and took action at a remarkable speed. it was like a rushing bullet when it shot out. The thick branches in its way were all snapped like twigs, and it made it to its target before it could react.

    Such agility, in such a large body. It didn't make any sense for something so huge to move so quickly. It was as if wind resistance didn't exist for the creature, and just the power needed to move under the gravity of New genesis was astonishing.

    Keros watched as the gorilla observed the boar between its fingers. The gorilla tilted its head back and raised the boar above. Opening its' mouth, it squeezed and let the boars blood drip into its mouth for a moment before dropping the boar in and swallowing whole.

    After some time, the gorilla disappeared into the distance. However, the team remained still for a long time.

    They didn't move again until it had been a few minutes since they felt vibrations.

    Keros was still breathing oddly, and he took a look around to see how to team had reacted. It was obvious that all of them had some apprehension of being so close to that monster. Shelbs was staring at Keros with a look as if to say 'See, Dangerous..'.

    They set off and had to walk across the path the gorilla had taken. Keros was shaken a bit when he saw the size and depth of the tracks left behind.

    They continued even more cautiously than before. The day was mostly uneventful other than that scene with the gorilla. They found some valuable herbs and plants and killed a few minor beasts that blocked their path. Anything that they felt they couldn't deal with, they avoided.

    They set up camp once again, and more food was cooked but again, they ate rations. They spoke about the gorilla a bit too.

    "What did you think about it Keros?" Shelbs asked lightly with a grin

    Keros' face scrunched up while he thought of a response

    "It was intimidating. I don't understand how such a large creature could exist, or better yet, how we manage to survive if things like it exist." Keros said with a pensive look

    "Those aren't the worse one's bud." Captain Lionell interjected

    "It's the smaller ones with similar power as the ape. There aren't noticeable warning signs when those approach, yet they are just as dangerous. They might not have the raw strength of the ape, but they are just as capable of slaughtering us as the ape is." Captain Lionell said with a sigh.

    "Is there anyone that can fight those things?!" Keros asked.

    "Maybe, but I've never met such a person. I know of people far stronger than myself, and they claim there are people much stronger than them. Though I've never seen the power of those at the top, I can say for sure that it's incredible. As much as I hate to admit it, all of us in the Dusk Hunters are weak right now." Captain Lionell said with a bit of indignation.

    Keros was stunned and a bit confused. It was rare for someone to call themselves weak, especially the prideful. Besides, weren't these people strong?

    "The Dusk Hunters are weak?" Keros asked

    "Yes. We are strong enough to survive a bit out here, and we could probably call ourselves average. However, there are stronger groups and individuals just in Enceladus. We, along with the majority, can be considered at the lower levels of cultivation and power. You see, while we as a race have had hundreds of years to learn how to cultivate, it has been a slow process. Not all of the information that could help is spread for everyone to learn. Some important information dies with the cultivators, and some are kept a secret out of greed and paranoia. Most of us start cultivation with the little bits of information we are taught, and when we reach the end of our teachings we have to stumble in the dark and learn for ourselves." Captain Lionell said as he at the rations.

    "Do you mean that there is no set path right now?" Keros asked, still confused.

    "Sort of. Some things are considered common knowledge. Like how you should draw in energy, how to generate Qi, and all of the basics. However, the critical secrets to increasing the purity of your Qi, increasing the amount of Qi you can store at each stage, increasing your bodily strength above standard normals, and increasing the speed of ones' cultivation. Things like that remain a secret, and who can blame those people? Would you spread your personally developed techniques?" Captain Lionell explained, Leaving something for Keros to ruminate on.

    Keros thought about it. He likely wouldn't spread his techniques. At least not to everyone. The things that he learned and created would give him strength at the cost of his time and effort. Why give away all of that work for free to people that could eventually become his enemies? Not to mention that it would expose any weaknesses to certain techniques. Perhaps if humans were more united it wouldn't be an issue to spread your secrets in order to help humans as a whole increase in power.

    Keros continued to think about it when he was put on night watch duty. He would be on guard duty with Shelbs first, and after some hours they would swap out for two others and meditate before sleeping.

    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 20:

    Keros listened to the sounds around him while he rested his back against a tree. Incests like crickets could be heard, as well as the howls of some animals. The wind lightly rustled the leaves, and small critters could be heard scurrying across the branches overhead. The mixture of sounds was oddly enchanting.

    In Enceladus, they didn't hear the sounds of nature, and it was always loud with people's antics all throughout the night. While the natural sound in the forest was loud, there was a certain charm to it. Sometimes it seemed rhythmic, and other times it sounded chaotic.

    While he enjoyed these sounds, he needed to listen carefully to hone his senses. It was important for him to learn how to sense danger nearby, and to do that he would have to tune out all of this unnecessary noise. For now, he would have to be hyper-alert even though it was boring and draining mentally.

    He kept a tight grip on his spear and his head was on a swivel, darting at every loud sound.

    Eventually, they were replaced by two other team members. This time it was the large man, William, and the thin man, Derek, that would be taking the second watch.

    Keros returned to the rest of the team and began meditating. He decided to focus harder on the minute changes that happened during his technique and barely managed to pull in an energy stream in time. He was forced to stop meditating, and while he cut it close, he had huge gains in skill. He believed that he could pull in an energy stream with a fifty percent success rate now.

    Now the difficulty in increasing his skill began to rise. He would have to spend more time focusing on each specific step and train up his skill at the step to a certain point before moving on to the next step and doing the same. He would also change his method, and grab an energy stream as quickly as he could from now on, and spend the rest of the time perfecting his technique.

    He drifted off to sleep while formulating his plans.

    -

    The next day, the team continued as they had. They didn't experience much trouble and were able to avoid all of the danger that they would have encountered. Once again, they took anything valuable they came across, and occasionally killed the beasts that either provided some profit or just caused issues.

    This continued for many days, and after a week since they left the stronghold, they finally made it out of the forest.

    During this time, Keros had even had the chance to get some true combat experience against the weakest beasts they encountered. At the start, he could avoid taking damage well, but when it came to using his spear he was a bit embarrassing. He was inaccurate, and his strikes lacked power.

    The combat experience helped tremendously with learning how to use the spear though, and his skill was rising quickly. He now knew the best way to hold the spear and a few of the basic attacks like thrusting and swiping. He had even learned to use the shaft to his advantage. His attacks became more accurate and did more damage to the beasts.

    The short spear was a good fit for him. Its size allowed him to still be maneuverable and utilize some of his martial arts, and the shape of the blade increased its penetration during thrusts. The spear was short enough that he could use it one-handed easily, and he could use his knife in the other hand if needed.

    Keros had contemplated on the matter of his choice in weapons for a long time and came to a decision. He would have Reginald smith him two custom short spears, two custom knives, and a small shield. He planned on wielding two spears in most situations, however, should he need a more defensive option, then he would wield a shield on his left. Should he lose the spears in battle, he would resort to his knives.

    The setup should be the best for him in his opinion. It wouldn't add too much weight, and all of the weapons could be used in tight spaces. While it would be nice to have a weapon capable of cleaving, he didn't want to spend too much time learning how to use yet another style.

    -

    The team finally left the cover of the canopy. Trees still covered the land, but their heads weren't as thick and lush, which allowed light to shine down upon the leaf-covered ground. Vegetation was still rampant, and many of the trees' bark was hidden by vines and shades of green.

    "There should be a river not too far from here. We will follow it for our first mission objective. Blue tongued snakes are often spotted by the river, and like to spend a lot of their time in the water." Captain Lionell explained the plan to the group

    "If we find one and engage it, be sure not to let it get to the river. We cannot battle it in water." he said before gesturing to continue.

    On their way, they ran across a boar. It was larger than a common boar and had four long and sharp tusks.

    "Looks like a level two beast. It would be good bait. We could take it to the river and see if any snakes come for an easy meal." Zimmer said quietly to Captain Lionell.

    "I agree, but I'd like for the team to be in peak condition during this hunt. While it shouldn't drain anyone too much to take out this boar, it would suck if one of us sustained an injury." Captain Lionell responded

    Zimmer thought on it for a moment before turning to look at Keros.

    "What about giving Keros a shot? We will send Derek to be on standby close. At the very least Keros can provide the distraction for Derek to land a clean killing blow without any danger to the combat team." Zimmer provided a solution.

    "This is likely a level two boar... That's a big ask of Keros, to be able to face off against a level two beast when he has just started cultivating." Captain Lionell said with some apprehension.

    "You've seen the kid these past few days. He is great at blocking and dodging. Even if he can't kill it, he can probably keep his life. Besides, Derek will be close to deal the killing blow." Zimmer did his best to convince the Captain.

    "Fine. The kid wanted to be a mercenary anyway. We will let him experience what it's like to play a more significant role than just a porter." Captain Lionell finally agreed.

    "Keros, drop the bag and prepare yourself. You'll be taking out that boar so we can use it at bait." Captain Lionell ordered

    Keros had been able to hear the conversation so he understood his job already. Kill the boar, or be bait so his teammate could finish it without much effort. He had fought some fledgling beasts, and even a few level one beasts, but this would be a level two. Beasts' strength multiplied by a large margin as they went up in levels, but he wasn't sure how much stronger a level two would be. None the less, he would do the job assigned to him. After all, this is the exact reason he joined a mercenary group. To fight, and experience growth in danger!

    Keros nodded and unclipped his bag and quietly laid it on the ground before unsheathing his spear. He quietly weaved between the trees toward the boar, staying low and avoiding as many leaves and twigs as he could. He knew Derek would be moving up into position shortly, at the commands of the Captain.

    When he felt he was close enough to the boar, he lunged up from his crouch and bound towards the boar, thrusting out his spear.

    The boar noticed him and snorted before moving quickly and evading the spear. It ran in a wide circle before returning its focus to Keros. It had believed that he wasn't a major threat, and decided to battle with him. Perhaps it could fill its belly with his flesh.

    Keros took his stance, his feet spread wide and his knees bent with his right arm holding the spear bent back. His eyes were locked to his target and he waited on it to aggress him.

    The boar was impatient and didn't last long in the standoff, soon charging at a swift pace toward Keros. Its hooves pounded the ground causing the leaves to fly into the air. Its head was tilted down, ready to swipe up and rend at his prey. It closed the gap quickly and was before Keros in a matter of moments.

    Keros waited until the boar was just outside of his range before darting to the right and thrusting left with his spear. Unfortunately, he messed up the timing of his thrust and missed. He had gauged the boars' speed incorrectly. Luckily the beast wasn't smart enough to notice the danger it had just been in and circled to get in another charge.

    Once again, Keros tried the same maneuver. He did better this time and managed to slice a chunk of flesh off the boar. He didn't pierce through its body as he hoped, but at least he hit his target this time. This boar was so stupid that it was going to give him another attempt! Hadn't it noticed that it hadn't worked the last two times?

    The boar charged for the third time and Keros darted to the side and thrust his spear. Suddenly the boar began to grind to a stop and twist its body. Keros spear missed because of the sudden actions of the boar. He stared dumbfounded at the boar that was less than two meters from him.

    He had made the mistake of using the same attack three times in a row, just like he expected the boar to. However, the boar only went for the third charge to bait him! Now his footing was unsteady, and the boar was too close! He was in a situation that would make it very difficult for him to respond to the next attack.

    The boar closed the gap with its head tilted down, before thrusting its head up to skewer Keros with its' tusks.

    Keros' didn't have the time to think of a way to react, and had to rely on instincts and improvisation.

    His eyes widened and his face scrunched up as he growled out. He shifted his body toward the boar and fell forward into its attack. His right hand let go of the spear and his arms shot out to intercept the tusks.

    His hands slammed into the rising tusks of the boar, planting firmly on top of them. He tensed his arms and kicked off with as much force as he could to assist in lifting his body off the ground. He held on with all of his strength as the boar thrust it's head up.

    He was trying to use the boars' attack to vault himself into the air and avoid its charge!

    Keros flew into the air, struggling to attempt and steady himself in the air before slamming onto the ground on his back

    He had managed to avoid being impaled by the boar, but it was a ballsy move! Even the slightest mistake would have lead to his death. Even with his success, he endured a lot of pain from the fall.

    He didn't have time to catch his breath. He quickly climbed to his feet and spun his head to try and get a visual on the boar. It was preparing for another charge. He didn't have his spear handy this time though.

    He pulled the knife from its sheath with his right hand and tried to think of a way to counter the boars' charge. He couldn't take it head-on, but if he evaded he wouldn't have the opportunity to counter-attack with the range he had.

    He thought quickly to find something that would allow him to stop the boars' charge and attack it. If he could get the boar to stop, then he would have a chance to land a blow with his knife, but what could accept the charge of a boar? A tree? He had landed on the root of a tree and that tree was currently on his left.

    He sidestepped, put the tree to his back, and took a step forward. His eyes locked onto the boar and he took a stance while waiting on it to charge.

    The boar snorted and kicked its foot back, digging up some of the dirt and flinging it into the air. It was angry that its clever attack had failed, and even more so that it had been used by its prey in such a way. Now, rage had taken over and all it could see was its prey in front of it. The boar started running and picked up speed quickly, charging directly at Keros with a squeal.

    Keros watched as the boar approached, and when it was too close to abandon its charge, he turned and jumped towards the tree. His foot slammed into the tree two meters high, and his leg bent to absorb the impact.

    He plunged his knife, that he held with a reverse grip, into the tree so he would have something to hold on to.

    *Thud*

    *Squeaallll*

    The boar slammed into the tree at full bore. One of its tusks had been ripped off from hitting the tree at its full speed, and it was dazed.

    Keros immediately pushed off of the tree with his legs and pulled as his knife to free it from the tree. His body began to fall as the knife left the tree, but he was prepared. He lightly kicked the tree and soared toward the boar.

    He fell onto the boar and, using the momentum generated by gravity, swung his arm down towards the boar's spine. The knife blade disappeared into the boar's thick hide, causing it to squeal out even louder.

    The boar's hind legs collapsed, and Keros quickly rolled away. The knife had managed to connect with its spine and the boar was partially crippled by the attack. It still trashed around and could still pose a threat with its singular tusk, but as long as he didn't get too close there was no danger.

    Keros located his spear and retrieved it before returning to the boar. He waited until he could get a clean strike, and stabbed out. The spear pierced the nape of the boar from behind. The boars' struggle ended almost immediately and it took its last breath. He pulled his spear from the boar and staggered back.

    He had managed to kill it, but he knew that many factors contributed to him being able to defeat this level two beast. First, its intelligence was fairly low. Second, It had been consumed by rage on its final charge so it didn't take the tree into account during its attack.

    He was glad that this beast had such a linear attack pattern, otherwise, he would have paid a high price to face off against it.

    Derek appeared from behind a nearby tree and came over. He checked to make sure that the beast was dead before whispering something quietly.

    The team appeared shortly after. The boar was hefted up by William, he carried it on his shoulder. The team set out toward the river immediately.

    Zimmer fell back into the center of the group again and began chatting with Keros.

    "Well done. The ingenuity and improvisation that you displayed were impressive. Those qualities are good to have for a warrior." Zimmer praised as he observed Keros.

    Keros had a perpetual frown, and every time he stepped too hard he winced.

    "Though, you were careless and kept using the same attack which resulted in you taking a bit of a loss. Be careful, don't underestimate the cunning of beasts. While they might just be evolved animals, they do have a certain level of intelligence and will surprise you often if you aren't prepared. They become more intelligent as they grow in strength." He said before calling out for the team to stop.

    He unclipped Keros' bag and put it on the ground. His hands pressed on Keros' back and sides as he observed Keros' reaction.

    Keros winced as Zimmer pressed on the left side of his upper back.

    "Your ribs are injured. I can't tell if one is broken or just bruised. Either way, we can't do much about it in the wild. Take some of the medicine we prepared for you. It will dull the pain and increase your body's regeneration." Zimmer said after he had examined Keros

    Keros did as he was advised and pulled a small cylindrical object out of one of the pouches on his rig. It was a metal injector. He pressed it against the bend in his arm and pressed the button on the butt of the injector, a needle shot into his arm, and injected a thick viscous liquid into his vein.

    He felt a cool sensation flow up his arm and begin to flow throughout his body. His pain subsided quickly. He returned the injector to his rig and put his backpack back on before gesturing that he was good to go.

    His rib likely wasn't broken. While one's ribs are fragile in comparison to other bones, humans were much more durable since the Genesis.
    This fact was the only thing that could console him. If he did have a broken rib then it could pose a serious threat. With too much movement it could puncture his lung and cause it to collapse, he would be screwed then.

    The team carried on and soon they heard the flow of water.

    They slowed down and planned on how and where they would use the bait. It would be best if they could find traces of a snake slithering around and place the bait close.

    They found a few sparse traces of a medium-sized snake within an hour and decided they would try their luck. They would have to settle with using their bait here since they couldn't conveniently carry the heavy boar too far.

    They placed the boar around fifteen meters from the river bank and took cover close by. Some hid behind trees, and others in the foliage. Keros took cover farther away and just observed.

    They waited for a long while. Patience was needed as a mercenary, even more so in a situation such as this. They would wait for the rest of the day and only move at sunrise the next morning.

    Hours passed without any sight of a snake, and the sky grew dark.

    The team decided to fall back from the river bank a bit and set up camp some forty meters from it. Everyone began the nightly routine and eased their tension caused by waiting by discussing Keros' performance earlier. Some praised, while others were critical.

    Keros had quite the gain from the fight. He had gained valuable experience and also received a lot of advice from his teammates. He didn't let the praise go to his head, as he knew how close the battle had been.

    The team split up and most of them began to meditate, including Keros. It took longer than usual to enter meditation because of the pain from his injury, but eventually, he succeeded.

    Once again his largest gain was in the skill of his technique. He had quickly become proficient in the first step and even managed to increase his skill in the second step greatly. There were only four steps that he needed to practice, and if he continued at this pace then within a few days he would be able to truly begin cultivating.

    Right now he was polishing his skill in each step to lay a strong and solid foundation, later his skill would continue to rise as he meditated and pulled in energy streams.

    After his meditation ended he laid down to get some rest. He wasn't on watch tonight so he could take a long rest. Unfortunately, his dreams didn't allow him any comfort.

    -

    The forest was dark. Keros couldn't move his body much, as he was chained to a tree with his arms bound at his side. In the distance, he could see a hideous creature.

    It stood on two legs and had a humanoid shape, but its body was covered in natural armor with many sharp points and spikes on it. The moonlight shined down, illuminating its' visage. Its' face was twisted into a ferocious snarl, with its' jagged teeth glistening with thick saliva. Its' black eyes seemed to be a void that made anyone who looked into them feel absolute terror.

    Leaves and twigs crunched oddly beneath its step. Its' body creaked, and a grinding sound heard from its claws clashing against each other. It was walking straight at Keros, with its gaze piercing his soul.

    He could feel its' emotions. Hunger, and elation at the juicy meal in its sight.

    It slowly picked up speed, each step coming slightly quicker than the one before it. The heaviness of its' steps was conveyed by the sound of its foot slamming the ground.

    It reached a full sprint, barrelling straight at Keros with its body tilted forward.

    Kero's eyes were wide with fear, and he struggled against his bonds. He screamed out in a juvenile voice, and the chains binding him clanked against each other with a metallic sound. However, his voice was drowned out by the snarls of the monster.

    Keros stopped his struggle. He couldn't free himself no matter how he tried, and even if he could, would he be able to escape this monstrosity? No, likely not.

    He awaited his fate. He shivered in fear, he could already imagine the pain he would feel as the beast gnawed on his limbs. However, no matter how much fear he felt, he couldn't force his eyes closed.

    He was forced to watch as the monster closed the gap.

    Suddenly two figures darted out from his left and right. The one on his right slammed into the charging monster. The one on his left flitted between the trees like a phantom. One was large and firm, the other was petite and gentle.

    They began to battle with the monster. The large one fought it head-on and held its attention, while the petite figure darted in to attack once or twice before quickly darting back out.

    Keros watched on as these two fought to save him, and slowly he began to feel with hope. However, another emotion began to well up within.

    He recognized the moves of the large figure, but... Where from?

    His mind was hazy, but he was sure that he recognized those moves. The stance, blocks, attacks... He felt like he had used them before... WAIT!

    His father. Those were the techniques that his father had taught him.

    And that petite figure moved similar to his mother. When she had sparred with his father, he had watched her float around with great agility.

    It was his parents, protecting him even in this situation.

    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 21:

    Keros watched on with wide eyes as the shaded figures contended with this monster. Again and again, they clashed against one another. The bestial figure couldn't move forward and had to respond to the barrage of attacks sent against it.

    Soon the battle calmed for a moment and the two figures converged between Keros and the monster. They stood in defensive stances while glaring at the beast.

    The moonlight shined down upon them and Keros was able to verify the belief he had. It was indeed his parents. They stood before him steady and firm.

    His father had many minor injuries, and light streams of blood flowed down his arms. He had faced the monster head-on to stop its advance and kept its focus on him so his partner could strike true without much danger. He had paid the price of such a tactic with his body.

    His mother showed few signs of injury, other than minor cuts.

    No matter how much Keros struggled and tried to call out, his parents didn't react. When they spoke to each other, he couldn't hear anything. It was as if they were in a different world.

    Keros watched as the battle resumed. It seemed like it went on for an eternity, but he knew a very short amount of time had passed. The monster began to increase in strength and aggression. Soon the battle escalated and blood spurting into the air more often. Even his mother was losing out occasionally.

    His father began to accumulate more injuries and his blood-soaked his rent flesh and glinted in the moonlight. His mother was leaving behind dots of red on the ground as she weaved between the trees and in and out of battle.

    The monster was taking damage, but that only increased its ferocity.

    Suddenly the monster spun and caught the leaping figure of Keros' mother by the throat. Jack shot out in a burst of rage and fear, he slammed his shoulder into the monster and tumbled to the ground with it, freeing Jessica from its grasp.

    The jumped to their feet in haste and began a savage brawl.

    Jack was trying to give his wife safety to recover. Though they were partners in battle, he couldn't help but fear for her safety and that often put him in danger when he tried to save her. After all, he was a man, and he wouldn't stand by while his woman was in danger.

    Keros could feel his emotions, and even the pain he felt as the claws of the monster tore at his body. The fear in his heart from seeing his love clutched in the beast's fingers lingered, causing him to fight ferociously. Even so, he was being pushed back and he was losing the brawl.

    Suddenly Jessica appeared within Keros' vision again. She was dashing in from the side! He began to feel her emotions as well, and they were similar to his fathers.

    Fear. Fear that the man she loved would have his life taken before her eyes. She had reacted on instinct and charged in, which was unlike her usual combat style. She wasn't suited to hard clashes with enemies, but her emotions were a mess and caused her to act against her best interest, just like Jack.

    Keros was screaming in his mind, and jerking his body around trying to free himself from the chains. His arms began to bleed from grinding against the chains and the bark of the tree. He was going crazy. His eyes became bloodshot and his throat burned.

    He had a terrible premonition. He felt a small, sharp pain in his chest. Was he about to watch his mother die, right before his eyes?!

    Jessica bent her legs and lunged out.

    Time slowed to a crawl, and Keros watched with rapt attention as his mother was soaring toward this monster. It had already forced his father back and began to spin to intercept his mother. She was in the middle of a full bore charge and didn't have the time to adjust to dodge the beasts counter. She could only continue with her attack, and watch as the monster thrust its hand toward her.

    Keros saw the monsters hand shape into a point, much like his own spear. He watched as that hand slowly disappeared into his mother's chest.

    Time stopped. All the fear, anger, worry, and pain was transmitted to him like a tsunami. He felt everything that his parents felt at this moment. His heart shattered, both by the feeling of something piercing directly into his chest, and the feeling that his parents felt.

    Time resumed, and as if it was attempted to catch up with itself, it sped forward. In almost an instant Keros saw an arm sticking out of his mother's back, and her dagger buried within the chest of the monster.

    His father screamed out, and this was the first time Keros had been able to hear any sound from his parents. The scream was gut-wrenching.

    Keros felt an odd sensation well up within him like raging energy was coursing through his veins and threatening to rip him apart.

    Suddenly Keros felt a jolt and his eyes shot open.

    He was awake and staring up at the top of the trees. He could still hear his father's guttural scream, and that was all he could hear.

    He looked around and saw Shelbs crouched beside him with a hand pressing on his shoulder. Slowly his hearing began to return and he caught some of what she was saying to him.

    "Get into position quickly!" She whispered quickly, before darting toward the river.

    Keros struggled to stand. When steady, he grabbed his spear and followed after her. He remained as quiet as possible but everything seemed so loud to him right now causing him discomfort. He heard some sloppy sounds ahead and hid behind a tree, peaking out to see a large, thick snake in the process of swallowing the boar.

    It was difficult to tell what species the snake was, but it could be their target. Regardless, snakes had many valuable organs and would be worth killing. The snake was medium size, at roughly thirty meters long and as thick as a wooden barrel. The snake would be vulnerable while eating and they might be able to kill it before it could regurgitate its food.

    The team acted, and four of them shot out at the same time. They struck with their weapons in the same general area to reduce the chance of damaging the valuable parts of the snake.

    The snake thrashed around heavily, spinning, and coiling. Blood leaked out of its back and scales littered the ground around it. The four were forced to retreat, they couldn't risk being rolled over or coiled up by it.

    The snake began to contract, and try to spit out its food. Its' tail started to wiggle and coil up towards its head.

    The four that had attacked, retreated. Next, the other four shot out and tried to attack the same spot that the previous four had. Three of the attacks landed and caused the snake to writhe in pain.

    It couldn't retaliate with the foreign mass stuck in its throat. It's only option was to flail around and hope to deter its enemies until it spat out the boar.

    Likewise, the Dusk Hunters also had to worry about the Snake spitting out its food. They had to maim it enough to reduce the threat it would pose when it was able to attack and its ability to escape. They were on a timer. However, the snakes scales and thick skin was making it difficult to do enough damage. Not to mention, snakes were known to have great vitality. They were difficult to kill and would still pose a threat even after they died.

    If they wanted this kill, they would be forced to use a continuous onslaught tactic and try to cleave the snake in half quickly.

    Soon after attacking, the second team retreated, and almost immediately after, team one re-engaged. They kept hacking at the wound they had created.

    By the time the snake had finished regurgitating the boar, they had cut halfway through the snake. They could only hope that the damage was enough to weaken it.

    The snakes' movement wasn't impaired anymore, and its trashing became much more violent. The Dusk Hunters couldn't get close for the moment, or they would risk taking collateral damage. They decided to wait for a bit until the snake either got tired or just stopped thrashing around.

    Keros watch all of this from nearby.

    It took a long time for the snake to calm down, but no one could tell if it was tired or just adjusted to the pain, as it coiled up.

    The team left their cover and entered into a formation. William and Captain Lionell stood at the front, they would be the front liners in charge of drawing the snakes attacks. Shelbs, Derek, and two others would compose the striking team. The last two would act as support and adapt to the situation.

    Captain Lionell and William engaged with the snake. They both wielded shields, William had an axe, and Captain Lionell had a broadsword.

    The Snake struck, extending its upper body and lashing out over a great distance.

    Captain Lionell bent to the side and widened his stance before angling his shield and smashing it against the snake, deflecting its head a bit and dodging the bite.

    If anyone was caught by the bite, they would be pulled into the snake and coiled up, which would likely be the end of their life.

    As the snake was focused on Captain Lionell and William, the Strike team took any opportunity to strike at the wound. They slowly chipped away at the snake as the battle continued.

    It took a long time for the team to kill the snake, but no one was injured. The bait had played a huge part and gave them a massive advantage at the beginning. Without it they might not have found this snake, and even if they had it likely would have been a tough fight.

    Keros came over, and together with the frontliners he helped uncoil the snake and pin its body to the ground. They couldn't risk its muscles from tensing after death and causing it to bite or constrict one of them. They were able to determine that this wasn't the species of snake that they were looking for.

    Next Keros watched as Zimmer cut into the snake and began to take out the valuable parts. He briefly described each organ and its uses, as well as a general price for each. The heart, eyes, and gall bladder were the most valuable. Though almost every part of the snake had value, they would leave certain things behind because they couldn't carry it all.

    Next Zimmer moved on to the head and carefully cut in to check for a venom sac. He didn't find one though.

    "The Blue-tongued snake is very venomous. You might have learned in school that snakes usually fall into one of two categories. Venomous or constrictors. That is only true for common unevolved snakes though. Evolved animals, or beasts, don't conform to the normalcy that the rest of the common creatures in the animal kingdom do." Zimmer began to explain

    "You're going to find many oddities, the Blue-tongued snake being the first. It doesn't sport giant fangs as you might expect of a venomous snake, instead, many of its sharp curved teeth have small holes that will inject the venom into their prey. However, they won't always use their venom, and sometimes will simply constrict their prey." Zimmer continued

    "Though, there are many more beasts with much more wild evolutions. I'm telling you this so you don't underestimate the capability of a beast because of what you've learned about animals so far. You need to take everything with a grain of salt and evaluate the beasts you face yourself. Don't assume you know everything about a beast." Zimmer finished as he began cleaning up.

    They had taken what they could from the snake, and the rest would be left to nature.

    The team spent around an hour traveling before settling upon a new location to rest once again. It was dangerous to travel at night, but it would have been more dangerous to remain by the scent of a fresh kill. The moonlight also provided an acceptable level of illumination that they felt it was safe enough to travel for a short time.

    -

    Keros struggled to return to his slumber. The nightmare he had earlier was gnawing at his mind. He hadn't had the time to process it, though this wasn't the first time he had a similar nightmare.

    They began as soon as he left the stronghold. It seemed to always be the same nightmare and it would always start the same. However, every time he slept the dream would continue for longer, and he would get to see more of the battle. Tonight was the first time that he had recognized his parents. Before, he had only dreamed up to the point that his mother's throat had been grabbed. Everything after that point was completely new to him.

    He didn't want to fall back asleep. He didn't want to watch what would happen to his parents, even though he knew that it was likely all just a figment of his imagination. It FELT real, and that was a torture that he didn't want to experience.

    He needed to sleep though. They were in the wild, surrounded by danger. He couldn't afford to be tired in this environment. So, he cleared his mind and drifted off to sleep. Thankfully he wasn't plagued by that dream again this night.

    -

    The team was early to rise and set off following the river once again. They needed to find the Blue-tongued snake. While the snake they had killed previously would provide a lot of credits, the Blue-tongued snake would provide more. It also added many other benefits.

    Completing a mission would give them reputation within the Mercenary Guild, and increase their rank. This would allow them to accept missions that were locked to certain ranks. It also provided some benefits when buying or selling treasures.

    Completing the mission would also allow them to build a relationship with the organization that hired them, which could open up many doors depending on the person's status.

    Finally, they would be able to keep the rest of the snake for themselves.

    All of these combined made everyone eager to complete the mission. They would get far more benefits for completing the mission than they would from just slaughtering a few beasts.

    The team searched for traces of snakes as they traveled. They occasionally spotted some but they were often far too small. They wanted a snake that was at least thirty meters long.

    Along the way, Keros learned from Zimmer, and he spotted something that seemed to differ from Zimmer's teachings.

    "What about here?" Keros said as he pointed to a much smaller slither trace.

    Zimmer knelt and began to study the traces, his face began to scrunch up.

    "Truly odd. I've never seen a snake beast that is this small, and no common snake would be in this area since other beasts frequent here." Zimmer said as he continued to examine.

    Zimmer had reinforced that just because they didn't know about something, didn't mean that it didn't exist. Its' size also didn't mean that it was weak, so they would have to proceed with caution.

    They noted that the traces seemed fairly fresh, and curiosity took over. They left the group and slowly followed the slithering traces in the dirt. They didn't travel very long before being startled.

    Coiled up under a web of vines was a violet colored snake. It was thin but seemed to be very long. It was difficult to determine if it was a juvenile or just a small fully grown snake.

    The snake began to coil more tightly upon noticing them and stared at this with its bright white eyes. Its' shiny black tongue quickly flitting in and out of its mouth. It seemed to be timid and fearful.

    "I think it's likely just a newborn. It's definitely a beast since no common snake would have these traits. Its skittish nature makes me believe that it hasn't experienced much, so it likely born recently." Zimmer said, trying to explain his deductions and reason.

    Zimmer had never seen or heard anything about this species of snake, and it was completely foreign to him.

    "Be careful, we don't know what it's capable of. It might be a newborn but that doesn't mean that it isn't dangerous!" Zimmer whispered while trying to decide how to handle this situation.

    This snake was too unique, they couldn't just leave. It could be extremely valuable, and even if it didn't bring many credits, learning about a new species was reason enough to capture or kill this snake. Almost no human would leave a vulnerable beast alive if they chanced upon it. Beasts were enemies of humans, and taking one out was removing another treat.

    Zimmer circled the snake and gestured to Keros to tell him the plan.

    They would first attempt to capture it, if that failed then they would try to kill it as cleanly as possible.

    Zimmer started, throwing a small blade at the coiled snake. it quickly dodged and relaxed its coil so it could respond to another ranged attack if needed.

    Zimmer gestured at Keros, and Keros went in with his spear, drawing the snakes' attention.

    The snake didn't snap at him as he expected though, instead it drew its head back further and entered an S curve like position before opening its mouth wide and spitting. A liquid shot out and ignited in mid-air, creating a bowl-sized projectile.

    Keros bent his body back to dodge the projectile before springing back up. He watched as Zimmer's hand came down swiftly and locked around the snake just behind its head.

    Keros sighed and turned around to check behind him. He saw a deep impression on the tree behind him, that looked as if it was burning and withering at the same time. What the hell?!

    "AHHRG"

    Keros spun his head around at the loud grunt of Zimmer. He saw Zimmer recoiling, the snake's scales behind its head were flared out. The scales were sharp and shiny with a little blood dripping down them.

    Zimmer landed on his butt and clutched his wrist, his face distorted into agony. His breath became labored and low grunts were escaping his clenched teeth. He quickly retrieved some cloth and began to tighten it around his forearm before taking out an injector and slamming it into his arm.

    Keros didn't have the opportunity to help him. The snake was still in perfect condition and from its two attacks, it was obvious that it was a massive threat. It had a projectile energy attack, a self-defense mechanism, and it was venomous. Keros couldn't be lax, he had to deal with this threat.

    The snake was acting passive and only retaliated up to this point. Which gave Keros some time to think about how he would handle it.

    Keros looked back to Zimmer quickly and noticed him pressing on his ear with his good hand. He must be using his comm to alert the Captain. Good, Keros would be able to ease his worries and keep the attention of the snake on him.

    He harassed the snake often so its attention remained on him, and dodged whenever it retaliated. He wasn't having to use too much effort so he had the luxury of developing some ideas.

    It wasn't long before the Captain had dashed over and began to tend to Zimmer. The rest of the team followed, but their focus was not on Zimmer, instead, their eyes were glued to the snake. All of their eyes shone with greed. This snake was obviously extremely unique, which was easily noticed.

    Derek unsheathed his dagger and slowly crept over.

    "Whew man, luuuucky!" Derek said as he licked the corner of his mouth

    "I invoke the rule of endeavor!" Zimmer shouted out in a hoarse voice

    Derek halted his steps and his face contorted into anger.

    The rule of endeavor. This was a rule created by the Mercenary guild and was followed by many of the mercenary groups, even the ones that weren't a part of the guild. The rule stated that any person or group who endeavored to complete an objective on their own would be allocated all of the spoils of their effort should they succeed. This included fighting a beast, completing a mission, or any objective that would provide a benefit in some way.

    It was commonly invoked in situations where someone found something valuable and others came in to snatch it from them. It was to give the person who found something valuable, and likely already put some effort in to obtain it, the opportunity to keep it as theirs.

    "The rule of endeavor? That's bullshit! You're trying to snatch all the profit from this snake away from the team, for yourself and this brat!" Derek exclaimed.

    Zimmer wanted to argue, but the pain he was experiencing made it difficult for him to speak. He had already struggled enough trying to invoke the rule.

    "Screw that! This brat doesn't deserve to keep half of the snake, and you're in no position to fight it. I invoke the rule of endeavor!" Derek yelled out before continuing his steps.

    The rest of the team hadn't been happy that Zimmer called the rule of endeavor into play, but they were even angrier that Derek attempted to do so. Not only was he trying to keep all of the rewards to himself after chastizing Zimmer for it, but he was also trying to violate the rule of endeavor and steal the rewards from Keros and Zimmer!

    Shelbs unsheathed her blade and quickly intercepted Derek. Her gaze was fierce and locked onto Derek.

    The tension began to rise, and it seemed that they would come to blows.

    "ENOUGH." Captain Lionell shouted in a deep voice

    "The rule of endeavor was invoked by Zimmer on behalf of himself and Keros. This is their prey. Keros found the traces and they both tracked it all the way here. They have already engaged it. You have no right to dismiss their invocation." Captain Lionell said while glaring at Derek.

    "Now. STAND THE HELL DOWN." He shouted in a commanding tone

    Derek snorted in indignation before stepping back and sheathing his dagger. Shelbs maintained her position just in case, and Captain Lionell continued to tend to Zimmer.

    Keros had only been able to spare a little attention to the commotion. He was still probing the snake, learning what he could, and developing a plan to deal with it.

    After a while of testing the snake, he came up with an incredibly simple plan. Truthfully, he had thought of this almost immediately but had dismissed it because he didn't know enough about the snake. Now though, he thought that he knew enough to try it.

    He bent down and picked up a thin branch off the ground, and held it with his left hand. Once he was ready, he darted towards the snake.

    Once again the snake recoiled and entered the S shape before opening its mouth and spurting the liquid. Keros was prepared though and ducked forward. He was in the process of falling and kicked his legs hard to propel himself forward. This allowed him to dodge the projectile while still moving as fast as he could toward the snake.

    He swung his spear down and slammed the shaft of it onto the snake, in the same area that Zimmer had grabbed. He released the spear and immediately planted his foot on top of it to hold it down. Then, with great speed, he slammed the branch down on the snakes tail and pinned the branch beneath his other foot.

    This turned out to be the correct move. The snake put up a violent struggle, and its strength was astounding for its size. He likely wouldn't have been able to keep the snake pinned without the leverage and his full weight. The snake's scales began to flair out all over its body. Had he tried to simply pin the snake under his boot, he likely would have been stabbed on his foot.

    Now, he was in a better position than before, but he still needed to figure out how he would contain this snake. He figured it would be more valuable alive, and it was likely difficult to kill anyway. He couldn't pick it up with his hands though, and what would contain such a destructive snake?

    He needed more information, but that would take time and he knew they didn't have as much time as he wanted. For now, he would have to do what he could and hope it worked.

    "Here kid, use this." Captain Lionell said as he tossed over a black cylinder.

    The cylinder was made of special polymer-like material. It was used to contain treasures that were volatile, therefore it was extremely durable. These cylindrical containers were common, and most mercenary teams would carry at least one or two with them when they left the stronghold.

    Keros unsealed the lid and carefully began to force the snake in starting at the tail. It took quite some effort but he eventually managed to get the majority of its body inside. When he got to the head, he pinned it with the lid before kicking his spear away and bringing the two parts of the cylinder together, locking the snake inside. He sealed the lid and bound the container to his waist.

    The team sighed collectively. They didn't want Keros to be injured, but it was unfortunate to lose out on the potential benefit that the snake would bring. Though, most of them weren't angry. The snake was simply too unique, it would be odd if they hadn't invoked the rule of endeavor.

    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
  • Chapter 22:

    Keros went over to check on Zimmer. He understood just how incredible the little snake was. It wasn't just unique, it was also very dangerous. He was quite worried about the man that had been mentoring him as of late.

    "How is he, Captain?" Keros asked as he squatted beside them

    "Well, he is suffering, that's for sure. I think its some type of neurotoxin. I'm circulating energy through him right now to help break it down." Captain Lionell replied, his hand was pressed between Zimmer's shoulderblades.

    'Neurotoxin?' Keros thought with a pensive look. That is a possibility. Debilitating predators with neurotoxin was a good defense, and could certainly cause a lot of pain. As long as Zimmer was okay, they could learn more about the snake later.

    after a few minutes, Captain Lionell stood up and called the team into an impromptu meeting.

    "Zimmer isn't in danger any longer, however, he won't be able to support himself for now. That being said, we can't afford to stay here any longer. This area isn't safe. Shelbs, take Keros' bag. Keros will carry Zimmer. We need to stay in a tight formation and avoid all battle for now." He said

    Shelbs took Keros' bag from him and Keros hefted Zimmer to piggyback. Shelbs helped bind Zimmer to his back so that he wouldn't fall off during travel.

    The team set off in a tight formation with Keros once again in the middle.

    Keros didn't struggle too much for now, but he couldn't maintain a fast pace. Zimmer himself was likely around eighty kilos, and with his gear included, he was likely breaking one-hundred kilograms. At least this would be a good workout.

    It took a long time for them to find somewhere safe to set up camp. It was still fairly early in the day, but it would be best if they waited on Zimmer to recover, since he played a vital role in their success.

    By the time they had set up camp Zimmer had recovered enough to talk, though he still had labored breaths and couldn't move his extremities. He wasn't content with staying idle either and called Keros over.

    "That container is sealed... The snake will run out of air." Zimmer said in short parts, stopping to take breaths.

    Keros understood what he was trying to say. There were no air holes in the container, so the snake would likely suffocate long before they return to the stronghold. Unsealing the container to resupply the snake with fresh air would pose some risk. They had to decide if they wanted to continually take that risk, or learn what they could now and end its life.

    Keros thought about it. The snake was beautiful and one of the most unique creatures he had seen so far which made him hesitant to end its life. It would also likely bring a hefty payday if they could sell it live. On the other hand, Keros didn't like snakes very much and didn't like the idea of risking his well being to keep one alive.

    Zimmer could see the emotions fluttering on Keros' face and spoke once again.

    "You need strength. You won't be able to hold on to wealth as you are." He said, his voice being noticeably more steady.

    That would also be an issue. Large amounts of wealth would be dangerous for him, and likely attract the greed of individuals that he couldn't contend with as he is now. That being the case, what was he supposed to do?

    "Let's kill the snake. When I'm fully recovered we will take it down together. We can divide the treasure then." Zimmer decided for them.

    Keros could only agree since he didn't have a better solution.

    Zimmer continued to talk with Keros, teaching him many things. They spoke about the basics of cultivation, how to follow tracks, ways to probe and test beasts, and even the common weak spots for many beasts. The time was passed quickly this way, and soon the sky turned dark.

    After the nightly routine, Keros went to stand watch with Shelbs. He had improved his awareness and senses quite a bit since his first-night keeping watch. His senses had also improved thanks to the energy nurturing his body every night.

    His watch ended without incident and Keros moved on to his nightly meditation. Afterward, he slept.

    The next morning Zimmer could finally move again. Though, he wasn't at full strength yet. The team considered this and decided to travel at a slow speed. They were not in a rush and would take as long as needed.

    Zimmer stayed in the center of the group with Keros, both for his safety and also out of preference. He had taken a liking to the kid and decided to mentor him as a mercenary. He was second in command of the Dusk Hunters and was privy to more information than the other members. He knew a bit of Keros' past, so he wasn't worried about stepping on anyone's toes by taking the kid under his wing.

    Captain Lionell often had to rebuke Zimmer for being too loud. Though he only spoke when they were relatively safe, it was still best to remain focused and alert.

    The day was fairly uneventful thanks to their speed and caution, and another night passed.

    The next day, Zimmer had fully recovered his strength and returned to his position in the travel formation. The majority of the day was spent getting back on track and searching for any traces of large snakes.

    When night fell, Keros was once again on watch duty. However, he struggled to keep his mind focused. Tonight he would likely finish polishing his technique in meditation and begin to draw in much more energy. He was too excited, but he had to do his job first and make sure nothing managed to sneak up on the team.

    He used the hours of being on guard to hone his patience and focus. It felt like much longer than normal before he was finally relieved.

    Keros immediately began his meditation but remembered to remain patient and careful. He had to stay focused and take his time, rushing would only increase his mistakes. He exhaled heavily to release the tension from his excitement and began.

    He maintained his fastidious examination of his skill and took his time to polish the technique. Luckily it wasn't long before he was satisfied with his proficiency and began to fully execute the technique.

    The amount of effort he had to put in to control the power coursing through his body had reduced, and his timing at releasing it seemed almost perfect. The ripples formed and he controlled them with familiarity. He was managing to pull in energy streams with a speed and success rate that amazed him. He wasn't having to put as much effort in either.

    Before, he would have only been able to make three or four attempts. With his speed now, he could likely make more than fifteen attempts! If he succeeded every attempt then he would be able to pull in more energy streams in this one session than he had since he began cultivating! Keros didn't allow his emotions to influence him at this moment. He would have to subdue his excitement until he finished meditating.

    Around forty minutes later Keros ended his meditation. He sported a huge grin as he felt the energy within his chest. He had managed to pull in sixteen energy streams in this session, and he only failed a single attempt. His studious efforts paid off in full, and he once again learned of the importance of hard work and a solid foundation.

    It would take time for his body to absorb the energy, he would have to wait to know how much his body improved. For now, he needed to get some sleep.

    -

    Keros woke the next morning feeling energetic. He stretched and began to observe the changes in his body.

    The most obvious difference was his vision. He could see with greater clarity, and things seemed slightly more vibrant. Most of his senses had small improvements. He felt other small changes too such as in his strength, flexibility, and even in the function of his organs. He found that it was easier to breathe.

    Overall, the changes were very small but they were noticeable. Before, He couldn't tell much of a difference in his body after he had meditated. Nurturing the body with energy was a cumulative process, and his body would become strong by many small increases like last night. The changes might be small now, but they would add up over time.

    Truthfully, Keros' speed was incredibly good for the short time that he had been cultivating. Sure, some talented people might have nurtured their body to a similar extent as him, but they wouldn't be able to pull in as much energy as Keros could now. Soon his strength would soar when compared to many of his peers' thanks to his hard work and patience.

    -

    The day was fraught with many small battles. The team seemed to be releasing pent up stress over not being able to exert themselves for the past few days.

    Everyone's bags started to fill with various treasures. Beast skins, teeth, claws, bones, and organs were kept if they held any value. Keros of course did his fair share of fighting, and he contended with many of the low-level beasts that stood in their path. Though the value of these beasts couldn't be compared with the ones killed by the rest of the team, they still provided plenty of meat.

    The team seemed to have kicked it up a notch. As if the first dozen days were just to allow Keros to acclimate to the foreign environment. Their increase in effort paid off in many ways, one of them being the success in finding traces that appeared to be from the Blue-tongued snake.

    The Blue-tongued snake had a unique scale pattern on their bellies and the experienced would be able to identify the minute traces left by those scales.

    From the traces, it appeared that the snake was a similar size as the other one they killed. This was perfect since it was within the team's skill level to be able to kill it, and it would give them a small bonus. They didn't want to be too picky and let this one go since there was no guarantee that they would find another one, and even more unfortunate would be to come across one that they couldn't defeat.

    The team scouted the area and set up a perimeter. They would wait in this area since the traces left showed that the Blue tonged snake frequented this area.

    Two days later they spotted the snake for the first time. The snake was forty-five meters long and slightly thicker than the last snake they killed. Its scales were a shiny silver color, with white chevron patterns on its back. Its tongue flicked out of its mouth and shown a color of electric blue.

    The team had to wait on the snake to leave the water. They waited until it had slithered some distance from the riverbank before encircling it and cutting off its retreat.

    Keros stood roughly twenty-five meters from the team and observed while also keeping a watch for any threats that might attempt to intervene.

    The battle began.

    The frontliners were supporting each other to draw the snakes attacks, the strikers used this opportunity to try and wound the snake. Unfortunately, the snake had a strong defense and made it difficult for the strikes to land a clean hit. The snake was very quick and aggressive, it struck out and retracted at an incredible speed, but would also whip its tail to fend off those that came too close.

    This would be a long battle, and the Dusk Hunters would be forced to slowly chip away at the snake. This would be dangerous, as it meant that they would need to last a long time without making any significant mistakes. One slip up could cost them a great price.

    Keros watched the battle and learned what he could. Everyone had their job and had to coordinate with the rest of the team to be effective.

    The frontliners had the most dangerous job. They had to face the beast head-on and anger it so it would focus on them. If the beast changed its focus then they had to strike out and pose enough of a threat that it focused on them once again. They had to be able to dodge, block, and deflect the attacks of their enemies, and it was even better if they could counter.

    The strikers needed patience. They had to wait until the most opportune moment, usually when the beast was attacking the frontliners, and use that opening to strike at the vitals of the beast. The strikers in the Dusk Hunters focused almost entirely on offense, so they needed the protection of the frontliners to prevent being injured too much.

    The supports had the safest job, but equally as important. They had to adapt and fill the gaps where needed. If a frontliner needed a moment of respite then it was the supports job to pick up the frontliners slack. If a gap in the formation was opened, they would need to fill it. If someone was injured, they were responsible for getting the injured out of danger and then filling their position. Should another enemy engage the team, they would be the first ones to respond to it. Adaptability was key for this role.

    Many newbies started as support since it was the role with the most flexibility and often the least danger. If things were going well then support was almost entirely unnecessary. However, good support could influence the battle in a very significant way.

    Keros thought that he would be happy with any of these roles, though his current skills leaned more towards being a frontliner. He was good at dodging and evading damage, which was one of the most important aspects for frontliners. William relied on brute strength and his shield to block much of the damage that he would take, while Captain Lionell had a more rounded skill set that allowed him to be flexible and adapt to each attack.

    Keros focused on Zimmer and Shelbs next, the two people who had shown him the most kindness so far.

    Shelbs was a striker and used a falchion. She cleaved and chopped with high speed at her target before retreating. Her speed when retreating wasn't the fastest but she made up for it with agility and flexibility.

    Zimmer was one of the two supports. He adapted extremely well and had a good sense of how the battle was unfolding. He seemed to be able to predict the times and zones that would need support and was able to arrive in the right position at the perfect time. His actions saved many of the team members from being injured unnecessarily and took a lot of pressure off of the frontliners.

    Though there were some mistakes and coordination wasn't perfect, overall, the team worked well together and had amazing effectiveness.

    That fact was perfectly exemplified after thirty minutes. The snake's body began to accumulate injuries, and its tough scales were being shaved off. It made many odd noises, likely crying out in pain.

    Things were going well, and the team was still in good shape. A few people had minor injuries but that was common in any battle. This fight didn't accurately convey the danger of the wilderness, instead it would give a spectator the impression that beasts were at the mercy of humans.

    In fact, even Keros had some slight doubts. Other than the ape, he hadn't seen much that the team hadn't been able to handle with relative ease. He had been told repeatedly that the world outside of Enceladus was filled with incredible amounts of danger but he had yet to experience such danger. Though, he was spectating experienced mercenaries. He hadn't faced any of the strong beasts yet and couldn't accurately judge the danger himself.

    However, his opinion changed at what he saw next. Another snake appeared and it happened to be a Blue-tongued snake as well. Though half the size of the one that the team was currently engaged with, it would still pose a massive threat to the team that was still locked in battle with the large snake.

    Keros was the only one that had noticed the snake at this point.

    He quickly pressed on the earpiece he wore.

    "Another snake! Around half the size of this one, at Captains ten o'clock. roughly thirty meters away." Keros said as calmly as he could. Zimmer had instructed him on how to concisely relay information to the team to get the information across quickly and keep the comms clear.

    Almost immediately, the comms became active with Captain Lionell barking orders

    "William split off and intercept. Derek, Casey, go strike for William. Christy, provide support for team two." He bellowed over the comms.

    Immediately, half of the team split and went to intercept the new snake that was quickly slithering in their direction.

    Things quickly became erratic. Team one was still in combat with the large snake, and their combat ability was just halved. Team two was composed mainly of those with less capability. This was the only solution that made sense.

    Team two wasn't strong enough to hold off the large snake, but they could likely contend with the smaller one. The large snake couldn't be dealt with in a short amount of time even with the full team, and while the members were split into two teams they had almost no chance of winning. Retreating would be difficult now that they were in this position, so a heavy burden was placed onto team two. Team two needed to kill that smaller snake and return to reinforce team one before they lost the battle of attrition.

     

    [author]This is around where the fights begin to pick up. Up to chapter 60, the story focuses far more on combat. In fact, I've had a lot of trouble in my attempts to balance things out, I just want to keep throwing Keros into battle after battle. However, I also want to develop important relationships. Forget mentioning his cultivation speed and progress, which is an entirely different beast in and of itself. Either way, I hope you all have enjoyed the story so far, I promise it only gets better from here! Remember to give me feedback so I can improve as well as the story can improve![/author]

    @TheTaliWaya ~ Hearts Dawn
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