Metropolis No. 8 - Erde
Our story begins in the boys’ locker room.
Thrilling, I know.
It was just another day of school. For the last class of the day, we had PE and I was decidedly not looking forward to it.
Not because I was especially bad at sports (I was a little above average if I had to take a guess) or because of the locker room’s foul odor (though that didn’t exactly help in any way). If anything, if those had been the only problems, I still might have enjoyed my time there.
No, the reason I wanted to just skip class instead was something – or more accurately, someone – else.
Having finished changing, I stepped out of the room, took a deep breath of actually breathable air, and approached the athletic field.
Most of the others from my class were already standing next to it, doing warm-up stretches and all that, separated into two groups. Sure enough, the smaller of the two had all eyes on me, openly grinning with clearly malicious intent in their eyes.
Sparkling with life.
All of them had a strong amber glow in their eyes.
It was supposedly a sign of great potential for magic, and even though there had been multiple scientific studies clearly saying that there seemed to be no link between that shine and magical potential, the people of Terra still kept their belief in something some old fart who had no idea what he was talking about might’ve randomly spouted while drunk.
Nobody really knew where the myth came from, but somehow it became significant enough to influence the lives of the people in certain ways.
For example, being split up during PE.
While they were trained by people qualified to teach sports, the people that had a weaker glow had to make due with their sweaty, overweight physics teacher who tried inserting his own subject into it at all costs.
This alone might not have been so bad – after all, there were plenty of people to share the pain with me – but sadly, I was the one whose eyes shone the least, and by a significant margin at that.
I’m pretty sure you can figure out what that would result in.
However, you might be asking, ‘wouldn’t PE be a good thing then, since your class is separated?’, and to that I say I wish it were so.
But this was a subject every class of a year took at the same time.
And I wasn’t just the one with the weakest eyes from my class, but also from the entire year – even the entire school.
Also, despite having the qualified out of the two teachers, the Sparkly Dudes (that’s what I called them) still had plenty of room to come over and mess with me.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are good people among the Sparkly Dudes, but the majority of them had developed a major superiority complex over the years, and to add to that, their deeds went largely unpunished.
And so, I found myself lying face down on the ground because one of them just happened to hold out his leg right in front of me. Oops, silly mistake. But those accidents do happen, right?
I sighed into the grass.
“Vide, c’mon. There’s enough shit laying around here, you don’t need to add to that.”
A familiar voice approached me and I made the effort to slightly turn my head towards the left to see an outstretched hand in front of me. I lazily grabbed it and let the guy it belonged to pull me up.
“You’re an asshole too, Arthur.” I smiled slightly. Arthur faked being hurt, dramatically leaning backwards and putting the back of his hand to his forehead.
“Your words wound me. I thought we were friends, but I can see it is not so anymore…”
“Drama club isn’t until tomorrow, so leave it for now. Forgot your kit again?”
The baggy pants the blonde seventeen-year-old was wearing definitely weren’t made for running, and he hadn’t changed his boring black shirt either. I didn’t know whether he’d even entered the locker room since I had been a little late to arrive.
“Well, I wouldn’t say I forgot, but I don’t have it on me.”
“So you’re just being lazy as usual.”
“Hey, it’s not like this class is good for anything anyway.”
Fair point, I admitted, when the last of my classmates arrived fashionably late (by ten minutes, but the teacher didn’t care so neither did we).
School ended without much to write home about.
Surely enough I did find myself lying in the dirt again a number of times after the first, but that was to be expected. Just usual business.
“It’s kind of odd, you know”, I said.
“What is?” asked Arthur. “There’s been a bunch of weird stuff going on lately. The headmaster looks even more tired than usual, the Sparkly Dudes are getting extra-extra training, and Practical Magic class was cancelled multiple times recently.”
I snorted. “Jasmine was not very happy about that one.”
“Well, it’s one of the few subjects she’s good in. Can’t really kick the ass of a music test.”
“True. But no, it’s not any of those. I mean these.”
I held up the light blue bodysuit I had just taken out of the locker. One big white line ran from the back and front of each foot up to the chest piece, all four connecting to a small box of metal, from where two new lines ran across an arm each, meeting a small brownish hemispherical gem at the back of the hand.
“Oh, our practice suits? Yeah, now that you mention it… We do get to take them home every now and again, but we don’t have any homework to do with them this time.” He eyed it in thought.
“Maybe it’s nothing, but with everything else that’s happening, everything seems suspicious at this point.”
“It’s not like we’ll be able to find anything out anyway. If anything, maybe the guys who are in training for the military will learn about it, but they’re sworn to secrecy.” Arthur shrugged. “And that covers almost all of the shiny eyes. The only reason Birch isn’t included is because his parents are politicians.”
“Yeah, and given how much of an asshole he is, even if he were to know something, I wouldn’t want to hear it from him.”
“Agreed. Anyway, I’m heading to the teleporter, staying at my dad’s today and you know how far away his place is.” With that, Arthur waved goodbye and headed to the back of the building while I left through the school’s automatic doors.
I spend most of the way home lost in thought, but after not being able to figure out why we were supposed to take home the suits that allowed us to utilize very basic magic for half an hour, I gave up, kicking at the earth that made up the sidewalk.
Since the invention of hovering cars, asphalt had slowly given way to simple ground again, and the trees planted on every rooftop spent some nice additional shade to hide from the summer sun. House walls usually had a bunch of grass planted on them, so each building had to be a bit wider at the bottom to counteract gravity possibly ruining it.
I hadn’t been around back when things still were more removed from nature, but I had heard the stories from my grandparents and was pretty thankful for it being different now. Some of my classmates said the old times were cooler because everything looked the same now, as though it hadn’t been the case with all the fat blocks of concrete that were supposed to be houses.
Just behind the house I was living in with my parents there was a large forest I loved to take walks in. I could spend hours just soaking up the atmosphere and listening to all the noises surrounding me.
A few weeks ago, I’d even found a small clearing somewhere in there (my sense of orientation wasn’t the best, but I had memorized a lot of the paths I’d taken so I could find any specific location I had in mind pretty easily) where a massive tree stood. It was pretty tall, maybe the tallest in the forest by just a bit, but much more impressive than its height was its width, large enough that fifty grown men wouldn’t be able to fully wrap around it, and a lot of its roots stuck out of the ground, running across the clearing and going back into the deep just barely beyond the edges.
Between the roots, at the base of the tree, there was a strange stone not unlike amber; however, its color was lighter and faded into an off-white in the middle, as if the amber enclosed a ball of light hiding something from view. It felt like it was pulsing with life.
Despite its unnatural impression, being near it felt soothing somehow. Similar to just relaxing in the forest, but stronger. When I first found it, I had just sat down beside it, and next thing I knew, I was talking to myself about my own problems – no, I was talking to the stone.
It was strangely liberating.
Soon enough, I found myself coming back to that spot, sitting down for a little while and just talking about life. About school. About my family. About my friends. About my dreams, about the weather – anything, really.
And today should have been no different.
As I was approaching my home, I was already thinking about what I should talk about today, just wanting to put away my school stuff before heading there.
But when I opened the door, the headmaster was sitting in the living room with my parents, looking in my direction as though he had known I would enter at this exact moment.
He was not a man whose looks would make you think he was an authority – his hair was greasy, the black pants and rose-colored shirt stained, his beard was not groomed at all, and worst of all, he was wearing socks and sandals.
After a long moment of silence (aside from the headmaster slowly and noisily sipping his coffee), I looked at my parents and confusedly gestured towards him.
That’s when Mr. Grond put down his cup.
“Good to see you, Vide. I was just having a fun chat with your parents. Good people, good people.”
He let out a groan standing up. My father, a not too tall but very slim man in his late thirties awkwardly scratched his head and tried an encouraging smile, while my mom, older by a few years and a little rounder, looked more concerned for me than anything else.
“You see”, the headmaster started again, “there was an interesting discovery recently. There was something of an incident…”
He paused for a moment, an unreadable expression on his face.
“Anyway, to make a long story short- “
And not reveal any information, I thought-
“-essentially, we think there is something interesting in the forest. And I thought, hey, you live close to the forest and seem like the type to take strolls in it every now and again, maybe you could help us with this.”
The only thing I could think of was the clearing, and I wasn’t sure whether I was comfortable with sharing that. For now, I kept quiet.
“Well, your parents confirmed that you have been going to the forest frequently.”
Then, suddenly, as if it wasn’t a bright and hot summer afternoon, a chill ran across my spine and everything seemed to go dark for just a moment.
“Apparently, you’ve been going even more often lately. Did you find something?”
And just like that, the feeling was gone again.
I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
Oh, absolutely not.
I didn’t want him anywhere near that place.
“No”, I said, my voice hoarse. I cleared my throat.
“No”, I repeated. “I’ve just been feeling the heat a lot lately and the forest is nice and cool. That’s all.”
A moment where nothing happened.
Then a bright smile spread across Mr. Grond’s face.
“Is that so? Too bad, too bad.”
I continued to stare at the place he just stood in while he walked past me and out of the house.
“But don’t worry”, he added, just so that I could hear it, “we’ll find it anyway.”