Chapter 3:

Good Morning

Metropolis No. 8 - Erde


I felt like I was wrapped in a warm embrace.

It was vaguely familiar somehow, like a family member you haven’t seen in a while or a plushie you didn’t know you still had.

Then, slowly, I woke up.

My brain started registering different parts of my surroundings.

The surface I was laying in was soft, probably a bed of some kind, as I could feel something blanket-like on me.

The air that reached me was cool, but not uncomfortably so, and it smelled like disinfectant.

It was not until I registered breathing in my immediate vicinity that I opened my eyes-

-and found another pair staring into them right in front of me.

And with right in front of me, I mean that they were probably less than 20 centimeters away. I barely managed to avoid reflexively sitting up and smashing my head into the one opposite to me.

However, I did not manage to avoid the slight shriek escaping my throat, and immediately felt embarrassed, even if it was quiet.

“Ah, you’re awake”, the face said, and I recognized the voice as Mr. Grond’s.

He slowly moved away from me, standing up normally at the side of my bed – oh, this was a hospital. That’s where the smell came from…

Next to him were my parents, one of which was sleeping, while my father looked at me with concern in his eyes. And then, there was a member of the police.

Oh no.

Memories started flooding back into me.

I’d really screwed up big time, huh?

Not only had I trespassed into an area I wasn’t supposed to be in, I also actively mishandled costly equipment from the school.

I opened my mouth to say something, but the taste of smoke on my tongue made me have a violent coughing fit instead.

Nobody moved until I finished, and looking up I was surprised to see a worried expression on the headmaster’s face.

“I hope these are only residual effects. Can’t really have you dying here, for more reasons than just your friends and family possibly being devastated”, he simply stated.

I looked at him directly and let out a final cough, before sitting up in my bed and-

Well, I was going to say something (again), but was stopped (again) when I saw something on the back of my right hand.

It looked like some sort of birthmark, but it had a very peculiar shape, as if someone had carved a rough sketch of a budding plant into my skin.

“Ah, you found it already.”

Yet again it was Mr. Grond who spoke up, my father remaining silent, turning his head away from me this time when I tried to make eye contact, and the police officer just lazily stared out of the window.

“Do you think you can walk?”, he continued. “Your burns and other injuries should have been healed, but…”

“How?”, I managed to force out.

Magic could do many things, like being used in fights to attack or defend, assisting in day-to-day life, or doing some kind of grand shit to impress your friends with, but healing people wasn’t a part of that. And there was no way I could’ve recovered from the overheating suit burning my palms already – right?

“Well, it’s… a long story.”

He awkwardly scratched his head.

“For now, can you walk?”

I tried moving my legs, and they did respond, even if the movements felt like I was wading through water, but I wasn’t done asking questions just yet.

“What happened at the clearing? I just remember everything going white…”

“Again, it’ll take a while to explain, but I’ll get around to it eventually.”

Not getting any information was starting to annoy me, but it wasn’t like I could do much about it.

Letting out a sigh, I informed the headmaster that, yes, I could probably walk as long as I took it slow. His face looked a little less tired than usual.

“Well, that’s good news then. Time to get up and meet the others.”

“Who…”

“In time”, he said, already having anticipated the question. Turning to my father, he asked “I hope you don’t mind me abducting Vide for a bit?”

Instead of saying anything, dad just swallowed and nodded.

“Perfect. Come with me, then.”

***

After walking out of the hospital (still in my hospital gown; I did ask for letting me dress properly, but Mr. Grond clearly didn’t care enough for me to press the issue), we entered an inconspicuous building nearby.

It looked just like a regular house from the outside, same grassy walls, same low build (up to a third floor I’d guess), windows, a door, you get the picture, it sure was a house.

But from the inside-

-it still looked very normal, almost boringly so.

“What’s this place? Doesn’t seem to be worth all the secrecy.”

No answer.

It was starting to get on my nerves, but I just internally shrugged it off in resignation.

The white hallway had two simple wooden staircases, one leading up, one down, and in spite of what I expected (don’t secret or important rooms tend to be under the surface?), we took the ones to the first floor, where three doors and another staircase were waiting for us.

Opening the door directly in front of us, Mr. Grond led me into a room where nine other people with ages ranging from sixteen to the mid-twenties were already sitting around on plastic chairs that looked to be about as comfortable as a pile of bricks.

“Alright everyone”, he said, “the final candidate made it here. Time to inform you about everything going on…”

The few eyes that hadn’t already turned to us upon opening the door now joined the others. I scanned the room.

Most of the faces were unfamiliar (I might have run into them somewhere on the streets once or something but who would remember that?), with the significant exception of Jasmine. Her face spoke of disbelief.

I wasn’t particularly happy about the attention, so I just took a seat at the right side of the room in the back and tried to not stand out any more than necessary.

It didn’t work out too well.

The only person to take their eyes off me was a young man I’d put around 21 years of age, dressed in pretty average clothes – a simple pair of dark blue jeans, grey shoes, and a loose black shirt covered his large body. His face hadn’t been anything remarkable either, his hair was a simple dark brown and he didn’t have any facial hair to speak of.

The headmaster positioned himself at the whiteboard on the other side of the room and knocked against it twice to gain everyone’s attention.

“Okay, thanks for coming, everyone. I don’t know how many of you noticed it already, but you guys have something pretty important in common that we need to talk about. Yes, Ashe?”

On the left side of the room, middle row, a boy who looked to be the youngest person in the room along with the girl next to him stood up. Probably younger than me by a year or two, blonde hair, black shorts, and a dark green shirt, not too tall but a toned body.

“I assume it’s about these marks on our hands? Both me and my sister have had them show up two days ago.”

My eyes immediately shot to the bud sketch etched into my skin.

“You guessed right”, Mr. Grond replied. “You and Holly aren’t the only people who got these. The other eight also have received that magical… thing. It proves you are a candidate.”

There was a moment of silence. Maybe he’d expected a bigger reaction, but all he got was awkward looks.

“Oh right, I should probably explain what that means.”

Yawning, he turned on the whiteboard.

“So every hundred years, give or take a few, there’s this egg that just shows up somewhere in our country.”

A photo showed up on the whiteboard.

On it – was the stone from the clearing.

An egg?

That thing?

“And, well, it contains a legendary beast, one of seven. The same thing happens in the other countries, one egg in each. Ignis, Ventum, Aqua, Lux, Umbra, Aether, you know about them, I’m not here to give you a Geography lesson. Anyway, so the beast inside the egg observes the people here and picks ten people as candidates – “

Mr. Grond gestured towards us.

“– to become its partner. Ever heard of the Prophecy?”

At that, Holly, a bit taller than her brother and wearing a casual light blue dress accentuating her flaming red hair, shot up, starting to talk without getting prompted.

“The Prophecy talks about a coming war at some point in the future, but nobody actually knows when it will happen for real. There are many rumors about certain details being hidden from the general public and what these details are, but whether any of them are true – “

“Yeah, we got it, thanks”, the headmaster interrupted her. “I can’t give too much information, but essentially, this whole selection process is connected to that. Oh, and of course, if you give the general public any sort of info about this – “

That familiar chill from the day of the battle returned.

“- you’re dead.”

And just like last time, it was gone again.

He certainly left an impression…

Nobody had physically reacted in any way other than to frown from what I could see.

“Moving on… Right. People with a strong spark in their eyes have a much higher chance of getting selected as candidates, which is why we give them training in advance. And it proved true again this time. So, congrats, you guys may or may not get to save the world, and that’s only if you even get to be the chosen one or whatever.”

This time, chatter broke out.

The twins were looking pretty excited, and so was Jasmine. The unnoticeable guy I mentioned earlier seemed more neutral about it, and the rest of the room had mixed reactions.

“Of course, before any of that happens, we’ll have you prepared properly for possibly filling that role. Which is why all of you are going to form a special forces squad in the military. We’ll head there – “

“Wait, wait, wait, wait!”, another girl on the left side’s front shouted. “I’m still processing the whole ‘save the world’-garbage you just told us, hold on… I get why you’d want to train us in that case, but just shoving us into the military? Some of us aren’t even adults yet! You can’t just – “

“If we don’t properly train you, you might lose out on your chance to become an adult altogether”, Mr. Grond countered. “I know some of you are genuinely excited at this promise of adventure, but trust me when I say that war isn’t anything pretty.”

At that, the girl simply made a noise indicating annoyance and blew a strand of her light blonde hair out of her face.

I frowned.

History might have not been my strong suit (nor were any subjects that are simply focused on memorizing dates or formulas) but I was completely certain that there had not been any significant battles in a few decades – definitely for long enough a time that the headmaster couldn’t possibly have participated in one.

Yet the way he spoke and something in his eyes also assured me that there had been something in his life making him able to speak from experience.

If the number of questions I had about him kept growing at this rate, it wouldn’t be long before he became more of a mystery to me than biology.

“Anyway… I’m supposed to tell you more, but I’m really not in the mood right now.”

I couldn’t tell whether that was just regular laziness or if the girl’s question had brought up some uncomfortable memories.

“Well, I guess the colonel can just inform you about all the rest. You got all the important stuff down.” Mr. Grond moved to the door and indicated to follow him. “Let’s show you to your place of work for the near future.”