As the sound of the bus engine disappeared within a distance, Ace and Freya were left in silence in front of the bus stop to King’s Hospital.
Slowly they began to make their way through the parking lot. As Freya clung onto Ace, both children were at a loss for words attempting to process the events. Crossing the road a silver SUV blocked their path as the doors slung open with Ryan appearing in front of the two. With haste, he stopped them both from advancing.
“You two, we need to talk”
“What is it?” asked Ace
“There’s no time to explain everything,” his tone of urgency was leaking through his voice “but you cannot see your parents right now.”
“What are you talkin’ about—?”
“Look, Renaissance is making their move,” he interrupted. “You cannot trust anyone until everything cools down there’s only one safe place you can go.”
“Acey…” as Freya tightened her grip on Ace’s arm he stroked her hair reassuring her safety,
“Go on, tell me what you can.”
“Look, Ace, Your dad was investigating as many leads and loose ends as he could to find as much as he could on Renaissance, he had likely been getting too close for comfort for them to keep him at it, hence the attack.”
“But then how would they—?” A realisation struck Ace as Ryan confirmed his anxiety
“Renaissance infiltrated the police force.”
A deep silence overtook the conversation. Ace tried to think of what to do from here, but most importantly he had to keep Freya safe. What should I do?
“Look, I’m not saying this is the best choice but it’s the only one we’ve got…”
“Tell me, what’s on your mind?”
“You’ll have to enrol into Doyle’s institute, I’ll be honest, I don't trust them any more than I would a pathological liar.”
“Then why’s it our only bet?”
“Because when you get there you’ll have one person you can trust completely. And this place is more guaranteed to keep both you and Freya safe. The institute has dorm buildings.”
“That would ease my worries… I guess?”
“When you get around to it you’ll need to meet this one person…”
A week later…
As the chatter turned down, students got back to their seats as the teacher walked in.
He was tall, handsome, hair made of charcoal and his stubble showed dignity. As he made his way to his desk he threw his book to land on the desk as he began to speak.
“I’ll be your form teacher from now on, I’m Silver C. Heins” as he wrote his name on the whiteboard he looked to the class, “Ya better remember that, if you forget it you’ll be expelled.” As the whole class of 14 students took a second to process his words, they all roared in return complaining about the outrageous statement.
“Now, now, I’m only joking”
“Screw you, Mr Heins!”
“It’s not funny to joke about stuff like that!”
“You kids have no sense of humour do ya? Anyways, before we get settled, we have a transfer student that will be joining us. Oi, come on in!”
Silver turned to the door, as the student walked into the centre of the room, he analyzed all the students and then turned to face them. His hands were kept in his pockets. He took his hand to his face to adjust his glasses and with a confident half-hearted voice he said
“I’m Ace Adams, good to be here.”
Throughout the homeroom students murmured and chattered, and they didn’t seem to want to take a break from it. Ace kept to himself, sitting his head on his palm with occasional yawning he thought “I really should’ve slept early last night.” His mind began to wander as the little time left dragged on. He glanced around the close noticing a few pairs of eyes peeking towards him, all of them curious, or maybe filled with contempt.
“Ah, almost forgot, unless you don’t know already, the first period will be a combat and abilities exam, so everyone do your best. Now, dismissed!” as the teacher cleaned up his desk each student left for their exams. Ace, however, had other plans.
“Mr Heins,” he said
“Need somethin’? I can show you where the exam is if you want”
“I appreciate it but first,”
“Hm? What is it?” as he waited for Ace’s next words he faced and looked down at him.
“Ryan Caine asked me to look for you.” as he mentioned his name, Silver paused in thought. “He said you’re a person I can trust here.”
“Is that right?” as the teacher frowned, he got back to clean up his desk, holding his books by the hip as he turned to Ace. “You have a sister, right? Bring her and come to my office after classes. We’ll talk then” as he left the room Ace swung his bag over his shoulder and made his way to the exam hall.
The combat exam was held in an insanely large hall with an open ceiling where the sky was all you could see. It was like an arena.
Thinking back to his introduction, Ace was told that combat training in this Institute is required to test any prototype inventions and find talent within the students who could truly become valuable assets to the institute.
Those inventions would potentially involve the use of artificial bionic human body parts. These students have to be in good shape mentally and physically, hence these exams.
“Technological advancement, huh? What a charade...” Ace murmured to himself. Lost in his own thought he is taken by surprise as one of his apparent classmates approached him.
“Hey, transfer student, lemme guess, you’ve no idea which weapons to use?”
“Wh-who are you?” As Ace looked at the well-dressed boy he couldn’t help but tease him.
“Who am i—?” the boy was shaking “You bastard, do you know who you’re speaking to?”
“I don’t, that’s why I asked, did you hit your head or something?” Ace kept a calm composure yet his mind kept itself from laughing.
“Ace, you’re being rude,” said Laverna
“I know, I know, couldn’t help it”
“Well, be honoured to find out for I am—”
“Ah, whatever, the instructor is here, you better hurry here too!” As Ace blew him off, the students in the class murmured and tried to hold themselves from bursting into laughter as they also lined up in front of the instructor.
“Listen, all of you, today I want to test all your abilities, pick any weapons you want, and strategize to your best ability. I’ll announce after all exams are concluded! Any questions?” As the coach asked he browsed the line to see Ace’s hand up. “Ah, the new student, Ace, what is it?”
“You said to strategize and use whatever weapon we want, is this gonna be a one on one duel type exam?”
“Very perceptive new kid! That’s right, we have already determined the pairings for the duels. So before that get ready by choosing your weapons and equipment, that’s all!” Just as the teacher finished his speech, the students hurried to see what equipment was available, it was a wide variety, from guns to spears, from swords to shields. It was very impressive to see. All the students took a while to choose, what if they wanted a long-range strategy, what if close-combat isn’t their best? Such questions swirled within their cognition.
Once everyone was ready with weapons and equipment in hand the coach announced the first match up.
“For the first duel- present yourselves, Curtis Cromwell and Ace Adams!” As the pair placed themselves on the arena Ace looked at his opponent.
“Ah, you’re that guy from before—”
“Tch, your rudeness has no limit.” he tightened his grip on his sword, the well-equipped boy had chainmail and two longswords to his sides. “I’ll put you in your place, Ace Adams! That is a Cromwell Family Promise!”
“Uwa— this guy really has it in for me, reminds me a lot of Colt”
“It’s common for nobles to have a sense of arrogance, Ace.” said Laverna “I’m assuming you won’t be wanting my help in this duel.”
“Yeah, leave it to me, your introduction course was really helpful. Thank you, Laverna.”
“It is my pleasure. Whenever you’re ready.”
“Oi, oi! Where’s your equipment Ace? If you were planning to lose you could’ve told me so!” As the pompous boy burst into laughter Ace kept calm, although his vein began to show. Confused, the class giggled along.
“Ah, my equipment? Coach! Is it okay that I brought my own?”
“I don’t think it's a problem, we are examining strategies and one to one combat, so if a student’s own weapons are to give strategic advantages then it’s allowed! If anything it is possible to be credited just for that. While choosing the weapons we provide, is also something we take into account.”
“Then if you don’t mind me- Laverna! Majin-Mode!”
A dark smoke enveloped Ace’s body, as the smoke expelled itself, his top changed colour and became a jacket.
While a red hooded sweater formed under it. His glasses disappeared and his shoes turned black with his midsole turned into a beautiful blood velvet.
His mouth and nose were covered by a noir mask of a demon’s face. In his left hand appeared a charcoal coloured M92 Beretta and in his left hand was the jet-black katana. The hilt had a button and behind the blade, the same pyrotechnic mechanism now parted by a red flat surface.
As the students were in awe, Ace swung his sword to the side as he cleared the mist produced by his nanotech.
“It really feels cooler than I thought it was, haha!” The room was speechless, the instructor was impressed, and Curtis was Curtis.
“Hah! Don't think you can beat me just because you pulled such a trick out of thin air!” he said in frustration “Get ready to be defeated by the next Heir of the Cromwell Family!”
“Oi, the least you could do is be impressed…” murmured Ace.
“What’d you say?”
“Nothing. Coach! We’re ready!”
“Then without further ado. Begin!”
Just as the coach gave the sign, Curtis was on his feet dashing towards Ace.
Ace calmly walked towards Curtis. Observing his moves.
Curtis reached his attack radius, he starts to swing both his swords at Ace. One after the other, Ace manages to evade them one by one. He leans back, forward, to the left and back.
As Curtis wasted his breath grunting with each swing he took and every “You bastard!” Ace threw his sword in the air as he took his gun into his right hand. He dashed back as he aimed and shot his opponent twice, each shot making dents in his armour giving the armour he wore a pair of metal nipples.
Ace flipped backwards as Curtis fell on his bottom, while the katana fell between his legs, giving him a scare, which he lost consciousness to.
“Ah. Oi, I don't think you have a right to be defeated so easily…” As Ace picked himself up he walked to Curtis to disassemble his katana. As Ace picked up the sword all his classmates began to cheer.
“This transfer student is really something else!”
“Definitely, you think he could teach us a thing or two?”
“You think he got a girlfriend? Or maybe a boyfriend?”
“What was that transformation before, I wonder…”
As the chatter continued, the coach made his announcement.
“Ace Adams is the winner, Curtis Cromwell is the loser of this match!” Before he announced the next match he whispered to Ace “Gather your strength, after we finish with everyone we’ll give you a chance to truly let us examine your ability.”
“Sure, haha…” his mask then dissolved itself as he walked to the seats around the arena. As he sat down he was surrounded by his classmates, as they interrogated and congratulated him.
“So how’d you learn to move like that dude?” asked a tomboyish girl.
“Well, my dad is in the police force, so he taught me some defence moves when I was young, and helped me hone my reflexes.” Ace was surprised and felt humbled as his classmates took interest in him.
“Then how’d you learn to aim so well?” asked a boy with a buzz cut.
“Ah, he bought me a BB gun when I was ten years old, and let me practice on cutouts of cartoon characters I didn’t like-!”
“Hey, can you see without your glasses?” asked another, “I swear you wore glasses before the fight.”
“They’re just a fashion choice, I just feel at ease if I have them on, you could say.” Ace took his hand over his eyes as he generated a new pair of glasses on his nose. His classmates gasped.
“That’s so cool, how'd you do that? Are you some sort of real wizard?!”
“Not at all, they’re nanobots, there’s nanotech embedded into my bloodstream that I can control via a Neural Cloud Link” as they listened to his explanation they had one question.
“Wait, how’d that happen?”
“Well, in a nutshell, I’m pretty much a Cyborg.”
As the conversations kept going and duels kept taking place, Ace took notice of two individuals whose skills outshined the others.
The first individual was a boy of not too many words, he was a little on the short side, his hair was blonde and dark, he had a certain maturity and passive presence.
His weapons of choice: a large two-handed sword and a few smoke grenades (explosive grenades would be a tad too lethal). His body strength was not something to sneeze at. He managed to throw it a few times at his opponent from above. Even throwing grenades a distance back from the sword. Predicting where his target would go with precision.
Eventually, he won the duel paying respects to his opponent and promptly going back to his seat in silence.
Another interesting classmate was a pretty tall girl, with long hair tied in a ponytail. Her gaze was sharp, one look and you’d be hit with a chilling breeze of ice spears.
She used a pair of gauntlets and an automatic rifle. With brute strength, she used her close combat to lead her opponent to a corner where she then would back up and take her shot using the rifle. Strategically, Laverna concluded that her technique was more advanced than she initially evaluated. The two students were Austin Hayes and Ivy Morgan.
As lunch break cut close, the instructor quickly let everyone know all exams were concluded except Ace’s. After lunch Ace would come back to face an opponent to fully examine his abilities. Once that’s done the coach will make the announcement he mentioned at the beginning.
During lunch, Ace wandered the large halls that seemed to illuminate at every corner, as he approached the canteen he was tackled by a mysterious person from behind.
“Acey!” exclaimed Freya, “How was your morning, did you have fun?” As she waited for an answer, Ace placed his hand on her head.
“I guess so, how was yours? Make any friends?” They both began walking as two other children that seemed Freya’s age followed close behind.
“I have! They’re here—” Freya presented an adorable shy girl whose manners were like an angel’s “This one here is Mia!” Then she introduced a boyish girl with short hair. “And she’s Maya!”
“I see, I see. Take care of Freya for me, she does tend to find trouble when she doesn’t expect it, okay?” giggled Ace. While he talked to Freya and her friends a few of his classmates came over to greet him. To his surprise, it was Austin and Ivy.
“Hey, you’re the guy who made the ‘prince’ soil his pants, no?” asked Ivy.
“I don’t remember making anyone soil themselves, much less a prince—” he realised. “You’re talking about the Cromwell kid?”
“Yeah, I’m Ivy, gotta say, you got some serious guts, dude.” as she noticed Freya, she squished her cheeks and asked, “Who’s this box of energy?”
“That’s my little sister.”
“Dude, no way does someone with your face have a sister this cute!” she laughed.
“Ha?! What are you tryna say, huh?” As Ace began a pointless feud with Ivy, Austin kept his expressionless self. He turned to the side as he tried to hold in his laugh. The pair noticed and they laughed as they decided to go on with their lunch, with Freya and her friends splitting on their own.
“Gotta be honest, the first time I’ve seen him react like that,” said Ivy “This dude’s like the definition of poker face.”
“Hey. I wouldn’t go that far.” said Austin “it’s just that I talk fast, and I get to the point, wasting no words.” he explained.
“Ah, the quiet smart kid.” joked Ace “Don’t get me wrong, you’re cool, methodical and I can see where you’re coming from. What’s the point of using words, if they don’t mean anything?”
“I guess I understand that,” Ivy bit her burger as she put together her next words. “So it’s like, Austin doesn’t beat around the bush with words a lot, which I can agree, I’ve rarely seen him try to ease into conversations; though he pretty much never joins them; so, therefore, he keeps to himself until it’s like, important to talk?” as she barely formed her sentence Austin looked at Ace and Ace back at Ivy as he asked.
“That made pretty much no sense.”
“I have to agree.”
“I’ll clobber you both…” she threatened.
Lunch ended as Ace, Ivy and Austin made their way back to the arena, as they walked in they noticed the entire place filled with spectators, all of them who were students. Ace walked to the instructor in confusion, Austin and Ivy following behind.
“Coach, what’s with the full house?” he asked.
“Who knows? I’m guessing you defeating Cromwell wasn’t just a small feat. Anyways—” the instructor pointed Ivy and Austin to their seats “It’s time, take your corner, Adams.”
“Aight.” Ace walked to the end of the arena and waited for the duel. With the coach in the middle, he began to present.
“Well, this is… an unexpected turnout for just an exam!” he kid “Nevertheless, this is the Combat Examination of Ace Adams. Because of his skill we had to bring some help to properly assess his abilities.” As the entrance doors to the Arena slid open the crowd cheered. “This examination will be done by Ace’s opponent,” a familiar tall figure and silver hairstyle made their appearance “Silver Heins!” with a cigarette in his mouth and hands in his pockets he gazed at Ace.
“Yo, kid, there’s more to your story than you had me believe, huh?” he grinned as he equipped a small lensed pair of tinted round glasses. Ace felt a chill run down his spine as he felt an intense pressure of aura over him. As a cold sweat slid down his cheek he whispered.
“Laverna, switch to hand-to-hand combat, assist to 20%, this ain’t no small fry…”
The arena was quiet, the coach began his countdown, Ace couldn’t help but keep his focus on Silver, nothing too drastic was noticeable from his usual self, but it irked Ace’s instinct.
The round began and both Ace and Silver walked to the centre of the arena, Ace on guard, keeping watch of Silver’s every step.
One step, two steps, three steps, no step. Silver disappeared from Ace’s vision, as he tried to look around for Silver he quickly felt an incoming force, he lifted his arm and blocked a powerful kick from his left.
Knocking him back a few metres, Silver landed on his feet as his cigarette was lit. Ace took a step back before he dashed into Silver’s range with one powerful step. With his palm, he misled an attack on Silver’s head as his real attack would be a kick to his chin. Silver dodged the palm and blocked the knee, he grabbed hold of Ace’s leg but before he could throw him away Ace used Silver’s grip to kick him with his other leg.
Silver dodged and in doing so allowed Ace to break free of his hold as he got back on the ground. Silver rushed Ace and began to attack, he threw a few punches which Ace barely managed to block, Silver began to serve a rush of punches, some of them managing to bruise Ace,’s breast, bicep or shoulder.
Ace ducked and kicked Silver’s legs, managing to stun him off balance. Ace jumped high in the air as he unsheathed his sword, using both hands he lifted it above his head preparing to strike down.
Ace believed this was his win, loosening his focus he looked at Silver’s face, noticing that same grin which he had earlier Ace realised his situation but it was too late. As Ace’s blade reached within a few centimetres of Silver’s head he swiftly grabbed the blade causing his palm to bleed.
He pulled the blade closer forcing Ace into Silver’s attack range. Silver took hold of Ace’s collar and launched him into the ground. The coach rang the bell and declared Silver as the winner. Silver helped Ace on his feet.
“You really gave me a run for my money, kid,” he said. “A little rough around the edges but, you could do with less reliability on that AI you got tho.”
“How’d you—Ow!” Silver accidentally pulled Ace’s arm “Whatever, I'm sure you’ll tell me.”
“I plan to, haha.”
After the coach commended Ace on his effort, the arena being supportive and a few people displeased with the result, it was time for the long-awaited announcement. Austin and Ivy commended Ace too as everyone gathered to hear the news.
“As I’ve said, now that the exams are over,” said the coach “I will announce some important news!” He looked around making sure everyone was paying attention.
“In 2 months from now, our institute will take part in an interexchange event with another Academy in a Combat Tournament!” the entire arena was in surprise. “I will now announce the individuals who will take part in representing our academy in this year's group!”
The arena was silent, left in suspense to find out who’ll take part.
“First up, Austin Hayes,” the crowd applauded, “The second candidate is Ivy Morgan!” the crowd cheered along.
“And finally, Ace Adams!” the arena went wild, they whistled, howled and cheered as they applauded the three.
Well, this should be fun...hah…
After everything calmed down, classes went back to normal lessons. Excluding Ace, Ivy and Austin as they were taken into Silver’s office with the coach.
The room was so spacious and it even had couches, it was like a club room. Coach left the group as he finished talking to Silver. Once the three took seats on the couches, Silver pulled a chair near the coffee table in the middle.
“Alright, so as you know, the tournament will happen in 2 months.” he explained “from now until then I’ll be in charge of mentoring and preparing you for that day. Any questions?”
“What if we don’t really wanna?” asked Ivy.
“Well, we can’t force you… but I’ll hope you consider it when you hear about the winning prize.” All three students’ ears perked up as they waited for Silver to name the price.
“The winner will receive a generous amount of cash, like a bursary, you could say.”
Although the cash seemed tempting, Ace couldn’t find a reason to go along with it.
“There’s more to it than just a tournament, however.” frowned Silver.
“What do you mean?” asked Austin.
“Renaissance.” The room was silent, the slightest twitch could be heard by everyone. “The tournament’s a front, the Institute is hoping to strike a deal with Renaissance, the reason another academy is involved is so Renaissance doesn’t do anything rash.”
“Wait, are we really supposed to be discussing this here—?” Ace broke in a cold sweat.
“Yes, because I made sure this room is clean of bugs, cams and any possible leaks of sound outside this room.”
“Why is the institute trying to negotiate with those… those terrorists?” asked Ivy.
“That’s what we were trying to figure out, this is what Detective Adams stumbled onto that night of the station attack!”
“Adams…? That’s Ace’s—”
“It’s my dad…” Ace looked to the ground as he fidgeted, he felt his temper rising as he thought about these last few weeks.
“Kid… I know it’s tough, this hand you’ve been dealt is unfair. I don’t know how, but somehow…” Silver struggled to find his words. “I don’t want to force all this on a kid… not you, not Ivy nor Austin.”
Silver sat up and lit a cigarette, calming himself down.
“This… this war is so underground, that what you’ve seen on TV and in the media is barely a scratch of what really goes on.”
As the group kept silent, they kept processing and processing their thoughts away. Ace looked to his feet. He then looked up and straightened his back as he frowned.
“Do you think… Renaissance is trying to find me and my sister?”
“Why would they—” said Ivy before she eased into silence.
“Because if they did… Given how influential my parents are… they could use us to make them do whatever they please.”
“You realise too why Ryan didn’t want you to be seen at the hospital.” exhaled Silver.
What should I do?
After a long and eventful day, Ace finally headed back to his dorm, where his sister was waiting with the takeaway for dinner. Their room was pretty much an apartment, it had everything.
After the siblings finished eating dinner they both relaxed on the couch watching anything that interested them.
Ace was unable to forget about Silver’s words. Renaissance, what was it dad found about them? Unless we can talk to him we’d never know… he thought. Noticing his sombre expression, Freya came up to Ace, embracing him in her arms.
“Are you doing okay? You had a sad look on your face.” She was worried.
“I’m better now. Thanks, Frey.” Ace took his hand and patted her head gently as the stiffness in his shoulders disappeared. “I’m sorry we have to go through this…”
“It’s not your fault, worrywart.” she giggled “If anything I’m thankful we’re safe.” she paused “I miss them, I want to see them. I know they’ll be fine, but…”
“I miss mom’s voice,” said Ace.
“Until we can see them again…” She grabbed Ace’s cheeks as she turned his head to face her “I’ll protect you from any evil girls, hehe.”
“Well, aren’t you a guardian angel.” he chuckled and smiled. It was a smile of relief. “Then I’ll protect you from whatever danger comes our way, like always.”
“So I guess you won’t worry about me getting a boyfriend in the future?”
“No, no, no. You can’t date, If I let you, dad will make me pay for it.”
“Isn’t that your job? Protecting me from danger?” as Freya smirked, she couldn’t help but burst out laughing with Ace joining in.
As the evening drew, the siblings, exhausted, changed into nightwear and finally went into their own rooms. Leaving the worries of today for tomorrow, with the night passing over to a new dawn.
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