*In the previous chapter: The main characters began training with their 'Flares'*
The entire day, the young people trained and trained. Rune never fell through the floor, and eventually, Clint grasped a small amount of control over him impulses; Keila steeled herself, and using the shield of energy and air, she protected herself. When the red light faded to black and their bodies couldn’t take anymore, Tyrene finally called the session to a stop. Rune could barely force his muscles to support his weight as he climbed the stairs, which seemed ten times longer than before. Clint and Keila were worse off, their bodies less use to physical strain; their caregivers offered their arms to the young people, if he hadn’t been so tired, Clint would’ve thought it funny, he and Keila groaning like elderly people, hobbling and struggling to keep from falling prostrate on the metal floor.
Once finally in bed, sleep came like a tidal wave on all the occupants of the room, their slumber undisturbed.
The next day bore the same pattern, they woke, ate, and trained. All day long, sapping their energy. When the light faded from crimson to mahogany, the artificial lights in the building found three exhausted people, laying prostrate on the training room floor. They had all collapsed there when Tyrene called the end of the training session and nothing could raise them to their feet. Except for when Loc announced the last meal of the day. They all struggled to their feet, half asleep by the time they made it out of the building.
Loc asked Rune a question, the only answer was dull eyes and a grunt. The tall man frowned and glanced back at Tyrene. “Hey, boss? These kids are shot ducks, don’t you think we’re overworking them?”
“No, with this extreme power in their grasps, they must be able to control it and that requires extreme training. They’ll be fine.”
Loc said nothing, knowing better than to contradict his boss, but, in his heart, he felt pity for the young people. Their training exhausted them beyond words and almost beyond movement. How does Tyrene expect them to go on like this? He wondered.
But he did, and they did go on, training harder and harder each day. Each of them connected and learned, stretching these unknown parts of their minds like an unused muscle and slowly, they built them. This new gift was a small flame which they needed to fan and feed until it grew and grew. Two weeks passed.
Today is the beginning of week three. The thought struck Rune during a training session. It’s felt so much longer. I hope Artemis is okay. The sarsh wandered through his forest of thoughts as he crept after Keila, who was supposed to be hiding, but she had gotten cocky and was moving, rather loudly, through the grassy field. She was completely unaware the sarsh was gaining on her, invisible and phasing through the grasses to avoid leaving a painfully obvious trail.
I’ll catch him this time, Keila tried convinced herself. I can beat him. She knew it wasn’t true. They were playing tag, and the sarsh had all the advantages; he was fast, silent on his feet, invisible and the grasses didn’t move with his phasing body. The only way to catch him was to find his footprint left behind by his cybernetic foot, which was heavier than his other foot and, no matter how hard he tried, it always showed up.
The young woman gave up trying to convince herself, but she wasn’t giving up in their game, not when she was so close to winning, having already tagged Clint. She knelt on the ground, turning in a slow circle, her almond eyes thinning to slits on her dirty face; she was well aware Rune could see her through the grass, but she just had to locate him, and she could blast him to the ground, which technically counted as tagging him.
There. Behind her, only a few feet away. He’s about to pounce. Keila realized with a thrill of panic. It was the sarsh’s favored form of tagging, which only added to his cat-like behavior.
Rune’s slitted pupils widened to full circles, dominating the entirety of his eyes; his ears lay flat against his head as he focused on the young woman before him, through just a thin screen of reeds. She was looking for him, but she was too late. The sarsh tensed his leg muscles and leaped, realizing a moment too late the young woman had anticipated his attack, throwing out her hands and protected herself.
Rune barely had time to react before he hit the energy field and ricocheted off it, flying into the air; then he was falling again. He landed mostly on his feet, but he fell from the force of the landing. He caught his weight on his cybernetic shoulder denting the soft black dirt, and it left him slightly stunned and the force caused him to lose his focus; he turned visible again, and he crushed the grass beneath his weight, no longer phasing through it. He turned over onto his back, groaning as he tried to gain his breath back; Keila jogged over and lightly tagged his leg with her foot. “I win,” She grinned, and vanished into the reeds, most likely in search of Aurian; the young woman had become fast friends with the only other woman around she could connect with. There were other women living in Vale, but they often paid little attention to the young people, Tyrene kept them far away from the actual civilization of Vale.
The sarsh lithely jumped to his feet and jogged through the reeds to where he knew Clint was waiting for their training session to end. The young man grinned as he saw Rune clear the edge of the reeds. “She got you too? You’re practically unstoppable, yet she gets you so often.”
Rune shoved his friend’s shoulder, making him stumble. “This is only the second time.”
“Sure, sure. Want to get revenge?”
Rune furrowed his light brows at Clint. “What do you mean?”
“You know, like, sneak up on her and pretend to tag her or scare her or something.”
“Why would we do that?”
Clint opened his mouth, then closed it again and shrugged. “‘cause it’s fun?”
Rune’s frown deepened. “Okay. Won’t she be mad?”
“Nah,” Came the dubious reply.
The sarsh bent closer to the young man’s ear so he could whisper his plan in Clint’s ear. Clint grinned. “She’ll know what happened the instant you appear.”
“Maybe.. I know, we’ll argue like we’re both you!”
“She’ll see that you still have two arms,” Clint pointed out.
Rune smiled like a wolf. “Watch this,” He said. “I noticed this last week.” He reached to his cybernetic shoulder, stretching his fingers around to the back, where he pressed his finger on a small, smooth screen. It flashed green and his metal arm fell to the ground, leaving only a metal plate behind where his arm used to be. Clint’s mouth fell open.
“That’s both outstanding and freaky,” He whispered, awed.
Rune nodded. “And now, Keila won’t be able to tell the difference between us,” he paused for a minute. “This is fun,” He finally said.
Clint grinned. “Yeah. I used to do things like this to my sisters all the time; sometimes they would do it with me and get the better of dad. It was fun.” His eyes fell, shoulders sagging as he remembered the day his father left. Rune slapped his shoulder.
“You’ll meet with your father again.”
The response was a weak smile, quickly growing as he saw the confidence on his friend’s face. “Alright, do your thing.” Rune nodded, face serious as death as he studied Clint for an instant. He shrunk down to Clint’s height, his blue hair darkening and his fangs vanishing. His clothing already matched Clint’s army green training uniform. The young man shuddered as he saw himself standing before him. “That’s so creepy,” he whispered, grinning. “Let’s go.”
Rune’s chest burning with excitement as he and Clint moved from building to building, looking for their friend. “Aurian was in the training vault talking to Elric,” Clint informed. “Keila is probably there.”
Rune nodded, his heart thundering in his ears. His training from so many years ago was kicking in, training for stealth missions. His feet were silent on the hard ground, his eyes thinned to slits and he controlled his breath. Clint, however, had no such training. His feet shuffled, his eyes fixed in front of him, his breath came fast and loud and he was grinning like a maniac. Rune glowered at his friend, putting a finger to his lips, then pointing towards their barracks where Keila was leaving the building, glancing around for her friends. Rune grabbed Clint’s arm and pushed him forward, out from the cover of the building.
Quickly covering up his surprise, Clint jogged over to Keila; Rune could hear as he conversed with the young woman. The sarsh had told Clint to act a little strange, like he wasn’t actually himself. Rune quickly made his way around the barracks, so he would appear behind the two young people. He ran out from behind the building, calling Keila’s name.
Keila smiled as she saw Clint appear around the corner of a nearby building, jogging toward her with a smile on his face. “Where’s Rune, Keila?” He asked, coming to a stop next to her in a more stiff postition than usual, a stance that Rune would usually assume. Keila smiled, slightly confused.
“He was back at the field, didn’t he come out of there?”
“I didn’t see him,” Clint lied, struggling so hard to keep him face straight.
“O-0-okay. Should we go look for him?”
Keila took one step before she was interrupted by a call from behind her, a strangely familiar voice. She turned around and saw Clint running towards her, a confused and frustrated look on his face. The young woman looked back and forth between the two Clints, noting they were both missing an arm. “What is going on?” She demanded, her hands on her hips. The second Clint ran up to the second, stopping with an angry huff.
“Rune?!” The disguised sarsh accused. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Keila’s mouth fell open as she turned to Clint. “Rune?” She challenged.
Clint raised his hand in a shrugging gesture. “I don’t know what he’s talking about, I’m not Rune!” He pointed an angry finger at the disguised sarsh. “That’s Rune!” He said, but his face finally broke, laughter bursting from him like a tidal wave. The other was about to argue, but he burst into laughter, bending double.
The real Clint struggled to keep his face straight as Rune laughed and laughed; it wasn’t a regular thing for the sarsh to laugh like this; it began to sound strained and he stopped, straightening and punching the real Clint in the arm. “Sorry, I blew it.” Rune apologized. Clint frowned at him.
“We almost had her.”
Keila pursed her lips, thinking she knew what had happened. She turned to the real Clint, crossing her arm. “Rune, what are you two up to?” She demanded to know, a barely contained smile on her face. It was getting harder and harder for Clint to keep a straight face; he burst. Laughing harder than Rune had, it was genuine this time and Keila could tell, her face twisted with confusion. “What is going on?” She asked again. Realizing it was no longer funny for the young owman, Rune morphed back to himself, a small smile on his face. Clint was on the ground, his face red with laughter. Keila’s smile returned. “What are you boy’s doing?”
“Getting revenge.” Clint wheezed, lying on his back in the dirt, chest heaving.
Keila laughed. “Oh, you boy’s got beaten by a girl and needed something to boost your egos. Typical male behavior.” She tossed the last quip over her shoulder as she slipped back into the barracks, leaving the young men more beaten than they were before.
“We asked for that.” Rune replied, fetching his arm again and reattaching it. Clint climbed to his feet, nodding and grinning.
“It was fun, though. It made me feel like a normal teenager for once.”
Rune smiled evilly. “It just needs to be better planned next time.”