Chapter 2: Academy

Lucian’s alarm was a soft, creeping thing. It took little to wake him, and loud alarms would find him waking up standing with his heart beating like a drum, so he needed something gentle to start the day. Sleep was already elusive, an issue he’d had since moving to Haven. There was no need to end it so roughly.

Lucian slid out of bed, the previous night’s concerns lost to time and replaced by a blossoming excitement. While he’d spent the last few years getting used to using his powers, he was still doing little more than forming and releasing his plates. It was more to flex the muscle than anything else. It was much the same with other children as the Choir was very strict with power usage before joining the Academy. Still, most of them had parents with similar powers to explain and train them in their primary usage and control. Lucian only had Jack who, while very knowledgeable, had no idea what Lucian’s shield generation power even was, let alone how to use it. Since his other ability, Shadow, was always passively active, there wasn’t much for the boy to do besides make his shields. Starting the Academy promised the chance to train his powers actively against other children set his heart to singing. The first thing he did was a handful of basic calisthenics to, as his Uncle said, warm the body. Jack had insisted that Lucian get in the habit as the world won’t let you warm up before it comes for you, so being ready should become a state of mind. The effect of this and his other training was a well-sculpted frame with a focus on speed and agility. Jack had explained that there wasn’t much point in him training his strength since super strength was common in the supernatural world, and he’d never be able to match it. Do what you can do and do it the best you can, Jack had explained.

On the back of Lucian’s door was his new uniform, pressed and ready to wear. It was a pure white blazer and slacks. The white was a deterrent to any shenanigans that would typically result in dirty clothes, like horseplay or fighting. Mary had been aggressively explicit that she wanted that uniform to stay white, and failure to keep it that way would be, at best, poorly received.Lucian finished his morning workout, showered, and got dressed in his new uniform. It had been tailored for him, but it was the first time he’d worn it. He looked at himself in the mirror and smiled despite himself. He knew he was a part of something, but seeing it was entirely different. He gave his hair a final shape up with his hands and headed downstairs for breakfast.Mary didn’t call for breakfast. Lucian knew when it was, and it was expected that if he let it get cold, that was on him. In the kitchen, he found a light breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast waiting for him, which he wasted no time digging in to.

“Your report said the neighborhood had eight versions of the same Faerie Tree?” Mary walked into the kitchen, holding a large smartphone. Her eyes fell on Lucian, and she made a small excited noise. “Wait, wait. Hold on, Girls. I have something I have to send you.” She pressed something on the screen as she hurried over to where Lucian was eating.“What?” Allie’s voice suddenly came from the phone. “Did you just put me on speaker?”

“Yes, now one moment, Allie,” Mary said as she motioned for Lucian to stand up, which he did with obedient confusion. Mary tapped something else on the phone and took his picture. “And sent,” She said proudly.“What did you-” Allie started. “Oh! Looking good, Lucian.”

“Let me see,” Don’s familiar voice joined in. “Now that is what I’m talking about. Look at that hottie.”Lucian felt a blush creep up his neck. “They’re just clothes.” He mumbled, trying to hide his embarrassment.

“Don’t be so modest, Cousin,” Don said. “You look good almost as good as I did when I started Academy.”Lucian had noticed that Cousin was used in the Choir more out of affection than any indication of a blood relation. Don used it towards him regularly, and it gave him a warm feeling.

“The difference being I’ll bet he can keep his uniform clean,” Allie said smugly. “Hey, Lucian, did you know Don got whupped on her first day because-”

“He doesn’t need to hear that.” Don cut in.

“Indeed, he doesn’t,” Mary said as she pushed a button on the phone again. “Ignore that last part and finish eating, Dear. I’m sure your friends will be here for you soon.”As if on cue, the doorbell rang. Mary waved Lucian back into his seat and left to answer the door. Moments later, two familiar faces filled the doorway.

The first was Celia Warwood. When Lucian had been rescued, Celia’s mother and father were there and had let him know that Celia would help him settle into life in Haven. Celia had been a fast friend, tolerant of Lucian’s quiet nature and eager to help him acclimate to his new life. She was a petite girl with a wealth of thick, fluffy, auburn hair that reached her waist. Her skin was fair and freckled, and her eyes green with golden flecks. She looked almost nothing like her mother, but everything like her father.The second was Riley Irons. Riley was tall, slim, and looked something like an adolescent lion. His skin was somewhat darker than Lucian’s, and his eyes were a strikingly dark. Despite his own energetic nature, he’d found Lucian’s quietness inspiring. Lucian had sat next to him in a class they shared for almost two weeks before Riley noticed him. He’d told Lucian that he was pretty amazing to be so silent and mature for his age, and he wanted to learn to be the same way because that was how Commander Nix was. Lucian didn’t have the heart to explain that it was just shyness, not any sense of stoicism. Lucian was happy all the same, as Riley was an excellent friend.

Celia twirled into the room and stopped in front of Lucian with a stylish pose.“When she trips and gets dirty, I am gonna laugh so hard,” Riley said.

“I’m as graceful a six whole otters, Riley,” Celia said as she pushed her hair back.“What’s that even mean?”

“Sounds like it means she is really graceful,” Lucian said around a mouthful of eggs. “Good morning, you two.”“Thank you and good morning, Lucian,” Celia said brightly. “Now, where is my complement? I just gave you a very clear social cue that I want one.”

“Oh, sorry,” Lucian said. “You look very nice. Like a sunrise over a mountaintop.”“How you are so naturally gifted at that, yet can’t tell when you should be doing it blows my mind.” Celia sighed.

“Not getting it,” Riley said.“So she’s-” Lucian began, but Celia held up a hand.

“Don’t explain it. It won’t help,” She said.Riley shrugged, the jab rolling off him more due to obliviousness than social dexterity.

“You guys excited to start Academy today?” Lucian asked as he ate the last quarter of his toast.“Excited isn’t the word for it, Cousin!” Riley said.

“It kind of is, though?” Celia said.“No way. I feel way past excited,” Riley said resolutely. “Today is the day we start our road to Agentdom. Agenthood? Wait, no. Agentness.” Riley nodded and puffed his chest out proudly.

“I don’t think those are words, but I respect your enthusiasm,” Lucian said with a soft chuckle.“He almost carried me out of the dorms this morning,” Celia said with a wry smile.

“I didn’t want to be late,” Riley muttered sheepishly.“Then let’s go,” Lucian said as he rinsed his plate, before leaving it in the sink. “We’re going, Ma’am,” Lucian called out.

“Don’t forget your phone,” Mary called back.“Oh, Yeah. I’ll meet you guys outside,” Lucian said as he hurried up the stairs to his room. He’d had the phone for a couple of years, but he rarely used it so that he still had a bad habit of forgetting to grab it.

Haven was a lot like Maplenut. It was a small town surrounded by woodlands and farms. All the houses had yards, and everyone knew everyone. The town was built around a central downtown strip, which itself was dominated by a single large office building that served as the operations center for the Choir. Lucian thought that it was a bit obvious, but was told that was the point.A few blocks away sat the Academy. It was a simple building, three stories tall, and all red brick and dark windows. The field behind it was large and lined with thick trees. It had sports fields that looked lush and well maintained. A farming community school for a farming community.Due to its central location, most students preferred walking or riding bikes to get there. Lucian noticed some slight variance in their uniforms. Some were trimmed with either yellow or red, a detail Celia explained showed their years. White was first, then yellow and finally red. As they neared the school, he noticed a few familiar faces in white, but mostly unfamiliar ones. Haven had three smaller schools that handled general education before children were Academy age, so it was to be expected. Even still, Lucian found the significant jump in other kids more than a little intimidating.

His unease must have been visible as he felt Celia’s hand slip into his. Her hand was small and soft. She gently pressed her fingers, one by one, into his before giving his hand a little squeeze. “You okay?” She asked softly.Lucian let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding and nodded.

Celia let his hand go as discreetly as she took it. She’d realize Lucian’s nature quickly and had learned to help him recenter himself when he was uncomfortable. It wasn’t something they’d ever spoken about, she just did it, and Lucian was thankful for her help.“Cee!” a nearby voice called out.

The trio was near the Academy at this point, so the students had gotten thicker. Celia scanned the crowd, trying to see who had called her before clapping excitedly. “I gotta go. My people need me,” she said before dashing off to join a small group of other students.“Gotta be singers,” Riley said. “They are like a flock of birds. They get to group up and train before Academy because of how their powers work. So unfair.”

Suddenly a pair of hands slammed down on each boy’s shoulder. The force of it almost threw Lucian off balance, and it was all he could do to keep his knees from buckling. He swiveled his head to be greeted by the grinning face of Reed Irons, Riley’s older brother.“Dude, Reed, What the hell, man?” Riley snapped as he slapped his sibling hand away.

“Oh quit being a baby,” Reed said calmly. “You aren’t gonna break.” Reed leaned away from Riley but keep his hand on Lucian’s shoulder. The two brothers looked very much alike, though Reed was a bit taller and felt bigger. His hands were broad and hard, and his uniform, trimmed in red, looked just a bit tight. He wore a dark gold band on his left arm that seemed unique. Lucian had noticed a few of them in the crowd but didn’t know their significance.Riley made a tight fist, and Lucian noticed his shoulders shifting ever so slightly. He grabbed his friend’s wrist and gave it a firm squeeze.

Riley shot Lucian an angry glare before shaking his head and relaxing his posture. The Choir had rules after all.Lucian noticed an unidentifiable emotion flicker across Reed’s face before settling into smug satisfaction. “It looks like your boy has good sense. Lucky you.”

“Reed,” an older girl nearby asked, “Is there an issue?” She was average height and lean with short black hair, dark, almond-shaped eyes, and a reddish skin tone. She was dressed the same way as Reed, down to the dark gold armband.“Naw, Adia. It’s good.” Reed replied. “Just greeting my little brother here.”

“Ah,” Adia said, her tone now disinterested. She turned and began to scan the crowd of students. As she did, her eyes hung on Lucian for just a moment, his expression unchanged.“I better get back to work,” Reed said, clapping his hands on the boys shoulders again before walking off.

Riley seemed bigger than usual as he watched his brother walk off, his body practically humming with restrained rage. After a moment, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly, shaking himself like a dog exiting a lake.“You okay?” Lucian asked.

“Yeah. Thanks. I almost lost it there.” Riley said with a rueful smile.“No problem. What the heck happened there? I thought you and Reed got along great.”

“We did until a few months ago when he got that stupid armband.”“I was wondering what that was.”

“It’s the mark of the Disciplinary Committee. They basically run the place.” Riley said as he resumed walking. “C’mon, let’s go.”Lucian nodded, and the pair headed inside.

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