The inside of the academy looked much newer than the outside, with its polished tile floors and freshly painted walls. The halls didn’t have lockers, much like the grade school he was in before. The organization made a big deal of using computers for general learning, so lockers weren’t really needed. It disappointed Lucian as he’d read about students talking at their lockers between classes and felt it was a part of the school experience he was missing.
The student traffic was being directed by older students in gold armbands. In short order, Lucian found they were being ushered into a large gymnasium. Students with yellow and red trimmed uniforms made their way into the stands lining the sides of the gym, while students in pure white were stood in the middle facing a raised stage with a lecture for a speaker. On the stage were a group of well-dressed adults chatting quietly amongst themselves. Among them sat Commander Nyx, wearing a black three-piece and his trademark stern expression with equal ease. Even at a distance, the Commander exuded an aura of authority that seemed to keep the general chatter of the room to a dull murmur.
Lucian and Riley found themselves lined up into neat rows as they herded the last students into the room. The ambient murmur of student voices slowly faded as a single voice rose in song. The air seemed to thicken as the voice rose, fell, and danced into being. Soon more voices joined it, all in perfect harmony, making the weight in the air even more apparent.
Lucian looked around, wondering if the song was affecting anyone else and noticed that everyone else he looked at looked almost asleep. Their eyes were half closed and their expressions serene. The growing chorus enthralled even the adults on stage, save one woman on the end.
She was an ordinary kind of pretty, with dark brown hair pulled into a fluffy up-do. She was wearing a royal blue blazer and skirt and stood out from the rest of the soberly dressed adults on stage. She was scanning the room, her eyes searching, until her gaze met Lucian’s. She smiled gently and gave him a slight wave.
Lucian returned the smile, albeit his was more confused than hers, and waved back.
She then pointed at her hand, then to the man beside her. She lifted his arm by grabbing his sleeve and pointed to his hand. Then she pointed towards Riley.
Sensing she wanted him to do the same, Lucian lifted Riley’s arm by the sleeve and looked back at her, curious.
She smiled brightly and took the man’s hand in hers before slowly assuming the same serene expression as everyone else.
Lucian clasped Riley’s hand. As soon as he did, the pressure in the surrounding air broke and the song he’d been hearing washed over him like a cool breeze on a sultry day. The song suddenly sounded more real than it had before, almost as though what he’d been hearing before was from an old broken stereo and what he was hearing now was live. The song rang through his body, seeming to hum in his very bones. A sense of peace and purpose flowed through him. He felt like he was in the one place he was meant to be. That the surrounding people were a single being, and he was an important part thereof. He knew what they would do for him and what he would do in return. There was no doubt, only trust. No singular weakness, only the strength of all. In that moment, in that song, all were one.
The song faded, like the dying ring of a perfect crystal glass. Even as it did, it left the air alive and Lucian’s mind refreshed. The crowd of students around him no longer filled him with anxiety, but a sense of peace.
“Wow,” Riley breathed.
“Yeah,” Lucian murmured.
Riley held up their clasped hands and raised an eyebrow.
Lucian let Riley go with a sheepish expression. “I think I needed that for the song.”
“Oh, yeah. The shadow thing,” Riley said.
“Good morning everyone,” Commander Nyx had assumed the lectern, his normally stern expression softening as he looked at the children before him.
“Good morning, Sir,” Lucian’s voice joined the unified reply.
“I am High Father Joshua Nix and I am honored to welcome our newest batch of aspirant agents to the Academy. To those returning, I say welcome back.
“Long ago, when this nation was not yet a nation and I was as young as you are now, I watched as they broke ground to build the first Academy. I watched as the materials, tools, and land itself was blessed with magics both old and new.” The Commander spoke with a genuine ease befitting his station. It was to be expected if he was older than the country. Lucian couldn’t help but wonder exactly was blessing he had that allowed him to live for hundreds of years and not show it.
“At that time, we still only studied the world beyond the veil. It had not become what it was to become, and neither yet had we,” He said with a tinge of regret. “As this country grew, so did the paranormal world in its shadow. We remained in that shadow, honoring our self-sworn goal to protect the kingdom of man from the darkness writhing beneath its feet. We grew, changed, and became strong. Some argue, perhaps, stronger than was needed.
“Yet we now know that here in North America, the Worldborn are more varied in attitude and the Fiends more varied in power. My children must be stronger, both for the kingdom and for ourselves. This Academy is the crucible. You will enter as precious iron and emerge as blessed steel. This transformation is not without cost, however. It is not without sacrifice. The journey will be long as it is difficult, but by the blood in your veins and the sweat of your brow, the Kingdom is kept safe.”
At some unspoken signal, the other adults rose and lifted their hands as though holding something in salute.
“Welcome, my children, to the road of destiny,” The commander said as he raised his arm like the other adults behind him.
“We salute you!” The adults said in unison.
The Commander and the others had just returned to their seats, the air still ringing with their words, when from the side of the stage, an elder student in a red-trimmed uniform came into view. He was tall and broad in build, filling out his uniform with a distinct bulky muscularity. He was fair skinned and his hair was a fiery red, cropped close to his head. On his arm was the now familiar gold band of Dis-Com. He nodded politely to each adult he passed before bowing to the Commander. He then turned to the lectern in a single fluid motion.
“Hello everyone,” the older boy said, his voice a smooth and confident baritone. “My name is Ivar Redsdotter. I am your newly chosen Disciplinary Committee President.”
A soft hiss quickly silenced the low, but distinct murmur that swept through the red students.
“I would like to begin by thanking the High Father for his stirring words and Singer Ami Curie for leading us in our anthem. I’d like to extend a special thanks to our White-Year singers for their contribution.” Ivar gestured toward the back of the room where a small group of singers stood.
“I’m sure you are all excited to start the new year, especially you White-Years. That said, let’s get a little housekeeping out of the way for the upper classes. As per tradition, today is for the White-years, but if anyone seeks to rank up, you have until the end of the week to issue your challenges. After that, you’ll have to wait until the semester ends. Oh, and White-years are off limits until then as well.
“Besides that, I’m changing transitions this year. If you want to change from the support or intel divisions to the agent division must gain both a faculty sponsor and a Dis-Com sponsor before being allowed to transition. Dis-Com sponsors must be Red-years of at least rank B. Transitions out of the agent division require no special approvals as usual. That said, Red and Yellow years, you are dismissed.”
The students in the stands filtered out along with many Dis-Com students. The singers in white joined the rest of their cohort in the middle of the room as the upper-class singers left as well.
“Thank you all for your patience,” Ivar said, rubbing the back of his neck before cracking it with a quick jerking motion. “Let’s get to know each other a little better. It’s important for you White-years to understand the chain of command here at the Academy. The Faculty and advisers teach the classes and help you choose what direction you want to take in life. Those are their jobs here. They don’t run things though. That is the job of Dis-Com.
“Have a conflict with another student? Dis-Com. You witness something against the rules? Dis-Com. Something broken and needs fixing? Dis-Com. You have an issue with Dis-Com? You come to me. You have an issue with me? Then, and only then, do you go to faculty. Violation of the CoC will get you reprimanded.”
“When you talk to Dis-Com students, they are Sir or Ma’am. They ask you a question? It’s Sir or Ma’am. They give an order, you obey it. You disagree with that order? You obey it anyway and you report it to me. You still don’t want to obey it? You can always compel any Dis-Com student to leave you alone with force, but keep in mind that that is a two-way street. Violence is a language in our world, and it’s one that some of you will learn to speak fluently.”
“Does this feel, I dunno, threatening to you?” Lucian whisper to Riley.
“I’m definitely getting that vibe,” Riley replied. “I think I’m understanding my brother’s change in personality a little better.”
“With that out of the way, on to the basics. All students can choose their division, but keep in mind that we bar those without blessings from the Agent division. This is for your protection. The intelligence and support branches are not as glamorous, but they are no less important, I assure you.
“Know that Blessed all default to the agent branch unless they opt out or are Shadows. If you wish to opt out, let a Dis-Com student know by the end of the day.”
“Shadows can’t be agents?” Lucian heard himself say, his voice coming unbidden.
“Excuse me?” Ivar said.
“I’m a Shadow, but I was told I had to become an agent,” Lucian said, as his thoughts caught up to his mouth.
“Lucian, I don’t think they mean-” Riley started before a sharp bark of laughter cut him off.
“Oh, I do so hope your name is Lucian King,” Ivar said, stepping around the lectern.
“Yes Sir,” Lucian said, oblivious to Ivar’s sudden shift in manner.
Ivar turned and looked at Commander Nix. After a moment of silent communication, Ivar’s gaze turned back to Lucian, his eyes taking on a merry glint. “You know, I was going to let your existence be a surprise for everyone, but since you’ve found your voice early, allow me to give you the spotlight you desire.”
As the eyes of the other white-years students all fell on him, Lucian suddenly realized with horror what he had done. “I didn’t mean-”
“What we mean isn’t always what we do, Mr. King, and in our world, doing is what matters.” Ivar said, cutting him off sharply. “Everyone, I would like to introduce those of you who don’t know him to Lucian King, the Shadow Exception.”