“Adeen?” The girl’s eyes bolted open, her breath shallow. She touched her arms and chest, the fire sweeping across her limbs just seconds before—gone. The heat dissipated. Dyevi slowly oriented herself through her sleep-ridden fog. The world was intact around her, just as she had left it when she fell asleep the night before.
Yet she was shaking. The residual heat from the blast was still on her skin; the ghost of the shrapnel ripping her flesh to shreds remained. She could feel their bite and shivered.
Dyevi took a deep breath to get her mind back in order. All of her recent dreams felt too real. Gratitude to the Academy, she whispered until her breath steadied. When she raised her hands, she was surprised to see her own light brown skin, a smattering of freckles spread across the knuckles like the lights inside of buildings. The scar remained intact on her knuckle. Dyevi rubbed the skin deformation softly. Moving delicately, she got out of bed.
Even as Dyevi got dressed, a knot remained in her stomach. The image of the other woman from her dream—Eva—being ripped from her arms in a torrent of smoke and glass appeared every time she blinked on the back of her eyelids.
Dyevi asked her cantrils to display her class notes on the augmented reality lenses implanted on her eyes, trying to displace the tendrils of the dream. Behind the theories of body modifications, Eva’s heart-shaped face remained. Of all the strange and vivid dreams she’s had in her life, this one was the worst. Right up there with the squadron of Saluta and bonh dying in their own blood on a snowfield. A shiver passed through her again.
What was her subconscious trying to tell her? Probably that she was nervous about her test today. But she didn’t feel nervous, only excited. After she passed her test, which she knew she would, Dyevi would be assigned missions all over the world. Her dreams regularly followed Elementals on missions all over the planet, from a Clara in Birleşme territory to a Terra in Альянс. Perhaps this particular dream had been her brain warning her that missions are dangerous and full of extraneous, uncontrollable factors. That’s what her instructors would tell her when she asked about her dreams. Just her subconscious working through her reality. “Keep on,” Dyevi said to her reflection in the mirror, her dark gray eyes storming. “Once you pass, you can go wherever you want. You just need to follow the rules.”
The deep orange hues in her Corra uniform contrasted with her eyes, making them pop. Dyevi ran her fingers through her freshly buzzed hair and decided to shave Corra patterns into it. After passing the test, Elementals receive face tattoos marking their post. As they move up in rank, they receive more intricate tattoos. Prior to the test, though, students must have completely flawless skin. No piercings or tattoos allowed. However, and Dyevi didn’t know why, students were allowed to shave patterns into their hair that represented their post. So Dyevi shaved a single lightning bolt behind her ear, brushing the thick, black stubble off her neck. She admired her work, straightening her uniform collar as she headed out the door. The dream remained behind with the stubble scattered across her wooden dresser.
The Corran dormitory consisted of a single long hallway with doorways crammed together, all of which were the entrances for a couple dozen rooms. At either end of the hallway were another two doors that led outside. The walls were painted orange and gray, the colors of the Corra class. Lightning bolts were engraved into the ceiling in the desired direction of traffic. Dyevi paused before slipping into the stream of students making their way towards the door farthest from her, but closest to Central.
She felt a tweak of nostalgia. This hallway had been her home for as long as she could remember. The older students’ rooms were towards the back of the long hallway, while the younger students lived closer to the entrance. She passed by the room that had been hers until she was fourteen, when her excellent performance allowed her to move into her current single. She watched two older Corra scramble out of the tiny room, arguing bitterly about the temperature settings in their shared space. As she observed them, a half-grin on her face, she felt a smack on her arm. “Hey, skid,” a deep voice croaked in her ear. Dyevi turned and reached out to stroke her old roommate’s cheek.
“Hello, love of my life,” she whispered and gave Lee a kiss. Pushing her away, Lee smacked Dyevi again.
“You slut,” Lee said, her brown eyes flashing. Her friend rubbed her fingers together and began typing on the air in front of her. “I like your hair decs today. Were you trying to make me feel sexy or something?” Her almost black eyes squinted as she swiped her fingers in the air, glancing through the morning news. “Or are they for your test this afternoon?” Dyevi felt her stomach tighten and loosen again. She slung an arm through Lee’s and pulled her closer, narrowly avoiding a collision with a few kids trying to walk in the opposite direction of the crowd.
“Do you have any idea…” Lee started to say in a low tone but stopped abruptly. Students were not allowed to discuss any information about the tests. Even if they wanted to, the cantrils were always listening. Dyevi was glad Lee stopped talking because she would have had to report her or risk getting in trouble herself. And Lee was her closest friend. She punched Lee in the arm and winked.
The Academy was not really an environment for fostering friendship. In fact, Lee and Dyevi were a unique case. They had been roommates since they started classes at the Academy, around five years old—basically as long as Dyevi can remember. And they despised each other. Then, when they were about ten, they got into a huge fight involving a knife and Dyevi’s hand. After that, for some reason, they became extremely close friends—though still happy when they moved into separate rooms.
Most people within the same post were made to be reluctant allies. But they would always compete for the same missions. The Academy wanted it that way, to keep their students sharp. Also, Dyevi thought, less backlash when someone died.
The pair left the Corran dormitory in the wave of students and followed the crowd to Central, a large building in the center of the campus. The student dormitories, classrooms, and alumni rooms were built around Central like asteroids orbiting a puke yellow gas giant. The campus was largely a repurposed old Soviet town, in which the buildings had been refurbished or sometimes rebuilt to resemble the original structures. Either way, the buildings looked worn and dated—which was exactly what the Academy wanted. If enemies flew overhead, which they rarely did, their spies would not suspect that the best military school in the world resided here, hidden in plain sight.
The dorms too had been rebuilt with unassuming gray stone that supported the many students that lived there. There were twelve dormitories in all, one for each Elemental class. Each dormitory housed a couple dozen students. Elementals were found and brought to the Academy at a very early age. Students wore various colors, which all blended together as they streamed out of their respective dorms and joined the crowd walking across the gravel towards Central. The chatter of two hundred gossiping girls filled the chilled air.
The alumni yurts were built on the opposite side of Central from the dormitories. The large, tent-like buildings were for alumni in between missions while they waited for their next assignment. There were about thirty individual yurts and they were usually full. Alumni were always passing through on their way to the next assignment, eating in the dining hall, intermingling with current students, and helping teachers with classes. Dyevi had seen the inside of a few of the yurts and always thought that her current room seemed bigger. Even so, she was excited to leave their snowy island behind and see the world, even if it meant living in a leathery tent every once in a while.
Central sat unassuming in the center of campus, its tan walls containing the rest of the Academy. The top few floors were living quarters for instructors and non-Elemental staff, complete with personal kitchens and amenities. Adults were not encouraged to spend extracurricular time with students, and so they did not. Dyevi was not even sure if she knew any of her teachers’ real names—students would always refer to their instructors by their titles, like Lieutenant or Commander. The only names she knew were of the Chief Commanders of the various Elemental units. All Elementals were required to memorize the leaders of the Elemental classes every three months, in case of turnover.
Underneath Central, dozens of underground rooms held classrooms, libraries, training rooms, laboratories—endless resources for the success of the Elementals. While encouraged to spend most of their time in their respective element, Elementals would spend years studying countless topics in underground rooms. Fake sunlight bulbs lined the ceiling, providing students with Vitamin D. Dyevi, as a Corra, preferred to spend her time outside, but had originally learned how to run on the indoor track ten floors down. She could smell the asphalt burning up beneath her shoes.
The first floor, which was off-limits to students during mealtime, was the actual kitchen. Outside of time designated for meals and preparation, students were allowed to go in and out as they needed. Most students at the Academy worked physically and mentally on full steam and were encouraged to snack throughout the day. The physically demanding Elemental posts, such as the Corra and Viriba, would eat constantly outside of training. Dyevi always had a silicon bag of dried protein, usually some sort of fish, stored in her bag.
The second floor contained the mess hall. It was a room with oak flooring, walls, and tables. Four thin, long tables took up most of the space. The sun had not yet risen, but the tables were already packed with students. Dyevi looked around for an empty seat. She spotted her Igna friend Ogien and pulled Lee towards the lanky girl. Ogien was also seventeen, but still had a few more years before graduation. Igna was a hard post to master, as fire was one of the most difficult elements to work with. Those bred to become Igna had to learn how to control fire in all types of settings, which required a lot of training, meditation, and self-control. Many did not make it through training.
Ogien was hyper-focused on something in front of her, swiping through the air with one finger while spooning fish and rice into her mouth with the other hand. Dyevi and Lee sat down across from the Igna. Ogien said without looking, “Loha.”
“Loha, Ogien,” Lee responded. She glanced at Dyevi. “Want me to grab you some grub?” Dyevi nodded and sat down, placing her bag next to her to save Lee a seat. “The usual?” Dyevi nodded again and Lee trotted away.
“So well trained,” Ogien said, still swiping the air in front of her.
“She’s efficient,” Dyevi replied, and Ogien laughed, finally looking up.
“It’s weird that you two are friends.”
“Schin, is it that obvious that we’re friends?” Dyevi whispered, glancing around. Ogien rolled her eyes. Dyevi, used to being ignored by Ogien, turned to admire the comforting mixture of colors nearby. Elemental groups tended to intermingle because of the intense competition within groups. She stared for a moment at a young Anima who was whispering into an Aeran’s ear. Their shoulders shook, their giggles reaching Dyevi’s ears. Besides them, though, most students were intensely staring at the space in front of them. “What are you looking at? Why is everyone so glued to their cantrils this morning?” She asked, scanning the room.
“One of the alums died,” Ogien said. A chill ran down Dyevi’s back. Her eyes caught on a group of alums a few seats away, who were talking quietly in hurried tones. On the edge of a group, one alumna was not engaged in the conversation at all. Dyevi squinted, zooming in on her. The woman’s thick swath of swirling tattoos down her arms identified her as an Aquan. She had dark skin, black as the ocean at night, with equally black hair grown out into an afro. She must have just returned from a mission, with hair like that. The Aquan hurriedly scrolled and typed, beads of sweat glistening on her skin. Her fast-moving hands were torn up and wrists scratched. She seemed uncomfortable in her gray and seafoam uniform.
“Everyone’s talking about this alum’s death,” Lee said as she sat down, placing a bowl of fruit, potatoes, and fish in front of Dyevi. “It seems pretty standard to me. I wonder why the Academy is talking about it so much.” Dyevi doesn’t respond, entranced by the movement of the Aquan woman’s long fingers in the air. The alum next to her, an Igna, punched her arm and whispered something. The Aquan sat up, startled, and glared at the other alum. She snarled and turned to get up, suddenly making eye contact with Dyevi. Then she clasped hands with the Igna and rushed out of the mess.
“Loha, Dyevi, wake the shin up,” Lee snorted and punched her arm, pushing Dyevi’s bowl closer to her. “You need to start getting carbs and protein in before the big test.” Ogien looked up at last, though she didn’t swipe the article away. Dyevi could see flames in her eye lenses.
“You have your test today?” Ogien asked, taking a bite of fish.
“Who died?” Dyevi replied.
“What?” Lee and Ogien asked in unison. They both looked at Dyevi.
“Who died?” Dyevi repeated the question.
“An alum. Her name was Pyat 86, Captain in the Aerial command. Secret mission.” Lee said. Dyevi’s blood ran cold.
“How what?” Ogien snarled.
Lee said, “Dyevi, eat something, seriously.” Dyevi sighed and took a large spoonful of smoked salmon, mulberries, and potatoes.
“Happy now?” She snapped at Lee, who shrunk away like a dog being scolded. “How did she die?” Dyevi asked, fish falling from her mouth. She took a large swig of the warm lemon water Lee had also brought her.
“She blew up,” Ogien said, returning her eyes to the article. “Read it yourself, if you want to know.” Ogien swiped a finger over her food and the article appeared in Dyevi’s lenses. As she ate, she silently read the article. Her skin crawled.
The main image in the story showed what looked like an aerial view of a dark column of ash. A glow pulsed, lighting the sky in a sunset orange as embers slowly cooled. The surrounding buildings were glassy and dark, like the obsidian she would make play knives with as a child. The memory of the sharp, black knives faded away as quickly as it came.
Underneath the video was a description of Captain Pyat of Class 86. “Captain Pyat Aerial Class 86 was an incredible leader and loyal agent of the Academy. She had many successful missions throughout the Mediterranean and Pacific. On her latest undercover mission, she had discovered that Le Syndicat had hidden unknowable amounts of explosives in Reykjavik, Icelandia. Captain Pyat befriended Dr. Eva Jóhannsson, a known Le Syndicat sympathizer, and tricked her into giving up the location of Le Sydicat weapons. When Captain Pyat found the weapons, Dr. Jóhannsson and a group of Le Syndicat soldiers attacked her. The Captain blew up the building rather than be taken hostage. Her bravery in the face of battle will be missed at the Academy and by our clients. A memorial will be held for Captain Pyat 86 the next second day at 1400. Please join us to mourn a wonderful life spent in service to the Academy. Let us all hope for our lives to end in a similar way.”
There was a gif of the captain at the bottom of the article. It was a formal picture, likely for a promotion. Her political uniform, white and cyan, looked stiff and uncomfortable, though she wore it without shifting, as Dyevi often did when she had to wear hers. Pyat’s eyes, thin and dark, stared straight through the camera. The dark lashes outlining her eyes moved ever so slightly, the only sign that this was a video. Her lips, too, were thin and unsmiling, pressing together and releasing. Her hair was shaved, like most Elementals, down to the skin, only appearing like black dots on her skull. Thin tattoos lined her face, stealing the attention away from her otherwise average features. Intense cumulus clouds billowed from her neck and ears onto her face. They created intricate, delicate shapes that both softened the woman’s face and intensified it.
Dyevi swiped in front of her, closing the story. She wondered how her brain had manifested an alternate reality for Pyat. She had never met the Aerial soldier before—how could she have even known what she looked like? Maybe they had passed by each other at the Academy… She ate the rest of the meal in silence, racking her memory for some interaction with the Aerial. Ogien and Lee soon grew bored with the tragedy, instead changing the subject to different theories of bonh preservation.
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