Chapter 11 – Grass shield

Darius teleported two people onto the field, one male and the other female. The male raised both hands to his sides, his body bathed in blue light. Fragments of mud and grass blown up when Jackie’s sword hit slid and tumbled back into the hole. He made a pushing motion downwards with both hands and the lump of earth levelled with the entire field.

The female walked to the spot and placed her right hand on the ground. New grass grew on the patchy areas, it looked like there had never been a hole.

Darius teleported them off the field.

“What is that?” Max asked. “Grassokinesis.”

Ted shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“What’s the Latin name for grass?”

“No idea.”

“Greek?”

Ted shook his head. “It should be grassogenesis.”

 

Next match, Akira Danzo versus Roars with Rage. Akira is electrokinetic and Roars with Rage is a werelion.”

Max and Ted wished Rage good luck. Rage smiled at them, and continued smiling all the way to the pitch.

“Roars with Rage,” Akira mused from his side of the pitch. “A lion was heard roaring two days ago. Was it you?”

“Yes,” Rage replied. He had seen what an electrokinetic attack looked like a few months earlier on a tv at the RHD. Alexa had told him the result would be similar to burning. Rage had never been burnt before, but he had seen it on another werecreature. Burnt fair looked really bad.

“It was heard throughout campus,” Akira said. “That’s quite a statement, are you sure you can back it up?”

Rage shrugged.

Akira raised one fist in front of his face, bolts of electricity flowed out and around his body. He pointed at Rage. Rage was already screaming before he could think of dodging the bolt.

“You roared again, this time in pain,” Akira taunted. “I’m sure you’re really fast Roars with Rage but no one can dodge my lightning.”

Akira didn’t notice, possibly because of the distance between them, plus the unusual face, but Rage was smiling. The electricity had hurt but it hadn’t been powerful enough to do serious damage, and the bodysuit had absorbed some of it.

Rage extended the claws on his right hand, he struck deep into the grass at an angle, then repeated the action until he had created a circle. It came up intact when he lifted it from below, leaving a circle shaped hole on the grass for the grassokinetic. The claws in his left hand pierced into the mud under the circle and he pointed it at Akira whose jaw had crashed on the grass.

Rage went down on three limbs, his left hand still holding the impromptu shield and aiming it at his opponent. Akira activated the electricity. Rage attacked, Akira threw bolts of electricity at the shield to no effect. He ran sideways to try to get a clear shot at Rage, Rage could hear him move and adjusted the shield accordingly.

He heard Akira whine, “That’s not fair.”

 

“Final match of round one, Max Banks versus Mahela Fernando. Max has a wraith sealed inside him and Mahela is mundane and carries enchanted gear and weapons.”

“Max started after hearing that. He watched his opponent walking to the pitch. The guy was wearing full military camouflage, including sunglasses. He had an assault rifle strapped to his back, two smaller guns holstered under both arms, and a few grenades. Any weapon was legal as long as you could carry it comfortably. Max knew he couldn’t phase through enchanted weapons but facing a normal person felt a bit off.

“This is a mismatch,” he said to Mahela.

“Only Dani and Eddy are expected to be a challenge to you,” Mahela replied. “Everyone else will be a mismatch.”

Xander: Try not to get shot, it’ll hurt us both.

Max: You could phrase that better. Jerk!

Xander: Try not to get shot, it’ll hurt you more than it hurts me.

Max shook his head lightly.

Mahela furrowed his brow. “You’re confused about my not having any ethereal writing?”

Max nodded. “It’s amazing that an unenhanced human can even make it here. Anyone can buy enchanted weapons.”

Mahela smiled proudly. “Thank you. It’s a taint, ethereal writing. The spirit is sacred and should be left alone. Magical enhancements desecrate what god has made.”

Max had heard this point of view before. He wasn’t certain he would have gotten ethereal writing had Xander not possessed him. He didn’t consider it a taint. Both his parents were ethereal writers, and to be an ethereal writer you couldn’t specialise your spiritual energy in one thing, so no ethereal writing for etheral writers.

“Your soul makes looks like you while you’re still alive,” Max said, “Do you have a problem with people who make minor or major non-magical changes to their bodies?”

Mahela smiled. “Let me put it this way, where I come from the girls don’t even pierce their ears.”

“Fair enough,” Max sighed. “Are you ready?”

Mahela nodded and grabbed a sidearm. Max teleported. Mahela spun around and shot behind himself expecting Max to appear there. Max appeared above him and grabbed Mahela’s head for balance then rammed his right knee on the back of his neck.

Mahela fell down, unconscious. Max landed on his feet and walked quickly away from the man with the grenades.

“Winner: Max Brown.”

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Chapter 10 – Sword of light

“Adam is a wielder of enchanted weapons and Valiant is telekinetic,” stated the announcer.

Adam and Valiant faced off from opposite sides of the stadium. Adam was dressed casually, though heavily armed. His dark-brown t-shirt was tucked-in to his dark-blue jeans, and the look was completed by black steel-toed boots. A 9mm pistol was holstered under his left arm with two daggers sheathed just below it. Valiant was dressed similarly except in all black, and he wasn’t armed. Black was a popular colour among the hunters in training, Max, Ted, and Rage had missed the memo.

Adam pulled out a gun and fired four times at Valiant. The bullets appeared to halt halfway between them, but they were still moving, slow enough now to be seen with the naked eye. Valiant remained composed, but it was taxing him to keep pushing them back. Bullets that kept moving forward even with a powerful force pushing them back, only enchanted bullets could do that. The school had a well stocked armoury so Adam didn’t have to worry aboutthe expense, and Valiant knew he couldn’t stop them if Adam cleared his cartridge.

Adam didn’t appear to be aware of this, fooled by Valiant’s calm. Valiant strode forward, zigzagging and releasing his hold on the bullets one by one to let them whizz past him. Adam fired again, once this time, Valiant evaded it like the others.

Adam reholstered the gun. He unsheathed one of his daggers and raised it to his approaching adversary. “A telekinetic who prefers close combat, didn’t expect that,” he said.

Valiant marched on, unfazed. Adam threw the dagger at him. Valiant caught it, then jumped and yelped after it zapped him. He held his hurting hand and glared at his opponent.

Adam smiled, happy that he had broken Valiant’s composure. He had the other dagger in his right hand, he raised his left and the one at Valiant’s feet flew into it. “The gun is an extra, my spirit is tied to the daggers,” he said. “There’s nothing but grass around us, nothing for you to use as a weapon against me, and The Law of Consent  says you’d find it easier lifting something three times my weight than me. Unless,” he looked at his gun, “unless you pull this. Go on, pull it out and shoot me.”

In a burst of speed, Valiant ran straight to Adam, jumped to his left and kicked him hard on the side of the head. Adam collapsed looking where Valiant had been, not where he was.

“Winner: Valiant Reddon.”

Applause rang out from the stands.

“So that’s what telekinesis enhanced movement looks like,” Max said. “Something else that’s better than cloak enhanced movement.”

Ted rolled his eyes.

Valiant waited patiently while a healer fixed his hand, then went back to his seat, his poise regained. Adam rubbed the side of his head with a frown, even after a healer had healed him, his brain wondered where the pain had gone.

 

“Next match, Ted Norman versus Jackie Vasquez. Ted is a special psychic and Jackie wields a light sword.”

Ted stood and walked down the steps. “Good luck,” Rage said.

Ted saluted him with two fingers without looking back. Now it was Max’s turn to roll his eyes.

The girl he was facing, Jackie, had on a black leather ensemble and a sword sheathed on her back. The outfit looked tight and not comfortable for movement, let alone combat.

They reached the pitch and faced each other. She was beautiful. Not like Lily who had a gothic charm to her looks, more like Delia and just as beautiful. She looked like a runway model; tall, slim, with long black hair.

“It’s not fair,” she uttered. “Special psychic doesn’t tell me anything about you. Your power could be tied to one psychic ability, or several.”

Ted almost retorted that what wasn’t fair was he would think twice if he got the opportunity to hit her, but wisely kept his mouth shut.

Jackie pulled her sword and threw it in the air. It started spinning, faster and faster until it looked like a spinning disc of light. The spinning was creating enough wind for the effect to be visible on the grass on Jackie’s side of the field, and on Jackie herself, her hair flew wildly about her. Ted could see her smiling behind all the chaos. She raised her left hand and the sword soared high in the air. Ted watched it go, a bit of panic growing inside him, he wasn’t sure how healable he would be if it left pieces of him all over the place.

He summoned the cloak. Back in the day The Thing had been taller than him but now he could control it, even its size. His feet weren’t visible and the cloak didn’t touch the ground when he was standing straight. His hands only came out halfway in the long sleeves. He knew his face wasn’t visible with the hood on, he didn’t pull it back.

“A psionically enhanced cloak,” Jackie said, snarling, “no way I could’ve known that.”

“Stop complaining,” Ted chided.

She pointed at him, the sword descended in his direction at an incredible speed. The cloak was bulletproof, normal bullets that is, probably not spinning sword proof.

He dived out of the way and the sword hit the ground causing an explosion of grass and mud.

Ted stood and scowled at her, with the hood still on he shouted, “Goddamnit, Jackie, are you trying to dice me!”

She smiled and looked behind him to his right. Ted could hear the sword digging its way out of the crescent shaped hole it had created. Not spinning anymore, just moving.

He told himself he was over his earlier discomfort with hitting her, and with the sword underground, she was defenceless. He made the cloak push him forward and charged her. He wasn’t technically running, more like taking long quick leaps with either foot, like a triple jumper, but moving much faster and covering a greater distance.

Jackie pointed behind him, Ted took a few quick steps to slow himself down and come to a stop, then he looked back. There was light coming from the hole. He didn’t have to look at her face to know he was an idiot for falling for the oldest trick in the book, he had bought her time.

He leaped for her again, but now he could hear the sword spinning. It moved significantly faster than he did but he would reach her before it reached him. The question was what he would do when he got there, there wouldn’t be enough time for him to hit her more than once and he wasn’t confident he could knock her out with one punch. He decided to tackle her, and tackling her meant he would have enough time with his hands on her to use his secret weapon.

He stretched his arms forward and so did she. For a short moment they looked like two people about to hug as Ted’s arms passed hers in midair. Somehow, even with Ted’s amazing speed, Jackie managed to grab his cloak with both hands, lift her knee to his chest and flip him over using his momentum.

Time seemed to slow down for him as they were both twisting in the air, going upside down. He saw her smiling at him, he saw the sword go straight through her, and just when he closed his eyes waiting to be cut in half he felt a hand grab his left foot. When he opened his eyes he was swinging left and right with Darius holding his foot with both hands from the top of a building on campus. Teleportation didn’t cancel inertia.

A blink later he was on his back on the grass with Darius and an unfamiliar young woman standing over him. She offered him a hand, Ted took it, trembling. She helped him up and asked, “You’re not hurt are you?”

He shook his head. Darius grabbed the young woman’s shoulder, they vanished.

Ted dismissed the cloak and saw Jackie walking back to her seat. The sword was back in its place, it hadn’t hurt her. He had heard the applause for her victory, they had come with cheers as well. The last second of their match must’ve been a real spectacle.

“I forgot I promised to teleport you,” Max told him when he retook his seat. “How was it?”

Ted was still a little dazed, he said, “Instant.”

Chapter 9 – Hunters in training

The big screen turned on. It showed a middle-aged black woman sitting behind a desk in what looked like an office. Her long greying dreadlocks were only partially covered by a brown bandana that was decorated in circles and many smaller circles within those circles. The circles seemed to move with the eye, a popular pattern among telepaths, because anything that opened or weakened the minds of others even for a split second was to their advantage.

“Good morning students,” she said. “Welcome to The Royal Academy of Paranormal Arts. My name is Marsha Burger, and I am the chancellor. I hope you’ve all had enough time to get settled because from now on things are going to get serious. Hunters in training make up about a third of the students at this school and I urge all of you to at least find one extra-curricular activity you find relaxing instead of training yourself to exhaustion. Which, sadly, many often do.

“The Royal Academy is one of the best paranormal universities in the world, and around you are some of the best freshman warriors the world has to offer. Unfortunately, not all of you will qualify to become hunters. We’re going to teach you all the skills you’ll need, but in the end, the most important one is raw power, because the laws on how hunters operate are made by the twelve most powerful paranormals in the world — The Hunters Alliance.

“Today will be your first day of match-ups against your fellow students. You have all been paired according to strength, the strongest against the weakest. The method is subjective and I can assure you there will be surprises. Winners will move on to the next round until the end of the day when only two are left, most of the school will be here to see it.

“Then, you will be divided into three groups, A, B, and C. A will be the strongest and C the weakest. Starting tomorrow each of you will be expected to face at least one opponent in your group every weekday, and at the end of each month some of you will be promoted or demoted based on your progress, which will be by judged your mentors, they’re the ones seated in the stands to your left.” The students turned to look at their mentors. Like them the mentors were dressed however they wanted in no particular style. “We’ve tried to cover all bases with your mentors and they’re highly experienced in helping people like you improve their abilities.

“Don’t hold back in your matches, we have a precog working with Darius and they should be able to stop any match before it gets fatal. And, even if they fail to intervene in time, our healers should be able to bring you back to life. Unless… unless your opponent cuts your head off and vaporizes it, then you’ll truly be dead.” She chuckled and looked at someone behind the camera.

Max looked up at Rage who was looking attentively at the screen. “You hear that,” he said, “try to bite your opponents’ heads off and your matches should end very quickly.”

Rage smiled without looking at him. “I don’t like the taste of brains.”

Marsha continued, “Training to become a hunter takes three years. In those three years you will face only students from your year, and if in any nine months of a school year you spend more than five months in Group C, you will fail.

“To those of you who will start in Group C, remember that Taylor Washington spent six months in Group C in her three years at The Royal Academy, and now she’s a member of The Hunters Alliance.

“Wait in the stands to your right while the announcer calls you out. Good luck.”

The big screen switched off. The students filed off the grassy oval pitch of the combat stadium and headed to the stands to their right.

“They keep stealing glances at you,” Ted said to Max while looking nervously at the other students. Max was in the middle with Rage and Ted either side of him, Ted was to his left.

“They must’ve heard about Xander,” Max replied. He was glad no one else had reacted as bad as Rage, though the wide-eyed stares were plenty.

“This is just a formality for you. You’re a shoo-in for The Hunters Alliance.”

Xander: He overestimates you.

Max: I know. My dad told me not to underestimate anyone.

Xander: I know. I was there.

Max: And to be ready for a few hits. I think if Rage punches me in the face my head will spin one-eighty.

Xander(laughing): Ask him what they’re saying about you.

They sat in a bunch with all the other students. There were about two hundred and fifty six first year hunters in training. Max whispered to Rage, “Are they talking about me?”

Rage nodded, looking at him. “You and some other person named Eddy. Some think it’s unfair for them to go against a wraith, others think you’re overconfident and will enjoy humbling you.”

Max laughed softly. “What do you think?”

Rage took a moment to think about it then said, “I think you need to exercise more. I went to the gym last night and many students here were there as well.”

“You’re right. I’m gonna join a running club, not the gym.” He turned to Ted. “The Thing augments your movements, you should be pushing weights with Rage.”

“It’s a cloak. Think about how it augments my movements. If it was a full-bodysuit it would be obvious how it would increase my speed and strength, and I could even fly because I control it with my mind, but it’s a cloak”

“I get it. Though, if you wear it tightly and fold your arms, I think you could fly.”

Ted smiled but didn’t respond.

“First match, Adam Olic versus Valiant Reddon,” called the announcer, there were loudspeakers around the stadium.

The two stood and walked to the pitch. One of them had a gun.

Chapter 8 – Negative emotions

“Are we going to wait for him?” Ted asked. He and Max were looking out the common room window at a blue-clad figure sitting under a tree. He was too far to make out specific details but Max could sense that it was Rage.

“I think we should,” Max replied. “He’ll come for breakfast soon.”

Xander: He could be sleeping.

Max: Yeah. He isn’t moving.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you, about the séance,” Ted said. “I’d like to join. I want to meet Xander in person.”

Xander: I don’t want to meet him.

Ted frowned. “Why are you laughing?”

“Xander says he doesn’t want to meet you.”

“Really? What a jerk.”

“He’s just joking. He does that sometimes. I mean, he only has me to talk to.”

Ted looked deep into Max’s eyes. Beaming, he waved and said, “Hey Xander.”

Max chuckled and looked out the window. He could almost hear Xander rolling his eyes, they had seen this one many times.

Rage now had visitors, four of them, and he was standing.

“What is that?” Max asked.

“They’re giving him something. It looks red.”

The four turned and walked away from Rage. He unwrapped the red thing and ate it.

“They gave him food.”

Ted said, “He’s following them to the cafeteria. I guess we don’t have to wait for him.”

“No, but it’s good that he’s making friends. About your proposal, I think it would be a bad idea to let two poorly understood entities interact with each other.”

“The Thing isn’t a poorly understood entity,” Ted huffed. “It’s a thoughtform I created subconsciously due to my mental state four years ago.”

“Tell me more about it.”

He sighed. “I’ve shown it to you. It’s a grey cloak. It started giving me nightmares after I found my mother dead at home.”

“Sorry,” Max said quietly,almost regretting he had asked.

“It’s okay. My father and I tried everything to help me cope with it, getting a telepath to try to erase it, pills to help me sleep, therapy; but the nightmares only worsened. Until I got the writing on my back, then The Thing disappeared when I touched it. It didn’t solve the problem but at least I could sleep through the night.

“The day after I got the writing, a friend asked me why I’d missed school the previous day. I had kept it a secret from all my friends, but I told her everything.”

“You liked her?”

“I still do,” Ted replied, smiling earnestly. “She offered to help and I agreed. We learned many things very quickly. The first was where The Thing went when I touched it, my theory was it appeared somewhere in my room, something I wasn’t very comfortable with, but the truth was that it did appear in the real world, on me, like clothing. I was sleeping during the experiment and Delia noticed that The Thing lightened when she moved closer to it.”

“Her name’s Delia?”

Ted nodded. “She convinced me to try the same experiment in the room where my mom…. killed herself. The Thing was almost completely black when it appeared.”

Max didn’t know what to say, and Xander too was quiet.

Ted continued. “The Thing is a well of my negative emotions and memories, it even absorbs ambient emotions.”

“You know, special psychics are a sign of innate talent. If The Thing hadn’t come you would’ve made a good empath.”

“I know. I was an empath in training before I got the writing. With Delia’s help I eventually learned to project The Thing while awake, and gained complete control of it in my dreams.”

“Okay. We’ll have to run this by the girls first but I don’t think there’ll be a problem.”

“Awesome,” Ted replied, smiling.

Xander: Ask him if he’s kissed her.

Max rephrased it. “Xander wants to know if you and Delia have dated?”

“No, we haven’t.”

“You’ve had a crush on her for years.” Ted shrugged. “Where is she?”

“What?”

“I can teleport anywhere I can see or have been. Where is she?”

“She…. is here.”

“You’re kidding?”

“I’m not.” He was starting to look nervous. “She’s a decent ethereal writer. And helping me did wonders for her CV.”

“Have you gone to see her?”

“No.”

Max sighed dramatically. “You’ve been here for three days!”

“One and two quarters. I’m gonna call her.”

“If you’re gonna be more than friends with her one day then you can’t be the girl in this relationship. She can’t come looking for you first.”

“I’ll call her.”

“Xander says an unresolved crush is negative.”

Ted winced at that. “Nonsense!”

“He says as a teenage boy you’ve likely roasted a lot of brain cells thinking about situations between you and her, instead of doing them in reality. Which is negative.” Max paused to give Ted the chance to respond, Ted just glowered at him. “I agree with him. Because you’re psychic, superior minds and all that. You should be training to get more control of your brain.”

“Love can never be negative.”

“I don’t know, Ted. You said The Thing turns darker the more stressed you feel, and Delia has the opposite effect on it. Maybe there’s a second level. If you embrace the dark side: lust, anger, jealousy, and sadness, it could turn The Thing completely black and give you the ability to radiate negative emotions, depressing everyone around you. Or, if you have a positive conclusion to your relationship with Delia, it could turn white, making you a white wizard, with the ability to heal.”

Ted chortled. Max looked at him deadpan. “You’re serious?”

“Of course. Did I mention a staff?” This time they both laughed. “Now call her, or I’ll call her for you.”

The threat caught him by surprise, his eyes widened briefly before he stared at Max, unmoving. Max pressed the window with his right index finger, phased it halfway through, then pulled it back.

Ted grumbled something unintelligible and took out his phone.

Xander: He looks anxious.

Max: I can see that.

Xander: You two are going to spend a lot of time together from now on. Perhaps you shouldn’t threaten him so easily.

Max: I’m trying to help him.

Xander: True. Though you could’ve convinced him without the threat.

Max(sighing): Whatever.

Xander: Sighing has some practical uses for your physical body. Doing it in your head is an affectation. Next you’ll be making noises and asking me to picture you sticking your tongue out at me.

Ted looked up from his phone. “Why are you laughing.”

Max lied, “Xander says you should’ve found her number by now, or know it by heart.”

Ted held his phone close to his right ear. Max gave him two thumbs up.

“Ted?” answered a female voice.

He smiled more brightly than Max had ever seen from him.

“Hey D.”

“I was thinking about you.”

Ted avoided Max’s eyes, grinning from ear to ear, he fled back to his room.

Xander: So cute.

Max: Yeah.

Xander: Rage is at the door.

Max: Really? I wasn’t paying attention.

Rage unlocked the door from outside and entered.

“Good morning,” he said to Max.

“Morning,” Max replied, still at the window.

“Who’s Ted calling?”

Max smiled. “A friend.”

“Okay. I’m gonna change my bodysuit and take a shower. Will you wait for me before breakfast?”

“Sure.”

Chapter 7 – Lily

Rage lumbered warily out of his room, trying to keep his face as passive as he could. His dormmates weren’t fooled. Marelda had told him that humans had a hard time reading werecreature faces, maybe they could see it in his eyes. Ted slumped his shoulders and sat on the arm of the sofa behind him. Max exhaled and said, “You can request a transfer if you want?”

Rage grit his teeth and oscillated his eyes between the two of them to avoid looking at Max/Xander too long, he didn’t know it made him look even more scared. “I don’t want a transfer,” he said.

“Good,” Max replied, relaxing slightly. “I know it’s a lot to digest, especially for someone who can smell spiritual energy, hear it, feel it, but like I said before, Xander isn’t a threat. If he was I wouldn’t be here.”

“How can the academy be sure?” Ted asked, creasing his brow and trying to look serious, his tight smile gave him away. “You are unique, no test subjects. All they have to go on is what you tell them.”

Max nodded and smiled back menacingly, at least Rage thought it looked menacing. Ted didn’t, his smile widened. “True,” Max said. “No one can be certain how much I got from Xander. His urges, perhaps? Now I’m in a school with many young fresh souls.”

Rage looked on in bewilderment as they cackled without him. He was certain Max had been trying to conciliate him just a second ago, then he and Ted did the complete opposite.

Something about Ted’s lack of concern settled him, even though he didn’t know what kind of ‘special psychic’ the emotionless boy was. “I’m sorry,” he said to Max, “to Xander too.”

Max shrugged. “It’s okay. As long as you’re not afraid of us, we’re good.”

Rage nodded.

“It won’t be easy for you, being here.”

Rage knew visiting a city for a month wasn’t enough for him to fully adjust to living among humans. “Why?” he asked anyway.

“Your sense of hearing. We’re on the fourth floor with another one above us.”

“In a dorm full of horny teenagers,” Ted added. “Good luck falling asleep at night.”

“Horny teenagers?”

Max pointed left and right then up and down. “You’ll be able to hear them, getting busy.”

Rage pressed his lips, moved his ears backward, he looked down, and his tail froze in place almost horizontally.

“Is that the cat version of blushing?”

Rather than answer Max he said, “Darius told me I could sleep outside.”

Ted asked, “Your clan sleeps out in the open?”

Rage nodded. “You’ll still hear the screamers,” he pointed out.

Max punched him on the arm, a bit hard. “He needs to get laid, yesterday.”

Rage smiled nervously, unsure about how to contribute to the conversation, about sex. In his clan he wasn’t of age to mate yet, though he was interested in the subject.

“What do you mean?” Ted asked gruffly.

Max looked at him sidelong. “Xander is very old, he can read people. He deduced from our interactions before Rage arrived that you’re a virgin.”

“Really!” Ted yelped.

“No,” Max replied, snickering.

Ted paid him back with a punch of his own, even harder.

Rage wondered if he would one day be on the receiving end of one of those, and if he could reciprocate without causing serious damage. More often than not humans were more physically fragile than werecreatures of the same size.

Max rubbed his arm, still recovering from tricking Ted. He looked up at Rage and said, “We should get lunch.”

Ted frowned and took out his phone from his jeans. Looking at the screen he said, “It’s a little early.”

“True,” Max acknowledged. “That means the cafeteria won’t be full.”

“What do you think?” Ted asked Rage.

“I’m a little hungry,” Rage replied.

“Awesome,” Max said. He walked past Rage and led the way. They didn’t have to go far, the cafeteria was on the first floor. They went down by the stairs, the dorm didn’t have an elevator, and Rage was pleased with that.

As expected there weren’t too many people, and no line at the counter. Rage mimicked Max and Ted who took ceramic plates and walked down the counter while being served by two waitresses. He snarled at most of the food on display and kept his plate at a distance. There were some canine and a few grudging feline omnivores in his clan, he wasn’t interested.

He accepted a cheeseburger, not really planning to eat anything but the patty. Eyed with disdain a salad with bacon in it, and another one with chunks of chicken. When all seemed lost his lunch was saved by meatballs in a dark-reddish sauce. He happily held out his plate and watched with a smile as the waitress heaved on a generous helping of meatballs, and the sauce. She didn’t bat an eyelash at the extra-large serving until the sauce started dripping on Rage’s fingers, then she stopped.

The other two found some plastic cups and filled them with what smelled like orange juice. Rage was mindful of the balancing act he was performing to keep the meatballs from tumbling. He decided to wait until after the meal to have a drink.

They chose a table with three chairs, the human boys sat down comfortably. Rage could gauge that he couldn’t fit his girth between the arms so he pushed the chair away and went to another table to take a stool that had a similar orange-brown cushion to the chairs. The metallic feet gave him hope that they could hold his weight.

Max and Ted watched him keenly as he ate, maybe they had chosen an early lunch for this very reason. He liberated the patty from the cheeseburger, unfortunately the cheese was stuck, and it wouldn’t fall off when he shook it. He ate it all; the patty was delicious, he didn’t like the cheese, nor did he hate it.

What was it Marelda had told him about table manners? Humans didn’t like it when you had food all over your face, in the clan he’d just lick it off, they didn’t like that either, especially when it got too messy. He inhaled the meatballs using his hands, licking the sauce off his fingers.

They smiled at him after he had cleaned off the plate, it reassured him that he hadn’t done anything untoward. He stood and strolled to the bin to toss what was left of the cheeseburger, then sauntered to the counter to get more meatballs.

Without anything else on the plate to disrupt its form, the mountain of meatballs was enormous. Rage set it down on the table with a smile, an expression mirrored by the other boys who had yet to touch their food. He ignored them and attacked the mountain.

They contorted their faces to avoid laughing while watching the quickly disappearing food. With every scoop the mountain shrank until it disappeared completely. He left to get more food and heard his companions roaring with laughter.

When he returned Max said, “Man you have a monster appetite.”

Rage shrugged and ate some more, and finally, Max and Ted did the same.

The fact that they were eating together made Rage want to smile. He hadn’t aced meeting his dormmates, but at least it was behind him.

They ate in silence, until three girls stopped at their table, all looking apprehensively at Max.

“Hi, my name is Shana,” spoke the one in the middle.

Max touched her outstretched hand and she quickly pulled it away, then held it close to her face looking at it like it was radioactive and covering her mouth with the other hand. “I saw him,” she breathed.

Her friends looked at her with large eyes, then at Max. The one to her right said, “I’m Lexa.” Max glared at her. She pulled her hand away and explained, “We’re third-year mediumship students.” As an afterthought she added “Sorry.”

“Mediumship?”

“Yes,” Shana replied. She pointed at Ted. “He has ethereal writing on him, like you, and the werelion’s a born mutant, not a made one, his soul looks like the hybrid, not a human and an animal.”

Max and Ted glanced at Rage who nodded. “His name is Roars with Rage,” Max told the girls. “The guy behind me is Ted. I’m Max.”

“It’s such an honour to meet you,” said the girl who hadn’t yet introduced herself.

“She’s Lily,” Shana offered. “Was that really Xander? Dark-skinned, greasy hair, no shirt, worn-out trousers.”

“Yes. Most people were peasants in his day.”

“What else?” Lexa asked Shana.

Shana grinned. “He’s also very tall, and has a six-pack.”

“Sorry for disturbing you and your friends,” Lily said. “Maybe some other time, when you’re not busy, we could have a séance.”

“Like trying to get Max to speak in Xander’s voice?” asked Ted.

Lily shook her head. “The four of us together holding hands so we can all communicate with Xander.”

Max smiled. “Sure.”

Rage watched Max and the girls exchange phone numbers. He had noticed that Max’s eyes tended to linger longest on Lily, Ted’s too. Perhaps Lily noticed as well. After the girls left, he asked, “You are famous?”

Max nodded. “A lot of people know of me, they just don’t know what I look like.”

 

Rage excused himself immediately after lunch. He had detected an irresistible smell from somewhere else on campus and needed to investigate. His nose led him to another cafeteria, it was half-full, and there was a line. He took a plate and went to wait at the back of the slow moving line.

The meatballs had filled him, and this cafeteria also had them; he barely noticed, his eyes zoomed in on a platter full of beef stew. He didn’t care for the potatoes, or the carrots, and whatever the green stuff was, he only wanted the beef.  The clan had a policy of not farming anything that could become a member, so the carnivores had to do with rabbits and chickens, though very small people had shown that wererabbits were possible.

Now he knew the cafeterias didn’t all have the same menu.

He smiled widely at the waiter who tried to fill his plate with as much beef as possible and less of the other stuff. He thanked him and padded away happily to sit on a stool at an empty table.

Unlike with the meatballs he didn’t pile into the beef like he was in a race, he savoured it. Minotaur would’ve been offended with the noises he was making as he ate. He chewed slowly and images of cows danced in his mind. Slow, chubby, delicious; the thought of taking one down and devouring it all on his own made him purr with joy, and he would be able to afford it one day.

His tail wagged merrily behind him until it hit something, causing him to open his eyes and look to his left. A young man now stood there, about a foot away in a stance that looked like he could scram at any second.

“Hi,” he said, raising a hand momentarily.

“Hi,” Rage replied. He kept the annoyance out of his voice.

“My friends and I saw you eating and thought we could offer you some dessert.”

Rage had seen desserts, he wasn’t a fan. He looked at the table where the young man had pointed, the three friends were watching. He took the proffered chocolate and the young man scurried away to his table. It smelled awful.

The four were looking at him. He wanted to make friends and not offend anyone, though throwing the chocolate away when they weren’t looking was his preferred option. He sighed, unwrapped it, toasted them and threw it in his mouth.

Chapter 6 – Xander

The door opened without Rage knocking.

Two boys now stood in the doorway. The one to Rage’s right studied him with large eyes, but it was clear it wasn’t from fright, but astonishment at the werelion’s size. He had to crane his neck at a very awkward angle to make eye contact, like the one children get used to when looking at adults. Rage couldn’t sense any fear from him, in fact, Rage couldn’t sense any emotions from him at all: no residual traces of anger, lust, amusement — nothing. That was odd.

He didn’t dwell on it, the other boy was far more interesting (frightening). His spiritual energy was equal to, if not greater than what Rage had sensed from Darius. And he didn’t look like a ghost, he looked like a normal boy. His emotions were normal, and his level of fear was negligible. He was holding the door half-open and smiling up at Rage. He had light-brown skin and a tidy medium-sized buzz cut. Without looking away from Rage he said, “I told you there was someone at the door.”

He opened it moving out of the way and gesturing with his head for Rage to enter. The emotionless boy also gave way. Rage hesitated. The boy holding the door was a bit taller than the other one, but to him they were both tiny. His animal instinct was telling him the skinny boy posed no threat to him, his common sense was telling him otherwise.

He took a few tentative steps inside and into what looked like a living room, with two closed doors to his right and one to his left. His shoulder muscles tensed when he heard the door being shut behind him. The boys passed him from left and right to stand in front of him, both smiling. The emotionless one didn’t seem intimidated by his size anymore. He offered his hand and said, “My name is Ted, this is Max, we’ve been waiting for you Roars with Rage.”

Rage shook his hand and watched as Ted’s eyes turned away from his face to his enveloped hand, the smile switching to a small frown. Rage and Marelda often laughed about how some humans (especially men) chose to do it grudgingly or avoided it entirely after the first time.

Max shook hands without breaking eye contact, still smiling, though it was starting to look strained. He opened his mouth and pushed it slowly closed with his left fist. Rage realised he was gaping and closed his mouth. He looked down at the floor in embarrassment and to avoid staring at the boy/wraith.

“I sensed Darius leave before I opened the door,” Max said.

Rage winced, his eyes elevated to Max’s face. “You know Darius?”

“I do. We used to eat people together.”

Rage’s jaw dropped to the floor again.

“Technically, that’s true,” Ted drawled.

“Really?” Rage asked Max.

Max looked serious when he replied. “Yes. Ghosts gain more power by possessing people and devouring their souls. I’m the boy who survived an attack by a wraith. My mother sealed it inside me.”

“And as a result became the most famous ethereal writer in the world,” Ted added.

Rage’s eyes remained on Max. Max and Ted looked briefly at each other, then back at him. Max said, “The seal is strong. You don’t have to worry about Xander — the wraith — breaking out and wreaking havoc.”

Rage looked at the wall to his left, Ted and Max kept their eyes on him. How was he going to bear being around Max on a daily basis? The spiritual energy was overwhelming. Marelda had told him if he didn’t like his dormmates he could ask for a change, he was already thinking of a way to phrase his excuse.

Their eyes were beginning to burn holes into him. He looked back at Ted then uncertainly at Max. “Your mother’s the best ethereal writer in the world?”

Max’s smile returned. “No. She’s the most famous. Wraiths are incredibly powerful, and rare. There’s only three of them.”

“And now two of them are tied to the Royal Academy,” Ted said.

“I think I know why they put us together,” Max said. He pointed at Rage “Wild mutant,” at Ted “special psychic,” at himself “wraith. We’re the unusual ones. We should get on swimmingly.”

Ted looked at Rage, his expression unreadable. “How was teleporting with Darius?” he asked.

Rage hadn’t yet recovered from his discomfort with Max, he said, “Instant.”

Ted blinked twice. “Huh?”

Max laughed and punched him lightly on the shoulder. “I’ll show you when we have time.”

Ted smiled at him then turned back to Rage. “Must’ve been fun. I came by plane. Not an option for you given how wild mutants dislike technology.”

Rage nodded quickly, like an abductee being asked if they wanted to leave.

“You could’ve come on foot had you planned for it,” Max said. “You’re from Reimon, right? That’s over a thousand kilometres away. I’m sure you could cover that in a week.”

The perceived compliment surprised him and he smiled genuinely at Max. “If I had enough food I could do it in ten.”

“Well. You couldn’t carry it with you on a ten-day trip. You’d have to live off the land. Can you kill an elephant by yourself?” Rage gave a nod, though he had never tried.

“He couldn’t carry an elephant either,” Ted pointed out. “He’d have to subsist on small animals.”

“I can see it. Wake up in the morning, rub the sleep out of your eyes, quick dash, two pigeons in both hands and one in the mouth. Breakfast.” Rage chuckled. “For lunch grab a rabbit or two on the way.”

“Roars with Rage comes from a civilized clan, right?” Ted asked. “You’d kill any animal you caught immediately.”

Rage thought about it. Was it civilized? Was it common practice in his clan? Max cut in before he could reply. “Do you eat frogs? I hear they’re a delicacy.”

“So are snakes,” Ted said. “He’s too quick for their strike. Eat everything but the head.”

“For dinner you’d wrestle a crocodile. One good punch and it’s lights out.”

Ted snickered. “I’d like to see that. Werelion versus saltwater crocodile in the water.”

“A crocodile wouldn’t be a challenge for me,” Rage uttered proudly.

“Some crocodiles can grow up to twenty feet in length, that’s more than twice your height.”

Rage shrugged, smiling confidently.

Ted looked at Max. “I don’t think he’s afraid of you anymore.”

“Good,” Max replied, eyeing Rage skeptically. “Can I call you Rage?”

Rage nodded. Max pointed at the closest door to Rage’s right. “That’s your room. Go leave your bag in there.” Rage nodded and walked to the door, a frown forming on his face. He had told his parents he could handle this experience, his reactions to both Darius and Max was a big setback.

He opened the door and walked into the room. It was too small, for him. He estimated he could fit on the bed, but could only picture himself continuously falling off it.

He placed the bag down next to the bed. He could hear Ted and Max whispering: “Did you see his hair?” Ted asked.

“Mane,” Max corrected.

“Same thing. It had dirt on it. Do you think he washed before coming here?” “He didn’t smell bad. His breath was also fine.”

Rage smiled knowing Marelda had packed the paranormally enhanced mouthwash he used for his breath. Toxic to humans, it gave him fresh breath for several days. He patted his mane unsure where the leftover dirt was.

“Maybe he fell,” Ted suggested. “Do you think he can hear us?”

There was a pause, then Max whispered, “Give us a roar, Rage?” Rage smiled but didn’t comply. “Mark your territory. Show everyone in this dorm who’s boss. Roar.”

Rage opened his mouth and let out a magnificent roar. The building trembled. It could be heard for miles in all directions. A werelion had announced its presence on campus.

Ted and Max howled in laughter.

“That was awesome!” Ted shouted.

“Uhm, Rage,” Max said, speaking normally with the mirth gone from his voice. “I didn’t tell you earlier. Xander says ‘hello.'”

Chapter 5 – Darius

Rage arrived at the gates of the RHD. Jumping over the walls would’ve been a more efficient way for him to enter but he had been advised very strongly against it. Something about it confusing their clairvoyants if there were people going in and out of the property without anyone knowing.

The security guard at the gate greeted him politely and opened the gate gesturing with both arms for him to proceed. Rage knew the gesture was to avoid shaking hands with him.

The Reimon Hunters Department occupied a medium-sized compound in the middle of the city. It wasn’t just for hunters, in fact, they weren’t even the majority. Alliance Patrollers easily outnumbered them and all the other paranormal specialists and administrators who worked on site. They wore uniforms and carried guns. Rage had no idea how they were recruited but was certain that unlike hunters they didn’t have to be tested against the best in the world to see how they measured up.

It wasn’t set in stone that if he was accepted as a hunter he would be sent here, but Rage liked the idea of being able to go home and unwind after a long days work. He still had a lot to get used to, like getting into some of the tallest buildings, which he always went up by the stairs for he was terrified of elevators, and dealing with humans who tried to hide their feelings unaware or indifferent to the fact that they released pheromones that a werecreature with a strong sense of smell could discern.

He went straight to the three individuals he knew were waiting for him within sight from the entrance. He had spent the most time with them during his forays into the city.

They were:

Minotaur, a werebuffalo and currently the only werecreature/hunter in the city. He stood taller than Rage and had more bulk, but Rage’s muscles were more defined. His bodysuit was red and black, and he’d told Rage about how people squirmed when they saw a bull in red. A city mutant, he didn’t mind taking human form, Rage had seen it.

Alexa, Minotaur’s partner. A lanky dark-skinned woman who carried a sword three-fourths her height. Her strength, reflexes, and speed were above average for a human her size. She had a unique spiritual energy that Rage knew wasn’t normal.

And lastly, Marelda, one of several werecreature specialists at the RHD, and the oldest. She was half a foot shorter than Alexa, Caucasian, with short blonde hair. Her dark-brown dress had long thin sleeves and terminated at her ankles. Rage considered her his closest friend in the city. She rarely ever laughed at his wild mutant ways and taught him more than anyone about how to behave in the city.

He shook hands with Minotaur first. Minotaur leaned closer to whisper in his ear “Don’t tell anyone about your age. Paranormal universities are meant for eighteen year olds, but they’re willing to look the other way for wild mutants, your classmates may not.”

He pulled away and gave him a wink.

Alexa shook his hand and asked, “Are you ready?”

Rage nodded quickly. “Yes.” A bit of anxiety was still gnawing at him given he was going to an alien place he’d never seen before, but he was ready.

“Good. It won’t be easy, staying with humans. You’ll get used to it, and after four years you’ll come back to Reimon a qualified hunter.”

Rage beamed at her and nodded.

Marelda took his hand then pulled him down for a hug. It was a long way so he had to awkwardly let himself bend down to her. “Good luck, Roars with Rage,” she said.

Rage hugged her gently with both hands in return. She preferred calling him by his full name, and he liked that.

After the hug, she gave him a large schoolbag she had been carrying on her back. “Two clean bodysuits.”

Rage took the bag and said, “Thank you.” The clan couldn’t afford to barter any more items for new bodysuits, and he was genuinely grateful.

Minotaur’s arm landed on his shoulder. “You’re going to be tested against many differently skilled fighters. Many of them better than you, use every defeat as a lesson to improve yourself.”

“I will,” Rage replied. He’d sparred a few times with Minotaur and got outclassed every time, something that didn’t happen these days when he took on members of his clan.

Marelda checked her wristwatch. “Darius will be here in an hour. Let’s go wait in my office.”

Minotaur and Alexa said their goodbye’s as Marelda led him to the tallest building on the compound. Her office was on the fifth floor; they took the stairs.

 

Rage had been told what Darius was, he was still taken aback when he and Marelda came out of the building to where Darius waited. A wraith: the second most powerful type of ghost. His white luminescence was so strong he wasn’t transparent.

The spiritual energy was overpowering. Rage had never sensed so much on a single entity before. The clothing was a little shabby for someone so powerful. He had on a weathered sleeveless shirt with baggy trousers that spotted a few holes. No shoes.

How he looked when he died.

He smiled at them when they approached and said, “Which one of you is Roars with Rage?”

Marelda stifled a giggle with one hand. Rage just stared. His friend’s lack of concern calmed him a bit, though.

She pulled him down again for another hug. “Visit me every time he brings you back.” Rage nodded while still in her grip.

Darius waited for Rage to look back at him then held his left arm and in a blink, they had teleported.

They appeared at the top of another tall building, the tallest one that Rage could see on the new premises. The grounds were significantly larger than at the RHD, with many buildings in different shapes and sizes. The masses of people going about their lives paid little attention to the werelion and wraith looking down at them.

“I have others to fetch,” Darius said. Rage looked at him. Even with the light of the midday sun Rage had no trouble seeing Darius. He was still wide-eyed after his first teleportation, and still weary of the wraith. Darius said, “You have two days to acquaint yourself with the campus before classes start. If you can’t bear a night on a bed, you can sleep over there.”

He pointed at an area with a lot of grass and trees.

Rage’s jaw dropped. “Really?”

“Yes. You’ll need to keep your bag in your room, though.”

Rage nodded vigorously. He didn’t have to sleep on a bed. He hated it after trying it at Marelda’s house and planned to sleep on the floor.

“Can you read numbers?” Darius asked. Rage shook his head. “I’m sure you’ll find it by smell.”

They teleported again, this time landing indoors. Darius pointed at the door before them. “Behind this door are two of your dorm mates. Don’t eat them, and good luck.”

Rage glowered at him, he had been told to expect these kinds of remarks.

Darius grinned and vanished.

Rage sensed something that unnerved him behind the door.

Another wraith.