Authors: Mark Brandon Powell
The sun rises with a faint orange glow penetrating through the dome of Pharis. Vargas was used to getting up this early but it's usually just to get to class on time. It felt strange going to school on an off day. He didn't have to follow dress code but he did have some school work he needed to turn in. That could be for later, because today was tournament day and nothing could be more exciting.
Pedaling his bike across the dome was tiring, but he didn’t mind it. He convinced himself it was mostly for training because he always trained. It could have also been because his older model bicycle's magnetic drive system, or magdrive, was broken. That was the real reason. He hadn't fixed it yet because his finances were tight. Like usual, nothing new there. With the cardio being good for his physical conditioning he might as well keep it that way. The only down side was everyone at school liked to pass judgment upon the poor kid from the edge of the dome. Sure he could have some of the frills of life if he wanted them but if he did he would be in debt up to his eyeballs. One of the few things his father taught him was not the place to be.
Vargas should have slept like a stone the night before, after a hard day of school, practice, and apprenticeship but didn’t. And he was feeling it now. He just hasn’t been able to rest with the tournament getting so close. When was the last time he got a good rest, he thinks. Had it been a week, month, year... Vargas' mind wandered... How long had it really been? He has been on a streak of luck recently, starting with gaining an apprenticeship with
Seleaf Mativ, a highly accomplished Sage, and that was two years ago. But even before then he was working side jobs when he could. It must have been the last time his mother put him to bed.
Right after his mother passed he threw himself into work. He was only six at the time, but he didn’t want to feel. He cleaned, started cooking, and did the laundry. His father was a mess, but he was there less and less. Picking up two more jobs by the end of that dark year. Vargas always had to stay strong for his father, and not let him see how much he was hurting. It would just make things worse on his father, and they got to spend so little time together.
He missed his mother every day since she was murdered. It’s still an open yet cold case. Then with his dad having to picking up the slack in the income, it was almost like he lost both his parents that day. But today he wasn’t going to think about any of that and was going to make this day be a great day all around. It was the first official Mixed Magical Arts tournament, and his father promised to give him a ride home from the arena, and he knew he would find a time and place to use everything Master Sel taught him. He just hopes where ever his mother is she can see him now.
He thinks about his training. ‘
Only in life threatening situations
.’ Master Sel's caveat kept resonating in Vargas' head over and over about a rune symbol he had shown him.
He also said something about delorium metal with its half life of about four seconds. He remembered that him saying this rune worked best on that metal.
It's forged in a special rune chamber that alters time and master time elementals cast powerful and focused spells to make that four second half life into something akin to regular steel but molecularly stronger than a diamond. It is extremely time consuming, ironically enough, to forge with..
Vargas remembered most of speech just not exactly as it was spoken. He was just waiting for his '
life threatening situation
' to come up. If it doesn’t, he will just have to make one. Master Sel was very clear on the use of it but if he doesn’t try it out, how will he know he’s using it right when he needs it. All he had to do was inscribe the rune on the ground, because only the planet is strong enough to support the pressure of magical power this rune can exert, other than delorium. All he needs now is the right opening and once drawn he was going to blow the other teams away.
As he gets close to the school he can see he’s the first one to arrive at the school, other than Coach Hillborn. He gets off his bike and folds it up into his bag and walks toward the bus.
Hillborn says, “You’re early as usual Mitchel.”
“I am, how are you doing coach?”
“Doing good, and I just hope no one gets hurt today at the tournament.”
“What about us winning it?”
"Mitchel, throw your bag in the storage let's talk about that."
"Oh! Do want to talk strategy? How about the Hillborn hand block? Or maybe the Pharis fetal position? Or if things get dicey we can run that trick play where we all get in Julie's mirage field and-”
Hillborn cuts Vargas off, ”Mitchel, you know that bothers me as much as it bothers you. Just like I told you two weeks ago, a week ago, and yesterday. We have to keep the rich kids safe. Rich kids have rich parents and rich parents pay off school administrators to put rich kids as team captains. If a team captain gets hurt, my boss gets hurt. Where it counts.”
Vargas sighs, “I know, right in the wallet."
"That's right. Look, I know you can do more and I'm actually looking forward to seeing it, but as long as I have verbal orders it's going to be drills, drills, drills. It keeps them occupied during practice and they will filled with defense, defense, defense. Hopefully keeping them somewhat safe in a real match."
"I know coach, and thanks for being truthful with me. I still haven't told that to anyone or plan too. I was just giving you a hard time since no one was here yet. Speaking of which, I was wondering if I could get your help on some history. I was supposed to have it finished for class yesterday but Mr. Black said I could send it to him as long as I was on the schools network and before we leave today."
“Don’t you have the check software the school provides?”
“No I don’t.”
Vargas would have loved to have signed up for the school’s work check program but didn't have the extra credits each month to have his work validated like that through his HaLO.
Everyone on Eden may be fitted with a Haptics Language and Optics bracelet at birth, but that didn't mean they were all born equal.
Hillborn crosses his arms and leans against the bus, “Alright, what’s the question?”
"I'm still a little unclear as to why people came here. I'm glad we did but why don't we try to go back to Earth?"
Coach Hillborn put on the best thinking face a coach can have when not looking at a play book and simply said, "From the way I understand it, we didn't have any magic there. They only had weapons, like guns and bombs. Some of those people would come up with a weapon that no one else had and then they would dominate without fear of retribution. That is of course until the other side copied or improved upon that weapon. Then it was flipped, and back and forth. Then one side finally made a weapon that was so big that it would not only kill far and wide, but also over time."
"So it wasn't enough to just blow up whatever they were aiming at, they also had to make sure no one could use it?"
"Exactly. It was rarely used, until it was used frequently. It didn't take long after that to make the planet pretty inhospitable. As the old saying goes, peeing in your own bed and all."
Vargas was quickly jotting down notes during this impromptu session because the teachers are not usually so candid. He stops and looks up at Coach Hillborn and asks, "That was when Adam Augustus made the Ark Aspiration, and took everyone that wanted to leave here?"
"Exactly. It wasn't the only one, just the only Ark that we know survived."
"Thanks Coach. This should get me what I need. I'm going to go turn this in real quick."
Vargas runs over to the sidewalk near the school. It was the edge of the school network, which is what he needed to be connected to so he could turn in his assignment. It doesn’t take him long, and he turns to go back to the bus. Walking back he sees all the girls are finally here.
Amber walks over to him and says hello. She is the teams healer and is a shy girl who doesn’t have many friends. She’s also the only one truly nice to him within the sea of the privileged he is in. She spends most of her time in the test lab learning new healing techniques or at volunteer hospital using what she knows. He’s just happy to have at least one friend in this place.
As they walk back to the bus talking about what’s going to happen today, Julie appears beside them as they talk about their chances at winning the tournament today. Vargas looks over and can see that she doesn’t realize that her spell has worn off. He decides to play a joke on her.
“So Amber, I just wanted to tell you something that you might be able to help with.”
Amber looks over to Vargas and sees Julie between them, and answers Vargas without any surprise in her voice. “What might that be Vargas?”
“Well you see Julie confided in me the other day, and told me that she was in love with me.”
Julie blurts out, “No I did not!”, followed by her covering her mouth.
Vargas gets a big grin on his face as he says, “Well then you shouldn’t be spying on people.
You don’t want people to hear a rumor about you falling in love with the poor kid.”
Julie starts to turn four different shades of red in anger, “I swear Vargas if you tell anyone that I will have your head on a platter.”
“Well you would have to catch me first.” He says as he directs the flow of magic in his body down to his feet. Starting with just a spark of electricity to a full bolt of lightning that he arcs around behind Julie and he glides behind her and whispers in her ear,
“And you’re not fast enough to catch me.”
Julie turns to slap him in the face but she hits nothing but air. He is already back standing next to Amber.
Coach Hillborn yells out from the bus, “Julie Brawn please stop using your illusion magic outside of lessons to spy on people.”
“But people get paid really good money to do that, I have to practice sometime.” She retorts.
“Yes yes, you’re going to be a big spy one day but not today.
Load up on the bus so we can head out to Bastion.”
Vargas heads toward the middle of the bus and takes a window seat and the bus slowly fills with the girls as they each have their chauffeurs take their luggage to the underside storage compartment of the bus. They all sit toward the front of the bus and begin gossiping about everything that had happen the week prior. Vargas rolls his eyes, and pulls up his overlay. He scrolls through his songs he has on his HaLO because he would rather listen to music than those girls chattering on the whole way there.
The ride through the dome was quick as they pull up toward the gates that leads out. The gates themselves are massive in size. There are three of them in total and each are as thick as the bus is long. As they approach, each go through an opening process that unhinges and spins out of the way. Once though, waiting at the next door, the one behind spins closed, creating a seal before the next can open.
Trees cover the road on either side of the bus and Vargas is shocked to see as much technology as he does on the drive there. He had heard there are digital advertisements attached to everything, that can only be seen with your overlay. A few boys were talking about when they left the dome for vacations how awesome they were. They must have been talking about further out than what they are or they could have just been full of it. Nothing he is seeing right now is any different from what he normally sees.
Passing through the forest they come out to the open sky and a clear field and view of Bastion in the distance. The sun shining off the water and buildings through the ever thinning tree line.
The Coliseum is clearly visible from the road and is the largest structure there. The closer they get the larger it becomes. It almost starts to almost intimidate Vargas.
Thoughts of doubt start running through his head. Is he ready to do this, is he good enough, just because a sage taught you a few things who do you think you are to win something like this, and you’re nothing but a poor kid from the dome you have no right to be here. He sees Amber look back and give him a funny looking face. She sends him a message.