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Back at the central passage, Gabe took up his role as guide again, leading Nyx further away from the infirmary. After the incident he seemed more reserved than usual, only speaking when he pointed out the various tunnels and where they led. After a few minutes of walking the path opened into a cavern the size of two football fields.

On the left half were obstacle courses mimicking environments from cityscapes, along with ones standard to the military with barriers and crawlspaces. On the right side combat equipment and weapons filled racks with staffs, swords, halberds, maces, axes, and chain linked weapons of various kinds. Nyx had always been partial to the sword.

Arranged in front of the weapon racks, further from the walls, were combat circles. Similarly to the obstacle courses, they emulated different environments with loose woodchips, tile, marble, sand or even ice. Larger circles contained miniature forests, small buildings, rocks or other objects to work around.

Two students practiced inside a ring of polished tile flooring grunting as they strained against each other, their arms locked as they attempted to outwrestle each other. They did not wear the grey uniforms he had seen earlier but had on tight fitting athletic gear. Beside a circle that imitated a jungle with trees and thick undergrowth, other cadets mirrored an instructors movements with jerky renditions. Nyx thought the plants must be imitations due to the waxy way the light reflected off their surfaces.

Gabe gave Nyx some time to observe before tapping him and waving him to follow down a path through the cavern's center.

"Most of our time is spent in this central area, other than when we practice with our elements and cultivate. Over there, across the way is where we get our meals," said Gabe, pointing at a section with tables on the far end of the space.

Nyx nodded taking in the sight of an enormous buffet covered in baskets of steaming food. Tables filled the area near the meal with clusters of people scattered around eating. A cadet wearing the grey uniform and an orange band on his arm replaced an empty basket with one filled with broccoli. Nyx had expected adversity would harden the students, but there was a levity to the place that belied the danger.

“On top of learning to cultivate Chi, we learn to fight. Every four years there is a tournament to gauge our levels before we are moved to a new location for training under new instruction. You are a bit of an anomaly, the rest of us all joined four years ago. The order, except for rare occasions, doesn’t take new students in the middle of the four-year periods. Joshua made an exception for you.”

Nyx stopped walking and looked Gabe in the eyes, "you have to promise me you won't tell anyone about my healing, I am new here and don’t want to stick out," Nyx decided it was time to leverage some guilt. He thought he could trust Gabe’s word.

Gabe threw his hands up. "Oh, so you are trying to stay low key. Couldn’t have guessed that by how you acted with Benjamin.” Nyx glared, and Gabe smiled easily waving away his concern. “Alright, I will talk to Dan as well. I can't promise anything about him though."

Nyx nodded, "thank you," he said, walking forward again. “Where do the students go after the four years?"

Gabe shrugged, “A different city, Joshua said it depends on the person.”

After crossing the field, they walked around the circular dining tables. Many cadet's eyes followed them as they passed the buffet into another passageway. Smaller tunnels branched off from theirs as they walked through.

Gabe pointed down a medium sized passageway. "That one leads to the dorms." he scratched his neck, "I guess that's what you would call them. Maybe more like mini apartments. If you decide to stay, Joshua said you would share a complex with Dan and me and the three others who also live with us. If you do stay, we could use you joining our team. Right now we are down a member, and with the tournament coming up we need all the help we can get."

Nyx nodded but didn’t say anything, doing his best to commit the passage to memory. It looked almost identical to many of the others with rough stone blocks neatly fitted together making up the walls, with polished cobblestone flooring below. A brass plate with a picture of a bed etched into it was the only defining marker. He had been committing these markers to memory. After a couple of minutes, they took a side passage before stopping outside a dark stained oak door. Gabe lifted a brass knocker shaped like a raven before releasing it. A hollow sound rang out as it impacted the hard surface.

"Come in!" Joshua's loud voice came muffled from inside the room.

The brass hinges on the oak door creaked as it opened, and they stepped inside. Joshua stood wearing a grey uniform with the symbol of a black raven embroidered onto the cuffs, no longer wearing the plain suit he had worn in the club.

"How do you like the facilities?"

Nyx looked around the room. A stack of papers stood on an ornate desk. A bookshelf housed neat rows of what appeared to be records. There was a small sofa in the corner with a glass coffee table in front. The place was military neat.

"They seem great. I can’t imagine the cost of building them." By Earth standards he was sure they were indeed the best money could buy.

Joshua smiled, but his expression quickly became a frown as he moved to his desk and leafed through a stack of papers picking one out. "Gabe could you leave us please."

Gabe looked questioningly at Nyx but nodded, stepping back from the room. "I'll wait outside." He pulled the door shut.

Joshua cleared his throat before addressing Nyx. “I need to inform you of one more thing, I am hoping it will help you decide to stay here.” His grey speckled eyebrows scrunched together. “Your father, I mean your real father, was integral to this academy. More importantly, he was my good friend. Although you wouldn’t know this as it is top secret, he was a ranking member of our order.”

He handed Nyx the piece of paper. Cruz Truitt was spelled in ornate letters across the top with his father's picture taking up a third of the sheet. His Dad had light brown hair with the same intense blue eyes as Nyx. He was wearing the same grey uniform that Joshua had on now. It had been a very long time since he had seen a picture of his Dad. Nyx felt a longing tinged with bitterness at knowing he would never see that face in person again.

"You have his eyes," said Joshua, then paused and looked away from him. "I hate to be the one to tell you this, but he didn't die in a fire, a demon killed your parents. After their deaths, I watched you. I wanted to bring you in, but there were rules..." His voice trailed off, and Nyx thought he saw tears forming in Joshua's eyes.

Nyx’s voice was a whisper, as he confronted old memories made fresh by his recent encounter with the Demon Chi. “I know, I saw it all.”

Joshua’s eyes widened marginally. “You mean to say you have witnessed the demon?”

Nyx gave one quick nod.

“At such a young age you witnessed Aggoth, and still lived without your mind shattered? Most untrained men would have lost their sanity,” his voice lowered becoming an internal dialogue, “that demon in the alley would be child’s play...” he looked back up now addressing Nyx again, “I just wanted to say you have a family here, even though you don’t know it."

Nyx’s narrowed his eyes, becoming serious. Although he wanted to believe Joshua was an ally, actions spoke louder than words. Thoughts of his parent’s deaths, no matter how long ago it had taken place, still brought a rage bubbling to the surface. He pushed it back down, easy to do now that the demon Chi was under his control. "I have some requests."

Joshua ran a hand through his hair, straitening an errant strand, then moved to the desk reorganizing the papers, "Alright I'm listening, I will help if I can."

"If I am going to stay, and if you were a friend to my father, I need unrestricted access to the city above as well as to the locked room housing heavenly Chi."

Joshua's mouth dropped open, but he quickly closed it. He moved over to the couch, and with a sigh sat down. Nyx remained where he was standing.

“How do you know about that room and speculate as to what is inside? Heavenly Chi is reserved for instructors and promising cadets, given only to those that earn the privilege.”

Nyx just continued to stare without responding. He found that silence often worked better than any method of questioning as they naturally wanted to fill that awkward moment divulging more than intended.

They both waited for a minute before Joshua finally spoke, "I don't know what you are aware of, so I will fill you in. All the different kinds of Chi exist on a spectrum of frequency. Demonic Chi, as I am sure you could guess, is at the lowest, nobody in their right mind would attempt to cultivate it. When demonic energy takes over a vessel, it destroys the soul, corrupting the energy of the core. Heavenly Chi is of the highest frequency, it is pure and sharing. Unlike demonic, it can be mixed with other elements without corruption. We use it here specifically to help break through the levels of our cultivation, to help refine the Chi. While demonic energy would destroy the person who tried to cultivate it, heavenly Chi can greatly refine an Elementalist's cultivation base."

Nyx remained standing, "Elementalist?" He was not familiar with the term.

"I assumed you would know since you seem to be full of secrets."

"My father never taught me that much," said Nyx, it was a white lie but would dissuade questions.

"He shouldn’t have done that," Joshua's frown lines grew pronounced.

"What does it matter, he's dead."

Joshua strengthened a pant leg not meeting Nyx’s stare. "I apologize," he sighed, "I'll see what I can do to get you access, no promises though. Anyways, an Elementalist is another term for Cultivator, someone who refines their element, taking the energy into their core. A person who cultivates only one aspect is much stronger than someone who mixes energies. A person who blends Chi, unless corrected early on will never manifest an element. What makes heavenly Chi so valuable is that it can be mixed without detriment to your primary element. It is much more complicated than that, but I am sure your instructors will go more in depth.

Joshua paused for effect eyes holding Nyx’s as though trying to get across an important message. "Some people who either learned to cultivate on their own or do not have proper training might draw on multiple types of Chi. The more types of Chi, the weaker the Elementalist becomes. These people are referred to as mutts." He raised an eyebrow. "What are you?"

"I'm a mutt," Nyx didn't hesitate, it would be a reasonable explanation to avoid questions. He had learned to keep his secrets close, the fewer people who knew, the better.

Joshua shook his head sadly and reached into his desk drawer pulling out a small object. "Your father did you a disservice."

Nyx shrugged keeping his face neutral.

“Here, this is for you.”

Nyx accepted the pin and turned it around in his fingers. It depicted a mash of muted colors and shapes that he guessed would mark him as a Mutt. He pinned it to his chest, it could be a useful tool to avoid questions.

Nyx checked the shroud he had placed around his core and was pleased to see it was still in place. Thanks to his highly developed soul others, unless incredibly talented, would not be able to peek at the demonic energy in his core.

Heavenly Chi, when merged with elemental Chi, would help to purify and strengthen that specific energy type. But when Demonic and heavenly were forced to join, they should create something new. Nyx wasn't aware of it ever being done and could only guess at the outcome. His reasoned it would create something elastic that could morph, becoming the type of Chi he desired. He needed the power and had no choice but it try merging them.

"We should be all set then. I will let you know when I have an answer to your requests. As for leaving the facility, usually it is a no-go, but I can make an exception. Getting access to use the heavenly room is more difficult." Joshua handed him a plastic card with a raven embossed on the front. “Here is your key card, it will give you access to the surface along with your room door."

Nyx paused with his hand on the doorknob. “Gabe offered me to join his team. Apparently, they have an open spot.”

Joshua laughed, not the kindhearted, full-bellied laugh Nyx had expected from him, but a cold-hearted chuckle. “Why do you think I chose those brothers to be away from training to monitor you? No. they are a lost cause, useless. After you meet with the council tomorrow morning, we will find you a team on which you can thrive. I owe your father that much at least.”

Nyx hid his frown till he had shut the office door behind him. He agreed that being grouped with the best cadets would help him excel, but he couldn’t deny he felt solidarity to the brothers. They had been welcoming to him, and even Dan had a raw honesty that he appreciated.

Gabe, who was leaning on the wall outside jumped when the door opened, then shook his head laughing at his reaction, "done already? What did you decide?" he looked hopefully at the keycard.

Nyx shrugged, "will see soon I guess."

Gabe didn’t seem dejected, "let's go get your stuff and set you up in the living quarters. I'm sure you will like it here."


 

"What's that shouting?" Asked Nyx.

Loud voices were coming from the room in front of them, they had grabbed Nyx's things and were now in the dormitory section of the academy. Nyx tested his access card swiping it across the card sensor by the door. With a click, it unlocked. Gabe held it open for him, making space so he could bring his luggage inside.

A blond-haired young man turned towards Nyx face set in a scowl. He was attempting to grow a goatee that Nyx thought made him look like a goat. He had one of those arrogant faces that Nyx took an instant disliking too.

"Oh, so you're the one who almost died 'facing down a demon.' A pretty stupid thing to do if you ask me."

Somehow, he was involved with their argument.

Dan looked the blond lad up and down, fuming. “Sure Matt, I’d like to see you so much as look at a demon,” He spat to the side, “I bet you’d piss your pants.”

Matt scoffed attention turning back to Dan, “And die? Like your parents? At least my parents are still alive,” the glint in his eyes betrayed his intentions, he wanted to cut deep.

A girl sat on the living areas couch, beet red from embarrassment. She was a slight with brown hair, "what the hell is wrong with you Matt!" She yelled.

Dan balled his fists and strode toward the blond boy, Chi strengthening his arm. Nyx could tell he was still in the Basic stage of cultivation so could not manifest an element and could only use his unrefined Chi to strengthen himself by cycling it through his body. Once he broke through to the Shaping stage, he would begin to manifest his earth element. Everyone manifested their element differently.

Matt was faster than Dan, his movements more refined as he ducked under the swing.

Nyx sighed, someone was going to get hurt, and he didn’t want to deal with that trouble. Nyx shoved Dan backward, out of the way of an uppercut then swiveled, aligning his hips parallel to Matts frame. Before Matt could strengthen himself, Nyx gripped a handful of his uniform jacket and tucked his head, jerking forward while dropping to his knees. Matt's body flung through the air and slammed onto the floor in front, the breath whooshing from his lungs. Nyx marveled at the strengthening the Demon Chi had wrought, he had not intended to throw him so forcefully.

Nyx patted Matt on the chest as he struggled to breathe, "you done?"

Once catching his breath, Matt sat up and looked at Nyx for a long while eyes narrowed, he inhaled deeply, "guess I deserved that," he said then looked over at Dan, "I didn’t mean it."

Dan glowered back, with his arms crossed. Other than Nyx he was the only one not wearing a uniform. "It's your turn to do the dishes," his eyes narrowed at Nyx, “I didn’t need your help.”

Gabe was frowning where he stood to the side, "well that’s one way to meet your new roommates. That’s Matt, and Marisa is on the couch. Don’t worry this is actually pretty common. I swear they are always fighting about something."

Nyx had a new understanding of Gabe and Dan, their parents, like his, had died at the hands of demons. A fight about doing the dishes, Nyx shook his head at the stupidity of it.

Matt placed a hand on the ground for balance getting to his feet. He looked Nyx up and down, "you're stronger than you look, some point you will have to teach me that throw," He paused, then making a decision he stuck out his hand. "Matt, nice to meet you. Might have heard a thing or two about you before." He winked over at Dan.

Dan remained stoic, his hawk-like features pinched as the muscles in his cheek flexed. Nyx found he sympathized with Dan. If someone had said those words to him back before he left Earth, he would have tried his damnedest to beat them to a pulp.

Nyx took the extended hand wearily. He didn't know Matt well, he might hold a grudge against him for the throw. Shaking hands, Matt then reached across trying to place his arm around Nyx's shoulders. Nyx slipped underneath; they weren't that chummy. Matt's arm hung in the air for a second before he let it drop back to his side. Slightly dejected he moved to the kitchen pulling open the washer - dished clinked.

Marisa reached her hand out leaning forward on the sofa, "Nice to meet you, Nyx."

Nyx shook her hand noting how small it felt in his.

"Alright enough of that, don’t get too comfortable with my girlfriend," Matt called from the small kitchen, "you still have to meet Garry."

Gabe led him to a hallway with six doors built into wooden walls. The apartments reminded Nyx of a well-furnished bunker. Gabe knocked once then pushed open the second door to the left not waiting for a reply. In a chair facing a computer sat a boy with wavy red hair, he wore glasses that were too wide for his skinny freckled face. He turned towards them starring but remained silent.

"Nyx this is Garry, Garry Nyx," said Gabe, introducing them.

Nyx reached out his hand, Garry blinked. "Oh, I'm Garry." He stood up too fast banging his knee on the lip of his desk he winced. "You were just told that..." Finally, he took Nyx's hand and shook, quickly letting go.

"Nice to meet you," said Nyx into the awkward silence.

"Ok!" Gabe clapped his hands leading Nyx back into the hall, “let's get you moved into your room now that you met the team."

His room was at the end of the hall, the inside was small with a simple bed, nightstand, and dresser all made from sturdy pain wood. A door opened to a bathroom on the left. He unzipped his suitcase putting away his clothes. Nyx couldn't help but feel an odd kinship with Dan and Gabe now that he knew they shared a pain familiar to him, one caused by demons. If they were anything like him, they would share his wrath as well.

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