Chapter 5 – In the Middle
When Seti was a child, he recalled one open discussion.
Critical Thinking with Ms. Gant was the student's favorite class. It wasn't a class where the teacher taught anything, but rather they facilitated discussions about the topic provided. Seti was certain Ms. Gant liked this period the most as well since she typically spent the time grading papers and only occasionally made a comment.
Today's topic was the great families.
"Which is a stupid name, everyone already calls them the mafia," one boy said.
The class laughed. It wasn't even funny, but people tended to laugh more just because the boy was the class clown. Seti hated how they were all in a good mood. Why were they happy? Not a single person in the class was above tier one. What was so fun about life when they were all puny?
It was only a few weeks ago when his mother divorced and moved out, to pursue her career as a mancer. His father had thrown Seti a new allowance amount, which meant he probably had more money in his pocket right now than anyone else in the class combined. He was adapting to the new life. It meant growing up, just like his father wanted.
"I don't get why we don't just put them all in prison. They break the laws, right?" Another asked.
"They break our laws," a girl responded, "but my dad says they have their own laws. My dad says they are like their own country, but living in the same land as us. My dad says they have a king. The boss of bosses."
"Then let's kick them out! They're nothing but ugly stupid crap!"
"Ahem," Ms. Gant cleared her throat without looking up from her desk. "Focus on the topic and not name calling."
"But I don't get why we don't kick them out. How many times do they fight with the Shepherds?"
"My dad says they fight over land a lot."
Seti looked down at his paper. Ms. Gant graded the class based on participation or on the notes taken. Since he didn't feel like speaking up, jotting his thoughts down was the only way to pass. She didn't consider accuracy, either. The idea for the class was to teach the students to think for themselves, even when an answer wasn't apparent. For that reason, Ms. Gant wouldn't correct false information. Just because the students agreed on something wouldn't make it right.
Great families – AKA "Mafia"
Share shopping stores.
He looked at the last line. Bad guys. They were the bad guys because they didn't follow the rules that the guilds made. That meant they should learn to grow up, too. Their bad example made anyone who didn't like the rules join them. All the criminals grouped up with the mafians.
"Don't be stupid," another person said. "If we try to kick them out, they'll fight back and we'll have to fight another war."
"Dad says if there's war with the mafia then the Third Age will end."
"Idiot! Ages don't end just because of a war. It has to be super big, like when all the divine people killed each other during Age Two."
"It's called the Second Age, not Age Two. Retard."
"Language," Ms. Gant said.
"My dad says when people swear it's because they aren't smart enough to think of a different word."
Seti looked at the corner of his paper. He was tempted to draw a tornado, as he had always done, but fought the urge by dropping his pencil. When his hands felt naked, he picked the pencil up again and scribbled more notes down on the paper.
Guilds make laws. Mafia doesn't follow.
Second Age ended when the divines went to war.
People scared of big war.
Billy is a retard.
Seti smiled when he erased the last part.
"I don't think they're the bad guys," said a quiet girl.
Everyone stopped talking to look at her. Kimberly wasn't the type of girl to speak up, and everyone wanted to be her friend. She was smart—super smart, since she knew how to build electronic stuff; better even than some adults. She was also pretty and kind. She didn't care if you were ugly or had no friends. She treated everyone the same.
Kimberly is a retard.
"My dad says they're the bad guys," the girl countered, daring Kimberly to challenge her.
"Well…" Kimberly fidgeted. She looked around for support. Ms. Gant was paying attention as well. "Don't they also help when fighting the abyss?"
"Language!" Shouted the boy who originally said retard.
"Abyss isn't a bad word, idiot."
Seti finally spoke up. "The mafians help fight the abyss monsters? You sure?"
Kimberly nodded, glad to have someone to focus on. "My uncle lives in New Vox, and there's a gate there. A lot came out and my uncle was about to die, but then someone from the families saved him. They also fight the monsters."
"Kimberly is correct," Ms. Gant said. How odd. This was the first time she ever said someone was right. "Regardless of past grievances, a truce is always called when a primal appears. I don't think I need to remind anyone how the First Age ended, do I?"
The class shook their heads in unison. Seti looked down at his paper again. He erased Kimberly is a retard and examined the rest of his notes.
Maybe not bad guys. Sometimes good.
Faulkner was the Wind Dragon and Shanna was the Earth Dragon.
Titles were commonplace and used freely in the lands. Other than the official ones (such as aeromancer, hydromancer, and so on), titles were sometimes used to identify unique individuals. Some of the famous Shepherds were only known by those titles. For example, Spitfire was the Shepherd's strongest pyromancer. Soundwave: the man who could disable abilities with his own; probably with some use of aeromancy. Then there was the leader of the Shepherds, one of the three divines in the world. She was known as the Strongest Woman, which was a misnomer since she was the unequivocal strongest—regardless of gender.
The Dragon titles were something only the mafians used, given to the powerhouses of the families. It was their way of recognizing those could stand on the plateau of the very best. Most of the Dragons were head of their own families.
People would debate what it would look like to have the Sun Dragon fight against Spitfire or the Earth Dragon versus Aegis. But one thing was certain: no one actually wanted to see either side fight to their full strength. That would be too close to how the Second Age ended.
Seti stared at Faulkner. Sydria mouthed the word "mafia?" as she glanced back and forth between the Wind Dragon and the Earth Dragon. Neither of them knew, or had even guessed, the kind of people with whom they shared a roof. Faulkner ignored their looks and instead glared at Shepherd Cyrus.
The seconds ticked as both sides stared at each other in silence. Seti was still wrapping his head around the identities of his hosts. They were all inside the eye of a twister. Debris circled around in the air, caught in the vortex. Whatever rage the twister had, none of them within could hear a sound of it. Seti was at the direct center, with the Serio family to one side, and the Shepherd team on the other. Sydria stood with the Shepherd team. A phasm rope gripped his arm, with a geo-spike inches from Lamb Reimir's throat.
Shepherd Cyrus had the appearance of a blocky man. Originally, Seti suspected that he coated himself with some form of rock to create a geo-barrier, but Melvin had said that the Shepherd was a crafter. That meant the barrier that surrounded him was phasm made, something that could be partially seen through. Unfortunately for Seti, being blind and seeing only with his air meant he couldn't glimpse through any phasm material.
Cyrus removed his barrier and regained his normal appearance.
"What are you doing?" Reimir hissed. She warily eyed the geo-spike. All it took was a flick from Shanna and the spike would go through the Lamb.
"There are very few people in the world that could rip my barrier away," Shepherd Cyrus said. "Two of them are standing right here. If we're to win, it'll be with a civil conversation. Earth Dragon, if you would?" He gestured toward Reimir.
Shanna waved her hand, causing the Lamb to tense, and then the geo-spike reversed back into the ground. As soon as the threat was gone, Reimir snapped her fingers with her free hand and shaped a kite shield into existence. She placed it before herself as a ward against the mafians. Her rope wrapped around Seti's arm remained. Sydria inched behind Reimir.
"Look at this monkey with the shield," Melvin said. "Doesn't matter what you craft, it won't work."
Reimir said nothing and kept her eyes on Faulkner, her gaze intense.
Seti physically looked back and forth at both parties (with a brief thought that he felt like an actor as he could see everyone anyway). This was not what he imagined when he willed Melvin to fight. But he also didn't imagine he had been hanging out with members of the mafia. They were a dangerous group that acted outside the laws set by the guilds. It was hard to guess what their intentions were.
"By my authority as a Shepherd I will be taking Seti Tutt into my custody," Cyrus said. He was the most unaffected by the knowledge of his opponent's identity.
"Why?" Shanna asked.
Faulkner did not move or talk. It would have been more bearable if he did since he had been so animated at the temple. The twister around them was a direct reflection of the Wind Dragon: powerful and untamed on the outside, but calm and unspeaking within.
"There was a breach in the AVC Act as of Saturday morning. Illegal use of a geas was made on Seti Tutt, and by due process, we're to examine him," Cyrus said.
Sydria, hiding behind Reimir, beckoned to Seti to go to their side. His instincts urged him to go as well, to where it was safe. But another side of him resisted the call. Maybe it was his air still amplifying his desire to change. Or perhaps it was knowing that even if he went to the Shepherd, the two Dragons were strong enough to wipe them out anyway. He had known Faulkner to be a playful liar and wished the man would show some semblance of that person right now.
Faulkner tilted his head. The rope on Seti's arm tightened further. He could feel his blood struggle to pump through. Any movement from the Wind Dragon made the Lamb tense. Seti couldn't blame her; the aeromancer looked fierce.
The Earth Dragon spoke. "Seti is not under a geas, nor has there been a personality alteration."
"Why, of course we'll believe you," Reimir said. "The tier one, who had done nothing with his mancy until now, is suddenly mall shopping with two Dragons. We'll definitely ignore the confirmed geas he was under only two days ago. That makes sense."
Oh, Seti liked her. Reminded him of himself.
"Reimir." Shepherd Cyrus didn't look at his partner, but his words were enough to quiet her.
"We've scanned him ourselves," Shanna said.
"What?" Seti said. That caught him off guard. "When did you do that?"
Melvin stabbed his great sword into the ground and leaned on it. He was the polar opposite of the Lamb: at ease and without a care in the world. "Moron, everyone you've met is exceptional in our family. That includes our personal viva, Dora. Don't tell her I said that, though."
Dora was a vivamancer? When did she scan him? There were several times when she guided him at the wind temple, but he never had an open wound she could access. Unless… maybe only Cassie needed an open wound? And Dora could scan with just a touch? Or maybe she didn't need to touch at all. There were too many variances and Seti wasn't accustomed to the mancer world.
"Right, you scanned him," Reimir said. "That's a wrap boys, let's go home. Mission accomplished. Shepherds and the mob will have a grill out next weekend to celebrate."
Every debris that circled with the twister dropped all at once. The ground shook. The silence of the twister's eye ended. Rushing wind reached them, throwing Seti off balance. Just before his omniview ended, he saw Cyrus reformed his barrier as Sydria grabbed Reimir in fright, who was trying to stabilize her own footing. It was hard to breathe. The wind pressed them on every side.
Faulkner's voice thundered over the gale. "My word is beyond contestation."
The wind subsided. Seti caught his breath and tried to stay balanced by crouching down. He could feel the soot on the floor from the rubble; they themselves were probably covered as well. His omniview activated to see the twister around them continued on, lifting the debris off the ground once more. Cyrus was in a battle stance. Reimir covered Sydria with a shield in each hand. The rope around Seti's arm had vanished.
"Well then," Cyrus removed his barrier again once the calm returned. He straightened out his coat collar. "Reimir, I'll have to ask you to not speak for the duration of this discussion."
Faulkner's glare remained on the Shepherd. It was a reminder that the Wind Dragon was a dangerous person and should not be joked with. Whoever they had met at the wind temple wasn't the same man.
"I'll admit I'm confused," Cyrus continued. "I don't understand why you want Mr. Tutt. Anything dealing with a geas should be taken seriously. Even the Serio family understands this, as the mafians helped ratify the United Accords."
"How convenient," Melvin said. "Those laws only seem to apply when it's useful to the guilds, but let's ignore it when we get a chance to whack a member of the families."
"This situation is different from that," Cyrus said.
Shanna replied for Faulkner. "The master's outburst was not in regards to our objection to your obligation, but your objection to our word. We do not lie."
Seti couldn't help but turn his head towards the aeromancer at the last statement. Faulkner does not lie? Until now, she had corrected every other word at the temple that he spoke. What was going on?
Then, a movement hidden to the eyes. Seti wouldn't have seen it if it wasn't for his omniview. The soot on the ground behind Faulkner changed slightly. A small pocket of air moved it into a picture. A frowny face.
Seti couldn't resist—he laughed.
Everyone but Faulkner and Shanna looked at him in confusion. Seti couldn't help it; it made sense now. Faulkner was pretending to be a frightening figure but had just made a small frowny face in the dust, one that only Seti could see. He was indeed the same man that they had met at the temple, but he was acting. It reminded Seti that back at the university, people would act differently to him just because he had money. How he acted to those people wasn't the real him; the real him was the man who lazed around his dorm and hung out with his sister. As for Faulkner, he was the playful liar, even now in the midst of the Shepherd team, but he had to act as the fearsome Wind Dragon.
Knowing that had placed a smile on Seti's face. The frowny vanished before the non-blind people could see anything.
"Sorry," Seti said sheepishly. He felt awkward standing in the middle of both groups.
Shepherd Cyrus examined him for a moment longer before speaking. "By right of the United Accords, the opposing faction can make themselves the cross-examiner in matters concerning geas usage. Faulkner, do you have any objections to us taking Mr. Tutt with us?"
"We have none," Shanna said for him.
"Seti, get over here!" Sydria said, beckoning fiercely.
Seti waited. He expected Faulkner or Melvin to speak up, to argue against what the blindfolded woman had said. No one did. It sucked that they didn't fight for him. He looked up, not seeing anything beyond his ten-foot range. How high did the twister go? How many people were watching, recording, and wondering what was happening? Would anyone believe that two Dragons stood within? He was surprised to note that he didn't want to leave the Serio family. It was satisfying to learn about his abilities. The Wind Dragon had wanted to train him for five days, but what would happened now?
"Do I have to go?" Seti asked as the thought appeared in his head.
"Yes," Cyrus said.
"No." Faulkner spoke.
"You just said you had no objection," the Shepherd countered.
"We do not," the Wind Dragon agreed, "but he has an objection."
Reimir shifted in place, but a look from Cyrus made her stop. She likely wanted to speak up, probably say something about how Seti could be under a geas at this very moment. To say that, though, may cause an unwelcome reaction from the Serio family.
"Seti!" Sydria hissed. "They're the mafia!"
"Yes, and they're the Shepherds," Seti said.
"Something is wrong with you; the Shepherds are the good guys!"
"Then answer me this," Seti said. His blood was boiling thinking about his next comment. "If the Shepherds are the good guys, the people who pastor over others and try to do what is best for everyone, then why was I forgotten? Why am I dismissed as a talentless hobo when the Wind Dragon himself was willing to teach me?"
Cyrus and Reimir shot an alarmed look at Seti. Sydria didn't notice.
"You're a tier one!" She exclaimed. "But you were never forgotten. You want to know something? I'm a mancer—look!" She held out her hands. Bolts of lightning flicked from one hand to the other. The sound of zapping static filled the area. "Electromancer. Tier five. I got my title last year. But guess what? If you, who wanted to be an aeromancer so badly, couldn't, then I decided I wasn't going to do anything either. I'll join the company with you. That's what family is for. We're family, Seti."
He looked at her hands. The electricity bounced around with complete control. She was an electromancer? Seti had thought she simply hadn't discovered her mancy since she was too low tiered, but a tier five? She could apply to Prestige Academy without a recommendation if she wanted to. She hid it for his sake.
Yet, that thought made him irate.
She hid it for his sake? Why? Because she figured he couldn't handle knowing what she could become? She would throw away her potential because he had no choice except to join the company? That's stupid.
"I didn't ask you to," Seti said.
"It's my choice," Sydria replied.
"You wouldn't understand never having one. You want me to praise you? This annoys me more than anything; that you'd throw away the life that I'd want is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of."
Her eyes welled up. She swallowed several times but didn't speak further. She looked down and locked her eyes at a point on the ground. It was the book she had given him. Vivamancers and the Brain. He dropped it sometime earlier and it rested between them.
When the siblings didn't continue, Shepherd Cyrus spoke up. "Faulkner, am I to believe that you took Mr. Tutt as your disciple?"
"He has no disciple," the Earth Dragon responded.
Shepherd Cyrus took that at face value and nodded.
Seti considered his options. The Maybell mall cafeteria had been obliterated by the small skirmish between the Shepherds and the Serio family. Who would pay for the repairs? Who would hire the geomancers needed? He didn't know the details behind incidents like these. Maybe as an involved party member they would delegate some fees to him, which in turn meant to his father. Not to mention the whole ordeal would likely end up on the evening news.
As far as he knew, the only path before him would be to walk to the Shepherds and bid farewell to Faulkner. The whole thing blew out of proportion just for the sake of training a few more days. But if Seti wanted to change, he couldn't walk that path. He would have to forge a new one.
Cyrus reached out his hand. "Come."
"Faulkner," Seti said, "you said your disciple had to leave their old life behind, right?"
That broke Sydria's trance. Her eyes went wide and she looked at him in horror. "What? No!"
You want me to come with you! Seti willed his thoughts unto Faulkner.
The Wind Dragon took out a cigarette and a lighter. He hid his mouth as he lit it. Faulkner was smiling. Did he know Seti made an attempt on his emotions? The Lamb Reimir looked at Seti as if she was seeing him for the first time.
"He also said his disciple would change the world," Shanna said.
Seti motioned around him. "Who do you think did all this? I started this fight. I made Melvin fight."
Melvin furrowed his brows. He probably didn't like that statement. The Earth Dragon looked at Faulkner, unwilling to speak for him this time.
A pause. No one moved or said anything. Sydria's eyes were wide, unblinking as she stared a hole into Seti. He wanted to put her out of his vision, but the omniview wouldn't allow it.
"Then come," said the Wind Dragon of the Serio family.
"No!" Sydria screamed. "Stop him!"
Cyrus activated his barrier again. Reimir snapped her fingers and held a shield in one hand with a hammer in the other. Melvin ripped his great sword from the ground and poised to strike.
"Faulkner! He cannot go with you." Cyrus footed himself in some martial arts posture.
"I will not deny you the right of cross-examination," Faulkner said slowly, uncaring for the battle stances around him, "If you want to scan him for geas tampering then do so this Saturday at the Exceptions exam. Seti Serio will be attending Prestige Academy this year. Our business here has concluded."
Seti's stomach leapt. He could hardly believe what he heard. Prestige Academy? Seti—the tier one wind adept—was being backed by the fearsome Wind Dragon? Was he finally going to become the mancer he always dreamed of?
"Prestige?" Cyrus' bulk figure relaxed. "Then this is your response to…"
"As you have chosen your champion," Faulkner said as he held up his arm to look at an electronic bracelet, "so then I have chosen mine."
Reimir looked at Cyrus in confusion while Seti did the same to Faulkner. Neither the Shepherd nor the Wind Dragon met their gaze. Trusting that he would be told everything, Seti walked towards the Serio family.
"Stop him!" Sydria shouted again.
"Cyrus, you cannot mean to let the Serio family take him! It is our right to detain the victim." The Lamb spoke defiantly to her superior.
The Shepherd did not respond.
"Miss Amicone, bring us. Plus one." Faulkner spoke to the bracelet.
"I thought I told you to call me Lightning Dragon when you're in public." A female voice came from the bracelet.
Sydria's arms and hands electrified with bolts. A burst of static filled the air. "If no one else will do anything, then I will!" She swung her hands at Seti. Lightning struck forth. A bolt zapped straight at his arm.
Shanna flicked her hand. A giant wall appeared behind him, cutting off the lightning. Seti's arm limped uselessly at his side. He was not in pain, nor did he have any visible wounds. Paralysis.
"No!" Sydria screamed.
With his omniview, Seti saw what happened on the other side of the wall. Reimir grabbed Sydria but was electrified in the process.
"Son of a—" Reimir slumped face first to the ground.
Cyrus hugged Sydria from behind, her lightning failing to penetrate his barrier. Bolts erupted from her body as she cried out. Her voice ripped into Seti's heart. He tried to amplify the calm on her, but she only yelled louder.
"You're not a Serio! You're a Tutt!" She screamed.
With a crack, a bolt of lightning came down from the heavens. It landed on Melvin first; he vanished when it did. Then Shanna vanished with the second strike. Faulkner with the third. The fourth came down and hit Seti. It was warm and he felt it pull and stretch his body. The last thing he saw when his omniview ended was his screaming sibling and the surroundings melting away.