The building was one of the many structures left standing from the former small town. An old school that housed hundreds of village kids in its heyday, its former grey walls were scratched brown by the Taint. Paint cracks bled with rust, and the searing wind howled through the empty streets.
Eran was a ghost town. Abandoned at the end of the last decade as the Taint got too thick to manage, Shou was part of the last students to leave the school there before being conscripted into the military academy in Citi.
An armoured van sat outside on the streets and Shou pulled up next to it. The soldier atop the machine gun mount looked down at him as he casually got off the elecycle.
Shou pulled up his hood and the aeronium mask came down over his face. He reached through the fog and pulled off his riding mask. Through the aeronium, he winked at the soldier who did her best to ignore him.
He walked into the school grounds without any resistance. He had thought the school dry before. There were sayings past down through elven families that thousands of years in the past, schools had gardens for students to grow plants, and fields of grass to play on. They however only had the open dirt courtyard where they would occasionally run laps if the weather wasn't too thick with rust. Now, even the courtyard had been covered metallic brown. Each dragging step drew a line that revealed the lighter sand underneath. Every crunch of his boot brought up a small puff of Taint.
The first-floor windows were barricaded and the doors were ripped off their hinges. Yet the second, third and fourth-floors' windows were left unboarded. It begged the question why they had even tried to board up the windows in the first place if the whole building was filled with holes. A poor deconstruction job if you asked him.
Another female soldier stood waiting at the door, rifle in hand. He walked up to her and raised his arms to be patted down. The soldier did so without asking.
"Corlyle sure likes to be surrounded by ladies," he joked.
She did not laugh. Tough crowd.
When she reached his prosthetic leg, she lifted up his pant leg and took a quick look around the metal structure. From the outside, it seemed fine. She stood back up and motioned him into the building. He felt annoyed that he had to roll his pant leg back down himself. What terrible service. One star.
Alone inside he made no detours to reminiscence on past gone by. The building interior was dark, with just little light beams gleaming through the boarded up windows and entrance, just enough to give shape to the structure within. He headed straight up the stairs but climbed calmly a step at a time. Halfway up the second flight, he began whistling a random tune. On the third landing, he turned right and entered the second door to the left.
Inside his old classroom, the desks and chairs were in their neat rows and columns as he had remembered them, albeit with a visible brown coat of dust. Sitting at the teacher's desk was Corlyle. The man looked even older off television with the lack of makeup and bright lights to smoothen his stress. His face was as cracked as the walls of the room. It did not help that he wore a trench coat with the brown of age. The old teacher wore a plain, translucent oxygen mask and thin, round spectacles in the form of goggles. President Corlyle.
Or as Shou called him, "Mister Anjexe."
"Shou. I didn't think you'd come."
"You called me out," he replied. Walking over to his seat at the back of the class nearest to the window, Shou pulled out the chair and sat down on the layer of dust uncaringly. "What's up?"
Corlyle laughed. "Still a punk, aren't you?"
"I've been recently told I was actually very smart, though."
"That, I agree."
For a moment, they sat quietly until Shou broke the ice again. "Mind telling me what's going on? I thought you were going to leave us alone?"
"I did," Corlyle admitted.
"Is that why you called us out on national television?"
"Well, you started harbouring deserting terrorists."
"They punched a guy, not blow up a building." Shou inclined. "Or does this have something to do with the Church funding your little projects?"
Corlyle raised a brow. "The church is a generous donor to the cause of the war. In their efforts to end the fighting, they have contributed millions to the development of G.A.S.P."
"And since I'm with the people who attacked your donors, it's no longer politically convenient for you to keep me safe, am I right?"
"I don't like your insinuations, Kenta. I risked my job to get you off the hook. As your teacher, I have a responsibility to protect my students!"
"Is that why you threw me under the bus? To protect me?"
"You left me no choice."
"Load of crap. You could have just mentioned those two idiots. Yet, you brought me up. Why? I know you protected me so far was due to the threat of fighting a mech. Cost and benefits are your thing, after all. Isn't that right, teacher?"
Corlyle got to his feet. "I don't like your tone of voice, Kenta. What I do I do for the good of all." He walked over to a desk middle of front row and placed a hand on the table sombrely. "Allison Kincaid. Drafted. Lost her legs from a friendly trip mine." He moved two rows up towards Shou and set his hand on another desk. "Louis Waserall. Killed in action. Stabbed to death in melee combat with an enemy soldier. Marin Curie. Weapons development. Bedridden from radiation exposure. Jonathan Huntre. Killed-"
Shou cut in, "Killed in action. Friendly fire. Yuach Healrayder. Missing in action. Susano Ozana. Killed in action. I can list names too. What's your point? That you know how to use NetSeeker?"
He wasn't being crass. He understood where Corlyle was coming from. He wanted to stop the war for the betterment of everyone. At least, that's what is shown on the surface. But Shou was not entirely convinced that their versions of 'everyone' were the same. Even as a teacher, Corlyle Anjexe had a reputation in vying for power within the school's hierarchy, rising up to the head of his department in just two years before the school closed.
As his teacher got closer, Shou stood to his feet and dug both his hands into his pockets nonchalantly as a feint. His left pocket was actually just a hole that gave him access to his cybernetic leg. Twisting a knob, the machine quietly ejected the taser into his hand.
Corlyle said, "I just want you to be safe. Turn yourself in and I can guarantee you'll receive a pardon in a year."
Shou looked to his teacher quizzically. "That's very tempting." He drew his taser and pointed it at Corlyle, who raised his hands in shocked surrender. "But here's my question. Why not offer me that earlier? Why now? Unless there's something you don't want me to know."
Looking shocked, Corlyle tried to diffuse the situation. "Let's put down the gun and talk like civilised people. No need for bloodshed. Or do you think violence is the solution to everything?"
Shou thought the man was being overly dramatic. "Calm your mammaries. It's just a taser. Now stop talking. I'm about to monologue like a good super-villain," Shou quipped. "You wanted me gone, or at the very least, not digging into this. I'm guessing whatever you're actually planning and hiding is worse than G.A.S.P. A trick, a plan, a weapon, something. One so bad that you fear a small band of rebels like mine could topple you if we started tracking it down. Am I right?"
He waited for Corlyle to reject his accusations, but the man simply stuttered. Both the surprise of the weapon and sudden twist of situations had frazzled him. Shou found it strange. If the man was not hiding anything, he would not need that much time to think of a response. His gut was telling him something was off.
"Alright, I think your silence speaks volume. So, I'm going to dig into this. Whatever it is you don't want me to find, I'll find it. And when I don't like it, I'll kick your ass."
The shock from being threatened seemed to fade from Corlyle's face and was replaced with a raging scowl. "Who do you think you are, you brat? After everything I've done for you, to teach you, to protect you, this is how you repay me? Why won't you just quietly sit aside and let me save everyone!?"
"G.A.S.P is going to kill golems, and possibly mages. How is that everyone?"
The president huffed angrily. "It's a necessary sacrifice for ending the war!"
Shou shook his head disappointedly. "There are innocent lives at stake. I won't stand by and let you do this."
"You don't have a choice. Even if you drop me now, my guards are surrounding the building as we speak. I was trying to avoid violence; to save you. But now I see you're too stubborn for salvation."
The sentence sent a shiver down Shou's spine. It reminded him of how the Church of Moira spoke. "You know, my girlfriend's really smart. Said you'd try to take me down if I don't do what you say. So she forced me to come up with another plan. Like a special delivery." Silence fell over both of them as they stood there. Corlyle looked around the room expecting something to happen. When nothing came, Shou pressed the side of his hooding to bring the earpiece closer. "Adelle!"
The device crackled. "What?"
"That's the code!"
"Oh... oh! Okay. Fuck. My bad."
"Just come and get me."
The elf immediately appeared behind him in a gas of brown. Corlyle jumped back in shock.
"You too?" he exclaimed.
Too? Shou thought.
But before he could question further, Adelle grabbed his waist and teleported them out.
Feet dangling in the air, he looked down for a split second to see his elecycle for twenty meters below and his heart stopped. Suddenly, the bike popped back right below him - no, he teleported down next to it and quickly climbed on. The gunner on the armoured van was shocked as their appearance and turned her turret on them. Adelle got on behind him.
"Go!" she yelled.
He throttled and the cycle revved off. The turret fired but Adelle ported them forward and away, the bullets racking off far behind them.