The Legion of Heroes
The sound of his phone vibrating slapped at Matt’s unconsciousness. He groaned and opened his eyes, the dull morning light momentarily irritating his retinas. His hand slopped blearily across the floor to where the stupid thing and its little blinking light was laying on charge.
Taylor (1) – Hey man how is Legion r u superh…
Matt blinked at his screen. The clock read 5:49am. He slid the unlock pattern and typed back an honest answer.
F u not even up
The reply came almost immediately and completely indifferent to his previous sentiment.
Taylor (1) – Send pics
Of what, Matt grumbled to himself. Nevertheless he obliged, snapping a few photos of his new dorm. It was pretty uninteresting, in his opinion – a plain, narrow, rectangular room with a plywood desk and plastic chair pressed against the left side and a single bed pressed against the right. A small bookshelf on which he’d already managed to smack his skull was nailed into the wall above the bedhead, but other than that the only real features was the vaguely vomit-green carpet, the small bathroom which was the first thing on your right when you came in the door, and the window looking out onto the grounds below.
Matt sent the pictures to Taylor then closed his eyes, feeling the weary residue of a bad night’s sleep aching behind his temples. He’d almost convinced himself that he could make it better by falling asleep again when his friend’s reply bounced back.
Taylor (1) – Nice
Which means ‘That’s boring, I expected more’ Matt mused. He didn’t care though; there were more important things in life than being a constant source of entertainment. His phone buzzed again.
Taylor (1) – Jane dead yet?
No but I’m sure she’s working on it, Matt thought ruefully.
After yesterday’s Welcome – or Snake Ceremony, as Matt was now mentally calling it – Winters had hurried them both off stage in as dignified a manner as possible, and invited them to consider retiring to their rooms for the remainder of the evening. Both Matt and Jane had seen the merit in this suggestion, and thus Matt’s first night at the Academy had been one of confined, fitful sleep and gnawing feelings of dinner-less hunger.
Matt rolled over the length of his bed, propping his head up against the wall to stare out the window into the pale green expanse beyond. Morningstar’s grounds, the wide-open grassy fields that sloped out and down into an abrupt forest, were doused with a low-hanging, early morning fog that made him thoroughly glad to be inside – nevertheless, someone was already up and about. As Matt watched, a blur shot across the field, whipping a line through the mist. Ten seconds later, it flew by again, throwing up a cloud of dew drops right to left in the exact same path. Speedster, Matt yawned. He wondered how many laps they could do before it started to impact the lawn. Though he supposed that’s what floramancers were for.
After a few minutes of watching the blur do laps, Matt got up and had a quick shower and shave before running through his mental exercises. His night had been plagued by an endless parade of anxious, anticipatory dreams, full of doors and traps and hissing lizardmen – though no vanishing pale children – but his morning drills quickly brought those feelings under control, and by the time Matt dressed and exited his room to scout for breakfast, the map in his back pocket, he’d forced himself to relax.
Matt trundled down several flights of stairs to the ground floor, then meandered through the entrance gallery towards the Grand Hall’s open doors, which he’d seen but abstained from going through last night. A few people passed by him as he walked, headed in the other direction. Most looked his age, if not a bit older, and most glanced at him with mild curiosity. Is it because I’m new and clairvoyant, Matt wondered, with only a hint of trepidation, or is it because I’m associated with the hiss-magnet?
The rumble of sound humming out of the Hall swelled as he got nearer, as did the scent of fried breakfast food, which was substantially more appealing. Matt passed through the open double‑doors and immediately there was an audible drop in conversation as a hundred or so faces turned to glance at the new arrival. His pace slowed. For a moment, Matt thought the room might go silent, and he would find himself walking a very awkward gauntlet – but then the moment passed, most of the heads turned back, and the Hall resumed its previous volume. Matt breathed a small sigh of relief.
Matt felt like he hadn’t got a very good look at the Grand Hall last night, what with coming in from the wrong end and his nerves at being announced. But now that he wasn’t being paraded out on stage alongside a tattooed pariah, he could see that the Hall was indeed very grand, with high walls and ceilings and large full-length windows running down both sides through which autumn sunlight now reluctantly streamed. The floors were hardwood, with lines of rectangular tables running the length of the room from the entrance to the buffet, which lined the nearest-most edge of a raised platform – the stage they’d been on last night – jutting out of the far wall. The platform had stairs leading up on either side, but as far as Matt could see, nobody was going up there – the dark wooden lectern standing alone and untouched in its centre. Behind the podium rose a vast and unbroken sandstone wall, which Matt could see now was dominated by a ten-foot metal insignia, an eagle with an olive wreath in its talons that stared (Matt thought somewhat menacingly) out over the room. The Legion’s famous circular crest of course; but below it, either side of the lectern so that they would have flanked any speaker, stood two outfits which took him slightly more by surprise. He squinted at the pair of them as he slowly meandered across the room – matching pearlescent-white bodies and golden capes adorning headless mannequins, preserved inside twin glass cylinders. Matt filled up a plate with bacon and beans and, after only a few second’s hesitation, headed over to a free space at one of the tables.
“Hi,” he said, sitting down as the stranger to his right, a freckly, curly-haired guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt, glanced up at him.
“Hey,” said the stranger. He finished chewing a piece of hash brown and looked appraisingly at Matt. “You’re the clairvoyant.”
“You must be psychic.”
“I was joking.”
“Nope. Wally Cykes,” said Wally, holding out his hand, “Psychic.”
“Matt Callaghan,” said Matt, shaking it and mentally battening down his defences, “Clairvoyant.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” replied the friendly-seeming ginger.
“You too.” Matt glanced up at the overlooking podium and pointed. “Whose are those costumes?” he asked.
Wally followed Matt’s finger, then turned back to him with an eyebrow semi-raised. “Seriously? You never watch cartoons?”
“No, I mean the one on the left’s Captain Dawn’s” Matt replied, a little impatient, “Obviously. But who’s the girl’s?” He glanced back at the woman’s outfit on the right. “It’s the same colours and everything, same symbol. Does he have a sister?”
“Nope,” said the psychic. He raised his fork and bit into another hash brown. “His wife.”
“Captain Dawn’s married?”
“Well, he was.” Wally chewed and swallowed, looking at him matter-of-factly. “She’s dead.”
“Oh. Shoot. Sorry.”
“Relax, it happened ages ago. Car crash.” The conversation lapsed for a few seconds while Matt picked at his bacon.
“Bit morbid, don’t you think though,” he said after he’d given it some thought, “Keeping his dead wife’s clothes on display.” As soon as the words left his mouth Matt felt a momentary panic that he might’ve made a mistake by daring to criticise Captain Dawn, but Wally just shrugged.
“I think it’s meant to be symbolic. One uniform for those serving, one for those we’ve lost.”
“Ah.” The idea made Matt take pause. “That’s actually kind of nice.”
“Yeah, I guess?” Wally shrugged. He chewed for a second or two and then pointed at Matt’s neck. “You cut yourself shaving.”
“Did I? Ah dang, where is-” He tried to look down at where Wally was pointing before realising he couldn’t physically see his own neck. “You got a napkin?”
“I gotcha buddy.” He passed Matt a napkin dispenser from the middle of the table. Matt muttered thanks, then spat on a napkin and began dabbing at this neck.
“No wonder everyone was looking at me when I walked in.”
Wally chuckled. “I think that’s more the clairvoyancy thing. It’s got people talking.”
“Yeah?” Matt said warily, “That all they’re talking about?”
The psychic gave a small, dry laugh. “Not quite. But nobody’s going to lynch you coz Winters made you stand on stage with an empath, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“It’d crossed my mind,” Matt admitted.
“It’s bad timing,” Wally assured him, “But nobody’s stupid enough to group you together. You’ll be alright.”
“Thanks,” Matt muttered, not feeling entirely reassured. The psychic’s eyes grew slightly appraising and he watched as Matt gingerly removed the napkin.
“People are keen to see what you can do,” he said after a few seconds.
“Yeah, well,” muttered Matt, peering down at the blood-spotted tissue paper, “What I do isn’t very exciting.”
“Can you predict the lottery, that kind of thing?”
“Everybody asks that,” Matt replied, “And no.”
“Bummer. What about cards, how’s your poker game?”
“Bad. It’s a lot more… incorporeal,” said Matt, preparing a well-rehearsed barrage of nonsense, “I am merely a conduit for visions, perceiving disconnected fragments of truth through the oceans of destiny. To predict with specificity would require anchoring an immutable point within the clouds of time, which by its very definition is flux.”
Wally nodded sagely, as if any of that actually made sense. Matt hurriedly changed the subject. “So how’s it all work around here? Which classes do we have to go to?”
“It’s college,” the telepath answered, turning back to his plate and starting on a fried tomato, “You make or break under your own steam.”
“Oh. But there’re like… teachers, right? Lessons?”
Wally sipped from a red coffee mug almost the same colour of his hair. “Obviously. Best tutors in the world. Plus Ashes run a lot of stuff. Should all be on the timetable.”
“Right…” said Matt, a little confused. He pulled the folded piece of paper containing the map of Morningstar’s grounds out of his pocket and opened it up to reveal the tutorial schedule on the back. “But, I mean,” he pressed on, perhaps against his better judgement, skimming through the list of potential activities, “All these are combat-related. Armed Enemies; Warfare Psychology; Advanced power groups.” He looked up at the telepath. “I’m a clairvoyant. I’m not going to be fighting. What am I going to do, predict someone to death?”
Wally shrugged. “I’m sure they’ve got something worked out. Don’t sweat.”
Matt was just about to ask who ‘they’ were when the sound of a steel bell chimed throughout the Hall. All around the room people started moving faster and with a greater sense of purpose, wolfing down the last of their breakfast, closing books and rising to leave. Wally kept on eating like nothing had happened.
“What’s that?” asked Matt, watching the pace pick up around him.
“Ten to seven bell. Ten minutes to first class,” the telepath replied with marked indifference.
“Jeez, I forgot it was so early.”
“That’s the way it goes here,” shrugged Wally, “Early bird gets the worm.” He didn’t espouse the ideal with much enthusiasm.
Matt opened his mouth to reply – but suddenly, there was a rush of wind as something streaked between the tables and a heartbeat later a girl wearing yoga pants and a pink gym top appeared from nowhere. By the time it took Matt to jump, she was already sitting next to him.
“Morning!” the girl smiled brightly, showing a row of perfect teeth. Two plates overloaded with bacon, eggs, hash browns, waffles, mushrooms and toast had seemingly materialised in front of her. While Matt was doing a double-take, the girl leant across him with a sly wave. “Hi Waaa-llly.”
Wally smiled, completely unperturbed. “Matt, this is Giselle, speedster.”
Giselle was stunning. Tall, slender and Eurasian, with full lips, dark eyes and flawless skin, her sudden appearance five inches from Matt’s face had him desperately trying to suppress the rush of blood rampaging towards his cheeks. It took every ounce of self-control Matt possessed to keep his eyes away from the speedster’s chest and fixed firmly on her adorably rounded nose. Giselle smiled a welcoming, radiant smile.
“Matt, I’ve heard so much!” She rested a hand lightly on his arm and Matt’s heart skipped a beat. A floral scent washed over him. “I’m Giselle, it’s so lovely to meet you!”
“You too,” Matt replied weakly. He struggled to regain mental control. “I think… I think I saw you running around the grounds this morning.”
“That’s me!” she laughed, a delicate ringing sound that Matt struggled not to find captivating.
“You’re very, uh, fast.”
“Thank you!” Giselle smiled widely; then suddenly she leant across Matt, and her voice dropped, “Oh my God, Wal, Greg Dyson won’t shut up about the weights.”
Wally shook his head, looking down at his food. “He’s a joke.”
“I know right! He keeps going on about how it’s not the right way to break landspeed and it’s like ‘hello! Who asked you?! You’re not even fast’.” She scoffed, then turned back to Matt. “Sorry. Gotta bitch. Greg’s this second year, thinks he’s god’s gift, keeps telling me how to run.”
“Can’t even vibrate handcuffs,” Wally muttered into his beans. Matt just nodded, having no idea what they were talking about.
“I know, right? Thank you.” Giselle leant back and turned to Matt, her sunny smile instantly remerging. “So you went to school with the empath girl!”
“Yes,” Matt admitted somewhat reluctantly. He wasn’t aware that fact had already gotten out.
“I saw her last night, she seems nice!”
“You obviously haven’t talked to her,” Matt muttered. Giselle slapped him playfully on the arm.
“Stop it. I’m sure she’s lovely. Don’t you think Wal?” Wally grunted in what could technically have been agreement. “See? Wal agrees.”
Matt was taken aback. “You guys don’t hate empaths?” he started to say, but before he could get the words out Giselle’s entire body disintegrated into a blur of supersonic movement. A moment later she’d stabilised and the plates in front of her were empty.
“I might get seconds,” she mused, eyeing off the steaming buffet.
“Still like three minutes til first,” noted Wally with a glance at his watch. Giselle nodded and vanished in a rush of air.
“So how do you like the Academy?” her voice echoed over his shoulder, and Matt spun around to see the speedster strolling leisurely back towards the table, her long tan hair flicking out behind her, both hands carrying plates which were once again laden with food. Matt struggled to find words.
“He’s only been here one night,” chuckled Wally, “And he got hissed at.”
Giselle set the plates down and settled back in beside him. “Oh don’t worry about that. People are dumb. You’ll do fine, it’ll pass, you’ll settle in.” She blurred again and once more the food was gone. “If you need anything you just let me know okay?” She smiled sweetly down at him, because seemingly Matt had blinked and she was now standing up. “And maybe you can tell my future.” She laughed and reeled back slightly. “Oh my God, that’s actually so exciting.” She put her hand on his arm again. “Can you see if I break landspeed? Do you see if I get famous?”
She waved him away. “Tell me later. Got class. I’ll show you around! We’ll go for a run.” She beamed at the two of them and waved. “Bye!” And then there was another blast of wind between the tables and the girl was gone.
For a moment Matt just sat there stunned as Wally picked at his bacon.
“What was that?” he muttered, more to himself than anything.
“Giselle Pixus,” chuckled the telepath, not looking up, “One of a kind.”
Bio: Born and raised in Newcastle, Australia, Ben is a lifelong writer currently studying his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. An avid fan of the weird and wonderful, he has wanted to be a writer since he was five years old (before which he wanted to be a dinosaur).