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Cause [2.1.9]

“Put your back into it! Dodge and weave!”

“I’m fucking trying!” Zack replied, gritting his teeth and lunging at Kushel again, whilst Levan yelled encouragement.

“Weave like that – yes, that’s good, now observe Kushel’s approach and do as you’ve been taught.”

Zack stumbled forward and tried to jab, but Kushel’s forceful blow knocked him back, and before he could right himself, he fell onto his backside. Lola tried not to laugh, but Serafina couldn’t help herself.

“Hahah! Man, Zack, are you sure you’re up to this?”

“Of course I am,” Zack sighed, lifting himself up off the ground. “I’ve got it now. Again!”

Kushel shrugged, and continued his assault.

“Alright, that’s enough gawking. No time to be slacking, Serafina.” Levan said, raising her own spear and pointing it directly at Serafina. She sighed and lowered her shades, looking at Levan over them.

“Why doesn’t Lola have to, remind me?”

“Because Lola had the sense to bring a fucking gun to a swordfight.” Mizar said from his position watching the training.

Serafina sighed again, as if defeated, and picked up her spear. “Fine.”

Over the next half an hour, Zack and Serafina trained in the ways of the spear, taught by Levan, Kushel, Yasen, Alcor and Denneb, who all had subtly different teaching styles. It was evident that they were overlapping quite a bit.

“Your spear arm is too weak.” Alcor said, an hour later. “Swords are a little more evenly spread in their weight, but your spears are the points that thrust towards the ever-gleaming sky! You have to account for that weight!”

“Alcor, don’t talk shit about weapons you’re unfamiliar with.” Yasen replied with an eyebrow raised. “Don’t account for the weight using your spear arm – change your stance to lean back a little more and put the extra weight on your back foot. You can thrust far more quickly and powerfully like that.”

“Is that what you do?” Kushel asked. “I have always found the spear somewhat light to handle. There is relatively little extra weight to be dealing with.”

“Yes, but you’re six foot and hit like a truck; us real people find the spear quite a bit heavier than you.” Levan replied.

“Does anyone have an actual solution for me?” asked Serafina.

“Yes, yes, sorry. Try what Yasen suggested. It’s probably not the worst idea for you kids, since you’re weaker than us.”

“Right.” Serafina said. She was sweating furiously, not used to the intensity of the training she was doing. Her usual day-to-day exercise was simply the walk to the shops. Zack was in slightly better shape, as his father had often dragged him to the gym, but the training would have been gruelling for even the most capable of combatants. He, too, was flagging.

“You know what, never mind.” Levan said. “I think that’s… yeah, that’s about two hours’ training done. I think we can call it there.”

Zack and Serafina immediately flopped to the ground, and Lola popped her head out of their tent with a bottle in her hand. “Water?”

“Please.” Zack croaked. He and Serafina downed half the bottle there and then, swapping back and forth and breathing heavily between gulps.

The Zionids and Voidians who had been helping with the training now gathered in a circle, discussing things amongst themselves quietly. They kept glancing back at the kids, and Zack went into the tent, uncomfortable with the looks.

Lola and Serafina followed suit. “You alright, Zack?”

“Yeah.” he muttered. “…Lola, can you read their thoughts? See what they’re discussing?”

“I can try.” Lola replied. She stared at Zack for a moment; he was sullenly looking at the canvas floor of the tent, his brows furrowed in a mix of concentration and anger. His black hair hung heavy over his face. Something was off.

Focussing her talent, Lola reached her mind out to the figures outside, and began to see snatches of information.

He’ll die.

She drew in her breath quickly. Serafina and Zack immediately looked to her.

“What is it?” Serafina asked.

If he fights the king, he’ll die. And he isn’t improving quickly enough.

That was the gist of the conversation. They hadn’t said it outright, but that same thought was in all of the Zionids’ and Voidians’ minds.

“It’s nothing.” Lola replied.

“Like fuck it’s nothing.” Zack responded. “Please, we can handle whatever bombshell you’re about to drop. What’s the problem?”

Lola felt Zack’s piercing gaze on her, like she had through many video calls in the past, but this time it wasn’t a comforting presence. His face was set, hard… he was demanding an answer.

“I…” Lola said, incredibly uncomfortable. She let her face drop and stared at the ground. “They’re discussing our training. They… think Serafina is picking it up. But you… will die. Because you’re not improving fast enough for their taste.”

There was silence in the tent. The only sound that cut through the quiet was Zack’s gnashing teeth. Lola and Serafina weren’t sure what to do.

Zack made to exit the tent. Serafina yelped “No!” and went to stop him, but he pushed past her and strode out, fury in his eyes.

“I’m not good enough, am I not?” he shouted.

The people discussing the kids’ prowess turned, and even the Zionids and Voidians who weren’t overseeing training watched the scene with quiet worry.

“We didn’t say that-” Levan said, trying to defuse the situation.

“Lola reads minds! Stop lying to us!”

Alcor stepped forward. “Excuse me! A young hero may not be as powerful as he needs to be, but if you apply yourself to training, you’ll soon catch up to your peers!”

“I’ve been applying myself to training!” Zack yelled. “The last few days have been nothing but training, both body and mind, because that’s what you told me I had to do! I have the power – I’m special! If I’m not strong enough, then why was I brought here?”

“Zack, please!” Lola cried. Serafina remained silent, watching the scene with absolutely nothing to add. She glanced around, and with mounting panic, pointed out the problem to Lola: in his fury, Zack’s telekinesis was manifesting, and several tents, backpacks and weapons were hovering in the air, crackling with energy.

“Hey – we’ve been trying our best too!” Yasen said. “None of us are natural teachers, Zack. We’re trying to educate you on a skill that takes ten years to master, at least, in a matter of one month! That isn’t easy!”

“It is as Yasen says. You must not falter so soon in your journey. Please, understand that you will not learn the spear as quickly as your peers; but also understand that in time, you will come to grow used to it.”

The entire island shifted awkwardly and ascended a few feet into the air, springing clear of the colourful mire below. Everyone panicked for a few moments, but the culprit was stood right in front of them, quivering in indignant rage.

“Zack, calm yourself!” Alcor shouted. “Your powers are not yet fully under your control – if you do not cease this knavery, you’ll strain yourself and possibly hurt someone!”

“Oh, so not only am I not close to learning how to fight with the spear, I’m not in control of the telekinesis I’ve had since I was a kid? Is this what you’re telling me? I AM IN FULL CONTROL!” Zack yelled. With a sound like a crack of lightning, the island dropped back into the mire and every object floating in the air collided with the island’s rough ground. The assorted Zionids and Voidians watched as Zack stormed back to his tent, zipping it up before Lola and Serafina could join him.

“…Uh…” Mizar said quietly.

“I don’t know.” Serafina replied. “He… I’ve never seen him go off on one like that.”

“I haven’t either.” Lola said. She walked over to the tent and knelt beside it. She began to whisper, quietly enough that nobody else could hear what she was saying to Zack, but after a moment, he responded, and Lola stood up.

“He doesn’t want to talk to me.” Lola said, a look of shock still etched on her face. “He’s never not wanted to talk to me before.”

“There’s little we can do.” Yasen replied. “He’s a young man, prone to this kind of outburst. He’ll come around once he remembers what it is we’re working toward.”

“We’ve had big changes recently.” Serafina suggested. Lola nodded, looking wistfully back at the closed-off tent and sighing.

The mood was somewhat sombre as she and Serafina went to sit with the rest of the Zionids and Voidians.

“Hey, do you want me to tell a story?” Denneb suggested after a few moments of quiet. “I’ve got plenty – historical, comedic, dramatic. Anything you like.”

“We should take the time to introduce these two to our history.” Mizar said. “Any particularly interesting historical ones?”

“Yeah, of course.” Denneb replied, sitting himself on the edge of the island. Above him, sitting closer to the centre, were a semicircle of Zionids, Voidians and girls who looked worn out and ready for a story. “Alright… here’s the story of Deimos, Son of Stars.”

As the island sailed on, Denneb began to talk, and the group allowed themselves to be swept up by a tale that took them far away from their own problems. And in his tent, Zack Lyons allowed his eyes to fall upon a message.

Despite his anger, as soon as he read it, he sat up.

Someone was in serious danger, Cassie had said.

And Cassie’s clairvoyance was never wrong.

Cause [2.1.8]
Cause [2.1.10]

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