Chapter 3; A Cup of Conflict in the AM

May 21st, 212.
The Highlands; Mid-Morning.

An alarming wail. Another. An alarming wail. Closer.

On the southern outskirts of The Highlands, striding the broad path of Anubhoot Avenue, large hilly plains ended at a vale of boulders as tall as trees. Those who found themselves knowledgeable in the geography of Etre City, and thereby the boundaries of the Hood 55, would know this outcropping marked the end of The Highlands. As the avenue left behind soft, grassy terrain, all that could be seen for the observable distance were a forest of spiring stones. A rocky path into the ever elusive Bluff Hamlet.

Deep within the thicket of rocks a thunderous sound roared. A few seconds passed and another boomed. Then another. Yet another. Once more. Endlessly, it seemed, this raucous sound screamed out. The rocks shook, dropping debris of gravel to the road beneath. Animals fled at incredible speeds, eyes wide in expressions of stark terror.

Another. This time, closer. Moving closer. Closer again. Closer.

The sound blared. An alarming siren that whined like a jet rocketing from the sky. It cut across the plains, over the rickety buildings of the hood. Sinusoidal waves faded into a rumbling as noise bounced against the Rising Ridge to the north; The Highlands was tucked placidly beneath the gargantuan hill.

An alarming wail. Another. Closer. And another, closer still.


May 21st, 212.
Anoteri Epistemi; Late Morning.

From above, the neighborhood of Anoteri Epistemi would appear to be shaped like a trapezoid. The many large buildings marking its research centers and lecture halls ran inwardly along the small, sparse mountain ranges that defined its border. Anubhoot Avenue, the central street of Etre City, went straight through Anoteri. Splitting the trapezoid, it cut a path through the ranges of the North Anoteri region, just right of the plateau on which Yaz had left Aggadah.

Beneath the upraised maglev tracks Yaz now walked alongside Anubhoot Ave. As the last vestiges of night had long since left the sky, traffic had begun to pick up. Cruisers of varying shapes drove by him. Tires whirled, horns honked, and engines rumbled.

Commuting students, teachers and other university staff headed south, like he. Others, much fewer, went off north towards the Quintal Gate. The hood’s boundary, a few miles beyond the mountains. A distinct difference in model separated the cruisers heading north. Travel between Tactions was expensive, especially heading into Tuina.  

As Yaz walked, the rocks towering over him became farther and farther away. Open expanses of grasslands took their place. More south, and the mountains were distantly visible over his shoulder; grasslands gave way to pavement. He turned left where Pittacus St intersected Anubhoot Ave. Buildings sprouted up from concrete like alabaster blossoms.

AE was bright. Painted with layers of color, the marble that made up the majority of its structures still managed to reflect copious light from the beacon. A few citizens leaving the MagnetiCruiser station reached up, using their hands as shade until their eyes had a chance to adjust. Yaz didn’t bother. His eyes didn’t dilate in the slightest. His darkened lenses, though rather redundant, gave him extra shielding too.

Off Pittacus St, Yaz made a right onto the cul-de-sac street, Plato Terrace. At the curve’s apex stood the second largest building of the hood. Main campus of Anoteri Epistemi University, the Athenon. The blustering structure was carved deep in the body of a large mountain.

Marble pillars ran all along the front, designed with a peculiar trick of architectural perspective that made it seem to bulge outward from any direction. Almost like it couldn’t contain the knowledge inside. The thought made Yaz laugh, and he could see Dean Riddle commissioning a design for that exact purpose.

On either side of the Athenon were an assortment of various multi-purpose buildings, all mimicking its rather grandiose marble design style. Yaz moved across the grass towards the rectangular mass which marked the dining hall.

The dining hall had been designed with a very clear focal point. A long, wide shelf ran along the eastern wall, opposite the door. Granite tables and chairs, built into the foundation, had been placed in a wide berth around it. On the shelf was a massive cornucopia, bisected so that the opening faced the room. Beneath the exposed horn, the shelf was overrun with food.

Yaz made his way to the cornucopia, examining his options. It was still early, so breakfast items made up most of the choices and the crowd he had to share with was sparse. Not thinking on it too much, he slapped a pita and yogurt onto a white plastic tray. Fountains were affixed to both ends of the shelf, and when he held a cup under one of the spouts, it spurted pomegranate juice. He hoped he wouldn’t be visiting the underworld anytime soon.

He set the tray onto one of the granite tables by a window, and tossed his bookbag to the floor. The window faced north, giving view to the tip of the mountain he’d left behind. Running the fingertips of one hand along the palms of another, he massaged small blisters and calluses.

Protest Āxis, the Æsmancy form based around enhancing the durability of his body, wasn’t Yaz’s strong suit. He’d gotten better; the damage had become less injurious with each trip. He needed a stronger Exalt though. Someone like Zarat could destroy him. It was insane to compare himself to monsters like Icewood, but Yaz always aimed for the stars. In truth, even the most physical Aesmancer—with equal talents to himself—would likely find climbing a mountain, bare-handed, to be a prejudicial task.

He wondered how Aggadah would fare. He chuckled internally at the thought of asking her for some tips. Not only had her Exalt seemed strong, but her musculature implied an accomplished fitness routine. Then, his butterscotch skin went flush at the cheeks as his ponderings about Aggadah’s build veered elsewhere.

Yaz was twenty-one now. Far and away from being a virgin, interacting with the opposite sex wasn’t the same level of awkwardness that it had been in his youth. Still, beautiful women could have a transfixing effect on even the most practiced. Beautiful, strong women? They could turn confidence to timidity faster than a powerful burst of Influence.

That was an important part of Aggadah’s reputation. Being a strong woman. Dancer, head of the activist group Orchid Swank, and all around tough gal—she’d gained notoriety as a local badass on campus and throughout the hood. Quick to throw a punch, she fought against not only people, but also the very system itself with Orchid’s many organized protests.

Few people, outside of Orchid Swank’s inner circle, ever found her saying much to them. This had led, as these things go, to most talk about her being a synthesis of speculation and wild tales from the rumor mill. Some respected her, some feared, some awed. A couple, such as Yaz’s friend Angie, absolutely detested her. But Yaz, of all people, knew better than to accept the ruminations of strangers as fact. Even from his close friends.

Before his thoughts could find a way back to blush worthy thoughts about Aggadah, or even Angie, his reverie was interrupted. Yaz felt a tiny tickle, in the recesses of his conscience. His psyche prickled. A warning system of sorts, brought on by empowered intuition. Espy, one of Counsel Āxis’ two āxon, the form’s techniques. A second passed. Then, the door splintered and fell to the ground.

The man responsible was tall, a few inches over Yaz’s own six feet, and built akin to a sporty pick-up truck. He wasn’t so bulky that the muscle could hamper his movements, but most would think twice before throwing a swing at the guy. He strode in as if such considerations were absolute law to those around him. His gait oozed arrogance, and students shuffled out of the way; dodging before his strides could bowl them over.

A crowd of women pooled in behind the guy. Some screaming, others reaching out to grasp at the feathery texture of his jacket. It wasn’t a particularly hot day outside. Being a moist Mediterranean climate Anoteri rarely was truly hot, but it was warm enough that most students were in thin t-shirts and shorts. The door-kicker was shirtless, but wore tight black yoga pants and a tie-dye jacket that seemed to be the result of whole ecosystems of dead birds.

One girl snatched off a red-blue piece of the plumage. As she tightened her grip around it, another tried to wrestle the feather from her grasp. They struggled for a while, but both stopped and turned to look at the man when he laughed. Nothing comedic had occurred, as he apparently reacted to some unseen joke happening off in the distance. More women, and a few guys, turned from eating their meals and eyed him too. Annoyingly, Yaz had to admit his features were captivating. Even if his tie-dye jacket and matching hair served, in Yaz’s opinion, to offset the lucky benefits of being born gorgeous.

Yaz was looking away from the scene, returning to his pita, when he felt it. That tickling in his conscience. It was faint, like hearing your name called out in a crowd, but it was there. He looked back at the tie-dye haired man. Almost imperceptible, miniscule motes of black particles flitted around him. They glew slightly, and more eyes from the dining hall moved to stare.

Yaz sighed. He had two weeks of class before graduation. But many more weeks of trouble still impinging upon his record. Dean Riddle had warned him to strive for proper student etiquette, whatever that meant. She’d even made the vomit-inducing suggestion that he aspired to be more like the exHonor students. Barely getting away with his sneaky climbs up mountains, Yaz couldn’t be sure that another incident wouldn’t affect the timing of his degree. One asshole didn’t seem worth it.

He picked up his tray, preparing to leave, when he felt it again. This time it was stronger than a tickling; more like a quick, lingering sensation. As if an incorporeal finger had lightly brushed his brainstem. He followed the flow of Änim, spiritual energy of existence, watching as the black motes around the man quickly pulsated.

A female student, who’d been occupied choosing between pancakes and waffles, turned to face tye-dye hair. She looked confused for a moment, then affected a giddy grin, her gaze boring into his. Without a word, the man leaned down to kiss her. Likely he would’ve finished the intimate action too, were it not for the white lunch tray that bounced off his head, clanging against the marble floor. A half-finished pita flopped to his feet.

The guy lurched, yelling loud discontent at the assembled students. There was some tzatziki sauce on his jacket’s shoulder. It looked, humorously enough, exactly like bird shit. As his anger flared, the particles around him flickered. The girls in his immediate vicinity kept their gaze trained on him, but those who’d been staring from further away blinked and shook their heads slowly. More than a few dark glares turned back on him once they’d realized the situation.

Yaz started chuckling before the fool sent himself into apoplexy trying to gauge who’d attacked. The man wheeled in his direction and started striding forward. His gait rapid, and still quite confident. Impressive.

“Oh, Kenneth!” One of the girl’s yelled after him as he left her sight, and she fought with the others to keep her eyes trained in his direction. Impressively annoying.

“Was that you, fucker?” Kenneth stopped a few inches from Yaz, close enough that he could smell the tzatziki sauce on the jacket. He was rather disappointed he hadn’t gotten time to finish that pita.

“Yep. That’s cheating.” Yaz said brightly, offering the tall guy, Kenneth, a smile. He thrust his fist forward for a bump.

“Ch-cheating?” His captivating features contorted in bemusement. He blinked a few times, looking down at Yaz’s fist. “Are you fucking with me? Do you know who I am?!”

“…Kenneth?” Yaz ventured a guess.

“That’s Captain Iago, to you. Smiley freak.” A pretty girl, wearing an Ash U cheerleaders uniform, said from behind Kenneth. Yaz looked at her. They’d had Metropolitics 101 together. He turned back to Kenneth.

“…Kenneth Iago?”

In response, Kenneth burst into laughter. His tie-dyed jacket was made of loose feathers laid over another. It shook violently, as his head did, in joviality. Yaz, during this laughter session, figured it obvious that Kenneth was making him waste a perfectly good bro bump. Sighing, he lowered his fist.

“You’re pretty funny, little man. Tryna get your face smashed in before graduation?” He flexed his bare chest as if to accentuate the point. Yaz stared blankly.

“Dude… you’re like… four inches taller than me…” Yaz had never understood the whole chest-muscle-bounce thing. His pectorals had proved perfectly functional without ever needing a parkour session.

Kenneth swung with little warning. Yaz crouched, ducking beneath the hook. Multi-color feathers ruffled against his tight black curls. A few short whoops rung out from the crowd. Even a ‘kick his ass’ or two, no doubt arising out of people upset by Kenneth’s antics. From instinct more than conscious thought, Yaz’s right hand cocked back behind him.

Then, with even less warning than the punch, two armored guards were standing beside both of them. Their guns were still holstered, but they held small rectangles shaped like gum wrappers outstretched. A tiny arc of electricity ran across the foil object dispersing at their insulated gloves. L.A.D was imprinted, in bold green letters, on the chest of their uniforms. They each had a single check-mark on their breast, denoting they were Youthers. First rank for Lawful Agents of Defense non-commissioned officers.

Yaz unclenched his fist, standing up straight with a smirk and chuckle. The LAD Youther closest to him didn’t bother to relax or lower their weapon. Kenneth was a bit slower to acquiesce than himself. Eventually, however, he released the tension in his body and let his feather clad arms fall to his side.

The LAD Youthers simultaneously lowered their wrappers. Yaz noticed they didn’t pocket them, and they held a stance which was best described as perpetually combat ready.

“No fighting.” The Youther closest to Kenneth spoke briskly. Sounds were hard to identify, filtering through their masks as they did, but the voice was distinctly feminine. Also, much younger than Yaz’s own. She sounded irritated. The LADs turned to walk away. Kenneth growled at him, and Yaz smiled back preparing to leave.

“No, fuck this! I ain’t letting you show me up, little man.” He growled a register lower. The Youthers turned back to face him. Even with their masks on, they gave off an aura of disinterest. Yaz could relate, but his smile held. Loud, obnoxious people were always the worst and best. In that exact order.

“I challenge you, bitch! Noumenon!” Kenneth roared, and the chatter from the crowd exploded in yells. The Youthers seemed to pique up in interest a level. Yaz’s smile had gone dark. If there were any mirth in the expression, it was buried beneath layers of detestment. He made a mental addendum. Loud, obnoxious people were just the worst.


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