“I destroyed it, Penteldtam,” A man said.
Gasps and whispers surrounded me. A bunch of people said his name, but I already knew him from one of the most mindless shows I’d ever seen on TV. It was Berin Kilander, one of Penteldtam’s older brothers.
“Wait, what.” I said.
“It…was you?” Penteldtam said through snotty gasps.
“I was having a bad day,” Berin said. “A bad week…everyone else in the family had such great things planned for the garden party, while I had jack. So I broke it, I thought it’d be funny and it’d make me feel better.”
I didn’t watch a whole lot of House of the Kilander House, but it was still surreal to see something that could have happened on the show in person. The Kilanders didn't really count as fun celebrities so it wasn't like seeing, say, Raina Starlight in person. Berin looked a bit more haggard than he did on TV, a bit paler without TV makeup I guessed, and way shorter than he looked on screen. He was the Kilander that had the appearance and personality of a stock photo of a businessman.
“I thought I could fix it, so I slapped it back together, and look how great I did.”
“I can’t believe it…” Penteldtam said.
I couldn’t either. So it wasn’t our fault?
“I’m sorry buddy,” Berin said. “I let you down as a brother.”
Berin held his arms out, and Penteldtam hugged him. Still crying loudly, but I made a mental note that Penteldtam seemed immediately forgiving in case I did something stupid and got in trouble again. Berin broke the hug and turned to the crowd.
“And I shouldn’t be such a bad role model for my daughter,” Berin said.
“Wait, what kid?” I whispered. Berin didn’t have a kid. At least they weren’t on the reality show.
“Geez, whoever his kid is will be so messed up.” Kalei whispered.
Berin looked around the crowd with a warm smile.
“And here she is!” Berin said, grabbing a girl. “Or wait.”
The girl apparently was not his kid, because she immediately started sobbing as Berin let her go.
“She’s crying,” Berin said. “I don’t know what to do, she’s crying. She’s not my kid. She’s crying.”
The girl cried about a third as loud as Penteldtam but it was still really awkward.
“Do you want like a milkshake?” Berin said. “Can someone get her…oh, she’s leaving. I’m sorry.”
Berin looked our way and his eyes lit up.
“Oh! There’s my kid.” Berin said.
I thought he was looking at me, but he shot his hand forward and quickly pulled Oka to him.
“Here she is,” Berin Kilander said, shaking Oka by her shoulders as he awkwardly laughed. “This one’s my kid, everybody!”
As she was spun around in front of the crowd, Oka shot me a look and I wasn’t quite sure how to read it. Embarrassed obviously, but also guilt? A ‘don’t judge me for him’ kind of look? Since when was Oka a Kilander?
* * *
The long rectangular box we got on the last class of the last day of the week felt like a trophy for making it through. Fortunately, there wasn’t another incident like the cube, but it was still difficult. It wasn’t a mystery what was inside, but after a week of intensely boring bloodsaber safety videos and some practice with the clunky batons, I just wanted to hold the real deal already.
We learned that there were two main models made for Rising Shards students, the sigma model and the beta model. The sigma was more advanced and had its blood collector as just a tiny little tab on the handle of the sword. I got the beta model, which had a block connected to a cord on the side of the hilt with a little lid that flipped up. It looked kinda like the pulse measuring things people have to wear in hospitals. I just had to stick my finger in that, and it clipped the blood for the veins.
“Maybe they shoulda called yours the Zeta model.” Kalei said. “Eh? Ya know? Cuz…”
“Yeah, I got it,” I said.
We all had protective clear foam-like pieces around the blades to prevent us from immediately stabbing each other. They were built from a special material that dissipated when inside the void, and reformed when we were out of it. My bloodsaber felt nice in my hand, a bit like a toy with the padding around the sword, but it felt like just the right weight for me. After getting my new weapon, it was off to void practice.
A cool breeze passed over us.
“Alright, everyone line up!” Diast said. “Or, stand in listening distance, whatever.”
Ahead was a massive field of flowers, all vibrant and in all the colors imaginable. They flowers moved like waves, like an ocean of life in the center of the forest and mountains that cupped it. There was a lone tree on the hill, and Dr. Diast leaned against it. I stood by Oka, Kalei, Aira, Laenie, and Lillia for our first actual void class. Diast had a blue fruit she’d grabbed from the tree that she was closely studying.
“So this is your first actual class in the void.” Diast said. “Everyone’s adaptive gear feeling OK?”
We all nodded. This was my first time wearing the adaptive gear. It was made from some special void specific material for the genetic Cani makeup or whatever. They could change shape based on the environment we were in while in the void, but being in a flying ship thing apparently didn’t have a suit setting. They were weird to put on, it felt like wearing a full body unitard with heavy boots and light armor on my torso, but then it like deflated once it was activated and connected to my wristband. They were in the Rising Shards color scheme, so they were mostly dark green.
“Did Caya drill the catchphrase about them into you all?” Diast asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “’Tears in the adaptive gear are hard to repair, keep it the same here as it is there’.”
The others, even Lillia, all joined in with me to recite Caya’s instructions that we had to write down a bunch and say at the start of class.
“It’s such a weird rhyme scheme,” Oka said. “Tear and gear are spelled the same, but it looks like it should be tears like from crying.”
“Caya Kilander makes me want to cry,” I said. “She’s scary sometimes.”
“Does it feel weird when these clothes change into like a big coat for a snowy area or something?” I asked.
“Have you tried messing with the dial?” Kalei asked.
“No…?” I said.
Kalei showed me how to get to the screen with the basic clothes options on my wristband. Since we were first years, most of the options were locked down, but there were a few that I immediately started switching around, feeling the clothes armorize and tighten, then baggy.
“Baggy clothes, unitard. Baggy clothes, unitard. Baggy clothes, unitard.” I said as I went back and forth. Kalei joined in and we had an unspoken race to see who could switch back and forth the fastest.
“Oka, you want in on this?” Kalei asked. “Or do you want to be the judge?”
Oka wasn’t paying much attention.
“Maybe you should actually focus on class instead of goofing off.” Lillia said.
Lillia’s brutal glare forced my hand to put the dial back to normal. Even Kalei was intimidated by Lillia.
“Thanks, Lillia,” Diast said. “You’re my new deputy. If they step out of line just do that again.”
“Anyways, so here’s the main area we’re going to be in this semester in the void,” Diast said. “Since you’re all new to this void stuff, we’re just gonna start off super easy. Level zero and level one void monsters out here, so for the first few weeks of class I just want you guys to explore around this nice nature park and clear out any monsters you see. If you have any issues with your bloodsabers, head back here instead of trying to continue fighting.”
Diast pointed behind the tree. On the other side of the hill was a stone building that looked like a bigger version of the one on campus.
“Down there is where the freakier, higher level monsters are,” Diast said. “It’s locked to you guys, but don’t go in there yet. If you do I’ll catch you.”
Laenie raised her hand.
“Dr. Diast,” Laenie said. “I don’t think I will be able to fight…”
“We’ll be doing fighting sure, but we want to learn anything we can here too,” Diast said. “It’s like we have a ten-million-piece puzzle that we get to solve together. So don’t worry about anything weird just yet.”
Laenie started hyperventilating and crying at the same time.
“Oh, oh no, Laenie,” Diast said. “I didn’t mean in a like, ‘just stop worrying!’ kind of way, obviously it’s not a switch you can just shut off if you’re anxious. Just, it’ll be OK. You should really breathe. Like, please start breathing.”
Diast sent us to go wander around while she consoled a visibly shaken Laenie.
“So where should we start?” I asked.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I’m gonna see if I can run a full lap around this field.” Kalei said.
“I would rather stay with Laenie’s hyper-cry than do that.” I said.
“Suit yourself,” Kalei said. “How about you, Oka?”
“No thanks,” Oka said. “If you think you’re gonna faint from exhaustion maybe call us, though.”
“Will do!” Kalei said as she took off with perfect running form.
Oka and I sat down at the edge of the flowers.
“I’m sorry,” Oka said.
“For what?” I said.
Oka looked like she was ready to cry. Not like, Laenie level fear-crying. She looked more quietly despair filled.