In some stories, when the heroes leave their normal life on some sort of grand adventure, they have a grand transportation to match. Whether it’s a fantastical creature, or a flying automobile, or even teleportation through everyday objects everyone knows—if it’s something you don’t see every day, it’s good enough for the books and movies. It makes a clear cut from what’s normal and what’s not. It’s memorable.
The train to Camp Schesi was none of these things.
Compared to the quiet murmurs of the people on board, the ricketing of the rails was thunderous. It rumbled the floor under their feet and the luggage in the compartments above like a cat purring in someone’s lap. The carpet lining the floor and ceiling soaked up any sound louder than this; it almost felt rude to speak in anything above a whisper.
Mayra turned around in her seat again, peering between the headrests at Terra and Soledad. “Sooo… What’re your Focuses?”
Soledad groaned softly and dropped her head back. “Come on, quit pestering her! You’re gonna have her whole life story by the end of this ride if you keep it up!”
“Maybe I want her whole story,” Mayra shot back. “You don’t know my life.”
“I know it well enough to understand you’re being nosey.”
“No, I’m being friendly.”
“You’re being annoying, is what you are,” Carlito chimed in.
Mayra leaned back and swatted the back of his head, and he yelped, fumbling his phone.
“Don’t be a smartass,” she huffed.
He grabbed her arm and yanked her down to throw her in a headlock. “I’ll show you ‘smartass’!”
As they started to wrestle in their limited space, Soledad got up and reached over the backs of their seats in an attempt to push them apart. “Cut it out, you’re making a scene!”
“He started it!”
“I did not!”
“Please don’t make me be the responsible one here…!”
The chaos came to an abrupt start when they heard a little snort; all eyes turned to Terra as her eyes widened and her hands flew over her mouth. A blush crept over her cheeks.
“S-Sorry,” she squeaked.
There was a beat, and then Mayra snickered. She pulled herself away from Carlito to reach back and ruffle Terra’s two-toned hair. “You’ve got nothing to apologize for, kid,” she firmly stated. “Now, you wanna answer my question?”
Terra smiled. “Only if you tell me yours, too!”
Soledad sat back down, and Mayra and Carlito both turned to sit on their knees.
“Well, that’s easy,” Carlito stated. “All three of us are in Justice and Protection.”
Eyes widening, Terra perked up. “Isn’t that training for becoming an Etude?”
“It sure is! We’re gonna be the heroes of the kingdoms by the time we’re done here!” Soledad exclaimed.
“O-Oh, that’s, um…” Terra looked away, shifting back in her seat. “That’s… really cool,” she slowly replied.
Mayra narrowed her eyes at her and leaned forward. “You sound hesitant.”
“Hm? Oh—Sorry, no! No, I’m not… It’s not that I don’t think it’s cool!” Terra sputtered. “It’s just that, um… My family doesn’t exactly have the greatest opinion on Etudes.” She deflated a bit, but snapped back up before any of the others could say a word. “B-But I know they’re wrong! I’m not judging you for wanting to be ones! I-I’m just not used to being around people who are, y’know, so… open about it, I guess.”
Frowning, Soledad turned to fully face her. “What do you mean? What could they possibly have a negative opinion about? Etudes are like… the best!”
“What, are they against Disaster Relief?” Carlito sneered. “Are they fans of monsters coming and killing everyone they know and love?”
Terra’s hands drifted to play with the cuffs of her sweater that covered her palms, and her eyes followed suit. “They don’t read those reports. And if they do, they’ll find something bad to say about them,” she softly admitted. “All they ever think about is how Etudes have the power to override the Kingdoms’ decisions.”
“Well, yeah, but only if it’s for the good of the people,” Soledad shot back. “It’s not like we’d be able to say no if Millis had to evacuate for a tsunami!”
“Or we could tell Surlow’s Kingdom to shove it when they’re trying to solve the crime problems!”
“I know that,” Terra sighed. “They’ve seen the information a hundred times; they just won’t listen.”
“It’s willful ignorance.”
The three turned at the defeated tone in Mayra’s voice as she rested her lower face on the back of her seat. Her gaze fell to the trees passing the window, avoiding the others.
“You two haven’t had to see it much yet,” she continued, “But Terra’s family isn’t as rare as you’d think. There’s a lot of people out there who only see the worst in us.”
Both Soledad and Carlito let out squawks of indignance.
“What’s their problem?!”
“It’s exactly what Terra just said. They just won’t listen,” Mayra repeated. “People will decide to think a certain way, and then get so stuck and stubborn that they won’t even consider anything else. I’ve seen it, Lupe’s seen it, Mom and Dad have seen it. You’re going to see it not too long into training. It’s just something we have to deal with.”
Carlito huffed. “That sucks!”
Mayra pressed her lips together and sighed, and then turned back to Terra, plastering a smile on her face. “But anyway, you still need to tell us what your Focus is!” she exclaimed. “Can’t leave us in suspense the whole ride, you know!”
Startling at the attention, Terra blinked, and then waved her hands in front of herself. “It’s nothing exciting, really! Not anything like yours is!” she stated. “I’m coming to Camp Schesi for Accounting!”
“Hey, that can be exciting!” Mayra sternly corrected. “Numbers and math and finances and everything; if that’s what you want to do, then it’s cool!”
Terra giggled, raising an eyebrow. “You think so?”
“I know so. Don’t you put yourself and your interests down!”
Carlito frowned and looked up to the ceiling in thought. “I thought Camp Schesi was just for like… You know, physically grueling careers and stuff.”
“No, there’s some others,” Soledad replied with a shrug. “They’re not as big, but there’s programs for Arts and stuff, too. I think all of the core curriculums, actually.”
Mayra’s eyes lit up. “Hey, Terra! If you’re in Accounting, that must mean you’re pretty good at math, right?!”
Tilting her head, Terra frowned. “Um… Sort of, I guess…”
“Maybe you can help Soledad out in her math classes, then! It’s been years since she’s gotten a good grade on an exam!”
Soledad glared daggers into her. “Mayra…”
“Um…” Terra’s gaze flicked between the two. “I-I don’t know, I’ve never helped anyone out with school stuff before…”
“I’m sure anything could help,” Carlito added.
“We’re not wrong, Little Drake!” Mayra pointed out, waving a hand to gesture towards her sister. “You’re gonna need at least semi-decent grades if you want to stay in Schesi, even if you don’t think you’ll need ‘em!”
Soledad scoffed. “Yeah, and I can get them on my own.”
Mayra raised an eyebrow. “Can you?”
Soledad stood abruptly, wings nearly hitting Terra and the person across the aisle. With a huff, she turned and headed towards the back.
“I’m going to get a drink,” she announced. “Please don’t talk about my grades when I’m gone.”
Before she could hear another word, she threw open the door and rushed through, doing her best to not slam it behind her.
In the limbo between two carts of people, Soledad allowed herself to take a long, deep breath in and out. The nauseating mix of emotions boiling in her stomach simmered ever so slightly. She listened to the rattling and the wind until her heart’s pounding calmed itself.
Finally, after a long moment, she turned to the entrance to the next cart, opening the door and—
“Hey—Watch it!” Soledad exclaimed before she could process what was happening.
A girl with dark makeup and black hair in a messy bun stumbled back, rubbing her shoulder. “You watch it!” she shot back.
Glaring, she opened her mouth to retort back, but the girl just scoffed; she shoved past her and through the door, leaving Soledad to huff.