Canton chroniclesrising.., p.7
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       Canton Chronicles:Rising Power, p.7
 

           Faidra-Foteini Petaniti
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  3. A Test of Fears

  Val woke up from the girls’ cheery sounds. Despite her heavy head, she knew exactly where she was. And why. Her dreams had been uneasy, and cold. She had yelled at her dead parents’ backs, but they wouldn’t turn to face her. Then a little hand touched her back, and a voice said

  “I told you it’s time to wake up, didn’t I?”

  and Val knew it was the girl that had started all of this mess, but when she turned around to confront her, she was gone.

  Now standing at the edge of the bed, Val realized that she was seeing her room for the first time, in the light of day. It was a simple bright rectangular, a large entrance door at one edge, a window on the other. The room’s main space was occupied by three rather large beds. Opposite them stood one enormous wardrobe, divided in three parts. Amy and Mandy were sitting in front of it, exclaiming their surprise.

  “Look, Amy, they even have our old clothes in here. And new ones in the right size. They really know their job in the Council, eh?”

  “I am more concerned about those top ones, though. I don’t suppose they expect us to wear those, do they?”

  Val looked up the way Amy was pointing. There was a huge hanging pole full with strange clothes, who were certainly not their own. White tops and black pants, in every shape and tone, formal and informal.

  “With those we’ll probably look more like accountants than Heroes.”

  The two girls turned their heads simultaneously.

  “Sorry, Val, we woke you up…” Mandy started apologizing.

  Val shook her head, in a calm gesture.

  “No problem. I had to wake up at some point, didn’t I?”

  Amy turned around and looked at her with her almond green eyes.

  “Had a good night’s sleep?”

  “Of course. Dreams full of green fields and peaceful sunsets.”

  Amy laughed.

  “Sounds nice.”

  Val got up from her bed and stood next to the girls facing the closet.

  “So I guess we are supposed to wear something from those hanging outfits, right?”

  Amy sighted.

  “Yes. We received a message in our PAs. 12 o’clock in front of the Training rooms. Don’t be late. P.S Dress in black and white.”

  “Well, the clothes themselves are actually pretty tasteful. It’s just that… we are all going to look the same” Mandy admitted.

  “I think that’s what they want, Mandy. A team assembly. They probably think they’ve thought of everything.”

  Val thought of yesterday’s encounter with Alice Green and shuddered. Well, she thought, they definitely haven’t thought of this.

  They barely had time to eat a healthy portion of breakfast in the Main Hall, before they made their way to the Training Room. Mandy was caught up in a conversation with some friends of hers, so it was up to Amy and Val to find the boys. Val searched the crowd in vain when Amy surprised her with her concerned tone.

  “Val, listen to me” she started. “Yesterday in your sleep, I think… I think you were crying. Did John Lucas upset you somehow?”

  No, Amy, John was the one person that didn’t upset me.

  Val shook her head.

  “No, of course not. He seems like a really good guy, to be honest. It’s the whole new situation that’s been bothering me. I will be alright in a couple of days. Don’t worry, Amy.”

  Amy nodded.

  “And you probably also have enough on your mind, if you stayed up last night watching me crying. Do you need help with something?”

  Val asked, in an attempt to be polite and change the conversation.

  Amy seemed really panicked for a second, standing frozen in place. When Val was ready to shout at her, Amy snapped out of her trance, as suddenly as she had entered it.

  “No, of course not, Val. I think I can pretty much handle everything on my own.”

  A light touch on Val’s waist interrupted their conversation, and she turned around to see John looking at her, Sebastian and Mike right behind him.

  “Good morning, sunshines!” Mike exclaimed, excited.

  “Isn’t it totally unfair that men look so good in shirts and black trousers, Val?”

  She had to agree with Amy on that part. The trio of men looked extremely good. With their white T-shirts and black pants, they looked just enough serious for the job.

  “I wouldn’t even think that such a thing was possible with you three,” said Amy, raising an eyebrow.

  “It’s certainly better than a white top and black shorts” said Mike and stuck out his tongue.

  Amy opened her eyes wide and sulked. John pinched Val’s arm and she smiled.

  “You also look great, girls” he said. Val felt totally comfortable in her black tight jeans and shirt. Looking pretty was of secondary concern to her.

  “Well, the point is, why do we all have to look so good in 12 o’clock in the morning?” wondered Seb. “Because I definitely hope there is a point in all of this”.

  The moment he finished his sentence, Vanessa Rehberg appeared, right in front of them. She wasn’t standing at a podium this time, therefore she looked small and cute, much less intimidating than the night before. Val stood in the middle of the crowd, listening to her voice.

  “Good morning, people. I hope you all had a good night’s sleep, because the following two days are going to be long ones.”

  Exclaims were heard from the crowd.

  “There is nothing to worry about”, Vanessa said, sincerely amused. “I just wanted to welcome you once more and wish you the best of luck for the rest of the day. I have a few matters to attend to, but I will leave you in really good hands. Peter, will you please?”

  A charming tall guy roughly Vanessa’s age, with light brown hair and eyes, and a wide smile in his face, took her place, and looked at them with overflowing confidence.

  “Greetings to you all, future Heroes. And Heroines of course.”

  He pointed gently at some girls and they chuckled silly. The boys rolled their eyes, but Val felt mildly amused.

  “A male teacher crush. How original” Seb pointed out.

  “Well, you have to admit, he looks kinda cute” Amy said, earning an outraged look from Sebastian.

  The instructor continued, unmoved by the events taking place around him.

  “My name is Peter Smith. I am your main instructor. I would also like to welcome you to our Academy, like Vanessa before me. So, let’s start with the basics of this crazy journey, shall we?”

  Peter cleared his throat and started his speech.

  “Many of you are wondering where we are. I can only tell you that we are at the Eastern part of the Island. The exact location is a secret, as to avoid over-worried parents and clingy partners. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to see your loved ones for the course of your training. Which is estimated for two or three months.”

  There were some signs of protest from some people, but Peter hushed them with his hand.

  “Your loved ones are in good hands, if that’s what you’re worrying about. Distractions are strictly forbidden.”

  The whispers died down in an instant, and Peter rubbed his hands, excited. “Before we start with the interesting stuff, I’d like you to meet the rest of your Instructors.”

  Three figures moved from the darkness of the room to the entrance, where Peter stood.

  “Priscilla Smith” Peter pointed to an extremely tiny, thin woman, with mousy curly hair and big wet eyes, “the boss of the Library and my wife.”

  Exclaims of disappointment came from the crowd, but Peter perceived them with the wrong way.

  “Oh don’t worry guys, you won’t have obligatory classes or anything like that. The Library only exists to help you understand the process of your journey.”

  “God, he’s slow” Amy said, and Sebastian laughed.

  “Told you so.”

  “And our crowned wrestling champions, th
e Fayde Twins, Beth and Guido.”

  Peter presented the two siblings standing next to each other and Mike jerked Val’s hand violently.

  “Val, remember the video I send you once? The two on two pro-wrestling.” Val did. Even though she was no fan of sports, she was mesmerized by the siblings’ techniques, who were considered the best of the whole Canton.

  “They do look different in reality.”

  Guido Fayde, the brother, was a rather short, well-built dark guy, with black eyes and a lot of facial hair. He looked serious, with an undertone of sadness in his face.

  His sister, Beth, was exactly the opposite, totally extravagant, having the same dark tones in her skin and hair, with heavy facial make-up, a high-ponytail and heels.

  “Of course, you won’t be facing them today. We don’t want you dead from the first day. The task at hand is a lot simpler than that, actually. And totally harmless. You are all going to enter the Training room, one person at a time. And you’re going to face what lays inside.”

  ***

  The Training room was, in fact, nothing more than a large rectangular area made out of three quarters metal and one quarter glass-display. The ceiling was full of led lights, the floor of thin silver ceramic.

  Against the inner wall laid a big screen, designed for the crowd, who was about to watch the process of whatever-the-hell was about to take place inside the room. The screen flashed brightly as everyone reached the glass wall, taking their sits in the metallic benches.

  “So, this is where your first test is going to take place”, Peter said.

  “The names will appear in random order so that everyone gets an equal chance at competing. It’s not going to last longer than 5 minutes per person, I guarantee you that.”

  Some people laughed, but it was a nervous laughter.

  “Damn, are they all edgy” whispered John, standing right next to Val.

  “They damn well should be. Just go in there and face what lays inside. What kind of instruction is this? And why is Smith smiling all the time like he is on drugs? Weird shit, man” replied Mike, sweating.

  Amy chuckled.

  “Weren’t you eager to start with the training?”

  Mike gave her a threatening look.

  “Today, only half of you are going to be tested, which is going to probably take up most of the day. Maybe we’re lucky and have some early epiphanies.”

  Peter finished his sentence and smiled again. The girls in the back chuckled.

  “Gee, he is a married man, at least show some respect to his wife”, said Seb.

  “I think his wife is used to it, Sebastian. Besides, he clearly likes the attention.”

  “Don’t we all?” said Val, quietly.

  “There is not really any advice I can give you. You go in there and show them, who’s the boss. There is nothing to be afraid of. Guido and Beth will monitor your progress.”

  They all turned their heads to see the twins sitting at the far left corner, a little higher than the rest of the crowd.

  “The Wrestling pros are going to monitor my progress? Phew, now I can totally lay back and relax, can’t I?” Mike said, nervous.

  Val smiled sympathetically.

  “We are just going to have to impress them, Mike.”

  “Are you ready?” shouted Peter passionately.

  It was time. Val waited for the first name to appear. Her eyes searched instinctively for Alice. That bitch loved harassing people in the middle of a large crowd, where everyone could watch.

  She was out of reach for the time being, in the far left corner, also looking hungrily at the screen, eyes gleaming with lust.

  And that person gets a power. Makes me wonder about our Deities’ way of thought.

  “Nelson Blackwell.”

  The AI friendly voice announced the first of the candidates. Everyone falling dead silent, looking left and right, waiting for this Nelson guy to come on stage. And he did.

  With his unsteady step and sweating palms he came forward and entered the Training room through a small automatic door on the right.

  “Nelson”, exclaimed Val surprised, before she even thought about it.

  “You know him, Valentine?” asked John.

  “Yeah… he is a friend. Mandy’s boyfriend to be exact.”

  “She has a boyfriend?” Mike said, totally surprised. “I would have never guessed… you know, from her behaviour and all.”

  “She doesn’t like advertising it, big guy. That’s the way girls are, sometimes” Amy said earnestly, and Mike stood looking at her, dumbfounded.

  The door closed silently behind Nelson and he remained there completely frightened. He just waited there, a man alone in a room, no opponent in sight.

  A booming sound like a thunder in the distance made Nelson jump. He turned his head and saw a terribly large, furry creature with the body of a man and the face of a wolf. It came sniffing around as Nelson was slowly stepping backwards, all colour lost from his face.

  The monster looked left and right with his bloodshot red eyes, his mouth half-closed as it snarled threateningly. Nelson walked blindly backwards, looking intensely at the metal table on his right side, the only means of fighting or hiding.

  Val couldn’t blame Nelson’s way of thinking. Of course the poor guy wanted to hide, he was scared shitless. And there was no visible way fighting this thing. No weapons, nothing.

  “A werewolf”, muttered Sebastian, out of breath.

  “Unbelievable. Where did they even found this thing? That is only an Earth legend.”

  “So much for safety”, said Mike, but his voice was frightened, instead of angry.

  The crowd grew steadily uneasy, worried whispers and even some shouts, but the Instructors remained calm in the face of the threat. Smith had told them not to worry. But that thing, it looked so real. And its reactions were incredibly intelligent.

  Something is up.

  The beast became increasingly enraged, as if it could sense the people’s fear and uneasiness behind the glass. It growled loudly, revealing his white deadly fangs, under his wet muzzle.

  Nelson lost all courage. He took his last step backwards, ready to duck under the table… and stumbled on his feet. He turned around and crawled on his stomach, as the beast turned its head sharply, eyes focusing on the prey. Its expression was one of pure hunger, the corner of its mouth turning upwards in a grotesque smile. It fell on its four feet and charged at Nelson.

  The crowd screamed and shouted.

  “This can’t be happening.”

  Amy darted towards Peter before the others were able to stop her, moving like a shadow.

  “You said it’s going to be safe. Are you out of your mind? He is going to die”.

  Peter caught her from the shoulders, his kind, happy face turning into a mischievous grin.

  “If you just pay attention for a second, sweetie.”

  With a powerful move he grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her around, so Amy was facing the screen.

  Nelson was under the table now, somehow having found the courage to crawl underneath the very second the monster took a bite at his feet. Nelson cowed at the centre of the table, his back glued against the wall, the claws of the beast too big to fit underneath.

  “Not this. Please anything else but this thing” he cried, rolling from side to side as to avoid the beast’s deathly grasp.

  Val’s mind was spinning.

  Amy is right. Peter said it’s going to be perfectly safe. Sebastian is also right. Werewolves are earthly legends. Nelson is scared to death, and this thing isn’t there because…

  She ran against the panicked crowd, until she reached the end of the glass screen. She started hitting it with her fists, enough to attract Nelson’s attention.

  “Nelson! Listen to me! It’s not real. It’s in your head, your greatest fear. You can fight it! Think of a weapon!”

  Everyone pulled a step backwards from Va
l, probably fearing that she’d gone completely insane. She didn’t care. Fear was probably getting in their brains, too.

  “A fucking weapon, Nelson! Now!”

  Nelson moved again to the centre of the table. This time, he took a deep breath and stayed calm. The monster took a step back, realising that the victim’s fear had decreased. It seemed somehow smaller and less fierce-looking.

  It still tried to find a way to get him though, by jumping on the table and attacking from above, the claws scratching its smooth surface wildly. Nelson cupped his hands together, not moving from his spot. And then all of a sudden, when he opened them again, there was something inside his palm.

  A silver weapon, a beautiful shiny pistol had emerged, appearing out of thin air. Nelson smiled faintly. The monster was at a state of complete distress now. He banged wildly on the table’s surface, trying to tear a hole through it.

  Nelson rolled out of the table, reaching as far as he could before the monster took a hold on him. Then he dropped on his knees and as the werewolf jumped to get him, he draw the pistol and fired a single shot. A small silver bullet went through the monster’s head, which exploded into a thousand digital pieces.

  Nelson remained on the ground, trying to regain his breath, as the crowd cheered wildly and the Instructors were clapping. Val felt a pair of arms hugging her tight. Mandy.

  “Val, thank you so much. He would have a heart attack in there. You saved him.”

  Her friend was crying, hot tears of joy, and as the door opened and Nelson exited the stage, she run towards him and gave him a sweet savage kiss. The crowd cheered even harder.

  Val was still dizzy, as she felt people passing by her, patting her in the back.

  Peter Smith started talking again. “An applause for the brave first contestant Nelson Blackwell, people. It’s always the hardest part of the test, facing the unknown and come out as a winner. Bravo. I think you double-won the heart of your girlfriend, mate.”

  The clapping increased. People whistled.

  Peter looked at Amy, smiling sardonically.

  “You could have at least said something, Mr. Smith” she said with a sight, and then left him to approach the boys again who were congratulating Val for her helpful insight.

  Amy took Val’s arm and hold it in her hands, a little shy still.

  “Am I a fool for believing it was real or what?”

  John gave her an understanding look.

  “It’s ok, Amy. I think that monster had an effect on us all. Except Val over here.”

  “It was nothing, really, John. Just a logical assumption based on Smith’s words.”

 
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