I had on the same utilitarian outfit that Aku had given me. All black, a coat and pants, utterly minimalist. My coat was closed up, and everything was fitted. All five of us were headed out the door, and getting ready as we went.
Odessa had her hair in braids, so it’d be out of the way, and she, as always, was hauling her blade. But instead of her leathers, she was carrying herself in full shining knight’s armor, with her helmet under her arm. It enlarged her profile significantly. Ash was in the same dirty clothes and dark leather jacket, which I’d learned by now, was entirely by design. But Anna, Anna had changed her getup. She was dressed in loose white robes, over a white jumpsuit. The jumpsuit was skin tight, and I’d learned it was Utopian design. A second skin of considerable durability. Her hair had become paler and was knotted above her head. The ugly pink scar on her face and neck only stood out all the more for her colorless appearance. Kendall wore slacks and a white button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up, as always. But instead of a vest, he had donned a shimmering green, engraved, metal breastplate. It covered his torso and gleamed. He stood straight, and his presence could be felt.
The engravings were enchantments, for protection, I sensed. From Anna there was a lot of trepidation. From Odessa, always tense. And Ash? Yeah, no.
We were standing around in the kitchen, while Kendall was working on his phone. Anna and Ash were having an animated conversation, getting along surprisingly well while they waited. Odessa was quiet, as was I. Kendall was working on the signup information, for the event, dictating to Aku.
It was almost time to head out the door, and I was really feeling the excitement from Anna and Ash, who were discussing the upcoming battle.
“You two seem ready to go,” I jumped in.
“Yeah,” Anna replied, “I watch the War Games every year. All three guilds simulating a civil war, to reaffirm the unbreakable Utopian culture. We’re on the Anarchists side, which I wouldn’t have picked… but Porter chose it. To keep the game balanced, you know. It actually means we’re thought of as more powerful than average since we’re on the far outnumbered side. You get how that works, you’re all thinky.”
“Oh, I have a reputation now?” I joked. “Yes. I’ve been trying to read up on it as much as I could, but I’m still not sure how we win?“ Or if we could.
“The Anarchists don’t. Basically, we’re all going to die!” Ashes beamed at the thought. “Done this before, last year, and we were Utopians. I got to play spy, and the Anarchists were soooo much funner. Up until they shot me.”
“It’s against the spirit of the games for the Anarchists to win, which is why they’re generally pretty chill, and the Utopians tryhards. It’s not a rule, but it almost always happens. This year the Anarchists don’t have Wulff’s department or the Technicists. So it’ll be an interesting game for us,” Anna said.
“They’ve got Porter and his Disciples, us,” I reminded.
“Yeah, but Porter isn’t playing ground control, unfortunately. He’ll be spectating with our Ethicist Guild members, up in orbital command.”
“What do they do again?” Ash sarcastically remarked.
“They debate… with the other team’s Ethicists. While we kill each other,” Anna replied. I laughed, Ash guffawed, and Odessa chuckled. She was keeping her distance, but I was pleased to know she wasn’t ignoring us entirely.
She almost wants to be closer.
“Gotta love the Philosopher’s Guild,” I said.
“They’re one of three… Eh, they’re alright. I’ve got a cousin in there, he’s thinky too. He once came to Christmas dinner in these big flowing ceremonial robes. And! And my dad asked him-” she suddenly trailed off, lost with the thought. I hadn’t asked her yet, but I understood that she had trauma in her past. Scars.
“The hour, Kendall?” Odessa asked, changing the subject.
“The time is ten till nine, and I’ve just confirmed us and read up on the necessary info. We’ll need to pick up earpieces when we report to Porter, don’t forget.” He pointed at the door, and everyone understood.
We trailed out into the windy cold mountainside, dusky as it always was, and came up and around to the Sanctuary. Inside I could see that Porter was standing on the platform, with Disciples around him. We came through the doors. There were others, strangers, entering to witness this. Porter had one of the smaller student bases, being a relatively new Professor. I’d come to recognize most of his students. There was the triumvirate of Kendall, Hasami, and Catherine, and then there were ten others. Easily forgotten faces. Unexceptional individuals. Battlemages.
Nothing against Battlemages personally. Hasami is one. But he is exceptional.
I had seen before that most of Porter’s students had been dressed in plain clothes, with age ranges between twenty and thirty-five, if I remembered correctly. Now no one was without an oddity or two. Everyone was wearing their full combat gear, except me, it seemed, as a minimalist. They were all prepared.
Porter was waiting for everyone to settle down, and Kendall led us over to the gun range, where equipment was laid out on steel tables. I grabbed one of the earpieces, and while Kendall was spraying himself with a can of force-field, for extra measure, I went over to the lockers.
“You have it to my specifications Aku?” I asked, touching my thumb to the locker door and watching it slide down into the floor.
“Yes, and with an added object I thought you might appreciate.”
Inside the locker was my requested weapon, which I’d had to wait for a turn on the matter printer acquire. It was gun, a rifle rather, meant to dish out carnage in a pinch. But beside it was something else, a folded piece of black fabric. I pulled it out and let it unfurl.
“A cloak?” I asked.
“Yes. I thought you needed a little something more, to complete the ensemble.”
“Aww, thank you.” I shook it once and flipped it around my shoulder. It automatically attached in the front. A hooded, sleeveless cloak. “Is this utilitarian like my other clothes are?”
“That it is.”
I returned to the group, where they were standing around the platform, and showed my gun off to Ash.
“It’s bitchin’, hombre,” Ash smirked.
It was spacey, ergonomic, and very shiny.
“I know. I’m pleased.”
Kendall shushed us, as Porter started to speak.
“We’re all gathered today for the War Games. You, my students, represent the best of the best of our society. There are many Utopian worlds, trillions of people even, but only one Monastery, and only one of each of you. Some of you are in the Guild, some of you aren’t, I am not, but I’m one of the best. So don’t let that hold you back. Although I won’t be following you into battle, I will be with you in spirit. This is our chance to make a name for ourselves. Uhh…” Porter seemed to be at a loss for words, momentarily. Then, with resolve he continued. “There will be Masters in the field, but I’m confident you all are capable, more capable, than any other group. Because I’m going to push you to be… Now, if you’ll follow me…” Porter swept his hand out towards those vault doors at the back of the sanctuary. With a powerful mechanical thwump, the doors unlocked, parting.
A violent field of lights behind the door coalesced into a quickly sharpening image and then snapped into coherence. It was a portal.
Porter led the way of his Disciples into the breach. Once through, I could see it in full. A supermassive ship bay, brimming with strange sorcerers and machines. People grouped together, and you could usually tell who the professors were, at the forefronts of the packs. There were easily some several hundred people, each in slightly odd or utterly whimsical appearance. There was, beyond the throng, a stage. On this stage stood fourteen individuals.
First were the Technicists, obvious by their transhumanist appearances and surrounding machinery. There were six of them. There was the Abbot. Then there were the six original Eidolons, from the earliest days of the program. Finally a lone woman in councilmember robes. A Zenith Council member, if I recalled correctly.
“Who are all these people?” I asked Kendall.
“There aren’t this many specialists if that’s what you’re wondering. Wars need numbers. A lot of these people are just cookie cutter magus, who attend online courses. Not Guild worthy.”
The councilwoman was making an announcement, commemorating the event and talking about its meaning to the Utopian cause.
An annual demonstration that all uprising are lost causes, I thought.
Then, she called out, “The War Games. These, the eighty-second War Games, will be between the ideological groupings, Utopian, and Anarchist. Thanks to all the volunteers who chose to participate, and thanks to our heroes and example makers, the Eidolons, both new and old.” She gestured to those on the stage than those in the crowd. “Also, special thanks to the Technicists guild, which has, for the fifth year in a row, presented themselves in full. Now, Aku will brief you, and then we’ll close with a blessing.”
Aku’s voice emanated from the air. “Utopians!” There was an uproarious cheer. “Anarchists!” There was whooping and hollering. “Your Professors will issue commands, and I will manage individuals, answering any questions you have in the field. Once the cannon has fired, you will receive your team’s game objective, and combat will be allowed. I will be observing via your earpieces and orbital spytech system. Anyone may request a teleport out at any time, but do not remove your earpieces. Anarchists, report to the leftward gate, Utopians, go right. But first, the blessing.”
An elderly man stepped up onto the stage and spread out his arms, yelling, “let there be no true harm here today, and if harm is dealt, bring bodies and souls to safety, back in these halls! In the name of God…” Everyone shouted an amen, with only a few mumbles. I could feel the magic fall into place, and was impressed at the strength of the spell. They were appealing to the strongest force in reality, successfully.
God still couldn’t be felt, though, just the spell.
We broke off after that and headed for the left gate. Through it, a white haze too thick to pierce with the eyes was all there was. I couldn’t know what lay ahead.
I haven’t seen daylight yet, haven’t felt its warmth, I lamented.
Porter stopped us, though, just short, and we waited for him to say why before we could move on. He spoke quickly, like from memory.
“I’m not going to be with you because this is for you to do. Today, I’m going to see who’s worthy. Today, there will be no one to guide you. Today, it’ll be one of you to overcome, just as I did, the last time the Anarchists won. The only time they have. Do this, or don’t return to my Sanctuary. You’re on your own.” He removed his earpiece, casting it off, us moving aside for him to walk straight through our group, and away.
Porter was gone. His Disciples were in disarray.
I adjusted my gun and analyzed the people moving past us. Looked back to those on the stage. To the few giants which towered above the crowds. All the oddities. Then back to Porter’s panicked Disciples, who were supposed to be the best our team had to offer.
Anarchy within the Anarchists. Huh.
I smiled wide. Let the games begin.