E.P.I.C. Book 1: The beginning
By: Stephen “Khaotyk” Coy
“Welcome to the Tower of Heroes,” a tall slender intelligent young man stood at a podium in a large auditorium. His messy brown hair carried bangs that flowed over his eyes, which were hidden behind glasses that constantly cast a glare. Nobody knew what was in that lens. In front of him was a decorated curved room. The room was large and walled with smooth wood and brass. The seats were aligned in neat rows, delicately covered in red velvet and filled with the bodies of eager teens awaiting the young man's presentation.
He looked behind him to see four other people sitting with stacks of papers and clipboards. Farthest to his right sat a girl with brown hair at her shoulders, sitting cross-legged in her long skirt. Beside her was another girl with bright blonde hair in a delicate ponytail. She sat with folded hands and smiled. Next was a boy in darker green hair and glasses. His hair was messy, like the young man's, and he dressed in a lab coat. The last one didn't look up from her computer. Her hair was green as well, but with violet streaks. Her glasses were at the bridge of her nose and she dusted her dark green skirt as she entered the names of every teen sitting in the chairs. The young man cleared his throat.
“For those who don't know who I am,” he spoke in a proper tone, his voice echoing throughout the room, “I am Kenji Monaria. You are sitting before me today because you are the best of the best. Young fighters born with the ability to control the powerful forces of nature we call the 'elements.' You are a group of teens who have the power to shape the world into your image, yet choose instead to protect it. Such purity, honor, and innocence give you the power to change the world, to impact civilization, and to keep world peace. You are Elemental Warriors!”
The crowd cheered vigorously. Kenji's voice rang in their ears charismatically and drove into their eager hearts. He calmly raised a hand to hush them back to silence. His hand glowed with a faint purple aura, as did his glasses, as he waved it slowly across the room. Each teen hushed gently and continued to listen.
“Thank you, thank you,” he continued, pleased by their support. “As you know, there have always been some who are not like us. They do not use their gifts to aid the world. They instead plague it with their evil intentions. They've spread dark aura across the land and if not for us, they would enslave all who opposed them. It is our sacred duty to use our gifts to stop them, to put an end to their plots, and to make sure we get things done right. We are here to help those in need, to become better than we, or anyone else, thought we could be. I see before me many different people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Some who control the infernal heat of fire, the cooled wash of water, the solid standing earth, the flowing gust of air, the shocking speed of electricity, the purity of nature, the psychological force of the mind, and the cold force of metal.”
The crowd conversed in agreement with each other.
“Now it is my job as leader of this organization to make sure I form teams consisted of four of you; teams of warriors who will work well enough together to prosper in their performances. Teams who can prove they are here for the right reasons. Teams who can show me they have what it takes to be Elemental Warriors. I trust your tours went well? For those of you who don't know, there are four high classed warriors behind me.”
The first girl to rise smiled and bobbed her bright blonde ponytail, standing up and bowing in her short skirt and corset. “My name is Jennifer Clous. I am the secretary and head of missions. I sit in the lobby at the front desk, and it was me who gave you the tour. I trust you will all be great.”
She sat down. Next to stand was the girl whose green hair housed violet streaks down the bangs, glasses, and a long skirt, along with a button up jacket over a green shirt. “I'm Carry Flora. I'm the technician and record keeper. I hold all the information of everything you'll ever need to know, and will be seen in every meeting such as this. If you ever need any help, I'm but an instant message away.” She returned her attention to her laptop.
The third was the boy with messy green hair. He also wore glasses and a lab coat over khaki pants. “I'm Gyrome Monaria, and yes, I am related to Kenji. I am his younger brother and the weapons mechanic of the Elemental Warriors. Often, teams will be sent on missions to retrieve artifacts or to plunder for material used to build armor or enhance weaponry. I build that. You will all visit me at some point so I can build you the proper weapons to face off against obstacles. Expect to see me often.”
He sat down, and the last girl stood up. Her hair was chocolate brown, along with her eyes. She wore messy pants and an apron over a blue shirt. “I'm Sachiko Montana, the chef. Um...that's all...” She sat down and turned red. After the introductions, Kenji finished his speech.
“If you have any questions, we are all up here to help you. I will announce the teams by asking you to come to my office. You all have a letter by your name in the registry form. When I announce the letter, come upstairs. Enjoy your time. You are dismissed.”
The crowd cheered as he bowed and they began to leave. He sighed. He may have seemed excited, but deep down he was bored of repeating the same speech over and over, every other year. He had yet to see a generation of heroes as strong as his. Everyone he spoke to became less and less heroic as time went by. He turned to talk to his team mates, except Jenny, when a plucky young girl with teal sleek hair that graciously fell over her left eye appeared. She smiled and bowed, blinking her sapphire blue eye.
“Hi, Kenji. I'm Diana Tomako. May I ask where we sleep?”
Kenji stroked his chin and snapped his fingers, hurrying to the microphone. He whispered “Boom” and spoke, his voice much louder than before.
“Attention, please remember to check your forms for your dorms!” he sighed again and turned to Diana, who smiled a too-good smile. “Thank you, Diana.”
She nodded and turned to walk off. She flipped the hair over her eye out, but it fell back in. She sighed. She was always a smart girl. She got the best grades in everything she did, and always made sure to cover every detail. Perfection and Diana were right next to each other in the dictionary. She dusted her V-neck, blue, long-sleeved shirt with a green sash below her chest and her green pants, tight at the top but loose past the knees.
She walked in blue high tops out of the auditorium and a boy bumped into her. He fixed his white hat, jacket, and pants. The outfit clashed his dark complexion, highlighting his emerald green eyes. He fixed his popped up collar and smiled.
“Well hello. I was actually headed to-”
Diana quickly put up a hand to stop him mid-sentence. “Don't want to hear it.”
The boy's smile faded. “What bit you in the butt, Princess?”
Diana quickly turned red. “My name is Diana, not 'Princess!'”
He almost stepped back in surprise. “You've got a streak on ya?”
“No I...I'm sorry. I hate to be called that.” Diana fixed her hair.
“I'm Josh. Joshua Nikolay. Nice to meet you, Princess.”
Diana growled. “I said-” she took a deep breath. “I'm Diana, Diana Tomako.”
Josh smiled. “Diana, eh? I definitely like Princess more.”
Diana rolled her eyes and walked off frustrated by this boy, Joshua. Josh laughed. “I was joking!” He shook his head as he picked up his black, fingerless gloves from his seat and put them on. “I'm not leaving without these.” Josh was laid back and easygoing, everything Diana was not. He never cared how well something got done, as long as it got done. He actually failed the written portion of the entrance exam to join, but passed the physical requirements, whereas Diana aced the written portion, and almost failed the physical part, despite having previously mentioned that she was nearly perfect in everything else. Josh decided to go to his room. He looked at his packet; tattered from the lack of care, and looked at the first page. It said “Room: 410A.” He shrugged, hiding his discouragement. He passed several maps, but refused to look at them. The walls of every hall of the tower were covered in blue tiles and large windows. The floors shined blue as well, with diamond-shaped tiles covering the floors and ceiling.
He walked into the lobby, a long slender curved room with the double door entrance on the outside of the curve and Jenny's receptionist's desk on the inside. There were two large televisions above her head, and people crowding the desk. To the left of the entrance door there was a small lounge, small only because most visitors didn't normally stay long enough for it to crowd. It had a single simple round wooden table and four chairs. It sat between a pair of elevators and the flight of curved stairs, both options leading to the dormitories on upper floors.
Josh walked to the elevator, but was joined by a boy about his age and height, but of lighter skin tone and white hair, and bold brown eyes. He wore a black vest over a white shirt and blue jeans, mildly baggy. His hair was a mop of white on his head, held by a head band around his forehead. He smiled calmly as he entered.
Josh pressed the button to the fourth floor, seeing as the guide said the first digit in the room number indicated the floor it was on. The boy laughed.
“You're headed to the same floor I am.” he leaned against the wall.
Josh looked at him. He loved making new friends. He enjoyed having more allies to join him in his quest. His goal to find...
“Bro, you okay?” the guy waved a hand in front of Josh's face. He didn't realize he'd been staring at a wall since the boy walked in. “Listen up. Name's Chet, man. Chet Valdez”
Josh blinked. “Oh, hey. I'm Joshua Nikolay. Call me Josh.”
The elevator stopped at the floor they wanted, and the boys stepped out. The dorm halls had two parts. To the left was dorm hall A. Each of the room numbers alternated, with the floor number, the order number, and the side. The boys slept in hall A, so the first room was 401A, and then the one across from it was 402A, and so on. To the right, the girls slept in hall B, and the same rule applied. In the middle there was a large window leading out to the center battler field. Despite the Tower of Heroes' immense size, it was actually a large hollow square. Every side was high with halls, surrounding the ever so famous battle field.
Josh and Chet walked up to the window. Both sighed. Josh put his hands in his pockets and Chet ran a hand through his hair.
“There it is, the reason I came, where all the magic happens.”
Josh nodded. “I know what you mean.” Josh trained himself every day, and hoped to find a challenge here. Looking at this field was proof that all his work will not go to waste. He began to feel adrenaline pump through his veins. Chet looked at his packet. It said on everyone's packet that their rooms had already been prepared and their bags packed, waiting for them to go in. This was so warriors could get right on to their training, wasting no effort on cramps and muscle tiring on the hike here. He muttered his room number.
To this, Josh jumped with wide eyes. “Wait, what?”
“Oh, nothin' man. I was just makin' sure I remembered my room number.”
“And that was...”
Josh smiled a little. “I've got the same room number as you.”
Chet tilted his head and laughed. “Amazing. Come on man we need to check our room out.”
Josh agreed. They followed the rooms until they saw theirs on the left and opened the door. The room itself was fairly small. It had a bunk bed on the right side, and a nightstand next to it. The beds were made, and the dresser to the left was empty. Two bags sat in the middle of the room. Chet strolled in and scanned the room. Despite its blatant emptiness, its size compensated well for it. Chet climbed to the top bunk and sat on it, then hopped down and lay on the bottom one. He hummed a little and nodded.
“I call bottom bunk.”
Josh raised an eyebrow, but shrugged. Chet was level headed and average. He did whatever came to mind. He was as imaginative or creative as Josh, but he never stopped to make sure his decisions were well-thought. He stretched and spotted two doors on the opposite end of the room, between the dresser on the left and a window on the right. Josh entered the left door, Chet the right. Josh laughed.
“A bathroom? Sweet bacon!”
Chet chuckled. “A closet? Not bad.”
They exited the room and gave each other high fives. This was definitely the best gig they could've asked for.
Diana exited the elevator, seeing two boys leave to the left. She stepped over and peeked as they entered the room. “It's that boy from before.” She turned red as she felt her heart beat and frowned. Josh annoyed her, but she had this vexing feeling driving her nuts. Normally she didn't care about anything other than her goals, but this boy...something about him distracted her, and she hated that. She looked for her room, 413B. She turned away from Josh and looked out the window. Her heart paced faster. She wasn't ready to fight, and she knew it. She shook her head, keeping herself together. She slung the purse she had over her shoulder and walked to her room, muttering the consecutive numbers.
When she arrived she approached the doorknob and the door was yanked open by a girl on her cellphone. She had long black hair and red highlights in the front strands, leading down the sides of her face. She wore a short-cut, long-sleeved, khaki-colored jean jacket over a red shirt, revealing her stomach. Her jeans were tight, and wrapped around her hips to show her curves. She wore red lipstick and purple eye shadow that made her ruby red eyes sparkle. She walked by as she spoke on the phone. Diana rolled her eyes and walked in. She gasped a sharp intake of breath.
The room was a disaster. There were makeup products and clothes all over. The top bunk was disheveled and the bottom was covered in delicates. She threw her purse on the floor and started to clean, folding and organizing. She saw an unopened case at the end of the bottom bunk, by the wall. After spending over an hour cleaning everything up, she opened the case to see her personal belongings had been packed. She smiled and pulled out her necklace with a heart locket. She opened it and saw a picture of her parents. She closed it and gripped it, strengthening her resolve.
Years ago, Diana and her brother, Ryo had grown up with their parents murdered. They had to move in with their aunt, uncle, and cousins. Not too long after, her brother joined the Elemental Warriors, telling Diana not to because she was not ready yet. Diana joined the following year, wanting to find out who killed her parents, and seek her well planned vengeance.
She lay on her bed and checked her schedule. She taped it to the wall next to her pillow and scanned it with her finger. It was half past noon, and everyone was spending the day preparing. She lay there calmly and closed her eyes.
The girl who passed Diana before hung up her phone as she approached the elevator. Her name was Jamie Dolores. She was always seen in the mirror or on the phone. Never having a leash on life, she felt it was better to take it by the horns. She had a natural sense of...well...everything. Nothing passed her by when she focused on it. The irony of course being her issue trying to stay focused. She snapped her fingers, realizing she forgot her bag. She turned around and walked towards the window. She smiled.
Jamie loved to fight as much as any boy, and proved that when she trained with boys as a youth. A black belt in karate, judo, kung fu, and jujitsu, she never backed down from a challenge. She practiced a few gymnastics and dancing moves before walking back to the room.
“Nice,” a voice said to her left. She turned and saw Chet approaching her.
“Why hello, handsome.” Jamie fixed up her hair and blushed. Chet put his hands in his pockets and looked out the window.
“Nice view ain't it?”
Jamie looked out the window again and nodded. “Yeah. Can't wait to be out there...Que bonita.”
Chet tilted his head down slowly. He closed his eyes. “This thing...the Elemental Warriors...I have a feeling it's more intense than I can imagine.”
Jamie nodded in agreement and Chet turned to the elevator. She followed him, headed to the lobby. Before they stepped in, a voice rang over the loud speaker.
“Squad Z, please report to Kenji's office. Squad Z, please report to Kenji's office.”
Chet smiled. “Well, according to my form, that's me.” He changed the destination to the top floor. Jamie didn't protest.
“Really? Me too. My form had a big letter Z next to 'Squad'”
Chet chuckled. “Well it looks like I'll be seeing you more often.”
Before the elevator could close, Diana came rushing in. She pulled the door back open and crouched with her hands on her knees, panting. Jamie blinked.
“Aren't you the girl in my room?”
“Aren't you the girl who messed it up? Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a place to be. Top...fl...”
She looked to see that they already prepared to go to the top floor and gritted her teeth.
“You're Squad Z?”
Chet raised an eyebrow. “You're with us?”
Diana sighed. “Yup, it appears so.”
Meanwhile, Josh opened his eyes from his nap. The voice of the loud speaker rang in his dream over and over. “Squad Z...Squad Z...” He yawned and sat up. He checked his paper, curious as to what team he was on. To his surprise, he was also on the team. He hopped up and ran to the elevator just as it closed. He groaned and looked to the stairs on the left of the elevator. He paced himself and started running up the stairs.
The elevator door opened and Josh quickly opened the door, panting. The hall to his office was long and narrow. It was devastatingly quiet and the left side of the hall was covered in windows, the same as the one located between the dorm halls. Diana looked at Josh and gritted her teeth, her face red. Josh returned the glare. And both said at once: “You? What are you doing here?”
Chet blinked innocently. “I see you've acquainted yourselves?”
Diana huffed. “You can say that.”
Josh smiled. “Chet? Sup, bro? Don't tell me you're with Princess here.”
Diana began to protest but Chet nodded and responded. “Yup. We're on Squad Z.”
“No way!” Josh dusted himself off. “Looks like we're all in this together then.” He flashed a peace sign. “'Cuz I'm on the same team as you guys.”
Diana frowned. “Humph, fine. Don't expect me to play nice, Nikolay.”
“Oh, I expect nothing less from you, Princess.”
She ignored him and started walking. When they approached the gray door, Josh peeked in the window, a curtain blocking the way. Diana shooed him back and spoke in a hushed whisper.
“Stop it, that's disrespectful.”
Josh smiled and spoke sarcastically, much to her disdain. “Oh no, Mother will be ever displeased to see I've misbehaved.” Diana slugged him in the arm and Jamie giggled. “Oww...” Josh rubbed his arm and waved them back. He opened the door, regardless of Diana's desperate attempt to get him to knock. When he entered he saw a room no larger than a bedroom. Kenji sat at a desk in front of a large window covered in drapes. His desk was cluttered with papers. To both his sides were tall book shelves covered top to bottom in books.
Diana stepped in behind Josh, adoring the myriad of hard-cover books surrounding her. Jamie and Josh groaned in boredom, and Chet strolled in indifferently. Kenji looked up as they entered, and levitated the book he was reading back to its place. He then pulled the four forward and sat them down in four seats spread in a neat row in front of him. Chet sat to his far left, then Jamie, then Diana, then Josh at the other end. Kenji smiled at the surprised looks on the teens' faces.
“Spectacular,” he began, “You're right on time. I knew it was a good idea to put you four on a team. You see, I paired you guys based on your test scores. Diana obtained the highest score of any one of your class on the written exam. Josh scored the lowest altogether. Jamie scored the highest on the physical requirements, and Chet scored as average as one could go.”
Jamie smiled and Chet blew his bangs up in a huff. Josh sunk in his chair and Diana pounded a fist on the desk, enraged. “What? I have to work with the worst test taker in history? How is Josh here?”
“Because he showed the most intuition of any of you. It's not all about test scores, you see. If I paired the smartest with the smartest, redundancy and consistent predictability would be the only results. No field working team should be set with those attributes.”
Ironic to this, his very own team consisted of him, his genius brother, Gyrome, and Gyrome's girlfriend, the computer whiz, Carry. “I figured you needed something to level your brains to a manageable level, like Chet's. You see, what makes your team special is the extreme variation it carries. I want you to be the one team in this generation that looks past your differences and brings your differences together to accomplish your goals.”
Diana huffed and relaxed, looked at Josh, and looked away. Kenji continued.
“All of the warriors here come from different backgrounds. You guys share a bit more than it seems. Josh and Diana, you've both lost your parents, correct?”
Diana turned red and looked back at Josh, who looked down and away. Kenji kept going. “Chet and Jamie, would you agree your connection with your older siblings is subpar?”
Chet snuffed and clenched his fist, ready to best his too-good brother. Jamie scowled at the thought of her sister. Kenji nodded at these reactions. “Your journeys will allow you to discover the answers you all seek. And you can be certain I will be deploying you, as well as everyone else, on missions that take you far and wide around the world.”
They murmured in agreement. Kenji continued his lecture. “Back to the diversity. I hope you take your various attributes into battle and use your foils for more than conflict. Chet, take your strength and confidence in with Josh's intuition and quick thinking, Diana's intelligence and world knowledge, and Jamie's determination and optimism, and make a team unstoppable to all who oppose you.”
The team smiled and nodded, not having seen it that way. Kenji got ready to finish, when he remembered one more thing. “There is one thing that concerns me.”
They paid full attention. “Your elements worry me. Jamie with fire, Diana with water, Chet with earth, and Josh with air. Neither of you share an element, which is peculiar; furthermore, you four coordinately cover the four primary elements.”
Josh raised an eyebrow. “So?”
“So this makes your team a possible target for anyone who seeks to use the elements for their own gain. Your primary mission is to prevent that by all means. And you've made the perfect-”
Jamie protested. “Bait? You made our team bait for something like that?”
Kenji waved his hand defensively. “Not at all, it was completely unintentional. It just worked out that way, and I'm taking this time to warn you of any upcoming threats that will block you during your journey.”
Josh nearly flew out of his seat. “What? You're telling me we have bad guys willing to come after us? Well heck yeah! Bring it on! We can take anyone that comes our way, right guys?”
Chet pounded a fist to his hand. “Yup, if they wanna take us down, they'd better expect a fight.”
Jamie smiled and stood up as well. “Don't count me out boys. I'm more than just a pretty face. Pruebame.”
Diana stayed seated, curious as to why they were so important. “Explain yourself, Kenji.”
Kenji nodded and pulled a book up psycho kinetically. It was covered in runes and bound by a glowing violet rope. He touched the rope and opened it, showing them a legend. “You see, as foretold in these scriptures, one who has the power over all eight elements can create devastating effects, destroying the world or even recreating humanity in their very own image. This is what we live to stop. This is what we train for every single day. This is why we are here. And I want you to be ready for anything that comes your way.”
Josh nodded. “It's okay. We are Squad Z, and we are Elemental Warriors. Nothing will stop us from achieving our goal!”
Deep in the depths of the northeastern mountain range laid a fortress. In this fortress, dark aura oozed out, giving birth to creatures beyond one's imagination. Inside the fortress lay he who gave birth to the aura surrounding the tower. His name was Jason. Jason, in all forms of twistedness, sought respect, and a way to use his gift as more than a curse. He was as typical as any villain, because he wanted nothing more than the world at his feet.
Jason read the scrolls. He knew every legend. He knew that if he could utilize the forces of nature, he could devastate humanity. Jason ruffled his white hair and looked in the mirror. He looked at the black streak in his hair, branding him forever as a force of darkness. Jason was no older than Josh, but never seemed like it. He thought like a well-informed elder, and never did anything a normal teen would. He never cared, though. He never cared for anyone that stood in his way.
Today was the day the new generation of warriors would be introduced. It was also the first day of the centennial cycle. Every hundred years, two orbs awaken and reveal themselves after an eclipse, the Eclipse of the Phoenix. These orbs held powers of light and darkness, and are the key to opening the tapped power of the other eight. Each orb held the force of nature, holding the world in balance. Now that the Orb of Justice and the Orb of Shadow are awakened, he can find the first eight, collect the other two, and use them to complete his goal. He laughed, sick and deranged. His plan to rule the world would finally be put into motion.
Jason grabbed his black sword and placed it cleanly into its hilt. He stretched and wandered through his fortress. Black and gray bricks made the foundation of what may very well be a castle. Many rooms filled it. His steps echoed through the empty halls. He began to mutter to himself as he approached the throne room. Large and dominating, like the king who lived there. He wiped dust off the throne and dragged his sword around it, black sparks coming off the floor.
“Soon this will be mine again...”
He looked at the suits of armor lining the walls and grabbed an axe. He effortlessly swung it around a bit and put it back. He decided he needed to leave to find a way to get the orbs.
Meanwhile, back in the Tower of Heroes, Kenji had just given the new Squad Z a mission. It wasn't all good news, however.
“What? A delivery?” Josh looked at his box with disdain. The team was given two boxes to carry to Central City for a grocer there. “We're supposed to be fighting bad guys trying to rule the world not doing some old guy's groceries!”
“Now that will be quite enough,” Kenji cleared his throat and sat back. Diana put a hand on Josh's shoulder and shrugged.
“Better than nothing right? I mean, now we get to leave the tower.”
Josh pursed his lips when he realized this. “Err; what I clearly meant to say was...we would be delighted to help this poor man out with his errands.”
Diana giggled and rolled her eyes. Chet grabbed the other box and put it on his shoulder. Jamie stopped to think.
“I'm sorry to quickly change subjects but I have to ask,” She started, “You said there were eight elements, right?”
“So then, is everyone born with an element?”
“Excellent question, Jamie.” Kenji smiled. “Everyone has the ability to learn any one of the eight elements. They are born with the power to control mainly one of the primary elements. The secondary elements are as follows: thunder, grass, psychic, and steel. These four are not given at birth, hence why they aren't primary. As such, they can be learned by anyone at any time of their choosing with extensive training.”
Josh smiled. “So I can learn wind and fire and psychic and-”
“Ew...no using the same elements.” Jamie stuck her tongue out.
“Hold yourself young one.” Kenji tilted his glasses. “You can learn whatever you want. Just know that the more you learn, the weaker it is.”
The four listened in, now curious.
“You see, the more elements one has in storage to use, the more life force is distributed between them, making them weaker. Also, anyone who attempts to learn a primary element they were not born with will find it significantly weaker than those born in it. For that reason, everyone here has but a single element to use.”
Josh bit his lower lip and Chet rubbed his chin.
“So,” he began, “Could we pick up one other element?”
“The path is up to you. I deeply suggest not doing so, as it weakens your natural ability.”
“Look, we don't even know how we fight yet.”
“Then I suggest you learn on the way.” Kenji turned his chair to face the gaping window and sipped some tea. “Go on, birdies. Fly away.”
Josh muttered. “Do we even get rewarded for this?”
“Why yes of course. Completing this mission will add points to your team's score, allowing you to rank up and assume different benefits such as expanding your team and splitting up assignments. As rookies, however, you're all doomed to do terribly simple missions together until you rank up.”
“Aw, man,” Jamie groaned, “how did I figure?”
Diana checked her time. “If we're traveling on foot, we better leave now or we won't make it on time.”
The team left, and Kenji sat in his chair carelessly sipping away.
Chet nodded slowly. “So then, if we already share different elements, shouldn't we like, split the last four?”
“It's not a wise idea,” Diana said. “Kenji said-”
Josh shook his head. “If we always follow to order we're given we will never be able to broaden our horizons. I say we give it a shot.”
Jamie bounced in joy. “Yes! We so should! But no copycats!”
Chet crossed his arms with a smile. “Agreed.”
“No,” Diana stomped, “Not agreed!”
“The votes outnumber you, Princess.”
Diana pouted and blushed. “Whatever. Don't expect me to help.”
“Come on, let's go!” Josh was in a major rush to go. He slid down the last flight of stairs and stopped at the door, Jamie right behind him. He stuck his tongue out as the door slid open and he ran out, bashing carelessly into a guy with pale yellow hair and a black jacket, and spilling soda all over him. Josh stepped back and apologized, but the guy didn't seem to care. He pushed Josh and walked in. Diana and Chet walked downstairs and Diana sighed.
“Oh, god.” Diana hurried over and stood between them. “Look, whatever's going on, I'm sure we don't need to be violent...”
The guy pushed Diana back and glared at Josh. “Alright, punk. You'll pay for this.”
He grabbed Josh by his jacket and lifted him. His hair covered his eye and spiked downward. His jacket was black with white sleeves and his eyes were red. His breath stank of onion rings as he seethed into Josh's face. Josh shrunk back, turning his head and fanning away the stink.
“Look,” Josh pushed away from the guy. “I'll deal with the jacket later. Right now my team and I-”
“Will fight my team.”
Jamie pursed her lips in joy and Chet cracked his knuckles. Diana tried to soothe the guy but to no avail. She sighed and stepped back. Josh shrugged.
“A battle? Sure, we could use the exercise.”
Diana gritted her teeth. “You don't know what you’re getting into.”
Jenny stood up from behind them and stepped in to quell the violence herself.
“Look,” she said, “there is no reason our teams should battle. None.”
Chet and Josh widened their eyes. “You're a field operative?”
Jenny shook her head. “No, Ryo is.”
Josh looked back at the guy. “You're Ryo?”
“What's it to ya, punk?”
“Figured I'd learn the name of the guy I'd pummel.”
Diana groaned and stepped back between them, facing Josh. “Stop, Josh. Violence is not the answer.”
Jamie put a hand on her shoulder. “This may be our only opportunity to freely test our powers. This is our first battle together.”
Diana sighed. “I...fine...” she turned to Ryo. “The battle is on.”
“That's more like it, Princess!”
Diana rolled her eyes. Jamie shrieked in joy.
“We get to fight in that field! Woo!”
Jenny shrugged. “Well it’s only us, so...unless we find two other warriors to help we can only challenge two of them.”
Ryo looked at Josh and Diana, smiling cruelly at her. “Then we fight this guy and Diana.”
Jamie looked at her. “How does he know your name?”
Diana sighed. “This wild, irrational jerk goes by the name of Ryo, and is my brother.”
“Whoa, relax sis. No need to spit fire, right?”
Diana frowned. “We may as well get this over with...”
Jenny and Ryo walked to the other side of the field, where another elevator door was located. This one would lead to the dorms on the other side of where the team stayed. Ryo cracked his knuckles, a noise stifled by the veil of mist in the air. Jenny rolled her neck and stared at the other side. She looked at Jamie next to ask her to call the battle as a ref. Jamie shook her head and Chet smiled, shifting the earth into a flat seat to carry him toward the center. He called out “Three...two...one...” and paused before yelling go. He took a deep breath, not knowing what to expect, but figuring refereeing a battle wouldn't be all that difficult to get used to.
He yelled “Go!” and Ryo dashed in at unseen speed, bashing into Josh and ramming him into a wall. Diana gasped and Jenny ran at her with a large wand housing a crystal. She planted it into the ground at center field and kept running at her. Diana put up a quick water shield from the mist, only to find Jenny covering herself in a ball of lightning to push through it. Josh put his palm into Ryo's chest and called out “Gust Palm,” sending a quick and powerful blast of air through him and forcing him back. Diana swamped the ground where Jenny ran and side stepped nervously as she slid and fell. She looked at Josh worriedly.
“This isn't working, they're too fast!” she called as she turned to make the mist form into balls of water and launched them at her at high speed.
Josh panted in pain. She was right. The battle just began and Ryo landed a huge blow to him. He looked up and watched Ryo fade in and out of view as he landed a volley of blows to Josh in omnipotent means. Ryo landed one more blow that knock Josh into Diana and forced him to his knees. Josh gritted his teeth, biting back tears of pain. Was this what it was like to battle? He didn't think fellow warriors would aim to do so much damage to him. He knew he would have to step it up in order to win anything, so he ignored the pain and stood up.
Diana touched his arm to get his attention, because Jenny was conducting electricity to her fists through the staff she lay down. Josh winced at the touch, but felt her cool, gentle hands soothe the pain. He grabbed her hands and put them on his chest. She widened her eyes in disgust and pulled away, but Josh shook his head and yelled “Infernal Tempest,” knocking Jenny and to his surprise, Ryo away. He then explained to Diana the soothing feeling her hands provided. She let out a calm breath and nodded, holding his hands back to back. She blushed as she told Josh about the staff. He looked at it as Ryo and Jenny stood up.
“Lucky shot,” Ryo muttered, “but don't try to get slick with my sister!” He vanished again and Josh used his Gust Palm to push Diana into the staff, which she pulled out by sliding on the water. Josh turned around and his heart skipped a beat as he watched Ryo slow down, now sprinting. Josh ran at him and Diana thickened the water again, allowing Josh to slide into Ryo's legs. Jenny put her hands on the ground and passed electricity through the water Diana created, shocking Diana and forcing her to her knees. Ryo looked up as she screamed in pain and splashed water onto Josh before shocking him too. He then stood up and looked at her. Jenny shook her head confidently.
“She's alright, Ryo,” Jenny looked at him reassuringly. “It's like a Taser. Painful, but not threatening.”
Diana panted and shook her head. “I'm...done...”
Ryo looked back at Josh, who lay helpless in a swamp of water. Jamie stood up and rubbed the back of her head. “Is that it?”
Chet shrugged and Ryo nodded. “Learn your place, kid. Don't mess with me.” He helped Diana up. “You'll learn how to fight, sis. Don't let this get ya.”
In response, she shook her head again; refusing to accept the pity she was being given. “You guys had an advantage over us and you knew it!”
Jenny walked up now, her hands up in defense. “Not at all. See, what you need to remember is that a battle can turn one way as quickly as another. Your well executed plan could be the cause of your downfall. Your water gave us the conductor needed to reach you from afar, especially since you were holding the source.”
Diana sagged her shoulders and twitched from the shock. She watched as Chet and Jamie helped Josh up, realizing the loss was her fault. She looked up and clenched her fists. Jenny looked at Ryo, about to remind him about his needed missions. He gave one more look at Diana, and another at Josh, and then walked away with Jenny, leaving the disgruntled team behind.
Jamie sat down and Diana put her hand on Josh's chest. “Remember this, Josh? Five minutes ago you said it took the pain away. Remember?” She closed her eyes. Chet twiddled his thumbs together.
Josh muttered. “That's because you don't have the touch of Princess here on your painful spots.”
Jamie giggled and Diana slapped him. “You were okay?!”
Josh blew a raspberry and rubbed his face. “I don't know about now but...”
“I warned you! We weren't ready to battle. How do we make ourselves ready to battle?”
Chet looked up. “That's a good question. There is no way I will ever fight if that's the result. We need to be ready. Let's talk to Kenji.”
Everyone headed back up to the elevator, except Jamie and Josh. Josh sat up and stared at Jamie, sharing a mixed glance of shock, wonder, fear, and excitement. Jamie helped him up and he shook the water out of his jacket.
“I guess we should go with,” Jamie said. She looked at Josh one more time, and saw he agreed with what she truly wanted: to train. She shrugged innocently and pointed for him to walk to the other side of the field. He nodded and jogged over, admitting to himself that Diana's touch was really healing, but not sure he could explain why. Jamie called out to him, breaking his trance.
“So you've already practiced a few moves, eh?”
“Yup!” Josh kept it simple and went to a fighting stance, his legs spread apart and his body angled to the side. He wasn't going to get caught off guard again. Jamie covered himself in flames and called out “Burn Up!” Josh raised an eyebrow, hearing that move before but not sure why. He ran into the center with her and swapped blows. Her punches were hard and her kicks were swift, but his blocks were fast and accurate. Neither could lay a blow, Jamie being too aggressive to allow Josh in and Josh being too fast to let Jamie land a hit. Josh used Gust Palm and Jamie, having seen his signature move, pushed his hand down and forced him to blow himself back. Josh blew Bubble Bombs at her, balls of air the size of soccer balls that exploded on impact. She kicked each one away effortlessly and blew Dragon's Breath at him, which he redirected with his own wind. Josh smiled.
“I see you've been practicing too.”
Both were panting, but both went back at it, blocking Gust Palms and Flare Kicks until Diana and Chet came back down and told them they found out how to better prepare themselves for battle.
Squad Z was next seen in an office speaking to a young man with messy green hair and glasses. He began to explain to them one thing a warrior should have: a weapon. Diana nodded; remembering that wand from before, and the ungodly advantage they were given because of it. Gyrome continued to speak.
“You've probably heard this before, but a weapon is merely an extension of the wielder. You should never rely on your weapon to do your work. Furthermore, you can't just pick up any old weapon and call it yours. I'm an expert, and I will custom build each of you a weapon based off your style of battle.”
Jamie looked at her delicate hands, now calloused and dirty from his bout with Josh. Josh did the very same thing. “Any way we could keep our hands clean during a fight?” Jamie asked.
“Yeah, my attacks are less focused when dirt is smothered in it.”
Chet chuckled. “That'd be ironic for me, since I move earth.”
Diana put her hand on her chin, thinking about the whole “healing” deal Josh mentioned. Gyrome nodded at Jamie and Josh.
“Yes, there is a way,” he began; “they're called gloves.” he finished sarcastically.
Jamie frowned, but Gyrome covered his tracks.
“I'm serious. Gloves are how a warrior focuses his or her attacks. They often give the wearer an unusual advantage, but of course only for those who can make real use of them.”
Chet sighed. “So what do I get? I shouldn't wear gloves should I?”
Gyrome smiled. “You'd be surprised. Come here. All of you.”
He led them to the back of his office, which was a hall with many weapons to both sides. Swords, axes, crossbows, clubs, a plethora of different tools lay right before their eyes.
“You guys are lucky,” Gyrome said, “You're one of the only teams I brought in here.”
Jamie sighed in awe. “It must be such an honor.”
Gyrome nodded, breaking down the lives of the warriors who came in and out of here, and the stories that weapons could tell about its wielder. He repeated “if only they could speak...boy, I how I would love to hear the tales they would tell.” He stopped the team at the end of the hall, where there was a large boy with silver hair over his eyes banging a hammer on a sword to shape it.
“This,” Gyrome introduced, “is my craftsman, Harley.”
Harley huffed and went back to work. Gyrome wrote down his request on a piece of paper and gave it to him. He smiled. “Been a while since you asked for these.” He pointed to one item on the list, and Gyrome gestured at Jamie, a gesture missed by all but Harley, whom he was speaking to. Harley nodded, saying in order to do these he would need crystals to power them up. He would make the weapons, but not be able to enchant them without the crystals.
“Crystals?” Diana asked.
“Yeah,” Gyrome explained, “see, what makes our weapons so special is that we imbue enchantments onto them in order to maximize their potential to the wielder and ensure they could never be repeated.”
“It's like a copyrighted signature.” Harley simplified.
Diana nodded and Chet asked “I know the whole team is thinking this but, where do we-”
“The four you are ordering are located in different areas around the continent.”
The team gasped through gaping glances. “What?” Diana protested. “That's completely absurd! These are to help us fight better and you want us to-”
“A common misconception,” Gyrome cut her off, finger raised knowledgeably. “These weapons do not make you fight better; they only add new techniques to your arsenal. You have to make the weapon better. Understand?”
He sighed at their puzzled glances.
“You'll learn. For now, search for the crystals. Start in Central City.”
Diana shrieked. “Our mission! We completely forgot the mission!”
Josh widened his eyes and slapped his forehead. “Come on guys, tomorrow is the last day to get it done!”
“Don't worry. Even a walk from here shouldn't take more than a day, unless you're seriously wasting your time. I will hold your weapons here. When you get back, pick them up and take them with you so you can learn them. I suggest you continue training yourselves before taking jumps with a weapon.”
Diana bowed graciously and thanked them for their help, then ran out, the rest of the team right behind her.
The team exited the tower. The tower was located in the midst of a very large forest spanning miles around. Straight ahead, north and beyond the trees, was the Northern Plains. Ahead of that was Central City. That was where they were headed. Jamie and Josh were up front discussing a few things about fighting together.
“You think we will ever be good enough to face up against bad guys if they fight like that?” Jamie looked down, her red bangs falling over her eyes, shrouding her worry. Josh let out a deep sigh, trying to forget the battle he had with Ryo and Jenny. Chet put his arms around their shoulders and told them to stop fretting, and that they would be able to handle anything that comes their way. Josh wiped his nose briskly with his thumb and smiled.
“You're right bro. We haven't even begun to scratch the surface of competition.”
Diana smiled as well. “After this mission we can practice with the weapons we get from Gyrome.”
The three looked at her and nodded as they entered the Northern Forest.
The forest was calm and peaceful, the trees a bright spring green casting deep green shadows contrasting the bright sunlight trickling between the trees. Everything was quiet. There was the occasional bird tweeting and the rustling of a squirrel racing through the trees. Diana walked ahead, following the map she programmed on her PDA.
“Up ahead there is a river. It's called the-”
“Yin-Yang River...” Chet and Josh muttered simultaneously. Diana blinked in surprise.
“Have you guys been here?”
They nodded as they approached a circular clearing. A gentle stream passed through it, dividing the clearing into two distinct parts. On the side they entered, the grass was dark, dank, and dirty, with a tree stump that sits clean and bright brown. To the other end, the grass was crisp and clean, with a dark stump clashing it. The stream wound in a wavy S and trickled through it, crashing on the small rocks that lined it. Chet smiled.
“I trained here as a child. Well, younger of course.”
“I remember being here...with Jonah...”
Jamie walked up. “Who?”
Josh turned around. “He was a mentor of mine. A father figure. If you remember, Kenji said I lost my parents. Jonah took me in under his wing with a few others my age. When he finished training he took me back to the orphanage.”
Chet's face was pale. “Did you say...Jonah?”
Josh raised an eyebrow and nodded. “Well yeah. Why?”
Chet shook his head and turned to Diana, who messed with the river, fascinated by it. “What's going on?” she asked innocently, almost adorably.
Jamie shrugged. “Well this is the halfway point, am I right?”
Diana nodded silently, wishing she could freeze the water here. Chet moved the earth and made a few rocks rise up in the river, a pseudo-bridge being formed. They crossed the river and stopped as Chet sank the rocks back down. Before them stood a young man, no older than Josh. He wore a black trench coat and black jeans, over muddy black shoes. His hands stayed in his pockets, and he smiled genuinely. His hood was down, revealing white hair and a black streak. Diana gasped silently, the breath taken from her throat as if by a poltergeist.
“Hello, all.” he said in a calm voice. He was no threat, and he put it off well. He walked up to the river and shrugged. “Not bad. Can you guys control elements?”
Josh smiled. “Yup. We're new Elemental Warriors.”
The boy, clearly Jason, hid his utter displeasure as hearing that name. He had tried to join them years back, but was shunned away, accused of having too much darkness in his heart. He feigned a smile. “Well my name is Jason. Nice to meet you.”
He stuck out a hand, which Josh eagerly shook. Jason's hand suddenly froze, with his grip hardening. That's...odd... he thought, It's as though...there's an orb...nearby...
“Hey...guy...” Josh struggled to pull his hand back. “Mind lettin' go?”
Jason looked at him and smiled. “I'm sorry, must've gotten distracted.”
Diana stayed behind Chet. Chet turned around.
“What's your deal?” Chet spoke just above a whisper.
Diana bit her lip with a frown. It's him...how did he find me...?
Jason let go of Josh's hand and felt the sensation fade away. He shrugged it off, deciding to investigate it later. “So what're you doing here in this forest?”
Josh spoke up. “We-”
“Nothing, um, Jason.” Diana stepped from behind Chet and exchanged glances with Jason, who was as surprised to see her as she was him.
“Well, um,” Jason looked past the team towards the tower, and then looked back at Diana, who had watched his eye movement, and frowned. Worse than a guard dog. He thought. “I was just studying some lore. Have you guys ever heard of the Eclipse of the Phoenix?”
Jamie widened her eyes. “Yes, oh yes I have! It comes once a century, and from the pictures I've seen, it's beautiful.”
“Yes, it's marvelous,” Jason replied, for his own reasons. “Now then, you must be aware that it happens within the next month right?”
Jamie froze in excitement. “What?”
“Yes, and what a sight it is. You know what it represents, am I right?”
Jamie shook her head, mildly vexed form the barrage of questions but refusing to admit it.
“It's said to be the birth of two very important artifacts. The Justice and Shadow orbs. Have you heard of them?”
Chet was the first to respond. “No. Why are you telling us?”
“Because, as Elemental Warriors it's clear you would have an interest in things like that, right?”
Josh smugly wiped a thumb across his nose. “How'd you know we were Elemental Warriors?”
“Just a guess.” He pointed to the Tower of Heroes that stood high behind them. “How would you like to help a poor soul on a journey he cannot complete alone?”
Chet folded his arms. “What's the deal?”
“I want you to help me collect eight orbs of the elements and bring them to me.”
Diana scoffed. “What? We can't do that. It'd throw off the natural order of things!” Diana refused to accept anything Jason said. She just had a feeling it was no good.
“That is precisely why you must collect them. By removing them and putting them in one place, you make it so nobody else can use them for...I don't know...their own demented purposes.” Jason may have been one-track-minded, but he was no idiot. He knew how to manipulate others to his desires. And he could tell this team of newbies would get the job done for him, because they had no experience of consequences, nor did they know the danger that was involved in doing this task. None, but Diana. He shot a quick glare at Diana, so full of hatred she turned away to avoid his eyes piercing into hers. “So,” he continued, “will you help me in my quest for world peace?”
Josh smiled. “Anything to help the world stay safe!”
Jamie nodded in agreement, and Chet shrugged.
“Great!” Jason couldn't believe how easy this was. “Now remember that eclipse? That's the deadline. You must collect them before then, because there will be others trying to get them before you, and if you wait until afterward, you'll lose the opportunity.”
Josh didn't understand the logic, nor did he care. He looked back at Diana, who shook her head. He tilted his eyebrows apologetically and accepted Jason's deadline. Jason smiled and shook Josh's hand and bid them adieu, leaving to prepare the second part of his plan.
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