Chapter 2: Silver White

The training was tough on her bones, skin, muscle. But she wasn’t rushed too much, and Denea kept her company after the tough days and nights, so she wouldn’t have the chance to sulk at the difficulty. She successfully brought her mind to other things to make sure that the next day she’d wake up early and go at it again. The best part about it – already after the first day of training she was sleeping like a baby. She could feel her mind started to heal.

And after a month of regular physical training and getting used to their squads – Eysin had almost forgotten about the events in Reval. She was excited for the upcoming day, as they were finally going to be introduced to the Zerks. She was going to get her Eesian suit.

The whole song and dance around Eesian technology was no simple matter – even though its era and culture of origin were unclear, there were elaborate ceremonies around every progression one goes through.

Eysin had not participated in any of those rituals yet, and that confused some of the organizers because she did, in fact, already have the battery installed – the insane, secondary nervous system – and were curious to know how she pulled that one-off.

“I can’t say,” she’d always answer.

That all had to do with how her RESO period came to an end. An ugly one – as it got a little bloody, too. For the last half a year that she was around, tensions were rising and she could understand that Andre was involved in it somehow, too.

So, one Saturday morning, Andre had looked ill, his silver nodes on his skin were bleeding a little bit, he had cold sweat and shivers. But he was still smiling and cracking jokes. Eysin had shown up at his workshop because he’d called her.

“I need you to deliver a package to a friend,” he had said and wrote an address on a paper envelope. He handed to her the envelope and two marbles wrapped in a cloth. “And I need you to go do it now.”

She’d gone out from the walled city and found the address. It was an old ugly apartment building, she had to go to the 5th floor and found the door and knocked. But no one answered. Besides, the door fell ajar after the three knocks, and it became apparent that something strange had been going on.

Eysin felt afraid, “hello?” she gently pushed the door open and stepped inside. It was a beautifully furnished apartment, but she couldn’t spot any personal belongings.

Everything was very generic. She thought about leaving the letter and marbles there and then going back, but something felt wrong… Andre had been sick, he’s giving her this strange assignment into this strange apartment…

And someone had been following her.

Just as a follower is about to lunge at her through the door, another stranger tackles him down and shouts to her to get out from there.

So, she runs – to her detriment, back to the way she had come from. No one stops her from entering the walled city, all the guardians appear to be gathered elsewhere. There had been murders.

She returns to the workshop and finds Andre on the floor – he had been shot. No one else is around, it’s quiet – until some of the gladiators start showing up around the building and she decides it’s time to get out.

Eysin manages to get out without being noticed, she sees Kamille entering and exiting the building. Eysin tries to stay hidden but wants to know what is going on.

She watches Kamille exiting the building – the tall goddess, but she looks rather distressed. She’s on a call while she walks down the stairs, “they are locking down the city and they won’t stop before they have found the marbles.”

Kamile stops walking before she needs to enter her carriage, listens to the response on the call, “no, the marbles weren’t on him. The only proof we have against those traitors has just walked off. Listen, I think he gave them to the stray, but our contact has gone offline. I’m not sure where she could have gone, because according to Vinu the Black Rain didn’t manage to find her, either.”

Kamile steps into the carriage while listening to a response, “I have a few ideas where it could be. They are looking for his students and friends now, I think they already busted down Black Rain HQ.” The carriage takes off.

When Eysin turned around to try to leave the walled city, once again, she found that there now was a border control placed and they were scanning everybody who wanted to get through, with a strange device. She saw someone getting arrested for having some marbles on them – and that woman was taken away.

She couldn’t return to the workshop, her home area was also surrounded – some of the students were placed under arrest and she saw them being taken away. The port was locked down and a large ship had blocked the way out.

She kept moving, dropped her rich person look, discarded the fancy wig and some of her uncomfortable clothing and dropped it down a sewer. She went to the largest park in the walled city – knowing it’s usually quiet and maybe she could hide there. There was an old metro station somewhere, and she had heard there could be a way out through there. She wore herself out and sat at a pavilion, waiting for some kind of an end until it got dark.

Standing up once again, to keep looking for the old metro station, she felt the air change. Eysin felt like she had reached the end of the box called life. There was a suited man – one of the lifeless eyed gladiators from town – holding up his hand, looking at her, emotionlessly.

He was holding up his hand, aimed at Eysin was a loaded gun. Why is he waiting, why hasn’t he shot yet? Is he having doubts about doing it – or is he the kind of psycho who wants to look me in my dying eyes.

Bang.

She felt her back crash against the end of the box. The end of the box was the sandy floor of a large park in North Reval. Fluid came up in her eyes, nose, throat, she coughed – but as she opened up the pipes – they filled up – as if she had opened her mouth under the ocean – blood filled her lungs perfectly, as it had been forever waiting to do just that.

It froze still – her body throws itself quickly for a few times, and then she falls silent. Blackness, the end.

An echo of a sound. What kind of a sound – it’s so full of dirt. There’s only noise. So much noise that it has turned fully black, so much noise that the deafness rapidly grows into a screaming feedback loop.

Life is so loud. Bum, bum, bum – a low bass beats. No, it doesn’t beat. It contracts. It can do it slower and slower and slower. She’s turned around, on her knees and arms, and suddenly coughs up all the blood. Someone is there with her, holding her up.

She coughs and coughs and coughs, and when it lessens, the stranger lets her go and she falls on her side. Her eyesight is blurry, but returning. She sees that just a few meters from her lies the body if the guard that had just shot her. He was lying down – she couldn’t see his face, but by lack of any movement, any nervous energy around the assailant – she could tell he was dead.

And she thought she had died, sat up and started looking for where she got shot. There was a hole torn by the bullet, and her clothes were super bloody, but she couldn’t find a hole to stick her thumb in.

But she did find something – the spot where the hole perhaps just had been. She touches and it feels like there is a very heavy band-aid put on. This stranger had helped him, and now she needed to know why “Are you a friend of Andre’s?”

“Yes.” He keeps low and crouches around, looking here and there. Eysin couldn’t make out who he was – because in the dark – it was difficult to make out someone who was wearing fully black. Even his face was covered up, she couldn’t even see any eyes. “I’m going to get you out from here, but right now there are 5 more of those coming,” he quickly returned to Eysin.

And she reacted in shock and jumped on her ass as that man reached her. Koi Jr, as he soon would introduce himself – did not look like a human. His face wasn’t covered, and neither were they gloves – his face looked lifeless like of an ancient marble statue. There was the shape of a handsome face, but when he spoke, his face did not move at all.

“That’s… Eesian gear?”

“Yes, sorry if it disturbs you.” He knew that some people felt very uncomfortable around Zerked Eesians – an unexplainable panic. “It will take a few more minutes for you to recover enough – you must hide here while I deal with the ones who are coming. Please, stay down and do not attract any attention. You can look,” he looked around and remembered that she was in a visibly difficult spot – even for himself – there’d be no way the gladiators can see her there, “but stay quiet.”

Not even a full minute later – he was completely gone from the scene.

Two gladiators arrived, running, gaze locked between looking around and eyeballing their signal screens.

“Fuck, it was right here?”

“Oh shit, Tommie is here!” They intend to rush to the dead body lying on the forest rubble, but are stopped by a stealthy ninja – Koi Jr drops himself down from the tree he was hiding in, quietly drops right behind him – he pulls back his right arm, and just as he pushes – a blade appears out from it.

The other guard reacts right as soon as Koi pulls out his blade from the now dropping body. The gladiator panics and starts shooting him from an automatic, only three ping peng pang sounds indicate that’s all that hit the ninja – the three softly bounced off him, the rest of the metallic clacks went up to the trees.

Koi Jr punches the man in the gut, and when he pulls back his hand, once again, a blade disappears and blood splatters.

That gunfire sounded important to any other gladiator that was combing that park at that moment.

“Never mind 4 more, it’s more more. Enjoy the show.”

 

The show smelled, and she was looking from a rather awkward position. But the performance of the man in a super-suit – sickeningly violent, but his control over the field – an unmistakeable upper hand in any situation that the opponent can come up with – he cheesed it.

And for that night – he had not been shy to kill. That evening they had killed his father, and he was just paying his dues.

Elsewhere, too, there was a sort of an uprising happening – a group of houses had united to take out a certain person. These conspiracies had been running for longer than Eysin had lived in Reval. She just ended up being at the right time at the wrong moment – she got shot like a wild dog.

She’d died, yet she was there, watching something she had never seen before – a man with such control over the field that he could stop bullets from flying and raindrops from falling.

She could feel the air vibrate around her when he moved closer – this thing had a radius of about 30 meters. An incredible amount of energy, and what disgusting passion to kill. Now that’s something I can’t see alive. A painful sting hits her, snaps like thunder – right where she had gotten shot. It strikes again, again, again.

Her blood pressure rises, her nose starts dripping blood, she’s careful, not daring to take a breath – because last time the whole ocean collapsed on her when she tried to do that.

She refused to breathe and passed out.

Koi Jr holds her up to a tree, sitting, she can feel a terrible smell. She opens her eyes, and it takes a while for the blur to go out. She can tell the man is now without the mask – his face is visible.

Eysin had seen him before – he was there, showing her the places when she was staying over for a couple of days. The Black Rain – where Andre had taken her to. She notices that the stinging pain peeks growing and shrinking away – but sometimes it grows higher – and it never goes away.

“Are you feeling the stings?”

“Yes, is this because of the gunshot?”

“In a way, can you stand up?”

He helps her stand up, “don’t look that way. Just walk with me, we’re going to the metro station.”

Eysin had come pretty close to it, she thought, recognizing an old rusted street sign. “Why is it stinging so damn much?”

“It’s not the gunshot. I put the marbles on you, it’s trying to grow a framework, testing which ways it can grow.”

“Wait, the marbles? Why would you do that?” Eysin refused to move, she was slightly crouched over, trying to handle the stings, the pain, “what is growing inside me?”

“A framework.” The expression on Koi Jr’s face turned into something surprising. He looked embarrassed, “are you unhappy to be alive?”

“What?” Eysin felt cool, all of a sudden.

“Did you want to die? I wasn’t sure about whether I should intervene, I could have just taken the marbles and gotten out from here. My client is after the marbles, not you.”

“And oh look, now you have a human vessel to carry your damned marbles! Who asked for this?” She motions as if she attempts to feel around her chest if she could somehow remove them. She starts scratching her chest, and Koi has to intervene, hold her still and wait for her panic to pass.

“I’m doing what you asked me 2 years ago – I am getting you out of this city. This is a good opportunity…”

“You’re selling me off like some mule?” She tried to struggle herself loose, but it only made more blood come from her nose – and her head was spinning around, and the pain kept reminding as it came and went, came and went.

“If you make a scene here, more of those gladiators will come…”

“Well, so what, I go with the gladiators – they need the marbles, too!” She’s let go of the lock, she takes a few steps back and looks at the man, accusing him of…

“They shot you!” He yells! “What do you think will happen with you here? You’ll get a hefty fee for being cooperative? They will shoot you again and you won’t be able to handle it much longer. And you won’t be able to handle your current situation for very long, either – we need to get the fuck out from here, and get you some help.”

She dared to turn around and stare into the darkness that was left behind – and she stared into it for 4 and a half minutes. Her box of life was ended somewhere there.

Ended by a sadistic gunshot – the fucker wanted to take in the sight of a dying person.

“It’s not even a balanced choice…” She chuchkles, finally.

“Not if you are unhappy to be alive.”

“It’s not looking good, indeed. But maybe it can get better.”

Followed a few hours escape from the city. And what a sight it was, from a hill further away from the walls – the light pollution formed a colourful dome above the rainy city – and it turned for Eysin into a celebratory light show when the rainclouds got finally replaced by those with thunder.

“I thought these suits were supposed to be silver-white.”
Koi Jr wipes his fingers on his shoulder – a pristine, silver-white layer revealed itself. Eysin realized that he had been covered in black ashes this whole while.

* * *

“So, you’ve missed out two ceremonies, at least! Anyway, nothing difficult here – we’ll all be wearing these robes…”

The long walk, the Zerk ceremony. Eysin felt out of place, seeing all these people around her in robes, in candlelight, the seasoned ones doing all the chanting and dancing, parading their way from the training grounds to the temple up north – a long walk that took up a whole day. But looking at the other beginners, the ones she had known for a month now – they didn’t look any more comfortable with that situation than she did.

But the walk was beautiful. It had turned dark outside by the time she got rotated to the front – and for a moment there, got stunned breathless by what she saw: a long line of large candles lit up on the twisted road framed by pine trees, all the to the temple. A fire flickered through the forest.

By the time the initiates reached the temple, most of the parade had disappeared into the woods. Denea would reveal a day later they simply went drinking and doing other stuff, their part in the initiation was over. Just the initiates remained, and a few older gladiators to walk the lot into the temple and guide them through the seemingly most meaningful part of the ceremony.

First, they enter a narrow corridor with a tall ceiling – and the walls are dusty, but you could tell, these used to be silver-white, as well. There’s moss growing on it, and occasionally other little wild plants have found it a fitting place. At the end of that corridor, they enter a large arena.

As large as a large football arena. This is the Terratorium, a place where battles are simulated – the terrain can be manipulated with the temples controls – and once you’d have the suit fully on (and getting there will take a while) – additionally to the physical terrain being malleable – the Zerk will also augment your vision, hearing and olfactory senses… Sometimes it might even out thoughts in your head.

But right now the Terratorium is set to zero – it’s just a plain cold large hall with a very high domed ceiling – and still following the row of candles – they walk straight through it and reach the heart of the Temple.

A tall but relatively small room, initially you’d guess it’s shaped like a box, but when your eyes get used to the darkness, you’ll see that right above the middle part where there is a large orb, and a narrow pool that surrounds it.

High above the orb and a pool, there is a platform where some of the more senior gladiators have gathered to watch.

This room had looked the same back at Reval, as Eysin recalled – but Reval’s Orb was smaller, roughly the size of a beach ball. This one here, however… A meter and a half in diameter, at least…

The initiates were all made to walk to the edge of the ground until their toes meet the pool – and looking down, it was filled with marbles. Mostly light pink marbles, quite many silver-white ones, occasionally some reds, and coins, and strangely, a few plastic bottle caps.

Eysin knew they get there from the stream behind the temple – a source of water which is called “the temple well” – an unbelievably deep and narrow cave, in stories – dug by the Eesian worm that had started this temple who knows when.

They were reminded to be quiet, and as another chant started, the pool lit up and the Orb became wet, like a fountain, and as water flew through it, silver-white marbles and a few red ones started bubbling to the top of the water.

“You are to take what you need.”

Eysin squats down to take a white marble, and as she picks it up, it turns liquid, and it does not drop off her skin, but finds the pores created by the red marbles new nervous system, and from there enters her body.

The initiates were initially too shy to get excited about it, but once someone did, it as if infected the others, too, and soon the whole small room was filled with giggles and delight.
The ceremony ended with a feast at the large Terratorium hall, at a strangely small table compared to the whole room – simply to drill it into their heads that even though they now have at their possession one of the most intricate battle-suits, they are still small, human, mortal.

The selection of food was heavenly, though. And when the feast ended, the only instructor of the lot who didn’t bother to keep himself anonymous – unmasked – and also, apparently, the tallest of them – unceremonially told that from tomorrow they will be training with them, not the regular sergeants, and the time to get to the battlegrounds right here would be ridiculously early.

* * *

Having fallen spectacularly behind everyone else’s capabilities already during the first week after the ritual – things got even tougher for her. Not only did she end up being the slowest runner and with the least stamina – but she also failed to activate her suit.

While everyone else was already sparring or doing their first Terratorium simulations in suits, she was going without.

There was no point sparring against someone in a suit – so, for another week or so she was left alone to do just the hikes in the Monster Forest and regular strength…

Soon enough, the same incredibly tall Exo who didn’t care to remain anonymous – and he introduced himself as Daegan – would catch up with her and suggest her to try this or that, “maybe that could kickstart the suit”.

One of those ideas was even to go against another suited initiate – thinking maybe fear of getting hopelessly beat up would jumpstart it – but all that happened was Eysin getting beat up by a volunteer who felt rather triumphant after the fact. What a prick.

This is where I quit.

But she didn’t, because Daegan would see her pain and try to coach her while the others were fighting. Focusing, meditating, explaining what he feels when it comes on, when it goes off, trying to describe what it feels like when it is on, how “your vision is completely changed, and your sensations get applied on things you wouldn’t even imagine they could,” but while it all was fun, whatever it was, it didn’t seem to have her progress along and catch up with the others.

Eysin couldn’t move the white inside her framework.

Daegan even wondered if there could be something wrong with her framework if she had accidentally created a faulty framework – and he doubled down on that theory when he found out that Eysin had installed her framework by accident.

The other guess was that the white marble could have been broken somehow… He even asked at least three times if she was sure she had managed to absorb the marble at all. “I mean, maybe it fell back into the water?”

“Maybe we’ll make a bond and I take a look at your framework, just in case… Then we might have to start training from the scratch or… Well, we need to find a way to override it.” As a last resort, he thought – because the bond he was holding at the time was a sentimental one to him, and didn’t want to give it up. “We’ll find someone else who can do it.”

But Daegan liked a mystery, and he enjoyed his power to revive Eysin’s faith in herself, so they didn’t give up. But none changed anything until another Exo chipped in – one of the anonymous ones, someone Daegan described as the best fighter he had seen, after himself, of course – and he came over to them one day when he got tired of coordinating the games.

“Daegan, your turn,” he pointed with his thumb over his shoulder, and Daegan didn’t protest. The anon sat next to Eysin while looking at Daegan go. He, unexpectedly, cracks a sentence that may be a joke, “Daegan doing a shitty job of a cheer-leader, I see…”

Mood unaffected, Eysin only sighs, “I’m so tired of trying this…” She looked at the next match start and felt envy over those who could leap over the white blocks – and wondered what they were seeing – was it a jungle? A desert? An old city? Watching them from above made it look like moving in a zerk was so effortless – you could jump, you could climb, your could punch and take one, and crash to the ground – and it would protect your skin, flesh, and bones, you wouldn’t come out from it bruised or anything. “I’ve been walking and meditating and lifting the bar and reading the descriptions… It’s not cutting it… And it’s starting to bore me. I wish I could be down there.”

“I went in the bare ass a few times. Not fun. You don’t see what you need to see – and they’ll hurt you because they want to win.”

“Not fun… Well, it stopped being fun forever ago.”

“We can spar – for fun – if you want,” the Exo said and nodded towards an empty floor near them, large enough to do what they did back at the forest battlegrounds.

“With this on?” Not again, she thought.

“I can emulate a fair opponent.”

“How can you tell what’s a fair opponent for me…”

“We’ll play, we’ll find out.”

And on the way to the spot they were headed to, Eysin was thinking about needing to override her framework and wondered if that framework is anything like the Temple Blueprints she figured out how to make copies of…

So, in that proceeding fight, which the suited Exo took very playfully, Eysin, with a sneaky tap of her left hand, having readied the Kaestus, her mysterious computer glove – – she managed to copy that Exo’s framework configuration and his personal signature without him knowing anything about it.

So, they played a few more matches and the Exo let her win a few times, and gave her a few slightly painful lessons, too. It seemed to have lifted her mood more than the Exo had expected – he had no idea what she had suddenly gotten so hyped about.

They stayed longer a few hours, somehow the Exo and herself got carried away, learning and teaching some basics of hand-to-hand combat. A very skilled teacher, their learning assumed with laughter.

It had been 3 hours past the time everyone else was having supper.

“I could keep teaching you some more,” the masked teacher said.

“You’re offering to tutor me in this?” She’s pleased, “am I that promising?” She does an awkward laugh – she felt she wasn’t – she was a slow-to-impossible learner. She wondered if the man was asking for something else.

“You are free to decline, of course.”

“Don’t you have guys lined up wanting you to teach that stuff? You’re a really good teacher.”

“Oh, thank you! I haven’t been advertising that I’m giving any lessons, is all. But sure, I have some students.”

“Well, what will I exactly be teaching from you?”

“Control.”

And Eysin knew he meant the kind of control she had seen Koi Jr possess. He didn’t mean violent or even physical control – the teacher did propose to teach her the control of the suit… “I can’t even wear the suit yet… I can’t figure it out.”

“Well, when you do, come find me.”

Oddly motivating. And Eysin did think she had it figured out – even though the method felt unfair, dirty. She’d just stolen someone else’s life work – and she couldn’t wait to get back to the dorms to get to see what it all was about.

* * *

Back at her little sleeping room – and Denea had not returned from whatever she was up to, Eysin spent a long night studying the copied framework configuration. First, she had used the signature to remove from the configuration everything that was native to the Exo – and everything that remained was the nature of the Zerk, the suit.

The mode that the code was written in was certainly similar to what she had seen around the building blocks, but it was more nuanced, and there was so much more to explore.

But if it works for him, why wouldn’t it work for me… Just to adjust our differences in personal signatures – something her computer could calculate with ease – started integrating this copied configuration onto her own framework.

And just when the last bit finished coding, she felt what she had felt when her Kaestus had first awoken…

And that had happened when she had signed the contract with Vinu – and he had noticed that it was there. “Not just a heart, you have a computer, too.” He gave a light tap on her shoulder and that made her body feel very strange and excited – she could feel something moving inside her arm, and when Vinu showed her what this was supposed to become – like a glove in her hand – she could bring it up.

Now that same was happening to her whole body – a great feeling of joy, a sense of invincibility tingling all over her chest, her toes, her scalp – and somehow, as if she had a grasp of her internal system, she could feel it like one can feel the texture of wood with the touch of a hand – but inside – a cold liquid… And just like that – she knew she could bring it to the surface now.

Silver-white liquid appeared on her skin and slowly covered it all. It makes her giggle, laugh, and roll around her bed – she stands up and feels how light she is, she smashes her hand back at the bed rail and doesn’t feel pain, but it left a mark on the bed. She tries to gain more precise control over it and removes the zerk from her right arm – and uses her bare hand to touch the left – the silver-white skin is cold, and smooth, and reminds a mushroom, but if she knocks at it, it’s hard – more than a bark, a stone, like platinum.

The moment she gets over the new, intense physical sensations, she realizes is not using her eyes to see anymore – the zerk mask has been covering her face for all this while – and now she discovered she can see all around – her whole body is picking up light and warmth and all sorts of vibrations, and unless she focuses on one particular area or direction or point, in a strange sense she sees, senses the whole room.

When she moves and things around her come too close different colours alert her and grab her attention so she wouldn’t collide with them. She picks up a pink marble from her table and feels it through the skin of the suit – and in a sense, it’s no different than touching it with her own hands – but once again, it’s lighter… And she gets an urge to throw it… So, she throws it up and catches it again… And observes it through the light. The suit is giving her some kind of cryptic information about the object – one kind if it is motionless, and another when it’s moving in the air…

She also calls up the Kaestus on top of the suit – and it’s fully functional. She gets information about the status of her own suit when she places the computing hand on herself – she can see its information even without closing her eyes…

Well, because under here… My eyes are closed, aren’t they?
Through this strange vision, she also notices that the pink marble stands out more than anything else in her field of vision – it seems to have some sort of a living aura – it’s moving, beams and arcs, tiny and not so, make it look like a sun and a solar storm. She takes it closer to her blank face and sees that at will: more gibberish – untranslatable temple-language… And keeps changing, as if the thing was chattering.

* * *

The very next day she walked in with a cheerier step, but just before she had made it there, something had happened between some of the other initiates, and they were making it ugly.

The Terratorium games hard turned into a kind of a competition between the novices, a select few of them trying to outpace the others – a few of them even had a strange following – cliques had formed, and Eysin realizes she had missed out on all of that. Stepping in, she saw one of those pissing contest participants was the very one who mercilessly beat her up while wearing a suit.

He and another guy were nearly hand-to-hand with each other in the hall – one of them had left the Prick’s team to start his own – and a third novice had to come to break it up.
“You stay here – and we will walk away, okay? We’ll settle this at the match.”

Eysin thought she had seen an opportunity and offered herself to join the prick’s team, but the prick simply laughed at her, reminded her that she can’t even get it up, and walked away.

Daegan had seen all that but didn’t care to intervene. He found those self-serious punks amusing – they had a bunch of those every year. So, he thought it was about time he and the other Exos did a nice run against the novices.

Without any niceties, Daegan now looked at Eysin as she was awkwardly standing at the entrance, and asked, “anything?”

“Actually,” she looked at him and smiled, “yes!”

Daegan smiled, too. “How much?”

“I think I got all of it… Will I… Be feeling this hyped forever?”

“Yes, but you’ll get used to it… But as soon as you forget, you risk becoming a dumbass like that one. Some people mistake confidence and aggression… There’s no time to bring you up to speed today, we were planning a surprise match against them – and we are a-you short, so, to celebrate your first day, you’ll be on the teacher’s side.”

“Don’t mind if I do… But I don’t think I’ll be much help.”

“Don’t you owe that prick some ass-kick?”

“I’m no match…”

“Well sure, maybe not today… But you have a Kaestus… See, none of us here thinks you’ll be a good Zerker – but combine what you could potentially do with the suit and the Kaestus – you could become very difficult to deal with.”

“That’s like Denea…” Denea wasn’t a very good tactician either, but she was well-known in the monthly matches – no one would ever turn her down from a team, and no one wants to get close to her during a match.

“Well, Denea is good in many things, I could say, and sure, she has a Kaestus, but somehow she wasn’t blessed with one as powerful as you. You got it from Reval Temple, yeah?”

“Actually, Andre gave it – I don’t know whether he got it from here or there… And… I don’t think I was supposed to use it.”

“It would never have integrated if it wasn’t meant for you… See, when the Orbs dish out those things, they’ll make it for you. So, every suit, every glove, every weapon ever created, built, evolved – is unique. Your Kaestus is something else, and I imagine if you keep looking into it… You’ll get quite good at control.”

“So why did Andre have something that should belong to me?”

“The orbs works in strange ways – Andre could communicate with them – may be one of them had him send you that package. I am not sure, though – I’ve no idea how the Orb communicates… I do have a Kaestus, too, but – and I can read some things with it – but that’s as far as I go.”

“Where could I learn more about that?”

“Well, the only one I knew with as potent a Kaestus as yours… Are Vinu Laos and his daughter. Andre was the best at it, naturally… There’s also an Exo named Agnes – she’s not here right now, but when she comes back, I’ll tell her to contact you… But you have to forgive me, she’s a little weird…”

“Weird how?”

“Too into alcohol…” And sleeping with men while being married to another. But she has great sides to her, no need to gossip now, is it… “Ah, you’ll get along with her well,” yup, she’s usually very nice and open to other women, I’ve seen.

* * *

The Exo team with Eysin Eysin are moving around the field and swooping out 5 of the 7 newbie teams with ease. Eysin is not doing much, however, she is taking in the augmented version of Terratorium and is pleased to see that whoever built this system has put so much effort into it.

There are butterflies, birds, a simulation of various weathers, seasons, water, dry sand, cool winds, slippery ice – all that achieved through a combination of the Terratorium system, the zerk, and the integrated extra nervous systems… It all looks as real as real life – even though they look more fantastic, the creatures, than one could see on Earth in this time. She’s then informed that there also used to be a guild here, for building those worlds – but for now, they are using the services of Parisian map builders.

“Team Prick is proving to be a little more motivated than expected,” the mask of one of the Exos forms a grin on his simplistic mask-looking face. He’s saying this to Eysin to inform her why they have been standing still for a while. By the voice, it is the same man from yesterday – now trying to see if she could recognize his signature through the air, it indeed all feels familiar.

The 4 Exos surround Eysin, knowing someone is about to come at them, and figure she’d be the first they’d go after, so – they take on the challenge of keeping her in the game, too. “We’ll wipe the floor without any of us getting even a scratch.”

Eysin, done with getting stunned by the environment, now looks at her teammates and sees Daegan fully suited for the first time. He has made his suit a little more interesting than the Exo she had sparred with. And the 2 ladies in the group have also made interesting nooks, horns, strings, and accessories. They have paint on their bodies and faces.

And that’s no normal paint – those are enhancements – colours from the powdered marbles – turned to a special paste – red, green, blue, sometimes just for show, and others can leverage it to boost their ability or avoid control.

Eysin sees one of the ladies is wearing two thin silver-white bracelets. They looked very familiar to her – she’d seen such before but never connected them to Eesian tech. “Hey, what are those?”

“Artifacts, got them from the tournament last year.”

“What’s on them?”

“Guys, quiet…”

A hell of a mess starts and Eysin gets separated from the group for half a minute, but to her, that struggle feels like hours – because, indeed, she has been targetted, and the very prick from earlier is now coming at her fast.

And just when the sparring-Exo gets a sight on their situation, he sees Eysin getting smacked in her face. She flies to kiss the floor, but she doesn’t stay down, and what happens next gets them all on an unusually high alert.

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