Sparring session was a must in the curriculum of every Hunter school. It was the more prominent equivalence of gym class in Human world. Some physically superior students would shine and crush the weaker ones. Some not so gifted would be subjected to humiliation from their peers. Paradise for some, Hell for many others. Still, the majority of young hunters favoured the session with its being the only time when they got to wear armor and wield weapons. After the Red Incident in 1996, the Council had limited the availability of weapons. Adult hunters, apart from those who work for the Unison Force and the local arm forces, could possess only one weapon at most.
The young Hunters of Xixin Institution knew too well that during class like this, there existed four individuals they absolutely must not provoke. Normally, the gap in strength was not very significant, but in some cases, it was overwhelming.
Aria Tansine was one of those. She got 1st place in an international competition a while back, making her name famous worldwide. She was an ace, the arguably best student of the Institution, and definitely among the best of her generation.
As a result, sparring lesson bored her to death, since no one wished to fight her, and the teachers deliberately left her out, lest they would be held responsible for the critical injury of some students. Thus, Aria must spend time doing what she had always hated: gossiping. She sat in the corner of the gymnasium with a group of friends, a few feet away from the arena at the center. Aria constantly shifted her attention from her friends to the shiny wooden floor.
« The Hamilton School is coming to New York this month. » Karen, a boredom-prone girl in the same class with Aria, nonchalantly announced the news to others.
» Hamilton School? That renown school for Summoners? Why? » A girl asked.
» They want to have a friendly competition with our school. »
» Principal Xixin and Principal Hamilton are best friends, and rivals. This is just another occasion for them to compete. » Aria said, her eyes following the swords of other students.
» That’s odd. A Summoner and a Hunter can be best friends? »
« Apparently. This time, Mr. Hamilton will be accompanied by the best of his apprentices. Some are globally famous, like Aria. »
The girls simultaneously glanced at Aria, evaluating her reaction.
» Hey, if it’s true then good for them. I don’t mind. » Aria replied with a shrug.
The glances persisted for a while before the conversation could continue.
« We can expect a big event next month. Many people will be there. It is a fight between Hunters and Summoners after all! I bet the people from the Council will be here too. And maybe, even the Hottie Trinity! The Captains will be here! »
» No way! Really? » The girls asked simultaneously, then start emitting sound they did not know they could make.
» Quiet, you lot! Karen, get your butts up the stage right now! » Their instructor Aidan said. His voice came from a speaker.
» Oops, busted. You girls stay fun. I’m up, » said Karen as she dragged herself towards the stage.
The girls stayed quiet until they knew Aidan had stopped staring.
» Aria, why do you and Hiatus befriend Wander? Is he not like super lame? » A girl asked in low voice.
Aria received the stares of others again.
« He isn’t lame. And there is no reason why. We just want to. » Aria said, frowning.
» Don’t you think it is a little cruel to him? »
« What do you mean? » Aria sighed.
» Well, if I were him, I would definitely be devastated being constantly left behind by my best friends. »
The girls did not stop glancing.
» Wander is not like that. »
« Yeah, I guess. But still that’s a probability. We all know weak ones can do dangerous things. Wander may resort to dangerous methods to get stronger. Worst scenario he may attempt to turn. »
Turn- Demonization- an irreversible process caused by the abuse of Demonic Form- was one of the most abhorrent thing a Hunter could commit. Any Hunter who turned would be sentenced to death, no exception. Demonization was an insult of the highest degree to all Hunters.
» That is not funny. » Aria stressed every word, glared at the girl who just spoke. The terrifying glare made her apologize immediately.
Aria shook her head, trying to rid herself of the words previously said. She believed today would not be any different from yesterday, or the day before that. After school, her two friends and she would either do some group study, hang around the malls or simply watch TV, enjoying themselves.
The conversation strayed to other topics, less personal, less infuriating to Aria. The class elapsed tediously, it was seemingly just another boring day.
It was supposed to be like that, the class ending with no incident. However, that day, the peacefulness was disrupted by a huge sound originating from the other gym stadium. Students and teachers looked at each other in confusion, and seconds later, every person exited the stadium and headed for the source of the commotion.
It was Wander and Jonathan. Aidan forced Wander to spar against the worst opponent ever- his bully, Jonathan Miller. There was blood all over his unconscious body. Hiatus rushed to Wander’s side with a frightening look on his face. Aidan was yelling at Jonathan. Hiatus glared at them both as he ran past them towards the infirmary with Wander in his arms. A trail of blood followed him.
Only Aria and Hiatus were allowed to enter the infirmary. All other students were forced to go back to their classrooms. The whiteness of the infirmary stung Aria’s eyes; she knew nurse Matilda went to great length to keep the place clean. The old nurse kept everything in order: she categorised needles, bandages, pills, blankets by shapes and colors. Principal Xixin greatly favoured her, mostly because she once kicked a room designer he hired out of the infirmary for failing to meet her standard, saving him a great deal of money.
» Will he be alright, Mrs. Matilda? » asked Aria, holding Wander’s hand.
» Yes, he will be okay. Don’t worry. Who or what did this to him? »
« Jonathan Miller. That muscle head used claws on him. » Hiatus replied.
« Miller? That blond kid ? And claws? He can do that already? I swear, kids these day, big muscles. Brain? Not so much. Make me miss the days when that boy Jade protected the school with his bags of candies » said Matilda as she shook her head violently. » I have applied medicine to his wound, it’s going to close soon. May take a while for him to regain consciousness though. »
Aria and Hiatus thanked the nurse and she smiled in return. Apparently wanting to leave the kids alone, she told them she had some business to attend to, then quickly left.
Aria turned to Hiatus. « Why did Mr. Aidan do that? Why did he force Wander to…this? »
« That sadistic garbage just wanted to see his students suffer. » Hiatus clenched his fists. » I tried to talk him out of it, but Wander… he wanted to try. Idiot, he should not have done that. Going against Jonathan. To think that guy can already use claws »
A hunter’s body transformed throughout their life. The stronger they got, they more demon-like they became. They could grow claws or horns, change their eye colour, gain additional arms. No one knew the zenith of a hunter’s demonic form.
» Not the time to be impressed. Wander tried to push himself. Is it not what you want? » Aria almost raised her voice.
» Not like this! Stupidity and effort are 2 different concepts! » Hiatus’s thick eyebrowns compressed.
The room fell into a brief silence, except for the breathing sound of Wander. The smell of disinfectant made Aria drowsy. She stood up and proceeded to close the curtains.
» Hiatus, Wander needs us. Maybe even in the future. We must not abandon him. » Aria said, her hands holding onto the rough fabric. She wondered why she told Hiatus the obvious.
» Of course. But I know what will happen. For now, he will let us help, in the future, he will refuse. There is nothing we can do for him in the long run. »
» We can stay by his side. » Aria averted her eyes from Hiatus.
» That is if we can. With your talent, do you really think you can stay with him at least once a month? You will ace the Penultimate Act and then the Apprentice Trial. Heck, you will become one of the few to get a Demon Arm. Aria, you will not get stuck in this city, you will be out there, to lands you do not even know of. And I? I will…definitely not be here. »
Aria could not find any appropriate answer. She knew Hiatus got a point. Maybe more than a point.
Patience was one of her virtue, but even she sometimes felt lost when it came to Wander. He just could not be any more helpless. It hurt her a lot to admit that her friend lied at the very bottom of the Hunters. Aria felt angry and frustrated, it was as if nature mother decided to savage his genetic traits as much as possible on purpose. She suddenly thought of- the words she heard earlier and wondered if she was indeed cruel.
» What will happen to the three of us? » Aria just blurted out the question.
In return, Hiatus just looked at her with sadness in his eyes. For the first time, Aria doubted her plan.