Haha! Get it? “Guess”? As opposed to “chess”? GET IT!? Hahaha…
*runs away from angry mob leaded by Niax*
Ha…anyways, as promised, here it is: Keepers of Balance: Bonus Episode #2, Arc 1: Learning Curves:
The sun rose over the deep blue ocean on a mid-May morning. The light slowly creeping into the larger than average RV. The light slowly crawled into the black-and-white vehicle, shining brilliantly within the walls.
Oracle winced as the bright orange light caught her eye. She looked up from the paper-scattered coffee table to the windows, frowning slightly.
“Saint enfer, what time is it?” she asked herself, twisting her body to glance up at the wall clock behind her. She saw that it was nearly six o’ clock, shown by the black hands against the white backdrop.
Shaking herself out of a daze, she stood (well, floated, would be more accurate), and drifted towards the computer, waking it from sleep. She immediately noticed that her e-mail notification was lit. She clicked on it, slightly confused, but it was gone as soon as she saw who sent her the e-mails. Quickly scanning the sender and the subject line, she clicked on the second one, bringing up an e-mail from Michael Bee—leader of the Seekers, as well as the Keeper’s main source for anything Keeper-related—and taking note of the four attachments that came with the message.
She glanced at the titles of the attachments before running her virus scanner. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Michael—quite the contrary, she respected him highly. However, she knew that it was better to be safe than sorry. If she caught a virus now, it could halt their progress badly. As the program ran, she read his message, using her telekinesis to manipulate items in the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.
“ ‘Oracle—as well as Ian and Rachael, if they’re reading this as well,
‘I enjoyed the sparring footage this week. Ian and Rachael’s matches are becoming more entertaining—and more fierce—as they improve. I wish we had more about magic and combat, but it’s times like this where I don’t think you guys need it.
‘Not that I’m against going on another ‘treasure hunt’, of course. I can’t wait for August.
‘Speaking of information, I have something that might help the Keepers get used to their abilities and…prepare, I guess, for the battles that are to come. From what you’ve told me, they seem to have found their own methods, as well as created a couple as a jointed effort, but I figured this could help either way. I found it rather interesting, and it gives a little insight as to how the Keeper Order worked.
However, I was unable to find anything about the ‘Awakening Process’—as you called it—for nearly the fifth week in a row…and I say ‘sorry’ for the fifth time. I did, however, receive a pre-expedition report from the dig site in Stalingrad. I attached a document detailing more about the site and the expedition itself, and if you have any advice, I’m all ears.
‘I look forward to you reply, and I’ll talk to you next week.
Oracle finished reading as the program finished scanning the documents, the results showing up very clean. With a small smile, she downloaded them, putting them in a folder for later review.
She turned her attention to the e-mail sitting in the first slot, her eyes widening slightly in surprise when she saw “A. Russ” as the sender’s name. Clicking on it, she read the e-mail silently, not noticing Ian Hawthorne walk from the bathroom to the kitchen, still sleepy faced and wearing his bedclothes (a pair of long, lose-fitting pajama pants only, leaving his chest bare). He didn’t notice the Tech Mage at first either, walking to the pot first to see that the coffee was in, but the water wasn’t poured yet. He turned towards the sitting area to see if Oracle was present and saw that she was reading something, so he decided to pour the water himself. He carefully created a ball of water and slowly let it leak into the machine. He spilled a bit of it on the counter, but it was less than the last time he tried it. He started the machine and walked to the other side of the counter lining the kitchen and sitting areas, sitting on a barstool, and leaning against the marble counter. He watched as she read the e-mail—noting the small smile on her face—and waited until she moved the mouse and did a series of clicks.
“Something interesting?” Ian finally spoke up, catching Oracle’s attention, and causing her to jolt in slight surprise.
“Ugh, God damnit, Ian, didn’t I tell you not to do that?” Oracle asked, shooting a glare at Ian. When her only response was a smirk, she sighed. “Actually, oui. Michael e-mailed me back. He couldn’t find anything on Keeper Awakening, but he did find possible Keeper Order ruins in Stalingrad, a ruined city in Russia.”
Ian frowned thoughtfully, pausing in thought before asking, “Stalingrad? That name sounds familiar…”
“It should: The Battle of Stalingrad took place there. In World War II, Axis forces wanted to seize the city because of its location: it sits almost perfectly in the center of Europe, Africa, and Asia.”
“If they had control of it, they would be able to easily route troops to the west, spreading their control over Europe and Asia, whilst having a pathway to Africa ready for them.” Ian figured, nodding in understanding as the earthy aroma of coffee filled the EVE, chasing away some of the sleepiness in both Tech Mage and Dark Keeper. “But I thought the city was destroyed during World War II? Also, didn’t it go by a different name before that point?”
“Yes and yes,” Oracle answered, floating to the kitchen, levitating pans to the stove as she opened the refrigerator. “It was called Tsaritsyn until Stalin took over shortly before the 1920’s. They were going to change the name after the war ended…but because it was the site of the historically famous Battle of Stalingrad, they decided to keep it the same, leaving the ruins of the city open to public viewing from the outside…but no one’s allowed inside. Until this August, that is.” Oracle finished cheerfully, feeling herself wake up a little bit more as the coffee pot beeped, signaling that it was done. “Michael and his wife seem pretty excited about the trip. So excited, that they seem to be making some sort of date out of it…what do you want for breakfast? I know we have to make a trip into town soon, but we have enough for today, if you guys don’t feel like going into town today.” Oracle asked, and straightening up.
“Don’t worry about making breakfast—I can take care of that: it looks like you’ve been up all night.” Ian said with a small chuckle, getting up from his seat and offering it to the Tech Mage as well as gesturing to the mess of papers on the glass coffee table.
Oracle decided not to argue. She simply nodded as she floated to the other side of the counter and sat, trading places with Ian. As he opened the fridge and started pulling out food, he asked, “What connection does the city have to the Keepers?”
“He didn’t say much in the e-mail itself, but he did send attachments, giving us information on not only that, but training methods the Keeper Order used. I’ll go over them with you two after breakfast…if Rach ever wakes up.” Oracle finished with a small, teasing giggle, making Ian take note of the time.
“We’re just a couple of early-birds,” Ian said as he cracked five eggs (two for Oracle, three for himself) into a sizzling pan, grabbing another pan and some bacon. “You know Rachael—she’s a night owl for sure. I think she was still up when I went to bed.”
“I’m thinking more of a night-cat of sorts, but I get what you’re saying. It’s only seven, anyways. I’m sure she’ll be up soon.”
Not too long after this was said, as the bacon was sizzling happily in the stove, Ian flipping the eggs with caution, the slightly ajar door leading to the rooms opened. A drowsy Rachael Hale clumsily stumbled into the kitchenette. Her hair was loose and bed headed, her black t-shirt and blue pajama shorts slightly wrinkled.
“Good morning, Rachael.” Ian said in a light tone, handing Rachael a cold bottle of Cola as she passed by.
“M-morning…” Rachael murmured sleepily, accepting the bottle with a murmur of thanks as she slumped in the barstool next to Oracle, twisting the cap open and taking a long sip. “How did everyone sleep?” she asked, stretching and feeling her back pop.
“Very well, thank you.” Ian said, shooting her a small smile as he turned off the bacon pan, carefully putting the strips on a plate covered with paper towel.
“Sleep? What sleep?” Oracle asked, laughing a little as Rachael shot her a confused look. “I was simply going over the week’s observations, as well as going over an e-mail Michael sent me.”
Rachael nodded, her look still sleepy despite the caffeine kicking in, her stomach rumbling at the food sitting before her. “I guess that was two of us who didn’t sleep. If I would’ve known that, I would’ve come out here instead. I was starting to feel a touch lonely before I decided to go to bed.”
“Why didn’t you sleep?” Ian asked, handing her and Oracle a plate.
“Oh, no real reason. I just sat down on my bed and realized that yes, I was tired, but I wasn’t sleepy. I tried to ease myself to sleep, but I couldn’t, so I decided to draw instead.” Rachael assured, accepting Ian’s invitation to help herself, grabbing a few good slices of bacon as she selected a few pieces of bread, a small smile musing on her face.
“What did you draw?” Oracle asked, scooping a forkful of egg into her mouth as Ian eyed Rachael warily, getting the feeling than in idea had blossomed in her head.
“Nothing spectacular, mostly sketches. I tried to remember the Awakening Dream I had and tried draw a sketch of that, but…it wouldn’t come to me,” Rachael murmured, turning over a slice in her hands. “Hold on, I want to try something…”
“Oracle, get the fire extinguisher,” Ian told Oracle, moving all flammable items away from the Fire Keeper’s reach. Oracle nodded and levitated the extinguisher to Ian, summoning a small energy shield in front of them both.
Rachael Haile was a pyromaniac—this was obvious. Even before she Awakened as a Fire Keeper—and according to her, even before she started smoking—she always had a lighter in her pocket. If she was bored—or even a little uneasy or nervous—she would take it out and flick it, playing with the flame. If an open candle was available, Ian would catch her playing with the flame and wax, amazed when not even the hottest of waxes would make her cringe. However, after she became a Keeper, it became very common for her to accidentally set something on fire. Thankfully, nothing had been too damaged, mostly because she was so cautious to begin with. However, even if she wasn’t trying to use her powers, the flame would still act as if she was, causing more accidents than intended at times. It became common practice to keep the extinguisher around, even when they were outside. There had also been a few instances when Rachael had accidentally set the bushes on fire, causing need for an extinguisher to be kept outside as well.
Despite her rough start, she had started to improve, and accidents were becoming fewer…but it was better to be cautious, especially since they were in such a small space.
Rachael, however, decided to try to take a different approach. She focused on her hand and her body heat, trying to focus on the Fire Energies flowing through her. She struggled a little, but she felt her hand grow warmer and warmer, small beads of sweat forming on her forehead from her focus. When she felt it was warm enough, she placed the slice of bread on her hand and left it there for a moment.
Ian and Oracle’s confused expressions shifted to impression as Rachael soon flipped the bread over to the other side, revealing it was a light golden-brown. After the other side was done (which was revealed to be slightly darker than the first side), she placed it on her plate and released her focus, panting hard as she felt her hand return to normal.
Oracle lowered the shield and inspected the piece of lightly toasted bread as Ian took a glass and made a small stream of water flow into the glass, handing it to her afterwards.
“May I?” Oracle asked, nodding to Rachael. Rachael took a deep drawl of water before nodding. Oracle cut off a small piece and ate it, chewing it slowly before swallowing it, a small smile growing on her face. “It’s pretty good. I prefer my toast darker, but for a first attempt, it’s not bad.” Oracle complimented, smiling at her.
Curious, Ian accepted a torn piece from Rachael and popped it into his mouth, soon nodding in agreement, adding: “I agree, though I do prefer my pieces lighter, this still isn’t bad. Good job, Rach. We’re you just heating up your hand?” Ian asked, shooting her an impressed smile as he proceeded to fix his own plate and take the stool sitting on Rachael’s right-hand side, smiling a little as he took a bite of his eggs. He felt they were cooked perfectly.
“Yeah, I was.” Rachael said, smiling a little as she though she felt a light warmth cross her cheeks. It was gone before she could linger on it, so she continued, “I wasn’t sure if it would work at first. My hand isn’t black and made of metal, and neither can it glow, so I wasn’t sure of I would be able to get it to toast. I had my hand as hot as I could make it, but it seems I still have a way to go…” Rachael trailed off, nibbling on a piece of bacon.
“Everyone starts somewhere, Rach—including the Original Keepers. They had to start someplace too.” Ian encouraged, watching as the coffee pot, wrapped in a light-blue misty aura, floated to his cup. The coffee poured neatly into his mug. The cream and sugar floated to him as well, landing within an arm’s reach.
Rachael smiled a little and nodded as she continued eating, watching as Ian poured his cream and sugar and stirred, taking a long sip afterwards.
“Besides, I know for a fact that whatever Michael sent us will be useful—it always is.” Oracle said cheerfully as she ate, leaning against the counter casually. Ian, having finished the last of his food, pushed his plate slightly out of the way and did the same, sipping on his coffee, watching as Oracle started levitating items in the partial office. Rachael finished her food shortly after and spun to lean against the counter as well, watching Oracle work her technical magic.
“Breakfast was good. Thanks, Ian.” Rachael said, turning to shoot a small smile at him. Ian smiled back over his cup, as he was taking a drink of coffee at the time.
“You’re welcome,” he said after he finished his drawl, taking a cigarette from behind his ear (hidden as always behind his black hair). He shakily used a shadow tendril to retrieve an ashtray from the cockpit, catching it before the tendril faded and placing it on the counter, smiling a satisfied smile. He looked around for a lighter but stopped when Rachael tapped his shoulder, showing him that there was a small flame at the tip of her left index finger.
“Try not to light me on fire this time, aye?” Ian teased, chuckling as he remembered when Rachael offered last time, she almost set his hair on fire by accident.
Rachael adopted a flat look on her face, a single eyebrow raised.
“Try to actually stay still this time, ja?” She said in an equally flat voice, clearly unamused by Ian’s tease or his light chuckles. He could admit that something did startle him, causing him to jerk and her flame to catch his hair. Panicking slightly, she accidentally summoned a large gust of wind as she moved to warn him, causing him to fall face-first into the water, his feet buried in the wet sand of the shoreline.
“Yes, yes…” Ian complied, his chuckles subsiding. He decided he was done teasing, for now. He stayed carefully still as Rachael brought the small flame to the tip of his cigarette and lit it, puffing slightly to start the flame. He pulled back slightly, signaling that it had lit, and she backed off as well, playing with the flame fondly in between her fingers. Ian watched as she did so, watching the flame reach her palm before she cupped it fondly, smiling softly.
Another idea dawned in his head. He smirked around his cigarette, wondering if he should. He decided it would be amusing to, so he coyly said, “So, theoretically, you could melt something in your hands, depending on what it, and its boiling point is, right?”
Rachael nodded, unaware of his smirk nor his intentions as she finally put out the flame, blowing it out lightly before replying, “Theoretically, yes.”
Ian’s smirk grew slightly wider as he asked, “Theoretically, that means you could melt wax with your hands, correct?”
Rachael heard something odd in his voice and cast a sideways glance at him, raising an eyebrow in suspicion. “Yes, that’s correct…”
“You must be happy about that, huh? Since—as a hobby pyromaniac—you like playing with it, right?”
Rachael’s eyebrow rose slightly higher. “With ‘it’ you mean wax, right? Then yes…yes I like playing with wax.”
As soon as those words left from her mouth, she turned a bright red just as she realized what she had just said, burning redder as she heard Ian’s sniggers (as well as Oracle’s light chuckles).
“Really? You like playing with wax?” Ian paused, allowing chortles of glee to escape. “Well, well, well…I know looks can be deceiving, but I never suspected that you would be into that.”
“If you don’t shut up right now, I will turn you into wax.” Rachael threatened, her eyes narrowing slightly. Her face was now a brilliant red.
Ian, however, took on a smooth smirk and replied smoothly, “Why? So you can play with me too?”
A burning silence remained as he watched with amusement as Rachael’s face turned impossibly redder, her lips shakily stuttering out words that wouldn’t leave her mouth. Ian found it oddly cute as she flustered, fumbling to respond.
“Rach, you’re not going to win this one. Trust me.” Oracle advised, trying to hide her own smile. Her cheeks were slightly more opaque, indicating a light blush, as she patted Rachael on the shoulder.
“I’m going to take a shower,” Ian declared suddenly, standing up and putting out his cigarette, the smile still present on his face. “Briefing afterwards?”
Oracle nodded eagerly, getting up as well (leaving Rachael sitting slightly dazed on the stool) and floating to the computer and tablets.
“I’m updating the software on the tablets, so when that’s done, I’ll copy the attachments to them and I’ll be ready. That’ll take about twenty-five minutes, give or take, so it’ll give me time for a power nap.” Oracle explained after examining them, her fingers gliding across the screen of a couple as she used her telekinesis to control her mouse, clicking and dragging files from one folder to another as she had the system settings open on all three tablets, her eyes darting quicker than Ian or Rachael had ever seen them.
Ian nodded, looking slightly concerned, but was confident that she would be all right after her power nap. “If you say so, lass. I’ll see you then.” Ian said, nodding to Oracle and Rachael before going into the hallway, closing the door slightly behind him.
“He’s been doing that a lot, lately.” Rachael noted, taking a sip of Cola afterwards.
“Pardon?” Oracle asked, turning a curious gaze onto Rachael. Her face wasn’t red anymore, but she did notice her cheeks were still a light pink.
“Saying things such as ‘aye’ and ‘lass’. I’ve caught him doing it before, but I’ve always wondered: has he always talked like this?” Rachael asked, her head tilting slightly in questioning.
Oracle thought for a moment, humming slightly before replying, “…Sort of. He’s always had a special connection to the Celtic culture—particularly Scottish. It grew when I told him that his last name came from Scottish descent. He has an odd combination going for him—Caucasian, Scottish, and Asian. And I’m still not sure which part of Asia part of line could be from.”
“Well, one of his parents is Asian, or rather has to be…right?” Rachael asked, standing up to clear the dishes.
“His mother, actually. Before I left with him, I dug up information on him—I did the same to you, so don’t feel left out—and found out his mother was adopted by a white family here in America.”
“So…did you get her adoption records?” Rachael asked. She felt slightly guilty for prying, but she was highly curious.
“Well…even the records didn’t say. According to the paperwork, she was found, abandoned, at a hospital in Oregon. No one saw anyone leave her, and no one could identify her, meaning that no one came forward to claim her, either. She was put into a foster home and was adopted into a well-off family as a toddler. I guess after that, neither they nor she ever bothered to try to figure out where exactly from Asia she came from.” Oracle finished thoughtfully, frowning slightly.
“Was she even from Asia, or was she simply of Asian descent?” Rachael inquired, piling the dishes and rinsing them off, blowing strands from her face on occasion.
“She was heavily suspected to be directly from Asia, as she had never been directly in the system before, and police from a nearby city remembered being called to a small, run-down home to settle a domestic dispute between a young Asian couple.” Oracle paused as she used her telekinesis to lift strands of Rachael’s hair from her face and held it in place with a band of energy, earning a nod of thanks from Rachael. “Before they could call in to ask for reinforcements, as well as a translator to try to mediate between the two, the man pulled a gun from the back of his belt and began firing wildly, wounding two of the four officers, and killing one of them.
“The woman reportedly screamed in terror as she reached into the nearby high-chair, grabbed her very young daughter, and fled from the house, screaming hysterically as she hastily clicked her daughter into the car seat and scrambled into the car before screeching off into the night. Because the only officer left had to take out the man, he couldn’t catch the woman, and thus a search began for her and her child, issuing an Amber Alert. Obviously, they never found her or her child.”
“Until her child ended up outside a hospital in a nearby city. She abandoned her only daughter?” Rachael asked, a dark look crossing her face.
“It’s believed she did. The woman was never seen nor heard from again. Not everyone has loving mothers—no matter who they may be.” Oracle said, wishing she hadn’t when she noticed Rachael’s look turn sad.
Oracle internally cursed herself, thinking back to a couple months prior. She floated over to Rachael and pulled her into a hug, trapping her arms slightly, forcing her to pause her dishwashing.
“I’m sorry…I guess I said the wrong thing. I didn’t mean to reopen old wounds.”
“No, no, you said nothing wrong.” Rachael replied, her tone sounding odd to her and Oracle. “I…I shouldn’t be comparing my situation to someone else’s…that’s not fair to anyone.” Rachael murmured, her look lowering to the soapy dishes in the sink.
“Non, it’s not. The best thing to do here would be to stop doing it to yourself. She got over it—she moved on to get married and have two kids. You will move on someday as well.” Oracle encouraged, giving her a light squeeze before letting go (Rachael could never figure out how Oracle’s mist-blue energy felt like real skin to the touch).
Rachael nodded, turning her head to send a small smile to Oracle, feeling slightly comforted, saying “Thanks…I’m becoming surer of that, myself.”
Oracle simply smiled as she floated back to the computers, resuming her work as Rachael finished the dishes, placing the last one on the rack and drying her hands.
“I’m going to get dressed and freshen up after Ian gets out of the bathroom. Thanks again.” Rachael said, getting Oracle’s attention as she cracked her knuckles, her hands slightly pruned.
Oracle smiled and nodded, dismissing the band of energy that held her hair in place, allowing it to spring everywhere once more.
“You’re welcome. I’ll see you then, okay?”
Rachael nodded, casting a final smile a she turned and headed for the door, closing it softly behind her.
Oracle turned back to the computer and began uploading and installing the updates to the tablets. Once the process started, she returned to her e-mail, her eyes scanning the e-mail from the Mister A. Russ. A small smile found its way onto her face as she clicked “Reply” and began typing, murmuring softly to herself as she composed her reply.
“ ‘Dear Alex,
“ ‘Thanks for your e-mail. I was a little surprised to get your reply, to be honest. Not that I’m not glad to hear from you. I hope you’re doing well, as we’re doing okay.
“ ‘Oh, and I have fantastic news: Ian and Rachael Awakened a few weeks ago! They’re now Full Keepers, and they can use magic and everything! I’m going to send you a few videos of them sparring, and I want to tell you more about what’s been going on since then…’”
After nearly an hour later, Ian and Rachael—now fully dressed and awake—sat out in the living room, the former sitting on the couch whilst the latter chose the deep blue armchair, curling up comfortably. Oracle handed out the tablets as she worked to synchronize the screen of her own tablet to the largest computer screen, listening as Ian and Rachael idly chatted, the former sitting on the end of the couch closest to the latter. Oracle couldn’t help but smile a little.
“All right, class, time to pay attention.” Oracle chastised teasingly, earning playful glares from both Ian and Rachael (the latter sticking out her tongue for a few moments in a way both Ian and Oracle couldn’t help but find cute). “If you noisy kids would pipe down for a moment, we might actually learn something today, da?”
“Well, we might still be able to learn something, if the teacher would hurry up and get on with the actual teaching, ja?” Rachael quipped, a smirk of her own forming as Ian laughed, giving her a fist bump a moment after as Oracle simply shook her head, failing to hide a smile.
“I know there’s no winning for me here, so I’m just going to move on.” Oracle sighed lightly, giving them a final smile as she turned to the screens, her fingers gliding gently on her tablet. “The file folder is already open for you guys, so just tap on these first two documents, first. Those will really peak your interests.”
Ian and Rachael did so as Oracle did the same on her tablet, a document opening on the main screen with the title: “Training in the Keeper Order: Theories and Possibilities”
“Obviously, these are just theories and speculation collected from scraps of evidence that survived over time, and thus should still be taken with a grain of salt. However, according to Michael, these are texts translated directly from surviving tomes and the like.” Oracle explained, observing the nods on the Keeper’s faces.
“Now, there’s a lot to cover, as according to him, the requirements for Awakening as a Keeper were also important areas of training, each split into two sub-categories…and they’re no small subjects, either.” Oracle paused, scrolling down the document a little, Ian and Rachael reading from their own tablets.
“The First Requirement is Physical, and it’s split into two sub-categories—Movement and Conditioning. The Second Requirement is Mental, split into Knowledge and Tactics. The Third—and final—Requirement is Metaphysical. This one they had trouble understanding, due to its vague nature. The Original Keeper Order wasn’t sure how to about it either, as Natural Energy has—and always will—work in mysterious ways. It’s been said to relate to how much will you had in you or something like that. Its split into two as well: Practice and Connecting. Any question so far?” Oracle asked, looking from Ian and Rachael, waiting for a response.
Both were silent for a time, both mulling over the information.
“Well…what about the categories? Does he go into detail about them?” Ian asked, his eyebrows furrowing in confusion, leaning back in thought.
“That’s the second document. The categories of the Requirements are quite large and expansive, so to go into further detail, he put it in a separate document. I’ll gloss over them now, then expound if you two have questions, fair enough? Don’t want to be inside all day, now do we?” Oracle asked, taking a look outside, prompting Ian and Rachael to do the same.
Ian turned back to Oracle and nodded, opening the second document as Oracle cleared her throat.
“For Physical, they have Movement and Conditioning. Though on the surface, they might mean the same thing. They don’t. Movement referred to not only combat and athletics, but general physical conditioning and exercises. Sparring matches were most likely very common with the Original Keepers, much like how it is becoming for you two.” Oracle noted, nodding towards the duo as she continued, “Conditioning refers to getting your physical body used to the elements you’re housing. Michael also includes a list of elements and how Keepers housing that element would condition their body to handle the strain. With me so far?”
Rachael and Ian nodded, prompting Oracle to move on.
“Mental has Knowledge and Tactics. Knowledge is possibly the largest category, as it includes many topics, such as Energy Reading, Light and Darkness, as well as the other elements. It even covers seasonal and celestial events, and how it can influence the Natural Energy of the Five Realms…and in turn, influence a Keeper’s work and connection with the Leylines.
“Tactical is a bit smaller, but still includes a nice variety, with not only reading the battlefield included, but also reading other people. It includes social skills, and recommended social behavior, rumored to be sorted by what scenario a Keeper, Seeker, or Scout, were to find themselves in. This section also covers the use of physical items to dispel negative energy, making it possibly the largest topic covered.”
“So, not just stones, but other items, such as pendulums and prayer beads, could be used?” Rachael asked, raising an eyebrow.
Oracle nodded. “I believe so. Not just stones, but religious token and artifacts…The tome they translated this from doesn’t go into detail, but it was said that there were—and maybe still are—items of power out there that held a strong connection with the Leylines and the Realms as a whole. A couple of them were said to be dangerous. But I think as long as you put the power, will, and intent behind it, whatever you use will work just as fine…though, nothing beats metal spiked spinning wheels of fire and doom.” Oracle finished with a smile.
Rachael paused, thinking it over for a moment before nodding and leaning back in the chair, prompting Oracle to continue once more.
“Okay, last but not least—Metaphysical. It has Practice and Connecting. Practice refers to the training of how to control your elements. It also teaches how to connect to the energies around you, and to manipulate the energies around you, as well as create your own that take shape in your elements. It also goes a little into which elements help and hurt each other the most—though mostly covered in the Knowledge section—and even teaches how to channel your energies through not only your Keeper Weapon, but possibly anything you choose to use as a weapon.”
“Make sense they would have a section on that…I bet I’m not the only Fire Keeper who has nearly burned down their home nearly four times in the span of a couple weeks.” Rachael joked, laughing slightly as she wondered what it looked like when a very novice Fire Keeper had a slight jolt and lost control of their flame.
Hopefully not causing too much permanent damage…Rachael thought, smiling a little as Oracle scrolled down, revealing the final section.
“Finally, we have Connecting. Training on how to connect with your elements on a more intimate way—meaning on a mental and metaphysical base. This is mostly on meditation, as well as other grounding techniques. It also gives encouragement on using your personal faiths and beliefs as sources of personal power, reigniting your will and pulling you through the rest of the fight. It also teaches how to control your emotions—when to separate them from your power, and when to make it fuel for the fire.”
“Emotions can be used as power?” Ian asked skeptically, a skeptical look crossing his face.
“Actually, if you think about it, it makes sense.” Rachael interjected, making Ian and Oracle’s gazes turn to her. “Ian, remember what happened after I accidentally set your hair on fire?”
“You moved to warn me, but accidentally caused a gust of wind to knock me off balance. Because I was practicing with sand and letting myself get a better feel for it, I had my feet buried in it. I wobbled back and forth before falling face first into the ocean. Thanks for catching me, by the way. That saltwater stung.” Ian muttered, shooting a small glare at Rachael. Rachael simply shot back a teasing (and slightly apologetic) smirk before returning to her point.
“Where was I…Oh, yes. I’m thinking that my panic caused my energy to spike, catching a gust of wind near perfectly and accidentally putting it under my control. In addition, I’ll admit: I thought about blowing it out with wind, but I was afraid that your hair would burn more. Between my panic and my first thought to use wind, I think that’s what caused the wind gust.” Rachael finished, taking a sip from her Cola bottle afterwards.
“Another good way to put it is when someone gets very angry, or falls very deeply into despair…”
“…Or when someone’s life is on the line and is now just fighting for survival.” Ian finished, nodding in affirmation, noticing Rachael move from the armchair to the couch. He scooted over to give her room to sit comfortably before continuing, “Okay, I can admit that it makes sense. Is there anything else?”
“That’s it, really. Let’s gloss over the last attachment really quick before I let you two go,” Oracle said cheerfully as she pulled up said attachment, opening a folder that contained two things. One of them was, of course, a document, and the other was a sub-folder of pictures.
“Let’s just do the document for now. The pictures folder isn’t that filled, and Michael said he and Alyssa would send pictures from Stalingrad while they’re there.” Oracle said, opening the document itself. “To give a brief summary, Stalingrad was eyed by the Germans during the war for its central position between Europe, Asia, and Africa. They tried to seize the city, but failed due to an operation pulled by the Allied Forces to cut off their resources via the water. The Axis Armies that were raiding the city surrendered five months later.
“Before the operation launched, German soldiers were raiding a library…where they stumbled upon another library—a hidden library. All the text found there were written in an odd code, and no one could translate it. It reached the ears of Hitler himself, and he gave the order to destroy the library.”
“I have a feeling they weren’t very successful…” Rachael murmured, taking a sip of Cola afterwards.
“They weren’t. When they tried, the room shut itself, locking half of the demolition crew inside, with disembodied voices threatening the soldiers—both inside and outside—to leave the room alone, else they would be destroyed in turn. The room opened, and the soldiers fled. The room was sealed shortly afterwards, the Axis Armies deciding to deal with it after they won.”
“They didn’t win, as history tells us, and the Allies won five months later.” Ian finished, nodding slightly. “So, Michael’s taking a field trip to a historic war site, huh?”
“Well…sort of. He did use the word ‘ruins’ for a reason. It was destroyed by three unknown fighter jets crashing into the city. Most of the city was destroyed…including the library, many believe.”
“Why couldn’t anyone identify the jets that dove in?” Rachael asked, sounding incredulous.
“Eye witnesses claimed that they came almost out of nowhere, and streaked through the sky too fast before diving into the city. Everyone who was outside of the city was safe, but the few who remained inside the city did not survive. The library was burned to the ground, and it was uncertain if the hidden library even survived the attack,” Oracle finished, putting down her tablet and cracking her knuckles. “But that uncertainty will be removed come August or so. I’m going to let you two go: I’ve deposited enough exposition for now. If you guys need anything, just call.” Oracle finished, tapping the side of her head playfully as she evaporated into her Orb, leaving Ian ad Rachael in a thoughtful silence.
“Well, I guess we got a bit of a history lesson, as well as something to look forward to.” Ian said, smiling a little as he stood up and stretched. “What are you going to do today, Rach?” he asked, turning to her suddenly.
Rachael paused, realizing that she hadn’t thought of it until that moment. “Oh…well…I was thinking of going outside to the fire pit and connecting with Fire for a bit. Taking Oracle’s advice in mind, I think I can gain better control of it.” Rachael finally answered, pausing to scratch her neck before looking up at Ian, an inquisitive gleam in her eyes. “Why do you ask?”
“Spending time outside is definitely a must for me,” Ian replied, smiling slightly. “It’s supposed to be hot out today, too, so I’ll mostly be in the water today. I’ll save meditation for this evening. But I asked because I was hoping to get a chess match or two in with you today.”
Rachael paused before looking away slightly, her hands nervously wringing together. “If you’d like, but I’m not very good…”
“You did just fine the first time we played—and that was a few weeks ago, right before our Awakening Dreams. I want to play at least two games with you: one now, and one later this evening. Sounds fair?”
Rachael paused before finally nodding, replying nervously “Alright, I’ll humor you. You know where the chessboard is.”
“That’s because you’re sitting on it.” Ian said with a slight smirk, nodding towards the cushion she was occupying.
Rachael’s response was simply a playful glare as she moved, allowing Ian to remove the cushion, revealing the cubby built inside of it. As Rachael drained the rest of her Cola and went to grab another one, Ian took out the board and set it up, grabbing a small fold-up chair and setting it up on the opposite side of the coffee table. When she returned, he offered her the couch, taking the chair for himself.
“You can move whenever you’re ready.” Ian said, breaking the small pause that had formed between them.
Rachael nodded, her eyes scanning the board nervously. Ian waited patiently as she looked at her pieces. He casually lit a cigarette and used a shadow tendril to shakily bring the ashtray to him, watching as Rachael moved a white pawn two spaces forward.
Ian immediately responded by pushing a Knight forward, watching as she moved another Pawn. Nine moves went by before Ian claimed his first victim: a Knight that was right in range of his own Black Knight.
Lips pursed in frustration, she moved her Bishop to a spot where it could move easily, leading to the next few moves being mostly defensive on both parts. Ian decided to be more aggressive by taking a Pawn, moving his near-literal line of attack forward.
Scrambling slightly, Rachael moved to try to stall Ian’s attack, finally unleashing her Queen from her spot and taking a Pawn, and gaining a slight vantage point for her to move from.
However, Ian saw that more as an opportunity. A couple of moves later, he moved in with his Knight, capturing the Pawn that guarded the King, effectively putting her in Check.
Rachael moved her King a space forward, forcing him to withdraw. A few moves went by before Rachael took a Knight, causing her to force him to go on the aggressive. For nearly six moves, the pair dogged each other, each side losing a piece during every move, the flurry coming to a temporary halt when Ian’s Black Queen captured Rachael’s White Bishop, putting her King in Check once more. Again, Rachael solved it quickly by moving her King out of the Queen’s reach, but found herself in Check again nearly ten moves later, forcing her to divert her attention from stonewalling Ian’s attack. From that point on, Ian slowly washed away Rachael’s defense, leading to a Checkmate nearly eighteen moves later, ending a chaotic, yet intense, fifty-eight move game.
“That was pretty good. You tripped me up a few times, especially with that assault. However…may I offer some advice?” Ian asked, making sure to keep his tone light.
Rachael nodded, the nervous gleam back in her eyes. “Sure. What did you think?”
Ian paused a little, putting the words together carefully in his head.
“Well…I will admit you’re getting better at spotting threats and moving in to prevent them. You seemed to have a decent grip on the board as a whole. Other than that, however, your moves felt very…chaotic.”
“Understandable, as I was getting flustered at some points.” Rachael admitted.
“You’re also very good at stalling, as you did manage to stonewall me for the majority of the match. Really? Stonewalling an Earth Keeper?” Ian commented with a smirk, earning a small glare from Rachael. “More so, you were stonewalling yourself as well. Still an impressive attempt. And, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting you to hold me off like that for as long as you did.”
Rachael tilted her head slightly. “Really?”
Ian nodded, his eyes scanning what was left of the board. “The first time you played, it seemed very obvious to me that you were a novice—and an aggressive one at that. No offence, just telling you what I observed.” Ian added quickly, slightly concerned he offended her with his statement.
Rachael simply shrugged lightly, smiling a little as she replied, “Just noting your observations. Continue on.”
“However, this time around, you were much more keen of my traps, and even made a few moves that forced me to stop and rethink my next move…as well as the next four after that, because I usually plan five moves ahead.” Ian continued with a small smile, standing up and stretching, causing Rachael to get the urge to do the same.
“Well, to be fair, that was the first game I have played in years, with someone other than my dad, no less.” Rachael pointed out as she moved from her spot, helping Ian clear away the table before moving outside, feeling the hot air bombard them as soon as they left the cooled interior of the EVE. “I knew you were probably expecting me to rise to whatever bait you put forth, so I tried to move differently. I guess, in a way, it worked.”
“It did: I had to avalanche my way through the side.” Ian sighed lightly as his feet sunk slightly into the warm sand, focusing for a slight moment to initiate a metaphysical link with the ground-up rock beneath him.
Ian nearly missed the slight frown that crossed her face, her eyes becoming slightly downcast when she thought he wasn’t looking. For a small second, Ian felt the slight sting of disappointment cross the air and paused slightly, trying to think of something to say.
“Actually…I was planning on ending the game in thirty moves or so, taking into consideration backup plans and strategies…but because you successfully stonewalled me and created a strong defense, the game lasted longer than expected by about twenty moves or so.” Ian admitted coyly, picking up a handful of sand and cupping it in his hands.
Rachael looked at him, an eyebrow raised skeptically. “Really? Is…is that good?”
“Considering our last game lasted around thirty moves or so, I saw the chance of this game lasting about the same. This is also taking into consideration that you played pretty well last time, too. So, aye. Aye, this is a very good thing, because it shows that not only are you improving, but you’re a pretty quick learner as well.” Ian finished, watching the sand trickle in between his fingers, watching the wind carry the small grains away.
Rachael paused, zoning out slightly as she reflected on the thought. She wasn’t sure which was more foreign to her: the fact that she had indeed improved on something she once thought herself inept at…or the simple fact that it was being noticed, for once.
Ian blinked, confused at first when she didn’t respond. “Rachael? Rach, are you okay?” Ian asked, becoming mildly concerned before he realized that she was gone with the winds of her thoughts—something that he hadn’t seen before, and wasn’t sure if she noticed. He paused as he walked around her, considering what to do with the lost-in-thought Keeper. An idea formed in his head, and he paused, wondering if he should risk it. Deciding, again, it would be amusing in the end, he turned and walked to the shore, wetting his feet as he stooped down, dipping his hands in the water.
Taking a deep breath, he kept his hands still as he felt the cool water envelope his skin, feeling his energy seep into the water and graze against his own. Feeling the connection solidify, he focused on forming the water into a large, unstable sphere, droplets falling from the bottom as he carefully lifted it from the water. Holding it carefully parallel to his chest, he slowly stood and turned to Rachael, who was still lost in thought. Keeping his steps firm to keep the water sphere from dissolving, he quietly walked over to her and slowly levitated the sphere of water above her, stopping just before her head. He tried to solidify the sphere more, hoping to not alert her with the dripping water. When he failed to do so, he decided to do it as swiftly as possible, opting to move from her range quickly. After taking a deep breath and shifting his feet slightly, he swiftly levitated the sphere over her head and released his control on the water, sending it falling directly towards her head.
However, for the umpteenth time that day she did something he completely didn’t expect.
She snapped back into focus the moment after the water left his control and reacted with a blast of air from her palm. Even though her palm didn’t meet his body (it came pretty close, though), the blast of air alone sent him flying backwards towards the shoreline, sending him straight into the water.
Rachael shivered and shuddered as the cold water hit her, a yelp escaping her as she immediately shed the blue t-shirt she was wearing, revealing her white camisole to be almost as soaked. She removed her hair clip from her now-wet hair and shook her entire body, shaking as much water as she could off her.
Ian coughed as he rose out of the water, wondering how in the hell he managed to land face first in the water in the first place, shaking the excess water from his head.
“You are such a Goddess be damned dick!!”
Ian heard Rachael’s shout and looked up, able to see that she was red in the face with a combination of embarrassment and fury, her hair and clothes flat and waterlogged.
“What?” Ian asked coyly as he sloshed his way back to shore, his clothes completely soaked as Rachael marched up to the shoreline to greet him, visibly fuming.
“Don’t what me, you cazzo imbroglione!” Rachael snapped, her anger feeding her fluster as Ian simply retained a cool smile that was nearly a smirk, casually taking off his soaked shirt and wringing it out, feeling some cool drips of water splash on his chest. “You could’ve at least said something-!”
“I tried that.” Ian replied lightly, the near smirk still present as he dipped it into the cool water once more, rinsing it off. “You were so far up in the clouds, I was scared you floated to the Moon, or something. So, I decided physically shaking you out of it was the only option.”
“Uh, ja, I get that, but you could’ve done anything else except for soaking me in cold ass water!” Rachael shot back, his cool demeanor infuriating her more than his argument.
“Actually, I couldn’t use another method, and I actually have a very good reason as to why.” Ian replied, his look turning serious as he suddenly turned to her, his wet shirt draped over his shoulders.
Rachael stammered for a moment, caught off guard by his sudden seriousness.
“W-why?” she asked, cursing herself for stalling. Ian’s dual-colored eyes still caught her off guard some days, despite seeing them every day for a little over two months, now. When they intensified—mostly when he was either angry or heavily focused—his colors stood out even more against each other than they already did, giving them an odd, almost mythical look. As someone who forced herself to look her customers in the eye for nearly ten hours a day, five days a week, she has seen all sorts of eye types and colors—some more vibrant than others.
Despite her years working there and looking strangers in the eye, she had never seen a pair like Ian’s before, and the pure vibrancy of the colors always caught, and held, her attention.
The moment lagged, the warm breeze picking up to a slightly brisker wind, the water washing up gently on the shore in response.
“Because…” Ian started, breaking the silence, his face still stoic. However, before she could ask why again, his face broke into his lofty smirk as he finished, “It was the option that amused me the most, and I wanted to see your reaction.”
Rachael froze, processing Ian’s answer as he regained his lofty and casual air, his smirk wider as he waited.
“So…did it amuse you?” Rachael asked, her face hidden by her half-dry hair.
“Why yes—yes it did. Why do you ask?” Ian asked teasingly, the oddly even, yet low tone the Keeper spoke with going unnoticed by the Dark Keeper.
This turned out to be a mistake, as his answer was another air-charged palm strike. Except this time, her palm connected with something solid. Not his chest, but a rapidly formed sand wall blocked her blow. However, the fierce blast of the air blew apart the wall, sending Ian skidding back into the water, laughing as he fell backwards into the water. Rachael threw a final insult in Italian his way before turning on her heel and storming off to the cliff, her face red and flustered once more.
Still chuckling, Ian sat up and simply sat in the water, thankful that he had decided to simply put on his swimming trunks earlier than later as he watched Rachael storm off to the cliff. She looked up at the top for a moment before she sunk low onto her knees. Ian watched as she jumped off the ground hard, shakily catching a wind current to carry her to the stop, stumbling slightly on her landing.
Ian turned his attention down to the water, his mind turning to the water, as he decided to wade out deeper, the cool water meeting his wait before deciding to stop.
Okay…just don’t open your eyes, just like how you did last week. Ian reminded himself with a grimace, stretching his arms. He bounced lightly in place as he took deep breaths, taking in a final, large breath before diving into the water, his arms outstretched, streaming into the water smoothly.
Swimming wasn’t something he did often, when he was a kid. If it wasn’t for one of his past companions—she left to take care of a family member who was recently Corrupted—he probably would have never learned how to swim in the first place. It felt like a completely different world down there, the water surrounding him, pressing against him, comparing to the weightless feeling of oxygen.
Ian couldn’t see, but that didn’t stop him from reaching out to the Natural Energies that he was immersed in. In a way, it was better than seeing, as he could almost make out what was down there better than if he could see.
After a few moments, his lungs started to crave oxygen, marking his decision to surface. He took several deep breaths as he carefully wiped the water from his face and eyes, relieved when they didn’t sting due to the salt water.
When the water cleared, the faint smell of smoke caught his attention, turning his gaze to the cliff. A light cloud of smoke was barely visible, emitting from a decent-sized fire in a temporary fire pit. Rachael’s back was facing Ian, so he couldn’t see what she was doing, but he was almost certain that she was coating her hands in it, testing her connection and conditioning her body. Ian smiled a little before turning back to the water, taking a final look at the sky before taking a deep breath, and diving once more into the world below.
Lunch was spent inside in a lazy stupor, as the temperature and humidity skyrocketed, driving the two Novice Keepers inside. Because of the slight scarcity of food—and the lazy atmosphere the heat brought with it—lunch was more of a grazing process, as the three spent the majority of the afternoon in the living area of the EVE, keeping themselves occupied with small tasks and hobbies, light interaction occurring between them.
Early evening rolled around lazily, with Oracle deciding to retreat back into the Interface once more, and the Keepers opting to spend time outside once more.
Once outside, the two separated, Ian wanting to meditate atop the cliff and Rachael opting to stay on the ground to practice with her spiked wheels. Agreeing to meet inside shortly before twilight, they parted, Ian walking to the base of the cliff.
Rachael—after glancing over her shoulder for a brief moment to see Ian start to climb it—unzipped a light, short-sleeved jacket she had on and tossed it aside, feeling the breeze caress her skin. After stretching herself out, she took a deep breath and extended an arm out in front of her, holding her hand out as she focused. She felt hot air swirl around her hand and held it there for a moment, taking another deep breath before snapping her fingers, creating a spark that caught the hot air, engulfing her hand in swirling flames.
She steeled her focus once more before gathering the Light around and within her, the fire burning brighter before it dispersed, a lethally spiked metal ring taking its place.
Rachael manipulated an air current around her hand to gently spin around the chakram, causing it to hover and float gently by her palm, spinning gently.
She watched the four metal spikes gleam in the evening sun for a moment before closing her fingers firmly around one of the gaps that served as the handles. She looked down at it, the shining blue, red, and silver flickering on her glasses as she looked it over.
She looked at her unoccupied hand before repeating the summoning process, her other chakram appearing just as deadly in her non-dominant hand.
She racked her brain hard, trying to recall how the character moved, remembering his similar weapons.
I need a target. Rachael thought, frowning slightly as she looked towards the horizon. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to build one in time…
A small tremor in the ground made her shout slightly as she stumbled backwards out of range, startled. Three small pillars of hardened sand rose shakily a few feet from her, coming shakily to a stop a half a foot above her head.
After the pillars stopped, Rachael cautiously walked around the trio of pillars, stopping back in her original spot in front of the trio. Pursing her lips playfully, she looked back up to the top of the cliff, seeing Ian casually floating small rocks around him, acting as if he hadn’t done anything to begin with—as if he was innocent this whole time.
“And the word of the day just became painfully obvious to me.” Rachael muttered sarcastically as she turned back to the pillars, spinning the wheels once on her hands as they caught ablaze again, her hands and lowers arms becoming comfortably engulfed in the warm flames.
“After all…practice makes perfect~”
Dusk settled onto the beach, prompting the Keepers to head inside…after figuring out what to do with the new glass pieces Rachael had made.
They stared, puzzled, at the glass pillars, all three cracked and looking like a single touch would cause them to shatter.
“Well…the only thing I can think of is to either grind them up, or try to melt them back down…both of which are unsafe to do on a sandy surface,” Ian suggested after a pregnant pause, casting a nervous glance towards Rachael—who was looking so frazzled that her hair had started to frizz up slightly.
“…But…” Ian continued, finally letting out a long sigh. “…We can tackle this tomorrow. Maybe Oracle might be able to help us: she can make her energy solid, after all.”
This seemed to assure Rachael as she nodded, sighing lightly herself as she followed Ian inside, closing the doors behind them.
“Oracle seems to be asleep.” Ian noted, blinking his eyes slightly, his eyes adjusting rapidly to the dark room.
Rachael—who had an odd ability to see well in the dark—nodded and carefully navigated to the kitchen, giving Ian a warning before flicking the lights on, giving better light to their surroundings.
“I believe you still owe me a chess match,” Ian reminded teasingly, as Rachael straightened up from the fridge, twisting open a bottle of Cola.
Rachael smiled a little and nodded slightly as she walked over, pulling the stool over for herself as Ian set up the board, settling on the couch this time around.
“Now, before we begin,” Ian started, spinning the board so the white side belonged to Rachael once more. “I want to give you a small piece of advice that might actually help you this time around…may I?”
Rachael simply smiled and nodded, signaling that she was listening.
“A little tip that might help you out: your first four moves are the most important moves you can make. Those can free up important pieces you want to use later on, aye?”
Rachael doesn’t reply for a moment, going over the words in her head before nodding, turning a thoughtful gaze to the chessboard, her eyes whizzing around the board. She aimed to try for some sort of strategy—something else than the chaotic movement she usually exhibited.
Ian waited patiently for his partner to move, taking out a cigarette and lighting it. He wasn’t showing it, but he was heavily anticipating her move, and looking forward to the game in general.
Finally, Rachael slowly pushed a Pawn exactly two spaces forward, Ian replying immediately with moving his own Pawn, deciding to take his own advice.
The first eight moves of the game all consisted of Pawns pushed either one or two spaces forward.
Ian became slightly suspicious. He decided to break the chain by moving a Knight on the ninth turn, frowning slightly. It was hard for him to tell so early in the game, but he wondered if she was trying to force him through the sides or through the middle. Despite his uncertainty, he decided to try to storm in once more, deciding to try to force his was through wherever she wasn’t defending.
The tenth move arrives with the walls of Pawns moved from both sides, leaving major pieces free to move. Rachael carefully left paths for the pieces, making sure she was covered from both a close and long ranged threat.
Ian, however, deciphers her long-term strategy, and decides to fortify the center, allowing his pieces to slip in through the sides.
Ian’s Knight, however, unnerved Rachael slightly, and knew it could take out her Rook, so she opted to have her Queen looming nearby—a duo of Pawns serving as her frontal guard. Ian keeps his offending Knight still, but moves his free Knight to the space directly in front of the Queen, allowing Rachael a final turn to finalize her defenses.
Ian, however, captured a Pawn, putting Rachael at a slight pause before making a simple yet vital move: she moves her Rook one space to the right.
Ian pauses, seeing the threat her Rook posed to his Bishop, and decides to place a Pawn nearby, serving as a means to take Rachael’s Rook if he needed to.
This move doesn’t go unnoticed by Rachael, as she simply moves her Queen’s Side Rook into an offensive position, keeping it poised as a long-ranged attacker.
The twenty-fourth move serves as the first Check of the game, Ian taking Rachael’s Knight and causing the King to go in Check. Despite it coming out of left field for her, she quickly sets up a solid defense around her King, keeping him out of danger and putting Ian’s Black Bishop in danger, if Ian decided to attack. He opts not to, moving a Pawn instead, but it was taken the very next turn by Rachael. He was caught off guard by the aggressive attack, promoting him to move his Knight into attacking range as a warning.
The next several moves were aggressive on both sides, with both Keepers losing pieces. However, Ian’s losses were heavier, as he was left two Pawns short of a stable defense. He also lost both of his Knights and a Bishop in this exchange, leaving the center of the board clear, and a rather weak guard for Ian’s ebony King.
However, when she moved to take a Knight, she unknowingly left her Queen unguarded. Ian took advantage of that and captured her, putting the Light Keeper in a state of frustration.
This frustration leads to a very well laid out assault on the offending pieces, leaving Ian’s Queen with a tempting setup to take a vital Knight…but the threat of her White Bishop would be there to avenge the Knight.
Staggering slightly, Ian leaves the situation, trying to rebuild the defense around his King. However, his attempts fail, allowing Rachael to Check him with a Pawn that had snuck its way across the board. The Check was easily solved, but it still put Ian on high alert, not sure what to expect from her next.
Rachael, meanwhile, knew exactly where he was, and knew that she had him exactly where she wanted.
The next ten moves were mostly aggressive ones, on Rachael’s part. They stopped Ian in his tracks when she made a ballsy move and captured his Ebony Queen, despite losing a Pawn resting within range of a Bishop.
Rachael paused, her eyes scanning the board frantically, unsure about how to proceed. However, when her eyes rested on an alabaster Pawn, sitting one square away from the opposing edge of the board, she knew immediately what to do.
Ian saw an odd flicker in her eyes and followed her gaze. It was a little too late for him to realize it—and he was sure Rachael didn’t plan it on purpose—but Rachael had managed to take a Pawn across the board.
He wasn’t sure if she was aware of the rule, but that was quickly reassured of, as Rachael, hands shaking with excitement, pushed the Pawn a space forward and revived her White Queen, putting the King in Check once more.
After moving his King safely out of Check, he sacrifices a Rook and uses his remaining one to put her King in Check. Her alabaster King captured the ivory Rook, bringing her out of Check once more.
Ian looked over the board and frowned, realizing how little pieces he had left. She had successfully drained all his resources—and he almost didn’t realize it until a few moves ago.
“I’m calling it a match. I think you won this one, Rach.” Ian declared after a period of silence, leaning back and smiling a satisfied smile.
Rachael looked at him with a small jolt, caught up with the board that his voice surprised her.
“I said you won. You’ve captured nearly all my pieces—it would be pointless for me to try to continue on,” Ian assured, smiling a little wider at her surprise as she looked over the board.
“Oh. Oh, shit, when did that happen?” Rachael asked, finally realizing how empty the board was.
“Not too sure, but what I am sure is that you had a strategy going on, here,” Ian complimented. “In fact, I’d like to know what your thought process was.”
Rachael paused for a moment, thinking back briefly before responding, “Well…like how you were avalanching me the last game, I decided to try something different. You thought of the earth, I thought of the sky. I decided to make a tornado. I drew you in, scattered your pieces, and eventually sucked them up for myself.”
Ian nodded approvingly, remembering her long-ranged defenses.
“Although…it seems that for you, the main goal of the game was to capture pieces, rather than attack the King directly.” Ian added in a teasing tone, raising an eyebrow slightly.
Rachael puffed up slightly, playfully annoyed, before becoming slightly sheepish.
“Well…when I was playing chess as a kid, I always thought the object of the game was to capture all the opponent’s pieces. Probably why I usually play so…chaotically. Of course, I soon learned the real objective, and always tried to use that to my advantage…”
“Attack the opponent so fast and hard that they lose their pieces first, so you can attack the King directly.” Ian finished, nodding slightly.
“But after learning to look over the board a bit, I thought of a way to drain your resources, as well as protect my own. Funneling the pieces…seemed like the best option.” Rachael finished, standing up and stretching as well, letting out a small yawn.
“An improvement all the same. That was an exciting game. More exciting than this morning’s.” Ian complimented, moving in to help Rachael clean off the table.
“I agree, actually…it felt like it lasted longer.” Rachael admitted, handing the enclosed wooden box to Ian.
“It did. It lasted a little less than ten moves longer…about how long I expected the game to go.” Ian confessed, letting out a yawn as well. “We better get to bed. We have to figure out what to do with those glass things you made today. After that, I think we should spar. It’s been a couple days.”
Rachael nodded, her sleepiness beginning to hit her mildly as she smiled.
“Sounds good. Night—see you in the morning.”
“Our definitions of ‘morning’ vary slightly, but sleep well none the less.” Ian replied, smirking slightly.
Rachael simply shot him a small playful glare—complete with her tongue poking slightly out—before turning and going into the small hallway that led to her room. Ian followed as she closed her door, using a shadow tendril to flick off the lights, nothing but the soft, luminous azure glow of Oracle’s Orb breaking the peaceful darkness within the EVE.
So, yeah. that’s that. Without spoiling too much, there is a time gap in between Episodes #4 and #5. The purpose of this Bns Ep was to show some of the things both Ian and Rachael were going through, trying to hone their powers and abilities. I also wanted to show more of Ian’s mischievous side, and how he gets along with Rach. The reason for the punny title also lies within the Bns Ep itself. One of the ways Ian can learn best from a person (or group of people) is to play games with them. Chess is one of those games. Ian is 100% into it, while it takes a little bit for Rachael to agree to these matches.
Lemmie just gush right now: I actually loved the chess scenes. I struggled to try to make them interesting for the reader, but putting them together was a journey. To summarize, I approached my husband (Niax), expressing the desire to have Ian and Rachael play chess together at some point in the series. I asked for his help, and before I knew it, we spent a few days playing chess together. The matches from this game is actually a move-for-move recount of our games in real life. It was a pain in the ass to record and rewrite, but…I’m actually proud about how this came out.
Now, moving on. What to expect this week? Again, I’m not too sure. However, because I’m up-to-date on Episode Edits for now, I’ve longed to focus myself on another writing project to distract myself from KoB for the time being. The third Bns Ep is still calling to me, and I still have a lot to do with it. We’ll see what happens.