1st Year, P. 5

Malta reached across the table to touch Galayna’s hand.
“This is precisely what I wanted to bring to your attention,” she said as she looked over at Oliver. “Thomasa is special. She is what we call a gifted child. Her reading, writing, and arithmetic marks are well above what the average child twice her age could accomplish. At my estate, she could flourish even more.”
Oliver burrowed his eyebrows and said, “It’s one thing that you want to whisk my wife away to make your fancy dresses, but I cannot let you have Masa. She belongs here, where her family has always lived.”
Malta smiled with ease as she continued to negotiate.
“Mr. Savoi, I understand your concerns. You have a fine wife and daughter. We all only want the best for them. Renata and I asked that they come to live with us so that Galayna will have more space to create her magnificent designs. Thomasa would be under our care, because we know you will be far too busy tending to your cane field to mind after her. Your income sources would quadruple uninterrupted, while Thomasa would be properly educated. Nothing would be denied to her.”
The adults at the table fell silent, while Renata tickled the child. “My goodness, Thomasa. You have outshined everyone with your big brain,” she beamed. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Savoi appeared to look directly at her fellow Alpha squad cadets for a moment, as she pondered.
“I want to be good like Mummy and Papa. They take care of people with sugar cane, medicine, and nice dresses,” she answered.
Shevchenko rolled her eyes and sighed. “Always such a showoff.”
“It’s not showing off, when she is merely showing us who she is,” Farouk chuckled. “There has to be a logical reason that this memory resonated with the chemical potion.”
Roudan crossed his arms over his chest and said, “Let’s see what we know so far; her father was an amazing agriculturalist; her mother was a phenomenal dress maker and herbal practitioner and midwife for her community. Thomasa had no choice but to thrive as the gifted child General Malta deemed her to be.” He placed his hand on Shevchenko’s shoulder, and continued. “Her beginnings might seem meager to you, but she came from a good foundation. That is why she is the glue that holds us all together.”
Suddenly, the entire room went pitch-black. The next thing they saw was that everyone left the room, except the young Savoi and her father. He anxiously paced back and forth with his head in his hands.
“Masa, where does Mum keep the pain medicine?” he asked nervously.
His voice became more aggressive.
“Masa! Don’t you hear your Papa speaking to you?” he barked.
She jumped up from the rug and went to the herb shelf. There she found a mason jar filled with a thick yellowish oil inside. Oliver snatched the jar from her and muttered under his breath. He aggressively rubbed the oil on his temples. His hands were slick enough to cause the jar to slip and shatter on the floor. Savoi quickly ran to fetch a broom. Oliver frantically roamed through the shelf. He found a purple beet root, which he shoved in his mouth.
“Papa, you mustn’t eat that. Mummy said those are dangerous,” Savoi warned.
Oliver became irate. With one large hand, he clutched the child by the face so that she could not speak. The Alpha squad gasped in horror. A hard knock at the front door broke the tension, and Oliver released her to answer it. Two infantry officers with brown hair and woodland uniforms entered the room. They looked at the terrified child, then at Oliver.
“Is everything alright?” the shorter officer asked.
Oliver darted cold eyes at his daughter, which caused her to freeze.
“Everything is what it is,” Oliver replied belligerently.
The taller officer cleared his throat.
“Ahem. Oliver Savoi, we have come here today to inform you that the Infantry Lottery will begin in 90 days. Your name has been selected to be drawn. You will have from today until then to close up your affairs and report for duty.”
The news stunned Oliver. He raised a balled fist in the air.
“This is ludicrous. First, they want to take my wife and child off to some fancy plantation. Now you say that I must report for service. What will become of my cane fields? Who will tend to them?” he asked.
The officers looked at each other in confusion.
Oliver continued his rant.
“Before the war, Savoi cane fields were the most prominent in the entire kingdom. Intagua Island was the third state to falter from the war, with a devastation of famine. We established the central trading posts for food and goods. Conflict deserters fled to our beaches for refuge, only to be met with a fatal chemical substance in the water. Scores of human and livestock remains piled up along the coast, as the infestation consumed our region. What little left of the untouched cane is all that remains. Tell your commander that I cannot simply close my affairs within 90 days without a complete collapse of the kingdom’s commerce system.”
The officers walked over to the fireplace to deliberate. When they returned to the entryway, the taller officer said, “We will report to our administration all that you have stated. In the meantime, I suggest you make this work. Otherwise, you would be breaking the law by not reporting for service. Do you not have a son eligible to take your place?”
Oliver scowled.
“No. Only a daughter barely out of her nappies and off her mother’s milk,” he dryly replied.
The officers left the hut to return to their duty station. Oliver abruptly slammed the door shut and screamed. He continued screaming as he ransacked the house. The spirit of depravity had taken over him, as he looked at his daughter with dreadful contempt. Her body trembled uncontrollably until she wet herself. Pure terror siphoned any breathable air from the room. Without warning, he struck her across the face with an opened palm. The impact spun her around, and she crashed into a jagged edge of their wooden kitchen table. A steady stream of blood revealed that her chin had been cut open. She stifled her cry by covering her mouth. Only a single tear slid down her cheek.
The team stood motionless, completely horrified by what they just witnessed. The man who had once been a doting father suddenly became a monster. Yoshida clenched his teeth, enraged by the abhorrent abuse. Farouk covered his eyes, feeling hurt for the girl. Shevchenko looked away in shame at how she believed Savoi to be a coddled child with no sense of manners. Roudan was astounded by Savoi’s resilience in that moment.
“We have to stop him and help her,” Farouk blurted out
Yoshida kept him back from approaching the girl. “There’s nothing we can do, you dolt. This isn’t real,” he said while he pinned Farouk’s arms behind his back.
“What do you mean? Surely this happened to Thomasa,” Farouk yelped.
Roudan clasped his hands around Farouk’s face to make eye contact.
“Yes, this all happened; but it is the past. There’s nothing we can do to change it, so calm yourself,” he said.
Suddenly, Galayna burst through the front door in a panic from the commotion she heard outside. Her eyes glistened with tears as she watched her husband tower over their wounded daughter. She dropped all her bags and rolls of fabric to rush over to them. Her mind snapped into a fit of rage.
“You evil man! How dare you lay hands on my child!” she wailed.
Before Oliver turned around, Galayna picked up a wooden stool and clobbered him over the head with it. She beat him repeatedly until she saw the terror in her daughter’s eyes. Once she came to her senses, she dropped the chair to kneel by Savoi.
“Come to me, child,” she whispered in a raspy tone.
Savoi did not budge. Instead, she buried her head into her knees. She did not want her mother to see that she soiled her dress. Galayna removed her blue headscarf and allowed her long golden braided locks to hang over the girl. “The fear you have of pain or dying. Let it move,” she said, then wrapped Savoi in the scarf and scooped her up.
Farouk recalled how Savoi said the same thing to him when he was frozen during the entrance exam. Galayna carried Savoi away, but as she stepped over Oliver, he tugged at her skirt.
“She’s mine too,” he murmured.
“Not anymore,” Galayna snapped. She leaned down near his blooded body and said, “I will give you a choice; I can kill you now, so that you may rot in hell, or I can call the authorities and you can rot in a cell. Either way, you shall never set eyes on her again.” She spat on him, then left the hut.
A flurry of images appeared before the Alpha squad. They saw Savoi merrily running through a beautiful garden at the Malta estate. They watched her learn to dance a waltz, as Renata played the piano. The final image showed young Savoi looking through a large telescope as she named the different stars out loud. Minutes later, the same two infantry officers who came to visit her father at the hut entered the room.
“Thomasa Savoi, we have important news to deliver to you,” the taller officer said. He handed her a letter and continued. “Your father, Oliver Savoi, had been selected to report for service 10 years ago. He was allowed a waiver by the Tribunal Council to tend to his cane fields and keep the trading posts in full operation. During that time, he became violently ill. Apparently, he was infected with a brain eating ameba. All the fields are ruined, and the posts have been permanently defunct for some time. Twelve days ago, he was selected again to report for duty. Unfortunately, he succumbed to his illness. Being that you are his only surviving offspring, and are of legal age, you must take his place on the infantry line.
In a flash, the scrawny young child morphed into Cadet Savoi. She lifted her head from the letter and looked directly at her team members. There was no mistaken, this time it was really their teammate. The excruciating pain in her eyes cut them deeply. By then, General Malta entered the room. She took the letter from Savoi and read it to herself.
She addressed the two officers. “This is what will happen; the girl will not report to the infantry line. Her mother relinquished all parental rights to me. I will send her to the academy. There, she will train to become an officer and be of far more use to our efforts to end the war.”
The officers saluted General Malta in agreement. The scene faded to black before Savoi stood in front of the Alpha squad. There was not a dry eye among them.

~The Waring Robins~

1st Year, P. 4

The man dismounted from the wagon. His smooth charcoal-dark complexion and medium build gave an attractive appearance. He slightly doubled over by the horses, but regained his balance just in time to catch the child as she sprung into his arms. The of them laughed wholeheartedly until he placed her back to the ground to rub his forehead.
“What’s the matter Papa?” the girl asked, in a thick island tongue.
The man twisted his grimace into a smile. He picked her up and gently embraced her.
“Nothing to worry you, Masa. Papa is just a little worn out from working in the cane fields all morning long,” he answered.
The girl braced her forehead against his and frowned.
“Papa, your head is hot just like the sun,” she said.
The man chuckled. His accent muffled some of his response. The team watched as he hoisted the girl onto his shoulders and walked away.
“These must be Thomasa’s memories,” Roudan said in awe. “She was such a charming child.”
“Almost angelic,” Farouk chimed in.
Yoshida wasted no time in following the shadowy pair. “We need to keep up with them if we are going to learn more,” he shouted to the team.
They walked to a modest three-room hut. Aside from the simple wooden furniture, the shelves were decorated with an elaborate array of wildflowers, herbs, and spices. There was an overwhelmingly delicious aroma from a pot of stew roasting in the fireplace.
Shevchenko scoffed. “If these meager living conditions are where she was reared, then it is a blessing General Malta had the graciousness to take her in.”
“Quite the contrary to your beliefs, islanders are astute minimalists. They do not feel it necessary to hoard fineries or have lavish houses. This humble abode is the perfect setting for an easy and well-managed lifestyle,” Farouk countered.
 “Besides, this tiny hut is filled with a richness of warmth and love. Plenty more than any aristocratic haunted castle bubbled inside Dorsea,” Yoshida interjected.
Shevchenko flinched at his words. It had not occurred to her that Savoi was better off than most of them, since she came not from nobility.
“I didn’t mean any harm,” she stammered.
Roudan signaled for her silence, as a tall brown-skinned woman dressed in a blue nursing gown entered the hut. Young Savoi practically leapt off her father’s shoulders to get to the woman.
“Mummy!” the girl screamed with excitement. “How many babies did you deliver today?”
The woman embraced her daughter and patiently waited for her to settle down.
“Only one baby this morning. Mother and son are doing very well. Both are strong at heart, like we were when you were born,” the woman replied. Then she spoke to her family in their native language. It appeared to the team that the woman had instructed Savoi to set the table. Shortly after dinner was underway, a massive regally structured golden carriage led by four white horses arrived in the front yard. General Malta, who then was still a Major, exited the carriage along with her wife. The team had never seen General Malta in person, as she left the academy long before their studies began.
Malta’s wife, Renata, came from a family of gentry who owned most of the land on the island. She was an olive-skinned brunette with a shorter stature, but majestically beautiful. Malta instructed the driver to wait for them, then entered the hut. Alpha squad stood in awe of the beautiful blonde, whose demeanor was everything they could imagine from a founding General of Calvary academy.
Though it was expected for commoners to address military officers and noble dignitaries, the Savoi household was rather informal as they greeted their visitors.
“Galayna, Oliver, no need to get up from your dinner. I apologize in advance for our unexpected arrival,” Malta said in a pleasantly calm tone.
Renata rushed around the table as she said. “Yes, we apologize. I was restless in anticipation of the new ball gown being created for me.” She kissed the young Savoi on the cheek, which made the child giggle.
“Mummy, may I get my book out? I want to show Miss Renata what I learned since she loaned it to me,” the girl blurted through her giggles.
Savoi’s mother nodded her head, and she sprinted from the table to one of the other rooms. Malta and Renata sat at the table at Oliver’s insistence.
Galayna clasped her hands together on top of the table. She sighed, then spoke. “The fabric for the gown was hard to work with. Fine silks I can manage, but to incorporate satin with lace seemed excessive.”
Renata made a child-like frown with her bottom lip poked out. Galayna got up from the table to retrieve the gown. When she returned, Renata squealed giddily and clapped her hands.
“Oh, Galayna! You are truly a miracle worker. There are no other seamstresses like you in the entire kingdom of Celeste,” she praised. “Have you given anymore thought to our offer for you to move to the Malta estate permanently?”
Oliver gruffly cleared his throat in protest at the question, which caused both Malta and Renata to tense up. Malta leaned into her wife’s ear and whispered, “My darling, I told you to let me handle this. We cannot just impose ourselves on this family.”
Suddenly, young Savoi emerged from the room with a gigantic silver trimmed leather book. The book was half her size, but that did not deter her from carrying it proudly to the wool rug in front of the fireplace. She signaled for Renata to join her.
As the girl read, everyone from Malta to the Alpha squad was taken aback.
Farouk snorted loudly, “Unbelievable! Savoi was barely a toddler and could read such an incredible body of literature.”
Yoshida nudged him on the shoulder. “What is that book?” he asked.
“She reads from the written work of the great philosopher Equidos. Only scientists and lawyers read this material at the university,” Farouk explained.
 ~The Waring Robins~

1st Year, P. 3

Cadets Roudan, Yoshida, Shevchenko, and Farouk roused to the sensations of a hot sun that blazed across their faces along with the smell and taste of sweet sugar. The potent fragrance and warm weather were welcomed to combat the dizzying aura, which were effects from the detonated bulbs filled with chemical agents. In a startled daze, each cadet came to their senses.
Yoshida rubbed his eyes and asked, “Where the hell are we?” 
“I don’t think we’re in the lab anymore,” Shevchenko eagerly replied.
Yoshida and Roudan glanced at her incredulously. It was unfathomable that they had been transported out of the lab into such unfamiliar settings. Farouk walked a few steps away from the group to take a better look. The four of them stood in the center of a large sugar cane field. The green stalks of cane were as tall as northern fir trees.
Farouk gasped, “I know where we are.”
The group remained hushed in anticipation of his revelation.
“Look there past the cane field,” he said.
Further out beyond the thick cane field was a beautiful body of water. The high sun beam directly on the ocean, which caused a diamond-like dazzle. The breathtaking view set with the backdrop of a clear blue sky made the party swoon.
“We are on an island, Intagua, to be exact,” Farouk revealed.
The cadets marveled at the majestic scenery. None of their kinsmen had ever been near the place. Most of the visitors to the island were explorers in search of diamonds and gold. Scores of legends, folklore, and myths were birthed from the island. Intagua was held in much esteem for the vast agricultural contributions throughout the kingdom.
Yoshida scratched his head and frantically paced about. He ran to the shoreline and looked all around. The rest of the team followed him, not knowing what had upset him.
“Hey, wait up,” Roudan called out to him.
When they caught up to where Yoshida stood, Shevchenko asked, “What’s the matter?”
The panic in Yoshida’s eyes gave everyone quite the scare.
“Where is Thomasa?” he asked.
No sooner than those words rippled off his tongue, a wooden wagon led by two gray stallions swooshed by. A slender black man with long red dreadlocks was at the helm of the wagon.
“Masa, come along,” he called out.
Suddenly, a small girl, roughly the age of six, appeared before the team. She wore a light-blue sailor dress and her hair was neatly braided into four cornrows. Whimsically, she skipped through the fields. She danced and sang without a care in the world. The girl nor the man acknowledged they were being watched by outsiders. Instead, they carried on as if it were a normal day.

~The Waring Robins~


1st Year P. 2

Lt. Co. Adame removed his headgear to have a better look at his pupils. There was an air of thick tension that drifted through the lab. The thought occurred to him that his entrance might have interrupted whatever shenanigans they had going on. He smirked, knowing full well that the Alpha squad was in for a rude awakening, which would either cause a further rift or bring solidarity.
“How many of you are familiar with Fuchsian plant?” he asked.
No one responded for several minutes. Lt. Co. Adame intimidatingly peered at each individual cadet. Savoi knew all about the subject, but she wrestled with her emotions over the state of her squad members and their quarrel. Farouk, still flushed in the face and teary-eyed, squirmed in his seat. Yoshida and Roudan stared at each other, hoping there would be salvation somewhere between them. Shevchenko anxiously shuffled through her notebooks to find the answer. Savoi took it upon herself to take charge. She raised her hand and waited for Lt. Co. Adame’s nod to permit her to speak.
She sprung from her chair and blurted, “Sir, the Fuchsian plant is a flower native to all the islands within the kingdom. Intagua Island, to be more specific.” She paused for a moment to regroup her train of thoughts, as her mind drifted back to Roudan and Yoshida.
“Well, of course she would know this information as it pertains to her neck of the woods,” Shevchenko accidentally whispered out loud. She buried her head inside her notebook once she realized she had done so.
“Yes, it is. Go on,” Lt. Co. Adame commanded.
Savoi searched his eyes to decipher what more he wanted her to reveal.
“Tell us about the properties of this plant, and what it is used for,” he prompted.
Savoi’s focus went back to the task at hand. Her concentration intensified as she continued. “Yes, Sir. There are thirty-five different colors known to man. The petals have been researched and categorized by their potency. Most of the flowers contain enzymes and proteins that are beneficial health-wise to our society. However, the yellow flower is deemed the highest in potent flower among them all. There are unknown chemical elements that can cause illusions, hallucinations, and even death if abused.”
Lt. Co. beamed a quick grin of approval at Savoi as she took her seat.
“She is absolutely correct in her summary. Calvary Academy has exhausted every resource available to get the yellow plant to use for training,” he said.
Farouk slowly raised his hand, and asked, “Sir, permission to speak?”
Lt. Co. Adame nodded with irritation at the interruption.
Farouk gulped and stood up to speak.
“May I be so bold as to ask why the academy would elect to use this flower for training?”
Lt. Co. lightly chuckled. He could practically smell the fear evoked from each of the cadets.
“That is an excellent question. cadet Farouk. C.A. is not above the use of the same chemical agents our enemies have attacked us with over the years. My team of 3rd year cadets extract strains from each plant and compose potions like whatever is used on the battlefield.” He watched all the Alpha squad fidget with discomfort in their seats, which made him rather giddy. “Today, you will experience exposure to the chemical elements extracted from the yellow Fuchsian plant.” The entire room erupted in disapproving groans. “Not to worry. One of the foundational pillars of this institution is to do no harm,” he chuckled.
Murmurs between each cadet left a sense of panic. Lt. Co. called them back to attention and continued. “Though cadet Savoi gave an excellent summary, she left out a very important detail.” He looked at Savoi, who by then looked dejected. “You correctly identified this plant. What is little known about the yellow flower is top secret information. Over the course of the years, one hundred seventy-five case studies were performed. All the participants reported having experienced extremely surreal illusions and hallucinations that reflected memories from their past. Almost like out-of-body experiences, where you witness your former self in action.”
The room fell deathly silent as the cadets tried to process the information they were given. It seemed implausible to them that being exposed to a chemical agent that would conjure up the painful truths which brought them to Calvary Academy would have any positive bearings on their status. The gossip and whispers throughout the academy were enough to make anyone want to hide from reality. To Alpha squad, this was a dangerous experiment that could yield disastrous results.
Lt. Co. Adame quietly exited the lab before anyone had lifted from their pondering. Within two seconds, several fluid-filled bulbs were released from the ceiling. The bulbs were detonated and released a gas-like smoke through the entire room. Each cadet fell asleep one by one. Savoi grinned, as she knew they were in for a wild ride.

~The Waring Robins~

1st Year, P. 1

For over twenty years, Calvary Academy was the most prestigious educational institute in the entire kingdom. The founding Generals were tasked with creating a multi-faceted course load to prepare the cadets for battle. Their daily schedule comprised; Physical Training just after sunrise, a light breakfast, Geographical Land Navigation, Chemical Warfare, lunch, Tactical Skills Training, designated Military Occupational Specialties, and concluded with dinner. Training was rigorous, and any cadet whose performance fell below the average standard faced immediate expulsion. The cadre of professors comprised elite officers from every branch. They all met the requirement to serve no less than five years in their respective areas of specialties. 
Cadet Savoi was especially excited to attend the Chemical Warfare class, as it pertained specifically to her occupational specialty. Lieutenant Colonel Lidres Adame, from Démira, was a Field Officer who oversaw the airmen in battle. Lt. Co. Adame also specialized in chemistry and alchemy. He was a prideful towering man, who enjoyed lecturing about the philosophical elements of chemical warfare. The most revered component of his modules was to physically expose the cadets to different chemical agents. Every 1st year cadet was enthusiastic or horrified to take his class.
Five days after the ball classes were assigned and set. One foggy morning, Alpha squad congregated just outside the chemistry lab in their school uniforms. The males wore burgundy short-sleeved collar shirts and blue slacks, and the females wore burgundy short-sleeved collar shirts with pleated blue skirts. Savoi used a special key code, granted only to fellow chemists, to open the entryway doors. Yoshida was the first to walk inside the lab. His demeanor was calm, but slightly irritated. Roudan and Shevchenko trailed behind, as Farouk slowly crept in. His face was flushed, and he appeared teary-eyed. When they all sat down at their desks, the room was notably tense. Everyone gazed at Yoshida with a penetrating stare. He tried to ignore them, but Savoi popped him on the shoulder.
“What’s the matter with him?” she asked as she nodded towards Farouk.
Yoshida shrugged his shoulders and sighed, “Beats me. I don’t know what happened to Mousey.”
Shevchenko arose from her chair.
“You happened to him,” she belted.
Roudan tried to calm her back to her seat and shot Yoshida a death glance showing that he should be remorseful. Yoshida sighed once again. His reluctance only seemed to fuel more wrath from Shevchenko. Savoi instantly sided with her roommate, even though she did not know exactly what had transpired from breakfast in the chow hall to their walk down to the chemistry lab.
Time was closing in on them, as class was soon to begin. There were rumors that Lt. Co. Adame was rigid and callous as an instructor. Any signs of weakness noted by a squad could equate to a tremendous amount of suffering for everyone. Roudan got up from his seat and pulled Yoshida to the back of the lab. Heated, hushed whispers turned to wild laughter. Their amusement was interrupted when Shevchenko slammed her lab books on the desk. Farouk gently patted her arm.
“It’s alright. Let’s just forget about the whole thing,” he said.
Shevchenko tightened her jawline and glared from across the room.
“We shall not,” she said.
Roudan lightly jabbed Yoshida’s stomach. They both knew that Shevchenko would not back down soon. He walked over to Farouk and signaled for him to stand. They stood in silence for several minutes.
“Ahem,” Roudan coughed loudly from across the room.
Savoi nudged Yoshida and asked, “Don’t you have something to say?”
Yoshida looked at her with a blank expression on his face. He studied her eyes and watched how she peered at him with anticipation. She knew nothing about why Farouk had been offended. Yoshida gulped thinking on her imminent disappointment for his role in their squabble. Shevchenko interrupted his train of thought with an impatient sigh. Yoshida gripped Farouk by the shoulders and looked him square in the eyes.
“My bad, Mous—,” he began, then looked over at Savoi. “I’m sorry, Maaz. I didn’t mean any harm. Plus, I thought she was a cute girl, and you’d like her if you gave it a chance,” he said with a slight grin.
Savoi tilted her head as she tried to make sense of Yoshida’s faux apology to Farouk. She remembered the two of them talking to a red-headed female cadet from the Charlie squad, but had made little of it.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” Shevchenko interjected and darted her eyes to Roudan.
Roudan vigorously shook his hands at her in surrender. Farouk snatched away from Yoshida and trembled. His labored breathing would not conceal his frustration.
“This isn’t about me, Haru. This is about your low moral code,” he stammered. “I didn’t ask you to set me up with anyone. Just because you and Roudan have nightly parades with a barrage of women in our barracks doesn’t mean that I want to join in,” Farouk insisted.
Savoi’s mouth dropped open. Her combined astonishment and fury caused Yoshida to retrieve Farouk’s arm.
“Maaz, don’t be like that. In my defense, we were only trying to include you,” Yoshida replied.
Roudan could not resist a snicker at Yoshida’s weak cover. He quickly recovered once he realized he had been implicated as a culprit as well. Before anyone else spoke, Lt. Co. Adame entered the lab. He donned a blue chemical resistant MOPP jumpsuit and protective headgear. No sooner than he cleared his throat did everyone return to their assigned seats to wait for instructions.
With a jovial sigh, he belted through his microphone piece, “Today is a very important day for you 1st year cadets. This day will forever be ingrained in your memory. Look to your left and right. What you see is the makeup of Alpha squad. Each of you worked hard individually and collectively to get to where you are. You have already begun understanding and learning from each other. We can all say that we know how you all got here. What you will see and learn today is why you all are here. From there, you will need to reconcile whether you will die for your comrade-in-arms.”

~The Waring Robins~

Between the Witching Hours P. 4

Roudan sat at the top of the bleachers next to Savoi, who tended to his facial wounds.
“I just want to thank you guys for coming after me. I may have gotten in over my head with the Deltas,” he somberly admitted.
“You think? Things might have gone easy for you with the Bravos, but the Deltas are scum that shouldn’t be entertained,” Shevchenko roared from the bottom row.
Yoshida and Farouk sat in the middle row laughing.
“This dame cracks me up,” Yoshida said, then took a serious tone.
“She’s right, though. Sugar turned to shit quickly for you.” He looked up at Roudan. “I hate to imagine what would’ve transpired if we hadn’t busted up your little party.”
“Yep,” Farouk nodded in agreement until Yoshida slapped him on the back of his head.
“What the hell was up with you, Mousey?” Yoshida asked.
“Ouch. What was that for?” Farouk demanded.
Yoshida’s penetrating glare caused him to shrink in his seat.
“I admit I wasn’t prepared for battle, once again,” he said, nearly teary eyed.
Savoi shoved Yoshida’s shoulder and said, “Lay off him Haru. Maaz jumped in with an excellent assist during the rumble.”
Shevchenko looked at Savoi as if she could spit nails in her directions.
“Haru? You’re just going to skip all the formalities and go for nicknames?”
Savoi was taken aback by Shevchenko’s hostile reaction.
“Well, yes. Hatsuharu is more than a mouthful, don’t you think?” she replied.
The men sat silent, awaiting a showdown between the two women.
Shevchenko had no intentions of taking Savoi on after witnessing her savagely wrestle a man twice her size. She backed down and folded her arms.
“I still think this whole affair was lousy. The Deltas could take revenge and report us to General Benavides,” she said with a quieter protest.
Yoshida scoffed, “That will probably not happen, considering the Deltas are composed of a bunch of losers who barely made the cut. They’d have to explain their role in the events this evening. I doubt any of them want to draw attention to themselves.”
Roudan chuckled. “I can truly say that I have the best pick of squad members anyone could ask for. Farouk, take heart. You handled yourself very well.”
“Yeah, until I got body slammed by Feliz. If Thomasa hadn’t come to my aid, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” Farouk sniffed with a light chuckle.
“Ah, yes. That was epic watching two beautiful women stomp the shit out of the Deltas in their ballgowns and heels,” Roudan cackled, then continued. “Thomasa, I must give you credit for your attempt to bring a peaceful resolution.”
“Scum like the Deltas never want to talk it out, which is exactly why they had their asses handed to them. Still, it was a kind gesture,” Yoshida chimed in.
Farouk turned to look at Savoi. “You really are a kind soul. Your demeanor reminds me of the story of Vesati,” he said.
 Savoi grabbed his hand. “That is sweet of you to say Maaz, but there’s no need for such praise,” she replied.
Yoshida gently slapped Farouk on the knee. “Who is Vesati?”
Farouk looked to Savoi for permission to speak. When she nodded, he began. “Vesati was a beautiful Island girl and was the descendant of women who possessed mystical powers. Captain Jorge Holmond from Normandy met her during an exploration exercise. She was kind and helped him gain diamonds during nightly excursions. They eventually became lovers and were intimate for well over three years.”
“I can see where this story leads. Obviously, this Captain Holmond wanted to brag about his diamonds and banging a babe every night for three years,” Yoshida interrupted.
Savoi hushed him with a finger over his mouth. “The story is a bit more complicated than that. There is a myth about Vesati that she held the power of longevity. For every night they made love, ten years was added to his lifespan. Her help to him could also be seen as a curse,” she explained.
Shevchenko scoffed. “Are you calling Savoi a blessing or a curse?” 
Farouk became flabbergasted. “I would never insinuate that she is a curse,” he stammered.
Roudan leaned into Savoi. “Tell us the rest of the story? What happened to the Captain and Vesati?”
Savoi sighed, “Well, they separated many times throughout the years. Their romance rekindled each time they reconnected. He lived a very long life as a rich man. She was continuously captured by greedy men. On their final encounter, Vesati was accidentally beheaded by Captain Holmond. The curse was lifted, and he died instantly by her side.”
Yoshida and Roudan looked fretfully at each other. “Damn!” they said simultaneously.
Shevchenko shook her head at Farouk in disgust. “What a dreadful story,” she said.
Savoi grinned and said, “As such is life.”
Suddenly, the sun crept over the mountains. Daybreak meant the witching hours had concluded. Everyone went back to their barracks to prepare for class.
~The Waring Robins~

Between the Witching Hours P. 3

A group of female cadets flocked to Yoshida, insistent that he should give them a dance. Savoi graciously bowed and walked to the bar for a drink. Shevchenko aimlessly followed Farouk around as he chased the server with grilled bovine marinated in yellow curry on a platter. Shevchenko waved the server to hand the platter to Farouk. After a few minutes of silently watching him stuff his face, she sighed.
“I don’t know what to do with Savoi. Everyone thinks she is so special just because she’s from the Islands and she looks exotic. I think she’s rather plain,” she said.
Farouk remained expressionless. Instead of any kind of response, he shoved a piece of meat into his mouth.
Shevchenko was unbothered and continued to vent.
 “Isn’t it odd how Yoshida does not give me the time of day, yet he appears to lap up everything Savoi utters from her rude mouth? I can’t believe she had the audacity to call his full name without permission.”
Farouk gulped down the meat and said, “Aha, that is the root of your problem.”
Shevchenko waited for him to proceed, but he quickly stuffed his mouth again. She became impatient and stammered, “What the hell do you mean?”
Farouk paused from taking another piece of meat. He knew she would not allow him to eat in peace. He placed the platter on a nearby table and smiled.
 “Instead of spiraling into your emotions, let’s look at the facts that have been presented to us. Cadet Savoi is not just some exotic beauty from the Islands. She was handpicked by one of Calvary Academy’s founding Generals. That alone definitely makes her special. When we throw Yoshida into the mix, he too was also selected by a founding General. That places them both in a unique category, which separates them from the likes of the rest of us. Now, we’ve seen firsthand Savoi and Yoshida have some kind of gravitation hold on each other. Who knows what might transpire from that. Perhaps you should steer your attention towards Roudan, since he seems to fancy you. That’s just my humble opinion and suggestion,” he said.
Shevchenko glared at him with contempt. “I didn’t ask for your opinion or suggestions,” she snarled.
A quarter to midnight, names were drawn to select an honored male/female cadet. Roudan and Savoi were chosen, respectively. Savoi gushed as she went on stage to collect her sash and bouquet. The crowd enthusiastically cheered for her.
Shevchenko snatched a glass of wine from a server. Farouk looked at her empathetically.
“Oh, don’t give me those eyes. I knew she would win. I just can’t believe Yoshida wasn’t chosen. Roudan isn’t even here. He skipped the damn dance in favor of playing a game with those silly other boys,” she protested.
Farouk smiled and waved for a server to bring her another drink.
“I think it can be noted Yoshida was probably not chosen because of his affiliation with the Yakuza,” he replied.
Shevchenko scoffed. “He isn’t with the Yakuza. He was with the Gokudō.”
Farouk clinked his glass against hers and said, “Noted.”
Savoi encouraged Yoshida to accept the sash on behalf of Roudan. They sat together on pillowing his/her thrones. The dance concluded with a last song, then the cadets were prompted to return to their respective barracks. Yoshida shimmied past the female cadets and bumped into Farouk.
 “Hey mousey, we should head out to look for Roudan,” he said.
Savoi walked behind them with four shot glasses in her hand.
“Drink up, boys. I have a feeling we’re in for an adventure,” she said.
 Shevchenko did not want to be excluded, but did not want to be subject to expulsion.
“Curfew just hit. There’s no need to go off gallivanting into the night when Roudan can take care of himself,” she protested.
Yoshida rolled his eyes and frowned. “No one asked you to join this search party.”
  Farouk passed a shot glass to Shevchenko to silence her from causing more friction.
Savoi held her glass in the air and prompted everyone to follow suit.
“We’re Alpha squad. That means no man is left behind. We will find him and make sure he’s okay. The sooner, the better for us all.”
Yoshida clinked his glass to hers with a sigh. “Cheers!”
The entourage headed down to the lower rooms. There were at least twenty different rooms to check. When they reached a dimly lit basement, they found Roudan sitting at a table playing a card game with members of the Delta squad. Calvary Academy based the top four squads on cadets who showed the most promise for battle. Everyone that did not make one of the top teams were sent to receive corrective training. For all intents and purposes, Delta squad was considered the bottom of the barrel.
“Roudan, what happened to the Bravos?” Yoshida asked, with a hint of concern in his tone.
Roudan remained focused on the game. “They slithered away once they realized I couldn’t be beaten,” he answered as he slammed his second to last card on the table.
A member of Delta squad, named Molvik, secretly tucked two cards inside his sleeve, then pretended to slam his final card on the table. Roudan raised an eyebrow suspiciously, then chuckled.
Molvik glared at him smugly. “What the hell is so funny?”
Roudan cackled. “It’s hilarious how you skipped two turns, yet only have one card left to play.”
Molvik stood up and banged his fist on the table.
“Just what the hell are you getting at, wise guy?” he asked.
Roudan continued to laugh. “Either you’re some kind of amazing magician, or simply a lousy cheat. Either way, my final card levels above anyone else’s. So, your foolery was in vain, as I have won even this round,” he said.
Before Molvik could say another word, Roudan grabbed his left arm and retrieved the two hidden cards. Molvik clenched his teeth and withdrew his arm. He slumped back in his chair with a smirk.
“You think you’re so great because you’ve been assigned leader of the Alphas. I wouldn’t choke on that merit coin while gloating. Everyone here knows your family is a disgrace to Calvary Academy. We’ll all see you stumble soon enough,” he said.
Yoshida stepped towards Molvik, gripped a handful of his hair, and yanked his head back.
“That’s where you’re wrong, you silly Delta dog. Acts of valor aren’t hereditary, unlike that unsightly receding hairline you’ve got going. I may as well do you a favor and snatch it all out now, or you’ll be bald by graduation,” he said.
 Molvik pulled his head from Yoshida’s grip, but not without a plug of hair pulled. He leapt across the table and took a pocket knife out from his trousers. Roudan reacted quick with a swift punch to his throat. Another member from Delta named Dende pulled out a baton.
“That kind of contraband will get you expelled from here,” Yoshida teased.
“You won’t be able to tell if you’re dead,” Dende replied as he swung.
Yoshida dodged the attack, then kneed Dende in the stomach.
Shevchenko looked at Farouk, who shivered in a corner. She grabbed Savoi by the arm.
“Let’s go. Nothing but more trouble will come from all this ruckus,” she said.
Savoi snatched away.
“No, we have to do something. We can’t just leave our team,” she replied. Without hesitation, she stood in front of a burly Delta to stop him from interfering. She looked into his eyes to reason with him.
“Call your dogs off. Let’s settle this with a new card game,” she pleaded.
Cadet Feliz shrugged his shoulders, then pushed Savoi to the side with brute force.
“Who are you calling a dog, you little bitch? Nobody wants to play another damn card game. Besides, this is no place for girls. Leave before you get your pretty dress dirty,” he said as he walked away to join the fighting.
A fit of rage crept inside Savoi. She picked up one of the metal folding chairs and struck him upside the head. Shevchenko and Farouk were reluctant to take part in the melee, but did not want Savoi to get hurt. The brawl ended after forty minutes. The entire Delta squad had been bested, and understood that they could not contend with their opponents.
Alpha squad departed into the night. They needed to cool off before returning to their rooms. Roudan invited everyone to sit with him. So, they made their way to the bleachers on top of the male barracks. From there was a view of the entire campus. The starry night sky above and the sound of the ocean waves brought serenity to their heart.

~The Waring Robins~

Between the Witching Hours P. 2

Shevchenko relished in the belief that she looked far more stunning in her sweeping burgundy tulle ballgown. She had intended to wear it during the season in Dorsea, but the induction ball was just as good of an occasion. She could feel the piercing eyes of fellow female cadets swarm her, and arrogantly tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. It was impolite to smirk, so she deliberately kept a stoic glare. Roudan nudged Yoshida to reveal his admiration. Yoshida, however, was indifferent to her presence. To end the annoying insistence, he abruptly pushed Roudan directly in front of Shevchenko.
She gasped in surprise and disappointment that Yoshida clearly did not want to speak to her.
Roudan cleared his throat to assert confidence and said, “Lilya, you look breathtaking.”
Shevchenko crinkled her nose with disapproval.
“Are we on a first name basis now, Roudan?” she asked.
Farouk tried to conceal his laughter, Yoshida snickered loudly.
Roudan smiled and calmly replied, “Well, I figured since we are all Alpha squad, we should be less formal.”
“I disagree,” Shevchenko scoffed.
Suddenly, a group of male cadets from Bravo squad approached.
“Roudan, is that challenge to beat me at cards still on?” one of them asked.
Roudan never resisted the urge to take a bet and loved to gamble. He figured since he was not scoring any points with Shevchenko, he may as well try his luck at the card table.
“Lead the way,” he nodded, and walked with them to the lower room.
Yoshida had grown tired of Shevchenko’s insipid mood and the murmurs from the other female cadets who were smitten with him. He casually walked away to the other side of the room. Farouk was not attached to Shevchenko either, so he quick-stepped to follow.
Shevchenko stood alone at the bottom of the stairs. She couldn’t help but remember how lonely she felt at all the debutante balls, when none of the gentlemen would ask her to dance. Then, the lights dimmed to a frosty blue disco color. She watched haplessly as Yoshida spurned the other female cadets, who were brave enough to ask for a dance.
Savoi entered the ballroom at the top of the stairs. Her turquoise sequin gown shimmered with the lights. Everyone took notice of her unique dress. Her mother was a renowned seamstress, and talented. She wore a small diamond tiara, and had taken her cornrow braids down. The coils of her tresses made her appear like royalty. Not once did she shy away from the room full of star struck gazes.
Yoshida and Farouk hurried back to the bottom of the stairs to greet her with a smile. Shevchenko became infused with wrath, as she had received a colder greeting from the lot.
“Savoi, why are you late? The dance started a while ago. Were you too busy gawking at yourself in the mirror? Or perhaps your merit coin was too heavy to carry? I don’t know how we are battle buddies when you are so thoughtless,” she scolded.
Savoi frowned for a moment, then revealed, “My apologies to you all. I stopped by the infirmary to pick up another pain medicine. The graze on my side from the lazar hasn’t stopped throbbing.”
Shevchenko shuddered as she felt Yoshida and Farouk’s disapproval scowl at her. The orchestra switched from classical baroque to an up-tempo swing waltz. Farouk bent on one knee apologetically and said, “I apologize for my part in your injury during the entrance exam. If I had been strong enough to fight off those bastards, you wouldn’t have had to step in.”
Yoshida snickered in agreement, but Savoi looked at him sternly.
“Hatsuharu Yoshida, it is you who should apologize!” she exclaimed.
Yoshida was stunned that she would call him by his whole name, and even more bothered that she blamed him for what happened.
“What did I do wrong?” he asked.
Savoi softened her disposition and replied, “You were supposed to cover me.”
“I tried, but I was distracted by that damn Roudan. He was practically useless with a lazar pistol,” Yoshida protested.
Without another word, Savoi took Yoshida by the arm and dragged him into the center of the dancefloor.
“You can make it up to me with a dance,” she said.
At first, he protested by dancing stiffly. His mood change once she pressed the fullness of her body against him as they swayed. With her eyes shut tight and a beaming smile, they glided around. The tempo picked up, and they worked themselves into a sweaty frenzy. Once the music stopped, they received a standing ovation from the crowd.

~The Waring Robins~

Between the Witching Hours P. 1

Calvary academy allotted nine days of recovery time for the cadets after the entrance exam. Those who were injured during the battle sequence were required to remain in the infirmary, while the rest of the cadets prepared for their individual assessments and class placements. Cadets Farouk and Savoi suffered minor injuries and were discharged within the first four days. They rejoined the Alpha squad with much praise and fanfare from the entire installation.
The two cadets received recognition for breaking the cryptic poem, which placed them as the highest esteemed cadets for the new cycle. None of the other cadets knew what to do until they watched cadet Roudan lead his squad in action. It did not take long for those who were unfazed by the incoming attacks to follow suit. Everyone also marveled at cadet Yoshida’s keen tactical precision and aim with the lazar pistols while sniping the drones down. Unfortunately, not much mention was made over cadet Shevchenko for being the first cadet to retrieve a flag.
It was customary at the academy to hold an induction ball after the entrance exam had completed. The cadets who achieved a notable mention from the instruction Generals were given a coin to salute their efforts. After the award ceremony, the cadets could mingle, eat, drink, and dance. The male cadets each wore military style tuxedos, with the academy’s colors of hunter green and maroon. The female cadets wore glamorous ball gowns.
Shevchenko sullenly walked down the grand marble spiral staircase that lead into the giant ballroom. Though she had taken part in scores of debutante balls as a girl, she had never seen such a fine venue. The yellow marble pillars were draped with grape vines and there were lush botanical flowers spread throughout the room. The dancefloor was surrounded by two separate fountains of pearly water. An encased waterfall was in the background. A spectrum of changeable lights dazzled through the room, which gave an almost psychedelic ambiance.
A bluesy orchestra played catchy tunes, while a team of waitstaff members carried trays of succulent meats and tea cakes. Roudan, Yoshida, and Farouk waited at the bottom of the staircase for their remaining squad members to enter the room.
“Geez, I hate these types of events. I always feel like a monkey in these suits,” Roudan said as he slouched on the rail. He perked up once he saw Shevchenko and extended his arm out to her. Initially, she welcomed the gesture and felt seen by her comrades. Then she noticed Yoshida and Farouk were not as attentive, as they compared their shiny merit coins instead. With that, she dismissed Roudan’s greeting and shoved his hand to the side.

~The Waring Robins~