"Oi, Vixen. Are we heading to class, or not?" I heard Rin's voice break through my mental shell. I blinked a little, my ears twitching. "H-Huh?" I looked around, blinking. Everyone was getting up and leaving.
"Are we heading to class, or are you just gonna sit there in a daze all day?"
It took a couple more moments for his sentence to sink in. "…Ah! Oh, right, yeah! I'm—I'm coming!" I said rapidly, bending down to pick up my backpack, and standing up, feeling… I guess the appropriate word would be shell-shocked. I mean—Ares, the god of war, told me to prepare FOR war… Meaning that he knew it was coming. Somehow. Then again, given that he's the god of war, these kind of things are his speciality… …That gaze. That gaze he gave me. The one that felt like it was penetrating my very being. Maybe that had something to do with it.
'It's possible. I felt some kind of influence when that happened.' Illaena said. I nodded.
"Right. Let's go. Remember to keep an eye out for traps." Rin said, opening the door to the hallway. I nodded, and walked through, keeping behind Rin as we walked.
The trip to the first class of the day was surprisingly uneventful—that is, until we were outside… I looked around, my jaw agape. Kids were strung by their knees up trees, there were pit traps, there were even CAGES.
"Welcome to the battlefield." Rin said, as we walked down the path.
"…Are they ever let out?"
"Out of what?"
"The cages. The traps."
"They're reset at the end of each period. Well, the activated ones, anyway… Luke from the Myria cabin once got trapped for like, two days, because he had the luck of keeping on running into traps as soon as he got out of them." Rin replied, casually.
I grimaced. "T-Two DAYS?!"
Rin smirked. "I doubt you'd have that much trouble, my goddess~" He teased.
I grimaced. "Please, keep it down, we don't wanna broadcast the fact that I'm turning into a goddess….!" I whispered, angrily.
"Turning into what now?" I heard a female voice from behind me. I stopped in my tracks, wincing, before slowly turning around.
Janet was standing there, folding her arms, eyebrows raised. "…Oh hey—it's… It's YOU?!" She looked a little taken aback.
"Me? W-What's so wrong about me?!"
"Your face. You—you look like a GIRL. You didn't used to! And those ears—are they ornaments?!" She squeaked, reaching forward for a quick touch.
"N-No, they're real!" I managed to dodge the touch, embarrassed. My ears twitched a little. She raised her eyebrows.
"…Is that so…? I heard rumours of a guy growing fox ears… Reminds me of what happened to Vyla a couple years back."
"Yeah. She got turned into a catgirl—purring and everything."
"…Is that so…" I frowned. Was this kind of thing really that common? I folded my arms, frowning, and sighing.
"So, what's happening to you, exactly?" Janet asked. I shook my head.
"I don't want to talk about it."
"…Fine by me." Janet gave a resigned sigh. "So where are you guys headed, anyway?"
"Archery." I replied.
"Same here. Mind if I tag along?"
"Not at all."
We began walking again, keeping wary of any tripwires, managing to make it to Archery class in a little under five minutes. It was in a stadium—I recognised it as the same stadium we'd trained Swordsmanship that other time, only now there were strawman targets set up throughout the field.
"You ever done archery before, Naema?" Janet asked, walking ahead and looking around, before turning to me. I nodded. "Yeah, they taught it back at my old school. I'm pretty good."
"Finally, somethin' you're good at. Let's hope you can show it." Rin replied, curtly.
We walked up to the instructor, who was at the other end of the field with the rest of the class—ten other people seemed to have made it.
We stood there for a few minutes, quietly, before someone finally spoke up. "Hey, what are we waiting for?"
The instructor sighed. "Looks like nobody else is showing up. Musta caught a good two thirds of the class in traps… Sneaky little…" He shook his head, grimacing. "Alright, alright, let's get this show on the road."
He snapped his fingers, and a crate appeared at his feet in a puff of pink light. I winced, stepping back a little, surprised.
"Alright! Grab your bows and quivers from here. They'll fill up arrows automatically. A gift from Myria." The instructor said.
Everyone walked up to the crate and grabbed their bows and quivers. I smirked, slinging my quiver around my back as it filled up with arrows.
"Alright! I see a few of you are new here, so this is the lowdown. Call me Rivera. Mr. Riviera. I'll be your archery instructor for the next year, so you better get used to it."
He looked over all the students with a keen gaze, before resting his eyes on one of the straw men. "…Try and shoot him in the head. Go." He said, bluntly.
"…Wait, I've never fired an arrow in my life!" One of the students complained.
"I'm gauging the skills of every individual here before pairing people up and assigning tasks. So try and hit it in the head." Riviera replied, bluntly. "…Oh…" The student quietened down.
"You get three shots. Do your best, that's all I ask." Riviera said. I nodded, and everyone sorted themselves into a line.
Most of the students at least hit the strawman, but in the chest. Rin managed to sock it in the head, as did Janet. I was last. I breathed out deeply, pulling an arrow out of the quiver and readying my bow—before firing! I managed to sink all three arrows in its face in rapid succession.
"…" The instructor nodded quietly to himself, watching me with eyes like a hawk. "Alright! Most of you seem to know how to shoot an arrow—and then some. The experienced will be paired with the inexperienced, and hopefully, their skills will help with training. Now, the first task; shoot the watermelons."
I blinked. "Watermelons? But there aren't any!" I asked, frowning.
Mr. Rivera smirked. "Look again."
As he said that, my eyes began scanning across the arena—and sure enough, watermelons now littered the area… But they were really, REALLY far away. You'd need to be a pretty good shot to even nick the side of one.
I got paired with a guy—about my age, and he was… Buff. He had quite a few muscles, and I couldn't help but stare for a few moments, before regaining my thoughts, mentally slapping myself.
"Alright… Show me what you've got." I said quickly, not aware of the blush on my face.
'Hehehe… Such a girl.' Illaena's voice said in my mind, but I blocked it out.
The guy shrugged, and shot an arrow. It didn't even make it to the watermelon he was aiming at, embedding itself in the ground 20 yards away from it.
"…Okay. We need to work on your stance a little." I said quietly. The guy nodded.
"Alright. …Say, you wouldn't be up for a drink out after school?" The guy asked.
"Um… …No." …Was… Was I just asked out on a DATE?
"Damn. You look pretty cute, you know…"
"…Shut it. Focus on the training." I replied, curtly. He winced, and nodded, getting into stance. I corrected his positions, and instructed him on a more efficient way of using strength to fire.
This time, he was only five yards away from the watermelon.
I sighed. This was gonna take a while.
About half an hour later, we'd managed to get the basics taught to the newbies and most of them had been able to hit the watermelons. The class was called to a close, and we were dismissed.
I met up with Rin and Janet. "So, what's next?"
Rin checked his timetable. "…I got math."
Janet checked hers, frowning. "Biology for me."
I pulled mine out, and groaned. "…History."
We stood there for a moment or two, in awkward silence. "So… See you all later?" Janet frowned. I nodded. "Y-Yeah…" I guess my nervousness was showing, because Rin placed a hand on my shoulder.
"It'll be okay, dude. Just keep an eye out for traps, and you'll be fine."
I nodded, grimly. "Right."
We soon departed, and I was trying to make my way inside. I managed to dodge two VERY well hidden tripwires, but accidentally tripped on a clump of rocks that appeared out of nowhere, and get impaled with a spike on my way down.
I respawned in the reception area, grimacing.
'Hey, even I didn't see that!' Illaena reassured me. I just ignored her and began walking towards History class.
I managed to dodge a few, well hidden pressure plates, and even more tripwires—before hearing someone banging against the floor. My ears perked, and I looked down, running my hand over the surface below. "…Hello?" I called out.
More banging. It seemed someone had been caught—and trapped—in the ground. I winced. There was no way I could help. It wouldn't be a good trap if it could be deactivated easily!
I shook my head, a deep clenching in my gut. If this was what I was in for, I better tread carefully.
--That was when the floor collapsed from under me.
I yelped in surprise, falling onto my butt. The ceiling seemed to repair itself, and I could barely see. It was dark.
'Here, let me get that for you.' I heard Illaena's voice say. I found myself blinking rapidly, before some sort of night-vision kicked in. I managed to be able to see as easily as I could in daylight… And, what was waiting for me, was an automated hammer, whacking against the ceiling—trying to draw people in.
I swore, repeatedly. How could I have been that stupid!
I quickly looked around trying to find a way out, but it was nothing but a small cubicle in the ground. I'd have to starve to death if I wanted to get out. …Or use the hammer for drastic measures.
I grimaced. No. I would NOT do that.
Then, my hands began to glow. A red glow—similar to when I was entering the Ares house, and the storeroom. I raised my hands up, looking over them, entranced by the glow.
I found myself back in the hallway, curled up on the ground. I blinked, shuddering. I picked myself up, brushing myself off. I looked down below, and heard the banging begin again. I quickly stepped away from it, wondering what just happened.
'It appears that trap was designed by the Ares cabin.' Illaena's voice suggested. …Yes, that seemed right. …I winced, checking my watch.
"D-Damnit!" I swore. I was late!
I quickly began to rush to the history class, leaping over a few tripwires on the way, and ducking under beams that seemed to come out of nowhere as I ran. This school was a living death-trap!
I finally managed to get to the history class, and take a seat, settling in for a boring lecture.
The teacher went on about all the regular things—the state of the world we left. War-torn, sprawling civilizations, space-travel… Everything really seemed to be spiralling downhill back then. Police states, people getting killed for their beliefs, wars, overarching governments...
That was when the gods came in and took over. They took back what was theirs after humanity had tarnished it.
I'd heard this story hundreds of times, and could repeat it to myself in my sleep. Naturally, my arms folded up on the desk and I rested my head against them, slowly drifting off… Before Illaena's voice resounded in my head.
'Your kind was destroying the planet, Naema. And themselves.'
I blinked, shivering a little. It felt like Illaena was trying to teach me something… Something important.
'Those who seek power are often destroyed by it…' She said, simply.
'I'm not seeking power, though. It's being forced upon me.' I replied.
'…Then you should think about what you're going to use that power FOR when it comes to you.'
'…' She really did have a point. I didn't know what I was going to do when I become a goddess.
'Are you… Trying to warn me?'
'Myria sought power. When she got it… It left her feeling empty. I know it. Once you crave power, and get a taste of it? The craving… Never stops. She's not going to stop, unless we destroy her. Don't make her mistakes.'
'I don't want power. I NEVER wanted power.'
'Then there may be hope for humanity yet.'