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“Landon Academy, located in the Vynial Nebular on the planet Tirosica. Home to Aylmersley University, Aylmersley Industries and the famous Zycord Incorporation. A peaceful planet, Tirosica, Landon Academy spares no expense in the education of the next generation. The Academy sits on 3.5 acres of pristine land on in the heart of the capitol Aylmersley. It hosts a fully sized aquatics facility, several recreational fields, a state of the art gymnasium and most importantly three regulated size arenas for Aeris Effect sporting events….”

“Aeris Effect Arenas? Is that even possible?” The blond-haired teenager asked to herself as she read over the last sentence again in her Landon Academy handbook. The arena’s in question were usually made for universities and cities who actually host the Aeris Effect games. From the last time she checked, Tirosica was not one the official pro-league list. Then again, her past schools never had a league of their own, perhaps this planet funded such sports on a high school level. If so… the teenager gave a small squeal and did a hop, skip and a jump in the empty corridor.

“Imagine! Being part of an official, rule orientated Aeris team!” She gave another jump as her voiced echoed off of the cool grey marble plated walls. Arista had been wondering around the school for the past twenty minutes, ever since her father and their planet’s representative dropped her off. The school was nothing like she had seen before. It was so clean and bright that it seemed to sparkle from the light of the incredible large windows and skylights. Walls contained pictures with elaborate metal frames depicting past social events, sporting teams, class and graduating pictures. Put the building aside, which to our young host seemed like a castle; the grounds were green, with grass.

Arista had never seen organic grass in a school field, everything having been covered with concrete, metal or some other industrial plating. Here, grass grew thick and generous, the same with trees, flowers and shrubs. Birds sung in the air, she even saw a squirrel jump from one tree branch to another. The entire facility made her giddy inside.

Yet, she felt self-conscious. She knew her father could not afford such a private education, he was only a professor, and not in anything spectacular too. Philosophy, Stellar Cartography, Sociology. He was a scholar, and the galaxy did not seem to require as many scholars as they used to. After her mother died, he had to take jobs where he could, usually teaching in other fields like mathematics and History in low rated Universities or Colleges. This new job was to be the catalyst to a new life for them… but she did not want to ruin her father’s good fortune with the entrance fee to such a school like this.

Making her drop off to this particular school a curiosity.

“A mistake.” She concluded with a sigh as she grabbed a nearby pillar and sung herself around the corner. At that moment, leaning sideways, she was hypnotized but a startling sight, her eyes grew wide in wonder as she placed a fist in her mouth to prevent her from screaming.

She seemed to have reached the heart of the school. A large glass dome ceiling filled the centre of an atrium, filling it with natural light, highlighting the central piece of attraction, a fountain with running water. Staircases curved upwards to the second and on to the third floors.  It wasn’t the fountain that caught the teenager’s attention, or was it the glass dome that held stain glass panels, or the intricate architecture around the staircases. Instead, her eyes focused on a metal suit, an Aeris suit of armour.

Running up to the dark bronze coloured suit, the blond-haired girl tried to stiffen a giggle that bubbled up from within. She jumped around and circled the suite.

“A Gladiator 5.1,” she said in an awed whisper. The mechanical suit had a caged like helmet, with a metal sword coming out of it’s right forearm. Her hand moved up, wanting to touch the legendary suit herself, to remove the helmet if she could to see if the circuitry was still operational. Imagine fighting a street fight in an official suit like this, she thought with a smile before another suite to her right caught her eye.

“A Tank 3.5!” She said excitedly rushing over to the next Aeris suit. “Taurus 6.9, Knight 2.0, Angel 4.5… and a Siren 1.5.” She continued to list off the suits as she passed them, six suits in all, displayed in a semi-circle around the fountain in the enclave of the dual staircases. In the centre and above the suites was the emblem of the Academy, an Aeris Helmet that sports the image of the ancient Spartans from Earth on a banner background. It reminded Arista more of a coat of arms of ancient warriors… not an academic school emblem.

“Checking out our suits.” A voice echoed around the girl, making her jump. “You better not be from Kenzington High.”

The blond girl turned to see another girl her age approach her from the other side of the room. She wore a school uniform, a black pleated skirt with a white blouse with black and blue tie, and a navy blue jacket overtop. The Landon Academy emblem stitched over her left breast of the jacket. Her hair had an unusual bright purple shine to it, half of which was tied back in a neat, yet fancy bun. She walked with an air that the blond girl associated with rich, spoiled kids, but her face was soft and friendly with a bright smile.

“Ah… Kenzington High?” She asked the student.

“Kenzington High’s our rival.” The purple haired youth replied. “There’s a feud between the two schools for decades, it doesn’t help that we  spy on the other school from time to time, as they do with us.”

“I guess I shouldn’t been wondering around. Sorry about that, the doors were open and well… I was curious.” The blond shrug her shoulders. The Landon student, though spoke in a light friendly, seemed to be eyeing her attire, sizing up this odd girl who wore a pair of faded jeans, a tight-fitting, thin long sleeve shirt made up of an oriental print that seemed pieced together poorly, with her mother’s dark leather jacket.

“Don’t worry about it.” The student said, moving her eyes back up to the blond girl’s face quickly. “Landon Academy welcome’s visitors. We have a number of sights that we like to show off, our Aeris Suits being the most popular.” She added turning to look at the armour. “My name’s Rin Yamada.” She gave a soft bow.  “If you like, I can give you a tour.”

“Arista.” The blond girl responded. “You don’t have to do that. I’m sure you must have some other matters to see to. Not many teenagers I know off come to school on a weekend unless it’s important.”

“Actually I was supposed to give a tour to a new student. But he never showed up.”

“A new student?” Arista questioned, “He?”

“Yes… I should have expected something like this,” Rin sighed heavily. “He was scheduled to become a Pilot, all Pilots are arrogant idiots.” She scoffed.

“Excuse me?” Arista let out a chuckle at hearing Rin’s opinion of pilots of the school. “That sounds pretty harsh.”

“Yeah, I know. But think about it.” She said, taking a seat on the wide lip of the fountain. “It’s the Pilot’s that do the actual battling in the games, it’s their faces everyone sees, so it’s them who receive all the fame and hero worship. What about the mechanics, or the technicians… they’re just as important, but do you hear about them? Oh no.. They’re just the ‘Team’ behind the pilot.” She made the quotes in the air with her hands.

“That’s true. The pilot of an Aeris Suit is only as good as the team behind them. It sounds like your pilots need to spend more time in the pit and less in the spotlight.”

“Pilots don’t do pit duties.” Rin said, giving Arista a puzzled glance. “Where are you from?”

“You mean, all the pilots do is drive the suits? They don’t do any repairs or upgrades with the mechanics?”

“Of course not.”

“Weird.” Arista shook her head leaning back on the bench, staring at the suits of armour in front of her.

“Not as weird as you.” The two girls chuckled before Rin checked her watch. “Half an hour late, what a waste of my time. Seriously, I’ll give you a tour just so I can do something.”

“I guess it couldn’t hurt. What’s the name of this guy who stood you up?”

“Finley Ruge. Should be Rouge.” Arista let out a burst of laughter, that made Rin give her another curious look. “What is it?”

“Oh… nothing. Let’s go for that tour, and tell me more about these Aeris suits.”

***

“So, as you can see, Landon Academy has taken great strides to keep the integrity of the past through it’s architecture while at the same time maintaining the latest technology in the classroom to further the students’ academic excellence.” Rin said as the walked through one of the many empty lecture halls.

“You’ve got to be joking. I’m not an investor.” Arista said.

“It’s our best sales pitch. You’d be surprised how many tourist gobble it up. Of course once they hear of the tuition fees they lower their head and walk out.”

“I doubt many could afford to send their kids here.”

“Well… it is a private institution, only the best are accepted.”

“What of this Finley guy?” Arista asked. “What were his scores like?”

“Pretty good actually. Though he’s the son of a new University professor.”

“Meaning what?”

“Well, there’s an arrangement between Landon Academy and Aylmersley University, basically those professors with kids get free tuition here.”

“That explains a lot.” Arista murmured to herself. “So Rin, with all those Aeris Suits on the main floor, you must have a league?

“Not just any league, we’re champions.” Rin said proudly. “Landon Academy and Aeris Games are closely linked, so close in fact that everyone is placed in a class and we have skirmishes and other house leagues once a week.”

“Once a week? That’s pretty intense.” Arista said, followed by a whistle. “So that’s why your pilots don’t do anything else but, pilot? That’s their class and the only thing their trained to do.”

“That’s right.” Rin nodded.

“But, this is also an academic school. I’m sure not everyone wants to be part of the Aeris teams.”

“Well… they don’t have a choice, but it’s explained in the handbook and everyone has a choice in whether they come here or not. But, for those who don’t have any talents in the fields are given the Communication role, like me.” Rin explained.

“Communication? I’ve haven’t heard that role before.”

“Well, basically we act as ambassadors, managers, PR’s. We’re the ones that book training time, help the Strategists pick out a team for the week, set up the matches, organize the team. All the behind the scenes stuff that nobody really notices.” Rin sighed. “Then there is the extra work, like giving tours. You seem to know a lot about the Aeris Games, you’re a fan?”

“Yes. I love the games. None of my previous schools could afford to be part of a league, so I had to join some of the street ones instead.”

“Are you insane, those street battles are dangerous!” Rin shouted, turning quickly to stare at Arista. “There are no rules, no protection. They use damage suits that have been rejected by official leagues. I’ve heard that pilots can die in those battles.”

“That’s what makes it so much fun!” Arista said with a smile that quickly turned serious when she saw Rin’s angry face.

“Your parents allowed this?”

“Well… not really…. But c’mon Rin, it’s not as dreadful as you think. You have to be creative, open-minded and resourceful. It’s a completely different feel to it.”

“I think those battles are a defilement to the integrity of the games.”

“But Rin, the Aeris games started off in street battles.”

The pair of girls exited the main building into a courtyard that seemed had a few trees, rocks and a small running creek.

“This is the meditative courtyard.” Rin explained cooly, as Arista stepped to the edge of the raised pathway.

“Do you have a lot of these courtyards?”

“Not as elaborate as this. Our Pilot Coach had it created when he first arrived. The others are more practical, and filled with more students. Not many actually come this way.” Rin said. “They’re all afraid of Ito.”

Arista was about to say something, trying to ease whatever offence she had made towards the Landon student when the sound of approaching voices gave them the distraction required.

“Oh, damn.” Rin said as five formable looking guys appeared at the other end of the courtyard.

“What?” Arista asked, as she watched the guys narrow their eyes on them and make their way towards their position. They wore a similar uniform, making them fellow students, though why Rin was pulling on Arista’s arm, trying to drag her away back into the building was beyond her. “Do they bother you?”

“Shh..”

“Ms Yamada.” One of the group said, coming up on their right, two others had jumped the railing into the courtyard and came at their left, cutting off their escape. “Where’s our new pilot?”

“He didn’t show up.” Rin answered.

“Then who’s this?” the leader of the group asked his pale blue eyes resting on Arista.

“A visitor, since Mr. Ruge didn’t show up, I thought I’d at least show her around.”

“A tourist.” A tall, dark-skinned man said from behind Arista, she looked over her shoulder to gaze up at the massive man. There was no way he was a student, right?

“So, leave us alone.” Rin said, trying to push Arista out of the confined spot they had positioned them in.

“Not so fast Rin.” Arista said, stepping up towards the group. “Why are you guys looking for Ruge?”

“You don’t want to know.” Rin whispered into Arista’s ear.

“She’s right, it’s none of your business.” The dark-haired youth said, taking the lead. “Let’s just say that there’s a traditional welcome we pilots like to give the newbies.”  A chuckle went up in the group, well, except for the big guy. Arista could see them flex their hands, some made fists while giving each other sly looks.

“This ‘traditional welcome’ doesn’t have any anything to do with a hazing ceremony?” Arista asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Hazing in any form is illegal.” The leader said with a twisted smile.

“But, that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun.” Another of the group voiced, he had a shaved head with a black tribal looking tattoo going down the centre of his head to his neck.

“If you want fun, why not try it out on me?” Arista said. Rin let out a cry and pulled her back towards the wall of the school building. The group of guys stared at the blond haired girl in grimy cloths, thin and weak looking under her leather jacket. She hated bullies, the way they hide amongst a group, threatening and putting on airs they didn’t deserve. Rin was scared of them, and they already tried to intimidate her, if they were looking for a fight, they were going to get it.

“Listen, tourist. We have no beef with you. Just get on with your tour and leave us to our business.”

“Like hell I will.” Arista shoved Rin aside. “You’re looking for Ruge? Well here I am!” Arista said, a smile crossing her face as she saw the stun confusion spread around her. “My name is Finley Arista Ruge. So, whatever you were planning to do, let’s get it over with.” She raised her fisted hands to her head, her eyes focusing on their leader, while keeping the other four in her peripheral vision. The only person she couldn’t see was Rin behind her, though her intake of breath was audible.

“A girl?” One asked before they all burst into laughter, even the big guy, with his arms crossed in front of him cracked a smile. It only made to increase the anger growing inside of her.

“She’s our new pilot?” The looked to their leader, who was smirking and laughing with the rest of them. “What a joke!”

Arista couldn’t take it any more and turned to the bald one with the tattoo and threw a fist to his nose. He didn’t see it coming. She felt her fist collide with the bridge of the nose as his head lurched back due to the impact.  He swore and raised his hands to the now bleeding nose, letting out another wave of profanity.

“I’m not a joke!” She yelled at him.

The others jumped in to protect their fellow pilot, sending jabs, kicks and punches at numerous different angles. Arista brought up the skills Wolf taught her back on Mynious, keeping her hands up to protect her face while dodging or blocking the other moves. She had never done a five on one fight before, though it didn’t look like the big one was going to join in, still the four teenagers were becoming more of an issue than she thought. A kick to Arista’s back knocked her over the railing and into the courtyard. She rolled away to get some more space from the four but they were on top of her in a flash, their feet reaching out to kick at her stomach and head. It was all Arista could do for a moment but curl into a ball to try to receive as little damage as possible.

It wasn’t until they had formed a circle around her that she managed to get to her stomach and with her legs kicked outward and around, knocking them to the ground were a dog pile formed on top of her.

It must have been only seconds, but to Arista it felt like hours until one by one the bodies were pulled off and she struggled to her feet, hands up, body tense, ready for the next round. She expected to see the big guy coming at her, instead an elderly old man with a long grey beard had stepped into the brawl, placing himself between Arista and the other teenagers.

“Mr. Carson, explain.” The old man said. He wore a long grey cloak, that seemed two sizes too big for him yet as he spoke his entire presence seemed to dwarf them all.

“She broke my nose!” the bald one said.

“I am not talking to you Anderson.” The old man boomed. “If you four have nothing else to do but come to school, I can arrange additional classes to occupy your time.” They all seemed to take a step back, none of them spoke up, just stood still as soldiers. “Dismiss, all of you go home.” He finished with a wave of his hand. The four, along with the big guy who still stood on the walkway with Rin left the courtyard as fast as they could.

“Excuse me sir, but I was the one who started the fight.” Arista said bashfully. The man turned to her, and she shuddered under the dark grey eyes.

“Are you in the habit of starting fights Miss Ruge?” The old man asked. Arista frowned, unable to lie to the man. The growing silence was enough of an answer as the man nodded his head. “Fierce, and with a temper. No wonder they put you on the pilot crew.” He mumbled to himself, letting out a sigh. “Yet, honest and will to take the consequences of her actions.”

“Wolf alway said that was one of my faults.”

“The Temper or the honesty?” The old man asked, a bemused look on his face.

“Both.” Arista gave him a smile. The man didn’t smile back, at least not with his mouth, yet his grey eyes seemed to sparkle to Arista.

“You will need both to keep up with those four. Miss Yamada?”

“Yes Professor Ito?”

“I believe the tour is over for the day. Can you please escort Miss Ruge to her home?” He asked, turning to Rin who seemed to scared to step into the courtyard or any step closer to the professor.

“Yes, sir.” She answered. As soon as Arista reached the walkway around the courtyard, Rin grabbed her arm and practically dragged her into a run and didn’t stop until they reached the front gardens of the Academy. At the front gates, she let go of Arista’s arm and tuned suddenly on her.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were Finley! I thought you were a guy! You know how stupid that made me feel!” Rin yelled.

“Calm down Rin. You’d be surprised how many people think I’m a guy, it’s actually pretty annoying. Nobody looks at the middle name these days, not that would really help either.”

“You lied to me?”

“Well, you sort of just went into how all pilots were idiots.” Arista pointed out. “If I told you who I was, would that change how you thought of me? Would it change the way you described things?” Rin was silent. “I’m sorry Rin… I just am so tired of correcting people, so I thought I’d just go with it for now.”

“I did say some bad stuff about you, didn’t I?”

“Yeah… but I thought it was sort of funny.”

“So, you’re not upset at me?”

“As long as you’re not upset at me.” The two girls were silent for a while, Arista hoping that she had not just ruined her first friendship at her new school.

“Let’s call it even.” Rin said.

“Fresh start?” Arista asked. “I’m Finley Arista Ruge.”

Rin let a laugh and lead Arista down the street. “So, why Finley?”

“Long story.”

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