To the uneducated, Alex’s attitude as he walked of the arena may have seemed cocky. However, as an intellectual, he thought he was just being honest. He knew he could defeat anyone in a fight with both hands tied behind his back. Of course, he couldn’t always win in a fair fight, as he usually had his dagger up his sleeve and consistently broke some rule Dale had made up, but Alex regarded that as a mere technicality. In his mind, there were no rules in the real world, so why should there be rules while preparing for the real world? After all, there was only one reason to train, and that was to exterminate the evil in the world. If the bad people can do things that the good people can’t, do the good people really stand a chance?
All this was going through Alex’s head as he casually strolled to his room. Most people at Praesidium share a room with someone at the same skill level, but Alex never really played well with others. He entered his room and shut the door behind him. His walls were covered top-to-bottom with posters of celebrities, movies, books, and funny pictures. His clothes were messily strewn across the floor. There were stacks of books on the desks. He walked over to his unmade bed and plopped down into a comfortable position. He knew Dale was going to call him up to his office soon, but he was going to get some well-deserved beauty sleep in the meantime.
Unfortunately for him, his subconscious had other ideas.
One moment, he was in his bed, resting peacefully. The next, he was in the clouds, looking over a strange forest. He flew from cloud to cloud, exploring the forest from an eagle-eye view. Eventually, he heard snarling. He located a small clearing in the middle of the trees where the sound was coming from. He flew down, curious. His mind was racing; excitement filled his being. He yearned to see what was going on. He loved exploring. As soon as he got a good look at what was going on, however, all the excitement left him. It was replaced by a cold feeling of terror, and, surprisingly, hatred.
For in the clearing, there was a horrific fight between a rainbow lion, a flaming fox, and an electric cheetah.
All three were bleeding from several gaping wounds, but none of them looked like they were going to give up. That wasn’t the worst of it, though. Beyond the clearing, beyond even the immense forest, a horrible storm was brewing. The storm was going to destroy everything in its path, and the three animals were too distracted to notice. They were busy fighting an unwinnable fight, a war to the bitter end. Alex wanted to call out, to tell them to stop, to notice the storm, but his voice wouldn’t work. As he watched helplessly at the stubborn brawl, he heard a chuckle.
A voice that he recognized called out, “Yes, yes. Tear each other to pieces. Wear yourselves out. In the end, it doesn’t matter. My scheme will annihilate you all.”
Now, Alex was confused, but he knew enough that when he hears the words “scheme” and “annihilate,” it means there’s a bad guy around. He tried to find the source of the speaker, as to identify who was talking, to no avail. He would’ve sworn he knew that voice, but he just couldn’t place it. He tried again to warn the beasts, but once more his voice failed him. He was screaming internally, but no sound escaped his lips. And the storm was coming closer and closer, encroaching on the forest, covering the world in darkness. As the animals’ attacks became weaker, and their movements became slow, the storm enveloped the Earth, surrounding the clearing. The clearing where the beasts fought was all that was left, and they were too weak to continue fighting. They realized the storm around them too late and, looking defeated, fell to the ground. With nothing left to oppose the storm, it enveloped the clearing and the three dying animals, cutting off all hope.
And with that, Alex’s vision went black.
Alex awoke to a puddle of sweat (at least he hoped that’s what it was) and someone knocking on his door.
“One minute!” Alex groaned.
The utter hopelessness of the dream had drained him of his energy and left him disoriented.
He crawled out of bed and answered his door to find a ten-year old with a name tag stating “Hi! My Name is Stacy!”
Alex looked at her expectantly. “Yes?” he asked, irritated.
“Uh, M-Mr. Brown w-wants you, uh, s-sir,” the child stammered.
“Tell him I’ll be up after I clean up,” Alex replied before promptly shutting the door in her face. Alex didn’t care much for the kids at the Training Facility. Those who weren’t old enough to train were allowed to volunteer to be Dale’s helpers. In Alex’s mind, they were only nosy little pests who kept getting in his way. If he had his way, he would get rid of them.
He usually handled himself better, even with annoying children, but the dream had rattled him. He stomped over to his desk and pulled out a letter from his brother. He read it carefully, more so than he usually did, scanning the document for every single detail inside. The letter read as follows:
I heard you were accepted into the Training Facility. Good job! Way to follow in your brother’s footsteps. Be sure to train hard and stay on Dale’s good side and maybe one day you’ll be able to go out into the real world to fight our enemies like I am. Speaking of which, I think I found where Jaq Stone is hiding! Don’t tell anyone, because I want it to be a surprise. Think about it, Praesidium’s number one enemy! Of course, there are more out there. I have heard many rumors during my journey, most of which are unsettling. I have heard talk about Praesidium being corrupted, of a storm brewing that only few will be able to stop. It is only talk, but you never know. But there is no reason to be sad! I have seen many interesting things on my journey. There was a sword stuck in a tree, a talking tortoise, and a forest so immense you can’t walk five feet without being lost. The world is truly an experience! I have fought armies, warriors, and unkillable beasts. How did I beat the unkillable beasts, you ask? I distracted them and ran away like a scared little girl. But no matter what challenges I’ve faced in my quest, I always rise to face the next one. Write to you soon!
That was from over a year ago. Jeremy hasn’t written another letter since. When he first received the letter, he regarded it as the ramblings on a man full of adrenaline. After a month or two, he started to regard it as the last words his brother had written and kept it as a tribute and a reminder. Now though, he regarded it as a dangerous truth. A storm brewing… a forest so immense. He realized his brother had stumbled upon something bigger than both of them.
He placed the letter in his pocket and went to talk to Dale.
Dale was sitting in his office with the boy Alex had bested earlier that day. Alex searched for his name.
Mitchell, he thought. No . . . Michael! That was it.
“Hey, Dale. Hey, Michael,” he said nonchalantly.
Dale raised his eyebrows. “Dale? You will address me as ‘sir,’ Alex. I am your teacher, not your comrade.”
Alex smiled. They had had this conversation much too often. “Whatever you say, Sir Dale.”
Dale rolled his eyes and moved on. “Are you aware of what’s going on in the world?”
Alex tensed, thinking about the ominous storm. “No. Why?”
Dale looked Alex over with newfound curiosity. It wasn’t often Alex lost his composure.
“Because there is a threat rising that we are not prepared for. I need to . . .” Dale was choosing his words carefully. “. . . assemble a team capable of dealing with a wide variety of problems, but which can still be mobile and easy to supply. So meet your new partner, Michael Hunter.”
“Ummmmmm . . . excuse me?”
“I’m sorry, was that not clear?”
“I have to work with him? I mean, no offense, but I work best alone.”
Michael took the opportunity to jump into the conversation. “Thanks, but you don’t really have a choice. Hate to say it, but we are the best chance you have at survival.”
“We? Are both of you going?”
“No, no,” Dale interjected. “I must stay to protect Praesidium. There is a third and final member of your party who is on his way right now. His name is Benjamin Barker.”
“Benjamin Barker? Isn’t he an EG?”
“Yes he is,” Dale agreed. “And here he is now.”
The door opened and a tall guy walked in. He looked older than Michael and Alex, about his late teens or so.