Dawn was still a ways off and Jerren and Ami were fast asleep in their separate rooms, a vast improvement on their old slave quarters, resting peacefully.
A small commotion started outside their rooms as stewards argued with the guards assigned to watch over their rooms. Ami twitched at the noise while Jerren slept on oblivious. The stewards made their point and burst through the doors striding to the beds of the two heroes and roughly shaking the pair from their comfortable slumber.
"Wake up! Master Jerren you must awaken, you have been summoned to the Emperors presence.”
Jerren leapt from his bed igniting the light hawk sword in a blazing arc that narrowly missed the startled steward.
"Whoa, where’s the fire?” Jerren exclaimed in alarm, standing unsteadily on his bed blearily looking around the room, “What’s happening…?”
The startled man held up his hands in a calming gesture.
"There is no fire Master Jerren! The Emperor and Empress have summoned you…you need to meet with them in the throne room.” He waved towards the door.
“But I’m in my pajamas…shouldn’t I get dressed first?” He tipped off the bed the blade retracting back into the pommel.
“No time Master Jerren…” The steward pushed Jerren out the door with a relieved exhalation.
Jerren exited his room just in time to see a soaking wet, flustered female steward lead a bedraggled Ami from her room in her nightgown and slippers as she blearily rubbed her eyes.
"I am so sorry,” Ami apologized; her hands offered in supplication, “I thought we were under attack again…” Ami shuffled past her guard who openly smirked at the dripping steward.
“No need to apologize Mistress, it was…entirely my fault!” Walking behind Ami, the woman stuck her tongue out at the guard and flicked some water in his direction pushing her charge gently but firmly down the hall in Jerren’s direction. Jerrens’ steward raised an eyebrow at the condition of his companions’ state which she purposefully ignored.
"They woke you up too?” Jerren asked through a huge yawn.
"It would seem so!” replied Ami a little grouchily.
"You think today is the day we start training to become nobility?” Jerren scratched his head.
"Maybe…” Ami thought aloud, “But why so early?”
“Could be payback for getting them in trouble, maybe? I guess we’ll find out soon enough!”
Walking into the throne room the two stewards bowed to the throne and pulled the doors closed as they retreated through them.
"Hey Emperor and Empress is it time to start training now?” Jerren waved jovially. “I thought you were stepping down while you were training us?”
“Your training does not start until tomorrow so we are still in power for the moment.” Empress Misaki’s eyebrow twitched at the reminder of her impending demotion.
“No…the reason we brought you here is because we have received a message that the galactic union wants to reward you two for you heroics.”
“Oh that's nice of them to…” Ami nodded to Jerren.
"AND…” Azuza interrupted, “Princess Ayeka will finally finish her assignment by signing the treaty between Jurai and the Remzia federation.”
"Oh yeah, that’s right…” Jerren smacked the bottom of his fist into his palm, “Ryoko came in, blew up the place and kidnapped the Princess…and then there was that huge shootout between the galaxy police and her pirate goons.”
"We leave in twenty minutes,” said Misaki, “so get dressed and ready to leave.”
“Um, not griping, but couldn’t those servants have told us all this, instead of dragging us all through the castle in our pajamas?” Ami asked.
Azuza and Misaki just smiled at the pair.
"Ah…right, we’ll, um, go get ready then…” Jerren bowed and pulled at Ami’s arm and they both left the room.
Once the doors closed behind them the pair leaned back onto the solid frames and looked at each other. Shaking her head and sighing, Ami pushed off and headed back to her room, Jerren trailing behind her.
Within the hour, Azuza’s flagship gently touched down on the surface of the Galactic Unions latest planet of choice for the new attempt at signing the treaty.
Led into a winding hallway by a functionary whom Jerren would swear bore a familial resemblance to the ambassador that met Ayeka’s original group, they entered the main hall and inside they heard cheers and applause as they walked across the raised dais.
"Is…is…this…cheering really for…us?” Ami blushed at the attention.
"Of course!” replied Jerren, waving to the crowd, “Think about it…we saved Jurai and the entire universe! I think a little adulation is well deserved, don’t you?”
Mikami the headmaster of the GP training Academy, along with her brother Minami stood on stage. A guard presence surrounded the hall.
"Thank you all for attending this historical gathering for the signing of the treaty between the Jurian Empire and the Remzia Federation.” Mikami began, shushing the audience. “Before we continue, I just wanted to inform you that the surviving pirates that attacked the previous signing attempt have all been charged, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Ryoko, the leader of the pirates, sadly is still on the loose, but fear not, a joint taskforce is tracking her down as we speak.” Mikami pointed theatrically at the cameras.
“The security of the galaxy is no joke to the great men and women of the Galactic Police, and for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending the people under their care; a monument has been erected outside the main GP headquarters to forever symbolize the price that has been paid for our freedom and safety.”
“In honour of their memory, it give me great pride in presenting two courageous citizens of Jurai the highest accolade the GP may bestow; the medal of Courage.” Mikami signaled Jerren and Ami to step forward.
Jerren and Ami walked to Mikami and bowed as she presented them with their medals.
“For your heroism and bravery which led to the removal of the threat of Galactic Space Pirate Kagato, I am pleased to award you Jerren, and you Ami of Jurai the medal of Courage.” Mikami placed the medals around their necks and stood back clapping. The assembled crowd cheered and roared their approval. The two heroes waved and smiled.
Mikami walked forward again and signaled them to leave the stage. Continuing to wave they walked back to stand beside Azuza and Misaki.
“Now I welcome the Princess of Jurai to begin formal proceedings."
Ayeka smiled and walked on stage clearing her throat.
"We, Jurai and the Galactic Union Alliance, here by cease all militant action against the Remzia Federation, that we may both enjoy peaceful relations and trade within the boundaries of our respective borders in the hope of a harmonious and prosperous collaboration. Hence forth by the official decree of the holy council of Jurai and the Galactic Federation, we hear by admit the Remzia Federation as a full member of the Empire!"
The people cheered at her words and the rest of the ceremony proceeded without incident as the delegates came on stage to sign the treaty one by one.
After all the formalities were concluded and all the speeches recited, the audience filed out and the respective dignitaries congregated in the main hall to discuss politics and trade alliances. With nothing more to do, Jerren and Ami were left to their own devices.
Their quiet commiseration was interrupted when Detective first class Mihoshi came rushing over, grabbing a startled Jerren in a vice grip bear hug and swinging him around.
"Oh Jerren you’re ALIVE! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!"
“N…not for much l…longer if you don’t let g…go!” Jerren wheezed.
Mihoshi let him go and stepped back bowing to Jerren and Ami.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I was just so happy to see you were okay!” Mihoshi smiled, blushing.
"Yeah I'm alive,” replied Jerren, “and since you’re here I also wanted to give something back to you..." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the cube she had given him and handed it back to Mihoshi.
“It was a lot more useful than I thought it would be, in fact you could say it saved our lives…”
"Thank you mister Jerren…” Mihoshi blushed harder, “Soooo, are you going take me out for donuts like you promised…?”
At this Ami couldn’t restrain herself anymore and pushed between them.
"Jerren, is this the cop you mentioned when we were on the Soja?” Ami blurted, “And what is this promise about donuts?”
"Oh yeah, uh, Ami this is Detective Mihoshi…”
“That’s ‘Detective first class’…” Mihoshi cut in raising her finger.
“Um, Detective first class Mihoshi...” replied Jerren as he blushed; “I kind of promised her if I came back I’d treat her to donuts.”
“You left out that part when you were telling the story before…” Ami fumed.
"Well I'm sorry Ami,” Jerren defended, “Everything happened so fast with the kidnappings and the rescuing and saving the universe.” He then turned his attention back to Mihoshi.
"I'm sorry Mihoshi but Ami can’t resist donuts, so is it okay if she comes too?”
"Sure!” Mihoshi beamed. “And I’ll bring my partner Kiyone too…Kiyoooooone!”
She rushed off and reappeared a few seconds later dragging her reluctant partner over to Jerren and Ami.
“Darn it Mihoshi, I was talking to the head of the…”
“This is my partner Kiyone!” Mihoshi exclaimed loudly cutting Kiyone off.
"Why hello Kiyone,” said Ami as she shook her hand, “You must be the other cop I heard about from Jerren, the, um…” she pulled her aside and whispered conspiratorially, “…competent one."
Mihoshi pulled Jerren out of earshot as Ami and Kiyone talked distractedly, his protests quickly drowned out by the ambient noise of the crowd around them.
"Uh, yes, you could say that.” replied Kiyone, “And you must be Ami? Good job saving the universe!”
"Why thank you!” Ami replied, “I’m just glad it’s all over. I heard you are very good at what you do in your work for the Galaxy Police. You played a major role in stopping Ryoko’s space pirates at the Remzia hall a couple weeks ago.”
Kiyone rubbed her neck and blushed modestly, grinning.
"Well yeah I'm very good at what I do,” replied Kiyone, “I just got promoted to detective, first class. My partner can be a pain in the neck at times but thanks for the compliment.”
Suddenly the pair noticed the missing Mihoshi and Jerren.
“Hey, where is…?” Ami looked up at Mihoshi’s laugh in the distance.
Ami huffed and stalked after the wayward pair.
Kiyone gave a weary sigh, rubbing the bridge of her nose, and followed.
Jerren woke early on the morning of his first training session. Excited, he quickly dressed and stalked from his room like a man on a mission…and almost collided with Ami as she raised her hand to knock on his door.
“OH! Jerren you frightened me,” Ami stepped back in shock, “But I’m glad to see you’re awake; ready for your first school day?”
“It figures you’d beat me to the punch. Yeah, I’m ready, let’s go.”
The pair walked down the halls throwing ideas back and forth about what they might be taught in the course of their training as Jurain nobles.
They reached the room that had been indicated to them the day before and the guards opened the doors and they went inside. Azusa waited impassively with his back to them, staring from a window.
“Be seated!” he commanded.
Turning, Azusa picked up a book and began turning the pages as Jerren and Ami sat at the only two desks in the room.
“We shall start with Jurain Galactic history - the origin of Jurai and its rise to power.”
“150,000 years ago, the giant, sleeping humanoid form of Tsunami was found on the planet Jurai by a man from the house of Masaki who would eventually become its first emperor.
A space pirate, he was searching for his sister Masaki after she fled during a quarrel while they were being pursued by the remnants of the previous galactic Kingdom. It was during his search that this man came across the slumbering form of Tsunami. After waking, Tsunami detected evidence of great potential in this man and made a pledge to the House of Masaki to protect his descendants and bless them with great power, namely, with her descendants…the Royal Trees. The mighty power of Tsunami made it possible for the planet and its rulers to become a galactic superpower…”
"What kingdom were they fleeing?” Jerren interrupted.
"That is neither relevant nor necessary for you to learn in the course of your training.” Azusa stated flatly.
"…Rallying under his banner, over two million people fled to Jurai, settling and forming the rudimentary basis for what would become the Jurain Empire.
Eventually, the founder who would be the first Emperor of Jurai grew disillusioned with the idea of ruling the kingdom that Tsunami established for him so he intended to abdicate the leadership onto his sister, Masaki’s shoulders. Unfortunately for him she beat him to it and took her Royal tree ship and embarked on a voyage of exploration, eventually settling the Sol colony on the planet called Earth.”
“Wait…WHAT?” Jerren and Ami jumped up.
“Earth is a Jurain colony?” Ami leaned on her desk.
“Of course,” Azusa looked bemused by their reaction, “Why do you think there is a protective non interference order in place. It is at the express order of Lady Masaki herself.”
The pair slowly seated themselves recovering from the shellshock of such a discovery.
"Interesting origin story,” said Ami, “but like Jerren I also wonder about the kingdom they were running from and why!"
“Wonder as much as you wish, but from this point forward you will not bring this up again! Do you understand?” Azusa pointed at them sternly until they both nodded begrudgingly.
For two more hours they read from the textbooks and studied the minutia of how Jurai rose to power.
"Well that covers part one of Jurain history,” Azusa said as he closed his book. “Tomorrow we will talk about Jurais high imperial period.”
Azusa pulled out a new book.
“However, moving on, we shall now talk about Jurai’s culture and political setup starting with the royal houses of Jurai.”
Ami looked fascinated and absorbed every word as Jerren struggled to keep focused.
“There are four royal houses here on planet Jurai and at present the dominant ruling house is of course Masaki which I rule with the two empresess, first Lady Funaho and Misaki to whom we have two daughters, Ayeka and Sasami. The Kamiki house which lady Seto rules along with her husband Utsutsumi and her adoptive daughter Noike are the second tier ruling house. The third tier house, and most infamous, is the Amaki house…”
"Why is it infamous?" Jerren asked, raising his hand.
"Shuuzan,” Azusa almost hissed the name. “The leader of house Amaki attempted to thwart my efforts in becoming Emperor on two separate occasions and tried to kill lady Funaho in a duel.”
"Oh my, that sounds horrible!” gasped Ami.
Azusa nodded in agreement.
“Recently I have not heard nor seen any activity from him or his house.”
“…The fourth and last house is Tastuki. Very little is known about them since they like to keep to themselves and neither the Masaki nor Kamiki house has heard from them in quite a while. It is rumored that they collaborated with the Amaki house to over throw my appointment but nothing has ever been proven.”
"Fascinating…!” Ami rubbed her chin in contemplation, “But I do have a question, how are officials chosen?”
"I was just about to get to that,” said Azusa, “The four houses get together and choose them via election. Before I was elected, the previous Emperor was from the Amaki house. When he passed away, the four houses joined together to choose a new Emperor or Empress. Of course, if you have a first generation tree like I do then it is much easier to assure your victory in the election.”
"I see! Like in my country on Earth…” said Jerren, “The people elect a guy to be the leader for four years and if the people like him they re-elect him when his term’s up and he leads for another four years; a democracy?”
“Somewhat,” replied Azuza, “However we are an Imperial Empire and our power is absolute.”
“…This can be clearly seen when studying the class system here on Jurai; it is hierarchal in nature, so on the bottom level are the citizens or loyal subjects of the Empire who pay taxes and duties and fill the layers of the lower layer working class. In the middle class are the officials and higher level management class. Then there is the upper class; the nobles of Jurai, which you are being inducted into the ranks there of, who collects the citizens taxes and governs the provinces in each district of our mighty Empire. They have a considerable amount of authority within the limits of their duties and a small but powerful military force at their disposal to keep their provinces peaceful. They are loyal to the Emperor and Empress, but most of all to the Empire itself. Above all the levels of our society stand the ruling class who wields absolute authority over Jurai and its thousands of colonies. They only answer to the holy council of Jurai which will only step in for galaxy shaking decisions."
"Oh like the Congress like I have on my planet,” said Jerren, “I see!"
"I think this information will come in handy," Ami said, “I can’t wait to put the theory into practice, but I noticed you missed a class…what about the slave class?”
“They are slaves, not citizens, what more needs to be said?”
Azusa spoke casually.
Jerren and Ami looked at each other and their glance spoke volumes.After a week spent learning the history and etiquette of the Jurain nobility Jerren was seriously considering throwing himself head first from the window of their classroom. It being located a dozen stories from the ground becoming less of a deterrent with each passing day.
Fortunately, on the beginning of the new week they begin their martial training with Misaki and the stewards led them to another part of the castle where the temporarily demoted Empress paced back and forth impatiently.
“Ah, there you are!” She snapped when they were led in.
"Alright boys and girls, today you will be begin learning the basics of Jurain martial arts starting with a comprehensive test of your current capabilities and fitness followed by a complete work up of the more physical technique fundamentals. As neither of you have been formally trained nor have the abilities granted elite Jurian nobles joined with a Royal tree, we shall have to build the curriculum on the fly.”
Misaki paused for breath, her demeanor that of a stern drill sergeant.
“If you paid attention to Lord Azuza, then you know Jurains can manipulate matter on a subatomic level, project energy both offensively and defensively and we can even change our shape and appearance…” Misaki waved her hands expressively.
“There are even some gifted Jurains who can produce light hawk wings on their own without a ship…though there hasn’t been one of those in a few generations. Now I already know as mere humans you lack most of these abilities so we will have to start at the most basic level and see exactly what there is to work with…”
Ami had been quiet throughout Misaki’s speech, but had come to a decision.
"Your highness…?” Ami raised her hand and Misaki nodded for her to continue, “We might lack the abilities provided by the Royal trees, but we do have our own unique abilities. Jerren has developed enhanced strength and can use the Master Key, which can project the light hawk wings…” Ami paused considering her next words carefully, “And I have the ability to manipulate water in much the way a Jurain would use energy!”
Misaki glared at Ami, the tension in the room rising at the revelation of the powers Ami had so carefully concealed.
“I know that already,” Misaki scolded, shrugging, “So do not interrupt me again.”
Ami gawped at the nonchalant reaction of the Empress.
“Wait…YOU KNOW? You know about my abilities?” Ami blurted.
“Of course I do, silly little girl,” Misaki sighed wearily, “Did you honestly believe you could hide such abilities from us?”
Ami recoiled in shock.
“Since your return from Kagatos’ ship you and your partner have been studied thoroughly!”
Jerren looked perplexed staring at his hands as though they had betrayed him, before meeting the frightened eyes of Ami. He placed his hand on her shoulder comfortingly.
“Psychological analysis…physical pattern scans…a complete breakdown of your capabilities and potential…we knew every physiological detail of your abilities in a matter of hours.”
"Oh, I'm sorry your highness…” Ami bowed, flustered, “My sincerest apologies for not telling you about them sooner!"
"It is okay!” replied Misaki with a smug grin, “Showing cunning is not something to be punished, just be a good deal better at it. I can fail you if you get on my bad side so remember that.”
"YES MA’AM!” Jerren and Ami barked in unison standing to attention.
“Oh, I like that…” Misaki smiled. "Alright…! Since you lack our powers and scans can only tell us so much, we must start from square one…”
Misaki’s tests proved to be both rigorous and demanding.
Over the next few days Jerren and Ami discovered the limits of their mortal frames, pushing themselves in ways that did not seem humanly possible.
For a few of the sessions Ayeka and Sasami joined them, and cheerfully left them groaning, exhausted, in their wake. On those occasions, once Ami had recovered enough energy, a growl of annoyance would escape her lips at Princess Ayekas’ smug superiority as she looked down on the human girl in pity.
When Jerren was paired to face off with Sasami in order to practice posture for basic throws and counters he was worried he might hurt her with his heightened strength. After a few thrusts and parries, he was far more concerned that he wouldn’t be leaving the training hall alive.
Sasami happily threw him all over the room effortlessly. He began to find her cheerfulness rather unnerving as she belted him from one end of the room to the other.
Ami did not fare any better in Ayeka’s hands and the pair ached from the abuse their bodies had suffered at the Jurian’s hands.
And then the test of their powers began…
“This battle simulator was designed to test the two of you based on my observations of your abilities.” Misaki gestured towards a spherical building about two stories high, plain and utilitarian in appearance with only a small door to signify that entry was even possible.
“It was completed yesterday to my specifications I think you will find it to be quite challenging!” Misaki grinned.
“Alright…human girl, you go first.”
"Who me?” said Ami, “Um, okay...” Ami nervously approached the doorway hesitating at the entrance. Misaki exhaled in exasperation and pushed her forcefully through the entrance. Signaling for Jerren to follow, they all entered the battle simulator.
Ami stood transfixed just inside the doorway staring in wonder at the world presented by the marvel of Jurain engineering.
"Whoa! Check this out…” said Jerren whistling, “It's like that movie, ‘Tron’!”
"This is amazing! I know I said this before but your people coin the term ‘Space Age’!” Ami practically gushed at the surrounding technology.
A grid of pulsating lights encircled the room flashing beams of energy between nodes spaced evenly along the walls.
"Alright…! ‘Battle simulation three, mark one’…!” Misaki barked, “We will start at stage one, with icy terrain, and only moderate obstacle interference. It is also the lowest setting.” Misaki spoke condescendingly as the virtual landscape shifted into an open skied frozen wasteland with icy pillars and snow drifts dotting the landscape. Round balloon like targets floated lazily in the air and…obstacles…scurried furtively in and out of hidden crevasses.
The pair gulped at the sight of the spines, claws and teeth.
"Ok here are the rules…” said Misaki striding into the snow, “For every target you take out you lose half an hour off your physical training regimen today. Get all 12 and you may use the rest of your day however you see fit.” Raising her hand an energy pulse lashed out and struck one of the balloons causing it to burst in a static stream of energy. Almost instantly it reformed.
“You have five minutes and if you are tagged by one of the creatures, defeated or time runs out, an hour will be added on top of however many targets you miss.”
"Oh okay,” replied Ami stretching her limbs and warming up, “This actually sounds fun…um, not the extra work I mean, the course.”
Ami studied the obstacle course as she went in front of the starting line. The easier targets were located openly on easily accessible platforms, while more difficult balloons were floating in midair behind obstructions, some guarded by the ice creatures.
"I can do this!” Ami pumped herself up.
Pausing at the starting line Ami pulled out her blue visor.
“I sure am glad I was able to get these upgraded!” Ami placed it over her eyes, and giggled happily as the heads up display lighted in front of her. She loved the new improvements the castle technicians had given her visor. Looking around the environment the visor quickly marked all 12 targets in green and all creatures lurking in their vicinity in red. Optimal routes to reach the targets were highlighted in blue.
“Right…Here I go!” Ami went through the starting gate and summoned multiple bubbles to hit 3 targets that were very open but on separate sides of the field.
"Yes! That’s an hour and a half for me!” she grinned excitedly, “Just nine more to go!"
As she was running to the next target what could only be described as some sort of furry scorpion that had not been marked on her display jumped up from its concealed hiding place in front of her and spat out sharp needles at her exposed midsection. Ami reacted quickly and used her bubble force field causing several needles to deflect in different directions, one hitting the monster impaling its exposed throat, as others skittered harmlessly on ice a few actually contacted some of the more difficult to reach targets bursting them in a shower of sparks.
In the end two more targets had been hit and the creature defeated, but at a cost. As Ami moved towards the next target her heartbeat falling back to its normal pattern, she felt a pain in her leg. Looking down she saw a needle protruding from her calf.
“Oh darn!” Ami groaned pulling the sharp barb gingerly from her tender leg.
"Hmm, innovative and expedient use of outside resources…!” Misaki remarked as she observed Ami's reflexive course of action, “She not only deflected the stingers back at the chimera but also hit a couple of the harder to reach targets…but sadly, the confrontation did not leave her unscathed.”
“Alright Ami, you can do it, walk it off!” Jerren yelled from the sidelines.
"Okay, only seven more to go!” Ami said composing herself. “Only the obstructed ones are left so I need to think more strategically.” Her visor began to glow as she reviewed the information it had on hand.
"Now let’s see,” she said as she scanned the remaining targets and creatures, “It seems several targets are guarded by a den of those furry bugs and something…something bigger is covering the others. I need to draw them out and incapacitate them…nothing serious, I just need to get past them, a few seconds will be all I need…”
“So what to do in a situation like this...oh, of course, AQUA MIST!" Drawing all the moisture from the air a thick fog coalesced over the crevices and hidden lairs of the subterranean monsters. Suddenly creating friction throughout the mist created an electric shock that had all the lurking creatures bursting from their caves like an erupting geyser of claws and gnashing fangs. Spines twisted in irritation at the sudden shocking sparks that flared over their fur into their soft tissue.
And then a rumble in the ground almost threw Ami off her feet as an enormous grey serpent exploded from the ground. 3 more targets were destroyed by the frenzied thrashing of the serpent’s roaring maw.
“Ami look out…!” Jerren shouted.
Misaki held her arm in front of Jerren as he rushed to aid her.
But Ami had kept her head and poured more fog over the massing creatures. Focusing the energy around her she drew all the friction and movement from the water molecules creating a snap freeze that immobilized the creatures in an icy prison. Walking calmly past the mewling, trapped monstrosities, Ami nonchalantly shot bubbles at the remaining 4 defenseless targets.
The simulator turned off and Ami limped back to Misaki and Jerren.
"Wow Ami, when did you learn that?" Jerren smiled in congratulation.
"Just yesterday,” replied Ami, “I wanted to tinker with my water abilities, and so I thought of all the forms water can take and how they could be mixed. It was just theory though until I put it into application and this seemed like as good a time as any.”
Misaki crossed her arms.
“It was risky trying an untested technique in the thick of battle, but it paid off, so well done. In a real battle such a stunt could very well mean the difference between life and death… and not necessarily your own. You destroyed all the targets with only one penalty. An impressive display…”
Ami blushed at the praise as Misaki turned to Jerren and pointed to the flickering battle space.
"It is your turn boy,” Misaki said impassively, “‘Battle simulation one, mark one’!”
The simulator transformed as ship hull plating formed with coils and tubes running around the perimeter. Soon it became apparent that the battle ground was to be a cargo bay.
"So I'm fighting inside of a ship huh, well this shouldn’t be too hard to deal with…” Jerren pulled out the light hawk sword.
"The rules are the same,” said Misaki, “Get all 12 targets and you have a free pass for the rest of the day.”
"Okay, sounds simple,” replied Jerren, “I am so ready to do this!”
Jerren charged into the room prepared to slash his way through anything that popped up, but the room blinked red and the cargo bay disappeared.
“Hey what happened?” Jerren spun around looking for his targets.
“Oh yes,” Misaki held her hand over her mouth, “I forgot…No weapons allowed. This is a test of your inherent abilities, what you can do with what is built into you.”
“But Ami used her visor…and she has water powers!” Jerren pointed out.
“A visor does not enhance your physical abilities, merely your awareness, and as she discovered, it is not infallible…and her water powers are inherent to her. No weapons!”
Grumbling, Jerren handed the light hawk sword to Misaki.
“You can use my visor if you like Jerren! It will help you keep track of the targets.” Ami offered.
“Nah…It would only slow me down.” Jerren waved the proffered tool away. “But thanks for offering.”
"Okay, no weapon…all that means is this is going to take a little longer than I thought. This is STILL going to be a cake walk…” he said, his confidence unshaken.
The cargo bay reformed and as soon as Misaki gave the signal Jerren charged into the room again.
Immediately a group of automated stinger orbs surrounded him and fired a volley of blasts. Sliding under the blasts Jerren kicked the lid off a metal crate and snatching it in the air flung it at the clustered orbs, destroying half of them as the lid rebounded from one to the next smashing their circuitry. The metal tray skittered over the ground and Jerren tumbled over to it raising it to shield himself as more blasts zipped past him. The energy hit the makeshift shield and was redirected sending the dangerous beams back to their source and the rest of the orbs were taken out in a shower of molten slag. The randomly returned blasts also managed to destroy 4 targets littered around the room.
“Only 8 more to go Jerren…!” Ami shouted.
“Make shift, ungraceful but an adaptive and practical solution…” Misaki noted.
"This is a piece of cake!” Jerren laughed, “Just 8 more and I win! How about we make this more challenging?”
Misaki grinned, and nodded.
“Alright Boy, but remember, you asked for it. “Battle simulation two Mark two!”
A door opened on the other side of the room. Strutting confidently towards it he sent the container lid flying into the rafters where a shimmer of sparks verified another target hit.
“Make that 7…”
He walked into the next room to discover a smelter operation with only a narrow walkway held by chains and surrounded by molten metal that flowed underneath. Several branching platforms circled over him. The door slammed shut behind him.
Walking slowly Jerren had just counted the final 7 targets high above him when a burst of burning metal bubbled and exploded from the central river melting through the platform and chains just in front of him. He leaped back as the spatter covered where seconds ago he had stood.
Gulping at the near miss, Jerren was startled at the screeching, groaning sounds that came from the damaged walk way. In juddering fits chains snapped and the platform began to fall. Jerren heard Ami gasp in horror.
A heaving liquid monster rose before him spewing molten metal as it latched onto the faltering twisted platform.
"Not good, I need to get out of here, NOW,” he cried in panic. He leaped onto one of the snapped chains swinging himself over the creature as it continued to pull itself from the burning muck. Jerren swung from one chain to the next until he landed on a higher walkway. Holding the last chain, Jerren grunted and pulled the links from their anchor points.
Looking over the edge he noticed the still rising form below him. Looking around he sighted the nearest targets and using the improvised chain link whip, quickly snapped three targets from the air.
“A…and then there were 4!” Jerren wiped his brow, his heart beating hard in his chest.
Jerren leapt high into the air just as the platform beneath his feet was wrenched from its moorings. His hand snaked out and caught the next platform by the barest margin.
Slowly he pulled himself over the railing. Looking down the creature pulled the metal platform into its gaping maw.
Gasping from the heat and exertion, Jerren pulled himself to his feet, snapping the chain whip at another target, missing by a small sliver. He wiped the sweat from his eyes and flicked his wrist again snapping the balloon in a puff of sparks.
Stumbling to the other side of the walkway Jerren lined up another shot. Another hit and he lined up for the last two when giant molten fingers latched on to the edge of the walk way throwing him off balance, and sent him tumbling over the side.
Grabbing the edge, Jerren shouted involuntarily and held on for dear life as the creature swung the platform this way and that, trying to pull it free.
He swung his makeshift whip at the creatures’ wrist in the hope of freeing its grasp on the tortured platform but succeeded only in melting his chain.
Realizing the hopelessness of a direct attack, Jerren tried to pull himself up.
The chains finally snapped, the platform ripped from its hold and Jerren entered freefall…
Ami screamed, and suddenly it was all gone thus ending the simulation.
Jerren found himself floating a few feet off the ground.
“H…huh? What happened?” He stuttered in incomprehension.
Jerren floated just above the ground as Misaki and Ami approached him.
"Nice job Jerren,” Ami said impressed, “You almost got them all."
"Ah nuts…!” Jerren hung his head.
“Your partner is correct human. You showed ingenuity, an impressive ability to adapt and a remarkable will. However your overconfidence was your undoing.” Misaki ticked off her observations tapping her fingers with the light hawk sword.
“It was…?” Jerren asked in a small voice.
“Yes! You asked for a higher difficulty setting when you were obviously not prepared for it. Added to that is the lack of focus you showed when confronted with a powerful adversary. You chose to focus on the magma giant rather than stick to your true objective of quickly destroying your targets. When you were hanging from that railing you could have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat but you attacked the wrong target…”
“Okay, I’m going to work on that!” Jerren pumped his fist energetically as the field evaporated and his feet returned to the ground.
"Good! Constantly seeking to improve your self is the key to becoming a good martial artist. Now with scores tallied, 1 hour of reaction improvement training for Ami and 3 hours of strategic course running for Jerren.”
“Wait…3 hours?” Jerren queried. “There were two balloons left and I failed, shouldn’t that be two hours?”
“No, two balloons and you were tagged and defeated...just because the program didn’t let you fall into the molten metal doesn’t mean it doesn’t count.” Misaki critiqued.
“Yes your highness.” Jerren and Ami groaned in unison.
To be continued...
It was in the second hour of his training that Jerren decided he hated Ami and Misaki.
The pair lounged sedately by a pool sipping ice tea from exotic glasses with umbrellas in them.
“Should we really be doing this while Jerren is training?” Ami asked self-consciously. “That is the third time he’s glared at us.”
Misaki lowered her sunglasses from the bridge of her nose and spied Jerren as he wove in and out of her obstacle course.
Misaki grinned maliciously.
“Do not concern yourself,” The former empress placated, “Just lie back and enjoy this wonderful weather.”
Her laughter echoed.
Over the past 11 months Jerren and Ami had trained their bodies and minds under the tutelage of Azuza and Misaki, learning all they could about the Jurain Empire; its history, etiquette and combat styles. They had pushed themselves beyond their limits and the year of study was approaching its end. It was midnight and Jerren and Ami were cramming in one final study session before their exams.
Ami felt prepared and went to bed early while Jerren sat at his desk, frustrated, still struggling with his Jurian history.
"Oh cruuuud!” Jerren moaned as he blankly stared at his text book, “There is no way I can remember all this. I love history but Jurian history just fries my mind…I mean, it covers over 150,000 years! Ugh!" Jerren planted his face in the textbook, ‘resting his eyes for a moment’ he told himself. There was a knock on the door and Jerren jerked awake.
"WHO IS IT?” Jerren yelled out as he got up from is chair and walked to the door. “If it’s another guard, you can go away. I don’t need anything!”
"It is I, Princess Ayeka,” a voice said, “May I enter?”
"Oh it's you Princess,” replied Jerren, “thank goodness you’re not one of those guards; they’ve been bothering me all night. Yes, please come in.” The door opened and Ayeka walked into the room.
"Why hello my servant,” she said as she fondly tousled his hair, “or should I just call you Jerren from now on since you will soon no longer be in my service."
"It's nice to see you too Princess!” Jerren smiled tiredly. Yawning, he slowly walked back to his desk and sat down.
"Oh my, you do not seem well,” Ayeka stated in concern as she walked to his side, placing the back of her hand on his forehead. “You seem to be exhausted, your eyes are bloodshot and you feel very warm. You need to rest or you will get sick."
"You don't know the half of it princess,” said Jerren as he picked up his text book. “My brain is so full of information right now it feels like it's about to burst…”
"It is because of Father’s test tomorrow,” Ayeka clucked sympathetically, “that is why you are in the state you are in, is it not?"
"You hit the nail right on the head Princess,” said Jerren with his head still in the book. “I can't get pass chapter 29 and wrap my head around Jurai and Seniwa’s feud for dominance."
"That is all…?” Ayeka giggled, “That is child’s play, the Jurain - Seniwan conflicts are the least complicated chapter of Jurain history so what is the problem?”
"It's easy for you Princess,” replied Jerren, “you grew up with this stuff."
"True…” replied Ayeka, “I was immersed in my planets history and culture by my parents from an early age and was also taught by the legendary swordsman Yosho...so perhaps I could…help you study?” Ayeka spoke quickly blushing furiously.
“Really…you would actually do that for me?” said Jerren looking up from his textbook.
"Of course,” Ayeka smiled shyly looking away from Jerren’s earnest stare, “you helped me in my time of need when Kagato kidnapped me, so I will gladly help you study. It seems the least I can do…”
"Thank you,” Jerren grinned, “I really need to get a handle on this."
"What are friends for?” said Ayeka picking up the book. “In space calendar year 9506 Jurai had grown in strength and prestige and expanded its borders across the galaxy. But a rival to Jurain dominance would soon challenge the still expanding Empire. Like Jurai, Seniwa had claimed nearly a thousand planets and had massive influence over the galaxy at that time. But as Jurai’s influence expanded into Seniwan territory, space became a premium commodity. We came into conflict and that conflict would eventually escalate into a galactic cold war for influence and dominion over the galaxy. The bitter rivalry between Empires lasted for about a millennium until Seniwa was drained of all its essential resources and their economy stalled. Unfortunately Jurai was not doing much better and neared the same level of economic collapse. Jurai and Seniwa agreed to make a covenant of peace and we helped them stabilize their economy while they provided security and peacekeeping forces. These agreements are still upheld today under the Galactic Police charter…which I believe you have at least a passing familiarity with."
"You make it sound so simple. I'll definitely remember this, thanks!” Jerren made some notes.
"You are welcome.” Ayeka beamed at Jerren.
“It was generous of lady Seto to let me keep you as my servant this whole year after you were done with classes. It was…fun. We did not have much time left together to...to…! So, I…I wanted to be by your side as much as I possibly could!” Ayeka then turned her face and tears dripped from her face.
"But now...that time is almost done...and after I just started to get to know you as a person too! You are a bit naive, but funny…and very talented.” Ayeka laughed through her sobs. “I am really going to miss having you as my servant...and friend!"
"Hey it’s all right,” Jerren walked around his desk and hugged Ayeka. She buried her face into his shirt, “please don't cry Princess. Hey, when we graduate, you can still hang out with me and Ami. We can still be friends, can’t we?”
Ayeka looked into Jerren’s eyes.
"Yes that would be nice,” she said as she laid her head on his chest, “nice...and warm and...cozy...!” The Princesses voice trailed off.
"Uh, Princess…? Princess…?” Jerren shook Ayeka’s shoulders lightly. “Hey princess, snap out of it!"
"OH my…!” she said as she let go of him blinking rapidly, “I am sorry, you were so nice and huggable I think I drowsed off. But let us finish studying so you can pass Father’s test!"
For the next 3 hours they studied long and hard and in the 4th hour Ayeka had fallen asleep, tired from all the studying. Jerren picked her up, laying her gently in his bed and closed the door softly behind him. Stealing quietly into Ami's room Jerren plunked himself on the floor with a blanket and a pillow his mind drifting into slumber the moment his head hit the pillow.
To be continued.....