Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or Young Justice or any related characters or properties.
APRIL 2, 15:31 UTC-2
TEAM YEAR NEGATIVE TWO
Naruto held his hands together, watching as the water swayed around him, adding to the effect of the entire class. On the dais, the luminescent sphere of water rose, and then changed shape, creating several distinctive figures. Within moments, the group-spell had created a crude miniature replica of the city, a fantastically concerted effort that took a lot of precision.
The blonde glanced across the platform and met Tula's face, but she was turned to the boy to her left and tried to coax him to do better. His tattoos only faintly glowed and required the use of water bearers to anchor his magic, showing his relative inexperience. He had gotten to know Kaldur quite well during the past year when he joined the Conservatory, but sorcery was not quite as easy for him as it could have been.
When one of the buildings of the city-wide replica began to shake, a nursery from the looks of it, it was clear who was responsible. Naruto tried to overextend his own control, to support Kaldur's efforts, but as he did, the street near the palace immediately collapsed.
He sighed and tried to repair the street as well as stabilize it, but his magic was too taxed trying to support both Kaldur's ministrations and his own. When Kaldur's nursery dispersed, the rest of the spell began to crumble.
"All right, let it up," Savenna suddenly demanded, much to the gratitude of everyone. The complex spell faded and quite a few people in the circle were grumbling, the hint of overexertion on their features. Naruto wasn't exhausted in the slightest, but he felt for most of the class. This was relatively advanced stuff, and not everyone in this group had as many years of experience as he did.
"There was a significant lack of detail," the instructor explained in an admonishing voice the blonde boy knew very well. "As each person is included in the effort, another layer of complexity must be established. Many of you were unable to meet the expectations of everyone else, either in detail or focus. Do better."
Savenna was going to dismiss them after a long day of perfecting it, and Naruto had already begun to get ready to leave, when a familiar voice spoke up. "But how can you fight with this?" Naruto glanced up to see the dark-haired boy looking at her earnestly, a hand on Kaldur's shoulder.
The instructor smiled. "There is much more to life than combat, Garth, contrary to what D'istar says. You know as well as I do that sorcery has many applications, and none of them are exclusively for fighting." She glanced around at everyone else. "This form of spell is used to create a projection of an image. This could be used for entertainment, for art, for architecture, and many other aspects."
Tula cleared her throat. "You could also cast a glamour to disguise your presence, or use it as a distraction."
Savenna nodded. "Exactly. It has a myriad of applications that are relevant. While you might not need to know how to recreate a model city on your own, you could hide an important object on a mission." When her own hidden tattoos activated, glowing green water began to surround the hand she raised. Within moments, the light faded, only to reveal that her hand had completely vanished.
The class clapped as she dropped the effort, but Naruto had mixed feelings. Even then, he wondered if he could adapt a similar spell to his more advanced wind sorcery. Savenna dismissed the class, and Naruto immediately swam across the circle to join the others.
"Thank you, my friend," the dark-skinned Atlantean said with a small smile.
Naruto shrugged. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I'm glad to help." Kaldur's smile deepened, but there was something bubbling under the surface. Doubt? Shame?
"So are we on for dinner tonight?" Garth asked the three of them, referring to their favorite coral diner. Tula's face brightened at the thought.
"I am not certain," Kaldur said. "There is something... upsetting me." The older boy suddenly sat down, prompting the rest of them to follow. Naruto couldn't understand why he was so down.
Tula tried to squeeze his arm to comfort him. "What's wrong?"
After a long moment, the boy met her gaze. "This is just the latest example, but I am considering moving down to the lower class."
"What?" Naruto and Garth said in the same moment.
"Kaldur, you can't do that. We'll be separated!" Tula exclaimed. "We'll pass you by."
"You already have." The look on the boy's face was so downcast. Naruto wished he knew what to say. "You, Tula, are clearly the most skilled of anyone in the class. Naruto, you've got the most experience and your unique sorcery. And Garth, you're the most powerful, and your tattoos will be gone soon. What do I have?"
It was Tula who was first to break the silence, but the boy wasn't going to hear it. When Kaldur suddenly jumped off the ground, swimming straight off of the platform, Naruto had to evade the dust cloud. "I need some time alone."
"Wait, what about dinner!?" Garth asked earnestly, looking up at the other's retreating form.
"I'll meet you there!" Kaldur called out, leaving the rest of them unsure of what to think.
No one said anything for several moments, but Naruto looked at the both of them finally. "What do we do?"
"I don't know. This might be something he needs to work out on his own," Tula explained.
"But we'll be there for him either way," Garth finished.
APRIL 2, 16:35 UTC-2
TEAM YEAR NEGATIVE TWO
The Elders stood before him, bickering among themselves about everything he had just said. Orin briefly considered, yet again, disbanding the entire system, but that would be an affront that no noble would ever accept. He had enough trouble as it was.
"The Purist epidemic has grown to be much more forceful than anyone could realize," Orin added again. "We must do something to combat these issues, or no one will be able to quell the tide before it sweeps all of us away!"
"Bah, these are unfounded."
"The reports are exaggerated!"
"There is nothing to suggest what you are saying is accurate to any degree beyond supposition."
Orin sighed, considering the evidences before them. His own brother was the one to bring forth the reports and was secured through much of the prince's network of spies. They had never let him down before, and they were merely explaining what they had heard. The Elders were the only factor in this chain who were suggesting anything different.
"We should not take this lightly," Orin repeated. This council was more difficult to deal with than Hal or Barry ever were. "How hard is it to assume that the Purists have some form of leader?"
Another round of disagreement spread throughout the room. "The Purist movement is a movement, not a regime. They lack a centralized authority. This is how it has been since the beginning of the Great Deluge."
The king of Atlantis cleared his throat. "We are going to investigate the claims of the recent attacks, and I am going to leave Poseidonis to investigate them myself."
"You dare abandon the throne at a time like this?"
"The air-breathers have changed you!"
"I am not abandoning anything!" Orin shouted, loud enough to completely silence the room. He imagined that they could hear him throughout the hallway. "If anything, I am ensuring the survival of all of my people by assuming that this could be a more substantial threat. Queen Mera may rule in my stead, as she has done while I am on duty with the League."
Orin left the room quickly, tired of hearing this antiquated system. He was only half joking a few years back when he asked one of his advisors whether or not abolishing the Elders would be a good thing. Nothing short of civil war would happen as a result, but was there much difference with what could happen in the political climate right now?
He hurried back to his personal office, only half acknowledging the guards posted outside the room. "Chief Science Advisor Vulko summoned for you," the guard explained.
"Did he say what it was about?" asked Orin.
The guard shook his head. "Prince Orm said he would handle it."
When he found himself behind the desk, he took a long moment to try to relax. He decided to bother Vulko later. It couldn't be that important, or he would have left some kind of message. And he was sure his brother would burst through the door if it was something urgent.
As he leaned back and stared at the ceiling, he would give just about anything to summon Mera to his side, if only for a few minutes to calm his nerves. He knew she was far too busy for that, but the stress was mounting and they could both use the relief.
The latest attacks showed a clear sign of targeting, and the reports whispered of a phantom leader running things across all the kingdoms. What could he do?
He considered the situation and activated the communicator on the desk, quickly verifying his identity with a voice command. "Aquaman to the Watchtower." The screen suddenly lit up, revealing the figure of Hawkwoman standing in front of the holographic display.
"Orin, is something wrong?"
"Well, it's not League business," he said to the winged woman on monitor duty. He frowned after another second of thought. "Perhaps I shouldn't bring it even to your attention, now that I think about it."
The Thanagarian warrior shook her head. "Well, you wouldn't have reached out if you didn't need some assistance. Can I help you?"
Orin reluctantly explained the situation to her as quickly as he could. Shayera listened intently, her expression stoic. "And now I have an entire council who probably all sympathize with the Pursit agenda, but I can't prove what they will not admit publicly."
The alien considered it a moment, rubbing a finger under her chin. "I can relate. Not everyone on Thanagar is born with functioning wings. Some aren't born with wings at all. This purism is exactly the same kind of systemic oppression that Katar and I have seen on our planet. But violence against the flightless is uncommon."
Orin nodded. "Interesting. Is there anything you suggest I can do from your experience?"
The woman smirked and raised her spiked mace. "Thanagar has a powerful police force. Maybe if you put your foot down, you can stop these attacks. And it probably wouldn't hurt to knock some heads in on this council of yours as well. They seem to not consider purism an issue, and if the violence against members of your society is not a problem to them, then it shouldn't be a problem if you violently remove them from any position of authority."
Orin looked at her like she had grown a second head behind those wings of hers. When she suddenly laughed, his brow furrowed. "What?"
"You should have seen the look on your face!" Shayera said, smiling. "In all seriousness, Orin, if these Elders are Purist sympathizers, you need to put your foot down. At least figuratively. They sound like they are nothing but trouble as it is."
The king nodded, giving himself a lot to consider. "Thank you for the advice, Hawkwoman. I will see what I can do."
"Any time." The mace swung once around her arm, a mischievous smile rising on her face. "I'd love to see them sympathize with this."
APRIL 2, 20:29 UTC-2
TEAM YEAR NEGATIVE TWO
Tula was practically pacing in front of the restaurant, making both Naruto and Garth incredibly nervous and probably upsetting anyone inside who could see them. "He's half an hour late, Naruto. Stop giving me that look."
"If you'll sit down and worry, at least you won't carve a path in the ground below you," he stated. Just to spite him, she kicked off and began swimming in line, flipping back and forth in an effort that looked extremely taxing.
"Seriously, Tula, will you stop? It's not like something happened to him. He just needed to sort some things out," Garth pleaded.
When the redhead finally did listen, planting her butt on the seat outside the diner, she lightly kicked back and forth, so rhythmically that the effect was the same. Naruto sighed loudly and she stopped, sheepish.
"I'm sorry. I just don't like any of this."
"Weren't you the one who said he could work this out on his own?" Garth asked.
"I might have said that, but I retract my statement now," Tula explained.
Naruto just smiled. Kaldur was lucky to have so many people care about him and his well-being.
"I just worry about him. I can't help it," she said after another few moments. "He's an insecure person. He passes it off as being humble, but I've had conversations with him about how he doesn't value himself like he does other people."
Naruto raised an eyebrow. That fits too well... Garth frowned. "How can he not see what others see in him? Why does he... not like himself?"
"If this is what being a teenager is like, then I don't want to grow any older."
Garth thumped him on the shoulder, earning a pointed teeth-bearing grin. "Shut up, kid. Why do we hang out with you again?"
"Because of my charming good looks and hilarious sense of humor. Ooh, and I'm awesome."
Tula rolled her eyes before laughing. "Whatever you say, Naruto."
They sat in comfortable silence for a few more minutes, but it was clear that Garth had something on his mind. "If he doesn't hurry, we'll have to eat without him, or they will cancel the reservation."
Tula sighed heavily, bubbles forming in front of her mouth. "Fine. Let's go."
Naruto nodded lightly and they stood up from their positions, turning to head inside. He glanced backward just as the familiar face rushed into view, swimming toward them quickly.
"You aren't going to eat without me?"
Tula raced forward and hugged him tightly, and Garth shook his hand. Naruto just waved at their display, feeling oddly alone. Normally, he would never consider their difference in ages, but they were three years older than he was. They were... more tightly-knit than he was to them, so sometimes it bothered him.
Within a few moments, the four of them were seated and already prepared to order their usual meals. Their spot near the back of the restaurant, right along the end of the row of windowed openings overlooking the open ocean. It was truly the best view in the house, and staring at it gave Naruto chills.
"So what took you so long?" Garth suddenly said, breaking the calm that had settled since they sat down.
Kaldur smiled. "I have been doing some thinking-"
"At the coral cliffs?" Tula suddenly asked, reminding Naruto of Kaldur's favorite place in all of Poseidonis.
When the older teen nodded lightly, she smiled. "Yes. You know me well. But no, I have been considering what I need to do and I think I am going to take three days off from school and head home."
"To Shayeris?" asked Naruto.
The teenager nodded. "Yes. I think a visit with my parents will allow me to clear my head."
Garth crossed his arms. "Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. A vacation to refresh."
"Exactly. I think it will help me decide what I want to do moving forward."
Naruto considered that, looking at Tula's worried eyes. Kaldur needed to ask his parents whether or not he wants to stay in the advanced class or drop behind. He had to hope it would work in their favor, because not a single one of his friends wanted him to fall behind.
"Well, we're coming with you. I have a few days saved up, and I'm sure Naruto can vouch for us with Savenna to make sure it's okay," Tula suddenly declared.
"I can't make any promises," Naruto said, immediately liking the idea. Kaldur's parents seemed really nice. "But I don't think she would say no. Just so long as we aren't gone long. I'm prepared to beg."
Within a few short moments, everyone started talking about what they needed to pack, if anything, but Kaldur was speechless. "You three would come with me?"
"Of course we would," Naruto said, grinning. "Why wouldn't we?"
APRIL 3, 15:11 UTC-2
TEAM YEAR NEGATIVE TWO
Mera entered the office, her guard stopping behind her. She couldn't stop the smile from appearing on her face when she saw her husband. Naruto had just left with his friends after all, and she was worried he would have left already as well. "Oh, thank Poseidon you're still here!"
The king stood from his desk and embraced her quickly, planting a kiss on her cheek. "Of course. I wouldn't leave without saying anything to you."
The woman's face fell, slightly ashamed she would assume differently. She knew that the situation was difficult. The sixth Purist attack within the past month and a half? It spoke volumes. "What's the plan?"
"I'm heading to Lemuria to get the information directly, rather than through Orm," he explained, before his face lit up with realization of something. "Oh, I almost forgot. My brother will be here to help if you need him. You only have to ask, if something happens that you can't handle."
She raised an eyebrow playfully. "You aren't suggesting that I'm suddenly incapable, are you?"
"Of course not!" The king blushed; she knew he understood how many times she had watched the throne for him before. "I am merely passing the message along from him just in case."
The woman smirked. "Just messing with you." They kissed briefly, before he broke away, forcing himself to leave. She frowned lightly.
"I need to leave soon. The others are waiting for me already, and if I want to get there by morning..."
She smirked and placed a hand on her hip, teasing him with a tiny bit of her exposed hip. "Of course. I'll be waiting for you when you get back." He practically salivated before clearing his throat. She just laughed. "Be careful. Do you know when you'll be back?"
"It shouldn't be more than a few days," he said after a moment. "I will try to be quick."
She shook her head. "No, be thorough. You need to figure out if there's some mastermind out there, and every detail is necessary. Channel your inner Bruce if you have to."
Orin actually laughed before finally walking away from her. "I love you. I'll be back as soon as I can."
"I love you too."
APRIL 4, 10:23 UTC-2
TEAM YEAR NEGATIVE TWO
The second he swam close enough to see it, the light from the city on the ocean floor caught his eye. It was the first time he had ever seen this city-state, and it was absolutely brilliant. The waters were naturally darker here due to the depths, but the magic lighting the way seemed even bright by contrast.
"I wish King Orin could install one of those Zeta tubes in all the city-states," Naruto said, reaching down to rub his calf and stall their progression.
"Zeta tubes?" The look on Garth's face was one of pure confusion. "What the hell is that?"
"Uhh," Naruto started, trying to think of an explanation. "It's a teleporter. Instant transmission." Garth suddenly understood and nodded, laughing at the idea.
The redheaded girl rolled her eyes. "Geez, you two are such nerds. When is it ever okay to reference that surface-world series?"
"When is it not okay to reference DBZ?" Garth asked, earning a hand-shake from the blonde.
"I imagine that it would be straining to have interconnected teleporters for anyone to use," Kaldur explained, thoughtful, "considering the political climate of late."
Tula was impressed. "At least Kaldur has some sense."
The tallest of their group was swimming considerably faster than they were, trying to get to his home. They were all tired and struggling to keep up with him. Naruto, personally, was confused as to why they swam the whole way here, but at least they didn't try to swim to Lemuria. Shayeris was the closest other kingdom.
He eyed the dark-skinned Atlantean as they descended into the city quickly. Kaldur had always been more military-minded than any of their group; he took to those lessons, and his military service, very seriously. It was just like him to point out the political issues with installing Zeta tubes to connect the seven kingdoms, especially with whispers of rebellion on everyone's mind.
No one would tell Naruto anything about it. The older he got, the more independent he became, the farther he was removed from the king and queen. Mera, with the help of the other instructors of the Conservatory, had raised him, but there was a sort of distance between them now that he couldn't understand. He wasn't bitter about not seeing them as regularly, because he had plenty of things to occupy his time. He merely missed them, and he no longer had an ear in the throne room, so to speak.
Soldiers swam up to greet them, and Kaldur showed his identification as a fellow soldier. Naruto was slightly jealous to see the other boy with that kind of authority, and wondered when he would begin his own service in the military. Tula was, as a female, immune and Garth had served for the standard six months. Kaldur had an extended stay and remained in service for nearly two years before shifting to the Conservatory to broaden his horizons.
"It's an amazing city, Kaldur," Tula explained as they escorted them farther into the city. "I haven't seen it since I was a little girl."
The other boy beamed. "Thank you. I do not spend as much time here as I would like."
Naruto swam forward and clapped the older boy on the back. "Well, at least we'll be here for a few days. That'll tide you over for a while." That earned a smile from the more serious boy.
The blonde was merely glad to get to spend so much time away from the Conservatory. His studies were naturally important to him, but he had to admit that he was taking personal advantage to Kaldur's situation. A break would be good for all of them, not just for Kaldur.
After they were finished being verified, the eldest lead the three of them through the sprawling city. Naruto greeted any passing citizens with a wave as he passed, preemptively deciding not to show his teeth. But when he saw an entire family with puffer-fish for a head, he realized that it was considerably more liberal here. When he did give a toothy grin, not one person flinched at the sight.
When they finally arrived at a small home in a relatively nice neighborhood, Kaldur was so proud. Naruto admired the colorful arrangement of fish living in the coral nests surrounding the building, nodding to them as their primitive emotions flooded his mind. He sent happy thoughts, like the scent of Mera's favorite anemone tea, to them, and they danced around him excitedly before returning. It slightly saddened him to realize he had not had her tea in a long time.
"We're here," Kaldur said, swimming excitedly up to the door of the red building.
"You should teach me how to do that," Garth suggested as Kaldur knocked on the door.
"How to knock?" asked Naruto, confused as a curious clown-fish danced around his arm. Garth rolled his eyes and pointed, apparently scaring the fish back to the coral bed. "Oh, sorry. I don't think it's teachable, but there might be some spell you can do." The brunette just nodded as the door finally opened.
A beautiful woman with golden hair and nearly the same skin color greeted them at the door, her face so positively bright. Her green outfit went well with her beauty. It was almost staggering, and the mythology buff in Naruto wondered if this was what naiads looked like. If not, they should, because Kaldur's mother was divinely good-looking.
The man behind her had the same shade of skin as Kaldur, and an interesting calming look on his face. An all-purple body suit showed an impressive figure, fitting to him like a second-skin. This man was a fighter... He understood where Kaldur got it from.
"Kaldur'ahm! I am so glad to see you again!" the woman exclaimed, grasping him in a hug like she didn't want to let go. "Those bags under your eyes just won't do. You need to get more sleep!"
Kaldur's father rolled his eyes. "Come on now, pearl."
Naruto, Tula, and Garth all smiled as Kaldur let go of his mother's embrace and finally ushered them inside. "Mother, father, these are my friends. Naruto, Tula, and Garth. They are all in the advanced class."
Tula clasped her hand carefully. "It's good to meet you, Sha'lain'a. You are even more beautiful in person than you are in pictographs."
Naruto and Garth greeted both of them in sequence. "I'm so glad to be here. You have a cool home. This isn't the style they have in Poseidonis." The blonde smiled, and the woman leaned down to the shorter eleven year old.
"You're an observant one, aren't you?" Naruto merely grinned, bearing his teeth to gauge her reaction. When she smiled brighter, his heart fluttered.
"Yes, ma'am. Mera always prides me on that."
Calvin looked at him in surprise. "Mera? As in Queen Mera?"
Naruto waved it off, but it was Garth that explained it. "He's been raised in the Conservatory his whole life. The queen and the other instructors were like his surrogate parents."
"Don't spend as much time with them as I used to, but yeah," he added. "I guess you could say that Mera and Savenna were like my moms..."
Kaldur's mother just glanced at him and then back at her son, but Naruto didn't catch what the look meant. He could assume what the silent glance said, and was glad that Sha'lain'a didn't ask the question that undoubtedly rose to her mind. Most people didn't bother having the tact, and he didn't want to have to explain it if he didn't have to.
Kaldur clapped a hand on his shoulder as he lead them into the home, and Calvin closed the door behind them. "I am so glad that you brought friends home with you, Kaldur. I have got some clam in the kitchen that I can fix if you are hungry."
Tula shook her head, but Garth and Naruto were already nodding. "I don't think we should impose."
"Nonsense!" Sha'lain'a said with a smile. "You're going to be staying here after all, and if Calvin and I don't cook for you, then it wouldn't sit right with me."
"Um... ma'am?" asked Naruto sheepishly. The woman raised a questioning eyebrow. "Do you have anything vegetarian? I don't eat meat."
Calvin laughed. "I have to say, with your teeth, that is a little surprising. But I make a great kelp salad, so no problem."
Naruto beamed, feeling respected.
APRIL 4, 11:21 UTC-2
TEAM YEAR NEGATIVE TWO
The scene of the latest incident had been quarantined by soldiers and was surrounded by a yellow stability spell that would ensure that no evidence left the scene. Despite the fact that the attack happened several days ago, it was still attracting attention from curious civilians.
"I still assure you, King Orin," the man beside him said, "my men have already analyzed all of this area. You needn't have bothered with a visit."
Orin merely nodded once. "And King Rajar, I assure you that I am deeply troubled by the turn of events. These attacks have to be coordinated by someone, and I wanted to personally investigate the crimes."
"Isn't that a little much?" asked the dark-haired, bearded king wearing a brown robe over his black and silver armor. "Surely the king of Atlantis himself has more important matter-"
Orin sighed as he stepped over the enchanted line, eyes scanning the area. "Is everyone going to question my authority this week?"
Rajar gasped, immediately reconsidering his words; Rajar had never been a proud man, which Orin was thankful for when the seven Kings met at the Kingshead. "I... I am sorry, my King. I did not mean any disrespect. I just assumed that you had confidence that I would investigate fully."
Orin whipped his head around. "And I do. I merely wished to take a glance at it myself. Lemuria is only the latest attack in a series, and I wanted to compare my survey of the scenes with all of the reports I have received."
He knew his tone was unpleasant, but it was a necessary evil. He was, quite frankly, tired of the bullshit that everyone kept feeding him. He didn't think that Rajar was being insincere, but at this point, he couldn't be sure of anything in the power structure of Atlantis. Was it always as unstable, or was this a product of troubling times?
He must have spent hours looking over every finite detail, but it didn't take very long before he caught something that didn't appear to be on the report. When the very impatient Lemurian King finally glanced down in curiosity, Rajar held a patch of fibers that had disguised itself in the sand below. They were red and black, although the colors might not have meant anything.
"Is that the piece we are looking for?" Rajar asked suddenly. "Could we discover who caused these crimes?"
"Not sure." Orin was admittedly uncertain if it would mean anything at all, but he deposited it into a small shell-shaped box. After another couple of hours of searching, he found nothing more that would actually help. After another moment, he glanced up.
"Get this through a psychometric scan," he said after a moment of consideration. "That should tell us something about the clothing the attacker was wearing, and potentially even the identity of the attacker if there is some DNA involved." He remembered the report, and the victim's clothes wouldn't match the fibers.
When Rajar took the evidence from him and ordered the scan, Orin was slightly proud of himself. He wondered what Bruce would say, remembering Mera's words.
APRIL 4, 19:03 UTC-2
TEAM YEAR NEGATIVE TWO
"So how are your studies actually going?" Calvin asked the group in general, but especially locking eyes with Kaldur.
"Well, I suppose, it's okay," Tula answered first after sensing Kaldur's distress. "I have a lot of trouble here and there, but-"
"Are you kidding?" Garth asked suddenly. "She's the best one of all of us, and we all know it."
It was true. Tula was passing with flying colors, and Garth was second-only to her. If Naruto hadn't had as much time to work on all of it, he doubted he would be anywhere near the most advanced students in the advanced class. Kaldur was the weakest link, but not by much. There were students in the class who were doing worse than he was, but he believed he was progressing the slowest. That might have been true, the more Naruto thought of it.
"Oh really?" Sha'lain'a said, taking a bite of their dinner as they watched the fish swim by them on the patio, the dark blues dancing above them as the sunlight shifted far above. "Tula, I didn't know you had it in you."
"It's all just book work, mostly," she said. "Kaldur's much better with the practical application of spells. He's got a good idea of strategy that most people don't have."
That's true, Naruto agreed silently. A tiny nurse shark swimming near them looked at him with a puzzling eye, and he realized he was projecting his thoughts too easily.
Calvin gripped his son's arm in a comforting gesture. "That's great. I always knew you were intelligent!"
The dejected Kaldur finally looked up from his plate, giving everyone a look and a smile, but there was no mirth behind it. "I do not agree with that sometimes, Father. I am worried that I will not able to keep up. As each month passes, I have struggled more and more to maintain my studies. I fear I will do better if I shift to the lower class."
His mother frowned. "But Kaldur, surely you can just do extra work to make up for it."
"We will help you practice!" Garth suddenly suggested as the idea ran through his mind.
"In fact, we'll help you right now. Savenna did say we had to do drills, or she would have never approved of us leaving," Naruto explained, remembering the instructor's words.
Calvin clapped once. "That sounds like an excellent idea."
"I am not sure if it will help," Kaldur explained, content to sit in his seat.
"C'mon, Kaldur," Tula said, pleading with her eyes. "It's a fantastic idea. You can show off what you know to your mother and father! It'll be great."
When he didn't immediately respond, Garth suddenly shot up from his seat as the idea struck him, floating a little bit above them. "I know! We can make it like a sparring tournament. That way we can all get a piece of the action."
Naruto latched onto that idea; he was always in for a good fight. "I'm in. But I'm not going easy on anyone."
Kaldur eventually agreed, a kind of bounce in his voice that wasn't there before. He seemed excited about it, despite feeling so bad. "All right. But let's do it tomorrow. We need to rest."
APRIL 4, 20:35 UTC-2
TEAM YEAR NEGATIVE TWO
Orin looked up from his position in the meeting room of Lemuria's palace, a dreary place with an open roof that let the natural light shine through. Despite that, the walls were such a dark purple, almost black color that made it very dark, except for the luminescent coral growing along the floor and intervals, almost like torches he had seen on the surface.
Rajar sat in front of him, his thumbs rattling, and they were discussing more light-hearted matters. As the night grew later, Orin was growing more and more impatient and their conversation had died down. How long would it take for a psychometric scan? He, personally, had not had to use that kind of scan before. Part of him wondered if it would be a good idea to call Zatara, because the League's expert thaumaturgist would probably be able to fashion much faster results.
When someone in a robe, most likely from the Conservatory, was ushered in and flanked by two guards, Orin stood from his seat at the same time that Rajar did. "Do you have any good news?"
The mage nodded lightly, her expression incredibly gaunt. "The fabric's memories were... difficult. More difficult than normal objects are to discover, which suggests they may have enchanted the fabric to avoid any kind of psychic attachment. But there was a microscopic amount of blood near the end of one of the fibers, most likely from a small scratch that the victim managed to place on the attacker. We were able to isolate it with magic and analyze it, and we know who it belongs to."
Orin raised an eyebrow when the mage didn't finish. "Who?"
"The former King of Nanauve, Chon'drakha."
APRIL 4, 23:00 UTC-2
TEAM YEAR NEGATIVE TWO
The coral cliffs in his hometown were much brighter and more impressive than anywhere in Poseidonis that claimed to be the same natural phenomenon. Most of the Atlantean city-states were built out of natural coral reefs, and then augmented by sorcery to be used as shelter and food. The place where the city ends and the ocean begins was a huge drop-off, and everything around it was so beautiful and deep. The only light came from the city, but it was enough to even illuminate much of the ocean around it.
He held up the water bearer in his hand, his tattoos bursting to life once more. In mere moments, the water formed around him until it solidified into a bright blue replica of the nursery. At this size, it was easy to maintain, but when he began to expand it in size and generate multiple buildings to surround it, the entire spell crumbled into dark nothingness, like the open ocean before him.
He slammed a frustrated hand against his knee, wincing from the pain of such a heavy hit. That was stupid.
"I knew you'd be out here."
Kaldur turned to see his mother approaching quickly, a half-smile on her face. "Hello, Mother."
"We haven't gotten much of a chance to talk in private," she said, her expression kind. "How are you doing?"
"As well as can be expected," he said truthfully, downcast. He couldn't avoid how he was feeling, even with all of his friends around him making him feel better.
"Talk to me, Kaldur'ahm," she said earnestly, bumping into his shoulder with hers and then sparking the biggest grin. "Tell me how you're feeling. I'll do what I can to make it better."
Everything hinged on this moment. To tell her everything or to not tell her everything. He feared no real judgment from his own mother, but there was something irking him of late, and he didn't think he had anyone to talk to about it fully.
"I feel so inadequate," he finally stated, his stomach twisting in a knot that wouldn't go away until he opened up about the rest of his recent thoughts. He pushed those feelings away and settled for the more obvious issue at hand. "My friends are all these incredible sorcerers-in-training, who will grow up to be resources for the Conservatory of Sorcery and Atlantis as a whole. I mean, Naruto is a natural wind mage, and those don't happen often. Tula has all these amazing skills, and all of Garth's spells are naturally more powerful. Did you know Tula was the youngest student to ever master her tattoos to the point where they aren't visible?"
"No, I didn't, but now that you mention it, I didn't see hers. I wondered if she just didn't have them yet, but that doesn't make any sense," Sha'lain'a admitted.
"I feel so unimportant, unimpressive. I don't even know what I'm good at, and no matter how many times they say otherwise, it never feels true."
There was a long moment where all his mother did was listen to the waters swirling naturally around them. A silver ray floated by, staring at them for a few seconds with flapping wings, and Sha'lain'a suddenly frowned, turning away from it.
"Kaldur'ahm, this is what growing up is all about," she explained. "You don't have to have all the answers right now. You're still young and have a long life ahead of you. When we hit challenges or obstacles that seem impossible to surmount, you merely have to ask for help. As wonderful a person you are, you will always have people around you who are willing to help you.
"What you're feeling right now is temporary," she continued. "These classes are just an obstacle you need to overcome, and I assure you that all of your friends will be there for you along the way. And you know what?"
"I will be too."
Kaldur grinned, instantly feeling better about more issues than just one. "But what do I do about my curriculum at the Conservatory?"
"There's no shame in dropping to the lower class if you truly feel that is what is best for you," she explained. "It might take you twice as long to get to the same point that the others will reach, but if you become a better mage because of it, perhaps that is what you need to do."
Kaldur considered her words. "So you want me to drop the advanced class?"
She shook her head. "I want you to do what you think is best for you."
"No pressure then," he said, earning a laugh from his mother.
"Let's get you to bed. You've got quite a bit of sparring to do in the morning, don't you?"
He nodded. "I'll be back in a minute."
Focusing on his magic, the spell activated and there was suddenly a crude glowing model of Tula and Garth's heads, spinning around in front of him. His eyes were drawn to both of them, each for different reasons, but when his gaze settled on Tula, the spell on his right water bearer faded away.
APRIL 5, 03:29 UTC-2
TEAM YEAR NEGATIVE TWO
Vulko's mind was fluttering, staring at the impossible results before him and practically shouting with glee. If there was anyone else in the Science Center, he doubtlessly believed they would think he was crazy.
Perhaps they were onto something, as he started at the scroll, looking at the print-out of the amount of power. It was more than he had ever imagined, and it had absolutely no side-effects. There was no influence on the environment, only harmless forms of radiation, and the amount of power sealed within it was palpable to the touch.
He had spent the last several hours poking and prodding it, trying to understand it with his equipment. After all, he'd spent nearly eleven years of his life working on this project. This was just one of many positive breakthroughs that have happened over the past several years. But this was the first time he had viably created it from only a tiny amount of scratch materials, and it seemed relatively stable. It's an actual life-form!
"Amazing..." the scientist muttered under his breath, the clam-sized brick of orange-red crystal partially glowing as the artificial light ran across it.
This was a power source that could revolutionize all of Atlantis! And to think that a tiny baby from another dimension delivered it to them; it would have to be strong to shield an infant's journey through dimensions. Vulko furiously noted that it could, quite literally, change the entire world of energy infrastructure, glancing over his packet of notes. Hidden among those pages were the processes that could create more, and if he had several more years of research, he could easily speed up the process.
The scientist stood up from his seat and swam around the room excitedly, realizing that his entire body was too stiff from sitting in that chair for so long. He wanted to swim to the palace to tell the king, but it was in the middle of the night and the king was off on business. He felt odd telling Queen Mera about the development; he didn't have the same relationship with her, but he respected her just the same.
Vulko finally resigned to explain it to her in the morning, after he had several hours of rest. Swimming down to sit in the chair, he began to log his latest thoughts in the journal that had documented his entire career.
He barely managed to inscribe the last word before a sudden shot of pain hit his chest. Vulko glanced down, only having barely enough time to see the three-pointed gold weapon sticking from his chest. Blood flecked across its surface, leaking onto the paper and his last thought was how he was going to clean that from his notebook.
Oh man, I am so proud of this chapter. I don't even know why, I just feel really good about it. It hits a lot of the things I wanted it to hit, as well as maintaining a decent length.
Anyway, let me know what you think about the chapter as a whole in a review!