(568 years after the Great Plague)
This lesson about a dead continent was also dead boring. How annoyingly appropriate.
“Before the year of the Great Plague, or Year Zero, as we have now begun to call it, the continent we now know as Mortanny was called Faeritalum, and was comprised of five kingdoms. The kingdom that occupied the north-west section of Faeritalum was Anglos, and the people who lived there were called the Anglish. The Anglish were the ones who discovered Imperica, although at the time they called it Terra Magellar, in honour of the Anglish explorer who first discovered this land, Sir Francis Magellar. The Anglish were not only our ancestors, but were also the ancestors of the Cowboys who, as you should know by now, are the most closely related race of people to us…”
If Katherine Kenway had even a modicum of interest in the lesson, she would have asked the teacher how it was that, if Supers and Cowboys were so closely related, that Supers were far more diverse in their genetic makeup while Cowboys were, as far as she knew, obnoxious white men and less obnoxious white women. Okay, maybe she was a bit biased against them due to the little bit of Indian blood that had, at some point in the past, snuck into her family tree…
But since she wasn’t all that interested in the lesson, she decided to play around with one of the curls at the end of her long, darkish brown hair instead.
“Anglos was also the birthplace of what we now call the Common Tongue, the language that most races around the world have learnt to adopt in order to trade better with each other. It is believed that, since Anglos was the most populated of the five kingdoms in Faeritalum, and the most influential of the five kingdoms as well, their tongue was chosen as the Common Tongue as opposed to the languages spoken in the other kingdoms of Faeritalum…”
No, wait, she shouldn’t be calling it Indian blood. The Indian people were several different tribes that had been given that simple umbrella term by the early Anglish invaders who couldn’t be bothered trying to remember (or even pronounce) the different names of the tribes. Whichever tribe the little bit on Indian in her was from, they probably had a much cooler name, like the Mehaccans or the Cheroukh. Probably the Mehaccans.
“The northernmost kingdom of Faeritalum was Düschland, and its people, the Düsche, were very similar to the Anglish in terms of their culture. In some ways, they could be seen as the link between the Anglish and the Gaelicts, who bla bla bla…”
Katherine had to find a way to keep herself awake. She remembered the last two times she’d slept in class; the first time, she had been caught and sent to detention, which had been about as thrilling and fun as the current lesson she was in, and the second time, she had woken up in a start to find drool all over her notebooks. Both experiences were, needless to say, not very pleasant.
With a huff, she rested her chin on her hand, and her elbow on the table. History lessons used to be a lot more interesting when she was younger.
Back then, Mortanny was the ancestral homeland of several different peoples, struck by a curse that had turned all its inhabitants into Zombies, fetid creatures that were delayed in the transition from being alive to being dead, and so as a result were neither of the two, and slowly becoming the latter. Back then, the brave men and women who fought in the Super Crusades were on a quest to reclaim Mortanny back from the Zombies, a dangerous quest that was fraught with dangers other than the Zombies themselves.
Now though, Mortanny was still those things but buried under layers and layers of dates and accounts and pages and pages of details that could somehow absorb all the magic and wonder from the stories they told, leaving dry, flaky remains that were as hard to digest as the lunches they got at the school canteen most of the time.
What had happened in-between? It was as if there was some conspiracy behind the education system, nefariously plotting to ensure that the older children grew, the more tedious their lessons became.
Looking at her free hand and the very plain-looking fingernails on them, she was suddenly struck with inspiration. Giving a surreptitious look around the class to make sure that the teacher was not looking in her direction, she saw one of her fellow classmates creating icicles on the sides of her table, and that just boosted her confidence in her decision.
Keeping her hands under her table to as to hide them from view, she proceeded to change their shape and size into a multitude of different forms, from skinny, long-fingered hands that wouldn’t have looked out of place being brandished by a cackling witch beside a steaming cauldron to large, ham-like ones that probably could have knocked someone out cold if she’d slapped them.
The perks of being a teenage Super – the lessons may have been trying to sap the joy out of life, but the abilities helped keep it from drying up completely.
Take the origin of the Supers, for example: it all began when the settlers of Imperica found that, in one section of land on the Eastern coast, some of the resident Indians had amazing abilities; the settlers theorized that there was something in the soil, or the water, that was the root of these powers. Some of them could transform into wild animals or animal hybrids and back, for example. Others had strength or perception beyond the limits of more ordinary men and women. While most of the settlers, having an understandably tough time trying to evict the residents out of this area, moved on to other pastures, some of the settlers came to a more peaceful resolution with those tribes and resided among them in their lands. Future generations of these settlers began to develop amazing abilities of their own as well, with a variety that surpassed that of the tribespeople. And thus the Super race was born.
This used to be an exciting journey into the unknown, and a tale filled with mystery and wonder. Now, it was a series of dates and times and apparently important people saying apparently important things and documents being signed and good grief it was all dull as dishwater! Only her history teacher, the easily irritable Mrs. Georgia G. Jameson, could take super strength and being able to fly and shooting energy beams and the origins of all those cool powers and turn it into an experience more mind-numbing than watching grass die.
Katherine tried to stifle a yawn with a hand that was a little too undersized for the job, realized her mistake, tried to fix it and in the process nearly punched herself with her rapidly enlarging hand.
The sharp screech of the scraping of her chair on the hard floor was enough to draw some attention. Cursing her stupid teenage self’s unreliable control over her abilities, she quickly placed her hands back under the table and tried to look attentive as Mrs. Jameson began to ask her what she was doing, eyebrows narrowing in disapproval.
At that moment though, another student’s fireball chose that moment to fly into the ceiling and explode in a small burst of heat that set the wood there on fire. The girl who was making icicles on her table quickly doused the flames with an ice blast before they could do more damage. Mrs. Jameson was not amused though, especially since the ice blast had sent a few icicles flying in other random directions as well; one narrowly missed the teacher’s forehead before embedding itself in the wall behind, while another pierced a hole through the window.
Katherine made a mental note to thank her two classmates for the distraction as Mrs. Jameson came down on them in a huff of affronted displeasure; using abilities in class without permission was strictly, strictly against the rules at school.
It may have felt like it would never end, but thankfully the history lesson did, as did the other lessons for that day. On her way out of the classroom, Katherine caught the eye of her two best friends Louise and Rosemary, and skipped over towards them.
“So, are you excited yet?” asked Louise with an unshakeable smile on her triangular face, “It’s happening tonight! The day has finally come!”
“I know!” replied Katherine, matching her friends’ enthusiasm, “Oh, it feels like I’ve been waiting forever for this!”
“It was so amazing of your parents to buy us tickets, Louise!” said Rosemary, her bright crimson curls bobbing in a happy little dance of their own, “Especially so close to the stage! We might even be able to touch Theodore Temerick himself! Imagine that!”
The three girls sighed reflectively as they proceeded to do just that.
“They probably won’t let us, though,” said Katherine, twirling her own hair, “The guards at the play. After all, it would probably disrupt the play if we did, wouldn’t it?”
“It would be so hard not to though,” said Louise, “Not when those dreamy, dreamy eyes of his are mere feet away from our own.”
“And those biceps!” added Rosemary, “Thank God I don’t have your abilities, Katherine, otherwise I’d be stretching my hands all over that perfectly sculpted body of his, damn the guards!”
Katherine giggled at the mental image of her hands snaking their way past the first few rows and onto the stage.
“Maybe I should sit away from you, Rosemary,” cautioned Louise, “If you lose control over your abilities at the theatre, I’ll probably end up swamped by vines or something!”
“Please, I’m not that bad!” said Rosemary, before furtively adding, “Most of the time, anyway.”
Louise sighed, before continuing, “I wonder what my abilities will be when they show up. If they show up. My family tree has had several Dudders, you know.”
Dudders were the Supers who did not develop any particularly noteworthy abilities throughout their lifetime. It happened to roughly half of all Supers, for reasons that had yet to be given a satisfactory explanation by the best scientific minds of the times. The closest anyone had gotten to an explanation was a scientist by the name of Matthew Mandell, who had determined from experiments with pea plants that there was some kind of traits that parents passed to their children, and these traits had some element of chance in terms of whether they were present in the child or not. The source of Super abilities may have been something in the ground around these parts, but these traits had something to do with whether those abilities could actually manifest in a person or not.
“It takes longer for some people, Louise,” said Rosemary, laying a comforting hand on her friend’s slender shoulder, “My cousin Harriet was well past eighteen when she woke up one day and found she could control the weather! They also say that the later you get your abilities, the more amazing they are!”
“I don’t know about that, Katherine here has a really cool ability and she’s already developed it,” said Louise wistfully, “It would be amazing to change my body to fit into any dress my heart desires!”
“I don’t actually do that, you know,” said Katherine offhandedly.
“It’s such a waste of your potential then, Katherine,” joked Rosemary.
“Are you insinuating that my body is not fine just the way it is, Rosemary Redmond?” asked Katherine with a jovial huff, placing her hands on her hips and gradually swelling them for effect.
“Of course I am!” said Rosemary with a laugh as Katherine gasped in mock outrage.
“Oh, you know that’s what we love about you, Katherine,” said Louise with a smile, “You have the ability to entrance any of the boys of our age with a snap of your fingers, and yet you choose not to!”
“If I ever find any of them worth the effort, then maybe I will,” said Katherine with a hint of scorn, “I swear, I don’t know if it’s just our school or a city-wide thing, but the boys here are absolute buffoons!”
“My sister Leandra says they’re all like that in the first few years of them getting abilities,” said Louise, “All the power fantasy rushes to their head or something like that.”
“I should find my brother and head back home,” she said, with an eye on the one clock in the passageway, “and get ready to see Theodore Temerick in the flesh! Ahhh!”
A few giggles and goodbyes later, Katherine began looking for her younger brother.
She may have been adopted, but that hadn’t stopped her from thinking of her parents and brother as anything other than family. They’d treated her like blood all her life, even with the little bit of Mehaccan in her that made her stand out on closer inspection, and she felt that anything other than returning the favour wholeheartedly would be unacceptable.
She remembered the first time she had tried to change the features of her face and the colour of her skin to look less Mehaccan and more like her fair-skinned, hazel-eyed adoptive family. That day had been a bad one, in large part due to some of the girls at school giving her grief because she was ‘too Indian’.
She had cried when she found out that she couldn’t change her face to look like someone else – it was the only part of her that she couldn’t change or reshape. Her parents had found her miserable with her head in a pillow. They had rescued her from her depression. And then given her a pep talk about staying true to herself, no matter what.
“Your abilities were given to you not so you could be someone else,” her mother had said, “but so you could be a better you.”
“Never be ashamed of who you are, or where you’re from,” her father had said, “Because we aren’t either. Far from it. And we never will be.”
And she believed it. They’d never done anything to the contrary before then, and they hadn’t started afterwards either.
Her brother, being a year younger to her, had several reasons to not share in the love. She was his bossy elder sister. His classmates said she was uncool or weird or both. They didn’t agree on a lot of things.
But Kenneth Kenway, disagreements aside, adored his sister just as much as her parents did. She couldn’t have asked for a better younger sibling. Or, well, even if she had, she doubted one was available.
This made the scene in front of her all the more disheartening. Kenneth was being confronted by three other boys, and the mean looks on their ways suggested very unfriendly intentions.
As she walked towards them, she made herself look bigger and more intimidating. Luckily, her clothes today were loose enough to not tear or constrict her movements as she did this. Someday though, she thought to herself, she needed to look into getting one of those figure-hugging bodysuits that some of the other shape-changing Supers wore under their normal clothes. Apparently they were, among other things, quite stretchy.
As she drew nearer, she caught snippets of the conversation between Kenneth and his three adversaries:
“…you don’t scare me anymore, Thomas, so go find someone else to do your homework for you!”
As the three bullies began to gasp mockingly at his bravado, Katherine stopped short. If Kenneth was standing up for himself, she should probably let him try to manage without her help first. This felt like one of those moments she would screw up by helping too much.
The lead boy, Thomas, was crackling his fists as he spoke though.
“Oooh, Kenny’s got himself a backbone, boys. Is that your ability? Being brave to the point of stupidity?”
The other two boys laughed harshly.
“I don’t need abilities to deal with the likes of you, you… you big oaf!” was Kenneth’s hotly worded reply.
“Is that so?” said Thomas coolly, inching closer to Kenneth as he spoke; Katherine’s own swollen fists were balling up now. “You remember what my ability is, don’t you? Super strength. I can lift a carriage, horses and everything, like it’s no big deal. What do you have that can top that?”
He was getting too close to Kenneth. Katherine walked in.
“He’s got me,” she said firmly, now standing at least a head taller than the tallest boy in the group, “And you three dolts should run off and find someone your own strength to pick on. This is beneath you.”
“Psh, like anyone can match my strength in this dump of a school,” said Thomas, now eyeing her coldly, “Especially a girl like you.”
“Do you really want to find out the hard way if that’s true or not?” asked Katherine with as much menace as she could summon. The boys realized at this moment that the muscles bulging inside her clothes looked bigger than any of theirs.
“You know what, you’re right,” said Thomas with a sneer, “You lot are beneath me. Come on boys, let’s go.”
He tauntingly pushed Kenneth in the chest with a finger before walking away with his two friends. Kenneth made to go after them, but Katherine blocked his way with an outstretched arm.
“Don’t start anything, Kenneth, you don’t want to get into trouble over a goon like him,” she advised him, returning back to her normal size and shape as she spoke.
“You didn’t have to help me there, big sister, I was taking care of him,” said Kenneth with an ounce of resentment.
“Yes, you were,” said Katherine, smiling reassuringly, “It was really brave of you to stand up to him like that. That’s my brother!”
“Stupid, maybe,” muttered Kenneth as they walked towards the exit of the school, “Thomas and his cronies are still going to be around after today, and they’re probably going to try to make my life hell.”
“If they try, then I’ve got your back,” said Katherine, “Like always, little brother.”
“You shouldn’t have to be there though, Katherine!” burst out Kenneth in frustration, “I should be able to look after myself! Even if I’m a Dudder – “
“You don’t know that yet, Kenneth!” said Katherine, “Some people get their abilities really late. Like Rosemary’s cousin Harriet, she got her powers when she was eighteen. Eighteen! And she can control the weather! That’s one of the coolest abilities I know of!”
“Yeah…” trailed off Kenneth, “I don’t think I can wait that long though, not with people like Thomas breathing down my neck. Girls have it easy, you don’t get bullied like we do.”
“That doesn’t mean we don’t get bullied at all, Kenneth,” said Katherine; a few painful memories tried to jostle their way into her mental vision, before she firmly escorted them away from the premises. “It’s just a different kind we go through. For example, you know how catty people can be about me being a little bit Indian.”
“I don’t get that though,” said Kenneth, as they turned out of the school grounds and began the walk along the streets that took them back home, “I mean, it’s not like we’re Cowboys and the Indians are trying to kill us. Why all the bad attitude? You’re just as much a Super as the rest of us, big sister.”
Comments like that were why she loved her little brother so much. She squeezed him gently before replying, “I think some people have a little Cowboy in them just like I have a little Mehaccan. Or Cheroukh. Or whatever. The point is, when people look for reasons to hate other people, they can find them pretty easily when they look at race.”
She didn’t expect the bitter truth to actually leave a bad taste in her mouth, but it did. She tried to think of something else to talk about to distract from it.
“So, today I had the most boring lesson about Mortanny you could possibly imagine,” she said as they turned a corner of a building with a very elaborate-looking garden.
“Mortanny? Boring?” asked Kenneth incredulously, “How is that even – wait a minute, was it a class by Mrs. Jameson?”
“The one and only,” said Katherine, stepping out of the way as a carriage drove through a puddle on the road just beside them, “When you’re in my year, you’ll look back and savour the days when you didn’t have her as often.”
“The Crusades are really something though, aren’t they?” asked Kenneth with the first hint of excitement in his voice that Katherine had heard that day, “I can’t imagine why more people don’t sign up for them. Fighting for the homeland, brothers in arms against the Zombie hordes – it’s the stuff that Supers with abilities were destined for!”
“Sisters in arms too, don’t forget,” said Katherine, “and, well, I can think of several things I’d rather be doing when I’m grown up, honestly. There’s plenty to do in just the city, never mind the rest of Imperica.”
“Yes, but it’s not as much of an adventure just milling around here in Nexus City,” argued Kenneth, “Mortanny is a brand new country! A whole new world! It’s a lot more exciting!”
“Not the way Mrs. Jameson talks about it,” joked Katherine. They both chuckled as their apartment began to come into view.
In this part of the city, close to the beating heart of Nexus City and home to a large chunk of its population, single houses for single families were very hard to come by. Most of the people lived in apartments like the one the Kenways lived in; it was reasonably priced living, and the neighbours were on average tolerable folk to live with.
While most of her didn’t really have a strong opinion either way, a small part of Katherine fantasized about living in a village out in the countryside like the Mehaccans and Cheroukh who still called this land home. No surprises as to which part of her it was that did the fantasizing; she wondered if some part of her biological family was out there in a village somewhere; perhaps not all that far from the city even.
She shook her head as the two of them clambered up the stairs to the entrance door. She didn’t really need to go looking for a family anytime soon; the one she was in was already more than good enough for her.