Blood pooled everywhere, and her neck had been gashed open as if ripped through by three jagged knives. Her eyes froze open with the look of terror and shock engraved into them. Nothing about what he was witnessing made any sense to him. It was a flashback to the day when a boy stood, his face splashed warm with the blood of his once-living mother. All he could feel was a frightening hold on his body, telling him that he was now all alone.
"Kenichi...Kenichiiii! Kenichi!!" Akito's urgent voice broke through, jolting Kenichi out of his thoughts and back to the present.
Shaking off the disturbing images, Kenichi focused his gaze on his friend's face. "Nowhere, Akito," he replied, his mind slowly clearing. "I was just thinking about how awesome it would be if we got selected as Seta Guardians in our first year.”
Seta Guardians; an elite group of Guardians teams so advanced, in terms of fighting prowess that they had only one mission for the rest of their military career; intelligence gathering on Area X. Only the top students are ever scouted for the ability to even be recruited into the Unit.
"Outside of their Scouting methods, there is only one thing we really know about them. Being exempt from any form of punishment for any crime they may commit in the eyes of the law. Yes, that particular freedom would be worth doing whatever was necessary to be scouted for," Kenichi thought.
“Say Akito, have you decided on what type of Shirai Ken you want to use?”
“Hmmm, I haven’t thought too much about it. I mean so long as it allows me to use my full power, I really don’t care. Can’t have the thing breaking on me now when all this awesomeness shines out there!” Akito boasted, comically swinging an imaginary weapon around.
Kenichi could only blankly stare in response to his friend. It almost made him wonder if he knew what a Shirai Ken was. Before he could even bring his friend back down to reality, an eerie stillness gripped the assembly hall, suffocating any semblance of sound. The air thickened with an unspoken terror, paralyzing everyone into motionless silence, as if their fear itself had taken hold of their vocal cords.
"What the hell is this feeling!? It's like gravity just increased all over my body. I can’t move." He thought.
A heavy pressure gripped itself onto everyone standing. Everyone knew exactly what was causing this heart-clenching feeling that was overtaking them. On the stage overlooking the students was someone standing at the podium. Clad in a strange armor that mostly covered her hands to her elbow and from her feet to her knees. The distinct crackle of lightning radiated off her body. The purplish hue of her armor gave off an eerie but powerful glow. Yes, everyone knew who this was without any introduction. They called her Galestorm. Known in the history books for killing one of the six known Monarch class creatures in the region. The gripping hand of death finally eased off the bodies of everyone in the crowd.
“In case you don’t know, I am Xanavia Prime 83rd of my name. I am the Commanding General of the Kali Shadow Militia. I am also President of Kali Shadow Military Academy. One of three academies in the region of Souchiban meant to take young children like you and turn you into Guardians able to handle any task given to you at a moment's notice.
“We are not a school here to teach you how the world works or to get you ready for an honest job. This is a military preparation school and when you leave here the only thing that should matter to you is your mission and the Three Guiding Principles. But that’s left to say if you even graduate from this academy. To survive this academy you only need to do three things; trust in your partner, trust in yourself, and know that with your teamwork, you will be able to overcome challenges that far exceed your own personal limits. These are the Three Guiding Principles of this academy and are what will carry you to graduation. I want to wish you all luck on your journey. Thank you.”
With a slight bow she turned with one step and just as quickly as she appeared and took hold of the audience, she disappeared in an instant the same way.
“Hey Kenichi, what do you think they meant by trust in your partners? No one ever said anything about having partners or anything like that. Do you think they will let us pick our own partner? If so let's pick each other then we’ll have a much higher advantage over everyone else since we know each other so well.”
Kenichi could honestly say he was just as lost as his friend Akito.
"I looked at all the information there was about this academy. There’s no mention of being partners with someone. What else don’t I know about this place? If I do have to have a partner, Akito would be perfect. We practically know each other inside-out," he thought. Kenichi let a grin slip onto his face. "Maybe my goal of being a Seta Guardian just got a whole lot easier."
“Ahem, If I could have your attention.”
"When did he get there?" Kenichi pondered.
“My name is Kiyoshi Fukutaru.” The imposing man introduced himself as he stared over the students.
Every student in attendance had a whiff of fear about them as Kiyoshi glared into the crowd of fresh new potential Guardians. Locked onto them as if staring down an enemy.
Kenichi's gaze fixated on the man before him, his mind racing with unsettling thoughts. "Even though he isn't exuding that frightening power like the principal," Kenichi thought, "why is my body telling me that this guy is extremely dangerous? I wonder just how many he has killed in his lifetime?"
Kenichi's body responded with a primal instinct, caught between the instinct to flee or confront. He felt an overwhelming urge to run away, but it was as if his body had turned to solid granite, rooted to the spot. "I want to run away, but I can't," he whispered, his voice trembling.
“My title is that of Guardian Combat Tactics Commander at KSMA. I’m a Celestial class Support Guardian. Everything else about me is classified as military personnel only. Now that we have pleasantries out of the way. As the smarter ones of you have assumed correctly, there is a partner system that we employ here, which will be pivotal to your success or failure at this academy.
“The principal gave you three things you need to do in order to survive for the next three years. Trust in your partner, trust in yourself, and believe that with your teamwork you will be able to overcome challenges that far exceed your own personal limit. Well, I’m here to tell you that all of that means nothing.”
Kiyoshi saw the puzzled look across everyone's faces as he finished his sentence. He knew what he said was only a half-truth. "Unless these kids truly take to heart what I’m about to say, even if they do graduate, they will die. I need them to realize that these are not three separate principles," he thought.
“Trust in your partner means death if you let them do something you know they can’t do. Trust is not letting your partner fight an enemy by themselves, that as a team, you couldn’t defeat all because they said to trust them. What good is trusting in yourself if you can not be trustworthy to your partner? Too much trust in oneself in combat only leads to underutilization of your overall team's skills. It implies that you would be willing to put them in a foolhardy plan that they might not have the skill to execute. But you do it anyway because you trust in yourself. Now your partner is dead because you forced them into a situation they couldn’t handle.
“And It goes without saying that two people should be able to handle a task that one person can not do alone. But that should not make you think you can handle a situation that far exceeds your own personal strength. You should be able to communicate with your partner without words, without hand signs, and without any form of communication. You should know your partner's thoughts and actions as if they were your own. Although you will be partners you must think, act, move, fight, and understand each other as if you were simply one entity.
As he continued to speak, his voice transformed into a commanding yet inspirational tone. “This unification of these Guiding Principles is known as Koumei Seidai! And if you reach this point I can personally guarantee you that not only will you survive here, but also in the world that you will soon face!”
Although stunned, he knew the fresh new recru…ahem, students had come to understand that passing this academy was not an independent endeavor. The life you thought was most important was no longer your own.
“Now I assume there aren’t any questions so we will move on to the medic—.”
Everyone's heads turned to look around the crowd to find the guy crazy enough to not only interrupt Mr. Kiyoshi but also to call him a clown. The crowd of students slowly spread apart to let the supposed suspect through up towards the podium. Before stopping, standing eye-to-eye with Mr. Kiyoshi.
“Hey Kenichi, this dude looks kinda insane. Do you see all those scars on him and that crazy broadsword on his back? That thing is as tall as he is!”
“Ya, there is no way this kid is only fifteen. But maybe he’s one of those exceptional the world always seems to have?”
“Hey clown, I did not come here to get saddled with some ball and chain of a partner. I came here to train to get more powerful. I've already fought countless monsters in my region and now you want me to partner up with these dweebs! Not going to happen, clown, and definitely not because some Support Guardian tells me to!”
"Ahhh, a test subject," Kiyoshi thought unable to hold back his smirk. “So, you see no benefit to being stuck with a ball and chain as you say? Do you feel as if you're strong enough on your own, rather than to utilize your talents on a team?" He said.
“You're damn right I do. Why should I have to lower myself down to their level just to make them feel good about themselves?”
“Well, how about we test this theory of yours, Mr…?”
“Housen. Jakar Housen. But you can just call me Cleaver because my Hirakito here and I are known around my parts for cleaving monsters in two.”
Kenichi could hear snickering from the proclamation made by The Cleaver. "I guess monikers come with fame I guess. Although when no one knows who you are they are just silly nicknames," Kenichi mused.
“Right… Mr. Cleaver. As I was saying, how about we conduct a little test to prove this theory of yours that your personal strength is not needed on a team? A very simple test in fact. You win in a fight against one of our training dummies and you will be allowed to continue your training unencumbered by a ball and chain. Do we have a deal?”
He stared Kiyoshi down before grinning. “Sure whatever! But don’t think that just because a training dummy can beat these brats that it will have any chance against me. What's a training dummy gonna do against someone with actual battle experience? So go ahead and bring your toy out here so we can get this farce done with.”
Kiyoshi looked at the student, no longer able to remove the grin from his face.
“As you wish, Mr. Cleaver. Step right this way” stepping to the side and motioning Housen to walk past him to a makeshift arena. “Please release Bravo A.S.S.T.E.R. #2 in evade mode” Kiyoshi spoke to seemingly no one.
“Hey Akito, do you really think they will make him a Guardian by just beating a training dummy?”
“I’m not sure. Seems kinda like a low bar to be a Guardian. But who do you think he is talking to?”
No more than a few moments later, a full-size human-like doll dropped from the ceiling and landed on the other side of the arena across from Housen already in a battle stance.
Kiyoshi once again stared the crowd down with his death-inducing gaze. “This is your standard training dummy utilized here at KSMA. An automated synthetic self-Learning training and evaluation robot. Or A.S.S.T.E.R. for short. These are used to train and hone the skills of future Guardians. It can withstand the damage of a level 1 Guardian without any problems. It can process and analyze your movement, breathing, fighting techniques, unconscious decision-making, and fighting habits more than ten times the average person's and has reflex skills that are three times as fast. This will undoubtedly be your biggest obstacle to overcome during your time here at KSMA. Powered by a Neo Genos Crystal, your job will be to not only overcome basically a perfect copy of yourself in skill but to be able to output enough destructive force at the same time, to destroy the crystal inside.”
Kiyoshi turned again to face the brash young man in front of him. Impatiently stretching while swinging Hirakito wildly around him.
“Can we hurry this up, old man? I didn’t come here for some history lesson about these crap puppets of yours.”
“Hey, what are they thinking? There's no way he won't absolutely pulverize that puppet, right?” Akito questioned.
Kenichi didn't want to doubt the Commander's words. "There was no way this will be a fair fight. I’m sure what Kiyoshi sensei said was true about the A.S.S.T.E.R., but from what I see, it is too hard to believe. That thing might be 5’ 5” and at most 120 lbs. I see no obvious weapon, no armor to protect itself, or anything that would aid in anything but being a moving punching bag," Kenichi thought examining the doll more. "It looks so weird. Almost human-like. Outside of not having any facial features and the obvious material it was made of, it could almost pass as human. It even has hands and fingers I can only assume for holding weapons if it had one," he continued analyzing internally.
Kiyoshi looked amused at the student as his anger was already getting in the way of what he had just got done telling the students. Walking forward between the two, Kiyoshi raised his hands before getting the nod from Housen. And with a simple swipe down, the fight began as Kiyoshi jumped back out of the way.
Housen stared down at the A.S.S.T.E.R. in front of him. "This pathetic thing is what they want me to defeat. Maybe I would have been better off back at the village if this is all that was needed to pass this academy. Time to show them what I can do."
He sprinted forward, brandishing his sword high above his head, and brought it crashing down through the arena floor, determined to cleave his opponent in half. The impact sent clouds of dust and debris soaring into the air, obscuring his view. In an attempt to locate the elusive A.S.S.T.E.R. and clear his vision, he swept his sword in a wide arc, hoping to strike his target and disperse the obstructing particles.
There; to my left.
He caught sight of the A.S.S.T.E.R. standing its ground as he charged forward once again, this time executing a powerful swipe from his right side. Anticipating its potential evasive maneuvers, he quickly assessed the limited options available due to the wall blocking any retreat.
"If it chooses to jump above, I'll swiftly intercept it mid-air, rendering its evasion useless," he strategized, envisioning his attack. "Should it dare to go below, a roundhouse swipe will cut it in half. And if it evades to the left, it won't escape the range of Hirakito."
Closing in on the training dummy, he maintained a watchful gaze, his cocky demeanor tempered by his experience in combat. He scrutinized the doll, analyzing any subtle movements that might hint at its intended evasion direction. As he approached, Housen's senses sharpened, sensing that something was awry.
"Why isn’t it moving?"
The dummy remained utterly motionless. It just stood there in its battle pose like when the match first began. And that’s when he felt it.
"My chest! What the hell is causing this excruciating pain?! I feel like I can’t breathe," Housen thought. His strength faded rapidly, slipping through his grasp like sand.
A loud thud reverberated in the auditorium as Hirakito fell from his hand.
Everyone stood in disbelief at what just happened. Everyone except Kiyoshi and the now-dead man standing with a blade protruding from his chest. The blade was held by a second A.S.S.T.E.R. behind him.
“D-Did it just kill him!” a student shouted out.
Panic rose through the crowd at a freighting pace. Everyone shouting either in fear or anger.
“How could you do that!”
“That wasn’t fair!”
“We are only students!”
The crowd continuously vented out at the supposed underhanded actions of the Combat General.
Kiyoshi’s grin grew to cross his entire face as the crowd's rage grew even louder, accusing him of cheating.
"Yes, this is where I need their mindscape to be," Kiyoshi proudly thought. “QUIET!”
The crowded auditorium quickly grew silent as fear of the man in front of them quickly took away any notion of free speech.
"We told you from the very beginning that this is not an academic academy. We are a military preparation institution forging Guardians for the war that has been hidden from you all your lives. Yes, the harsh reality is that some of you will face death. It's as simple as that. But I would rather see you meet your fate within these walls than have you stumble into battle ill-prepared, endangering the lives of those who depend on you for protection.
"If you're too weak to graduate from this academy, then you are too weak to serve in our military. The fear of death should not hinder you here. If you're afraid to fight for your country and its people, lacking the necessary resolve, then you are not worth my time.
"And for those who cried foul, believing the fight was unfair, have you already forgotten the Guiding Principles? In any field situation, you should always expect the unexpected. What makes you think the A.S.S.T.E.R.s you face won't have their own partners? That was Mr. Housen's mistake from the very beginning," Kiyoshi stated, directing the student's attention to the A.S.S.T.E.R. pushing the lifeless body from its blade.
"Housen presumed his opponent was just one person. But his anger and lack of emotional control prevented him from analyzing basic battle preconceptions, leaving him vulnerable to attacks from any direction. If only he had taken the time to consider this, maybe he would still be breathing. You are the future Guardians of this generation! In the eyes of this academy, you are no longer mere students. You are potential saviors ready to lay down your lives for the greater good of the country and its people.
"Here, at the start of your journey, individuality fades away. No races, no breeds, no 'you' or 'I.' There is only your team. Your Koumei Seida! Together, you shall stand as an unbreakable force, unified and unwavering in your commitment. Embrace the weight of your duty, for the destiny of a nation, rests upon your shoulders!" Kiyoshi proclaimed, his words resonating with fervor and conviction.
Kenichi's body quivered with doubt and fear, the weight of his personal mission clashing against the uncertain path laid before him. The realization struck him like a thunderbolt: Could he meet his end here, not on the battlefield, but in mere training?
In the depths of his mind, vivid flashbacks of his mother's murder resurfaced, fueling his determination and igniting a burning desire for revenge. Nothing could deter him from his conviction that a Guardian was responsible for the cold-blooded act. No matter the obstacles he faced, he would not allow himself to perish in this place. The memory of his mother's death had become a driving force, pushing him to the brink of his capabilities.
Akito's words hung in the air, interrupted by the intensity of Kenichi's expression. A chill ran down his spine as he pondered the meaning behind his friend's unsettling gaze. It was as if Kenichi had transformed into a person ready to take a life, driven by a deep-rooted purpose.
Meanwhile, amidst the sea of onlookers, a girl stood near the front, a captivating figure with flowing pink hair that cascaded down to her calves. The ends of her hair, in stark contrast, burst into vibrant lime green, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. Her eyes, like beacons of curiosity, fixated on the unfolding spectacle before her.
"So this is the caliber of this school," she mused, a sly smile playing at the corners of her lips. "I'll need to be cautious and conceal my true strength. Revealing it prematurely could lead to unnecessary trouble down the line."