The Panther Post features talented Primavera students with a love for the arts. In this February post, we’re sharing a thrilling story written by Book Club member Antonio Folcarelli.
“I decided to write this story after thinking about story elements that excite me while also wanting to try out some interesting characters. In my mind the setting snowballed into a much more expansive world but I wanted to write a short story first to see if all of the elements would work. Ultimately, I wanted to write about an underprivileged character in a world of royalty, combat and technology with a somewhat Steampunk vibe to it.”
-Antonio Folcarelli, 17, 10th grade
Nora is a rookie at an alternate universe academy. She’s training to be a Civil Angels Guard, knights who protect and serve the kingdom.
Unfortunately since she doesn’t come from a life of royalty and isn’t particularly gifted she has to seek other ways of getting by. She’s starving and willing to fight for her food.
The Starving Soldier
The room wasn’t sterile so much as it was cold. It’s as frigid as any laboratory should be, Nora thought to herself. Only, she had her doubts about what lies beyond the red blast doors.
Just like any desperate rookie, Nora signed up for a one on one duel which promises to reward the victor with a day’s worth of food and clothing. “It’s not like I can blame them,” she’d tell herself. She was never supposed to enlist in the Civil Angels guard program, but her sister was never supposed to die either. Through her brutal training she learned to make use of an injectable serum made specifically for those who don’t have magic in their bloodline, and then she learned how to attack with her sidearm without accidentally taking a chunk out of her with it.
Nora glanced around the room. The walls, ceiling and floor were nothing spectacular, just grey concrete. Crowded desks huddled against the corners, seemingly divided by the red blast door which made Nora feel uneasy. The stale lighting made the staff look even more haggard than she initially felt, plus it really hammered home the lack of professionalism. Nora could have sworn the terms she signed off were already used by a previous rookie and simply had their names scratched out.
“There’s only two things you need to know; don’t be the first to pass out, and no sabers allowed.” The woman speaking was in a well-worn lab coat. She must say that a hundred times a week, Nora thought. She mulled over the idea of working in this dimly lit room while the woman ripped Nora’s saber out of its sheath, tossing it onto a bare patch on a desk and landing with a clang.
Nora rocked on her heels as she waited for staff member number two, the balding man across the room shuffling over to her with a tray. It was carrying several glass ampoules of varying colors and the slightest tremble from his elderly grip would cause them to quietly knock together. His olive dyed apron swayed gently as he cracked the glass vials open and prepared an exceptionally large needle for them.
Nora continued to hug herself as she sat down in the prep chair. She still couldn’t figure out if she was seeing her breath or not, the needle was that mundane to her. Something cold and damp scrubbed her bicep. The scent of isopropyl alcohol strangely comforted her, perhaps for its cleanliness or its familiarity.
“This girl seems a little too calm if you ask me,” the man in the apron told the woman. Out of Nora’s peripheral vision, she just caught a glowing maroon liquid flowing into her bicep. Just like all the other times she’d taken the enigmatic serum, it burned slowly all throughout her arm.
“It’s only because she doesn’t know what she signed up for,” the woman replied plainly, tinkering with a control panel for the arena. After some disorganized of lever pulling and scribbling, the woman sighed. “Okay. You’re good to go. Walk through the door.”
Just like that the heavy metallic door shot through the ceiling revealing a chamber even darker than the tiny concrete room. Nora hopped to her feet, unbalanced at first due to the drug but able to regain her composure. How hard could this be? She walked through the doorway and before she knew it, she was descending in the world’s fastest elevator.
Gears interlocked with iron tracks, an audible rumble grew to a deafening earthquake of mechanical protest. Nora could barely stay steady hunkered down to the floor. Then she noticed the spinning yellow hazard lights periodically dotting the chamber walls.
Though she pushed herself back onto her feet, gravity took hold of her and dragged her back to the floor again. She felt like a tortoise flipped onto his shell. Suddenly the chamber halted, tossing Nora back into the air before one final thud. She groaned.
The room looked like a gigantic rusted iron chute with a circular platform like a coin floating in the center, only now before the haggard girl was a rising gate with arcane symbols etched into it. The revealed gap flooded torchlight into the uncomfortable darkness, only to be obstructed by a large lumbering mass of armor and clinking flasks.
Nora could sense her widening eyes, her dry mouth agape at the knight whom she expected to be a feeble rookie like herself. Her left hand groped around for the magick ignition switch on her basic bronze student gauntlet. She had to wait for the perfect moment with only a few minutes worth of serum in her body.
The knight in the heavy black armor pieces hopped onto the outer ledge of the arena platform causing it to vibrate under Nora’s feet. He had his saber out and allowed it to scrape along the floor as he stepped toward her. Suddenly, her fear changed into a prickling sensation of hatred. How dare they!
The starting horn sounded in time with the secondary spotlights to flicker on, revealing “All-seeing eye” fixtures, the kind used for surveillance around the campus and, of course, for broadcasting duels during tournaments. The black knight moved his mouth guard just to show off his demented toothy grin.
Nora placed two fingers under the small lever on her gauntlet and yanked it, immediately crying out in pain as the serum awakened inside of her arteries. In a flash the sweat coating her skin evaporated, thin clouds of a sinister color trailing off of her. She raised a shaky wrist to her face in order to inspect the gauntlet’s display. It had four nixie tubes for a timer, now reading “3:59” and counting down. Below that an orange-red rune came alive along with various dials and gauges which she still struggled to understand.
She lowered the gauntlet once the fire behind her eyes became palpable. Do I remember how to do this? she asked herself. It can’t matter now, she realized, the daunting figure of a blood thirsty knight with most likely plenty of experience rushing toward her. It bothered her that he hadn’t put the blade away, but he didn’t seem to be using any magick either. She sidestepped him as if he were a rushing bull, then lobbed a fizzling bundle of embers which cooled to ash before it could even leave a mark on the knight.
Nora’s adventure continues. Finish the rest of the story here!
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- Tell us what you think about this first part of Antonio’s story in the comments below!