The Aftermath Academy - CH45 (Pyrrha)

“I would like to start off by saying that Dean Gravitas ought to be talking to you all about this, not me,” May says the front of the room. “But he claims that the he and the rest of our staff are debriefing the surviving executioners and doesn’t want you all sitting in the dark until he’s done. For those of your class who were involved in the Razorland incident, well done. Special congratulations to Mohinder for his coordination and transport support, and to Forest for his containment of Razorland on the southern border of the conflict, especially given you weren’t originally called to assist in this conflict and the considerable danger your position put you in.”

Forest beams with pride at the call out. He’s conflicted about the positive emotions he’s feeling, given the death toll Razorland caused and having just found out about Genevieve and Nelle dying. But he’s spent months near the bottom of the combat rankings, wondering if he can really play a part protecting the world due to his lack of one on one effectiveness, and he just helped save a sizable section of the Consolidated Empire’s heartland from destruction. Whatever tragedies might have happened today, it was a confidence boost he needed to continue with this path.

“I am glad that none of you involved in the Razorland incident lost your lives. I am saddened that I cannot say the same of those sent on the hunting mission against Bone and Chain. To be frank, Emilio and Pyrrha, you are lucky to be alive right now.” May is saddened, but more than that she’s troubled by what I’ve told her, at least the parts I was able to tell her. She doesn’t know what Olivia is up to, or why Alysa would let her and Bone and Chain go, but she’s spooked by it.

“Most of you have had a chance to talk at least briefly amongst yourselves,” May continues. “But for those who need a recap from one side or the other, the events were as follows. We sent a party of your classmates on a hunting mission against Bone and Chain, a mass murderer who can hide from power scans and tends to only pop up during events that are all hands on deck. Dean Gravitas decided it was an opportunity we could not pass by, despite none of you being finished with your training, for reasons I can only attribute to overconfidence or incompetence on his part.”

Damn May, tell us how you really feel, Genevieve whispers in my head.

“Though the mission was ill-advised, it might have been successful had outside parties not intervened using a new technology with the intent of capturing Bone and Chain rather than killing him. Unfortunately, that was not to be. We will discuss the parties momentarily, but suffice to say two members of the hunting party were severely injured. This is the point where they should have retreated. This was a hunting mission, not an execution. The fate of millions of people was not at stake here. The fate of the world was not at stake here.”

I can feel that May’s anger isn’t for us, but for Dean Gravitas. We knew we should retreat, even Genevieve, but she thinks if we’d been fully trained we actually would have. It’s the point of training, to drill into us over and over again the actions we should take instead of the ones we feel are right.

“Genevieve and Nelle went after the threats and died. What is more, The God of the West saw fit to drop her guise as both your classmate Allie and your professor Kiru-coy and has kidnapped Reed Reinforcements. Some of you are angry that she did not save your classmates, or bring their killers to justice, and I understand your anger. Some of you want the executioners or Untouchables to go after the lot of them. Let me be very clear. That is not going to happen.”

I feel a buzz of anger go through many of my classmates. Fists clench in frustration at the news that our friends won’t be avenged. Emilio in particular is burning with rage. But he wasn’t near them, he didn’t see their full power, didn’t feel what I felt. I may not like it, but I know what May’s going to tell us.

“Putting aside the fact the fact that The God of the West killed Razorland, saving the world for a sixth time when no one else could, including even my husband, she is out of your fucking league. The only one she can’t instantly kill is my husband, and he has the good damn sense not to try and hurt her. Alysa is…mentally unwell, but generally well intentioned.” That is an understatement. That broken glass jigsaw puzzle that is her mind would give a thousand therapists material for lifetimes and I still don’t know how she does anything but draw pictures with crayons on the side of a nicely padded white room.

I know my impression isn’t complete, that whatever threads of logic and strategy she’s using to drive her actions were probably being hidden from me in the same way she put in mental shields to hide some of the Butler family’s thoughts. But still….

“If it were not for her allowing my husband to safely boost Graveminder’s abilities, the casualty rate of empowered forces from this incident would be four times what it was. She disappeared after completing that task. No, I don’t know where she went. No, I don’t know why she’s left. You can hate her all you want for her decisions, but there’s nothing any of us can do even if we were willing to. Keeping her focused on more productive activities and not accidentally killing cities is challenging enough without idiots trying to attack her. If you’re spiteful enough that it’ll make you feel better, just think about the fact that she spent roughly a decade being tortured by her own powers full-blast, without the ability to die. Also, she can manipulate her perception of time, so from her perspective it was eons. I hope that Gravitas’ psych screenings would keep out anyone vindictive enough to try and inflict upon her some hell she hasn’t already experienced, but if any of you do I will not have any sympathy when you die screaming.”

The class is subdued, no one certain how to respond to May’s tirade. Blue mumbles under his breath “Translation, my aunt’s a crazy bitch but she’s our crazy bitch and good luck hurting her.” Frustration pours off him. He knew his aunt was pretending to be Allie, that much is clear. But he’s pissed that she didn’t save Genevieve. He’s pretty sure he gets why, what her self-imposed limitations were, but it grates him that she saved so many people but not our teammate.

“Moving past The God of the West,” May says, voice less tense than when she was talking about Alysa. “The executioners will not be moving against Olivia Adaliah or her newly acquired prisoner. This decision warrants a little more explanation, though is very much related to why no one in their right mind would go after The God of the West. Firstly, can anyone describe for the class what defines a reality bender?”

I hear whispers run through the class, shock rolling through them. “A bit of a misnomer,” Miss Sedrick replies. “Most gifted have powers that break the rules of science or physics. But reality benders have powers that go a step further and do not appear to follow a pre-determined rule set. Gifted can become more skilled, more controlled, trigger powers faster, or find new applications of their abilities. But increases in maximum output or radical shifts in form are rare and even then usually only achieved steadily through very specific circumstances. Reality benders are characterized by wild shifts in power level or form based solely on their will.”

“Perfectly answered,” May says. “Most everyone on earth knows The God of the West as the most powerful example of this. Whatever her base power level might once have been, the circumstances of Alysa Killjoy’s childhood pushed her power to becoming nearly omnipotent with very few limitations beyond her unstable mental state. We believe that Olivia Adaliah is the second strongest.”

“Sorry,” Shewnee Nephilim interjects. “You’re saying her name like we’re supposed to know who that is. Can you give us a little more background?”

“I can,” Ariella Melman says softly. She’s even paler than usual, petting one of her cats. She is older than most of our class by at least a decade. “When I was a child, we did not have school for the empowered in my country. We had camps, and not the fun kind. If our families objected, they were shot. So for most of us, our families turned their backs. It was easier that way. After the first Purges, we were freed from the camps. But there was a woman, named Mara Adaliah. She took the traitors to our kind who helped create the camps and the hateful gifted the Purges turned instead of killing, and she took over our nation. Her army was brutal, but because it only killed her nation’s own citizens, no one would step in.”

She doesn’t feel any resentment about that towards May or The Butler, even though the implication is clear that they could have done something like they did in The Southern Destrian uprising. The Untouchables are concerned with stability, with preventing open war or anything else that would prevent effective action during an extinction level event. Generic oppression? Not their problem, as far as May is concerned.

“I became a servant in Lady Mara’s palace, shortly after the camps fell,” Ariella continues. “I wasn’t very old, but I had nowhere else to go. She was obsessed with having a successor. She had many children, and I would help take care of the younger ones. There was one little girl, who was always smiling. I remember it because the children were rarely happy. They often had bruises and cuts. I didn’t know it then, but it’s clear now that Mara believed stress would make it more likely one of her children would gain a strong power. But the one girl always smiled and gave everyone she saw a hug. Then one day she hugged one of her brothers and he fell to pieces, right in front of me.”

My classmates perk up at this part, many of their minds wandering prior, unsure what Ariella’s story had to do with the present situation. “I didn’t see much of the little girl after that. But her siblings all died. Some said the girl killed them. Some said her mother did. Some said there was an attack on the palace and one of Lady Mara’s enemies murdered them. Maybe all the rumors had elements of truth, but I was given a new job and soon the only one there were still whispers about was the girl who once smiled. Then Mara died in a helicopter crash. Most people claimed the girl died with her, but there were whispers here and there, among those who’d seen what she could do. The army went out of control. It was always brutal under Lady Mara’s command, but without her leadership the army raped and pillaged. I barely escaped the palace myself. But then one night, they just stopped. They-“

“If I may take over,” May interjects. “Our research shows that Olivia Adaliah’s power first manifested as a nearly invulnerable energy field around the age of six. She rapidly added onto that the ability to fly and, we think, a sixth sense that allows considerable spatial awareness independent of sight. Within the next two years, Johannes Barber attacked her residence, at which point Olivia manifested projections that dealt considerable damage to Barber. This incident lends itself to the theory that Olivia is a reality bender. First, Johannes himself was the second strongest reality bender on record prior to Olivia Adaliah’s existence, and she fought him off. It’s not always the case, but reality bending often takes priority over other powers, so the fact she survived his attack is strongly suggestive. Secondly, this was the first record of her manifesting what she now calls her Gluttony, supporting the idea that her abilities are responsive to her emotional state to a degree that most gifted aren’t. This second point was furthered during her engagement with Hex’s army. By this point, those of us keeping an eye out were aware she was still alive, and referring to herself as The Seven Sins. I’ve mentioned four of her abilities, and believe in her mind there are also a few aspects for recharging her power. In truth, the manifestation of her powers was more rigid than many reality benders, casting doubt on the theory that was her true power. That may still be the case, but during the fight with her mother’s army we think she manifested an eight ability. There were other parties involved in the fight, so it is possible that it was one of them, but none of the other identified combatants could have been responsible for the outcome. Ariella, if you would like to finish the story now…”

Ariella coughs, trying to get back into the flow of speaking. “There were whispers that monsters killed many of the leaders, that clouds of black smoke and shining machines ripped men apart and ate them. But much of the army just…stopped fighting. Thousands shot themselves, or crashed their vehicles, or slit their throats. Tens of thousands dropped their weapons and stared off into space, refusing to talk, or move, or drink. Those that did anything just cried. Over the next several weeks, much of the army died of dehydration or starvation. Even now there may be some in hospitals, staring off into space, where someone took mercy on them, if you could call it that.”

“And you think that Adaliah did that?” Emilio asks. “How can you possibly leave someone like that alive? Eres loco.”

“A couple of other executioners thought the same thing,” May said. “Shortly after the destruction of Hex’s army, two of the best living executioners engaged in an unsanctioned hunting mission. They lured over a dozen highly powerful, but mentally unstable gifted together under the guise of wanting them to be executioners. These people primarily came from nations that didn’t mandate the same level of mental welfare evaluations as the Consolidated Empire or other Engagement treaty nations. Most of them were known or suspected to have killed people in the past, whether intentionally or by accident. Our dynamic duo had the candidates fight each other to the death, similar to your own first day, but without MediKate on standby to resurrect the losers. It’s unknown whether Olivia was aware of the plot or not, but after ‘winning’ against her pretend classmates, she promptly killed the two executioners who set up the fight.

“So now she’s killed three executioners, none of whom were authorized to target her. And none of whom should have. It would be one thing, if she got in the way of a catastrophe class execution. Then you would have been in the right per the Rules of Engagement. But this was a hunting mission and she only used lethal force in self-defense against lethal force.

“No government is going to risk their forces tackling someone who is as strong as a Crime Lord when she’s shown no indications of rampaging uncontrolled. No executioner worth their salt is going to take on a reality bender of her power. Even if you think you have the upper hand, there’s a serious risk of her pulling out a new power or spontaneously upping the level of her abilities to a point you can’t handle. It’s troubling that she appears to be planning something. It’s troubling who she appears to have allied herself with. It’s troubling that Alysa decided not to stop her from taking Bone and Chain. I am doing my best to monitor the situation. But unless there is a clear and visible threat to a massive number of innocent people, we are going to sit on our asses and do nothing to Olivia Adaliah. So whatever notions of petty vengeance you might have, get over them. That is not the world we live in.”