1.7: Attack From Within

They’ve been looking for a safe way to get closer since a herd of moose frequent that area.

     “The fear center?” Valine asks, sitting atop one of the S’nue dome’s floating iron spheres. She has to constantly move her eyes as her sphere orbits Professor Cwen, as do the ones her peers ride. The one the professor mounts remains stationary.

     “It’s a nickname for the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for how an individual’s fear conditioning operates. The negative stimulus that our bodies and emotions experience is the catalyst for how we respond to fear. S’nue with powers that defend the mind develop special energy animations, largely impacted by how our amygdala has developed. Take me, for example.”

     Cwen keeps her pants rolled up for the entire class to bear witness to the condition of her legs, Valine the last in line. From the middle of her shins to the middle of her thighs, her creamy skin is riddled with faint red welts, like pizza sauce spread unevenly over fresh dough.

     “This is why my special energy animation is a jellyfish. To this day, those beasts terrify me.”

     Cwen rolls her pants down before taking a shallow breath. Her body emits an eerie green light. She detaches the light from her body and forms her spectral jellyfish from that light. Valine lifts an eyebrow when Cwen pets it warmly, especially after that confession just now.

     “I’d have died that day if not for my friend’s older brother, Marsh. Drowning while seized by the jellyfish’s paralyzing venom. So, I named my eventual creation after him.”

     “So…your fear directly…influenced how your powers grew?” Sticker asks.

     “Precisely. For powers that defend the mind, the chemistry of the amygdala is key. However, it’s not always as straightforward as my case. The fear that generates one’s special energy animation can run deeper than what’s on the surface. Now, that’s not to say fear doesn’t impact S’nue with powers that attack the mind, but the effect isn’t as profound.”

     Valine frowns and twiddles her thumbs.

     “Why haven’t you cleaned your room, Val?” I told you to do that two hou- Val, cut the tv off and listen to me!” Valine’s mother screamed.

     “I’ll clean it later!” Valine argued, turning the television up to ignore the distraction, fully absorbed by the cartoon playing. The tv cut off just as the action was ramping up. Her father stepped around the television, throwing the cord to the floor.

     “You’ll clean it now, young lady!” Harvey, her father, ordered.

     “Oh, my- leave me- stop! No!”

     Valine tried to fight off her father’s grip once he manacled her wrists, intending to drag her to her room.

     “This disrespect ends now, Valine!”

     “Get off me! Let me go! I said, let me–”

     “You don’t give the or–”

     A flash of cerulean light blinded the young redhead briefly. She shook off the daze to find her living room empty of everyone but her.

     “H-Hello?” she asked the air. “Mom? Dad?” She called for them repeatedly as she searched her home, each subsequent outburst growing more desperate. By the time she got to checking her own room, littered with dirty clothes and scattered CD cases, her face was wet with tears. “Mom…Dad…”

     Their presence vanishing so suddenly in that one second terrified Valine. She began to assume the worst until she heard their sprinklers in the front yard activate followed by a high-pitched yelp. She ran to the front door and yanked it open. She would’ve rejoiced upon seeing her parents alive and soaked, but the fear they showed her just made more tears fall.

     Valine is happy that fear doesn’t help to improve her powers, otherwise she’d be unable to control them even less. Ever since her Sudita, using them has been the equivalent of a shot of adrenaline to her heart, the pressure nearly unbearable.

     “Hugh. Mila. Do your powers belong to my camp or to attack the mind?” Professor Cwen asks.

     “The latter,” Hugh says, standing on his iron sphere, confident in his balance.

     “Same here,” Mila answers. “But I don’t like using mine. They can be…intrusive. And if I explain them, it won’t make it any easier to fit in here.”

     “I understand. However, you will find no safer place to use your powers than Four Hearts Academy. Judgment is not what we’re about. Isn’t that right, Valine?”

     The redhead feels odd being the center of the coming lesson.

     Her eyes remained closed as Sticker guided her to the desolate courtyard. Valine could still smell the odors of concrete dust, smoldering wood, and copper, ignoring the stench of paint from Sticker’s hands steering her shoulders. For most of the last forty-eight hours, she’d kept her eyes shut, afraid to use her powers unless she had no other choice. If not for Sticker dragging her along to Evic’s room, she knew she would’ve been forced to make that decision.

     Just don’t open your eyes until you’re home. I can’t do a–

     “Oh, my- sweetie!”

     Valine froze immediately, stuck in limbo upon hearing her mother’s voice and Sticker’s smelly fingers abandoning her shoulders. For a horrendously long three seconds, she was alone in her self-made vacuum, less than a whisper. Her mother’s arms wrapping around her felt like heavy, sticky shackles.

     “Val, I’m so glad you’re okay! Oh, sweetie! I’m so sor- Oh, are you okay, Val? Did anyone hurt you?”

     Every concern and question was glue that kept her lips from parting.

     “Valine,” her father said gently, “open your eyes.”

     The teen had no issue shaking her head vehemently.

     “Please, Valine. We want to look you in the eyes when we apologize. But we won’t force you to. We want you to make the choice yourself.”

     Her mother’s hands cupped hers. “We want to take you home, Valine. We’re sorry it took us so long to do that; to truly welcome you home. Please, come with us. We’ve missed you so much!”

     Valine had no more strength to resist them in the face of that speech. She opened her eyes one at a time, too nervous to again apport her parents by Accident. The weight and the glue abated in an instant once she saw her parents, the fresh tears in their eyes. She cried out as she leaped into their arms.

     Valine smiles warmly, her time at home everything they promised, and more. Now, she’s back at Four Hearts, and while she has the occasional nightmare, she’s happy to be here ultimately. That first night with Dig and Barry and Nuria and the rest was amazing.

     “Yes, ma’am,” Valine cheers.


     Valine beams as her iron sphere moves into Cwen’s bespectacled gaze.

     “Let’s shift gears and go over attack the mind abilities, a category that applies to the four of you. The scope of ATM abilities having a higher ceiling than DTM abilities is largely due to the stresses they wreak on the mind. They have access to more power from the brain but the brain has its limits. The brain itself is at risk; the nature of the ATM ability determines the potential drawback. Take these iron spheres for example. They have been Blessed by Headmaster Taara, a woman temporarily besieged by a lack of balance brought upon by her ability to levitate.”

     “Only temporary? Aren’t the side effects permanent?” Sticker asks.

     “I thought so, too,” Mila says.

     “Not at all. There have been plenty of documented cases where the impact of ATM abilities have had no effect. And that is due to efficient training. Spamming one’s powers is not the same thing; a common misconception. Understanding the nature of your powers and how they function can lead you down the road to evolving your talents, which has been documented to alleviate the stress they cause. The surest sign that your powers have evolved…” Cwen dismounts her iron sphere and gestures to the white cloud mark in the center until everyone takes a look. “Being able to apply your Blessing to an object is the signal your powers have evolved.”

     Cwen bounces her iron sphere into the air so that it floats over her head.

     “My goal this year is to help you all avoid that future pitfall. Sticker, we can keep color in your life. Valine, we’ll help you internalize your power.

     Wait…like…to teleport?

“Hugh and Mila, in time, when you’re ready to disclose your powers, we can start on those, as well. Your gifts should stay gifts, not become curses.”

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