Haunting yet inviting, a phantom tune quietly crept into Nagi's mind. Coming from all directions, the music taunted and beckoned as he tossed and turned in bed. Giving in to the temptation, he rose and walked out the door, his black hair still a matted rat's nest, wearing only a stained grey T-shirt and blue plaid boxer shorts. The cold night air tickled and teased to get a reaction, but Nagi continued walking forward, paying no mind to the lonely weather's games. The sound kept flowing from all directions, giving him no clear path to follow, only the vague notion that he must continue moving.
Approaching a tall stone fort on the outskirts of town, he saw eight others, torn from sleep and shuffling in their hypnotic states, stopping outside the old wooden door of this structure. All were released from their trance at once as the heavy door ground open, scraping of wood against stone jolting some in their freshly awakened state. A thin man, looking to be in his mid-forties, with patches of wispy facial and greasy unruly brown hair, stood on the other side.
'I wasn't expecting so many of you.'
He smiled at them, a weak grin cracking his dry lips, only emphasizing the bags under his eyes.
'Please, come in, I'm sure you're all very confused and have some questions.'
The man rotated sideways and slid backward to get out of the way, gesturing for everyone to enter. The small crowd watched him without moving an inch, stunned and silent as they cautiously scanned their surroundings.
A few uncomfortable moments passed before someone stepped forward, a petite pale orange-haired woman broke off from the group and walked inside. The others, unsure of what to do, did another quick scan of the area before following.
Inside the building was an oddly relaxing set up. A fire crackled softly as it embraced its surroundings with warmth, the furniture was tidy and new, and the walls were littered with various hanging instruments. The man gestured for everyone to take a seat, standing in the middle of the room so he would have the attention of each set of eyes.
'Let's get straight to the point.' He stated, looking around to give equal attention to everyone, though bobbing his head from exhaustion.
'I know that everyone in this room has a strange ability, likely one that manifested only recently.'
Everyone in the room changed to a defensive posture the moment these words escaped his lips, glaring at the others suspiciously.
'How could you know that?'
Heads turned to see an astoundingly beautiful woman, a small frame and almond skin with brown curtains of silk for hair and enticingly playful eyes, radiating a kindness that wove passed the defences of everyone in an instant.
'That would be my power.' The strange man stated, lifting a lyre from a table next to him.
'The music I play can only be heard by people meeting the requirements I specified beforehand.'
He plucked a string creating an eerily inviting sound, plucking an apple from the garden of Eden.
'In this case, it could only be heard by people with powers.'
Everyone seemed on guard else than a single blonde man sitting across from Nagi on a leather couch between two others. His face twisted in confusion and fear, the muttering of everyone else fading into the background before he spoke.
'But, sir, I don't have any powers, I don't even know what's going on here.'
He straightened his back when speaking, trying to behave respectfully. Terror was evident on his face, not knowing what a room of people with inhuman abilities could do if he stepped out of line.
'Everyone here has power, I'm sure of it.' The exhausted man responded, still attempting to muster a kind smile as he made eye contact with the blonde man.
'Here's the full deal. I'm Alikk Pogi, I've been using my ability to single out criminals and stop them, day and night.' Alikk yawned and sat down on a small ledge in front of the snapping fire.
'I can't keep up with it on my own, but I do know how to draw out hidden strengths in our abilities'
The fire popped loudly behind him as sparks scattered and faded into the air, no one reacted, likely no one noticed, as they all fixated on Alikk's words and the allure of increasing their abilities.
'If you agree to help me out so I can get a little rest once in a while, I'll teach you to further your abilities. Not a bad trade, right?'
Alikk cracked his neck and rolled his shoulders, yawning once more as he awaited their response.
'How would this work?' The beautiful woman from before spoke up.
'I don't think people would be psyched to know a gang of potentially dangerous superhumans are grouping up and training to become even more unstoppable with no way of us proving our motives.'
Alikk cracked a genuine smirk and chortled at her words.
'Cautious as always.' He paused a moment, lazily gesturing to the many instruments surrounding them.
'Before I had my ability, I was a music teacher. You're just a group of youths that happened to join my new class.'
The group was quiet, but no one objected or showed any signs of wanting to leave.
'I have prepared enough rooms for twelve people, so pick one or head home to sleep in your own bed.' Alikk stood up, all his joints loudly snapping with each movement.
'If you stay here, then I'll wake you early to start training; if not, then just make sure to be here by sunrise, or we start without you.'
The group dispersed without another word, a silent agreement being made as some left the building, and some followed Alikk to their new rooms. The blonde man remained seated on the couch long after everyone else had gone, taking a moment to register all he had just learned, imagining what power could be dormant within him.
A gentle melody played from a flute woke those who had stayed the night. They followed the sound to a kitchen where a few eager members were already seated, eating eggs and toast prepared by Alikk.
'It looks like almost everybody's here. Let's do some quick introductions and a demonstration of our abilities.' Alikk suggested while shuffling eggs around in a pan.
'My name is Rika, I'm 25.' The almond skinned woman from the night before stood up, preparing to demonstrate her ability.
Alikk suddenly raised his hand to halt her, seeming panicked as he dropped the pan onto the stove with a sharp clang.
'You demonstrated yours yesterday, and I'd prefer not to go through that again.' Alikk quickly reached behind himself to slide the pan off of the burner, preventing the eggs from burning.
'Hey everyone, I'm Chisu, I'm 23 and my ability is creating a pocket dimension that's capable of holding one other person and me!' The pale woman who was first to enter the night before stood up, her personality off-puttingly bubbly.
Chisu held her hands in front of her as if holding a ball, forming a small sphere of black and red energy. The energy slowly split into two as she focussed with her eyes closed, connected by a red chain with one half embedding itself into her chest. She tossed the remaining ball at Alikk, melding into his skin as well the moment it made contact. A flash of light engulfed them both, and they vanished, leaving everyone to stare at the empty space they once filled, looking on in awe. Another flash occurred, and they appeared once again, Alikk now standing beside Chisu next to the dining table.
'Well, that was, that was impressive.' Alikk exhaled, his breath having been stolen by the display of power.
The others took turns introducing themselves and showing off their abilities, each one unique to the user. After everyone had shown what they're capable of, Alikk lead them into the room where they met, the furniture having been pushed to the sides to give them space for practicing.
'I want everyone to activate their abilities and see how long you can hold them for, the first step is endurance.'
Following Alikk's orders, everyone began using their powers at once, Chisu and Rika pairing off due to their abilities requiring a second person.
The blonde man looked around the impressive abilities of everyone around him, feeling somehow both powerless and determined by their displays. Nagi held a translucent barrier in front of himself, one man leaned out a window, telepathically communicating with the squirrels that pass by, another splitting into two of himself, and even a woman capable of changing her size.
'Don't worry, Gen, we'll figure out your power soon enough.' Alikk placed a hand on his shoulder, Alikk's grin more comforting now that he was able to sleep.
'And if not, I'll let you borrow mine.' Alikk laughed, patting Gen on the back.
Gen jolted forward and clutched his face tightly with the fingertips of his left hand.
'Gen, what happened, are you okay?'
Alikk panicked and turned Gen to face him. Gen looked up with a stunned expression.
'Conductor.' Gen muttered under his breath.
'I heard the word, "conductor" just now.' Gen repeated louder.
Alikk released Gen's shoulders and dashed to the corner of the room, returning with the lyre he played the night before and holding it out to a confused Gen.
'I don't know how, but that's the name I gave to my ability, try playing this.' Alikk urged him excitedly.
Gen gingerly took the lyre from his hand and plucked a string, causing everyone to look his way as it echoed in their minds.
'Incredible! Magga, get over here!' Alikk joyously called out.
A man with snow-white hair and bulging muscles strapped down by glistening red skin approached them, his eyes rolled to the back of his head. He rolled his eyes back to normal as he got close, his muscles shrinking and skin returning to normal, a friendly smile growing across his previously brutish face.
'Magga, place a hand on Gen and offer him your power.' Alikk requested with the glee of a child in a toy store.
Magga placed a hand on Gen's shoulder and offered Gen his ability, waiting anxiously for a reaction that never came.
'The voice said, "unknown ability" to me.' Gen explained, once again confused.
Alikk scratched his unkempt facial hair, small flakes of skin gathering under his chipped nails as he thought about the situation.
'Magga.' Alikk spoke up, placing a hand on his shoulder.
'I'm naming your ability, it is now known as berserker's jamboree.' Alikk smiled giddily, ignoring the look of distaste on Magga's face.
Alikk took his hand and placed it back on Gen's shoulder, gesturing with a jerk of his head for Magga to try again. Gen stepped back and looked to the ceiling with a sudden snap of his head.
'Berserker's jamboree.' He stated, still staring at the ceiling.
Gen suddenly began transforming as Magga had before, his skin stretching painfully as his muscles inflated like water pouring into a balloon, his skin turning crimson as all the blood in his body rushed to the surface.
Alikk excitedly gestured for everyone to gather around, his legs shaking as he worked to restrain himself from jumping joyfully.
'It seems if we name our abilities, our buddy Gen here can borrow them for himself!'
The others showed a brief moment of excitement before glaring suspiciously at Alikk, then giving a unified look of pity to Magga.
'You're not like, gonna name all of ours yourself, are you, Mister Pogi?' Fearfully asked a tall blonde woman.
'You bet I am!' Alikk cheered, turning to face his terrified students.
'We want to keep our powers under wrap, so we needed code names anyway to make people think we're just talking about songs we're writing.' Alikk's words came out proudly and rehearsed; clearly, he had been thinking of the ability names even before knowing of Gen's.
'Nagi, with your air platforms and rhythmic fighting style as you leap between them, I name your ability madman's bossa nova.' He then turned to point at his next victim.
'Lindal, your clone ability will be twin's madrigal.'
Chisu and Rika returned, huffing and puffing from exhaustion, having reached the limit of their abilities, recovering only to look up at the sorrowful cluster of their classmates.
'Rika, Chisu, just on time!' Alikk held out two fingers to gesture flamboyantly to both of them.
'Rika, your mesmerizing ability will be known as widow's serenade.'
Rika took a step forward, holding a hand over her chest as her brow furrowed.
'What?' She exclaimed.
Alikk shifted his stance to point only at Chisu.
'Chisu, yours shall be outcast's aria!'
The excited naming by Alikk and displeased groans of his students continued on as he named each of their abilities, unyielding in his methods no matter how much they complained.
Night crept in quickly, turning light to shadows as they lost themselves in training. The exhausted students collapsed at the dinner table, struggling to muster enough energy to rip their faces from their own drool and enjoy the incredible feast laid out before them.
'If my ability is cooking, why did it need a music-related code name too?' Evro complained, slamming a platter of steamed lobster onto the table.
'Because chef's melody sounds cool.' Alikk retorted, poking at his food while biding the energy required to eat it.
Nagi stretched out his aching arm and pierced a dumpling with his fork, leveraging all the functioning muscles left in it to tug it toward his mouth as if he were a marionette. His teeth pinched it in half, the piece of dumpling rolling from its ivory guillotine into his throat. Nagi perked up, colour returning to his dull blue eyes as he straightened his back and tossed the remaining half of the dumpling into his mouth, reaching out both arms to shovel food onto his plate.
'No wonder you're not exhausted, Evro. This is your ability?' Nagi praised through a mouth full of food.
The others observed his incredible recovery and forced themselves to eat as well, one by one having their strength returned by Evro's cooking. Evro proudly took his seat at the head of the table as he watched the delighted faces brought by his hard work. He was a short man with neat brown hair and a kind heart. Evro had always wanted to find a way to help the people he cared about, and his ability to heal through cooking couldn't have gone to a more perfect match.
'With this ability, we can fight all we want and heal up after no problem!' Magga cheered, knowing his ability had the most painful toll of all.
'Speaking of.' Rika paused to swallow her food then looked to Alikk.
'When will we start taking out criminals?' She inquired.
Alikk took a moment to think, breaking eye contact with her to enjoy a few more bites while he pondered.
'I was expecting the endurance training to take months because of the toll it takes on one's body.' He cracked open a crab leg and marvelled at it as he continued.
'But with this, we won't need nearly as much recovery time, so how does this sound.' Alikk paused to dig out some of the meat and toss it into his mouth gleefully, chewing it in his stuffed cheek.
'I want to make sure everyone is prepared, so let's have a little competition.'
As they ate together until they were full and then a few bites more, Alikk explained what he had in mind. For the safety of everyone, they would form teams and practice using their powers in tandem for the next month, seeing which skills do and don't work together. Once they felt confident, he would use his powers to locate bounties for them to take on as a team with the best team of each week getting a large payment for their hard work.
'I wasn't always able to set conditions or even lure humans.' Alikk explained.
'The more I practiced, the stronger my ability grew, and as it increased, I travelled and tested my limits' Evro nodded to Joli to thank her for collecting their plates before continuing his explanation.
'I made something of a name for myself as an exterminator a few years back, I amassed quite a fortune.'
His students looked at him with smirks born of a love of both wealth and competition as he went on, everyone knowing the words he'd say next.
'I don't care much for money, I just want to make the world a better place before I have to leave it. So, I'll give away every coin to those I believe will help me accomplish that goal.'
Their new motivation brought on an intense week of training as they split off into teams of three. Rika, Nagi, and Lindal as one. Chisu, Gen, and Magga as another, and the final group, Joli, Lanai, and Evro.
The most considerable promise was shown by the first team, though Gen disputed this claim in jealousy, challenging them to a friendly sparring match.
'Rika, if we win, I want you to join our team.' Gen demanded with confidence.
Rika took a defensive stance in front of Nagi and Lindal, her protective instincts taking over.
'That would leave this team without a leader; besides, we can only have three to a team anyway.' Rika pointed out, keeping her team behind her.
'I'll explain after the match, but we won't be sticking around much longer.' Taunted Gen with a cocky smirk.
The two teams met outside with a ninety-meter distance between each group and Alikk acting as referee. Rika and Gen stood at the front of their squads with Nagi and Chisu to the right of their leaders, Magga and Lindal, left.
Alikk sounded his flute in place of a whistle, sending the teams at each other with no hesitation. Rika activated widow's serenade immediately, aiming for Chisu. Still, she was too slow, and Gen jumped in front, taking the ability's focus and having his body frozen in place, unable to move, but buying time for Chisu to act. Chisu lept up, her neat orange ponytail a delicate ribbon choreographing her lithe movements as she tossed the sphere over Gen's shoulder and directly into Rika, 'causing them both to vanish in an instant.
The confusion caused by the loss of their leader was taken advantage of by Magga and Gen, powering up into their berserker forms with the use of Magga's ability fool's jamboree. Nagi acted fast and put a shield in front of himself, blocking Gen's punch. Lindal had no way to defend and took the full brunt of Magga's attack, his bulging red fist melding into Lindal's left cheek, causing him to collapse to the ground and become disoriented. Twitching in the soil as he tried to move, the intense pain felt as though all his teeth had been ripped from his jaw.
Nagi lept backwards, releasing his barrier and allowed Gen to charge forward. Nagi wove between his punches with outstanding agility, an otter's tear away from being struck with each movement. He managed to pivot beside Gen, landing a blow just below his ribcage, Nagi's fist closing and violently twisting the moment it made contact. Gen gave no reaction to Nagi's efforts, merely turning to him and connecting a dominant backhand that knocked him over. As Gen stood over Nagi, a shadow appeared beneath him, Lindal had been climbing platforms created by Nagi while his clone distracted Magga, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Lindal lept down and connected his heel to the back of Gen's head, leveraging his height to put as much weight as possible behind the kick, knocking him unconscious.
With Gen defeated, both clones and Nagi turned to Magga, who surrendered, accepting that any further effort would be a waste of his energy. Rika cheered for them and congratulated their victory from the sidelines, surprising everyone, not knowing she returned from Chisu's dimension. Chisu laid unconscious at the door to the fort, Rika standing proudly with not so much as a bead of sweat to show from her fight.
'We won!' Rika cheered excitedly, running over to hug Lindal and Nagi.
Nagi wanted to question how long she'd been watching, and why she didn't help, but as he opened his lips to speak, Lindal rejoined with his clone, taking on the full damage and collapsing with blood spewing from his mouth, taking their attention.
'Let's get Evro to fix you up, we can have a victory feast.' Rika spoke softly, pulling Lindal's arm over her shoulder to help as they walked back to the fort.