Chapter 12: The Final Hurdle (Energia: Titans of Verità)

Energia: Titans of Verità
Table of Contents (For Catching Up)

When Anna’s face returned to room temperature, she took a look at her new surroundings. She was in a room much like the one in which she was nearly made into fish food. Only now, the floor was a clean sheet of black, which coursed with blue lines of energy. The stands felt hollow, with only ten other candidates filling the seats, excluding Tommy and herself. The silence was so great that each step she took sounded like a hammer striking metal. No one paid any attention to those around them.

Following the others, Anna quickly shot up to the stairs and took a seat at the end of the front row. Not long after she did, another person strode into the room, his stride wide and confident: Alexander Frolov. He took one quick around, frowning. When he laid eyes on her, he smiled. He moved without a word, taking his seat on the far end of her. Even with two others between them, he never took his eyes off of her.

She did her best to ignore him. Instead, she tried to calm her nerves with deep, meditative breaths. This was it. The last hurdle. All she needed to do was… whatever the hell they’d throw at her this time. No problem! At this point, she could handle anything.

Ten minutes passed before the next person arrived. He was a tall man with a long, fencing sword strapped to his side. A much shorter, Chinese man with a wooden sword in hand arrived next, mere minutes after the prior. He bounced it up and down in his palm as he walked. After him, there was a bulky man with a pair of gloves dangling from his waist. Then, after a long stretch of time, the man from earlier, Eitan, rushed into the room. Right behind him came Suzanne Melcroft, smiling wider than ever before.

“Sixteen!” she yelled suddenly. “It’s a small batch, sure, but it’s the perfect number!” She gave everyone a quick once-over, eying their hands or wastes. Anna suddenly felt naked as her gaze passed. It seemed like she was looking for something. “And such a diverse bracket! This is going to be interesting!”

Everyone looked around at each other for the first time. Each had a confused scowl on their faces. All except for Alex, who smiled with confidence. Anna didn’t bother. There was no point in speculating this time. Instead, she leaned in towards Melcroft, waiting intently.

“Congratulations, everyone!” she clapped, striding into the center of the room. “You are the best of the best! The sixteen who overcame every obstacle in their way to get here! Bravo, encore, so on.” A wicked glint came to her eye. “Unfortunately, Order doesn’t settle for the best of the best. Only the strongest among them are qualified for this job! So, it’s time for the final test!”

A doorway across from her shot open. From it, the four Operatives from the second test emerged, carting a rack of silver, metallic skeletons. Anna felt her heart soar in her chest. Those were E-Suits! They had been stripped down to their most basic features, leaving them without their dangerously powerful abilities, and the helmets had no visors, meaning they were only good for protection. But they were unmistakable. Even in their stripped-down states, Anna could feel the hum of power.

“We’ve had a few fun’ tests today!” Melcroft continued, emphasizing the word with a joyous but venomous sting. “But it’s time to bring things down to a simple, straight-forward level. After all, we still haven’t tested you on one, crucially important ability.” She jabbed a thumb at the E-Suit shells. “Your ability to fight!”

A sudden roar came from several of the other candidates. They raised their weapons in the air as if saying “Look! I came prepared!” Anna rolled her eyes. How could people that annoying not get on their own nerves?

The Operative in blue armor pulled one of the suits from the rack and held it up. “As you can see, these suits don’t have the same kind of power as the ones our friends here are wearing!” Melcroft explained, waving to the shell. “In fact, these only have the basic functions of an Energia suit, with none of the personality. We wanted to try keeping this on an even playing field.”

Anna nodded to herself. Each E-Suit was tailor-made for the Operative that would be using it. They were custom fit, as well as outfitted with weapons best suited for that person. Her mother’s suit was jet black and red, and the helmet resembled the head of a dragon. To go along with the aesthetic, it had a jet pack resembling wings, sharp claws and talons, and a canon within the mouthpiece. She was uncreatively named the Dragon of Order for it, regardless of the fact that her other weapons were about as far from the title as possible. Not many dragons used sniper rifles, after all.

Though Anna had grown up thinking that they did, thanks to her.

Everyone else had similar identities, each given by their E-Suit. They were each completely one of a kind. This was done to increase efficiency to its absolute limits, as well as to make. But it took time and resources. A group of candidates who hadn’t even gotten the job couldn’t be afforded either one.

Still, even an E-Suit stripped of personality was incredibly exciting! The shell alone would protect her from anything less powerful than a metric ton of TNT, make her faster than a cheetah, and let her hit hard enough to shatter iron. The thought of even playing with that power for a moment make Anna giddy with excitement. If she had that kind of power, she wouldn’t have to worry about anything. She could simply smash her problems away! If she wanted, she could squeeze the Chief for the truth behind her mother’s death until he popped. The image brought a sinister smile to her face that Melcroft would be proud of.

“You’ll be divided into a bracket, and fight your way to the top!” Melcroft continued. “Whoever wins first place will be guaranteed a job with Order! The others will be judged by us.” she waved at herself and the four Operatives behind her.  “So, if you lose, don’t lose hope! If you put on a great performance, you’ll still get the job! If you all bring your best, it’s highly possible that all sixteen of you will become Operatives!”

The Operative in red armor tapped his holo-phone a few times. A buzz pushed against her thigh. Reaching into her pocket, she withdrew her own phone and opened the messenger app. A small bracket was plastered on her screen, detailing who would be facing whom. She quickly scanned for her name.

Her match was the fourth in the day. She was slated to fight against someone named Anaïs Corentin. She remembered hearing the name earlier, but she couldn’t put a face to that name. But that was hardly her biggest concern. At that moment, she was more focused on the match that came before her. If she won her match, which she would, her next opponent would be Alexander Frolov.

Anna swallowed the lump in her throat. Worry about that later, she told herself. You still need to win the first match. She looked around for her opponent. It didn’t take long to find her; aside from Alex, she was the only one staring at her. Only she was laughing quietly and swaying from side to side. She blinked absently, which she seemed to find funny. Anna frowned. Was she drunk?

“Now that you know who you’re fighting, let’s not waste any time! Suit up, ladies and gents!” Melcroft announced, clapping her hands as if she were calling for a dog. “Andale, folks, let’s go!”

Everyone shot up immediately and darted for the stairs. But Anna left them all in her dust, reaching the line of suits well before everyone else. She reached for the closest one, eager to strap up. Her heart hammered against her chest. At that moment, she wasn’t worried about passing or failing. She had waited for so long to get her hands on one of these! Nothing would stop her now!

A sudden hand appeared in her way, blasting a wave of air in her face. A red, metal arm blocked her path, glowing with crimson energy and humming with energy. The Operative in red, who had been giving her looks earlier, held a suit to her. “The one you are reaching for is not a good fit for your size.” He said in a thick, German accent. “Try this one.”

Anna paused. From what she read growing up, the core of an E-Suit was adjustable. It was designed to fit all sizes, only locking when other parts were placed for a unique build. Had she read that wrong? No, she couldn’t have. She had read about E-Suits dozens of times over the years. I guess it’s fine, she thought. I might just be paranoid…

She reluctantly took the suit from him. The man nodded, then went to assist the others. When he was gone, she slid into the shell and closed it off around her. The exoskeleton slid around her shoulders, across her torso, around her legs, and clicked around her boots. Within minutes, she was clad comfortably in full, shining silver. Stretching, she could feel a quiet hum of energy as her joints moved as smoothly as ever. Power coursed through her entire body, like a jolt of electricity. A smile crossed her lips. If it felt this good to move, then how satisfying would it be to fight?

When everyone was equipped and returned to their seats, the judges took the empty rack away and sat on the other side of the room. When the floor was empty, Melcroft called for the competitors of the first match: the first was Eitan, who looked nervous for the first time. A tall, lean Frenchman came shortly behind him, slipping his hands into a pair of large red gloves as he walked.

Anna sat on the edge of her seat, staring intently at both fighters as they passed. Part of her remained focused and logical, intending to scout out her opponents for her own sake. The other and more powerful side of her didn’t care. That part of her was a small child about to watch her favorite show on a Saturday morning. After all this time, she’d get to see two E-Suits in action! Even if she failed here, which she wouldn’t, this was going to make it well worth it!

The two took their stances twenty feet apart from each other. The Frenchman pulled his fists together, shielding his face behind his arms. Eitan planted his feet and awkwardly crossed his arms in front of him. Anna frowned. She had never seen a fighting style like that before. Was that even a proper stance? This was going to be interesting.

“Ready?!” Melcroft raised her hands over her head and clapped louder than ever before. “BEGIN!”

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