Gin pointed the gun at the tree. He made sure to steady his hands, aiming for the perfect shot. He wrapped his fingers around the ins and into the chambers. This time I’m going to hit the mark, he told himself. He then pressed the button inside the second chamber. Bang! The sound echoed around the room. Gin looked at the tree once more, only to feel dejected as it remained unscathed. The same couldn’t be said about the wall next to them.
‘Wow! How bad can you get?!’ exclaimed an amused Wo.
‘For Fudge sake then,’ Gin rolled his eyes. ‘Happy? Anyway, I can aim all I like, but the moment I pull the trigger, the gun goes all over the place. The recoil hits too hard.’
‘Or maybe you just suck.’
Wo took the gun INS off Gin and aimed at the tree. He acted like he wasn’t even trying as he activated the mechanism. The shot was perfect as the bullet hit the target right in the centre, piercing the tree.
‘Screw you, Wo.’
‘Ugh. You never cease to annoy me,’ Gin said as he went to another tree and began making another target with his blades.
‘It’s fun getting on your nerves,’ Wo shrugged back. ‘Anyway, you should stick to blade boxing. The gun’s not for you.’
‘But I need to improve my arsenal. Can’t rely on my blades all the time.’
‘Doesn’t seem to be working for you though.’
‘Looks like I need to calibrate it so that it’s less powerful. But then It’s no longer useful as a long range weapon like I want it to.’
Wo waited a few moments for the nanobots to return back the INS, filling up the chamber and ready for use again. He twirled the gun around his finger, showing off his hand-eye coordination in an attempt to peeve Gin further, stopping when he went into deep thought.
‘How did your ancestors manage to make one?’ Wo wondered.
‘They had disposable bullets. The nanobots dissipate as soon as they leave the chamber, in order to return back to the INS, weakening the bullet’s power as they fly, so I can’t really recreate what my forefathers used entirely.’
Gin flopped to the ground, opening up another INS, making sure the marsh water didn’t enter the system even though the device was waterproof. Better safe than sorry, Gin thought as he mumbled words Wo didn’t understand, but his face showed frustration.
‘Like father, like son,’ Wo muttered.
‘Did you say something?’ Gin looked up, putting the cap of the INS on his lap and separating the other parts.
‘No, I just wondered what happened to the fire mode you used to have on your old sword?’ Wo asked instead, deciding to be helpful for once.
‘Ran out of oil. I haven’t been back home in ages to pick up more.’
‘So? Just ask one of the fire elementals to give you some of theirs. It’s not like they run out permanently.’
Gin stopped, staring at Wo in surprise. It never occurred that there was an alternative right in front of him. Of course, he needed the right type of oil but, with the amount of fire elemental type mages in the squadron, it shouldn’t be too difficult. The revelation put Gin’s mind into overdrive. He had a sudden realisation that it didn’t have to stop at fire elementals. He could use several different mages to advance his research; to widen his capabilities; to make him stronger.
‘Not a bad idea, Wo. Guess you can be useful every once in a while,’ Gin’s face lit up in a moment of genius.
‘“Every once in a while”?’ Wo replied, charging Gin, catching him off guard before he put him in a headlock. ‘Go on. Tell me how great I am!’
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‘Ow! You’re just a coward who needs his bacteria to fight,’ Gin retorted.
‘Says the xernim user!’
The pair collapsed to the floor and began laughing. Despite the trouble he causes, Wo was a good friend in Gin’s opinion. Maybe it wasn’t so surprising considering how close Wo was with Gin’s father too. Like father like son, Gin mused to himself. The thought of his father made him want to go back to his village someday. But that train of thought got derailed when he saw the time on the pendulum clock.
‘Ah, I need to go,’ Gin admitted.
‘My battalion needs me. Had something special in mind for some new members.’
‘You’re a popular man at last, Gigi! Your father would be so proud,’ Wo said with a fake tear in his eye and a forced sniff.
‘Again. Screw you, Wo.’
‘I’ll just stay here while we wait for the nanobots to go back in the INS,’ Wo said with a mischievous grin.
‘Alright,’ Gin replied, rolling his eyes and picking his equipment apart from the gun, heading down to the ground floor of the Rezah.
Outside, the wind blew sand into a wild frenzy, making vision near impossible. Protecting his eyes, he squinted into the distance, making out a recognisable scaly person, though he couldn’t be a hundred percent sure. Gin waved, but the man didn’t respond, either because he had his back turned or the sand blotted his sight too.
‘Brim! That you?’ Gin called.
‘Ah! Gin! There you are,’ he responded, turning around and waving back with a confused look on this face.
Gin lifted his shirt over his head as a sort of veil, using the stone plate underneath for protecting his body. He then made his way to his sparring partner who didn’t seem to feel the sand rapping against his arms, or at least didn’t show it, while a thin layer of oil covered his eyes, acting as a barrier and allowing him to see at the same time.
‘What’s wrong, Brim?’ Gin asked, noticing how ridiculous he looked.
‘I got several questions,’ Brim replied.
‘Yeah. I had a feeling it was going to be something along those lines. What’re the issues?’
‘Uuuuuh. Why here? This weather’s horrible!’
‘Exactly. We need to adapt to all sort of situations, no? Yeah, it’s bad but do we call off the battle with the AAA mid-fight if a sandstorm blows just like that?’
‘Still, these are horrible conditions.’
‘Who’s winning twenty-seven twenty-four in our spars?’
Brim pursed his lips. He looked into the distance then back at Gin when he was unable to think of a comeback.
‘What about the new members,’ Brim said at last, trying to find a chink in Gin’s logic as a retort.
‘What about them?’
‘They’re F ranks. They barely even deserve that rank. Do you know how hard that is? They’re the worst of the worst and you want them in my battalion too?’
‘They have their uses.’
‘They’re useful? Really? You didn’t skip on eating your meat rations again, right?’
‘I get the feeling it’s the prejudice you gained from the MBP that’s telling you this. Remember, we are a battalion. Not a group of individuals. And no, I don’t miss out on my meat rations. Joan makes sure I have them.’
‘I really don’t think you can blame the MBP this time. Have you seen the abilities of these pe-’
The pair looked up. Hurtling towards was a massive ball of fire. They jumped out of the way, dodging the attack, but blobs of oil ended up splattered across the ground. The blobs continued to burn even after crashing into the ground. Luckily, neither of them got hurt. Gin looked over his shoulders to see Brim in utter disbelief. Another easy believer in the regime, Gin thought.
‘What was that?!’ Brim exclaimed.
‘That, my friend,’ Gin started, a smirk forming underneath his veil, ‘Is the power of the mages you called “useless” a while ago.’
‘No way! A fireball of that size? That’s got to be a rank S fire elemental at least!’
‘I’ll show you once the weather eases up. Let’s get to safety first. Even I didn’t expect this range.’
After an hour or so, when the sandstorm disappeared without warning, Gin pointed to a certain location. Brim squinted. Roughly one kilometre away was four mages, with one being significantly larger than the others. They had smiles across their faces and were congratulating each other. Were they the ones that caused the fireball? No, that can’t be right. What low ranked fire elemental had a range like that?
‘The big one’s the fire elemental that threw the fireball, right?’ Brim asked, still reluctant to believe the truth.
‘Well, you’re half right. Let’s go over to them.’
As Gin and Brim got closer, the group of people noticed them. They were brimming with excitement and began running towards their leader. All except the big one, that is. He trudged along, unable to keep up. His size and notably large hands weighed him down, limiting his movements.
‘Leader! Leader! Did you see that?’ a woman with rough skin exclaimed while jumping up and down on the spot.
‘Yes. You almost hit us as well,’ Gin responded.
‘Oh, er Sorry,’ a timid, bald man with slimy skin that glistened under the sun, said.
‘Yeah. Our bad. We didn’t expect to go that far,’ a different slimy-skinned mage said.
‘You see,’ Gin commented, turning to Brim, ‘all four of these mages, including the big guy, are F ranks yet they managed to produce such a powerful fireball. In a battlefield, they would be a great asset.’
‘But they’re F ranks!’
Everyone looked unimpressed at Brim. He saw what they just did. He had seen Gin’s other methods working. He knew the MBP wasn’t always right (Gin’s victory over him in the spar was still fresh in Brim’s memory). Yet, Brim still didn’t trust Gin when he said the F ranks could be useful.
‘Look,’ Gin said at last. ‘One of the slimy skinned can produce oil but can’t light it up. The other one can do both but doesn’t have fire-resistant skin. He’d burn up if he lit his hands up. The rough-skinned woman can light a fire without burning herself up, but don’t have the flammable sweat the other fire mages have to make one. Finally, the big guy with large hands over there, that’s slowly making his way to us, he’s fire resistant and has incredible strength but is extremely slow. All of them are F ranks!’
‘I still don’t get it,’ Brim responded, causing Gin to sigh in disbelief with the others mimicking him.
‘Alone, they aren’t useful to us but, as a group, they are a strength to our battalion. In short, the men pour oil into the big guy’s hands, the woman lights it up and then the big guy flings it at the enemy. Larger sized and larger ranged fireballs than any individual could manage,’ Gin explained, the group nodding in agreement.
‘Uh huh,’ Brim said trying to process the idea. ‘That’s actually amazing. Guess when the MBP taught us that the low-ranked were trash, we took it to heart.’
‘That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! Just like that, we gained three-hundred or so more soldiers in our squadron. But anyway, good work you guys. Keep up with the practice.’
‘Yes sir!’ the group shouted in unison, moving further away from the Rezah to see if they could launch projectiles even further.
Brim contemplated for a moment. Gin began to tear through his views, conditioned into him by the MBP, bit by bit. Although most of his factual knowledge still held true, the subjective ideologies were in question. He could see why Alder spoke so highly of Gin. Maybe it was for the best.
‘What’s wrong, Brim?’
‘Mind if my battalion joins yours in training? I get the feeling we could learn a lot from yours.’
‘Finally given up on your prejudice? Sure. The more the merrier. In return, you need to give me some oil every now and then.’
‘I want to improve my blade boxing. I need some flammable material to do so though.’
‘I don’t understand what you’re planning but ok. I’ll prepare a batch soon.’
Suddenly, Gin heard someone calling for them. Brim heard it too, and they both turned to see a lean woman riding a massive Lupim, bounding towards them. The canine had brown fur, with streaks of black. Its teeth were razor sharp, its muzzle rough and claws snuggled within the paws of the beast.
‘Who are you?’ Gin questioned.
‘No time for that,’ the woman replied. ‘There will be an emergency meeting in three hours. All battalion leaders need to attend.’
‘Calm down,’ Brim ordered. ‘What’s going on?’
‘The AAA have started making their move.’