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Aberrant: Infinite Earth - Fiction - Orientation [Complete]

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It may have been Zhu's on private island, and it most definitely was his own school... but he still found it helpful to divide the year into three semesters that roughly mirrored a college or public education calendar. As such, most new students started in the 'fall' (or spring, seeing as how he was below the equator), with a smaller number starting at the beginning of the second semester, and only select (approved by Zhu himself) students allowed to start during the third semester.

And it was now that time: New Student Orientation. Sifu Zhu hated it as much as his four disciples, but it was a necessary evil if they were to keep new students coming in as the old students graduated or quit.

Besides, his students loved it. It was pretty much the one time of year that most of them actually got to see Sifu Zhu in action (much less vs. his four disciples... which though not true were rumored to be, alternately his children though the elements (ala greek mythology) or portions of his soul/body that had taken on a life of their own because he'd simply gotten too powerful/practiced/in-tune).

Most students didn't last long enough to be taught directly by one of the disciples, much less Zhu himself, so to see Him vs. Them was a thing that the students would be talking about for the next couple of months. Their exhibition would be taped, analyzed, and used for instruction... one of the main reasons he only did this once per year. He knew this was necessary for his dream, but that didn't mean that he had to like all of the details.

Each of his disciples had suggested a 'new' and 'unique' way that he enter this year; everything from descending from the top of a pillar of fire to rising up out of the ground. But so far as Joe Smith was concerned, those types of theatrics were best left for the road (or Broadway). So he entered this year just as he had every year previously, simply by walking down the steps into the center of his large, open air amphitheater. He made sure, as he walked slowly and purposefully down the stairs, that every part of his outfit was perfect. He wasn’t entirely sure what this eufiber was, but he knew that it provided a little bit of protection and that it could form itself to whatever shape he wanted. Of course, Zhu only really had three outfits, his ceremonial robes (which he was wearing now), his training/sparing gi (which he would change/morph into later), and his casual/leisure gi (once he got back to his apartment).

The more steps he took, the more they could be heard, because the more the noise died down. By the time he finally reached the stage, the only sound was the light tropical breeze blowing down across the amphitheater. Not even a stray cough marred the beautiful silence. Zhu walked up the stairs and onto the stage, and then turned to face his students. The looks of awe and wonder, and the crackle of the excitement were to be expected. He liked to make a grand entrance.

In the silence, his voice didn’t need any help to carry, even to the back row, but he still manipulated the air currents, ever so slightly, so that his voice carried even better. “Yingjie xuesheng, greetings students. I am Sifu Zhu, and you are all now students here, at my Academy. You may have heard a great many things about me and this place; you may not have. You may have seen my disciples and I perform an exhibition; you may not have. You may have had previous martial arts training; you may not have any… None of that matters now. You are all first day students, not even yi duan or blue eagles yet. You are each equal, starting now. You will each be assigned a room, a roommate, a training schedule and duties to perform. Your standing in my academy will be determined by how you handle each of these responsibilities, how quickly you learn, and how well you represent the core values and ethics of my institution.”

Joe Smith paused for a moment to let everything that he had said sink in. The fact that everybody started out on equal footing would be disturbing to some and a relief to others; the same could be said for the fact that the only standing a student would have would be based on both their feats, accomplishments and adherence to what they learned here. He had sent one of his richest students home because of a handful of minor discipline infractions because his heart wasn’t into his study; he was here simply for pride’s sake. In the same way, one of his disciples, though willful in temperament, fluid with some of the rules, and attending the academy on the grace of Zhu, dedicated himself completely to the art and Zhu’s teaching, and so rose to one of the four highest ranks in the school. Money wasn’t a factor here, if Joe Smith needed more money, he could simply create a tropical island and sell it for pure profit aside from the time and energy required, or he could rip a portion of a vein of gold or diamonds from the bowels of the earth. He hadn’t created this school for the money; he’d created it so that it could be the largest assembly of martial arts students and teachers, in a setting where they could focus completely on their craft and not have to worry about anything else. A place of complete devotion and study, that’s what this island was about, and those were the students that were allowed to stay.

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After the ring of his voice had died down and the weight of the words sunk in, Zhu shifted his ceremonial robes to his black with white trim kung fu training gi. The sight brought gasps from the majority of the crowd. Though popular to the elite and novas, to the majority of the world it was either still unknown or something fancy that they’d heard of but never seen. Now each of his new students knew that he possessed some, and they knew one of the tricks it could perform.

Ready to begin the exhibition, he spoke again. “Now for a demonstration of what you can accomplish here if you put your body and soul, heart and mind into your study.” If, of course, you happen to be a nova. The last part was left out, but would be implied by the demonstration. Of course, everything that they did, besides the blatant manipulation of the elements, could be done (albeit at a slower, more human speed) by anybody with enough training and experience… so his statement wasn’t completely false…

As if on cue, his disciples each made their grand entrance onto the stage. Whereas their master preferred the subtle drama of his presence, each of his disciples had their own flair for the overtly dramatic.

First, Disciple Linghun came, wearing a blue with black trim kung fu training gi and riding a small wave, up and over the back of the amphitheater. He came down a separate set of steps and let his wave crashed up against the side of the stage, leaving a large puddle at the bottom of it. This allowed him time to bow, palm to palm, to Sifu Zhu before taking his place just behind and to the right.

Next the ground started to tremble as it opened up and Disciple Shenti rocketed up from the ground just in front of the stage on a pillar of rock. She wore a tan with black trim kung fu training gi. At the pillar’s apex, she did a front flip off of it and landed in a crouch just a couple of feet in front of Sifu Zhu. As the pillar receded back to whence it had come, Disciple Shenti bowed, fist to fist, first to Sifu Zhu, then to Disciple Linghun. Then she took her place just behind and to the left of Sifu Zhu.

After that, the sound of a bonfire could be heard as Disciple Neixin, wearing a red with black trim kung fu training gi, propelled by gouts of fire coming from her hands and feet, did a flyby of the entire amphitheater before landing elegantly directly where Disciple Shenti had. She bowed, fist to palm, first to Sifu Zhu and then to Disciples Linghun and Shenti. Then she took her place just behind and to the right of Disciple Shenti.

Lastly, the air in the amphitheater was whipped into a frenzy, and down from the sky, in the center of the maelstrom, Disciple Tounas descended, wearing a white with black trim kung fu training gi that was whipping in the wind. He descended and landed softly directly where the other Disciples had, and bowed, arms crossed across his chest, first to Sifu Zhu, and then to Disciples Linghun, Shenti and Neixin. He then took his place just behind and to the left of Disciple Neixin.

Once all the Disciples were in place, the awe and excitement were palpable. There was a hushed wave of applause that swept through the crowd, but the students judged rightly and let it die down quickly. Zhu left his new students to hang for a moment, to let the tension build. Then, with a quick snap-turn, he turned his back on his new students. He gave a half bow, arms to his side, to both groups of disciples, then walked to the center of the stage. His Disciples, for their part, followed and broke up, so that once everybody stopped, there was a Disciple directly to the front, rear, left and right of Zhu, all in their own favorite starting stance.

This was where the fun started.

Kung Fu was a way of life, so this, as much as everything else was practice. But it was also an exhibition. There was a time for everything; a time for the Disciples to try their full potential against Sifu Zhu, both individually and as they were now. This wasn’t one of those times. There was also a time for a fully or partially choreographed demonstration; this wasn’t one of those times either. This demonstration was somewhere in between. They would all hold back and not go full force, so that this would be as safe as a spar while manipulating the elements could be. But it also wasn’t pre-planned. This would be an actual demonstration of skill… and it started with Neixin. It usually did, so it wasn’t a surprise to Zhu when a gout of flame erupted towards him from his left.

It did set everyone in motion, though.

With a high sweep of his leg, Zhu summoned the wind, deflecting Neixin’s flame behind him towards Linghun. Fire and water were natural opposites, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise, and the redirection put one of his ‘attackers’ on the defensive. Predictably Linghun defended with a wall of water that hissed into steam as it put out the fire. What was new was when the second attack came from Shenti. Grounded in the earth, she was usually slower and more cautious to act, weighing all of her options before deciding. Today, however, with a forward stomp that came only a couple of heart beats after Neixin’s flames, she sent a spike of rock out of the stage toward Zhu’s newly exposed right side. With a simple twist of his ankle and more pressure on his heel, Zhu responded with his own spear of earth that split Shenti’s, sending one half towards Neixin and the other towards Tounas. Neixin spun out of the way while Tounas jumped above it and actually landed on top of it.

Knowing that Shenti, Neixin and Tounas were still slightly off from their action and reactions, Zhu brought his right leg around, turning to face Linghun, and pushed out with his palms. As he did so, he sent a wall of air that hit Linghun, pushing him back several feet towards the new students. While Linghun was still sliding, Tounas jumped up, using Shenti’s spear of earth as a spring board and his control of wind to propel him way up into the air. Though not directly in front of him, Zhu didn’t miss Tounas’ actions, and with a total of 2 high kicks and a fist thrust straight up sent 3 balls of flame directly up towards him. Tounas sent a large and powerful spike of air straight down at Zhu, through his fireballs, turning them into fire ‘doughnuts’ rather than balls. Zhu created a sphere of earth around him and sunk beneath the stage, allowing the spike of air to drill into the floor right where he’d been.

All of the new students erupted into thunderous applause, thinking that that was the end of the demonstration, but the Disciples knew better. They quickly regrouped, back to back to back to back, all at the ready. Seeing the Disciples looking for an upcoming attack, the new students quickly quieted and started looking around themselves. Then, from behind the new students, Zhu raised up on a column of air. With motions so quick that most of the people present couldn’t follow, he sent a spear of air from where he was at, a ball of fire that arched around to come at the disciples from one side, formed water into ice spears on the opposite side, and on the far side of the Disciples the stage grew yet another lethal spear. Seeing how they were being attacked, almost simultaneously, from all sides, the Disciples reacted, together, quickly. Tounas created a large sphere of air around them, Neixin a slightly smaller sphere of fire, Linghun an even smaller sphere of water and finally Shenti created a sphere of earth that just covered all 4 disciples, exactly like Zhu had previously used.

Zhu’s air spear went through the air layer, flaring against the fire shield, the ice spears were dispersed through the air shield, melted through the fire shield, and joined with the water in the water shield. His fireballs lost a little cohesion through the air shield, gained strength through the fire shield, boiled through the water shield, and left a scorch mark on the earth shield, and the earthen spear went all the way through to thunk against the earth shield without penetrating.

The shields remained in place for a few moments more, long enough for Zhu to land and start walking back down the steps, but then they dissipated, as did the rest of the elements on stage, with the exception of the earth shield. Zhu’s guard remained raised as he approached the sphere, knowing full well that his Disciples were up to something. Once he was almost to the stage, he jumped up and landed just on the stage in a crouch, fist punching the ground. As he did so, the earthen sphere erupted in deadly spikes. There was a collective gasp from the new students, and the earthen sphere disintegrated to dust, revealing the tangled base of the spikes, that wouldn’t have left much room for a house cat to go unharmed, much less four humans. But, to the surprise of the new students only, there were no bodies or blood anywhere to be found. With a quick wave of his hands, Zhu’s spikes burst into dust, blowing away in the breeze, and Zhu walked back to where he had started. After a few tense moments, his students erupted from the ground, Tounas, Neixin and Linghun behind him and Shenti in front...

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Zhu and his Disciples went on for a total of 15 or 20 minutes, and the longer they went on, the less blatant manipulation of the elements there was. They did their best to not show that they were tiring, but by the end none of them were doing anything besides actual physical strikes and blocks.

Breathing heavily but trying to hide it, Zhu stopped the exhibition, and they all turned and bowed to each other. Then Zhu turned to face his new students. "Each of you, with much training, has much to look forward to; as you can see. Not everyone can do everything, but each of you can do something. Train hard, listen to your instructors, and know that I will be checking up on each and everyone of you." With that he motioned for everyone to stand, and once everyone had gotten the hint he gave a half bow towards them and eventually each of the students returned a full bow to Sifu Zhu.

"DISMISSED!" Was the last word from Joe Smith that rang through the amphitheater. After everyone had left, he let his training gi change to his informal gi, and gave each one of his Disciples a hug. He told them to each go take a shower and to meet him in the meditation room when they were done. For his part he simply used his mastery over water to douse and then dry himself and his mastery over earth to remove the grime from his skin. It was a trick that he was waiting for his students to learn, but until they figured it out on their own he wouldn't ruin the surprise.

The meditation room was a stones throw from Joe's apartment. It was the only room on the island that was completely sound proof. It also had the most unique locking system (Zhu would make walls of earth just inside the walls of the room, blocking sound, light and unwanted visitors). Once inside, Joe took his seat, cross legged in the center of the room. He waited for his Disciples to all show up, and once everyone was in, he sealed them off. They spent several hours simply mediating, recovering from the exhibition that they had performed. Then they started planning for the beginning of this new year.

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