Etherno

Chapter 5: Team Bonding? Sounds Sticky…

Tannin

Onin slumped in the chair in Profressor Jakao’s office. Kasai sat beside him. She stared at her hands that she kept folded in her lap. Tannin was on the other side of him, busy digging dirt out of his nails. Cerina leaned against the door frame behind him and hadn’t quit sighing, snorting, and making other annoying, disrespectful noises since she arrived.

Professor Jekao sat leaned back in his chair with his fingers steepled in front of him. He frowned as he gazed at each one of them in turn.

“Well?” he said.

“Deep subject,” Tannin said.

Professor Jekao jumped up and leaned over his desk. “Do you think this is some kind of joke? All of you were injured yesterday, and you let the criminals escape!”

He took a deep breath and sat back down. Onin glanced over at Kasai. She had pulled her legs up against her chest and had her arms wrapped around them.

“You’re supposed to work as a team. Onin ran off on his own, then the rest of you went off without him. Then the enemy uses a new device or has an unknown power, and do you work together? No. No teamwork, no co-operation. If you keep going like this, you’re going to get yourselves killed. And if by some miracle you don’t die, that kind of nonsense won’t fly in any kind of profession you’re studying for.” Professor Jekao took a deep breath. “Forget it. I’m not going to recap the whole debacle. You were there. Tonight, I want each of you to go back to your rooms and write a five-page paper on how you could have handled that better. Tomorrow, report back to my office.”

dragon

“Man, he was in a bad mood.” Tannin said.

Onin rolled his eyes and turned right on the sidewalk that led away from the office building.

“Where are you going?” Tannin asked.

“Uh, back to our room. We have a paper to write, remember?”

“You’re really gonna do that?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, come on. That paper’s a joke. The prof can’t give us homework when we’re not—”

Onin turned around and grabbed Tannin by the shoulders. “Do you ever take anything seriously? We almost died tonight.”

“Yeah, but we didn’t.” Tannin shrugged out of Onin’s grip. “Look. We can either get all freaked out and too scared to do anything, or we can laugh it off. I don’t want to get so wound up that I can’t think. And yes, I’m going to the cafeteria. I haven’t eaten in forever, and I’m hungry. If I’m hungry, I can’t concentrate. And how’s a stupid paper supposed to fix anything, anyway?”

“It’s supposed to make us think and then learn.”

“Yeah, well, maybe writing helps you smart types think, but it doesn’t work for me. I need to eat, talk about stuff, and then have a re-match.”

Onin sighed. Perhaps Tannin did need some time alone. “All right, I’ll see you back at the dorm.”

Tannin waved a finger at him and shuffled down the sidewalk.

Onin wasn’t the first one to Professor Jekao’s office the next morning. Kasai leaned up against the door frame and was apparently deep in study of one of the floor tiles.

“Hey,” Onin said.

“Hi.” She looked up and waved a few folded sheets of paper at him. “Get your homework done?”

“Yup.” Onin grinned and held up his own paper. “I wonder if Tannin and Cerina did?”

Kasai snorted. “I doubt it.”

They both turned at the sound of a door shutting down the hall. Tannin stumbled toward them. His hair stuck out in every direction, and he carried a cup of coffee. Onin didn’t see evidence of a paper anywhere.

“Morning, Tannin,” Onin said.

“Uhhh.” Tannin slumped against the wall and slid down the floor. “Who decided mornings were a good thing, anyway?”

Onin glanced over at Kasai. Her hand was over her mouth, and her chest shook with silent laughter.

“Good morning, students!” Professor Jekao shifted his briefcase to his left hand, squeezed past them, and unlocked the office door. “Cerina here yet?”

“We haven’t seen her, sir,” Kasai said.

“I see. Well, come on in and have a seat while we wait for her.”

Onin took a seat, and Kasai took the chair against the wall to his right. Tannin flopped into a chair behind him and leaned back against the rear wall of the office.

“Did you finish your papers?” Professor Jekao asked.

Onin and Kasai held out their papers at the same time. A light snore came from Tannin’s direction.

“Did he get anything done?” Professor Jekao jerked a thumb at Tannin.

“I don’t know. He went to the cafeteria first. I finished my paper and went to sleep, and he still wasn’t back yet,” Onin said.

There was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Professor Jekao said.

Cerina entered and flopped into the chair at the far side of the room.

“Huh?” Tannin sat up and looked around. “Oh, Cerina’s here.” He pulled a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and tossed it over to Professor Jekao.

“Tannin, this is only one page.” The Professor unfolded the paper and attempted to smooth it out. “Is there any more to it?”

“Nope.” Tannin leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “That’s the best I can do in one night with no notice. I was up all night working on that.”

“Okay then. It’d better be good. Cerina, do you have your paper?”

“As-if.” She snorted. “I had real homework to do last night.”

“Cerina, with that attitude, why did you decide to minor in criminal justice?” He held up his palm. “No, wait, don’t answer that, I can’t take it right now.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “On to what you’re all here for. All of you have special talents and presumably some kind of interest in some sort of career in criminal justice. Such a career, however, requires teamwork. And that’s something you’re all sadly lacking in.

“Next week is holiday. I want all of you to work on teamwork during holiday. A lot. As in, I’ve signed you up for a week-long team-building boot camp.”

“You can’t do that!” Cerina jumped to her feet. “I’m going home to see my family!”

Tannin groaned. “Man, there’s some sweet parties that week.”

“You’re right.” Professor Jekao smiled. “I can’t force you to go. What I can do though, is put you on academic probation, and recommend to the dean that you be dropped from the criminal justice program.”

Onin sat up straighter in his chair. The professor wouldn’t really do that, would he? He elbowed Tannin in the ribs.

“Yay.” Tannin raised a fist in the air, but his tone was devoid of emotion. “Boot camp. Woo.”

“I’ll just pretend that your lack of enthusiasm is due to sleep deprivation. Cerina?”

“Fine. I’ll go.”

Cerina crossed her arms and if she frowned any harder, her face might split in two.

“Good!” Professor Jekao glanced over to Onin and Kasai, then handed each of them a packet. “Here are your monorail tickets. Also, be aware that the retreat is located very close to the Matari enclave. You are not, for any reason at all, to cross the border. Dismissed.”

dragon

Onin looked around. The team building boot camp was at the very end of the monorail line. Onin didn’t even know the monorail had an endpoint. They stood in a clearing in the middle of a pine forest. Snow covered mountain peaks were visible to the north. A single path wound from the monorail station deeper into the forest.

“Well we’re in the middle of back-butt nowhere,” Tannin said.

“Not nowhere.” Kasai pointed ahead and to the right. “The Monks of Ard have a monastery in the foothills of the Kurushimi Mountains.”

“No mobile signal.” Cerina held her phone up and waved it around. “Now what am I supposed to do?”

“Develop real relationships with real people.”

Everyone turned. The speaker had much paler skin than most of the people in Dabrath. Her hair was light blonde and pulled back into a ponytail. She wore hiking boots, jeans, and a blue t-shirt with stick figures that were holding hands and dancing.

“Hi!” She raised her hand and waved vigorously. “I’m Karen. Welcome to Team Bonding Boot camp.”

“Hello, I’m Onin, this is Kasai, Tannin, and Cerina.”

“We’ve been expecting you, come on into the lodge. We’ll get you set up in your rooms, then we have a brief activity before dinner.”

Karen led them down the winding path into the forest. Two turns later a large two-story log building came into view.

“Get a load of that.” Tannin pointed at the building. “A log cabin.”

“Just a mite bit big to be called a ‘cabin,’ numbskull,” Cerina said.

Tannin stuck his tongue out at her. Karen led them inside and up to the second floor.

“Onin and Tannin, you’re in the room to the right. Kasai and Cerina, you’re in the room to the left.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Cerina held up her hands. “I can’t share a room with her!”

“You can, and you will.” If it was possible, the smile on Karen’s face got bigger. “We have other groups here at the same time, so we have limited space. Also, the whole point of you being here is to learn to get along and work together as a team. Team, team, team! I even love the word team, don’t you?”

“Ugh. I think I’m gonna puke. Fine.”

Onin opened the door to his room and leaned around it to mouth ‘good luck’ to Kasai, who shot him a desperate look. Onin stepped in his room. A fireplace was on the left wall. Two recliners were across from it. A large picture window was on the far wall. Three doors lined the right wall.

“I’ll take door number one,” Tannin said. He pulled open the door and leaned inside. “Private bedroom, sweet!”

The middle door led to a large bathroom, and the third door was another bedroom.

“Nice. If the girls’ room is like this, even Cerina won’t find anything to whine about,” Onin said.

“Ten yen says she’ll find something.” Tannin said.

“Do you even have ten yen?”

“Um… No. Gotta pee.” Tannin darted into the bathroom.

Onin rolled his eyes and went to put his suitcase in his room.

dragon

Onin sat on the back porch of the lodge and watched other groups while he and Tannin waited for the girls. A large grass field was full of different groups of people engaged in a variety of activities. Some of them were divided into pairs, each tied together at the knee, and were trying to move a giant ball around. Some sat back to back with paper and pencils, and the last group faced each other with palms together doing something.

“What kind of nutty kindergarten games do you think they’ll make us play?” Tannin asked.

“One way to find out.”

Tannin muttered something and started to pick at his fingernail. A door creaked open behind him. Onin turned around. Kasai and Cerina came out, with Karen close behind them. Kasai’s hair was up in a ponytail today.

“Ah, good, you’re all here. Right on time too!” Karen said.

“Great. She’s perky. I hate perky,” Cerina muttered.

“Like I said before, we’re going to start with a quick activity to have some fun before dinner. Then you can relax until tomorrow.” Karen turned and almost skipped out onto the grass. “Follow me, please!”

She led them over to an unoccupied corner of the lawn and sat down cross-legged.

“Okay, we’re going to start with some meditation exercises.”

“And the point of this would be…” Cerina asked.

Karen’s smile slipped for half a second. “We’re going to try and purge some of that icky negative energy. Can everyone sit, please?”

Onin dropped to the grass and had to use his arms to force his legs into position. Kasai smoothly folded herself into the proper position with apparently no effort. She leaned in closer to him.

“The monks taught me to meditate. I think this might be a little different, though. Their focus was on spiritual matters.”

“Okay, now that everyone’s seated, I want you to close your eyes, and focus your thoughts inward. To work together as a team, we need to first make ourselves the best me we can be,” Karen said.

Someone groaned. Onin wasn’t sure if it was Cerina or Tannin.

“The only person we can change is ourselves.” Karen either hadn’t heard or chose to ignore the groaning. “So, I want each of you to find the negativity in yourself, the anger, irritation, impatience, or whatever. Then, take a deep breath, and as you exhale, imagine all that negative energy floating out of you.”

“Nope. Not quite how the monks taught me,” Kasai whispered.

Onin shrugged. He didn’t think this exercise would accomplish anything, but then it couldn’t hurt, either.

A few minutes later Kasai screamed. Onin opened his eyes and jumped to his feet—and almost fell over. Both of his legs were asleep. He shook each one and stumbled over to Kasai.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I… I don’t know.” Kasai stood, wrapped her arms around herself and actually took a step closer to Onin. “I was exploring my feelings, praying for Ard to help me find any negativity and remove it like the monks taught me. Suddenly there was fire… everywhere. I actually felt fire.”

She shuddered and took another step toward Onin. His breath quickened at her proximity. He put his hand on her shoulder, and she leaned in to rest her head on his bicep. She was so soft.

Everyone stood clustered around Kasai.

“That shouldn’t happen.” Karen pressed the back of her hand against Kasai’s forehead. “Are you hurt?”

“No, I’m fine. Just a little freaked out. That’s never happened before.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Onin said.

“Yeah.” Kasai straightened up and took a deep breath. “I’m fine, let’s continue.”

“I don’t know.” Tannin scratched the back of his neck. “I don’t know much about meditating, but it’s supposed to be relaxing, right?”

“Well, let’s stop for the day.” Karen felt Kasai’s head with the back of her hand again. “You do seem a little warm. How about we all go in to dinner, then we’ll meet back here tomorrow morning at about eight, okay? And Kasai, there’s a nurse’s station on the first floor.”

Kasai nodded, and they filed into the building. Onin frowned. Conflicting feelings ran through him. The more he got to know Kasai, the more he liked her. But was now the best time to bring that up? Clearly something was going on with her. Well, whatever it was, he’d give her whatever help she wanted.

dragon

Onin lowered himself into one of the recliners in his room. Tannin flopped into the one next to him.

“Man, if all the food is gonna be that good, I might stay,” Tannin said. He rubbed his belly. “Of course, you’ll have to roll me into the monorail car for the ride home…”

“You’d probably even willingly participate in the activities if they gave you a treat for doing them.”

“I might. I’ll have to suggest it.”

Onin shook his head. “Hey, speaking of that, was it you or Cerina snorting and moaning and whining through meditation time?”

“Eh.” Tannin shrugged. “Probably both of us, what a waste of—”

A knock on the door interrupted him.

“Come in, it’s open.” Onin said.

“And we’re too stuffed to get up to open it for you,” Tannin added.

The door cracked open and Kasai poked her head in.

“Hey, Onin, can we talk?” Her voice trailed off. She stepped into the room and looked around. “Wow, this is your room?”

Onin and Tannin nodded.

“Wow.” She took another step and peered at the fireplace. “Cerina and I are crammed in a room about a quarter of this size. We’ve got a twin-sized bunk bed and have to share a dresser.”

“Wow, that sucks,” Tannin said.

“I wonder if it’s part of the plan to make us get along?” Onin said.

Kasai looked around for a place to sit.

Here, have my chair,” Tannin got up and headed for the bathroom. “I was just getting up anyway. I need to see if our bathroom has an exhaust fan.”

“I hope it does,” Onin said.

“Eww.” Kasai shuddered and sat down.

“So, what’d you want to talk about?” Onin said.

Onin leaned closer to Kasai. She could be here just to talk with him, or she might want to further discuss her vision and the thugs and stuff. Her hair was down again and hung over the left side of her face. She was so pretty…

“Stuff.” Kasai brushed her hair back and twirled it around her finger. “Do you think this will work?”

“What?”

“Us. Tannin, Cerina, you, and I as a team. Tannin can’t seem to take anything seriously, and Cerina…”

“Yeah… That’s just Tannin’s way of coping. I think he’ll get used to working with us. Cerina…” Onin sighed. “I’m not sure what her problem is.”

“I think it’s me.”

“What? That’s crazy. You’re nice to everyone. Why would she hate you more than the rest of us?”

“She’s from the Northlands. Have I told you that I grew up there before the monks found me?”

Onin shook his head. That would explain a lot. Any rural area was a bad place to be a giftling, but the Northlands was the worst. He’d heard some stories…

“That Onryo girl seems to follow me around.” Kasai pulled her legs up to her chest. “From what I gather, she doesn’t exactly mean any harm, but she seems to have a temper and she destroys a bunch of stuff, then all the giftlings in the area get blamed, and the fear and hatred just gets worse. So, I think Cerina blames me for some of the stuff she’s had to go through.”

“That’s not fair. You’d think that’d make her more sympathetic towards you,” Onin said.

Kasai snorted. “She doesn’t seem like the empathetic type.”

Onin laughed. “That’s true. She’ll either come around, or she won’t, I guess.”

“Yeah.” She smiled. “Thanks.”

The bathroom door opened and Tannin stepped out. He quickly shut the door behind him.

“Wooo! Don’t go in there!”

“No exhaust fan?” Onin asked.

“Yeah, there’s an exhaust fan. Might want to let it run for a bit.”

“I’ll just be going now.” Kasai stood and took a step toward the door.

“No, stay for a bit. We were going to play Usagi Kyorinrin. Want to join us?” Tannin said.

Kasai rolled her eyes but sat back down. “Sure, why not. Just don’t tell the monks. Got a deck I can borrow?”

“The monks don’t like Usagi Kyorinrin?” Onin asked.

“Eh.” Kasai shrugged. “They know it’s just a game, but it also has demons and spells and such, and they think that for someone with less spiritual knowledge and defense, it can open them up to stuff that could hurt them. But for all that, it was one of the monks that taught me to play. He had a dragon deck, and when we played he’d tell me stories about the real dragons. How they came from Alandra, how they were created to help people, then got selfish and were banished.”

“You believe all that?” Tannin said.

Kasai shrugged. “Raised by monks, remember? You have some um, odd, beliefs of your own.”

“Just for that, you get to play with my dragon and rabbit deck,” Tannin said.

“You made a dragon and rabbit deck? That works?”

“He did.” Onin rolled his eyes. “Well, it kinda works, for cards that aren’t meant to go together.”

“This should be interesting.” Kasai shook her head and shuffled her cards.

dragon

Karen was waiting for them on the lawn early the next morning. Onin gave a half-hearted wave. Tannin and Cerina looked like they were asleep on their feet. Kasai actually managed a smile.

“Good morning everyone!” Karen’s smile was, if possible, even bigger than it was last night. “Isn’t it a wonderful day today! We’re going to have so much fun and learn a lot, too!”

“It’s peppy and a morning person. Kill me now,” Cerina said.

“Team-building—” Tannin yawned. “—must be working, ‘cause I agree with her for once.”

“Today’s task—” Karen went on talking as though she hadn’t heard them. “—is to work on our communication skills. After that, we’re going to do some trust exercises, and then we’re going to have sharing time around the fire while we have dinner!”

“Is it just me, or are we in kindergarten?” Cerina asked no one in particular.

“She didn’t mention lunch,” Tannin said.

“Knock it off, you two, we’re here to learn,” Onin said.

Cerina rolled her eyes but followed them over to where Karen sat.

“In today’s communication exercise, you’re going to split into pairs. I’ll give one of you a shape, and the other a pen and a blank pad of paper. Without naming the shape, you’ll try to get your partner to duplicate the shape. Onin and Kasai, you’ll start off together, and Tannin and Cerina.”

Onin turned over the card he was given. It had an outline of a square. That shouldn’t be too hard.

Drawing shapes wasn’t difficult. Trying to make himself heard over Tannin and Cerina’s squabbling was. After they’d completed the shapes, they switched partners and shape assignments. Kasai was easy to work with. Cerina complained the whole time, but eventually he’d been able to communicate instructions for his shape. Tannin would have been easy to work with except for two things. One, Tannin was lazy, two, they kept having to break up fights between Cerina and Kasai.

First, Cerina wouldn’t sit back to back with her. Then Kasai was deliberately sabotaging her. And it got worse from there.

“That was… not your best,” Karen was actually frowning. “Some of you did really good, and some of you could not complete the assignment. But when one fails, the whole team fails. So, you earned a five-mile hike before the next activity. And before you ask—” She glared at Cerina. “—if EVERY team member doesn’t complete the hike, none of you get food.”

She pointed to a trail marker at the edge of the lawn. Onin turned and trudged toward it. He didn’t mind a hike, he just didn’t like losing. Something was going to have to be done about Cerina’s attitude. What, he didn’t know.

Kasai, Tannin, and even Cerina were quiet for the first few miles. Hopefully they were thinking things over.

“What’s that?” Kasai stopped and put a hand to her ear.

“I don’t hear anything,” Tannin said.

“No, she’s right.” Cerina pointed off to the right. “Sounds like a person, possibly in pain.”

They pushed through the bush for a few yards. Now Onin could hear it too. Something was thrashing around in the brush and crying out in pain.

Onin shoved a fern aside and jerked to a stop. Saija, the portal-using girl, was on the ground in front of them.

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