Welcome to The Moss Project

There was a murmur in the crowd as the first years twisted around in their seats, disoriented and unsure who was speaking to them. An older man walked confidently on the platform underneath the projector, facing the sea of student faces. A flexible earpiece supported a tiny microphone snugly against his cheek. At least this was a recognizable face–It was none other than President Korton. A small ripple of laughter began in the center of the older students, and they started clapping. Confusion turned into wry amusement, and the freshman also started clapping, finally recognizing the pervading nervous energy of the hall as the excitement that it was. The juniors started a chant, “Korton, Korton, Korton,” and it began to dissipate as the leader of their school held up his hands in an effort to calm the crowd, smiling humbly with a “Thank you, thank you.”

Oddly enough, this man, who was the spitting image of the nerdy history teacher, adjusting his rectangular glasses on his slightly bulbous nose, also had the inward intelligence and charisma necessary to become nominated as President of LennRoc, their school. It was a difficult job, especially because LennRoc was part of the prestigious Moss League, a collection of old schools that grew in renown and continued the age old crusade to produce the most capable of students. It was rumored that they were in fierce competition. However, she had never heard of the Moss Project. It sounded dangerous.

President Korton was beloved by the student population, perhaps because of his kind smile and understanding, or perhaps because of how elusive and untouchable he was. She had only seen him once, during orientation where a short video clip of him appeared, welcoming everyone to the school. But now he was here in person. As she thought this, he turned, his slightly graying hair and blue shirt belying his power. “A yes, the freshman,” he said quietly, a hush blanketing the room as the older students turned and watched them all.

“You are probably wondering why you are here. What’s the Moss Project?” His voice took on a new quality now, and he paced like a tiger on stage, his friendly nature gone and replaced with an intensely serious tone. She looked up at him, her eyes wide. The projector screen flickered with light, and then an image was splayed on the huge screen. It was a display of the coat of arms for all the Moss League schools, but the representations looked archaic and shimmered with the artificial glow of coals.

“Let’s start with the Moss League schools, the nations oldest centers of intelligence and skill. They are, in no particular order: Violet, Argentinia, LennRoc, Arrowtongue, Gravard, Kington, Inkvania, and Wale University. You are attending one of the eight most elite places in the United States. But you are a part of project, a mission that is even bigger than you realized when you applied to LennRoc.”

In the silence of anticipation, a faint whirring click echoed through the hall as the next slide appeared, this time revealing a photo of a group of six young boys and two girls, their faces serious as they huddled close together. Most of the photo was shades of gray, with the exception of their eyes, which were a deep black. There was a ragged strength about them, with a bow slung across one boy’s back, another one holding a scroll, a girl’s hand clenching a threatening sword. The other girl, in the middle, looked the most powerful despite her lack of weapons, the others poised around her in a tense defense while her stance was completely confident, almost predatory as her eyes burned into the audience.

“This is the group who started it all. Three years after the Moss League was founded between all the schools, almost 150 years ago, there began an annual tournament that would ultimately decide which school was the most superior. Each school chose eight of their top students, and sent them to an undisclosed location with an assortment of weapons and tools based on their skills, and the groups would race to complete their task before the rest of the students.”

“Unfortunately, there were vicious fights that cost the lives of the very best that each school had to offer. However, the groups that survived came back stronger than when they left. From their performance during the contest, they gained fame and respect from the whole economic world, and industries for decades have fallen over themselves to attain the leaders and victors from the tournament.”

She felt a cold chill crawling down her neck, its claws digging into her skin and down her back. It sounded like the haunting group displayed on the screen was more of a sacrifice for the school than an honored team. Who would want to risk their lives for something so meaningless? Squirming in her seat, the blood-orange color of her shirt seemed to deepen into crimson as she looked down into her lap, the bright light from the projector screen causing her vision to distort in color as she looked at her shadowed hands.

“The first year of the tournament, LennRoc proved victorious, eliminating all other competitors.” Looking back up at the screen, she was involuntarily drawn back into the gaze of the girl in the center. The girl’s eyes now revealed a glassy quality, the hint of a deranged ferocity that spared no one. She couldn’t look away. She felt her heartbeat speed up, a tiny coil of energy vibrating inside her stomach. But the connection was suddenly broken, the slide changing to black.

“For hundreds of years after, all the schools continued to compete. However, now, technology has allowed for us to drastically alter and improve the system of the tournament. And we have successfully used this system for the past five years. What is the result?”

President Korton’s voice became smug. “No deaths. Full video feeds of all competitors for the companies and audiences. And most importantly, total school participation.” The silence was in a futile struggle with the growing voices of students, as upperclassmen grinned and nudged their peers, while the freshman wavered between excitement and fear, conversing quietly with their neighbors.

“We are past the age of depending on the independent force of eight individuals. Now we can combine the entire school to create an army of students, a small city’s worth of people working together for a shared cause. No more sacrifices, simply school-wide improvement.”

“As I said before, welcome to the Moss Project.” A new view appeared on the projector, somehow feeding from an elusive camera stowed away in the highest reaches of the hall’s ceiling, showing the crawling mass of students that were looking at one another or at the projector.

As President Korton walked off the stage, disappearing again from site, he announced, “We now ask for you to go to your dorm RA, who is standing in one of the highlighted locations on the projector, and ask for your team number. After that, you will meet your fellow team members and begin to receive the training needed for the tournament next week.”

“I wish you all the best of luck and success for this year. Make me proud.” The echoing click of the microphone turning off was absorbed by the chaotic noise of students standing from their chairs, now talking full volume, and hastening with friends to find their RA. She continued sitting for a moment, however. Something was starting, yes. But the memory of the girl’s eyes from the photo left a bitter taste in her mouth.

 

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The Perspective of Introduction

“She has a nice name,” Jackson thought as he grabbed an apple, adding it to the scavenged collection of food on his plate. Returning to the table, his eyes flicker over her again. She looked good. Twirling a fork on her plate, brushing back a light brown curl of hair behind her ear, sapphire blue eyes meeting his stare for a moment after he sat down, looking down again with a faint pink blossoming across her cheeks. Although her shoulders looked a little stiff, her little button nose gave the impression of childlike innocence, which contradicted her guarded look and disclosed a vulnerable underlying personality. Her hair was like a fountain that spilled over her shoulders and ended slightly after, curling softly against her back and illuminated with a reddish tint from the sun.

He only picked up these details from glances however, since Brian had pulled the conversation back to life. “So, has anyone else gotten this email about classes tomorrow?” Holding up a phone, the message was too tiny for them to see, and all too quickly Brian stashed it back into his pocket. A glimmer of curiosity flashed in the girl’s eyes, and Jackson couldn’t help but curve the corners of his mouth into a small smile, amused at how transparent she was.

“About how they’re canceled, you mean?” Jackson’s voice was melodic, almost hypnotic as he watched to see her reaction, not bothering to hide his smile. Her fingers curled a little around her fork unconsciously, and she looked at Brian, then himself, a grin spreading across her face. “Wow, really? What’s going on?”

Jackson didn’t know, actually. Arching an eyebrow, he looked at Brian. “I don’t remember them telling us anything about it.. do you see anything?” Pulling his phone out again and absentmindedly dragging his finger across the screen, Brian replied quietly, “I don’t see anything. All I know is that we have an assembly first thing in the morning in Bryton.” Listening to his words, Jackson felt a chill of premonition.

As she leans forward, he feels the girl’s hand brush against his. Her fingers were small, but the contact made his skin tingle with electric warmth. His heart thumping a little faster, he recognizes his attraction, fighting the urge to trap her hand inside his own and caress her skin with his thumb. Who is this girl?, he thinks to himself. He wanted her.

Not moving her hand away, her voice lilts with interest as she says, “I heard a rumor about a secret school tradition. This is exciting, I’ve been dying to know what all the upperclassmen keep hiding from us.”

Gulping the last of his V8 and setting the glass on the table with his most winning smile, Brian replies calmly, “I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”

Chance Encounter

The plodding footsteps of the crowd of students slowly lulls her to a meditative state, her surroundings and people’s faces fading into that grey haze that happens when she isn’t connected to anyone around her. But she hesitates a moment, almost sensing him, with his sports jacket and faded jeans, and his soft golden hair abruptly bringing color back into her world. Who was this boy?

Her eyes followed him and her pace slowed as he drew closer, and it almost felt like fate was drawing them together. But then he passed, and disappeared from her sight. She hoped this was one of those moments where she knew that she would see him again. But that would be too coincidental.

Making her way through a narrow paved path that cut between buildings, where no one seemed to walk, the tree branches above her head seemed to make a cocooned tunnel that safely ushered her forward. She wished that she had the courage to have talked to that boy. But it seemed so sheltered in the trees. Maybe being safer is better, she thinks.

Finally, the small slice of nature transforms back into cultured campus, the pavement extending and stretching to perfectly carved buildings and ornate doorways. Conversations come from every periphery, fading in and out as people pass her. “Hey!” An amused but distant voice calls out to her. Shaking her head out of a daze, she smiles in recognition and waves. “Hey Brian.”

Although he had some classes with her, she wasn’t too fond of Brian. With the addition of his flashing white smile and deep blue eyes, his personality seemed to have both depth and the lack of it. He was very cultured and ‘well rounded’ ; courageously attempting sky diving, a prodigy in every class, constantly warm and friendly to everyone; and as a result was very popular. However, something about his robotic perfection grown to make her uneasy. Not to mention what happened with him. Still, she ignored it. She had to.

He walked up to her. “Ready for lunch? Let’s go to Planks.” Planks, or Plank&Sword was the main dining hall on campus, which became very full with students because of it’s cramped layout but was the only place, really, to go. She hoped they would be able to snag a seat. “Alright then,” she replied.

As they walked toward the line, his shoulder brushed against hers. She stiffened. He was warm. Just like that night… but she didn’t want to think about it. Admittedly, although she wished she could hide it from herself, Brian had been a crush for a while. Then he took advantage of it: wooed her, seduced her, and dropped her with as much disinterest as a candy wrapper. He had already consumed what he wanted.

It was hard to act normal, but she was in so many classes with him that maintaining a good friendship was a forced punishment. It still hurt. Once they finally got their food, the search was on for an empty table. Wandering around, her hand trembling slightly underneath the warmth of her plate of noodles, she plastered a nonchalant smile on her face as she noticed a group of students leaving a table, a table that was now completely empty. So it would be just me and him, she thought. “Great,” said Brian, echoing her thoughts as he rested his plate down on the table, a plate heaping with an inordinate amount of raw vegetables and meats, along with a glass of V8.

Her fingers barely holding onto her fork, she began toying with her food as the silence began. Occasionally, Brian would mention something, before eating something and getting lost in thought. It clearly wasn’t affecting him. Sighing to herself with frustration, she mentally grabbed her feelings and mushed them into a tiny little ball, tossing it as far as she could into the recesses of her mind. “I can act,” she thought. “He’s just a friend. He’s nothing to you.”

Smirking to herself at the weakness of her heart, her eyes downcast, she barely notices when Brian looks up to greet a passerby who happened to arrive at the table. “Hey dude, do you have anywhere to sit?” With a darker voice that had the smooth delicious nature of caramel dissolving down your throat, there was a hint of humor in the reply. “No, do you have room for another?”

She feels her cheeks suddenly grow warm. Looking up, her eyes widen. The boy from earlier was standing in front of her, ocean grey eyes glinting with an unidentifiable emotion as he dropped his backpack on the seat next to her, continuing to meet her gaze. He was slim but muscular, and there was a refreshing air about him. She could barely believe it. He was here. With a controlled smile, he politely extended his hand out to her.

“Hi, my name is Jackson.”

 

Weak Growth

Sometimes even though you worked your hardest and feel worn out, there is a lingering understanding that it isn’t enough and you should expect more from yourself.

This morning, the room was a clammy cold that was unnatural. She burrowed deeper in the covers, eyes closed and trying to forget the awake feeling that was warming her limbs. Sliding out of bed, she gathered her belongings, and after some preparation she was walking into the outside.

It was time for training. This year it was boxing. She had to ignore the sticky sheen of sweat on her forehead as her glove forced itself into the other girl’s mitt. All the uniforms were a dark grey, smooth against the skin and warm from the workout. Her eyes narrow, focus narrowing until only the white and black mitt was visible. “More.. Harder. Keep going. Don’t stop,” she thinks. A billowing fury fills her with a mindless energy. Her punches became faster, a whirlwind with a pounding strength that only increased with each attack. The mitt flies over her head, grazing the air over her head right after she had dropped, then punched in retaliation.

They never told any of them what the purpose of this training was, but it wasn’t her time to know yet. The keening whistle signals the end. Cloth wraps fall to the ground as people begin freeing their hands, and she sighs. Her body had lost energy, but she hadn’t done enough.

With her normal clothes returned, she dissolves into the crowd like sugar sliding into hot tea.. Invisible, but fundamentally altering the flavor in a subtle, cloying manner.

Pins and Needles

You know how sometimes you sleep on a limb and when you wake up, it feels like it doesn’t belong to you? I wonder if that happens to your mind too. Like if you are inattentive enough, and you mill about in life without really understanding, even though you’re constantly viewing the world… like if that happens, then you forget yourself.

She thinks about this too. As blood rushes under her skin and bones strain with her weight. Maybe her personality was hiding, like a little pale green nib of a baby fern peeking from a nest of earth. This is what she thinks about as she methodically carries cardboard boxes into a dumpster outside of the castle-like building where she works. Walking through curtains of mist, she smiles to herself as another flattened cardboard container slides into the pitch black mouth of recycling.

It wasn’t always this easy to work. She doesn’t like being productive, although it sounded like a nice concept to her. She just wanted to do things, to do her own thing. It would get done. Rushing made you lose something. Maybe you forget yourself.

The grass quivers at the edges of the parking lot as the padding sound of feet fade away. No more noise to be had.

What is living if you just take energy and use it, over and over again?

It doesn’t seem meaningful unless there is a discovery, a point, a reason,

 

an end.

This Means the End

“Where is this? Why am I here?” A light mist of rain collects, glistening on her cheeks as the chill from the night drags the moisture on her eyelids to make small diamond orbs on the tips of her eyelashes.

There are no stars. The wind carries away every thought. The wilted grass shivers restlessly, with eager nervousness. Something is approaching, a foot, now pressing them amid themselves.