Nine…Ten! I reached a standing position in the squat exercise, and dropped the massive barbell back to its position with a loud clang. Sometimes I felt a little overly privileged above my fellow students, because of how my body was. I was blessed with extreme growth in strength, development of muscle mass, and quickly learning martial arts. No matter how hard the others worked, I was just better. I didn’t even have to work that hard to progress, but I did anyway, to prove my dedication.
Whenever I felt guilty about being so good, I remembered that I am the Shadowy One; prophesied to return the world to peace. Of course God would bless me. It just felt strange living in an organization where one’s worth is measured by what they do and how hard they work, when everything just comes naturally to me.
As I grabbed a 65-pound dumbbell for my next exercise, someone burst through the door of the weight room. Now, whoever could that be?
“Hey Milo! Guess what I found!” Dani cheerfully bounced into the gym, disrupting my concentration.
I hadn’t seen her since the meeting yesterday, and that was fine with me. I tried to ignore her irritating intrusion, and set the dumbbell onto a bench where I prepared to do rows. This girl was quite a tenacious pest.
She hopped up onto the dumbbell, and crouched on it like a frog, completely impeding my progress. She was cupping something in her hands.
“Go ahead! Guess!”
I still tried to avoid eye contact, hoping that she would give up if I gave her the Easter Island head treatment. Stone-faced and silent. When I tried to move on to another exercise, she hopped in my way again.
“Look, see! It’s a tiny little toadlet!” She opened her hands, and shoved them up close to my face.
Sure enough, there was a miniscule bumpy amphibian sitting on her palm. She had to come in and bother me, just to show me a stupid toad she found?! Before I could even open my mouth to express my annoyance, the malevolent amphibian sprung from her hands onto my face. It landed right on my nose. Like a well-conditioned reflex, my hand swung up to smash it. As the last second, it hopped back into the sanctuary that was Dani. The only result from my violent reaction was that I pulverized my nose.
I almost collapsed to the ground, and landed on one knee, holding my schnoz. It throbbed in pain, and my eyes watered with hurt tears. More than just the pain, I was really pissed off by this point.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Dani gasped, and crouched down beside me, still clutching the toad. “Are you alright? Darn little thing. It’s so cute though, I just wanted to show-“
I pushed her away angrily.
“Get a-a-ACHOO! Away from me!”
She stumbled backward, but still said: “God bless you.”
I had tried to yell, but the shooting pain in my nose caused me to sneeze instead. That wasn’t intimidating at all, and only made me madder.
“Why do you have to--ACHOO! Always get in my—ACHOO! Way! Just stop bug—ACHOO! Bugging me! You’re really starting to---ACHOO! Me off!”
While I was raging at her, she still interjected a “Godblessyou” after every time I sneezed.
“Why can’t you just—ACHOO! Get lost! I don’t want to—ACHOO! Deal with you anymore and-ACHOO! STOP SAYING THAT, GODDAMNIT!”
She stopped, and stood silently, looking at the ground. Neither of us made a sound for a long moment.
Then, she whispered; “I’m sorry”, turned, and ran away.
After finishing my workout, I didn’t really have any pressing responsibilities. Therefore, a shower and a nap were within the realm of possibilities, and that sounded darn good. I climbed up the stars to my sleeping quarters, where I kept my extra clothes. As I walked, my mind churned over what I had just done.
At first, I felt relief. Maybe now, Dani could figure out that I was not, in any way, interested in her. My life would certainly be easier if she would just leave me alone. She would probably be better off, too. She could stop wasting her time chasing after something she could never have, and move on to more important things.
By the time I had gotten my clothes and made it to the shower, though, I was beginning to reconsider. Maybe I had been a little tough on her. I mean, she was irritating and overbearing sometimes, but at least she treated me as a friend. Other than Sagar, she was the only one who didn’t despise me. I guess I probably shouldn’t be so cold toward her, I just really want to be alone sometimes, and that’s kind of impossible when people are shoving toads in your face.
I was still uncertain about what was right and what was wrong when I made it to the showers. The shower room had a row of stalls, each having three walls and an ugly green curtain. I took the one furthest from the door. I cranked the knob to maximum heat, and let it run for a minute while I stripped off my clothes. For some reason, I couldn’t stand cold water, or most anything cold for that matter. It was as though I was inexplicably frigid on the inside, and anything cold that I felt, or ate or drank, just froze me to the bone. Weird.
As I stepped into the scalding hot shower, I gasped at first, then let the steaming water warm me. I could feel my muscles relaxing, and tension leaving my body. I could stand there in that blessed searing rain for hours. During this moment where I could relax and let all of the anger I had leave me, it became clearer that I may have been in the wrong in my treatment of Dani. Even though she drove me nuts, she still didn’t deserve for me to scream at her like that. After what didn’t seem like a very long time, I reluctantly shut off the water. The cold air stung my dripping body, but I remained still, swaying back and forth with my eyes closed. Oh, well. She probably hates me now, and won’t try talking to me anymore. Honestly, I think it’s for the best.
I sighed, grabbed my towel, and started to dry myself off. While running the rough towel over my rock-hard, muscular body, it reminded me of what my purpose was. I was the Shadowy One of prophecy. I wasn’t meant to be a normal man. I was meant to be a fighter, and bring an end to the enemy of humanity once and for all. Personal feelings and relationships meant nothing. I had a job to do, and I couldn’t let anything get in my way.
After this brief aquatherapy session to get my mind straight, I headed back to my room to get some sleep. I walked up the stairs to the third floor where my room was, then stopped. For some inexplicable reason, I felt the need to get my heart moving a little more before bed. This wasn’t a normal feeling, but before I could tell myself ‘no’, I bounded up the stairs to the fourth floor, and jogged along the main hallway above where my room was.
Just then, I heard hushed conversation in a room just off of the corridor. It was Hanson’s office. Although I knew this shouldn’t involve me, my human nature couldn’t resist listening in. Slowing to a halt, I crept up to the door, and pressed against the wall next to it. Hanson’s voice was the only one sounding, but I knew that didn’t necessarily mean he was alone. I’d received plenty of lectures from that man. It sounded like he was going on about the normal Tsalderek dogma about earning what you receive.
“…and you think we’re just going to give it to you? If we just gave everyone what they wanted all the time, why would anyone work? Everyone would just freeload off of those of us who needed nothing, and Tsalderek would be destroyed.”
“But sir, I’m dying!”
Another voice came, choked with tears. It was Geoffrey! Dying how? I edged in closer, to make sure that I didn’t miss a word.
“I’m sorry kid. That lymphocytic leukemia’s a bitch. But life’s tough. The strong survive, the weak…die. If you want a chance to be cured, you have to earn it.”
He paused for a moment and a chair squeaked, like he either leaned forward, or backward.
“Prove yourself. Prove yourself to be the best in your class, better than that freak Milo. If you do, I swear I will personally make sure that you get the treatment you need after your promotion.”
From there, the conversation became too quiet to hear. I crouched down next to the door, and strained my ears to pick up a word. This could have everything to do with me. I had to try to hear it. Just then, a creaking sound pierced the silence like a scream in the middle of the night. That meant they were standing out of their chairs.
My heart raced as I quickly flew to my feet and strode rapidly away from the office. If they caught me spying, I’d be in trouble. I was about 10 steps down the hallway, when I heard Hanson bark my name.
I tried to casually turn around.
Geoffrey walked past me without a word, or even a glance. I ignored him, and focused my attention on my angry-looking superior.
“I see you got the message I left you.” He said.
Message? I didn’t get a message from him. But it might be best to play along, as he didn’t seem surprised that I was up there. Maybe the message was a summons to his office. I started walking back toward the man.
“Yes, sir. What did you need?”
He scowled as he spoke. “We’ve received information that Nahalore is making a move, tomorrow night. We’re sending out a squad of agents to engage them before they get anywhere. You’re going too.”
“Me?” I was surprised. “I’m still in training.”
“Believe me, if I had my way, you would be far away from any field operations. But Sagar insisted that you get some combat experience, and Razo agreed with him. So, against my judgement, you’re going.”
I nodded, and began turning around. Hanson stopped me.
“Milo!” He interjected.
I turned back around to half face him.
“Let’s be straight here. I don’t like you. I don’t believe you’re any prophesied one. You’re just a dumb punk who always gets everything he wants. I don’t think you deserve the chance to be one of our agents, and if I get my way, you won’t.”
I nodded again.
“I’m glad we understand each other.”