“You failed miserably,” Julian said.
Hale and Alistair’s heads hung low as Julian’s age showed, his wrinkles accentuated by his anger.
“You not only failed to bring a drop of Changeling blood but also had one of your teammates killed,” he said. “The other is going to be in the infirmary. Now, most teams assigned this kind of mission usually have special someone who made it all go downhill. I wonder who it was. Alistair, do you think you know?”
Al shuffled his feet on the floor below, biting his lower lip as he could swear half his mind was nonexistent at that moment. It was all he could do to prevent himself from crying and pleading for mercy. His only response was:
“T’was me, sir,” Al replied. “I was the one at fault.”
“You certainly were,” he said. “Had you, as the trail-leader on the team, done a better job than Kelly would have been safe. A Changeling student here died because of you.”
Julian then walked up to Alistair and backhanded him. It temporarily shocked Al, surprised his master would make such a bold move before being slapped with his palm again. Al’s senses dulled once again, his face in stinging, intense pain.
“Think about that you little worm,” he said before walking off.
“Wait!” Hale called out.
Julian turned before stopping, his eyes focused on Hale.
“I’d like to be reassigned to another team,” Julian said. “Please let me be in another room, with another group.”
Julian frowned at him.
“I’m sorry Hale,” he said. “But I won’t do that. Face your consequences of not disciplining your own team better. Both of your rankings will go down considerably for this, for your incompetence.”
He left down the hall, out of sight but not before turning to give Alistair this last bit of information.
“You know, Alistair,” he said. “Your ranking won’t fall that low because, according to Hale’s report, you killed two adult Changelings and could have killed a third if you’d chosen to and not been such a pussy. Maybe next time, employ that bit of natural talent you got from your father.”
Hale turned to Al with restrained anger before walking off, leaving the boy alone.
Al sighed to himself.
Well. He thought. I’ve made everyone either distrust or hate me. I wonder if my father would be proud of me now. What would he say to me if he saw me like this?
Al shook his head to himself before walking off down the hallway, his head hung low as he made his way to his room, taking off his sheathed sword by the strap. He threw it at the foot of his bed before walking out. Alistair instinctively went to the only place he’d liked on the entire Circle.
Al stepped out of the building, taking off his shoes as he looked out at the garden before him. He had come to admire the wide array of flowers it had on its bushes, the tall trees that bore fruit and well-kept grass. Alistair stepped into the garden, letting his feet feel the fine greenery beneath him. He looked around to see other students of the school were around, not many though as they looked lost in thought.
Alistair found his favorite tree he liked to lean against and sat down. He often read her, underneath the tree’s leaves but he didn’t feel like going to get a book since he figured Hale was probably in there right now. He didn’t want to face the confrontation with him. Al’s mind was lost in thought. Out of the corner of his eye though Al picked out a familiar face.
He looked around to see Keiko standing not far off in the greenery, looking spaced out as she did. Alistair could never understand the girl, especially by her facial expressions.
On the numerous times Al had sparred with her (she often intentionally picked him out because she said he was a strong and worthy opponent) her expression was rabid with bloodlust and a psychotic love for putting him in almost backbreaking and tortured pain. However, when she stood here like she was, her face was very stoic, placid and emotionless. Alistair almost had a hard time telling if she was alive sometimes when he saw her here.
However, tonight he saw Keiko walking towards him. As he saw her slowly make her way towards him he instinctively readied for a fight, making sure it didn’t appear he was readying to fight her but gathering wind in his hand she could not see.
Keiko looked down at him, as though she was pitying him with her blank stare. He tugged at his mouth as he leaned forward, trying to suppress a glare. What this girl wanted, he had no idea, but she sure had never treated him nice to begin with and certainly never really seemed nice to him at all.
I bet she wants to start something right now. Al thought. I bet she wants to bust me up real good and call me a slacker for not doing better. Just like she always does! I hate her.
“Relax,” she said. “I don’t want to fight you. Not right now at least.”
Al sat there, shocked at her.
“What?” he asked.
“I said I didn’t want to fight-” she replied.
“I know but-” Al said.
“Yes,” she replied. “Not a lot of psychic Changelings can read thoughts of nearby people. But it was bred into me.”
Alistair glared back at her, turning over on the trunk of the tree so that he was not facing the stoic girl.
“Fine then,” he said. “What do you want?”
Al peeked over at her, Keiko’s face not budging an inch as she glared right back at him.
“You dumbass,” she said. “I can read your thoughts as clearly as written words. I know what happened to you on your mission, your slight forgetfulness got one of your own killed and almost did the same to the person you were supposed to be looking out for. Also, you killed two people when the only other person who killed someone was your leader, and that was only one.”
Alistair turned over to avoid her seeing his shocked expression, not wanting her to know he found it impressive. He hated her right now, wanting Keiko to either vanish or die. What right did she have to hear this?
I hate you. He repeated with emphasis. You torturing me like this only proves how much of a bully you are. Just like on the battlefield.
“I never did come over here to make fun or harass you,” Keiko replied. “Look…I need you to get back to feeling better…okay? It…it’s…it’s not really your fault.”
“Oh, is that so?” Al replied. “Gee, thanks for telling me that or I would have been sooooo confused. I guess Kelly meant to get herself bruised and ruin the mission. Mike’s death was just icing on the cake for her evil plan.”
“No!” she said. “It’s not that it’s somebody else’s fault it’s…it’s that this is something that happens to everybody here. Teammates are lost so often that…you just kind of forget they exist.”
Alistair turned over as he looked back at her.
“I guess you’re speaking from experience then?” he asked.
“Al,” she said. “Here they don’t really care about you. If the masters we have really wanted us to be safe they wouldn’t send us into battle, they’d help us through these issues. They don’t give a damn about you or anyone else and never will. Why do you think yours disciplined you?”
Alistair glared back, hating her a bit more.
“You’re just trying to tempt me, aren’t you?” he asked. “Trying to get me to play mind games or something…I didn’t know you-”
“I’m not playing mind games,” Keiko replied. “I’m just stating the obvious. My instructor is the same as yours. They don’t care so long as we turn out to be fine soldiers.”
“What does that have to do Mike’s death?” he asked. “Or Kelly nearly getting killed and that costing us the mission?”
Keiko leaned down.
“Alistair-” she said.
“It’s Al,” he replied.
“Al,” she said. “I’ve had more than a dozen teammates die on me. And the stupid mistakes I made probably cost me at least a third.”
This made Al’s eyes go wide, his mouth agape.
“Why…?” he asked. “Why would you admit this?”
“Because I did,” Keiko said. “I’ve been training since I was a little kid she said. I had minor parts in missions since I was maybe eight or nine. I’m fourteen now…and I know for a fact that my decisions have led to deaths of eight other people…and rising.”
Al’s eyes stayed open, disbelieving what he heard.
“Why are you telling me this?” he asked.
“Because you’re my preferred sparring partner,” she said. “If you get all psyched out I lose my preferred way of gaining strength. I’d lose my edge if you went all pussy on me. My edge is fighting you.”
Alistair felt sick all of a sudden, wishing Keiko had never said anything.
“I used to worry about it all the time to,” she continued. “I used to hate when the moment hit me that it was my fault. All my fault. But the truth is that they would have died anyway. Please, for your own survival’s sake as well as mine, get over yourself.”
Al turned toward her, glaring at her callous words before she slanted her eyes away from him. Just as he was about to speak she cut him short.
“I don’t do these things well,” she said. “I can’t talk about feelings and shit well. Just please, leave me alone.”
And Keiko ran off deeper into the garden. Alistair wanted to punch her emotionless face.
How dare she treat me like that. He thought. Manipulative bitch…she didn’t even give me a way to respond. Keiko’s just trying to use me for something I don’t entirely understand. I…I can’t fight poorly against her tomorrow in combat. Julian and the others would have my ass for it. I’ll beat Keiko at her own game, fighting her to a pulp like she does me.
Al smacked Keiko in the jaw, her pale skin tainted with the blood that dripped from it. The girl recovered quickly, landing on her knee as she held herself steady with her left hand. She glared at him as he maintained this stance, having learned after a while how to fight from experience.
Keiko wanted a fight she has one. Alistair roared within himself. I’m not letting her know I’m weak, she’s going to know I’m not fragile enough to be pushed around like she’s done in the past. She won’t manipulate me like she did last night…not again.
Alistair straightened himself, glaring back at her.
“I know your fighting moves,” he said. “You’ve fought me so many times I can start seeing patterns in your attacks.”
Keiko smiled back.
“Hmm,” she smirked. “Little Ally’s gotten all tough now. When’d you get some balls and replace your chicken shit means of cowardice? Did what I say last night invigorate you?”
“Maybe,” Al answered. “That bit of toying with my insecurities gave me the rage I needed to finally push back against you. You can’t bully me anymore.”
“Fucking ‘ay!” she yelled back. “I guess making you feel like real shit was the way to get you pumped! But the courage one attains from anger only lasts so long.”
Keiko lifted her hand and from Al’s collarbone and around his arms sprung up pale human arms that wrapped themselves around his head.
“Trust me,” she said. “I know.”
Al glared back at her, looking around to see there wasn’t a shadow to slip into. He then focused, concentrating the air around him until a whirlwind that ripped the arms Keiko had grown on him right off. They lay on the ground as a little blood dripped from them. Alistair glared back at Keiko.
“Those limbs you grow,” he said. “Are weakly connected from the bodies they grow from. They’re best for quick jabs at your opponent but not for longstanding tussles. I’ve focused my whirlwind to be strong enough that I don’t need to fear that power of yours again.”
Keiko smiled maniacally before a calmer smirk arose.
“That’s great Al,” she said. “Finally moving up in the world. Just because you did that I’m going to hold back less on you than I was originally. Let’s see how long I can go before I’m afraid of killing you.”
Alistair strengthened the whirlwind around him as it lifted him off the ground. He then manipulated the wind launch himself at Keiko as she jumped at him as well, both of them firing off punches. Al felt her fists in his face and upper chest while he focused his punches on her face and against her knuckles. As strong as Al had gotten in the last near-year Keiko still seemed indomitable as his punches seemed to just reflect off her fists and he wasn’t leaving much more than minor bruises on her exposed skin. Finally, Keiko slammed Al in the chest with a good kick before crashing him in the dirt with a strong punch to the head.
Alistair got up as his entire back was now dusted over, sighing desperately as Keiko then preceded to blow fire from her mouth at him. Al blew it away with a strong gust of wind before running back at her. Keiko merely side-stepped his charge before leaving a good punch in his side that caused Alistair to keel over pain before she did the same to the back of his neck. She then tossed Al into the fence with a telekinetic throw, almost bursting the metal links as the force she threw him with was so hard.
Al hunched over as Keiko walked towards him. Al looked up, glaring solemnly at her before she smiled back. She kicked him in the stomach to which he leaned over in pain again. She then tossed him back into the dirt with psychokinesis. Al stood up, weakened from the sparring she’d been putting him through. Al raised his arms in mock defense as she neared him.
This is the part where she usually just continues to punch me until I can feel my skull cracking. He thought. I…I never liked it.
Al tried to attack but was pushed down by the girl’s telekinesis. As he tried to break away he felt his arms pinned to the ground as Keiko leaned over him, rubbing her knuckles together.
Al closed his eyes tight as he could before Keiko started firing off punches with rapid fire speed. Each blow to his face felt like…well, a blow to his face. There were so many times her fist smacked against him Al, in the back of his mind, knew it should have been at least four times per second. His head kept getting knocked back and forth so much he felt he got whiplash multiple times. By the time Keiko had stopped his head was spinning, the world above him a gray blur with multiple copies of Keiko’s face. Alistair didn’t even try bringing his vision back to normal, he knew it wouldn’t any time zone.
Off to the infirmary for me I guess. He thought.Again.
No. He roared back at that assumption. I told Keiko that I would prove to her I’m not weak. I will make her realize that. Hard.
Alistair concentrated and in a minute the air around him burst, a shockwave of wind that knocked Keiko off him. Al staggered up weakly as he gathered the rushing wind around his right fist, a visible swirl of rush air visible as he barely was able to keep his head up.
My physical strength may wear out completely. He thought. But this wind I have almost always remains constant.
Al willed the air around to push against his back as Keiko fired a mix of flame and ice at him. Alistair charge at Keiko, his fist carrying the whirlwind completely blowing away Keiko’s mix of hot and cold. Keiko could see that Alistair wouldn’t be deterred by that so she put up a psychokinetic field just as he would have hit her.
This caused a strange effect where Al’s punch wouldn’t go any further while the whirlwind surrounding it was still whirling. This lasted a few moments before Keiko broke her concentration and the psychokinetic field dissipated, causing the whirlwind in Al’s fist to burst. As weak as Al was he was blown backward as Keiko was blown in the opposite direction. She hit the chain link fence while Alistair skidding into the dirt.
Al breathed hard, panting for every bit of oxygen before coughing up blood before smiling to see Keiko visibly hurt from that attack.
Yeah. He thought. That was a good run…Have a good rest…