“Your father would be ashamed to know that the only reason you had so many kills was because of your inherited abilities alone,” Julian scolded.
Hale, Kelly and Alistair sat on their respective beds as Julian glowered at them.
“And here I thought you’d be little more than a stupid kid with a sword,” he finished before turning to Hale. “Boy, while your leadership tactics aren’t bad for your age there were so many holes in your plan and ways to counter that I was shocked I had to point that out to you for someone of your caliber.”
Hale sulked with his head lowered, very much wearing an expression of self-loathing. Julian, apparently satisfied with it, turned to Kelly.
“Kelly,” he started. “Your inefficiency at using your chi manipulation was your downfall. You did not realize you could use chi to be more than explosive kaboom and because of that you forgot you could strengthen your body with ki to be as strong as steel. You also were so keen on using it you forgot about your other Changeling powers given to you by your parents. Do you wish to neglect all your other powers at the cost of one?”
“No sir,” Kelly said dejectedly.
“Good,” he said. “Alistair, tomorrow at noon you are to report to a man who will be wielding a large sword at the top right corner of the training grounds. He will teach how to wield your blade better. For you two, I’ve written down a multitude of instructors that could help you better in battle. Do so immediately.”
He then left and Kelly and Hale looked at the list given to them by Julian. Al reached under his bed to get his book and leave for the garden.
Al tried reading the book, holding it up so he didn’t hurt the torn, brittle edges any further but he soon tossed the hardback aside, looking down at himself. Kallen’s mutilated face was all he could think about, appearing in his mind at the slightest provocation. He hated himself, unable to do anything but cry at it.
It was my fault. Al thought to himself. I killed I her. I was responsible for her death. If I hadn’t been there…Julian…why did he come with us…why?
Alistair buried his face into his arms, trying hard to make himself as small as possible, curling up into a kind of ball with his arms around his knees. He hid his eyes from the rest of the world, sobbing. It wasn’t until a little voice snuck up on him that he turned around.
“Still at it again I see.”
Al didn’t even need to turn around to know Keiko was sitting in the grass beside him, her head hung low.
“What did I tell you?” she asked. “I don’t want you to get down on yourself. You shouldn’t, you didn’t cause anything?”
Al didn’t lift his head from his arms an inch.
“What do you want Keiko?” he asked. “Trying to toy with me again?”
“I told you,” she said. “I don’t need my sparring partner to go all navel-gazing depression on me.”
“Shut up,” Al said. “You vamp. I don’t need you right now.”
“I think you do,” Keiko said. “You’re a little nutcase that’s going to go off like haywire one day.”
“And how do you figure that?” Al asked.
“You’re a little kid who has such an idealistic view of the world that he doesn’t understand that death and murder are commonplace in our world,” Keiko said. “You’re going to have to toughen up.”
“By being a cold-blooded murder, like you?” Alistair asked. “I don’t think so. I don’t know what I’m going to do but I know that I can’t just let myself give up what I originally intended to do, to develop my powers to help people. And…and…”
“And your stuck,” Keiko finished.
“Yeah,” Al said. “If I keep doing this I’ll never help anyone I intended to.”
“Then sabotage missions,” Keiko said. “Deliberately foil attempts for your team to conquer Circles.”
“I’ve thought of that before,” Alistair said. “But…but I’m afraid of what will happen if I get caught. They’ll probably kill me on sight.”
“That’s you own problem,” Keiko said. “But honestly you have some of the best powers for it. The shadow-walking you do…that could prevent you from getting caught.”
“What do you know?” he asked. “What do you even care? I thought you liked fighting…I thought you torturing people and seeing others in pain-”
“Or maybe I don’t.”
Alistair looked at her glaring with disdain.
“What?” she asked.
“I don’t believe you,” Al said. “You lay into me on a regular basis and I can clearly see you enjoy it. Don’t act like you’re not a sadist.”
Keiko lowered her head.
“Alistair,” she said. “Do you know why the Blue Sky Kingdom has one of the strongest militaries in the entire Bizarre Realm?”
“Training?” Al asked. “We’re put through so much damn training it’s hard to see why it wouldn’t be.”
“Partially,” Keiko said. “But any military that’s worth anything trains its Changelings to experience they call bloodlust.”
“Bloodlust?” Al asked.
“I’ve been training since I was maybe five years old,” Keiko said. “Of course my training got more severe as I got older but around the time I was eleven I started noticing this feeling when I sparred…it was weird but I got so wrapped up in the sight of putting others in pleasure that I lost myself and…well, you get to see the full brunt of my bloodlust. Changelings are trained to practice sadism so that they lose themselves, are taught to have a craving for giving others pain. As they get older, they control it better but for those of us who have been training since we hit the ground…”
“It’s more ingrained in your being?” Sam asked.
“That’s right,” Keiko said. “I was bred for battle, my powers that I have I inherited because my parents chose to mate to produce children that had a wide range of Changeling powers. As a quintuple Changeling I’m highly sought and extremely valuable because it means I have just that many more powers to be exploited by whoever is in command of me. So, since my only purpose was for fighting, that bloodlust has been with me since I was maybe ten or eleven. I’m fourteen now so if I can recall back far enough, I’ve been used as a model soldier for about two thirds of my life.”
“That…that’s awful,” Alistair said. “That’s truly awful. I don’t know what I’d do if my parents only conceived me to be a soldier.”
“You don’t have to wonder anymore,” Keiko said. “You probably are.”
“How do you figure that?” Al asked.
“You’re a quadruple Changeling,” Keiko said. “It’s unlikely you parents conceived you out of mutual affection…especially since your father was the Black Wind.”
“What does he have to do with that?” Al asked.
“You see,” Keiko said. “Your father was apparently a revolutionary leader in the formation of the Bizarre Realm’s Circle societies. He actually created the Blue Sky Kingdom’s, the Kingdom that he had a hand in founding, military. He encouraged other Circles to breed men and women Changelings for offspring that would have the widest and most flexible array of powers. He gave out so much advice about it that a lot of Circles went from the mindset of doing whatever they can to survive to strongholds of military states.”
“What?” Al asked. “Really? So before my dad there were no military states?”
“Not entirely but you get the idea,” Keiko said. “Military states weren’t nearly as common and what few were around were not very efficient. However, it was said that a group of Changelings sought to change the Bizarre Realm for the benefit of the Circles themselves to turn them from smaller, weaker city-states to empires that absorbed smaller ones into a greater whole, believing it would better the lives of people everywhere. Your father was apparently one of its members and the Changeling breeding program became popular. It became an efficient way to increase military strength.”
Al sighed to himself, leaning against the trunk of the tree.
“I don’t know how to feel about that,” he said. “I understand it makes Circles safer but I can’t help but feel that contributed to the war the Bizarre Realm is perpetually in. I mean, I understand he may have had benevolent motivations but I can’t understand why you’d want to make military states.”
“I guess that’s the difference between you and your father,” Keiko said. “I hear the Black Wind had lots of children employed by varying Circles’ military.”
“Well,” he whispered. “I don’t care about fulfilling any kind of legacy he set for me. But I know I’m going to take your advice and sabotage the hell out of my missions from now on.”
“Just don’t get caught,” Keiko said. “Or you’ll wind up like our failed attempt to escape.”
“Speaking of missions,” Al said. “You said I don’t even know how long ago you were responsible for the deaths of both good and bad people. How come?”
“Because,” Keiko said. “Like you I’m an assassin for the Blue Sky Kingdom. I’ve been sent on missions since I was around eleven. During the mission I would lose myself in Bloodlust that they taught me and at night I would cry for those I killed. Now I don’t care anymore about human lives. I’m far too desensitized to it.”
And Al hung his head as Keiko finished, his thoughts on how he would accomplish sabotaging the missions he was presented with.
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