The Siblings, or Beaulieu’s, were marching towards us five. Kendall was up.
“He’s yours right?” One of the brothers asked.
“I don’t take credit for his idiocy, no,” Kendall said.
This is odd. They’d arrived just moments too late, and now this was happening. Where was the subtle design… or was it staring me in the face?
“He’s your summon, your responsibility!” One of the other brothers cut in.
“He’s not a summon,” Kendall replied condescendingly.
The single sister held up her hand, and the brothers backed off, one with a grin. She spoke. “You and me are the only serious applicants, everybody else talented has a Master.”
“Hey!” Hasami protested, half paying attention while he fought multiple programs.
She continued. “Let’s get it on the record, right now, who’s got a better team. That should clear some shit up in this dynamic. Help you understand some inevitable stuff.”
This could have been considered inevitable.
A dare. Sacrifice face, or take a risk of losing it all. I didn’t know what the Beaulieu’s did, but I had the feeling it was something strong. Her brothers were her weapons of choice, she, the blacksmith.
“We can take them,” Odessa said, low and dangerous. One of them scoffed.
“We’re not going to beat them just yet. Our teams haven’t gotten acquainted,” Kendall concluded. “But you, Catherine, and me, we’re Magi. I could easily take you.”
“It’s Cat, bitch, and you’re on,” she said.
“By the gods…” Odessa swore, walking off. Odd.
Hasami, dabs of sweat on his brow, stepped off the pedestal and threw up his arms. “Have at it, children,” he said.
Seconds passed, and Kendall faced off against Cat, occupying opposite ends of the circle. The field dropped, and three tones slowly sounded.
As a bystander, this was disconcerting. But it was none of my concern. Unless Kendall had his ass handed to him. He needed to win.
One, two… three. Fight.
Kendall ripped out two cards instantly, sending them twirling out. The first one stopped dead in its tracks in front of him, and the second one spun on and towards Cat. She, reaching behind her back, exploded in a fiery ball of death which consumed the entirety of the domed platform. As the violent fires withered away, Kendall emerged unhurt from behind the barrier of his first card. He tread forward and swiftly curb stomped the burning, thrashing, screaming, girl. Her brothers gasped in horror.
Fast and brutal.
There was a blip, and Both Kendall and Cat stood where and as they had been before the fight has started. Kendall stepped down, seeming somewhat shaken. Cat was stuck in a horrified daze, not yet having overcome it enough to move.
“Easily,” Kendall reiterated, though lacking confidence in his tone.
He played her. Whatever she was capable of, Kendall had known, just as he’d known her name. She hadn’t known him, had underestimated him. Odessa had taken offense at that, apparently; Kendall fighting unfairly.
“Disappointing, Miss Beaulieu.” Porter’s voice swept through the room. Right on cue.
Subtle design. He had pitted us against each other. Porter had manipulative ability. Though I was willing to bet he hadn’t expected Kendall to play the situation so well.
I got the feeling that the three brothers would have decimated us, had things gone as Porter had planned. But Kendall had known that. Excellent.
Catherine finally snapped out of it enough to run at Kendall and tackle him to the ground. Her brothers rushed forward. I maneuvered to the back of the group easily enough, just as the first brother grabbed Ashes. Ash, looking almost slippery, ducked free and came around the brother to hold a knife to his neck. Odessa stepped out from behind a partition to level her ridiculous sword at one of the other brothers. The final one was sent rolling by a current of wind which looked nearly solid, as Anna held out her hand.
I turned and with my foot kicked Cat off of Kendall, whom she’d held down and thoroughly beaten with her bare hands. He stood shakily and wiped the blood from his nose.
“Less disappointing, but don’t do that again.” I looked up and the silhouette of Porter could be seen through the glass of his overlook, leaning forward against it with one arm.
“Children,” Hasami said once more. He threw his towel over his shoulder and walked out into the cold, barechested as he had been.
Everyone stayed as they were for a few silent moments. Ash was the first to disengage, stepping carefully away, followed by Odessa, who let her sword’s tip drop to the ground. I gave Anna a thumbs up, who looked extremely pleased with herself.
Kendall stumbled over to a chair and sorted through the pocket of his vest, pulling out a card and holding it to his forehead.
Catherine walked off without another word, and her brothers followed after her.
“Kings of the hill,” Ashes said. “You’re welcome.” He grinned at me.
“Well done.” I pointed at him.
“I thought I diffused that as well as we could hope,” Kendall said, grabbing the compliment. His blood and swelling were clearing up quickly with whatever he was doing. “I looked at her records last night after we met. ‘Cause she’s right, I and she are pretty much it. The Samurai’s not going to make the cut, I don’t think. She Imbues people, namely her brothers. We wouldn’t have been able to take them.”
“Mm, well done,” I said, to Kendall this time.
“Oh shut up. I don’t need your approval.”
“The, Don’t Stand a Chance Students, won’t be up for another few hours. We’ve got the run of the place,” Ash smiled wickedly
Kendall was up now, fully healed. “Everybody get to it then.”
I sat across from a very still Android, which patiently waited for my move. I picked up my knight and moved him accordingly. “Check,” I said. The Android moved their piece.
Odessa was in the ring, and she had gotten smaller. Which was bizarre looking. Space had expanded inside the circle, and that had resulted in it appearing compacted. She was fighting a simulated creature, which loped around behind simulated barriers, avoiding her. Much to her annoyance, it sounded like.
“Check,” Aku said. “Good game.”
Aku reset the board by hand, moving the intricate glass pieces back to their starting positions. “Increasing difficulty.”
“Oh boy,” I said with a smile. “Should be fun.”
Has been somewhat vapid.
While I waited, “How’s it going?” I called to Anna.
“Meditating was going well,” she replied from up on a boulder which rested in the far corner of the room. Then she added, “Do you think I could schedule a meeting with an elementalist?”
“Dunno.” I turned back to the table, “Aku?”
Almost done setting the board, “Yes, I’ll place you on a waiting list.”
“Thank you,” Anna called back.
Aku placed the last piece, which fell over on its side as a minor eruption shook from over by the range. Kendall was working on producing more powerful spells and had managed a pretty good explosion. Aku fixed the piece and took the first move.
I moved. “What are you doing?” I said to Ash, not looking away from the board.
He was sitting nearby, leaning back with the front two legs of his chair off the ground. “Waiting on the ring. It’s all bullshit, though, I’m static, I don’t practice.”
“Mhmm.” My game continued, I started moving my pieces faster, and Aku didn’t hesitate to pick up the pace. I sat back in my chair and stared at the Android, making move after move. Again, the game concluded. “Checkmate.”
Porter came down the ramp from his hideaway and was walking towards the door, putting on a jacket. “It’s nine O’clock, lesson’s over. Feel free to leave whenever. I’ll see everyone tomorrow for more training and a short lecture on Metaphysics and Superweight Entities. Ciao,” he said, the door closing behind him.
Some time passed and my game ended predictably.
I stood up and shook hands with Aku. I took up my coat from the back of my chair and donned it over my tank top.
Kendall hadn’t told me not to, and per the contract which I remembered in entirety, I was in my right to leave. Given that I intended to come back, and it put no one in danger. I saluted Ash, who did so back and waltzed out the door.
Kendall would be mad. I couldn’t care less.
I closed up my coat for the mountaintop cold and found it comfortably warm for how light it was. The ever-present twilight outside resided, but as my eyes quickly adjusted, I saw Porter ahead. I ran and caught up with him.
“Excuse me,” I said.
He turned to look, not slowing down as he did. “Oh, it’s you. Did Kendall send you? Nevermind. The answer is no.”
“Keen Attunement.” I fell in step with him, walking along the paths.
“What would you know about it? I’m still not clear on what you are. I’m just as good a classifier as anybody, better actually, and I’m not getting much of a read.”
My headache flared, and I had to close my eyes for a moment to center myself. “Christopher. You know him?”
“Yeah…? Do you?” He asked, not having expected that.
“No, but I was curious, after yesterday.”
“So was I, but just like me, you’ll have to settle with a no. I don’t know him. And he gives me weird reads too.”
“Mhmm.” I stopped and looked up. Porter stopped too. Good, I had some sway. “This is a beautiful place. I was reading that it was founded very shortly after Magic was discovered, before the formation of the Guild even. You’re not in the Guild?”
“No, I’m not. I’m not immortal either. Not anything but determined, really.” He started walking again, and I followed. “And yes, I love it here. But there are other things I love.”
“Such as?” I tried, testing my luck.
“You haven’t answered my question,” he not only shot me down, but he glared at me.
“I’m just me. Determination is all I’ve got to my name as well, and I’m not even sure about that.”
“Hm. Do me a favor and sod off, if you’re going to dance around the point.”
“So be it. See you tomorrow,” I said.
He stopped and grimaced at me, dissatisfied with that. He groaned and then strode off. I stayed put where he had stopped.
I put a hand to my head and breathed deep.
Please, the desperate thought clung to me.
I decided to find somewhere to sit, upon the rock above the walkway. I took a run up at the cliffside and propelled myself steadily up its side, to a short ledge. There, I could wait for that sun thing I’d seen yesterday, moments after my manifestation. It might be a couple hours, but I could wait. I had some things to think about, and there was never enough time. Which was paradoxical, since, before my manifestation, all there had been was silence and time. Only me. Now, there was still only me, but there was noise to accompany my song.
I waited for the sun, keeping a solemn mind on the future.