Private Residence, Oceanside
The Director looked up from the evaluation results in her hands to consider the young man before her. They were seated at his family’s kitchen table. He wore his blond hair slicked back and a dark brown button-down shirt with black slacks.
There was enough wear on the clothes to indicate that they were in regular use, rather than only for special occasions. His posture was upright and alert, the very model of an upper-middle class, eager young student. The only contrast with this image were the dark sunglasses he was wearing indoors.
“Mr. Reed, why should I even consider allowing you to enter my program?”
The boy rocked back slightly, his eyebrows raised and his mouth opened in surprise. After a momentary pause, he leaned forward, his face and voice firm with determination.
“Ma’am, my academic history is well above average and my parents gave you a list of my extracurricular activities. I feel I should be well within the criteria of admittance.” There was a hint of anger in his otherwise controlled voice.
“Young man, your parents are no longer in the room. Anything disclosed during the course of these interviews is considered confidential. You and I both know that my concerns have nothing to do with your grades. You will cease this act and tell me why you wish to be a Citadel operative, or your application will be denied here and now.”
The resulting change was subtle, but unmistakable to the Director. The boy still sat upright, but with a loose, relaxed manner rather than his previous pose of controlled eagerness. His face was smooth and she was sure it would have seemed unemotional even without the glasses. The most pronounced change was in the tone of his voice.
“There is no simple answer to that, Director Shift.” It was utterly monotone. “You know my family history. I desire to show that I can rise above it. Obviously, I also desire success and reward. Operatives earn both in sufficient quantity.
“I think, most of all, that my ability is the primary drive. There is no other socially acceptable avenue within which I can make full use of it. I realize restraint is necessary, but I have considered this for most of my life and I believe this is the best path for me.”
“The best path for you, perhaps. What about my other trainees?” Another woman might have been disconcerted, knowing the potential danger she was in. Melody Shift was not.
“I am not my mother, ma’am. I can control myself.” He answered.
She regarded him in silence, considering both his words and the change in persona.
“Fine. There may be a place for you in the Citadel, conditionally. You will not use your gift on any trainee, or staff member, without specific permission. Do otherwise and I’ll see you not only expelled, but executed. Understood?”
“Yes ma’am.” Despite the threat, his posture and tone remained unchanged.
“Then here’s your acceptance packet. Welcome to the Citadel, Jason.” The latter sentence was clearly delivered out of habit, but she handed over the thick manila envelope she’d brought with her anyway. She gave the odd young man a polite, if distant, smile and left. The Director’s mind was already on her next appointment.
Training Area, Citadel Hub
Jason struck his victim again. He fell, and Jason moved in to kick at him. There was a crunching noise from his knee. He gagged and choked when Jason managed to get him in the groin. The young man stepped back, signaling for a healer. Once the grey clad woman was done, Jason moved in and resumed.
This was a good training exercise. Killing would never be difficult, not for Jason, but now he was learning to disable. A blow to the throat that was too strong could kill, crushing the wind pipe. Do it softer and the victim would be unable to breathe, the muscles seized up. He attempted to demonstrate this, a light jab. He missed, tried again.
Blows to the joints left the limb nearly useless. He kicked out at the other’s knee, catching the cap at just the right angle. His opponent staggered back, unable to put weight on the leg. At his current level, Jason was not strong enough to do significant damage with a single punch to the chest.
He aimed a bit lower, catching his victim just below the rib cage. This was sufficient to cause him to double over and fall to the ground once more. Jason went for the head this time. He was careful to hold back, too hard and the other would die.
A few light kicks, the motions more like a stomp, and his victim’s struggles grew disoriented. He had already observed that head blows had this effect. However, the head was hard enough that a blow with his hand was as likely to hurt himself as his target. Kicking was more effective.
He signaled the healer, again. She had been waiting nearby and stared at him, rather than her patient. Jason knew little of healing, but it seemed unlikely that this was normal procedure. She finished and stepped away, still staring at Jason. He stepped forward and raised his leg, intent on stomping his victim’s foot. It was possible he could break a bone there, if he hit hard enough with his heel.
Coach Achala called an end to the exercise.
Jason moved forward, removed the covering from Hector’s head then circled around to release his hands. His roommate, still naked, stared at him for a moment. After a short time, he turned and retrieved his clothing. As he dressed, Jason took note of the firearm that Hector had begun wearing recently. He made a note to ask him about it. Jason had little use for a pistol, but a taser or some sort of stun gun would be another matter.
“We’re done for the day, class. However, I do have something to go over with you, before you leave.” Coach Achala left the center of the room, walking towards the exit. “Your combat rankings have been sent to your Citadel accounts. This will be done every Friday. They will also be on display here, at all times.”
The portion of the wall nearest the exit lit up, showing a list of names. Each one was accompanied by a number, from one to fifty seven. Automatically, Jason searched for his own name, number twenty nine. Isaac was higher, nineteen. Kelly and Hector had come in at forty three and forty seven, respectively.
“As I said before, these rankings won’t directly affect your graduation status. Those who complete this program at first, and those at the bottom, will both be Citadel operatives.” The physical instructor stopped speaking for a moment. He turned his head from side to side. Gauging the class’s reaction?
“However, your performance gives us information that we can use to determine your eventual assignment. They’re also a valuable training opportunity.
“Those of you dissatisfied with your current ranking will be glad to hear, you can challenge your classmates to move up.” A new name appeared on the wall, to the left of the rankings. Achala Juggernaut. “While here, you may register a challenge like this.” Jason watched as the man reached up to touch his own name, then the number one rank, Gregory Warp. To the right of the ranking list, a new line appeared.
AJ vs GW
“You can cancel them like this.” He reached up, touching the new line. It vanished. “You may also place a challenge by mailing myself, or whomever takes my place as your combat instructor. Challenges must be registered before Friday at midnight. They will take place each weekend at the Sparring Field, beginning at seven in the morning.
“Each of you will receive a list of scheduled challenges, no later than six AM Saturday morning. Today, you may challenge anyone. After this weekend, you may challenge within five ranks. The only exceptions are the top ten. You must be within three ranks to challenge them.”
“What about you? Your name’s up there, too.”
“Yes, Duncan. You can challenge your combat instructor, if you wish, but it won’t affect your standing. Also, if you lose a match, you can’t challenge again for another week.
“Are there any other questions?” The Coach’s question passed in silence. “Very well, you’re dismissed for the day. Enjoy your weekend.”
Two of Hector’s duplicates were waiting, just outside the exercise room. As soon as the trainees were dismissed, one moved quickly to the duplicate that Jason had been practicing on. The other waited for the majority of the class to disperse, then moved to stand before Jason. His hands were at his sides, clenched in fists.
Jason waited for the other to speak, careful to keep a polite expression of greeting on his face.
“What the Hell man? Are you pissed at me?” he said, voice louder than normal.
“I am not. May I ask, why did you think I might be?”
The version of Hector speaking to Jason turned his head, looking at the two other Hectors in the room. Jason’s sparring partner seemed to be having difficulty walking. The other was supporting him.
“Cause of that.” again, his voice was too loud.
“I do not understand. We had a training exercise.” Jason was confused. He tried to show it with his face and voice. “We were partners. Did I do something wrong?”
“Did you-? You weren’t fighting, man! That was fucking torture!”
Jason understood. Hector was angry. He stepped back, keeping all three of Hector’s bodies in view. He had enough, at the moment, that a single gunshot wound was no threat. As long as all three were in his field of view, there would not be a second. He just had to make sure that Hector was unable to get his hands on Jason. Multiple blows could burn through his reserve rapidly, and a strike to the face could obscure his vision.
“You think just because there’s a bunch of me, it doesn’t matter what you do to one? I still feel it, Jason. It still hurts.” His voice was closer to normal in volume. He was also speaking more slowly. Was Hector less angry, or more?
“No Hector, I had assumed you feel pain in the normal fashion.” Give an example, show he understood. “I saw you stub your toe, the morning before last. You cursed.”
“Then why? What’d I do to you? You were trying to hurt me, not fight.” Oh. That explained the difficulty.
“Hector, I think you misunderstood the exercise. Coach Achala explained it on the first day. Today, you were meant to learn what it was like to be hurt. I was meant to learn how to hurt you. I am sorry that your portion of the lesson was unpleasant.”
“You’re sorry? You-” Hector stopped talking. He stood there for a moment, not moving. Jason was unsure what it meant. “Take off your glasses. I wanna see your face.”
“Very well.” He changed his expression to the one his mother had said was ‘earnest,’ then removed his glasses. He placed them in his breast pocket. Hector looked at him, then stepped back, quickly. Jason was not certain, but he believed his friend’s new expression was ‘fear.’ He needed to practice ‘earnest’ better. It was supposed to be reassuring.
“What, uh, what’s your power, Jason? Grim doesn’t really tell me much. I looked, but I couldn’t find anything on you.” Good. If Hector was still willing to talk, then Jason must be getting better at reassuring people. He put his glasses back on, just in case.
“My father suggested the name. He said it fit, since I drink life with my eyes.”
“It is a poetic description, but accurate.” He watched, carefully. If Hector went for his gun, he would need to drop all three quickly. “If a living thing is within my field of vision, I can take its life. I seem to store those lives. They make me stronger, heal my injuries.” This was the point where many had a negative reaction.
“That’s… well, honestly, that’s creepy as fuck.” Jason was relieved. In his experience, if violence was to occur, it would have begun by now. “Are you, um, do you have any lives stored, right now?”
“Yes, I have three left. I try not to hold many, not during Coach Achala’s combat training. He has instructed us not to use powers, if possible. I realize that coming without any would be more in the spirit of his request. However, I feel that would be needlessly dangerous.”
“Yeah, I guess… I guess that makes sense.” Jason no longer recognized Hector’s expression. However, his voice was no longer loud and he was speaking with his normal speed. Jason was relieved. He was careful not to show this. It might reveal weakness.
“Can I ask, do you know what your trigger was?”
“I was too young to remember. My parents told me that they bought me a dog, as a gift.” The two duplicates of Hector that were not speaking to him had left. The threat was reduced, easily manageable, now.
“They said that I was very happy with it. I played with it often. Shortly after I received the dog, it bit me. My father was out, working. My mother heard me crying and came to investigate. She found no sign of injury on me, however, the dog was dead.”
Was that sufficient? Jason could give more detail, but it might compromise his mother’s privacy. Hector was, potentially, a valuable asset. Keeping his friendship might be worth it.
“Oh. How… how old were you?”
“I received the dog on my second birthday.”
“Yeah. That explains a lot.” Hector’s face changed again, back to something more normal. “I’ll walk home with you. I think there’s some stuff you might not understand too well. About other people, I mean.” Excellent.
Father had never seemed to grasp how different his son was. Mother had helped him conceal it, but her own difficulties had left her unable to instruct Jason. Hector might prove to be an even more useful friend than he had thought.
“Of course. I welcome any advice you might choose to give me.”
Jason checked his incubator. There were six vials, three of which were ready. First, he added a little water to all six. Then, he prepared three new vials and made the transfer. Nine. His mother had said that the initial progress would be slow but, as the older vials matured, the rate of increase should be exponential. Having completed the first of his daily tasks, Jason moved to the next. Dressing, then breakfast. This should be an interesting day.
Jason arrived at the table; Isaac and Hector were both present. Isaac had coffee. Hector was eating. They were not speaking to each other. Previously, they had stated that their rift was healed. Did this silence mean that it had worsened, again?
“Good morning Hector, Isaac.” he said.
“Morning.” Isaac did not look up from his coffee.
“Hey, Jason.” Hector stood, and moved towards the stove. “Just a sec and I’ll have your food ready.”
“Thank you Hector. As I have said in the past, it is not necessary to provide it.” This issue left Jason conflicted. On the one hand, Hector had stated a reasonable motive for the act. On the other, it left Jason feeling… indebted?
“It’s no problem man.” the duplicator replied. “Like I said, I’m cooking for nine already, what’s three more?”
“Thank you.” Jason took a seat. That was a good point, and one he had not considered, fully. If Hector was already preparing food for a variable, but significant, number of bodies, then the addition of Jason’s meal did not constitute a genuine burden. He decided that the feeling of debt was justified, but its extent was exaggerated. He would try to remember to behave accordingly.
“If neither of you minds telling me, what are your plans for the day?” he asked, then began to eat the food that Hector provided.
“You didn’t check the schedule? Mine showed up last night.” Hector replied. Isaac remained silent. The older man had only spoken briefly. He seemed to be paying attention to nothing but his morning drink. Perhaps his dispute was with Jason, not Hector?
“I did, however I was not challenged by anyone.” Was that enough? No, he should volunteer something. It would make the others feel closer to him if he exposed a small vulnerability. “I did not think it wise to challenge anyone else, either. My current ranking is higher than I deserve. If my first opponent, Anna Insight, had not yielded, I would probably have lost the match.”
Hector snorted. The food was spicier than Jason was used to. Perhaps it was bothering his roommate, as well?
“I’m sure you’re fine, kid.” Isaac had looked up, rapidly, before answering. He must have been startled by Hector’s sudden, sharp noise. “I don’t know what you can do, but if the Citadel took you, then it must be impressive.” If he had trouble sleeping, this might account for the lack of attention. Perhaps it was a chronic problem. That would also explain the older man’s high consumption of coffee, each morning.
“Well, yeah. None of us have a fight scheduled this weekend, but that’s not what I meant.” Hector stopped speaking for a moment, then continued. “Most of the scheduled matches are people going after the high ranks. The number one guy got at least half a dozen challenges.” Jason had not considered the schedule’s value, beyond checking to see if he was listed. “Oh, and that jackass Duncan’s taking on the coach. I hope he gets his ass kicked.”
“Which do you mean?”
“Um, actually, either one. I mean, Duncan’s been going out of his way to offend half the class, and Coach Achala’s the one who came up with that ridiculous training schedule we’re on.” Hector smiled. Jason was not sure which type of smile it was. “It’s pretty much win-win.
I’m planning to spend a big part of my day at the Sparring Fields. Should be a good show.” Hector shrugged. “Other than that, I’m just going to do some training and play some video games. You’re welcome join me at any of them.”
“Thank you. I believe I will accompany you to the Sparring Fields.”
“Anyone seen Kelly yet? I’ve been meaning to talk to him.” Isaac asked. Jason did not know the shapeshifter’s location. Kelly often came and went, without using the door.
“Oh, yeah. He’s off with Kerry and Samantha. Said something about getting in a flight, before the challenges start.” It made sense that Hector would be aware. At any given time, at least one of his duplicates seemed to be in the house and active.
“I believe Kerry is Keridwyn Dragon. Who is Samantha?” The dragon shifter was both powerful and distinctive. Kelly was making valuable allies.
“Samantha Soar. The flying girl?” He had noticed ‘the flying girl’, but not known her name. “She usually spends lunch with Kelly and Jenny.” Initially, he had dismissed her as irrelevant. Perhaps there was more to her abilities than he realized? “Anyway, I don’t know how many fliers we have, but those three really seem to get a kick out of it. They’ve been meeting up to fly in together, every morning.”
“I’ve got… an appointment at the Tower. If either of you sees him, before I get back, you mind telling him I’d like to talk?” Isaac asked. Hector and Jason both indicated their agreement. “Good. I’m worried he’s been cutting class. I know this isn’t quite the military, but that can’t be something they’ll overlook. Not if he keeps it up.”
The Sparring Field
Jason and the three Hectors found the area in use by their class with little difficulty. Other domes were clearly active, but the ones they sought were the same ones they had used on Monday. Several of their training mates had arrived before them, others shortly after. The group was most heavily concentrated around three healers and Coach Achala, who was addressing the crowd.
“Yes, you may watch any match in progress. Each dome will list the combats scheduled for the day, as well as their times, when it is not in use. I’d suggest you take this opportunity to decide which ones you want to watch.” With that, the coach had apparently completed his speech. He accompanied one of the healers to a dome. The other each went to separate ones.
“Excuse me?” A female trainee had approached him. “Jason, I mean, Trainee Grim, can I talk to you for a moment?”
“Hey, no problem guys.” The nearest Hector responded. “I’ll just meet you by the dome, okay Jason?” The four separated. Evidently, Hector had correctly anticipated the number of combat rooms that would be in use. He made a note to ask about that.
“You are Anna Insight, yes?” The one who had yielded rather than fight him. “It is a pleasure to see you again.”
“No. No it isn’t. Please… don’t be mad, but I know when you’re lying. You don’t have to.” He looked around, alone for the moment.
“Very well. It was an empty courtesy. I had no strong preference between seeing you again or not.” He had been correct. She was likely a telepath, or something similar. “Why have you approached me?”
“I… because Director Shift told me to ask you…”
“Yes?” She had initiated this discussion. Why was she taking so long to get to the point?
“Monday. When we… when we fought, you killed someone. Before, I mean.” What? “Fourteen. You killed fourteen people, just for your own comfort, and to help you in the fight.”
“Explain. How do you know that?”
“It’s my power. I’m, Insight, right?” She looked away, then back. “I see things when I look at people.”
“Their minds? You saw my thoughts?” It might be necessary to-
“No!” Her voice was much louder, briefly. “I can’t read minds! I just see things. Like, I saw your power, what you can do. And… and I saw a little bit of what you’re like. Your motivations and- and what you want.”
“So you knew that I could have killed you.”
“Yes.” Her voice was much quieter now.
“That does not explain your reaction, or Director Shift’s involvement. Many of the trainees can kill almost as easily as I.”
“But you didn’t care. You killed those people just to fight more easily, and, I think, because one annoyed you? I had to tell the Director.”
“And she told you to ask me?” Now he understood. “I assume that if my answer is not satisfactory, she will carry out her threat?”
“Yes.” She was looking away again.
“How many lives did you say I had taken?”
He believed he had understood her behavior correctly. She refused to look him in the eye, keeping her head down, speaking softly, it was behavior that his books characterized as ‘submissive.’ She was afraid of him and did not wish to provoke him. Jason felt satisfaction. He rarely understood the emotional reasoning of others so well.
“I killed a fly. It was buzzing around my face and using my power took less effort than swatting it. The rest were plants.”
“Oh.” She looked up, slowly, then rapidly looked away after she met his eyes.
She already respected his power, now that she knew he would not kill carelessly, perhaps he could recruit her as an asset?
“Would you like to watch the fight between Duncan Nightmare and Coach Achala?” A friendly gesture should be sufficient to start the process. “It should be very informative.”
“No.” She shook her head. “I- I don’t want to be anywhere nearby if Duncan’s going to be fighting. I’ll come back later, for my fight with Warp.” She smiled, then turned quickly and departed.
Jason was pleased. Though she had declined the offer, it was clear that she was open to a friendship with him.
The match began, like the ones in which Jason had participated, with both fighters speaking to a healer. Presumably, each was explaining their defensive abilities so that the grey clad healer could determine the correct threshold for lethal damage. It was impressive that Coach Achala’s role as a direct participant did not seem to be changing the Healer’s behavior. In his experience, such respect for procedure was found only when the rules genuinely fit the situation.
The dome’s entire wall turned transparent, after the two had entered. Jason did not know whether this was genuine transparency or simply a real-time image. Given the quality of video technology that the Citadel had at its disposal, distinguishing would be next to impossible. Even so, there was still no sound.
Achala performed a polite bow then spoke to his opponent. Duncan gave no evidence of replying to the combat instructor. He simply stood, his customary expression on his face. Jason had given that expression a great deal of thought. His initial inclination had been to label it ‘contempt.’ This seemed to fit Hector’s remarks, however… something seemed wrong with that assessment.
Jason was just self-aware enough to realize that one of his common emotional reactions to others could be given the same label. It never evoked a need to act in him, not the way it seemed to do for Duncan.
“Jason. Hey, Jason.”
“Oh. I apologize Hector. I was lost in thought and did not realize you had approached.” he answered his friend.
“It’s cool. Just wondered if you had any idea what Duncan can do?” Hector was staring at the other. His expression was a near perfect match for his mother’s description of ‘concentration.’
“His performance in Physical Conditioning leads me to believe that he is a Strong type. However, you should know that as well as I.”
“Yeah, but there’s gotta be more to it than that. He’s ranked sixth in the class and Nightmare doesn’t really fit a Strong type.”
“Interesting. I suppose we shall learn shortly.” Hector’s point was valid. Duncan had consistently performed at about the same level as Isaac. Yet, Jason’s older roommate was ranked much lower.
An audible tone came from the dome. Jason did not know if that had been the case during previous matches but he was certain it was the signal to begin. Nevertheless, neither combatant had changed their stance. Coach Achala was crouched, slightly, his hands up and ready to react. Duncan was just standing there, his hands on his hips.
Something was wrong though. Jason could not recognize the cause but the crowd was reacting. He heard noises coming from the others, and motion. Most were pulling back from the combat room.
“Hector?” His stomach was clenched. “Hector, please.” His heart was beating rapidly and his breathing was labored. “Hector, I don’t know what I’m feeling!” Jason gripped his friend’s arm.
“It’s fear, Jason. Everyone’s feeling it.”
The combat room was changing. Its light grew dimmer, the combatants’ shadows grew darker. It made no sense. Duncan seemed to be getting larger. His expression changed. It was cruel, threatening. Jason didn’t understand. He was in no danger. Why was he so affected?
“Jason, relax. It’s not that bad. Duncan- he’s projecting it.”
Yes. Yes, of course. It was obvious. How had he not been able to see that? Jason concentrated on his breathing, his heart, felt himself relaxing. It took some time. He was not aware of anything else until he had finished.
Duncan was attempting to extricate himself from the wall, near Coach Achala’s exit. Apparently, while Jason was distracted, he had charged and the instructor had dodged. Jason wondered why Achala was not taking advantage of his opponent’s temporary disability.
He had merely resumed his stance, having turned to face Duncan. Soon, the boy had managed to tear himself free. He advanced more slowly this time, cautious. The combat instructor’s motions were short and quick. Duncan would throw a punch or a kick, sometimes trying to grab. Achala intercepted each with a small blow to the other’s arm or leg, just enough to throw it off course.
“Why the gloves?” Hector asked.
“Hm?” He was right. Achala was wearing a pair of tightfitting, black leather gloves. “I had not noticed them. Nor do I understand their purpose.” He had also added a pair of small pouches to his uniform’s belt.
The fruitless exchange of blows ended. Duncan struck at Achala, a simple straight jab. The instructor met his fist with an open palm, rather than striking at the forearm and deflecting it.
It should not have been possible. The image did not convey sound; the walls were thick stone, but Jason was certain he could hear Duncan’s scream. His hand and arm had been shattered. Coach Achala returned the blow with a backhanded slap.
Duncan was flung several feet to the side, prone. Again, the instructor failed to follow-up on his advantage. Rather than attack his downed opponent, he stood back. Jason thought he might be speaking but it was difficult to be sure. The feeling, the fear, was receding. It seemed as if the combat room’s lighting was returning to normal as well.
Duncan rose from his position on the floor. His face was malformed. The jaw was broken, possibly unhinged. Jason could see blood coating his teeth. He shook his head, not seeming to care about the pain that motion must have caused him. Slowly, the trainee stood upright. He raised his hand, beckoning Achala forward.
“Okay, I may not like the guy, but that takes balls.” Jason would not have phrased the sentiment in the same way as Hector, but he did agree.
Apparently, Coach Achala was not inclined to meet his opponent’s request. He removed something small from one of his pouches. A ball bearing? The instructor flicked the ball forward, like shooting a marble. It flew quickly but not so fast that Jason could not track it. The ball bearing bounced off the floor and came to rest against the combat room’s curved wall.
Jason could not hear him scream, not this time, but Duncan’s mouth was open and he was clutching his leg. The missile’s path had intersected Duncan’s thigh. Jason had not thought it was moving fast enough to cause injury but Duncan’s leg was bloody and misshapen. He fell to the floor. Moments later, he began rapidly tapping his hand against the ground.
“Well,” Hector said, “now we know what an operative is capable of.”
The fight was over. The view vanished, replaced with a plain stone wall. The healer moved, quickly entering the combat room.
“You are more familiar with the schedule than me, Hector, which fight should we watch next?”
“Good afternoon, Kelly.” Jason greeted his roommate. She was, like him and Hector, waiting for Gregory Warp’s first challenge match to begin.
“Hey Jason. Hector.” she replied. “This’s Sam and Kerry.” They all exchanged greetings, Jason being careful to keep his face pleasant and meet their eyes. Well, as best he could, removing the glasses would undermine the point of a polite greeting.
“What brings you two over?” Kelly asked them.
“It only made sense.” Jason answered. “Gregory Warp is both the highest ranked combatant and the one with the most challenges. I hope to learn a great deal from watching him fight.”
“Nope.” said Keridwyn. “He’s the one that took me down. No offense to anyone here, but as easily as he beat me, you’re not going to learn anything from watching him take down the small fries.”
“What position did you earn?” Perhaps she was resentful that an early loss had left her in a rank below that which she thought she was due?
“I see.” She must have been genuinely impressed by his power then. “What is the nature of his ability? I can think of few things stronger than turning into a dragon.”
“I get that a lot. Flight, phasing and an energy beam strong enough to cut through the dome walls.”
“That is quite a formidable combination. How did your fight go?”
“It wasn’t even close.” She snorted and he had no trouble recognizing her expression as ‘disgust.’ “I tried to grab him but my hands went right through. Then he flew straight up, cut one of em off with his beam and told me to surrender. I did.”
The fight began, not long after their conversation had begun. Gregory, Kelly said he preferred Greg, was a small man. In truth, he was the only trainee Jason had seen that was about the same size as Kelly’s female form. His opponent, George Dragon, was a large, male trainee with scale like skin. He grew wings from his back before entering the dome.
“No relation.” Keridwyn asserted.
Both trainees behaved very oddly, during the fight. Greg turned and ran to the side as soon as the tone sounded. Once he had reached the wall, he lounged against it and relaxed for the remainder of the match. George looked up and began breathing fire, paying no apparent attention to his opponent. Shortly, he stopped letting out bursts of flame and began leaping around the dome, ducking and dodging, despite the lack of any clear threat.
“That little bastard!” Kerridwyn said, much louder than normal.
George raised both hands above his head, shouting something. Most likely it was ‘I yield,’ as the match ended and both fighters left the combat room immediately afterwards.
“He’s just an illusionist! I though he was a real powerhouse or I’d have gone after him again.” Kerry seemed unduly surprised by the revelation.
“You said his beam was strong enough to cut through the wall.” He pointed out.
“I take this to mean that when you thought he removed your hand, you also thought he blasted through the wall?”
A number of people had gathered around George after he left the dome. Jason could not tell if they were mocking him or commiserating with his loss.
“Only a little, but yeah. I wouldn’t have given up if I didn’t think he could do real damage. And how did he cut off my hand if it’s just illusions?” she objected.
“I do not know. However, if he had really fired an energy beam through the wall, he would have been disqualified.”
“I… I didn’t even think about that. You’re right.” she agreed. “Your name was Jason, right?”
“That is correct.”
“I’ll remember it.”
Gregory Warp’s next few fights were very different. Rather than dodge imaginary attacks, his opponents simply collapsed to the ground. Some staggered to the side or made some attempt to attack him first, all of which missed. A few vomited. After a short period, either they yielded or Greg would render them unconscious by using his hand to block their nose and mouth. Jason and the others watched three such victories before he grew bored.
“Kelly, I nearly forgot to tell you. Isaac wishes to speak with you, when you have the opportunity.”
“Yeah.” her voice was quieter than usual and she was looking down. “Hector told me earlier but he wouldn’t say what it was about.”
“I believe Isaac disapproves of some of your decisions and wishes to encourage you to change your behavior.” Oddly, Samantha and Keridwyn both stepped forward and placed a hand on Kelly’s shoulders. “I do not believe I will learn anything further from watching these matches. I will see you both, back at our home.” Kelly was still looking down, Samantha was speaking softly to her and Keridwyn was staring at him. Strange. “Have a good day, ladies.”