“Society,” the man crouched in the alleyway behind the Court said, “will thank me.”
He pressed his palm to the ground. A blue aurora erupted around his palm and blue light flooded the grooves between the cobblestones.
The explosion lit up the square. The ground shook. The Court first blew up at its base. Then the front. Then the roof. The shockwave dashed bystanders against nearby walls and lampposts in bursts of blood.
Screams rang out as people stampeded out of the square in a frenzied panic. The man in the alleyway walked out of the wafting flames that engulfed the charred skeleton of the Court. The 10 o’clock sun was colder than the flames behind him.
Chuckling and twisting a crick out of his neck, he walked to the middle of the square and raised both arms halfway into the air. Balls of flame burst to life in front of them.
A crossbow twanged.
The man from the alleyway whipped an arm to the left and the ball of flame under it shot in a streak of flame upwards at the oncoming bolt. The bolt collided with the flame and was incinerated.
To his left, on the roof of a taller building stood 6 soldiers dressed in dark blue, belted attire and police caps. One had a blue cloak shrouding his figure. The other five held crossbows.
“Desist now,” said the cloaked soldier said. His voice boomed across the square. “In the name of the monarchy.”
The man from the alleyway chuckled again and turned to face the soldiers. He looked straight up at them and his voice boomed back.
“The monarchy? The same monarchy that leaves entire States to fend for themselves? The same monarchy that ungratefully keeps its farmers poor? The same monarchy that only gives a shit about its own power and its protection? No THANKS.”
“This is the last warning,” the squad leader said and raised a pair of fingers to the side of his face. The soldiers behind him aimed their crossbows again.
“Like I’ll do anything in the name of that fucking monarchy,” Alfonse grimaced and lowered halfway to a squat clenching his fists up to his face like a boxer. “I’ll paint the name Alfonse Crideguerre with their blood on their castle walls and burn it to Hell!”
The squad leader opened all five fingers and then snapped them into a fist. Crossbow bolts flew.
The man in the alleyway raised a hand and snapped his finger at the bolts. They exploded mid-air. Before the crossbows could be reloaded, he bounced into the air, spun once and with the momentum of the spin, kicked towards the building.
A streak of fire launched out of his foot at the squadron. The leader leaped back from the explosion but his entire squad were engulfed in flame as the front of the building exploded.
“Tch,” he spat and unclipped his cloak. Caught in the shockwave, it went flying. He whipped two swords out of his belt and dashed for the flame, bursting out of it and plummeting feet-first at the man from the alleyway below.
Alfonse leaped back as the squad leader landed thundering into a crater in the ground. He swatted his swords around his face, stabbing the air in front of him and the ground underneath obeyed, bursting out in walls and pillars of earth and flying towards Alfonse.
Alfonse dodged and strafed between walls that rose from the ground, occasionally kicking and knocking one down, dancing on his tiptoes between the assaults.
The squad leader dashed at him.
The shopkeeper behind the shiny wooden counter passed the blonde-haired boy a plastic cup and the blonde boy dropped three coins on his free palm.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Anytime,” the shopkeeper replied.
The bell above the door dinged as the blonde boy opened it and walked outside.
A wind blew across the busy cobblestone street—lined with rich, tall Elizabethan houses, each a different colour—tossing his locks and black shirt. He tore the foil seal off the top of the cup and poked a plastic fork into the noodles inside. Twisted up a roll and transferred it to his mouth.
But as he began walking down the pavement, an explosion rose above the skyline several blocks away. Exclamations and murmurs broke out on his street.
Fork still in his mouth, he stared at it for a second.
“Goddammit,” he muttered under his breath, kept the noodles cup near a homeless person sitting in a corner and rushed towards the explosion.
The squad leader leaped onto the wall of a building and immediately projected off it as a streak of flame exploded at his feet.
He landed in a roll, but shot back to his feet without losing momentum and kept running as bolts of fire exploded around him.
He knew he needed to get closer, but the fire prevented him from doing so. All he could do was to stumble and zigzag between the oncoming attacks.
A single bolt of flame fired dead-straight at him. He pulled a wall of earth from below and the flames exploded on its surface. He punched at it and the wall rushed forwards at Crideguerre.
A second bolt tore it apart but the squad leader had used it as cover to close in. As the wall of earth exploded, he burst out of the smoke and drove his sword at Alfonse’s gut.
The latter sidestepped the attack and raised a palm at the squad leader’s head, charging up a fireball. The squad leader slapped the hand away and the bolt shot elsewhere before making a second dive at him.
Once again, he sidestepped, but this time, the squad leader was ready and pulled the cobblestone out of underneath him like a rug. Alfonse stumbled forwards. The squad leader took advantage and made a big swing at his head, but Alfonse ducked under the blade, whipped around and placed a palm on the squad leader’s gut.
Shit, was all he could think before Alfonse’s palm exploded in a ball of fire.
The squad leader was sent flying. He hit the ground hard, bouncing off it multiple times before slamming into a building nearby. Blood burst from his mouth. the front of his uniform was gone and singed skin trailed smoke underneath. His jaw had burnt too.
He lay unmoving, twitching, his breath shivering, struggling to respire, his scorched skin almost freezing, feeling several broken bones along his body.
“Fireproof uniforms,” the man from the alleyway said. “The Royal Guard really is prepared for anything.”
He raised a palm at the fallen soldier. “I can’t have people interfering with my mission, though,” he said. A bolt of flame shot out of his palm at the fallen soldier.
The explosion shook the square before the squad leader could even scream.
The man from the alleyway chuckled and began to walk away. But he immediately sensed something approach and dodged to the right. A dagger flew past where he had been standing a second ago.
He looked ahead at where it had come from and saw a blonde boy walk into the square from one of the many streets that converged here, sword drawn.
“Now they’re enrolling children,” he muttered to himself and raising both palms. “They’ve lost their minds.”
Two bolts of flame shot out and hit the blonde kid in dead-on. The explosion burst in an orange fireball around him.
“Oh?” Alfonse said, surprised. “He didn’t dodge.” He lowered his hands. “Hmm.” He began turning away before a voice spoke from the smoke.
“I don’t have to.”
Alfonse looked back at the boy, who stood unscathed from the explosion.
“The hell?” Alfonse muttered before lashing a finger out at the boy.
Another streak of flame shot out of his fingertip and exploded at his face, but never hit its target. It exploded nearly a foot away from his body, the flames licking the wall of an invisible dome in front of him.
Alfonse grimaced. “How?”
“My question first,” the boy said. “How are you practicing Fire Encastry?”
“Questions,” Alfonse scoffed curling a hand at his side, fire sputtering around it. And then snarled, “it’s all you filthy rich people can do!” He sent the fireball hurling with a wide discus-swing.
“Rich people?” the boy held out an open palm and the fireball dissipated around it. Alfonse rushed in with a dagger but the boy caught it with his sword. The blades clanged. Alfonse was a lot stronger than he was and began pushing, almost had him knocked over, but the boy raised a wall of earth from the ground between them, separating them.
He backed off as Alfonse punched through it.
“Question the oppressed. Deny us our rights and punish us if we dare question you. Regard our every motive as a crime.”
He raised his hand in upward-sweep as if scooping water to the sky. A column of flame burst from underneath the boy. He dodged away, the fire missing him by inches.
“You are committing a crime,” the boy said raising his sword before his face defensively. “And no-one punishes you because you question them.”
“Tell that to your fucking Princess!” Alfonse yelled. Conical spikes of flame materialised above the boy and plunged down into him.
“Little shit can’t run a country and they put her in charge. All she knows is prison, prison, PRISON!”
The flames never hit him, once again exploding on an invisible dome around him. The boy made a dash towards him at inhuman speed. Alfonse directed both palms at the boy. Knife-sized cones of fire began flaring to life and shootings forwards at rapidly. The boy weaved between them and appeared before his face.
He swung the pommel of his sword at Alfonse’s head. Alfonse ducked, as he had done with the squad leader before, slamming a palm into the boy’s gut as well.
But with astonishing speed, the boy flipped the sword to a backhand grip and brought it back down, through Alfonse’s forearm. He cried out in pain. The flames sputtered under his palm.
The boy forced his sword into the ground, the man’s arm with it. Alfonse dropped to one knee, gripping the impaled arm with his free one, whimpering, teeth clenched, eyes bulged.
“The dealings of the monarchy are none of your concern,” the boy replied coolly, bending over him.
He looked up at the boy, malice in his eyes, saliva frothing before slamming a palm to the ground.
An explosion ripped through the square, engulfing them both.
As the fire turned to smoke, the two of them leapt out of it.
“The dealings of the monarchy are none of my concern?” he yelled back. “IT WOULD SEEM NOT, WOULDN’T IT?”
He spoke between clenched teeth. “Yes. The dealings of the monarchy are none of its people’s concerns. That is the epitome of elitism.”
“Listen,” the boy said, sheathing his sword and raising two empty palms. “Don’t make a scene. Come quietly and maybe I can convince the Princess not to sentence you to the torture chamber.”
“I will free society!” Alfonse yelled, raising his palms, “By burning down this shithole of a city and bringing equality to everyone.”
“You intend on burning down the city, yet you can’t burn a single boy in an empty square?” the boy said, placing a hand on a hip, grinning. “That’s pitiful.”
“Fire Encastry is a technique I perfected,” he said. “You shouldn’t be able to stop it.”
“It’s not that hard, really,” the boy picked at his ear with a pinkie. “Your flames feed off the oxygen in the air. All I need to do to stop them is to remove any oxygen around me. No oxygen? No fire.”
His eyes widened. “That’s . . . not . . . possible,” he said. “If you can Encast gas, you should already be a Third Level Encaster.”
“A fifteen-year-old child hasn’t the time for that.”
Alfonse observed the boy again. Eighteen-year-old boy. Blonde hair with a ponytail. Third-Level Encaster. Moves with inhuman speed.
“Tristan Drapuest,” he said, his voice unsteadying, his figure slumping. “Knight of Princess Liara Ville Premiere.”
A smile crossed the boy’s face. “My reputation precedes me,” he said. Then shrugging, “hopefully that’ll make you come quietl—”
In a burst of fire off the underside of his feet, Alfonse had flashed towards him like lightning. He swung a fist that Tristan managed to dodge only by millimetres.
Tristan backed off a few paces.
Alfonse turned towards Tristan and raised a fist.
“Killing you is all I have to do, then,” he said, “to get the Ville Premiere's attention.”
But the boy was already in front of him at inhuman speed, driving a fist into his gut. His breath caught in his throat. The man dropped to his knees again, clenching his torso with his strong arm, struggling to breathe from the force of the punch.
“Is it equality to kill people?” the boy asked.
“To kill the oppressors . . . is to ascertain equality,” he huffed through pained breaths.
“And innocent bystanders?” Tristan glared down at the man.
“Killing those . . . who favour inequality,” he said, “will bring equality . . . to those who are oppressed. Killing those who enjoy privilege will bring . . . power, to those who don’t have it!”
“You’re insane,” Tristan breathed.
Alfonse whipped his strong arm up and the earth below Tristan rose in a cube. He leapt off it, but Alfonse brought it flying at him. By Tristan’s command, the block of earth split vertically down the middle, the two halves flying past him.
Two streaks of flame short forwards. Tristan whipped his hand to the right in a sweeping motion. A whoosh of air slammed into the flame, killing it instantly. The same gust knocked Alfonse off his feet and sent him rolling to the right.
Alfonse rose again and slammed both palms onto the ground. His forearm spurted blood. A row of explosions burst the cobblestone and made for the boy, but stopped short around his firebreak, the flames lashing around him.
Tristan whipped his left hand up and the earth around Alfonse rose in four walls, a roof forming above him, sealing him in like a cocoon. Tristan made a gesture with his right hand (raised it to the other and pulled it backwards to his face, like drawing an arrow on a bow) and the oxygen drained out of the cocoon.
Trapped within, Alfonse pounded on the walls a few times before gagging and dropping to his knees.
Tristan left the cocoon there for just a moment before lowering his hand. The cocoon of earth lowered with it and Alfonse lay unconscious on the ground.
The boy sighed, and turned to look at the flaming corpse of the squad leader.
. . . was it?”