Flash Fiction: Rival (970 words)

The wide colonnaded yard of the practice court was filled with the reckless crackle and hiss of energy on the air, running heels on the paving stones, and shifting voices. Shouts echoed. Some clouds of twisted glowing smoke came off the hand and cracked like thunder deep in the chest. Light shifted and shadows jumped with just a sigh and a crack. The keimon paired off in their practice matches, throwing heat and liquid smoke across the space between them, and any given match played out as if it were silent, for all the sounds that mashed and layered and could not be sorted out. And still the echoes built and ran rounds between the columns until they were all the thunder that filled the yard.

Taryn sat on one of the benches at the edge of it, jacket balled in his hands while he bent forward over his knees, stretching his back and shoulders. He’d unrolled his sleeves, buttoned them back around his wrists, but couldn’t bring himself to put the jacket back over his shoulders. Sweat still held his shirt tight to his skin, and heat had coiled under his skin as soon as he ended his bout. It was taking a long time to cool again, and all he wanted to do was drop his head, and let it peel off him into the open air.

His little brother was stooped beside him, tightening the laces of his boots. Caden had always been the runner of the two of them, enjoying the dodge of a fight as much as the slam and strike. He always took a little longer to set his clothes back in place and ready himself to leave the hall. He had one foot up on the bench, his jacket still neatly folded beside him.

On his other side, Rastus waited patiently, neither as sweaty or disheveled. He mostly came to watch anyway. This was an easier way to work out than the Purphagus Rooms that seemed to eat into the skin and scratch at the itch a little too long until it hurt, but he preferred the more subtle things that a keimon could do with his energy to this blunt activity.

Taryn looked at him a moment, just to make sure they weren’t boring him by staying a little longer, then slumped forward again. He wouldn’t mind laying down and sleeping right here.

Shutting his eyes, he listened to the sway and snap of sound in the hall. He’d been here so often in the last few years, he almost felt he could sort it out, but it was more like listening to a wild rendition of a song that he knew than like hearing it properly. Now and then, a shout cleared over the top, but never soared very high, still tangled in the clamor. Taryn turned with each sound that he could mark. Here, a keimon ran forward suddenly. There, a keimon fell back. Across the way, a keimon tripped into a fall. And Taryn was never sure if it really was the same shout he had heard.

“Hey,” Caden said beside him. He nodded to the right side of the yard. Perce was lying on the ground, hands crossed over his face to ward off a stream of bright blue-white smoke. The energy was growing jagged at the edges, hot to the point of leaping like flame again as it crashed against the thick shield Perce was building on his arms. “What’s going on over there?”

Rastus chuckled to himself. “Astian’s taking it out of him.”

Taryn raised his eyebrows slowly, unimpressed. It was becoming a blunter fight than even he would make. “His sister?”

“Of course his sister,” Rastus said. “Who else would go after him like that?”

Caden glanced down at Taryn, and then they both slowly turned to Rastus, waiting, dimly curious, for him to explain.

Rastus only bit back a larger laugh at the identical look on their faces. “Astian was the small wonder of her family for a while. She Showed at nine. A whole year early. And then Perce had the audacity to show at eight and a half.” He waggled his eyebrows. “She’s been wailing on him for years. Which, I think is the only reasonable reaction, since she probably only has a few months left before he’s powerful enough to wail on her, so she should get in her licks while she can.”

Taryn blinked at him.

Caden’s eyebrows pulled together, not understanding.

“Aw, come on,” Rastus said. He rolled his head back as he turned to face them. “I know you’ve done it too. Had it out because he Showed faster than you.” He nodded toward Caden and shook his head at Taryn.

“Oh,” Taryn said. He glanced at Caden. “Yeah.”

Rastus’ eyebrows reached for his hairline. “You two make me sick.”

Caden and Taryn met each other’s eye. Caden shrugged.

Standing, Taryn wrapped his arm around Caden’s shoulders. Then he rolled his shoulder forward until he had his arm locked around Caden’s neck and his little brother was bent double against his side. “How dare you,” Taryn said. “Show at ten when I Showed at Eleven!” He ruffled his hair roughly. “Respect your elders!”

“Get off!” Caden said.

“You should have waited ’til you were at least sixteen, you little jerk.” Taryn ducked him a little lower, ruffled his hair a little harder.

Rastus rolled his eyes. Turning on his heel, he started away without a word.

“Technically,” Caden grumbled. “I did Show first. You were, like, two weeks old before you started glowing.”

Taryn glanced around to be sure no one had been close enough to hear. “Shut up,” he murmured back.

“Let me go,” Caden said.

“In a minute,” Taryn promised. He grinned slowly. “We gotta sell this.”

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