Chapter 144: Invaluable Allies
“I understand your problem, Grey, but I’m not sure if I’m the best person to help you with this,” the headmaster said with a sigh. “No matter how lacking your ki pool may be compared to most kids your age, you’re still a child with plenty of time for that to change. However, and I say this as a general life lesson, if you find yourself lacking in resources, use what you have when you need it the most.”
I pondered over her cryptic solution to my ki problem.
“Thank you, Headmaster Wilbeck,” I grinned before heading out the door.
“Oh, and Grey?” the headmaster called from behind her desk.
I halted, peeking my head out of the doorway. “Yes?”
“How is Cecilia getting along with you and Nico?”
“Well,” I paused. “Besides her little accidents, I’d say we’re slowly getting through to her!”
“She hasn’t said a word to you two, has she?” Headmaster Wilbeck sighed.
“Nope!” I affirmed confidently. “Not a single one.”
“Very well. I really do hope the two of you keep trying to break her out of her shell though. If anyone can do it, it’s you two.”
I came back into her office. “Headmaster?”
“Why are you pushing so hard for us to be friends with Cecilia?” I asked.
The headmaster’s lips curled into a gentle smile as she stood up from her chair. “That, my child, is a story that I’m hoping she’ll tell you herself.”
“Well, I mean, she looks normal enough but everyone’s scared of her because of those accidents that happen every once in awhile.” I scratched my head. “I mean, Nico and I aren’t scared or anything but there are a few kids that have been sent to the infirmary because of her, so I just thought it’d be better to know more to help her.”
Walking around her table, Headmaster Wilbeck tousled my hair. “Your job isn’t to help her; it’s to be her friend. Let me take care of helping her.”
“Yes, Mother,” I saluted.
The headmaster’s gentle downturned eyes widened in surprise at my words.
“It’s Headmaster Olivia or Headmaster Wilbeck to you, Grey.” Her voice was firm but her eyes betrayed her words.
I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay in her office and help her with the pile of papers that never seemed to diminish, but I knew she would never let me help; like a broken record, she always said that it was her job, not mine.
Dragging my feet out of the small office, I trudged down the hall toward my room.
I often imagined my life as Headmaster Wilbeck’s son. Her stern, yet loving voice scolding me every time I got into trouble. I’d do what I could to help her around the house: do the dishes, take out the trash and mow the lawn. And when she came home, I’d massage her shoulders that she always seemed to be rubbing painfully from stress.
Nico said it was weird for me to do so much for my mother, saying that it was usually a daughter’s job to spoil the mother, but I didn’t agree. If I had someone like Headmaster Wilbeck as a mother, I’d make sure to pamper her. I’d help dye the white streaks of her brown hair and once I was old enough, I’d make a lot of money and buy fancy clothes and even a car and house for her.
Maybe that was the difference between someone that had known their parents like Nico and someone like me, who didn’t have a single memory of what his parents looked like. Nico hated his parents and any mention of his last name, Sever, would set him off like a fuse.
As for someone like me, who didn’t have a surname, there was an odd comfort imagining being Grey Wilbeck, son of Olivia Wilbeck.
The sharp creak of the floorboard underneath my feet snapped me out of my fantasy, and I sighed a breath of defeat.
I kneeled down above the old misaligned floorboard and snapped it back in its place. Testing the floor with my feet, I let out a satisfied nod at the plank’s silence.
Looking up, a group of kids were running through the hall, chasing one another.
“Grey! I’m going to tag you!” a little girl named Theda giggled as she skirted toward me with her arms stretched out.
“Oh yeah?” I stuck out my tongue. “I bet you’re not!”
Theda accepted the challenge as she picked up her pace. As soon as she was within range, she swiped at my waist, hoping to grab my shirt, but I easily twirled out of reach.
I let out a victorious laugh. “You’re going to have to try harder than—”
I swayed to my right, just in time to avoid Odo’s hand.
The rest of the kids that Theda had been playing with joined in, deciding that they were all “it” in this impromptu game of tag.
As the boys and girls flocked me with arms stretched wide to cover more ground, I easily dipped and weaved around them. They flailed their appendages desperately as they tried to utilize every part of their bodies in hopes to tag me but it was useless.
Theda and her friends got smart and circled around me, slowly closing in on me as they giggled excitedly.
Once they got close enough, the kids got impatient and all sprung at me.
Just as their hands were about to touch me, I jumped up and grabbed onto the broken chain that used to support an old chandelier before it had to be sold. Using the momentum of my leap, I swung from the chain, gripping tightly so I wouldn’t slip.
Theda, Odo, and their friends bumbled amongst themselves from missing their target.
Swinging from the old chain, I landed a few feet away and planted my hands on my hips, laughing victoriously. “You guys are five years too young to best the mighty Grey!”
“Not fair!” Odo groaned, rubbing his head.
“Yeah! You’re too fast!” Theda agreed, prying herself out of the tangle of kids.
“Shush! Only weaklings complain when facing defeat!” I said, deepening my voice. “Now off I go! My heroic powers are needed elsewhere!”
I dashed away as the kids laughed amongst themselves.
“The mighty Grey has arrived!” I announced, opening the door to my room.
“Yeah, yeah. Close the door on your way in,” Nico replied, not even turning to look at me as he fumbled with something on his cluttered bed.
“The kids are more fun than you,” I clicked my tongue. “What are you doing anyway?”
Nico held up his right hand, covered in a fuzzy black glove, with a proud grin on his face.
“You’re into knitting now?” I asked with a smirk, reaching for the glove.
Nico stretched out his gloved hand, gripping my forearm.
All of a sudden, a wave of pain radiated like an intense muscle cramp from Nico’s grasp.
My friend and roommate immediately let go with a smug look pasted on his face. “Never underestimate the power of knitting.”
“What the hell?” My gaze switched back between his glove and my sore arm.
“Pretty neat, right?” Nico stared contently at his gloved hand. “After the whole run-in with those thugs, I was researching a way to defend myself in case something like that ever happened again. And after compiling my notes, off a rather interesting book I found on ki conducting material I was able to design this glove!”
“How does it work? Why did my arm suddenly cramp up when you grabbed me?” I asked, my fingers itching to grab ahold of Nico’s newest creation.
“It’s pretty cool, actually,” Nico said, slapping my hand away. “There are these microfibers on the palm of the gloves that can conduct ki to a certain degree. The microfibers elongate in reaction to my ki and reach into the muscles when I grab someone. There’s a small conducting stone on the inside of the glove that harnesses the ki that I emit and it shoots out through the microfibers and into my enemy’s muscle which, in this case, was your arm.”
“That’s pretty neat, but why don’t you just learn how to fight like me?”
“First of all, you never learned to fight. And I need to have toys like these because unlike someone”—his eyes darted to me—“I don’t have the reflexes of some primitive carnivore. If I had to say, my reflexes range somewhere between a sloth and a turtle.”
I couldn’t help but chortle at the comparison. “Well, the glove looks useful and all, but it seems like it’d only buy you some time,” I pointed out, flexing my cramped hand.
“Yup. And another downside is that the microfibers, which I had to buy with part of the money we got from pawning off the jewelry, don’t last very long,” Nico sighed as he took off the fuzzy black glove.
I looked at the stacks of books piled all over his side of the room. “I’m sure you’ll think of something around it. By the way, how did you give the money we got to the headmaster?”
“Ah! I gave it to a guy I know. He gave it to Headmaster Wilbeck as a generous donation in return for a percentage as a cut.”
I groaned. “How much of the money actually ended up in the orphanage anyway? With you buying your books and material and giving a cut to a guy you barely know, I doubt even half the amount made it to the headmaster.”
“I didn’t have any other choice. No way in hell would Olivia take money from us. She’d just start bombarding us with questions.”
“It’s Headmaster Wilbeck,” I corrected, thumping my friend’s head.
“Besides, I got a few books that you could use too! Check it out!” Nico exclaimed, pointing to a small pile of books behind him with his thumb.”
“Oh!” I could feel my eyes light up as I reached for the books. “Very well. This magnimous gentlemen will forgive you.”
“It’s magnanimous,” Nico chortled, shaking his head.
Unable to think of a witty comeback, I decided to let it go when the room began shaking.
I groaned. “Don’t tell me—”
“Yup, it’s Cecilia again. She’s having another accident,” Nico said.
As the rhythmless waves of shaking continued, we remained in our beds. “It’s longer than usual this time,” I pointed out.
Nico got up and put on his glove. “Let’s go check it out.”
“It’s dangerous! Remember what happened to one of the volunteers that tried to hold her down?”
“Yup! That bear of a man couldn’t even make it near her.” Nico shook his head from the painful memory. “I just can’t stand having to wait like this until Cecilia passes out. I can’t imagine how much it’s hurting her.”
I let out a sigh and got up as well when a thought struck me. My lips curved up into a smirk. “You like her, don’t you?”
“No way! I don’t even know the girl!”
I didn’t respond as my smile widened.
Nico’s brows twitched. “All right! I just think she’s a little pretty. That’s all!”
“Mhmm,” I shrugged, dodging a slap from my friend.
Pieces of broken plaster from the ceiling rained throughout the hallway as the entire orphanage shook.
I spotted Theda and Odo hiding underneath the dining table along with some of the other younger children on our way to Cecilia’s room.
Veering left at the end of the hallway, Nico and I stopped in front of an iron door that stood isolated, away from all of the other rooms in the giant house. Headmaster Wilbeck was already there with a few of the adult volunteers that helped clean and maintain the orphanage.
The shaking had intensified, and one the volunteers named Randall, a kind and burly man in his prime that helped out with the garden, prepared to go inside as another worker was about to open the door.
There was no way that Randall would be able to make it to Cecilia with the intensity of this outbreak. Snatching the glove off of Nico’s hand, I bolted for the door.
“Wha—Grey!” Nico called out.
Before anyone had a chance to react, I zipped past Randall and into the room as soon as the door opened. Once inside, my body sidestepped on instinct, barely dodging a force that sent Randall crashing against the corridor wall. I had heard about Cecelia’s peculiarity but going against it head on made the stories sound like a bedtime story.
Bracing myself, I ran toward the center of the large room where Cecilia laid, convulsing while a look of panic struck her face as she spotted me. This mysterious girl that Headmaster Wilbeck had brought was an irregularity amongst ki users. While even the most capable practitioner would, at best, be able to produce a small gust of energy with his ki, Cecilia was able to send torrents of ki around her—that’s how vast her ki pool was.
However, she wasn’t able to control it, and from what the headmaster told me, the outbursts of ki happened at the slightest provocation of her emotions.
While many ki users would see this power as a gift, for a teenage girl like her, I could only see it as a curse.
Going solely on instinct, I was able to clumsily dodge the blasts of ki that shot at me. One hit and I would be unconscious at the very least.
Cold sweat rolled down my face as I played tag with a near-invisible force that had the power to break my bones like a twig.
I felt a slight breeze, making me instantly roll to my left. A loud thud resounded on the wall behind me as I narrowly dodged another burst of ki.
I stretched out my gloved hand, hoping I would be able to reach her, when my instincts kicked in once more and I jumped clumsily to the right.
Another thud echoed behind me as Cecilia’s stray surge of ki hit the wall.
“Y-You can’t!” Cecilia said through gritted teeth. “You’ll get h-hurt.”
Her bed, which she was laying on, had been demolished, as pillow stuffing and mattress foam lay scattered around the floor. I began crawling toward her, immediately rolling when I felt another burst of ki coming.
This time, though, the edge of the blast managed to skim my right arm.
I let out a restrained yell as I forced myself to crawl faster, ignoring my throbbing arm. Desperately reaching out with my left hand, I willed what little ki I could muster into the glove that Nico had made and prayed that my idea would work.
I was able to place my palm just above Cecilia’s stomach, where her ki center was. Exerting all of my ki, I felt Nico’s glove throb.
Cecilia let out a pained gasp, her almond-shaped eyes growing wide just before closing as she fell unconscious. Locks of Cecilia’s blonde hair fell over her face as her flushed cheeks began draining to her original creamy color.
I tried to stand up, but my body refused to listen from overexertion of ki.
How pitiful, I thought, before joining Cecilia in her slumber.
ARTHUR LEYWIN’S POV:
“Sir! Please, wake up!” An unfamiliar voice startled me awake, dragging me out of the unwanted memories I had been dreaming of.
As my vision focused, I was barely able to make out the shape of a woman, her features shadowed by the sunlight directly cast to her face. “Sir! I’m begging you. Please, we need you washed and prepped for Commander Virion’s speech!”
The handmaid shook my arm gently as I turned away from her, still half asleep.
“Move out of the way. I’ll wake him up,” a familiar voice grunted as a loud crackle resounded from his direction.
I immediately sprung to my feet, catching the projectile of lightning in my hand.
“Bairon. A displeasure to see you again,” I said sharply, still in a foul mood from my argument with Tessia yesterday.
“I see you’ve learned some new tricks,” Bairon responded with his hand still outstretched.
It had been over two years since I had last seen the blonde lance. He hadn’t changed much, except he had cut his hair short and the scowl on his face was even harsher.
“Don’t you know it’s dishonorable to attack someone behind their back?” I asked, hopping off my bed.
“Well, we’re in times of war,” he shrugged before turning around and heading out the door. “Now get changed. The rest of the lances are already by the teleportation gate.”
I watched as Bairon, whose brother I had killed, walked out of my room. He and I would always have our differences, but I got what he meant when he said that we were in times of war: both of us were invaluable allies.
The handmaid timidly approached me. “S-Sir, please. I’d hate to keep nagging but—”
“It’s okay, Rosa. I just got direct consent from Commander Virion to speed up the process,” another, much bulkier handmaid interrupted as she stomped in, pulling a large cart covered by a sheet.
The handmaid named Rosa switched glances between her coworker and me. “A-Are you sure, Milda? I don’t think we should do anything to offend—”
Milda held up a meaty finger to silence her associate. She then turned to me with a stern gaze as she rolled up the sleeves of her blouse. “Now, Sir. If you’re not in the mood or you’re not capable of washing yourself, I’ll be more than happy to get into the shower with you and wash you.”
I inadvertently took a step back in horror. “No, no. I’m very much in the mood to wash myself.”
“Very good,” she said. “After you wash, please dress in this set of armor Lord Aldir prepared for the speech today.”
Milda dramatically removed the sheet covering the cart she had brought in, revealing a mannequin dressed stunningly in a suit of armor that I would soon be wearing.