Atlantis Brothers

Flash fiction challenge from August 9: Random Story Title Generator

***

“I’m sorry to the bearer of bad news boys, but your father has passed away,” said the bespectacled old man.

Nikolas and Demitri Kelley were hardly boys. The 26 and 21-year olds were seasoned Academy graduates and had been traveling the globe for the last three years. But to Dr. Charles Parker, or Uncle Chip as they affectionately called him, they were still the same young boys he had first taken in.

“How do you know?” said Nik. “No one’s heard from Dad in five years.”

“That is only partially true.  Your father always kept me apprised of his general whereabouts. Last night, I received a message from him containing a single word, to be used only in the case of his impending death.”

The boys looked at each other in silence. No one would ever confuse Alexander Kelley with a helicopter parent. After their mom passed away giving birth to Demitri, Alexander tried the single dad route for a couple of years before asking Chip to watch over the boys while he was away on business.  That all changed 15 years ago when he dropped the boys off and never came back.

“I know this is unexpected, but maybe you should think about postponing your trip for a few weeks,” said Chip.

“Why? Are we supposed to be in mourning?” said Nik. “He was practically a stranger to us.”

“He was still our dad!” said Demitri.

“You were too young to get it,” said Nik. “Do you know how many times I waited up, hoping that this would be the night that he would come home for good? And then he just up and left without a word.”

“Nik, I understand completely. But now that your dad is gone, it’s time you two finally knew the truth.”

“What, that our dad wasn’t a complete deadbeat?”

“Boys, your dad was looking for something, something that has apparently cost him his life. The thing he was searching for was  … Atlantis.”

“You expect us to believe that? After all these years?” said Nik. “That our dad was off on a joyride around the world looking for some mystical city?”

“No, of course not.”

Chip turned to face the painting behind his desk, and then, in one fluid motion, punched through the canvas with his right fist.

“I did rather like that painting,” said Chip, as he retrieved a small metal object from the bottom of the frame. “Now, don’t you think it was odd that two farmer’s sons got into the Academy, the most prestigious and secretive school in the world? Your admission was not a charity case, for, you see…”

A storm of bullets erupted through the back wall and Chip fell face forward onto the desk.

“Boys… there isn’t much time … there is a … piece of paper in my front jacket pocket. … You’ll also need this. Always … look out .. for each other.”  Chip placed the metal object into Demitri’s palm, as his hand went limp. Nik pulled out the blood-soaked paper. On it was a set of numbers that the boys did not recognize.

“Nik, what do we do?” Demitri’s hands were shaking as he held the metal object.

“We get the hell out of here, that’s what we do!”

“But how? We’ll never get out of the garage!”

“Don’t worry. I’ve got a plan.”

***

The headlights of the old Jaguar swept out onto the driveway as the garage door slowly opened. Within seconds, the gunfire resumed, but the car was not deterred. Speeding forward with alarming speed, it plowed head first into the black cars. It was then that a second set of lights appeared.

Nik revved the motorcycle three times and sped down the driveway.

“Are you sure about this?” said Demitri as he clutched his brother from behind.

“Not at all, but it seemed like a good idea 10 minutes ago.”

The bike reached the trunk of the wrecked car at alarming speed, where Nik had attached a conveniently-placed wooden ramp. The men in the black cars, still shaken from the previous collision, could do nothing but watch as the motorcycle sailed over them before touching down with a screech.

“I can’t believe that worked,” said Nik as the house receded into the background. “Do you have any idea where we’re supposed to go?”

Demitri pulled out the paper and unfolded it.

“It’s a series of 12 numbers, bookended with an N and a E.”

“Of course! Those are latitude and longitude coordinates. Plug them into your phone. Hopefully it’s not too far.”

***

Three days later, a weary Nik and Demitri finally reached the empty field. The boys did not have to dig for long before unearthing an old wooden box. Demitri placed the metal object into the small recess in the middle of the lid, and the box popped open. As they blew off the accumulated dust, the face of Alexander Kelley suddenly greeted them.

“Nikolas, Demitri, if you’re watching this message, then it means I am no longer with you. I wish I could have been there to see you both grow up, and I know it’s not worth much now, but I am truly sorry for what I put you both through. I don’t know how much Chip told you, so I guess I’ll start at the beginning.”

Alexander paused and cleared his throat.

“All that you have ever known about our family is a lie, a lie told to protect you from the fate I have no doubt met.The Kelleys of Des Moines … do not exist and I am not a farmer. Your roots lie across the ocean and go much deeper than you realize.

Your true surname is Ptolemaeus.

We are the stewards of the island of Rhodes and the guardians of the door to Atlantis.”

The Fountain

This week’s flash fiction challenge: Somethingpunk

***

“Welcome back, Mr. Oliver.” Maxwell Oliver entered through a gap in the hedges and approached the multi-tiered fountain. Its water seemed bluer than last time.

“It’s been a long, long time.” said Max.

“For you, at least.  The years go by like seconds for me, although these past 70 have been some of the most amusing, I will admit. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

The fountain’s voice filled the clearing as Max stared at its center.

“I’ve come to finish things.”

“Tired of living, are you? Well, I won’t stop you from ending your miserable existence.”

“I will not be the only one to die today.”

The fountain scoffed, as much as a fountain could.

“Is that right? You, a decrepit old man, plan to destroy me, the most powerful being on the planet?”

“Yes. I will set right what I originally set wrong. I will destroy you and return the fire of knowledge to humanity.”

“Knowledge? Humanity no longer needs it. I’ve ushered in a golden age of civilization, all thanks to you.”

“A regret I live with every single day.”

Max was 23 when he had first stumbled upon the fountain hiking through Greece. Having run low on water, he took a drink from the gorgeous marble fountain that seemed out of place in the middle of the secluded woods.. As soon as the water hit his lips, he felt a rush of sensation course through his entire body, knocking him unconscious. When Max awoke, he found that the fountain water had a peculiar side effect – any thought that popped into his head would instantly become so.  It was, in a word, magic. Max then did what any immature 23-year old would have done in that situation – he tweeted a picture of himself demonstrating his newfound power. Unfortunately for Max, he had forgotten to turn off the location settings on his phone, so in a matter of hours, the world began to converge on the fountain. The world governments united quickly to secure the fountain for themselves, but the fountain had other plans. Borrowing a page from Mr. Vonnegut, the fountain water soon contaminated all water on earth, unleashing billions of magic wielders.

With everything possible, the desire to create the impossible slowly vanished until humanity entered a new dark age of stagnation. Max enjoyed the fame as the discoverer of magic, but fame was fleeting, especially in this new world. Despair soon set in and, after he tried unsuccessfully to end his own life, he discovered that the water had made him immortal.

“I had a good laugh that day,” said the fountain. “I was anxiously awaited your next move, but it never came. I figured you had resigned yourself to a mundane life like everyone else. What were you doing all these years?”

“Learning what had once been known. Without magic.”

Max had started at the beginning of recorded history, hoping the ancient knowledge would provide a clue to destroying the fountain. The going had been slow at first. Painfully, mind numbingly slow. To fully absorb the full import of the writings, Max first learned ancient Hebrew. And ancient Greek. And ancient Persian, Chinese and scores of other lost languages. His studies soon stumbled upon a familiar thread.

All this had happened before. The Greek gods were not myths dreamed up by the ancients, but very real people who had first discovered the wonders of the fountain. They soon raised Olympus up from underneath the fountain and began a reign of dominance as gods among mortals. Their rule was meant to last much longer, but something happened and the gods’ power waned until they only remained in the pages of the epic poems. The mountain crumbled, and the fountain was forgotten. The fountain had not been pleased, but there was little to do except wait until the next opportunity presented itself.

“Very clever of you. Tell me, did you find the thing you were looking for in all those books?”

“Not something, someone.”

“Hmmm?”

But the noble son of Iapetus outwitted him and stole the far-seen gleam of unwearying fire in a hollow fennel stalk.” said an ancient voice the fountain had not heard in a long time.

“IT CANNOT BE! We chained you to that rock, to have the eagles feast on your liver for eternity!”

“Yes, I’m quite aware,” said Prometheus. “But eventually the eagles grew tired of their task. I too grew tired, and sank deep into the rock, resigned to remain there forever. Until Mr. Oliver returned me to the world.”

The fountain was speechless, for once.

“No one may ever know what transpired here today, but I will go to my death a happy man knowing I have destroyed you once and for all.”

Max held out the palm of his hand. The Titan did the same. A warm gleam soon appeared, casting shadows across the clearing.

And Zeus who thunders on high was stung in spirit, and his dear heart was angered when he saw amongst men the far-seen ray of

“Fire,” said the fountain, as it faded away.

Queen Sacrifice

This week’s flash fiction challenge: Four Random Items

***

“Queen to D2. I believe the game is mine, Lucy-chan.”

“Nuh uh! Your queen is a sitting duck for my king!” said the precocious nine-year old, as she excitedly knocked over the piece.

“Yes, but you forgot about my rook, just biding his time, until I could do this….” Sakura slid the tower down the board and gently knocked over Lucy’s king. “Checkmate.”

“No fair! You cheated! You knew I couldn’t resist taking your queen!”

“It’s not cheating, it’s strategy. It’s called a queen’s sacrifice. Sometimes you have to give up your best piece to win the match.”

“That’s no fun, Saku-san. Who would want to give up the queen? She’s the best!”

“Very true, very true. But enough chess talk for tonight, it’s way past your bedtime. Your mom would freak if she knew you were still up.”

“Ok, but next time, I get an extra game?”

“It’s a deal.”

Sakura Perry tucked her young charge in, and then headed out to the living room, nearly tripping over her bag.

“Ugh, every time!”

Sakura leaned the bag back against the couch. It was full of things she needed to do – a backlog of school work that had somehow materialized already – and also full of things she wanted to do – a certain brown paper package resting on the bottom.  She turned on the TV and starting flipping mindlessly through the channels. The ambassador and his wife would not be home for another hour. That left her plenty of time to rehearse tonight’s task in her mind.

***

The leather mask was not comfortable, but it would have to do. The real thing was on its way from Kyoto – a snarling steel masterpiece an old friend had helped her find. “Next time, I’ll pay for express shipping,” she thought. The goalie mask she donned tonight was well past its prime, but Sakura had made a few minor additions that gave it a certain je nais se quoi. As she looked back at the masked figure in her bathroom mirror, her pulse started to quicken.

“Ok, here goes nothing.”

Sakura climbed down her fire escape and landed with a graceful thud on the sidewalk. Luckily, her armor had almost completely absorbed the force, although calling it “armor” was being polite.  Sakura had spent the last 13 months collecting any piece of military-grade Kevlar she could scrounge up and the result was a black Lululemon tank top and pants with some strategic enhancements. She hoped it would be enough.

As Sakura walked slowly away from her building, she glanced at the bank clock across the street. 2:14 AM.  The drop was scheduled for 2:30.

“I’m going to be late.”

She broke out into a sprint, wishing now more than ever that the Academy had focused more on cardio.  The streets were all but deserted this time of night, but Sakura did not want to attract any attention.  She figured a sprinting, masked figure wearing steel knuckles would still manage to attract the notice of any Red Hook residents that were still awake.

A rusted sign labeled “PIER” greeted her several minutes later. There were many piers in Red Hook, but somehow this one had escaped the recent gentrification. Still, the owner felt the need to post a security guard 24/7. Sakura had found a back way in, but as she approached, she saw the guard was noticeably absent.

“Well, that makes my job a little easier,” she thought as she walked through the unguarded gate.

Her targets would most likely be near the water, but the pier fittingly featured a abandoned warehouse that provided excellent cover. She climbed up a couple of boxes she had stacked in advance earlier in the week and darted across the rooftop.

The full moon bounced off the water and Sakura could make out three figures.

“That’s odd,” she thought. “There should only be two.”

She had no time to dwell on this latest development, as a faint humming sound signaled the approach of a small motor boat. As it docked, she could see one of the figures on the pier motion to the another one, who pushed the third figure forward onto his knees. The moonlight reflected off something metal on the third figure’s jacket. It was the missing guard.

Sakura had not anticipated a hostage. She contemplated aborting, but decided to wait and see how things played out.

A short man stepped out of the boat and walked towards the assembled parties.

Gentleman, I came for the envelope, nothing more. What is this extra baggage you have brought me?” said the short man in Japanese.

A cop, shateigashira. He was posing as the security guard.”

Hmm. As you can see, I have no room on my boat. Let us make good use of the river.

The two other men nodded and reached to their sides.

Sakura readied her kaiken. She was glad that it was not the new moon.

The first blade hit true, landing in the back of the neck of her closer target. The man lurched backward. Before he could hit the ground, Sakura loosed her second kaiken.  This time, she was not so lucky. The second man had turned toward her and the dagger nipped the edge of his cheek as it sailed past.

“Damn, I was hoping for more even odds.”

She took a few steps back, then bolted toward the edge of the warehouse roof.

The short man looked back just in time to see the solitary red petal on her white mask. Sakura hit the ground in a roll, and, wasting no time, retrieved her first kaiken and found a similar spot for it in the other goon. It was then that she got a glimpse of the guard’s face.

“Onii-chan?”

It was her brother.

She didn’t have time to react, as the short man’s bullet lodged itself in her back. She fell forward.

When she awoke later in the hospital, her mask was gone.

***

My four items:

An unopened envelope. A chess piece. A leather mask.  A police officer’s badge.

The Break Up

This week’s flash fiction challenge: The Plot Scenario Generator

***

“Nothing better than grilled cheese Tuesdays, right?” said Duff as he sat down to eat the mountain of stacked sandwiches he had assembled.

“This isn’t working for me anymore.” said Marianna.

“I know you’re trying to eat healthy…”

“I’m talking about us. I think we should break up.”

Duff felt like the whole dining hall had suddenly gone silent.

“Duff, I love you, but…”

“It’s my family, isn’t it?”

“Listen, Duff, it’s more complicated.”

“To hell with them, I don’t care if they don’t approve of you.”

“I can’t be the wedge that drives you apart from your family. It’s too much. I’m sorry.”

“So you’re willing to throw away five years, just like that? We’re graduating next year, I thought we were about to start our lives together.”

“I did too, but what kind of life would that be? The disowned Van Asch heir and his low-born wife – it sounds like the plot of a bad Victorian novel.”

“I don’t care about where you were born or who your parents are, I told you that years ago.”

“I know, D, I know. You don’t know how hard this is for me.”  Her eyes could not hold back the tears any longer.

“Then stay. We’ll figure it out together.”

“I … I can’t. I’m so sorry, more than you will ever know.” She rose from the table.

“Mar, wait, where are you going? We need to talk about this.”

“Good bye Duff.”

Duff stared at the grilled cheese until it was well past cold. As he got up, he felt the weighty gaze of two hundred eyes fixed on him. He walked to her room but it was already empty.  That was the thing about Mar – she always traveled light.

The glint of metal caught his eye as he walked back to his room.  As he got closer, he saw a sword lying alone on the ornate carpet that lined the hallways of the Academy.

“That’s funny,” thought Duff, bending down to pick it up. “The suits of armor are only in the basement.”  A look of horror flashed across his face as he grasped the familiar hilt.

It was his sword.

The Academy had one rule – no weapons. Apart from the kendo shinai, no Academy student was permitted to use anything other than their body in their seven years of training. Duff’s sword had been locked up with the family weapons from the other students the day he had arrived six years earlier.

He heard footsteps approaching from behind.  As he turned, the grinning of face of Wallis Abaroa greeted him

“My, my. What do you have there, Duff?”

“You!”

“Who, me? I have no need of that dingy scabbard of yours, or have you already forgotten about my Hanzo spear? You must have seen it when you purloined your sword from the cache.”

“I didn’t take anything! It was just sitting here on the carpet.”

“Sure, sure. Someone broke into the most heavily fortified place in the Academy, stole your sword, got away undetected, and then left it gently on the ground just as you were walking by? It just sounds so … implausible, don’t you think?”

“I’m in no mood for your shit, Abaroa. My day was already going terrible.”

“Oh.  Then it’s about to get much much worse.”

Duff did not hear the footsteps coming. In an instant, they had him completely surrounded.

“DROP THE WEAPON NOW!”

Duff’s sword landed with a soft thud on the carpet.  Soon, a dozen other swords made themselves known. As Duff put his hands in the air, he saw Wallis shoot him another nasty grin.

“It was Abaroa! He set me up!”

“Baseless accusations will get you nowhere, Mr. Van Asch,” said the headmaster as he parted the swords and walked into the circle. “You are expelled from the Academy, effective immediately. There will be a car waiting for you outside in 30 minutes.”

***

The Van Asch name was still worth something, it seemed, and so Duff’s expulsion was stayed. pending a formal expulsion hearing. His family sent a lawyer, but no one else.

“Mr. Van Asch, do you have anything to say in your defense?” said the middle elder on the dais.

His lawyer had told him to admit everything and throw himself on the mercy of the tribunal. Duff had other ideas.

“Sirs, I have been framed.”

“We’ll hear no more of your unfounded allegations. Mr. Abaroa has 15 witnesses who will testify that he was eating lunch at the time of the incident.”

“But that’s impossible! Wallis was right there when I found the sword.  He…”

“ENOUGH. Is there anything else …?”

“May I be heard?” said a voice from the back.

“Ms. Casales, I thought you’d left us for good,” said the elder on the right.

“I had a change of heart,” said Marianna as she strode to the front, throwing a small smile towards Duff.  “Sirs, I’m afraid you have the wrong man. May I approach?”

“You may.” Mar handed up a small folded piece of paper.

“Now, the weapons cache is protected by a multitude of locks and barriers. We’ve learned to break through similar things in our classes over the years and have been graded accordingly.  What I’ve just handed you are the scores for Mr. Van Asch.”

“These scores are abysmal.”

“Precisely.  I know Duff better than anyone, but I’m afraid he couldn’t break his way into a room with the door wide open.”

“I resent that!” said Duff. Mar shot him a look.

“Thank you, Ms. Casales. We will retire to chambers to consider.”

As the elders walked out, Marianna joined Duff at the front table.

“You came back!” whispered Duff. “Listen, I’m..”

“No, I’m sorry Duff. I knew I was wrong the minute I walked out of the dining hall. I had been wanting to come back ever since, but with the expulsion…”

“It’s not important. I’m just happy you’re here now.”

‘Me too.”

***

My random plot scenario:

The story starts when your protagonist breaks up with a romantic partner.

Another character is a martial artist who claimed your protagonist was responsible for some crime s/he committed.

Morning Commute

This week’s flash fiction challenge: Last Lines First

***

“That plan didn’t fly, superhero, and now we’re short a bazooka,” Mar said as she chucked the spent weapon aside.

“I hate it when you call me that,” said Duff, surveying the wreckage of what was five minutes ago a charming antique shop.

“Sorry you don’t appreciate my humor.”

“Considering the situation, maybe you should save the witty banter for later. We’ve already killed two too many people, and it’s not even 9 AM.”

“I seem to recall that recon was your responsibility. Last time I let you tail a girl. You were probably too busy staring at her chest.”

“Look, we can point fingers all day, it might have been my fault, it might have been your fault, but maybe we should put some distance between us and this smoldering rubble we created first.”

“Don’t you dare drop the royal we on me, this is one thousand percent your screw-up.”

“Agree to disagree.”

Duff only just dodged the back of her hand.

“Remember all that talk about paperwork earlier? Well guess what, honey? You’re up to your neck in it now.”

***

The girl on the subway was nervous. She clutched her pink satchel close to her body, her mousy brown bangs hanging over the top of her sunglasses. Mar hated sunglasses on the subway, but this morning found her sporting a similar pair. She was also rocking mousy brown bangs, and clutching the exact same pink bag. The piece de resistance was her matching arrow tattoo on her wrist.

“Duff, have you figured out where she’s going yet?” Mar whispered to the small bug in her ear. “I’d like to get off this train as soon as possible, people are starting to notice.”

There were many weird occurrences on the New York City subway, but girls dressed in identical outfits still attracted attention. Luckily for Mar, the girl was lost in her iPhone and did not notice her doppleganger across the car.

“Downtown, she’s going downtown.” Duff chirped back.

She could have smacked him.

“You’re cranky in the morning, you know that?” said Duff after Mar went silent for three stops. “I’ve narrowed it down to two places. We’ll know which one after the next stop.”

Sure enough, the girl got off at the next stop and walked across the platform. Mar followed, concealing herself in a crowd of hipsters.

“She’s getting on the local.”

“Then she’s headed for Gregorson’s Antiques in the West Village. I’ll meet you there.”

Mar emerged from the hipster throng and walked toward the car door, not noticing that her bag had snagged a hipster’s headphones. As she tripped forward, the girl spotted her through the subway window and turned pale white.

“Shit, shit, shit. She made me.” The girl darted out of the car and up the stairs, as Mar regained her balance.

The girl was quicker than Mar expected, as she had already made it out of the station by the time Mar got off the platform. She ran up to the street and saw the girl tumbling over the hood of a car.

“Trying a little Parkour, are we missy? Two can play at that game.”

Marianna broke into a sprint and jumped onto the trunk of the nearest car, ran up to the roof, and then tumbled down on the hood. The girl was several cars ahead of her, but Mar was running on pure adrenaline and adrenaline always beat fear. She had nearly caught up when the girl darted sideways out of the road and down an alley. Mar followed.

The girl scrambled up a fence as Mar strode slowly toward her. Duff greeted the girl at the top and she fell backwards onto the pavement.

“Nice of you to show up, my darling husband. You could have at least brought me a coffee.”

“The line was too long.”

The girl stumbled to her feet, as Duff and Mar closed in.

“Just give us the bag and you can go,” said Mar.

The girl’s eyes darted back and forth between the Van Aschs, as if considering which one she stood the best chance against.

“I should let you know that we’re both equally deadly, so don’t go picking on my beautiful wife because you think she’s a pushover.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere my dear.”

The girl ignored their playful banter and made her decision. She feinted toward Duff but then quickly turned and pulled something out from the small of her back. Facing down firearms in close quarters was nothing new for Mar, but the girl’s mini bazooka seemed a bit much.

“That seems a little much for city combat, no?” quipped Mar.

The girl’s face betrayed no emotion as her finger moved slowly toward the trigger. She did not feel Duff’s sword in her back until it was already out. The girl crumpled to the ground, as Duff dove to catch the bazooka before it hit the pavement.

“What the hell, Duff? Did you have to kill her? I had everything under control.”

“First of all, you’re welcome. And second of all, as much as I admire your reflexes, I did not want to spend the afternoon filling out paperwork after she blew up half a city block.”

“Enough bickering for the morning, let’s just head down to the antique shop and make the exchange,” said Mar as she started walking away.

“Umm, Mar? Why is your tattoo on your right wrist?”

“What? Because the girl’s tattoo is on…” Mar turned around to see Duff holding up the tattoo-adorned left wrist.

“FUCK, FUCK, FUCK! How did this happen? You were tailing her for weeks!”

“I must have been looking at her reflection that first morning.”

“HER REFLECTION? You’re lucky I’m not holding that bazooka.”

“Look, maybe they only care about the tattoo and not what hand it’s on?”

“YOU’D BETTER HOPE SO!”

As the Van Aschs soon discovered, they did care about the left hand.

The Couple That Kills Together…

This week’s flash fiction challengeDown The TV Tropes Rabbit Hole

***

The exit was only 10 feet away.  Hunched behind a table, armed collectively with only a sword and a six-shooter loaded with one bullet, it seemed much further.  Especially given the 12 gun-toting men standing in the doorway.  But Marianna and Duff Van Asch had seen worse.

First, it was a steel table, with hints of titanium.  Duff had surmised as much by knocking it a few times with his sword.  A good vintage.

Second, Duff’s sword was not just a sword; it was the sword.  Well, one of them, to be precise.  The swords of legend – Excalibur, Masamune, the Heavenly Sword – were all cut from the same cloth, if that cloth were an ancient metal forged deep underground.  Duff couldn’t tell which version of the sword he had, but needless to say, it was a pretty good one.

Third, Marianna was saving that bullet for someone else.  Frankly, she hated that she had to carry the gun at all. As a graduate of the Academy, Marianna was well-trained in the lethal arts. She prefered to work with her hands.  But, traditions were traditions, and every Academy student had to choose a signature weapon upon graduation.  Duff was lucky, he had gotten his family’s sword.  Marianna had had to choose her weapon by sticking her hand in a wooden barrel and fishing around like a teenager trying to unclasp a bra (which Duff had ironically done to her bra later that night).  In the end, she had pulled out the six-shooter, much to her chagrin and the amusement of her classmates. And if that wasn’t enough, the gun had a note tied to the handle, which read glibly: “Only in case of emergency.”  This hardly qualified as an emergency.

“Mar, what’s our plan?” whispered Duff.

“Why do I always have to decide? You’re the one with the sword, you figure it out.”

It was a constant refrain in their marriage. Normally they left their bickering behind when they were on the job. The typical marital squabbling did not play well in their line of work.  But Marianna was particularly miffed at having to dream up another escape plan today, especially when Duff was the one who tripped the alarm in the first place. There was no doubt that Duff was an excellent fighter – he certainly didn’t need her help handling these amateurs – but Marianna wished that he would take more initiative sometimes.

She knew that he was more than capable; after all, he managed to woo her at the Academy (although it had taken Duff the better part of their first year to ask her out).  Duff tried the  formal upper crust courtship routine, but he soon realized that Marianna was a different type of girl and he was going to have to step up his efforts if he wanted to land her. And land her he did, but not until end of their final year at the Academy, which culminated in the Blind Duel Challenge.

One by one, each member of the graduating class faced off, blind to their opponent’s identity, by way of ornate masks.  Duff and Marianna had been an item for a couple of years at that point, but Duff felt he had to prove to her that he was not some entitled brat and the challenge provided the perfect opportunity. His path to the finals was relatively easy.  Although weapons were not allowed, Duff was a pretty good martial artist in his own right, and he had quickly dispatched his opponents with a few carefully-timed punches and a series of quick throws.

His final opponent was a different story.  He or she moved with such an effortless grace, swatting away Duff’s punches casually with the back of a hand.  Part of the challenge of the tournament was masking your fighting style.  The Academy students had trained together for so long, that by the time graduation rolled around, everyone knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Duff knew that Mar preferred quick, intense movements, and while he had hoped that he could face (and beat) her in the finals, he figured his opponent was probably that jerk Wallis Abaroa.

Duff continued to rain punches and kicks on his opponents, but was having little success. His thoughts turned to the box back in his room and the different challenge he faced later that night. He wasn’t sure if he should more nervous about that conversation or his present opponent.

Who had just vanished from view.

Before he could turn around, it was too late, and his opponent landed a stiff wrist to the back of his neck that sent him staggering forwards. Regrouping, Duff spotted an opening and he took it.

***

“Alright, I get the point,” said Duff. His eyes moved from her to the table.  “On three?”

“A little messy, don’t you think?.”

“I didn’t realize you had grown so attached.”

Mar kicked the table forward as the shots rang out. Several red shirts dropped to the floor even before Duff sprang up.  He deflected one bullet back to its owner, dodged another, and soon only one opponent remained, a towering brute with a giant gun to match. Duff drew his sword back with both hands, but before he swing forward, his opponent crumpled to the ground.

“He shouldn’t have turned his back on me,” said Mar as she lowered her leg.

“A lesson I know all too well,” said Duff, rubbing the back of his neck.

***

My TV trope: “Battle Couple