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Ash

United States

Female. Youngest of six. Pretty (?), sarcastic, Tom-boyish, and very much a geek.

Message to Readers

Hey!
Anything that seems off to you, feel free to inform me of, whether it's grammar, spelling, sentence structure, continuity errors, whatever. If you have any lingering questions by the end of the story, go ahead and ask.

A Troubled Tale

February 28, 2015

PROMPT: Open Prompt

2

      Was this really happening?
      That was all I could think as I walked into Centra, the nation's capital. It was so much smaller than I had expected, but at least ten times more different, too. Cars were used more often here and the roads were paved and well kept to accommodate them. The buildings were all jammed up next to each other. They switched between bright colors and more natural tones, but all of them had at least two floors.
       Alright, I thought to myself, let's go over the checklist: get to Centra....well, I never actually thought I'd get here. I always just figured I'd work it out. Never mind, just think: he's gotta be in HQ, wherever that is, or he'll have to go back there eventually. So, see if I can find the most impressive building in town.
       It takes a while, but soon I find it, at the heart of the city, no less. Important government buildings tend to be flashy, as if they're saying, "yeah, go ahead, just try to break in." It looks like it belongs in an architect's dream: a three story high triangular base's tip keeping a huge sphere in midair. The metal must be shined every hour judging by how much sunlight seems to reflect off it. There is a long stairway leading up to the foot of the triangular base and only one set of the 1.609 kilometers
 high wooden double doors.
      Just how badly do I stick out? I wonder. I glance down at my outfit: a black leather jacket conceals a dark blue tank top. That by itself might have been acceptable, but my jeans are filled with tears and holes that were anything but in the original design: torn jeans are still in, right? Well, good thing I'm going for the punk look; any dirt or blood found on me just adds to that appeal.
      I quickly grab the white envelope from my drawstring backpack before  taking a deep breath and running up the stairs. I pull open the right door with no hesitation and find myself in what has to be the lobby of the massive building. Like all good lobbies, it has a pretty yet dismissive receptionist. 
      "Excuse me," I ask, making use of the fact I'm fifteen and a good head shorter than her to make me sound and look completely harmless, "can you point me in the direction of Steve David's office?"
      "Sure," she says, never looking up from her paperwork, "as soon as you give me a reason to let a kid into the most secure building in the world."
      I smirk before I pull out the envelope, showing the red dragon seal to woman as I edge it onto her desk, still keeping a death-grip on it. "Good reason?"
     She's still for a moment, but the shock quickly wears off. "I'll make sure he gets it," she says, reaching for it with cat-like reflexes.
     "Ah," I take the envelope back off the desk before she can touch it, clucking my tongue. "I may be a kid, but I know that I have clear instructions that this can be handed to Steve David, and only Steve David."
      She glares at me, but she knows the seal supersedes her pride. She turns away from me before stating, "Thirty-fourth floor, office number twenty-six. Second door on your right." Somewhat belatedly she adds, "take the elevator," using her pen to direct me towards it. 
       Yep, I most definitely stick out if she thought I didn't know what an elevator was. I've ridden in one twice, so although it's not exactly second nature, I manage to get up to the right floor without looking like an idiot.
        His office has a glass front and back wall, and I can see a tall, lean man with brown hair and blue eyes sitting at a desk, dictating to a blonde-haired man who hurriedly writes down his every word. I wait outside his door for two minutes before the man in the chair makes eye contact with me and stops talking. Our eyes meet, neither pair glancing away. Slowly, he points at me with his tattooed right hand and gestures for me to come inside. Never one to refuse an invitation, I obey.
      "Can I help you, miss?" His voice is pleasant enough mixed with a bit of amusement and curiosity, so I don't start out with my best snark.
      "Depends, are you Steve David?"
      An eyebrow quirks up ever so slightly. "Yes." The gentleness is gone now, leaving no pleasantries, but not exactly conveying anger either.
      "Then I have a message for you," I look directly at the blondie before continuing, "and only you."
      "Miss, I place the upmost trust in my assistant; I see no reason for him to leave."
      Drat. I pull out the letter once more, flashing the seal to the head of the military. "I really wish I could believe that, but I didn't travel so far to let this information fall into the wrong hands."
     "Give us a minute, Mike."
     "I'd advise on five," I add. Steve David just nods his head and soon we're the only two people in the room. He waits fifteen seconds before making any movement.
      "Well," he asks sharply, "may I have the letter?"
      I shrug. "Whatever floats your boat." I walk over and place it on his desk before leaning on the nearby wall that isn't made of glass. 
      Seconds tick by as he picks it up and examines the seal more closely.
      "This," he shows me the red seal of the dragon, "is a fake." He scoffs. "Did you really think I wouldn't know the all-too familiar zig-zag line of a transmutated object?"
      "God, I hope not." I say disinterestedly. "I wasn't trying to start a civil war or anything; go ahead, read it. I believe the first line I wrote was 'this letter is a genuine fake.'" 
       He stood up now in flash and made his way around the desk. "What do you think you're doing, waltzing into Centra Headquarters, impersonating the-"
      "Impersonating?" I stopped leaning up against the wall. "That's rich. Not once did I say that letter was written by the König. You jumped to that conclusion all on your own." I folded my arms with a smirk.
      "Who the hell are you?"
      "Oh," I uncrossed my arms and let them rest at my side, "completely forgot. I already know you're Steve David, head of the military, and I'm...well, you can call me Trouble."
       He gives me a look that very subtly screams, "are you freakin' kidding me?" Steve David furrows his eyebrows before saying, "Listen, Trouble, or whatever your real name is, can you just tell me why you're here?"
       "Shouldn't it be obvious?" I shoot back, a bit disappointed he hasn't figured it out yet. "I'm obviously not here to kill you. Geesh, I mean, could've done that the moment I got you alone. And I blatantly told you that I'm not trying to get you in trouble with your boss. So quit with the hostile, and start thinking. You're in charge of the military for a reason, aren't you?"
        "Do you want something from me?"
        I sigh. "That's as specific as I'm gonna get?" I walk up the to glass wall that holds the only exit to the room. I keep my back turned to him as I place one black gloved hand on the wall. In less than five seconds, the clear glass has become a thin rock wall. "That a big enough clue for you?"
       "You're an alchemist?"
       "Gee, what gave it away?" I say with a dismissive wave of my arm. Granted, my normal routine of sass and sharp wit doesn't seem to be doing me any favors right now, so I decide to switch gears. "Yes, I am an alchemist, and I've come to see if you think I've got what it takes to be in your ranks."
        Steve David smirks, stifling a laugh, before letting out a deep breath. "You know, there's a qualification test available in nearly every city that you would have to pass in order to get here."
         I grit my teeth, seeing the sheets of old yellowed paper, the chalk outlines, the textbooks, all of them flash before my eyes. "Let's just say I don't test well." I toss my drawstring backpack off into the corner. "But my performance? Well that's another story."
        He sighs. "You really want to fight an old man?"
        "Dude, you're like what, thirty somethin'? You got plenty of fight left in you."
      "You're intent on fighting me, huh?" I let my silence speak for itself. He let out a shorter breath. "Fine, but don't say I didn't try to let you off easy, kid."
     Suddenly, he's transmutated himself a nice long staff and is charging at me. He must've changed one of the floorboards or something. There's no time left to ponder about how he did it; instead, I press my right hand against my left glove and create myself a nice small dagger to fight with out of the old fabric.
       I block his staff, but I can't cut through it. I grit my teeth, a bit annoyed that I have to rely on my fighting skills rather than alchemy. He was a soldier before he became such a hot-shot: I won't win if I try beating him with brute force or some cunning fighting style.
      "I hope you weren't expecting this to be that easy." David says before drawing his weapon back and making another jab at my stomach.
      "I like a challenge." I block it and make a swipe for his exposed lower hip, causing him to take a step back. "Thanks for your concern."
      I think as we go back and forth. I glance around the room in between parrying blows: bookshelf, desk, chairs, walls... Wait a second! 
      I back up a few steps, as if retreating. I take a match box out from my jacket pocket and strike it before tossing it onto his wooden desk behind me. I hit the floor and raise a partial wall around it, leading the flames to the bookcase. After it devoured the wood and paper, I unleash the hungry flame to the captain, making sure to leave enough distance between me and him.
      Steve David doesn't seem concerned by his impending doom, although he bites his lip for a moment, hesitating. I've given him no place to turn to: he's trapped. Instead of declaring the test over, he reaches out with his left hand thrust outwards, palm open, to the fire. The flames sputter and die in less than a few moments.
      "The hell," I mutter. How is this possible? Nothing to transmute and he didn't let the flames even touch him, so he couldn't have deconstructed them. Besides  the damage he'd cause to his hand, you'd have to be crazy to do that.
      Suddenly, I'm reminded of my old school teacher.
      "Remember, class," she said, "alchemy is just the science of analysis, deconstruction, and reconstruction. You identify what something is, destroy it, and then make something new from the pieces."
        "Teacher," some kid in the back had asked, "what can be al-chem-if-fied?"
        She smiled. "When an alchemist uses alchemy to change an object, we say he's transmuted it, and he can transmute just about anything you can see."
        "Teacher, can an alchemist transmute a school desk?"
        "Yes, sweetie, he can."
       "How about a textbook?"
       "Yes."
        "Teacher, teacher, can he transmute a jug of water?"
        "Yes."
        "Teacher, what about air?"
        "Although air is all around us, it's very hard for an alchemist to visualize. It's so hard that only a few of them have ever transmuted air, and none of them are still with us."
        I snap back to the battle at hand. "No, that's impossible," I say taking a few steps back. Suddenly I stomp my right foot in front of my left one, refuting, "moving the oxygen away from the air, that's just impossible!"
        Steve David gives his hand a quick shake. "You know, I thought the same thing. Imagine my surprise when I saw myself do it." He gives me a small smile.
       I'm fairly sure he's not trying to be degrading or smug, but he's ticked me off. I regain my composure, hoping I haven't lost too much of my dignity already. "Well, I did bring the fight to you. What would be the fun in beating the commander of the army if he was as easy to take down as any of the hundreds of government officials?"
      "Still think you have a chance, kid? I don't know if you're gutsy or just foolish. Let me count out the flaws in that statement." He makes a jab for my shoulder, which I block at the last second. Even though I catch the staff, the strike was too far along for me stop it from hitting its mark completely, and I grit my teeth as I try to ignore the flare of pain. 
     "One," he says, pressing down on his staff with a surprising amount of strength, "I'm physically stronger than you." Just to prove his point, he knocks my dagger away from me and I'm forced to duck and roll to the side as he makes a swipe for my head. "Two, I have more experience in combat than you do." He turns around to face me again, so I hurriedly press both hands against the floor and raise a divider between us. "Three," I hear him say just before a hole about the size of my head forms in the rock wall, "I just manipulated the oxygen away from your little forest fire not a minute ago: there's a reason only a handful of people throughout history have been able to do that."
      "They possess the supernatural ability of monologuing?" I ask before I'm forced to barrel-roll to the side again. Dang it, not into a corner! I realize belatedly that my choice in directions was the wrong one. Steve David is already blocking any possible path of escape. 
      "Four, like you said, I'm in charge for a reason. I can handle a kid who keeps running her mouth." He grabs me by the collar my jacket but he isn't strangling me with it.
       "All very good reasons," I respond, "but they only count for something if you're playing at you're full potential, which you haven't been."
       Steve David gives me a sadistic grin. "You asked for it, kid: remember that."
       Suddenly it's a lot harder to breath. I'm panting like I've been running at top speed for an hour. He's manipulating the air again. I'd smirk if I could, but it's too freakin' hard to just keep breathing for me to devote any effort in the action.
       He drops me to the ground. "Say when you've had enough, kid."
       The jerk, he has to know I can't speak easily, if at all, under these circumstances. Whatever, dropping me to the floor gave me the chance to slip my right hand into my jacket pocket unnoticed. I look up at him and flash a manic smile before striking the match right in front of my face.
      It roars to life much faster than I expected. Even with the adrenaline rush, I barely manage to flick it off into Steve David's general direction as the hungry flame licks at my right hand. I jerk myself backwards, bumping my left shoulder against the edge of one of the walls. I'm too busy focused on filling my lungs with sweet oxygen to even glance in his direction. It takes a full minute for me to even bother to look at the man.
       First thing I notice is that David's secretary is back in the room, and he's blocking my view of the military commander. The rock wall was transmutated back into glass. They're talking about something as I force myself onto both feet, slipping my right hand into my jacket pocket and only wincing slightly at the action.
        I scan the room for my dagger. It can't be that hard to find right? Apparently, it is. The room is completely totaled from our fight, leaving the contents of the area in complete disarray.
         Suddenly, three guards come in. After crowding around Steve David and his secretary for a moment, one of them accompanies the two men out of the room. The two remaining blue clad official make their way towards me.
        "You're coming with us," one says in a gruff voice, taking my protruding right elbow into his left hand roughly.
      "Hey, hey, hey," I cry out, shaking him off me, "would a please kill ya? You treat all your guests like this or am I special?" I ask with a smirk.
       The other one answers for his friend. "Guest? Get a load of her, Jef! The intruder thinks she's a guest!"
        "I got waved up here by the receptionist downstairs, so ya technically invited me in." I look past the guards and see my dagger on the floor next to the very charred bookcase. "Now if you don't mind me," I try to push past the rude one, but the handsy one grabs my left arm this time, yanking me back.
         "Oh no you don't," he says, "we're detaining you."
         "You've got to be kidding me," I say as he pulls me along for a second before I decide to ground my heels into the floor. "Wait a second, wait a second! Just let me get my stuff." I cock my head in the direction of my backpack and then my dagger.
          "Not a chance, little miss," the rude one pipes up again. "She must think we're idiots. Lettin' her take her stuff! No sir, we're not gonna let you slip out of our grasps just yet, sweetie!" He pushes me, causing me to lose my footing and letting his friend Jeff pull me out of the room.
          "I don't wanna escape; I just want my flippin' glove!"
          "Listen to the girl talk, thinkin she's got a say as to what's going on."
          "Aaaargh." The two nitwits take me into the elevator and then up to the sixty-sixth floor before dragging me out and into a holding room. The tiny space had no furniture, not even a chair or desk: they must've been informed I was an alchemist.
       "Stand in the center of the room," Jeff ordered.
        I did what I was told, but not without adding, "still not hearing that please."
      "State your name and age."
      "Trouble, age  51."
      Jeff just stares stone-faced in my direction. 
      I sigh. "Fifteen."
      "Current residence?"
      "Wherever the hell I go."
      "Current residence?"
      "I just told you I was a traveler, didn't I? I don't have one."
      "Guardian?"
      "Have that."
      "Where are they?"
      "Not here."
      "Let me rephrase that: where do they live?"
      I didn't answer his question.
      "Do you know the name of the town?"
      Silence.
      "Can you point to it on a map?"
      Nothing.
      He let a short, frustrated moan. "Will you give me their name?"
      I could hear each exhale and inhale of oxygen.
      "Well, 'Trouble', do you have any priors?"
      "No."
      "If you want us to believe that, you're going to have to give us your real name."
      "Trouble is my real name."
      "You see, I have a hard time believing that for a number of reasons, the main one being that people have a first name and then a last one, too."
      "Federal Alchemists don't."
      "I think we'd hear if a kid outranked us."
      "I was just listing an exception." 
      "You're uncooperative as hell, girly." With that, he and his friend left me alone in the room, but not before bolting the door shut.
      I don't bother to try and use alchemy on the room; they've probably reinforced it so that it'd be suicide to perform any alchemy on it. Instead, I just wait for a higher up to arrive. Imagine my surprise when a half hour later, Steve David arrives. I don't think I see even a scratch on him.
      "You're really something, you know that, kid?" he says, walking into the room with his hands tucked into his pockets. "You make a seal similar enough to the König's and with tiny enough transmutation marks that the receptionist was fooled. Then you outright tell me it's not the König's and challenge me to a fight to become a Federal Alchemist when there are tests you can take to become one practically everywhere." He takes his hands out of his pockets at his next remark. "You also completely destroyed my office."
       "Oh please, like you had anything important in there anyways. Seemed standard issue to me."
       "W-what makes you say that?" Steve David's offended tone rang out.
       "Sparse furniture. You didn't even have a picture on your desk, meaning you either don't have anyone important to you or you don't wanna get distracted. That bookcase? Full of a lot of the textbooks on alchemy that are part of mandatory school teachings. You had maybe one, two books that you probably picked up elsewhere, but The Periodic Table of Elements Around Us is not a hard copy to replace. Must've passed a thousand book stores that had at least a half a dozen copies of it. You could have it all replaced by this time tomorrow, no sweat."
       "Hmm," he said taking a step closer to me. "Would you like to tell me your name?"
      "I've told you, it's Trouble."
      "I meant the name you were given at birth."
      I gave a coy smile. "Not telling."
      "Why not?"
       "Let me point out the flaws with that plan. One, you could find my parents or guardians. You'd send me right back home. Two,  I've revoked that name."
        "Oh?"
        "I'm not anyone's kid." The broken glass shards, the cigarette smell that clung to everything in the house, the passed out figures I'd have to serve breakfast to the next morning. I shook my head. "I don't have any family."
        "You're an odd one, Trouble," he said. "Maybe you'd be more agreeable if I sent someone in to treat your wounds."
        "I'm fine," I growled, shoving my right hand further into my jacket pocket. Unfortunately, the wincing that accompanied the action didn't exactly convince the soldier.
         Steve David clucked his tongue before coming closer to me. "Well, I should be grateful that I know a little something about medical treatment." Instead of going for my hand though, he just looks at my left shoulder. "Mind taking off the the jacket, at least partially?"
        "Pervert," I say with a smile before wiggling my left arm out of the jacket sleeve, which is very difficult to do when you keep your right hand balled up in your pocket.
         "Can you go five minutes without being sarcastic and snarky?"
        "Yes, but I won't. It's part of my charm."
        "Your shoulder's bruised at the very least. Might've broken a bone or two."
        "Might've?"
        "My medical expertise stops at the external."
        "So you could only tell me if I was bleeding to death, but not actually stop it?"
        "Hey, you're the one who didn't want a doctor."
        I have to give him that one. Suddenly he's pressing down on my bruised shoulder with a descent amount of force while using his other hand to keep my arm locked in place. With a yelp, I claw at his hand with my right one, which doesn't work all that well when my fingertips are burned. It was only when David's left hand switched from keeping my left arm in place to clamping down on my right hand that I realized what he was doing. I tried desperately to pull my hand back, but he kept it pinned down.
      "Let go!" I screamed, partially in pain and partially in anguish. My hands were suppose to be covered at all times; no one could see my bare hands.
      My plea fell on deaf ears. David twisted my hand every which way before letting go and manhandling my left one. He came to a conclusion, one that I was trying desperately to hide.
     "How did you do it?" He asked me. His voice was even but anger was layered on itself over and over again. The grip on my left hand was too tight for me to slip out. "Who was performing the alchemy I saw?"
     You're lying!
     It's gotta be some kind of a trick.
    Alchemists have to use transmutation symbols. Did she draw any?
    No and she hasn't got any tattooed on her hands.
    Then she's gotta be faking it!
    What a lying jerk.
    "I did!" I cry out. "I'm the one who transmuted the seal and crushed up red berries to help hide the leftover cracks, I'm the one who transmuted my glove into a dagger, and I'm the one who can use alchemy to transmute your face into a bloody pulp!"
     He drops my hand at that last comment like any sane person probably would. "Explain yourself."
     "Why don't you do it your flippin self, huh? Go on and just 'wow' me with your scientific observation skills."
     He runs his left hand through his hair before looking at me. Steve David paces a few feet in front of me, probably in an attempt to not set me off any more than I already am. "I've got a minor in here who's smart enough to realize while she's suffocating that if I move the oxygen away from her face, the other elements would be crammed closer to her. Then she realized that hydrogen is in a small percentage of air and that it's extremely flammable. She has at least one guardian, but she doesn't respect him/her or view them as an acceptable adult. Wouldn't surprise me with her personality if she ran away from home to come all the way here. 
      "Question is, why bother? She obviously knows how to manipulate the elements and compounds. The written exam barely has any effect on the certification of an alchemist. The rest is being able to demonstrate your ability at performing alchemy. Students are not allowed to bring any outside materials and must wear," he pauses here, knowing he's struck gold, "the standard school uniform."
      "Wow," I say sarcastically, "you've truly just completely stunned me. Really though, did you need to go through all that? You're right though." I wave my hands. "Can't wear gloves. I don't, no can't, use transmutation symbols; whenever I do, nothing happens, like if the symbol was broken for a normal alchemist. And as soon as they see I don't have them, well, I must be faking it. Friends, teachers, officials, even the head of the military who specializes in the science of alchemy, they all jump to the same conclusion. To think, I spent four years just to have the same thing happen again."
       "Four years? Even if you were traveling from Brork, you'd get here in a year."
      "I needed to learn how to read a map. And see if I could learn anything about my talents. And perfect my talents. And stop getting attacked by wild animals. Or travelers. And learn how to use a compass."
      "Well, at least I know you're from Ratree."
      "How, what makes you say that?"
      "Well, you're clothing is definitely not from around here. That outfit you can only find in towns that specialize in the trade. However, you seem to think of clothing as nothing special, while a kid who grew up seeing the process would either love it or hate it, meaning you traded for it. They're very worn and I'm guessing an eleven year old didn't leave home with enough cash to splurge on something that would last this long. So you traded for it when you were back home, so you lived along the rivers or ocean. Ratree's right next to Rhynicuck, a city known for it's drugs, gambling, and prostitutes. None of the other sea port matches top it. Besides, I have a friend who knows a guy who lived there, and he's got nothing good to say about that state and its adult population."
       "Oh."
       "Furthermore, formal education stops after age fourteen, but most parents pull their kids once they're ten."
      "So..are you gonna drag me back or am I facing life imprisonment, cuz I'll want a lawyer either way."
      "Well," he said thoughtfully, "I don't know your birth name or the name of your guardian, and I can't risk sending you back to the wrong person."
      "I'd still ditch him/her/them as soon as you left anyways," I added. Softly, I whispered, "did that the last time I got caught."
      Steve David continued, "as you pointed out, you haven't directly broken the law. You never claimed to be someone you weren't, I accepted your challenge. I suppose I could charge you for property damage, but like you said, nothing special was destroyed."
      "What about our match?"
      "What about it?"
      "Well, are we continuing it?"
      "I don't see much point in doing so. We both know how it would end."
       "Oh," I say, a bit disappointed. In all formal fights, a draw is still considered a loss. Besides, I hadn't even managed to lay a finger on him; he would be by a long shot. 
       "I was surprised though with your dying act match trick. Had my secretary up in arms about my burn."
       "Burn?"
       David lifts up his left pant leg, exposing a burn about an inch tall and two and a half wide. Despite the small size, I can't help but smile. "Took me a second to disperse the high concentration of oxygen near me. Just ended up transmuting some water to throw on it."
       "Hmm. So what happens to me now then? Did I do descent enough to at least be put in the 'maybe' column?"
       "Trouble, let's see: you're quick-witted, stubborn as all hell, resourceful, but snarky and disrespectful. You're also the only person I've ever heard of that can't use transmutation symbols." For a moment the man just stared back at me. "I'll tell you what: I'll make you a federal alchemist, if, and only if, you'll be stationed by my side, or by that of an officer of my choosing, until I fully understand how you're able to use your alchemy. What do you-?"
       "Deal."
       He smirked. "Alright, first things first. One, you're not allowed to leave my side without permission. Two, unless I tell you otherwise, keep gloves on your hands at all times. Shall we begin our research?"
     "Wait!" I exclaimed before lowering the volume of my voice. "What's my code name?"
      "I have a feeling you'd go back on our deal if it was anything but Trouble."
      "Hey, it's fitting," I argued as he opened the door. "A nice little warning. And don't think I'm not gonna live up to my name just because you're supervising me."
      "It's in my scientific opinion that you'll try harder to do so because I'm supervising you." 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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