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A bird cawed. The sun sunk behind a broken wall of skyscrapers. The halls emptied. I was alone. Grimacing, I stretched my neck; waves of pain radiated out from my sore shoulder. My collarbone was broken… and for what? They had all laughed at me. Three Brench snakes, all of ‘em. And I had wanted to be just like them.

I don’t belong. What does it matter if you’re strong, if everyone’s against you? I would’ve won. I did win. And then… the viper-faced one played a dirty trick. It wasn’t fair. I let out a scream that echoed throughout the city around me. On this bleak, dark-marble platform overlooking the rest of the outpost, I was utterly alone. Well, except for the golden statue of Prince Kuriza. Gold didn’t look right on an Arcosian.

I punched the wall, cracking it, sending a shockwave through the stones, shattering several windows. Biting my lip, I refused to vent my pain. A few hours in the rejuvenation tank would fix me. That’s all I needed.

I had thought they were my friends. I’d won my spot fair and square. I wasn’t the fastest guy on the team… but I was dependable. My fastball was unrivaled, my loyalty unwavering. Why did they do that to me?

Ahead, in a cloud-worn sky, firebirds flew, their chests lucent with orange or yellow flames as they gathered in swarms of thousands to feed on wind-borne grain. A lonesome bird of prey howled mournfully from across the city. I shivered with excitement.

In dishabille, I stood. I wanted to run out there, to throw myself into the swarm and make the birds disperse wildly as I vaporized them with a single flick of my wrist. I could put on a show for this whole city. But I was in tatters. My armor had been shattered – my black undersuit was ripped and pulled tight.

The summer tempests were on their way. I had researched this world before coming here. This was supposed to be the start of a new life for me. Now all the information I had absorbed seemed to matter little. The firebirds flocked with elegance and restraint, and all I could do was kick the dirt and stub my toes.

It was good to be alone. If someone else was here… especially one of them… there would be blood. No one disrespects me. Not like that. I was promised a spot on an elite team. Not this.

Blood dripped from a tear in my glove. Sunlight reflected off skyscrapers and shone with angry precision on my battered body. It was a bloody disgrace.

My scouter beeped – a crimson flicker in the near darkness. I gasped, in spite of myself. “Kid, you there?” the gravelly-voiced captain spoke. “Hey, kid? Eh…? Alright, well, when you get this message, I want you to return back to base as soon as you can. Understand me? It was a misunderstanding, okay? Burter was just playing around. He was having fun. He didn’t mean to hurt you. Come on, Jeice, don’t be like that. Come back. We’ll talk things out like men.”

He hadn’t meant to hurt me. I felt my fingers contort into fists. Ignoring the pain, I tried to slow my breathing. It was no use. The firebirds were engorging themselves upon drifting feed high above the outpost, their shrill cries blending together in a constant, rising roar. My cheeks burned. Grey towers stood erect, some swaying ever so slightly.

I wouldn’t be like them, I swore to myself. Even if I had to die first. I wouldn’t be like those fuckers.

Pulling an empty wrapper from my pocket, I watched the chocolate crumbs tumble to the marble floor, some getting carried far away by the wind. I’d get him back for this. If it was the last thing I ever did, I’d get him back for this. “Burter, I’m coming for you,” I whispered under the wind. “No one steals my chocolate and gets away with it.”

But in that lonely city, no one heard me.

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