Chapter 3: Minor Squabble (2)

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"Control, Monk," Allen heard someone speak. "That's the reason why palm strikes are often superior."

Allen groaned. He opened his eyes, and saw two Irinas looming over him. They are multiplying... he thought, blinking. Soon, his vision went back to normal and his head started feeling mostly intact, aside from his bruised chin. Even holding a pillow to his face would hurt now.

"I don't get it", Allen said, pushing himself up with his shaking hands. "I should've had you with that kick."

Irina didn't speak immediately. "That is the difference between real combat experience and merely fooling around, Monk," she said. "I took that hit. That is why I won."

Allen rubbed his throbbing forehead. "Well I, for one, am ever so glad you have something to be proud about."

The woman looked at Allen with an inscrutable expression. Before she managed to say anything, however, a shout from the distance invited their attention. "Hey, you!"

They turned to look. The approaching man was Brother Conrad himself: the nightmare of many, and the delight of a rare few.

"I understand that Arwyn gave you the permission to loiter and wander and whatnot," Brother Conrad said, marching towards Irina in the snow. "But the last time I heard, you were given no permission to beat up our novices."

Allen raised an eyebrow. Does he actually care? he wondered, then noticing the monk's reddening countenance. What was I thinking? He only serves his own ego. Irina probably stepped on his figurative toes.

Turning to look, Allen saw a smirk flashing on Irina's face. "If my memory serves me right," she said, "you are the Abbot's second in command..."

"The Prior, yes," Brother Conrad said, stopping to face Irina. The older Brother looked more imposing now, his muscles contrasting Irina's toned, thinner build. "I want you to leave these grounds. And, for Anodyne's sake, have somebody get you a change of clothes!"

"I will leave if you can beat me in a sparring match."

Allen blinked.

The novices began murmuring.

She wishes to spar with Brother Conrad? Allen wondered. To what end? She beat me, and quite handily too, but Brother Conrad has his physique and he isn't a novice like me...

A dozen feet away, Brother Conrad clenched his fists. "No," he said. "Now, kindly get out."

Irina's eyes flickered with mischief. "I see that you are terrified of conflict," she said. "With a style that knows no greater bounds, you wouldn't survive on a real battlefield, anyway."

Brother Conrad closed his eyes. For a moment silence reigned true. "These things we teach to the novices... they are mere basics," he said. "And the Bastion will battle its supposed enemies - no one else."

"And who - pray tell - are these supposed enemies of yours?" Irina asked. "Illusionary warriors that you people fight from the safety of your walls, hoping you'll never actually have to step outside?"

With a snarl, Brother Conrad stabbed his finger at Irina's direction. "One match," he said. "And you will be leaving afterwards, standing or not."

Irina huffed. Stepping forward, her haughty expression soon faded away like paint after multiple summers. To Allen, she now appeared much like the cold mountain wind – uncaring, unflappable and unyielding.

And as the two clashed, Allen added one more word to these descriptions: free-flowing.

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