November 19th

Magnolia felt the air whupf out of her lungs as she hit the floor for the third time, a foot on her stomach, and a fist inches from her face.

‘You’re slow today,’ Taylor chided, opening his fist, grabbing the front of her dress and hauling her to her feet.

‘Sorry sir,’ she said, requiring her hair back into a ponytail, and out of her face.

He threw a punch – a slow movement, a simple opener to gauge her reaction. She stepped around it, grabbed his arm and pulled it back, pulling him off-balance. He shifted behind her, her hands becoming empty, but she simply spun and shrieked in his face, the magic disorientating him long enough for her to land a high kick on his chest and knock him to the ground.

She felt her feathers twitch and flex – usually the reaction wasn’t so strong for such a simple use of magic. She ignored it, kicked it again, and snarled as he grabbed her foot and pulled her off-balance. She tried to grab him, but he shifted again, knocking her to the ground, and placing a foot on her back.

She strayed still, a measure of fealty, showing he’d beaten her for a fourth time.

‘You’re useless,’ he said, grabbing the back of her dress and pulling her up.

‘I’ve been too busy to sleep. I’ve got six hours scheduled in for tonight, sir,’ she said, ‘and there’s nothing more strenuous than-’

‘And if we’re attacked, what then, recruit?’

‘I keep shots of adrenaline and other stimulants in my room, sir, you know that. If you want me to be at peak performance for-’

‘No, I’m…also off-form.’

She looked at him for a moment. ‘Did you want to call it for now, sir?’

He pulled off his jacket and wiped the sweat from his brow before tossing it over his shoulder. ‘Schedule.’

‘Recruit-’

‘No,’ he said, holding up a form, ‘paper form.’

She immediately required it, attached to a clipboard for convenience, then handed it across. He flicked through the pages several times. ‘You aren’t on here.’

‘I only list myself on the main schedule when I’m on-task with another recruit, otherwise, it seems a little pointless.’

His expression was unreadable. ‘When is your next assignment?’

‘Nothing for today. Just more recruit training, paperwork, my own exercises and running a few of the recruits who have the potential for advanced training through a few scenarios.’

‘And which of that is to be done in the next six hours?’

‘Some of my training, a great degree of the paperwork and-’

‘Reschedule it.’

She pulled the clipboard back, pen automatically appearing in her hand. ‘What did you need me to do instead, sir?’

He put a hand on the schedule. ‘Get some sleep, Magnolia.’

She nearly dropped her pen. ‘S-sir?’

He turned away from her, peeled off his t-shirt and dropped to the floor and began to do push-ups. ‘Magnolia. Get some sleep.’

She nodded. ‘Yes sir.’

There was three simple words to say. Words that others could say without thought. Words that could be said in a breath, while asleep, or as an automatic reaction. Three words that would, if spoken, end her life, even if she was allowed to remain breathing.

She retreated to the cot in the corner, and was asleep as soon as she closed her eyes.