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Story- Raine (1)

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  • 8/6/2019 Story- Raine (1)


    I broke the surface, and inhaled gratefully. I thought I had my self under control when the undertow of yet another wave

    pulled me back into the seas icy depths. Well, this is it, I thought, letting my breath out and giving myself to the

    irresistible pulling and shoving of the waves. After all that, I end up drowning. Tossing and turning in the waves, I

    wondered briefly if Nut had gotten far away enough to find shelter from the storm, and not thought to come back to

    check on me. Just when I thought I had lost consciousness, I felt something grab my arm, and pull me free of the

    seemingly endless waves, despite the waters resistance, and strong intention of dragging me back under.

    When I was a little girl, every night when my father tucked me into bed, he would tell me stories about my mother and

    her adventures. My mother died when I was born, so I never knew her. My father said I looked exactly like her, with the

    exception of the slight reddish tinge to my dark chocolate brown hair I wore in a long braid that reached my waist. My

    father had the physical appearance of a trained fighter, proud of his very stocky build and bunching muscles. He had

    naturally bright red hair and blue eyes. I was the opposite, short, and green-eyed with large shoulders, slender forearms

    and strong legs that came from the ridiculous amount of running I did, carrying messages about the village for a small

    fee. I was proud of my running, and could go three miles nonstop, and barely break a sweat.

    We lived on a rice farm on a little island called Corregidor Island just to the south of the Philippines. It was a wonderful

    place filled lush, canopies of trees and the air was always filled with sweet smells from the rainforest which boasted

    some of the rarest and most beautiful smelling orchids in the world. We lived on Mailinta hill. I never understood why it

    was called Mailinta hill, because it was actually a mountain. The mountain was only a few miles away from a small village

    nearby called Haven, which was often overflowing on Sundays when people came to trade goods. The village survived of

    the traders and so did we. My father and planted, tended to, and harvested our rice every day. The layers of rice fields

    looked like curvy pyramids. Climbing up was like walking on a giant staircase where the steps were and three feet high

    each. We had 15 steps, each about 80 feet long and 10 feet wide. They grew off the side of the mountain, as if the

    mountain was carved that way. Our house was made from wood, and was set into the wall of the mountain just like the

    rice crops. It was a bungalow, made by my grandfather and with a simple master bedroom, second bedroom, kitchen,

    and study. Each room was a separate building that connected to each other by rope bridges, because the land was too

    uneven to have all the rooms solidly connected, and not crumble under the slightest weight. During the rest of the year

    when the rice wasnt ready to harvest and sell, my father would whittle animals from wood the excess firewood and sell

    them at the market, and as soon I was old enough, he taught me to use a bow and arrow, and I would hunt deer. We

    would sell the game and trinkets in the market.

    I loved the animals in the rainforest, and for my 7th

    birthday, my father got me one of the rare Philippine eagles that

    were one of the isles few birds of prey. Shes about 5 years old and fully grown, the trader my father had gotten the

    bird from had said. Youll have tbe real careful arounder, shes a feisty one at that. No match for a child only in tis

    seventh year. No matter the traders warnings, my father gave me the bird anyway. I named her Nut, after the

    Egyptian sky goddess, which a trader from there had once told me about. The eagle was three and a half feet tall, with

    white spiky feathers tipped with brown smoothed back from its crown. The feathers continued down its neck and got

    larger and deepened in colour as they continued down its back and wings. The tail feathers were about 30 inches long

    and were very good for arrow fletching. The feathers were a deep, deep, brown and edged with white so they blended

    into trees well to sneak up on their prey. The feathers on its chin and breast were snowy white and very soft. The talons

    were large and deadly sharp, so I always wore thick leather gloves, and never took off, my archers wrist and arm guards

    I loved Nut, and did everything with her. She adapted to me very easily, and though she was from a different part of the

    islands, she loved her new home as much as I did. She was very good for hunting, and often helped me bring in large

    game, such as deer, and tamaraw.

    One day, a week after my twelth birthday I was calculating our rice profits based on our harvest that spring, when I

    found a letter in my fathers desk drawer. Seeing the return address; Sifu Jun Chi, Viper Island, Lotus Sanctum School of

    the Arts, I became curious and opened the re-sealed letter. As I read, I could feel the expression of curiosity being wiped

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    from my face, and realization dawning on it. The Lotus Sanctum School of the Arts was the martial arts school my

    mother had trained at. They had sent my father a letter talking about her great achievement. I didnt know what was

    going on. What was this great achievement? Why hadnt my father heard from the school before if they knew who he

    was? And why did the letter start with Neal, I know how you feel about your wifes death but you need to think about

    your daughters future. Neal was my fathers first name. This letter had something to do with me. I kept reading. When

    I finished I was in complete shock. One sentence was repeating itself in my head over, and over, and over. We would

    like Raine to attend our school; we will be expecting her by June. Raine. Thats my name, I realized all of a sudden as if

    everything that had just happened I had experienced from a third persons perspective. I didnt get it. Why would theywant me? Why hadnt my father told me about this? The curiosity was killing me.

    I decided to ask my dad what was going on. I told him about how I found the letter on his desk and opened it out of

    curiosity. I explained that I wanted to go to the school and showed him the list of supplies I would need, and the places I

    could get them, and how we would need fast transportation because June was only two weeks away. He immediately

    became furious with me. I will not have you make the mistakes your mother did! He yelled at me with such fury I fled

    from the room as fast as I could. I ran out of the house and grabbed my bow and quiver of eagle-fletched arrows.

    Strapping my bow to my quiver and slinging it over my shoulder in the same movement, I called to Nut, and held out my

    right arm. Gliding down gracefully from a nearby tree, Nut landed with a practiced ease on my wrist, then, careful not to

    scratch me, climbed upward towards the pad on my shoulder for her. I still hadnt stopped running. I went through all

    the rice patches, climbing higher and higher up the mountain that was our home. I went to a little spring that I had

    found a few years ago. The spring was so deep into the rainforest; even my father wouldnt be able to find me even if he

    looked for 100 years. I had found it by mistake, when I was chasing some deer, and followed them here. It was a

    beautiful paradise with high cliffs circling it showing no way in, or out except for the little crack in the rock I had

    squeezed through. In the right hand corner, and covering almost half of the little cove, was a natural hot spring, which I

    had lined with smooth stones that now bore thick coats of soft moss almost all over them. The spring was fed by water

    spouting from a large crack in the cliff, where the rushing water had smoothed the rock into more of a hole than a crack.

    There were no trees in my little haven, only really tall, dew covered grass. I sat on the rocks and let my legs soak in the

    soothing water.

    By the time my toes looked like prunes, I had thought of what to do. My father had never yelled at me before, hed

    never had a reason to be mad at me. I knew there was no convincing him to let me go. So I decided to leave. The next

    morning I said I was going hunting then went to the market. I felt pretty bad for lying to him; it was the first time I had

    ever done so, but I quickly got over it as I tried to find the supplies I needed in Haven. I got two weeks worth of food, a

    jar for water, and some cheap, undyed robes I could use to sneak around in without getting robed. My father was quite

    wealthy from his rice crop, and my clothes were quite nice as well. It would be difficult to go around unnoticed in my

    detailed and brightly coloured shirts and leggings. I also purchased two hilt daggers, and four wide, short, flat blades

    that I strapped to my wrists and thighs. I pulled the black, loose robe I had bought over my head, and pulled a hood over

    my face so on one would recognize me. I figured I must of looked quite strange, a small stranger dressed in a loose robe

    that brushed the floor as they walked, carrying a full quiver and a very good bow, one that looked much too big for

    them, and a bird almost half the strangers own height, riding on its shoulder.

    With me I had brought my lifes savings, and my favourite bow. The man at the dock had no suspicion when he saw me

    walking towards him. I was expecting him too, but I realized I must have looked like a simple foreign hunter. That was

    expected I guess, but I still decided to buy the smallest boat I could find, and only left after nightfall. I piled my basket of

    clothes, water, and chest of food into my little boat. I had bought a lantern, a sleeping mat, and a map. A trader had told

    me that Vipers Island was a weeks sail away. I had bought myself a longsword and shield. I guessed I would need them

    at the school. My father had already taught me plenty of hand to hand combat, but with no room to practice, I wouldnt

    be able to keep in shape on the boat. It had occurred to me that I might go insane, so I decided that I needed something

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    to do. So I bought lots of thread and cloth. A whole basket of it for that matter. I could sew my own clothes, I had

    learned how to do so from Havens seamstress, and sell my other creations for coin to fund my journey. I was

    completely convinced I had everything I needed, so I set off, and just as the coastline disappeared, I began to doubt my

    choice for the first time. The wind was on my side the next morning. I set the small sail as high as the short mast would

    allow. I was making pretty good progress, and the map I bought was very good, and it used lots of landmarks, making it

    fairly easy for me to navigate my way through the many surrounding isles. On the third night, a storm struck. Panicking, I

    sealed all my baskets, and sent Nut ahead to scout for nearby land to crash on and wait out the storm. Standing up, I

    tried to pull in the sail, so the wind didnt throw the boat, but I was too late. The boat capsized, and I felt myself trappedbeneath its hull. I dove deep, only to come up under the boat once again. Diving once more, I felt myself being thrashed

    about against my will, lost in the force of the waves. Wave after wave kept me below the surface. I knew my breath had

    barely a few seconds left. I broke the surface, and inhaled gratefully. I thought I had my self under control when the

    undertow of yet another wave pulled me back into the seas icy depths. Well, this is it, I thought, letting my breath out

    and giving myself to the irresistible pulling and shoving of the waves. After all that, I end up drowning. Tossing and

    turning in the waves, I wondered briefly if Nut had gotten far away enough to find shelter from the storm, and not

    thought to come back to check on me. Just when I thought I had lost consciousness, I felt something grab my arm, and

    pull me free of the seemingly endless waves, despite the waters resistance, and strong intention of dragging me back


    Sunlight brought me back from my near-death as it penetrated through my eyelids. I sat up with a start, and reaching for

    one of the hidden blades strapped to my thighs, noticed its absence and realization hit me. Looking around I noticed I

    was on a boat barely larger than mine, my saviour was very thin, almost a head taller than me and cloaked completely in

    black, almost like a priest. She was going through baskets that looked familiar. Oh, wait, they were my baskets.

    Confused, I stood up and the girl turned abruptly and pressed cool metal to my throat. Realizing it was my own knife, I

    went stone still, and so did she. Her face was thin, skin very pale, with a small nose and thin, pale lips drawn together in

    a tight line. Her eyes were set deep in their sockets, and were an interesting electric blue. I could see short black wisps of

    hair escaping her headdress. My guess was that she was about 11, and of Korean origin. I could see a crow perched on

    the edge of the boat, next to Nut. Nut! I realized that she wasnt bothered by the mysterious crow. Nut didnt get along

    with other birds. Not even of her own species. I looked at the black robed stranger again. There was something strangeabout her that was for sure. Finally, I asked; Who are you, what are you doing with my bird, and why did you save me?

    Judging me to pose no threat the stranger released me. Maybe you should be thanking me for saving your life, for

    youre in no position to pose questions. She spoke in my language. She removed her headdress and cloak, revealing

    raven-black hair cropped just above her shoulders. She wore black breeches and an undyed shirt, l ike I did, but I could

    tell by the way she sat with her back straight and chin raised she wasnt a commoner. I saw a map laid out on a low

    table along with a compass, and a route drawn out on the map. The route was to Viper Island. Things are going to get

    interesting, I thought contentedly.

    By the end of the night, we had heard each others stories. Her name was Crow, and she was a runaway, like me, but her

    father was a noble, and she had been trained as an assassin by her brothers. She was indeed eleven, and was going to

    Viper Island to train at the same school. She had saved my baskets, and sewing things, and in return for saving my life, I

    said Id teach her how to sew. She was from Korea as I had expected, but had lived in Indonesia for the past seven years,

    on one of the islands closest to the Philippines. The next night, when it was my turn to sit watch, while Nut, Crow, and

    Nawat, (Crows pet crow)slept, I saw a dark shape break the horizon, it was dawn, and the rising sun blotted my view of

    the unknown object riding the waves with ease. They were advancing rapidly, so I woke Crow and the birds. We agreed

    to evade the coming ship, we guessed it to be pirates, but even if it wasnt it was best to avoid contact with anyone. We

    tried to change direction before they spotted us, but it was too late. We saw the pirate flag and panicked. We

    desperately tried to get away, discouraging them from attack by hiding everything valuable in the baskets, and hobbling

    around like poor commoners. They saw plain through the deception. Something exploded in the water beside us. They

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    were using cannons. Before we knew it, they had a hole in a little boat and men were jumping down and grabbing us

    and our belongings as the boat slowly sank. They got everything out, but as they threw me up on deck, I hit my head on

    the railing and blacked out as I heard Crow scream my name. The only thought that managed to escape my lips before I

    lost complete consciousness was All this coming from simple curiosity.......

    I woke up dazed and confused inside a small wooden cabin that rocked from side to side. Rubbing my eyes I realized the

    cabin was actually rocking from side to side. Then my memory returned to me in a sudden flow of events. Frantically, I

    whipped my head around in search of Crow. She was sitting to my right with a look of pure hatred on her face. She can

    be very scary at times. Satisfied that she was unharmed, I scanned the room in search of escape. The only way in and out

    was a door dead ahead of me. I tried to stand and discovered I was tied to post that stretched all the way up to the deck.

    There were three in the room, Crow being tied to one on my left; I followed the post on my right with my eyes to find a

    girl tied to the bottom of it. She wore the robes of a priestess, though she hardly looked like one. She looked about 13,

    with straight, white blond hair that went down to about the middle of her back. She was thin and frail, with pinkish skin,

    and pale lips. She had pale purple eyes, and a small nose and chin. She was shivering. When she realized I was looking at

    her, her eyes showed fear in them and she tried to move as far away from me as possible. Confused, I started to ask her

    what was wrong, when Crow kicked me in the back turning around to argue, I saw a man in the doorway. He was big,

    and had a large beer belly that was barely covered by a red and white striped shirt that was clearly too small. He had an

    eye patch, and a red bandana that had seen better days was strapped around his almost bald head. He looks just like the

    pirates from the story books, I thought. Behind him were too very large, very muscular, mean looking men with plenty of

    scars to prove they werent scared of a fight. Both wore serious, grim expressions on their faces and stared straight

    ahead as if they were oblivious to everything around them. The man with the eye patch walked over to us and smiled,

    revealing several missing teeth and the rest rotted beyond I thought possible. He pulled a chair out o the shadows where

    I hadnt noticed it. He turned it backwards and sat on it so he faced the back of the chair. So girls, he said in an accent I

    guessed was Romanian, or Italian. I dont know, Im horrible at guessing accents. Ye have three options here. You may

    work on me ship, helpin the cook and doing whatever the crew wish, including keepin em all company at night as we

    please, or you could be tossed overboard. Your choice The strange girl looked like she could crawl into a corner and die,

    and Crow looked like she could turn into the devil and rip this man to shreds. Wait, whats the third choice? I

    demanded. Heh, heh, ye fight one of us, and if ye win, you get all yur stuff back, and we let ye go. Well? Whats itgonner be? Ye, with the black hair, yer choice? Give me half an hour to consider. All of us will take the time. Eh,

    whatever. Ill be back in the time of half a candles burning. Half a candles burning? I asked once theyd left. Since

    pirates cant afford to buy or maintain clocks, they have hour candles. Theyre very cheap and each one burns for exactly

    one hour. Explained Crow. So what should we do? I asked. Fight, or be a slave and stab them in their sleep? We

    wont have access to weapons. Said a wavering voice I didnt recognize. Turning, I realized it was the unknown girl that

    had spoken. Unless you wish to die, we must do their bidding. A fight against them would be impossible. Well them

    Im fighting. I said in a confident tone. Or going overboard, if I must, but there is no way in hell, am I becoming a

    pirates bed warmer. The girl looked at me, clearly stunned. She directed her gaze towards Crow, searching for

    understandment, but Crow only shook her head and said Im fighting as well. B-b-b-ut youll be killed. Stammered

    the girl. Youre no match for them. Hey, I protested, We can fight plenty fine. Youll see. Besides I dont mind goingdown fighting. The real problem is what are you going to do? Im impressed by your courage. I could never be like

    that. I have to be a slave. Ive no other choice if I want to live. Sighing, Crow began to talk to her in a language I didnt

    recognize. I sat there, in between them, dumbfounded until the man returned to the room. He asked us each in turn

    what we planned to do, and seemed unmoved by Crows choice and my own, but when the unknown girl said she would

    fight, he almost fell off his chair.

    They gave us food that night, and after feeding a piece to a rat to check for poison, we all three ate greedily. Finishing

    everything given to us, and draining our deeply watered wine, we tried to find a comfortable position against our posts.

    A little while later, a small boy came in and untied us, then left the room, locking the door behind us. Before allowing

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    myself to fall asleep, I asked Crow, who regarded the sleeping stranger to my right, Do you actually think she can win a

    fight against one of them? Crow only nodded and said, Youll see why later. I cant explain it, and you wouldnt believe

    someone her age is capable of it anyway. She turned over and curled into a ball to sleep. As I laid my head on the

    damp, rough wooden floor, I heard Crow murmur; Oh and her name is Sashiri. Shes from Indonesia. Then whats she

    doing all the way over here? I wondered as I drifted off.

    The next morning we were given cold, lumpy porridge to fill our painfully hollow stomachs. After our breakfast we

    were dragged up onto the deck. My eyes screamed under the suns excruciatingly bright rays as I looked around. It was

    quite a big ship, and in the middle, in between the two center masts a large circle was drawn onto the deck with white

    chalk. I realized that that was our fighting ring when I saw a giant man step into it. He looked about 6 foot 5, and had

    plenty of muscle. His serious expression changed to an amused one as he looked the three of us up and down. These

    pretty little things? Theyre as thin as twigs. Except for the one in the middle, she looks like shes got a bit of muscle on

    er. A farmers daughter Id guess. Well, little girl, am I right? he asked me with surprisingly sincere interest. Whats it

    to you? Pig. I said then spat on his foot. The crew looked at me like I was crazy. Sashiri looked at me like I had just asked

    him to kill me. Okay, I want her first. He said through clenched teeth. You had better learn to watch your tongue,

    brat, or perhaps Ill cut it out for you? I swear I thought the veins in neck were about to burst. But I knew what I was

    doing. My father was a thief before he met my mother. He was ranked quite high among them. He was an excellent

    fighter, and taught me everything he knew. I knew how to manipulate people with ease. A fighter in a rage makes

    mistakes, allowing himself to be controlled by his emotions. That was what I was trying to do. I was shoved into the ring,

    and my hands were untied from behind my back, and the shackles removed from my ankles. I knelt down to rub my sore

    ankles, and looked up at him through my eyelashes. He was staring at me, but I could see the anger slowly fading from

    his eyes. That wasnt good. The fat man with the eye patch stepped forward and explained the rules. First person to step

    out of the circle or be knocked unconscious loses. No weapons of any kind, no biting, scratching, clawing, or hair pulling.

    Simple enough, I thought and stood to face my opponent. He was at least twice my height, and about three times as

    large. Ill make you pay for that smart little remark, you twerp. He threatened. Oh, wow! I exclaimed with genuine

    interest. Trolls can talk properly! I didnt know that! Did you know that crow? I craned my neck back to regard my

    friend who only shook her head and smiled faintly. She knew what I was up to. She simply didnt approve of my way of

    doing things. AARRRGHHH! I turned back to see the man charge at me. Waiting until the last second, I darted quicklyto the side. He ran past me, but to my content did not run out of the circle. Many would think, Why in hell is that a

    good thing?! but I wanted to show these men that if they become too smug with themselves, someone will come along

    and hand them a surprise. Like I was about to now. He turned and aimed a straight punch right at me. Moving slightly to

    the side, I let his punch slide by my left cheek, and turned so my back faced him, grabbing his wrist with my right hand in

    the same movement. I tucked myself into the curve his arched back provided, and tugged his wrist over my shoulder,

    deftly flipping him over my hip to land flat on his back. He hit the deck hard, with a sound so loud and booming I was

    sure the impact had split the wood under him. As he struggled to his feet I inspected the deck floor where hed fallen. I

    was shocked to see the wood remained intact. My focus on the wood of the ship was broken by the sight of another

    punch aimed for my ribcage coming out of the corner of my eye. My first toss was an easy one, not displaying my ability

    as such. Entranced by the idea of showing off my full capability, I grabbed his enormous forearm with both hands, andpulled my feet up off the ground, and swung them up and around until the laces of my shoes contacted with the side of

    head, and hard. This was only possible with extremely large and slow opponents, because you place your full weight on

    their arm, so they need to be strong enough to support you, and slow enough to not have time to drop their arm before

    your kick hits. My kick hit home hard, and the man, in confusion, had stopped mid-punch, making it only so much easier

    to put more power behind the kick. He dropped like a stone, knocked unconscious, I had hit just above his ear, where

    skull was soft. Everyone stared at me in shock as I got up off the floor.

    I had fallen on top of the man when he went down. Crow seemed to be the only one that wasnt surprised. Sashiri,

    however simply gazed at me in awe and excitement. Finally, the man with the eye patch stepped forward and called two

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    men over to take away the man I had beaten. Okay, ye have earned yer freedom. After yer friends fight, well give ye

    yer things and yer boat and ye can leave. He said in an unsteady voice. Now, yer up missy. He gestured to Crow. Crow

    stepped forward as another man was ushered into the circle. This man was just as big, and looked very similar to the

    other. I sat down by the side to watch. Studying the man, I guessed he was my opponents brother. If he was younger or

    older, I had no idea. He began to circle Crow, clearly unaffected by his brothers defeat. I guessed that he was a more

    experienced fighter, or just knew he wouldnt lose his temper and become careless as his brother had. Conveniently for

    Crow, we both knew she had no intention of trying my tactic. He lunged in, trying to grab Crow. Up until that point, Crow

    hadnt moved an inch since stepping into the center of the circle. Now, it seemed as though she had disappeared. Shewas fast, too fast for the untrained eye. Without warning, the man gasped, swayed on his feet, then fell, face-first, and

    hit the deck with a loud thump. In the place where he once stood, Crow stood loftily, her electric blue eyes gleaming.

    Again, the ship was silent. Crow walked from the circle, to take her seat beside me. The men ran the same drill,

    announcing Crows freedom, pulling yet another unconscious crew member from the chalk ring, and another man

    stepping up to the challenge of facing the remaining captive. Nervously, Sashiri stood, and was pushed into the circle by

    the man with the eye patch. Shaking, she turned to face the man she was to fight.

    So little girl, taunted the man who stood across from Sashiri, who was still shaking. Hes going to play around with her

    first, I realized. That might buy us some time. To do what I had no idea, but better later than sooner. Why did a scrawny

    thing like you choose to fight? After we burned your village to ashes, where could you possibly want to go if you won

    your freedom? You were living alone with your father, werent you? Was your mother a whore? Did she leave your

    father? As soon as the word whore left his lips, I saw Sashiri change. She immediately stopped shaking; slowly she

    raised her gaze from her feet where she had fixed it, until she was looking him squarely in the eye. If looks could kill, that

    man would be in hell, begging for mercy at the dark lords feet before he even realized he was dead. I had never thought

    Sashiri could change to be like that. Even Crow looked surprised. Sashiris opponent seemed to have not noticed, and

    continued to move around her on the edge of the circle. Suddenly, the air seemed to thicken. It was unsettling, and

    made me shift with unease. The other men seemed to notice it as well. Crow slowly started moving away from the edge

    of the circle. Unsure, I followed suit. Looking at Sashiri, I realized a faint purple aura was forming around her. Curious, I

    ceased my retreat and watched intensely. The man in the ring stopped to watch Sashiri suspiciously. Sashiri turned to

    face the man and said slowly in a voice that was most definitely not her own; Dont you speak of my mother like that.

    She raised her right hand, and a ball of light began to form in her palm. Everyone on the ship moved away from her. My

    father and traders had told me stories about great mages, and magic in Indonesia, but I thought those were myths. But

    Sashiri had come from Indonesia. So that was why Crow thought Sashiri would be fine. She could do magic. This fight

    suddenly just got a lot more interesting, I thought as the fear I had for my new friend dissolved to nothing. Shes

    powerful. A spark jumped from the ball, to land on Sashiris opponents shoulder. Suddenly, a web of light that looked

    clear as day like lighting sprang from the ball following the first sparks course. The man jerked and fell hard. When I

    looked up, the purple aura was gone, as well as the ball of light. Sashiri sat there, hugging her knees and crying. Is he

    dead? she asked in a wavering voice as Crow and I approached. Raine, did I kill him? I walked over to inspect the man

    burned by Sashiris lightning. I knelt, checking all his vital signs. His heart was still beating, his breath coming in long,

    slow, drags. He was badly burned in the left shoulder, and had been temporarily brain-dead from the electrical shock of

    lightning. Standing up, I announced that the man was alive, but had probably suffered brain damage. Not that it would

    have made a difference, but I didnt say that. I had already pushed my luck today. The man with the eye patch stepped

    forward once more, to announce that all three of us had earned our freedom. By that night, we were in Crows boat

    with our two newest additions; Sashiri, and her pet marmoset, Tippe. We were back on course for the school of martial

    arts, but still a long way from getting there. Turned out it was a three week trip to get there. Oh well, I thought with

    content, lots of time to get into trouble. Besides, we have a mage now. That should be fun, at least, when she learns to

    control her powers, I thought as a spark sailed over my head.

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    We found the island earlier than we expected to, we figured that the pirate ship mustve taken us in the direction we

    needed to go. Without a second thought about it, we docked the boat at a small dock that held no boats, but it looked

    like it only couldve held one or two anyway. It was dark, and all we could see from the lantern-style dock lights was a

    path with more lanterns spread a few yards away from each other all the way up a pebble path. The path curved upward

    and to the right, quickly going out of view. We packed our things into the three largest baskets, strapping them to our

    backs as we climbed up to the path. On either side of path, we saw a dense, dark, jungle. Strange animal sounds

    screamed from the shadows, some sounding so ferocious it sent shivers down my spine. After about a half hour of

    walking up the twisted pebbled passage, we arrived at a mountain. At the top, I spotted a building set deep into therock. Another long twisting path was lit by the same lanterns, this time on both sides, followed a jagged line as it worked

    its way up the mountain. This time, the steps were made of solid stone, cut out of the mountain itself. As we worked our

    way up the rocky slope, I looked around. On each landing there was a small garden, and it seemed as though the only

    trees that could grow in the mountain rock looked like giant bonsais. I had seen bonsais before, from Japanese traders,

    but they were tiny. These ones were larger, almost the size of regular trees, but they looked more wide than tall. They

    were on the steps for what felt like centuries, and it looked as if their destination never got any closer. Three thousand

    eight hundred and sixty five steps. gasped Sashiri when we reached the top. You were counting?! exclaimed Crow,

    the exasperation clear in her voice. Before us stood a giant set of deep red, wooden double doors studded with what

    looked like golden lumps in a grid pattern that covered the entire doors. Hey, I said. This looks just like the doors to

    the emperors palace in China. Youve been to China? said Crow and Sashiri in unison. No, I replied. I have apicture drawn by someone from there, its hanging on my bedroom wall. My father bought it for me because he knows I

    love pretty much anything foreign that isnt a disease. Yeah, replied Crow. Its a common design for the entrance to

    large courtyards or temples in China. I reached forward and grasped the large golden ring that was the treasure of a

    golden dragon head that held it firmly between its teeth. Wow I thought, the metalwork is beautiful. It must have taken

    a lot to build this place, god knows how many years ago. I knocked hard, three times. We waited, and after a few

    minutes the door was answered by a short, young boy, who wore the yellow robes of a monk in training. He simply

    nodded us in, and gestured for us to follow him. We did as entitled to, and found ourselves in a large room, where an

    enormous golden statue of what was clearly a god sat crossed-legged on a large raised platform. The room was empty,

    and the young monk signalled for us to wait as he walked off into the shadows of one of the two hallways on the far wall

    of the room, one on each side of the god. He came back moments later, with three sleeping mats and some fruit. We sat

    down and ate, then removed our packs and lay down to rest for the night. We were asleep before our heads hit our


    The next morning we were told that the place we had slept in was the school for priests and priestess. The school had

    four buildings; The Sanctuary, for priest training, The Secret Fan, for assassins, The Sapphire Jewel, for mages, and The

    Phoenix Wing for fighters. The head Priestess was in charge of dividing us to our classes, though we had already guessed

    where we would be sent. The next morning, the three of us parted ways, each to our own school. With an escort, Sashiri

    went to the Sapphire Jewel, Crow to the Secret Fan, and me to Phoenix Wing. We would see each other at meals and we

    could visit during our free time, but otherwise we would be busy training to become stronger with our skill. The

    Sanctuary, were we had spent the night, was in the center of the other three buildings, which formed a perfect trianglearound it. I followed the north-west path on the back of one of the spare horses they had in their stable. They had said

    each student needed their own horse, so this one was to be mine for as long as I trained on the island. She was a paint

    mare, a chocolate brown with bright white splotches covering her body. One of them covered almost the entire left side

    of her face and neck, and she had white socks on all four feet. She was good natured, and quickly accepted me as her

    new mistress. She was about four years old, and just big enough to carry my own unusually small body. Off we went

    along the mountain path, which suddenly broke into heavy rainforest after a few minutes of riding. My things were

    carried in light brown saddle bags, and a platform was placed on the horses rump for Nut to ride on. Nut was enjoying

    the ride well enough, I was glad for that. After about 20 minutes, we arrived at a group of large wooden buildings with

    low roofs, and painted in bright reds, gold, and jade. The walls looked like they were floor to ceiling windows with paper

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    instead of glass. We went straight up to the front doorway, which I thought was another wall, but then the partitions slid

    to side to reveal the inside. Two children came out, servants by the look of their clothes, and took our horses around to

    the back, where the stables were, I guessed. The escort walked up and bowed before entering the large room that had a

    light blue padded floor, and at the back, racks covering the whole back wall, each one holding a slightly different sword,

    with multicoloured sashes hanging from the hilts. Several children were lined up in five rows, twelve per row, each one

    wearing what were clearly the training clothes, white breeches and loose shirts, also white. The front row of children,

    the youngest looking, were wearing bright red hard cloth sashes wrapped around their waists, and tied at the side. Raine

    guessed that the belts showed the rank and ability of the trainees. The second row had green belts, the third had blue,and the fourth yellow. They all stood with their feet shoulder width apart, their hands linked behind their backs. They

    faced a tall figure standing in front of the weapon racks. She was a tall, pale woman with raven black hair tied up into a

    bun, and had a pair of chopsticks criss-crossed in the bun with a decorative flower somehow attached to the side. She

    wore a sky-blue silk kimono, with bright pink peacocks on it and silver lined white jasmine flowers spread out in bunches

    to cover the cloth. She wore the kimono so that it showed bare shoulders, and revealed a heavy gold necklace, with

    small rubies set into the flower-shaped workings. Around her waist was a black belt, lined with tiny silver clouds. She

    was absolutely beautiful, it was stunning. She looked up as I walked into the room, repeating my escorts actions and

    bowing before stepping into the room.

    The lady had simply called a name and a boy with a red belt stepped forward. She instructed him to show me around,

    teach me the schedule, and get supplies for me. I would have the rest of that day and the next before I joined the

    lessons. The year had just started, and the boy who was showing me around looked completely emotionless as he

    approached me, and simply gestured for me to follow him. He picked up my bags, and walked around the corner of the

    building. I ran after him, and as soon as we were in another building and walking down a hallway, he stopped and said;

    Hi, Im Raoul. Im a first-year, like you. I got here a week ago, and since you came right after me, youll have the room

    next to mine. This here is my room, he gestured to the door to the right of the one behind him and this is yours.

    pointing the door directly behind him. This building had the same walls of the other one, and the doors slid to the side. I

    entered my room and turned to examine the boy who had followed me in. He had sandy blond hair, was very tall for his

    age, which mustve been the same as mine if he was a first-year. He had really broad, strong, shoulders and his chest

    and arms had a good amount of muscle in them. His face was finely drawn, with almond-shaped eyes that were a warm,greenish-brown. He had a large goofy smile that would charm any girl, and the overall looks to back it up. He was

    friendly enough, I thought, but lets see just what kind of guy he really is. We left my things in my room; the room was

    simple enough, a low table that served as a desk, a mattress with silk sheets and a simple but thick blanket. A large

    window covered almost half the wall. It wasnt tiny, but about the same size as my room at home. There was a shelf

    above the bed, and a rack for holding weapons. There was a clothes chest, and a small cupboard that contained three

    shelves. Two were empty, and the third contained stacks of paper, textbooks, ink cartridges and brushes. The dorms

    were two long buildings that surrounded all the others, shaped like two giant Cs facing each other. Raoul and I

    wandered around the Phoenix Wings grounds, as Raoul pointed out the three classrooms, the small kitchen, (We would

    all go to The Sanctuary for dinner each night.) the main training dojo, where I had met the tall beautiful lady, and the

    girls and boys bathhouses. There were four training dojos within the grounds, the fire house, the earth house, thewater house, and the air house, which was the main one. The rankings went in the same order; Fire, (red belt) earth,

    (green belt) water, (blue belt) and air (yellow belt). Then there was the black belt. Not many trainees survive long

    enough to make it all the way to the black belt. Most quit when they get their yellow belt. Others tend to leave earlier,

    because the training is really hard. Raoul explained to me that I had a test on my first day, to determine if I was an elite

    fire, or just regular. So far, Raoul was the only elite, but there was still a week left before they stopped accepting


    That night, I wasnt permitted to leave the Phoenix Wing, and ate my dinner in the small kitchen with Raoul, who had

    decided to stay with me. Afterward, we went down the stables, which were where I had guessed; to the rear of the

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    grounds. I found my horse, and her brushes, and Raoul showed me how to take care of her. His horse was large, with a

    honey-coloured coat, and white mane and tail. He was bad-tempered, and didnt like most people, but he was fine with

    me as long as I didnt bother him. Raoul sat on the edge of my stall wall; his stall was next to mine. We talked for hours,

    telling each other of our lives before we came, and I found we had plenty of common interests. So, he said to me,

    what are you gonna name her? Hm? I said. Name who what? I asked. I had stopped grooming my horse and was

    now sitting on the wall next to him. The stable was the only building aside from the bathhouse that didnt have paper

    walls. Your horse. He said turning to look at me. You have to give her a name you know. Otherwise how will you call

    it? Im not sure. I replied. Raoul was rambling on with possibilities. You could name it Spirit, or Moon, or Star, or Rea

    or Demeter, or Hera, or.... He went on and on and on. How bout Athena? I asked. Athena nuzzled my leg, as if to sayshe approved it. Yeah. I continued. Athena. The Greek goddess of war and wisdom. You suit the name quite well. It

    was right after I said that that we heard a screech and Nut came soaring into the stable at high speed. She flew right into

    Raoul and spun around so that she pushed him of the wall with her talons. Raoul fell backwards onto his horses back.

    Ares, (his horse) craned his neck back and stared at Raoul with a look that said; Get off my back, or ill do it for you. Raoul

    immediately understood his horses thoughts and jumped off his back as fast as he could. What the hell is that bird

    doing here? he gasped. It just came out of nowhere. Ive never seen one of the kind on this island. Nut Climbed onto

    my lap, then turned to poke Raoul on the head with his sharp, curved beak. Ow! He yelped and jumped away from

    the bird. Nut! I scolded. You know better than that! Even though I knew she wouldnt listen. Thats when I noticed

    the note clasped firmly between her talons. Nut, I coaxed. Give. Nut reached down and pulled the note from her

    talons with her beak, and held it up for me. I took the note, and then helped Raoul back up onto the wall on my other

    side, out of Nuts reach. Then I opened the note. It was on a piece of parchment that was the same as the ones given to

    me in my room. It read;

    Dear Raine,

    I sentNawat to findNut and Tippe. They can carry messages between you, Sashiri and I. I figured it was important to

    keep in constant contact. I heard the training here is extremely hard, and not many survive to graduate. We will need

    each others help as much as possible. It wont be cheating, because its not like we can deliver the answers to a test

    anyway, because the teacher makes them up on the spot to make it impossible to cheat anyway. I really do believe we

    stay as close as possible, and that we leave this place as soon as we graduate. Your father will be worried. Our boat has

    been but in a hidden boat house, and there are free days where we will be able to visit the other buildings. I suggest you

    go see all the other places tomorrow, and memorize them. Sashiri and I will be doing the same. And bring someone to

    teach you the grounds. It will be easier than finding your way around on your own.



    Whos Crow? asked Raoul. It was at that point that I realized he had read the whole letter over my shoulder. Huh?

    Oh, my friend. We came here together with another girl named Sashiri that we met on a pirate ship. I replied. What?

    You were on a pirate ship?! demanded Raoul. Sighing, I told him the story of how I ran away, almost drowned, was

    saved by Crow, got kidnapped, and escaped with Sashiri. Wow. He whistled when I finished. You really went through

    a lot just to get here. I just ran away from the orphanage, stole a boat, and followed some old crazy seamans directions.

    Turns out, he wasnt all that crazy after all. Youre an orphan? It was rude, but all I could say. Yeah, he replied,

    thankfully seemed unnerved by the fact of it. Never had any friends either. Always just kept to myself, I was too afraid

    to get close to someone, since theyve always left anyway. Well, I said confidently, Im definitely willing to be your

    friend. Ill be the best one youve ever had, and Im not going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, if youve got nowhere else

    to go, you should come with Crow, Sashiri and I. They wouldnt mind you at all. Raoul simply looked dumbfounded.

    Thats it? he asked, shocked. No terms or conditions or time limits? Well, I replied. One condition. You have to

    come with me to explore tomorrow. But its more of an invitation than a requirement. I smiled. He laughed. Of course

    Ill come. Youd be completely lost without me anyway. The enormous grin on his face confirmed it as a joke. We

    laughed. So, he said. Who are Crow and Sashiri? Like, what are they doing here? Crows at the Secret Fan, to be an

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    assassin, and Sashiris at the Sapphire Jewel, to be a mage. I explained. You met a mage on a pirate ship. Raoul said.

    He made everything sound so unordinary. Never heard that one before. We returned to our dorm and said good night

    I unpacked, and then got into bed. I was too tired to take a shower; Id take one the next day. As I fell asleep, I couldnt

    help but wonder how someone so cheerful could have never had a true friend before. It was then that I realized I had

    never had a real friend before. Id always avoided the other children and was only myself with the rainforests animals

    and Nut. So how come I immediately agreed to be Raouls friend? I wondered. He just seemed different though, not like

    the other kids Id met and been too nervous to introduce myself to. So maybe its the same with him. I just seem

    different from the others to him. Content with that solution, I blew out my candle and fell asleep almost instantly.

    The next morning we discovered that we werent allowed to leave the Phoenix Wing for free time for a full month, and

    then only if I had no demerits. We got demerits from being late to classes and meals, not cleaning our armour or

    grooming our horses properly, and being disrespectful, though no one ever dared to do the last one. The teacher I had

    met yesterday was the fourth-years teacher, and her name was Yuki. Her twin brother, Yoko, was the third-year

    teacher. Our teacher was Namu, and he was apparently the strictest of them all. Raoul took me to the tailors house, and

    got me my training clothes, for all seasons, including some jackets, a pair of boots, and two pairs of slippers, one of them

    with leather soles. I met all the teachers, saw the archery range, and got my schedule and weapons. I had two bows, and

    archery gear, though I planned to use the ones that I already had. Raoul and I spent the entire morning running around

    and collecting the things I would need. I got a staff; it was two fists taller than me, but still almost a foot shorter than

    Raouls. He himself was about a head taller than me. I hung all these things on my weapons rack in my room. That

    afternoon, we went into the forest to hunt. Raoul had promised to teach me how to cook anything I was able to catch;

    he had worked in a kitchen for eight years. He said that the kitchen workers would cook any large animals that I could

    bring them as long as they kept the extra food, considering that fact no one could eat a full deer, or any other large

    animal. We went deep into the forest, and we found a small spring that looked very similar to my secret one at home.

    Raoul was the one to find the hole in the rock, hidden behind some vines. As soon as I came out on the other side, and

    saw the similar scenery I stopped dead in my tracks. For the first time, I began to feel homesick. I remembered running

    around freely in my own little spring, splashing in the water and playing with the fish that lived in its shallow, warm, cove

    behind the waterfall. I felt a tear splash on my cheek and I realized I was crying. Are you okay? asked Raoul. He had

    turned around to make sure I was still there when he heard nothing from me upon the discovery of the secret spring.Yeah. I said. This place just reminds me of home. Cmon. He said his voice soothing and gentle. He steered me out

    through the hole in the rock and we walked together in silence for about a minute before I shouted; Last one back has

    to piggyback the other around for the rest of the day! and began sprinting, dodging expertly around the trees and

    rocks. God damn it, Raine! was the last thing he said before I had to pick up my pace at the sound of footsteps gaining

    on me.

    We caught some rabbits, and Raoul cooked them for us. They tasted like none I had ever had before. It was amazing.

    Wow, I said, with my mouth full. I swallowed to continue. This is amazing. Youre the best cook Ive ever met.

    Thanks. He said. I could tell he was blushing even in the scant light the kitchen provided. Apparently we were allowed

    to use the kitchen as long as we kept it clean when we left, and didnt get in the way of the cooks. You have to teach

    me this recipe. I told him. He laughed. No way, I never reveal my secrets. He joked. I have a whole cookbook full of

    recipes. This is my favourite recipe for rabbit. Well, I love it. I said sincerely. Ill catch you as many rabbits as you

    want, if youll cook them this way. Again he laughed. Come on, he said. Ive still got one last place to show you. He

    grabbed my wrist and dragged me out of the kitchens, towing me along behind him. God, he was strong, I thought. He

    could probably throw me as far as I could throw Nut. We arrived in a courtyard; and I gasped. It was absolutely beautiful

    Cherry trees were in full bloom and their petals were falling as the wind tugged them from the branches to scatter them

    across the cobblestones. There were garden boxes overflowing with so many flowers in amazing and exotic colours.

    Vines crawled up the marble walls, and bright green moss looked so soft it could be clouds dyed the rich colour of the

    rainforests canopy. A small pool was in the center, half of it covered by the long draping branches of a willow tree.

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    Rocks so smooth and shiny they looked like someone had deliberately polished them lined the little pond. I walked over

    to it, awed by the flashing colours of fish inside it. They were coloured a mixture of bright orange, vibrant white and coal

    black as they darted around the pond. I wandered into the willow trees enclosing branches and found a stone bench

    and sat, staring into the clear water of the other side of the pond that she couldnt see before through the veil of willow

    leaves and branches. Raoul came up and sat next to her. Its beautiful. I whispered, still awed by the existence of the

    courtyard. Its like something out of a fairytale. Isnt it? he responded. We sat there, on the bench for I dont how

    long, just looking around and absorbing the detail and colours possessed by the courtyard. We heard the great bell

    chime, and knew we had to return to our rooms. As we approached our rooms, Raoul asked me; So, you ready for youropening exam tomorrow? his voice sported a mocking tone, knowing I was dreading it. Well, what other choice do I

    have but to be? I replied as I entered my room. Lying down in bed, I thought; I think I can enjoy it here.

    I woke just before dawn the next morning, a habit I developed as soon as I was old enough to work in the rice fields. I

    rushed to get dressed in the same loose, off-white shirts and breeches that all the other trainees wore. Still rushing, I

    cleaned my teeth and brushed my hair out and braided it all the way down to my waist, where I attached the jade ring.

    The ring was small; it was about half a centimetre thick, and fit around my middle finger. You could tell it wasnt a real

    ring, too plain and just shaped differently. My father had given it to me for my tenth birthday, and taught me how to use

    it as a weapon at the end of my braid. All I had to do was spin on the ball of my foot, pirouetting around, until my braid

    gained enough speed to whip out and if aimed carefully, hit someone on the forehead, rendering them unconscious.

    Quite a useful weapon in my opinion. I never went anywhere without it. The great bell clanged in the distance once

    again, rousing the sleepers from their beds. I ran out, down to the outdoor practice court, and began practicing the

    moves my father had taught me. I wanted to be as ready as possible for this test. Raoul came running in while I was in

    the middle of a pattern dance. A pattern dance was a series of movements, in a specific order, and is preformed as a

    way to demonstrate skill and practice. What are you doing?! he gasped, leaning against the door frame. Ive been

    looking everywhere for you! We have a minute to get to the dining hall before we get a demerit! A demerit on your first

    day is never a good thing! He grabbed my hand and dragged me through the Phoenix Wing down to a average sized

    building that looked a little like an old fashioned school house. We ran inside just as the bell rang. At the top there was a

    low table placed width-wise, and was well decorated with a light cloth, several brass candle holders that held scented

    candles in many different bright colours. The silverware was polished the shine, and the plates and cups were shapedperfectly and had little designs drawn onto them by a truly skilled artist. Delicate, detailed cushions replaced chairs,

    (which would be too high for the table) and multicoloured tassels hung from the corners. The table itself was on a raised

    platform, which only made it look so much grander. The teachers were seated there, all looking quite refined for just

    breakfast, but they looked like the emperors court. There were four plainer, longer tables placed length-wise across the

    room. Each one had about 30 students seated at it. Raoul ran up to the head table, without stepping onto the platform,

    bowed, then retreated to the table farthest to the left of the room, and sat on one of the red pillows. I repeated his

    action and sat next to him on another red cushion. Yuki stood, (she was sitting at the center of the table, clearly the

    place of most importance) and said a prayer to Mayai, the great sun goddess, and Onu, the god of the harvest. We all

    muttered the required response at the end of the prayer; And shall be till the day all rests still. We raised our bowed

    heads and began helping our selves to the heaping bowls of fruit, pastries and meat that had been placed on our tables.Looking around, I noticed that each tables cushions were the colour of the sash of those who sat at it. So this was the

    red table, I thought. Hm. Its interesting how far apart they keep the different levels. I wonder why they do that.

    When breakfast had finished, Yuki stood and called in a voice that was as sweet as honey and as soft and gentle as the

    whispering winds; Raine Briar. Report to the Air House as soon as possible. We will commence your test for fire there.

    I cleared my plate and began towards the door when Raoul clasped my shoulder, stopping me. Good luck. He said. The

    serene look in his eyes told me that the test may be harder than I had expected. I wish I had been able to train for it, but

    I wasnt allowed to know anything about the test, not even the location until the test itself. I muttered a thanks and left

    for the Air House. I entered the Air House, to find Yuki already standing before me. How did she get here so fast? I

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    wondered then decided it was better not to find out. The air ranked students were there, sitting cross-legged on the

    edge of the raised floor. Your task, began Yuki, is to defeat one of my students. You are permitted to choose which

    one, but if its all the same to you, I have a specific one in mind that I think would be very interesting if you have even a

    sliver of your mothers skill and style. He is the son of who I believe didnt exactly get along well with your mother, I

    believe hes wanted a rematch on his dead fathers behalf, against you. She made it sound like I was cursed for being

    my mothers daughter and for that reason only; I was the target of this boy. I accept the challenge of facing this boy, on

    my mothers behalf. I replied. Very well. Either I was crazy, or Yuki had a faint smile on her lips, and her eyes sparkled

    with excitement. She seemed unsurprised by my choice of using the words; on my mothers behalf. Connor, rise to faceyour desired opponent. A large, broad-shouldered boy who looked to be about sixteen rose from his cross-legged

    position. The first thing I noticed was the designs on his yellow belt, marking him as a novice air level. Who is this guy? I

    wondered. Why would he have any interest in defeating me? I mean, his dad lost the fight, so why does that concern

    him? Why would he want to fight someone with four years less training than he had? Its a cheap win. But I definitely did

    not plan to go down so easily. I was not going down without making him suffer first, if he wanted to fight me so badly.

    Connor walked to the center of the large circle drawn onto the floor, exactly centered in the room.

    We circled for a few seconds, and I observed his movements as much I could. He wasnt dumb and wouldnt rely on pure

    strength like the pirate did. He would be much more difficult. He hooked his fist around, aiming for my left cheek. He

    was faster than I expected. I ducked, matching his speed with ease. He bore down on me, constantly moving his fists,

    aiming for multiple points all over my body. I jumped, rolled, ducked, and dodged every blow, watching, and observing.

    He was observing my movements as well, and I knew it wouldnt be long before he would land one of his heavy punches

    I needed to get him out of the circle, in one move. I tried to think of a counter that would throw him clear out of the

    circle with as little damage as possible. I didnt want to escalate the anger he clearly already had for me. I simply

    watched, and desperately searched for an opening. I realized he didnt have one. He deliberately pulled his arms back in

    and rotated his body fully with every punch so that there was no opening. Then I saw it. It wasnt in his chest, it was his

    legs. Every time he turned his torso, he shifted his weight, and was almost always off-balance to maintain the speed of

    his punches. I waited, and then ducked all the way to the ground and brought my foot around in a sweeping kick, using

    both feet by spinning on one hand. With the force caused by both feet, I hit the just at the right time, and with enough

    force to wipe both feet from beneath him. Down he went, but he reached out and grabbed my arm as he fell, holdingme flat on the floor. Well, I thought. So much for the throw him out of the ring in one move. I rolled up onto my arm, so

    could reach the hand that clasped my arm. I dug my nails into the skin just above his cuticles, and curved my back up,

    reached my foot over my head, and kicked him in the eye as hard as I could, which isnt very hard when youre bending

    your spine so much. He rolled away with a cry of pain, and released my arm to clutch his eye. He got up and jumped up,

    bringing his fist down from above his head. I rolled and jumped to my feet, and we continued our circling once again. He

    seemed extremely angry now, but I knew that wouldnt cause him to make mistakes, it would simply put more force

    behind his blows. Youre mother will pay for killing my father. Shell pay in your blood. He shouted as he rushed at me

    once more. I decided to try the move Crow had taught me. I let him come at me, waiting, waiting, until the very last

    second.....I disappeared. What? exclaimed Connor. I brought my elbow down hard on the pressure point in the back of

    his neck, and he dropped like a stone. I stood there, panting. I was exhausted. That amount of speed at the last minutetook a huge amount of energy. Impressive. You truly are Anastasias daughter. I turned to look Yuki in the eye. She

    stepped forward and handed me a bright red belt with the markings of an elite on it. Youve earned this. Retreat to

    your rooms, your training starts tomorrow. I did as I was told. When I entered my room, there was a note waiting for

    me on my bed;

    You fight like your mother did, but you seem to know nothing about her. If you wish to learn of your mothers training

    years here, I would like to inform you of her history. What better person to learn it from than the one who went through

    it all with her? -Yuki Silverlock

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    Now that was food for thought.

    The next day was a Sunday, our only free day of the week. This was the day when those who had received demerits

    worked them off in the smiths, kitchens, stables, or anywhere where free help could be needed. The great bell clanged

    loud in my ears; I still hadnt got used to its loud ring, just as I finished my pattern dance. Returning to my room, I

    grabbed my towel and soaps, and then headed to the bathhouse. After I was nice and clean, I dressed in one of my pairs

    of short shorts, pulled a T-shirt over my head, and then clipped my thick leather belt around my waist. It had metal studs

    spaced grid-pattern around it, and had several clips for the many knives I liked to carry. I slid a shoulder pad into place

    on my right arm, fastening it under my left armpit. It had a special holder on the back where I could comfortably clip my

    bow onto it, and carry it around. I slid my archers armguards onto my wrists, and then strapped a worn piece of strong

    leather onto my right forearm; so I could carry Nut on it, the shoulder pad was also for her. I clipped my bow onto its

    special holder on my back, and then slid three of my regular five knives into the holders on my belt. I slung my quiver

    over my shoulder as I walked out into the hallway. I felt good to be dressed as I did at home. Sunday was the one day

    when we were permitted to dress as we please. I rapped hard on Raouls door. Raoul! I shouted. Mmmrph. Was the

    only reply I got. Frustrated, I slid the door open and stormed in. Raoul was still in bed, his face in his pillow and his one

    foot and both arms hanging off the side of the mattress. What are doing? I demanded, and kicked him lightly with my

    barefoot. Were allowed to sleep in an extra hour on Sundays. Came his muffled reply. Not on my watch youre not.

    retorted, and leaned over and grabbing him by the ear, dragged him up and out of his bed, despite his constant yelping.

    Okay, okay, Im up! he protested. Good. I replied, content. Now get dressed. Youre going to show me around the

    island. I got passes to leave. I added as he opened his mouth to protest. I walked out and closed the door behind me.

    Women. I heard as I walked down the hall to the exit closet to the stables. I heard that! I shouted over my shoulder

    as I found the door that led outside. My shoes from home were waiting in a little cubby with my name on it. I pulled

    them on, and felt relived to be back in my hunting shoes. They were in fact my only pair of shoes, but I loved them.

    Made of dark brown leather, they had soft soles to allow me to be quiet, but had a steel toe, and had two steel plates

    sewn onto their sides, with metal clips attached to hold the boot onto my foot. They reached to just below my knee, and

    were good for all seasons. Normally, the metal was uncomfortable in the winter cold, but they didnt have that here,

    erasing the only con of the boots. They had just enough of a heel for riding, so they were completely all-purpose. I

    saddled Athena, and tried to saddle Aries, but didnt have much luck as such. He let me groom him, but made it perfectlyclear, that only Raoul would be saddling him. Raoul stumbled into the stable and began to complain, saying that it was

    ridiculous to have to go so early, and claiming I was crazy to be happier getting up before the sun and so on and so forth.

    Hey, Im a farmers daughter, what did you expect? I replied. Now saddle your horse, he wont let me do it. Ill go get

    breakfast. I managed to nick some rolls from the kitchen and pulled some fruit from nearby trees. By the time I

    returned, Aries was saddled, but I couldnt see Raoul. If that idiot went back to bed I swear.... Then Raoul sprinted out

    of the tack room, closely followed by Nut. Callem off! Please! Im awake now! HELP! I stared open-mouthed as they

    ran back and forth, back and forth. Nut! Come! I commanded, and held out my right arm. Nut gracefully swooped

    through the stable, deserting her target, and landed with a practiced ease on the leather padding on my right forearm.

    No. I told her sternly. He is not an enemy. No chasing. Nut cawed in protest, but admitted to my command after I

    gave her a stern look. Did.....you get.....the passes? panted Raoul as he approached me. Yeah. I replied and flipped asilver coin with a square hole in the center. I golden Phoenix wing decorated one side, and a silver lock was on the other.

    The wing meant we were from Phoenix Wing, and the silver lock on the other side was Yukis personal symbol,

    displaying who had given us permission to wander. A red and a black thread were tied to each of our rings, saying we

    were elite fire-ranked. We mounted into our saddles, and as Nut settled onto her pad placed behind me on Athenas

    back we headed for the stable door. We showed the guards at Phoenix Wings gate our coins, and they let us out.

    Whats with the outfit? asked Raoul as we traveled down the road. Its what I normally wear. I replied. At that point I

    noticed Raoul still wore his training clothes. I realized he must have no clothes of his own. I really respected him, having

    virtually nothing and still being in such a good mood for others all the time.

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    We talked as we rode down the cobblestone path down to the Sanctuary, where the priests trained and where I was

    meeting up Crow and Sashiri. When I told this to Raoul, He said How do you know youre meeting Crow and Sashiri

    there? Nut didnt fly to both places. Thats impossible to do in one night. Yeah. I replied It is impossible. Nawat;

    Crows crow, brought the message. She sent Sashiris the day before. Wow, those birds of yours are well trained and

    are remarkably useful. Raoul replied. Even if they are quite ill-mannered. He added with a glare at Nut, who slept

    contentedly and unmoved in her special bird saddle. We made quite good progress and reached The Sanctuary in about

    20 minutes. It was designed like an ancient Chinese temple, but was much larger. We dismounted and led our horses

    into the first courtyard. We were immediately approached by a guard, and demanded to know who we were and whywe were there. When we showed him our coins, he still demanded to know our purpose, but dropped off mid-sentence

    as he flipped the coin and recognized the silver lock symbol. He bowed and murmured an apology then excused himself

    to return to his post. We shrugged off the guards reaction and looked around. Suddenly, a black cloaked figure flew

    down from atop the pillars and landed gracefully in front of me. It had all happened so fast that I hadnt even time to

    draw my daggers from my belt. Then the stranger threw back her hood and looked at me with a faint smile and her

    electric blue eyes twinkled with excitement. It was Crow. Immediately Raoul lunged in and tried to tackle her, but Crow

    was much too fast. She side-stepped it and came up behind him in an instant with a blade to his neck. So. She said. Is

    this Raoul? He could have knocked me out with the strength in that attack, but hes too slow. A smile played across her

    lips as I nodded. She released him. I take it shes an elite first-year assassin? Raoul asked. It was obvious to me that he

    was annoyed with himself and possibly Crow because she had bested him. Of course. came Crows reply. Shall we go?Sashiris waiting outside.

    We left the temple, after Crow showed us the small outdoor garden where we would normally meet. Leaving through

    the front gate, we displayed our coins to the guards and met Sashiri after the first bend in the road. She sat tall on a pale

    golden mare that sported a white mane and tail. She herself wore a cherry red dress that had two slits that reached her

    knees. A pale yellow creased silk slip was revealed by the two triangles cut out of the red fabric. The neckline was low

    and revealed bare shoulders, and the sleeves went all the down to her wrists, with yellow silk lace poking out from

    under it. The dress reached all the down to her ankles, with small red slippers poking out under the hemline. She had

    her long, white-blond hair down, with the two front strands braided and tied with little red ribbons. Ridding side-saddle

    as she was, she looked like a noble, not the priests daughter she was. I noticed Raoul had stopped dead in his tracks.Turning, I saw his jaw hit the floor as he looked Sashiri up and down. Reaching out from my saddle I gently closed his jaw

    with my hand. Its rude to stare. I commented in a voice that said; dont try anything. Shes fragile and I will break your

    back if you scare her. Raoul understood the tone of voice and immediately sat straight in the saddle as if he was

    unmoved by Sashiris appearance. Crow whistled hard and loud, we all cried in protest as our hands flew to our ears. A

    black stallion trotted out of the woods to Crow. This time my jaw hit the floor. The stallion was as black as Crows hair,

    along with his mane and tail. He was beautiful. Even Athena snorted with what I like to think was awe. Its rude to

    stare. Mocked Raoul as he rode by me to fall in next to Sashiri. Im not being rude! I retorted as I came up on his

    other side. Crow took off her cloak to reveal black leggings and a black shirt on top. Two light-weight metal pads were

    attached to a belt and hung across her thighs, providing basic protection. She wore arm guards to cover her entire both

    arms, and no fingered gloves. She wore light shoulder pads, and heavy black boots similar to mine. She climbed on herhorse, who she called Darkmoon, and led the way down the path. Raoul shrugged at me and I raised an eyebrow in

    reply. I had a strange habit of doing that, received from my father, no doubt. I kicked Athena into a trot and followed

    Crow. Sashiri came up beside me, and we talked for a little while before Raoul came up on my other side and joined our

    conversation. Sashiri and I knew better than to question Crow on our destination, but sadly, Raoul just didnt get it. He

    rode up to Crow and asked Okay, where the hell are we going, when are we going to get there, and why?! He was

    frustrated. Crow said nothing. She simply gestured to their surroundings and stared straight ahead. Finally, when Raoul

    didnt back off, she said without looking at him; We are already here we have been since we left the temple. At around

    midday I became hungry. We rounded another bend in the path and found ourselves at Phoenix Wings main gate.

    What? I asked. How did we get here? Did we do a huge loop? Gods Crow, I knew better than to question you, but you

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    could have explained something at least. Crow shrugged and continued down the path on her horse. Come on,

    Sashiri. Called Crow over her shoulder. Ill take you back to the Sapphire Jewel. Wait. Sashiri responded. She drew

    an emerald from the purse she carried strung over one shoulder. I learned a protection spell. Its not very good, but Ill

    upgrade it every time we meet. I have a gem for you too Crow, but Ill enchant it later. She held the sparkling green

    stone face-up in her open palm. She closed her eyes for a few seconds, and when she opened them, they had silver-gray

    clouds swirling in them. Startled, I watched closely as I realized I had never seen her eyes when she did magic before.

    She had her back to me when she was fighting the pirate, and Crow was the only one fast enough to dodge Sashiris

    attacks, so she had practiced with her while I was well out of range. I saw Aries shifting out of the corner of my eye, and knew Raoul was nervous; horses tend to react to their riders moods. I cast a worried glance at him. He kept himself

    under control and stayed where he was. The center of Sashiris palm began to glow a soft red, and the emerald flashed a

    bright white and returned to normal. Sashiri blinked and her eyes returned to their regular lavender colour. She reached

    forward and took the end of my braid where I had fastened my ring securely. She pressed the emerald to it and it blazed

    once more, and then melted into the metal. When I touched it, the metal was warm, but the emerald was held firmly in

    place. I thanked her and said my farewells as Raoul and I turned and walked through the gate. Gosh, shes beautiful,

    that Sashiri. Muttered Raoul as we brushed out our horses in the stables. It was the first thing he had said since we got

    back. He yawned and stretched. Well, Im taking a nap. He announced. Since, you know you woke me up with the

    sun! Sorry, I replied, joking. No youre not. He retorted. I know. I said. He walked out of the stables shaking his

    head. When he reached the door, he turned and shouted back to me; The gods alone know what Im going to do withyou, Raine. Oh, and youre one to talk! I retorted. He walked out of the stables. I put away my brushes and headed

    back to the dorms; I planned on taking a nap as well.

    The next day I woke before dawn and ran through my exercises before the first bell. I had decided to do that every

    morning, to keep in practice with the skills my father taught me. His style was er..... Different than what I expected to

    learn. Returning to my room, I got dressed in my uniform. I had found my bright red belt with its blue, yellow and green

    striped border that marked me as elite. I tied it around my waist; the thick, four inch wide piece of hard cloth felt

    comfortably firm around my waist. Picking up the pallet on my bed, I scanned its markings; my schedule. We had all our

    physical training in the morning, and then we went down to the mess hall for lunch, and then academic classes. We got

    time to take a bath before lunch and dinner, and we were expected to dress appropriate for dinner at The Sanctuary.Someone rapped hard on my door; it slid open to reveal Raoul. Cmon! he said. You dont want to get a demerit on

    your first real day, do you? Of course not. I replied and trotted by him, flicking his forehead as I passed. Hey! He

    protested. He slid the door shut behind me as I skipped around the corner and out into the courtyard.

    After breakfast, Raoul led me to our first class; unarmed combat. It was held in the fire house, the second largest of the

    indoor courtyards. Raoul removed his shoes, stepped in, bowed, and jogged over to line up with the other students. I

    copied him, and then ran to stand beside him in line. Namu walked in. He was inhumanly tall, and had huge shoulders.

    He had pale blond hair that was spread thin across hid crown, and fell down his face where they formed thick side burns

    Muscles bulged under his training clothes, bright red versions of ours, with a black belt tied around his waist, sporting

    the markings of a novice in his level. Alright. His voice boomed, as if his lungs were made from steel. Pair up and run

    through the first drill. Whats the first drill? I whispered to Raoul. Just follow along with me. He replied. Slowly, he

    directed a straight punch with his right hand, aiming for my chest. Cupping my left hand slightly, I pushed it aside,

    rotating my body slightly to move the force of the punch away from my body. We continued switching hands each time,

    and focused on the drill until I felt a presence behind me. Someone grabbed my wrist when I brought it back to rest at

    my side in a position called a carry fist. Instinctively, I whirled around, hooked my foot behind the unknown persons

    knee, and yanking hard on the hand that had grabbed my wrist, pulled them over my hip. But my mystery opponent was

    no novice. He twisted, and grabbing me by the collar and belt, flung me up and over his shoulder. I went soaring, at least

    seven feet high into the air, somersaulting, I landed on one knee, bent over myself with one hand on the ground the

    other resting on my raised knee. I looked up and my breath caught. My unknown opponent had been Namu. I scrambled

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    to my feet and bowed, practically folding in half, and remained in that position. I heard footsteps, and then Namus

    extraordinarily large feet appeared in my view of the floor. Stand up straight. He ordered. Looking up, I wished I

    hadnt. The expression on his face was scary. He looked angry and annoyed. I stepped back once, and stared him straight

    in the eye, my face smooth and expressionless. I didnt care what he thought. It was pure instinct that made me throw

    him across the room, and I wasnt about to change that for my life. It had already saved me more than once in my life.

    Raoul you will drill with Daenne. Raine, youre to drill with me. A girl with long, golden-brown hair stepped up to

    Raoul, and they began the drill. Go on, urged Namu when I simply stared at the part of his chest I was supposed to aim

    for. Punch me. If you can land even one blow on me, any kind, a kick, punch, or throw, I will give you permission to skipany demerits you get all month. Now that was too good an offer to refuse. I punched hard, but my blow glided right

    past. I blinked and saw a fist heading for my face and dropped to the ground, bringing my foot around fast in a sweeping

    kick, but again I completely missed. He dodgedfast. It was incredible. We continued, him avoiding my swipes, blows,

    and strikes with ridiculous ease. I barely dodged and blocked the few attacks he tried. I knew if he really tried, he could

    land a strike on me without too much difficulty. By the second bell, I was exhausted. I hadnt landed a single, punch, kick

    or toss the entire time. I had several bruises already from where he had tripped or pushed me. Leaning on Raoul, he led

    me back to our rooms where we retrieved our archery equipment and trudged out o the archery range. I was relieved.

    Archery was my strongest point, the only skill taught here that I could perfect at home without help. I strung, aimed and

    released my arrows with ease, hitting the center of the target every time. About half way through, the teacher,

    Annabeth, took Daenne, another girl with short spiky red hair and two boys with dark black hair that looked like twinsand I to another range, which had wooden cylinders about and inch tall, hanging sideways from threads so that the

    bright red, blue and white targets faced us. They swayed and flipped around on their ties as the wind whipped by. Lets

    see if you can hit these. Annabeths voice was strong and loud, as it rung across the range. I stepped up to the line and

    strung my bow, confident in my ability. The other kids hesitated and then one by one, followed my movements.

    Everyone else stopped to watch. I aimed carefully aimed my bow, and pictured myself in my rainforest at home. A group

    of deer were grazing in a meadow I could see from my hiding spot concealed in the brush. I only got one shot; if I missed

    they would sprint away and I would lose them for good. I silently rise from my predators crouch up onto my knees. My

    back is straight and shoulders square. I pull the bow back; it bends with a comfortable ease. I bring it up, the fingers that

    grip the string barely brush my ear, and the line of sight is perfect. I release. Suddenly Im back to reality as I watch my

    arrow fly through the air. It strikes the center of the target perfectly. The sound of a slow, sarcastic clapping reaches my

    ears. I turn to see Namu sitting on a tree stump on the edge of the woods. Was he there before? I couldnt remember. I

    allowed all expression to be wiped from my face as I straightened to hear what he was going to say. But nothing left his

    lips. Good. Said Annabeth. Now, when you can hit consistently, Ill be impressed. Yet a huge grin sabotaged her

    attempts at being strict. I liked her. Finally, a class that may actually be relaxing. Man, was I wrong.

    Next was riding. It was just the basics, putting our horses through their paces; it was pretty boring until we got to race

    them a little at the end. There was a long field between the stables and the mess hall; a good 800 metres. I saw

    everyone lining up on a white ribbon pinned to the ground with what looked like tacks, though they would have had to

    have long spikes to hold it to ground through the dense and tall layer of grass. Cmon called Raoul. He was lining up

    with the others. He came over and took me by the elbow as he dragged me over to the line with the others. Everyday,we all race from her the mess hall. It really determines your status among the others, though there are no real ranks, its

    more of an unspoken way of personally judging each other. He crouched down, straightening his back leg and placing

    his fingertips on the ground. Is this really the necessary way to be judged? I asked. It seems a little silly doesnt it? A

    tall gangly kid stepped forward to the edge of the sidelines. He was in his second year of fire, notable by the black tips on

    his bright red belt. He looked like he hadnt worked a day in his life. On his face, the tops brushed by a few scraps of

    sandy brown bangs were two wooden circles in front of his eyes. They were connected by a smaller, curved piece of

    wood that rested on his nose, and held up by another two pieces of wood that connected to the opposite side of the

    rings and were tucked on top of his ears. Yet, the strangest part of it was the two thin pieces of glass that where inside

    the circles. Wouldnt that be inconvenient? I thought looking at him. Having to look through glass? And they mustve

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    been expensive, they way the glass fit into the wood perfectly. OOOOOOOKKKAAAAYYYYY!!!!! His jaw practically hit

    the floor his mouth was so big. I stumbled and almost fell over from the shock that such a deep, strong and especially

    loud voice could come from such a scrawny, skinny, bag of bones. I realized that everyone had taken up a similar

    position to Raouls. Unsure of myself, I slowly mirrored Raoul, constantly looking up to make sure I was doing it right.

    Seeing the expression on Raouls face surprised me. He was looked dead ahead; his eyes locked on a distant unknown

    target. All signs of his thoughts failed to surface on the pale features of the statue that was once my joyous friend who

    wouldnt stop talking. ALL TAKE YOUR MARK! The scrawny kids voice continued to boom in and around my eardrums.

    READY! People shifted, adjusting their starting position. SET! The tension in the air was so thick it felt as i f movingwas a crime worth execution. I stared straight ahead, and felt a weird jittery feeling rising in my chest. The feeling was so

    awkward I wanted to scream just to get it out of me. The kid raised his arm straight up. I knew the minute he brought it

    down and shouted that final word, all that tension would explode and the rush would hit me. I was this weird thing I got

    in a race. I was incredibly fast in a fair foot race. I liked to race along with Nut at home, and had slowly built up my speed

    and distance. GO!!! There. That final word. I felt the whole group of us surge forward as one, and then just like that,

    the unity between us broke and the race had begun.

    The wind fell fast on my face as I flew across the field. I was lost in the feel of the earth flying under my feet, completely

    unaware of my surroundings. I felt so good just to run as fast as I could, when I had felt like collapsing when I started. It

    was as if burning up the energy so fast produced more... if that makes any sense. But it didnt matter to me; because I

    felt as if I stopped I wouldnt be able to start again. Only, I didnt want to stop. Or rather I thought so. As soon as I

    crossed the line at the end, my knees buckled and I hit the ground hard, right on the bruise I had gotten earlier when

    Athena bumped me into the side of the stable stalls wall. I struggled as I pushed my upper body up to sit straight. I

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