Chapter 1-333Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡE8rS0QLMWZ
The drop of sweat hits the ground right as the pommel slips out of my hand. I watch the moonlight turn it a crystalline silver as it slides into the sand under my feet. My eyes refuse to glance at the offending weapon as I pick it up. Again. I set my feet and draw in a short breath. One...two… a gentle twist and i’m airborne again. A flick of my arm brings me into the second form of the movement and I guide my body and my dagger along the lines of energy that I’ve been taught to find in the frigid air of the channel. Again. My toes thrum with blood as I loft them above my body. Again. I close my eyes against the blur of my limbs. Again.
The wind whips my hair into knots as I hurtle through the forms. I move too fast for any more sweat to fly off me, but as I reach the closing movement, the dagger slips out of my hand and lands tip down in the bank. A passing wolf nudges it with her snout and it slides into the black water. I half-lid my eyes and watch her energy swirl through her core and spiral out to her cubs hidden in the brush. I sigh, but I know she’s right. It’s time to stop, so I retrieve the dagger and wrap it next to my longsword. Then I make my way up the cliff, scarves whipping in the wind.
The lights were off but my feet were used to the curves that led up to the dormitories. The wood and marble dip in the middle from thousands of years of feet, but the steps are as stable as the hill they sit on. I knew Mei and Reila would still be awake. None of us could sleep when one of our own was going up to the mountains. I’d kept my own vigil, now I’d join theirs
Owl, Lemur and Bee sat lounging around the hearth keeping watch while the elders took Noah up to the peak for his testing, The flames danced across the hatis hanging on their necks and I felt that familiar twist of jealousy and excitement of knowing I would get my own soon. Not soon enough. Owl caught my glance and winked, stretching out his legs to block my path, He wanted to make me climb over him, but I wasn’t about to give that satisfaction tonight. Drawing the heat from the fire in through my bare feet on the marble, I caught a breeze and gently flipped up and over his gorgeously smiling body. Bee rolled his eyes and Lemur shook her head as I slid down the hallway and away from the warmth of the fire.
My friends’ voices replaced that warmth as soon as I walked into my room though. I wasn’t surprised to see a handful of others along with my roommates clumped together under blankets on our floor. A sea of skin and and hair and eye colors turned up from their soft conversation and smiled at my tossled curls and salt-lightened skin.
“I’d still rather have four legs,” Selgin said, picking up the discussion where it must’ve been when I came in.
“Nope, sea creature,” Laila said dreamily as I rolled my eyes and slipped in next to Jelan. We’d worn the lines of this conversation in enough that I knew what each of my friends would say, but I wrapped their words around me like another blanket.
In Syuna, initiated warriors are given names of animals to further connect us to the earth and our wild brothers and sisters. At sundown tomorrow, Noah would come back to us no longer known by that name. I had two silvers on it being a bird, but Noah was so fragile that I wasn’t even sure he would come back. It happened. Every year or so a few didn’t come back from the mountains. I tried not to think too much about them.
“Well I hope I’m a myth,” Merana’s silky voice chimed in, “Dragon and Unicorn are taken, so I guess i’ll have to be a something a little more spectacular. Maybe a Griffin or something.”
If any of us were worthy of achieving mythical rank, it was Merana. Her swordmanship matched any of the full warriors and she could manipulate energy to an extent that was almost unheard of in a student our age. None of us were envious of her, she worked hard for her skills and was still one of the kindest people that I knew, but we also knew that we couldn’t hope to match her. I ignored the mix of encouragement and irritation everyone threw at her and drifted my eyes closed to watch their energies interact.
All of our lights were subdued with drowsiness, rainbows covered a bit in smoke. Mei and Ketlan sent wisps of smoke back and forth, pressed together and lost in each other. The rest of us stood as focal points for a mess of light and color and heat winding across the loose circle we had formed. I watched as Merana’s gaze flicked to me and strengthened the flow of energy she was sending my way, she must’ve known I was tired. Selgin and Reila argued over some point of the history of archery, buffering each other with stinging threads that resembled tiny lightnings. Through it all, steady streams left us all and channelled east, all of us were keeping our thoughts on Noah.
“But they won’t let anyone take mythical status if they can’t see energies”
My eyes popped open at the mention of my rare skill.
“And that only happens a few times in a generation, hence the fact that only two of the myths are taken”
We were all silent for a moment as we thought about our most powerful teachers. Both of them were masters of movement and energy manipulation. A look from the Unicorn and you couldn’t speak, a touch on the shoulder from the Dragon and you would fall asleep. They inspired fear and love everywhere they went and were the most beautiful creatures you would ever see. I wanted to be like them.
Talk drifted away from the topic of Seeing and I settled into my own world again, safe in the knowledge that no one else had figured out my secret. The sleepy swirling lanterns danced in front of me and joined the light beginning to break through the windows as I let my energy drain out.
I woke up to the same soft lights I’d slept to. Soft breathing echoed luminous mist drifting through the air. I pulled myself free from Merana and Jelan, settling the blankets lightly back on top of them. The air was cold and still as I padded down the empty hall and out into the dull morning light. No one would rise today until late after sending our spirits with Noah for the hardest, darkest part of his journey. I set out some fruit and started a fire in case any little ones woke up early. Shadows and fog still covered my favorite perch, a giant boulder set high up the hill behind the compound. The climb up the side of it took skill and focus, but I had been doing it since I was four. There was a dip in the top just perfect so that when I sat down in it, you couldn’t see me from below. Every inch up the rock I shed worry over Noah, by the time I got to the top, I was as light as if Noah were here and safe with me.
My relaxation was cut short as I lifted myself over the lip of the rock. A figure crouched at the edge , poised to fall off the world. I was on my feet in a fighting stance before they could turn. Laughing gold eyes scrolled my tense body and I relaxed, sinking into a folded seat on the smooth stone. I turned my eyes away from Owl and onto the horizon.
I could see all the way across the channel from up here
“They’ll be heading back by now”
I matched my heartbeat to the rush of the waves. He looked at me, waiting for a response. His hands travelled reflexively to the crystal resting at his sternum and his eyes flicked to my bare neck.
“You know it’s funny,” he continued, ignoring my silence, “everyone has been worried since Noah went up, but you…”
My entire world narrowed down to the swell of the ocean and the breeze on my skin. Owl wasn’t next to be anymore, a different man was disturbing my peace.
“Aria please” he begged. His voice was so hoarse and small I could barely hear him. “Please Aria”
I looked away from him, but I couldn’t escape the fact that he was standing right there.
I wiped the tears from my eyes. The sky was blue not black and the hand on my shoulder was a deep ebony, not his olive.
“Why are you here?” I brushed his hand off, “How did you find this place?”
“Those are two very different questions,” his usual joking and flirting had no place in the tone he was using on me.
“Do you remember when we were children?” He’d turned fully towards me now, as if we were having a normal, two-sided conversation. “The games we used to play, rolling down the hill?” Owl is only two or three years older than me, close enough that we used to spend time together as children.
“And remember how Wildcat taught us to pull all of our limbs into our bodies as we spun and to draw the nausea out and put it in the stones?”
I do remember. It was a child’s trick really, fitting for some of our first lessons in body and energy control, but it was so much fun. We’d all run up to the top, the older ones drawing the breezes to help their sprints, and would take turns shooting down the hill and, if we were brave enough, into the water below. The technique of cutting out the sickness of spinning that fast was simple. All you had to do was feel the connection between the rotation in your body and the feeling it caused, then take the energy pulling at your body and put it into the stones. I made the mistake of picking up one of the pretty glowing stones once and my five year old body nearly collapsed from the rush of sickness that flowed into me. As I was vomiting over the cliffs I told my friends over and over not to touch the light-filled stones. At the time, I didn’t realize that the reason everyone looked at me funny was because I was the only one who saw the lights.
“I always imagined that was what it was like to see energy,” he said, startling me and setting my guard back up. “all the colors blending together and spiraling every which way.”
There was no way he knew about my Sight, but I still felt like this was something more than idle talk. I tried to look him in the eyes, but he seemed lost in the memories too. I turned back to the cliffs and waited, but it seemed he was done. At some point he slipped away, but I stayed there, the answers to my questions lost somewhere in the fog and sea foam. 333Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡthLK1um7yJ
I went back inside and helped Bee make breakfast. Bee never expected me to talk when we cooked, so I lent all of my focus to chopping and folding and frying. The common room filled up as bleary-eyed young men and women were drawn out by the promise of warm turnovers and spiced potatoes.
“It’s nice to have six less people to cook for,” Bee observed, finally breaking the silence.
I flipped a turnover and shook my head
“Like cooking for 45 people is that much less”
My mood had lifted a bit, but that curl of worry still sat heavy in my stomach.
“Ah, but alas, dear girl,” he sighed, twirling his way over to hand me a pile of the raw apple pastries. “Do you not feel a great easing of way frying ten less of these blasted confections?” His fooling paid off as I laughed and threw one at him. He twisted to catch it in his mouth and began chewing.
“Of course you buzzing fool”
Once he’d swallowed that one, I threw another at him, which he caught gracefully between his teeth. I laughed at him and finished off cooking the turnovers.
After breakfast we meditated for an hour then split up for morning exersizes. Although after our late night, “morning” meant early afternoon. As one of the oldest, I was taking a turn teaching the little ones. They tumbled into the practice room giggling but quieted down when they saw me waiting. Unlike Merana and Levin, I let them do real fighting. I stepped onto the smoothed wood untied my outer layers of clothing.
“Who remembers the first snake form?”
I picked Enrique out of the group of reaching hands and set him up opposite me. He raised his hands up to the attack stance of the movement and tossed back his angelic chocolate curls with a huge grin. I raised my eyebrows and stepped back, he knew better. His face dipped into a deep frown and he dropped his body into the beginning of the movement. We breathed in together and lifted our left arms , twisting them up. He shook a little, but unlike most of the others, he could feel the energy lines that guided his body when he let them.
That was one of the challenges of the Syunan style of fighting. We trained for years to precisely control every muscle in our bodies, but we also had to let our bodies go and follow the strings pulling at them. When you surrender your body completely to the energy around you, you feel like the most powerful creature on Earth, but it also takes all your willpower to stay yourself and not lose your mind to the power engulfing you.
That was what I was terrified of happening to Noah. He had always been just a little too willing to give up control of the energy he was dictating. In small works, this wasn’t a problem, but if he lost control of the power during a battle his whole consciousness could dissolve along the energy lines.
As Enrique and I moved into the combat portion of first snake, I saw small threads of energy shooting out from his core and towards his hands and feet. Finally. I grinned and sped up the form.
“Aria,” Enrique gasped, losing his footing.
“Get up Rique”
He didn’t argue, but I saw steel enter his eyes. He did his best to keep up with my pace, but his motions got more and more desperate. I broke form to strike at his chest and he jerked out an arm to block me. A rush of energy halted my arm and knocked me back. Seven pairs of awed eyes were fixed on Enrique, and one fixed on me.
“How did I do that?” Enrique asked me, his voice barely above a whisper.
“Good job, you can sit down.”
I’d started seeing flashes of energy shifts in Enrique’s body recently, the first signs of potential for energy manipulation. He went and started talking with Alik, who’d started his energy training a few weeks before.
“And then,” his eyes lit up, “my whole body just filled up, like someone had poured water through a hole in my head. It was amazing!”
“I know Alik, it’s really cool,” I said, rolling my eyes at how excited he was. His laughter echoed off the walls and he skipped down to the dormitories.
At a few months away from seven, he was the first of the little ones to progress into using energy. I was a little sad that I never got that moment of discovering energy, it had always been a part of my life. I felt a hand on my shoulder right as Alik disappeared around the corner. I threw a wall of energy up behind me as a turned, but Noah had already backed away.
“Gods Noah, you gave me a heart attack” 333Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡfJaAFLCeKd
He narrowed his eyes and I took a step back.
“Oh really? After today, I didn’t think anything surprised you”
I tried to calm my expression. I should’ve known that out of everyone, Noah would be the first. He knew me so well.
“What do you mean?” I asked carefully. The energy sifting through Noah was flowing too quickly and erratically.
“You knew Alik was going to do that. Somehow you knew that he was about to use energy.”
I tried to give some denial but Noah had stepped closer, a mix of hurt, anger and curiosity painting his face.
“You’ve been watching him these last few days, and you’ve been pushing him harder than any of them. And then suddenly he forces the energy, just like that.” My mind was racing trying to come up with something to say. It should’ve been easy.
Pushing him harder? No I haven’t.
That’s exactly why, he was working harder than anyone else so he was progressing faster.
Alik’s always been a little more advanced, why are you surprised that he was the first to manipulate?
But I couldn’t do it. None of my lies would’ve mattered because I knew I couldn’t deliver them without my voice or face giving me away. My silence must’ve given him the answer that he was looking for. He stepped away, shocked.
“But is wasn’t “just like that,” not to you.” Only hurt was left on his shadowed face as he left me standing under the darkened threshold of the training room, wondering how hard it was to fix a broken heart.
Levin came in a few minutes later to take over and I headed down to the channel. I was halfway down the cliffs when I stopped holding in the tears. The wind whipped my hair up in golden spirals as I sat crying on the winding trail. I heard someone call my name and I stood up. I stepped off the trail and crushed the tiny golden flowers on the edge of the cliff. I knew that at this time of day the water below me wasn't deep, but I had been diving off these cliffs for years. The voice calling me turned urgent and I stepped right up to the edge and took a deep breath of the clean, salty air. A hand brushed my arm, but I was already falling.333Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡOWUSQb4NUP
For a few seconds, I was flying, and nothing could touch me. The air flowed around me, desperate to hang on and stop my descent. It wiped my mind clean and all I felt was the rush of the world going by. Then I hit the water, and the world went from white to blue. I sank under and drifted lower and lower. I half-closed my eyes and the world lit up before me. Waves of energy flowed up and down with the currents, carried by millions of tiny fish. An eel by my foot wrapped itself around a bass, and the energy bled out of the struggling fish, staining the rock around it. I cocked my head and reached down to touch the spill, curious. The energy soaked into my fingertip and I gasped, letting out the breath i’d been holding. I shot back to the surface, stinging from the loss of the beautiful world receding below me. That and the look on Owl’s face when I came up killed the smile i’d picked up underwater. He waited until i’d headed back to shore to start swimming after me.
Owl was talking to me, saying something as he took off his soaking clothes, but I wasn’t listening. All the pain had sunk back in and it was all I could do to hold onto my self-control. The sand under my legs was solid and the sun setting on the water was bright and that was all I cared to focus on. Something was bothering me, something about names. I looked up and started watching Owl talking at me. I couldn’t remember his name. His words still weren’t reaching my ears, but his body spelled out his anger just as well through rises and falls in his chest and broad sweeps of his arms. He was so physical. Everything he did, everything he said, was charged with presence and his movement and energy. I was willing to bet that if I watched his energy, it would swell through his body, barely contained by his dark skin. I looked up again.
“What?” He asked, startled
“I remember, your name was Luke”
His head snapped up and he laughed hoarsely.
“Unbelievable,” He dropped his hands to his sides, “i’ve been standing here for five minutes talking about how scared I was, and you’ve been trying to remember my name.”
I looked at him, confused.
The level of pain and relief in his eyes just confused me more.
“I thought you were dead.” He exhaled slowly, “Do you realize that people don’t just jump off of cliffs at low-tide for fun? I thought you were trying to kill yourself.”
Suicide was seen as the lowest form of death and dishonor in Syuna. If you hated your life enough to want to die, then you weren’t grateful for the energy people had spent turning you into a warrior and you didn’t respect that you were needed to protect those less skilled than you. It was the equivalent of running away from a battle, putting your happiness over the safety of others.
I stood up and moved across the beach toward him. I had been so caught up in my own pain and stress that I didn’t think about what someone might think seeing me jump off a bluff.
“Owl I-” he pulled me against his chest and I breathed out and wrapped my arms around him. I needed something solid to anchor myself to while the rest of the word was spinning. His skin kept me warm and the feeling of his steady heartbeat pressed to my throat steadied my shaking. His hati pulsed with a second heartbeat, identical to the first. He pulled his warmth back and smoothed my hair.
“Will you tell me what happened?” he whispered. “With-”
I covered his mouth and shook my head, trying not to cry again. I looked away so he wouldn’t see the tears welling in my eyes.
“Hey,” he turned to look in my eyes, “it’s okay. Come on, we need to get back before sunset.” We turned and walked back up the trails to Syuna, still holding each other. I half-lidded my eyes and watched the energy coursing inside Luke’s body and smiled, remembering the last time I had talked to him. He looked at me with a question in his eyes.
“My rock is full of lights,” I laughed.
By the time we got back up to the halls, Bee already had the cider heating and dinner almost done, so I headed back to my room. My mouth twitched into a smile at the thought of Luke’s arms around me. Bee had raised an eyebrow at Owl and I’s interlaced hands before turning back to the stew he was stirring. Rila and Mei were sitting on the floor talking when I came in and both gave me a funny look. I glanced down at my soaked clothes and winced.
“Decide to go for a swim?” Mei asked as she tossed me a towel.
“No. Owl pushed me in,” I lied quickly. I couldn’t very well tell them that I had jumped into the channel because I had had an emotional breakdown in the middle of a lesson.
“You were training with Owl?” Rila had a long-standing crush on Owl, although it would be like pulling teeth to get her to admit so. Rila was like a closed book with a lock on it, and it had taken me years to get a key to that lock. As I slipped off my scarves and loose shirt, Mei lifted herself up into a handstand, her smooth black hair sliding past almond eyes to pile in sheets on the floor. Rila ran a hand through it with a sigh, feeling her own cropped copper hair. I settled down and leaned against her, content in my soft clean clothes.
“How did the little ones do today?” Mei called with a grunt as she tried to walk across the room on her hands.
“Great,” I replied, “Rique manipulated today.”
“Already?” Rila asked. “That’s two in a month, and neither are even seven yet!”
“Guess Ari’s a good teacher,” Mei said with an upside-down shrug.
“Yeah I guess so”
I looked down. I wasn’t a good teacher, I was just exploiting a talent that I’d been lying to all of them about for a decade. I heard feet hurrying down the hall and jumped up. They’re back. The controlled calm I’d managed to achieve fled me in one short breath. Rila and Mei quickly headed for the door, no doubt excited that Noah was back. The were probably thinking about seeing our friend and the feast we’d have for him tomorrow, but all I could think of was the look on his face when he left me that day on the rock.
“Aria please, you have to help me”
Rila and Mei stood at our door waiting for me, so I shook off the memories and hurried to catch up. Noah would be fine.
The stream of people carried us out into the central courtyard, where we had a view of the hills leading up to the mountains. Merana waved us over to where our friends were waiting. The group got bigger as they approached, but we still couldn’t see them clearly. Everyone else relaxed as we waited and a few impromptu sparring sessions broke out, but my eyes were trained on the growing splotch in the rising darkness beyond our halls. Right before they came over the last hill, they sank down into a valley just below it. With nothing to watch, I turned my focus to the group around me.
“-th dragon. I can’t hold my momentum into the last spin,” Ketlan said, clearly frustrated. “The harder I try, the worse I do.”
“A leaf on the wind doesn’t move, it is moved,” Merana and I recited in unison. I smiled in her direction. “It’s not about putting force into maintaining the spin, it’s about letting yourself follow the energy lines and falling into it.”
“Could you show me?” Ketlan asked hopefully.
I stepped away and took a deep breath. My dagger slid out of its sheath and I spun my right leg back into the beginning of the movement. Last night I had struggled with it, but today I let myself flow and the lines guided my body. Every time I landed, the energy in my body swelled and lifted me up again. I moved into the last part of the form and twisted my torso so I was parallel to the ground. I hung there for a second then let myself fall into the last spin, landing with one knee on the ground and my dagger solidly in my palm. My friends whistled and clapped as I got up and dusted myself off. Ketlan sighed and started halfway through the form.
“I am a leaf,” I heard him mutter.
I slipped my dagger back into my belt and went to lean against Jelan. Suddenly the quiet chatter around us dropped and I glanced towards the hills. My eyes caught on tow figures making their way down the slope and a stab of panic bit into my heart. Two. A woman with long thin braids and a man with bright copper curls were picking their way down through the grass and rocks. Another stab tore a hole in me and my eyes glued themselves to the top of the hill. Any second he would be coming over the top to come join them. Owl and Lemur went to welcome the Dragon and Unicorn back and Maliya, the Unicorn, shook her head sadly. I cried out and sank down to my knees.
“No, no, no, no,” Levin whispered over and over. Noah’s words kept ringing in my ears.
“I know you can see the energy in people, you can see if he’s dead”
I couldn’t look at him. How could he do this to me? How could he pull me into this mess he’d made.
“I need to know if he’s alive Aria,” He took a deep breath and his whole body shook. “Aria please, if he’s alive I need to run, if he’s dead…” I clenched my fists and shook my head. I couldn’t.
“Ari,” his voice broke and I felt his trust in me breaking too.
Merana and Ketlan were standing staring at the elders, shocked, as they retreated into the halls without Noah. Mei and Rila were holding up Levin’s limp body. Noah was his roommate and best friend. A hand on my wrist broke my reverie.
“Aria?” Enrique looked up at me, “Where’s Noah?”
I pulled him into a hug and let his shoulder muffle my words.
“Noah’s not coming back Rique,” his brow creased and he opened his mouth like he was going to ask me something then closed it and let go of me.
I watched him walk away and went to join my friends as they shared some of the pain I’d been feeling for days.
I was sitting cradled by the warm stone when Luke climbed up my rock. He took my hand and leaned back next to me to listen to the roar of the waves. We sat there for the rest of the night mourning the loss of our brother.
333Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6drKVtGo0kns 188.8.131.52da2