Chapter 1: Reunion
Three Years Later
I quickly aimed at the last remaining bird, about a mile away. With one eye closed I could see all of the details in its serene face. Its eyes were big and black, never blinking. Its beak glistened in the bright sunlight, its feathers looking awfully majestic as it soared around the clear blue skies, completely oblivious to its surroundings. My hand tensed around the trigger. I wasnt nervous; there was just something about this day. I could tell something interesting was going to happen.
I fired the gun and walked away, not bothering to check if I had hit my mark. I knew I had. All the training with Demitri made me awfully confident, and I had every reason to be. I was strong, fast and dexterous. What Demitri had told me that day three years ago was true. Breaking that seal did change me. I hadnt seen a mirror in three years, so I wasnt exactly sure what I looked like. But I did know my eyes were red, I didnt bother deactivating my Adepts eye anymore; it was just easier this way. I also know my hair was an onyx black instead of the green I was used to. My muscles were also more defined, I could just tell by feeling how my body responded to my commands.
After we left the school, we flew to a mountain range outside of Perion. The skies were so clear, and it never rained or snowed, despite our altitude. It was the perfect place to practice combat, or some of the . . . louder abilities I learned with the pistol. Since Ive never been there before, Perion was the perfect place to hide out from the law. I went down to the town often and talked with some of the local kids. One of them taught me how to play the guitar, an instrument they invented and I copied with my shadow. I really appreciated the refuge of Perion. Often I protected them from the random monster attacks that occurred from time to time. That also let me practice my skills. Yian, when not training with me, watched over the town. Often he could take care of invasions himself, but of course for large scale invasions help was needed. But Im rambling.
I ran the 20 miles back to camp. Demitri was sitting there waiting for me. Small orbs of shadow danced around him majestically. This was how he exercised his mind.
Why couldnt you have taught me that? I asked, a little annoyed.
I think someones being a little ungrateful. The orbs continued spinning around him, in a seemingly random pattern. It was impressive I have to admit. I sat next to him and watched. No matter how many times I watched this same ritual, it never ceased to amaze me. After a while he opened one of his eyes, taking a peek at me.
Really, this would be easy if you practiced like I told you to. I didnt respond. Come then. If you have nothing to do then spar with me. He sighed and the orbs dissolved into nothingness. Two, however, floated over to his hands and formed the knuckle set I was so used to by now.
I charged and ripped the Shadow Piece off my neck and formed my energy pulsing knuckles before I even reached him. I spent more time practicing that then Id like to admit, but I can say the benefits paid off. I met his initial punch with one of my own. Our fists remained locked for a second, before the frenzy of attacks began. My reaction times had increased drastically. Quickly I used my left hand to hit away his. I swung my arm around and locked his wrist in the palm of my hand. I lunged for his face, but before I could reach him, he dropped to the floor, and swung around with his legs, knocking mine from under me. I propelled my hands to the floor, and twisted my body around, peaking into a hand stand and dropping to my feet again. Demitri was already on his feet, lunging forward.
He kicked around my left side with his leg, and instinctively I blocked it with my left arm. I grabbed his ankle and propelled him in the direction he was turning, twisting around his leg, turning clockwise myself, and ending with an elbow rushing for his stomach. He grabbed my elbow and kicked at my legs again. I deftly jumped into the air and kicked backwards several times before falling back to my feet. He blocked them all of course, but they distracted him enough that I had time to transform my knuckles into a long glowing onyx whip on the turn. He obviously wasnt expecting that, because he allowed himself to get caught. I twisted the whip around his leg and pulled his body towards me. Quickly I switched hands, and punched forward with my right hand. His hand was moving up for the block, but my fist was approaching too quickly. My hand connected with his jaw, just for an instant, before he could kick me in my chest and propel himself backwards.
He stopped attacking. This was weird. Our battles never ended this quickly. Coincidentally, this was the first battle I had gotten a hit in. Recently, every attack had been blocked. I couldnt help but smile.
Sulking in defeat, eh? Surprisingly he laughed.
Actually, yeah. He paused. Its weird; I never expected you would become this strong so quickly. He was brimming over with admiration. I think youre ready.
Ready? For what? I contorted my confusion into an expressionless question. It was something I was working on, being impassive. I could feel Yian landing behind me. I held up my arm, and he walked under it, purring at my touch. Recently I hadnt felt the need to talk to him much. We were too close; our thoughts were becoming too synonymous. It may have something to do with the seal being broken. I didnt mind the change though. It was great having someone who could really understand me.
I think youre ready to go back.
To where? I couldnt fight my confusion this time.
To school. His grin was overwhelming. My brow furrowed out of confusion.
School? Arent we fugitives? He laughed.
Why would you say that?
Well . . . you said . . . learning Pirate techniques is forbidden. He laughed again.
The school doesnt know what Ive been teaching you. Just lay low when you get there. My confused stare burst out into a huge grin.
Really? You mean it! I was practically jumping up and down. I still wore the necklace Fye gave to me before I left. It bounced up and down on my chest. Demitri looked cautious.
You know, a lot of people have graduated in your absence, most of the people youve known have probably graduated . . . I refused to let his pessimistic attitude deter my happiness.
I dont care. When can we leave? He sighed. I knew he just didnt want to get my hopes up. I was way past that point, however.
We can leave in an hour if you want . . . I didnt bother to wait for him to finish his sentence. I already was on Yians back, flying down to the city. I wanted to get some gifts for my friends from Black Bull. I also wanted to see some of the friends I made there over my three year stay. After fifty minutes, I headed back to camp, and almost took the ship to school without Demitri.
Going back to school was weird. I dont think I was ready to give up my schedule free, do what I want lifestyle. But it was too late now; we already pulled into the dock. Yian quickly jumped into my shadow, an art we had completely mastered, and I jumped off the side onto solid ground.
Demitri and I walked slowly to the admissions office. We didnt talk on the way, but there was an unseen tension emanating from his body. Being with Yian for so long gave me a very weak version of his mind reading, I could sense general emotions of moods of a person, and Demitri was practically sweating stress. What could be bothering him so much?
He knocked on the door. A pleasant yet familiar voice told us to enter. He cautiously creaked open the doorway. As we walked in I looked around the room. It was small, I suppose. Compared to the way I remember the battle room at least. There were numerous framed pictures and degrees on the beige walls. A few plants were littered around the room, following no particular pattern. What really took my breath away was who was working at the desk. It took me a minute, but soon I recognized her; it was Jess! It took all my effort to keep myself under control. I still wasnt sure what Demitri was planning. She looked up at us with a polite grin. When she say Demitri, she nearly gasped.
Demitri! she exclaimed.
Hey Jess. He said in that nonchalant voice of his. His smile was genuine though.
How are you; where have you been? I could sense her urge to run up and hug him, but she fought it.
I was conducting some business. He gestured over to me. She looked at me with an expression I wasnt familiar with, but then looked back at him.
So, hell be enrolling in the Academy?
Hes already enrolled, or at least he was. She looked at Demitri oddly.
What guild? It was a simple enough question.
Leaf, mam. If she didnt remember me, it wouldnt hurt to
But that would mean . . . no! Her no wasnt one of anger, it was something like astonishment. She looked closely at my face, and slowly maneuvered her eyes to meet mine. Theres no way . . . Echo?
Hi Jess! I was grinning from ear to ear. I didnt wait for her to hug me, I ran over to her and gave her a big one, lifting her out of her seat and spinning her around. She seems so fragile in my hands, like I could crush her if I wanted to.
Echo! I missed you! How have you been? By this time I had but her down, and she was standing with her hands on her hips smiling grandly.
Demitri . . . is a tough master. She laughed.
Tell me about it. Sorry I dont have much time to talk now, but how about we get lunch later. I want to hear all about it. Even though I didnt like the idea of talking for an hour, I gladly agreed. My nostalgia won out over my old fashioned antisocial tendencies. She said I was free to follow my old schedule, and since Ive been gone for so long Ive been bumped all the way down to 20th, and a rank one fighter. That was kind of disappointing, but I had been gone for three years.
Demitri walked me to the dorms. While we walked I stretched out my mind as far as it would reach, trying to touch everything with it so I wouldnt need a map to get around anymore. I figured I would just go exploring with Yian later. When reached the doors to the Leaf Dormitory, my apprehension displaced my burning curiosity.
I dont know if I can do this. What if he graduated.
Youll do fine.
Yeah, but what if He was already gone. While I had already reached a level of speed that nearly matched his, it still offended me he would leave so quickly. I sighed and punched my card into the slot. I was met with a familiar beep and the flashing green light. I sighed and slowly reached for the handle. I figured nothing could be that bad after training with a slave driver for three years. I turned the handle, and slowly the door creaked open.
The room was relatively the same as I remembered it. The mulch on the floors slipped through the open space in my sandals and through my toes. It felt nice. The hammocks hanging from the trees next to the walls were slightly higher than I remembered. I realized it was because the trees they were tied to grew a little bit.
I shuffled over to my hammock and threw down my knapsack. I didnt even bother looking around me. No one would recognize me anyway. I opened my locker and took the new uniform that was waiting for me. Grudgingly I snatched it up and walked out of the dorm to the bathroom. I noticed a few people staring at me in the blueprint of the room in my mind, but paid them no attention. I changed into the loose fitting thief armour and tied the belt around my waist. As I looked into the mirror, a wave of shock rushed over me. I looked so different from before. My hair was black, I already knew that, but it had grown out into a spiky disheveled pattern that made me look like a rebel. By eyes were darker than before, the color of drying blood. I had a slight tan, but overall my skin stayed relatively the same, although my muscles looked like they were trying to escape. I had an athletes body, not sickeningly muscular, but well defined enough that an average person would think twice before messing with me. At the risk of becoming a bit too vain I looked in the mirror one last time before leaving again to the dorm.
I walked inside the room. I could see more peoples eyes were on me this time. I guess it was kind of weird, a kid walking into the room without introduction, changing into their uniform, and laying down without saying anything. I looked at the ceiling and ran through mathematical calculations with a part of my brain. Another was playing music, and another was replaying old battles and making the appropriate corrections. Eventually someone walked over and started watching me. I didnt look at him with my eyes, but my mind was still getting a three dimensional picture of the room.
He looked awfully young, a little bit older than I was when I first entered the guild. He had broad features and skin tanned brown from too much exposure to the sun. He wore the thief uniform, but I didnt see a weapon. His hair shagged into his eyes. That reminded me a lot of Fye. It made me sad, but I drowned out the emotion with music. I still wasnt even sure Fye had graduated.
The boy just sat there, staring at me. My head was to the wall, so he didnt know if I was awake or not. I decided to humor him.
Can I help you? I said in an extremely low voice. He jumped a little, I could sense it, but he tried to play it off.
No . . . but, could you answer me something?
What is it?
Who the hell are you? That caught me off guard. I turned to look at him with my human eyes. He had a painful looking scar over his left eye I hadnt seen with my mind. I was a little shocked to see it, but if I made any physical sign of that he didnt seem to notice. I sat up on the hammock.
Thats not important. I got up and walked out the door. More people were looking this time; I still pretended not to notice. The boy followed me out.
No need to be cryptic. I was just wondering who you were.
I know, but its not important. I was trying to find Demitri. I had no idea where he would be, so I decided to go to our regular training spot. The boy continued to follow me through the building, asking me who I was over and over again. I learned that his name was Repty, and I didnt give up on the chance to comment on the oddity of his name. He followed it up with a casual, Yeah I know, I bet youre names even weirder.
Look, why do you want to know so bad. Its not like we need to be friends to fight together. He stopped and looked down.
I was just trying to be a friend. No one really liked be besides Aim, but now hes gone. Aim? Wasnt that Fyes, nickname? I turned my head to look at him over my shoulder as I walked.
You mean Fy oof. In my haste I slammed into a heavily armoured kid walking in my direction. I stumbled backwards, but quickly regained my balance. The boy had an awfully familiar face, although the armor wasnt anything Id seen before. It was all made of metal. His overall was black with silver shoulder guards and chest plate. His shoes were black, and his gloves were made of sheets of ribbed sheets of metal, they looked just flexible enough to grasp a sword. His helmet was made of steel, and had an insignia of a dragon on it. He held a large black sword with a thin space protruding from the hilt and half way into the blade.
Son of a hey, watch where your going! When he spoke, I finally remembered who he was, Kiel. I pushed past him and continued on my way. Repty looked up at him cautiously before scurrying off behind me.
Hey! Leaf b#%^! Dont walk away from me! I kept going, and Repty scrambled to keep pace. I could see him unsheathe his sword and rush toward me. He was surprisingly quiet, even with all that armour. He swung at my head, but before he could reach I spun around and grabbed his wrist, pressing my thumb into one of his nerves. Quickly I followed through with an uppercut, right into his elbow. I heard a sickening crunch as his bone gave way. His sword clattered to the ground. At first he had a bewildered look on his face, but that soon gave way to a blood curdling scream. I looked over to Repty.
You might want to get him a cleric before he bleeds to death. He blinked a few times, and charged back to the Dorms. I kept walking until I came to the door. Inside I heard quite a commotion. I punched my card into the slot, and was immediately met with a gigantic wall of flame heading right for me. I held my hands in front of my face and leaned into the blow, but it was more powerful that I anticipated. I was thrown into the wall on the opposite side of the hallway. My healing ability quickly patched up the broken skin, preventing bruises. I rushed over to the door. I saw something I didnt expect. Jin and Charles were deep in combat.
Charles looked exactly the same as I remembered him, except for his features hardened a little bit, making him look older. That would make since he was 18, Jin 19. Jin, however, looked completely different. He had grown his fire red hair out a lot, his bangs dangled in his face and the rest of it was tied back in a braid that reached past his knees. His eyes were also red, but not as red as mine were. He wore armor that basically composed of an elongated breast plate, shoulder guards, and a cloth interior. He obviously became much stronger, because he wielded a powerful looking weapon. It was like a sword, but broken into several barb like pieces and liked together with a flame like chord. It swung like a whip as he lashed out to parry Charles super fast blows. The thing that surprised me the most was his height. He grew so much, he was probably six feet and seven inches.
These two were in an intense looking battle. Charles skill as a Chief Bandit was unbelievable. He utilized his ability of super speed as a combat mechanism beautifully. Charles charged directly at Jin. Jin readied his whip to intercept the blow. As soon as Charles got within range, he sidestepped and grazed Jins shoulder with his dagger. Jin smiled and the wound burned shut. Charles quickly changed direction and lunged back for another blow, but Jin quickly intensified the flame around his whip and spun it around his body, sending a wave of fire out in all direction. Charles dove through a narrow gap in the wave and rolled toward Jin, leaping out of his somersault at the exact right moment to get a direct attack at Jins face. However, Jin was prepared. Before Charles could dash off at super high speeds, he kicked him in the chest, sending him flying backwards. Jin lashed out with the whip, grabbing Charles body in mid air, and pulled, the blade segments ripping into his skin. He then pulled him back in and punched him in his jaw. A sickening crunch filled the room.
Suddenly, the body tied in the rope caught on fire. I realized it wasnt a body at all, but a wooden dummy. Somehow Charles had replaced himself before the whip got hold of him. I had heard of this technique before, I believe it was called Fake. But I thought the skill book for it had been lost long ago. Almost as if on cue, Charles appeared right behind Jin, and the sound of multiple stab wounds being inflicted filled the room. I cringed a little bit. This combat wasnt in The Mind. These wounds would take time to heal, even with the help of a cleric.
Jin swore in disgust as the six wounds on his back melted together to form the raw pink scars I saw in our battle before. Charles closed his eyes and threw his dagger into the air, out of sight. When it came back down, it was accompanied by five menacing characters. The tallest one was heavy set with a brown overall. There was a woman with a red overall and container of needles on her back. The blonde haired one carried no weapon and wore a blue overall. The ninja looking one wore black clothing and wielded a sword. There was one more with a golden helmet and staff that hung behind the rest.
The biggest of them charged for Jin, like a raging bear. Jin swung his whip over his head, producing a gigantic disk of fire which the flung at the advancing mercenary. His body caught on fire as he stumbled around, his body slowly disappearing. The other four charged at Jin together. Red stopped short and threw several small needles at Jin, which he easily deflected with his sword. In his left hand he held several balls of flame. He jumped back as Black slashed his sword where he was previously standing. Jin threw the spheres at Red, but she jumped out of the way and threw more needles. Jin dodged out of the way again, and the needles hit Black in the back. Before he disappeared, Jin grabbed his sword and threw it at Gold, which got him right in the chest. Red and Blue stood back to back, and Charles rushed over them and directly at Jin. Red and Blue split up and attacked Jin from all sides. He calmly spun the whip around his head and made another wave of fire. Red and Charles dodged it with little difficulty, but it caught Blues leg on his ascent through one of the narrow pores in the wave. His leg was quickly engulfed in flame, but he didnt disappear just yet. He raced toward Jin, distracting him enough to let Charles get close enough for an attack. Charles stabbed Jin in his arm, and dug the dagger in deeper as he passed by. Before he was out of range, he slipped a few coins into the wound.
Jin roared in agony as be burned his wound closed. With the added distraction of healing, Red was able to throw a few needles into Jins back. He didnt scream this time, but lunged directly at her. He swung the whip out at her, she jumped back, but suddenly the whip gained a few more sections to the sword, just enough to reach her. There was no time for her to scream as the barbed whip ripped her in half. Jins eyes were full of fire as he turned to face Charles. I hadnt seen that look before, ever. He was really facing a challenge. This fight was extremely interesting. And, I knew what would come next.
Charles was holding a small detonator in his hands. Jin continued to glare, until he realized what had happened. His eyes widened with shock. Charles smiled cockily, a smile that resembled the annoying one Demitri always gave me. Jin rushed forward, swinging his whip desperately. There was no way he was going to get there on time. I had to intervene, even if I didnt like him that much.
I dashed in and slapped the box away with my left hand. Quickly I made the knuckles Ive grown so accustomed to and wrapped my hand in Charles shirt, holding him in place. As Jin came into range I grabbed his whip and pulled, spinning him around and wrapping him in it. With that, I spun around and threw them in opposite directions. I went to pick up the detonator. Keep in mind, all of that happened within a single second.
Wha . . . It was Jin who spoke. He sounded bewildered. What the hell just happened.
I just saved your ass, thats what.
I know that voice . . . The whip that was holding him in place burst into a tome of flame and receded into his hand. He walked over to me and looked into my eyes. All of the sudden, he burst into his trademark sadistic grin.
Well well well, I thought you died Echo. By then Charles was already up. I could see in my mind the expression of surprise that blanketed his face when Jin said my name. He didnt say anything, of course he didnt he was a mute, but I could feel that he was happy.
You look different. What were you doing for three years? Getting a makeover?
Yes Jin. Thats exactly what I was going for three years. Getting a makeover. How perceptive of you. His sadistic grin grew.
I see you havent changed a bit, but I have. Look. He spun around. Im taller, and stronger.
Right. Of course I havent changed. Lets just ignore the fact that I just threw you across the room.
Thats what I was doing. Anyway, since you ruined our sparring, I have to go get someone to take these coins out of my arm. Ill see you later. He engulfed his body in flames and flew out of the room. I rolled my eyes. His constant showboating was really annoying.
Whatever. Are you still in Leaf Charles? He nodded. I smiled. Okay then, lets go. We walked out of the room, and headed back to the dorms. Half way there, there was a huge crowd gathered in the middle of the hall way. I realized it was where Kiel attacked me from before. He was sitting on the ground, screaming for people to get away from him. A group of warriors in white armour were trying to restrain him. A scared looking cleric was desperately trying to persuade him to calm down so he could heal his wounds. Silently I assimilated into the crowd. I got into the inner ring, and had to laugh at the scene. The warriors were crowed around him, trying to hold both his good limbs and gently restrain his broken one. He wasnt accepting any of it. He flung his broken arm around wildly, tears streaming down his face at the pain. He had way too much vanity to be helped.
Let me go I say! Im the best Crusader in all of Obsidian! I dont need your help River swine! Unhand me you insolent knave! He heard me laughing in the crowd. It was him! He broke my arm!
All the sudden he stopped resisting and let the cleric heal his arm. I recognized him as the cleric who escorted me to Jess office all those years ago. He looked stronger, but just a pathetic. Kiel jumped up and swung his sword over his head. People in the crowd jumped back in surprise.
No one insults my honour and gets away with it! I, sir, challenge you to a duel! I casually brushed back my hair.
Get over yourself Kiel. With that I walked away. I could see the eyes of the girls in the crowd follow me as I walked back to the dorms. Kiel stormed after me, but I kept walking. He got closer and closer, spinning his sword above his head, trying to be dramatic. The crowd cautiously followed us. He got within striking distance. He brought the sword down, right for my neck. Before I could calmly sidestep his pathetic, predictable attack, an alarm went off.
Alert! Alert! The academy is under attack! Everyone please report to the auditorium for your assignments! The alert rang through the hallways. Flashing strobe lights, that would have blinded me if I didnt keep my Adepts eyes on all the time, lead the way to the auditorium. Without warning, a loud explosion was heard from the southern wing of the building. The crowd dropped to the floor, and Kiel sheathed his sword and ran the way the lights pointed him to.
Well finish this later, peon. Charles suddenly appeared at my side. I was going to have to get used to that super speed thing.
Charles, we dont have to wait. People are in danger. Lets go now. He looked at me with an unfathomable expression, the nodded. I could feel his trust in me. It was nice.
This way, follow me. Quickly I called on Yian. His shadowy figure appeared below me, and I jumped on his back. Hop on we have to go. Charles jumped on behind me. Yian sent a blast of energy at the ceiling, and he took off through the gap, ready to face whoever was attacking us.