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Tree Running (part 1)
A young boy, about four years old, shifted from foot to foot as he scanned the crowd, in the center of a large field, around him. An older girl stood next to him. She placed a steady hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her, but found her sternly staring up at the front. Standing up there, on the slightly raised platform, was a tall man wearing a dark green coat. The young boy himself was wearing clothing of the same color. A pair of trousers, held on by string, and a loose linen shirt. He also wore a beanie, covering most of his curly, black hair. The girl beside him wore clothing of the same fashion; but they weren’t green, they were grey. All throughout the crowd girls and boys wore clothing of the same type but they were dark green, navy, grey, or maroon. The boy had asked before why people wore color coded clothing, yet in the end his answer was a silencing glare.
The tall man up front clapped his hands twice. The crowd quietened. Nodding, the man stepped down from the platform. He strode forward, hands clasped behind his back. The crowd parted before him as if he expelled an aurora of power, which the young boy believed indeed. The tall man stalked up to where the young boy was standing. The boy felt as if he’d melt under the power aurora flowing around the man. The man halted and pulled out a clipboard from his coat. He studied the piece of paper on the board then scanned the crowd for someone. He flipped the first paper over and studied the paper underneath as well. Then he once more scanned the crowd. His eyes fell on the young boy.
The boy began to shake in his goatskin shoes. The sturdy hand on his shoulder squeezed hard. The tall man stepped up closer to the young boy.
“Kid,” he said, his voice stern, “did you come alone?” The young boy was too scared to answer. His voice just wouldn’t work. Lucky for him, the girl next to him spoke up.
“He’s with me, sir.” Her voice was strong and steady. Not a quivering note heard. The tall man nodded.
“Then let me ask you a question, since your companion is shaking too much to respond.” The young boy hung his head. He was sure he’d get a scolding after this. The man continued, “On your entry forms, both of you refused to fill in the surname blank. May I know why?”
The girl, keeping her expression blank, replied, “You should know that names are important information and not to be given away so easily. So we chose to at least give you our first names. That is all we shall give.”
The man lifted his clipboard.
“Zath and Shen? Who is who?”
The girl placed a hand on her chest.
“I am Zath, and he,” she gestured with her hand towards the boy, “is Shen. And if you need to have a surname on those forms; we shall allow the name Fake written in the blank.” The man nodded again and wrote down the new surname Fake.
“Very well, Zath and Shen Fake.” The man raised his voice, “I will give all of you ten minutes to form in groups of three and four.” The crowd began to murmur. “Your time begins now!” He walked back to his platform.
Everyone began to grab others and call to friends. The sound was like a herd of cows being rejoined with their calves. Zath yanked her brother, Shen, closer and silently glanced around. She was looking for someone. Shen glanced up.
“Who are y--”
“Shhh.” said Zath sharply. Then her eyes lit up. A boy a few years older than Zath wearing navy clothing waved as he approached.
“Good to see that you two made it.” He shouted to be heard over the callings. Even though his tone was light, his face remained as expressionless as Zath’s. The boy flipped his stringy black hair out of his eyes. Shen looked up at the boy and for a minute he was confused. He didn’t remember that boy.... Then it came back. It seemed that he had forgotten everything during the time the man had been talking to them. Now he remembered who the boy was. He was Rex, and he was the strongest of the three of them. He was the one who had been training them for the last three years. He was like an older brother, and almost like a father to them. He was the one who was there when they were hurt, or in danger. He was the one who taught them all the techniques. All the tips on how to survive in the wild. He was their tutor, their friend, their relative.
Now they were here to prove they were strong. They had trained hard for the last month, and today they would take the test. The test to find the strongest. The test that they had all entered. Shen would soon join the Secondary’s Contest later on, while both Zath and Rex would join the Masters Contest. But that was for the third part of the test. The first part was starting now.