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“Say Gwen, how does if feel to be a kid?” Tanner said as he came prancing into the front room. Before I even had time to respond he continued “Take it all in now because your about to become an adult”
Becoming an adult. In Gottenfor, that is no easy task. After your fourth year of training every student must complete the final test. Every student must prove to the kingdom that they are ready.
“Well when I become an adult you are going to have to respect me, I’ll be your elder” I replied with a grin.
“That’s only if you survive.” He snapped back.
With that I raised my right hand, and let a spark of fire wiz past his right ear. Being a girl has its advantages
“Hey that’s no fair!” Tanner yelled and lunged at me.
I may be a girl but I have two years on him so it’s a fair fight. I gave a few good hits before I herd Eric’s stern voice from the end of the hallway.
“Will you two break it up!”
We both let go, and I tried to stand but felt a sharp pain in my right thigh. Not wanting to appear that Tanner had hurt me I bit my lip and stood up, meeting his glare. We stood there, as still as statues, staring each other down. Then I saw his upper lip begin to curl and form into a smile. I couldn’t help but laugh. The good thing about having brothers, they don’t hold grudges.
“Hey Gwen, mind starting a fire, we need to get breakfast going?” Eric said as he passed me and headed for the door.
I followed him towards our woodpile; grabbing the few pieces we had left and brought them inside. I set them in a pile by the door, raised my hand, and within seconds they were aflame.
“What’s for breakfast Eric?” I called out the door, but no reply followed. Moments later he was standing in the doorway with two fish, one in each hand.
“Nice and fresh, Bruce down at the Armory told me he caught them only a few days ago”
I was to surprised to respond. Fish? This was almost unheard of! There aren’t many places for miles around for fish to live, with us so high up in the mountains. It’s also not like Bruce to be generous, but then again we have fish and that’s all that matters. I took one of the sticks that had fallen out of the fire and happily jabbed it into my breakfast. Putting it genteelly over the fire, I waited for my meal to cook.
“ Well Gwen you better eat up, you need all the strength you can get” Tanner said as he headed back to our room, “Or you’ll be eaten yourself.”
This gave me an uneasy feeling, and though I hate to admit it, Tanners right.
“How’d you do it, Eric? How did you kill a Saber-Tooth?” Eric is 7 years older than me, and him having already gone though the process could work to my advantage. He came over to the fire and sat down, back against the hard stonewall.
“Well Gwen, killing it, that’s not the hard part” he said, starring into the fire, eyes in a trance, reliving his journey into the mountains.
How could killing a 6 foot tall 12 foot long murdering machine not be the hard part? I thought in disbelief. He just kept staring into the flames, sitting motionless, his mind deep in thought. Becoming an adult, every year the kingdom gets worked up about it. Who will be back first? Who will have the biggest Tooth? Will someone not make it? It’s exciting to them, because they already been through it, because they are safe at home. I’ve had countless dreams about being eaten by a saber-tooth, the pain as its dagger like fangs plunge into my heart. Dreams about getting lost in the mountains, and freezing to death because my magic wont work.
“Nah Gwen,” he finally says, “The hardest part is finding the dam thing.”
I look back to the fire and notice that my fish is finally cooked. I carefully take it off the end and begin to eat. My brother has a good point, how do you find a Saber-Tooth. They are sneaky, crafty creatures, and blend in with their surroundings.
“What you need to do,” he continued, “ is find their food source. There are not many times when the reveal them selves, and when they do you best be ready. Find some mountain goats and camp out, if your lucky you will find yourself a Saber-Tooth.” He said and headed back to his room, leaving me alone to finish my breakfast.
I could walk to school with my eyes closed. Having gone there every day for the past 4 years. It’s almost sad that this is the last day I will make the journey. Walking through town, past Bruce at the Armory, then 6 houses down you make a right turn, then after a good 10 minute walk you come to some stairs, 500 of them, they lead you right up to the school. My legs carried me without thinking as I made my way. A million thoughts jumbled through my brain, each fighting for attention. What’s going to happen? Am I ready? Will I be able to find a saber-tooth? Will I die? Pushing each question away, trying not to be negative, I keep walking. I’m at the bottom of the stairs when suddenly I hear my name.
“Hey, Gwen! Wait up.” The voice says.
I spin around and realize who it is, Mason.
“Oh hey Mason, if I had know you were there I would have stopped earlier.” I said, feeling bad because he seems to be panting. Did he run to catch up with me?
“Well in that case,” he begins, but stops, and a smile is all that follows.
Mason and I have been friends since I can remember, though both very different, we get along remarkably well.
“Well Gwen todays the day.” He says then stands up straight puffs out his chest and continues “ Now son, today you leave as a child, and come back as a man! I want you to go out there, stare that saber-tooth right in the eye and show it your not scared!” he said triumphantly in his fathers rough, ragged voice. I can’t help but laugh, his imitations are getting better.
“That was my speech before I left the house this morning” he chuckled, then started up the steps. I was quick to follow, wouldn’t want to be late.
“Now Class please, take a seat” said a croaky voice from the other side of the room. I turned my head and it was none other then Mrs. Maudes. Her knotted hair is pulled back into a tight bun resting on the top of her head, dark brown eyes with creases underneath showing her age, and a stout body no more than 5 feet tall, who else could it be. I sat at the back of the room so my back would have a place to rest during her long antagonizing lecture. Other students scurried around the room before finally sitting down.
“Alright class, now here is how today is going to work, at exactly quarter past the half you will meet at the Southern Gate. If you are late,” she said pausing long enough to making contact with every gaze in the room, “you will have an unfortunate penalty against you. I wont tell you what it is, your choice if you want to find out.” She challengingly said.
The class was silent, everyone trying to guess what the consequence could possibly be. As if our task wasn’t already hard enough.
“Right now I need you all to write your first name on a stone, hand it to me, and you are free to go.”
Low murmurs erupted form the class. Why write your name on a stone? What does she need that for? We are allowed to go?
“Quite!” she bellowed.
All noise instantly came to a halt. All eyes on Mrs. Maudes and the thin rocks she picked up from the desk beside her.
“It’s crazy how fast that women can quiet a room.” Said Mason from beside me, “She is so small yet seems so large” starring at her in disbelief.
At that moment Mrs. Maudes was handing us our two rocks. We wrote our names as fast as we could, then headed out the door. Glad to leave Mrs. Maudes and her classroom behind us.
“So we have till quarter past the half” Mason said while looking into the sky. “Well the suns almost at half, I say we have time for some lunch”
I looked up into the sky, double checking his time. The sun was almost dead center in the sky. Agreeing with Mason’s calculations we began walking.
“Mason, do you want to come to my house for lunch, I still have a fish left from breakfast we could share?”
He looked at me with the same eyes I had given Eric this morning, “Fish? I haven’t had one of those since, well” he paused for a moment to think, “I can’t even remember!” he finished with a laugh.
I took his answer for a yes and we headed back to my home. Down the steps, along the path, making a left, and after 6 houses we came to the armory.
“Wait here, I should thank Bruce for the fish” I told Mason before entering. He wished me good luck, and in 5 minutes if I wasn’t out he would come in for me.
The moment I step inside I am engulfed by dingy, hot, muggy air, and a rotting smell coming from somewhere in the corner. I scan around looking for Bruce, but the low lighting makes it next to impossible.
“Can I help you?” said a voice from the corner, the same one that had the funny smell.
I span around to see Bruce not 3 feet away. In the dim light, his tall and built figure resembles that of a warrior, but as he moves closer his features become more visible. His scruffy, greying hair shooting out in all directions, a deep scar across his cheek, and a thin layer of dirt cover his face. Deep creases under his bark brown eyes, and wrinkles on his forehead show his age.
“Oh Gwendolyn, it’s you, came here to thank me for the fish I suppose?”
“Just wanted to say I appreciate it”
I thanked him one last time and headed for the door when he spoke again.
“Oh and before you go, an old mans word of advice,” he briefly paused then continued, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
He walked over to a old rocking chair in the corner, then gave me a nod signaling I was now able to leave.
* * *
Mason and I walked back to my house and prepared for lunch. He grabbed the sticks from the side of the house while I went to get the fish. We brought our materials inside, grabbed a stick for the fish, and put the rest in a pile. I raised my hand and sent a spark buzzing towards the sticks, catching on fire instantly.
“I wish I was a girl.” Mason said as we sat, back against the wall cooking our lunch. He means that not in a literal since, but that women can do magic, men can’t. But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. If men could use magic, who knows what could happen. I also don’t mind being better then them at something. Physically men have the upper hand, they are larger, stronger, and faster, but magic levels the playing field.
“Why do you think they made us right our names down?” he asked, having obviously been thinking about this topic himself.
“You know they do something different every year, maybe this is part of their scheme.” I responded. Though I hadn’t really given it much thought. Why did they need our names, don’t they know us by now? I remembered previous years when they had made students carry 20 pounds worth of rocks in their bags and stitched it up so they knew if anyone had taken them out. Another year they made the students go to certain checkpoints gathering items at each, but that took to long. My brothers year they only let you wear your shirt and leggings, it was your job to find yourself cloths. The possibilities were endless.
“Well I hope they make it easier on us this year, I don’t want to die out there” Mason said.
I looked back at the fire to see our fish was cooked to a crisp, and took it out. We opened it up and started picking away at the meat.
Stomachs full, we got up and headed outside. Looking up at the sky it was getting close to quarter past, so we began our journey to the Southern gate.