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Challenge of the Zodiac

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Author's note: I've always wanted to write something about the Zodiac, but I never knew how to handle it. Early...  Show full author's note »
Author's note: I've always wanted to write something about the Zodiac, but I never knew how to handle it. Early this year, while everyone was in hysteria over the 'sign change', I decided to use Ophiuchus to my advantage and twist the situation around a bit. This is my unfinished product.  « Hide author's note
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Colliding Fire

Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, and Capricorn.

These twelve, simple words control our universe, culture, and our lives in general. You could almost say that every person's astrological sign is intertwined in their DNA: The sign is you, and you are the sign. This spiritual and internal bond has gone on for centuries--since the beginning of time. I believe that a particular sign chooses you--even before you exist--and picks out a birth date that suits you best. The connection between a sign and a human being is one that can never be broken, even after death.

A Zodiac sign is like a loyal, guardian angel: It predicts what will happen next in your unknown future and never leaves your side. I wouldn't call it a friend, because even something so powerful and universal could never hold such a title. A friend keeps you company through your short life, while an astrological sign just persuades your actions... and your abilities.

Besides giving you a complex personality, the sign also determines your unique abilities. One person's skill is like no other. They may be similar, but none are exactly alike. God, our creator and ruler of the Zodiac signs wouldn't want any of his children to be the same. We are all different, whether a person likes it or not. Our abilities are built from the sign which chooses us before we are created. For example, a human with the sign Scorpio might be able to communicate with a scorpion, speaking to it in hushed tones when no one else is looking. The insect, despite its humble size, would understand the human and refrain from doing he or she any harm. Or maybe the person could turn into a scorpion, transforming his or herself into a giant, indestructible being who could paralyze someone with a single flick. Our abilities range from harmless to lethal. It all depends on what your sign has in store for you.

Then there are the sections of our world, Zodiac, we live in: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. I live in Jupiter, because my sign is Sagittarius. Once again, the section – or union – you live in is determined by the sign you end up with. Jupiter is the ruling planet of Sagittarius, so therefore all the humans with my sign must be recruited to that area. If your parent was, let's say an Aquarius, the child would have to be transported away from the section Uranus once they turn 13 years old. If the mother was an Aquarius and the father a Taurus, they could choose either Uranus or Venus to raise their child in until their coming of age. Once a person is married they may choose one of their spouses' sections to live in. Once again, everything is determined by a person's sign. You can't ignore or avoid it.

Once a child turns 13, they are expected to act like a proper adult and they're treated like one. They must find jobs that relate to their sign, or be sent off to train for the most important competition in our universe: Challenge of the Zodiac. This is a long and painful journey that lasts a total of twelve months, or one year. Teenagers from all over the world may choose to participate in the first round of the competition, where only twelve of them – all with different signs – will be chosen. These winning twelve will embark on the journey, where they must prove themselves worthy to work by God's side. The journey ends at Heaven's Staircase. The only problem is that no one knows its location, for the winner of the competition is forbidden to tell once they have found it and climbed to heaven. This competition takes place every twelve years, and once it's someone else's turn to work with God, the winner returns to Zodiac and they are forbidden to speak of their time spent in heaven--with our creator and our signs. Once this occurs, the competition and journey start all over again.

I just happened to enroll myself for the first round of the Challenge yesterday. The first round begins in two weeks, where twelve teenagers from all over the world will be chosen by their wits and abilities. This time around, thankfully, the first round is located in my section.

Despite the hardships I know I'll face, I hope my sign – Sagittarius – will pull through for me and I'll be able to prove myself worthy enough to live by God's side for twelve years.

Wish me luck!

~ Fay, Sagittarius

I finished the last s on my journal entry and retracted my ink-smothered brush from the paper. Scanning the wet page, I involuntarily smiled at my progress. Keeping a journal about the competition was a wise idea. That way, if I ever made it to heaven, I could share my experiences and culture with many other beings from different universes. The thought amazed me – I could barely even imagine the creatures I would meet in such a perfect place.

My fingers found the binding of my journal book as I blew softly on the damp page. I cautiously tapped the drying text, and much to my relief, the words didn't smear. Grabbing the book, I tied the new entry inside its leather cover. Once everything was in the right place, I outstretched my arms and grabbed the journal to take a good look at my progress.

The outside of the book was simple, really; poorly scripted text reading 'Astrological Adventure' was scrawled across the front, giving it an unwanted, childish feel. I tried not to scowl at the title. What state of mind I was in while creating the book, I may never know. I'm 17 years old and my ideas seem as though they come from a child no older than five. I flipped carelessly through the blank pages, and I found myself becoming pensive about what I would write about next. From the first round of competition to the twelve month journey, I knew that the journal wouldn't be empty for long.

Sighing, I pushed the book aside and let my eyes wander around my cramped cottage. It's a one room house with only a bed, a table with two chairs, a desk, a sink, and various decorations and trinkets. Making and selling bow and arrows to the citizens of my region doesn't get me far. Certainly not enough to pay the bills for my house in general and the new water system I had installed. I wondered how I even get away with such serious matters. Perhaps it's because I'm not even 18 years old yet, and the elders pity me. I find that very hard to believe, though, because in this society, as soon as your parents kick you out, you're expected to do anything an average adult does in a regular day.

I snorted. 'If only I were mature enough to do so,' my mind decided to add. I absentmindedly glanced at my pocket watch, and realized with much dismay that I should probably head to town. Grocery shopping is an essential thing, and I of course haven't done so in weeks. The little change I get from sculpting arrows and bows is barely enough for a few loaves of bread. Trying to push away the thought of poverty, I got up from my desk and made my way to the front door.

I froze in mid step, catching my appearance in the nearby mirror. Wrinkling my nose at what I saw, I realized that I didn't look the best. My light, auburn hair was tied back in a messy bun at the top of my head, making me look as though I had just crawled out of bed. The bangs didn't help, either, for they were cast to the side of my face, sticking up in all directions. Gray bags settled under my emerald eyes, creating a ghastly glow around my cheeks. The brown frock I wore only added to the monstrosity that is me. I glared at the clothing in disgust, making an irritated mental note about doing laundry soon.

Before I had barely even grazed the knob with my fingers, the door swung open suddenly by another force. I involuntarily wobbled back, surprised at the unusual action.

“Hi, Fay! I was hoping you'd be home. I was wondering if you could – ”

Ugh. I put a hand over the child's mouth before he could continue any further. I didn't even have to look down to know what annoying rat had arrived at my doorstep. It was Torf Sanders, the neighborhood boy who finds it necessary to pester me about almost anything. He'll come over to ask me to play war, or make me 'attempt' to show him how to use a bow and arrow. The worst incident was when he forced me to play leap frog in the middle of the street. This game ended in me hurling him into the grass before we got hit by an oncoming carriage. Since then, I've made a point to stay as far away from the road as possible.

I stared down into his blue orbs, trying to ignore the fact that a sticky substance was currently smeared all over his cheeks. Perhaps he would be tolerable if he wasn't always covered in filth. Shaking his dark, shaggy hair, he tried to talk through my hand. It took all my will power not to shut the door in his face. Realizing that the muffled sounds coming from behind my palm were more annoying than his regular voice, I uncovered his mouth.

Torf, the boy no older than 8 years old, glared at me in return. “What was that for?” he demanded in his usual, whiny tone. “All I wanted to ask was if – ”

“Look, Torf, I can't play with you right now. I have to get to the market and buy some supplies, otherwise, I won't have food for a while. This also means that I won't have any snacks available for you,” I tried to explain exasperatedly, attempting to get around the young child. Why did he have to show up now? I needed to stock up for the competition!

“But I didn't come over to play,” he surprisingly replied.

I stopped my useless attempts to get past him. Wait a second, he actually came over for something else? Even so, his presence was still a nuisance. I glanced at the busy streets in front of me with longing, wanting to get out into the market already. “You didn't?” I questioned. “Then why did you bother to stop me?”

Torf proceeded to twiddle his thumbs and look every where but in the direction of my face. Lovely. He does this when he wants something, and that wasn't a good sign. “Well...” he began, taking a particular interest in one of the nearby, untrimmed bushes in my yard. “I was wondering if you could tell me more about the Challenge of the Zodiac.”

My facial expression changed from confused to caught off guard. I tried not to smirk at my own stupidity. 'That sneaky brat,' my inner voice spoke for me, 'he knows he has your attention when the Challenge is brought up.' So Torf had a new way of getting me to talk, huh? It should have been expected; he always comes up with reasons to converse with me.

He continued, “You know I'm an Aries--” 'No, duh, it's written all over your face,' my mind put in, “--and I'm just really curious about it. Once I'm 13 I plan on training for the journey, like you!”

I ceased from trying to find horns sprouting from his bushy head and brought my attention back to his level. How this child planned on surviving the Challenge — as an Aries — I'll never know. Aries is a rather pointless sign, and the person who possesses it usually just has ram-like characteristics and horns. I wondered silently why God had to make Sagittarius and Aries both fire signs. The thought of working with a useless animal during the competition disgusted me. It was unavoidable.

“Why don't you come back some other time and I'll explain it to you, okay? I'm really busy.” My excuses are always futile with Torf, and I prayed to God that it would actually work this time.

Torf hung his head, and dark locks spilled over his eyes. “But I really want to know,” he mumbled, staring down at the sidewalk.

'No,' the voice in my head said sternly. 'Don't fall for it again.' The irritating boy always does this, moping around until I finally give in to his every wish. Despite how tempting it is, I'm not a mother who takes pity on small children.

“Some other time, perhaps?” I tried to sound somewhat promising. I needed to get into town.

“But you won't be around for much longer!” Torf suddenly exclaimed.

I froze at his words. Turning my gaze from a hurried passerby on the street, I noticed tears brimming at the corners of his eyes. My own eyes widened at the sight. My mind went to the thought of the absolute loneliness I would undeniably experience soon. Although I hate to admit it, I'm quite alone without any parents or friends to talk to. This boy, standing in front of me, is the only person I have. Suddenly the Challenge didn't seem as exciting as before – the thought was terrifying. The image of myself, abandoned by my teammates and cowering in the dark made me rush past Torf.

“I-I really have to go,” I croaked, knowing that there was no way that he had heard me. My hands found my pouch of money, and I clutched it tightly for support.
______________________________________________________________________________

I exerted as much force as I could on the change purse, hoping that all of my anxious energy would disappear. Trying not to think about Torf or the nearing competition, I delved deeper into the eighth region of Jupiter. There are thirteen total regions in my section, and the eighth is undoubtedly the worst. My town is always smothered in grime and trash from careless citizens. Shops are kept untidy and the prices are unbelievable. I hear that the ninth region is much more appealing, even though the distance from here to there is no more than a week's worth of travel. The thought was both frustrating and promising – Despite the fact that I didn't live there, perhaps my journey around the world will be just as nice as the ninth region.

Rounding a corner, I quickened my pace toward the market square. I didn't want to shop for long knowing that Torf might still be moping on my doorstep. As much as the child annoys me, I couldn't leave him there crying for the rest of the evening. His parents are never to be found, and sometimes I wonder if he even has any. Due to this, I can't just leave him alone when he's in such a strange mood.

'Don't worry yourself sick,' my head warned. 'You need to stay focused for the first round. It's only in two weeks, you know!'

I rolled my eyes internally as I continued my trek. My conscious was right, though – I do need to remain calm and undistracted. If I was going to win, I needed to arch as much as –

Without warning, someone rammed themself straight into me. My heart leapt at the action, and before I could process what was happening, I lost all balance. Tumbling to the rough concrete below me, I flailed in a pitiful attempt to catch myself. The situation only grew worse when the person fell right on top of me.

“Ooof!” was the strangled sound that escaped my throat. The air that remained in my lungs diminished at that moment, for I was being crushed by the unknown figure who had bumped into me. My eyes caught the items that had been dropped during the impact, and I realized that they were scrolls – ancient scrolls that teach humans how to better understand their sign. Not only that, but with the knowledge scripted inside, it's possible to increase your astrological power by ten fold. Greedily, I found myself struggling to reach for the rolled parchments under the person's weight.

“Oh God, sorry!” the person shrieked, and from the shrill sound of the voice, she was female. My arm returned to my side in an instant, for the sudden sound of another voice startled me. The girl bounded off of me immediately like a frightened cat. Much to my dismay, she retrieved the ancient scrolls and pelt away from my laying form.

I coughed, sucking in as much air as I could. Shakily getting up on my knees, I started, “Watch where you're – ” My voice quivered and stopped abruptly as I took in her features.

Horns sprouted from her blonde locks of shoulder length hair.

An Aries.

The girl eyed me worriedly, as if concerned for my health and physical well being. Her eyes were a piercing blue, much like Torf's, and their bright color really brought out her hair. The horns that were exposed on her head were a creamy white, and they almost appeared to be... beautiful. A baggy, blue shirt hung from her frail body, making her seem weak and somewhat childish. A matching skirt ran past her knees, and if she shifted her weight, I noticed black stockings as well. I furrowed my brow at her white ballet shoes, wondering why they were covered in a mass of gray powder.

“Aries,” I acknowledged slowly with a hesitant nod. My eyes involuntarily returned to the scrolls tucked under her arm. How did a teenage Aries, of all signs, attain such rare pieces of scripture? I've been searching for such things for years, and it angered me to no end that someone else was able to locate them.

The Aries girl studied me closely, and after a few moments of silence, she returned, “Sagittarius.”

A look of bewilderment crossed my face, and my mouth opened slightly.

How does she...?

“You have the concentrated look of a skilled archer,” she told me as if it were obvious. The corners of her mouth lifted into a nervous smile. “And you're just like me – we were both in a great hurry to get some where. We're both fire signs, after all.”

“How do you know for sure that I'm a Sagittarius?” I found myself saying in reply. 'Perfect example of a stereotypical Sagittarius,' my mind decided to comment.

I ignored the loud mouth voice in my head as the Aries girl said, “If you weren't a Sagittarius, you wouldn't have used that comeback.”

As expected, I already hated this random girl.

“Never mind our signs,” she continued, waving her free hand in the air to demonstrate. “People seem to care about them more than our actual names, don't they? It's ridiculous.” Without warning, a pale hand was suddenly distributed to me. I stared at her outstretched arm like it was a very contagious disease. “My name is Elle. Elle Willow.”

Elle, huh? Well, it was certainly perky enough for her appearance. I stared at her blonde hair wearily before returning my attention to her hand. Trying not to gag, I gave her the handshake she wanted before crossing my arms. “I'm Fay Larke,” was my mumbled reply. I know first impressions are important, but everything about Elle screamed complete and utter Aries. With that title comes an annoying personality and a tendency to be positive all the time, two aspects I'm not fond of.

“Fay,” Elle tested the name, as if to determine whether or not it was acceptable. “It's very feminine, especially for an archer.”

I gritted my teeth and hoped that she didn't notice.

“It's pretty, nonetheless.” She turned to look behind, studying the people rushing from one end of market square to another. “Where were you headed, anyway?” she wondered.

Dangling my pouch of money, I murmured, “I'm stocking up.” My eyes returned to the scrolls, and I noticed that she held them a little tighter. “The question is... where were you planning on going with those?”

Elle smiled in return, and if I looked hard enough, it appeared to be turning into a smirk. “My, we only met minutes before and you're already demanding answers. We haven't even had a proper conversation yet! How about we go over to your place and discuss this encounter?”

“What makes you think that I'm going to let some random Aries on the street waltz into my house and gorge all of the remaining food?” I shot back, starting to get fed up with this pointless meeting. Who does this Elle Willow girl think she is?

'She must be quite the person to get a hold of those scrolls,' my head reminded me in a sing song voice.

I glared into space as she replied, “Well, as fellow teammates in the Challenge of the Zodiac, I believe that we should get to know one another.”

My train of thought shattered once she was done speaking. How did she know that I'm participating in the Challenge? Unable to reply, I scanned her appearance once again. She looked young, possibly no older than 16 years. Which means...

“Oh hell no,” were the only words I was able to say. Elle raised an eyebrow as I continued, “There is no way I'm working with you to get to Heaven's Staircase. You know why? Because you won't get past the first round, no matter how hard you try!”

Silence.

'Harsh,' was all the voice in my mind could say.

I expected a punch in the face, or a stab to the eye with a rather sharp horn. Instead, I received another smile. It was almost sickly, as if Elle knew that she was irritating me to no end.

“Anything is possible with signs on our side,” she told me, her voice void of any amusement. Turning on her heel, she prepared to leave me standing in the middle of the alley.

Before I could control it, the word, “Wait!” came out of my mouth. I eyed my outstretched arm wearily, which was beckoning Elle to stay. What was I getting myself into?

“Yes?” The Aries' grin grew, and her horns almost seemed to glitter in the setting sun. She was enjoying this way too much.

I let out a sigh of defeat, knowing that I had given in. Not all Aries are smart, but this one definitely is. Reverse psychology appeared to be her forte.

“You can come to my house,” I began, and her expression turned smug, “if!” I gestured to the scrolls still tucked under her arm. “If you let me take a peek at those pieces of parchment.” The scrolls were taunting me, for I could not see the wisdom-filled words that lied within.

“Done!” Elle was back at my side a split second later, and I stared in horror as she stuck out her free arm to lock our elbows. “Lead the way,” she practically ordered, pointing in the direction in which I came.

Trying not to inflict pain on her, I hesitantly agreed. I smacked myself internally as we began our walk to my cottage. So much for shopping.
______________________________________________________________________________

“Whatever you do, don't touch anything.”

“There's not much to touch.”

“...Are you implying that I'm poor?!”

“Why would do such a thing? Your home is... lovely.”

I tried not to roll my eyes at Elle's pathetic attempt to compliment my house. It was an ignorant idea to let her follow me here, especially since she was now putting her grubby fingers on every item in the room. She was like an insect I couldn't catch, and she flew from one antique to another. After her awkward statement, she decided it was necessary to grab a hold of something that is very dear to me.

“Don't –!” I began, lunging for the item she clasped in her palms. My plea was cut short when she pulled it out of reach, stretching her arms high in the air so I couldn't get to it. Looking up into her amused face, I realized with dismay that she was about an inch taller than me.

“Relax, Sagittarius,” Elle told me, and she grinned at my fuming expression. “It's just a little...” She furrowed her brow, bringing the trinket back to her eye level. “What is this, anyway?”

I snatched it back almost immediately, hugging the polished glass to my chest. I turned my gaze to my hands, where a neatly painted fish figurine lay snug between my fingers. Touching its textured gills lightly, I replied, “My mother's a Pisces. She made this for me when I turned 13 years old, so I could take it with me to this section. And this...” I groped behind a jeweled box on the shelf, and pulled out a similar figurine, except it resembled a golden crab. “Was a gift from my father.” I smiled at its poorly painted eyes. “He's not as good at sculpting as my mother, as you can tell from its quality.”

Elle put a finger to the crab's glass claw. “I don't think quality matters if it's a gift from the heart,” she declared.

That was the problem. I'm not sure if these gifts were made to express my parents' love for me, or just as a required farewell present. Since they placed the two glass figurines in my palm, I haven't spoke to them since. I remember gazing down at the fish and crab, admiring their simplicity. Then my mother and father disappeared, leaving me with a ruck sack and a week's supply of food. The pressure I had been feeling was overwhelming, especially since I was only a child of 13 years. I winced as I recalled the many nights in which I didn't sleep, and instead sobbed until my throat burned.

Elle's hand moving back and forth across my line of vision brought me back to reality. I found her staring down at me with a look of utter confusion written on her features. “Zodiac to Fay, do you come in?” she tried to joke, cracking a pearly white smile. When my hard expression didn't change, she asked, “Are you all right?”

I began to place the glass figurines back in their proper spots, wanting to look as though I didn't just have a painful flashback. “Yeah, I'm perfectly fine,” were the unconvincing words that I came up with. Straightening up the rest of the shelf, I continued, “I'm just thinking about how the Challenge is going to turn out.”

The Aries girl pondered for a moment, then gestured to the unfinished arrows across the room. They were spread out on my writing desk, still in pieces. “Well...you're an archer, right?”

I raised my eyebrows high. “Are you stupid and blind?”

Elle jutted out her bottom lip, pouting like a small child who never got their way. “No! I'm just... Ugh! The point is, you're an archer, and usually Sagittarius humans are amazing at handling bows and arrows.”

She was correct. Most people born from the sign Sagittarius were unbelievably talented with arching weapons. I happen to be one of them, for I've handled such tools since I was old enough to stand on two feet. I started out just learning myself, practicing shooting in the yard when I wasn't learning out of schoolbooks. This usually resulted in me producing a wound or destroying a neighbor's property. Even through all of that, I was able to become a skilled archer on my own. As a stubborn child, I couldn't learn from masters and other fellow people of the sign Sagittarius. I couldn't handle critique or someone studying my every move. Instead, I would take spare fruits and other breakable objects out of the house to practice in the dead of night. Thinking back on it now, I really was an ignorant person.

“Where are you going with this?” I wondered. She was only stating the obvious, and it wasn't getting us anywhere.

“You seem like you have a lot of potential,” Elle finally spit out. “I mean, you even walk like a successful apprentice! You shouldn't have any problem getting past the first round and surviving the journey.”

Surviving. That was a key word I didn't like to think about.

I decided to let my rare, kind side show by replying, “Well... you seem like you've got some power. Would you mind letting me see what you're capable of?” I eyed the scrolls, which were now sitting on my bed comforter, still rolled and unread. Elle's horns were the only details that showed that she was a Aries, so... what could she do? I tried not to laugh as I pictured her running people over like an insane ram. Now that I thought about it, she had done something similar when we crossed paths near market square.

“Are you saying that you want to fight me?” Elle wore a bewildered look on her face. Her blue eyes were wide with astonishment, as if she couldn't believe I wanted to do such a thing.

I shrugged as if it wasn't a big deal. “You could put it that way, yes.”

Elle continued to appear shocked for a few moments, but then the look was replaced by a strange calmness. She strode over to the other side of the room where the scrolls were located. Touching one of them lightly, she decided, “I guess it wouldn't hurt. After all, we're future teammates, right? Fire signs are always grouped together.” She turned her head, and a devious gleam was visible in her eye.

Giving her an uneasy glance, I started, “Right – ”

Before I could continue, I was pushed up against the nearest wall. My back slammed into the shelf behind me, causing me to wince with pain. Boom. My eyes darted to the glass cups which had fell to the floor with a crash, and their pieces glittered in piles on the hard wood. A blow to my shoulder brought my attention forward, where Elle stood with her nails dug into the fabric of my shirt. She butted her head to my arm again, and I realized that she was stabbing me with her horns. The stinging sensation reminded me of a knife jabbing itself into soft flesh.

'What are you doing!?' my mind shrieked. My confused and cloudy head tuned in to listen. 'Are you just going to let her beat you up like this? Go to your weapons!'

Elle lunged for my bleeding shoulder again, but I managed to pull myself together and duck out of the way. I sprinted for the far corner of the room, where my best bow and arrows lay. Their hiding place is behind my bed's headboard, that way if Torf started snooping, he'd never find them. Grappling blindly behind the mattress, I saw Elle rushing toward me again. She looked like a choleric bull, storming at the nearest human who irritated her the most. I silently thanked God that she isn't a Taurus as I felt the weapons brush my fingertips. I fumbled with the bow and arrow before leaping onto my bed. Elle thundered right into the wall where I had stood, leaving a noticeable hole where her horns struck.

Scowling at the damage, my mind put in, 'She's fast, but once she gets going in a certain direction, she can't stop.'

Elle grinned up at me, and yanked the tips of her horns out of the wall. Fragments of plaster followed this action, and they fell gently to the floor below. What was this girl's problem? One minute she seems like a kind teenage girl, and the next, she has a lethal look in her eye.

'Bipolar, perhaps?' my head suggested.

Instead of pondering on this particular thought, I aimed for Elle's left shirt sleeve. I couldn't bring myself to harm her, but I could slow her down. If I shot it just right, then the sharp end of the weapon could pin her to the wall by her clothes. As soon as she inched toward the foot of the bed, I slung the arrow in the direction of my desired target. My mouth dropped open as the Aries girl caught the weapon in her hand with inhuman speed. In denial, I studied her fingers closely for any wounds. There were no visible cuts. I clutched my shoulder, feeling the sticky, warm blood there.

Impossible. People of the sign Aries are never this quick and skillful. It takes all my concentration to stop an arrow from piercing me, so Elle –

My thoughts were cut short as I remembered the ancient scrolls that Elle had promised to let me read. They were still laying on the far side of the bed, untouched by our sudden 'battle'. Suddenly, I had an idea as to why this random girl is so strong.

As Elle threw the useless arrow to the floor, I dived for the scrolls on the opposite end of my bed. I tore open the nearest one, scanning the text with a determined intensity.

'Rewjentkinwehwqvnqandkgsnf,' the parchment read.

I knew I must have looked comical as I put my face closer to the cream-colored paper. Squinting didn't help decipher the letters any better, so I reached for the next three scrolls. Each held the same form of gibberish. Although each scroll had different text written on the inside, none of it made any sense. “What the hell?” I said aloud. My gaze turned to Elle, who glanced back at me out of the corner of her eye. Her mouth was set into a firm line for a moment or two, before she burst out laughing.

Letting the papers fall back onto the comforter, I screeched, “What?!” I whipped my head back to the nonsensical scrolls, which still donned the strange letters. “I don't understand this! It isn't amusing!”

“Y-You... I...”, was all Elle was able to say before she was overcome by another wave of giggles.

I jabbed a finger in her face, and her laughter barely ceased. “Listen here, Aries,” I spat, making the sign sound like an insult, “if you don't tell me why you're acting like a bloodthirsty mental case, I'll – ”

Knock, knock.

We both grew silent as the sound of a fist pounding on wood resounded throughout the one room cottage.

I gave her an icy glare and she shrugged. “Not my house; not my door to answer,” she replied simply.

Twisting up my face, I started, “You don't – ”

Before I could finish, the front door swung open on its own. Our heads turned at the sound, and I tried not to scream in horror as I saw who made his way into the room.

Torf.

Not looking up, the 8 year old boy started apologizing to the floor. “Fay, I'm sorry for asking about the Challenge of the Zodiac earlier. I just wanted – ” He stopped as his eye caught Elle, who was still standing awkwardly beside the bed. I studied myself, who was in a frozen position surrounded by scrolls and stiffly pointing at the Aries girl. I felt warm blood continue to make its journey down my arm, and realized with dismay that we didn't appear too well.

I quickly clasped a hand over my wound, praying that by doing so, Torf would somehow forget it was ever there. Without thinking, I blurted, “Torf, it's not as bad as it looks. I can explain every – ”

“Awesome horns!” The annoying boy shouted, rushing to Elle's side. He grinned, and poked one of them cautiously. “You're an Aries, too?”

“You have got to be kidding me,” I said through my teeth. Even though I was bleeding, weapons were scattered about the room, and a stranger was in the house, Torf still paid no attention to his surroundings. This day was just getting better and better.

Elle's expression brightened at his enthusiasm. “Yeah!” She bent down to ruffle his hair, as if they were close siblings. “Looks like you're still a bit too young for your horns, though, huh?”

The Aries boy puffed out his chest, as if he were the toughest person around. “I'm not young,” he argued. “I'm probably going to get a different trait that resembles a ram, instead of – ”

“Sorry for cutting in on this wonderful conversation, but I'd like to point out something.” I faked a smile and continued, “Didn't you two meet, oh, I don't know, twenty seconds ago?”

Elle offered me a hand and I reluctantly let her pull me down from the bed. “It's okay, Sagittarius. People like us,” she gestured to her and Torf, “get excited when they meet one another.”

I crossed my arms. “It's fun to meet other archers and all, but I don't start talking to them like we're old friends. Especially in another person's house.”

“You're a pain in the butt, you know that?”

Torf frowned at her statement. “I don't think she is. She's really nice to me,” he said.

I stared at him blankly, unphased by his compliment. “You want something, don't you?”

“...Can I spend the night?”

Groaning, I relived the last 'sleepover' we had in my head. Torf had insisted that singing was necessary in the late hours of night, and he didn't shut his mouth for several hours. “Absolutely n – ”

“Oh come on, Fay, it'll be fun!” Elle decided to pitch in.

“Since when were you welcome to stay?!” I hissed. “In case that you've forgotten already, just a few minutes ago you sliced my shoulder with a ram's horn.”

She waved a hand in the air, as if it wasn't a big deal. “I was showing you what I was capable of, just as you asked! Besides,” she pointed to the scrolls, “I let you look at those.”

“They make no sense!”

“Here's where you're wrong,” Elle told me as if I were redundant. “They're written in a code. If you let me stay here for the night, I'll explain everything that is written inside the scrolls.”

I glanced back at the scrolls, which still had the gibberish inside them. Why would the knowledge be written like that? “They're coded?” I repeatedly slowly.

“That's what I said,” she said cheerily.

It was possible that she was just pulling my leg again by saying that the random letters meant something. The Aries girl probably just wanted a place to stay, and free food to eat whenever she pleased. However... I eyed the cream-colored paper again, and with a sigh, I agreed. “Fine. But!” I stuck my pointer finger in the air. “Only one night! Both of you! All right?”

Elle nodded in understanding. “Fair enough.” She turned to Torf, who had been unusually silent. “What about you?”

“I think it's a good idea,” Torf said in return.

“Excellent!” Without another word, Elle strode back over to my bed and slipped under the covers. Pulling the comforter past her chin, she looked strangely at home.

I stared at her grinning form, wondering if it was worth it to kick her ass or not. 'After what you've been through today? Not a chance,' my mind decided.

I let out a long breath, blowing my bangs away from my face.

These next few weeks were going to be quite enjoyable.
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Icestar649 said...
Sep. 22 at 3:03 pm:
Read the summary souned amazing. The i read the book and was blown away. Keep up the good work.
 
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