Sixteen year old trainee ninja Shyla Evans ducked as the wooden pole rocketed toward her head. She kicked it and grasped it near the middle. “Good,” said Master Wong as she straightened up. “You know the ways of the ninja, but your skills will be tested tomorrow when you face the final test.”
Shyla couldn’t believe her ears. She was finally ready for the final test. This test would decide whether she was ready to be declared a full ninja, or if she required more training. “Thank you, Master.” She murmured, bowing.
Master Chu Wong was a bald, wrinkled Eastern man with a bent back and dark eyes. His long silver beard extended to his chest and he always carried a gnarled stick in his left hand. Shyla turned to leave, but a quiet call from Master Wong stopped her. He gestured his stick at her loose, waist length, red hair. “Young one,” he said quietly, a command. “Please do not neglect to bind up you hair for the test tomorrow.”
“I won’t, Master.” Shyla replied.
She turned and left the arena, buzzing with quiet excitement. Changing quickly, she hurried onto the street in downtown Rutherford, Maine, and raced out to the bus stop. The bus was just leaving, so she ran next to it and jumped onto the back bumper.
The ride home was embarrassing, because so many people kept hooting at her as they spotted her. The driver of the car directly behind the bus braked abruptly as she jumped off of the bumper and did a perfect roll onto the pavement outside her house. The driver hooted, swerved, and pulled over onto the side of the road. Shyla had rolled onto her feet, and was waiting patiently as the man got out of the car and slammed the door shut. “What’s the big idea?” he yelled at her. “Can you not take the bus like a normal person?”
“I missed the bus after my extra lessons.” She replied quietly to the red-faced man. “The best way to get home was to grab the bus and hold on.”
“You are crazy.” He fumed, forming each word clearly. He shook his head and turned away. The engine of the car revved to life, and he wheel-spun out into the road.
Shyla smiled and opened the front door. Her mother was waiting on the other side. Shyla sized up the frown on her mother’s face and decided that her mother had seen the incident outside. “Sorry, mom.” She mumbled, looking down.
“How many times, Shyla?” asked Clarisse Evans, folding her arms across her chest, frowning down at her only daughter. “How many times have I told you not to ride the bus like that? Do you realise that if you slip and fall, you could get run over?”
“I do.” Replied Shyla, looking down at her shoes. “I am truly sorry, mom.”
Clarisse wrapped her arms around her daughter’s shoulders. “Why did you have to follow your father’s footsteps?” she sighed.
“Oh,” said Shyla, her mood suddenly brightening. “Master Wong said I was ready for the final test. It’s tomorrow.”
“Well done, honey.” Replied Clarisse, smiling. “Your father would be so proud of you. I know I am.” Whatever Clarisse’s reservations about Shyla following Andrew’s footsteps, she did not ever want to stifle her daughter’s ambition.
Shyla’s father had been killed in a hit-and-run on the south side of Rutherford’s bustling CBD when she was only nine. Shyla had found out when she was thirteen – after reading some of her father’s diaries – that he was a fully trained ninja. Andrew had been shot and killed protecting a young mother and child from a member of Liborio Fragale, the organized crime syndicate that operated out of nearby Ronaldton for the last twenty years. Shyla had tracked down Master Wong, her father’s old trainer, who agreed to train her to be a ninja. Shyla had proven to be just as skilled a fighter as her father had been.
“Shyla,” said Clarisse, pulling her from her reverie. “Will you set the table for me please?”
“Sure, mom.” Replied Shyla. She walked into the kitchen, grabbed the implements out of the drawer, and proceeded to set the table.
Soon, she was up in her room, doing her homework. She needed an early night. It would be a busy day for her.
On the northern edge of Rutherford’s sprawling, middle-class suburbs, there was a commotion out in the street. Nobody looked out of their blinds, because a commotion usually meant Liborio Fragale was at work. Tonight, it was kidnap and grand theft auto. The victim was a young woman. Liborio Fragale was famous for their rough attitude, as well as their power over law enforcement, and tonight was no different. Nobody called the cops, nobody moved to help. They all valued their lives too much to risk an intervention.
The young woman – more of a girl really – woke with a throbbing headache in a black cell. There was no light, and everything reeked of damp and rot. The room was sparse; no furniture apart from an old wooden bed and a rusty metal bucket. But the girl knew that this was where she would stay. Possibly until they killed her.
Henry Stevens watched Shyla as she shifted nervously in the seat next to him for the third time in two minutes. The science lesson was clearly not on his close friend’s mind as she twirled her hair around her fingers. She glanced up at him and read mild concern on his face. “What?” she murmured.
“You look nervous.” He noted, ignoring a particularly loud conversation from the front of the room. “Mind if I ask why?”
“Big test later.” She whispered, turning to the front of the classroom as the teacher abruptly left the room.
Henry nodded and turned his attention to the front of the classroom. Several rows in front of their desk, Shaun Dormer commented rudely on Shyla’s violent temper. The science teacher had left the room to photocopy a stack of notes she had forgotten about, and Henry knew what was coming next. If there was one thing Shaun should never have done, it was provoke the fierce temper of the girl beside him. She had a reputation for exchanging blows with anyone who angered her. Like he knew she was about to now.
Shyla rose slowly to her feet and sauntered down the aisle to Shaun’s desk. He evidently hadn’t heard her coming as she bent down next to his ear. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” She said in his left ear.
He jumped and spun in his chair, before leaning back and grinning. “The truth hurts,” he sneered at her. “Deal with it.”
“Don’t worry,” she replied, with a glint in her eye. “I am.”
She grabbed the back of his chair with both hands. In a move that was too fast for most of the class to follow, she swung the top of the chair to the left and kicked the legs of the chair out from underneath him in the opposite direction. This resulted in Shaun being spectacularly dumped on his face in the aisle at Shyla’s feet.
Shaun sprang to his feet and Shyla folded her arms across her chest, an impassive expression on her face. Shaun scowled and narrowed his dark brown eyes. Pushing his light brown hair away from his eyes, Shaun took a swing at Shyla and tried to punch her in the face. She dropped into a crouch as his fist flew wildly over her head. Shyla stood up again as Shaun took another swing at her. She didn’t even blink. Her hand flicked up, catching his fist as it barrelled towards her head. Pulling on his arm, Shyla sent him sprawling once more at her feet.
Turning, she sauntered back to her desk and leant back in her chair. Henry realised that the moves Shyla had used were very familiar, but chose not to say anything to her. He glanced at her as she murmured something under her breath and shut her eyes. To him, it looked like Shyla had said the words, “I’m ready”, but he couldn’t be sure. Henry shook his head in resignation and faced the front of the room as the science teacher came back and proceeded to teach the class.