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Fear is one of our greatest allies, we just Have to let it work for us instead of against us. The problem is the powerful Willnatum who have been using fear as a tool for thousands of years. But when names have power, knowledge has power, and fear is like a feast, what hope does one Otsoko have in stopping it?

Fantasy / Adventure
Age Rating:

A State In Its Own Right

"Outside of these walls is a world. A world that I am going to explore." I was standing on the West wall, talking to myself quietly, and watching as the sun went down. The colors of the sky mixing together, being illuminated by the sun's rays. Curfew would be in effect soon. A sigh escaped from my mouth, I was going to have to run home. "Mom is going to be pissed…again." I heard footsteps, at least two people, and slinked behind the nearest pillar just as two Guardians walked around the corner. They continued walking right towards where I hid passing by the pillars that lined the walls walkways. They got to my pillar but as they passed one stopped; not turning his head but continuing to look forward. The other, not realizing his companion had stopped, kept on walking continuing the story he had been telling. He went a few feet before he realized his companion was no longer beside him. He too stopped, both his walking and the story he had been telling; he turned back towards where we stood and waited patiently, observing. I stood as still as the stone pillar I hid behind, I hadn't made a peep and the older Guardian hadn't turned his head towards me or made any other notion that he had seen me standing there, but he knew I was there, he always did. "Hurry home Jezzy-girl, your father is returning tonight." He said nothing more, and moved on, I heard his quiet murmur of reassurance to his young trainee and then the story continued as they walked out of sight and then out of hearing. The new one never sensed a thing, his Will was weak still or he was so absorbed in his story-telling that he was not also paying attention. The Guardian’s words let me know there would be no conversation tonight.

His name is Esperian, Espy for short, it means sight or observe. He's caught me up here plenty of nights. He would always come around right before the sun set and I would have to run off in order to not be caught by him. One day he told me not to run, that he wanted to show me something. I came out from behind the same pillar I was hiding behind tonight. I walked over to where he stood, his back towards me, facing out towards the vast unknown beyond the wall. I stood to his right, he was a lefty and I figured I had a better chance of getting away if he tried to make a grab for me. But he just stood there and looked out. I couldn't figure out at first what he was looking at. But then I realized, he was looking at the very thing I came to look at. The sun set. I never got a chance to actually see it, because I had always run off so I didn't get caught. It was so beautiful, much different than watching it from the street or from my bedroom window. We became friends of a sort. When I went to see the sun set, he would come on his rounds, and we would talk, or he'd show me some of his moves and how to do them. I was learning to be an efficient fighter, at least that was the goal. I was becoming faster and stronger working with Espy. I was also getting in loads of trouble with my mother. I was getting closer though, closer to being able to run all the way home from the west wall and still make curfew! I knew I'd get there and every night I stayed out late was a night to train.

I had been training with Espy for over a year now, since I was a freshman, well the summer before my freshman year began. I was 14 and worried about my new school, especially since I knew I was entering into an upper level class, with kids who had showed the gift and I had not. So I ran to my favorite place, the West wall, to think. I had already learned his guard pattern and so it was easy to get on the wall and have a good 30 minutes of gazing out to the world. As it got closer to the start of the school year I would stay later and later knowing he would be coming but needing the extra time, until he would start to catch me, but I would run off. The first time was much like tonight. I heard his approaching footsteps. He had another Guardian with him. He simply stopped, looking ahead still. I peeked out and saw the slight uplift of his mouth before he continued walking on without saying a word. That night I had been really late because I was too nervous to come out from the pillar, like he was just going to be waiting there with the other Guardian. Eventually I calmed myself and got myself home. I told my parents I lost track of time on my walk and no Guardian saw me anyway.

I worried about taking the upper level classes, and what people would think. My freshman year had come and gone and now I was moving up to the sophomore classes. I had no idea how much worse it was going to be. Espy and his training and our talks were the only thing keeping me in those classes. He was able to show me real life applications to what I was learning in class. Which I thought would help in classes when I was able to describe specific examples for the topic at hand, or the mechanics of a fighting move. Unfortunately, It only made it worse. Soon it became all I had in those classes. The knowledge. I was moved into other higher up classes, quickly outgrowing the normal classes, but never with Will. I continued to visit Espy every night and continued to learn everything he would teach me, but never telling him my worries fears, or troubles in my classes. The only nights that I had to hide were nights like tonight, when he was training a new guardian, but he always came around later when he was training, so I could still see the sun start to set. I still hated these nights. First off I didn't get to talk to Espy and I really needed to. Secondly, I didn't get to train or learn any new moves. Lastly and most important, I worried that they were there to replace Espy. I knew that this one wasn't, Espy would have said something, asked me to meet him the next night or something so that he could say goodbye, I was sure of it. And so I listened and did as I was told, I ran. I hadn't known father was returning tonight, how come mom didn't say anything to me?

It had rained all day, and the sun didn’t make an appearance until early evening, 5 or 6ish. Just in time for the sun to set really. The construction on the roads was postponed due to the rain. So there were potholes and puddles everywhere along the streets. Every dodged pothole was a cascade of water up my body, but I kept running. After a while I aimed for the refreshing splash. The water hit my face, mixing with the sweat rolling down my face. The next splash hit my eyes, I closed them shaking my head wildly to shake the water off. I couldn't wipe my eyes; my hands and arms were soaked, my clothes were soaked. I tried blinking rapidly as I ran through the streets. I dodged around people I didn't know were there until I had passed them and their angry and surprised outcries followed behind me as the sky grew ever darker. The sun was being swallowed taking all of its light with it. Couples were walking home from a night out together, parents ushering their children in for curfew, fathers returning from business visits and the ever present Guardians. They all passed by in a blur, finally the muck was out of my eyes and I could see clearly again. The clouds blocked out most of the moon tonight, slivers of moonlight cast shadows into the city of Salvus. There was nothing to fear in the shadows, I would rather of hid there than to enter my home past curfew, it was the fourth time this week. I stopped outside of my door and smiled despite myself, I almost made it, just one or two more minutes shaved off my time and I would have it. I could hear my mother setting the dinner table, one, two, three plates. So my father was returning tonight. It was now or never, her back would be turned fetching silverware from the drawer. I slipped silently into the house, I removed my shoes and sleeveless hoodie, both dripping muddy water onto the indoor outdoor carpet. I swear they put me at the end of the hall on purpose, I had to pass right by the kitchen in order to get to my room. As I passed the kitchen entryway she turned around and saw me. Uh oh. "Jesze Senka Lorcan! Where in Salvus have you been! On the walls again, haven't you. Look at you, you're soaking wet!" With each word she drew closer to me, and her eyes softened. Maybe she was remembering her own youthful days, or maybe it was my father's return home, whatever it was I thanked it. She smiled and touched my face. "Go on now, get cleaned up and change, he'll be here soon." My face alit with joy, I ran to my room. I grabbed clean clothes and my towel and headed into the bathroom. I took a super quick shower, put my clothes on and ran to my room to deposit my dirty soaking wet clothes into my hamper. Before I left my room, I looked out my window to the house next door.

My father had been visiting another city for 3 months trying to negotiate some deal with them, discussing political matters blah, blah. They call Salvus a city, but it's more like a state made up of four enormous cities or districts maybe, they are called corridors. Calling them Corridors is how they justify calling Salvus a city, when it's really a state. The Senate feels that calling it a city will make us feel more united. However, they clearly weren't creative enough for actual names and so they just used the wall that is at the base of each Corridor. Each Corridor starts at one of the four walls around the city. The boarders run diagonally, meeting at the center, the capitol. The building at the center looks like a castle and is surrounded by a small town, which is still large, but it is smaller than the four corridors. The last time I was at the capitol was when I was a youngling, age 4 or 5. Everyone went there just before entering school. That's where I first met Jack. He is the senate leader’s son, and therefore royalty, so I always call him Prince Jack, he hates it, which is kind of weird cause his father has no problem with being called King. We've been neighbors since forever, but I hadn't met him until that day. He moved out here with his godparents and his older brother, Samuel. Some sort of good relations attempt, or something. Tonight his room was dark, he was probably having dinner, where I should be right now. I turned away from the window and made my way back down the hall to the kitchen. I turned into the entryway and there he was. My father stood tall, and after 3 months of being away he looked impossibly taller, but he also looked tired. I could see it, though he hid it well. He smiled and held his arms out to me, I ran into them and he whirled us around as my mother yelled that he was going to get himself hurt, but she was laughing and her eyes were smiling. She had missed him so much. Now that he was back she wouldn't cry at night, I wouldn't have to slip into bed with her to comfort her, and she wouldn't have the bad dreams anymore. "You're back!" I cried. He nodded his smile growing bigger.
"I am back."
"For longer this time?"
Here his smile faltered a little bit, "I don't know, there is more to discuss, the East corridor is proposing that we…"
"Hun, no more business talk until after dinner!"
"Yes dear." Mom hates the political talk, I'm not a fan myself but I enjoyed hearing my father speak. I got to see him in action one time. The mayor from South C came to discuss some issue with the East C. My father has a commanding presence about him, it says listen and don't interrupt. It's probably why he's been mayor for so long, plus the mayors from the other Corridors come to him for advice. We all sat down to eat, my parents talked about parent things and I lost interest.

We live in the West Corridor, mostly farm land out here, less and less as you get closer to the capital. Everyone grows their own crop of choice, usually two or three cash crops, which they use to barter and trade with. My mother grows tomatoes, they are sold at high value, since for some reason no one else can seem to get them to stay alive long enough to harvest any produce. My mother's though, hers grow big and healthy, and of course full of flavor. We don't have to grow anything, the mayors of the Corridors, and their families, are well taken care of by the ruler of Salvus. For whom the mayors ultimately work for, even when they say it is the people they work for. I would like to think my father actually does for the people, it sure seems like it and sounds like it when I hear him complaining to mother about Henry. Typically the Mayors leave their homes for long stretches, either to other Corridors for business or to the Capital, so the King felt it wise to compensate by providing for the families. I knew my father had a lot to do with it but he would never say so. Our people love us more for it because we still contribute to our hometown. Our whole yard is tomato plants, always has been and so I spent most of my childhood in Jack's backyard. Our houses were placed close together on our properties, but his yard stretches far beyond mine, leaving room for both his families crops and room to run around in. His god-parent's grew corn and so we often ran through the stalks playing hide and seek. A part of the crop goes to the capitol for the tax, the rest is used for the family and to trade for other crops or to other Corridors for their goods. Jack and his godparents obviously also do not have to grow anything but they do and both Jack and Samuel had to help tend to the crops as they grew older. I too helped my mother but it was more of something we did together and not so much a chore.

The North deals a lot with precious metals and jewelry, I don't know much beyond that, except that is where my father bought my mother her wedding ring. There are many mountains outside of the North Wall and as I have learned over time numerous unexplored mountains. The east are breeders, they breed animals for their living and then trade them to the other corridors. Horses and Dogs are their most profitable animals in all the corridors, but the farm animals are extremely important to us in the West. Mostly at the beginning of the season. So often times we will send our food over so that they have it for the Winter season and then before the harvest season begins they will send over the animals we traded for. Horses are traded all year round, as they are used for numerous things, including the transport of the trade goods. Dogs are a commodity as their offspring have a hard time surviving without constant care. Cats generally breed themselves and only rare breeds are worth anything. Mother traded for a male and a female once in order to keep the mice away. They had babies and then their babies grew up and went out to visit the other cats of the neighborhood. The females would come back pregnant. Often times my mother would give most away and only keep a couple so that as the older cats died she would always have a cat for the mice. I asked her once why she didn't trade them off, she said that she was no breeder and it felt too much like stealing away someone else's living and of course they aren't worth much anyway. We did a lot of buying on credit with the East, I can't decide if it's because we are all so trustworthy and trusting or because we all know the Guardians are watching. It's probably because of the Guardians, but I have hope that it's because we're trustworthy and loyal people. The Easy also has the biggest dock and the most ships. They deal a lot with other cities I suppose, beyond the waters. Finally the South, they deal with burials and other ceremonies. Often trading burial plots, coffins, tombs, tombstones and the like. I don’t know much else about the South, but surely they deal with more than just death. I realized my father had asked me a question. I snapped my head away from the window and the now completely darkened farm lands. "Huh?"

"I said, what have you been up to? Staying out of trouble?" I could see the smirk on my mother's face from the corner of my eye, and I tried to hold back my own. "Of course, I've been going to school and running around with Jack, mostly." I looked to my plate for refuge, and found it to be empty. Crap, I sighed, I hated it when I ate on autopilot. I got the full feeling without getting any of the tasty satisfaction. Oh well, there was always tomorrow night's dinner. Father stretched out his 6'4" frame and mom started to clear the dishes. I hopped up to help her. Then I heard a scratching noise coming from the front bathroom. I realized it had been happening throughout dinner but I hadn't been paying attention. "What is that?"
"I don't know." My father exchanged a look with my mom. Never having been one to back down from the unknown I moved towards the door. We usually kept it opened, it was mostly used for guests since it didn't have a shower in it. I stopped outside the door and listened. There was more scratching and lots of sniffing. I didn't glance back as I turned the knob, the door swung out without my help and a small body came towards me. I moved to dodge and realized I'd never make it and so I went for a kick instead, then realized what was coming towards me and let it knock us both to the ground. "A puppy! You got me a puppy!" Both my parents were smiling and nodding, I sat up and he hopped off me only to circling around and hop back into my lap. He was gorgeous! His fur was jet black to match my own, a shimmer of the moons light landed on his back causing it to shine. I realized with a gasp that he was a wolf-hound. A very rare and special breed. He must have cost a fortune, at least 2 seasons worth of mother's tomatoes. He was licking my face and I looked into his eyes. He stopped and cocked his head at me. His eyes were just as dark as his fur, but almost like they were blending in with the current lighting, and in the daylight they would be a different color. I smiled and he pressed his body into mine until I started to pet him, he then lay down in my lap as I sat on the floor. My parent's let us be, a Wolf-hound was a dog for life, they lived as long as you did, and if you died they would slowly die too. This was of course if they bonded with you, an unbonded wolf hound would stay wild and would not be tamed.

No one knew for sure what a wolf hound actually was. They were thought to be at least part wolf and maybe something else. Only the breeders new for sure whether they were a mix at all. They guard their secrets well, often going underground after a trade is made. Of course if the Guardians wanted to they could find any breeder they wanted to, but then breeders would stop breeding them and since it wasn't illegal the Guardians let them be. It was hard to get one and they made good Guardian Hounds. Because the bond between a wolf-hound and his master is so important the first meeting is important. The hound chooses the human they say. And I would say my hound definitely chose me! It would have been a huge financial blow if he did not choose me, we would have had to find a new trade soon, and most people only took wolf hounds when they're puppies because of the lifetime bond that is created. Most likely the trade would come at a loss to us. Now to pick a name for him. Something that fit perfectly. Lakota meant friends or allies and was the name of a native group of people that resided on these lands long before The War. So, Lakota, that is perfect. I looked at him and he looked back waiting patiently. "Lakota?" It was a question, I couldn't just give him a name; he had to approve of it. He cocked his head to the side, then stood up on his back paws, placing his front ones on my shoulder. He looked at me and howled. "Lakota it is." I smiled. He pushed off me, excitedly hopping around me. My parents glanced over at the howl and laughed at the puppy's antics.

I got to stay up later than usual that night, well at least I didn't have to go in my bedroom, I never actually went to bed right away. I spent the rest of the night playing with Lakota. My parents spent their night talking to each other, catching up on the things they missed and how my father's business trip went. Apparently the business aspect of it was wrapped up in two weeks, the rest of the time was spent tracking down the breeder and recovering Lakota. My father had been informed of his trip more than 6 months before he had to go and so he used that time to find a breeder who could get him Lakota. Luckily for him, he knew a breeder called Geneo. My father told me about him once. He said "If you could imagine a mad scientist mixed with a soldier then that would be what Geneo looked like." I told him that could be anything, I had at least 3 different variations on what he could look like. So he snapped a picture of him for me then next time he saw him. Geneo was tall and muscular, he was bald but he wore these weird round and thick glasses, like the doc from Nightmare Before Christmas. In the picture he was wearing army fatigues. He looked like a badass, not what you would expect a breeder to look like. Geneo promised my father a fresh pup ready for when my father came to collect. They worked out a deal and apparently it cost my parents 3 whole seasons of produce! And here I was staying out past curfew all the time giving my mother mini-heart attacks. I still had a hard time feeling bad about my nightly antics, but I came real close to feeling really bad. Hey at least I made the effort to feel bad, but with Lakota jumping around and play fighting there was no way I could feel anything but pure joy. Soon enough though, their conversations came to an end and my mother came out and told me it was time for bed.

"Alright you, time for bed, you have school in the morning."
"I have school every morning, every day, you know in my history book it says that they used to have two days off at the end of the week, for recuperation!" I stifled a yawn as my mother followed me down the hall to my room. Lakota bouncing along at my side.
"Oh yeah, is that right."
"Well you get your recuperation through sleeping. I read that history book remember, they also had school at 6 or 7 in the morning, you don't have to be there until 10 and you are out by 3, so you should be happy. You get to sleep in, and still get out of classes with time to run around with Jack before curfew. You still get the same amount of hours in school, and you still get the 2 months at the end of each school term. It is much more productive than the old way. Plus you'll get to start a new class now."
We both looked to Lakota, who cocked his head to the side and looked up at me and then my mother. I could see the intelligence in his eyes and hoped that this initial connection between us could be made stronger in the ways of Will, if I had any, that is.
"It's mid semester…"
"You've already been enrolled, it's all been handled. As of tomorrow you will be taking Animal Connections 101. You're taking it earlier than most others, so you're going to be with the seniors. There won't be many of your friends in that class." She was babbling, which meant she was nervous about how I would react.
"What class did they replace, please say metaphysics, that class is so boring!" metaphysics is basically traditional metaphysics, only it adds the study of Will and how people think it came to be, blah, blah, blah. My theory is, who cares how it came to be! Let's just get really good at controlling it and it won't matter. The only portion of that class that is important is the one where it tells us that not everyone has the gift of Will. And those that do have varying levels of power in it. Like Espy and the new guardian. Espy's Will is strong, the new guardian's Will is weak. Part of the classes you take deal with strengthening one's Will. So if it is discovered early enough you are put in them right away, generally after graduating high school you go right into the University of the Guardians. Sometimes though a person goes unnoticed, they slip through the cracks and if they don't work on their Will themselves then they go into the university with a very weak Will, dwindled and uncared for. They are usually the ones who are assigned to Espy, he has a way of bringing one's Will to the fore and forcing it to grow. I asked him how once, but he dodged around my question, which only made me more curious and persistent. That night I was extremely late past curfew, I thought my mom was going to kill me.
"No not metaphysics, that class is important Jesze, and you're lucky they let you in this year, that's a senior class." I wouldn’t say it was lucky.
"No it's not, we're supposed to take it freshman year." Supposed to because I didn't take it. It was replaced with some junior math class, it focused on trajectories and other basic math equations. Most of the stuff was beyond me because I couldn't practice any of the stuff that involved Will…because I didn't have any.
"Yes, but this is the senior one you're in, everyone takes it twice Jesze, it's important for you, okay?" Almost everyone takes it twice you mean. I fought to roll my eyes and kept my mouth shut.
"Alright, so, which class…?" I started to have a worried feeling in my stomach, and I knew what she was going to say.
"Your free period."
"But…but...that's the only class I have with Jack this year! And I do all my homework during that period, so that after school we can hang out! Now what am I going to do. How am I supposed to do my homework and find time to hang with Jack, and of course I have to have time with Lakota, that can't be done in only 4 hours! I don't know why curfew is so early anyway, during Harvest season it doesn't get dark until 8:30 or 9 O'clock anyway!"
"Jesze, calm down."
"It's not fair."
"Honey, sometimes you have to make sacrifices, you are a bright girl, you'll figure it out. As for curfew, once you're in Animal Connection's you're allowed to stay out past curfew, in order to train with Lakota at night, it's a requirement of the class." I felt the unease in my stomach fall away, replaced with sheer delight. Not only was I going to get to stay out past curfew, without worry of getting in trouble, but I was required to. "Now Jesze, I can see the excitement in your eyes..." I Immediately made my face go blank, or as blank as I could muster. I let a calmness come over me and I relaxed my mind, my muscles, and of course my facial expression. I gave her my best serious face, except I could still feel the excitement lurking there. "…But you need to pay attention in this class, it is not an easy one, and Master Felian and Ateles are hard teachers, they will really want to see that you are paying attention. That you are learning what you need to."
"They're Guardians?"
"Yes, they are."
"Great just what I need, more teachers that are Guardians. Almost all my teachers now are Guardians, since ninth grade, and I've slowly been getting more and more of them. There's no reason why, I look like an idiot in those classes." I slumped onto my bed and Lakota jumped up, walked behind me and dropped down next to me, pressing his little warm body against my back and curling his face around the front of me to rest on my leg, his eyes rolling up to look at me.
"What do you mean?" She sat down next to me and took up my hands into hers. I looked into her eyes and I saw the worry there, I felt it. I hadn't meant to worry her, and I truly liked my classes, but it was difficult sometimes, being the only one in class who has shown no way in Will. All the looks I got when I got called on by one of the Masters or answered a question. I knew every answer, but when it came down to demonstrations, well I had nothing to show, and all the kids knew it.
"Everyone thinks I'm there because I'm the Mayors daughter and best friends with one of King Henry's sons." She hated it when I called Mr. Skler, King Henry, so I pressed on before she could protest, especially since he didn't seem to mind being called it. "I have no Will, yet almost all of my classes are with kids who have it and being taught by Guardians. I'm the only one without it in those classes. It's horrible. And now I don't have free period, it was the one period that I didn't have to worry about anyone looking at me weird."
"Oh baby, I'm so sorry I didn't know, I…I'll talk to your father."
"No, I love my classes, mom. I love my teachers, I am really learning a lot and it’s interesting, I think everyone should get these classes, Will or no Will. The people should know how it works, and then maybe they would understand the Guardians better. Then they wouldn't just be like statues out on the streets, people would actually pay attention to them and have a conversation. Instead they skirt away anytime one gets too close." I heard my father coming down the hall, probably to say goodnight and fetch my mother. I lowered my voice. "It's just…what if I don't have Will, what will dad think?"
"What's this talk of Guardians I hear? Thinking of going to the University after next year?" My father had the idea that I would graduate school with no need for my senior year, and at the rate I was going he was not wrong. My mother's face still looked pained at my last words, but she couldn't say anything back, not in front of my father. She would talk to him later, I knew, but she knew if she said something now he would want to talk about it. I so did not want to talk anymore about it, I didn't even mean to say that much to her. It was true though, I worried what he would say, how he would feel if I ended up without the Gift. He had to be using favors left and right to get me into these classes without me having any Will. I truly believed that the classes should be taken by everyone and not just those who showed "promise." I wanted my father to be proud of me, he was a great explorer back in his day, before my parents had me. He brought back tons of stuff from the old world and rescued priceless relics. I wanted so much to go out in the world and discover something new, to do something important. To be like him and my mother.

I laughed, "No, no way, most Guardians are boring." My father was a story teller and a historian at heart. Being mayor and dealing with politics was just a living. Oh he really cared about his people, but his true passion was history and telling it. I grew up listening to all his crazy stories. Some of them true and the others obviously spins on the truth in order to entertain a youngling who liked to get into trouble at night. I still do, get into trouble at night that is, but now the stories are just that, stories. My father got this far-away look in his eyes, like he was remembering something. When he looked back to me, he looked sad but hopeful. It was a lie of course, I wanted to be a Guardian, getting Lakota only strengthened that. But if I ended up without Will, well the blow would be easier to deal with if everyone thought I hadn't wanted it anyway.

"Someday, you might change your mind about that." Before I could ask why or say yea right my mother interrupted.
"Goodnight Jesze, tomorrow is a big day for you and Lakota." I looked down to where Lakota lay pressed against my back. I knew he wasn't asleep, yet his eyes were closed. He was listening, and waiting for me to move. I couldn't help but think that this was just another thing I was going to get looks for. I was able to stay pretty below the radar, but now everyone would know I was just a fraud. You can't hide Lakota, He's a puppy now, but he will grow. Wolf hounds were known for their size, and by the looks of Lakota's paws he was going to be a big boy. I lay back in my bed, Lakota moving to accommodate me and resettled curled up next to my side, with his face as much on my stomach as he could, looking out towards the door and the hallway beyond. I let out a sigh which turned into a yawn and I felt the tiredness pulling at my eye lids. I looked out my window to the starry night and let sleep take me as I heard my parents door shut and the start of the hushed and worried whispers.
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