In the Shadows

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The day went by fast. Night had fallen in what seemed to be a matter of minutes. I had two full piles of wood yet to go and my body was already screaming for a break. My hands were raw and blistered and my feet were heavy like twin blocks of cement had been glued to my feet.

My small frame struggled helplessly to drag the large pieces of wood to the timber pile several hundred yards away. Deep rivets had been left in the ground where the boards dragged behind me. The morning dew on the ground had made it easier to drag the boards across the wet grass when I had first began but then the water had evaporated and I was left to stumble and trip as the boards got caught in the ground and pulled up chunks of turf. Now the rivets made it easier to drag the timber along, but it was a struggle none the less.

No one was allowed to help me with my task, not that they would have anyway. I could sense all of their stares as they watched a small human try to deliver wood four times her size to the timber pile. I heard the snicker of the apprentices and younger warrior wolves too. I tried not to let it bother me. In truth my anger seemed to help me. But now I was alone with nothing but my determination to help me complete this nearly impossible task.

I didn't see the point in it, other than perhaps to give me a taste of what was to come and to be expected. If he was trying to make me quit, he was wrong. I would finish this task and the next one or hundred he gave me. I would do this and I would prove to everyone that I was as good as them. Although Coda was the harshest teacher he was also the best teacher. His way of teaching was bitter and cruel but I would learn things through his methods that no other wolf would. There were some lessons that could only be taught and learned through pain and tears and although I was still struggling to understand the lesson of this, I knew I would discover it eventually. Right now the important thing was that I finish this task even if it took me till morning.

Coda would make me cry, bleed and hurt but in the end, the pain would smooth, broken bones would mend, blood would clot and tears would dry. Then I would only be left stronger than the time before with a new sense of resolve and determination. Call me ambitious for an almost thirteen year old but I knew what I wanted, what I was getting myself into and I would not shrink away or back down from whatever was to be thrown my way. Because I was determined to take down a wolf in their human form or wolf pelt and lead this pack after my father. I would be the first human to lead a pack of wolves and nothing was going to stop me short of death.

I would fight and lose and fight and lose until I won. I was willing to lose a hundred times for one win but I would fight and give it my all until I couldn't any longer. I wouldn't train until I got it right, I would train until I never got it wrong, I would learn because to be wise you had to know that you still had everything to learn.

Dropping the board into the pit before me, I trudged back to the docks where the last light of day was fading. I had a good fifty boards left to carry and it being night would make the trek to the pit even more difficult. So as the hours went by I continued to drag the boards to the pit, taking small steps, following the path I had taken all day. It was grueling work, soon it was just a repetitive action that required no thought. My thoughts seemed to have backed into a corner of my mind and now the only thought was how heavy my limbs and eyelids were.

The bright light of the moon was hidden behind the clouds, not helping me at all. The temperature dropped and the wind picked up, making me shiver, the cold seeping into my bones. My stomach was clenching from hunger pains but I ignored them and continued on. The last five boards were the hardest. My arms barely held the planks of wood, and I had to continually readjust the wood when it slipped. When the last board hit the timber pile my legs collapsed from underneath me and I laid in a sprawled mess on the ground, staring up at the sky. I only have five hours until dawn, five hours to sleep and rest my aching body. I knew hell would await me in the morning, so I forced myself up, making the trek back to my house through the night.

I didn't even make it to my bed, the stairs seeming like too much of an obstacle so I collapsed on the couch. The moment my head hit the cushion I fell into a deep sleep.

All too soon I was being poked in the ribs. I forced my eyes open to see Coda standing there with his arms crossed. "Get up pup, we are running to the lake and back."

I almost let the groan of displeasure escapade my lips, but I caught it in time and disguised it with a yawn. My legs were stiff and tired from yesterday's work and a run was the last thing I wanted to do. However, I knew Coda wouldn't back down from this so I forced myself to stretch and stand. I bent down to retrieve my shoes on the ground but Coda kicked them away. "From now on, you won't be wearing shoes." He said simply and the whirled around and marched out the door, not even turning to see if I followed him.

I stood there with my mouth hanging open before I snapped it shut and scurried out of the house after him. "What about breakfast?" I called out after him.

"I already ate it." Was his reply.

Not even bothering to ask, 'what about me?' Because I know his answer would only be 'what about you? You had time to eat and you slept in instead.'

"If you walk, I'll make you run twice as far tomorrow." Coda said before taking off at a lightning fast speed down the trail to the lake.

My run was slow, Coda was far ahead of me, disappearing from sight completely in a matter of seconds. Even though I wasn't sure how he would know if I walked or not, I played it safe and jogged the whole distance. I was panting heavily when I reached the edge of the lake where Coda was standing with an unimpressed look on his face. I hunched over, placing my hands on my knees and gulped in huge breaths.

"Stand up straight." Coda ordered. "You are blocking the flow of air to and from your lungs."

I did as he said and did my best to quickly regain my breath.

"Here's your activities for today, so listen carefully pup, because I don't repeat myself." I nodded in understanding. "First you are going to swim to the other side of the lake." I wanted to cry at that. Although the lake wasn't very big, it was still a few hundred yards to the other side. "Once you get there you have to run once around it then you will find the jump rope and do one hundred rounds three times through, you will run another lap and then do fifty pushups. Run another lap around the lake and grab the two dumbbells I left there and do five repetitions of ten lifts with your arms fully extended over your head, run another lap and then the rest of the day is yours. You have five five minute breaks and two ten minute breaks. Use them wisely."

Coda turned around and walked to a lawn chair that had been set up a distance away. He reclined back in his chair and flipped open a book, sliding on a pair of sunglasses and completely ignored me.

"I don't hear any splashing." He called to me, "Or are you already using one of your breaks?"

Oh I very much wanted him to die right now. Stripping off my jeans, because they would only drag me down I dove into the water and made my way to the other side. Halfway through the lake I thought I was going to drown because I was so exhausted.

"You are exerting too much energy, pup, longer deeper strokes one on your left side one on your right, stop falling your legs wildly." Coda's disinterested voice carried over the lake to where I was.

If I drowned would he save me or think good riddance? I didn't really trust him to care enough to set down his book and rescue me.

"I guess you better not drown then, pup. Keep swimming."

Taking his advice I tried to swim the way he had instructed and finally made it to the other side where I flung myself out of the water and laid on the bank.

"Already using your first break?" He called out. "The timers started you've got four minutes and forty eight seconds remaining."

I really wanted to launch a rock at his head to shut him up, but I was too tired to even lift a finger. Coda called out my time every thirty seconds and all too soon I had to haul myself up and take a lap around the lake. I had to stop and take another break after one lap, this time I used one of my two ten minute breaks. I had no idea how I was going to survive this day. I didn't bother putting my jeans back on because they would only make the rest of the work out harder and hotter.

The jump roping was hell. I made it through two rounds of one hundred before I took another break. After I completed the next set and the lap following it. I made it through one fourth of the push ups before taking another of my breaks. "You've only got three beaks left kid." I ignored him. He was trying to make me angry and he was succeeding. I was able to finish the pushups and took my ten minute break followed directly by my five minute break. The dumbbell repetitions were the worst because my arms were so utterly exhausted I used up my last break half way through the dumbbells and ran the final lap.

Coda was waiting for me when I finished. "Not half bad kid. I was expecting you to use another break that you didn't have. Tomorrow we'll work on your form because you were doing everything half-assed." He handed me my jeans. "I want you to sprint back to the house."

I glared at him but did as I was told. My feet hurt terribly from stepping on pine cones and rocks but I guessed that was the point.

June was waiting for me with lunch although it was now two in the afternoon. I took a long nap after lunch and was woken up by June for dinner.

"How was your first day?" Dad asked.

I shoved the fork in my mouth. "Exhausting." I replied when I really wanted to say: "Coda belongs in a mental institution for thinking the workout I did today was simple! He's crazy, infuriating and super annoying!" But I couldn't say that to my dad or he would insist that I give it up.

I went to bed early taking a hot bath to soothe my aching muscles, June suggested I stretch when I wake up and before I go to bed every day. I set my alarm so I would have enough time to eat in the morning and also set out a pair of shorts and a tank top for tomorrow's exercise.

Coda came to retrieve me at dawn again and the workout was exactly the same as the day previous. Today instead of ignoring me, he coached me, fixing my form so that I was doing them correctly. The right way to do everything made it even more tiring and I did end up needed more breaks than I was allotted. I felt like a failure at the end of the day and sleep was my only escape.

They days went by and after two weeks the workout got easier. Muscles slowly started to form on my body and I wasn't as sore the next day as I had been the previous day. My running time improved and my breathing was more steady. I was determined to be the first student Coda didn't abandon, even if I wouldn't become a warrior. However, little did I know that the extent of my training had only just begun.

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