Pride Land

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Chapter 3

"Training starts now."

Elder Greyson wakes me up early, shaking me. The clock next to me reads five o'clock. I slug out of bed, and head straight to the bathroom.

"I set some clothes out for you in there. There's a supply room downstairs full of clothes. Get changed and we'll head to the training grounds," Elder Allan says.

I'm quick to change into a fresh set of clothes. They're dark, and almost skin tight. They're far from what I would normally wear, but I assume they're easier to move around in. I pull my hair back, tying it off with a brown ribbon.

I hurry out of the room, waiting on my Elders to finish getting ready. I want to hurry up and get this day over with. I know everyone will make fun of me. They'll know I'm not the toughest, and they will single me out at the weakest. I can already hear the jokes, and Nero laughing at me. If there's one goal I will accomplish before the fight, it's showing Nero that he's not better than me.

Elder Allan is the only one to exit after me. Elder Greyson stays behind as the door shuts him in.

"So what's first? Am I going to learn how to fight? Something to help get me in shape?" I ask.

"First, breakfast."

He hands me a peach. In the rush, I forgot to eat breakfast.

"It's the most important meal of the day, especially for someone undergoing serious training."

I take a bite out of the peach. Juice squirts out, and trickles down my chin. The sweet taste is exactly what I need to help me through the bitter time I'm going to have today.

"So what are we doing today?" I ask again.

"Right now, we watch."

"Watch?"

Why am I only watching today? Everyone else gets to grow stronger and practice their skills while I fall farther behind.

"In order for your training to be successful, you must learn the strengths of your enemies."

"So, you want me to study their fighting styles?"

Elder Allan nods his head. "Precisely."

As much as I don't agree with him, I have to follow orders. I feel as if I should be training, not watching.

Down the hall there is a staircase that leads up to a large area, with different sections where the other races are scattered. Each of the races are already tirelessly training with their Elders. I don't know who to study first. Elder Allan's hand rests on my shoulder.

"Look at each one's training. Notice their strengths, and weaknesses. Ask yourself each time 'how can I over come their strength?'" He says, and lets go of my shoulder.

I nod, and head for the large tank of water just to the left of the room. Stairs lead down to a lower level, where I'm able to see under the water. The water is crystal clear, with white rings bobbing inside at various depths.

Two women stand on the platform just above the tank. One is wearing a long white cloak, with deep blue hair, almost as deep of a blue as the ocean. The Aquatica's Elder. The other one in a bathing suit. Her hair is orange, long and thick.

The orange-haired girl dives into the water. As soon and her body submerges under water, she springs to life. She darts towards the first ring. She weaves through the rings fast and effortlessly, almost as if she really is a fish. She swims several laps between the rings before coming up for air.

The Aquatican Elder removes her white cloak, revealing a black bathing suit. She dives in after the girl, and speeds towards her. She grabs the girl, and wrestles her withing the water. They seem tangled up on each other, until the Elder pushes away from the girl.

She lunges back for the girl, but she is quick to swim to the side. She retaliates, wrapping herself around her Elder, and diving further down into the water. They both struggle, the girl trying to keep her grip on her Elder, while she tries to escape. The Elder manages to free herself from her prodigy's grasp and swims back up to the top. The girl floats to the top, with her head hanging.

"You still have much more training," says the Elder.

"Yes, Elder Aliana."

She takes a towel, and dries herself off. Her and I make eye contact.She smiles, and makes her way towards me.

"Hey, you're Monkey Girl, right?"

I feel my face grow hot. "Yeah, but my name's Ashley."

"I'm Nit. Nice to meet you."

She offers out her hand, still damp from the water. I happily shake it. I'm glad that everyone here isn't mean and full of spite.

"Don't let those guys bully you like last night. They're just trying to intimidate you before the fight."

"You're really fast in the water. How did you learn how to swim like that?"

"The Aquatica race is built to be fast swimmers." She holds up her hand, spreading her fingers. Big patches of skin connect each finger to one another. "It comes naturally."

From what I've read through history books, since the Aquaticans live near a lot of water, they have evolved throughout history with the great ability to swim faster and longer than any other race. They also have an increased lung capacity, so they are able to stay under water longer than the rest of us.

Nit is using her abilities to her advantage, by drowning anyone who comes near the water. If I want to survive, I have to avoid bodies of water at all costs. Entering one can surely be an instant death.

Nit gets called back to training. I wave her goodbye, and move on to find someone else training.

I make my way over to the center of the room, to a battle arena. The Canius boy and Raye, the Felineous girl are squaring off to fight.

The boy lunges for Raye, but she is quick on her feet, and dodges his attack. She throws him a high kick. It makes contact with his jaw, and sends him stumbling back.

The Canius and Felineous races are natural enemies. Both are powerful races. Canius is known for their strength, but Felineous are known for their reflexes. It's hard for the boy to land a proper hit on Raye, but Raye's attacks aren't as effective on him.

Raye slides behind the boy, without him even noticing for a moment. She kicks his leg out from under him. He falls to one knee, and spins around. Her leg is blocked by his arm.

With his free hand, he pulls on her other leg, sending her flopping on her butt. Before she can get up, the boy is on top of her. His hands is on her neck, and the other winds up, balled in a fist.

"Easy win." The boy smirks, and leaves Raye on the floor.

I help Raye off the ground. She gives me a smile as she dusts herself off.

"What a gentlemen," she scoffs.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. We were just sparring. Deron took it a bit too seriously, though."

"You were great out there!"

"Thanks! Do you want to spar with me next?"

I quickly refuse. I can't take on Raye. I would be done for before the match even begins.

"Elder Allan wants me to study people for right now. Maybe some other time."

"Hey, Raye. Are you done talking to that Ape yet? I'm ready to beat you again in round two," Deron says.

I clench my teeth at his insult, but ignore him and leave. It's not worth starting a fight. Not with his strength against mine.

Gymnastic equipment is set up on the other side of the water tank. I walk over just in time to see Caius flying through the air, catching himself on the shortest uneven bar. He spins around once, and releases his grip.

He sends himself soaring backwards. His ankles hook onto the tallest bar, and as he swings around, our eyes meet for an instant. He swings forward, and rolls into a ball. He lands on the balance beam without falter.

He looks back at me, and winks. He takes a sip of water, and hold his head high as he goes back to the uneven bars.

"If you would like to watch my magnificent performance from start to finish, I suggest you stick around. But, please, no flash photography," he says.

His ego leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I can't bare to watch him any longer. He acts too cocky for a bird-brain.

No. Don't stoop down to name calling. Be better than them.

I turn away and leave.

As much as I don't want to, I have to check and see what Nero is doing. On the far right corner in a small forest of artificial plants. I cautiously make my way towards it. I don't want Nero to see me coming. I don't want another confrontation like last night.

Getting closer to the corner, I can't find Nero. I only see a tall man with long black hair standing in the center. His eyes are closed. He stays still and silent.

He jerks around, and throws what looks like small blades at a bush to his right. Nero launches himself out of the bush before the blades could touch him.

He flicks his wrist, and a small dagger falls out of his sleeve. He aims for his Elder, and swipes his arm. The Elder catches his arm, and thrusts his knee. It connects with Nero's abdomen. He topples over.

He regains his balance quickly, and makes a beeline for a cluster of foliage. His Elder follows behind him, and pushes his way through the bush. Nero isn't hiding behind it.

He drops down from the artificial tree above his Elder. He tackles his Elder, catching him off guard. I have no clue how he's able to move so fast.

His stealth is something I've never seen before. He's going to be a tough person to face. There's no way to avoid him, not if I can't see him.

I look around at the other races training. They all have amazing advantages. Aquaticans is deadly in the water, Avians can perform well in high places. Reptilians are extremely stealthy, and, Canius and Felineous are exceptional fighters. Primeapians can't do anything.

I report back to Elder Allan, and tell him all about what I learned.

"Good work. We will work more with that tomorrow. Now, it is time to train with Elder Greyson."

He takes me to a secluded training room. The walls are bare, with no windows. The floor is padded for soft landings. Elder Greyson is waiting for me in the center.

"This is supposed to be reserved for our private training day, but I feel like this will be more suited for you to begin training," Elder Greyson says.

"Are we allowed to be here?" I ask.

"Technically, no we aren't. But since you have no prior fighting experience, I think it would be better to teach you here instead of in front of everyone else."

We square up, standing two feet a part from each other. He lets me take the first shot. I swing hard, aiming for his head. He ducks, he grabs my arm. He winds his arm back. I flinch.

I feel his leg come up under me, and I stumble backwards. I hit the floor hard. Even though these floors are padded, I can feel a bruise forming.

I get back up, and dust myself off. I try to rush at him, but he dodges my attack. He's now behind me.

I freeze. How is he so fast? There's nothing I can do now. I close my eyes, and wait for him to strike me.

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