“RHEA MADE ME THEIF AGAIN.”
Sliver collapsed on Cyra, who waited outside Rhea’s office. Sliver was used to be called in early, and she was grateful Cyra, though not an early bird herself, managed to drag herself up to accompany her.
Only Cyra knew how bad Sliver felt. Sliver was the best thief the Kor had, but that wasn’t saying much. Sliver would have been a nothing if they still had ninety-six first-rankers instead of the mere seven they were left with right now. Not only had the war cost many lives, it had ruined the lives it spared. Cyra patted Sliver’s back, attempting to calm her.
Cyra was the sharp-eyed ninja. This was a great plus when it came to invading enemy territory, but unfortunately, she wastes most of her gift on gossip. The second they met, Cyra informed Sliver that Fatalty always had broccoli in her teeth, Lucifay spits when she talks, and Rino is just plain gross. Thankfully, Cyra had never let one of Sliver’s secret fly—at least not yet. She was holding her secrets hostage should Sliver every ditch her.
“What did she ask you to steal?”
“I can’t tell you that!”
“One can always hope.” Cyra shrugged, then gave her a sly look. “So, about that stealing?”
Sliver sighed. Cyra was a pain in the butt whenever she wants information. “You know, sometimes I wonder why I’m still your friend.”
“Sometimes I wonder why you won’t tell me what you’re stealing!”
Sliver waved the question aside. “Oh, you know. The usual. Same as last time.”
Cyra actually knew what that meant. “From the Arth?”
“Ah. Better get ready. Want me to come with you?”
“Would my answer really matter?”
Cyra smiled. “No.” They set off toward the atrium. It used to have been a beautiful place. Triangles of glass approximated a sphere quarter. A giant plant wall housed dozens of potentially deadly plants and roots. This used to be a go-to spot for lunch or studying. Now the glass has been covered by a foot of iron. Florescent lights have been set clumsily into the ceiling. The plants withered and died. This was most of the Kor.
As they walked, they passed corridors of doors, each one more joyless than the last. They almost made you want to shy away from them. These doors used to be painted and personalized by whoever lived in the dorm behind it. Now, when you look inside, you’ll see an abandoned bed. Some of the worst dorms still had their blankets tousled, books thrown carelessly on the ground, a shadow of what once had been. Sliver and Cyra continued, staring at the ground which was more inviting than the doors.
First stop was weaponry. Cyra would never miss this. Sliver went to look at the swords, while Cyra gushed over the different types of guns. “Sliver! OMG! Check out this .50 Caliber Muzzleloader! C’mon Sliver! This has 26-inch barrel!” Cyra shouldered the rifle, aiming it at the wall. She did a few pretend shots, yelling, “BAM! BAM!”
Sliver watched in amusement. “You seem to be forgetting I’ll be shooting in complete darkness.”
Cyra’s shoulders slumped as she put the weapon back. “Fine. I’ll just be here, watching you pick out boring swords that barely—HOLY SHIT!” Cyra grabbed a black gun, holding it as one might hold a baby. “This is a TrackingPoint 7.62 Semi-Automatic NightDragon Rifle! Total TTK 2.5 seconds! You’ve got to use this!”
Sliver was still fingering a seven-pointed shuriken. “TTK?”
Sliver turned around, immediately wishing she hadn’t. Her friend looked up with hopeful eyes, but Sliver knew she had to turn it down. “Cyra, how the hell am I supposed to carry that monster around?”
Cyra looked hurt. “It’s not that big.”
“Yes, it is.” Sliver knew it was time to wrap it up, before Cyra starts getting any other ideas. “I’ll take a few of these shuriken, and these two Chinese Hook Swords. We’re leaving. Come on.”
Cyra stomped after her. “C’mon. You’re going into Arth territory with a some frisbees and two sharp sticks?”
Sliver sighed. “I have my Neko Te and Kunais in my dorm. I’ll see if I can carry a can of Metsubishi.”
“Yeah. Like Nemo blah blah blah is any better than a TrackingPoint.”
Cyra was going to regrets saying that, because Sliver launched into a lecture about the different types of ninja weapons. “Not Nemo, Neko Te. They’re metal gloves with claws filled with poison, used for close combat. Kunais are throwing knives, which could also be dipped in poison. Metsubishi is a spray that blinds nearby ninjas. Of course, I would have brought a Kusarigama, which is a—”
“Sliver,” Cyra said, putting a hand on her friend’s shoulder, “I know. I took the same classes.”
“Well, I took the same classes on guns. Yet somehow I can do nothing to shut you up.”
“I’m not shutting you up, I’m telling you that the armory is the other way.” Cyra pointed in the opposite direction. Sliver felt her cheeks go red.
“The-The Tunnels are a confusing place,” she stammered.
Cyra smirked. “Uh-huh.”
Once in the armory, Sliver picked out her usual ninja outfit, but made with dragon silk. “I wish Rhea would get spider silk. I mean, if she can use the real thing to make a scimitar, why doesn’t she use it for clothes?”
“Cheaper.” Cyra was right. Or, at least, she would be right if they lived in the mortal world. But here, things were different. There was no such thing as “money” in their lives. And frankly, Sliver, who had been brought to the ninja world when she was two, still had to wrap her mind around the idea that you needed to use paper to trade for things. Cyra had been brought at the age of seven. Sometimes, she’d have these mental lapses and she’ll start talking about money or hula hoops.
“You see,” Cyra once said, attempting the explain the concept of wealth, “The more money you have, the more things you can buy. The more things you have, the wealthier you are.”
“Why do you need to buy things? Can’t you make them?”
“Well, if you wanted to eat, you’ll have to buy food.”
“Why? We grow food.”
“You’ll need to buy land to raise or grow your food.”
“Isn’t that silly? You fight for land.” Sliver was positively giggling. The mortal world sounded so weird.
“Fighting costs lives.”
Cyra was getting exasperated. On one hand, she wanted to defend her birth place. On the other hand, Sliver was making an awful lot of sense. “Well, ok. Bad example. If, for instance, the Tesak had something you wanted, what do you do? You have to buy—”
“I steal it.”
“No, no, no. Stealing is wrong.”
“You do it. I do it. If everyone does it, how is it wrong?”
“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
“Don’t go off on your mumble-jumble. If everyone does something wrong, and you do something right, doesn’t that mean everyone is right and you are wrong?”
Cyra thought about this. But the more she thought, the less sense it made. Finally, she threw her hands in the air. “Forget it! You’ll never understand.”
Sliver crossed her arms. “If your world made just slightly more sense—”
That led to a very long, very angry argument about whose world was better. They arrived at the conclusion that neither world was greater than the other. Both were full of people killing each other for random things they couldn’t control. Like race, class, intelligence, and land.
Right now, though Sliver still didn’t understand money, she let the issue drop. “Whatever. I’m heading to the dorms to drop this off. Meet you at the arena.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll tell Rhea you’re getting ready.”
“You’re the best!”
Sliver hurried back to her dorm. She and Cyra were a kind of roommates. They shared a living room. It included a comfy couch and a TV set, where Cyra watched screechy, big-eyed, purple-haired, human-like, skinny, animated girls run across the screen. The room was clean enough, mainly for Sliver’s sake.
Past the living room were two different worlds. Cyra’s bedroom was a complete trash can. Clothes, swords, guns, books, magazines, and pillows littered every foot of the space. On Sliver’s side was the complete opposite. It was way too clean. There was barely any furniture. Her rooms contained a total of three chairs, two bookshelves, one wardrobe, one bedside cabinet, and one bed. Sliver had no desired for mundane things such as a couch. It just took up too much space.
Sliver made her way to her bedroom and carefully hung the swords on a small hook, placing the shuriken in a bowl underneath. In her wardrobe were her other weapons, and Sliver readied them by oiling and poisoning them. She would have gone faster, but this was a delicate process and Sliver trusted Cyra to deliver the message.
Finally, Sliver was satisfied with her work. It was nearly the beginning of her weaponry class, so she dressed herself in her normal, comfy arena boots, and set off.
It took her years to finally be comfortable in the dank corridors. Even now, as a first-ranker, Sliver felt herself holding her breath as she descended the flights of stairs. When her feet touched the bottom floor, she broke into a jog, her toes skimming silently on the stone, something no one else could accomplish.
Someone else was here. Sliver slowed down, wondering if it was Blitz, who was usually late. She turned the corner, only to see a scared-looking seventh-ranker walking uncertainly in the corridors. It was odd to have a seventh-ranker in the corridors. But every now and then, someone stumbles upon this place. The seventh-ranker was old for her ranking, but it wasn’t all too uncommon. A lot of ninjas hit a block at the fifth rank and spend years before moving up.
“Hello. Are you lost? This is a first-ranker corridor.”
The ninja nodded shakily. “D-do you know where the seventh-ranker c-corridor is?”
Sliver felt a pang of sympathy. “It’s up two flights,” Sliver said, pointing to the stairs, “Don’t worry. It took years for me to know my way around too.
The ninja smiled gratefully. “Thank you.”
Sliver watched the ninja walk off, catching a brief a blur of movement.
Something slashed her face before she had time to react.
Blood dripped down her nose. Wha-
Something slashed again. This time Sliver felt pain. Reality crashed on her. I’m being attacked!
Sliver launched into a defensive maneuver, which brought her to realize her opponent was no less than a quality first-ranker. The attacker weaved in and out, each move executed with perfection. Unlike the overly dramatic moves of a novice, hers was simple, sharp, and to the point. Normally, Sliver would be able to narrowly hold off. But she had made an amateur mistake. She had given her opponent the most powerful advantage of all.
She was taken by surprise
Now, weak and in pain, Sliver could barely dodge the incoming attacks. She felt her body struggle.
Her opponent kicked her in the head, while balancing herself on a spear, though Sliver couldn’t be sure. It was all a flash of clothing. Sliver stumbled back, attempting a kick of her own. Her opponent caught it with her hands, twisting Sliver over. Sliver just managed to break the fall. Her opponent fell back, but easily regained her posture with a simple front flip. Sliver hadn’t enough energy to do the same. She scrambled up as best as she could, wiping blood and sweat off her face.
It was at this moment that Sliver realized that there was no one else who could be attacking her than…the seventh-ranker.
Or, at least, whoever could be the seventh-ranker in disguise.
Sliver would have been annoyed at herself for not seeing this earlier, but between punching and being punched, she could only keep up but concentrating. And by realizing the attacker was the seventh ranker, she had paused for a split second. This one pause was all the seventh-ranker needed to end Sliver’s life. The seventh-ranker thrust a series of punches, before faking another punch but ducking away. Sliver was tricked, leaving her midsection undefended. The spear slashed stomach. Sliver fell back, clutching ribs, blood pouring out of her wound, soaking through her uniform.
Finally, the seventh-ranker came clear into view. In her hand was a bear claw. Sliver’s eyes widened.
Then she was hit with the biggest surprise of all.