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1736, 14th day of the third month of the cold period. Ninth day of the week. (Early morning)

All I can manage is to scream as I wake. No one’s here to comfort me, so I wrap my arms around myself and hum as I rock myself. My safe place near the idol is where I sleep.

Vivi brought me an old ratty blanket that I wrap tighter around my shoulders. It smells like charcoal and smoke but it beats nothing. We’re entering the cold period, winter I guess.

When I first met Bola, he tried to get me to go to the city guard so I could at least get a warm bed to sleep in. I refused. Just thinking about that monster gives me the chills.

Trish’s betrayal hits me full force and I start to cry. My best friend in the world slit my neck and watched with a smile as I bled out.

My focus is broken by the sound of a bell. A jingle like a cat’s bell. Filthy rats infest the Rubble Rats HQ, and are the only thing I’ve seen scurrying about. It’s appropriate given the group’s name, but the dirty creatures give me the willies with their four eyes that each look in different directions.

After a few seconds I look around for the source of the sound, but find nothing. Could I have imagined it?

Sleep takes me after mere minutes of lying down.


A few hours later.

“Anessa,” Vivi says. She rocks me to wake me.

Amber eyes greet me as I open my eyes and yawn. After a good stretch of my arms and legs, I give Vivi a light bow, “Good morning, Vivi.”

“Morning, Bola said your doctor’s here,” she replies with her usual bright smile.

My hair is a rats nest so I do the best I can to brush my hair with my fingers. Failure is the result so I give up.

Within the main area of our HQ, a bespectacled older man with a black bag at his side awaits me. He taps his left foot with impertinence.

I stand in front of him and give a short bow, “Good morning.”

“Let’s get this over with,” he harrumphes and looks at me, “I have other patients you know.

“I shouldn’t even be testing someone your age, they tend to be a bit fanciful with their thoughts this young.” He takes a different pair of glasses out of the bag, “She’s probably just taking you for a ride in hopes you’ll praise her.”

Bola crosses his arms, and presses his lips together. He glares at the doctor.

The doctor gives me a dismissive gesture, “Take off those filthy clothes and lay down on this pillar.”

My cheeks heat up after I look to the other Rubble Rats.

Vivi looks at the group and places her hands on her hips, “You all leave,” She lifts up her right fist, “or I’ll hit you good.”

The boys scatter with fear evident on their faces.

Vivi uses intimidate and it is very effective. It’s difficult to not laugh at their reactions.

Vivi looks at Bola and shakes her fist. He is still looking at us, he coughs and turns around.

As I pull my dress off over my head I can only think about how embarrassing this is. My escape from the monster was done in haste so I have nothing on under the dress. Thank Vivi, she has the sense to get me my cover. So I can at least give my bottom half some modesty.

Vivi helps cover my lower half while I place my hands over my chest and lie down.

“Place your arms to your sides, you don’t have anything I haven’t seen. I need to look at your meridians as you pull in essence.” The doctor says.

My cheeks heat up further as I comply.

The doctor removes his glasses and puts on the strange looking pair. He taps their side, and continues, “Now, pull in as much essence as you can until I say to stop.” He points to my diaphragm, “after that, gather it all here.”

Everything beyond three feet ignores my pull when I close my eyes and visualize.

“Hmm, good control and speed,” I hear him say. A few moments pass, “stop. Now pool it where I said.”

The energy collects into a sphere no larger than a golf ball.

“Now, move it to your dantian,” he commands.

Like before, the black sphere latches onto the glob I moved toward it, and starts to separate it into a gray and white. The white becomes very bright before it disappears into the black sphere. The gray bits scatter throughout my body.

“Hmm,” the doctor muses again, “hold still.” He rummages through his bag.

A breath later I feel a burning sensation in my stomach and open my eyes. He’s placed a large needle in my stomach, I start to move my hands toward it and Vivi grabs my hands. My strength is no match for hers as I fight her grip. She’s strong!

Vivi leans in and whispers, “you’re okay, he won’t hurt you.”

“Someone’s sealed her dantian,” the doctor remarks. “If the seal is weak enough, I should be able to break it.” He hesitates, “if not, I’ll at least be able to tell you how strong it is.”

He manages to balance a misshapen rock on the head of the needle and stretches his palm out toward it.

My eyes widen as pain shoots through my entire body. This elicits jerk, and I arc my back away from the pillar. My arms again fight Vivi’s grip but I am still no match for her.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor starts, “I can’t hope to break that.” He removes the needle and packs it away in his bag. He walks over and stands in front of Bola. They talk in hushed voices and Bola slips him what I suspect is a few silver coins.

After I get dressed and walk up to Bola I inquire, “How bad is it?”

“Well, if I were the Emperor of Westwood Empire,” Bola starts. He rests his right hand on my left shoulder, “I wouldn’t have enough money to break your seal.

“If you were in the Essence Stage, before you were sealed, you’d be able to light campfires if you had an affinity for fire. But even then, you would have to collect essence from outside your body, purify it, convert it into fire essence and use it all at the same time.”

That sounds difficult, very difficult. Bola explained that I’d also have to be at the peak of the Essence Stage to convert essence into the right element.

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Allen Clark Copeland, Jr.

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