The wind rustled through the leaves of the great trees. The full moon peeked out from the cloud that had been concealing it. Shadows stretched from the crumbling walls of the ancient building, which were pale in the moonlight. The cracked windows were empty aside from a few dusty cobwebs. The bright red roof had faded over time to a dull pink. Many of the tiles had broken or fallen off, but the fences that stood tall around the premises of the building were unravaged by time. They stood strong, towering over any person that should walk past. The moon went behind another cloud. Darkness descended and the shadows grew.
Two dark smudges detached themselves from the shelter of a low-lying bush. They seemed to meld into the shadows and become invisible only to appear several meters closer to the tall proud walls of the building. They stopped beside a clump of bushes as the moon came out.
There were two men; one short, one tall, dressed entirely in black. The taller man had on dark gloves and boots. Upon his face he wore a dark mask concealing his features so nobody would be able to recognize him. Upon his left chest there was a symbol, piercing red upon the black. It was two short gashes with a long one in-between them as if a cat had scratched him and blood had flown forth from the gash. Buckled to his back was an immense broad sword that shone dimly in the moonlight. He had many pockets and pouches that were odd shapes and looked like they carried something in them. He was a strong man and his movements were lithe and graceful. His eyes were ever watchful, shifting from left to right and back again.
The other man was the complete opposite; short and solid and thumped around like a city thug. He wore the same dark clothes with the same gash-like symbol on his left chest. But he had no red band, signifying that he was lower in rank than the other man. At his side there was a huge mace with dull spikes, some of them stained red from innocent victims. His eyes had a tired dull look, like the very thought of not being in a bed was draining.
As the moon went behind another cloud they moved in their strange way. They blended in with the movements of the shadows on the ground, gliding from one to another. They slipped around a bush and were standing in front of the wall. It towered above them; an ancient barricade meant to keep people out. The moon came sliding out of the clouds. The two men were black on white; anyone could spot them where they were.
They took out grappling hooks and threw them up over the wall. The taller man's found purchase straight away and he started up the wall. The short man's didn't even make it to the top of the wall and slid down and hit him on the head! He jumped around in circles clutching his head in his hands.
“Hurry up,” hissed the tall man. His voice was low and cunning. It spoke fear into the hearts of many of the people who knew him.
The short man stared at him venomously and threw his grappling hook up again. This time it found hold in a tiny crack. The tall man was already at the top of the wall waiting anxiously for the other one. The short man was half way when a dead branch fell and whacked him on top of his head. He yelled in a deep gravelly voice. The tall man hissed back a curse and looked around to see if anyone had heard. His watchful eyes could see no one, but he didn't relax.
He, unlike his partner on this mission, knew what their purpose was. He served the evil master Tatsu. Tatsu was ruthless with a really bad temper. He was the head of a secret organization known as the Black Council that desired world domination. The members of the Black Council were dark twisted people who only knew how to hate. They had been driven out of villages and towns, accused of having strange powers and mutated bodies. The Black Council hated people and everything to do with them. They wanted to rid the land of people and populate it with dark creatures. And in order to do that they had to take control of a world known as Balathor, one city at a time. The men who served him and the members of the Black Council are the Dark Warriors; People made from pure darkness. Tatsu himself had come from a battle school deep in the heart of Balathor. But on the eve of completing his training he rebelled against the school, attacking them with all that they had taught him. He escaped and founded the secret organization, Black Council.
Tatsu’s mind became corrupted, and with a little lying from the other members of the Black Council, he was led to believe that the secret school hunted down and killed his family. They cast him out of the school and made sure that everyone knew who he was, and that they despised him.
So Tatsu, ever bent on revenge for something the school did not do, had sent for his personal assistant Kisho - the tall man. Tatsu had explained to Kisho that he had heard of a staff at the school with special powers to control fire, water, wind and earth. Tatsu and the other member of the Black Council had traced the staff back to an ancient legend, predicting it’s immense power to control the four elements.
Master Itsui, the principal of the secret school, was the direct descendant of the maker of the staff. He had kept the staff secret in the hidden location where the school was; the school where Tatsu had escaped from; the school, which wasn’t so hidden anymore. Tatsu wanted the staff for himself so he could destroy the school for the things he thought they had done. Tatsu had given Kisho a map to find the school, and, according to that map, Kisho was now sitting upon its walls.
But it didn't make any sense. Surely this wasn’t the school. It looked so rundown like no one had lived in it for centuries. Looks can be deceiving, thought Kisho, and he hoped he was right. For Tatsu had made it clear that if he failed he would never see the dawn of a new day.
The short man heaved himself up onto the top of the wall with a sigh of relief. “You took your time,” said Kisho, annoyed. “We can't get spotted or the whole mission will fail.”
“Whatever,” said the short man, in his deep gravelly voice, “I don't see what your hurry is.”
Kisho gathered up his grappling hook and put it away in one of his many pockets and with an angry sigh swung down from the wall. The short man stared after Kisho. What’s his problem? he thought. Kisho landed softly in the damp grass on all fours like a cat. He stood in the shadow created by the wall and was invisible to anyone looking. They were in a small courtyard surrounded by overgrown gardens of flowers and thick sharp rose bushes. Beyond that was a paved area with a water fountain in the middle. That's what they were aiming for. The short man thumped down behind Kisho with a grunt.
Kisho turned and spoke, “Go silently and invisible. Head to the pile of weeds beside the water fountain.”
The short man stared. “Why do we have to go silently and invisible?” he asked “No-one’s watching us.”
“How do you know?” Kisho said angrily. “Anyone could be watching.” With that he was off. Even the short man, trained in the ways of the Dark Warriors, lost sight of him after the first meter or so. Kisho seemed to blend into the shadows cast by the tangled weeds and rose bushes. He appeared a few minutes later staring out from the pile of weeds. He motioned for the short man to come. Soon the short man appeared clumsily behind Kisho tangled in the weeds.
“Quickly follow me,” Kisho commanded and ran silently over to the fountain with the man thumping behind. The fountain was cracked and moldy. It looked like it hadn't flowed since the dinosaurs roamed the earth. The water stank and was incredibly stagnant. Kisho reached down and pushed a paver. It swung up and out with a loud grinding noise just as Tatsu had said it would. There was no doubt about it; they were in the right place. Now they had to succeed or die. Kisho jumped into the air and forward flipped into the hole.
It was pitch black and Kisho couldn't see or hear anything except for the wind rushing through his ears. He prepared himself for the landing that was to come. Suddenly he splashed into ice cold water. He gasped in surprise. Breath rushed out of his mouth. He heard the short man before he felt him. He was yelling as he fell down the tunnel from above. Then he slammed into Kisho. Kisho was flung into the wall of the tunnel. He gasped in pain then swung around and punched the short man in the stomach. Hard. The short man gasped and sputtered around on top of the water, winded. Eventually air found the way to his lungs and he was fine if but for a sore stomach which he kept complaining about. Kisho ignored him and swam around the tunnel until his hands bumped into an iron rung bolted into the wall.
“Come over here!” he called to the short man. But there was no answer. He called again. Nothing. He started to get a cold feeling of dread. He reached for the rung in the wall when something grabbed his sodden leg and pulled. He yelled as he was dragged under the water. Another thing grabbed his other leg and tightened. Then something grabbed him around his stomach and started to squeeze. It was too close for him to use his broad sword. He reached into his pocket and took out an intricately carved dagger and slashed at whatever was holding him captive and drowning him. He heard an earsplitting scream and was released from the creature’s grips. He swam for the surface and grabbed the rung. Kisho vaulted up the rungs and landed on a platform.
There was a low gurgling sound coming from the water below him. And then with an eruption of water something thumped down beside him. Kisho jumped back and for a horrifying second lost his footing. He cart wheeled his arms in a desperate attempt to keep his balance. Just as he was about to fall he lunged forward and landed with a thump on what he now saw was a body which had launched from the water. Kisho could feel the thick wet clothes, the slick boots. With growing horror he realized that it was the short man! He felt for a pulse but couldn’t find one. The man was cold. He was dead. That was nearly me! Thought Kisho in shock, I nearly died!
The realization scared him more than anything ever had before.
Then he heard with horror a slimy creepy sound, and drips falling onto the metal platform. Something stealthily curled around his leg and started making its way up his body. He reached back and drew his sword and with all the strength he could muster swung downwards. It cleaved right through the slimy mass with a wet snap. Something thumped onto the platform. There were sounds all around him. Kisho panicked and flung his sword all around him. It crashed and ricocheted off the walls with loud crashes. He heard half a dozen wet snaps closely followed by thumps and earsplitting screams. Fearing for his life, he sheathed his sword and ran.
He ran into the darkness with his hands out in front of him in case he should run into a wall. Eventually, dim candles appeared on the walls right below the ceiling. It wasn't much but it was enough to make Kisho stop. He sat down next to the wall and curled himself into the smallest ball he could make and whimpered. He was scared stiff and full of horror. I nearly died! He kept repeating that phrase over and over in his head while rocking back and forth. After about several minutes he stopped and was struck by another thought What if one of the people from the school catches me here? For there is no doubt about it, this is the school. Who else would have a giant underwater beast at their front door? And who cares about the short man. He was just a loud annoying nuisance. He probably would have gotten us killed anyway. And I'm still here. I'm not dead yet so I may as well just get going. I can see where I'm going now so no-one can sneak up on me. If they do they'll just meet the blade of my sword!
Happy with those thoughts he drew his sword and walked on. He was in a tunnel that ended just above his head. Sometimes he had to duck because roots protruded from the roof of the tunnel. He rounded a corner and came to another dark drop. Kisho swore explosively. There was no way he was going down another drop. But maybe there wouldn’t be any water this time. Kisho looked around and found a large stone. He picked it up and threw it down the pit. He strained his ears and heard a distant splash. He swore again. Then a breeze rustled the back of his neck. His adrenaline surged and his fear rose as he spun around sweeping his sword in a savage arc. But there was no beast behind him or anything for that matter. He looked around, puzzled, but his keen eyes could not see anything. Perhaps this beast can go invisible, he thought with growing dread. He started to panic again, but this time he took control of his emotions before they overwhelmed him. He remembered all his years studying fighting and sword-play. He had succeeded and now he was the best in the country succeeded only by Tatsu. He breathed deeply and let go of his fears. He closed his eyes and relaxed.
It was then that he realized that the air that was flowing around him was not hot, like the breath of a monster, but cool like the wind blowing through the trees outside. An idea struck him and he ran back over to the dark drop. He leant out over the drop, balancing carefully on the edge, and looked up. At first he could see nothing, but as his eyes slowly adjusted he could faintly make out grooves cut into the side of the tunnel. They were going up! Kisho heaved a sigh of relief. He ran his fingers over the grooves. They were very shallow. It would be very hard for an untrained person to climb, but a person at his level of training would find it as easy as walking on solid ground.
Excited at his discovery, Kisho leapt up and grabbed hold of the grooves and practically ran up the wall. In seconds he was at the top. Kisho looked down the next tunnel. To his surprise this one was completely made of stone and was dotted with doors going down either side of it. Fire burned in brackets on the wall. As he walked past each door he turned the handle to see if it was locked. So far they were all locked. When he looked up at the tunnel roof he saw air vents every now and then. They produced nice fresh cold air. He rounded a corner and found himself at a dead end.
He swore. He walked back around the corner and tried the doors again. They were locked just the same. He went back to the last door and took out a thin piece of metal to pick the lock with. He wasn’t any good at picking locks. That was what the short man was for, but he was dead. Kisho tried for several minutes but could not open the door. He banged the door hard with his fist and swore again. He sat down onto the ground and leaned against the wall. I can’t go back now. Tatsu made it clear that I’d die if I failed, he thought angrily. He gazed at the roof and at the air vents then had an idea. He leapt to his feet, took out his broad sword, reached up and knocked the bottom of the vent to the floor. It crashed down and echoed down the tunnel.
Kisho nervously looked back the way he had come but there was no one coming. Surely they know I’m here by now, with all the noise I made. Confused he leapt up into the vent. Air blew over him as he heaved himself up with a grunt. The air whistled and blew around his ears, masking the sounds of voices and footsteps coming up the corridor until it was almost too late.
Kisho pulled himself deep into the shadows of the vent and let the darkness envelope him. Two people clothed in white came walking down the tunnel. As they walked closer to Kisho he was able to make out that one was female. She had a flowing hooded cloak on drawn forward so that her face was in shadow, making her features almost invisible. In her left hand she carried a simple wooden staff. She had an athletic, confident stride.
The other was a male; strong and well built. He had a sword at his side. He followed slightly behind the woman. As they strode closer the man ran ahead and picked up the vent grill then stared intently up at the darkness in the air duct. Kisho froze. He didn’t blink. He didn’t do anything. When the man turned to show the woman the vent grate, Kisho leant back and sank further into the shadows.
She took the grate and glanced briefly at the open vent then said to the man, “We have to report to Master Itsui about this new discovery.” Her voice was commanding but soft and gentle as well. She turned around and walked back down the tunnel. The man hesitated a second, looked up at the vent then followed muttering to himself. Kisho breathed out a sigh of relief and relaxed. They didn’t do their job very well, he thought. They should have climbed up to see what made the vent fall down. He took a deep breath and started crawling off in the direction of the dead end and into the unknown.
Kisho’s back was sore and cramped, he longed to get out and stretch. He had been crawling through the narrow air vent for about half an hour. He was a bit nervous because according to the map the dead end was supposed to be just after the vent he entered, and he hadn’t passed any other vents since. He was covered in dust and his eyes were sore from all the junk blowing around him. His knees were sore from constantly kneeling on them. Kisho sucked in a breath, closed his eyes and crawled forward blindly.
At last he came to a vent. When he peered through the grate he saw two warriors dressed in white clothes and holding long spears. They were barring the way to the door behind them. That must be where the staff is! Kisho thought excitedly. As he silently watched from the shadows one of the guards left his post and walked down the hall only to return a few minutes later. Then the other walked off and came back. Kisho timed it so that they were both together, then put his hand into his pocket and drew out a small white bag. He carefully opened it up and shook the contents through the grate and onto the unsuspecting guards below.
A fine white powder fell directly onto them. Aided by the air blowing out of the vent, the powder swirled all around. There were shouts of surprise before the sound of two thumps. Kisho quietly removed the grate and placed it aside. As the powder settled, Kisho grabbed the sides of the vent with his hands and swung down into the room. He landed silently in-between the bodies of the guards who were unconscious and sleeping heavily like babies.
Kisho glanced around him. He was in a sort of office with a desk and a chair. But besides that the room was pretty bare. He turned around and ran for the door. He quickly turned the knob and slipped inside. He was in a bedroom. The lights were off and it was completely dark except for some glowing object in the corner. As Kisho moved closer to the object he could make out the shape of a staff. It’s the staff, he thought excitedly, I found it! Now to grab it and get the hell out of here. Happily he reached for the staff when a candle blinked into existence behind him.
Startled, Kisho spun around and drew his sword in one motion. The man behind him was short and old. His hair only grew in white tufts around his ears and the back of his head. His long beard brushed along the ground and caught in the breeze from an open window. Kisho’s eyes flickered to the window. He would grab the staff and jump through there to escape. The man was holding a long slender blade the colour of fresh snow.
As it caught in the light it blinded Kisho and forced him to look away. As he did that the short man struck. He covered the distance between them with lightning speed. Desperately Kisho blocked and parried. The short man effortlessly forced Kisho back with a flurry of side chops, stabs and overhand cuts. Kisho just managed to evade each thrust that the man threw at him. The man swung his sword low then quickly changed direction and slammed the pommel up under Kisho’s jaw. Bright light flashed behind Kisho’s eyes as he fell backwards onto the floor. Blood filled his mouth and he spat out a tooth that had been knocked loose. He opened his eyes to see the man looming over him ready to deliver the final stroke. Never had anyone ever before beaten Kisho, especially an old man!
“Who are you?” he asked through clenched teeth.
The other man smiled, “I am the principal of this school,” he answered. “Who else did you think would guard the staff?” With that he swung the sword down.
Kisho rolled into the mans legs and sent him tumbling over. He then leapt up and dashed across the room to the staff. He grasped it in his hand and pointed it at the principle.“Which do you prefer,” Kisho asked, “fire, water, wind, or earth?”
The principal’s eyes widened in fright, “You wouldn’t!”
A savage smile spread across Kisho’s face, “Oh yes, I would.”
He pointed the staff at the principal and said in a loud voice, “Fire!” then swung the staff in two arks. Two beams of orange fire leapt forward and struck the principal in the chest. He ran around as the flames caught a light on his night shirt. Kisho leapt out the window and landed hard on the ground, which confused him because hadn’t he been under the ground? He looked around and realized that he was standing in a valley surrounded by the school buildings. He ran into the darkness and became invisible.
Soon he was perched at the high point of the valley. Looking north he could see the school, nestled down and well disguised by the tall trees and bushes within, and looking south he could see the courtyard where his journey had started. Interesting, Kisho thought. The building surrounded by the wall is a fake! Or an outpost of some sort. I’ll have to report this to master Tatsu. Kisho felt that this was a very important discovery. He wrapped the staff in a dark cloth and faded away into the predawn light