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By Tom McmulkinPublished 3 years ago 8 min read

Whispered footsteps announced the approach of her opponent, “Rule number 5” Lin exhaled calmly, “Never show pain or emotion!”, sweeping a low kick at Sky. She evades it at the last second by rolling backwards onto her feet and quickly counters, combining the accuracy of Dragon style, catching him off guard. This time she sweeps him off his feet and follows up with a punch to the chest, but he recovers by planting a palm to the floor, shooting another fast kick, hitting Sky's left shoulder. She backs away a step and resumes Dragon stance, rolling her shoulder over to check for damage. The punch to her stomach still aching from moments before, she forces it from her mind and turns to Lin who is standing tall, patiently waiting for her next attack, his eyes piercing and scrutinizing her every move.

“Xuéshēng” he says softly, using the word for student, “calm yourself and flow with your moves like I taught you”. Taking her masters advice, Sky gathered her thoughts into one collective, feeling the strength in her legs, the soft training mats under foot, the grip she is able to leverage off them, she lowers into her own improvised stance, left leg forward leading her body that ends with her hands skyward. Just as she moves to strike, however, the door at the end of the room bursts open revealing two people. The first, a boy around 12 years of age whom Sky immediately recognizes as Xeon, her best friend. He is dressed in training pants and shirt, both a simple, yet elegantly styled black cloth that gave both freedom and breathability. The man walking next to Xeon in the neat Airforce uniform was Li-Chen, Xeon’s father. Commander of the entire Airforce, his narrow eyes and glance pierced the room, Xeon standing next to him, full of energy with a small wrapped parcel in his hands. They approach Lin and Sky on the training mats and bow to each other, as is proper in the upper mantle and especially inside Lin’s Kwoon or Dojo. They break the bow and Sky steps forward to punch Xeons arm affectionately, “Come to get your butt kicked again?!” she says, flashing him a broad grin, he smiles back, rubbing his arm “Not this time, I’ve been practicing!” he says cockily, Sky giggles, “We’ll see about that, what’s in your hand?!” Sky nods at the parcel, “You’ll see” Xeon mimics, Sky turned to her master and asks permission to spar with Xeon, her master nodded curtly, hardly breaking conversation with Li-Chen, Xeon hands the parcel to his Father as both adults step off the training mats resuming their conversation off to the side.

Xeon and Sky turn, walking towards the center of the Kwoon, they begin the traditional greeting before battle, right hand clenched as a fist, cupped in the open palm of the left hand, raised in front of your chin. A sign of respect. Sky falls into the defensive position of Crane style, throwing him off, it was her least favourite form, but Sky wanted to confuse him and keep his mind occupied. Xeons frown was visible from a mile away, he advanced in Tiger style, easily his strongest form, however, where there is strength, there is always weakness, as Lin would say, and you need only find that weakness. A few strikes from Xeon were parried or dodged with ease, raising Sky's confidence, after a dozen more kicks and punches his style was getting sloppy and desperate as he loosely launched attack after attack that Sky danced away from. Suddenly he changed styles and spun away from a punch she was sure would land. A smile hit Sky’s lips, “So you weren’t lying after all” she says. Xeon’s expression was full of concentration and didn’t reply, determination showing through. She advanced on him, switching back to Dragon style, she lashed out at his limbs, Xeon barely keeping up with her lightning fast bombardment as she pushed him closer to the corner of the training matts. Sky landed a punch to his chest and he lurched backwards off balance, falling towards the hard wood floor below, his eyes full of shock. Yet out of nowhere he hooked his right foot behind Sky’s left knee as an anchor. Trying to shake him, sky steps forward, but he manages to hold on and regain his balance, spinning around to her left, Sky is too slow and too close to the edge to recover as he kicks the back of her knees and she falls to a kneeling position, another quick blow to her back and she is propelled over the side of the training matts, landing on the shiny wooden floor.

“Rule number 4, Xuéshēng” Lin preaches as he helps Sky up, “The fight is never over, even if your opponent is down”. Lin’s words fill her head like they always do, usually a blessing, but at that moment, the shame of the defeat biting deeper than ever. Puffing from exhaustion and adrenaline she turned to face Xeon. “Nice match” she smirks, “You too!” he replies, grinning wider than she had ever seen before, Sky laughed at his triumphant expression, Xeon joining in whole-heartedly.

Outside on the Palace balcony the skyscrapers surrounded her view above and below, Sky looked over the edge of the railing, but found her view there partially blocked as one of the many floating islands moved directly into her line of sight. The islands, used for growing food and livestock, moved freely about the space below her, she liked to watch them dance around each other, on a race track that had a mesmerizing pattern to it. She stepped away from the edge and looked around to where Xeon was climbing on top of the railing, where a ladder was located. Xeon started to climb, yelling “Come on!” while he progressed up the ladder. Sky walked over to the ladder and looked up as he continued to Ascend. Moments later and Exhaling with relief, she clutched his hand a little longer than normal as he led her away from the ladder. They sat in the shade of The Palace, their backs against the wall, the edge two metres away. Sky felt cramps in her legs from the intensive exercise she did earlier and opted to stretch her legs out as they listened to the sounds of the city. Cars whirring, sirens blaring, gliding trains above and below making distant screeching noises around their looping continuous tracks. The sun was setting, casting long shadows across the skyscrapers in front of them, the air was crisp, puffs of condensation floated away in front of their faces. Stars overhead winking into existence as the sun faded over the horizon. “Father said we are visiting the colony on Ganymede for my 13th birthday” Sky delighted in telling Xeon, “He said the moon has wonderful sunrises and sunsets if you see them at the right time of year, which is apparently very soon” she finished. “Speaking of birthdays, I have your present” Xeon smiled, reaching into his pocket to retrieve the small parcel Sky had seen earlier. “Xeon, It’s not my birthday for another week” she exclaimed, “I know, I know, I just couldn’t wait” he laughed, handing it over.

Sky held it gently, unwrapping the present with great anticipation, the blue paper she scrunched up and shoved into her pocket along with the matching ribbon. A small box revealed itself, simple and polished. She opened the hinge with a snap and inside lay a golden heart-shaped locket, the metal was smooth to the touch with inlaid and ornate carvings of two dragons facing each other, their necks arching and heads meeting at the middle of the locket, her families crest. “It’s Beautiful!” Sky exhaled, her smile almost reaching her ears. She hugged Xeon blushing as she did so, “you didn’t have to get me anything you know!”, they sat arm in arm talking for a while, content with the world, Sky hung the tiny locket around her neck, she fiddled with the chain the whole time as they talked, her heart soaring.

As the sun set even further, the cold crept in and Sky started to shake, goose pimples sprouting along her arms and neck, “Lets head down Sky” Xeon pronounced, “It’s getting late”. She nodded and they both stood up and walked back to the ladder, they could see Lin down below, leaning against the railing, looking out across the city, Xeon helped Sky down and she began her decent. Halfway down, she started feeling tightness in her right leg muscles again, ‘stupid cramps’, she thought. Sky tried stretching it by putting all her weight on her left, reaching down she grabbed her foot, extending her muscles. “Sky, you ok?” Xeon yelled down, “Just cramps” she replied. “Oh!” Suddenly, her left leg gave way to violent spasms as both feet slipped off the ladder, her weight was too much for her grip to handle and Sky began to plummet downwards. Her mind was filled with panic as the ladder rungs blurred by as fast as her heart was beating, Sky tried to reach out to them, but her fingers wouldn’t respond. Her ears were echoing with the sound of her own screaming, blood rushed to her head, ‘grab onto something!’ her brain was yelling. She floundered at the ladder, legs were flailing out of control and painfully cramping still. Sky closed her eyes just as a sharp pain shot all the way down her arm as she came to an abrupt halt. The fear of falling rushed out of her body as the intense pain of her shoulder burst into the front of her mind. Opening her eyes to it, she tried to blink away the tears welling up, her left hand reaching towards her right shoulder, it felt like a thousand fiery ants running in her veins, burning, and biting at all her muscles and nerves. Then Sky felt his iron grasp on her forearm, vice-like, and the tears cleared for a moment to glimpse Lin hanging onto her arm with one hand and the railing with the other. His face contorted with concentration and his brow sweating with the effort of holding onto Sky in addition to his own weight. “Mistress” he said, flecks of spit flying from between his clenched teeth, “Grab…..the….Railing……Hand…….Slipping!” And just as he finished, his hand slipped a little on the railing above. But he redoubled his grip on Sky’s arm and with a vast effort he pulled her up closer to the balcony above. Sky reached with her uninjured arm toward the ledge, “Just a bit closer” she whispered, fingertips scratched at the concrete of the ledge, in a last effort she lunged for it with a desperate longing. She felt Lin's hand let go of her own, a final grunt of exertion and satisfaction parted from his lips. Sky clung to the ledge above, her right arm dangled uselessly by her side and roaring with pain, she looked for Lin, but he wasn’t there. Horror reached into her brain as she looked down, their eyes met and a faint smile spread across his lips, he mouthed something but she couldn’t hear over the ear piercing scream of ‘Noooooooooo’ that erupted from the very depths of her soul, she watched as Lin closed his eyes and fell down, further and further. Xeon appeared by Sky’s side and grabbed her hand, hauling her up over the railing and to safety, tears spilled down her cheeks, “Liiiiiiiiin!” Sky screamed until her voice cracked and grew hoarse. A few seconds later, or maybe 30 minutes, she couldn’t tell, he fell onto one of the floating islands passing by. She finally turned away and collapsed into Xeon’s arms, the last thing she thought about was that smile on Lin’s face, haunting her, as all turned black.

Sci Fi

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    Tom McmulkinWritten by Tom Mcmulkin

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