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Chapter 1:

"Come on Jo! You can do it!"

Outside the sun was bright, shining down on the hardened clay surface of the buildings in the Capital. It reflected into the small pools of water, created by the heavy rainfall the night before, and formed a rainbow. Flowers were starting to poke through the soil, smiling up at the sky with their colourful petals glistening brilliantly indicating the beginning of spring. All was calm and peaceful. However if you happened to look slightly upwards through a window in the building in the center of the city, you would see a group of students. If there was a break in those group of students you might also see two people wrestling as those same students cheered enthusiastically.

Jo struggled upright, forcing her messy brown hair out of face and tucking it behind her ears. Her competitor also got to his feet. Mac was a short and skinny 15 year old, the age of all second years at the Capital School somehow, Jo always saw him as a weasel, with two front teeth protruding out of his mouth and tiny, rodent-like eyes. His nose was bloodied from a well-timed fist and his teeth were gritted in pain.

They advanced toward each other. Jo attacked first, her fist connecting with Mac’s jaw with a resounding crack. She looked on with satisfaction as Mac staggered backward and fell onto the ground. Cheers erupted from the crowd of students around the fight. Jo proceded slowly, staring straight at him. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Ellyn shrink back, horrified. She hesitated for a split second. Ellyn was her shy but sweet god-sister from the Forest Region whose parents had died last year. They had named Jo’s parents her godparents. It was unusual for the Regions to visit each other and to keep up a friendship, but somehow Jo and Ellyn’s fathers had managed. This whole fight was for Ellyn, defending her from mac’s cruel words and showing her that she was loved.

Jo had been talking with her friends before the teacher entered the History classroom when she heard a terrified squeak. She had turned around wondering what it was. Mac had Ellyn pushed up to the wall, his lip curled up into a cruel smirk. He had then spoken to Ellyn.

“No-one cares about you! None of these people even know your name. You’re a nobody, face it.”

“But...but Jo is always really nice to me” Ellyn had said halfheartedly, already believing him.

“Okay Ellyn, lets think.... when I walked over to you, were you with anyone? Did anyone talk to you? Look at you? Notice you?” Ellyn’s face turned pink. “I thought not.” he had laughed. Jo pushed Mac away, she had watched long enough.

“What are you doing, Mac?” she had demanded loudly. “Taunting my friend?” Ellyn blushed pink and she had managed a small smile. Mac saw Ellyn and a gleam entered his eyes.

“Nope, not your friend, just a nobody. No-one cares what happens to her so I’ll just carry on thanks.” Jo was pretty sure that at that moment she tackled him to the ground.

Ellyn was constantly bullied like this, especially by Mac and this was not the first time Jo had intervened. However, Jo had never taken it this far, never started a fight.

Jo now semi-turned toward Ellyn, to see her large brown eyes widened with fear reflecting Mac’s fist aiming for her head. Pain spread from the point of contact, everything spun and her head rang. Anger filled Jo and she turned, still dizzy, and saw Mac readying to punch her again. She faked a punch with the left hand and as he blocked, drove an uppercut into to the diaphragm. The breath was knocked out of him and he keeled over. Jo stepped toward him.

Mac winced but stood up a little straighter and smirked “Look Jo. It’s no use acting like a hero. Everyone knows it’s true that you don’t give a toss about anyone except your popularity. And you just so happen to get into way more fights than anyone else!” he shot back. Here he reached up and touched his reddened swollen nose, fliching in pain. Then he glanced up and said “Even your ‘friends’ only hang out with you because they’re scared of what you’d do to them if they decided not to go along with you!”

A gasp rose from the crowd at his words. Jo’s head spun and staggered back, heart burning from the insult. She tried to find something that would prove his words not true but she realised she was struggling. Perhaps he was telling the truth. She’d never considered that she might be hated by people.

“That’s not true! We love you, Jo, and we enjoy being your friends!!” Suddenly a shout broke from the crowd. Jo recognized her friend Hannah’s voice and smiled, suddenly braver.

“Shall I blacken one of your eyes too?” Jo asked. Giggles erupted from the bystanders. “Now... left? or right?” Jo shrugged “Anything will go with the nose so it really doesn’t matter.” More laughter followed. Macs ears began to turn pink. I’ve embarrassed him Jo realized. She saw the hint of tears gathering at the corners of his eyes as he pretended to act cool, dusting himself off. Hopefully he’d learned to leave others alone. She stepped away, shrugging apologetically, “Look lets just stop”. Jo was from the Sand Region, where they were renowned for their warriors. They knew when to stop, when someone had taken enough. Jo deflated like a burst balloon, any want to fight evaporating in her. She turned and began walking toward her table.

The swinging foot was unexpected, it was always a low hit attacking when an opponent's back was turned but Mac was angry. He wanted revenge. Mac, from the Mountain Region had two toed feet and extremely thick soles. The foot caught Jo in the square of her back and she flew forward several feet. She landed with a thud and lay there groaning in pain. Her back throbbed with pain and she felt dizzy again. She must have hit her head as she fell. Faintly she heard the door of the classroom bang open.

“What in the CLANS is going on here??!!” screamed Master Ross, the History teacher. “Mac! Jo! Get up now!” Jo tried and failed to crawl to her feet and only managed with the help of Hannah. Even then she winced from the various ailments, her eye was swollen and she limped toward the teacher. Mac was in a similar condition, blood slowly trickling down his face from his left nostril. “Out! In the hallway! NOW!” They slowly made their way to the wooden arched door and pulled it open. Not so much as glancing at each other they stared round at the school. The hallway was short, the buildings only having few rooms. Both beaten students looked round as the classroom door was ripped open and Master Ross stepped out.

“Almost one- thousand years to the date, a war began...” Master Ross started. Master Ross was a tall man, with beautiful amber eyes. He was around thirty and was usually not strict. Even now, Jo doubted he would give them detention. The punishment had already began, the lecture on the Great War. This was not the first time they had received this scolding. “A war between the four regions: The Mountain Kindred” Master Ross glanced at Mac. “The Forest Tribes, The Lake Clan, and the Sand People” He looked at Jo. “All four of the Regions fought each other. It was chaos. No borders. No leaders. Nothing. This War lasted for 100 years, until peace was restored by four leaders that came to power. A peace treaty was agreed on and signed, it stated several rules that all region had to obey. Every child would go to school in Candidus City, to learn to live with others from different regions. All the regions would have equal pieces of land and borders that would not hinder travel.” Master Ross stared down at Jo and Mac. “You two may be the start of another war. We can never tell and we must not let this happen again. We should become peaceful friends.”

“Sir” Jo began “You don’t understand! Mac was bullying Ellyn...” She trailed off as she stared up into his intense glare.

“I do not care what she did or he did. I care that you fought and it is my duty to ensure that it never happens again. Do you understand?”

“But Sir!” Jo interrupted again.

“Do you understand me!” Master Ross repeated looking directly at her. Jo stared back then finally relented under his gaze and looked away.

“Yes” she finally mumbled.

“Yes, what” said Master Ross.

“Yes, Sir” Jo said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. Master Ross narrowed his eyes but accepted it.

“Mac!” he barked.

“Yes, sir?” Mac queried, his hands bloody from trying to quench the flow from his probably broken nose.

“Go see the Chirurgeon about your injury” Ross ordered, beginning to look concerned “And Jo, you too”.

They both set off toward the infirmary, strolling (or rather limping) their way through the school grounds, not speaking a word to one another, as tensions were high. The grass was a brilliant green and as Jo watched a butterfly landed on a blade. It fluttered its pink and yellow wings; Jo blinked and it was gone. Candidus infirmary was not far away from the school but with Mac alongside her it seemed to take twice as long.

As they finally reached it, they saw it was an ordinary building like the all the others in the schoolyard, made of brick red dried clay.

“Should we knock?” Mac asked icily, his voice muffled slightly from holding his hand to catch the blood from his nose.

“Might as well” Jo reasoned and raised her hand to knock. The door swung open, revealing a young lady, with curly blond hair and light blue eyes. She had no extra traits , as she was not from a region. Some people had always lived in the Capital, mostly healers or potion makers. It was Alexis, the City Chirurgeon.

“What in the clans ‘appened to you two?” she said chirpily, Snot taken aback at all by the sight of the two bedraggled people in front of her. “Anyway... what am I doing leaving you outside like this? Come on in!” Jo and Mac entered the building looking round.

All around the large floor area were hammocks with tables next to them, around one-fourth of them were filled with groaning citizens, all in different conditions. Other doctors and chemists walked around inspecting patients and giving out medicine. Alexis guided them in through several rows of victims to two clean hammocks, a fair distance away from each other. A nurse in a white hat and apron walked quickly past, carrying a tray with a potion resting upon it. She reached a young boy whose hand was badly burned, and whose family had crowded round his hanging bed. Jo recognized the baker and his family.

“So what did ‘appen to you?” Alexis asked in her drawling voice. Her bright eyes wandered across my face, already evaluating how bad Jo’s eye was.

“Fight” Jo muttered, looking down. Alexis raised her eyebrows.

“I see, what happened?” She asked glancing at me.

“He was bullying Ellyn and I just couldn’t let him...” Jo was interrupted by a short bark of laughter.

“No, no, no! What happened during the fight! Not what the fight was about!” Alexis said laughing. Jo turned pink around the ears.

“Oh” she said quietly. Alexis smiled encouragingly and Jo realized that she was signalling her to continue. “Well, um, I have a black eye and I’ve been hit in the head quite a few times. Also he hit me in the back.” Alexis’ eyes widened.

“He hit you in the back? With his feet?” Jo nodded and for the first time she looked worried.

“Turn round and pull your shirt at the back” she ordered. Jo did so and only then did she comprehend the pain she was in. “Looking here I can see that your foot twisted in the wrong way, it caused you to fly across the room and you didn’t manage to catch yourself. Am I right?” Jo nodded, astounded by Alexis’ deduction skills. “This is a nasty mark on your back, you will most likely have back pain for a long time. We don’t have any treatment for this sort of thing right now, and there is no way to tell how much damages was truly done, apart from time that is.” She sighed. “There's nothing I can do. However, your other injuries maybe we can do something about. You said you hit your head several times?” Jo nodded again. “Let me see” she sighed and picked up a glass tube from a nearby table. “Let your eyes follow my movements with this tube” she ordered. Slowly, Alexis began to swing the test tube back and forth- all the time watching Jo intently. Jo’s eyes moved back and forth but however much she tried, she could not fully focus. “Hmmm..” Alexis pondered. “What's the name of this city?” she asked.

“Um...” but however much she tried she couldn’t remember. “It.. It’s.. “ No word sprung to mind, instead she began to feel dizzy again.

“Concussion!” Alexis said firmly. “Stay here” she said, turning away from Jo and calling a Nurse over. “This is Emilie, she will look after you while I grab something, okay?”Jo nodded and Alexis whispered something in the nurses ear and hurried off.

With Alexis gone, Jo and Emilie stared at one another awkwardly not knowing exactly what to say. Luckly, Alexis returned fairly quickly with a potion. “Drink!” she commanded. Jo was handed the beaker and drank. “You should feel like you can’t move any limbs by now” she said, cheery as ever. And she was correct. Her limbs felt like lead and however much she tried, she could not move. “Now, sleep”. Alexis’ kind face was the last thing she saw as she fell into the abyss of sleep.

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Copyright © 2015 Bethany Costello