It’s been three days since we went to the border. The Huntres were back to their usual business—training their bodies, improving their abilities with respect to their attributes, and monitoring the Flame Spectre’s movements. Leo, who was a weapon provider for the rebellion force, chose to live quietly but he promised he would still lend a hand if needed. “No, Sir Isaz,” he said while looking at the child who fell asleep after crying. “I’m sorry. I can’t risk her daughter’s life.” “But you will be safer here,” Isaz insisted. Leo smiled, but sadness gleamed on his eyes, as if he was yearning for something . . . something that he had already lost. “Minerva has lived a rough life,” he sobbed. “She said she doesn’t want her child to live the same way. She wants her to live normally. And even though I know that’s impossible, I want to honor her wish.” “But you’re going to leave her in an orphanage, right?” “Yes. They may still be looking for those who supported the previous government and I don’t want her to be targeted, too. It’s best for her to live with the humdrums right now. And maybe, when I’m ready to take care of her and protect her, then I can get her back.” His words echoed inside my head and resonated with me. I remembered Krystal and how I failed to protect her when I promised our parents I would. Maybe he was right. Maybe I, too, should think like him. I’m sorry, Krystal. I don’t think I can meet you in this state. I was appointed as the leader of this strong force, yet I’m still weak. Proving myself would be difficult but I have to. And when I’m finally ready to take back what they have stolen from us, I promise I will find you. “Winter.” My thoughts disappeared into thin air when I saw Hale outside my window. His eyes had turned into purple, like most of the kids in this village. His face was also covered with cuts and dirt but he didn’t seem to mind it. A smile escaped my lips. It felt like yesterday when he always cried every time he got hurt. “What is it?” “Hilda is calling you.” I went out of the window and walked with Hale. Looking at him, it looked like he grew at least a few centimeters taller. Kinda annoying. When we got to the training grounds, Hilda and Riyo were already there as several children approached them. “Now that you have honed your fighting instincts to their limits, we can now see what kind of attribute each of you possess,” Riyo said. According to Hilda, if a child has parents with different attributes, it won’t necessarily mean he or she will inherit one of them. The child might assume the attribute of one of his or her grandparents or their older ancestors. In our case, the Alveria clan was kept pure. They could only marry those with of ice attributes users, resulting to every descendant bearing similar abilities. Mom was also from a ‘pure’ lineage, several branches away from Dad’s line, and I realized I am now burdened with the responsibility to continue our bloodline’s purity. “Those who came from a pure bloodline can manifest their clan’s attribute in its pure form. Like this,” Riyo explained. Suddenly, beads of water encircled him and formed into a sphere. “But those who are from a heterogenous line can channel their power through weapons.” “We call them veinas,” Hilda added. They presented a variety of weapons and other stuff in front of us and some of the kids started walking, their eyes vacantly staring at the weapons, as if they were hypnotized. “They say veinas will choose their master, not the other way around.” One of the kids, Alum, picked the flute, and vacuously played a tune. All of a sudden, the ground trembled, and the next thing we saw was him getting restrained by Hilda, as well as a deep crevice in the ground where some of the kids fell. My body stiffened upon witnessing the sudden power of Alum, an eleven-year old boy, just by using a flute to channel his, apparently, earth attribute. Other kids started choosing their weapons, too, and the elders had a hard time keeping them under control without hurting them too much. I looked at Hale, who was still standing beside me. “Why aren’t you picking your weapon?” I asked. He stared at me for a few seconds and opened his palm. “Riyo said I don’t need to.” I almost gasped when I saw sharp icicles on his hand. Truth was, I didn’t expect him to have the same attribute as mine. “You came from a pure bloodline?” He shrugged. “I don’t know. But I can only form spikes and sharp ice.” Well, if he couldn’t manipulate the element itself, his power must not be of high purity. But still, I was surprised that he could easily create those. “Ah,” he said while pointing at my face. “Your eyes are turning blue.” “Are they?” He nodded. My purple eye only lasted for two days and that was after our first day of training. It turned into a mixture of blue and violet, but these days, blue was becoming more dominant. However, it wasn’t as light and clear as Isaz and the rest of the most powerful people here. ‘Winter.’ I flinched upon hearing my name inside my head. That was the first time I heard that voice. ‘Here,’ the voice said. From the far end of the training grounds, I saw a guy waving a wooden sword. If I remembered correctly, that was Gerald, one of Dad’s righthand men. I walked toward his direction and bowed at him. He doesn’t stay in the village, unlike most of the top brass in the force. They said he owns a dojo in the White Division and he was being monitored by the Flame Spectre, so he could only visit when the security is low. One of the reasons why he could still continue living in the White Division was the position of his second wife. She was one of the most influential humdrums in the White Division and harming him would cost Flame Spectre the support of the people. He said he married her to protect her daughter and to shift the attention of Pierre to him instead of the Black Division. “Gerald,” I called. “Yes?” “You said you’re one of Dad’s righthand men.” He nodded. “Who’s the other one? And where is he?” “Ah. You mean, Aaron? He’s in North Black. Probably hiding.” “Why can’t he just go here?” He flashed a melancholic smile. “He said he failed to protect your father, our master. He’s the type of guy who shoulders everything. But don’t worry. I’m sure that when the right time comes, he’ll be with us.” “I . . . I see.” After our conversation, he started training me. The smile on his face disappeared and I almost got suffocated by the pressure of his presence. The next thing I knew, my cheeks were already bleeding. “W-what the . . .” I didn’t even see him moving his wooden sword! “You only need to do one thing,” he said. “Stay alive.” I took back what I said before. Hilda wasn’t the most terrifying person here. It was this guy. *** My life in this hidden village was mostly comprised of training, recuperating, near-death experiences and nightmares. I had been honed to my utmost limits, unable to breathe at peace for a minute, to be a worthy warrior and leader of this force. “Winter,” called Hale, who was about to go to a mission. I finished donning my furred coat and armor. Isaz went to find Leo to mass-produce veinas that could help our faction train their abilities, while Gerald didn’t return anymore after our last training. “Do well,” I said and he smiled. “I will.” It’s been four years after we came here, and six years since that tragic incident happened. It’s time to tip the balance.