"Just breathe..."

I closed my eyes and took a slow and shaky breath inwards before letting it go a moment later. No matter how many times I told myself to be calm, or just breathe, my heart still pounded like a drum in my chest almost to the point where it hurt. A cool draft pressed against my face as I stared into the mouth of the cave on the southern tip of Heaven's Reach, the magnificent floating array of islands above the sea and home to Master Hong. Inside I know I was to be tested on what I've learned in the year that I've spent training in the Hongmoon arts: special techniques created by Master Hong and to whom he taught a select bunch of pupils, myself included.

"You will be faced against enemies that will test your skills and courage, Monica." Master Hong's voice echoed through my head, "You're one of my most clever students, I know you'll do just fine." The feeling of his small hands pressing me forwards toward the cave and turning around to see him completely gone was still prominent in my mind.

"I'll be just fine." I whispered to myself and shakily walked forward. Slowly advancing into the cave, my eyes darted around quickly, trying to scan anything that may be lurking in the shadows or behind small bits of cover that I couldn't quite see yet. Slowly, I reached behind me with my right hand and wrapped my fingers around the handle of my dagger, which was held in a sheathe attached to my lower back horizontally. The feeling of the tightly bound leather against my tightened grip slightly eased my discomfort and with the knowledge that I had my weapon at the ready, I continued to take more steps deeper into the cave.

Deeper into the depths I advanced, my movement illuminated by the lit torches which were attached to the stone walls. The dancing lights from the flames sent shadows moving almost hypnotically along the stone walls. Aside from the crackling of the fire and the soft sound of my footsteps, everything was completely silent as I was greeted with a large circular room with torches lined against the walls. Scanning around, I noticed there was nothing there.

My heart pounded.

Something just didn't feel right.

My grip around my dagger faltered slightly.

Then I heard it. The sound of rhythmic clicking and clacking that reminded me about the collision of two bones which sent shivers down my spine. Followed by the clicks was the sound of something being stretched under high tension and a low hiss rung throughout my ears. Quickly looking up, my heart stopped and a mangled scream escaped my wide open lips as I stared at the eight, lifeless eyes looking down at me from the ceiling. The spider hanging from it's web above me was the size of a small hut. Even a single leg of the behemoth above me was longer than I was tall and the entire thing was covered in spiky looking hairs. A low sounding hiss emitted from it and it's mandibles moved back and forth revealing two razor sharp fangs.

My body was frozen as I stared back at those dark, menacing eyes...

"Monique get back here!"

I laughed and smiled as I chased my sister around the Mirage as we played our game of tag. She got a head start on me, but even if she was my twin, I wasn't going to let her out do me even in a game. Racing around in the sandy pavilion of the Mirage, we eventually squared off against one another as I slowly backed her towards the main gates leading out to the desert.

"Where ya gonna go sis?" I laughed. She snickered and cocked an eyebrow at me.

"Where do you think?" Monique replied as she raced through the main gates and out into the Scorching Sands. Running after her, I was greeted with a massive wave of heat as I took my first step onto the golden sands. Looking around, I saw her run around the corner to my left and I followed quickly, determined not to let her out of my sight. She won the last game because she found a good sand dune to hide behind, but I had begun to slowly keep note on her typical hiding spots. Our laughter resonated through the air as we ran circles in the sand as we made our way down the sand dune beside the Mirage and onto a rough sandstone ground which made it easier to get traction and run faster. We had played here before on numerous occasions and never got in trouble even though the adults told us not to.

We're twelve now, they'll have to let us be free eventually, I thought as our little cat and mouse game continued for a few more minutes.

After a while of running around, we were both drenched in sweat and heavily panting as once again, we were faced off against one another. For the second time today, I began my slow advance on her, pushing her back into the farthest wall in the pit from the Mirage and began to evilly chuckle.

"Nowhere left to go sis!" I smiled as I began to pick up the pace towards my twin. To my surprise, she slowly looked around and stopped moving. We stood there as the strong winds of the desert began to slowly die down. I had been outside so many times before and I had hardly even noticed at how loud the wind today was.

Maybe she didn't hear me through the wind.

I watched as a very confused look spread across her face as she continued to look around, her red eyes scanning the pit we were standing in. I knew something was wrong.

"Monique what's wrong?" I said a bit louder hoping to get her attention through all the noise around us.

"I don't think that's wind, Moni-"

Before my sister could finish her sentence, the floor below us erupted!

We were both sent flying in other directions as the ground shattered into pieces and a loud roar pierced the air. I tried to open my eyes frantically to see what was going on but a massive gust of sand hit me in the face, making me cower back. After a moment, the entire ground shook and a series of loud cracking sounds which had to be the sandstone rang out and forcing my eyes open, I noticed I was shaded by something.

Something big.

Looking around, I suppressed a scream as six incredibly massive, bony legs formed a cage around me, covered by a rigid frame above me. I frantically looked around to see what was above me and on one end, I could see two massive appendages sticking out like massive arms. And those arms ended in two razor sharp pincers, lined with serrated spikes.

My horror grew as I saw that those gigantic weapons were pointed directly at my sister who was clutching at her leg and crying. A pool of blood was forming below her as the red substance poured from a massive gash below the knee.

Another massive roar and then a rapid series of ear piercing clicks.

Then the massive scorpion began to move forward.

I clenched my teeth and squeezed my eyes shut tightly as my heart pounded hard in my chest to the point of hurting.

"MONICA!"

My eyes shot wide open as I saw Monique desperately trying to scramble away from the beast as it slowly began to make it's way towards her. Each step from it's horrible legs shook the earth and the clicks continued.

Looking at my sister so hurt, so scared, and crying brought up something in me and a snarl formed it's way onto my face.

Reaching into the small bag strapped to my waist, I wrapped my fingers around a hilt and withdrew a small dagger. Scrambling to my feet, I winced as I felt a warm substance roll down my own legs, but I pushed that aside. I sprinted out from under the beast, diving forwards toward Monique and the rush of wind and a deafening snap behind me, told me that the scorpion almost murdered me with it's massive pincers. Rolling into a kneeling position between my sister and this massive monster, I raised my dagger and stared at the scorpion and fear ripped apart any string of courage in my body. Each of it's massive eyes was the size of my head and they bore down upon me lifelessly. Mercilessly. It's pincers were the sizes of ironfang lions, but the most horrific thing about the beast was it's massive stinger held suspended above it's head and pointed towards us.

I heard Monique's scared and pain filled whimpers behind me and I tightened my hand around the dagger.

I wasn't going to let it touch my little sister.

The scorpion reared one it's mighty claws back and launched it towards me. Screaming, I rolled forward and narrowly dodged the attack. HIssing aggressively, the monster brought back the barbed stinger on it's tail. And with a deafening roar, it brought it down on me.

And all I could do was squeeze my eyes shut and scream as I waited for death.

CLANG!

"Huh...?" I whispered when I heard a bone chilling noise ring throughout the air. Looking up, awe filled me as I saw an elegant woman in a white dress standing in front of me, her long black hair shined in the desert sun and blew in the wind. Her sword, a dazzling sapphire blue and more than a meter in length was fending off the scorpion's stinger and emitted a strange power as the force bearing down on it caused an unearthly tone to ring out. To my surprise, the woman didn't seem phased by the monster attacking her. She wasn't even moving as she flicked her sword with ease, sending the stringer flying back. The scorpion roared.

Swiftly turning around, she knelt down beside me and placed a caring and tender hand on my shoulder and I couldn't help but shy away from the contact. Her eyes twinkled blue like the stars above and she gave me a sad smile and took a breath.

"Don't worry..." She said in a calm and soft voice which I somehow heard through the wind.

"Look out!" Monique screamed behind us and before I could even turn to see what was going on, I was grabbed and moved out of the way as a massive claw snapped shut where I was a moment before. Placing me down, I stared back into her eyes and seeing a hint of anger, I turned away quickly.

"Stay down, and look away." She ordered in a steady voice. I obeyed and shut my eyes, the feeling of her at my side left in a quick gust of wind and a moment later, the sound of the scorpion's cries of agony pierced the air and I clamped my hands around my ears and screamed. It felt like each second was an hour as the faint wails of the monster could still be heard through my hands and I clenched my teeth as it grew more and more desperate. After what felt like an eternity, there was silence. Even the wind ceased to be and I daringly opened my eyes. The woman was gracefully walking towards me, her elegance matching her sword which was at her side and the familiar kindness had returned to her face. Behind her, there was a great amount of ash slowly disappearing into nothingness and I knew that the monster had been defeated.

Bending down once more, her sword disappeared into a veil of sparkles as we were once more face to face. Again, she reached out to my cheek and hesitated, as if asking if she could make contact with me. I replied with a timid nod and she caressed my cheek with her slender hand.

"I know many warriors who wouldn't dare to stand up to the guardian of the sands, and yet you faced against the beast with no fear," She smiled, "You're very brave, little one."

I couldn't find my words, but I did manage to look back at my sister who was shaking and crying still behind us. Seeing this, I did manage to choke out a request.

"Please... take care of my sister..."

With a nod, she withdrew her hand away from my face and made her way over to Monique, who gave her a very scared expression which was quickly erased after realizing she wasn't there to hurt her. To my amazement, the woman held out her hand and a mystical white energy began to glow. From my position, I saw the gruesome gash on my sister's leg seal up and the blood, even on the ground, faded into nothing.

After a painstakingly long time, a small smile made it's way onto my sister's face as she closed her eyes and fell back into the sand. The woman quickly bent down and scooped Monique up in her arms before she hit the ground and cradled her tenderly, as if she was her own child. Returning to me, she gave me the same treatment. My legs sealed up as well as a gash across my arm which I didn't even notice. The feeling of relief flooded me as I felt some strength return to my body and I smiled up at her, which once again, she returned.

"Do you two have a guardian?" She asked politely, "I'm sure they would be worried sick by now."

Sadly, I shook my head and blinked tears away from my eye, "Our parents aren't here anymore."

Sympathy filled my savior as she held out a hand to me which I took. Pulling me up, she rubbed my head softly and chuckled when I shooed her hand away from me.

"How would you like to join a new family? You and your sister would be welcome and they're very kind."

I felt my breath catch in my throat, A new family? People to care for us and not just neglect to the streets?

"Yes please!" I accepted quickly, "But... who are you?"

"My name is Jiwan," She looked up to the sky, "Let's go meet your new family."

I clenched my teeth as the spider began to descend upon me, it's mandibles moving hypnotically. The horrible memories of the Guardian of the Sands' eyes looking down on me rushed back in horrible waves and my stomach began to turn. The feeling of despair as the scorpion's stinger crashing down a top me resurfaced and the sound of Jiwan's sword stopping it rang throughout my head. Then I heard something I had never wanted to hear again.

"MONICA!"

The sound of Monique's terror filled screams echoed through my thoughts and I felt anger fill me. Now, I wasn't that naive, twelve year old. The one who chased her sister into the Guardian's den and almost gotten her and her sister killed, had it not been for an unlikely savior. Not the same girl who was weak and frail, the same one who couldn't stand up for herself unless her sister was at her side.

I was a student of Hongmoon, and I wasn't going to let this spider get in my way.

Jumping into a back handspring, I closed my eyes and focused on the web connecting the spider to the ceiling and with a rush of wind, I looked around and saw that I was above the beast. With a yell, I unsheathed my dagger from my back and swung with all my might, cutting the web, sending the two of us to the ground with a crash. Landing on the spider's head, I used it as a spring board and elegantly flipped onto the ground and sank into a low stance with my right hand at the ready to grab my weapon at a moments notice. With an annoyed screech the monster stood up and rushed at me with it's fangs bared and rage filled eyes.

However, I stood there watching.

Waiting.

At the last moment, I looped around the spider and I felt a million times lighter. I knew that I had willed my body to go almost completely invisible with the powers I had acquired and jumping on top of the monster, I gripped my dagger with both hands and brought it down, straight into it's back, right where the spine should be. It's left side completely collapsed and rolling away, I continued my assault, stabbing at it's body at lightning speeds as it struggled to get up. As it finally got up, I forced my spirit into stealth once more and summoning a string of lightning, I lashed out at the spider once more, sending me out of stealth and electrocuting it.

Flipping away from it, I willed the electricity surging through the spider's body to come back to me in the form a rope. The pain of the power surging through the line was enough to make my vision flicker, but with my remaining strength, I sent the power straight back into the beast, illuminating the cave we were in with a bright light and the screams of pain from the spider rang out as it convulsed in pain. I clenched my teeth and black dots faded in and out at the edges of my vision, but I held on. After a minute of sending electricity into it, it collapsed into a crumpled heap and ceased to be.

My energy was completely drained and I struggled to keep my eyes open. In the back of my head, I heard my name being called by a familiar voice and the sound of footsteps running towards me. I barely had the energy to turn and look back into red eyes looking down at me and a bright smile.

"You did it sis."

I rasped out a pain filled chuckle as my vision cut to black.