AN: This story takes place at the very start of te series, just before the Coalition is created.

No disclaimer is necessary.

The Harpy Eagle soars overhead, and you can't help but watch it as it spreads its wings and dives down in glee.

"That's an odd-looking bird," Sim says, coming up behind me. She gazes upwards thoughtfully. "I've never seen one like it before."

Of course you haven't, you think. The Harpy Eagle is native to the Amazon Rainforest. And that's not a bird.

The eagle lands on a distant building, and you know it's returning to human form. "I've got to go," you tell Sim, hurrying in the building's direction. "See you in school."

"But Meqii," she starts, confused. "You just got here."

"Something came up!" you call back.

You run faster and faster toward the building, trying to keep to human speed. If I'm not in time…

But you are. She's there.

She stands at the top of the stairs, cool and collected. "I've been waiting for you."

You cautiously put one foot on the bottom stair. "How'd you know I was coming?"

She gazes down at you. "I recognized your aura, Meqii."

"I have an aura?" you ask stupidly.

She laughs, but it doesn't reach her eyes. "Of course. I know of your power."

"How?" you demand of your onetime classmate and former best friend. "How can you sense it?" It's not like she's the strongest power-being around. She's just a ten-year-old kid!

Her eyes are suddenly cold. "I know what you are, Meqii. I know you're working with Crayak."

"Then there are no secrets," you agree. "You know why I'm here?"

She nods slowly. "You want to sabotage my mission."

"Crayak doesn't want an alliance between the Ellimist and Diadem's Triad," you acknowledge. "I'm here to stop it."

"Just try," she challenges you, stretching out a hand. A lightsaber springs into it.

You hold up a hand, palm outward. You're n Level Yellow right now, just like she is, according to Crayak. You can fight her.

Energy pours from your hands in a gushing stream, crashing toward her. She leaps upward, dodging the flames and landing just behind you.

Before she can light her saber, I use martial arts to flip her over on her back. I wrench her weapon from her hands and jump above her, shooting energy straight down at her.

She can't dodge it. And if Yellow hits a yellow shield, the shield will collapse. You smile, preparing for your victory. You stop the flow of power from your hands, but…

She's still there, lying under a shield with an infuriating smile on her lips. And her shield is blue. Blue!

"You couldn't have just gotten to Blue," you whisper, staring at the shield.

She shrugs. "Survival instinct, I guess. It was just two levels."

"Almost double your previous one," you point out.

"So?" she stands up, letting the shield down as she rises. "Why must we be tied down by expectations? People assume it's so difficult to become more powerful, but why does it have to be that way?" She leans closer, her voice growing in intensity. "You could have become that strong, Meqii. You could have the world at your knees. But no. You went and made yourself someone's subordinate! You're strong, Meqii. Maybe stronger than I am, I don't know. But you admitted you were second to someone, acknowledged Crayak's superiority, and that's where your power ends."

She turns around. "I'm making a place where I can be in charge, where I can grow. I'm no one's subordinate. And neither are you." She walks back up the stairs. "Goodbye, Meqii."

You watch her retreating back and decide to scrap the mission. "Goodbye," you whisper.

"Goodbye, Marc."