The Warrior Princess
Yay for the Shenkuu Warrior game! 8D Enjoy. ^^
In a flash of white, the slim figure of the Gnorbu emerged from behind the black-robed Ogrin. Before even any move could be made, the master whirled upon her and she dove, missing the sword by a whole hand-width.
Her moment of surprise was enough, and barely a second later her opponent’s decorated sword was gently touching her back, the sharp edge turned aside, and the situation that she had worked so hard to create was now reversed with her on the losing side.
The soft ‘sniiick’ sound of a sword drawn into its sheath was enough and she turned around, bowing respectfully to her master.
“In combat, surprise is both a weakness and strength.” The Ogrin reached for her chin, raising her eyes to meet his. “You are a capable warrior, and as you become more experienced you will learn to mask your facial expressions and emotions, but until then, remember that a face is a parchment, and a good opponent is an excellent reader.”
The Gnorbu warrior nodded briskly, slightly annoyed by the speech. She wanted to continue their practice, to improve, but she tempered herself and realized that it was wisdom, not the useless rambling of an old man. She needed to make a mask to be a true warrior.
The Ogrin straightened, his long white moustache dancing with both the movement of his robes and the gentle wind. Suddenly, his eyes crinkled with a smile and he turned, an unspoken gesture to follow. Both master and student made their way to the small marble shelter that stood between two cherry trees that were in full blossom, where there sat a table and two chairs. Already set was a tray with a teapot and two cups.
The Ogrin sat down and poured the tea for them both before grasping his porcelain cup and taking a light sip. The Gnorbu did likewise, and in silence they both looked out onto the misty mountains of Shenkuu.
“You have learned well, Anshu.”
The Gnorbu adjusted her belt before taking another sip of the delicious and refreshing mint tea. After a hard day of work, it was a pleasant reprieve and her master’s praise made her feel ridiculously happy.
“I have been talking with the Seven Masters. Our years of working together have not been without requirement, and they wish to see the fruits of your toil. I consider you ready for the tasks ahead, and difficult though they may be they are essential to your ascension as a true Shenkuurian warrior.” The Ogrin sighed. “Your final tests are close at hand.”
Anshu felt her eyes widen with surprise. “The Test? Already?” She was absolutely floored, and with good reason.
The test was a collection of multiple examinations that culminated in one final test that involved climbing a mountain with a single weapon of choice. The Test was considered tremendously difficult, and if one didn’t pass it one remained at a low warrior rank for ten years minimum before one could try again. Those who passed became elite warriors who served the emperor closely and could eventually become masters.
The duty of directly serving the emperor was an honor, but Anshu didn’t care much for it. The Emperor of Shenkuu was her father after all, and the two were fairly close. Anshu wanted to pass the test for personal reasons: to become the best warrior in all Shenkuu, and to overcome the stigma of being small. She had always been a shrimp, the ‘littlest princess,’ and when she decided to focus on becoming a warrior, even her father tried to dissuade her. But it strengthened her resolve and she found herself under the wing of Master Oronoku, one of the finest swordsmen in Neopia but also the most gentle and loving teacher.
“You will never even finish your semester test,” scoffed a young but tall Draik who had been in their class years ago.
Strange that he never made it past that test and she succeeded!
Her yellow-furred master now took another sip of the tea, watching the steam rise like the tail of a kazeriu. “You will have a week to prepare yourself. By the end of the given time, you shall meet me at our training glade. There will be the Seven Masters, and you must bow to each of them in respect, and answer any questions they offer you. When it is done, they will give you the seven tests.”
Anshu’s mind was in turmoil. She didn’t feel herself to be ready, and a wave of panic threatened to overcome her sanity. Then all those years of mental training took over and she restrained herself, giving her master a slow nod.
“I... will start immediately.”
Oronoku gave her a reassuring smile. “You will do well; I have great faith in your abilities.”
Anshu fixed her hair into a bun, fastening it with hair-sticks. “Can you give me any tips, master?”
The yellow Ogrin laughed heartily. “Alas, I cannot. But I can tell you that the Seventh Master will be a unique fellow.”
That was hardly a tip, but nonetheless the green Gnorbu nodded and rose, leaving her cup on the tray. Bidding her master a heartfelt thanks and farewell, Anshu ran back to the Imperial Palace to train and inform her father of her progress.
The training glade was utterly quiet.
There were no sounds save for the keening wind, a wind that billowed the bright and beautiful robes of the Seven Masters.
As required, Anshu stepped forward to the first master, who removed a scowling white mask, revealing the face of a shadow Kougra. His robes were lilac and blue, decorated in chrysanthemum flowers.
After a moment of scrutiny, the Kougra spoke in a shockingly deep voice. “Youthful, but age can be deceiving. Hm. My name is Aramure, the Shadow Master.”
Anshu bowed low, stepped sideways and turned to a new Master. After the mask was taken off, the Gnorbu spotted a pink Lupess with kind eyes, wearing deep, rich blue robes. “My name is Sonnen. I wish you the best of luck in the trials, Anshu.”
Anshu smiled inwardly. She liked this Master, and hoped for her test to be light.
She went around to all the Masters until coming to the sixth, a harsh looking Jetsam in dark robes decorated in vines. Beside him hung a huge weapon, but she had no idea what it was as it was hidden behind the robes. For what seemed like eternity, there was no communication but then his voice came at last.
“So, you are the daughter of our beloved emperor?”
After she nodded, the Master spoke once more. “I bid you good luck, little princess.”
Anshu scowled angrily, and spoke up. “Master, I wish not to be called a little princess, for while here I am a student, not a princess.”
Some Masters gasped at her outburst, and the Jetsam growled softly under his breath, but said nothing. Seeing that she was done with him, Anshu stepped to the last master, she felt a rush of surprise. There stood Oronoku, smiling. He was the last one!
“You shouldn’t have spoken out, my pupil, but then again I admit I would have done likewise. I wish you good luck in your endeavors, and I hope you succeed.”
Anshu bowed low in respect, this time not uttering a word.
And so the tests began.
Aramure stepped up, flicking out his sword with incredible grace. “Your test begins now. Fight me, and prove your worth with the honorable blade!”
For a moment Anshu was caught off guard but then she collected herself, whipping out her own sword. She practiced for a long time with it, and was pleased to see her mettle tested this way.
A single bow, and then the shadow Kougra leaped into the fray. He moved as quickly as a shadow, but Anshu caught him before he could land a blow and struck at where he was going to move. Her opponent whipped his blade out to protect himself and then spun around until he was a few bounds away. Anshu stood her ground, spreading her feet as to retain her balance. And just as she collected herself, Aramure rushed back and slashed at her shoulder, doing so with such an expert hand that the fabric was torn but not her shoulder.
Anshu didn’t turn immediately; she twitched her ears to sense for his coming, and when she felt a presence she dove, dodging the Kougra and then slashing upwards, nearly catching the Master. However, her strike was unsuccessful and she quickly found herself put on the defensive once again. Careful not to reveal any emotions, she parried almost every attack, getting but a single scratch on her arm from a surprise attack.
As quickly as it all began, it ended. The Shadow Master stepped back, and bowed. Anshu again collected herself and repeated the gesture, rubbing her arm gingerly where she fell and now had a colorful bruise.
“Your defensive capabilities are excellent, and you managed to keep on your feet most of the time,” stated the Kougra. “My advice is never to be surprised. Always expect something, or you will be caught off guard and you will falter. You have passed the first test, young one.”
“Thank you, Shadow Master.”
Anshu felt a flood of relief, and much joy at passing the first test. She was tired, but ready for anything else that came her way. The Gnorbu adjusted her hair once again and moved up to Sonnen, who was beaming at her.
“You are very good with the sword, but will your speed be duly noted?”
The two stepped up to the training glade, and after a pause Sonnen pulled back her robe to reveal many multicolored stones.
“This is a test of speed and reflex. I will throw these at you, and you must make sure that none of them get past you. You can only use your hands and feet.”
Anshu stepped back until she was quite a distance from the pink Lupess. Sonnen didn’t say anything that meant that the test started; instead the whirls of stones came almost instantly. The Gnorbu sighed inwardly with relief that she listened to her teacher when he told her to bring her padded arm and shin guards for the testing.
The first stone she blocked with ease, but the rest came so quickly that she had difficulty seeing them come at her in time. One by one they fell idly by her side, causing very little pain because of the pads. The unerring accuracy and speed was almost insane, and the fatigue from the first test slipped into the second. After what seemed like eternity, the stones stopped and she fell on one knee. Sonnen rushed to her side and helped her up.
“Only four stones were missed, an excellent trial.”
Only four? Anshu thought it was more.
“Your test has been passed, you have proven yourself well. But first you must rest and drink some tea to refresh yourself before the next test begins. This will be done every two tests, mind you.”
Anshu nodded, thanked her and took a break. When that was done, she stepped up to a yellow Mynci with a smiling face. His test was that of endurance and balance, and although she had tremendous difficulty on the test she somehow succeeded and went on to the next Master.
The red Bori in the lush roan robes had a stern face, and after a quick explanation, Anshu proceeded to answer his questions. This was a Master of cunning and wisdom, not martial work, and her body was glad for the reprieve. Her teacher once told her that a wise warrior could always defeat one that only relied on brute strength, so she expected a test like this.
However, the riddles the Bori offered her were confusing indeed, and made her feel uncomfortable.
“Who stands before the rising sun, honors it with sweeping hands, and mourns at its passing?”
A light flickered in her mind, and the princess smiled. She remembered her father reading her a bedtime story about a youth that worshipped the sun, and for his respect and loyalty the sun transformed him into a flower.
“A dawn chrysanthemum, Wise Master.”
The stern face graced her with a brisk smile of acknowledgement, and they continued on with three other riddles. She managed to answer all three, and when that was done he gave her a basic knowledge test. Upon completion, the Bori announced that she had passed the test, and offered another sip of tea.
Two more masters followed, a fire Lutari with a sweeping plume of a tail and a white Hissi with cold eyes. The Lutari tested her with different weapons, and the Hissi worked with her strength of mind and character, and when she confirmed her skill in them all, Anshu moved on to the Jetsam that filled her with ire. His test was also a weapons test, but with the exceedingly difficult to master pudao.
The fight between them was an intricate dance that lasted for two minutes. Anshu was not steadfast in her skill with a pudao and panicked as she fought. The heavy metal end and the wood of the pole felt odd in her hands, but somehow she managed not to get killed.
Suddenly, her opponent’s pole end jabbed at her ribs and she fell down hard, the Jetsam Master leering at her from above.
“You have failed this test.”
Suddenly, Aramure spoke up. “Failed she might have, but I am impressed with her resilience. The pudao is no easy weapon, Master Jetsam.”
The Jetsam was gruff. “Shadow Master, the sword is no easy weapon either.”
“I agree with that, but I believe this girl has potential.”
“Yes.” Sonnen spoke up. “Her speed at blocking your attacks with the weapon was exquisite.”
“In the end, it is my choice as to whether she fails or passes this test,” the Jetsam responded quietly. “If she is incapable of fighting with a pudao, she cannot be a warrior.”
Anshu was deathly silent as the Masters argued. It was her fault that she didn’t work with a pudao. Her teacher spent many weeks teaching her, but she failed him. Hot tears stung her eyes and dripped upon the verdant grass. She made no move to stand.
After what seemed like ages, she was hauled up roughly by the Jetsam. The reluctance in his eyes was visible, but instead of continuing his claim at her failure and therefore refusing her the chance to do the final test and become a warrior, he nodded in acceptance.
“The Masters have decided that you are capable, and I have decided to agree with them. You have not passed the test, but neither have you failed it. You may complete the final and most difficult trial, but know that you are indebted to the Masters who spoke out on your defense. And know that you are also indebted to me.”
Anshu nodded briskly and was let go of. She gave a grateful glance to the Masters, who acknowledged her with smiles of their own. With surprising haste, seeking to redeem herself in their eyes and finish the final test with flying colors, the Gnorbu princess made her way to the final Master, her own teacher.
The yellow Ogrin gave her another reassuring smile.
“Your task at hand is difficult, and many have never passed the harsh, rugged peaks of victory that you must now scale. You shall climb that yonder mountain, the one with snow upon its peak, using nothing save for one weapon to assist you.”
As if on cue, the Shadow Master appeared with a great box, opening it before her with a flourish. Nestled within were five weapons, each swathed in velvet: a pick, a dagger, a grappling hook, a hammer and a pair of sai. Anshu had done her homework, and knew instantly what weapon would be useful for mountain climbing.
“I shall take the grappling hook.”
The shiny, metal hook was taken out and given to her. Anshu gripped it tightly, her heart pounding fiercely. The Masters gave her one more chance; she would not make them regret that choice.
A whirl and a hiss was all that it took.
The grappling hook soared through the air, grasping an outlying branch from a gingko tree that emerged from the mountainside. Anshu climbed up like a Techo up a vine, muscles tensing with the strain of the climb. When she reached the branch, she tore the hook off, spun the grappling hook and released it again, screaming, towards another tree. It was tedious and difficult.
Master Oronoku once told her that as she climbed, she would ponder many things and gain insight about the world around her. He also said that it was a rewarding experience.
So far, no such insight came, or the pleasure of the climb. Instead it was tremendously frightening. Anshu promised herself that she wouldn’t look down, but a rush of impulse forced her head and left her petrified, hanging on the rope of the hook.
“I can do this...”
The Masters said that they would be watching her progress from afar, and she thought dryly to herself that perhaps they were laughing already at her fear. Steeling for the vertigo, she looked back down and realized that it wasn’t so bad. She walked on bridges that hung suspended thousands of meters above the ground, why should she be scared of heights?
“I can do this.”
She resumed her climb and managed to spot something watching her from the bushes that grew on the slope of the mountain. “Why hello there.”
A red dandan was eating a leaf, watching her with somber eyes. In spite of the fact that she could fall right now and break her bones, Anshu felt herself smile.
“I need to go now. Bye, enjoy the leaf!”
The dandan didn’t respond, but watched as she continued to scale the nearly vertical mountain. With a snort, Anshu suspected that the dandan thought of her as insane. Yes, this did seem very insane, but it was an important trial, all that stood between her position as a warrior.
It was her dream to be a warrior.
She would not fail.
Hours passed. The chill winds of the mountain struck at her like flailing hands, but she refused to succumb to cold and stop climbing. The treeline began to vanish, giving way to tough rock. Here, a pick or a hammer would have worked well, but she only had the grappling hook with her.
One or two times she nearly slipped, but the mountain top was so close, she refused to fall. Almost there!
Anshu finally managed to find a ledge, and settled upon it with a sigh. Her muscles ached, her fingers stung with rope burn, but she felt giddy with excitement at getting so far. While resting, she looked out onto the rest of Shenkuu, awed by the majestic peaks of mountains that stretched into the sky, embraced by white mist. She felt so small, so puny compared to them, and the thought was humbling.
After a good rest, she continued up the slope where the rocks disappeared under the snow. It was absolutely frigid, and many times Anshu’s trusty hook missed its mark because of the cloud of snow that billowed into her face. Ice made her slip, snow rendered her blind, and the simple cold of it all made her fingers numb.
Nonetheless the Gnorbu pushed forward, thinking about the task ahead and nothing else.
Then her fingers felt nothing.
Anshu twitched her ears and sneezed. What...? Where was the ledge?
The realization struck her like a pebble into water. Before her there was no more snow. Only empty space. She reached the top, she finished the trial!
Her yell of victory echoed across Shenkuu. She punched her fists into the freezing cold mountain air. She stomped her feet upon the crunchy snow. She did it!
There was a loud cough, and Anshu whirled around to behold her Master, who also stood on the flat peak. Oronoku smiled as she rushed up to him, giving him a bow despite the fact that she was frozen to the core.
“How did you get up here, teacher?” she queried, her voice trembling from her shivers.
“I took a trail up,” he said simply, putting a thick cloak over her shoulders and offering her a cup of warm herbal tea.
As they began to walk down the trail to the mountain base, her master patted her on the back. “You have done what many have tried and few ever succeeded in completing. My pupil, I feel great pride when I say this to you. You have passed the tests. You are now a true warrior.”
As she sipped her tea, Anshu felt herself engulfed in a state of wonderful bliss.
She did it!