We circled each other. Neither of us dared to make a move. I focused on my breathing. I moved carefully; he stopped. My hand tightened around the slender handle of the whip at my side. I focused on him, prepared to make a move at any time. Both of us stood, analyzing each other, like a predator stalking its prey. The edges of my vision were blurred. My eyes were only on my opponent. His eyes flashed, dangerously feral. My eyes shot over his body; I looked for a move about to be made. His wrist jutted out. I followed the movement too slowly to dodge his weapon. His whip caught my wrist, leaving a painful red gash as he tugged it back. I hissed, making a mental note to watch for that.

We had been fighting for hours, and both of us were tiring quickly, although we refused to show it.

I was seventeen, approaching the prime of my life, more quickly than I might have been ready for. I had been training since I was fourteen. My adoptive father, Samuel, would have traditionally given me these lessons. He was a traveler, and I only saw him several times a year. Therefore, my adoptive older brother, Jonathan, gave them.

Jonathan was the father figure of the family. He was the oldest, and made important decisions while Samuel was away. I thought of Jonathan as my guardian and my closest friend. I loved him as only a sister could. We had grown closer over the years, especially during training. He had an actual sister of his own, and although I was fond of her, I did not think she understood the art of battle the way Jonathan did. He had an admiration for the craft that I had picked up and shared with him. Some might think it odd that this type of training would be common in any family. The reasoning for my training and traditions was, as there was no other way to put it, that I was a vampire.

Jonathan's father had taken me in on my fourteenth birthday. That day marked my transformation from a mortal, my acceptance into the Hark family, and the start of my training. I was never sure why Samuel had picked me up, but I did know that he loved me as much as he did his own daughter, Lauren. I also knew that he had found me while hunting in the forest. I had been unconscious. I still could not remember exactly why I was there in that forest, but I could remember the mysterious stranger that had changed me.

Jonathan striked again, bringing me out of my state. I missed his blow just barely, and the injury would have been fatal to any mortal. I cursed, scowling at myself internally. I could not afford to let my attention wander a second time.

We circled again, silently daring each other to make a move.

"Jonathan," I challenged.

"Aurea." His eyes flickered. I took this momentary lapse of attention as an opportunity to strike. The tip of my whip struck just below his right shoulder, tearing the fabric of his black t-shirt. I struck again. He deflected the hit, costing me an unnecessary wound. If he delivered another successful hit, than he would win. I was at a disadvantage.

I did not waver when he lashed out again. I counter-attacked his weapon in one easy motion, than another.

We were engaged in battle now. We fought strategically, guessing the other's move while trying to outwit the other person. I was tiring faster than he was, struggling to maintain focus. He moved toward me, forcing me to move back inch by inch. I fought harder, pushing myself farther than I thought I could go. In a flurry of movements, my whip sliced his arm; we were evenly matched now. He changed his stance slightly, continuing the battle in even, controlled movements.

I backed into a wall, then, and suddenly I realized he had cornered me.

In one smooth motion, his whip snapped at my hand, causing me to drop my weapon. His dagger was pressed lightly against my throat.

"I win," he said evenly. There was amusement in his tone. I sighed, defeated. "You're improving," he encouraged. Jonathan replaced the smooth dagger in its sheath, which was at his side.

"Rematch next Friday," I challenged.

"You want to lose to me again?" he teased.

"What, you're scared?" Jonathan raised an eyebrow.

"Three o' clock. I'll be here." I smiled, putting an arm around his shoulder as we headed upstairs.

I had never won a fight with Jonathan, but I thoroughly enjoyed in nonetheless. We trained and battled in the basement of his house, well, it was more of a mansion, really, and it had become our haven over the years.

It really was the perfect place, I noted. Studio lights that were suspended from the ceiling brightly lighted the room. The space itself was generously large, providing more than enough room to satisfy the most advanced and enduring trainers. The floor was dark gray cement, although it never seemed to be cold. There were two sets of shelves on the wall nearest the door. They held various weapons and armors. The walls were cream colored, only because Jonathan refused to leave them completely white.

Jonathan's sister Lauren greeted us in t he kitchen, where she was chopping vegetables on the counter.

"Who won?" The question was a formality.

"I did," Jonathan said lightly, although he had never lost. Lauren nodded. "What's the occasion?" he glanced at the food she was preparing.

"Koran's coming for dinner." I answered for Lauren.

"Ah. In that case, the living room could use some cleaning."

"Okay," she replied promptly.

"Anything I can help with?" Lauren nodded, gesturing to a pan on the stove. I stirred the contents, making light conversation with Lauren.

"How'd it go?" She asked. I shrugged.

"He won again."

"He always does," Lauren replied pointedly. "You were down there longer than last time, though. Jonathan usually beats me in a few minutes." She smiled sheepishly.

"You're not in training," I pointed out.

"True," she sighed, "but it took him six years to beat Sam. Even dad has a hard time winning against Jonathan now. He's just an exceptional fighter." I couldn't argue with that. My brother was an exceptional fighter- one of the best. I was proud of Jonathan beyond words. For as long as I knew him, he had never lost a battle. I hoped someday to be as admirable as he was, or at least to be in his range. I would be beyond honored to win against him. I suspected that besides his training years, he had never lost to anyone. Jonathan was the type of person who was modest, despite his skill. I was sure he could be famous if he wanted to be. But Jonathan rarely fought for leisure anymore, and such a thing would be inopportune. He always encouraged me to compete despite this, and although I often thought about it, fighting was inconvinient and there were just too few local tournaments.

The doorbell rang.

I stood up immediately, going to the door to greet him. As I swong open the door, Koran instantly gave me a gigantic hug, grinning hugely.

"It's great to see you again, Rei."

"You, too." I beamed. "Come on in." Graciously Jonathan said hello and introduced himself.

"Rei's talked so much about you," Koran said to him. My brother smiled widely, flashing a set of bright, white teeth. "Likewise."

"Dinner's ready," Lauren called from the kitchen. "My sister," I told him.

Once more introductions had been made and small talk exchanged, we all sat around the large, granite dining room table, conversing. Jonathan and Koran were engaging in a particularly heated debate over which James Bond movie was best.

"What do you think, Rei?" Koran asked suddenly.

"Uh... the last one?" He shrugged.

"Personally, I think Liscence to Kill was best..." I smiled, glad that my brother was getting along so well with Koran. And he seemed not to even mind the human food so much, although granted, he left much on his plate.

This would be the first time Jonathan met Koran.

To Koran, I was a good school friend, albeit we weren't great at keeping in touch besides the times when we saw each other. He had no idea of my vampiric bloodline. Koran and I had been best friends since the seventh grade. That was the year I had transferred to a new school, as Samuel had insisted. Once I had been changed, no one would have recognized me. My once-blonde hair had turned jet black, my skin had paled, and my overall form had perfected. The only thing that hadn't changed were my eyes. I was grateful for this. They stayed that perfect shade of emerald, the same color of my mother's. This was what distinguished me from my adopted family, who all had deep, mahogany colored eyes. I held this difference close. Otherwise, I was a completely different person physically. Going to a new school, I hadn't made friends easily. Serena and Koran, while drastically opposite from my old friends, were easy enough to like. Always, we went over to someone's house every Saturday; it was a tradition of ours, save my house. Jonathan had always said he shouldn't be able to recognize our house, just in case we had to move again. But, for some reason, he had given his approval earlier this week. I wondered, but did not ask.

"Now, who's up for dessert?" Lauren asked, clearing the plates from the table.

"No, thanks," Jonathan and I said in unsion.

"I'm fine," Koran agreed.

"Dinner was great," I stood up to thank her.

"Fantastic. Thank you so much for having me." Koran said similarly.

"Anytime." My sister nodded politely.

"So," I asked Koran. "What would you like to do?"

"Actually, I was wondering if maybe you wanted to go play mini golf or something with Serena later. We can probably catch her if we leave soon." I looked towards Jonathan.

"Sure, go have fun." He smiled.

"Thanks, Jonathan." I grinned.

The two men stood up.

"Thanks for coming."

"Thanks for having me," Koran said again.

"It was a pleasure meeting you." They shook hands for a breif moment, and then Koran and I were out the door.

"So?" I aksed him once we were outside.

"It was good to meet your siblings," he said passisvely. "I had a great time." He held the passenger door of his white Honda open for me once we reached his car.

"We should do it again sometime," I commented. He nodded.

"You look great tonight, by the way, " he said as we pulled out of the driveway.

"Oh." I looked down at my blue tank top and jeans. "Thanks. You too." As the car turned onto the main road, his eyes became distant.