"Una Sterling!" Mrs. Diedrick shouted across the weapons' room.

The rest of the weekend had passed in a blur and the moment I had been dreading had returned.

School. It wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have Mrs. Diedrick as a weapons-master, but it was because I did. Her favorite sport was to make me feel like a fool and an idiot, something she never failed at.

I had honestly thought about skipping today, but I knew Nona didn't condone such behavior, and to disappoint her would make me feel even more horrible than attending Mrs. Diedrick's class. Mrs. Diedrick didn't physically hurt me more than she was allowed to after all.

"What are you carrying?"

I looked at my blade. "My sword," I said. I was confused. I'd never gotten in trouble for carrying it before. Then again, I usually arrived to class before she did and had a chance to take it off and stash it in my locker. I knew I was safe at school. It was just the walk to and from that worried me. I cross the District both times, and although it was not a horrible place on the weekends, it was definitely not a safe place during the week.

"And what makes you think you have earned the right to carry a blade? You haven't passed my class yet, and with the way you move, I doubt you ever will."

I growled in my mind, but that was all I did. I would never retort to any of Mrs. Diedrick's comments, no matter how harsh they may have been. Yes ma'am. No ma'am. If I wanted to survive her class, that's all I'd say.

My silence annoyed her more. "Take that blade off and pull one off the wall. Let's see how you do with one of my blades. Then we'll see if you have what it takes to carry your own."

I put my blade in my locker and went to the wall where Mrs. Diedrick kept all her personal blades and the practice blades we'd been using all year long.

When I started to grab the practice blade I always used, she came over and rapped my hands with the sheath of her own sword, which she kept strapped to her side all throughout practice.

"I told you to take one of my blades," she snarled. "Here, use this one."

She pulled down her biggest, heaviest blade - a broadsword almost as big as me. I could barely lift it with one hand, and I knew I wouldn't be able to go against her in even a moderately fair sparring match like the one she wanted without using both hands.

Before I had a chance to even warm up with the broadsword she wanted me to use, she came at me. It was something between a lunge and a jump, her sword swinging down over her head towards me.

I yelped as I pulled up the broadsword to block her attack. The blade vibrated in my hand as the metals clashed against one another, and my teeth chattered. It wouldn't take long for me to fall beneath the power of her attacks.

My breath was already wheezing as I blocked attack after attack. Not long after I'd block one move would she shift her stance and attack me in a completely different way. All I could do was block and perry her moves, trying to stay out of wounding reach of her blade and never able to get an attack of my own in. I was getting tired quickly, and the mored tired I was, the slower I was going to move.

Suddenly, Mrs. Diedrick yelled at the top of her lungs and swung her blade towards me from up high again.

My arms shook as I brought the broadsword up to block her attack, my whole body ached with pain. I just wanted to pass out on the floor right there.

Metal clashed on metal and my legs buckled underneath me. I panted as I fell to my knees, gritting my teeth as I held my own against her might.

This was it. It was over. I couldn't hold on any longer.

And as if that thought was all I'd been waiting, pain suddenly sliced through my back.

I screamed in agony, the sound tearing through my body and soul as searing pain scorched my back. Smoke rose from the center of my back, between my shoulder blades.

"What the hell is wrong with her?" someone asked. I heard the sound even as I dropped the broadsword and crumpled on the ground, curling into the fetal position.

All of a sudden, there was someone there, hovering over me.

I blinked back tears and whimpered, even though the pain was beginning to recede away as if it had never been there. There was still smoke rising from the spot in the center of my back though. I could smell it.

"What the hell were you thinking, Lilly Diedrick!" a male voice shouted above me, and I whimpered again. The same male voice that had been shouting a few seconds before lowered incredibly as he whispered, "It's going to be OK. Do you hear me? Everything's going to be all right."

There wasn't anything I could say to that. It certainly didn't feel like it was going to be all right. I knew exactly what had happened, and I wasn't happy about it.

The pain was slowly dissipating, and as it did, I was slowly able to take in my surroundings. I'd been moved from the weapon's room to another smaller office, and I was lying on a table. Someone was attempting to remove my shirt to find the source of the smoke.

Suddenly, I was wide awake.

Without thinking, I twisted on the table and kicked out with my feet, the blow landing squarely in the center of the chest of the young man about to peel off my shirt.

He stumbled backwards and I scuttled off the table away from him, my eyes cold as I held up my fists in a fighting stance, my legs spread apart slightly. If it came to a fight, I might not win, but I'd go down trying.

Then I blinked in surprise. The man who'd been messing with me was the same man who had asked for a commission in the District. I'd recognize those silver eyes anywhere. The only reason I hadn't recognized him at first was because his hair was shorter than it had been when I'd first seen him. It had nearly fallen to his shoulders the other day, but now it was cropped close to his head. He didn't look all that different, I realized now, but because I'd only seen him once before today, it was easy to see how I'd confused him.

Still, what was he doing here?

"What do you want?" I asked sharply, suspicious.

He smiled at me even as he rubbed his chest where I'd kicked him. I might have said sorry, but I wasn't, so I wouldn't lie to him.

"How about we start with names?" he asked with a grin. He held out his left hand, which I saw wasn't covered with a glove at the moment. I stared at it in shock as I saw the black mark on his hand. It was the same as the mark I bore on my back between my shoulder blades. "I'm Arid Bowman."

I looked up at his face. Was he. . . ? No. He couldn't be. He would have been killed. King Jarvis would have made sure of that.

He looked down at his hand. "Oh, that." He quickly pulled his glove back on. "Don't tell anyone you saw that."

I shook my head. "I won't. I can't. Is that . . . ?" I stopped. "I mean, are you . . . ?" I stopped again and flushed.

He began laughing at the expression on my face. "Yes, it's the Retfihsepahs mark, and yes, I am a shapeshifter - like you. I didn't need to see your mark in order to know, although it helps. I've noticed that shapeshifters always tend to have . . . distinguishable . . . traits." He glanced at my hair, which was as bright green as ever.

Green hair. Silver eyes. He was right. Shapeshifters definitely stood out in more ways than one.

"So, you've never shifted before, have you?" he asked, his silver eyes dancing.

I shook my head. Was this a conversation I really wanted to be having with a stranger? What if he was only interested in turning me over to King Jarvis?

"I could tell. The mark always burns whenever you have hit that point where your body is ready to make the first transformation although it usually happens when you're younger. Luckily for you, Lilly didn't know that. She doesn't suspect that you're a shape-shifter. Can I take a look at it?"

The Retfihsepahs mark. I'd been born with it between my shoulder blades. Shortly after, I'd been moved from foster home to foster home. When King Jarvis took over, I was ten, and no one was dressing me anymore, so I was able to hide the mark easily. Then he claimed all shape-shifters were to be killed - executed. It was the Holocaust all over again with shape-shifters as the target rather than Jews and Jarvis was the modern Hitler. I hated hiding, but I knew it was the only way to survive.

Arid watched me, waiting for me to decide. I decided that it would be worth it. He hadn't turned me in yet, and if he'd known from the moment he saw my green hair, he'd had every oportunity to turn me in.

It wasn't that hard to take my shirt off, and no one had ever called me shy. He ran his hands over the mark on my back lightly, as if unsure what to think of it really.

"I don't bite," I told him.

"Maybe not, but this is also something most people wouldn't approve of. I am not a school nurse, and it looks like I'm feeling you up."

There was nothing going on. I found Arid strange and enticing, but not in a romantic or even a sexual way. He actually seemed more like a father figure at the moment.

"So what's with you and Lilly?" he asked.

"Who?" I asked. He'd stopped probing the mark, and I pulled on my shirt again, turning to face him.

"Mrs. Diedrick."

"She hates me. That's all there is to it."

"She nearly killed you today. If you hadn't collapsed and started screaming, I do believe she would have continued the fight." He seemed very sure of that fact. Hell! At this point, I wasn't sure if he wasn't right.

Still, I didn't say anything against her. She was being the way she always was towards me. Just because I'd caught her in a fowl mood didn't mean that she'd been about to kill me. I doubted very much that she really would have killed me.

But then I remembered the look on her face as I'd been sparring her. Was I sure she would have held back that final blow? Was I certain she wouldn't have killed me?

No. No I wasn't.

And that was the scariest part of all.


Author's Note: I'm currently working on several stories at one time. If there's a particular story you think I'm working too slowly on, send me a message. Messages saying, "Get your ass back to work!" are just the right kind of motivation someone like me needs in order to move on, and for right now, I have plenty of time to work on different story ideas at once.

This story, although based on Earth, is different (obviously). If you think I need more description about the way things are working, feel free to let me know. I could always use pointers and people yelling at me, saying "This is wrong. That is wrong." or "That is right. This is right." or even "Why don't you try this instead?" In other words, all my novels (anything that says it has more than one chapter) could use a beta - someone to tear it apart and spit it out again.