Chapter 5

The sound of a chair being pushed back was heard on June 3rd. Caitlin Mortimer had never been more insulted in her life. Because she was child? But Mary Anne was one too!

But Mary Anne had the brain of an adult. Caitlin rushed away from the room, leaving a group of stunned teenagers.

"I'll go after her," cried three voices. Sophie, Mary Anne and Ben all looked at each other. But before either of the sisters could make their move, Ben was out of his seat and he was slipping through the double doors, running after the tiny, hunched figure.

Caitlin nearly jumped out of her skin when a hand fell onto her shoulder. A tall body stood behind her, and Benjamin looked into the tear smeared face of the beauty. Her bangs stuck to her scrunched forehead. He stroked her back as she sobbed into his shirt.

"I-I don't u-understand," she cried. "Mary Anne and Sophie are always special, dey get do brove demselves all de dime." Her voice was being stuffed with snot, and she clung onto the much older boy. He hugged her back, rubbing her back softly. "Why am I always labeled off as the stupid, useless one? WAHHH!" she shrieked, her voice echoing in the isolated hallway.

"I don't know," murmured Ben, "but Boss must have a good reason for choosing them." Caitlin suddenly pushed herself off Ben, and looked him in the eyes.

"I HATE HER!" she screamed, her voice full of anger. This would be quite scary to someone who did not know the ways of cute Caitlin. Her eyes looked psychotic. "I BET YOU SHE'S NEVER L-loved…" She sobbed, into his used-to-be dry shirt until he said with remorse, "We better go back inside."

"Why?" snapped Caitlin, scaring him a bit. He looked at her, taking in her disheveled look. She stared back, her eyes wide with fear and pure anger.

"B-because I think you'd like to know a few secrets." Her face expression did not change. He shrugged his shoulders, "Look, if you don't want to learn what animal you are or the rest of us, I'm not complaining."

"NO!" Her face lit up with curiosity, she grabbed his hand and dragged him back to the still shocked group. Everyone had been eating, except Mary Anne and Sophie, who kept looking at the door for their sister.

When she entered, their faces relaxed and Sophie rubbed her hand to her forehead. Ashley glared at Caitlin with an unreadable expression. Caitlin kept her face hidden behind her soft brown hair, and she sat beside Ben.

Boss stood up as if nothing had happened. "Okay! Now let's bring in dessert with our favorite drinks!" Everyone cheered, but it was much less happy. Suddenly the plates that were on the table disappeared, to be replaced with lavishes of sweets, cakes and pastries. To the left of Mary Anne was a chocolate cake, to her right was strawberry wedding cake styled one. And filled in every single gently created, but skilled, cup was a silvery liquid, a mix of milk and smoke. It was an amazing sight.

Boss smiled a menacing smile at everyone and raised her glass in the air. Sophie noticed it was filled with a dark red liquid, opposing the silver the rest had. Everyone raised their glasses in the air.

"To turn back," she said sternly, "all you have to do is think back to your favorite memory." Caitlin jerked, startling Mary Anne. All three sisters had more than one amazing memory. Every day with Mum had been a wonderful time.

"Toast to an extraordinary past, a hopeful future, and a strong present!"

As soon as Sophie's lips touched the cool liquid, a strange sensation bubbled in her gut, spreading to her neck. A tingling feeling spread from her face to her toes, and she bent down, her back suddenly in pain.

It happened all so fast, that she hadn't realized when her eyes were closed and she had to blink them open.

The chairs had been knocked over and a few cakes had been saved, but Sophie couldn't say the same for the gorgeous wedding cake. She was so distracted; she hadn't realized when a dragon stretched her wings beside her.

"OMG!" shouted a high-pitched voice, coming from under the table, "look at what they are!" Every animals head swiveled to meet their eyes.

"Reintroduce yourselves," said a cold voice, coming from the end of the table. Boss picked herself across the damaged chairs and table, sidestepping a crushed giant cookie.

A rat crawled onto a monkeys head. "Benjamin!" he cried, in a slightly less deep voice, and remarkably smaller. His fur was shiny gray, his pink nose and tail bright.

A snake, twisted itself around the split leg of the table. "Lucas Connor." His voice was scarier, deeper and threatening. Its dark green scales looked bejeweled and its eyes were bent into tiny slits.

A horse leaned against the wall, neighing. "Jessica Raymond!" Her silky black short fur was spectacular and her bright eyes and black mane were a sight. She looked delighted.

A cat crawled, up and rubbed itself against the horse's leg. "Ian Pierson." He looked just as he had before. Devious, gray with short whiskers, and excited.

A sheep crawled from under the crushed table, its snow-white fur tangled with the pieces of wood that had come down with the table. She shuffled toward the horse, its head bent in tiredness. "Ashley Cho." Its voice was immediately relaxing.

A cow suddenly mooed, and everyone's attention was brought to it. Its large eyes glared at them. "Zoe."

Snorts from all three sisters escaped.
"Caitlin?" called Boss, shuffling toward the three remaining animals.

"Yes?" asked a sweet, quiet voice. Pain and wonder filled her ominous source, sending ripples of worry down everyone's backs. A monkey leapt onto the broken table. It was a bark brown color, just like Caitlin's hair and its exquisite brown eyes that were wide. Just like Caitlin. "I'm here."

"Wow," Jess said, neighing softly, "you're a monkey?"

"I think so," wondered Caitlin. "Where's Mary Anne?"

"Over here," the largest creature called. The dragon. Her scales were a mix of violet, blue and green. Her large beady eyes were full of curiosity, probably wondering what she was. Her large winds were folded in, yet they brought attention to everyone. Caitlin wanted to reach and brush her fingers—or were they called something else?—against the beauty. Mary Anne passed Caitlin right then, her looks beating everyone really. Her fierce look, her strong limbs, that could probably kill anyone with one squeeze, her long claws, sharp like daggers.

"Oh my Lord!" exclaimed Boss, and everyone swiveled to look at her. Boss looked scared, fear crossing her face. Then it relaxed to its usual position; blank.

"What am I?" asked Mary Anne anxiously, "I'd look but…my vision is horrible right now."

"Dragon…" whispered Sophie.

"Oh." Mary Anne thought hard. "I must be ugly then, 'cause everyone is looking at me like I grew a second head, which I'm starting to believe, since I could be you know, a two headed dragon, you never know. I hope not…'cause that would be like you know, weird…" she babbled on, worry entrancing the words that escaped her large mouth. Everyone watched her, their mouths hanging open. "Um, where's Sophie?"

"Over here!" she shouted, she was hidden most, and when Jess and Ashley looked at her, they screamed.

"OH MY GOD!" shrieked Ashley, jumping two feet into the air. "She's a…a…"

"A tiger," deadpanned Boss. "We should hurry."

"Look at her," Zoe said. Mary Anne and Caitlin admired Sophie's ruffled orange and black fur, her long whiskers and claws. Her strong muscles that rippled when she shifted with irritation.

"Happy memories" smiled Boss.

Little pops escaped from the room, and everyone slowly transformed back into their human self. Except more rugged and tired looking, but all with the same happy look.

"Good night."

Three days passed quickly, and the sisters quickly fell into a pattern. Their schedule had changed since the first day.

4:00AM/7:00AM: Battle Training: Learn to hold and yield a weapon like a true warrior. Fighting and martial arts will also be taught.

7:00AM/8:00AM: Breakfast: A large meal after long work.

8:00AM/12:00AM: Monster Studies: Study the monsters and creatures that share the world with us. Learn their weaknesses, where they live, and how to defend one 's self if you come across one.

12:00PM/1:00PM: Lunch: A small break of healthy foods.

1:00PM/3:30PM: Strategy Search: If you're stuck in a difficult situation, it's always good to have a backup plan. This class teaches you to read a map and compass, and come up with formidable plans.

3:30PM/6:00PM: Free Time: A break from grueling work.

6:00PM/7:30PM: Dinner: A time were everyone comes together to eat a three-course meal.

7:30PM/8:00PM: Prepare for Bed

8:00PM/3:00AM: Sleep

3:00AM/4:00AM: Prepare for new day

Their free time was not spent free. During that period, Mary Anne and Sophie were forced to work with Ian; making sure they collaborated well, and shore ideas in a 'friendly' way. The group had also developed silent bonding. While it may seem Mary Anne and Jess were not entirely close, they slowly began to talk more. Caitlin usually disappeared during free time, since her sisters weren't there, and hung out with Ashley. Although Caitlin looked like she'd like she wanted to stab Ashley, she enjoyed watching the girl apply makeup and select outfits. She'd grown tired of Sophie's hatred to products that enhanced beauty.

Sophie did not feel close to anyone. She didn't trust the hooligans, and preferred to keep her opinions on the world to herself.

During those three days, Boss seemed to have vanished. At dinner, everyone would stare at her vacant chair, shake their heads, and wait for the meal to arrive.

Sophie, Mary Anne and Ian all watched the hologram of a Centaur rear its head and come charging at them.

"Don't forget how to attack!" he shouted, as he pulled out his sword and ran to join the Centaur in a clash. Both sisters looked away uncomfortably. Things between them had still yet to settle. But they had to use cooperation to defeat the wretched thing. Both girls darted around the creature, before stopping midway between its back and sides. The centaur's anger was directed at Ian, so it didn't notice when the girls sliced its side simultaneously. It screamed in rage before scooping Mary Anne in its arms. Mary Anne's face was a painted picture of sheer terror. But her expression didn't last long, for Ian had stabbed the creature with his sword, sending it into more anger. It dropped Mary Anne and dived for Ian, but Sophie stopped that from happening with a quick flick of her hand. She slashed out to the beast, causing it to turn around once again, and reach out to Sophie.

Mary Anne grabbed her sword and ran a cut on its arm. The creature let out a scream of anger, before spinning around and attempting to grab all three of them. It went on for a minute or two, before Ian finally raised his sword and stabbed it through its hologram back. The creature collapsed to its knees before flicking away. Ian high-fived the girls, but the girls looked away from each other.

"Good job!" Ian declared, strapping his sword back into its sheath. "But we could've killed it faster if one of you two stabbed it as well. Don't be afraid, it can't hurt you. But it can slash out on you and carry you, as you've just seen. Tomorrow we'll try something harder…a hawkish or halfie…"

Suddenly, the air was filled with a strange buzzing sound that added pressure to their ears. It grew louder with each second.

"What's that?" Mary Anne managed to scream over the noise. Ian's eyes were wide and he shouted back, "An emergency meeting in headquarters! Hurry!" Sophie and Mary Anne followed him eagerly, both wondering what could be so important that someone would fill the air with a painful shriek. Ian led them through the halls, but Sophie suddenly remembered something.

"Ian! Stop!" she screamed. "You have no idea where headquarters is, do you?" Ian sheepishly shook his head, but mouthed 'hurry', for the noise was clogging the air, and threatening to make them collapse in pain.

"Mary Anne." Sophie turned to Mary Anne with a determined glint in her eye. "You know the way?" Mary Anne nodded. Over the hard-working days, she'd occasionally explore the castle, mesmerized by its originality, and patterns. She'd managed to memorize the paths to the training room, dining room, headquarters-the place they'd first visited. (A/N: I know I called it training room before, but it's really the headquarters) and the location of their own room.

Nodding her head, she led them through the right intersection, stumbling past the oddly painted doors before stopping before two double doors, she entered them, and crossed the main hallway, the beautiful staircase room that they'd first seen, and led them up the stairs before heading down the hallway.

They arrived and we're greeted by the sight six surprised faces. Jess gestured for them to take a seat. They obliged before turning to Boss, who had her face smoothed down to its usual blank demeanor. Quickly, the odd noise stopped. Everyone looked at Boss questioningly, the same question in each of their eyes, What's the emergency?

Boss clapped her hands before turning to a strange control panel. She pointed at the screen.

"This is where our next Kamikaze is." She tapped on the green dot on the screen. "And this is where our enemies are." She pointed to an advancing red dot.

"They're in the area, but seem to not know where they're headed." She turned to the group. "That means you three have to leave NOW." She stared pointedly at M.A., Sophie and Ian.

"Boss," Ian cried out with a panicked look, "Sophie and Mary Anne still don't know how to change fast and fight in their forms-"

"They'll have to make do without their forms," she replied coldly. "Now leave!"

In one swift moment, the room burst into energy. Ben took away Ian to show him a card of some sort, and Zoe and Luke grabbed Mary Anne and Sophie by the arm. Caitlin followed anxiously, not wanting to be left out. Luke and Zoe led the struck sisters to a pointed door, shoving the girls. As Caitlin followed, her mind was trying to wrap around the quick events. Her older sisters were leaving a bit too early, and she would have to stay, and wonder if they would make it out alive with the minimal amount of training they had had.

The room was a bit like the training room, except instead of holding mats, and a dangerous air, the walls of this room beckoned for them. At the end of the room was a long trail of bows, and at the very end of the row was a bucket with sacks of arrows. To the rights was the long line of swords. The girls hadn't been able to study up enough to know the difference between a European sword and an Asian sword, but they did know what a double-edged sword was and a single-edged was.

Mary Anne was quick with her hands, so she requested a bow and arrow. She tried not to let out that she was nervous, but her voice cracked a bit at the end. Zoe began an argument with Sophie.

"I want a double-edged sword!" Sophie cried out; making sure every word was pronounced carefully.

"But you'll do much better with a single-edged one! You're barely trained, and single-edged ones are much easier!" Zoe was growing frustrated. Jess suddenly entered the room, a worried look flitting across her face as she watched Zoe and Sophie bicker.

"Zoe! Let Sophie do as she pleases." She grabbed the sword Sophie had been staring at. "We don't have much time!" Zoe begrudgingly gave in.

Caitlin felt as if the world was moving fast, and she was still behind, trying to catch up. Out of the corner of her eye she watched as Ben entered, talking in a blur with Ian.

Ben looked up and met her gaze, transferring a comforting message; that all would be fine. But the worried feeling that had begun in her stomach was slowly spreading, and her throat was clenched up, making her unable to utter a single word.

Meanwhile, Ashley came up and deftly handed three huge bags to the departing children. Caitlin suddenly snapped back to reality, as she hurried after them. Instead of going down the corridor and further, to the grand hall, they were lead down a flight of stairs that were connected to the weapons chamber. Pushing open the door, Ben gathered the trio into a circle, quick to give the final instructions.

"Okay, so Ian, you know the location, and I hope you know what areas to avoid—its Halfie season, and you won't have time to take one down and hide it—Sophie, Mary Anne, you both know how to avoid any hallucinations the other side throw in your path right?"

"Yes," they replied, their eyes bright with fear and excitement. Even though the rift in their friendship hadn't been resolved, they knew they had to work together in order for the mission to succeed.

"Okay, in the bags I've packed the usual surviving supplies. Plus, a bit of Drowzer—you know the gas that puts creatures to sleep—if the next member fails to cooperate."

Caitlin wasn't sure what Drowzer would do to the target, but she hoped Sophie had paid enough attention in classes to know how to operate it.

"I'm afraid you will run into our enemies, whether or not you manage to succeed, so I hope you stay in good health. Hurry and say your good-byes so I can help you reach your first destination. The heart of Magnolia Forest."

Caitlin's heart was beating as she reached over and hugged her sisters tighter than ever before. They were leaving. Maybe forever, if they didn't make it back…alive. Very slowly, the tears fell, and slid down her cheeks. "I love you."

"I love you, too," Mary Anne replied, an affectionate look in her big, brown eyes.

"Yeah, what she said." Sophie shifted the weight of the bag, before giving her young sister a final hug. "Don't worry, we'll be back, and if we aren't…well, promise me something?"

"What?" Caitlin whispered back.

"That you won't sit around and do nothing. Make us proud."

And with those final words, both sisters turned around, quickly joining Ian at the edge of the huge forest. They waved, before disappearing completely into the forest. A huge part of Caitlin vanished with them, and she broke into huge sobs, heaving uncontrollably. She had done a fair share of crying in the past two days, and she wiped away the tears, hoping no one had noticed. But her luck was against her, for a long arm wrapped around her shoulders.

"Yeah, I'm going to miss them too." Caitlin looked up into Jess's gorgeous blue eyes, before lowering her head. "But, if they don't make it back, they died with great honor."

"Are you sure you know where we're going?" Sophie complained, slapping a gnat that had viciously attacked her leg.

"Yes!" snapped back Ian, as he checked the map again. They'd been walking through the forest for the past half-hour, desperately looking for the center of the forest; Ben had described it as beautiful, with a wide open space, and sun actually blaring down on it. It was a safe house apparently, and once they reached it, they should be able to communicate with headquarters.

They first entered the forest, a rush coursing through their veins, and determined hearts to prove themselves worthy of living in the palace. But that determination soon faded away, as they faced the harshness of the cold, empty forest. Mosquitoes and wasps had been merciless, attacking them at no whim. Mary Anne had remained up-beat enough to pull them through, but Sophie had become a woman in a corset—down-right grumpy and in discomfort.

"Well, at least we haven't seen these trees before !" cried out Mary Anne, trying to ease the tension, although exhaustion was slowly creeping up on her too. "I think I might see a light!"

"What?Where!" Sophie exclaimed, excited to be freed of the bugs and branches.

"Over there!" The girl pointed in the distance, and sure enough, through the thick branches and bushes, you could see a small trickle of light. Their pace was quickened, all of them excited to reach the point.

Before they knew it, they had reached it, and Sophie fell to the floor bathing in the warm sunlight. "Finally!"

Mary Anne sat beside her, please with herself for finding the clearing. "What next, Ian?"

Ian's eyes scanned the map, before widening. "Uh oh. Guys, get up now."

"Why?" Sophie cried out. "We just got here! Surely the bad guys-"

"No," snapped Ian, "Mary Anne led us to a Halfie campsite! We have to get out of this clearing, no make it this forest before they get back!"

Shame filled Mary Anne as she and her sister scrambled to their feet. She had led them to the spot Ben had warned them about! And they might pay the price…a deadly one.

"Hurry!" said Ian, as he led them out the clearing, "Use your skills, and check for anything that'll lead us to safety." His words were short and with a leadership tone to it.

Mary Anne scouted the area, anxious to be the first to find something that'd help them. She had read plenty of books; she should be able…aha! Swirling above the huge trees was a trail of smoke.

"Ian," she said, "I think I've found something!" She pointed to the smoke. "It seems to be coming from the north, and where there's smoke that controlled, there's a campfire; with people!"

Ian studied her again, before grinning. "Good thinking! Let's just hope they're friendly…"

Sophie regarded her, a small smile flying across her face before dropping. "Yeah, good job," she repeated begrudgingly.

The trio trekked on, once again being ambushed by the mosquitoes and wasps and gnats.

With relief that surged through all of them, they crept towards the bushes that lined the clearing where the fire was going. Ian consulted the map before sharply nodding.

"It looks safe," he whispered uncertainly, "but I'm not exactly sure if we'll be welcome."

Sophie rolled her eyes before shifting in her spot. "It wouldn't harm us to check. Besides, she's ancient shouldn't take us long to take her down if she's with 'em."

It was true. A woman with long gray hair was sitting, her back turned to them, as she attempted to tame the fire. Across from the wrinkled woman was a small hut, probably portable, for traveling purposes.

"But they might have back-up!" he shout-whispered back. "Old woman like that don't travel alone."

"Yeah, well," Sophie snap-whispered, "does that little hut looks big enough to hold one old woman, let alone a buff guy?"

Ian opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by a thin voice that drifted towards them. "I may be old, but I can hear you fine."

They all stiffened before reaching for their weapons; very slowly they raised themselves, ready to take her on if she produced any threat. But the woman did not turn around, still talking to them as if they were in front of her.

"The little girl is incorrect. I have plenty of people inside my home. Would you like to meet them?" Even though she was an elder, her voice still held a sharp edge, as if she was dangerous—or had been, in one point of her life.

Not a peep came from the group, for they were terrified. She still hadn't turned around, and the trio began to create terrifying images of what she looked like.

"Please come out," the woman pleaded, a final time. This time, it was if she ordering them to come out of their hiding spot.

They obliged, with their weapons still poised in a threatening manner.

"Put the weapons down," she dead-panned. They glanced at each other wearily. Was she powerful enough to take them down? And was she crazy? How could a tiny hut contain several people?

"No," Mary Anne spoke with a hint of defiance, as she refused the woman's command.

Suddenly the stringy gray hair disappeared, as her head turned. Mary Anne held her breath, as she met the woman's gaze. They'd expected someone with something close to ugly. But the woman looked like your average old gal. Sagging, pale, wrinkly skin, thin lips, and non-existing eyebrows; but you could tell she'd been through the harshness of Magnolia Forest.

The only thing that stood out was her eyes; they were clear, as in blind. She couldn't see.

Mary Anne subconsciously reached for Sophie's arm, clutching it as they surveyed the woman. "Hello."

"Hello, dear," the woman said kindly, although you couldn't tell if her eyes were warm or not. "I'm Maisie."

"I'm Ma-" Ian was frantically messaging her; she guessed she should change her name. "—ble. I'm Mable."

"Sarah," Sophie dropped in.

"And I'm," Ian paused for a moment, "Darren."

"Well, please to meet you, Mary Anne, Sophie and Ian," she chuckled as their eyes widened, "welcome to Magnolia Forest. Now I have something interesting to show you three…"

She beckoned them towards the hut.

Dutifully, they entered the hut, with high hopes.

A/N: Mercy. Please. Wrote 10 whole word pages. Here's an update. I write sporadically, sorry. That's why you might realize I suck crap at the beginning, then rock balls at the end.

Yeah. I have pictures of kids, so message me with your email, and I'll send you it. It's cool.

Frying In the Sun,

Fafa