The fact that she was alive amazed her.

It was raining, and she knew she was lucky to be here, in the Thoras Wood, dangerous though it was.

Her name was Elmgar. She was thirteen years old, and she knew that she had been training at the Yerab Academy for what had just happened.

See, they called it an academy. But it was different. It was worse. It was a brutal training school. They had made her fight, and when she wouldn't kill her classmate, they left her out here—no food, no water, no way to leave the dangerous forest.

Elmgar had started at the Yerab Academy when she was ten years old. Her parents had sent her there so they wouldn't have the trouble of finding food for her. It had been a bad year on the farm, and the prophets had told them it wouldn't get better. So to save her from certain starvation, they sent her to Yerab.

But she knew she would have preferred death to Yerab by the end.

When she got there, it was a dark and rainy night. She walked along the path in the Thoras Wood along with other potential students. She had talked with some of them, but not enough to remember anything they had said.

"What's your name?" someone to Elmgar's right asked. She turned to see a boy—her age, maybe a little taller, and definitely not hardened by years of farm-work like she was—looking at her with curious violet eyes.

"I am Elmgar, daughter of Arehudi, son of Utupon." Standard answer. Even though no one knew exactly who Arehudi and Utupon were, at least the way she said their names gave them the respect they never had in life—though the difference was that Arehudi, her father, was still living, as opposed to her dead grandfather.

"That's cool," the boy said, but Elmgar could tell that he was uninterested. "My name is Tiael. I am a Wave-Dancer. You?"

Elmgar was confused. Wave-dancer? She'd never heard of such a thing in her life. "I don't know," she said truthfully.

He nodded in understanding. "That's okay. Not many people know of the classes within Yerab. It has to do with your Esttur."

Esttur—essence. Who you are. What your true being wants to say.

Elmgar nodded. She shivered with cold, cramped with hunger, and shook with pain, all at the same time. Her parents had packed nothing in the way of food, but it was expected after a drought.

Tiael nodded. "It's been a hard year," he said.

Elmgar glared at him. He had no idea. She was one of the ones who had suffered the most, while he sat up in his grand, warm chateau, listening to dinner music as he climbed, hungry, a thousand steps to go into a warm, goose-feather blanket-covered bed. All Elmgar got was hungry, silent, cold.

"Yeah," she said, a hint of sarcasm in her voice, but she didn't go farther than that.

Tiael smiled at her. "I hope we can be friends. We're both different here. You are the only Small Child here, and I am the only one who knows about the Yerab Academy." Small Child was a remark about her class—poor farmer. The poor were called Child, and the farmers were called Small. There were Small Children, Small Adults, Halfling Children, Halfling Adults, Large Children, and Large Adults. The Halflings were the artists, and the Larges were craftsmen. Tiael seemed like he was a Halfling Adult.

Elmgar gave him a wary glance. "I don't trust others," she warned. "I am different, like you say, but I don't trust others who are like me in that way."

Tiael spread his hands patiently. "Then I'll have to tame you like a horse."

Elmgar huffed up her nose and stormed off.

But she remembered Tiael for the rest of her life.

Because a time came when she wished she had said, "Yes, I hope we can be friends as well," instead of declaring her lack of trust. And that was because she had to destroy him one day when she was ten.