"I've gotta admit, guys...Your grades sucked," Mrs. McCrady announced, slamming a pile of tests onto her desk.
I rolled my eyes at my friend, Kristine, who was sitting next to me. "Gosh, Ol' McCrady sure doesn't mince words." She laughed and was about to respond when her eyes widened, and she gestured frantically at something to my left. I whirled around, and my hands came up in time to catch the arrow flying towards my head, my test impaled on its shaft.
I slid the paper off of the arrow, complaining, "Geez, old woman. Give me a heads up next time, won't you?" The students around me snickered quietly, eying me as if I were insane. Which I probably was, since I was giving lip to the craziest, most dangerous teacher in all of Warlord High.
Mrs. McCrady laid down her huge longbow, glaring at me. For a short, petite woman in her twenties, she could really shoot. "Pay attention, Lake. Just because you're new here doesn't mean that you can ignore the rules."
"Yeah, yeah," I said, picking up my test. A bright red hundred was circled at the top. I allowed a fleeting grin to cross my face before I picked up the arrow, brought my arm back, and hurled it back at her with all of my might.
Twenty people drew in their breaths as the arrow shot through the air, but Mrs. McCrady didn't blink an eye; she simply reached up and plucked it out of the air with her thumb and forefinger. Reaching down to the pile of tests, she took the next one off the top and stuck it onto the arrow. "Alex," she called out, aiming towards a boy sitting in the far left corner.
Chatter swelled up again as she continued to pass out the tests, the students ducking their heads whenever an arrow flew in their direction. I cast an eye about warily, leaning in to whisper to Kristine, "I've been to a lot of warrior training schools, but I swear, this is the most extreme method of passing back tests that I've ever seen."
Kristine grinned. "Yeah, extreme pretty much covers our school. You haven't seen anything yet, though- wait until we start real training."
My smile froze on my face, as a numb feeling crept up my spine. "Real training? Aren't we already doing that in Phys Ed?"
She seized her textbook and held it up as an arrow thudded into it, its point puncturing through both covers and quivering to a stop just inches from her face. "No, no. That's just the basics- you know, dodging, slashing, running. And they make us practice with all of the weapons." I laughed as she grimaced, knowing what she was thinking; she was terrible with all long-distance weapons, including spears, arrows, and knives.
"So what is it?" I pressed her, as she tried to pull the arrow free from the book.
"Well, we're going to start more specialized training soon. We're not going to have classes like this anymore, where everyone's just thrown together. Instead, we'll be separated into groups according to our weapon type, and each group will be assigned a Warrior of that type. After a few years, if we pass the graduation exam, we'll be full-fledged Warriors, and we can join patrols and fight in the Arenas and- WHAT THE HELL IS THIS GRADE."
I arched my neck to see her tattered test, unable to hold back a snicker as I spotted the huge "13- SEE ME!" scrawled across the front. "Don't tell me. You missed all the questions but the sword ones, again?"
She grunted in response, flipping through the pages and stopping at the bow diagram. "What...Stupid lady, she graded this thing wrong. This is the bowstring, obviously."
"Er...no, that's the serving."
"What's a serving?"
Before I could reply, the bell- the sound of clashing blades and war cries- sounded, and the students began to gather their things and stand. I scraped back my chair and was halfway out the door when Mrs. McCrady called, "Lake, stay after class." With a sigh of long-suffering, I turned back and filed back through the crowd of students, trying to ignore the whispers of "She's so screwed" and "That's what she gets for being stupid".
Soon, the only people left in the room were Mrs. McCrady, Kristine, and me. I plopped down into a random desk in the front row, trying to tune out their freaking pointless discussion: "Kristine, how did you get this answer for number 8?"
"I dunno, you tell me. You're the teacher."
"Are you not understanding the material?"
"I dunno. Why does it matter?"
I laid my head down on my arms, yawning. Why did I have to be here? I'd gotten a perfect score on my test. It was already 6:43, too- dinner was at 7:30, dorm checkups were at 9, and curfew was at 11. With my habit of procrastination, that gave me about an hour to write an essay about the trajectory of knife-throwing, list the steps of sharpening a blade, and read pages 956-979 in the Culture of Warriors textbook.
I yawned again, feeling my eyelids slowly drooping...
A woman screamed. A child cried out, a high-pitched wail that set my hair on end. All around me, people were rushing, yelling, arguing in a strange language that I couldn't understand. The sky above me was blood-red, the clouds scurrying across it an ominous pitch-black. The air was blisteringly hot, searing my skin, and a burnt smell filled my nostrils. I turned slowly, my eyes watering from the smoke, and my breath caught in my throat- all around me, houses were burning, flames rearing high up to the sky. People rushed out of the doorways, grasping small bundles of belongings as they scrambled for safety, tears coursing down their dirty faces.
A man shoved me from behind, sending me sprawling onto the ash-covered ground. I cowered under his dark, furious gaze, holding my hands up pleadingly and crying out, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"You have taken everything from me. From us," he snarled, his words heavily accented. "We offered you food and shelter, and this is how you repay us?"
"Please- Let me explain!" I begged. "I didn't mean to! I can't...The fire, it's uncontrollable!"
"Get away from here, before I kill you," he growled, his eyes murderous. "You monster."
I startled awake and flung myself off of my seat, rolling and crashing into the legs of the desk beside me. An arrow whizzed past where my head had been and imbedded itself into the seat I'd been sitting in. I scrambled to my feet, sweat running down my face, my knee aching where I'd banged it against the floor. What the hell had that dream been about?
"Lake," Mrs. McCrady snapped. I looked at her blankly, my mind in shambles. That dream, it had felt so real, but yet...I shook my head hard to clear it, and glared at her. "What do you think you're doing? Shooting at me when I'm alert is one thing, but shooting when I'm asleep is just plain-"
"Lake," she interrupted, narrowing her eyes. "Who are you?"