Chapter 1 – Concentration
Alexis Rune wiped the sweat from her forehead before notching her next arrow. It was a muggy day, the July sun was hot, the air humid, but they still had practice. She pulled the string of her bow back, along with everyone in the line and gazed across the grassy field towards their paper target some seventy yards away. The archery team at Kistsune Academy was one of the best in Kyoto, Alexis had been training since middle school to earn a spot on the team. Even though school was out for summer holidays, many of the teams still met for practice and competitions, the Archery team had a meet tomorrow afternoon, causing their Senzei to add another practice to prepare.
Upon hearing the order to release, Alexis let loose her arrow and watched it fly through the air, along with a dozen others. Everyone seemed to hit the inner circles of their target, everyone but Alexis. She let out a frustrated huff as her arrow hit the outer edge and into the straw. It was her fifth miss that practice, the worst she had ever shot since she was back in middle school. What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she focus, this was important!
Alexis sighed, as she tried to ignore the whispers and giggles from her fellow teammates.
“Rune… are you alright?” Chika asked from her right. “You look red.”
“It’s just the heat.” Alexis said, giving her friend a smile.
“Don’t worry about it, everyone has an off day.” Chika reassured her.
“Enough chit chat!” Ozaki-Sensei shouted from the other end of the landing. He then shouted to everyone to reload and notch their arrows again. Ozaki was one of the Academy’s Muggle Studies Teacher, and had a reputation of being as harsh as a Feudal Lord, though nobody dared say that to his face. But, as an Archery teacher, he was one of the best.
“Maybe someone hexed your bow?” Chika whispered as they pulled their arrow back against the string.
“Yeah… that sounds like something Mio would do.” Alexis whispered back, but she knew her bow hadn’t been hexed, it was all her, she was flaking out. She heard footsteps coming closer, and felt the black eye stare of Ozaki-Sensei narrowing on her neck.
The wave of arrows were released again, Alexis kept an eye on hers as it once more missed the centre of her target. By now, Alexis was ready to break her bow in two. The team had been practicing for over an hour and half, and had fired over two dozen arrows. She was tired, sweaty and filled with a growing anger at herself for not performing. A sinking fear began to well up, as Ozaki’s steps grew closer. What if he kicked her off the starting lineup at the competition tomorrow? Worse, what if he kicked out out of the club all together? Her mind began to lose what little focus she had left, filling up with worries and doubts.
“Hanatsu!” Sensei shouted once more, this time it sounded like he was right behind her, adding to the pressure.
Alexis released the string, though in a split second something caught her attention. There in the middle of the archery field was an elderly man. He was no stranger though to Alexis, she had seen him before, in her dreams. Startled, she jerked her left arm that held her bow upward just as the arrow left, causing the shaft to propel higher into the air. Alexis blinked, and the image of the man was gone. Her head was pounding now, she never had a vision outside of a dream before.
Her arrow, however took on a life of it’s own, coming down almost at a complete vertical angle towards the target posts. With a crack, the arrow broke in two upon colliding at an odd angle with one of the support beams.
Everyone began to laugh, Alexis’s face burned red with embarrassment as her light grey eyes focused on the remains of her arrow.
“Enough!” Ozaki-Sensei shouted, everyone grew silent at once, but still had their sights set on Alexis. “Rune! Are my eyes deceiving me, or have you not managed to hit your target once today?” Alexis had no choice now but to turn and face the rage of their sensei face to face. He stood over six feet tall, had broad shoulders and large muscular arms that could tear off a bull’s head. He reminded Alexis more of some warrior monk than a Feudal Lord.
“I… no, I haven’t. Gomennasai Senzei.” Alexis apologized, bowing towards him.
“Take an arrow.” Ozaki ordered, his voice loud and harsh. Alexis did as she was told, while everyone on the team watched. “Raise. Hold.”
Alexis had her arrow notched and pulled back into position when Ozaki told her to. She saw him briefly out of the corner of her eye as he moved around her, taking in her stance. He nodded once before shouting the command to release.
This time, her arrow managed to get within the red inner rings. A better result, but one Alexis knew should have been perfect. She heard her master grunt from behind, and could sense he was just as disappointed in her as she was.
“You mind is distracted. Archery is about discipline, your mind included. If you wish to continue to be part of my team I suggest you master this before tomorrow’s competition.” Ozaki said, and Alexis knew he was not joking. There were no second chances with Ozaki-Senzei. “Dismissed!”
Alexis couldn’t be more thankful to hear that word. With a sigh of relief, she headed out to the field along with the others to collect their arrows. Chika remained close to her, telling her that she’d just needed a bath and a good nights sleep, but Alexis wasn’t so sure. She hadn’t had a good nights sleep since summer vacation started. She bent down and picked up her broken arrow, a sign of her current mental state.
“Here, let me.” Alexis looked up in surprise to see one of the senior members of the team approach her. Izumi reached behind her robe to produce her wand, made of white birch with a smooth and almost marble looking handle. With a flick of her wrist followed by the word “naosu”, the arrow mended itself in Alexis’s hands.
“Ah… thanks.” Alexis said, she tried to smile, her heart wasn’t in it.
“You’re welcome. Don’t mind The Lord, he knows you’ve got some good talent, he’s just trying to make you do your best.” Izumi said. “You’re doing well Rune, today just wasn’t your day.”
“That’s what I said.” Chika pointed out, coming up beside the two. “I’m sure she’ll be back to her old self tomorrow.”
Alexis smiled at the comment, but fell behind the two as they made their way back to the change rooms. There was more hustle and bustle than normal, other sports teams were finishing early, while Ozaki had kept them late making the line up for showers and ails crowded with other girls. Alexis looked around for her cousin Suki, who was on the quidditch team, but was disappointed to discover they had already finished. Reaching her locker, Alexis planned on changing quickly and heading out as soon as possible, avoiding as many looks and whispers as she could along the way.
“So, what was all that about?” Mio Anami asked, coming up from around the set of lockers to slam Alexis’s door close just as she was pulling her clothes out.
“It was just an off day.” Alexis replied back, pulling hard on her locker door and with a jerk that set Mio stumbling back a few feet. Mio Anami, the high school senior, honour roll student, Charms specialist, and just as proud and arrogant as the rest of her pure blood family. She had been on Alexis’s case since the first days of tryouts back in April. Thankfully she had been shooting a perfect score so there was little for Mio to complain about. Today, however, she was free game.
“Well, let’s hope it only lasts for one day, or we may have a new spot to fill.” Mio teased back, pretending to be unruffled by the stumble. Alexis knew Mio would be the first to flaunt her family’s influence on Ozaki and push her off the team. If she failed this competition, she didn’t know what she would do.
Alexis ignored Mio and changed right back into her clothes, stuffing her gym uniform into her backpack.
“Aren’t you showering?” Izumi, asked from further down. “It’ll help, and you look like you’re on the verge of heat stroke.
“I promised to be home early tonight. I have to get ready for the Gala.” Alexis explained. She liked Izumi, she was a great archer, and an even better witch. She always wondered who would win in a duel, Izumi or Mio, both were talented enough to make it a good fight, but she would like anyone who could defeat Mio.
“Gala?” Izumi asked.
“Haven’t you heard?” Mio’s voiced raised over the lockers. “Alexis’s mother had managed to manipulate Japan’s Ministry of Magic into showing off several rare and historically valuable magical artifacts at Kyoto’s National Museum. Right in front of the muggle’s eyes.”
“She didn’t manipulate anyone.” Alexis shouted back. “The artifacts are just as historically valued to those of non-magical linage as it is to the magically inclined.”
Mio laughed. “Listen to you, you sound just like her. But I’d be careful if I were you.” Her voice changed, as she snaked around the lockers again, this time with a towel wrapped around her naked body. “Not everyone was in favour of this agreement. It would be a shame if something happened that would only prove them right.”
“Is that some kind of threat?” Alexis asked, her voice low. “Nobody threatens my family.” She added, her right hand reaching into her pack to clasp her wand, rowan wood with a phenoix tail feather.
“It’s no threat. It’s a fact,” hissed Mio. Alexis saw the senior’s left hand come around, revealing the dark wood of her wand as she quickly pulled out her own. The two shouted a curse at each other at once. Alexis dodged the dark red light that hit a nearby locker that went completely black, while Alexis’s cursed managed to hit Mio’s towel. The towel began to expand, and tighten all around Mio’s body, engulfing her into a white cocoon. Some of the girls began to laugh while Mio shouted and screamed with rage that was quickly cut short when the towel moved up and over her face.
Alexis grabbed her things and ran, she was already in enough trouble with Ozaki and with Mio in hysterics she would defiantly find herself kicked off the team if she stayed a second longer. Alexis smiled to herself as she ran, there was one good think about coming to school in the summer, magic was still allowed on school grounds, no matter the season or time.