Modern Action/Suspense Shadow Wing (ALONe + GMA cards)
#1
Here's a story I started earlier last year, tentatively called "Shadow Wing".  I had a few chapters done so decided to start this thread. 

In the story, you'll see questions I ask the GMA cards, interspersed in the story, like in these this samples:

Does the sun come out at all today?
E:N

  • The E, means Even odds, a 50/50 chance of happening.
  • The N means "No".

Do her shoes come untied as she runs? 
G:Y

  • The G, means Good odds (so more likely to happen)
  • The Y means "Yes".

Does she get a hot date?
B:N!
  • B means Bad odds 
  • The N! means ("No, And!")

Does she ace her math finals?
B:Y!
  • Bad odds 
  • A "Yes, And!" response

You'll also see:
TL = Tension Level
SL = Stability Level
  • Anytime the Tension Level exceeds the Stability Level there's a random event (usually negative)
  • If they match, there's a positive random event.

So something like this:
The figures approached her out of the alley way.
Do they have guns?
(B:N,TL4vSL5)

This tells you there's a Tension Level (TL) 4 vs a Stability Level (SL) of 5, so there's no random event on this question, and it's Bad odds that they have guns with a result of "No". They don't have guns.
The TL gradually increases over time. Typically, this occurs according to the rules whenever there's a question asked of the GMA cards, and then it resets to 1 after a random event, at least according to the game options I'm using. I don't follow this rule exactly. Sometimes, if I'm asking multiple questions about a scene setup, and they don't seem to merit a TL increase, I may not increase it.

The story features, Amala, a high school student starting her senior year.
The setting is modern in a pseudo New York City.
I won't bore you with a lot of her backstory, but will reveal all that as the story progresses.
Enjoy!



Chapter 1 -  Memories
---
What’s the scene about? Cabin / Assassination
Observe/Rare/Murder
Who involved? Scarlet

TL: 1

“Amala!” Aunt Jemal’s foice called up to her.

“I’m coming!” Amala called down the stairs and ran a brush through her hair and then swept back her brown hair into a ponytail and looked at her reflection in the mirror. Blue jeans and sneakers combined with a simple white t-shirt completed her outfit. She frowned at her dusting of freckles. Some boys called her “the pretty nerd” but she still wished she could scrub off the freckles. She was sure they just meant “pretty nerdy”.

She hopped down the cabin’s stairs and gave Jemal a peck on her cheek before they both trotted down the porch's steps to their rented sedan packed in the gravel drive. The cool scent of pine and aspen lingered on the breeze in the pre-dawn air.

Jemal smiled and climbed in the driver’s seat. “It’s our last day here, and I want to see two more historical sites before tomorrow.”

Amala adored her Aunt Jemal. She’d been a truer mother than Mother had been. A truer father even than Jack, her father, had been. Jemal had been there for her. Listened to her. Loved her. When the others thought she was “going nutty”--that was Shane’s phrase, her older brother, Jemal had simply hugged her, told her she loved her.

They drove in silence for a time, and Amala dozed until the first beams of the sun played across her face. She blinked at the light and rubbed at a crick in her neck.

“You get to pick the restaurant we go to tonight,” Jemal smiled.

Amala smiled back, “How about Thai Tower?”

Jemal smiled again. “Sure thing. It is your last day of vacation.”

“It’s our last day of vacation,” she responded.

They talked about her upcoming load of classes, her final school year at McRay Scientific Academy, the private school where her parents had sent her to get her out of their lives. Jemal would never have been able to afford sending her there, but Father was rolling in cash, stock options, liquidated assets, prime real estate. The curriculum had a heavy emphasis on STEM subjects but also had a decent arts program. Amala loved dance and gymnastics. She loved the feeling her body had when she acted on instinct, moving through space and time.

More comfortable silence. She turned on the radio, and listened to the scratchy FM radio that struggled to get a signal to them in the mountains. She flipped to the AM band, and as they wound out of a valley, climbing over a mountain pass, the radio blared a commercial in loud annoying platitudes about a pain cream that would save you money and pain. “So smooth you’d hardly even feel it was there.”

And then it switched to the news.

“...One witness claims he saw a figure, medium height, garbed in black and of slight build fleeing the scene of the crime, on foot. Another witness claims to have seen a flash of red clothing, maybe from a red sash or inner lining as the suspect escaped from the exterior of a two-story building and climbed to the roof a matter of heartbeats. Police say the killer is in excellent physical condition and an expert in stealth and hand to hand combat.

“It appears that Mayor Kashi’s security detail were completely surprised. No shots were fired. There were signs of a physical struggle in Mayor Kashi’s living quarters. Two of her bodyguards were killed. The Mayor and three others were rushed to St. Joseph’s. It is reported that they are all in critical condition. This latest attack follows on the heels of recent violent attacks.

“The public is asking ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’.”

How were the guards killed? Blade wounds?
E:N
Bullets?
E:N
Hand to hand and poison then.
TL 3:

Another attempted killing.

Amala frowned and changed the channel.

“...in economic news, share prices for Biomachinery Engineering Ltd have risen considerably with the announcement of the Angel Device, the very first of its kind. In just a moment we’ll have an exclusive interview with Mr. Jack Marcell, CEO of BIOME. Stay tuned for--”

Amala spun the volume dial to off and leaned her head down on her arms resting on the window frame, and let the cool morning rush of wind caress her face. She’d nearly driven him--them--to the back of her mind, but now that single announcement threatened to destroy it all.

“Your father’s not a bad man,” Jemal said. “He just didn’t know how to handle your...condition.”

She saw the dark trees flashing by and squinted when streams of light flickered through the trees warming her face with their pale light.

Her...’condition’.

Jemal referred to Amala’s inexplicable ability to sometimes see things in the past that others had done and sometimes to see possible events in the future. For the former she had to be touching someone or something associated with a past event. An object connected to strong emotion.

Then...she could see visions of what had happened. And sometimes--rarely--she would get premonitions about events in the future. Like what had happened two years ago. That one had scared her. A bomb threat--no not a threat. A real bomb. But she had followed a string of visions past and present and now the school was safe.

The downside was that her own family had called her crazy. And they weren’t willing to handle the social fallout and so she had been largely disowned. Could she blame them? Maybe if she had seen herself as they had seen her, spouting nonsense, trying to touch things that weren’t there--maybe she would have done the same.

The visions often unfolded in the same scenescape in which she moved and breathed. She squeezed her eyes shut and focused on her breathing, not wanting to remember. Even now, two years after the bomb threat, the vision she had experienced seemed so real, as if she had been there and the memory of it still sickened her: the explosive ball of fire that tore through the school, the charred remains, the smell of burning flesh cloying her nostrils, the cries of the wounded, and the whine of sirens.

She shook away the memory and thought of her father, eager to get rid of her.

“Jack disowned me,” she muttered, despondent, yet with a lump of anger beginning to sizzle in her gut. She would never call him ‘Father’ again...

“He didn’t disown you, Amala. It’s more complicated than that, and he--”

“I’d rather not talk about him. Please?” Amala interrupted.

Jemal sighed, gave a sad smile, then nodded and squeezed Amala’s shoulder. “Of course. I love you, Amala.”

“I know,” Amala said and returned the smile, but when she looked out the window again, the sun didn’t seem quite as golden as before. She stared out the window, absorbed in her own thoughts the rest of the way to the old Indian ruins.

---

Are there lots of people at the ruins?
E:Y
TL:4

Is there cell reception?
B:N
TL:5

Amala hooked arms with Jemal and they slowly climbed up the narrow dirt trail that wound in curvy switchbacks along the foothills. After an hour’s hike, they stood in the shade of a massive granite rock. Below them, pines stretched in a carpet of green.

The air smelled fresh and clean. Lichen splashed up the granite in vivid yellows and oranges and wild flowers like feathery gems bedecked the mountainscape.

“It’s beautiful,” Jemal said, breathing hard, sitting on a boulder and dabbing at a sheen of sweat from the graying hair from a red handkerchief, looking down at the trees beneath them.

Amala felt hardly winded and she took a deep breath of the crisp mountain air. The training she had had from long hours at dance, gymnastics, and dojo training had given her a level of fitness beyond most peers her age. She felt could hike for hours yet if needed.

Scores of other hikers moved up and down the trail around them, other vacationers seeking the last attraction of the season before they had to return to the monotony of school and work.

They continued on, following the trail. It leveled off and led through a narrow crack in the cliff. Looking upwards the blue sky was sometimes seen. Along the narrow slot they saw the ancient remnants of homes, weathered by time, carved from the very rock.

They passed more ancient dwellings, squat buildings, with dark holes for windows. Sign posts embedded along the trail gave details about this cliff dweller tribe, what they probably ate, what they might have done for fun, living up on these heights.

Then there were the cave drawings. White lines scraped into the stone thousands of years ago. Some were fairly obvious pictures of buffalo and antelope. Others showed scenes of fighting and death.

Still others, more strange, required guess work.

She stood in front of one of these. It was in an even more sheltered location than the others. This blocky drawing, deep inside this outcropping, had been protected from the weather. Other tourists brushed past her, kids from one family commented on the “funny head” and “scary eyes”. It seemed to depict a being--one of their gods maybe--floating or descending from the sky, a triangle body, a long line for a neck, and elongated circles for heads with odd triangular eyes. Stubby lines made up the legs. She thought the cave drawing was crude to be sure, but then again, artwork probably wasn’t high on the ancient tribe’s todo list. Struggling to survive tended to weed out starry-eyed dreamers.

Yet... someone did carve this. Why?

“Strange isn’t it?” Jemal asked. “I wonder what happened to cause them to draw these pictographs? Were they some product of a late night story hour or something more significant, like some actual visitation from their Gods?” she sighed. “I guess we’ll never know.”

Her aunt gave her a sad smile, toucher her arm, and then moved further to look at another piece of cave art.

“I wonder...” Amala muttered to herself and reached out to the cave wall. She touched the rough stone, tracing one of the white lines with her finger.

Does she see a vision?
G:Y
TL: 6

The ground beneath her became a spreading pool of ink that opened up a nightscape beneath her. Her heart leapt inside her chest. She felt vertigo and almost cried out when she realized she was no longer in her present location. Or maybe her mind wasn’t. She still wore her tennis shoes, true, but her feelings and her thoughts were not her own. Before, she had only felt curious, but now, a dark fear coursed through her.

Darkness covered the land, and the moon peeked its face from between the mountain peaks. Where the parking lot would have been, now a dense forest covered the valley.

Images flashed in her mind. The tribe had brought out all their treasures for their sky gods, and the tribal chieftain had even gifted his own daughter as a sacrifice to the white disk. The girl had looked at her father, the terror in her eyes.

He nodded and pointed with his spear to the shadowy figures she couldn’t see. Strange figures with inhuman proportions.

Then a scream of terror. Her vision shifted. She sucked in a deep sharp breath, and in her mind, she saw a spinning disc of white light that slowly rose above the forest canopy and ascended up into the clouds. It radiated power and authority, and it brought death. Then it leapt away, arcing into the night and was gone. A flicker of suns and moons and clouds flashed across the sky in rapid succession for hundreds of days.

Then she saw a young boy, tears wet on his cheeks, and he etched the drawing of the strange being into the rock, his face a mask of anger muted by an intense anguish.

Do others notice her odd behavior?
G: Y
TL: 7

“Amala!” hands shook her, and Amala stumbled back from the rock. She was trembling all over.

“What...?”

“Look at me!” Her aunt's voice penetrated the fog in her head.

Amala sucked in another breath and her vision cleared and Jamal's face swam in front of her. She was sitting on a boulder and her head felt fuzzy.

“What happened?” Amala asked, ducking her head at the attention and concerned faces swimming around her.

Jemal knelt in front of her and brushed at Amala’s hair, smoothing it away from her face. “You started screaming darling. What is it? Are you alright? You’re trembling.”

A dozen people stood around her, giving her odd looks and someone made a comment about drugs and gave her a wide berth.

“Can we go back to the car now?” Alama asked.

“Sure. But can you stand? You look pale.”

She nodded. “I think so. I’m only a little dizzy.”

“That’s fine. You can lean on me.” Jemal said and helped her to stand.

“Will she be alright? I can take her to the first aid station,” A female park ranger, kneeling beside them asked.

Amala shook her head and gripped Jemal’s wrist.

“No, that’s not necessary,” Jemal answered to the ranger. “She’ll be fine. Thank you.”

Together, they made their way down the trail to the car. As they walked, Alama glanced over her shoulder and shivered at the dark cave, and a darker memory that was not her own.

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#2
Chapter 2
What’s at stake? Action/Physicality Violence
What is her goal? Get to safety, defeat the threat, keep Jemal safe

Is someone trailing them?
(G:Y, T7vS7, T8)

Is it crowded?
(B:NO, T7vS5, T1, RE Steal Portal)

Is there an actual portal?
(B: No, T1vS3, T2)
Sounds like it’s their car then.

It was early evening when they parked the car in a lot across from Thai Tower. Amala’s dizziness had left and after a nap while Jemal drove to another museum. Amala had slept in the car. She felt hungry and grateful to be out of the hot sticky car. In the distance, she heard a cheer and caught a whiff of popcorn and cheap hot dogs. Somewhere in the distance, she heard a faint cheer.

A swirl of hot air kicked up twisting garbage in a mini dust devil as they walked towards the restaurant.

The restaurant was largely empty aside from a couple of punks with spiked hair and leather jackets, ordering takeout, whose eyes followed them as their server led her and Jemal to a booth on the other side of the room.

The red and gold decor, including a golden dragon twisting over the entryway cheered her up. She loved oriental food and Thai was her favorite. She and Jemal had been her before and they talked of past meals and vacations, savoring good times mingled with the tangy taste of lime, ginger, galangal, and coconut.

“Who is that boy you’re seeing again?”

“I’m not seeing a boy.”

“Strange, he’s been over to the house three times in the last two weeks.”

“He’s not a boy,” Amala rolled her eyes.

“He’s not a boy. Well, he certainly wasn’t a girl,” Jemal’s warm eyes twinkled.

“Okay, fine, Chen is a boy but he’s not a boy in the way you’re thinking,” Alama pointed her chopsticks at Jemal. “He’s just a friend.”

“I think I said the same thing to your grandfather when I was your age. He took my car keys away,” Jemal said with a bland expression.

“Well, in this case, it’s true. Chen is... well he’s more like a brother than my own brother is. Besides, his greatest love is the latest computer. He’ll rave all day about GPUs, sticks of RAM and SSDs.”

“SSDs?” Jemal frowned. “Sounds like some kind of disease.”

“Solid state drives. He can talk your ear off about that and other stuff. My mind just sort of glazes over when he starts. So, there’s proof that he’s certainly not interested in a nerd like me.”

“Sounds like he’s a nerd too,” Jemal said.

“Yup...Nerds can’t fall in love.”

“Hmmm.” Jemal said.

“What do you mean, ‘hmmm’?”

“You can’t fight biology, honey.”

“Who said anything about biology? We were talking about nerds and computers.”

“You know, hormones?”

“Uhh. Right. Look, that’s just weird... and not just a little gross when I think of Chen, Okay?.”

“Okay, fine,” Jemal said, smiling. “So, what do you want to talk about then?”

“Anything, except boys.”

“Okay then, what are you looking forward to most of all your senior year?”

“Easy. To compete at nationals!” she took a large bite of the coconut pineapple curry, the complementary blend of spices exploding in her mouth.

“A lofty goal. But I know you can do it! Just like anything you set your mind to.”

“Thanks,” Amala swallowed. “I just don’t want to get nervous and freeze up like I did last time.”

“You’ll do fine,” Jemal smiled at her. “Nerves are nerves but I know you can work through them.”

The conversation turned to other things, and the time passed quickly. Soon, they paid for their food, tipped the pleasant waitress and made their way out to the car.

Dusk had turned to early night. With the ball game still going on, and most of the neighborhood at the game, the parking lot was close to devoid of cars.

Does she see the threat?
She’s good at observation and details so I’ll say good odds)
(G: Yes, T2vS4, T3)

Both of them?
(G: Yes, T3vS4, T4)

Amala heard the faint snick of a switchblade flicking open and caught a tell-tale gleam of street light on the blade as a darker shadow under heavy shade trees trailed them. Her danger sense kicked in, and though she had trained in the dojo these last couple of years, she couldn’t help but feel a thrill of nerves and a cold bead of sweat began to form between her shoulder blades.

Another shadow moved off to the left in front of them.

Her aunt must not have noticed, Amala thought. Jemal pushed her glasses back on her nose and went right on talking about some ancient Egyptian tablets she had seen in the Louvre when on a trip to France during her college years.

“Stay close to me,” Amala interrupted Jemal in an urgent whisper.

“Dear, what are you talking about?”

Then the two shadows rushed at her, a slender one behind with the knife and one ahead with a link of chain wrapped around his hand.

“Give us your car keys and we’ll--”

Impulse took over. Amala spun, and drove a roundhouse kick into the man’s face.

Unfavorable descriptors: There are two of them
Favorable descriptors: She’s a trained in martial arts and in sweet ninja skills, plus she’s dextrous and graceful

Does she hit him and knock him down and out?
(G:Yes, T4vS4, RE his knife goes flying into the weeds T1)
Yes, but he’s only out for a minute or so.

The graceful kick caught him by surprise and the force of it spun him around and sent him to the pavement and the knife skittered off into the weeds unseen and out of reach. The other punk, larger with more muscle, had wrapped a link of chain around Jemal’s neck.

Her aunt’s eyes bulged in fear as the man began to squeeze the breath from her. She tried to struggle, clawing at the chain and his hands, but he held her fast. “Give me your keys and money, quickly and quietly! Or I pull the chain through her windpipe!”

“Let her go!” Amala said, her fists balled defiantly and she took a step towards him.

“Or what?” he asked, yanking her aunt backwards.

“Or I’ll smash your face into the pavement like I did your friend!”

It was then that the other punk noticed his knocked out friend. For a moment, his eyes widened in disbelief and the chain loosened somewhat, enough for Jemal to gasp out a ragged scream. But he pulled it tight again, cutting it off.

“You just got lucky. Kyle gets stupid sometimes. Too eager. Too anxious. But I’m the smart one!” His eyes narrowed dangerously. “You try anything, and I swear she dies! Now, do it! Money and keys!”

Amala sighed, She slumped her shoulders in defeat and reached into her jeans pocket, removing a worn duct-tape wallet. With a sigh, she tossed it at his feet. “The keys to the car are in her purse. Please just let us go!”

One handed, he kept the chain about Jemal’s neck in a meaty fist and then knelt to pick up the wallet. He stood and tossed the purse to Amala.

“Open it! Keys! Now.”

That’s when Amala struck. She threw the purse at his face, he blinked and with a cry, she leapt forward, slamming her knee to his groin and an elbow snapping up into his chin. The other elbow crashed into the side of his head.

Does she take him out before he can hurt Jemal further?
(G:Yes, T1vS3, T2)
Yes, but he drags Jemal to the ground with him, and by the time it takes to free her, the first man will be back up.

The large man collapsed, and Jemal fell on top of him, coughing and wheezing for breath once the large man finally released his grip on the chain, his own hands feeling at his face, blood oozing from his chin.

Amala freed Jemal from the chain, and she pulled her aunt to her feet just as the smaller punk groggily stumbled to his feet, blood streaming from his broken nose.

Amala spun to face him, one foot slightly forward, ready to carry her into combat once more, her arms up in a guard stance.


Does he run away?
(G:Yes, T2vS5, T3)

With a groan, he limped away, leaving his larger companion to grovel in the gravel.

Amala snatched up her wallet from the parking lot, and she and her aunt ran to the car.

Do they get away?
(G: Yes, T3vS7, T5)

Hands shaking from adrenaline, Amala unlocked the car, with its cheerful chirp, and flash of orange light that illuminated the darkened lot for a couple of seconds. They slid inside, slamming the doors just as the larger man made it to his feet.

He raised his fist and stumbled after them, one hand bent across his midsection, pain seared in his face into a nasty grimace, blood dripped from his chin.

“Go!” Jemal shouted and squeezed Amala’s arm.

Amala pressed the pedal, and the engine roared.

“Gear! Put it in gear!”

The man was at the door. He slammed his palm against the window.

Amala finally got it into gear with a grind and the car lurched forward. Expletives punctuated the night as the man lumbered at them. Then gravel from their tires spat into his chest and face as they sped away.

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#3
Chapter 3
Are they followed?
(B:No, T5vS6, T6)

Did Jemal know about her martial arts abilities?
(E: Yes!)

They sat in the waiting room at the police station, and a detective took down their report. Jemal hugged herself as an in-station nurse probed gently at her neck for further damage.

“Are you okay?” Amala asked Jemal.

Jemal nodded and gave her a weak smile, “What a way to end our vacation, huh?”

“Could have been worse I guess,” Amala sighed. Amala felt glad her aunt wasn’t seriously hurt, but angry that it even happened

“Boy, am glad I helped pay for you to take those defense classes,” Jemal shook her head, still in obvious shock.

The nurse finished up and Detective Travis Bolder held out the clipboard to Jemal. “Thank you for your report, ma’am. Please sign at the bottom. We’ll do our best to see that those two are apprehended. Also, for your safety, we’ve coordinated with your local police office to have officers check in on you for a time once you’re home.”

“Thank you, Detective,” Jemal said and shook his hand.

“It’s the least we can do. I don’t like seeing punks mess with my town. We want our tourism industry to remain healthy and vibrant. Safe travels.”

---

Do they make it home without issue?
(E:No, T6vS7, T7)

What’s the issue?
Violate Obstacle

They began their drive home the next day.

Ten hours later, in the hot sticky late-summer weather, they had just passed Denville, New Jersey, when they spotted a roadblock ahead.

Is it the military?
(E:No, T7vS8, T8)

Red and blue lights hammered the pavement as they crawled to a stop behind a long line of vehicles. At the roadblock, police officers peered inside of vehicles.

An officer approached their car. The last name above his badge read “Connor”.

“Where are you headed, Ma’am?” He peered at them through his sun-glasses at them.

“Just on our way home, officer,” Jemal said. “We live in New York.”

He glanced through their windows. “Is it just the two of you?”

“Yes sir. What’s this about?”

“We’re looking for Mayor Kenshi’s attacker. A woman. Lithe, slender, and reported to be very dangerous.” His gaze passed over Jemal and rested on Amala for a moment.

“Well, it’s just me and my niece here, trying to get home for school next week,” Jemal said.

“I see,” He looked down at his phone and tapped on it. Then he paused. “I just ran your plates. It seems you ran into some trouble in Colorado, is that right?”

“Yes sir. We were almost robbed.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. And this young lady here? Your report says she managed to stop...two attackers?” his eyebrows threatened to climb over his glasses. “All by herself?”

“She’s quite adept at her self-defense classes,” Jemal stated, becoming somewhat annoyed.

Is he suspicious?
(G:No, T8vS4, T1 RE Condemn Agent)

He’s not suspicious because there’s a negative random event that occurs.
Condemn Agent...This makes me think a criminal in line behind them gets nervous and runs or fights, putting them in the line of fire assuming there’s any kind of shootout.

Is there a shootout?
(G:Y, T1VS8, T2)

“I see...”

His radio flared to life and a tense voice got out a partial phrase “Armed suspect! Black SUV---”

And then they heard gunfire tear through the air behind them.

Is officer Connor hit?
(E:Yes! T2vS7, T3)
Sounds like multiple times--maybe it’s an automatic weapon?

Is their vehicle hit?
(E:Yes, T3vS5, T4)

Is the attack aimed for Amala?
(E:No, T5vS5, T5)

Officer Connor, swore, moved behind the hood of their car and reached for his sidearm. Jemal and Amala both screamed and ducked, covering their heads as multiple bullets slammed into the police officer. He fell back, blood pooling about him on the pavement. His radio squawking uselessly.

More shots drove through the rear window of their sedan and out the front windshield.

Does the attacking vehicle push through the roadblock toward NYC?
(E:N, T5vS7, T6)

Tires burned rubber on the hot asphalt as the black SUV behind them tore into a mad-dash U-turn and peeled away.

Amala looked through the side mirror hoping she could catch the license plate or some other details about the attacker.

Does she?
(E:N , T6vS5, T1 RE Return Advice)

Pandemonium ensued. Police took cover behind doors and backs and hoods of their vehicles on either side of them, took aim at the departing vehicle as someone wearing a ski mask, leaned out the departing SUV with an automatic rifle.

“Go! Go!” Amala shouted.

“Hold on!” Jemal said.

Her aunt rammed the car into gear and slammed her foot on the gas as more gunfire exploded around them. They tore past the blockade as did several other cars behind them.

Do police follow after them?
(B:N, T1vS4, T2)

After several long seconds of rapid and reckless driving, Jemal eased off of the accelerator. “You okay?” Jemal asked her, shock and concern written across her aunt’s face as her eyes kept darting up to check the rearview mirror. Jemal’s voice sounded tinny and far away.

Amala didn’t know what to say. Her heart hammered in her throat, a double-time staccato. She had her arms over her head, and she half lay, half crouched in her seat. She looked at the bullet holes in their windshield and then turned wide eyes on her aunt.

Her ears still rang from the nearby shots.

“Amala! Answer me, are you okay?”

She felt numb but finally gave a slow nod.

“You’re not hurt?”

Amala slowly shook her head but her stomach clenched.

Jemal’s face turned into a thin line and still she drove at elevated, but somewhat less risky speeds, weaving in and out of traffic. But no one stopped her as police and ambulance vehicles rushed west on I-80 to the scene of the shooting.

---

Later that night, at home, after the police had left and taken their statement of events and examined their car for evidence, Amala and Jemal sat on their couch and held each other, watching the news reports retell the events in typical reporter fashion.

Did police capture or kill the assailants?
(G:Y, T2vS4, T3)

From the TV, A male’s voice accompanied a handsome man in a suit holding a microphone. stood at the was at the scene of the shootout where detectives worked in the background, collecting evidence:

“Police shot and killed both the driver and assailant during the exchange of gunfire at the Denville blockade. The police say that the gunman was in possession of an illegal automatic weapon. Politicians are again calling for stricter gun control in wake of tonight’s shooting. Lydia, I understand that you’re there at the home of one of the survivors?”

Alama peered through a crack in the curtains and then looked at the TV to see a pretty reporter, with wavy brown hair, standing outside their home a camera splaying across their bullet-ridden vehicle and saw her aunt’s name on the TV screen:

“That’s right, Kyle. I’m standing outside at the home of Ms. Jemal Carroll. Officers here on scene said she was talking with Officer Iago Connor when Officer Connor was shot. Ms. Carroll has not responded to inquiries on the events from the press, but you can see from her vehicle the absolute devastation wrought by such a terrible weapon. Officer Connor remains in critical condition at St. Clare’s hospital.”

“Just stunning, this level of violence, especially when you consider the recent attack on Mayor Keshi! Lydia, have the police said whether there’s any link between the attack on the mayor and what happened at the roadblock?”

“The governor and the police chief have both confirmed that the reason for the roadblocks was an attempt to capture Mayor Kenshi’s attacker. No report on whether that has been successful.”

“What about President Malaika’s visit to NYC? Will this affect her visit?”

“I don’t know, Kyle. It remains to be seen whether the President will cancel next week’s trip to New York, in lieu of the recent violence, but you can bet that her secret service are certainly on high alert.”

Jemal turned off the news and pulled Amala close. Amala leaned against her aunt, listened to Jemal’s steady breathing and felt a shiver of fear run down her spine when she thought of the hooded gunman. Attackers with a knife and chain were one thing, but this...

She squeezed her eyes shut and could still hear the shots...could still feel the glass beads from the windshield exploding around her raining down on her.

Jemal held her more tightly.

When she finally went up to her bed, she saw through the curtains that the police and the reporters had eventually left, but through the shades, she saw the shadowy outlines of a patrol car perched under a tree down the block, watching their house.

She wasn’t sure how that made her feel, and hours passed before sleep finally took her.

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#4
Chapter 4
What’s this scene about? 
Romance / Friendship (A relationship, Another’s safety, emotional distress)

Do her classes go well the first day/week?
(B:Y, T3vS5, T4)

Her senior year at Miller High began with the usual first day jitters. She walked the halls of her High School, more confident now than when she started as an insecure sophomore. But her first day went surprisingly well.

The overconfident jocks and dazzling cheerleaders still ruled the roost at the top, and she remained somewhere near the middle or maybe the top of the lower echelons of the social hierarchy.

She avoided the bullies, not that they concerned her much anymore. Ever since she had been learning martial arts with Radiance, and especially since her encounter with the punks on vacation, she felt confident she could hold her own against your typical high school bully.

Has she been able to avoid the reporters?
(B:N, T4vS5, T5)

One problem was that being in the shootout had given her some unlooked for notoriety. Reporters hounded her, waiting outside her home when she got on the bus or at the bus stop when she left for home.

“Amala, you were shot at with an assault rifle. Surely, you see the wisdom in stricter gun control. How does it make you feel that anyone can go and purchase such deadly weapons?”

Radiance had given her a different perspective than most of her peers. She had learned that a gun was a tool. She herself could be a tool--and a dangerous tool when she needed to be--in some ways more dangerous than a gun. No, the problem wasn’t with the guns. The problem stemmed from criminals willing to use those tools to cause harm.

She ignored the reporter.

Aside from the mountain of homework she was getting, school seemed to be going pretty well.

---

How is Chen?
Create/Temporal/Game or Delay/Empowered/Ninja

Chen’s face was flushed when he sat down to lunch.

“Where have you been? You’re late... again.”

“Dude...” he said, ignoring her comment. His face flushed with excitement, he pulled his laptop out of his bag and flicked it on. “Check this out!”

She saw a cheesy pixelated loading screen of a ninja diving through rain and swinging a katana in a slash that split the screen which rotated into an isometric view of a crouching ninja on a cityscape.

“Cool, huh?”

“Umm...”

“It gets better. See, I named it ‘Amala’s Revenge’.” Chen leaned back and looked at her, a goofy grin on his face.

“What?” She leaned closer and studied the screen. True enough, she saw the blocky title that bore her name at the top of the screen. “You made this?”

“That’s right!” he grinned again. “While you were out galivanting in the mountains and getting shot at by terrorists, I have been working on a new game!”

“What happened to the last one?”

“That was old stuff. I found some new libraries online that make coding this stuff way easier. Anyway, check it out. You can slow down time. See, like this?”

Chen demonstrated how the small avatar could move across the screen with blinding speeds as sands in an hourglass dribbled out. Amala, the female ninja avatar, darted across the screen between falling rain drops and hopped into an open window.

“Cool, huh?” Chen asked.

On one hand, she felt impressed at his coding skills. On the other hand, she felt trepidation that someone might discover what her training with Radiance had entailed.

“It’s...uh...great, but maybe you should change the name, you know, so it doesn’t have...me in it?”

“But that’s kind of the whole point,” he grinned back at her. “It is you!”

“Chen, we don’t want people to know that I trained with Radiance,” she lowered her voice to a whisper.

“C’mon,” he said smiling. “It’s cool, right?”

“No, I’m serious,” she said.

“Really, I spent like two weeks on this crap and you don’t even want to give it the time of day?”

“It’s not that, it’s--” she waved her fork at the screen. “We have to keep this...secret, you know?”

He took the laptop back and shut the lid and slumped back in his chair, staring out the window. “Yeah, okay,” he said.

Can she tell what he’s thinking?
Unfavorable descriptors: He’s a boy, they’re practically separate species.
Favorable descriptors: It’s Chen, her closest friend.
Same scene, kind of, so no tension increase
(E:N, T3vS5, T4)

“You wanna sell this, right?”

“Well, sure,” he shrugged. “I guess.”

“I think it’ll do better if it doesn’t have my name in it. Besides, I’m a nobody. A nerd. A--”

“You’re not a nobody. You’re--” he began.

“Just remove it, okay?”

“Fine. Sure. Whatever,” he returned to looking out the window.

“Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Chen said. After a moment, he stood and concentrated on gathering his things. “Look, I gotta get some homework done, okay?”

“Hey, Chen, I didn’t mean--”

“No, it’s...it’s cool,” he said. “I get it.”

And before he could say anything, he strode from the lunchroom, laptop bag banging against his back. She watched him leave. What had she said?

She stirred at the cold carrots and peas on her tray, and they looked even less appetizing than usual.

---

What is the scene about?
Tower, Moon, Skull
I’ll go with Moon.
Scene element (Mystery, Intrigue, deception)
Possible Stakes (Vital evidence, a relationship, a secret)

The next day, at his locker, Chen said he had a group project he had to work on during lunch, so Amala ate alone, stirring at her food. She perked up when Tiffany sat down next to her.

What does Tiffany talk about?
Exchange Fear

But Tiffany soon proved to be of little comfort. The other girl was tall, lanky, somewhat lacking in developmental curves, and the curls in her red hair began to sag into her food when she set down her tray. She wore big round glasses with red-orange frames. She huffed as she dragged out her calculus book and opened it, and glumly eyed its pages.

“What gives?” Amala asked.

“I’m going to fail calculus,” Tiffany said and rested her face in her fists as she stared at the cryptic diagrams and figures. Her glasses went askew on her face.

“You’re not going to fail,” Amala said.

“I heard the quiz has a hundred questions on it. Not even a test! A quiz!”

“It’s only ten percent of your grade. Just chill.”

“Easy for you to say, you’re good at math.”

“I am not good at math,” Amala said. “I just hang out with people who are good at math. You’re the nerd.”

“Same thing,” Tiffany said.

“It’s not the same thing unless said nerd helps you with your homework which...sometimes said nerd does not,” Amala said pointing her fork at Tiffany.

“I couldn’t,” Tiffany grimaced and slumped back in her chair.

“Wouldn’t,” Amala said.

“Couldn’t,” Tiffany said. “I had to go to that stupid dance and we didn’t get back until 2 AM.”

“Had to?”

“What was I supposed to do? Turn down my date? If you’re me, Amala, you don’t turn down a date!” she jabbed her fork at her. “You might have that luxury, but I don’t. I--”

“What do you mean by that?”

“You’re attractive, pretty,” Tiffany said. “Look at you.”

Amala nearly spit out her lasagna in laughter.

“I am not--”

“I’ve heard how some boys talk about you,” she said.

“Heard what?” Amala asked, intensely curious.

“How cute you are. Look, your face is turning red, but for you, it just makes it look like you put on some blush.”

“Which I didn’t,” Amala said.

“I know! But--Oh, never mind.” The other girl stabbed at her food in agitation for several seconds while staring at her open calculus book.

“What...do the boys say about me?” Amala asked finally.

“Oh, they all talk about you like you’re some kind of tragic mystery,” Tiffany put the back of her hand to forehead in a mock swoon.

“All?”

“They keep asking me about your shootout, like you were some kind of hero.”

Amala’s face went pale at the memory. “I didn’t do anything. I survived. Barely.” she grimaced. “All I did was duck.”

“But it’s like the damsel in distress or something,” Tiffany said.

“What?”

“That’s how they act. I can tell.”

“Who? I can take care of myself.”

“I know, but Jack asked if you felt scared, if you needed someone to walk home with, and--”

“What a minute? Jack? Jack who? Jack Withers?”

“No, no. The other one,” she rolled her eyes. “The one on the football team.”

“Jack Spartan?”

“Yes. Spartan, number twenty-three, SPARTAN” Tiffany said referring to his jersey number, and her eyes took on a dreamy look. “He talked to me...you know. Of course, he was asking about you, but...”

“Was he wearing his jersey again?”

“When doesn’t he wear it?” Tiffany grinned and leaned forward and whispered to Amala. “He does look good in it.” She took a large bite of her lasagna, and leaned back, the orange juice staining the edges of her mouth and swayed back and forth in her seat a little, her eyes half closed in that half dreamy look she got when talking quadratic equations and when thinking about Jack Spartan.

“You’re hopeless.” Amala said and wiped the edges of her own mouth pointedly, hoping Tiffany would take the hint to do the same.

She didn’t. Instead, Tiffany took another large bite and talked between mushy mouthfulls. “Anyway, he’s going to try and walk you home, I think.” She swallowed some of her mouthful and resumed chewing the remnants. “Lucky... You’re So. Stupid. Lucky!”

“He’s going to what?” Amala asked.

“Why couldn’t Jack Spartan have asked me to the dance, instead of Chris Turner?” Tiffany pondered the question, squinting at her milk carton as if it held the answer to the mystery.

Then she grunted and chugged the entirety of her half a pint of 1% milk, crushed it and slammed it onto the tray causing a group of students to look their way. Tiffany stared at them until they looked away.

Tiffany pointed her fork at Amala. “Stupid lucky. That’s what you are!”

“I don’t know if I’d call it that,” Amala said.

“That’s ‘cause you’re stupid,” Tiffany grinned at her.

“Good luck on your test,” Amala said and gathered her things.

“Luck... You have all the luck, remember. Hey, where are you going?”

“Gymnastics class, remember? State competition is in a month and tryouts are in a week. I need to practice more.”

“You took like what...third last year in state? What do you have to try out for?”

“I took second. And I want to try out again, so I can get first,” Amala said with a wry grin. She pointed to the corner of her own mouth and nodded to Tiffany. “Lasagna.”

Tiffany scowled but reached for her napkin.

---

Gymnastics class felt great. Amala loved the feel and smell of the chalk on her hands. Dressed in sweats and an exercise shirt, she hopped in place for a moment, rotating her neck and shoulders to loosen her arm and shoulder muscles and then approached the sawhorse.

She straddled the sawhorse and whipped her legs around, lifting her hands in rhythm, faster and faster, her face a mask of intense concentration. She kept it up until sweat dripped from her nose and her arms burned, then she went up onto both arms, legs pointed straight up to the ceiling in perfect poise and dropped down just as the bell chimed to end class and the school day.

She wiped her face with a white towel and grabbed her sweatshirt.

Is Jack Spartan there, grinning at her, like she expected?
(E:N, T4vS6, T5)

And there, through the doorway, out in the hall, she noticed Jack Spartan watching her. The tall tide-end towered over the shorter students, especially the freshmen--who looked like boys next to him. But Jack Spartan stood, man size, wearing his jersey, his full height an impressive 6’ 1” all muscle and firm leanness. A sea of students moved in the hallway, laughing and chatting, glad to be out of school for the day.

“Amala,” he grinned at her and waved over the sea of heads. Confidence oozed off of him. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

Is she by a back door?
(E:N, T5vS5, T6)
Equal Tension and Stability. That means a Random Positive Event
Degrade Portal

Students pressed around Jack in the doorway, bumping into him, pressing against him.

Amala didn’t feel like talking to him, and she certainly didn’t need a knight in shining armor, but it wouldn’t hurt to be friendly. She quickly slipped on her sweatshirt over her exercise shirt, gave a friendly nod, but as he started to press through the other students towards her, she grabbed her school bag, and jogged easily to the back door at the other end of the gym and then out into the afternoon sunshine.

She continued to jog for two more blocks, grinning at the irony of it all. How many girls at school would have begged for Jack Spartan to speak to them, much less walk them home? Yet Amala had avoided him? Why? What was wrong with her?

She wasn’t sure herself. It just seemed too strange. Too crazy that he would want anything to do with her. She was part of the Nerd Turds--That’s what others called her and her friends. She wore the epithet as a badge of honor, but she highly doubted Jack would care to do the same.

She jogged across Henry St and moved toward the corner of Market St to the Hidden Dragon Dojo. It wasn’t exactly hidden. But it didn’t have a lot of patrons either. It was in the basement of the First Chinese Presbyterian Church, and five years ago, the church had been converted into a Chinese restaurant with the same name as the dojo, The Hidden Dragon. The old church’s signage still remained above the restaurant sign Hidden Dragon Restaurant and the neon sign flickered Open.

She ran to the back door of the restaurant and opened it. Steam from the hissing woks hit her, the happy smell of greasy Chinese takeout enveloped her: peanut oil, wantons, orange chicken, noodles. Not authentic Chinese by any stretch, but Americans loved it.

Amala used to work in the washroom when she was a sophomore. Now, she worked part time as a server. But today wasn’t her shift. Instead, she waved to Mr. Kiryago, the old man who had taken her place at the washroom. He was a thin, bald man in his sixties with a few scraggly whips of a beard. His white apron was wet from a stack of washed dishes. He raised a soapy plate in her direction and grinned. She nodded in return and hopped down the stairs off the restaurant’s kitchen to the dojo.

It wasn’t technically a secret that she took self-defense classes at the dojo, but she hadn’t really told anyone either. Chen knew. Chen was the only one who knew everything, really. Her aunt knew she took lessons but didn’t know about Radiance and the rest of it. But being a Nerd Turd made her pretty much invisible anyway, and the fact that she worked here helped hide her real reason for coming so often.

Did Jack manage to follow her?

(B:N!, T6vS4, T1)
Random Event
Inflict Government

An attractive woman in her early thirties dressed in a pantsuit and jacket looked out of place in the dingy-lit dojo. She glanced over at Amala and then went back to watching the few students practicing their defense moves until Kai, a teacher in her mid forties, padded over on bare feet. Kai was a full foot shorter than the other woman but she looked up with respect and confidence.

“How can I help you?”

“Do you own this place?”

E:Y
T2, S6

Kai nodded. “Not the restaurant. But the dojo, yes.”

“My name is Stephanie Lawrence. I’m with the FBI,” the other woman said and she flashed an FBI badge to Kai, with its official looking seal. “Do you have any information on someone who looks like this?”

Is the woman in the pic Asian American?
E:Y
T3, S4

She had a briefcase tucked under her arm, round glasses perched on her nose, and light brown shoulder length. From the case, she extracted a couple of black-and-white photos and passed them to Kai.

Kai examined them.

Amala looked over Kai’s shoulder and saw that the photos captured an attractive woman, an Asian American with dark hair, high cheekbones, her eyes hidden behind large sunglasses, body hidden by a dark, full-length trench coat, save for the slender legs.

Does she?
E: No
T4, S4
Positive Random Event
Steal Secret

Is this a secret that Amala learns? I’m not taking “steal” literally.
If it’s something she can spot, she’s good at noticing details so...
G: Yes
T1, S6

Kai examined the photos and then handed them back with a shake of her head. “I’m sorry. I’ve not seen this woman before.”

“How long have you owned the dojo?” The agent asked, putting the pictures back in her case and looking around.

“Twenty years,” Kai said.

“A long time,” the suit smiled.

“Yes. Well, when you’re passionate about something, it’s hard to give it up.”

“I can see that. Do you keep records on your past students? We think maybe she used to be a student.”

“No,” Kai said. “Only for our current students. Though there is a display case of our past student’s achievements here,” she led the agent to a cabinet by the stairs and Amala trailed behind.

Behind its dusty locked glass doors, certificates, newspaper articles, photos, and trophies littered its few shelves.

Is this woman really FBI?
Not that Amala would know necessarily but for me to know...
E: Yes
T2, S5

“Impressive,” Agent Lawrence said and glanced at the display case. “Well, thank you for your help anyway,” she said. “If you happen to see this woman, please give me a call.” She passed a card with the words “FBI” and “Special Agent Stephanie Lawrence” on it and a phone number.

“I will,” Kai said, taking the card.

The FBI agent was halfway up the stairs when Amala spotted it, the woman from the photo.

“She’s here!” she called out and pointed at a shelf in the cabinet.

“What?” the agent and Kai both said, looking at her.

“The woman in your photo. She’s here,” Amala said. “In the background, see?”

The women trotted back down the stairs, and both Kai and Agent Lawrence leaned in and examined a newspaper clipping. It was somewhat yellowed, and had a date of October 2012. The clipped article showed three students from the Hidden Dragon Dojo at a Kung Fu competition.

Behind them, off to the side somewhat, a younger version of the same woman that was in the black-and-white photos looked on, her arms crossed, lips pursed, obviously watching the smiling students who had their trophies raised. But the face was unmistakable and unreadable.

Amala looked again at other clippings, and she spotted two other instances where the same woman was captured by the camera, seemingly studying different people in the crowd or talking on her phone while she watched.

“What’s your name? You are quite observant,” Agent Lawrence whispered and smiled at Amala.

“Amala,” she said quietly.

“Well done, Amala!” She pulled out her phone and pressed a button, held her phone to her ear.

“It’s me,” she said into the phone. “I have a possible lead. She was seen at the District 9, Kung Fu competition back in 2010 and later in both 2015 and 2019.”

She paused on the phone and looked at Kai. “This is an annual competition?”

Kai nodded, “Every October.”

Is it at the same time as the gymnastics tryouts?
E: No
T3, S9

She finished up her call, put the phone away and looked at Amala. “Are you one of the students here? At the dojo?”

Amala paused for a moment but then nodded slowly.

“Are you competing in the October competition?”

E: No
T4, S5

Amala shook her head. “No. I--”

“Good. That means you can help us.”

“What?”

“We need your help. You’re good at spotting things, aren’t you?”

“Well,” Amala said slowly. “Sometimes. Maybe. I guess.”

“Good enough for us. We think she might be behind the recent attempt on Mayor Kashi’s life.”

“So, that’s what this is about,” Kai said with a frown.

“It’s possible that this woman might show up to the next event. The U.S. government will compensate you well for an evening of your time of course,” Agent Lawrence said. “How does two thousand dollars sound?”

She and Jemal could certainly use the money. Rent had been tight, what with the recent car repairs.

“Okay,” she said slowly.

“Don’t worry,” Agent Lawrence said. “The likelihood of danger is small in such a public place. And we’ll have undercover agents watching you at all times.”

---

When Agent Lawrence left, Kai looked about, and when she was sure they were alone, she leaned in and whispered, “Radiance wanted to see you.”

Amala’s heart rate spiked, but she nodded.

Kai returned to the students. “Again! Faster this time!” And the sounds of students practicing mixed with the clatter and spicy smells of the kitchen that wafted down from above.

Amala had learned quickly from Kai but when Radiance found her, that’s when her training had truly begun...

Amala turned and walked down a darkened hallway. At the end, she opened a nondescript door and stepped inside letting the door close behind her with a soft click. She stood inside of a small storage room littered with equipment and boxes for the kitchen.

Her fingers found the familiar small catch hidden in the wall. She pressed the small button under a panel and a section of the wall swung open. She stepped inside a narrow passageway, and pressed another button and the wall closed noiselessly behind her, sealing off the storage room.

A single bulb lit the narrow crawl space. She found the metal platform and pulled a level and it shifted with a lurch and a clatter that sent her descending into further darkness.

When it lurched to a stop, a single iron door stood in front of her. She pushed it open and there was the true hidden dojo. The one she had been training in for two years now. The one owned by Shadow Wing. She heard the clatter of wooden weapons--practice weapons: katanas and nun chucks, throwing stars. That intermixed with the grunts of pain, the shouts of attack and counter-attack. She saw six warriors facing each other in pairs, moving in blurs of weaponry and intense training.

A seemingly ageless woman, slender but with coiled power and grace, completely bald, stood before her, dressed in dark comfortable clothing, her hands clasped in front of her.

“Welcome back, Daughter,” the woman smiled, her bright blue eyes that Amala swore glowed with some kind of inner light if you saw them just right. Those eyes now held Amala’s in their intensity.

“Radiance,” Amala breathed and felt a thrill inside of her, and she bowed respectfully. Radiance returned the bow.

Has R heard about the attacks on Amala?
G: Yes
T5, S8

“Walk with me,” Radiance commanded, and Amala fell into line, shifting her bag to her other shoulder and they walked through a small group of masked students, swords clacking, arms and legs blurring the air.

“I am glad you and your aunt were unhurt in that shoot-out,” Radiance said.

“Do you know who was behind it?” Amala asked.

G: Y
T6, S5

Who?
Hide Skill

Radiance grimaced. “Our operatives believe it is a criminal and terrorist organization known only as the Invisible Hand. We have yet to learn their long-term objectives. For now, they seem content to sow chaos, fear, and destruction. And that is enough to make them worthy of our attention.”

And for the random event:
Grow Haven

Amala told her about the FBI agent and the upcoming competition and the woman they sought, the woman from the photos.

Radiance stopped and gave a low hiss. “Be careful, Amala. This person you seek is dangerous! She must not know who you really work for.”

“Why? Do you know her?”

G: Y
T1, S5

“Yes,” Radiance replied. “She was once a student of mine.”

“A part of Shadow Wing?” Amala whispered.

B: Y
T2, S3
Interesting...

Why did she leave?
Deny / Training

For a couple of minutes, Radiance said nothing and led Amala down a long dimly lit hall with faded and pocked yellow paint, into a new and unpainted room with dull-gray cement walls. A row of computer terminals blinked against one wall.

“What’s this?”

“Our new command center, you might say. More funds equals new toys,” Radiance smiled and tapped a key on the nearest console. A beautiful woman’s face appeared on the screen. The same woman that was in the photo.

Radiance frowned at the picture then looked over at Amala. “The answer to your earlier question is yes, she was a student of mine and of Shadow Wing, but not of this particular cell. And her real name is... was Jian Mowers. But that curious and determined young girl no longer exists.” Radiance’s hand reached up and touched the face on the computer console. “Well, I suppose her innate traits of curiosity and determination still exist--but the innocence is gone now, a casualty to hubris. To her other traits, one must also add narcissistic, thrill-seeker, and killer.”

“But Shadow Wing trains killers, don’t they? Or are the swords and the weapons we practice with just for show?”

Question for me.
Is Shadow Wing sanctioned by the US Government?

E: Y
T3, S5

Was Amala told this before? I think it’s likely, otherwise she probably wouldn’t have just up and joined some random secretive organization of do-gooders.
G: Y
T4, S7

“We do kill, when it’s necessary. Remember, we are soldiers and have sworn to protect and uphold the principles and freedoms of our nation. As you should remember, Amala, Shadow Wing is a secret even to much of the CIA, though that is our parent organization, and I highly doubt many, if any, elected officials know about our existence. We take our orders directly from the CIA Director herself.”

“So, the FBI agent that dropped by, doesn’t have any clue about this place?”

“Indeed not. Our secrecy protects us and allows us to move in ways that typical soldiers and even typical CIA operatives couldn’t. In fact, we were given authority to recruit any that we deem necessary...” She let that hang in the air and her piercing blue eyes bored into Amala’s.

“You mean me,” Amala said. “And I am a soldier too then?” Amala asked, scrunching her nose. She had homework and gymnastics competitions and was part of the Nerd Turds. Being a super secret soldier sounded cool on one level, but overly complex when it was added on top of her considerably large homework pile.

“A recruit for now and a soldier in training,” Radiance smiled. “When you turn eighteen, you’ll be able to choose for yourself whether to take this to the next level.”

“What’s the next level?”

“More dangerous assignments.”

“What happens if I don’t?”

“Nothing. You go your own way with no questions asked.”

It couldn’t be that simple, could it? I mean, what if she blabbed to someone. She had blabbed to Chen and he hadn’t believed her at first. Later he did...

“Was your student... Jian? Was she the one who tried to kill the mayor?” Amala said. “The news said two bodyguards were killed.”

“We don’t know for sure,” Radiance said with a sigh. “But she rates very highly as one of the chief suspects.”

“What happened to her? Why did she turn?”

“Our methods of recruitment are stringent. Typically, we watch the person for many years before initiation. She showed great promise and a willingness and determination to learn as fast as she could be taught. We needed her right away for a job. She was ideally placed, being from and able to blend into the upper echelons of society. The Claw met and each Talon agreed she should be brought into the Shadow Wing. And so she was recruited.

“Jian accepted, and completed many missions admirably, but ultimately she did not agree with our approach of training the young minds and bodies to be the future of Shadow Wing. One of her...good friends, a fellow operative, was killed on a mission, and she blamed us.

“When she stopped responding to our communiques, we sent a couple of operatives to contact her. She FedExed the heads to my home in a cardboard box...”

“She sounds...unhinged.” Amala shivered.

“She’s gone rogue and should be considered armed and highly dangerous. She has cut off all ties with her former life. And above all, she loathes the Shadow Wing.”

“Are you saying I shouldn’t go help Agent Lawrence then?” Amala said. “Because I need the money, and you guys aren’t exactly paying me to be part of Shadow Wing.”

“You work the tables in the restaurant upstairs do you not?”

“Wait, was that you who--?”

“But no, your rewards are not monetary, Amala. We’re hoping that you can see that what we’re training you to do and to become is in and of itself its own reward.”

She had to agree with that to some level perhaps. The training had allowed her to protect herself and her aunt from those thugs who had attacked them in the parking lot, and it had helped build her confidence on many levels.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Amala said.

“What you do on your own time is your own business,” Radiance gave a small smile. “And I won’t deny that getting more intel on my former student would be most...helpful. But, if you do choose to go, be careful. Jian is very dangerous.”

There was a long pause as Radiance looked up at the monitor. A sad expression crossed her face. She pressed a button and the screen flickered and went dark.

They walked back out into the hallway and Radiance turned and faced Amala. “You remind me of her in many ways.”

Amala let that sink in. “As I recall, you didn’t spend a long time vetting me before I was approached to join you,” Amala said with frown.

“Who says we haven’t been watching you for all your life?”

“Have you?” she asked, her face birthing alarm at the notion.

Radiance just gave her a sidelong smile. “Besides, you’re unique...gifts make you an exception to the rule we typically follow.”

“But aren’t you making the same mistake you made with Jian?”

“No. We know how you treat your fellow students and your aunt. That, and your actions in defending your school two years ago, told us we were not wrong to choose you,” Radiance said.

Amala felt pride at the simple and honest compliment at one level, but she also felt concern at other levels.

Had they really been watching her all this time? And if they hadn’t, couldn’t they be  again making a gross mistake? Wasn’t she just as human as Jian?

“People can change,” Amala said quietly, biting her lower lip. “What if you’re wrong?”

“I’m not wrong,” Radiance said simply, eyes intent. “Not about you. Now, get changed and let’s train.”

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