The story begins in a small school that sits near the base of a mountain so high and mighty no one has ever been able to reach the top. The school is small with only three buildings, a handful of teachers and a few dozen students. The teachers aren't necessarily the best at what they do but they are dedicated to teaching. It's a school, founded by a man named Rayjen, of outcasts where they teach various fields from fighters, rangers, believers, healers and even thieves. Late at night one of these thieves is practicing his trade.

One of the shadows slipped out of the room. Absolutely silent it moved away towards the stairs. Its shape and size changed to adjust to the uneven floor and occasional flicker from the lanterns in the hall. After several very long minutes it stopped near a door and listened to the movement inside. When it was sure that the occupant wouldn't soon be leaving the room it crossed the threshold to the next door. It was directly across the hall from one of the flickering lanterns.
As the shadow started to stretch to cross from one side of the hall to the other there was a sudden creak in the stairs. The shadow stopped its forward motion and melted back towards the wall. After a moment's hesitation, the one on the stairs proceeded back down the creaky staircase. Finally, the shadow made a slow and careful trip across the hall.
A tendril of the shadow spread slowly up the door until it covered the bottom metal hinge then withdrew leaving a trace of a sparkly powder in the joints. Another tendril reached up and released the wooden latch that held the door closed. With very little pressure the door swung open without making a sound. The shadow moved in.
Sliding along a pale shaft of light the shadow soundlessly moved to the small dresser. Near the bed now the shadow slowed so as not to disturb the occupant. A tendril rose to the top drawer of three and again there was a hint of sparkling powder along the trim as it withdrew. It was replaced by a second tendril that took hold of the handle and pulled the drawer open. The occupant in the bed stirred slightly and the tendril froze in place until complete silence returned to the room. Then the entire shadow hunched up and reached inside. There were a few brief movements until it found its target and then slowly started to withdraw.
At startling speed a hand shot from the bed and grabbed the tendril tight. The shadow jumped slightly when it realized it was caught and the silence was broken by a heavy sigh.
"I know you'd like to be known as Luvin Five Fingers," the girl in the bed said. "If you don't improve your skills you'll be Luvin Four Fingers before you get out. Even here Pate or Anton would surely punish you for stealing from them."
"I'm sure about Pate, but Anton may be different," Luvin whispered and with his free hand showed her a small silver necklace that she recognized.
"You'll give it back tomorrow," she said with a sigh.
"How did you catch me?"
"Think it through," the woman challenged him. She still held his wrist tight and he soon released the small red velvet bag with a black string he held.
"I was absolutely silent," Luvin said.
"Were you?" she asked.
"Door hinge was quieted, no creaking floor boards, no squeak of wood on wood from the drawer."
"Correct," the girl, Gallif, rewarded him by letting go of his wrist.
"I don't get it," Luvin said as he slid from the shadow. It was much to his credit that at his size he had managed to hide in such small shadows. He was fifteen with sandy brown hair and a few remaining freckles. He stayed healthy and though he rarely missed a meal he had the energy of youth on his side to keep him thin. He sat cross legged with his back against the wall. He scratched his forehead and thought for a moment.
"What else did you do?"
"I stayed in shadow form the whole time."
"Yes, you did, and why was that wrong?"
Luvin sat quietly and thought for a moment on why that was a failure. It seemed like a contradiction to have successfully failed at shadow form and he glanced out at the hall candle before the answer came to him. He looked back at Gallif and said flatly, "I should have closed the door."
"Exactly," Gallif said as she pulled down the blanket and pushed her tussled bright red hair away from her face. "You didn't cover your tracks. You were so intent on staying in shadow form that you didn't realize you shouldn't need to be in shadow form." She closed the drawer and even in the darkness he could feel her green eyes piercing him.
"Close Day," he said.
"Yes, very close. The closest you've come," she admitted with a slight smile. "If you are going to shadow form more you'd better get going. It'll be sunrise soon."
"Yeah, I suppose so," he tried not to seem as disappointed as he was. "Want to know who's up tonight?"
"No," Gallif said as she rolled onto her back and closed her eyes.
"Anamita's been walking around in her room," Luvin told her anyway.
"I suppose that has become natural for her," Gallif said after a breath.
"Tomorrow is Festival Day in Atrexia. Can I go with you?"
"Only if I get some more sleep," she said and rolled to her side facing away from him.
He took a long look at her figure and then his eyes slid back to the drawer. He started to shadow form again and paused for a moment.
"The door's still open," she teased him without looking.
"Close Day," he said again as he admitted defeat and moved out into the hall. With an audible squeak from the bottom hinge he closed the door behind him.
Gallif lay silent and tried to get back to sleep. Luvin had gotten very close to stealing the bag this time and she was very proud of him. She was a few years older than he and they had grown quite close in just a few months.
She heard a creak in a floor board and tried to sense which direction it had come from. There was a heavy thumping as someone came up the stairs and pounded down the hall. From the loudness of the steps she could tell it was someone large. From the rudeness of not even trying to be quiet she knew it was Pate. The oldest of all the students lived across the hall from her and noisily opened his door and closed it with an even louder bang. No one had ever managed to understand the rhyme and reason Rayjen, the founder of the school, used to pick the students he invited to attend. They were from all different backgrounds and studying many different specialties. Most were young and excited and eager to learn. Pate was a bully with very few friends and Gallif had wondered if Rayjen had just felt sorry for him and hoped being here would help.

In this world various types of magic on items leave color traces and his armor is tinted a light shade of red. At breakfast the next morning Gallif sees that Luvin is up to no good.

Gallif concentrated on the rest of her breakfast and ate it quickly hoping things wouldn't turn ugly this early in the day. She had just swallowed the last eggs when there was a crash from up the table.
Everyone looked to see Pate standing, his sword drawn in one hand and Luvin's collar held with the other. Several saw what was coming, quietly finished their meals and left. A few ignored the scene and kept eating.
"You rotten little thief," Pate howled. "Students don't steal from students! It's dishonorable to the school."
"I... I... wa... was just checking my skills," Luvin cried.
"Did you give him permission?" Pate asked Anton.
"No," Anton said sadly. Even if he and Luvin had been friends he wouldn't have lied to protect the thief.
The staff started to advance towards the pair but Rayjen held them back and signaled for them to sit down. He alone stood, but did not move to intervene.
"What else have you taken?" Pate asked.
"Nothing! Nothing at all," Luvin said desperately as he looked for help. "I have nothing else," he said honestly.
"Maybe we should cut you open to find out," Pate howled and moved the point of his sword to touch Luvin's chest.
"No," Gallif shouted. As all eyes turned to her she slowly stood and walked up to join them. Without armor or weapons she was no match for the fighter yet she stood directly between Luvin and Pate and glared at him.
Finella again started to rise from the staff table but Rayjen waved him back.
"He's done nothing but take a test of his skills."
"Students do not steal from students. It's against the rules and a dishonor to Rayjen."
"Rayjen's honor isn't harmed by Luvin's actions or he wouldn't be training thieves. Besides, he wasn't stealing he was putting it back. I found it on the grounds last evening and he was returning it to Anton at my request." Pate's right hand was still on Luvin but his left guided the sword ever so slightly to Gallif. "He is only guilty of an error in judgement by not openly returning it," she continued.
"I had several coins disappear from my room a few days ago," Pate informed her not stepping down. "Did you take them?" he asked Luvin.
"No," Luvin said. Though he was being honest there was still more than a little fear in his voice.
"I believe it is within my rights to search him," Pate said and shook his sword.
Gallif glanced briefly at Pate's stance to determine the move he, or she, could take first if it went to combat. As with all armor in the land the left arm was kept bare as a mark of respect for the Giant Lords. It was open to attack, but she doubted that she could take advantage of it with his sword also in his left hand. She glanced at the way he had rested his weight on his right leg and caught sight of stretched, almost torn, fabric by his knee. She relaxed and held her ground.
"Yes," Gallif admitted, "it is. It is also in my rights to stop you."
"You think you could?"
"Probably not," she said as she opened her arms wide and exposed herself to him. "I'm still wearing bed clothes and you have a weapon and magical armor. However, if you want a real test of combat skills I will take the challenge."
He looked at her in pure anger and took a deep breath. "Yes, you will."
She nodded and Pate slowly sheathed his sword and went back to his meal. As those still in the cafeteria returned to their breakfast Gallif walked out.
***
Once in her room Gallif cleaned and started to dress in her own leather armor. There had been some wear on the left knee over the past few weeks of forest training and she was careful not to damage it any further. She added a dark, hard leather skirt made up of studded straps before a top that went up to her neck but left her shoulders and arms bare. She extended her legs and slid them in to thick knee high boots, a small dagger was stashed in the left boot, and was pulling the straps tight when there was a tap at the door.
"Come in, Luvin," she said without looking up. The door opened slowly and when she did look up she realized she had guessed wrong. Finella entered and smiled to her as she quickly stood up.
"Not exactly your young friend, but I assume I am welcome."
"Of course, sir, I'm sorry."
"It's okay, Gallif. You may finish with your preparations, of course."
She nodded and sat down to finish the boot. The leather straps and metal buckles were very complicated to tighten properly. She looked at the cloth shoes that Finella was wearing and said, "I mistook the lighter footstep of your shoes as his smaller steps."
"Yes, easily done," he said as he closed the door behind him. "Plus, you could assume he was here to thank you for protecting him. It was very polite of you to have taken him into your protection."
"He's only fifteen. Still young and sometimes foolish. I was that way when I was his age."
"No. You were his age when you arrived here two years ago and, even then, you were much more mature than he is now."
Gallif stood and strapped a sheathed knife to her right thigh. "I had to be," she said without looking at him.
"Yes," Finella agreed. "You are also smart enough now to leave." She ignored the comment and straightened the straps on her boots again. "You opened yourself to Pate even though there was no way you could defeat him in combat."
"He was faking it with his armor," Gallif told him and Finella nodded with approval of her. "There were some wear marks by his knee just like mine," she pointed to the damage. "If it were truly magical armor it would have repaired itself for protection. Whatever kind of casting he has used on it is not combat. Illusion casting, maybe, but not combat."
"Very good," Finella patted her on the shoulder. "You didn't have to fight him in combat because you already defeated him using your mind."
"Some would say, with Pate, that doesn't take much." She smiled for a brief moment then looked at him without expression on her face. "You think I am ready?"
"I know you are." He approached her and put his hands on her shoulders. "I've spoken with Rayjen about this at length and this morning you proved our beliefs. We can't teach you anymore."
"I have felt like I was ready," she admitted. "But sometimes I thought I was just being overly confident."
Finella gave a hearty laugh and stood back. "As a ranger you will need to be confident. Dealing with the nature of the forest requires confidence."
Gallif went to a small closet and pulled her belt and sheath from a hook inside. She tightened it around her waist and added her short sword before turning back. "When will the final test be?"
"Tomorrow. Rayjen, myself, and some of the others will prepare a few tests in the forest for you."
"Does anyone else know?"
"No," he shook his head. "I think you should tell them. You will have to tell Luvin."
Gallif's heart sank for a moment as she realized that he would be hurt by her departure. "I'll take him to Atrexia today and tell him there in private."
"Of course," Finella said and opened the door.
Gallif opened the top drawer on the dresser next to the bed and pulled out a black leather pouch which she hooked to her belt. She then retrieved a red velvet pouch; the one Luvin had tried to steal the night before, and slipped under the leather skirt of the armor. She joined Finella at the door.
"Would you like me to bring you something from the festival?"
"Well," he giggled and patted her on the back. "I do love the little chocolate drops with the strawberries in them."
She gave a hearty laugh and promised him a box when they left the room and locked the door.