"Papa, please don't leave!"
Anna ran into her father's embrace and buried her face in his uniform. It was warm.
Her hair fluttered in the chill, morning wind. Dawn broke in the distant hills, setting the sky to a cold, blue gradient.
"Little Mistress, you mustn't. You have to send your father off with a smile." Said Maria, the family maid.
"Anna, it's okay. Your father is fighting for our country. He will bring more pride to this family. When he comes back, he will tell you lots and lots of stories about his adventures."
"Really?" Anna turned towards her mother with teary eyes.
Her father stayed silent and looked down at the ground. Then he crouched down on one knee and gently patted Anna's head. She could hear the clanking of the rows of medals decorated on her father's uniform.
"Anna, I have a gift for you." He took a black box out of his bag and handed it to Anna. It looked secure and made with high quality. Whatever it holds must be important.
Anna wiped off the tears on her face and took the box with both hands.
"What is it?"
Anna unhooked the two latches and slowly lifted up the lid. There it was, lying in the middle of the thick, soft protective foam. It was plated with gleaming gold, like the color of her hair, and engraved with exquisite rose patterns. The handle was made of rich, dark wood.
"A pistol?" Anna said as her eyes were glued onto this art piece of a gun.
"Yes. Anna, you are still a child. When you grow up, you will see the dark sides of this world. At times when your mom and I are not by your side, you can rely on this little guy. Its name is The Golden Rose. It's a weapon beautiful as it is deadly, just like your mother-"
"Sean." Her mother pouted.
Anna's father chuckled and continued.
"And just like how I want you to be, Anna."
"So, are you going to leave now?" Anna looked up from the gun.
"Yes. But I promise I will come back." He said as he avoided looking into Anna's teary eyes.
"Ok, I will be waiting for you, Papa!"
After one last round of goodbyes, Anna's father's figure disappeared into the sunrise.
He couldn't keep his promise.
Ten years later.
"Anna! Anna! What are you doing? Oh, spaced out again? Come on! Class is about to start!"
"What are you talking about, Will? We still have 5 minutes left." Anna said after she snapped out of her thoughts.
She was staring into the Golden Rose she was holding in her hands. The war that had taken her father away from her a decade ago is still raging on with no signs of an end. Anna was 7 when she saw her father for the last time, but the Golden Rose has been reminding her of that day every time she looks at it. Once again, she was reminiscing in the middle of the schoolyard.
"Did you not eat breakfast this morning? We have hand-to-hand combat next. The gym is all the way on the other side of the school!" Will was almost yelling.
"Oh shit! That's right! Oh no, if we are late, Mr.Grey is going to be after our asses again!" Anna shot up from the bench.
"I've told you so many times, a girl shouldn't say something like that." Will facepalmed and sighed.
"Who cares about that? Anyways, we really gotta go!"
Anna reached to grab Will's hand. To her notice, he jolted a little but didn't resist. Anna started running and dragged Will behind her.
"Anna… I-I think I can run by myself." Will's voice suddenly became quiet.
"Yeah, but you know you wouldn't be able to catch up with me!" Anna turned around with a smile and noticed Will's blushed face. She chuckled and continued running.
A few days after Anna's father left, Will found her moping around a park and cheered her up. They have been good friends ever since. Anna's housemaids didn't like Will as he was from a poor family, but her mom had no problem with them being together. Every day they would meet at the park they first met at and talk for hours. Anna knows that Will has feelings for her, but she only sees him as a friend. While she wouldn't mind being something more, she wanted Will to take the initiative.
They sprinted up the stairs and through the empty hallways. Will was starting to slow down.
"Oh! There's the door! How much time do we have left?" Anna asked.
"L-Let-Let me see. We still have a minute left." Will said between pants.
"Perfect. Just on time!" Anna slammed the door open and yelled, "Present!" Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing and looked at them. After a silent pause, they started whispering among themselves.
The gym was huge. It was divided into multiple sections. Above the balconies on the side hung rows and rows of banners proving their countless victories in country-wide competitions.
"What are they talking about?" Anna was confused.
"A-Anna, p-please let go." Will's quiet voice came from behind.
Anna had forgotten that they were still holding hands. When she turned around, she saw Will with sweat dripping down his face, flustered like a tomato, and was desperately gasping for air.
"Oh! Oops, sorry about that." Anna pulled her hand away and Will collapsed onto the floor.
"SILENCE!" A booming voice echoed through the closed gym and all the whispering stopped at once.
A middle-aged man walked into the center of the room. He was their instructor, Mr.Grey.
"Today, we are starting the disarming techniques unit. When you encounter someone at an advantage with a weapon, you need to know how to turn the tables around. As usual, Anna,"
"Yes, Sir!" Anna responded with a clear voice and a salute.
"You will help me demonstrate a couple of techniques. After that, I will give everybody the rest of the class to practice. If you have any questions, come to either Anna or me."
"Yes Sir!" A collective, crisp chant and synced stomps came from the class.
There were no novices in that class. The world Anna lives in is constantly plagued by war, advanced in nothing but warfare. Every country has vastly different ideals and conflict occurs like rain. Anna lives in one of the biggest countries, Gladakia, governed by meritocracy. In this country, the more you contribute to fighting, the more successful you become. Anna's parents met in the Navy's secret forces. They were both feared and renowned warriors.
Her mother is known throughout the world for her beauty and lethality, codenamed The Battle Queen. She specialized in black op assaults and single-handedly wiped out multiple enemy camps. Anna's father is known for his cunningness and exceptional marksmanship codenamed The Silent Devil. He specialized in infiltrations. Because of his ability to hit targets with extreme precision at great distances, the bullet reaches the target before they can hear anything. Entire camps can be lost in a single night to him without the enemy's HQ even being alerted.
After Anna's mother became pregnant with Anna's older brother, she and her husband were discharged with honors. After she left the front lines, they opened up a weapon manufacturing plant with the massive amounts of money they received from their accomplishments and continued to contribute to the war. Needless to say, Anna's family is valued greatly by the military and the government. Will, on the other hand, comes from a family of small farmers. He is often discriminated against because of his background, and Anna never hesitated once to stand up for him. Maybe that was the reason Will fell for her, or it could be her golden hair and otherworldly beauty. Will himself isn't bad-looking at all. He has bright red hair like fire. If he properly groomed himself, he could be looking like a prince, but because of his financial situation, he couldn't afford to do that.
The school Anna and Will attend are the Gladakia National Military Academy, the most prestigious in the country. Will only got in thanks to his gifted mind. He has great talent in military strategies. Anna doesn't really specialize in anything, but rather, she excels at everything. Born from two of the greatest special operators in the country, she has been trained relentlessly at a young age. Fluent in almost every type of operation, she exceeds a seasoned master sergeant in every possible area at age 17.
"Great. Now that Anna has shown you guys what to do, find a partner and start practicing."
The students broke formation and started walking around. As usual, a bunch of boys flocked around Anna like birds.
"Anna, you were so amazing!"
"Anna, can you show me again?"
"Anna, be my partner."
Anna accepted the reasonable requests and kindly rejected those that were not. She looked past the thick crowd trying to find Will. She saw Will talking with Emily, a shy girl in her class that clearly had a crush on him. Will, obtuse as always, is oblivious to Emily's feelings. It seemed like Emily was asking Will to be her partner, and Will accepted. Anna didn't feel a shred of jealousy. In fact, she was kind of happy for Will. She held no romantic interest in Will and saw him as something more akin to a brother.
After a while of practicing, the bell rang.
"Everybody, good work today. Tomorrow, we will continue with more disarming techniques. Class, you are dismissed."
"Yes, Sir!" Once again, the collective salute echoed around the room.
Anna dropped her rigid military act and skipped towards Will and Emily.
"Hey, how did you guys do?" Anna asked as she took a quick glance at the two.
They were both exhausted, even though it was not particularly physically intensive training. Emily was similar to Will in the respect that she relies on her mind more than strength. However, she is the daughter of a high-ranking chief warrant officer, so she had a privileged upbringing, like Anna. Emily was short. She had long, silky black hair extending to her waist. She was quite good-looking, but miles away from Anna's breathtaking beauty when she dresses up, which she basically never does. While Emily was friends with Will, she was somewhat intimidated by Anna, so the two girls haven't had much interaction.
"I think we improved a lot, Miss Anna." Will wiped off the sweat on his forehead and smiled forcefully.
"Oh, come on. Don't call me that. I didn't teach anything. It was all Mr.Grey." Anna smiled back and wondered why Will was being awkward.
"Really? More people went to you for help than our actual teacher." Will was starting to get a little frustrated.
"Ah, that's what you are on about? Are you perhaps jealous?" Anna teased Will.
"W-What? O-Of course not." Will was getting flustered.
Anna noticed the visible displease on Emily's face. She went to her, wrapped her arm around her shoulders, and turned away from Will.
"It's okay, Emily. I won't take Will away from you. But you have to work harder, too." Anna whispered into Emily's ears.
"Wha-?" Emily started glowing red ear to ear.
Anna chuckled and turned Emily around and pushed her towards Will.
"Anyways, I have to go to the weaponsmith's office for a routine check-up. You guys go on ahead to the next class. I will catch up later." Anna said as she turned around and left the flustered couple standing in awkward silence.