‘You are the chosen few.’
A hush fell over the crowded meeting hall.
‘Few are taken, even fewer leave.’ An elderly man, who had seen over ninety summers, rose and stepped onto the raised platform facing the gathering. He stood straight and tall surveying the people before him. He was clean-shaven but his hair was long, reaching well below his shoulders, and the charms and talismans woven into it chinked softly in the now quiet room.
He wore the uniform of a Warrior, tight fitting tunic, leggings with crisscrossed thin leather straps and soft supple knee high boots; all black, as was the cloak that hung from his shoulders to below his knees. In his left hand he held the Staff of Knowledge. Covered with intricate carvings, the staff was held by the Grand Master as a sign of office.
He had a Keeper by his side, a tall Warrior with the triple bands of silver around the top of her tunic sleeve. She would guard him with her life.
Generations of crafts people had toiled with rock and wood to depict the Warrior legends in the friezes that followed the curved wall behind where the Grand Master stood.
Tiers of seating rose towards the back of the room, full now with students and their masters. Two sets of doors loomed either side of the hall, their height and width dwarfing the humans within.
Smoke curled upwards from the firebrands lighting the meeting hall, filling the room with a bluish haze. The light did not penetrate the gloom of the vaulted ceiling nearly three stories above.
Mis’ka sat at the front with the other first year novices. They had arrived that day, the new intake, sent in their seventh summer to learn the art of Warrior. They had spent the day being shown where to sleep, where to eat, where to perform their morning ablutions, where their classes were and who would train them.
They had been issued with uniforms, blankets, a sleeping pallet, a personal hygiene kit and a list of duties they would need to perform as part of their training.
Then the Master of the Keep had ordered that their heads be shaved in a symbolic gesture to begin their new life.
Mis’ka had watched her dark locks fall in curls to the stone floor.
Now, nearing the end of the day, a meeting had been called. Mis’ka lost all sense of tiredness as she listened to the Grand Master. She felt a surge of pride and her green eyes glowed. She was one of the chosen! In this, her seventh summer, she would begin to learn the ways of the Warrior.
The Grand Master leaned forward and gazed intently at the gathering.
‘You are Warrior; your lives are here.’ He stabbed a finger in the air directly in front of him. ‘Remember this, you will only return to your mother’s arms with the spirit Gods.’
A trickle of fear ran down Mis’ka’s spine for she knew now that only in death would she return to her village.
‘So let this be your first lesson: Fear is not your master. You are the master of your fear.’
The force of the wind buffeted Mis’ka as she stepped close to the edge of the escarpment. The thinner atmosphere of the moon-planet made the rays more intense and the valley below baked in the harsh sun. The parched red earth shimmered with mirages and false hope of water. Dark clouds, gathering near the horizon, heralded the start of an ion storm.
For two days Mis’ka had survived the inhospitable environs of the moon-planet, Asner major.
‘Now what?’ she asked, green eyes narrowed against the glare.
A small shuttlecraft dropped from the sky and veered straight towards Mis’ka, the only noise that of the wind sheer against the hull. Smoke billowed from its starboard engine but its port engine was gone; twisted metal and burnt wiring was all that remained. The hull of the vehicle was pockmarked from laser blasts, the blackened spots clearly visible but the insignia on the side and underbelly were unreadable.
It rocked to and fro and Mis’ka prepared to dive to the ground if it came too close. But it lifted slightly at the last second and swerved over her head, air rushing past.
The shuttlecraft dipped and weaved then disappeared behind a rocky outcrop a few klicks across the escarpment’s plateau. A loud explosion followed and black smoke billowed upwards.
Mis’ka’s natural sense of curiosity made her want to investigate but her Warrior training made her hesitate. Was this part of the test? Would she fail if she went or fail if she ignored it? Either way, ultimately Mis’ka’s curiosity won. It wouldn’t be the first time in her fourteen summers it had gotten her into trouble.
She doubted if it would be the last.
As the wind increased, her long brown hair flew into her face, the charms woven into its tresses tinkling together. She took a moment to check her water canteen was attached to her belt and her knife was strapped to her right thigh. Beneath her fingers she could feel the thin leather straps that laced crisscross fashion up her thighs to prevent the material of her leggings from flapping. Her knee high boots were dirty and scuffed from walking in the harsh, dusty conditions. Like all Warriors, Mis’ka was dressed entirely in black.
Her cloak was tied in a bundle with a thin leather strap, her mini-pad and remaining flavion jerky pieces inside. She slung this over her shoulder and set out to investigate the crash but it soon become apparent that the rapid approach of the storm meant that she’d need to find shelter first.
The ambush came hard and fast. There was little warning before the three army grunt soldiers surrounded her. Dressed in the drab khaki green all grunts wore, they looked dirty and unkempt. If they were deserters they would be willing to do anything to survive and killing a Warrior could bring them credits far above their soldiers pay.
Within a heartbeat Mis’ka had flung off her cloak and snatched her knife from its sheath on her thigh.
Two of the soldiers were unarmed but one carried a small hand laser. Sand and debris whipped up around them as the storm approached. The wind flicked her hair into her eyes, momentarily blinding her. Taking advantage, the soldiers attacked simultaneously, knocking the knife from her hand.
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