The Red Hand Part 18
by Shane MIgliavacca
The Red Hand Part Eighteen The Bleeding Ground
The war. It’s not what I expected, that’s for sure. Over the next few weeks The Reint sends small squads of warriors on raids against outlying enemy outposts. The blue lizards aren’t the only enemy in this, there’s the orange ones I glimpsed in the city along with red ones, all working together. It’s something they’ve feared for a long time. After the purple lizards were kicked out of Kuma Torth it was assumed the other races went their separate ways. From what info they could gather, they did. For a while, until something or somebody united them. Known as The Rangar Imperium, their true power is unknown. He tells me the info gathered has been sketchy. When I ask how they came about this info I’m told it’s better not to know. Other attacks have been carried out against the supply convoys to Kuma Torth. The Reint wants to cut off the forces in the city. I don’t know anything about the forces they have but this is probably the wisest course of action.
Since returning from my second visit to Kuma Torth I’ve returned to my training with Maebh and Tenth. Ninth has started taking part in my training too. I’ve been sparring with both of them. Plus they’ve been putting on matches for me to watch and learn from. I spend most of my free time outside with Wolfie. The caves feel insanely cramped sometimes. It’s nice to feel the cool night air on my face. The rest I spend sleeping or hanging out in Maebh’s quarters. I’m fairly certain she’s kept the whole Red Hand thing between the two of us and maybe Hallie. I want to confront her about it but I can’t bring myself to say the words. Maybe she doesn’t trust The Reint.
At night the images of what I did in the city assault my dreams. I see Nizai and the lizard warrior I killed. I think sitting here in the caves waiting is driving me nuts. Maybe if I did something. Took my mind of it. Ninth and Tenth have both been on a few of the raids. Seventh as well. I’m tempted to ask them to take me along, I’m pretty sure what the answer will be though. No.
I’ve only seen Seventh a couple of times since we got back. Tenth says he’s staying at one of the other cave settlement. The settlements are called Tolkas. I’d foolishly believed this one was the only one. According to Tenth there are as many as twenty of them. Scattered about the desert. She’s been to a couple of them on her scouting missions in the past. They’re not as big as this one, but pretty formidable all the same. The Reint is the overall leader, but the other settlements are run by subordinates. Part of her duties had been delivering messages to these subordinates, The Kazi. They’re chosen by whoever the acting Reint is. Tenth hasn’t mentioned it, but I think she’s been promoted. A full warrior or something.
Part of my new training now involves climbing. Something I asked for and almost instantly regretted. Tenth and Ninth found a suitable wall in the caves for me to practice on. Out of the way of the community and not too tall where I’ll fall and kill myself. After a day of training my arms feel like they’ve been replaced by lead weights strapped to my body. If it wasn’t for the nightmares I’d sleep the sleep of the dead. When the day is over I collapse on the bed. Every inch of me sore. When I get out of bed in the morning I’m insanely stiff. It takes a few minutes of moving and stretching before I head out for my body to loosen up. Otherwise I walk around like I’m eighty years old. There are some definite benefits all of this. I can see my arms and legs are stronger. Not to mention I’m faster now. I can do more by instinct as well.
When I head to my training this morning Tenth and Ninth are waiting for me. They tell me they think I’m ready. What I’m ready for they don’t tell me. Instead they make me follow them down a winding rock tunnel. It starts to grow narrow and slope downward as we go. I want to ask them what this is all about. But I keep quiet. They want it to be a surprise. I can play along. Little metal lanterns like the one Ninth had hang from the tunnel ceiling. Ahead I can see the tunnels end. I hear a gruff voice barking orders. We emerge from the tunnel into a large underground cavern. An older looking purple lizard stands holding a staff. Sitting at his feet are a group of ten younger looking lizards. He continues on with his lesson despite our presence.
“What is this?” I blurt out a bit confused.
Tenth looks at me. “Serena, little sister. This is where we train the young tyros.”
“Tyros?” I ask.
“Yes. Older hatchlings training to be warriors and scouts.”
“Yes. We feel you are ready to join them.” Ninth says.
“Wait. Just wait. You want me to train with them? But why?”
“We have other duties now. With the war and you are ready for the next step.”
“Next step?” I ask, very confused by my friends’ actions.
“Yes.” Tenth says. “How to act as one. To function as a team.”
The gruff looking older lizard comes over to us. His face just oozes pissed off. His right eye is glassy and white. His hair gray, pulled back in a sort of short ponytail on the top of his head.
“I’m unsure about this.” He says. Not even looking at me. His voice sounds like sandpaper on a rock. “The Reint commands it. So I will obey.” He finally looks at me, scowling. “You say this one killed the great spider?”
“I did. Just ask me.” I say. “Don’t ask them.” A growing anger getting the better of me.
“Did I speak to you pink belly?” He snaps at me.
I swallow hard. Sweat trickles down the small of my back. This guy is going to eat me alive. I look at Tenth.
“Do not fear little sister. You will be fine.” She says. “Ganor trained us. He is a wise teacher and warrior.”
“Isr will be with you.” Ninth tells me.
I watch them leave. A coldness settles in me. A bitterness. Betrayed. That’s how I feel. They just dumped me off here with a bunch of kids and…
This old bastard. “Join the tyros spider slayer.” He says. I can hear the sarcasm crackling in his voice.
With my head down I walk over to the seated tyros. Taking a seat at the very back. A few of them gawk at me and a few others look at me with something bordering on contempt. Ganor stands in front of us. He tells everyone to pay attention. Thankfully all the eyes turn from me and back to him. I watch my new teacher, only half hearing him as the anger in my chest grows stronger. After what I did they leave me here with a bunch of kids? They think I’ll take up with this crap? We’ll just see about that.
As he lectures us on squad formations I look around at the others. They can’t be more then thirteen to sixteen years old. Human wise anyway. Maybe these guys age different. Maybe they age in lizard years. After he finishes his lecture, Ganor tells us to stand. He leads us to a large elevated area. It’s roughly five feet above the ground. Steps lead up both sides and it appears to be made of polished stone.
Ganor taps his staff on the ground. “This is the Rezar. The bleeding ground.” He says proudly. “Here we’ll hold one on one and two on two combat.”
I look at my fellow “students.” This isn’t going to be pretty. They’re young, but they look tough. Their training might be more advanced then what I’ve had so far. I try to stay to the back of the group. A tactic I perfected in high school. Stick to the back of the group and don’t get picked. Unfortunately Ganor isn’t a high school gym teacher with a drinking problem. He points a clawed finger at me.
“Spider slayer. Show these hatchlings what you’ve learned. I need to judge your skills.”
I take a deep breath and step forward. I feel their eyes on me. Boring into me. Gritting my teeth as I walk up the steps into the ring. I can make out faint blood stains on the smooth stone surface. I look back at the others and I wonder who he’s going to choose for me to face. The toughest or meanest no doubt. He looks over his students until finally he points to a young female tyro.
“You. Sixth Tyro Fight our new classmate.”
The girl comes forward. She’s a few inches taller than me and has more muscle. Her hair is black and cut very short. She steps into the ring with no hesitation. Taking her position across from me, she puts her arms up. I do the same. I no more then take my stance and the old bastard smacks the ground with his staff.
“The rules are simple. You fight till one submits, cannot fight anymore or is knocked from the ring.” He looks the both of us over. “Begin!” He barks.
The girl comes at me with a high kick. My natural instinct is to block it, but I’ve learned it’s better to dodge a kick. I sidestep her kick and try a leg sweep. The girl steps over it like nothing. Damn she’s good. This is ridiculous, my friends blindsiding me with this. Guess I’m too much of a bother to train.
Her next move is to try getting me with a palm strike. I just barely parry it. The girl’s fast for her size. She’s also a little off balance after my parry. I don’t have her build. To counter my lack of muscle Tenth taught me to strike with my elbows and knees. I introduce my elbow to the girl’s exposed side. She makes a loud gasp as I knock the air out of her. That felt good. Want to stick me with these kids? I’ll show you how that’ll go. The girl stumbles back. Time to get this over with. I grab the girl’s arm, holding it in a lock. I then sweep her legs out from under her. Introducing her backside to the ground. Holding her arm tight I put my heel on her shoulder, applying pressure. She squirms about making a pained whimper. I can feel the others’ eyes on me. I apply a bit more pressure. She tries to kick out of the hold and fails. This earns her even more pain. Tears start rolling down her cheeks. And then I see her eyes. In them there’s something I’ve never seen in anybody I’ve fought since coming to the damn planet. Terror. I let my grip on her go. The anger gnawing away at my belly turns to shame. It felt good hurting her, making her feel my pain.
I step away from her. All of a sudden I feel sick to my stomach.
“I’m done with this shit!” I spit out.
“You forfeit?” The old bastard asks.
“Damn right I do.” I jump out of the ring. Walking past him and the rest of the class.
“Are you leaving?” He asks.
“I’m done with all of this shit. I never wanted to be here. Be a part of this. Have your little war. I’ll find my own way home.”
Ganor taps his staff on the ground again. “Coward. You’ve taught them a valuable lesson today. How to quit. For that I thank you.”
I keep walking. Daring not to look back.
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