The Red Hand Part 21
by Shane Migliavacca
The Red Hand Part Twenty One: The Long Walk
As our training continues First Tyro watches me. I feel his eyes on me in class, stalking me like prey. I don’t stare back. Instead I watch him out of the corner of my eye. Acting like I don’t know he’s there. I doubt he’d come out and attack me direct. Instead I he’ll try to provoke me somehow. I stop taking my lunch with the other tyros. It feels like running away, but I can’t take the chance he’ll try something there. After the beating I took to return to class Ganor hasn’t given me any problems. I’ve been progressing fairly well. I’d say I was somewhere in the middle of the class. I’m pretty sure he knows about my little feud with First. He hasn’t said anything about it. Just a gut feeling I get.
One morning the old man informs us that we’re in the final stretch of training. Our big test will be coming up in a few days. It’ll be team based. Something to test us as a unit working together. Great with me and First as rivals that should go just fantastically. Before dismissing us for the day Ganor addresses us.
“I have fought many cycles as a warrior. Severing many a Reint. I’ve spent many more training young hatchlings such as you. But this, you will be my final group. I grow too old, too tired. War has come and I believe someone new should train the next group. After your final test I shall take the Long walk to the sea.”
I hear a few surprised gasps from the usually reserved tyros. Long walk to the sea? Is that their version of retirement? Or…or something worse?
After he dismisses us for the day I think about going up to him and asking about what he means, but I don’t. It feels like I’d be intruding. Instead I walk out with Sixth. I decide after a little hesitation to ask her.
“It is when one becomes too old to continue serving or functioning well. They leave. Heading off across the desert towards the Great Sea with only what they wish to take. Their family and friends stand at attention. Watching them go and paying respect to them,” She answers. I can hear a touch of emotion in her voice.
It sounds like suicide. Maybe it is to some extent. Suddenly I wish there was more training ahead of us. I’d been happy to hear it was almost over, but now that means the old bastard will be heading out to what? Die in the desert on some impossible journey?
Sixth decides to join me for lunch today. After I stopped eating with them I found a quiet little ledge overlooking the community area to sit and eat lunch while watching the hustle and bustle of lizard life. I ask Sixth if she’s nervous about or final.
“Yes. Of course.” She says. “Are you not?”
“Yeah. Yes I am. But, I’ll be glad it’s almost over. You have any idea what the test is?”
Sixth shakes her head. “No. It is a closely guarded secret. So we can’t prepare for it.” She takes a bite out of the fruit in her hand. Chewing loudly. “I hope after we can still be friends, no matter the outcome.”
I smile. “Oh, for sure kiddo.”
“Good. I’d like that.” She says. “This is sweet.” She pulls off a piece of the fruit and offers it to me.
“Thanks.” I take it, gulping it down. It certainly is sweet. Sticky as well. I wipe my hands on my pant legs.
“Do you think I could join your clan?” Sixth asks.
I laugh. “I don’t really have a clan.”
“Neither do I… yet.”
“Will they let us make up or own?” I ask.
I’ve never been one for a lot of friends. I never seek them out, but they tend to find me. I wasn’t popular in high school, defiantly a loner type, but I still ended up having a small group of friends. Most of them moved away after school. I stayed, mostly to look after my mom. I didn’t want to leave her all alone in town. I went back to being a loner. And now on a planet of lizards I’ve got a new group of friends. Sometimes I weigh the thought of wanting to go home against missing my friends here. It’s a no win scenario. Either way I’ll lose. Either way my heart will be broken in two.
Two days later I wake up suddenly in the night. A robed figure stands in my door. It holds a staff tipped with a crystal headpiece. The light it gives off casts an eerie blue glow.
“Come with me.” The figure says.
I get up pulling on my clothes in a hurry.
“Where?” I stammer.
“That is not your concern. You only need to follow me.”
He starts walking and I follow. Through the large area to the tunnel leading to us to The Rezar. We enter and my fellow tyros are standing there along with a few more robed figures. Ganor is here as well holding a large round ceramic bowl. A dark liquid sloshes around in it, as he walks towards us.
“Tyros, attend.” Ganor says.
We gather round our instructor. He hands the bowl to First.
“This is your final test, but as is tradition we must drink the Pririth first. It will bind us as warriors.”
First takes a sip. I watch him, wondering if he’d try to slip something into it. But he doesn’t. They pass the bowl around in order till it finally reaches me. I hesitate, it smells like something spoiled in the fridge. I take a sip. A bitter taste burns my tongue and throat. Like swallowing mouthwash. I hand the bowl back to Ganor.
The robed figures step forward with blindfolds. They start slipping them over our eyes.
“You will be led to the testing area. You will have an objective to capture. You must act as a unit to succeed. Failure results in not participating or death.”
Death! What the hell are we getting into? I want to rip the blindfold off and get out of this, but I can’t. I have to stay. See this out. Make sure Sixth makes it through the test. Now totally in the dark somebody takes my arm, leading me out of the room I think. I hear the others walking ahead of me. Where are they taking us? What the hell is the final test?
I squint my eyes as the blindfold comes off. The robed figures stand in front of us along with Ganor. We’re surrounded by large rocks. I look up and see the night sky. Stars shine in the darkness. We’re outside. Just how long we walked and how we got here I’m not sure. Everything after the blindfold is a haze.
Ganor has his staff again. He points over the rocks to our backs.
“That way is your objective. Capture the enemy position and take out any opposition you may face. Do this as a team. The enemy will try to kill you. Respond in kind. Good fortunes my students.” The robed figures hold short swords in their hands. They hand one to each of us.
I look at the rest of the group. My heart feels like it’s going to explode. Is it really enemy soldiers out there? Or just some of our guys pretending? He said they’d try to kill us. That can’t be our guys. I look at Sixth. She looks as terrified as I feel. I catch First’s glance. He nods to me. As if saying. We’ll work together, for now. I never noticed how handsome he is, for a purple lizard man. Whoa, stow those thoughts. We have a test to do, plus he’s only like a year old. Sixteen in lizard though. Still too young anyway.
We make our way around the large rocks. The area is dotted with rocky outcroppings of varying sizes and shapes. The group edges forward slowly, keeping low until we know where our “enemy” is. As we head through the rocks there’s no sign of anything living. Or dead for that matter. Then there silhouetted against the night sky is a single blue lizard, rearing his head up from between some rocks. He sees us and goes for his sword. First moves quickly, cutting him down without hesitation. I look down at the body to make sure, he’s a blue lizard all right. What’s he doing here? So close to home.
From here the area starts to slope downwards. We hide behind the same rocks as the now dead blue lizard. About fifteen to twenty feet ahead of us is a small group of them, our enemy, camped among the rocks in a large clearing. The guy First killed, was a sentry perhaps.
“How do we proceed?” Third Tyro asks in hushed tone.
“We charge them.” Second Tyro answers.
“We don’t know how many there are.” Sixth says. I feel her hand brush against mine. She squeezes it. I nod to her and she smiles.
“Maybe a diversion.” I say.
“We should sneak up on them.” Fourth Tyro says.
“I agree with her.” First says. “We need to divert their attention, pull some of them away camp, so our main force can take it.”
He agrees with me? Damn. Maybe the two of us can start putting our little feud behind us.
We decide to create a diversion. I’ll raise a ruckus drawing their attention to me. While they’re hopefully coming to investigate the rest of the group will take the camp and any stragglers. Mopping up the ones that come for me.
“I’ll stay and help her.” First says, surprising the hell out of me.
“Okay. Thanks.” I say.
Sixth looks at me as the group leaves. “Be safe.”
“You too kid.”
We wait till the group is on their way. I turn to First. “Time to get to work.” We creep forward a little to another group of rocks.
I climb up on one of them. “Hey assholes! Guess who’s in town! I’m coming to dinner! Better hide the breakables!”
I hear surprised chatter from the lizard camp.
“You have quite the mouth on you,” First says.
“Don’t I?” I say. Maybe we will get along after all. I see them coming now. At least four or five of them coming towards me. First is hiding behind the rocks, lying in wait for our soon to be arriving guests.
“Buckle up. Here they come.”
I can’t see Sixth and the others from here. Hope they’re safe.
I stand atop the rock as the lizards reach us. There’s five of them. They look up at me.
“What is it?” One of them says.
“What am I?”
“Kill it!” Another ones says.
“Some guests you are.”
First springs from his hiding place. Getting an easy kill on one of them. I jump down from the rocks, taking on another one. I parry a blow from the blue guy’s sword. Over his shoulder I see First take down another warrior. My enemy comes at me and I knee him in the stomach hard as I can. He doubles over and I run him through. He falls dead to the ground.
Don’t think about it. Survive. Adapt.
The next one comes for me. After a short exchange of parried blows I score a hit, taking him out of the battle. The short sword is fine. But I wish I had my ax or crystal sword for this.
The last of the blue lizards grabs one of his fallen comrades’ swords. For a brief moment he does a commendable job of keeping us both at bay. But finally for him it comes to an end. First lops his head off when he drops his guard.
Two more enemy warriors charge at us. Where did they come from? First takes on one, leaving the other for me.
This one, a female, has a spear. I need to get close to finish her. I pick up a rock with my free hand. I hurl it and of course it misses completely. I grab another as she tries to close in on me. I throw it, this time I smack her in the head, dazing her. I use the chance to get in close and finish it. She dies still dazed from the rock.
Sweating and out of breath I look at First, his enemy dead at his feet. He nods in approval. From the camp comes the sound of celebration. I turn to see if it’s our guys. Hoping to see Sixth is safe. A flicker of light from my side catches my eye. I spin around to see First coming at me with his short sword.
I hear someone scream. “No!”
Sixth leaps out from among the rocks. She collides with First. The two go down fighting. They roll down the incline a little. I rush towards them. Sixth lets out a scream.
Too late. I’m too late.
First rises up. Sixth at his feet holding her stomach.
“Worthless.” First spits.
Without thinking I run him through with my sword. We lock eyes. His handsome face twisted with pain and surprise.
“Go to hell,” I stammer. Unable to contain what’s coming.
Third emerges from the rocks behind me. First’s two cronies Second and Fifth, come racing towards me from below. What are they all doing here?
I let First fall to the ground. My sword still in his gut. I stagger over to Sixth. Dropping to my knees. I cradle her body in my arms. She coughs, spitting out blood. I feel her hand squeeze my arm. She smiles before taking a final gasp of air.
I start to sob. If one of them is here to finish me they’re welcome to. I won’t fight it. The tears run hot down my cheeks as the pain inside starts to feel unbearable.
Then Sixth’s body crumbles into nothingness in my hands.
I lie on cold stone. The blindfold still over my eyes. I pull it off. My eyes burn as the light hits them. We’re lying on the stone floor of The Rezar. In a circle. At the center of the circle Ganor sits cradling his staff. I crawl over to Sixth. Pulling off her blindfold. She stares at the ceiling with glassy, wide, unblinking eyes.
“Wake up kid!” I shake her. “C’mon! Fucking snap out of it!”
Her head just limply tilts back. I ease her to the ground. The others are coming around now. Pulling off their blindfolds. As confused as I am. Except for First. He lies still like Sixth.
I scramble on hands and knees over to his body. I grab him by the head.
His blindfold falls off. His dead eyes look at me.
“Stop. They’re dead. Death in there is as real as it is here.” Ganor says.
I drop him to the cold stone floor.
“She killed them.” Second accuses.
The others grumble in confusion.
“She went mad.” Fifth adds.
I go back to Sixth. Holding her to my chest. I close her eyes. Ganor stands over me.
“Tell me what happened.”
I can’t answer. Mute. I just cry, holding the empty shell that was my friend.
“What are we going to do with her?” Another Tyro asks.
Soon the tyros are arguing as Ganor tries to restore order.
“It was First Tyro.” Third says, hollering over the din of voices. “He tried to kill her.”
The others stop talking.
“Go on.” Ganor tells her.
“Sixth Tyro and I, we thought we saw a couple enemy soldiers trying to flank First and Eleventh. So, we broke off from the group to help them. When we got there, they’d already taken out the enemy soldiers. Eleventh had her back turned and First was moving towards her with his sword. Ready to make a kill. Sixth attacked him. I did not see what happened after that. But I believe he killed Sixth. Eleventh slew him after he’d murdered Sixth.”
There’s more arguing after this them Ganor silences them. He looks down at me. “Is this what happened?”
I can’t form the words, so I only nod my head. He turns his attention to Second and Fifth. “And what did you witness?”
They tell him I killed both in a fit of madness. But Third tells him how they had just got there after the fact. After a long moment of silence. He rules that I was justified in killing First Tyro in self-defense.
He reaches down touching Sixth’s head. “We will help you with your burden.”
Ganor and the other tyros take her, lifting her up over their heads. I stand helping them. We carry her out of The Rezar out in to the large central area. Ganor starts singing as we walk. Soon a crowd forms. We stand holding Sixth’s body over our heads as they lay their hands on her.
Later her body is cremated on a huge bonfire. As a circle is formed around her funeral pyre. They stand there singing. Though I don’t join in the singing, they let me stand with them. After both Ganor and I are presented with her ashes in small ceramic urns. For some time after I sit in the garden. Sixth’s urn next to me. A week later Ganor goes on his Long Walk. A large group is there to see him off. Including me and Third.
As he walks past us he stops in front of me. He holds up the small urn.
“I take her with me to the sea. I believe she’d like that.”
“I think she would too.” I say.
“I have lost many students over my time, but this…”
“Why?” I ask. “Why her?”
“She died saving her friend.” He says before continuing on.
I watch as he walks off into the desert. Carrying that staff of his. I stare for what feels like thousands of years before finally the desert swallows him up.
I survive. I adapt.
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