Chapter 1- Voyagers
My mother's finger's laced through my long blonde hair as she braided it down my back.
“Are you ready for your first day at Voyagers?” she asked. “You must be happy to have been able to skip a year.”
At the age of thirteen, everyone chooses their work of origin. I chose the Voyager to they Region 1's citizens from whatever dangers there might be. This year I have moved up two ranks so that I will be a year younger than anyone else. I was excited at first till I realised everyone there would have a chaine. But me. They would all have had their Chaine Ceremony at sixteen last year. I am still waiting for that time to come.
“But I'll be the only one without a chaine this year.”
Swiftstep gave me a light smile. “Not to worry. Just wait a couple of weeks. Then you'll fit in perfectly.”
My mother's chaine was a squirrel. He sat on her shoulder brushing her cheek with its ginger tail. I wondered what my chaine would be.
In two weeks, I would find out.
Ironcatch stepped in the room. His piercing eyes fixed to mine as he said, “Two weeks and the mortal five emotions will be gone. Let's hope the Chaine Ceremony comes quickly.”
I agreed with my father. I hoped it would come quickly too. I wanted anger, sadness, jealously, fear and love ripped from my soul as soon as possible.
Ironcatch's footsteps faded behind me and so did the hiss of his snake chaine.
“And hurry home,” my mother whispered in my ear. “I have something I want to show you when you get back.”
Thousands of bulbs lit the sky and dangled from the rocks outside. This was our sky in the Underworld. It ended where the rocks did and never dimmed till eleven at night. They brightened again in the early hours of the morning.
I walked through parts of the town that the lights couldn't reach as I recalled Ranger's instructions to my new workplace:
Walk past the water fountain.
Walk through the alleyway between the house in front of you.
After a few yards turn left... or did he say turn right?
I looked both ways. On my left there were more, tall thin houses, on my right there were more winding streets. I bit my lip and turned right.
Walk to the top of the street. On your left there is a gate.
I kept walking and looked to my left every few seconds. Before I lost hope, a smile spread as I noticed the tall black gate. Behind it, everything looked deserted but a field of tarnished, fake grass.
There's no key. Climb over the gate.
I frowned as I wrapped my hands around the thin bars of the gate. It rattled slightly as I wedged a foot in and lifted my other foot over the top. I swung my other leg over and jumped, bending my knees so I didn't feel as much of an impact as I hit to ground.
Keep walking forward till you feel the ground raised slightly.
Remembering Ranger's words, I walked forward around thirty yards till I felt the earth rise on my step.
Kneel down and find the edge of the turf. Rip it off.
My nail beds were thick with dirt after digging to find the edge of the turf but I found what I was looking for: the entrance to the Voyagers Union. I had gone through years of training to get to here. I even got here a year earlier than expected.
I pulled the handle of the entrance with both hands and with a pop it came of. I bent down and jumped inside the Voyagers Union. I replaced the door above my head before continuing to step down.
My eyes lit up as the candle light illuminated the circular room. Pillars around the battle ring crawled with green vines so delicate they even looked real. Marble walls were decorated with weapons of silver and gold, glistening in the lights and reflected from the glass ceiling.
My heavy footsteps rang through the room and clicked on the mosaic flooring in the battle ring. Gingerly, I raised a hand to a pillar and felt the crumbly paint fall apart and cling to my fingers.
“You're late,” a voice echoed and I snatched my hand away.
I looked behind and breathed a huge sigh of relief to see Ranger.
“You s-” I stopped myself from saying scared and reminded myself I would be the only one in the whole of this Voyagers union that could be scared for a full two weeks. “I mean, you should have told me you were here when I arrived before.”
The corner of his lips upturned. He stepped out of the shadows, revealing his dark features and big, muscular build. His fox chaine stepped out behind him.
“This place is nice. The Voyager's union sure like to keep hidden.”
"You won't be saying it is nice in a few weeks' time when your blood and sweat is on the floor." Ranger told me, taking a gulp of water from the fountain that was crawling with even more fake greenery.
I ignored him and kept thinking positive.
“And if I were you,” Ranger said, wiping his mouth his his hand. “I would stay out of Princess Redstar's way. She's not happy about the whole coronation thing. She might just kick you out if you get on her nerves.”
Princess Redstar was getting crowned queen of Region one the day I get my chaine. By the sounds of it, she wasn't looking forward to it and would rather her twin sister, Blackstar take the crown. Yet King Steelwing chose Redstar, much to both of their disadvantages.
“She can't kick me out. I still worked to get here like anyone else.”
"She can do anything she wants,” he said, walking to the wall full of axes with his fox happily trotting behind him. “And whether you want to admit it or not, you haven't worked as long as anyone here. Redstar isn't happy about that either. If being commander of Voyagers is not enough to kick you out, she is the daughter of King Steelwing and she is to be Queen soon-" he pointed out, checking the sharpness of an axe's blade with his finger, "- Ouch."
The fox flinched, feeling Ranger's pain. A chaine's connection with a human means they feel their pain too.
Ranger looked down to his hand with his lips pursed. I took his hand to examine the cut on his finger. There was a lot of blood and when it was washed away with water it left a big gash.
"You are the only person I know who could cut yourself with your own blade." I shook my head and removed my knife from my belt to cut a strip of material from my sleeve to wrap it round his finger.
"It's what you get for saying such horrible things." I told him, trying to smile as I tied a knot in the material.
"I only said what was true." Ranger said as he observed the bandage.
"It was karma." I insisted.
"Nope, it was me running my finger along a blade to see how sharp it was."
"And is it sharp?"
"Ask my finger." he said sourly without a hint of humour in his voice.
The corner corner of my lip rose slightly in amusement before turning to the wall of weaponry. There is a lot more choice here than last year. I picked up a sword with a long carved handle at the bottom and a straight sharp blade that was especially thin around the end. Simple and delicate.
Ranger coughed and shook his head.
"What?" I asked, spinning the blade around, watching it glimmer in front of the light.
"That's Redstar's sword. If anyone touches it, they are dead."
I replaced it on the wall and sighed then strolled round the room in circles, looking at the different appliances. Most of them were taken as Ranger pointed out.
"Is there anything that is free for me to use?" I asked hanging the sixth bow and arrow set that I had picked up, on the wall again.
"There is one," Ranger told me, pointing to the other side of the room. "Well it is not just one sword. It is two in one, I guess," he shrugged and pointed to two sheaths that were joined together to make one with the handles of two swords sticking out. I withdrew the left sword. It was long and curved with a glossy black handle. It was neither too heavy nor too light. “They're dual swords.”
"Redstar is picky about who she lets use them. There is a lot of skill in using them and she says 'the technique must be mastered'," he mimicked her voice in a funny high-pitch. "I'll show you."
Picking up the sheath, I realised it has two straps so it is carried on your back. Ranger slides them through my arm and pulls it in place. He reaches for my left hand and places it on the right sword handle.
"Now this sword is for cutting a slicing. It is the lightest of the two," he told me as he reached for my other hand and brought it behind me to touch to other sword's handle. "This one is thicker and heavier. Good for blocking and hitting."
"How do I get them out of here?" I asked trying to pull it out of the sheath behind me.
Ranger smirked. "Try crossing your arms and gently pulling them over your head."
I then did as he instructed and put my left hand on the right sword and my right on the left so my arms were crossed. Gripping them tightly, I pulled up gently and brought them forward. As the swords slid from their sheaths, they made a sharp metallic sound which made me wince slightly.
"I may have to get used to that sound." I said, examining the sword's blades.
"If Redstar even lets you use them for practice sessions."
I ignored him. Redstar couldn't be that stubborn.
After a few minutes, others began to arrive along with their chaines. It wasn't till almost everyone had arrived that I felt like I really didn't belong here. Even Ranger was happily scratching his chaine on the head. Two weeks, I thought. Just wait two weeks.
"That is Redstar." Ranger hissed in my ear, nodding to a female figure stepping into the battle ring. A huge eagle was perched on her shoulder, turning its head around constantly to watch all members of the Voyagers.
As she turned around, I caught a glimpse of her face. She had striking, dark features. Her curly, black hair fell over her shoulders and I could see her dark eyes from where I stood. Redstar wore black boots and a brown leather jacket similar to mine, which I found surprising for a princess. She looked like any other girl.
"She is not big on the whole princess thing," Ranger told me. "She prefers to blend in." -which explains her dress choice.
Redstar walked closer to us to pick her sword from the wall.
"So you are the new class member?" Redstar might not look like a princess or want to be one, yet she spoke in a superior manner. But it was a small price to pay for being here.
"Yes... ma'am." I struggled to get the words out since I was not sure what I was supposed to call her. Ranger, who was standing behind Redstar, was shaking his head vigorously before he buried his head in his hands.
I was desperately racking my brain to think what to say. "I err... said yes."
"Make it more clear next time," she said sternly as she walked back into the middle of the room.
I stepped closer to Ranger and ignored the whispering behind me.
"What was that about?" I asked.
"She likes to be treated equally," Ranger told me. "But it was not the worst thing you could have called her."
"What is the worst thing?" I questioned curiously.
"Princess," Ranger whispered, as if he was trying to keep her from hearing. "She hates it. She hates the idea of being a princess. All she wants to be is normal. Everyone here must call her Redstar or nothing at all."
I wondered what was so bad about being a princess anyway. It sounded pretty good to me.
"So much for not being stubborn." I muttered.
"Everyone, come forward." Redstar's voice could have been heard from miles away, echoing in the battle ring.
All the voyagers shuffled forward and stood around the pillars. Redstar was standing in the middle of the battle ring as she spoke. "Today we will learn about technique in a one on one duel. I know we have been doing a lot of defence and team battles but we have all moved up another level now. There will be real wars, real people to defend, and real places to travel. I am here to make sure you are ready."
Redstar spoke with a trace of eagerness. Like the idea of fighting and danger appealed to her so much that it made her almost... excited. Excitement wasn't one of the mortal five but it wasn't looked fondly upon.
She placed her sword in front of her to show everyone.
"Remember to have your sword ready before the fight. A single second could be the difference between you keeping your arm or losing it. Also remember to remain calm. If you are tense, you cannot move as fast,” she swung her blade around and turned to face the side of the ring in which I was standing so she could look right through me. “Remember to keep your balance. Do not spread feet too far apart and do not bring them close together. Keep your back straight and chest slightly forward. Do not charge at your opponent, a sword duel is a wistful connection between two people, not a reckless game." she eyed me carefully before facing away.
I could feel the anticipation of everyone in the room rising to the ceiling.
“First,” she purred, looking slowly around the room. “I need two volunteers.”
"Oh no." Ranger said beside me.
"What?" I whispered, still looking directly at Redstar.
"She always chooses the new members."
I snapped my head round to look at him to see if he was joking. But he wasn't.
"Drifter," I turned around again and saw Redstar in front of me. "Since you think it is okay to talk while I am, you can be our first participant." she shot me an innocent look but I knew it was only to insult me.
Sighing, I stepped forward into the middle of the room with the mosaic flooring beneath me. I looked up at the huge dome shape ceiling that was letting the harsh light through. The brightness and the emptiness of the battle ring made me feel like I was put in the spotlight. Everything seemed to turn slightly colder as a frosty breeze swept across my face and ruffled my silver hair.
"Anyone else want to volunteer?" Redstar flashed a humourless glance at a crowd of giggling girls. Their faces dropped. "No one?" she paused. "In that case, Wings. You're up."
A girl, at least a year older than me, stepped forward with a sly expression that covered her face. Her glossy black hair went down to her waist, shaping her thin pale face. Wings' legs were long and slender under her black shorts as were her arms covered in oversized sleeves.
As we came level to each other I noted that she was taller than me by an inch or two and judging by how light on her feet she was, Wings would be fast too. Maybe faster than I was.
Confused, I looked at her waist but there was no sword or gun. Looking behind her I noticed that there was no bow and arrow either. She held no axe, no spear or any other weapon that I could see. Was she using close combat?
"Now for the rules," Redstar said, scraping a chair along the floor to the side of the battle ring. "Number one: You cannot touch each other or there is a forfeit-"
"But she has no weapon-" I objected.
"You are talking. I am talking. Cannot have it both ways so shut up-"
Well what was I meant to do? Wings would have to take forfeit if she touched me. I try to help and I get humiliated in front of everyone. Again.
I flared my nostrils and turned away.
"Number two," Redstar continued as she placed herself on the chair. "The first person to draw blood of their opponent wins." Redstar paused. "And number three: The person that loses does not come back to Voyagers."
Snapping in a sharp breath I realised I could not lose. I suppose the whole point of this was for Redstar to see if I was worth it.
Wings grinned widely. It was a horrible smile. It was her way of saying I was going to never coming back here again. And another way to say she did not care about the rules.
"You may start."
Without thinking, I immediately put my right foot forward and grabbed the swords behind me to pull them over my head. Could I really let myself take Wings' chance of ever coming back to Voyagers away? I worked hard to get here, and so she would have.
Before I even took a step forward, Wings quickly through her arm out at me. I quickly spun to the side and caught a glimpse of something small and silver fly past my face. It made a slight cracking sound as it hit the wall behind where the group of people had parted. I made out the item to be tiny little dagger lodged into the wall. So that was why her sleeves were so big.
Without another thought, I stepped forward to attack but Wings threw another dagger that I had to repel with my sword. The handle of the left sword seemed to work well as a deflector. I tried to catch her in an upwards motion of Swift but she threw a dagger that caught my jacket and leaped a few steps away from me, out of the reach of my blade.
She was good. Really good.
Wings threw another dagger that I had to duck to avoid but as I got back up I heard it soaring threw the air behind me again. I turned around to see the dagger hurling towards my face. Leaning backwards, I just missed it and lost seconds trying to regain balance. What kind of dagger was that? It was like a boomerang.
I lunged forward and brought my right hand down firmly but Wings dodged it by balancing on one hand then going to land on two feet. I then lay the tip of the blade on the floor before her feet touched it. Wings' quick legs could not lift up high enough for her to miss the blade.
She stumbled slightly then tripped over her other foot. I could feel the air brush my cheek as one of her daggers shot past my face but she was off balance and even without my late reaction, the dagger would still have passed without a mark on me. I placed Shatter in the sheath and put Swift at Wings' throat.
I looked into Wings' black eyes for a second as I tried to catch my breath.
"Hurry up," Redstar asked. "She has to bleed first you idiot."
Victory was within my reach as I placed the tip of the sword on her pale flesh, I got ready to slash but something stopped me. Could I really do this to someone? Where could Wings go after this?
"No," I shook my head and placed the sword in its sheath. "All of us here have worked hard to get here. I am not throwing all of Wings' work away."
Redstar pursed her lips and looked at the swords I carried. She stood up from the chair and walked towards me.
"First of all, they are not your swords to take. Second of all, you have disobeyed direct orders from me and third, you have not worked twice as hard as any of these people. You should be in a lower rank at your age but you think you are good enough to be here with us that have worked an year."
I felt my cheeks grow warm.
"You are dismissed." Redstar said plainly.
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