Clarity of mind had so seldom come. Mostly fear, always fear. The others in the tribe, at least in appearance, thrived here. There had never been a deserter, no reason to leave; we cultivate the land, others fear us, and we shared what we salvaged. But why was there only fear?
The age of adulthood had reached Zoar, and in the year of Reckoning of all times. She was within the third generation and coming of age, setting her apart for the Trials of the Reckoning. This was a chance for great glory or incredible failure. The new High Priestess would be chosen from those like her; and if she was chosen she would have to face the terror that welled inside her, and if she wasn’t she lived out the rest of her life in shame. She would gladly choose the latter.
There was only one thing that made the situation even more grave. The Seers had been watching and listening, and claimed the days were upon them that had been seen long before. The earth groaned and the sun had turned its gaze from them, since the world had been consumed in Miasma. There would be a shift in the powers and it was believed the girl chosen during that time would lead the Velna out of exile and onto their throne, Queen of Terrae.
Zoar stepped from her tent into a beehive of people and animals milling about. The Miasma clouded her vision outside of thirty paces but the dull noises she had grown so accustomed to reminded her where she was.
Another strange dream left her tired, restless sleep was becoming normal. Standing outside she stretched taking in the light before here remembrance struck her. Today was the first step in the Trials of Reckoning. Combat. She reached back inside her small tent and retrieved a spear her same height and sturdy. The head on the end was deadly sharp and jagged.
She pulled her thick braids and matted hair back, tying it with a cord, and left for the gathering.
Every time the tribe settled, it did so in the exact same formation. Higher ranking towards the center, lesser among the edges. There was always a large void without any tents in the middle. There they built an altar and the High Priestess would protest on behalf of the Velna, to receive the blessing of the great Vald the Empower. The one who is power, and gives it generously to those who serve his ways.
Draw our power from she who is. The Velna mantra.
Zoar arrived on time to find the gathering had been filled to the inner circles. Fresh blood marked the dirt where the Trials would take place, and the altar was placed at the head of the expanse. She approached just as a withered body was being removed from the altar, no other than the sacrifice which wet the dirt now. The High Priestess stood at the altar, wild in every way. Her posture was that of a panther ready to strike, amber eyes almost flickering with unpredictable energy. Blood colored all the way up to her elbows, the same with her two Devotes.
The masses wailed and harped. Those too far back to see stacked onto each others shoulders to get a view of the arena. The High Priestess paced behind the altar.
“Where are my children?!” the High Priestess called out. “Where are those so blessed to the birthright of the Reckoning?”
Zoar and twelve other girls stepped forward into the circle. She pushed the fear out of her mind, she must do this; she was sure something had clenched her stomach twisting and squeezing. She was not unlike those standing around her. Each girl strong and dark. She was fortunate to be one of the few who were considered to have beauty. All young, but no one would ever claim them to be so; hardened and capable even at the age of thirteen.
“Is it not appropriate my children, thirteen girls all at the age of thirteen fighting to unite the twelve under one, a thirteenth tribe?!” the crowd erupted. “The signs are all around us! One who stands before us will truly lead us under Vald’s power onto the throne of the land!”
Each girl had faced another in combat. One had either been killed or forfeited to live as a leper outcast for the rest of their lives within the tribe. Zoar was to be last, making the time seem to carry on forever before her fight. Nerves raw, tense, watching girls fall only to wait herself. The night before she committed herself to the Reckoning. It would not be the first trial that would cast her out, it would be the last.
Her time had come. The last fight ended with one girl pierced through with the spear of another. As her body was pulled out of the arena and the crowds chanted and roared she stepped forward. The girl opposite her was neither friend nor enemy, simply someone without emotion towards. It was fortunate that way, so anger doesn’t cause over zealous attacks and sympathy cause weakness.
They both stood painted with dirt and chalk, spear in hand and battle ready. Sweat had already streaked her body watching those before her so she was accustomed to it. She felt the dirt beneath her padded shoes, and the slight breeze on her skin.
Practice made the spear an extension of the arm. Striking with as much precision and more force than her own hand. Zoar was more than confident with sparring. She found it comforting, it did well to beat back her fears. But, there was never the chance of a corpse being left at the end of either duelists spear.
Her opponent was just as nervous as she was, she was being over aggressive; barring her teeth and pitching this way and that in attempts to unsettle Zoar. But she was unsettled enough, just not by her.
“And the last to face the first trial, commence!”
Zoar knew, those words might as well have been a death sentence for her opponent; because she certainly wasn’t going to die.
The girl leapt forward, spear whizzing past Zoar. She dodged and circled to the left, leading her around. Zoar let her continue her aggression, she would need the edge knowing she was slightly lankier than herself. An advantage in reach was almost a sure sign in an even match of who would win. Another strike, then a slash Zoar batted away.
Zoar thrust her own spear at her, forcing her to dodge away, unable to parry. With her opponent on the defense, Zoar allowed herself to regain calm and keep focus.
Zoar went high, but was deflected. She struck low, but her opponent predicted it. The girl leapt over the low swing and shot forward with her own; Zoar could only guide the shaft upward as the blade sliced the top of her shoulder. With the blade away from vitals, Zoar pushed the pain out of her mind and brought her spear back to strike the girls ankle with the shaft.
They both retreated, assessing their respected wounds. Zoar clenched her teeth and shook off the distraction. Fear would not conquer her here. Seeing an opening her opponent dashed towards her, leaping into the air and striking downward. A brief excitement overtook Zoar, rather than dodge right or left she rolled under the girl. She knew her opponent would have much more limited reach than had she fled the attack.
Now on the other side, Zoar knew that it would take a grievous wound to cause the girl to forfeit without killing her; she shot the spear head into the back of her shoulder of her spear arm twice. Her spear dropped to the ground with a cry as she collapsed to one knee.
The crowed roared with excitement. Awaiting a killing blow like a pack of animals watching the weakest gazelle a quiet came over them. But no such blow came. Zoar walked over to the opposite side of the arena and waited for her opponent to concede. But, she made the mistake of turning her back on the wounded girl.
A scream came from behind her just as Zoar turned to see her nearly to her spear in her good hand overheard. Unable to avoid the blow, Zoar crouched and planted her spear in the ground. Leaning back the girl collided with the head before she would pierce Zoar with her own. Her momentum carried herself over Zoar and into the blood thirsty crowd.
Zoar turned over and picked herself up, favoring her wounded arm. The girl was dead, by her own doing and the fight was over. She removed her spear, leaned down to pack a handful of dirt into her wounded shoulder and stood with the others who won their trial.
Each stood before the altar and the High Priestess. A grim smile twisted the High Priestess’ face as she looked down on each girl like hunter and its prey.
“Well done daughter’s of Velna, you have each achieved entrance into the second trial. Vald has deemed half of those unworthy of the chance. Do not under estimate the trials to come, this was the easiest of each,” the crowd stood captive as she lectured the six.
“One of you even performed in combat twice,” she looked at one of the girls; because of the odd number of girls one had to fight twice, and she won each. “Vald is pleased, and I look forward to seeing what promise you have.”
“Prepare yourself for the second trial by sunset.”
There would be no time to heal, the Velna saw the wounds as a conduit for the power of Vald, a conduit for the lucid awareness of those in the in-between. Tonight would be a trial indeed, Zoar’s fears grew deeper.
She threw herself on my spear, Zoar told herself as she returned to her tent. She pressed through the congratulations only wanting time alone to prepare.