The child finally has been installed by his master into the place he is deemed to fit. He quickly acclimates to the new situation, and is not left long to wonder what exactly is expected of him now. Being the obedient child he is, he obeys only those he has been told to, and ignores everyone else. Because of this, his master takes him to his first day of training. And, what a day it is!
“Vergol smiled then – a cold smile, revealing his enjoyment of the children’s discomfort. When the wails ceased, he nodded and then turned his full attention to the children again. “Young you are yet, but enduring you can be. Run. Run as if your very lives depended on it. For they do. The last one across the thread when ordered to stop shall be dinner.”
The older, more experienced ones did not wait for any further explanation, but took off from a dead stop to a full bolt, their focus reflecting their fear. The child who had been punished left with the last five to start, following the others, as where he was to run had been left vague. Vergol watched the children, evaluating each one present according to their castes. The Steels, bred from known champions and wearing solid bands of the metal without any visible seams, were expected to show the greatest potential. These young fighters carried the expectations of their Owners or Runners to become champions in their own right. The single Silk – a child of unknown or unexceptional parentage showing unusual abilities already, wore a band of silk spun by Her Children that reacted with normal body heat to form a corrosive, acid-like substance. He was expected to show some unusual potential. However, expectations for a long life for him in the Sands were low. There were no Locks – those children bred from unremarkable fathers and wore cheap, hinged collars with a heavy lock on it. Sometimes Locks were adults who had been sent to the Sands only to feed Her Children, but most often, these slaves were reserved for the Menials. Each child was watched and appraised as they strung out; the oldest and tallest in front, working down through the ages to the youngest and shortest in the back. Surprisingly, Gartal’s boy child was ahead of his size and age mates, though he seemed to be less fed, and under strength when he had entered the Sands. As the first lap drew to a close, he even drew ahead of two others who were older than him. His strides evened out, his balance adapting to the Sands. Each step was firm, yet springy, and his motion was loose and easy. As he passed, Vergol saw the barely healed mass of wounds on his back, and marveled at his ability to continue without giving in. As he ran lap after grueling lap, his face hardened in concentration even as his breathing grew ragged from the sustained effort of running in the churned and furrowed Sands from the runners ahead of him, and the laps already completed. “
This was just the start to his day. It got worse from there. MUCH worse. After being run until he was continuing on from sheer will, he was then put through an initial meat grinder to determine what type of fighter he was destined to be trained as. This particular child was a small boy – small of build, small of stature, but had more endurance than any considered natural. Such as what is seen here:
“He kept the children working at their unarmed work until even the most conditioned of the older ones were lagging so much that even Silk enhanced cuffs were no longer effective. Finally, he called them back to attention, and the children gratefully sagged into the proper stance, their chests heaving, their limbs quivering. Even the hardiest of them were grateful at this time for the respite from the constant movement. They had been pushed to their limits for the last four glass, still not having received a meal from the prior waking period, and the lack of food was beginning to be felt by all.
“Walk two laps, then return to me to receive your meal, and a drink.” he called, looking toward the hall where several Menials were standing holding large trays with the children’s meal. As the children staggered off, he waved the tray bearers closer, and then turned to watch his current crop, estimating what each would need for a bare essential to continue work. When the trays arrived, and he had finished his evaluation, he turned, and began portioning out the smallish hunk of preserved meat to individual plates, adding even smaller chunks of the coarse black bread made with weevil infested rye flour, beans, and other unsavory additions. He did not dip out the drinks yet, as the trays were stacked two deep in plates with the completion of the first task. As the children arrived for their meals, he doled out the plates as a miser would dole out copper from their hand to a beggar. He ensured that everyone was looking, and could see the size portion given to the one ahead of them.
Those who were familiar with the routine took what was handed them dully before turning away to sink down by their pells and begin stolidly eating their way through the portion allowed them. Those unfamiliar showed their disappointment or amazement in the portion sizes when they received their plates, lingering by the head of the line until Vergol looked at them threateningly. Then they moved off quickly as he reached a hand as if to take some away. They flopped where they could in no particular order, sitting ungracefully in the Sands to begin working on their own measly portions. When it seemed all were served, Vergol reached towards the mugs to begin distributing the drinks, but found one plate remaining. Surprised, he looked around, counting heads, and saw Gartal’s boy by the pells, repeating several of the moves he had been shown, and had been having particular trouble with. Amazed, he walked over, and tapped the boy on the shoulder to get his attention. Immediately defensive, the boy reached up and locked the thumb of the hand that had touched him, and twisted violently. More in surprise than pain, Vergol dropped to a knee, his other hand coming up to reverse the thumb lock, but the boy released and stepped back. His eyes snapping into focus, then down when he saw who was before him. His face reflecting his consternation at his own action, his eyes showed his fear. The first emotion anyone had ever seen the boy show.
Vergol rose to his feet gracefully, not acknowledging the almost dislocated thumb joint, and looked him over carefully. The boy was on his feet by some unnatural act of will. If he was reading the muscle quivers correctly, and the ragged breathing, this boy should have been prone on the Sands many glass ago. But something, some inner drive, was keeping him standing, and Vergol determined to himself he would find this drive and break it. ”
As the child’s training progressed, his trainer sought to break his spirit and his determination. Because he was a lower “caste” than the other children, less was expected of him, but more was demanded. He survived the day, and was only too happy to return to the darkness that he considered natural at the end of the first day in this phase of his young life.
“The indeterminate effort of making his feet and body obey him while he was on the soft sand had taken its toll on the limited reserves he had, and though he did not know it, the pain still searing into his neck from his collar was also adding to his exhaustion. An exhaustion he did not even realize he was experiencing. He only knew that he still had more to do. His master would order him to action, and he knew that he would have to obey, such was the creed he had learned so well, and had reinforced again and again in the training just past. When his master turned away from his inspection, and ordered him to follow, he stepped off, fighting to keep his pace even, to show a strength that he did not have, hoping he could prove to himself that he could do whatever was asked of him. As he stepped forward, his legs betrayed him as his knees tried to give way. He forced them to hold his slight weight, but the heavy, off tempo tread had not gone unnoticed by either of the two adults who were watching him.
Unsteadily, he followed his master back to his cell, and was instructed to rest well that night, and to follow the slave that came in the morning to bring him back to the Arena. Dully, he nodded, not fully understanding what “night” was, nor that the routine he had faced so bravely today would be repeated for the rest of his foreseeable life.”
Until next time … keep those pages turning!
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