I woke up with the feeling of eyes crawling over me. Brant seemed to be asleep still. I tried to look around without alerting anyone that might be out there that I was awake. From the corner of my eye, I caught movement between the trees. For a couple of minutes there was nothing. I decided that there could not be more than one person out there, or possibly, that it was only my imagination. I stood up as quietly as possible and with Sunder in hand walked around. I did not see anything so turned to walk back to camp. Markai was awake and sitting up, but she had not moved.
The slightest rustle of leaves behind me gave me warning and I spun around, swinging Sunder in a tight arc. Steel connected with steel. My attacker took a step back. I sighed with relief. It was Master Boryka. “You scared….” I did not have a chance to finish what I was saying, because he was launching another attack.
I defended furiously. Without having to think about it, my body moved between the forms of the Shea-Rin. I moved from defensive to offensive stances. I did not even get a chance to wonder why he had attacked me in such a way. I needed all of my focus, all of my strength to stay one step ahead of him.
I flowed into Navitas. The sword became part of me. He managed to push me back by a step occasionally, but I was driving him back three for each of my one. I was only dimly aware of the sweat trickling down my spine and the blue mist swirling about my sword.
Suddenly he twirled and sliced towards me from the right. I managed to block him, just, but he pushed me off balance. Immediately he attacked again. It was all I could do to jump back. The tip of his sword brushed against my stomach. It was only a light touch, but I could feel warm blood trickling down my front.
I redoubled my efforts. I was sure now that I was fighting for my life. I looked for any opportunity, the slightest hesitation from him to find a way in. It was not easy. I was somewhat heartened to see the sweat dripping from his brow. He, however, was not bleeding.
I realised that if I did not do something, he would eventually triumph. My strength was leaching out. I feigned right, but instead of going left, I crouched low and spun, kicking his feet from under him. As he stumbled and fell, I hit his sword with all my might and my Navitas focused on the swing of my sword. It connected solidly sending a judder up my arm and through my shoulder. His sword spun from his hand, landing several feet away.
Stepping on his arm, I lay my sword against his neck, the blue mist swirling thickly around the tip of the blade. Abruptly, I was aware of Markai next to me. She told me to stop. It was done. I stepped back from him, but did not sheathe my sword.
He got up slowly with his hands held up in surrender. Bowing, he smiled broadly at me. “Congratulations. You surpassed my expectations. You were truly destined for this.” He straightened from his bow.
Slowly, I sheathed Sunder and bowed to him as well. “I thought you were going to kill me.”
He laughed. “That was the idea. Only when one’s life is threatened do you see the true skill.”
I lifted my shirt, pointedly showing him my wound. “This does not look like pretend blood to me. If I had jumped an instant later, you would have gutted me.”
His smile broadened. “I did not say anything about pretending. You could have died today, but so could I. This is why it is a worthy test. If you could not defeat me, it would have been highly likely that you would not have got very far on your journey.”
I shook my head disbelievingly. “I guess I am lucky to have passed then.”
He nodded. “You have come far in a short time. Today, you must be marked according to what you now are, a LemMestari, Master of the Blade. There have only been a small number of people ever to attain this rank. Training to the required standard usually takes several cycles. The most talented in history, until now that is, was the great Master Jeuch. He became a LemMestari after a mere six months of training. What you have done is unprecedented. It has never been seen before.”
I was taken aback by this. Not really knowing what else to say I responded, “I am honoured.” After a brief pause I asked, “What do you mean I need to be marked?”
His face was resolute. “It must be done. All LemMestari are marked. It is an honour.”
He gestured to a flat stone next to me. “Take your shirt off and sit.” I obeyed, but I still kept a wary eye on him. He looked me in the eye, his face grave. “This will hurt.”
He started rubbing his hands together while chanting soft incoherent words and walking around me. After the third round, he stopped in front of me and placed his hands on my waist just above my hips. His voice took on an intense note and started rising.
Heat started creeping from his hands into my body and spreading. It was mild at first, almost pleasant. Rapidly, however, the heat grew and became first uncomfortable and then excruciating.
Wildly, I started pulling at his hands trying to get them off me, but try as I might, I could not even touch him. It seemed as though a thin layer of some transparent material covered him...I tried to turn my attention to Markai. Silently, I begged her to do something, anything. Attack him, kill him, just get him off me! She did not move. All I had from her was sympathy and encouragement.
I looked down at his hands again. Terror crept up my throat as I saw searing red lines running from his hands and up my chest. I screamed as I had never screamed before. I howled until the very last breath of air left my lungs then desperately sucked in another lung full and screamed again.
I was sure that I was going to die. I was burning up from the inside out. I was sure my blood must have been boiling. I could even smell my own flesh burning. Through it all, his deep voice rumbled on with the chant.
Like a cornered animal, I fought for survival. I tried to scratch at his face, hands and arms, kicking at him and spitting at him when I could not reach to bite. Nothing had an effect though. Infuriatingly, I could not touch him. That invisible force protected him from anything that I tried.
How long had this been going on? It could have been hours, it could have been minutes, I could not tell. Slowly the intensity of the heat lessened. It seeped away and took with it my remaining strength. I stopped fighting, not because I had given up, not because I did not want to fight, but I could not. I felt drained. I could hardly keep my eyes open, my lids felt too heavy. My chest and stomach burned fiercely.
I looked up at him pleadingly. He placed one hand on my forehead and instantly everything went black.
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