Trial by Fire

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And So It Begins

After three days with the healers, Onyx was more or less ready for training. Poppy and Xilo had talked with the three about their options. All of them agreed that they needed training and that the two newly minted royals were the experts in that department. The former enforcers had warned the three that training would not be easy. Things would change, it would get more formal. Though, there is no real way to properly prepare the mind and body for what they had in store. Their last night together was full of Xilo and Poppy’s war stories.

While they told their tales, Onyx remembered the apparition that Tulip had shown him. He wanted to be strong. Strong enough to get back at the Lunu for taking away his parents. He sulked in silence as he mulled about his revenge. He looked to his forearm where he had scarred himself to the skin. As he stroked the markings he became angry. What used to be sadness and regret was now unbridled rage. Although his eyes portrayed no signs of his spirit, Nike could still sense it.
Nike understood his anger. Xe felt different though. Xe looked at the whole incident as a bigger tragedy. Xe could see the markings on Onyx’s body had grown with his anger. His disposition was dangerous. Xyr hold over his spirit had grown and Xe realized xe had a certain amount of pull over him. Emotionally, they were connected. Spiritually, they were bound. He would do what xe said, when xe said it. Xe theorized it might be because he admired xyr, which xe was always reminded of while reading his spirit. It was nice to be genuinely wanted, but would his feelings for xyr also spin out of control like his anger like it did in the forest? Xe did not want to find out. Xe planned to keep an eye on him and try to calm his spirit during their meditation time.


“And after fierce fighting for eight days straight, we had finally won.”

Xilo said as she finished her story. As things wound down and everyone had finished their bowl of burnsoup, they retired to their quarters. Luckily, Nike, Onyx, and Tootsie had built a true House, one that could house a full five members.

Poppy and Xilo talked with each other at length in their room.

“How do you feel love?” Poppy asked Xilo as they both sat on adjacent mats and prepared to meditate.

“Nervous. Nike can read our spirits, call our bluffs. Onyx was too eager to accept training. I fear that we will have ‘the rebel’ and the ‘nutcase’ in one group of three. The only thing we have on our side is their motivation. These aren’t your standard recruits. They weren’t necessarily forced into this situation, although they would have been.” Poppy squinted her green eyes.

“Okay, maybe they were forced. But listen. They wanted this whether they knew it or not. They’re just thick barked and young.”

Poppy scooted closer to Xilo.

“It was simpler being a scout, wasn’t it?” Poppy said.

“Yea.”

“It was comforting, because we knew what would come next. We knew our duties through and through. You have to admit, we were underselling our own talents.”

“Mhm.” Xilo said, deep in thought. After a brief pause she spoke.

“What of Tootsie? He is too small for any hand-to-hand combat. Too cowardly for a pitched battle. Doesn’t have the command presence or mystique of a leader. I say we toss him, maybe add another wildsap to the House.”

Poppy smacked Xilo playfully on the head.

“You’re cruel, you know that? He’s very much attached to Nike and Onyx. You can see it. Though, I hear you. The mission comes first. But I have an idea.”

“Let’s hear it.”

Poppy’s eyes lit bright yellow.

“So you said he’s small, cowardly, and lacks leadership qualities?”

“Mhm.”

“I was thinking. You have seen his claws right? They are metalled. He’s one of the Iron-kin. They’re natural.”

“It won’t help him in a fight Pop, he’s half the size of the smallest recruit.”

Poppy moved her hands dismissively.

“No no no. Hear me out. He’s tiny and can fit in places most of us could never. He has claws that can be sharpened and lengthened. He has a natural light step and green mossy bark. You see where I am going with this?”

Xilo’s eyes lit up a bright yellow as well. As they both said, “An assassin!”

Tootsie was used to being alone. He usually had trouble meditating, but lately he found it came naturally. He knew that the two former enforcers would not go easy on them. He had tried to tell Onyx and Nike, but it seemed every time he tried they were busy, or the time wasn’t quite right. That happened to him a lot. He wasn’t used to taking control of anything. It didn’t come natural and when he did, he was often dismissed. Nike and Onyx were different, but Poppy and Xilo seemed to pay him no mind. He didn’t worry himself with this for long and was soon deep in meditation.

Nike was the only one who had trouble meditating that night. Xe clutched on Onyx. He was calm, his bark a soothing presence. No nightmares had crept into his subconscious tonight. Xe had mixed feelings about him. While xe could tell he truly cared for their situation, xe felt he cared too much. He was dangerous and volatile. Becoming attached to him meant that xe would have to make xyrself vulnerable. Nike wasn’t ready for that, nor was xe interested in creating a lasting bond with him. The hope and ambivalence of Onyx’s advances only worsened things. It made xyr feel guilty for rebuffing him. Guilty, because he was everything and nothing xe wanted.

Xyr blue eyes swirled as xe fell into meditation.

_____________________________________________________

A new day dawned. Nike and Onyx broke out of meditation as xe sensed a disturbance at their door.

“Come in, Poppy.”

The door creaked open as two green eyes stared at the pair.

“As we discussed, we start training this morning. Meet us in the sparring circle.”

With half bright green eyes and a cranky frown Onyx asked, “Any gear?”
“No, bring yourselves and be quick.” Poppy kicked the door open then pivoted and left.

“Seems the mood has changed. Let’s see what Pop and Lo have in store for us.” Nike said as xe giggled.

Onyx felt as if Nike hadn’t read the situation right, or rather, xe was purposely obnoxious. Sometimes he couldn’t tell. Most times, he gave up trying to figure it out.

Onyx and Nike took their time, lamenting the fact they would not be having burnsoup this morning as Tootsie was nowhere to be found. They left the House and headed to the sparring circle. To their surprise, there were four figures. Three of them were clearly Tootsie, Poppy, and Xilo. The other was a Erodesean just slightly smaller than Onyx. He looked tough. His gnarled bark was overgrown on every point of weakness giving him a spherical look.

Tootsie waved emphatically, as if the sparring grounds were difficult to spot. Nike had a smile on xyr face as they approached.

“Knock the smile off two-spirit.” Xilo said sternly.

Nike rolled xyr eyes, but obliged.

Poppy pointed, then Tootsie ran to the outside of the circle where Nike and Onyx waited.

“This is Boreit. He is currently a scout enforcer, and he will be your strength and conditioning trainer.” Poppy said. She nodded her head in Boreit’s direction and he began to speak.

“As Poppy stated, I am Boreit, a scout enforcer. Specifically, I deal with high risk intel allocation, search and rescue, and demolition.” Boreit spoke with the eloquence of an academic. Nike snickered and whispered in Onyx’s ear as he spoke. Xilo took offence and called xyr out.

“Is there something funny?”

Nike shrugged xyr shoulders and smiled. “I don’t kno-”

Xilo was lightning fast as she covered the distance in a split second grabbing Nike by the throat. Onyx and Tootsie’s eyes went white.

“You will listen and be respectful.” Xilo stated with fiery red eyes, then released xyr and stepped back slowly to her place by Boreit and Poppy. Nike was visibly shook as xyr eyes fluctuated between pink and white. Boreit’s eyes never changed from a dull grey. He seemed to be in a perpetual state of gloom. He continued as if he were not interrupted.

“This makes me especially equipped to train you, Onyx, although I will have time with the entire group. You will obey all my commands as if I were your conscious. In combat, every action matters. Mistakes are costly. Chaos a certainty. Your spirits are soft, I shall harden them. You will bleed sap, but fear not, your lives are my utmost priority.”

After Boreit had finished Poppy spoke. She sounded off with the command presence of a seasoned veteran.

“For the last three days we shared our stories, wisdom, and explained the entirety of your current situation. We are your Guardians, but far from your equals. If you want to take the fight to the enemy this is where it starts. The peace in this House is over! You will learn rank structure, tactics, military history, hand-to-hand combat, sword, hammer, and pole weapon mastery, decorum,” at the mention of “decorum” Xilo’s energy fluctuated ever so slightly. It was enough for Nike to pick up on it. “anti-torture techniques, leadership, advanced energy manipulation, and finally, royal obligations.”

Poppy looked serious as ever. Her energy meant business.

“You will wake up when we tell you to. You will meditate when we tell you to. You will have no free time unless designated.”

Xilo and Poppy nodded in Boreit’s direction. He stepped backward then started running. Xilo yelled at the trio.

“You heard what he said!”

Nike, Onyx and Tootsie struggled to keep up with him. When one fell behind, Boreit doubled back, punishing the group for failing by forcing them to do a multitude of exercises. Xilo and Poppy kept pace screaming and yelling in the ears of the frightened trio. Threats of violence were often carried out when a slacker refused to move.

Boreit ran for hours. Day turned to night but there was no rest or reprieve. Fatigue had already set in many miles before Onyx collapsed on the floor. Unable to move, even the screams of Xilo and Poppy weren’t heard. Nike and Tootsie went to help him, but Boreit blocked their way.

“He will rise.”

Boreit turned towards Onyx and with one mighty arm picked him up by the back of his neck. Slowly, Onyx got his bearings, just in time for the grey eyes of Boreit’s to meet him.

“The son of Alziar and Theresa? You’re better than that.”

Onyx remained silent as he stared into Boreit’s eyes.

“Respond! You will respond!” Xilo and Poppy kept yelling. Onyx refused to speak, even as Poppy and Xilo hit his back repeatedly. Sensing that something horrible would happen, Nike yelled.

“Onyx! Please!”

Finally, he responded and dryly said “Yes sir.”

Boreit released his iron grip and walked off.

“Dismissed.” He said.

The three Erodeseans looked towards Xilo and Poppy, not sure as to what the command meant.

“We’re done running.” Xilo said. Poppy motioned for healers to come, but Xilo waived the motion off.

“She means go, go back to the House. Take your seats in the common room and await our return.” Xilo said.

The three went to walk back and Xilo screamed at them, “Don’t walk! You run!”

They took off jogging towards the House.

Xilo and Poppy leisurely walked back in their direction.

“Nike, the two-spirit, xe reminds me of you, Xilo.”

Xilo shook her head and asked, “And why is that?”

Poppy’s green eyes fluttered as she spoke.

“Remember when we first met? It was in Trent while we were out on leave. I wasn’t really a fan of your ‘game-plan’ but you were good looking, so I took a chance and we went on our first date. The date was going well until you left right in the middle and rushed back to your unit.”

“So? What are you getting at, you know why I did that.”

“Yes, yes. Of course. But listen. We met the next day and I was furious with you. And you know what you told me?”

“Yea, I said ‘fuck you, bitch, hope you get drained’”

Poppy couldn’t help but smile.

“You don’t hold back. You say what’s on your mind for better or for worse. You’re a hot-head, you like the attention too.”

Xilo sighed. “I suppose the sap runs down the same wood. While we’re getting on me though, explain your recent spat of empathy? I saw you were about to get soft on them. You know we can’t do that.”

“I know. Amazing, I am developing a soul after all of this, who would have known?”

Xilo’s eyes went pink then back to green. “Shhh. We’re close. You know two-spirit can pick up on us.”

Beaten, mentally broken, and spiritually distant, Onyx, Nike, and Tootsie sat attentively while Xilo and Poppy lectured about tactics and military history. Luckily, all three were academics and caught on quickly, although Nike did get a pop or two for speaking out of line.

After class had ended, they went to their respective rooms to meditate. With tight joints and heavy limbs, the three made it to their mats. Only that, when they got there they noticed something.

The sun was just peeking through the night, another day had dawned and not much later Xilo’s voice sounded through the House.

“Alright! Time to get scrappy you sorry saps!”

Nike looked towards Onyx who’s eyes were a deep blue. Xe sensed his waning spirit. He turned to xyr, clearly distraught. Xe beckoned he come closer as he leaned his head towards xyr’s. Lips inches away from each other, xe looked Onyx square in the face. With fiery red eyes xe let out a fierce whisper.

“You want revenge, you want to be stronger? Then fight the weakness, dig deeper. Go.”

Unbeknownst to him, Nike used xyr left arm to swirl just a sprinkle of energy in his direction. Onyx’s posture straightened and he stood tall once again. With orange eyes he looked at the various wounds on his body from the intense training the day before, then nodded back to Nike and left through the doorway.
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