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The Culling

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Chapter 1

The next morning, I was out of bed and dressed before the sun even got up. I was the first one to eat and the first one to line up at the barracks. This hadn’t passed the notice of the officers, but they didn’t let on. “Welcome recruits, to the ranks of the Royal Guards. Yesterday, you may have won a place among us, but today, we shall see who is allowed to stay.” The captain spoke up and all eyes turned to him.

“This week will be a series of test. Pass them all and you will have the honor of being called a guard. Fail them and you’ll be sent back to your pack with your tail tucked between your legs like the dogs you are.” His remark was answered by several growls or looks of disgust. My face stayed neutral. Something inside of me told me that this too was a test. It was a test to see just how easily the recruits could be angered by mere words.

“You’re first test is hiding in plain sight. This is one of our best skills that we can use in protecting our charges.” A voice spoke and several recruits broke bearing to look around. Several others started muttering, trying to figure out where it was coming from. “The last one standing will receive an hour off tonight. Now go; you have half an hour.”

The first thing that I did was to make sure that my scent was completely hidden before I moved. A quick scan of the surroundings showed several very good spots that offered a good line of sight of the area, and would keep me hidden. My eyes turned to the officers and found that each had a bag over their heads. With a shrug of my shoulders, I turned and quickly made my way to the thick group of bushes at the corner of the barracks. Looking around once more, I slipped into the green leaves and within seconds, I was gone from sight.

It took most of the others the full half hour to hide. And they were found within minutes when the officers started to hunt them. I rolled my eyes when I noticed that more than half of the recruits hadn’t even hid their scents well enough to fool or throw the officers off their trail. It made it easier to be found. An hour trickled by, and soon all but four of the recruits were sitting in front of the small stage. I was carefully keeping track of the officer’s movements. And so far, none had even come within five feet of my hiding place.

Another hour passed and it was down to three. The captain had found the fourth recruit by accident. The man had chosen to find a perch in a very tall and well leafed out maple tree. His only mistake was not finding a larger branch to sit on. It had finally given way underneath his weight and he had fallen to the ground; literally at the feet of the captain. Three more hours flew by and I was the last one still hiding. And I was starting to become bored.

“Would the last standing recruit please join us on stage?” The captain ordered and I was quick to comply. The moment that I stepped from the bushes, I let my scent free. Everyone’s head snapped my way. The recruits were surprised that I had lasted so long hiding in the bushes. And the officers were thinking that she was showing more promise as a guard than they had originally thought. “What’s your name recruit?”

“Phoebe Rivers, sir.”

“You will be able to leave training an hour early this evening.”

“Thank you, sir. But if it’s all the same to you Captain, I’ll pass on that.” The captain’s eyes snapped up and met mine. Never in all of his years had he ever heard of a recruit passing up on passes. The officers didn’t hand them out often, and when they did, they were almost fought over. “As you wish, Rivers.”

They stood there for several minutes while the officers made notes. “Alright. Everyone follow Major Green to the track. It’s running time!” The smile that appeared at his last statement made many of the recruits to groan. But I just slowly smiled. I loved running, but there was no way I would let anyone know that.

Lap after lap, they ran. When we reached the ten-mile mark, almost fifteen of us had dropped out. I had known to conserve my energy, not burn it all out like the others did. By mile twenty-five, more than half of the recruits had fallen to the side, gasping for breath and begging for water. With my legs starting to burn, I pushed on keeping my steady pace.

This is nothing compared to what I’ve done, I kept telling myself over and over as I made another lap, and then yet another. By lap thirty-seven, only three remained. I knew that I had already done my best, being one of the last three running proved that. After all, I was moving. But I knew that I had to fight hard to keep my place among the guards. So, I just blocked out the burning and the pain and found my second wind.

Pulling ahead of the two men, I soon left them behind. One of them tried to catch up with me, but he had pushed his body too far. I listened as I heard him gasp, and then, with a strangled cry, he fell and grabbed his leg. The only thing that I noticed after that was the next lap I made. Three laps short of fifty, the captain let out a yell, bring the last two runners to a stop. “Well done Rivers, Bane.” My legs were shaking and I was breathing hard. But Bane was in worse shape than I was. Seconds after the captain stopped them, he collapsed, wheezing.

“Everyone has exactly one hour to shower, change, and meet us in the mess hall. Anyone late, will not eat tonight.” With that, the officers left. I began jogging slowly back to the barracks, making sure to stretch my muscles out. Quickly grabbing a white tee shirt, black cargo pants, and a change of underwear, I entered the showers and let the steaming hot water rush over me. By the time the others were walking in, I was just about finished dressing. Bane saw me and sent me a smile.

With my hair in a braid, fresh clothes on,and my favorite pair of boots, I was the first on to enter the mess hall. Seeing the captain standing in an open part in the back, I quickly made my way towards him and waited. The others began to slowly file in until they were all there. No one would be missing out on supper tonight. “Well done today recruits. After supper, the Major will be reading a list of names of those who will be going home.”

They quickly made their way through the lines and found seats. I had found the perfect seat that gave me an open view of the room, of every window, the doors, and made sure that no one would be able to sneak up behind me. Slowly, I ate my meal knowing that if I wolfed it down like the others, I’d had stomach aches all night. When everyone was finished, the Major stood up and removed a small piece of paper from his coat pocket.

“When I call your name, please make your way to the barracks, get your things and go with Lieutenant Drew. He will make sure that you have a way back to your packs. Recruit Daniel Smith, Recruit Ruby Taylor, Recruit James Tolar, Recruit Vince Powell...” Name after name he called, and they silently stood up and quickly made their way out of the room. 59 out of the four hundred recruits had been sent home.

“The rest of you, I suggest that you return to your bunk and get some sleep. Tomorrow will be here bright and early and that’s when the fun begins.” Setting my tray in the correct bin, I made my way back to the barracks silently. I pulled out my night clothes, slipped them on, made sure that I had an outfit ready for the morning, brushed my teeth, and slipped beneath the cool sheets of my cot.

I didn’t know that the moment I left the mess hall; Captain Taggart made his way to the king’s office. He knocked and entered when he heard the king call out for him to enter. “How did she do?” Taggart sat in the chair across from him and smiled. “You were right sir. Phoebe Rivers is going to be an excellent addition to our ranks. She was the last one to be found this morning.

“Major Green said that she hid her scent completely, even his wolf couldn’t detect it.” Letting out a chuckle, Taggart told his king where she had chosen to hide, and he laughed as well. “The next thing we made them do was running. She and Recruit Bane were the last two standing, but if I hadn’t stopped them when I did, she would have been the last one running. She’s good at keeping her mind focused on the task at hand.

“I could see how hard she pushed her body, but she just acted as if it was nothing. She’s quiet, thoughtful, and always on watch. She’s a good pick.”

“Good. Thank you for the report. I’d like it if you could give me one every night for the rest of the week.”

“You wish is my command, my king.” Taggart bowed his head and quickly left the office. Tomorrow was a new day, but both men were already making plans on the young woman.

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