To Be A Warrior
With my old hunting grounds of Giant's Pit no longer a threat, and my resignation as champion from the Sakhmet arena circuit, I have a lot of extra free time on my hooves. While I devote a good amount of that into planning, organizing, and overseeing my own arena circuit, plus my career as a mercenary, I still find myself with downtime that I'm not quite used to yet. Luckily, General Dacon had an answer for me: patrol the outer caravan routes leading into Sakhmet.
I'm Urasina, a Speckled Uni mare and a well-known heroine in Sakhmet, for a variety of reasons. So flying out every few days to patrol the trade routes from the sky is no sweat for me. Even simply swooping down to fly past a caravan is enough to reassure traders that they're safe under my watch.
But one day, while out on patrol, I found something other than a caravan. This time, it was four Unis walking along the ground, rather than flying. They were traveling nose to tail, and the one shadow stallion leading the line seemed familiar. After a few seconds of watching, I recognized him. It was Tycho, the second-in-command of the Losa Uni tribe. A long time ago, I had beaten him in a fight and secured his tribe's allegiance to Princess Amira. These days, he and I trained the tribe's warriors in preparation for any time that we'd have to defend our homeland.
I dove down to get a close look at what Tycho was up to. Once I got close enough, I noticed that the other three Unis, also stallions, were blindfolded, and they were also a lot younger than Tycho. Though I was considered a leader of the Losa tribe, I didn't want to get involved in whatever was going on, so I turned to fly away. But Tycho called out to me.
"Lady Urasina, wait!"
I turned and flew down to land beside him.
"What's going on, Tycho?" I asked.
He bowed deeply to me before speaking.
"I'm taking these young warriors to a secret place to test them," he explained. "It's Losa tradition, and has been for far longer than I've lived. Technically, mares are not allowed in the training grounds, but you're different, Lady Urasina. I'd like you to come along with us."
I tilted my head a bit as I looked at the shadow Uni. The other stallions hadn't said anything, but their ears were pointed at me, so they were listening to hear what I was going to do.
"I guess I can come, but if mares aren't supposed to, won't the chief be upset?" I asked next.
"He respects you as much as I do," Tycho replied. "He won't mind, I'm sure of it. But you'll have to be OK with staying with us for three days, because the training takes that long."
I thought it over for a minute more, then nodded.
"I'll come, then," I said. "It'll be interesting to see what this training is. Let me just tell my owner that I won't be back for a while."
Thanks to my incredible Light magic powers, I can communicate mentally with my human, an adult man we all call BG. So after a quick mental back-and-forth, he had given me permission to go ahead with this. Tycho started off again, and I fell in behind the younger three stallions.
We walked for a few hours before Tycho headed down into a canyon I had flown over many times before. A short distance downwards, he turned off into a narrow passage that led to a cave entrance. Unlike a lot of other Unis, I have no fear of going underground. Years of exploring old ruins and digging holes in the sand had conditioned me to actually find underground spaces intriguing.
Just beyond the cave entrance, we entered a large chamber with a sharply sloped floor. A large sturdy rock stood in the center of the room, with several heavy chains attached to it. Above the rock, further up the slope, was a wooden gate. And below the rock, down the slope, was a large open hole in the floor. The floor itself, leading from the gate to the hole, showed clear signs of...
In a flash, I put it all together. There was water behind that gate, and somehow, Tycho would open it. Then the young warriors would have to avoid being swept away, probably by holding onto those chains.
I do not like water. Small bodies of it, like ponds, are OK, and baths are nice, but large bodies of it, or fast-moving torrents, are frightening. I took a tumble into Kiko Lake as a filly, and that left me very hydrophobic.
"OK, take off your blindfolds," Tycho instructed the younger stallions. They did so. The shadow stallion then gestured to the rock.
"To be a good Losa warrior, you have to be able to endure anything. ANYTHING. Even a flood that could wash you to your doom. Grab a chain, and hold on tight. No using your wings. Stay afloat, and if you lose your grip, you'll be washed down that hole and will never come back."
The three younger stallions looked frightened, and to be honest, I was nervous too. I was glad that I wasn't going through this training, and would simply be observing from a distance. But they squared their shoulders and each grabbed a chain.
Tycho took off and flew up to a higher ledge, where a rotating switch could be seen.
"When the gate drops, the flood will begin," he said, then put his chest up against the switch panel and began to push, trying to turn it.
But it didn't budge. Tycho looked perplexed, then pushed harder, his hooves skidding a bit on the rocky ground. But the switch still didn't move.
"Let me give that a push," I said, flying up to join him. He knew I was stronger than he was, so he nodded and stood aside. I tried pushing the switch, and after a few seconds of effort, it began to turn. Behind me, I could hear the gate lifting up. Once the switch stopped moving, I turned to watch as well.
The water flow began as a trickle, but rapidly increased to something equivalent to a flash flood. The three stallions hung on for dear life, doing their best to keep their heads above the water and not lose their grip. The water poured out of the gate for nearly two minutes before it began to subside, eventually dropping back to a trickle again.
"Push the switch and shut the gate," Tycho told me, and I did so. I breathed a sigh of relief as the gate closed all the way.
The stallions had held on and survived the flood. But they were exhausted, soaking wet, and their fur was full of small debris kicked up by the water. Tycho flew back down to them, and I followed him.
"You passed this test, but there are two more," he warned them. "Remember what I told you: no sleeping, and no eating, until these three days are over. Save your strength until the morning, when we'll start again."
It was clear to me that the Losa tribe took its warriors seriously. To pass three tough tests, while not eating or sleeping, would be enough to devastate almost any Uni. Not to mention the boredom between tests, and the anxiety of what would come next.
The hours seemed to crawl past to me, but it must have been even worse for the stallions taking the tests. At first, they tried to pass the time by playing or mock-fighting with each other, but they quickly got bored. And I could tell that they were trying VERY hard not to fall asleep or start whining about their situation.
Tycho had simply been sitting on his haunches the whole time, watching the stallions keenly. But now he turned to look at me.
"You can sleep, Lady Urasina," he said. "You don't need to participate in this. I'm used to this, I do it all the time."
I shook my head.
"I have enough stored Light magic to survive three days without food or sleep," I responded. "Besides, come nightfall, my draconic side rises to the surface."
A few years ago, I had saved the Lost Desert by slaying a nigh-invincible dragon that attacked. But in defeating it, I acquired its powers and magic, turning into a half-dragon Uni mare myself. At night, my dragon powers strengthened, while my Light magic weakened. So going without sleep was no hardship for me.
Tycho nodded, then turned his focus back to one of the stallions, who had laid down.
"No sleeping!" he shouted.
"I'm just resting my eyes!" the stallion whined.
I snorted. That never worked. Lying down and closing your eyes ALWAYS meant that you were about to fall asleep. And that almost happened. The other two stallions did the same thing, and I watched as their heads slowly drooped, only to snap back up as they fought off slumber. It was a long, boring night, but with my Light magic, I could tell when the sun began to come up. Somehow, Tycho could too.
"All right, enough lying around," he barked like a drill instructor, making the three stallions jump to their hooves. "This way."
He led them into a smaller chamber, with me following along behind. I liked what I saw here: a steep slope covered with mud, with a large flat rock at the top. Most Unis, the mares in particular, HATE getting messy, but not me. I proudly call myself "Neopia's Biggest Uni Tomboy," and I LOVE playing in mud.
"Your next task is to make your way up that muddy slope, without using your wings, and get to the big rock at the top," Tycho instructed. "Be warned, that mud is thick and slippery. But you have all day to get there."
The stallions bravely plunged into the mud, but right away I could tell that they were going to struggle. It wasn't all that deep, but it was so slick that as soon as they started up the slope, they slid right back down again. They kept trying and trying, but got nowhere for a good two hours. Finally, the smallest of the stallions managed to get the other two to stop struggling and try working together, and it worked. Bit by bit, hoof by hoof, they took turns flattening out a path up the slope, finally reaching the flat rock at the top over an hour later. Boy, were they exhausted.
Tycho must have seen the excitement on my face as I watched.
"You want to try?" he asked me. "Clearly you like mud."
"I don't LIKE mud, Tycho," I corrected him. "I LOVE mud. Ever seen a mare like that?"
I plunged gleefully into the mud, then took a moment to plan my attack on the slope. Just from looking, I saw spots at different points on the slope where there were rocks beneath the mud. Rocks I could use as footholds. So instead of trying to climb up the slope, I jumped up instead, leaping like a Kougra from hidden rock to hidden rock, making it to the top in almost no time.
Tycho was laughing from his spot on the cave floor below me, and I waved one front hoof at him before jumping off the rock and sliding down the slope on my belly.
That seemed to energize the stallions a bit, and they slid down the slope after me. But they looked rather ashamed.
"If only we had thought of that," the littlest one said with a huff.
"Sometimes it takes a mare's mind to figure these things out," I retorted.
"The mind of a very unique mare, you mean," Tycho added with a wink.
The stallions and I were covered with thick mud, but in the dampness of the cave, it wasn't going to dry anytime soon.
"That's the second test," the shadow stallion told the others. "Now, we wait for the morning."
It couldn't have even been noon at this point. The three younger stallions were absolutely worn out, and I was feeling a little hungry too. I "consumed" some of my Light magic to cure that problem, then settled down to wait.
It seemed like forever and a day before the night had passed. But as my magic alerted me to the rising sun, Tycho forced the younger stallions back to their hooves and led us all into one final chamber. This one was much bigger than the other two, and it had a very old obstacle course. This didn't look so bad to me, so I figured there had to be a catch to it.
Tycho called the littlest stallion forward first.
"You're tired, you're hungry, and you're probably in pain," he said sternly. "You must conquer all that if you hope to pass this final test. And you must do more than that."
He walked over to a wooden chest off to one side and opened it, pulling out a black metal bracer that looked quite heavy. Then he pulled out three more. I knew what they were for: the stallions would have to run the obstacle course with those heavy weights on their legs.
Tycho carried the bracers over to the littlest stallion one at a time and locked them onto his legs.
"I can't even move!" the stallion whined, struggling to even lift one front hoof.
"You must be stronger than that if you want to be a warrior," the shadow Uni scolded. "You have the strength for this, because the desert makes us strong. You simply must find that strength within yourself."
He pointed to the obstacle course.
The stallion struggled to start moving, but he finally was able to lift his hooves and move forward. But he only got a little ways into the obstacle course before he stopped, exhaled slowly, and collapsed on his side. He was totally worn out, unable to move a muscle.
Tycho shook his head.
"You failed," he said simply, flying over to the fallen stallion and removing the bracers. "You're only fit to be a camp guard now."
The stallion whimpered, but understood that he couldn't do anything about it now.
"Tycho, may I...?" I asked as the shadow stallion began to move the bracers back over to the starting line.
"Yes," he replied.
I flew over to the other stallion and healed him. Light magic is good for a lot of things, but healing is where it's at its best.
Now the second stallion tried. He, too, only got a little ways through before also collapsing.
"I had higher hopes for these three than this..." Tycho grumbled.
I healed that stallion too.
Now it was the third, and clearly youngest, stallion's turn. He was practically shaking with fear as Tycho locked the bracers to his legs and told him to start. It sure seemed that he wasn't going to make it either, but a short distance into the course he stopped, lowered his head, and stood still for several seconds before raising it again. There was a fire in his eyes now, a fire I recognized: the fire of inner strength. BG says that I get that fire in my eyes often.
"Is that what you meant?" I whispered to Tycho as the stallion began to advance again.
"Yes," he replied.
Despite being worn out, covered in mud and debris, and probably starving, that youngest stallion made it through the obstacle course. He only collapsed once he had crossed the finish line, but he was smiling as he did so.
Tycho was smiling too as he flew over and removed the bracers before packing them back into the chest. And so was I as I healed the fallen stallion.
"Well, I guess that's it," the shadow stallion said. "Time to head back to camp."
I and the younger stallions followed him back to the main chamber of the cave, where he blindfolded the stallions and lined them up, with the youngest at the rear of the line.
Once we had left the cave, I was able to recharge my Light magic reserves by absorbing sunlight. I was feeling kind of tired and hungry too, and I knew Tycho was as well.
"That's how we train our warriors, Lady Urasina," Tycho said to me. "You've had the honor of being the only mare ever to witness those trials. Just don't tell any of the Losa mares what you saw."
"I'll keep your secret, Tycho," I responded. "So, I guess this is goodbye for now?"
He stopped the line and walked back to me, bowing deeply once more before lightly nudging me with his muzzle.
"For now, yes," he answered. "The four of us are going to be recovering for a few days. You should take it easy too."
I snorted and tossed my mane.
"This wasn't so bad," I retorted. "But yeah, home and a good meal do sound good right now. I'll see you later, Tycho."
With that, I spread my wings and took off, banking sharply and heading back towards Sakhmet. This had been an interesting few days, to be sure. Maybe I'd tag along with Tycho next year too.