Page 15

“Where did you get that?” He held his hand out and I handed him the spear.

For some reason, I didn’t want to tell him it was my mother’s or that Niah had given it to me. “A friend gave it to me, for luck in this new . . . venture.”

“Spears are hard to use, but if you can master it you’ll be far ahead of those who favor the sword. Keep it in your room, use the practice spears to begin with.” He hefted it in the middle, balancing it perfectly on one finger. With a twirl of the handle, the blade cut through the air with a sharp ‘whoosh’. I didn’t move, but let him whirl the blade around my head.

“That’s right, Useless, let him cut you in half!” The shout came from behind me, but I kept still. Granite had given me this chance and I trusted him. He wouldn’t hurt me, but I could easily end up hurt if I moved.

Granite did know what he was doing, the blade whirled around me several times, brushing close but never touching me, cutting off a small lock of my hair. I watched it float to the ground, the golden blonde threads standing out against the hard-packed dirt. He planted the butt of the spear, and tipped it toward me. I put my hand on the shaft to take it, but he didn’t let go. “You’re going to have to work twice as hard as anyone else here, Lark. Put your things away and get your ass back here. Training starts now.”

I gave him a nod, took my spear, and continued on to my room. Twelve–by—twelve was all we got. A bed shoved into the sidewall, an alcove for our things, and a small table beside the bed. I piled my stuff into the alcove and sat down on the bed for just a moment, the spear laid across my thigh.

A welling of emotion crept through me. I could do this, I could be an Ender and then I . . . what, would I prove that Cassava was a lying bitch?

“Well, why the hell not? Not like I’ve got anything to lose.” I wasn’t kidding myself; I knew this was my last shot to keep from being banished. There was no place for fear, for weakness or uncertainty. If it killed me, I would make my father proud of me. With that thought held at the front of my mind, I stood, and strode back the way I’d come.

Surprisingly, the main hall was almost empty. I thought the older Enders would want to watch the new recruits. But only a few Seeders—the new recruits—stood in the room. They were younger than me by a few years, maybe only just out of their teens. But I didn’t care.

Granite stepped out of the shadows. “Physical training first, if you can keep up, then we move to the weapons. I need to see what your stamina is like, so go until I say stop, or you can’t move.”

The recruit to the left of me, snorted. “I’m going to outlast all of them.”

I lifted an eyebrow at him and his lean muscles. He might last, but I doubted it. There was a fine line between trim and not having enough mass to keep moving. The planting fields taught me that.

Granite lifted his hand and the earth below our feet rumbled, warping and rippling like the ocean waves. I bent my knees and let the motion roll through me. “Stop fighting it, you idiots!” Granite snapped and I stole a glance at the others. They were trying to out maneuver Granite by using their abilities against his, instead of riding the wave like I was. They instead stood still and attempted to stop the wave using their connection to the earth. The only effect it seemed to have: pissing off Granite.

He flicked his hand and the ground jerked hard under us creating huge mounds of earth, hills that were about fifteen feet high, nowhere near the height of the ceiling, which was at least double that. “Get climbing, Seeders, first one to the top gets a private lesson with the Ender of their choice.”

I didn’t hesitate, just scrambled up the endless, rolling hill. At first I thought I would make the steep climb in under a minute, but then I saw what Granite was doing. The ground below me fell away as I fought my way up, the ground above me continued to grow. A fracking Jacob’s ladder of dirt.

Beside me, on the other hills, the panting and swearing began. I saved my breath. There would be a trick to this; it couldn’t just be all about the physical, could it? I kept a steady pace and just kept going. The others fell, one at a time, tumbling down the shifting hills. Sweat streamed down my spine, the loose soil sticking to it as I kept my head up and my feet moving.

“Sprint, Lark,” Granite barked at me and I forced my feet to move faster, digging in with my toes, my thighs burning and my lungs unable to keep up with the demand for air. The breath hissed past my teeth as I gave it everything I had. Arms and legs, muscles and blood, everything narrowed to my body, demanding more of myself than I ever had before.

And then I stumbled on a dip in the footing and fell flat on my stomach, the breath whooshing out of me. I lay there, sweating and breathing hard as the ground slowly dropped, flattening out until I was parallel to the floor. I pushed myself up and dusted off my clothes and legs. I stood there, body quivering, but I refused to bend over as the others were, refused to show my fatigue.

“Next.” Granite didn’t give us a chance to catch our wind. This time it was upper body strength. We were each given a rope that we were to climb, but before we even started I began to see a theme. The ropes had each been slid through a pulley at the highest point of the ceiling, which meant as we climbed . . . the ropes would slowly slide down. The others groaned, but I didn’t even blink, just ran for the ropes and leapt as high as I could. I was about half way to the top, my height and reach giving me an edge on the others. Hand over hand I jerked myself up, not even bothering to use my legs. My arms and back were strong from moving rocks and dirt by hand, something everyone else did without thinking through their connection to the mother goddess. The pulley at the top was two feet away when the rope unraveled under me, dropping me unceremoniously to the ground. I landed hard on my right hip, the impact jarring all the way up my spine. Groaning, I rolled to see the other trainees watching me with big eyes.

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