In a blink, Zev joined the most powerful army in the Afrotheria Empire at the age of seventeen. He had chosen to become one of those most feared and revered gangs of the land: The Theria Guild Guardians.
In his heart, he knew his choice had to do with the need to expend the rage that now ruled his life at the memory of watching a pack of ghost wraiths attacking his brothers and Gen.
If it weren’t for those ghost wraiths, he would have been there for Amare. He would have been able to keep her safe. A dark cloud of grief threatened to take him over.
Zev shook his head, pushing the constant grief aside.
His lungs burned for air, and sharp pain on his right side made it harder to run. Zev ignored the pain and powered through, his gaze on the red line drawn across the track ahead. He pushed his body harder and managed to run across the red line just as his body felt like it might collapse. He fell to his knees on the track and sucked in harsh breaths, hoping to relieve the pain. His t-shirt was soaked with sweat.
“Again, Mablevi! You’re too slow,” the instructor shouted, blowing his whistle. “One delayed second and you’re ghost wraith meat. Push harder. Get up and do it again!”
Zev glanced at his training officer standing on the sidelines caught between hate and worship.
Zev was in a class of fifteen cadets. Their instructor was a no-nonsense slave driver. The instructor subjected them to relentless running drills to improve their speed. Every part of Zev’s body felt sore, and his muscles burned. He took in air, his lungs desperate for it.
Zev worried he would never get up to run again.
A strong hand gripped Zev’s left arm, pulling him up before he decided to lay down on the tarmac and give up. On his feet, Zev tugged down his sleeveless gray t-shirt and turned to his left to find an older boy grinning at him.
“He keeps yelling until you stop collapsing at the finish line. Hi, I’m Saul. I joined a month ago The trick is to remain standing at the finish line.”
A second boy around his age came up on Zev’s right and gave him a nod in greeting.
“I’m Noah. I will pace you so that you cut your time,” Noah said.
They headed back to the starting line, and Zev was oddly glad that he was not doing this alone. Noah and Saul each took a spot on each side of him. The instructor blew his whistle and they took off, Noah and Saul running next to him in camaraderie. It suddenly felt like training might turn manageable.
Three days later, Zev decided he was in over his head.
Zev stood in a Santi Corp Simulation Training Room. He was dressed in his white cadet armor, smart VR glasses clipped on the bridge of his nose. He held a Santi Sword, the blade designed to work in the simulation world.
“Mablevi, you’re seventeen, and you’ve never been in a simulation room. That means you’re late to the party. You have to work harder to catch up. We are starting you at the basic level,” the instructor’s voice rang through the large dome-like room. “This is your first test. Scenario: A forested village in the hills of Teru is facing a ghost wraith reap. There is no way to know the size of the ghost wraith pack. You only know the pack is traveling fast heading to unprotected villages. Your goal is to take down any ghost wraiths coming your way. Mission Commence: Cadet Mablevi, Basic Simulation 001, Start.”
Zev had no time to think, as the room turned dark and vegetation filled his vision.
The call of birds filled his ears with the sun high up above him. Zev imagined if he closed his eyes, he might inhale the scent of fresh crisp air. He took one step forward, and a ghost wraith jumped out of nowhere. He had no chance. The ghost wraith crushed him and the simulation ended.
“You are dead,” the instructor said. “You have failed an entire village, Cadet. Only one rule matters: Stay focused, Mablevi. This is not a game. There is no one coming to save you. You are doing the saving. Do it again. Mission Commence: Cadet Mablevi, Basic Simulation 002. Start.”
Zev died ten more times in the simulation managing only two steps.
At the fifteenth session, he managed five steps, hoping by the thirtieth session, he would be able to see the ghost wraith coming at him. The realization of how fast a ghost wraith moved had Zev wondering if he could make it as a guardian.