I woke up rested and pain free. I looked around, for a moment I couldn’t recognize where I was, but then everything came back to me, the explosion, the talk with Morrigan and the infirmary. I looked at myself and noticed that my wounds were gone, the scratches and cuts were completely healed and the only reminder of my leg injury was a scar. As I examined my wounds, or lack of them, someone entered my room, I looked up and saw Cervo.
“I see you’re awake, good. I’m glad you’re ok.” Cervo was in a good mood, as always. I noticed he was carrying a clean uniform for me.
“Greetings Sergeant,” as soon as I said the words that I had repeated so many times I noticed my mistake, I felt the blush cover my face as I tried to correct myself. “I’m sorry. I meant warrant officer.”
“Don’t worry,” he told me as he sat on the border of my bed and handed me my uniform, “it’s an honest mistake. I haven’t gotten used to the new title myself. I knew that the promotion was coming, but still it got me by surprise.”
“Ok.” I added awkwardly as I grabbed the clothes and started to change.
“The advantage of having access to this infirmary is the rapid recovery times, they told me that your leg wound would have taken a week to heal, but it took only 40 hours in here.”
“40 hours!” I couldn’t believe it, “have I been asleep for 40 hours?”
“That’s correct. I suppose that you should be starving, so hurry up, so we can go and grab something to eat.”
I dressed as fast as I could and then followed Cervo back to our section outside of the citadel and to the dining hall. I couldn’t see anyone familiar; different hours had different groups attending the dining hall. It wasn’t the time I usually went there, so the faces were new to me. I wondered how many people lived on the grounds that I didn’t know about.
Once we had our food, we started to look for an empty table to sit, that’s when I realized something else that was new to me, the people there had a higher rank than the people I usually ate with. Cervo and I sat at a small table at the far end of the dining hall. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do or say, so I just ate in silence. Cervo didn’t speak either until we finished our meal.
“When you were assigned to my squad, I didn’t think much of you. You looked like a baby compared to the rest.” I didn’t have anything to add so I just listened to his words. “But in these past two years you have grown, you arrived as a child, and now you are a woman, a young warrior.” I felt myself blushing at his words. I wanted to hide my face, so he couldn’t see me, but it was silly and childish, as Cervo looked at me and smiled, I hoped that my reaction wouldn’t change his opinion of me. “Your improvements in training have been far superior to the other recruits, and I can’t help but wonder how much you are going to grow. Your actions the other day left a good impression in our superiors, now even the captains know your name.” It was surreal to hear him saying those things, but I couldn’t help but feel happy and proud, although I didn’t understand what his point with the chat was. “Despite all of this you are the youngest in the squad, and things could get really difficult for you if our plan works, so before we do anything I have to ask you, do you want to be a sergeant?”
I was surprised by his question so it took me a moment to understand it and realize that he was talking to me. I thought about it and was prepared to answer that no; I wasn’t prepared. It wasn’t up to me to take that decision, but the words left my lips before I could control myself.
“Yes, I do.” I heard myself saying, with a voice that sounded like mine but felt like was someone else’s.
“Would you fight for it?” Cervo was staring at me, studying me to see if my words were unfeigned.
Again, I took a moment to think about it, I pictured myself in Cervo’s place, and the image was bizarre. I didn’t have his strength or commanding demeanor, his security or confidence, but the more I thought about it the more I wanted it.
“Montu said that he was going to be the sergeant,” was all that I could answer.
“Well, Montu can say anything he wants, but what matters is what Morrigan and I decide.”
“I’m willing to fight,” I said after a pause, trying to sound more confident that what I felt, but as Cervo looked at me, I wasn’t sure I succeeded.
“Good, go back to the barracks, you will find Montu, Serv and Antu there. Follow them. I’ll see you later.” With that, Cervo left me at the table and went back to his job.
“Welcome, I thought that you were going to be away for a bit longer.” Antu was friendly, but she was also dangerous. She was much older than me and one of the most experienced warriors on the squad.
“Yeah, I thought so too, but I’m feeling better now.” I tried to smile, but my talk with Cervo was distracting me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
“Montu has been telling anyone willing to hear that he was the one who uncovered the plan to blow up the second wall, and he said you were acting on his orders.” Antu looked at Montu and then at me and smiled. “I prefer to think that you were acting on your own. It was a great accomplishment, you know? The bomb and what you did, it’s all people have been talking about lately,” her smile changed, turned cryptic “that’s why I’m not surprised you are here.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I say nothing. Antu returned to her meditation while the other two ignored me. After a while, I started to get restless and was thinking about trying to join Montu and Serv or ask Antu to train with me, but before I had the opportunity, Antu stood up.
“Stop messing around, it’s time to go,” she went to her bed and took a bracelet hidden under her pillow and put it on.
“Don’t worry about me, I’m much better.”
“Coming?” Serv was a man of few words. He always looked bored, but I knew that under his calm exterior was a bomb waiting to explode. During the trainings, I had seen him accomplish incredible feats, and he had won many fights that seemed lost thanks to his bursts of power.
“Yeah, I’m going with you.”
“Going to cheer for me?” I hated Montu and the way he talked to me. I wasn’t one of his stupid followers, dumb enough to believe in his lies and empty promises.
“Where are we going?” My curiosity was strong, so I couldn’t help but ask.
“We are headed for the arena at the end of the Burrow. Cervo and Morrigan asked us to meet them there,” answered Antu, for the way she told me about the place I knew there was something significant about it. Only important things happened at that arena.
Montu walked ahead of us, making himself look important and talking nonstop. I wasn’t paying him attention until he mentioned that his father was going to be there too, that made me worry.
We arrived there faster than I expected, the path was clear as nobody tried to stop us or question us, like they were expecting us to be there. As we entered the arena, I remembered the first time I had been there, that day I thought I was going to die, and instead my life had forever changed.
Morrigan and Cervo were already there, as were the captains Pacorus and Baal, Montu’s father.
“Just in time,” in time” said Morrigan. “I think you all know why you are here. We have delayed for too long the appointment of a new sergeant, mostly because we haven’t been able to agree which one of you is better suited for the post, that’s why today we are going to let your actions decide for us.” She made a pause while we looked at each of us on the eye, “we know that all of you are capable of doing the job, so we are going to let your strength decide who is going to be the next sergeant.”
“We are going to hold a small tournament, something simple and fast, the one who emerges victorious is going to become the sergeant,” explained Pacorus.
“It would be simpler and faster to listen to me and give the position to my son” there was something about Baal, Montu’s father that reminded me of his son, the air of superiority, for example.
Pacorus glanced at Baal, clearly annoyed by him, then Baal’s face contorted with anger, and I knew Pacorus must have told him something with his telepathy.
“Are you ready?” Morrigan asked, we answered we were. “Then let’s start this,” she walked towards the wall, close to a table covered with weapons. “To make things more interesting each of you is allowed to pick one weapon.”
We were just starting to walk towards Morrigan and the weapons when the door opened and a group of people entered the arena. I felt my heart flip over as I saw who they were, I let myself fall to my knees as the generals, and the empress, walked into the arena.
“Kneel down,” said Pacorus, “you are in the presence of the empress.”
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