Monday, January 01, 1990

Initiation: A Tale of Alyria

The door slid open with a crash. Echoes reverberated off the unseen walls and ceiling. Darkness clung to the pillars in the large hall, only dispelled by a single patch of light resting on a golden altar to Pheric at the far end of the hall. Nothing else could be seen.

The novice took a trembling breath. This was it. After so much training and work, so much sacrifice and agony, all that remained was his Initiation. Shaking a bit, he stepped into the hall. His bare feet slapped quietly against the metal floor. A chill breeze raised goose bumps on his exposed flesh. "Remember the ritual,” he muttered to himself. "Remember the ritual." Taking another breath, he began to stride toward the altar. "Hold up your head,” he told himself. "You are about to become a member of the Five Hundred. Act like it!" Slowly he gathered his composure. By the time he reached the golden altar, his head was held high and his visage was proud. He was ready.

A voice boomed from the shadows. "Who comes to join the ranks of the Five Hundred?"

The novice responded as required, "I am Shirita, and I come to join the Five Hundred."

The voice boomed again, "To join the Five Hundred requires that you leave everything behind. Your name is forfeit. Your dignity is forfeit. Your life is forfeit. Are you willing to make this sacrifice?"

"I am."

A shape flowed from the shadows. The novice could see that it was a spiculum of the Five Hundred, his quicksilver armor dully reflecting the dim light. Standing next to the novitate, he extruded a sword. "Novice,” the spiculum said, "you are stripped of your name." With a clean swipe, he cut off the braid reflecting the novice's noble birth. "You are stripped of your dignity." Shorn in two, the novice's loin cloth joined the braid on the floor, leaving him naked. "You are stripped of your very life." A bloody streak appeared on the novice's chest, deftly traced by the blade's keen edge. He did not even have time to wince before it was done.

Another shape emerged from the shadows. The High Lord strode into the light and stood in front of the altar, facing the novitate. "Nameless one, you aspire to a high calling. Since the birth of Alyria, the Five Hundred have stood watch over its children, guarding against both dragon and Outsider. Some even trace our lineage back to the world of the Progenitors, who descended from heaven, bringing with them the mighty Pheric (blessed be)." The novice instinctively murmured, "Blessed be" and was shocked to hear the same phrase murmured throughout the room. Despite its appearance, the room was quite full.

"Nameless one, it is time for you to take your final vows." One of the guards handed a golden chalice to the High Lord. "Hold out your right hand,” he commanded. The novice did as he was bid. The High Lord drew a dagger and sliced open the novice's hand. "Let the blood flow into the chalice,” he commanded. Then he did the same to his own hand. Silence filled the room, broken only by the patter of blood dripping into the chalice.

When the chalice was full, the High Lord handed it to the novice. "Drink,” he commanded. "It is the mingling of blood." The novice drank as he was commanded. The coppery, metallic tang nauseated him, but he managed a small sip. Taking the chalice from him, the High Lord also drank. Then he placed the chalice on the altar and picked up a small crystal vial.

The novice stared at the vial in awe. In it, something silver pulsated and writhed. It almost looked alive. The High Lord spoke. "Nameless one, this is the chrism of the Five Hundred. With it, you will be given the armor of the ancients and the power of the Progenitors will pulse in your veins. Kneel, and receive your chrism."

Closing his eyes, the novice knelt before the High Lord. Without another word, the High Lord poured the vial onto the novice.

He screamed.

He felt as though his very nerves were on fire. "It burns!" he cried. "It burns!" He could feel the silvery substance spreading over his body, burning as it went. It was in his eyes! It was in his nose! Penetrating his skin, setting his hair ablaze! Burning, burning, burning!

And with a jolt, it was over. The pain vanished and cool relief washed over his body. In shock, the novice opened his eyes. His skin had become quicksilver. Now he understood the secret of the Five Hundred. Their armor was a living part of them! He could feel its soothing chill surrounding him, protecting him, shielding him. He could feel his wounds closing as the armor worked its magic. Slowly, he stood.

“It is not fitting that one of the Five Hundred should be nameless,” intoned the High Lord. “Therefore, you shall receive your names. First, you shall receive your bearer name. When the Progenitors came from beyond the stars, many mighty warriors bestrode the land. This armor was first borne by PFC Robert DuLang. Upon his death, his burden was passed to another, and down through the ages his burden comes to you. Therefore your bearer name will be PFC Robert DuLang. Carry it well, for you carry his honor with you.”

The spiculum who stood next to the novice then spoke. “It falls to me to present to you your squad name. We who have stood by you in training have seen your tireless effort and endurance. Like a mighty oak you have weathered all that has been hurled at you and yet remained unbowed. Therefore, we give to you the squad name of Oak. Carry it well, for you carry our honor with you.”

With a gesture of invitation, the High Lord held out his hands. “Come; join us in the sharing of blood. Be bound to your new brother, Oak.” One by one the spicula flowed from the shadows, embracing Oak and tasting of the chalice. Oak embraced each in turn, overwhelmed. These were his new brothers. Already the memories of his old life were fading. Tomorrow he would awaken as a spiculum of the Five Hundred, a true warrior.


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