It had been a year since the joining and the exercises were grueling. Catya had no idea what the training would feel like and the young Skree needed to be a year old before their riders could mount and begin the flying exercises. During the training, Catya learned to make her own saddle, with fighting straps, how to feed and care for Zala, and how to focus her thoughts through the tanzite diadem she wore. That was the hardest part, her mental processes were so strange to Zala and Zala’s to her, but with work, extra hard work, coaching from Chrylos who was at her side except for his ranger duties, and help from Gryton, they had become a strong pair. Today was special, today, they were going to fly, and once they began the flying trying, she would be able to see all she wanted to see of her new home. No longer Marn, but a Guardian, Catya looked forward to her new duties, ranger training with Chrylos.
The flying training was grueling, flying formations, individual combat, on the ground and in the air, training swords were always blunted, to keep the exercises from being deadly, distance flying, the strengthening of the wing muscles for the Skree to carry their rider for long distances, survival training, and strength exercises for the riders. It had taken six months before the new cadets began their individual training with the rangers. One ranger, one cadet, on patrol, combat exercises, learning to be a team, and the continued mental training with their Skree partner. Catya and Zala were at the top of their class, and when they were paired with Chrylos and Gryton, she couldn’t have been happier. It had been discussed in the council that they might pair her with another ranger and she was apprehensive about that. But because of the closeness with Chrylos, and her trust of him, the council decided he should do her advanced training.
Now that they were preparing for advanced training, she had so many questions and all Chrylos would say was that they would be on an extended ranging, and would be gone for months. That made her nervous, alone with Chrylos for months, she trusted him and Gryton, and her trust for Zala was without question. She would ask Zala how she felt about being with Gryton for months, and all she did was make a deep sound of contentment.
They got their assignment, they would be ranging north, as far as the glacial range at the extreme end of the continent. They were to survey the area, log their observations, and make detailed maps of the area. It didn’t seem so exciting, until she was in the saddle on Zala’s back ready to leave. They had their supplies packed, had their swords, no longer blunt, but real swords, one that she had made for herself, part of every ranger’s training was to learn how to make their swords, and each sword had a tanzite jeweled hilt, shaped like the diadem she wore on her brow.
Chrylos assured her that all was well, this was standard training for all Guardians, and once completed, then they would serve the council as needed. Then Catya asked the big question that had been looming for some time, once training was done, would she be assigned to another ranger, or would she and Chrylos always be partnered. With a rather wry smile, Chrylos waited until they had taken wing and then he told her that they would be partners for as long as they were living, because Zala had chosen Gryton as a mate, and they mated for life.
Now Catya was the one who was filled with exhilaration, she was flying on Zala, next to Chrylos and Gryton, headed north for her first ranging, and training with her partner. She couldn’t have asked for more. This though was just the beginning, for she was in for some new experiences and there was no way to prepare for what was coming.
All rangers work in pairs unless the Skree are unmated, and because the female always chose, some rangers, like Chrylos, were single and therefore were sent on more dangerous missions, like the one eighteen months ago that brought them together. Chrylos was ten years older than Catya, from a completely different race, but their mounts were mated. This was going to be interesting. She knew Chrylos better than anyone on her new home, but still, he wasn’t accustomed to being partnered any more than she was and she wasn’t sure about how she felt, at eighteen years old, on her world, she would be a wife and mother, but here she was a ranger, with a man different than any she had known, riding a Skree, different than all other Skree, and headed to who knows where.
The flight was amazing, through the link with Zala she was able to experience flying at incredible heights and see all that was on the ground. The Skrees eye structure allowed them not only to see at night, but it also allowed them to see over great distances, with extreme clarity, when they were in close quarters, Zala’s eyes seemed to whirl and change colors, Zala told her it was natural and how they are able to see up close. One of the more amazing things that she had experienced was that through the link, they could talk to each other without words, a great help while flying, as well as speaking to any other Skree or Guardian through the link.
She was still curious about the diadem of tanzite and how a crystal could focus one’s thoughts and allow them to be shared with a Skree. She understood that to use the crystal, you had to be joined, and that the crystal helped focus the thoughts after being joined. She didn’t understand the purpose of placing the crystal in her sword hilt either, but she hoped that the additional ranger training with Chrylos would explain these things, but since departing the temple and barracks, Chrylos and Gryton had been unusually quiet.
She wasn’t sure if it was upcoming training, the close quarters, being alone with her, or even Zala and Gryton being mated, but she was unsettled by Chrylos’ quietness. As they got further from the temple and with the ease with which she rode, Gryton told her to tighten her fighting straps. She was startled, because he didn’t say it through Zala but spoke to her directly. As she tightened the straps down, out of nowhere, Gryton swooped down on her and Zala had to fold her wings and dive to get away from his attack. She was scared, why would Chrylos attack her suddenly, and looking behind her Zala saw that Gryton was pursuing and now she was scared, too. He was one of the largest males she had seen maybe only second in size to the statue of Regulus she had seen.
As she came closer and closer to the ground, she realized that Gryton was forcing her down and had no choice but to land. She landed, undid the straps, jumped from Zala’s back, sword drawn. Chrylos sat on Gryton, laughing at her, until she finally lowered her sword in frustration. She was angry, and she wanted to know why he had attacked, after regaining his composure, Chrylos dismounted, made camp, and started with an explanation.
“Catya, I had Gryton dive on you to measure your skills at evading a flying foe. Where we are going, there are unlinked Skree, and we are on a mission to meet with them and convince them to join us, unlinked, to prepare for the Marn invasion. I had to see how well you rode in an unprovoked attack and also see how Zala performed in battle. I wasn’t trying to hurt you, I was evaluating you, if I had wanted to hurt you, Gryton wouldn’t have told you to tighten the straps. Oh, and in the future, when out ranging, never ride with loose straps, you could fall to your death, or worse, kill Zala who would be trying to catch you as you fell.” She felt a little embarrassed, and flushed and Chrylos laughed and told her to rest. Plenty of time for training later.
After enjoying dinner, fresh roasted meat, some nice tubers, and tana, the drink most of Guardians chose over any other drink. He began to explain, this was the day she would begin her final training and learn the things that makes the Guardians who they are. She was quiet, wild Skree, more secrets to learn, would she ever be done training? It was at this point that she learned that the Skree when linked, are more powerful, and through the link, the Guardian is stronger than others. It was the crystals, they enhanced a Guardian/Skree link and gave them this strength. In battle as well as other times of danger, close combat, or when hurt, strength from Zala could flow through the crystal into her, enhancing her reflexes, increasing her strength, and allowing the Skree to heal her body to a point.
Catya said she understood the diadem better now, but what was the purpose of the stone in the sword pommel. Chrylos told her that through the sword stone, a Guardian could make the sword lighter, swifter, and stronger, much the same way the linked enhanced the Guardian. She was shocked. She had done all her training, without the help from the stones, and she asked if she was the only one or if all cadets were not taught this until this phase. Chrylos told her that cadets weren’t taught until this phase, and he also told her that she was farther advanced than most cadets that started with her, usually it was two full years for a cadet to be ready for the final training and that the cadets she paired out with, were six months ahead of her in training.
Training, with all its work was at a more relaxed pace. Mostly, because they did a good bit of flying every day so the training was in camp at night. First on the list was Chrylos explaining the power and properties of the Tanzite. Her hardest task was learning to focus the power through the crystal. Talking to Gryton and Zala was easy, but that’s because of the link, but focusing the power into the sword or getting the power enhancements from Zala was different altogether. She had to become one with Zala through the link to do either, and even though it was simple for Zala, Catya had difficulty maintaining the link when engaged in combat exercises. Chrylos was frustrated, he couldn’t understand how this was so difficult for her, for most cadets it was second nature.
As they were doing aerial combat training, Chrylos realized that if he could make her rely totally on instinct, she could hold the link. He told Gryton to attack without warning, dive and make it as hard as possible without permanently hurting Zala. Gryton told Zala and they started combat, without telling Catya. As the combat went on and it seemed more and more real, Catya instinctively reached out on the link and Zala and Catya became one, and for the first time, Catya knew what a Guardian was, after this, she was able to stay in the link and her training went faster.
Two months out, the real mission started. On the top of one Glacial mountains, called the Star Mountains, a large male Skree was flying and Chrylos and Gryton attempted to talk to him without success. Catya and Zala saw him and in the moment it took to focus, the male was upon them and was in full attack mode, Chrylos and Gryton swooped in to protect them and the four of them took the wild Skree to the ground. Once they grounded him, and the Skree were able to calm him, they spoke on the link, and for the first time in ages, the wild Skree were talking to the ones who chose to link. They told him their names, and why they were here. The Skree said his name was Tambar, and he was the leader of his pride, and he also told them there were several more prides and if they would let him, he would set up a meeting. Agreeing to meet with him, he left and told them to wait where they were and he would return in six days with the other pride leader’s then.
The next six days were filled with the most rigorous training so far, and Catya was sorer than she had ever been. The sword fighting was exhilarating and exhausting, Chrylos pulled every trick, every technique and taught her how to defend and attack. She felt more prepared than ever, and Catya knew that she could match any Marn in battle. When the delegation arrived, hopefully, they would be able to convince them all of the impending danger, and get them to agree to join them in the battle to come. In the duration of the wait, at night, she and Chrylos would talk for hours and she finally asked him if all Guardians could hear the other Skree through the link. He told her that only a few could, and it was always a female and that they made up the Seers. When he asked her why she told him that she could talk to Gryton without Zala, and that she could hear Tambar as well. Now Chrylos understood why they chose to let her try, she was a Seer, and she would eventually join their ranks, but for now, she was a ranger, and his partner. Catya asked him if he had someone he was mated to, and when he explained that the custom was that if the Skree were mated, the riders were mated as well. Something she hadn’t considered before. This made her look at Chrylos differently, was he the mate she would choose? On Marn, females were mated without choice and it was often brutal, and sometimes, they would be killed if they displeased their mate. Chrylos told her that it wasn’t that way on Embrellon, and definitely not with Guardians.
He asked her if being his mate displeased her, and she said no, even though the training could be brutal, from the time they met he had always treated her with respect. Now she had even more reason to fight. She was mated, and the only way a Marn could be unmated was if her mate was killed. Protecting Chrylos took on a whole new meaning for her. The meeting of the unjoined Skree was the next day and it was going to be a challenge to convince them of the need to join with them, but tonight, tonight was hers, she was going to find out what it was like to be with Chrylos.