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“Gaian! Wake up!” Bevern whispered, his voice filled with haste. He didn’t like this one bit – waking up in a dark, damp tunnel somewhere deep inside a cave. But he was thankful that he wasn't alone.

Gaian slowly came round, “Oh, my head...”

“It looks like you’ve taken a nasty knock there. Still, it should knock some sense into you.”

Gaian sat up. “Where are we?”

“You’re guess is as good as mine. I was only in the sea for a few seconds before I blacked out, and then I woke up here next to you just now. But, wherever we are, I suggest we find a way out quickly – this place is giving me the creeps.”

Gaian stood up. He was still a little uneasy on his feet, but he felt good enough to be able to walk. “I agree. Which way shall we go?”

Bevern felt around the walls, “It appears that this is a dead end, so we don’t really have a choice.”

“Very well. As it’s pitch black in here, I suggest you keep one hand on the left wall, and I’ll keep one of the right. That way we can tell if there are any hidden turnings.”

“All right.” And with that they set off. After a couple of minutes passed by Bevern said, “Do you think Sianna and Tyght are alive somewhere?”

“Well, we somehow survived. Whoever or whatever brought us here may have saved them too.”

“Yes...” Bevern felt guilty for even half hoping they had died. Not so much for Tyght, if it wasn't for him they wouldn’t be in this mess. But for Sianna...

Gaian held out his arm in front of Bevern, bringing them to a halt. “Listen!” he whispered. They could hear a scuttling sound in the distance.

“There’s something here with us,” said Bevern, “And I don’t think it’s friendly!” He drew his sword, and Gaian did the same.

They slowly walked down the tunnel, as quietly as they could, as they had been instructed to during their days in the Republican Defence Force. They inched closer to the source of the scuttling sound. They could tell from the sound that it made that it was relatively small, no more than about a foot high.

Instinctively they closed in on the creature, and both struck it at the same time, killing it instantly. Bevern knelt down on the ground and felt for the remains of the creature. “Pincers? But they’re huge! That can’t be right!”

“There’s not much in this world that is ‘right’ at the moment. How sharp are they?”

“Very, they’ll have your legs off if you’re not careful.”

“Then we should break them off and take them with us. If we need to cut anything they’ll be easier to use than our swords.”

That’s one of the things that Bevern liked about Gaian – he was always thinking ahead. He broke off two of the pincers and gave one to Gaian. They then continued their way down the path, but being careful about the noise that they made.

After a few minutes they heard some more scuttling noises, and this time they could tell that there were several of these crabs up ahead. The time for silence was over. “Do you know what to do?” asked Gaian.

“As always. On the count of 3?”

“1... 2... 3!!!!!”

They lunged towards the sources of the scuttling, and working out just from what they could hear they attacked the crabs. Their pincers started clapping, but they were able to keep out of their way.

After two frantic minutes they were through, but there was now yet more of them up ahead. The crabs were hurrying towards them, and it seemed as though they were hungry for their blood.

“No rest for the wicked!” said Bevern, as they ploughed on to the next group.

As they set to work on the crabs, Bevern reflected on how well they worked as a team. It had always been so, ever since they both joined the RDF.

It was standard practise on the first day of training for two “newbies” to be paired together, and buddied up with a “onener” – that is, someone who had completed a year (and half their minimum requirement) in the RDF. Gaian and Bevern were paired together, and their onener was a man called Kalinn.

Their training was fast and restless. First they were taught how to handle a sword and how to care for it, and then they went straight into one-on-one combat, using wooden practise swords.

Bevern, being a little overweight and not particularly used to exercise, kept finding himself getting hit. But he didn’t let the bruises put him off. He had resolved himself to doing the best he could in the RDF if he had to be here for two years.

But Kalinn was a brute. He kept hitting him and hitting him, and it appeared that he was getting some sort of sadistic pleasure out of it. Bevern did his best to fight back, but it didn’t do much good. “Oh, why do I bother!” said Kalinn, “You’re pathetic! They shouldn’t make fat bastards like you join up! You’ll waste our time and will just get killed as soon as a giant beast first sees you! At least you’ll provide it with a decent meal!” and with that Kalinn stormed off.

Gaian walked over to him and said, “Don’t let him get to you. He’s not a very good teacher – he isn’t training you properly. It’s not your fault you’re not parrying his blows just right, it’s his, he hasn’t shown you how to do it correctly.”

“That may be so, but he’s right. Why do they make people like me join up?”

“Because we all have to do our bit to defend the Republic. And sometimes the period of conscription can be the making of a man. You’re not going to let it break you on the first day, are you?” He smiled at him, and Bevern felt reassured. “Come on, I’ve had some practise with a sword before, let me show you what it is that you need to do.”

For the next two hours Gaian slowly and patiently went through the various moves that Bevern needed to do to defend himself, and how best to attack. Whilst they practised the moves, whenever Gaian got through Bevern’s defences, rather than hitting him hard as Kalinn had done, he just tapped him gently with his sword. Before giving Bevern time to worry too much that he hadn’t done it right, he quickly explained where he had gone wrong, and got him to go again. By the end of the session Bevern was getting the hang of it, and had even managed to land a couple of blows on Gaian.

The rest of their training went on like this. Kalinn didn’t do too much to help, but their superiors saw that Gaian was providing adequate assistance, and so they let things be. Once their training was over, in recognition of the fact that Gaian and Bevern were working well as a team, they were both deployed to the same unit.

Their first year was fairly quiet, patrolling the border with the Empire. There were the occasional beast to deal with, but they didn’t come across any giant ones.

At the end of their first year, as they were now oneners, they were required to return to their training base to help train some more newbies. But, unusually, they were assigned to the same two newbies and told to train them together.

They were assigned to a couple of girls, Belinna and Heanise. They were friends that came from the same village. They both took to training well, and quickly learnt the basics.

One night Gaian and Bevern were talking together. Gaian was convinced that Heanise was interested in Bevern, and was trying to get him to make his move. But Bevern resisted, Heanise just didn’t do it for him. No girl could...

For their second year they were deployed to the frozen wastes, and when Gaian said he was going to sign up for another year Bevern decided to join him. Whilst he didn’t particularly enjoy the army, he didn’t know what else he would do if he left.

He was relieved when Gaian said he was going to quit to try and concentrate on his writing. Bevern quit at the same time, and they travelled to Eliviston together.

That all seemed to be a million miles away from where they were now. They fought their way through the crabs, until eventually they found themselves in a large cavern, with three other paths leading off from it. There was a faint blue light which seemed to be emanating from the walls, but they couldn’t quite pinpoint its source.

Thankfully, there were no further signs of the crabs. There were some rocks in the centre of the cavern, and they went and sat down.

“Just like old times!” said Gaian.


“I hope Sianna’s safe somewhere...”

Bevern’s heart sank whenever he heard him speak of her. Yes, whilst he had encouraged him to go for her, it was only because he had wanted to see him happy. But then Bevern thought about everything that had happened, everything that had led them here, to this point. They had been almost killed on more than one occasion, and he felt that he couldn’t bottle up his feelings any longer. He had to tell Gaian the truth. He knew that he wouldn’t feel the same way, but at least he would know, in case something were to happen to either one of them...

“Gaian, there’s – ” Before he could complete his sentence, they heard a loud explosion come from one of the other tunnels.

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