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Trial By Combat (chapter 3)

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

The Mark

Planet Samael: The Royal Palace

There is a tradition on planet Samael referred to as marking. It is a custom that goes back thousands of years to a time before recorded history on the small world. When a young Arez had reached an age of maturity they could decide to undertake the trials to be recognized as an adult and a full member of their tribe. The trials were quite difficult and very few passed them on the first attempt. Those who triumphed over these tests were brought before the tribe to receive their first mark, a tattoo which denoted their house and tribe. The marking was tattooed on or above the neck. Many impetuous youngsters choose the sides of their heads to display their proud mark.

It took time for Adeola to heal from the injuries she received while she was on Lhasa. The other young people who passed the trials with her had already received their marks long ago. The marking ceremony was the furthest thing from her mind until her older brother Kupanga informed her of the impending ceremony just days prior. Those days flew by in an instant and there she stood waiting outside of the Throne room in the palace. The palace was a gigantic pyramid that sat at the center of the capital city Mazzarath. It was golden colored and constructed of the most durable materials on the planet, even an orbital bombardment would have trouble cracking the pyramid’s surface. The throne room sat at the top of the structure and on special occasions the plates at the peak folded down to unveil the throne room to the populace.

Adeola waited while wearing the paraphernalia of the ancient warriors who roamed the plains in the ages long before star ships and technology. Crude outdated fabrics wrapped her chest, parts of her arms, and calves. Beneath her muscular exposed midriff hung a long purple patchwork skirt that was armored in certain places. It was obvious to her that this piece of clothing was far older than she was. It smelled of blood from battles that took place long before she could even imagine. White paint was streaked down the bridge of her nose and drawn into significant patterns on her arms, chest, and other parts of her body by the holy women who did nothing more than obsess over the meanings of the ancient symbols.

Adeola used to fantasize about the day she would receive her mark, about where she would put it, how large she would make it. She always assumed she would get it on the left side of her head just like her elder sister Nyasi. She looked up to Nyasi for as long as she could remember. She wanted to be just like her. Nyasi was the eldest daughter of First Mother. Father always favored Nyasi.

When she was younger Adeola would occasionally sit in front of the mirror and pull back the hair on the left side of her head. She would imagine how her mark would look until the wild curly locks escaped from her grasp and sprouted outwards. She was always frustrated by her hair. She wished it was long and straight like her sister's.

Nyasi once caught her antics in the mirror. She waited until Adeola noticed her reflection before asking, "What are you doing little one?"

"Nothing!" Adeola replied in embarrassment.

Nyasi walked up behind her and placed her hands on Adeola's shoulders, "your hair is too curly to keep shaved on one side. It would look odd."

Adeola pouted.

"It is funny."

"What is funny?"

Nyasi wrapped her arms around Adeola from behind. "I always loved your wild hair."

"You lie."

"I will never lie to you," Nyasi played in Adeola's curls with her fingers. "I will tell you something."

"Yes?" Adeola’s excitement was palpable. She would always hang on her big sister’s words, ready to enthusiastically absorb whatever wisdom Nyasi offered.

Nyasi looked her in the eyes through the mirror. "I always wanted to get my mark on my nape but I could not because my hair would cover it up. If I had hair like yours I could have my wish." The words put a huge grin on Adeola's young face. Nyasi kissed her on the temple then patted her on the shoulders before leaving the little girl with a few more words of wisdom. “Always stand proud Adeola. It is our duty to be strong. We are M’falme. The future of this world, of the entire galaxy, rests upon our proud shoulders.”

Outside of the grand hall years later, Adeola stood with her arms crossed over her chest touching her shoulders as she recalled that fond memory. Nyasi wouldn’t be waiting on the other side of the large doors with the rest of the extended royal family. She was confined to a private wing of the palace as punishment for the attack on Lhasa. An attack that could have been avoided if Adeola hadn’t run away and gotten lost on a Terran colony. She couldn’t help but feel responsible for her sister’s fall from grace. She couldn’t help but feel responsible for the war that was starting.

A thin vertical line of light shined down the center of Adeola’s face as the large doors slowly opened. As her eyes adjusted to the light, she could see every member of her tribe gathered together in the throne room. There were so many of them. She had close to ten siblings. Due to the low male birthrate on Samael, most of her siblings were female. They were all wearing decorated purple cloaks which were draped over their shoulders exposing their right arms. The cloaks were of many different shades. The darker the shade of purple the closer the blood tie to the nuclear royal family.

The two queens, Oyodiin and Labaa, were standing above everyone on the high steps leading up to the throne. Oyodiin was First Mother and stood on a slightly higher step above Labaa who was Second Mother. It was common for the Emperor to have no less than three wives. The first wife he chose was referred to as First Mother. Oyodiin was chief among Emperor Boq’s wives and her son was heir to the throne. Regardless of the fact that he was only ten summers old. The young boy, Boq IV, stood in front of Oyodiin with her hands on his shoulders.

Adeola was the only child of Jecla, Third Mother, who had passed away around the same time as when she partook in the trials. Her mother’s absence from the ceremony pained Adeola deeply but that wouldn’t be the only absence that she noticed. Her father, Emperor Boq III, was also missing from the gathering. Before she could determine how she felt about her father skipping out on her big day, a hand rested on her shoulder.

“Father had urgent business to attend to.” The hand belonged to Kupanga, the son of Second Mother Labaa, and the eldest male child of the emperor. Kupanga, or Ku as his baby sister often called him, was a slender Arez male with light red skin and long black hair. His eyes and cheeks had an almost sunken look to them. An illness in his formative years left him smaller and weaker than most Arez males. Had he been born to First Mother, Ku would be heir to the throne but that honor will be passed on to Boq IV. Regardless, Kupanga carried out his royal duties with the utmost class and kindness. He was wearing his formal cloak as well as jewels and other finery. “He instructed me to wish you well on his behalf.”

“Thank you, brother,” Adeola was angered by her father’s absence but she didn’t make it obvious. Besides, this wasn’t the first time he disappointed her by missing one of her events and it wouldn’t be the last. If he failed to attend the trials then it made sense that he wouldn’t be here at the ceremony. She looked down at her knuckles and thought back to her final fight at the trails and how she wouldn’t stop hitting her opponent. How fixated she was at that moment by the empty seat on the royal balcony.

“Adeola?” Kupanga said softly.

She snapped out of her daze and corrected her posture. She placed her hand on top of his on her shoulder, “I am fine. I am ready.”

“Splendid.” Kupanga waved his free hand towards the large crowd of royals and relatives. The crowd slowly dispersed from the center of the hall forming a clear path from Adeola to the High Priest who stood before the throne steps with a tattoo artist beside him. “Your true journey begins today my sister. I am pleased to be the first to welcome you.”

The High Priest wore the fur cloak and skull of a Nihoru upon his head. A Nihoru was a beast the size of a rhino. They were a wolf-like creature with shaggy fur that hung in front of their eyes, a snout similar to a dog, and large horns that curved out from the sides of their heads that they used to gore their prey. The Nihoru was a sacred animal that was illegal to hunt with modern weapons, under punishment of death. Only the Emperor could grant permission to hunt the exotic beast. Indeed, it was a great honor to adorn a Nihoru skull.

The High Priest spoke with his arms raised, “My queens, members of the royal family, and tribal leaders. It is with great honor and a humble heart that I welcome the latest M’falme child to receive her tribal mark.” He extended his hands palms out towards Adeola. “Step forward young one.” Adeola slowly approached the Throne as the crowd looked on. “These are your final steps as a child. When you leave here this day you will be recognized as a full member of the tribe.”

Adeola stood before the High Priest. First and Second Mother looked down upon her from their high steps. The priest gestured for her to turn and face the crowd. He closed his eyes and placed his hands upon her shoulders as he spoke. “Princess Adeola M’falme, daughter of our proud Emperor Boq III and Third Mother Jelca. Do you accept your duty to be a leader? Do you accept your place among the greatest tribe in the history of our world?” He gently pressed her hair to the back of her head revealing her neck as the tattoo artist approached with his tools at the ready, “Do you accept your mark Adeola M’falme?”

Adeola attempted to take a deep breath. She felt like she was at the bottom of the ocean. Her mind drifted to the girl that she defeated in battle at her final trial. She remembered standing over the girl’s motionless body as blood dripped from her knuckles. She lost control and hurt someone permanently. Now the tribe wanted her to accept a reward for that heinous act. To hold up her fist in victory for doing something so cruel that it turned her stomach and made it impossible for her to sleep at night. She didn’t want to be a person that destroyed others to get what she desired. She didn’t want to be like him.

She was so afraid to choose but she had no other option. If she gave in to the wants of those around her at this moment, she would be a slave to their expectations for the rest of her life. “I…” She gathered her strength. Somehow, thinking back to how Jake overcame his fear helped her continue. She yanked herself away from the High Priest’s hands and stepped forward, “I do not accept my mark!” She balled her fists, “I will not prosper from the destruction of another.” It was like a weight had been lifted off of her chest. She could finally breathe smoothly. She stood there and observed the shocked looks on all of the faces of those in the hall. She had to look them all in the eyes. To make sure they comprehended her decision, the stand she was taking.

She glanced back at the two queens standing above the chaos that she had just caused. Labaa had a look of confusion plastered onto her face. Oyodiin, on the other hand, was visibly furious with what had just transpired. She was covering her young son’s eyes with her right hand as she shot daggers at Adeola. Oyodiin was always passive aggressive towards Adeola. She just had an issue with the girl for some unknown reason but this incident had lit a fire behind her eyes. The gloves were off now. She wouldn’t make a scene then and there but there would be repercussions for this perceived slight.

Adeola would cross that bridge when she got to it. Whatever difficulties Oyodiin had in store for her were of no consequence at the moment. She held her head high as she walked past the crowd towards the exit. The large doors slid shut behind her as she left.

This is just one chapter from Versatile Layer: Trial by Combat. To read the rest of this fantastic story click here.

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