“Enough talking,” snapped Jared at us, stopping still where the trees began. A group of vampires – all male, typical! – had been there waiting. By their posture and respectful bow of the head to Jared, I guessed that they were members of the legion.
Jared informed us, “Your aim in this task is to reach the end of the forest in the fastest time that you can. Three things you need to know: one, you can’t step on the floor. You can use the trees, logs, rocks...but not even once can you step foot on the ground. Number two: you are not permitted to use your own unique gifts, this is all about your strength and speed and agility. Yes, before you ask, I do have people watching. The third thing you need to know is that you will have someone chasing you the entire time. If they catch you, task over.”
Anxious with anticipation, I watched as each vampire took their turn at the task. Each had a ten second head start before a member of the legion was on their tail. Most seemed to be completing the task within forty seconds, providing they weren’t first caught. Of course, from outside the forest I couldn’t see a thing. It wasn’t until they returned through the forest that Jared would be told of the applicant’s success, or lack thereof.
Standing there waiting for my own turn was agonising. I couldn’t even plan a strategy as I had no view of what the forest was like inside. Worse still, the members of the legion that were stood here were all Pagoris. There was no way to outrun a Pagori unless you were one yourself. Sure Sventés were stronger and faster than the fittest human, but it didn’t compare to Pagori strength and speed. There was one thing, however, that could go in my favour. What Pagoris lacked in was agility. Sventé vampires, however, had the dexterity and sprightliness of a jungle cat and if these legion members weren’t used to working alongside Sventés then they might not be prepared for it. So if I tapped into that and also made good use of my head start there was a chance – I didn’t like how slim that chance was – of succeeding.
Was it any wonder that I was left till last to do the task? Or that Jared paired me up with the stockiest legion member of the lot to chase after me?
Jared gave me the fakest, most patronising ‘good luck’ that I’d ever heard, so I gave him the fakest, most patronising ‘thank you’ that he had ever heard.
It felt like forever before Jared finally said ‘Go!’
I sprung forward with as much force as I could, grabbing hold of the nearest branch for only a fleeting moment before then swinging to the next one ahead of me. Never letting myself forget that soon I would be pursued, I zoomed through the forest with such grace and litheness like a feather in the wind.
Plenty of logs and boulders scattered the ground, but for now I was relying only on tree branches. Bouncing from branches to boulders and back again would be nice and creative, but would slow my speed. That was the last thing I needed. Before long I could hear my pursuer...and there was no sign yet of the end of the forest.
I put more force behind my swings but the Pagori bloke behind me was fast and I knew that I couldn’t stay out of his reach for much longer.
“I is a comin’,” the bloke called out in an accent that wasn’t authentic. Clearly he considered himself playful and that this was a game that he was going to win.
Ah crap! He may just win it. Up ahead there was a wide river. Plenty of rocks stuck out of it. I could easy dash across them but that would slow me down. I almost felt dispirited until I saw what was beyond the river: the end of the forest. As I noticed the fallen tree in front of the river, an idea entered my head.
“Don’t hurt yourself now,” the Pagori bloke was shouting in a patronising voice. Arsewipe.
As I reached the river I landed nimbly on the fallen tree and pushed hard on my legs as I leapt into the air...almost there...almost there. Down. Ha. I’d cleared the river.
“Fuck me!” exclaimed the Pagori in surprise.
I’d rather not. Swinging from branches again, I could hear the Pagori stomping across the rocks. Apparently he couldn’t match my leap.
One more swing. Yes! I celebrated in my head as my feet met the ground outside of the forest. Three seconds later the blonde Pagori was beside me. He shook his head at me, his smile was filled with surprise. His eyes were glowing with respect.
“What’s your name?” he asked. The Australian had dropped his playful accent now.
“Well, Sam, I think I’ve just fell in love.” His state of disbelief now had him giggling. “Come on.”
We ran back through the forest at vampire speed, finding Jared waiting at the mouth of it. He seemed amused. Until the Pagori spoke.
“She’s like a nymph or something!” He shook his head. “I can’t believe she did it.”
The look on Jared’s face was priceless. “Green, are you saying she outran you?”
He nodded. “You should have seen her leap over the river, she completely cleared it!” He patted me on the back and then waltzed over to his comrades, telling them about the chase.
Whereas Green was dazed yet excited, Jared was dazed but irritated. The other blokes weren’t laughing anymore, but they were still looking at me oddly and whispering. Then I got extremely cheesed off when I heard one of them suggesting to another bloke that I must have given Green a blow job to get him to say I’d outran him. I stomped hard on his foot and shot him a scowl. He didn’t seem confident enough to scowl back. Were they all arsewipes?
The bloke with the shaven head who’d earlier assured me that I would not pass this tryout glared at me. “You sure you’re not a disguised Pagori vampire on crack?”
“Oh shut it, slap-head.”
He just chuckled.
“For the final stage, we’ll return inside.” Jared’s walk was filled with that much frustration that he was almost marching.
I knew as I entered the building and joined the line in front of Jared that my smugness must be apparent on my face because he was glowering madly at me. I snorted.
“The final stage,” he drawled. “Combat. This is where you get to use your gifts. In the legion we train to avoid up-close and personal combat as this only tires a vampire and leads to more injuries. Instead we like to rely mostly on our gifts, aiding us to attack from afar. For this stage the effectiveness of your gift will be just as important as your control of it. There are now only seven of you left. From what I have seen so far, I’m confident that the three spaces I have left to fill for the squad will be filled today. Which means four of you will be going home.”
Jared first matched up one of the two remaining Kejas with a Pagori for combat. “Your aim is to outmatch your opponent, not to kill or cause any harm that can’t be fixed by our self-healing.”
Contrary to mythology, vampires can be killed in lots of ways. A stab to the heart would do the trick purely because we need it beating just as much as we did as a human. We can also be bled out if our injuries are too extensive which leads to death. Being starved of blood for more than four weeks was another way to go. In addition, a lot of vampires have deadly gifts and these will just as effectively kill us as they would a human.
Both the Keja and the Pagori were good. They stayed clear of each other, as instructed. Their powers were impressive. Although the Keja was a conjurer and was materialising weapons, the Pagori could secrete smoke from his hands, making the room hazy and preventing the Keja from finding his target. As such, the Pagori seized a weapon on a bad throw and used it against the conjurer. Combat done and dusted.
Jared then paired up the other Keja with another of the Pagoris. The Keja was exhaling tiny thorns which I guessed were poisonous to some degree however seen as his opponent had the power to deflect or negate anything thrown at him with just the wave of his hand, the thorns simply hit the floor each time. As such, I never got to see what effect exactly the thorns could have. Jared eventually stopped the duel seen as they were both as good as the other.
The last two Pagoris were next – one being the annoying but cute slap-head. He winked at me before confidently heading to the Northern point of the building. And God his gift was extraordinary, which meant that the whole thing was over in seconds. He had the power to cause temporary sensory paralysis, which meant his opponent was rendered blind, deaf and mute. As such, he was shooting his superhuman breath blindly – literally.
I was next. And I lacked an opponent.
Jared sighed and glared at me with narrowed eyes. I half expected him to say ‘I’m afraid there’s no one to duel with you, you’ll have to run along home’. But instead he started removing his jacket.
“I guess I’ll have to be your duelling partner,” he sighed.
A giggle almost choked me. “You’re joking, right?”