Sunday, 04 September 2011 05:31

Imperial Odyssey - My Path, and This is What I Choose

Written by  Austin Craft
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Mud spattered my face as I ran through the forest. The path was dimly lit, but still pretty hard to see anything farther than fifteen feet in front of me. The night sky gave little light to my path. Thank the Maker the path was relatively clear of debris, or I may have twisted my ankle on the uneven ground. My lungs felt as though they were on fire having run this long. Almost mile three in a short amount of time. My legs were heavy. They were trying to stay firm under the weight of my body and the assault pack I was carrying, though I could feel thy wanted to give way and crumble to the earth.

“No time to stop,” I whispered to myself as I continued to trudge along the dark path. “Almost there.” My feet ached and longed for the time they would be released from their leathery prison and breathe the fresh air of my barracks bay. My shoulders screamed at me to throw of the pack and allow them to come to a relaxing hang. Dryness overcame my mouth and my tongue clung to its walls as if it were afraid it might fall out of it. I tried to lather up some spit to put it at ease but no matter how hard I tried, my mouth remained a desert. “Have to… keep moving.”

I could see the finish line through a slit in the trees about 500 feet away. There, I saw a line of shadows, and although I wasn’t sure of their numbers, I knew it was almost over. My mind pushed all other feelings of pain and misery out of my body until the only thing running through my mind as fast as I was physically running was, “Push it! Move it! Don’t quit now! It’s almost over!” I reached under the straps of my assault pack and hiked it up higher on my shoulders releasing the tension slightly. Digging my feet into the muddy ground, I picked up my pace until I was at a full sprint. I was sure my lungs were going to explode, or my legs would give out under my body throwing me to the ground. I didn’t care. I had to keep moving. The only motivation I had was to finish so I could stop running. Kind of contrary to my whole situation, but motivation of any kind is still motivation.

The tree line came quickly, and once free of it, there was only about 200 feet to go. I dug deeper still, pushing my body to its limits. Every part of my body was pleading with me to stop, but I sprinted still. The faces of the shadows began to take form. I recognized them to be the Queensmen Training Instructors. One was holding a stop watch. He yelled the current time to those crossing the finish line. “14:17, 14:18, 14:19…” As I crossed the line he yelled out, “14:26!”

As I slowed to a complete stop, I felt my entire body shaking. My lungs sucked in as much air as capacity would allow and kicked it out just as fast as it had taken it in. I was weak at the knees but my legs held true. I hunched over and heaved for a second, not quite sure if I was going to vomit or not. I gagged as I took in another breath and stood up straight. Not too long after I stood up, I was overcome with nausea and I bent back over and vomited. The pain brought me to my knees. As I clenched the ground, one of the QI’s came over to me.

“Don’t worry,” he began, “it’s just weakness leaving the body. You’re a stronger man now, or at least, a dumber one.” He laughed as smacked my back which made me vomit further than intended. I stood back up and kicked sand over the spot where my innards had projected out of my body to prevent anyone else from stepping in it. I held my stomach as I turned around. The sun had begun to rise and the last of the runners were just finishing up. I wasn’t the first one to cross the finish line, but I sure a hell wasn’t the last. I smiled at the satisfaction of not being last.

After everyone had finished their run, the QI’s turned to us and said, “Not too bad for the run overall. However, as you know running is only one part to the exam. Next is the swim, and marksmanship course. After that, one on one combative training, your choice of weapons. All this before you can graduate. We’ve given you the tools, now let’s see what you do with them. Stay sharp and good luck to you all.” He turned and left us there to our thoughts. One and a half mile timed swim, marksman qualifications on the Shadow I, II, and III rifles, as well as one on one hand to hand combat. Some may end up dead, others will not pass. But as for me… I’m going to become a Queensmen for her Majesty the Queen of Zintoniea.

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