Archive for the ‘science fiction’ Category

The Strangling Hand
by Karl Hans Strobl
translated by Joe E. Bandel
Copyright Joe E. Bandel
The Strangling Hand Ch 1 pg 5-8

The Frau who wanted to visit Eleagabal Kuperus had to wait a while before the heavy door opened. The faint light from a nearby lantern engaged in battle with the fog and brought the carvings on the door into sharp relief, then slid across the hand with the key as it radiated out to the edge of the darkness that lay heavy over the end of the street. The portal slowly opened and a long passage led the Frau into the interior of the house as she walked silently over soft carpet. To her left and right were glowing letters that arranged themselves into words which were not recognizable, as well as hieroglyphics, cuneiform and glimmering symbols. They gave off so much light that in the dim twilight dark paintings and statues could be seen high above all along the entrance corridor. A fountain pattered a wistful melody in a red-lit room, in which a collection of paintings were hung on the walls. A servant waited there, whose hairy head, whose pointed little ears and whose evil glimmering eyes made him look like a wolf. He raised his hand in a silencing movement.

The Frau followed him down a narrow path between two walls of books, until he took a ball from out of a bowl and dropped it back in producing a silvery sound. From out of the folds of a curtain, a cool breeze blew against her hot face as she stepped beneath a glass dome that arched above a room of marble. It was like a temple with two rows of supporting columns, but the broad capitals of these columns were decorated with scrolls and animal heads that looked down on her and did not in any way support the dome. They apparently served no purpose except to divide the bottom portion of the chamber, while the dome itself remained unsupported and free above like a symbol of the infinity of heaven. There were all types of colorful marble collected in this chamber, from white fragments of Tyrolean marble to flaming , starry and miraculous colors of the rarest kind. Water trickled down a wall, as if a little stream of blood poured from out of some hidden opening above and silently slid down the flat surface. Nearby were tiles like those that maps were painted upon, but these showcased delicate ferns, moss or bush like veins encased within the stone, as well as blossoming corals that spread their branches out wide, as if they contained the power of unchained expansion. The impeccable surfaces of white, yellow and ivory colored marble glowed in ever changing displays of color.

This chamber presented lifeless stone, while at the same time radiating an intense sense of life and peace, which was driven by an infinite source. It was possibly like a head in which confused thoughts stormed, in which confused thoughts dwelled, and of which no one would dare speak or act upon in real life. Up above, the dome itself remained completely detached from the confusion, containing it so that none of it could escape; arched and glassy like the cornea of an eye, upon whose retina these most precious and wonderful colors played.

Eleagabal Kuperus sat at a marble table in the center, guarded by columns on the left and the right. His hand lay on the table, his finger traced some vein in the marble and his lips moved. Then he looked up and his gaze wrapped the Frau in a veil of questions. His questioning eyes lay deep inside a head that was just as much that of a patriarch as it was that of an old predator. A high forehead rose above them, furrowed with so many wrinkles that people would find it laughable in anyone else. Down below grew a wild beard that bushed out on all sides, yet remained forced down onto his chest. Beneath his mustache gaped the dark cavern of his mouth from which two canines protruded. The incisors were long lost, the canines of the upper skull had transformed into fangs through a rare power, and when Eleagabal Kuperus laughed, they crept out like daggers from their sheaths. Around his bald head lay a thin wreath of white hair, which stood out straight like bristles as if from an electric shock.

The Frau hesitated and then stepped up to him and laid a round package on the table in front of him which she had carried beneath her coat.

“You are welcome here,” said Eleagabal Kuperus and he waved away the servant with the face of a wolf, who had been crouching like a predator behind the Frau. “You are welcome here,” said Eleagabal Kuperus once more, and the Frau felt how his gaze penetrated through her. Then he added, and his hand pointed to the round package:
“You have brought me the head of your husband.”

A trembling came over the Frau, and the table, at which Eleagabal Kuperus sat, began to spin quickly around its axis, so quickly, that it seemed as if the man in front of her multiplied. Fainting, she grabbed at one of the columns for support, but she quickly pulled her fingers back, because the stone was so hot, that it almost burned her skin.

“Take it, just as it is. Death is a powerful master, almost as powerful as life itself, and often it seems as if it overcomes life. I honor your pain, and I want to fulfill your desire.”

“You know, what I want to do with it?”

I know. Your love is great, and I bow down before that love.”

Then the Frau broke out into tears and looked despairingly around her, because she felt so weak, ashamed that she had allowed herself to show weakness. Eleagabal Kuperus stood up and stepped over to her; he laid one arm around her shoulders. And then a strange thing happened, Frau Emma Rössler, despite her horror and fear of this notorious old man, this weird man she had come to, sobbed as she hid her head in the thick brush of his beard. They both stood completely still, and the silence crackled like a small blue flame. Then he led her to his chair at the marble table and asked her to sit down.

“Tell me about your husband, who was a poet and the things that shaped – his life.”

“It seems, that you knew him.”

– Eleagabal Kuperus smiled, and both fangs crept out of the hole of his mouth, while his hand motioned for her to continue –

“His name was in the mouths of all the people, and his future stood before him, brilliant and wonderful. But despite all of his promise and ability, his advancement remained bleak and gloomy. He didn’t understand how to market himself and his works with ostentatious boasting and self advertising.

People always gave him support along the way and recognized his talent., He didn’t have the proud consolation of being unrecognized. But they only bought enough of his books so that we could live in common comfort. Yet he thirsted after more, and his artistic moods continued to bring forth even more beautiful, unheard of things. But we were not rich enough to rise above the common folk, and not poor enough to give up poetic speech entirely.

He continued on indifferently, along a path that was neither difficult enough nor successful enough until in the end he became tired, and that was his life. He could not be called a fighter, but he was also no fortunate child, to whom the stars dropped fortune into his lap.

With calm, disciplined work he achieved enough to lead a life that was similar to that of a thousand others, until he sank without too much pain, without a trace of tragedy, except that a voice was silenced, which the fates should have established, and allowed his final wishes to be expressed.”

Eleagabal Kuperus stood in front of the Frau and listened to her, while he stroked his long beard with his hand like a gardener strokes his bushes. The furrows of his high forehead moved. It seemed as if his thoughts ran across them.

“His life and his death was not so bleak, as might appear to your love. His life was not allowed its full brilliance, and I know, that his power dissolved into a soft twilight. But it could have been richer and deeper, if he could have had your love. And that is why I tell you, that he did not understand how to achieve it. From out of the depths comes all happiness. Yet his death was not in vain, because of that which he was able to give to the world in the end.”


I am currently translating this book a few pages at a time. I will be posting them as I translate them. If you enjoy this story and type of literature please support me and become a patron. Translation is hard work and takes a lot of time. Consider donating $1 a month to help out. This book is over 500 pages long! You can donate at my website:
or my Patreon link: https://www.patreon.com/anarchistbanjo
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The Strangling Hand
by Karl Hans Strobl
translated by Joe E. Bandel
Copyright Joe E. Bandel

The Strangling Hand

Behind the Cathedral, where the roofs of little houses pressed around a narrow courtyard, the little alleyways lost their direction and disappeared, crowding up against the fronts of old gray buildings, or suddenly turning to the side around protruding corners, going up and down stairways, until they ended in some corner at one of the surrounding houses. The modern times with its expanding circle of industrial development had still not changed this innermost core of the city. And under the dark arches, in dusty niches, and in front of the blackened statues of saints lit with trembling little lamps cowered the past.

The stairs which climbed up and down around the houses had many steps which had become worn smooth and slippery, so that in the winter time the old women could only timidly and with choking prayers dare go to the Cathedral. Such joys and sorrows were carried over these stairs. There were holes worn into the granite steps, in which little pools of water stood after the summer rains and in the winter everything was covered with crackling ice. Thoughtful and sometimes sullen faces looked out the little windows of the old houses at the few people who carefully made their way over the rough concrete, and urgently and uncomfortably rushed past the mountainous Cathedral as if it held no power over them.

You could see many old people. Life appeared on these quiet and crooked little streets that stretched out in all directions. On Sunday you could see all these old men and women walking to the Cathedral, as if it were a treasured memory, haunted by the shadows of what it had once been. Yet the youth lived in the midst of these old people, rude, irrepressible and noisy in the present moment as they clambered over the stairs among the gray houses to play in the sunshine and enjoy the energy of youth.

The old people looked at them and smiled, because here the past and the present was not yet in conflict. These old people loved their green plants and white gardens, and many green window boxes protruded from the many paned windows. In the summer blood red fuchsia blossoms nodded above the wooden window boxes and sturdy wide leafed geraniums stood in the background. There were also entire windows full of blooming hyacinth, boasting all colors and in one arched window frame that was topped with the figures of animals and birds, you could see the foliage of exotic plants and wondrous orchids, which captivated all the children. They were compelled to stand in front of the window and push against the glass with their fingers. During the greatest summer holidays that was where the passion flowers were placed, the beautiful and sad blossoms which carried all the marks of the martyred Christ, the nails and the hammer and even the terrible thorn of crowns.

Here the people still celebrated the holidays. They put decorations on the doors and even the houses transformed their faces for Easter, Pentecost and Corpus Christi day. That was when a procession came through the narrow streets, when the bells rang out and the white clouds of incense swam above the heads of the priests. That was when rows of candles flickered in the windows and the statues of the saints looked out of sleepy eyes at the many lights. During Pentecost boughs of green birch were placed on all the doors, so that it seemed as if springtime had placed an ostrich plume on the face of every house. That was when things seemed so bright and cheerful in the world, so cheerful that people almost didn’t believe, how many other stories hid behind the old brown doors and slept inside the little windows. Familiar stories and strange stories, which awoke on sad days and during the long winter nights.

Near the main entrance to the Cathedral, guarded by the cold empty eyes of the stone saints, stood a house, around which many such stories were told. That was where Eleagabal Kuperus lived, of whom the people in the houses around the Cathedral told the most remarkable things. Of whom the youth told fantastic and mysterious stories and whom the old women were so careful to avoid, if he crossed their path on the way to the Cathedral.

His house was certainly the oldest anywhere around and had a slate gable roof on its wrinkled brown face that sat there like an old hat. In dry weather it’s front appeared dusty and furrowed , but when the rain beat against its walls, ancient images appeared on its surfaces: the sacrifice of Isaac, the judgment of Solomon, the passage of the Jews through the Red Sea and many others, of which the people up here on the hill knew nothing about. Like a secret ink that is activated by the sun or the water, these images appeared from out of the moisture, stretching themselves along all the walls, between the windows and showing themselves, down below intertwined with vines of plants and animals bound together with words written in an unreadable language.

But over the richly carved door that was bound with iron bands, a figure became visible, which stood there in the garments of a distant time, in one hand a sword and holding a key in the other. From out of its mouth came a ribbon on which was written in ancient letters: “Believe in miracles”. The strangest thing about this figure and about this house was, that the hand which held the key extended from out of the wall in a real and graspable form. This hand, with its curled fingers, sinews and perfectly formed veins appeared so much like the living hand of a human that you had to marvel at the artistic skill of its creator. After the rain coursed through the furrows and turned into a trickle the sun once more dried the walls and then the figure and letters disappeared, and only the hand remained holding the key above the door, as if it grew from out of the wall and wanted to show that the passage was locked and could only be opened by it alone.

And even the door – was a terrifying puzzle which the children could never solve. It was a carving of Saul and his visit to the witch of Endor. Misshapen bodies with hideous grimaces surrounded the hero. Up above, a wingless dragon spewed fire from out of its mouth, and down below Leviathan swam in an ocean of enormous pointed waves and blasted mighty streams of water from out of its nostrils.
Of all the people that told stories about Eleagabal Kuperus, it was old Frau Swoboda who told the strangest ones. She was the one who lit slender candles in the Cathedral for all the souls in purgatory. She was the one who had seen on one moonlit night, how a finger of the hand over the door had released the key and straightened out, exactly like the finger of a human hand that wants to relieve a cramp. And she was the one, who at the crack of dawn on one foggy winter day had seen clearly how the dragons and the monsters on the carved door had swarmed together, and how Saul had raised his arm to banish her. Ever since then she swore that Eleagabal Kuperus was a sorcerer, and a legion of old women stood behind her maintaining the same thing.

But even the men, who just laughed at this gossip, shunned the old man in the mysterious house, and when they encountered him in the twilight of a dimly lit street, gladly crossed over to the other side. Only rarely did anyone ring the bell under the hand with the key, and it was always a stranger, someone from the bustling city down below, who visited Eleagabal Kuperus in his castle.

The Frau, who surrounded by a heavy mist filled with mysterious voices, climbed up the large stairs one winter evening and slowly crossed the little space in front of the Cathedral, hesitated a moment in front of the door to the house in which Kuperus lived. Here on the top of the hill only a few little lights glowed, and one of them stood unmoving like a staring eye in the forehead of this house. Frau Swoboda, who had just came from out of the sanctuary of the Cathedral, saw, how a dark figure in front of the door of Kuperus reached to ring the bell, and with a shudder sent a short prayer for the salvation of this poor soul that was in the clutches of evil, and entrusted its soul to heaven. As she rounded the corner of the alley, she heard the shriek of the bell, and freezing, yet happy in the kindness of God’s grace, wrapped herself more tightly in her large shawl.


I am currently translating this book a few pages at a time. I will be posting them as I translate them. If you enjoy this story and type of literature please support me and become a patron. Translation is hard work and takes a lot of time. Consider donating $1 a month to help out. This book is over 500 pages long! You can donate at my website:


or my Patreon link: https://www.patreon.com/anarchistbanjo

Comments are welcome!

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Chapter 27

He had left her in the darkness to meditate. Now he was coming back with her torch and her black clothing. Gruffly he told her to put the 2nd degree clothing on. She turned her back and stripped. He was watching her naked body. The bruises were healing and he wanted her. Slowly she turned around and faced him. Her long red hair framed her breasts. She looked beautiful to him. He reached toward her and they clung together kissing as her body pressed against his. His lips seeking hers desperately as hers were seeking his. His hands were feeling her body and her scent was wonderful. They stopped and looked at each other.

“This isn’t in the script!” Tobal quipped.

She smiled and began putting on her 2nd degree clothing. Then they went together toward the main circle for the initiation. Things went well until Becca found herself surrounded by the six menacing darkly hooded figures she was told she needed to fight. Tobal thought he went crazy at times during battle but Becca was scary. With a scream of rage that shook him to his core he watched as she mowed the six figures down like so much grass. She was obviously an advanced martial artist with an axe to grind and she wasn’t holding anything back.

The first two got broken ribs before they knew what hit them. The first fell from a savage front kick that broke through his guard. In a smooth fluid motion a spinning side kick disabled the second. The third was reaching for her and got a dislocated shoulder as he was thrown into a fourth that wisely stayed on the ground. A spinning backfist was already on it’s way to number five and number six had his jaw broken with a deadly kick square to the face. It was all over in less than two minutes and the only sounds in the cavern were the moans of the injured.

Slowly sanity came back and Becca dropped on her knees to the floor sobbing hysterically. Tobal dropped down beside her and put his arms around her trying to comfort her. Then he gently helped her up and led her out of the circle and into a quiet corner where they just sat together in silence. He squeezed her hand as the medics took five of the six out of the cave to get medical attention. She started crying again and he didn’t know what else to do except hold her tightly against his chest. Gradually she relaxed and fell asleep in his arms.

The circle had been disrupted and several members milled around arguing with each other. Several red cloaked figured appeared and one approached them in the darkened corner. As the figure drew closer Tobal saw that it was Rafe. He put his finger to his lips for silence and indicated that Becca was sleeping. Rafe looked at her thoughtfully, nodded and turned back to the clustered group of medics. There was some kind of heated discussion in which Rafe was obviously taking part. Then several black hooded Journeymen were called into the group and preparations were made to recast the circle and begin Melanie’s initiation.

Becca slept through most of Melanie’s initiation but roused herself as six black hooded figures surrounded Melanie in the center of the circle. Tobal felt her stiffen and he gripped her in support. Glancing at him she relaxed a bit but was still focused intently on what was happening to Melanie. She watched as each figure stood impassively until Melanie tried attacking them. Melanie was fast and dodged several attacks and landed a few of her own but did no real damage. She was also taking a slow beating as one of the hooded figures landed a blow that knocked her to the ground.

Gradually Melanie realized that no one attacked her unless she attacked first. She also realized that only one figure would fight at a time. When she realized this she stopped fighting and just stood silently in the ring with her arms folded and her eyes glaring defiance.

As one the circle began to move and the drums sounded within the cavern and Melanie’s initiation was completed to the sound of cheers and welcome. Then the High Priest raised his hands for silence.

“There is unfinished business in this circle tonight.” He said. “There are two initiates and the second initiation must also be completed and the new initiate welcomed into our group.”

He motioned for Tobal and Becca to come forward.

Becca was hesitant and resisted but continued at Tobal’s reassurance. He took her hand and gently led her into the circle and stopped in front of the High Priest.

The High Priest continued. “ Becca, you were charged with the duty of defeating in combat six other Journeymen before you would be able to advance to the Master degree. The six that you fought tonight were supposed to be symbolic in nature but your victories have been real. You have completed the Journeyman degree but you can not advance into the Master degree until one year has passed. This is the minimum time requirement. All that remains is to give you the blessings of the God and Goddess and of this degree.”

Then raising his hands he turned to the circle and asked loudly. “Does anyone here dispute the claim that Becca has won her six victories and completed the work of this degree?”

There was stunned silence around the circle and then some members started moving widdershins dragging others with them and soon the entire circle was spinning. The drums were beating and people were leaping and laughing, yelling and clapping in approval as the initiation concluded and the wildest party in Tobal’s memory began.

Later he moved over to where Becca and Melanie were talking together. Becca was smiling and he hoped she felt like she was among friends. He gave her a hug and a smile and she hugged him back and kissed him lightly on the lips.

“Thanks for helping me through the initiation.” She said.

His eyes twinkled. “Any time, it’s my duty.”

When Tobal woke the next morning both Melanie and Becca were gone. He had no idea where they had run off to and was slightly disappointed. If they wanted to go off by themselves it was completely up to them. Mumbling a bit to himself he left to go find Jake for some sparring practice. After watching Becca take out those six guys last night he felt he really had a few things to learn.

The End Of Volume I

This concludes the first of a three part series. I hope you enjoyed it! Merry Christmas!

Anarchist Knight: Apprentice is the first story I ever tried to write. Unfortunately I was never able to successfully market it. Since writing it I have successfully translated nine books which have been modestly successful and all together I have sold around 2,000 copies of my translations but almost none of my fiction or non-fiction. If you would like me to finish this trilogy please let me know in as many ways as you can!

I’m hoping to get back to this project this coming year (2018) nearly 10 years after setting it aside. It depends upon the interest of readers like you! I have the notes for part 2, but nothing else. It remains a dream that is waiting for its time of fulfillment.

bright blessings,

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There was a hollow sick feeling in the pit of his stomach and he felt like he was going to throw up. He was shaken to his very core by the news and his face turned a pasty gray. He looked for one of the medics to ask for more information and made a beeline in the dark to the nearest red cloaked figure he saw. The medic was busy putting some things in his pack. His back was to Tobal as he walked up.

“Excuse me.” He began. “I need some information.”

“ Rafe!” He shouted.

“Rafe, what about Becca?” He asked urgently. “Is she all right?”

Rafe turned a troubled gaze on him.

“Becca’s pretty bad. Near as we can figure four rogues jumped the two of them with clubs while they were climbing half way up the cliff on a ledge by the waterfall. Becca got taken by surprise at the top. They grabbed her and were holding her down and tearing her clothes off. She was fighting back when she was knocked unconscious. Melanie managed to slice one of them pretty bad with a blade before being pushed over the ledge. Becca was already unconscious when Melanie fell over the ledge. She wasn’t able to help Becca and prevent the beating. She really blames herself for that. She’s lucky she wasn’t hurt in the fall.”

Rafe continued. “ As soon as Becca was unconscious alarms went off on our air sleds and we responded immediately. The rogues left Becca with a couple cracked ribs and took off running when three medics came flying in on air sleds. Tobal, she was raped. ” He looked at Tobal before continuing.

“We felt she might have internal injuries and took her to the city for specialized medical attention. Melanie went along as a witness and to fill out the reports.”

That was all Rafe knew except they were both at sanctuary now and Becca was in stable condition.

“I don’t know who the rogues were. They don’t seem to be anyone that is a part of our camp. But they know about us, that’s for sure. They didn’t wear med-bracelets, so they didn’t show up on our screens.”

“They don’t wear med-bracelets?” Tobal said grimly. “That means they are General Grants’ men.”

“The air sleds showed up suddenly.” Tobal asked violently. “How did the rogues get away?”

“We don’t know yet. That’s our new camp remember.” Rafe continued. “As soon as Becca was knocked unconscious alarms went off on our air sleds. What I can’t believe is that rogues would be so close to our camp.”

“I know where they were climbing.” Tobal said suddenly. “If they were on the ledge they would have been trapped. The only way down was hand and foot holes and the only way up was through a rock chimney. They didn’t run away. The medics let them get away!”

He turned to Rafe in a rage. “The first medics there let them get away. They didn’t have time to climb the rock chimney or go down the cliff to the lake. How could they just vanish like that?”

Rafe turned white as understanding dawned. “It wasn’t our Medics. The rogues were teleported there and out again. They must have a teleporting station set up right there on that ledge. We’ve got to find it and destroy it.”

“What did these rogues look like? What kind of tunics did they wear?” Tobal asked savagely already knowing the answer. “They knew the girls were going to climb the cliff and waited for them on the ledge. The girls were deliberately ambushed!”

“’They were dressed as Journeymen in black tunics.” Rafe told him. “That’s all we know at this time. Ellen’s looking into it further and making a complaint to the City Council.”

There was a lump in his throat and a heavy feeling in his heart. He had left the girls at the lake alone and unprotected. Part of what happened to them was his fault. He had even suggested they go there in the first place. Tobal took up his pack and asked Rafe to give him a ride to sanctuary. The trip was a little over an hour with the air sled. The full moon made night travel fairly easy anyway. It was his first air sled ride but he was too emotional to enjoy it.

As they traveled he wondered about the rogues. Were they really acting under orders from General Grant and did they have the ability to teleport in and out at will? What was so important about the cave under the waterfall? They needed to really check it out before the enemy got to it and took everything. He told Rafe that they needed to check the cave out thoroughly and see what they could find. Rafe agreed and said he and Ellen would look into it immediately on his return. He dropped Tobal off at sanctuary and sped back toward the lake.

Tobal went inside and stopped at the door to let his eyes adjust to the dim light. Melanie saw him and came running with a glad cry.

“Tobal!” She threw her arms around him in a big hug. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

She led him over to the cot where Becca lay and he sank down on his knees by her bed. He reached out for her hands. She smiled weakly at him. Her face was horribly bruised and there was a look in her eyes he didn’t recognize. He didn’t’ know for sure if she really knew who he was. It was like she was looking through him. As he reached to move a strand of hair away from her eyes she flinched away from him.

“Becca, it’s me Tobal!” He implored but her uncomprehending eyes remained the same. She was in shock. Part of her soul was gone somewhere else and he didn’t know how to get it back. He stayed with her and Melanie stayed with her but she remained unreachable. In anguish he grabbed her hand and placed it over the scars on his face.

“Becca, it’s me, remember me! My face. Feel the scars, it’s me, remember!”

She slowly looked at him and tears began to form in her eyes.


She softly traced the scars with her fingers. “I’m sorry.” She whispered and her arm dropped back on the cot.

He pulled her hand toward him gripping it hard and trying to bring her nearer. Something broke inside his heart and he cried, violent spasms shaking his body.

“Becca, I love you, I love you. Come back to me.”

Her fingers tightened in his. “I love you too.” She whispered.

Two days passed and Becca seemed to improve but something was still wrong. The rape and beating was still fresh and her experience made her both fearful and angry. She wanted to withdraw at times into her own space and be alone and at times she pushed both Melanie and Tobal away. Other times she needed them close to her.

It was the afternoon on the third day that Llana showed up at sanctuary concerned about what had happened. When Tobal hadn’t showed up for their meeting she had gotten worried and gone looking for him. She checked at the new medic’s base and was told that he was here.

“You’ve got to get Crow.” Tobal told her. “Crow told me that he would be needing to do another soul retrieval. He is the one that is meant to help her.”

“Both Crow and I will help her together.” She told him softly.

A few hours later both Crow and Llana had finished the soul retrieval and done spiritual healing work on Becca. She was sleeping peacefully. Crow, Llana, Melanie and he could not talk openly about things at sanctuary because newbies were there and clansmen were also showing up to get the newbies. Crow and Llana left and said they would talk with him later. Before they left Tobal warned them that the General’s men were teleporting into areas without warning and attacking clansmen.

They stayed at Sanctuary as Becca gradually improved. Both Becca and Melanie were looking forward to their Journeyman initiation and joked about it. The bad food at sanctuary was finally too much and they decided to make a leisurely journey to the caverns.

It had been two weeks and was just before the new moon. Physically Becca was pretty much healed but there were still deep emotional scars that were raw. He could feel the scars keeping them apart. Becca and Melanie were to be initiated into the Journeyman degree. They both felt it would help them to turn their minds away from what had happened. They traveled together and reached the caverns late in the afternoon. As the girls were being prepared for the initiations he joined the tail end of the tournaments.

Since he was late he hadn’t been challenged and was given the opportunity to challenge someone. He didn’t care whether he won or lost, he just needed an outlet for the rage and energy that had been trapped inside him since Becca’s accident. It was making him crazy and he knew he had to get rid of it.

In a burst of anger he challenged the Ox. The Ox had been having it entirely too easy because of his natural strength and size. Nobody ever challenged him and he only challenged weaker and easier victims. He never really had to fight. Tobal needed to fight.

The Ox was surprised and incredulous but also had a wide grin on his face as he contemplated the beating he was going to give Tobal. Lumbering to his feet he swaggered into the circle and nodded at the referee. Tobal was on fire and there was no strategy. He was just going to pound the Ox until the fight was over. It was going to be brutal but he was in much better shape and had learned of few tricks the past months. He had also been practicing daily. He had never seen the Ox bother with any type of training or exercise. The brute seemed to rely exclusively on his own natural ability and strength.

The Ox lunged and Tobal narrowly missed getting caught by those massive arms. As the Ox passed Tobal swung a viscous blow with an elbow that caught the Ox on the side of the head and dazed him. Tobal was not quick enough to take advantage and the Ox turned with a bellow of anger. It turned into a slug fest in which neither one tried to get away but simply stood braced and pounded on each other, trading blows without regard for the punishment they were taking.

Tobal had learned how to brace himself for blows and took several blows to the midsection without buckling. Llana’s training had given him vast endurance and it was the Ox who began to weaken under sustained blows to the head and midsection. He was used to fights that ended quickly and was getting tired. A wicked knee to the groin finally dropped the Ox to his knees and the fight was over. Tobal was battered and bloody but victorious and happy. He had won his second fight.

There was something especially sweet about this fight he thought as he limped out of the circle. He watched as Jake fought his match. There was no doubt about Jake getting better too. But it was not enough for him to win.

As he left the ring and sat down at the edge of the circle his mind again returned to the conversation with Becca that had left his head spinning. He had asked Becca for a better description of her attackers. They had been bearded and hard to describe but she had torn the leader’s tunic off in the struggle. She had seen clearly a tattoo on his chest above his heart. It was a round circle with a male and female holding hands inside the circle. It was the same tattoo he had seen on his uncle as a child.

After the tournaments he washed up and got prepared for Becca’s and Melanie’s initiations. Having two initiations made things go much longer since they each had to be done separately. Becca’s initiation was first and it was almost the last. Tobal was Becca’s guide. He had requested to be her guide and Ellen had approved. He wanted to be close by in case something happened.

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Chapter 26

Llana looked at everyone in the firelight. “Are there anymore questions?”

“So I meet you here next month at the same time?” Tobal asked.

“Right.” She said. “ And I will give you the training you will need to train Becca and Melanie.”

That was the end of the meeting and they chatted the rest of the evening sharing what had been going on in each other’s lives. Llana was very concerned about the medics being kicked off the mountain and the decision to build a permanent base at the old original gathering spot. She urged everyone to be careful.

The lake was beautiful and they spent a lot of time skinny dipping in the cold waters of the lake and just lying on the beach in the sun watching the air transports bring workers and supplies to the gathering spot. With so much activity it seemed hard to believe there was any danger in the area.

Melanie seemed like a sister to him and he was deeply in love with Becca. She was hot and their love was passionate. The days passed and before he knew it he had to head back to the cavern for the new moon tournaments. He urged the girls to leave the lake and warned them not to get too close to the waterfall. Two people were a lot more vulnerable than three were and it might not be a good idea to stay in the area. The girls didn’t seem to take his concerns too seriously but suggested they might look up Nikki and see how she was doing with her last newbie. As Tobal left the girls told him they were planning on leaving the next day.

He was looking forward to his first regular meeting as a Journeyman. He found himself in the area a day early and thought he would check the camp out a little more. He was surprised to find several Journeymen already there. They welcomed him warmly.

Unlike circle which was abandoned each month there was always someone at this camp guarding it, hanging around in the caverns, socializing, sparring or doing some type of assigned duty. It was mainly a hangout since the task of Journeyman was to be victorious is six tournament fights. They had a lot of time on their hands.

Staying in the camp was a way to socialize, work out and practice. There was also a hot springs to soak in and that was a luxury for sore and aching muscles. The tournaments were always scheduled early in the day and the initiations were scheduled closer to midnight. That was why Tobal had seen no tournaments on the day of his initiation. One of the caverns had been set aside as a fighting arena. It had soft powdered sand on the floor like beach sand.

There were a few medics wearing red tunics that acted as judges or referees as well as emergency medics in case something went wrong. They took care of the many minor injuries that were common during these fights.

As the newbie of the group it didn’t take long for Tobal to realize how it worked. The referee laid out the ground rules of which there were basically none. Anyone could challenge anyone to a fight. A person could not be challenged any more than one time in a day. However, a person could challenge as many people as they wanted to. It was set up in this way so if a person got beaten badly they would not have to fight again that night. But if they won and felt like it they could challenge someone else.

The fight lasted until one or the other was forced out of the fifteen-foot circle that was marked in the sand or until one of the combatants couldn’t continue.

The oldest members by seniority got the first challenge and the youngest ones got the last challenges if they hadn’t already been challenged. Generally the older members took advantage of the inexperienced members by challenging them.

The first challenge was an old veteran that was burly and bearded. He was not well liked it seemed. He challenged Joy. It was easy to see why the grizzly had chosen Joy. He was almost twice Joy’s size. He clearly expected the match to be over quickly. Joy surprised him by being a lot faster, more elusive and more aggressive than Tobal had realized.

The brute simply couldn’t make contact with Joy and three times went sprawling as Joy tripped him during a rush but he always managed to fall within the rope circle and got back to his feet quickly. Every now and then a wild swing would connect and Joy would stagger. She simply was too light to do much damage to him. Tobal could see she was tiring and wasn’t surprised when a wild arm knocked her to the floor. The brute then sat on her and held her motionless until the referee called time and declared the brute to be the winner.

Joy really had trouble with this degree because of her small size and young age. So far she had only won three fights. The good news was that she was getting much better at fighting and she was also getting larger and stronger as she grew older. She was learning about fighting the hard way, by loosing. Most of the older Journeymen had already challenged Joy and won. They couldn’t challenge her again. That meant gradually Joy was being more evenly matched as she grew in skill. The burly veteran she had just fought was undoubtedly one of the few older ones that hadn’t yet been able to challenge her. The entire thing made Tobal feel slightly sick.

Next up was Ox. Ox smiled maliciously as he challenged Tobal.

“You don’t have a knife to save you this time.” He sneered.

Tobal felt a weak sick feeling in his stomach and realized he was probably in for quite a beating. Ox still held a grudge against Tobal from that time in sanctuary when they had argued over Melanie. Tobal had only saved himself from a beating by instinctively pulling a knife and threatening the Ox with it. This time though no weapons were allowed. It was simply hand to hand warfare with no rules.

Tobal assumed a boxer’s stance and tried a few jabs to no effect. Cautiously they circled the ring looking for an opening. Then the Ox put down his head and charged straight at Tobal. He tried moving out of the way but was caught by a huge hairy arm that turned him around. Next a hammer exploded in the pit of his stomach and solar plexus doubling him up. He felt the bile rise in his throat as all the fight ran out of him. He lay in agony on the cave floor gasping for breath curled up in the fetal position trying to protect his stomach from further damage. Dimly he heard the referee call out time. Tobal had just lost his first match in less than two minutes. His eyes were stinging with tears.

Tobal was surprised when Joy re-challenged the brute from the first fight. It was easy to see there was no such thing as fairness in these matches. Anybody was fair game and the smaller and weaker got picked on more often than the bigger and stronger ones. If you were big and powerful things generally went your way. It didn’t seem right but life was unfair at times and the strong often did win. It was brutal survival of the fittest in it’s most primitive form and wasn’t very pretty.

Tobal tasted blood in his mouth as he sat watching Joy. She handled herself remarkably well this time and it was easy to see she had more stamina than the brute. She found an opening and finished the match by landing a kick solidly in the groin of the brute to the applause of the watching crowd. It was then that Tobal realized he had to be really careful. He had to learn a heck of a lot more about fighting than he knew right now. He also realized Joy was right in fighting after her first defeat. It was the only chance she really had to move ahead and it didn’t cost her anything.

He looked over the unchallenged members of the group carefully. Being a looser he had the opportunity to challenge and in a spark of anger challenged one of the remaining members that hadn’t fought yet. In a burst of fury and lightning movements he had tripped and thrown the person out of the ring over the rope. The referee called the match and Tobal was the winner. In a flash of sportsmanship he went over and helped the other person back to his feet and they started talking together.

“Man, what got into you?” The other person said. “You were like a demon or something. I never even had a chance. It was all over before I knew what was happening.”

“That’s how my fight with Ox went.” He laughed. “I never saw it coming either.”

His name was Jake and soon he and Tobal were hanging out together sparring and learning everything they could from any of the others that were willing to spend some time training with them. Tobal really sucked at fighting and it was good to team up with someone willing to work hard with him. They spent most of the next two weeks sparring every day for hours. They mercilessly drove themselves to the point of exhaustion. It seemed to Tobal that he was always stiff and bruised but when circle finally came he was ready for it and felt that he needed a little break.

While the tournaments were brutal, the initiations were beautiful in their own way. Tobal watched in fascination as the circle was cast widdershins and the pentagram was drawn upside down. He realized the ritual was almost the same as the one used in the Apprentice degree except reversed and backward. As the power was raised, it felt different and had a harder edge to it.

The primal earth energy of the Journeyman degree was much different than the spiritual light energy of the Apprentice degree. It was more visceral and seemed more magickal. The images of the Lord and Lady seemed more real and it was as if they were really there in the circle. He heard their voices urging him to get up and fight after the Ox had slammed him to the ground but had not been able to get back up.

Watching the initiations he saw them beside the candidates after they had given up fighting the six dark hooded figures. His parents kneeled beside the candidate as the circle began to move widdershins and the High Priest and High Priestess bestowed their blessings upon the initiate. Then it seemed as if they merged and flowed into the candidate and disappeared.

Later he asked Ellen about these things and she was interested in what he saw. Apparently he was able to see things even the High Priest and High Priestess had trouble seeing or feeling. More correctly he was seeing and hearing what a High Priest or High Priestess was supposed to be able to see and hear. She was excited about his natural talent and he spoke about some of the exercises and meditations that Crow and Llana had taught him. He didn’t mention his belief that the Lord and Lady were his parents. That would be too much.

There was no requirement for him to go to circle but he always felt it was very important to show up and see how his Apprentice friends were doing and celebrate with them as they trained and soloed their own trainees. Melanie and Becca would be getting their sixth chevrons and he didn’t want to miss that. He was also looking forward to some quiet time with Becca.

He arrived just in time to change into his black robe and take part in the initiation ceremony as a guard. He didn’t have time to look for Becca or talk with any of his friends and none of them showed up during the day to chat. It was mid July and hot. Becca and Melanie usually looked him up at least once during the day and he had a nagging feeling in the pit of his stomach that something was wrong.

He tried not to worry as he and Joy made sure the candidates were properly welcomed into the clan and later prepared for their initiation.

This time he was the one that cut the gray robe and shortened it to become a tunic. He remembered his own Clansman initiation and felt satisfaction as he cut away the fabric of the tunic. It was the first time he had cut a tunic and it was kind of ragged in spots and high. He might have cut the tunic a little short but she was good looking and had nice legs. The shortened tunic looked good on her.

There were eight candidates and later the new clansmen were taken to the sweat lodge for purification and left to meditate. It was a long day and the eight initiations seemed to drag on forever.

After the last initiate was gone he headed toward the circle and noticed that both Melanie’s and Becca’s students had returned from their solos. They were hanging out by the beer barrel but he still didn’t see Melanie or Becca. He walked over to congratulate both of them on their solos and asked where the girls were. The look on both of their faces told him immediately that something was wrong. They were surprised he hadn’t heard. Yesterday rogues had attacked both Melanie and Becca. Becca had been raped and badly beaten. Medics had taken her to sanctuary. Melanie had gone with her to make sure she was all right.

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He was heading toward the beer barrel when he ran into Wayne and Char. They looked gloomy and were thinking about quitting the program.

“Why don’t you talk to Crow first?” He suggested. “I’ve heard he is taking a group back to the village. Maybe you can check the village out. I was there last month and it was a pretty neat place.”

Char looked doubtful. “I can’t imagine why we would want to live in some primitive village. Still.” She nodded. “We can treat it like a vacation and see what happens.”

Wayne nodded in agreement. “By then the bottleneck about newbies might be over and there might be enough for us to train. He shook his head in frustration. I can’t bring myself to wait in line for an entire month just to get a newbie.” Wayne held Char closer putting an arm around her waist. “We’ve got some catching up to do anyway. Going out to the village might just be a good idea.”

Tobal hoped he hadn’t made a mistake suggesting they go to the village with Crow and the others. Wayne and Char were just simple people that he liked and trusted. Maybe after they found out more about what was going on they might reconsider leaving the program. He moved on looking for Becca.

He saw Melanie and Becca chatting with some others by the drum circle. They were both in high spirits when he joined them. They partied into the night and talked about what they were going to do for the next month while they waited for their solos to become official and they could receive their sixth chevrons. They didn’t have anything to do and Tobal suggested they all go down to the lake and spend a few weeks swimming and having a good time. Tobal was willing to go along and the berries were ripe. He was ready for a vacation from all the fighting any way. The girls agreed and the conversation moved on to other things. Melanie was the first to ask.

“What have we missed about the City Council and the village?” Melanie asked. “We have been so busy the last two months that we missed your meetings.”

“Believe me, there is a lot to catch you up on.” he laughed. “Let’s go find out.”

“Where’s Llana?” Becca asked.

“That’s part of what you missed out on.” He smiled and kissed her. She didn’t ask any more questions.

They caught up with Rafe and Ellen and sat down to talk. It felt good to have Becca beside him again and he squeezed her hand gently. She glanced at him and smiled back. Tobal noticed Crow was talking with his own group and suspected they were talking about the bi-location and time travel thing. He noticed Char and Wayne were in the group listening intently. He thought about going over there and joining that group but decided against it. His own group had too many things they needed to talk about.

Ellen began the meeting with talk about what was happening with the City Council and the Counsel of Elders.

“We finally got together for a meeting.” Ellen told them. “It has been a very rough month for all of us and our lives are all completely changed.”

“That’s an understatement.” Rafe nodded. “Our entire world has been turned upside down.”

Ellen continued her story. “The City Council did some house cleaning and there were several new members in it that had not been at the last meeting. The mayor greeted us and apologized once more for the assassination attempt. He and the other council members were relieved that Howling Wolf was all right. All of the new City Council members had known and thought highly of Howling Wolf. That was why they had been selected for the City Council.

“It seemed that once a clansman, always a clansman. All of the members of the City Council had gone through the Sanctuary program and many had served on the Council of Elders at one time. The mayor assured us that the entire City Council was behind us and supported us.

Ellen continued. “This time General Grant was not there. The mayor said that the City Council had requested a Federation internal affairs investigation into the entire project but had not heard anything back yet. The bottom line was that General Grant denied any truth in what Howling Wolf had told the City Council and the City Council had concluded Howling Wolf was telling the truth and the general was lying. For that reason General Grant had not been invited to the meeting.”

Ellen smiled at Tobal and continued. “Howling Wolf appeared at the meeting and offered to teach the bi-location ability and time travel ability to the city if they separated from the military project. He made it clear there was no need for the dangerous machinery and the inhuman treatment of having human beings wired into it. Howling Wolf also called for the release of Ron and Rachel Kane so their spirits could find rest and peace after these years of inhuman torment and torture.”

“That’s when things got interesting.” Ellen said. “Howling Wolf disappeared and Adam Gardner appeared in the room with a full pack of things. He introduced himself to all of us and passed several items around the room for inspection. He said most of them had come from the past but he showed us a couple interesting items that could have only been from the future. He confirmed that he was working with Howling Wolf in continuing the research and training that Ron and Rachel Kane had developed. He also said that explorations into different time periods was continuing.”

“By this time we were all quite impressed.” Ellen chuckled. The City Council asked for proof that Howling Wolf and Adam Gardner could actually train others and that’s when Llana appeared in the room. She told us plans were currently under way for training the first group of time travelers. They would be trained in secret locations known only to themselves.”

“My COM unit went off. I answered and found out that all the medics had been kicked off the mountain. We no longer had access to the emergency room or to any supplies. General Grant had evicted us from the mountain. We were not even allowed to get our personal belongings. The City Council was just as shocked as we were and with Howling Wolf’s approval decided to use the village as a temporary base until a new permanent base could be built by the lake.

“We decided that a permanent base would be set up at the old gathering spot where the massacre had been and requested the City Council provide supplies and communication equipment. The City Council voted and agreed to help. The City Council promised us immediate supplies and provisions so we could continue our medic work uninterrupted. We were to take any serious injuries straight into the City for emergency treatment. The city was also going to raise some permanent modern facilities there for our own use so we would be able to function during the winter.”

“Most of us spent that first week hauling supplies to the old gathering spot.” Rafe grumbled. “The only good thing is that there were no rogue attacks we know of. We are fairly well settled in now but things are totally different and we are getting our training from the hospital inside Heliopolis.”

“I leave for a couple months and look what happens.” Becca quipped. “Everything falls apart. Do you think there is any danger from General Grant and his rogues?”

“There is really no way of knowing.” Ellen told her. “We are hoping the internal affairs investigation will prevent things from getting any worse.”

The meeting gave them all plenty to think about and Becca kept asking him questions long after they had gone to bed. He found the only way to get her to stop talking was by kissing her. Kissing her led to it’s own problems and it was a long time before they finally fell asleep in each other’s arms.

It felt good to be with Becca and not have anything pressing to do. They had almost two weeks before he needed to be at the Journeyman circle and decided to make the best of it. It was mid June and the weather was perfect. Melanie joined them and they all headed down to the lake for a fun vacation. First though they needed to meet up with Llana at his winter base. It was on the way to the lake and a good place to rest.

It was evening when Llana helloed the camp and approached the campfire. By this time Becca and Melanie were caught up on the situation and determined to be part of Tobal’s group that Llana was training. That made Rafe, Ellen, Tobal, Becca, Melanie and possibly Nikki. No one had asked her yet. Tobal thought Tyrone should be approached about it and Melanie suggested Butch. The obvious problem was that training newbies allowed no time for the extensive training Llana would be giving them. They could be asked but their training needed to wait until they were Journeymen.

“Tobal has already done two months of training with Crow and one month of training with me.” She told Becca and Melanie. “That means he is ahead of everyone else and can help each of you catch up. I think the best thing will be for me to teach Tobal and then he will teach each of you. You can all practice together and help each other on a daily basis.”

Tobal looked at the others and asked. “What about Ellen and Rafe?”

“I will have to find a way to teach each of them individually.” She said.

Tobal nodded, “Rafe wants you to help him check out some forbidden areas. He has them marked on a map and was thinking he could fly you into them on his air sled and drop you off. Then you could bi-locate out of there after you found out why it was forbidden. You don’t have a med-alert bracelet and would not show up on a monitor.”

Llana pursed her lips thoughtfully. “That’s a good idea. Tell him to meet me at my old base camp two days after the new moon at noon. See if both Ellen and Rafe can meet me there at the same time. I can train them together and make further arrangements to meet with them.”

“Have you time traveled yet?” Becca asked curiously.

“Just once.” Llana smiled. “It was really awesome but frightening at the same time. It’s really quite a bit like bi-location once you get the hang of it. Grandfather and Adam want to check out all of the areas first and make sure they are safe before they take us there. They are trying to determine the extent of General Grant’s activities in other time periods.”

She continued. “It’s a problem right now because if anything happens to Grandfather or Adam we loose our ability to train people to time travel. That’s why Crow and I want to go at least once to as many time periods as possible and learn how to get there and back again. We only have twenty-three time periods available to us and don’t want to loose those. No one knows how many general Grant has discovered in the last twenty years.”

“How long will it take us to learn.” Becca persisted.

“We are hoping somewhere between a year and two years. Very much depends upon the intensity of your training and your natural aptitude for it. We are hoping Crow’s group and our group will be ready at the same time so we can work together and help each other out.”

“What will Crow’s group be doing?” Melanie asked in puzzlement.

“They are going to leave the sanctuary program and get rid of their med-alert bracelets so they can’t be tracked or monitored and will be doing the same type of training we will be doing. They will probably be a little faster at the training than we will because we also have to stay within the system and do the work of Journeymen and medics. This group won’t have any contact with Crow’s group at all until training is complete and we can all at least bi-locate.”

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Chapter 25

“You claim to add your light with ours but you have only led us further into darkness and danger making our entire community more vulnerable. How will you defend us in our weakness?”

Once more Tobal had no reply and his guide remained silent. He was led roughly to the center of the circle and held pinned between two hooded guards.

The High Priest continued.” The Apprentice degree is of spiritual protection and growth. In your progress through that degree you have been magickally protected from evil influences that might have otherwise entered your life. As a member of our sacred circle you will always have protection from the evil of the outside world but we can never protect you from the evil that is within your own nature and within each one of us. You must learn to master this evil, the weakness and the fear that is within you and that prevents you from acting when there is need to act and that causes you to act blindly and in destructive ways. This is the work of the Journeyman.

In this degree the evil and wickedness that is within your heart will be awakened. You will need to confront and master the demons you carry in secret. You must combat these inner demons with your own Inner Light or they will become your masters. Only when you have mastered your own inner demons will you have truly earned the right to this degree. Again this is a life time work we must all face. Symbolically this inner battle is marked by the success in defeating six members of this degree in combat. After defeating six members of this degree you will be considered eligible for the 3rd and final degree of Master that leads to citizenship. Are you ready to continue?”


“Then let the fight begin!”

Six dark hooded figures stepped forth from the circle and stood in menacing silence as the High Priest, High Priestess and the two guards moved away. His guide took his torch and left him alone within the circle. Tobal stood silently in confusion.

“To continue in this degree you must defeat six members of this degree in combat and you have agreed to do this. Let the fight begin!”

Gradually Tobal realized he was expected to fight all six of the figures that stood silently around him. He pulled himself into a fighting stance and began circling defensively. None of the cloaked figures moved. He circled closer toward one of the figures in a threatening manner and tried a feint with his right. The figure still didn’t move. Encouraged Tobal struck the figure lightly on the shoulder and suddenly doubled up in pain as he received a savage punch in the belly that knocked him to the floor of the cave fighting waves of nausea.

He struggled to his feet and gazed silently at the six unmoving figures. He didn’t know what to do. It looked as though he was in for a beating and there was no way around it. Moving toward a second figure he took a savage thrust only to find his fist parried as something hard slammed into the side of his head and he saw stars. Picking himself off the ground once more he felt blind rage begin to build inside him and he rushed and grappled with a third hoping to push him over only to find to his horror that the figure was solid as stone. He was embraced solidly in a crushing bear hug that hurt his ribs before being thrown him to the floor with such violence the wind was knocked out of him.

Tobal had never been much of a fighter and having the wind knocked out of him totally took any fight out of him that might have been there and he refused to get up sobbing in frustration.

“He refuses to fight! He refuses to fight!” A voice cried out from the edge of the circle.

“Yes, he refuses to fight!” Came a murmur from the other hooded figures and the entire circle began moving silently widdershins. After one complete circle the drums began to pound and echo eerily within the cave as the black cloaked figures started coming nearer and nearer. At times a dancing figure would strike Tobal a light but stinging blow on the head or body. He couldn’t see any of the faces and recognized none of the dancers.

The energy within the circle all felt wrong and it was building. He felt fear and panic begin to grip him at the base of his tailbone and start it’s slow climb up his spine. Then he felt his own energy slip and begin to turn in this counter clockwise direction. What were they doing to him? He could feel the energy grow and grow and it felt strange and dark, not bad or evil but dangerous and menacing.

The High Priest then placed his hands on Tobal’s head, his voice echoing weirdly within the chamber.

“In the name of the Lord and Lady I draw the dark energy of the earth up into your physical body and up into your soul that you might become master of yourself and Journeyman.”

Tobal felt a weird tingling and warmth as a glowing yellow green energy pooled around his feet and gradually moved upward filling his body and finally leaving out the top of his head going up into the spiritual light. He also felt the spirit of his father enter into him as if taking possession of his body and momentarily looking out of his eyes.

“You have done well.” Said his father. “We will wait for you.”

The High Priestess then stepped forward and placing her hands upon his head directed energy into his aching body. Tobal recognized her as Misty.

“In the name of the Lord and Lady, I draw the dark energy of the earth into your physical body and into your soul that you might become a master of yourself and Journeyman.”

This time it was a different type of energy, to Tobal it felt a darker and more threatening energy that carried frightening images with it. It was a feminine Goddess energy that curled up around his legs with tendrils entering his heart and choking his throat, filling his eyes and his mind. It was like a giant tree that grew out of the earth itself filled with the power of life and death reaching through him and above him toward the spiritual sun as it’s final destination.

Then his heart ached as he felt the spirit of his mother enter into his body and felt as if she were holding him in her arms protecting him with her aura and strength. As quickly as she had entered he felt her leaving with a kiss and a whispered “be strong”.

At the same moment he felt his father holding his mother’s hand and felt the love they had for each other and the love they had for him. He rejoiced in the knowledge as the energy slowly sank deep into his very bones and he knew something had changed inside of him forever.

The High Priest continued. “Are you ready to receive wisdom and be nourished by life.”

“Yes.” Tobal mumbled through a split lip. He was helped to his feet.

“The first and most important lesson is that there are times in life when you must fight for what you believe and there are times not to fight. Learn to choose your battles and if you fight, then fight to win giving all that you have. When you do this you will be respected even if you should be defeated in battle as must sometimes happen to each of us. There is no shame is loosing a battle. There is shame in not giving all that you have.”

“The second lesson.” He continued. “Is that fighting is hard and thirsty work!”

“Let’s party!”

A throaty welcome went up and echoed in the cavern chamber as hoods were thrown back and Tobal was half dragged and half carried into another chamber where food and drink had been prepared. There was a general feeling of good will and welcome as he was hugged and congratulated by people he recognized but hadn’t seen for a long time.

Rafe was there pounding him on the back and laughing as Tobal winced in pain.

“Thought you would never get here!” He shouted above the noise of the crowd.

Ellen was there too giving him a hug and a kiss.

Tobal stayed for a few days exploring the caverns and talking to people. He retrieved the items belonging to his parents and felt better wearing them once more. He spent a lot of time just getting caught up on what had been going on with others that had become 2nd degree members before him.

After a few days his supply of trail food was growing slim and he knew he had to get going. He was growing restless. On the third day he decided to just go out on his own and process what had happened and what it all meant to him. After saying his farewells to his new brothers and sisters he set off for his base camp.

Tobal’s black tunic felt a bit strange and jarring to him at first, he had grown so accustomed to the grey ones. There was also the shock of pushinging himself as hard as possible for an entire year living off the land and training newbies and now not having anything to do. Time just seemed to drag and he was not looking forward to his first fight a month from now.

He was also worried about what he had found out about his parents and the thought that they might still be hooked up to some strange machine and kept alive through life support. He found that he didn’t want to believe it. He wished to think of them as the Lord and Lady just as Crow had taught him.

The midsummer celebration at circle was a welcome change. The weather was hot but fair and sunny and he almost wished he were training a newbie. As a new journeyman he got his first duties which were to act as guard for the Apprentice initiations. He had already expected this and was not surprised. He got there early in the morning and changed into his black robes. From that point on he was on duty and not relieved until the last newbie was initiated late that night. It was a long day and he really missed being at the circle and being with Becca.

Even though he was not at the circle he did hear the news. Sarah, Anne, Derdre, Seth and Crow each proclaimed their newbies ready to solo. This time the elders gave their approval. Tyrone, Zee, Kevin and Butch each had newbies to initiate but that had been expected since they had spent the entire month waiting for newbies. The surprise was ten newbies to initiate. Becca and Melanie had each not only gotten newbies to initiate but had both proclaimed them ready to solo. The Elders agreed.

Melanie and Becca each received their fifth chevrons. Nikki was not there but had received her fourth. Tara and Nick were not there either and he thought they were probably at sanctuary also.

Becca gave him a brief kiss and hug when she brought her last newbie to the guard post. She was the one that told him Rafe was now one of the Council of Elders. She was glowing and happy.

“We’ll talk later.” She promised and held him close. Then she kissed him and went looking for Melanie who had already dropped her newbie off with Tobal earlier.

Nikki had lost out and was still waiting at sanctuary with some others for her last newbie. To everyone’s sorrow Mike had quit the program and so had one of the other Apprentices that Tobal didn’t remember. Butch took it hardest since he had been close friends with Mike.

Later, after the initiations were over Tobal walked into the circle area for the first time dressed in his black robes. As Tobal mingled and chatted with his old friends they congratulated him and were glad to see him but he couldn’t help but notice how some of his friends looked at him a little differently now that he was wearing black instead of gray.

“I’m still the same person.” He thought to himself. But then realized that he really wasn’t the same person. His old friends had mostly been Apprentices and while he had known a couple Masters like Rafe and Ellen, most of the time he hung around with the same group of people. There were a lot of the newbies that didn’t know who he was. He noticed that some of his brothers and sisters in black tended to keep to themselves and hoped he would always feel friendly toward the newbies and Apprentices and not distant himself too much from them.

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