„Why do we have do this?“ The boy complained, bored by his given task and only slowly following his companion through the maze of an underground mine.
„Because the Builders need more resources to continue enlarging our fortress.“ The girl explained in a monotone voice for what felt like the hundredth time.
„But why US?“
„Because WE are Collectors“ The girl simply replied. Again.
There was silence when they continued on their way. She expected him to repeat his questions as he had done the whole time they had walked down here.
It was their task to collect resources from the mine. She couldn’t see what made it difficult to understand.
“But what if there are monsters?” The boy asked after a long pause.
They had passed several already emptied caves and made only slow progress farther into the darkness. Following and igniting the torches that should lead them to their assigned destination. She could see where his fear came from, as she – even though she would not admit it – had a tingling in her gut whenever she lit another torch.
“There are no monsters. The Scouts have already killed them and sealed all existing entrances.“ She reassured him.
“What if they missed some? What…” He started whining, but was cut short as she turned around holding up her pickaxe and glaring at him.
Slamming it into the stone she created a hole for her torch, which she then set down, before she approached the boy. Putting her hands on his shoulders she forced him to look at her, even though he tried to scurry away at her touch.
“The Scouts do their job well. If they hadn’t managed to secure the area they would have sent Warriors not Collectors.” She said in a calm tone hoping it would calm both him and herself.
“What if this is some kind of test? What if they think we’re Warriors?”
For a moment she just looked at him, not sure what to make of his words. Both of them were barely out of school, so he could be right that this was a test. But with graduation you were assigned into a class: Warrior, Wizard, Scout, Builder or Collector. Both of them were made Collectors. There was rarely – if any – mistake in these choices. As much as she had tried she had been unable to achieve a different class. Because of this she started to laugh. But it wasn’t joyful. It was one filled with anger and hidden pain.
“They would never mistake us for Warriors.” She replied when she had stopped.
Looking at her uncomprehending he hesitantly asked: “Why?”
“Why? Look at you: You’re skinny, you’re whiny and weak. They would never mistake you for a warrior.” She bluntly told him, giving him a disapproving glance.
“And what about you?” He accepted the supposed insults. Simply because they were none. He knew from the start that he would end up as a Collector and bring shame to his Warrior-family. Once born into a class the children followed the path of their elders. Only if they were as pathetic as he was or brilliant and talented like he thought she was would they make a difference. His only hope was becoming a Collector for the fields and stables, not the mines. She on the other hand was brilliant. She was brave and strong. Stronger than some of the males that had bullied him throughout the years. Strong both physically and mentally as she also was witty and smart. But their teachers thought otherwise and put her – like the rest of her family – into the Collector-class. Such a waste of good talent. His family would have given everything to have her as their daughter instead of having him as their son. He was sure about that.
“What about me?” She quietly repeated, turning around so she would not have to face him. “You already know full well.”
Women were not allowed to become Warriors. Especially not women from Collector-families. There have been exceptions, but they were but a few; well kept secrets even. Only some legends and stories for young girls told about their tales. Still they did not see a reason to break with their traditions. No reason for giving her the class she would have wanted and deserve to get. A single tear ran down her cheek, but she wouldn’t cry over this. Not again. Not in public. Even though it was just him seeing it.
“You’ll be the best Collector there has ever been. They will regret not giving you your proper class!” He tried to cheer her up, placing a hand on her shoulder.
Looking over at him she smiled slightly.
“Let’s get this over with.” She then simply said, moving on.
“As you command.” He agreed smiling.
They continued their way in a comfortable silence. Both of them did not want to be there, but they might as well make the best of it and prove themselves.
“It should be around this…” She started making her turn and holding the torch into the next cave.
“Corner?” He tried finishing her sentence and followed her.
Just like she had done, he stopped in his tracks staring into the lit eyes that hungrily stared back at him.
“Quiet!” She urged him when he was about to scream.
Right in front of them towered a giant spider, waiting for them to become its next meal. And for now it simply stared at them.
She slowly moved backwards, shoving her companion behind her. Not able to turn his gaze from the beast his feet found loose ground, causing him to stumble and fall.
“Crap.” She mumbled when she heard the thud behind her, awaiting the creature’s attack.
But it still only eyed them unmoved.
Lowering herself to the ground, not breaking eye contact with her soon to be opponent, she felt for a place to put her torch. What she felt was his hand.
“I-I will hold it.” He tried to sound brave, but it was but a mere whisper.
“Thank you.” She whispered as well and gave it to him.
Rising again, she grabbed her pickaxe tightly and moved forward. She tried to tell herself that this was just another training fight in the schoolyard. But she could not put her fear aside completely. But he was trying to be brave, so she would be brave for both of them. Somewhat calmed she walked closer to the creature. For reasons unknown to her it had let them proceed as they wished. Not interfering with their movements. From what she had heard it should have attacked by now. But it did not seem to have an interest in doing so.
But only til she stood in front of the flame. Its light no longer illuminating the creatures eyes.
As soon as the light had faded it had lashed out with one of its long legs. Like she would have done in training she ducked below the leg. And the others as well. Getting closer and closer to the creature. Only for one of the legs throwing her off balance. Catching her fall with her hands she let go of the weapon. Waiting for the final blow. For the spider to launch its final assault. The sharp claw-foot that would bore through her body. They both would die today and it would be her fault. Her blame that she would take with her to the gates of Vallahalla. Denying her entry for all eternity.
But the hit never came.
Slowly she turned around to see the creature frozen in its trail. The leg hovering closely above her. She couldn’t explain this either. Diverting her gaze from the creature she noticed the boy holding the torch up high while shaking violently. He was scared to the bone. Looking back at the spider she noticed a shimmer in its eyes. She saw that something was behind it but was unable to move outwards. Grabbing her pickaxe and returning to her companion she had an idea and stopped in
front of the torch. Blocking the light again.
And as she had suspected the creature moved. Moved to attack. Moved to kill.
Only to be met with light again as she stepped aside. Frozen again, illuminated and its weak body parts exposed; it now was the spider’s turn to become an easy prey.
For a better position it had lifted itself up on its four hind legs to attack with two pairs of front legs. Providing the girl with a good look at its underside. Launching forward the girl hit her weapon right into the heart of the beast.
It started to scream in pain. High pitched and re-sounding on the walls around them. Wailing its legs it moved upwards once more before it landed on its back. Unmoving.
Letting out a breath she didn’t know she was holding the girl slumped down to the ground.
“You…you did it.” The boy whispered, lowering the torch.
“You did it!” He then yelled. His voice overpowering the remnants of the echoing anguished scream.
But she was only able to feel. Feel the grin spreading over her face. Feeling the ground beneath her body and the pride welling up inside her.
For a long time they just sat there waiting for their heartbeats to slow down again.
Finally the girl rose.
“We have work to do.” She told him in a business tone, yet the smile on her face could be heard through it.
“Sure.” He acknowledged, standing up again.
He was no longer frightened. He knew she could handle everything that would come for them. And he would take proof of this with him. He was a Collector after all and spider’s teeth and claws were good material for weapons and potions. He would make sure she would become one of those legendary women – a female Warrior.
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