Over the next three days, Dan’s Flight was assigned durable black and gray uniforms, and equipment such as water canteens and travel packs. They were taught the basics of how to drill, and what duties they had while they were at Llynar. And then the training began in earnest.
Dan had been expecting some sort of combat training, but the entire first week was spent inside. First everyone in the Flight was assigned a weapon. They all seemed to have similar non-military backgrounds (Dan remembered what Aviir had said about Vydar summoning more than soldiers), so they were all issued what Dan was informed was a ‘Standard SC-4 Pistol’.
Dan was taught how the pistol could wound or kill at a great distance, and how to disassemble, clean, and repair it on his own. He was taught how it worked, by absorbing and storing solar and thermal energy, which it used to fire a burst of high-energy particles. It didn’t make much sense to Dan, but he gathered that as long as it was charged, he could use it. It needed heat or sunlight to charge, so any dark or cold place meant he would have to use it sparingly.
The company was taught how to report and salute, and they were drilled, which as far as Dan could tell, meant moving back and forth with as much difficulty as possible. They would run. They would march. They would even crawl. They would carry their weapons. They would carry their packs full of heavy supplies. The variations never seemed to cease.
That was why Dan was thankful when they did the last thing he had expected: sit down in a classroom.
During the first week of training, they were taught about Valhalla’s history, so that they would better understand the land they were fighting on, and the people who inhabited it. The whole Flight got a shock at their first class: the instructor, a man with dark brown skin and a bald head – save for a long black ponytail – introduced himself as Carr, and waved at them in greeting from the front of the classroom. As he did, they were able to see that he was missing a hand.
Dan had to look twice. There was just nothing there. Carr’s left hand and a good portion of his lower arm were gone, the remaining stump hidden by a metal cap. The Flight had mixed reactions. Some, like Dan, were simply shocked. Dan’s arms had been replaced with gloves; he couldn’t imagine having nothing at all. Others looked sickened at the sight, a few even turning away and closing their eyes. Some seemed impressed, a reaction Dan found odd.
Several of the recruits asked how Carr had lost his hand. Dan himself was a bit curious.
Carr smiled. “Every new Flight which comes through here asks me the same question,” he said. “I’ve answered it every time; at some point I’ll get smart and just write it down and nail it to the wall.
“It was…” He thought for a moment. “It was six years ago. I know some of you are expecting a heroic tale of how I staved off an entire orc army while a city was evacuated. Well that happened.” The man paused. “But that’s not how I lost my hand.”
A few of the recruits laughed.
Carr smiled. “No, we were massing at Anund’s southern border, trying to keep Utgar’s forces from sweeping north into Montfre. We both had massive armies, and we had both just been sitting there, staring at each other across a field for about five days. It was incredibly boring.
“Anyway, we used to take potshots at each other, mostly to keep ourselves awake. We were too far apart to actually hit much of anything. But one day, for some reason, one of Utgar’s soulborgs thought it would be a great idea lob an explosive round in our direction and see if it could hit anything.
“Well, it didn’t. It went far enough, but for all that effort, it did nothing but hit a mound of dirt. The only problem was that I was about five yards away. I got blasted by a bunch of shrapnel, and apparently my hand took a shade too much, because when I woke up later in the healing ward, it was gone.”
Carr looked at the recruits with the air of one having just related a thrilling tale of daring adventure. Some of the recruits smiled; most looked unsure how they should react. Dan himself was puzzled by Carr: he had lost a hand, and much of his arm. How could he tell the tale in such a dismissive manner? Dan had lost little more than some sensation in his fingers, and it had taken him months to learn how to live without it. He couldn’t comprehend living with only one hand. But Carr seemed fine with it, even at home with the change.
Dan shook his head as the class began. The people of this Valhalla were a strange lot.
Dan’s combat training began with the fourth week. He was taught about the different weapons present on Valhalla, the kinds of injuries they caused and how to treat them, how to stay hidden, how to aim and fire his SC-4 Pistol, and a host of other topics which left Dan more bewildered than anything else. The whole Flight also did more drilling than they had before, and though Dan couldn’t imagine how, it was more rigorous than ever. At the end of each day, Dan could do little more than collapse onto his low bed and let his sore muscles relax.
During this time, the first hints of anger Dan had felt towards Vydar and his war grew. He hadn’t signed up for any of this. All he wanted was to be with Heleer, and have no walls. He had no interest in this war, and the fact that Vydar was forcing him to train for it made him angry. It didn’t help that he could clearly see the green hills beyond the walls of Llynar, taunting him, tantalizing him with their hints of what could be beyond. That’s where he should be, not stuck in this mudhole of painful training.
When the training began, Dan had told himself that he could be patient. If this was what it took for Vydar to finally listen to him, then he could do it. But now he was changing his mind. The training was too hard. He thought he could get through it if he believed in what he was training for, but the fact that he didn’t only made it worse. Anything would be preferable to this. Even Isadora. At least Heleer was there.
By the end of the fourth week, Dan’s mind was made up. He wasn’t going to take any more of the training, any more of the war, any more of Vydar. He was going to leave. Aviir had said there were other Valkyrie, hadn’t she? Maybe they would listen to Dan. In fact, Vydar’s enemies might be perfectly willing to summon one person for Dan if he joined them instead of Vydar.
His mind made up, Dan rolled silently from his bed one night, and crouched on the floor. He grabbed his gear, including his pistol, pack, and heavy boots, and crept between the beds until he reached the end of the barracks. He gently opened the door in the darkness, and slipped out, quietly closing it behind him.
There were several barracks within Llynar, and they all housed various Flights. Dan froze as he heard the door to one of the other barracks open, and then softly close. He could make out a dark shape in the night, crouching by the door two barracks away. Dan quickly slipped into the shadows of his own barracks.
The figure fumbled with its pack for a moment, then hoisted it on its back. Then, moving silently as they had all been taught, the figure moved from shadowy barracks to shadowy barracks, heading for Llynar’s main gate. Dan watched. Perhaps he wasn’t the only one with escape in mind tonight.
Dan followed carefully, keeping to the shadows, not wanting to alert either the guards or the figure ahead of him. The figure slipped from the shadows of the last barracks and dashed to the gate, and Dan had a momentary view of it. It was Etta, a human woman from Earth. Dan couldn’t understand why she would want to escape. She had thrown herself into the training with unnatural zeal. If it was too much for her, then what chance did the rest of them have?
Dan paused in the shadows as Etta fumbled with the small door set into the main gate. He heard a click; she had gotten it open. He was just preparing to dash over to her before she slipped out and closed the door behind her, when two figures dropped from the sky and grabbed her.
Dan saw the black armor: kyrie of Vydar. Etta struggled, but they held her tight. One kicked the half-open door shut again, and together they half-marched half-pulled Etta across the field to the first bunker, which was reserved for officers and administrators.
Dan watched her go. There wasn’t really anything he could do besides outright attacking Vydar’s soldiers, and he didn’t want to limit his options that much quite yet. Plus, he doubted he would ever get out of Llynar if he did that. Then again, would the same thing happen to him? He glanced towards the dark sky, full of brilliant stars, more than Dan had ever seen. Were there more kyrie up there, watching to make sure no one else escaped?
Dan couldn’t risk it. He couldn’t be reunited with Heleer from a prison cell, which was where he was sure Vydar would put him if he tried to escape. He sighed. He would have to get through the training, get out of Llynar, and then, once he was out in the open, perhaps on the front with the other side conveniently close… perhaps then he could escape Vydar. But for now, he would have to wait.
Treading silently, Dan crept back to his bunker.