A rush of cold air hit my body, as the blankets on my bed were torn off of me. I opened my eyes quickly, but was immediately blinded by someone holding a large torch. Was this it? Had Viktor finally sent someone to kill me?
“Alright horse girl, time to show us what you are made of! Outside with all of the other new recruits!” The man carrying the torch was yelling at me, there were three other men in my room. All dressed in the same dark purple almost cult-like outfit. I saw two other new recruits being shoved and running past my door to go outside.
“Don’t make me say it again horse girl!” The torch man began tugging at my exposed leg.
“Okay, okay I am coming. Calm down.” I was shaking my head, grateful that I was not currently being burned alive, but instead becoming part of some hazing ritual. I reached down for my riding shoes. The torch man slapped my hand.
“No shoes, you get what you are wearing,” he spoke with green eyes shining. I could tell that he was excited about this, and it was probably not going to be fun for me. I was soon shoved through my door, and down the short hallway to the other new recruits. Most were short and scrawny. I was the only one who had come from the Hunter Line, so it was likely that most of them lacked the necessary training to succeed as riders.
The night sky looked beautiful. Unlike the smog filled cities of the North, one could see all the stars in the South. I smiled and wiggled my feet in the grass. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, despite being woken up at three in the morning. I scanned my surroundings to see all of the older riders surrounding us in a circle with their dark purple cult suits. Each was holding reigns to a new recruit’s horse. I tried to remain calm as I searched rider to rider for Zal. I needed to know that she was okay, because she was all that I had left in this world. My eyes went from the snobby face of the captain of Orva’s equestrian team, Kurt Fyess. He may have been one of the best riders in the world, but he was also conniving and had an affection for watching others fail. He was thankfully holding the reigns to a painted horse. I moved quickly in a circle seeing Kurt’s other minions but not my Zal. I was beginning to become frantic until I heard someone whisper my name in the twilight.
“Maia, she is right here.” I turned to the face the fastest rider in the world, Roth Caylin, holding the reigns to my black beauty. He put a finger to his lips and motioned for me to look forward. Zal was with best rider she could be with, except me, so she would be okay. I shifted forward to just in time to watch Kurt open his arms wide.
“Welcome, welcome, new recruits! We are so happy to see you here this fine morning. The next few months will be the most grueling months of your life. You will be learning how to ride day and night while trying to pass all your classes at Orva. Most of you will not succeed, we have a seventy-five percent failure rate here – and to be honest I could not care if any of you make it through at all. It will be enough fun to watch you fail,” he broke his sentence to smile large and forbiddingly at all the new recruits. My eyes shifted to the person at my left and right. Each seriously believed every word he said and scared down to their cores. It was almost comical. “So why not start the failure now? Each of you strip to your underwear, you will be riding your first race against each other bareback. No boots, no clothes, just you and your horse…”
“Are you kidding me? You can’t do this; some of us could break our tailbones!” Some of the recruits were shouting obviously angered at the facts in front of them.
“And won’t that be just fun?” Kurt said smiling. He made a motion with his hand and each of the riders walked closer to us in the circle, handing the reigns to us. “Please strip, get on your horse, and make your way to the track.”
“You comfortable with this horse girl?” Roth turned his face to me. I could see that he had kind dark eyes, under a clean shaven head.
“I would love nothing more than to fit in today. Please just let me do this,” I pleaded. I knew that he had the pull to prevent them from making me take my clothes off, but this was my choice. I did not need someone else making my decisions for me.
“You got it horse girl,” he handed me over my reigns.
“Is everyone going to call me that?”
“Most definitely,” he gave me a reassuring smile and let me follow the rest of the men to the track.
“Alright, everyone get ready for your first race. Did I mention the winner gets clothes for the rest of the day?” Kurt was enjoying this a little too much. He looked directly at me and winked as Zal and I were ushered into the box. I knew that he was excited to spend the rest of the day staring at me in a bra and underwear. However, Kurt did not know that I had spent six months riding Zal bareback across Eldoris. I closed my eyes and leaned back in the box. This smelled like home, riding Zal like this felt like home. This was supposed to be an uncomfortable hazing ritual, but I could not stop enjoying this. Zal didn’t need my reassurance to beat the new recruits. They all looked small and shaking in their stalls. It was amazing what many of them would become in the next few months, and what many of them would never amount to. The riders fell silent and I knew that it was almost time to prove myself for what would not be the first and definitely not the last time. The gun shot, and the gates lifted. We quickly fell into our groove. I hugged Zal close to me, and she carried me home past all of the other riders. I left them in my dust after the second furlong. We past the finish line with ease; I held my arm up in defiance and heard only one person one voice shout for me on the sidelines while all the other faces glanced at me in bewilderment.
“THAT’S HOW YOU DO IT HORSE GIRL!” Roth exclaimed at the top of his lungs with his fist in the air. The other riders soon followed. I became surrounded by purple, and everyone shouting “HORSE GIRL” at the top of their lungs. I looked at the new recruits and understood that I just made many enemies, but hell I would get to wear clothes for the rest of the day. Roth turned to me, “I was asked to supply the clothes, and I understand that what I am handing you is men’s clothing. I guess I have my prejudices too.”
“Thank-you Roth.” I threw on the oversized t-shirt and jockey pants to Kurt’s scowl.
“Anytime horse girl, I am excited to race you.”
“Bring it on Caylin!” I beamed as two of the riders put me on their shoulders.
Perhaps I did not have to be alone.