Eighty paces, eight million thoughts. Zeke knew resistance and effort would work against his desire for calm and clarity. He resisted and worked anyway. He knew desire was the illusion, yet he could no longer shake that desire from his mind anymore than he could rub the black off his boots. He wasn’t ready, he wasn’t worthy and he knew neither thought was a friend of his. How did these enemies of truth enter and take root in his mind, whispering echoes of deceit so lightly as to make even a falling flutrix feather sound like the dull thud of a large tome falling from the top shelf.

Zeke’s mind started to move in slow motion. Images flashed like slides in a projector. First course: Zimmlers. Zimmlers struck fear, and so they were employed—first. Ji had no patience for recruits that did not possess the most basic aptitude for handling fear. They might make good Blue Onyx warriors, but not Zing Tao. No sense in beating around the bush. Day one, Zimmler training.

Zimmlers were native to Hyneria. Large creatures that lived in the high altitudes above the Southern Sea, they took to Hynerians like wild mustangs took to being rode. In the right hands Zimmlers could be ridden through the upper currents at heights unknown to the masses and at speeds no living thing could approach. They made the perfect training tool for Ji.

Mastering control of your Zimmler meant to master your fear. More than seventy percent of all recruits washed out of Zimmler training. Height and speed unwrapped their fear, tossing them to the side as quickly and carelessly as a child discarding wrapping paper on Christmas morning.

Zeke made it. He fixed his mind on that single success. Focus turned to concentration. He had made it pass the Zimmlers and now he would make it pass Ji.