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them, looking somewhat regal in his finery and casting his eye over the men and women before him.

Vance quickly joined one of the rows and sat cross-legged at the end. Merreck took position in front of him, purposely showing his back once more. A sudden pang of guilt overcame Vance as he considered some of his thoughts about Merreck might have been uncalled for. As he sat waiting for the rest of the trainees to file in, he noticed not everyone was here. Those recruits who had not received either of the first Marks were absent. It dawned on Vance that he and his fellows were about to face yet another trial. In the silence of the main hall, Vance's mind tried to fathom what the next pointless test could possibly be. Whatever it was, he planned to show courage and initiative, even if he knew it was an aimless exercise. And then if everything else failed, just meditate. This last thought brought a smile to his face as he imagined using the same strategy during EarthForce training. He would have been blasted into the middle of next month!

The last strays made their way into the hall, and Sinclair stood to attention. The hall, which had been in silence previously, attained a palpable hush, as though the walls of the building were leaning in, keen to hear the Anla'shok Na's words. Sinclair seemed to regard every single recruit sitting before him. Compassion, dignity and pity seemed to play across his face all at once. 'The Mark of Fire.' Sinclair's voice was soft yet commanding as it rang out, echoing up to the high ceiling. 'It is your next test as Anla'shok trainees. It is the final Mark you can earn, and few ever achieve it. There is no disgrace in failing this test. You will not be cast out of the order for failure, but the honour that goes with succeeding will stay with
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