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bar of mnemonic ferricite cutting through the air behind him. The pike, aimed at his legs, hit its targets with a solid thump. Vance's legs were swept away in an instant, and he hit the ground as though he'd been shot by a PPG. He tried to get up quickly, but the first Anla'shok was already upon him. As he stood, his legs still numb from the thrown denn'bok, he felt a hard blow against his rump.

This incensed Vance past the point of rational thought. His goal had been right in front of him, and now it was taken away. The Anla'shok raised his denn'bok for another blow. The feel of the hard alloy in Vance's palm was too tempting. Even though he'd fallen, Vance managed to hold onto the fighting pike. It must have been for a reason.

As the Anla'shok drove his blow downward, Vance parried. A second Minbari warrior joined the fray. All thought of reaching the other side of the landing pad slipped from his mind. Vance stepped in as the Minbari advanced and thrust one end of the denn'bok towards his opponent. In his eagerness to reach Vance, the Anla'shok had dropped his guard. Vance's counter-strike hit him full on the bridge of the nose. Vance saw the satisfying spray of blood as his pike hit its target. He saw nothing more as two more Minbari joined the fray, denn'boks at the ready.

The shower of solid blows drove Vance to his knees. He had fought back and failed the test, but the lesson was not over. I guess I should have meditated, he thought as he lapsed into unconsciousness, regretting his sudden rash challenge, as he knew the Mark of Fire would never be his.



New Beginning



The blurry infirmary ceiling was spinning. Vance felt like he was resting on a broken twentieth-century turntable that kept resetting itself before getting halfway round. Vance tried
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