They dropped him off at the inhospitable moon.
“Yugo,” his mentor said, “good luck. I hope you ate your greens.” That last bit was a little random.
Yugo didn’t know what he was talking about, but didn’t pay any attention to his words. He really had a lot on his mind, and whatever training the old bastard had inflicted upon him this past year would now be put to the test.
He looked up at the shuttle as it gained altitude and quickly became a dot in the horizon.
Gritting his teeth, he mentally prepared himself for the challenge. Survive one day, that was it.
Survive one day, during the laser showers.
Yugo started running towards the West. He knew that the easiest way to fail the rite was to sit still. Sitting still meant you died, simple as that. He knew he needed to pace himself, treat this as a marathon, but he also wanted to get a little head-way so he could assess his situation. He had decided on that course of action while they were bringing him down.
The moon was barren. What else could it be, with a climate such as this? It had air. And there were a few ponds with enough plankton to renew the oxygen, at least for the current moonwide population of one, that was.
The moon was pure. That’s why the best warriors of Yaugo were sent there to prove their mettle. One final act of courage, one final day where they were cleansed of what was holding them back.
Yugo ran up to a hill and surveyed the area. He made a mental path, putting landmarks in his memories, ridges, broken rock formations. He planned his route for as far as he could, which was pretty much all the way up to the horizon. The moon was small but still, a man was insignificant.
He spent a few of his precious seconds taking in the scenery. There was a good chance he would not make it, after all. He needed to still his heart. And nature was the best place to do that. The burns on the ground followed erratic paths, lines of scorched earth, yet right next to it, the dirt was undisturbed. The moon was generally flat, every piece of topology weathered down by the extreme conditions on its surface.
He felt the laser showers before he could see them. It was a constant buzzing on the ground, like a massive locomotive coming in closer and closer. He took a deep breath, as if that one would fill his lungs and would last him the entire rite.
He saw the laser beams coming down from the heavens. A natural phenomenon that, as far as the Yaugo knew, was unique in the galaxy. Naturally occurring laser beams, focused from the orbiting submoon that was a captured asteroid. The asteroid was made of sapphire crystals, excited by static electricity. The result was an emitted beam of multicoloured photons that got bounced around the interior of the asteroid, then founds a flaw and shot down on the moon.
It burned. Constantly. Endlessly. Continuously.
And it was coming for Yugo.
Like a brush made of light, it swept the surface.
Terrified, he turned and ran away.
Thus, Yugo begun his marathon race. His obstacle course. His endurance run. The laser showers covered the entire bow of the moon. That meant that all you had to do to survive was to outrun them. Circle the entire moon, and you got purified. The others came to pick you up on the shuttle.
Fail, and you turned into barbecue.
In his lifetime, many had tried the purification rite. Only one had returned, his mentor. He had fought his battles and had earned the respect of everyone. In his old age, he turned to teaching. Which, as far as Yugo knew, meant beating the crap out of warriors until they were ready for the rite.
He ran, keeping a steady pace. The ground was uneven, and he kept going slow, trying to avoid hurting an ankle or some other minor injury that would cost him his life. He thought about the glorious battles he’d get to fight once he was done with this rite. He thought of the feast that would be set in his honour. He thought of defending his home against the endless hordes of enemies.
He thought of everything, until there was no thought left to think. Like a meditation exercise, he emptied his mind by running all the thoughts that bothered him until their natural conclusion.
Still, serene, he fell into a good rhythm and kept on running along the path he had decided upon.
He quickly found himself at the horizon. That meant there was no path to take. He had to wing it, and now the ground was getting cavernous, fractured. There were deep canyons that could easily be dead ends, literal ones in his case.
He stopped at a fork and looked back. The laser showers were closing in. He wasn’t doing good time, not good enough. He was taking too long, pushing himself too little. He knew he had more to give, he was nowhere near his limit.
He turned forward. Both paths looked pretty much the same. Without having a vantage point, there was little to weigh a decision upon. There were no animals to see which one was better travelled.
He picked the right path at random and ran.
Hours passed. His chest hurt, his legs were barely keeping him upright, and his knees were turned to mush. But he could smell the ozone behind him, he could feel the heat coming in from the laser showers. He had to carry on. He had do.
Cruel gods! He cursed and pulled his hair. The canyon did not have an exit. He looked up at the impossible ridge, he could climb it, given time. He was a great climber. But he did not have time, that was the problem. He looked back, he calculated he had at most five minutes before the laser showers reached him.
He tried a few places, the rock broke apart under his weight. That was a serious problem. Normally, it would just make the climb slower and a lot more dangerous, but manageable. This day, it made this the thing that killed him.
He couldn’t believe it. So close to the finish. He had already spanned two-thirds of the moon, he knew that from his exercises. What could he do? Double back? Was there a better place to climb a three-minute run behind him? He didn’t remember, he wasn’t looking for one. Curse the cruel gods, curse them.
He gritted his teeth and felt the heat on his face, like when you stood next to a fire.
He let his head hang. This was it. Oh, he was going to try and climb out of there. But he knew it was pointless. And that old bastard, couldn’t he had told him about these traps…
Wait, he did tell him something. ‘Hope you ate your greens.’
That was a weird thing to say. His mentor never cared about his diet, Yugo was the one who minded his physique all the time. Hope you ate your greens. He looked around. There was nothing green there. There was nothing bloody green there! What did you mean, you cursed old bastard?
What were you-
Yugo dashed to the lowest point of the canyon and started to dig. Soon enough, his fingers felt wetness. Yes!
He spun his head, the laser showers were nearly on top of him now. He had seconds to spare, and he had to make a choice. Either he’d make a futile attempt and climb the crumbling rockface, or he’d trust his old bastard of a mentor and figure out what he meant by his cryptic words.
Of course he couldn’t tell him before the others. He couldn’t be seen outright helping him. But he was the only one who had survived the rite. The only one in living memory, that wasn’t something to scoff at.
Feeling the burn at the back of his head, Yugo dug deeper.
The plankton. Green. Muddy but green.
He cupped his hands together and brought it up to his mouth. He hesitated for a single second, then ate his greens.
The laser showers reached him. Normally, the beam would have burned right through him, there was nowhere to hide. The lasers licked his exposed skin and burned him, yes, but not as much as they would have.
The plankton swam around his body and consumed the light like a thirsty organism. It multiplied exponentially within milliseconds, covering up his entire skin with deep, dark green.
It drank up the light. It multiplied. It reinforced his body, his mind. It became one with his essence, a symbiotic organism that made him simply better at every single category that mattered.
The laser showers carried on, scorching the land along their eternal path.
Yugo was on the other side now.