My throat felt utterly dry as I stopped before the Xian Warrior. I’d fantasized about finally meeting one in the flesh from the first time I’d heard of them, but they far exceeded my expectations. Nearly seven feet tall, his skin-tight, sleeveless, black Vanguard shirt hid nothing of his rippling muscles. The dark uniform complemented the Xian’s yellowish-gold skin and gave a nice glimpse of the burnished-gold scales around his neck and down the curve of his shoulders.


“Greetings, Ayana Antoine,” the Warrior said with a deep, purring voice. “I am Hares of the Vanguard. It is my pleasure to administer the test to you today.”


“Hello, Hares. Pleased to meet you,” I said, glad my voice didn’t betray the chaos of emotions inside me.


His generous lips stretched into a friendly smile, and I tried not to stare at his features, mostly human if not for his larger-than-human eyes devoid of any white, and the scales around his cheeks and forehead.


He pointed at the cabin, the size of an outdoor shed. Dark as sin, it looked ominous in the big hall of the conference center used for the event.


“Your test will take place within this chamber,” Hares said. “As was explained to you during the registration process, you will be asked a number of questions that will escalate in difficulty. Sometimes you will hear a voice, other times you will see things. We will continue as long as you are able to perceive what is thrown at you or until you request a stop.”


His finger pointed at five symbols above the door of the chamber. I already knew what they meant—everyone did—but let him finish his spiel anyway.


“These will light based on your progress. You need at least two to qualify for a position within one of our outlying psychic divisions, three to join the Coalition HQ, and four to train for the Vanguard. Do you have any questions?” he asked.


“So, I just walk in and start talking out loud when I see or hear things?”


He chuckled. “Yes. Although there is a seat waiting for you within.” Hares waved his hand in front of the door, and it slid open. “I hope you’re not afraid of the dark,” he added with a teasing tone.


I wasn’t, but I also didn’t relish it. The trickle of light from the open door allowed me to see a black stool looking miserable and lonely in the middle of the rectangular space, maybe four meters long by three meters wide. During our ESP training, teachers often blindfolded us, but this took things to another level.


Not wanting to show the extent of my distress, I walked in with a false air of confidence, which earned me an approving look. I settled on the stool, almost expecting Hares to wish me happy nightmares before slamming the door shut with an evil laugh.