This is a older story from Sandworm Rodeo starring Metara Fillion, an elven character from Deltan Skies, but reading that book is not required.
A twenty-one year old Metara Fillion stood at attention next to her fellow cadets in a Sector Omega base training room, a bare stone room. In front of her marched Training Mistress Ellara Pertenian. “Ladies, today you face you final test before you can call yourself rangers! It is a worst case scenario. Your riding dragon is dead. You have nothing, not even clothes. You don’t know where you are. The nearest sector base could a mile or a hundred miles away, there’s no way to know. Your mission is to make it back to a sector base, any sector base, since all of you will randomly distributed in all sections except for Sector Kappa or Sector Beta, you will not be close to civilization.” The forest was divided into twenty-two sections. Sector Kappa surrounded Teolos. Sector Beta bordered the Port of Brocenback.
“Nobody will be watching you. There is no time limit. There will be no rescue. While you might see patrols, they are under strict orders not to assist you in any way. If you wander into an illegal logging camp and get raped and murdered, so be it! If you get eaten by predators, so be it! If you starve to death despite it being late spring, so be it! Cadets have died or gone permanently missing. Tomorrow I start on a new class of cadets, so I will not know or care if you make it!”
Every cadet stood motionless and at attention in their training armor. Most every cadet was holding back complete terror about what they were going to undergo. It was brutal, but the weak had quit long ago.
Ellara stopped and face the cadets. “It has been a pleasure training you. Your test starts… now!”
A hand reached around and held a chloroform rag to Metara’s face. She was out in seconds.
Metara awoke naked in a forested glade next to a clear stream. Song birds chirped down from the branches above. The air was cool against her skin but not cool enough to make her cold. It was mid-morning. She had plenty of daylight left.
Metara sat up and ran to the stream and took a drink of water. Then she over turned a large rock and found a few grubs squirming underneath.
As she ate, she looked around the glade, trying to find her spotter. She found her, perched in a tree at the edge of the glade, looking at her through binoculars, rifle and rucksack strapped to her back; a helmet completely obscured her identity. Metara waved and proceeded to cover herself in a thick layer of mud covered in leaves for camouflage.
Metara had done research on the final test and knew what Ellara had told her were almost all lies designed to scare cadets. Teolos wouldn’t sacrifice their valuable investments on a test. There was a time limit of twenty-four hours and every cadet had another ranger following them who would save them in case in they were going to die or not make it in time. But if they were saved, they would have to repeat the test. If one failed the test three times, they were out of the Rangers. Metara was not going to be one of those few.
Metara found a long stick on the ground. She stripped off the branches and sharpened the end.
Metara began follow the stream as it wound through the forest. Her spotter followed behind in the trees leaping from the branch to branch, trunk to trunk, running between them if the distance was too great.
Sector bases not sitting on a spring or beside a pond or lake were always sitting on the banks of a waterway. If Metara followed the stream long enough, she would arrive at a base as there were always at least three bases in every sector, one larger central one, and a few smaller outposts. It was quite possible they put her downstream from one, but it was equally possible they put her upstream. Even if she was downstream, continue on long enough, she’d still arrive at a base. While cadets were always placed by a stream most never thought to follow them.
As she traveled, Metara shrugged off her Teolian mores, becoming one with the forest, a being of nature, of Illwyn. She was a wild woman, free to run and live off the land. This was the true point of the test, of course. Metara would have fun.
A mile down, she encountered her first predator, a dire grizzly, a gargantuan brown bear with oversized claws. It was drinking from the stream and had not noticed her yet. She was stuck.
The stream was too wide here to jump across, really a small river. While she could swim, her camouflage would wash off, and the bear could hunt in the water. Going around the bear would merely attract its attention. Trying to attack the bear was a death sentence.
Instead she stayed back and hid behind a tree until the bear wandered off again.
Further up she could hear the roar of water fall.
The stream dived off the cliff into a wide lagoon cut into the trees far below before moving on. She could see the tops of buildings peaking on the distant horizon. It had to be a few good miles, but the end was definitely in sight and reachable by water. Metara squatted and peered down. There was no white water at the bottom, which meant it was safe to dive.
Metara walked up to the edge. She stood straight up, pulled back and dived off.
She did a perfect three turn drive, going deep into the water, able to touch the bottom if she stretched.
Metara swam to the surface, her camouflage washed off and leaving her bare. The water was freezing, but nothing she couldn’t handle. Metara swam laps around the lagoon; front stroke, back stroke and breast stroke.
A rucksack splashed down followed by her spotter, who was Ellara herself. “Cadet Fillion,” she yelled as she tread water in her armor, “what are you doing?”
Metara floated upright. “Taking a break, ma’am.”
“This is an exam, not a vacation!.”
“I thought I could as do I please as long as I made it to a base.”
Ellara frowned. Metara knew why. This test was not made for women like Metara. Most cadets struggled. Metara was enjoying the experience. “I’m giving you a challenge that you must complete or you fail.” She looked around for a minute, coming up with the challenge on this spot. “Find another dire grizzly and kill it.”
“Isn’t hunting predators forbidden?”
“Not if it attacks you first.” She grabbed her nearby rucksack and swam to the shore. “Get going, this won’t be easy! I’ll be watching.” Ellara climbed up a tree and perched on a limb.
Metara left the lagoon and started to reapply her camouflage. She then had an idea.
She stopped reapplying and sharpened a stick. Then she sharpened a rock into a crude stone axe on another stone.
Metara dived back in the lagoon with her stick, looking for a fish to spear.
A largemouth bass was hanging around the bottom. Her breath was running out, but she stayed still and heaved the stick. It pierced the bass squarely. The bass floated to the surface, leaving a trail of blood.
Metara took the bass to the shore. Back on the mud and leaves went. She smashed open the bass, and covered herself in fish guts. She then ran into the forest and climbed a tree with a big limb with her tools. All she had to do was wait and hope the kind of predator she wanted would follow her scent.
The all-male Teolian Warriors often criticized the all-female Teolian Rangers for being weak. They were giving rifles and riding-dragon and told to fight from a distance. They were priestesses of Illwyn, not battle hardened soldiers. But there Metara was, not even a full ranger yet, naked, covered in fish guts and mud, lying on a tree limb ready to kill a bear. The final test for a warrior cadet was assassinating a dummy without being detected. It was far from easy, but lame in comparison to surviving in the wilderness with nothing.
She wished her parents could see her now. She always came in second to her twin sister, who did everything they asked and never caused trouble. But now, while her sister had her head in a text somewhere, learning, Metara was being so exceptional, her spotter, her training mistress, had to give her a special challenge to keep her from showing up everyone. Her parents wouldn’t see this, but word would spread if she was successful. Hopefully, they’d be proud of her, but she wasn’t sure.
Metara waited for a good long while, the sun had moved overhead and towards the west a little. She passed the time in a light nap, one with forest. She was awoken when she heard movement below and a dire grizzly, the same dire grizzly as before came towards her. It had walked down the steep forest inclines on the edges of the waterfall. It sniffed the base of tree and then looked up. The bear stood on its hind legs roared. Metara was out of reach of its front claws as it swiped.
Metara hurled her axe down into the bear’s face. It did no damage, but it caused the bear to fall back on its paws.
She fell onto the bear with her spear, locking her legs around its neck, just below its jaw line. The grizzly bucked and swiped, but it missed. Then it collapses tried to roll onto its back to crush her, but Metara made her move.
She slammed the spear into one of the bear’s eyes. Blood spewed; roars turned into squeals and whimpers as she dug it in.
The bear went silent and limp. Her makeshift spear had reached it brain, killing it. Metara kicked out from under it and stood up. She pulled out the spear and wiped some of the blood on her face.
With a bared chest, Metara let out a primal roar of her own, having conquered one of the fiercest predators in the Forest of Illwyn.
Metara heard clapping from above. Ellara was sitting on a limb in an adjacent tree with a faint smile on her face. “Congratulations, but I wouldn’t celebrate just yet, you have to make it to the base before you’ve officially passed.”
Metara walked back to the lagoon with slumped shoulder, her amazing victory trivialized in an instant. But after what she just did, floating down a stream was easy.
Metara arrived at the Gamma Sector main base to cheers from the other rangers and was immediately given her official light ranger armor to wear. Metara had taken five hours and twenty-one minutes from waking up to arrival, most of that time spent waiting for the bear.
However, Metara was not the fastest to arrive at a base. Someone had beaten her by half an hour.
But the cadet who beat her didn’t have to kill a bear.