Rain bid farewell for the day to the third qualified Pure-male and watched him slowly and painstakingly make his way beyond the threshold of the Rite Enclosure. She closed her eyes and released a pent up breath. It had been a long second day in the three-day Rite of the Phoenix, a day she looked forward to only slightly less than the third and final day. Today, she had pushed the males almost beyond their endurance. She was surprised they hadn’t decided to withdraw their application. The Phoenix Cycle would be much worse. As she prepared to leave the chamber, Wan’er came forth with a nonplussed expression. “My lady,” her handmaiden said haltingly, “it appears you have one final applicant.” “What?” Rain responded reflexively. She heard her handmaiden perfectly well, but the words didn’t make a lick of sense. Wan’er shifted a bit nervously, as if indecisive about how to break some bad news. “Your final applicant is waiting in the antechamber.” She bit her lower lip and blurted, “It is my lord Valerius.” Rain’s eyebrows shot up in shock. Surely she had not heard correctly. “Shall I show him in and prepare him for the test?” Wan’er asked tentatively, uncertain of her lady’s mood. Without answering her handmaiden, Rain marched angrily to the antechamber and threw apart the double doors. “Just what do you think you’re doing?” she demanded of the warrior leaning against the back wall. She braced herself against the welcome sight of him in full health. She’d been on tender hooks all the previous day, wondering whether she’d been able to heal him completely, whether she should have checked on him. She could barely concentrate on the first day’s tests, she’d been so distracted. But now that he appeared fully recovered, her anger overrode all concern. He straightened from the wall and stood tall and alert before her. “Applying to Serve you, Healer.”
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