Lethen’s sleep was disturbed that night. He had heard that for the first several months, if not years, a daemon knight should sleep with his weapon to closer attune himself with it. He woke up several times convinced that he was in a fight for his life. He couldn’t remember the specifics of the dreams themselves, but the half excited, half scared feeling stayed with him for longer than he’d care to admit.
Despite the dreams he stayed in bed until his alarm went off, even slapping the snooze button time or two. He dragged himself to the shower to get ready, but by the time he was finished, he was back to being excited about finally getting into Hikari. This was to the daemon arts what Yale is to lawyers. To even call it an academy doesn’t do justice to the size of the place. Covering countless acres of land, it was almost a small town unto itself. It had every kind of terrain, from dense forest to tower blocks reaching twenty to thirty stories tall. It was the ultimate training ground.
He checked his schedule for the fiftieth time as he finished getting ready. His first place to go was to meet his focus sensei. This would be his primary tutor throughout his time here. His name was Angus (sir to Lethen) and he was said to be less than forgiving. His weapon’s primary form was a long staff, but he was better known for using it’s whip shape. He had never had a student escape his class completely scar-free. Lethen knew he wouldn’t be the one to break that streak.
It was only a twenty minute walk to where he would meet Angus, but it took longer in his mind. He was worried about who he would end up with on his squad. He only knew that he was with Angus, but not who else was. Marnie wouldn’t tell him when he asked during their practice rounds. He hoped they were on the same team, but that wasn’t guaranteed. Each year they accepted fifteen students. Three groups of five that would train together and become as close as family. Stuck together whether they liked each other or not. Even if Marnie was in his squad that could still leave three others who hated him.
He was the second to arrive at the rendezvous in an on-campus factory, and was thrilled to see that Marnie was there already. She smiled and waved when he approached. He didn’t see anyone else near her, so Angus must not be there yet either. That would give them the chance to observe everyone’s approach.
“Hi,” she said. “I didn’t want to ruin the surprise by telling you yesterday. We can run this team together and make it the strongest first year squad. Soon we’ll be the strongest in the academy and then the strongest ever. That is if you can keep that daemon under control.”
The previous day’s sparring hadn’t gone well. Without the anger of his brief scuffle with Alliander, his daemon fought everything he tried to do. It was like swinging around a live animal, and in a way it was. The weapons are not made of any earthly material. A binder will actually catch the daemon and lock it into another shape. That weapon is the daemon’s physical manifestation while bound. They can’t do much, but they can wiggle around while you’re trying to fight and make a general nuisance of themselves.
Angus was the next to arrive and he gave Lethen’s shovel a wide berth when he noticed that it was twitching so hard Lethen’s muscles were tense from the strain of keeping it in check. He didn’t say anything to either of them, but he kept glancing at the shovel as if it were a dog growling at him. So far he did not seem overly impressed with his team.
The next to arrive was Renala, the girl who’d gotten the halberd. Lethen prayed that her daemon was less vicious than his. With her slight frame it would probably be impossible for her to do anything if it decided to disobey her will. It looked to be at least three feet taller than her, with a blade taking up at least the last foot. It looked heavy and it looked sharp. If that swung out of control, someone could be losing a limb.
Their forth arrived not too long after that. A sloppy looking fellow of the lanky persuasion with a rifle strapped to his back. He was the kind of guy you just saw and forgot, one of the nameless masses. Lethen didn’t know too much about guns, but he would’ve guessed in was a .22, a squirrel gun. Looks could be deceiving. Once he got used to using it, the force of the projectile would have nothing to do with the size of the barrel.
So far Lethen didn’t have any problems with anyone in the group. Granted, he didn’t really know anyone other than Marnie, but at least they weren’t any of the people who were openly mean to him on a regular basis. If he’d had to deal with Dellman or Prolier, he’d have likely gone mad. Those two were close friends who seemed to only have one thing in common: their disgust for the half human, half grizzard monster that had been living in their town.
They had done many things to him in the past, but the time that stood out in Lethen’s mind the most was their faked bomb threat to the town council. They said that if they didn’t exile that abomination immediately, they would detonate a bomb that had been smuggled into the council chamber. The local law enforcement traced the call back to a unregistered cell phone and searched the town hall. There was no bomb and even though there was some evidence pointing to Prolier, the investigation was dropped. Lethen knew that the town would never convict a human of a crime against him. He assumed that the cops knew this too and decided the investigation was a waste of taxpayer money.
Angus tapped his foot as he eyed his watch. Their final recruit was late. Not a good thing to be on your first day. No one ever flunked out of Hikari; the chaff was weeded out long before reaching this level. If you got into Hikari, you’d already proven that you were serious about becoming a daemon knight. The few people that had been expelled from the school were the people who got complacent. The ones who flaunted the rules because they believed that as Hikari students, they were untouchable. In some ways this was true, daemon knights were exempt from many local and national laws, but they would forget that Hikari itself could strip those privileges in an instant.
Eventually Angus decided that he’d had enough. He pulled his phone out and thumbed a number into it. When it beeped he barked into it. “I need a report on a student. Marnie, Renala, Angel, and the half-breed were all here on time but I’m still missing one. I need to know why he’s not here and whether I’m commanding a unit of four this year. If he can’t be bothered turning up on time, I’m not sure he’s fit to be in my squad.”
The four who had showed up stood in a small group off to the side, trying to make themselves appear as small as possible. Angus’s rage was legendary within Hikari and here he was, already pissed and they hadn’t even officially started their new class yet. They were all very happy that the rage wasn’t aimed in their direction yet and were eager to keep it that way. Not a whisper was heard among them until the sensei’s phone beeped again. They couldn’t understand what was being said on the other end of the call, but whatever it was, the anger was washing out of Angus’s face as the call continued. It was quickly being replaced with a stony acceptance. The news clearly wasn’t good.
“It seems we have a situation.” Angus said once the call was finished. “A group of radicals from the Russian Freedom Federation have penetrated our little home in an attempt to cripple our daemon knight program. They only managed to snag a few hostages so far, but their presence cannot be allowed. Luckily we got wind of it before they got too many people, but one of the ones that got snatched up was our fifth.”
“Don’t they have older, more experienced students that should be handling this?” Renala asked. “We haven’t even started our training and you’re talking about facing spies capable of penetrating a school filled with past and future daemon knights. Wouldn’t we just be walking to our deaths by going on this mission?”
“We have a responsibility to our teammate.” Angus answered. “If I teach you one thing during our year together, it will be that your teammates are your most valuable asset and leaving one behind is not an option. From now until you die, the people in your squad are closer than your family. Their actions will decide whether you survive jobs, so you have to trust them as much as you trust yourself, perhaps more. The coordinators have likely dispatched other teams to assist, but we will not simply sit and watch while others put their lives on the line for one of us.”
The rifleman who must be Angel spoke up. “What do we know?”
“Our intel shows that they have seen some activity not too far from here. The number of enemies is as yet unknown, though it’s suspected that there may be as many as ten. Mostly they seem to be staying right around the old sawmill right here in the industrial sector. It’s only a few blocks over, so we should be able to make it there inside ten minutes if we hurry. I assume that back up will be close behind us, but we need to move now before they realize the alarm has been raised. They’ll dig in if they see us coming.”
“Are they daemon knights?” Marnie asked.
“As law breakers they can’t claim that title, but likely yes. It’s believed that our enemies possess daemon weapons. I don’t know how they got in, but it would be very difficult for someone without one to subdue any of our students without making a commotion. We have no idea what their intentions are at this point. It might be for ransom, or it might be old enemies looking for revenge. The daemon knights have stopped a lot of terrible crimes since their inception. That’s a lot of grudges.”
Renala’s eyes were almost brimming. “We’re not even safe while inside the school?”
Angus laughed. “The second you accepted your invitation to Hikari you weren’t safe, and you will never be safe until the day you die. From this point on, either you’re still a daemon knight and our enemies are your enemies, or you’ve gone rogue and we will be your foes. Either way you will be hunted. I thought that had been made clear in your paperwork. Daemon weapon users are too dangerous to be unaffiliated.”
“What if you just can’t do it?” Renala asked.
“I’d suggest you try real hard to make sure you can. If a student quits before he graduates, he has to relinquish his daemon, and that is a fate far worse than being hunted.” A shadow crossed Angus’s face as he spoke that told the others the conversation was over.
As they set off toward wherever the voice in the phone had directed them, Angel spoke again. “So who is our fifth anyway?”
“Some kid named Prolier.” Angus said. “I’m told his weapon’s preferred form is a claw.”
Prolier. Lethen wasn’t sure if he wanted to rescue their fifth anymore.