They reconvened back at the factory where they met and Angus split the team into pairs. Renala and Marnie, Prolier and Angel, Lethen and himself. He wanted to see what his strange new student was capable of. He knew Silva. The mercenary wasn’t one to be beaten that easily. Angus knew he could beat him, but it wouldn’t be an easy fight. Lethen did something quite extraordinary when he made him yield, and in the process, made a dangerous enemy.
“All right,” Angus said. “We’re gonna start with some light sparring. I want to see Marnie and Renala swinging at each other. Both are defensive fighters so I want some attacks. Prolier, I want you to start a hundred feet from Angel and run at him. Angel, your job is to stop him. Let’s see whether your accuracy and power can stand up against Prolier’s speed and dodging. Half-breed, I want you to go all out without losing yourself.”
The other two pairs split off and began their training while Angus and Lethen squared off against each other. The shovel had been subdued since the fight against Silva, so Angus would be able to see what Lethen could do with a weapon that wasn’t actively fighting him.
“Come at me with everything you’ve got,” Angus told Lethen. “I want to see what I’m working with when you’re you.”
Lethen stepped forward swinging the shovel. The attacks had some power, but very little in the way of form. Angus slapped them aside with ease, even popping Lethen a few times with light smacks from the end of his staff. With some training, Lethen could develop skills though, and he certainly wasn’t unteachable. He would likely make a fine daemon knight one day.
Angus was about to stop the fight when he overstepped and let Lethen inside his swing for a moment. Lethen folded the shovel back against his forearm and let loose with his fists. Angus hopped out of the way before he could sustain any real damage, but he had been surprised by the sudden change of styles. While wielding the shovel he had been almost clumsy, but once it had been tucked away, Lethen seemed to know what he was doing.
“Wait,” Angus said. “Keep the shovel against your arm and fight me like you did once you got in close.”
They went at it again and it was like an entirely different opponent. Lethen was moving and swinging like a seasoned brawler. He still wasn’t anywhere near good enough to give Angus a challenge, but it was more like a bee than the gnat it had been before.
“Where did you learn to fight like that?
“Are you serious?” Lethen asked. “You do see what I am don’t you? Do you think for a minute that someone like me would’ve survived this long if I couldn’t fight? I’m not used to my daemon like the others are, but that doesn’t mean that I’m totally useless. There’s always someone who’s ready to kick the half-breed around.” He looked over at Prolier. “I’ve had to fight just to stay alive.”
“I’m guessing you’ve had a little experience fighting him.”Angus said, noticing the glance. “I must admit that you seemed to deflate a little when I mentioned that he was our fifth.”
“He is my teammate and I will protect him at all costs, just like you or any of the others. I don’t really expect the same to be done for me. I know Marnie would, and I suspect you have to while being our sensei. Renala and Angel seem okay, but I don’t know them enough yet. Prolier would probably hand me over to our foes if he was given the chance.”
Angus didn’t react. He knew that Lethen might well be right. There were a lot of people that didn’t want Lethen at the academy, people a lot more powerful than Prolier. Prejudice ran deep and since the war between the humans and the grizzards ended, a lot of people kept the mentality that all grizzards were evil. Most people tolerated their presence in town on occasion, but the idea of a human choosing to breed with one was almost treasonous. Angus had been raised in a family that had been opposed to the war, but even he found the inter-species breeding distasteful.
“So what’s the deal with you and Marnie anyway? I noticed that Silva smacking her was what set you off in the first place. Is it something I should know about as your sensei? Romantic relationships between teammates is generally frowned upon. It can lead to bad blood within the squad.”
Lethen looked down. “Nothing like that. She and her family have always been good to me. I’m not really sure why, but they have helped me out a lot over the years. Maybe they pitied me, or maybe they’re just good people. Either way, They are more of a family to me than my blood relatives, not that I even really know who they are. I don’t remember my mom and my dad was banished when everyone found out what I was. It was actually Marnie’s dad who fought for me to be allowed to stay.”
Angus knew of Marnie’s family, but everyone knew of Marnie’s family. The Jericks were one of the wealthiest and most successful families in the city. Marnie’s dad was the most highly sought after lawyer around and her mother was a powerful daemon knight. She had followed in her mother’s footsteps and had even inherited her first weapon. It was customary for a daemon knight to set aside their weapon at the birth of their first child. They would have a new daemon bound for themselves, and the old one would be for the child once they were old enough.
Nothing that he knew about her family gave him reason to believe they had any reason to help Lethen. It had actually lowered public opinion of the family for Marnie to associate with him. Angus hadn’t realized that her entire family was looking out for him. He assumed Marnie was just a little soft and felt pity for the boy. If he was under the Jericks’ protection, that would explain how the city hadn’t managed to dislodge him and how he’d gotten into Hikari. No one with any sense crossed the Jericks.
Angus was one who enjoyed a good mystery, but he knew that if he pressed too hard too fast, he would alienate the boy and create distrust, which couldn’t be allowed to happen. Not only did he want to know, but for a student to lose faith in their sensei would be disastrous. “Alright, now try to defend against me. Keep the shovel against your arm and use it as a part of you. Block and parry with that arm, but make sure the hits strike the daemon and not you. I’m not gonna hit too hard, but it would still be better not to take it yourself.”
“But what about the daemon?” Lethen asked. “Why should it get hurt instead of me? It didn’t choose this life, I did.”
“Daemon’s don’t feel pain when in their weapon form. It’s part of the binding process. Their bodies are entirely transformed into wood and metal with no nerves or any other kind of sensation. It’s a different story when they’re in their natural form, but the binders are very careful to make sure they don’t leave any part of the daemon unchanged.”
Lethen’s eyes narrowed. “My daemon feels pain. Before I fought Silva, I stopped a blow from a sickle with it and I felt the pain through it. I don’t mean the actual pain, but I could feel that it was in pain. It almost jerked itself out of my hand to get that guy. It didn’t completely take over my body like it did later, but it was swinging itself without my help. All I could do was hang on and hope it didn’t dislocate my shoulder or something.”
“Impossible. While I’m not gonna deny that improper bindings have occasionally occurred, they would never give a student an improperly bound daemon. There are protocols for this sort of thing. Steps that must be taken for a binding to be safe. The daemon has to first be caught and broken. They are essentially wild animals after all. Then once the beast has been pacified, it is taken through a long process of transformation where every living part of it is turned into metal, wood, or something else depending on what type of weapon is being made. If any of these steps are skipped, it is very dangerous for the person wielding it.”
Lethen just stared at his sensei. What he was saying made sense, but he knew what he felt. He also knew that whoever had broken this particular daemon hadn’t done a very good job. It was far from tame. “I’m not sure how good a job they did on this one. It doesn’t seem very tame. Do you think they may have screwed up somewhere?”
“It’s possible, but the headmaster is an expert with daemons. He would’ve been able to sense if anything were amiss with your daemon.” Angus paused to consider what he just said and thought back to what Turiel had said to Lethen. He wanted to watch him break. He expected the boy to fail. He may have even engineered it so that it was a certainty. An improperly bound daemon would certainly make it near impossible to succeed. No, even Turiel wouldn’t be that reckless. Wild daemons were incredibly dangerous. If the binding was less than perfect, there was a chance that the daemon would break it and would tear around the school until it was subdued. It would put not only Lethen at risk, but his whole team and whoever happened to be near when it happened.
Angus didn’t want to believe that the headmaster would do something so stupid, but he knew that hatred could be a powerful motivator to take leave of your senses. Could Turiel really hate this boy so much that he would risk the safety of the school he led, solely for the sake of shaming Lethen? “Would you mind if I laid my hand on your daemon? I know it’s generally best to be the only one to handle it once you start your training, but I’m curious about something.”
Lethen nodded and held it toward Angus. Angus set his hand on the hilt and could feel the rage hidden just under the surface. More anger than he had ever felt in a daemon before. Lethen was right. If this one was broken at all, it hadn’t been done properly. This was no tamed creature, but a still wild beast that wanted nothing more than to rip people apart, and there was no way that Turiel could have missed it when he handed Lethen the shovel. If he knew about that, it’s possible that other aspects of the binding had been glossed over or skipped entirely.
While he still had his hand on the daemon, he struck it with the end of his staff. He felt a jolt of pain race through the shovel, bringing that burning rage closer to the surface. If the daemon hadn’t fed so recently, it probably would’ve went on a rampage against him. He couldn’t come straight out and accuse Turiel of knowingly endangering his students without more proof, but he was certain that this binding was slapdash at best. Had the headmaster ignored these obvious signs of a sloppy bind, or had he orchestrated the entire thing. After all he was the one in charge of making sure that all students had a daemon.
Angus looked around to see how the others were doing. No one was seriously injured yet. “Half-breed, we’re going for a walk. There’s someone we need to see about this. They will have the answers we need. Follow me.”
Lethen had no idea what Angus had seen within his daemon, but he guessed it wasn’t good.