As soon as Angus had lead Lethen away from the rest of the group, Prolier called for a break. He had managed to get to Angel the first few times, but was growing tired and Angel was getting better at catching him in the legs and feet which was slowing him down. He was getting frustrated and his normal anger outlet had just wandered off with their sensei.
“Why does that half-breed get special attention?” Prolier asked once the group had gathered. “Making an enemy yield doesn’t seem that difficult. Isn’t that how our parents collected the various forms that our weapons have? Seems to me that it’s pretty common.”
“Yielding to a foe is extremely rare.” Marnie said. “My daemon has been in my family for five generations of daemon knights and she only has fifteen or so forms. Most daemon weapon users would prefer death to surrender. But it wasn’t just that he forced Silva to yield, but the fact that he managed it on his first day that impressed Angus and Master Brascko.”
“I could have done that.” Prolier insisted. “He wasn’t that tough. If it had been me-”
“You would’ve been snapped like a flimsy chair under a fat man’s ass.” Marnie finished for him. “Only Lethen’s rage made him strong enough to take down Silva. He didn’t give Silva a chance to even fight back, which he would have. The mercenary had orders not to do any permanent damage to us, but yielding is something that almost never happens. If he’d seen you coming, he’d have killed you and lost the money for the job before submitting. Squad 1C would be a four man team.”
Prolier stiffened at the accusation, but couldn’t openly refute it. He knew inside that Silva would have defeated him with ease. He hadn’t had much chance to look around, consumed by his own battle as he was, but he had seen that even Angus was having some difficulty.
“Why do you hate Lethen so much anyway?” Marnie asked.
“Why do you like him so much? He’s an abomination! We should’ve wiped out the grizzards when we had the chance. Once we knew that we were winning the war, we should’ve eradicated every trace of them. To allow them to survive was a crime, but for a human to go and breed with one – that’s just insane. Then, on top of that, we allow this foul creature to live amongst us. To put the icing on the cake of human disgrace, it was then allowed to join Hikari. Our most prestigious school has been defiled. It was once the top of the line, now it’s reputation has been thrown in the gutters that your Lethen crawled out of.”
Marnie’s eyes were wide and her jaw slack as she processed his words. How could someone feel so much hate for another living creature? She understood that many still harbored resentment for the humans killed during the war, but this was outright hatred. The only way he could despise them this much if it was was drilled into him by his parents, a surprisingly common practice in certain circles. But his family hadn’t even been involved in the war. She could understand if they had lost brothers or fathers, but his family was like her father’s side – rich and connected.
Her mother had been involved in the war. As one of the stronger daemon knights, she had been involved deeply in the fighting. Although she’d never wanted to know specific details, she was sure her mom had probably killed grizzards, likely dozens of them. She had lost friends and family during the conflict, but rather than hating them, her mom was a major supporter of Lethen inclusion in Hikari. To her they had just been missions. She was doing her job, her foes were doing theirs. Anyone killed knew the risks when they took the job. It was sad, but no more so than the man who accidentally falls into a wood chipper while making mulch. An occupational hazard.
“You know,” Angel said, “there was once a time when people thought that way about other humans, before the existence of grizzards was even known. Right up until the early twentieth century, white people would enslave black ones, thinking them to be an inferior species. For many years after that they were still considered inferior, but they were at least classified as human. There was also a time when women weren’t allowed to become doctors or engineers or even vote because they were considered inferior too. Do you feel the same about them?”
Prolier was taken aback. His family was tenuously connected to Angel’s and he actually knew his father quite well. Angel’s dad was almost as strongly opposed to Lethen’s presence as his own was. He hadn’t expected opposition from that quarter. “Of course not. The color of a human’s skin doesn’t matter, as long as they actually are human. Gender doesn’t matter either, my family doctor is a woman.”
“Then your logic is just as stupid as those in the past,” Angel said. “We honestly don’t yet know whether grizzards even are a separate species, or just a different evolutionary path. At some point people spread out and started becoming different. They developed different skin tones and features to adapt to their environments. Lethen’s existence proves that we certainly aren’t that different. If you go screw a dog, you won’t make babies. For Lethen to have been born, we must be damn close to each other.”
“Grizzards are not the same as humans!” Prolier shouted. “Look at them! They are shorter, stockier, and hairier than any humans. They are evil and now they have infiltrated our most beloved institution.” Prolier was still fuming, but it was obvious that he was slowing down. Clearly Angel had put a few cracks in the shell of disgust Prolier’s family had wrapped him in. He would never accept Lethen, but perhaps he could be taught to tolerate him.
“The definition of a species,” Renala said, “is a group of creatures that can create fertile offspring. A horse and a donkey can breed, but all mules are sterile. This shows they are not the same species. If Lethen turns out to be able to have children, it will prove that we are technically the same.”
Prolier sneered. “We can only pray that no human woman is ever desperate enough to find out. If he wants to find out if he can have kids, he can go back to his own people.”
“We are his people just as much as they are,” Marnie said. “Whether or not humans and grizzards are technically the same species doesn’t matter. He is at least half human and it’s up to us to treat him accordingly. He has never done anything to earn your wrath and I doubt he ever will. He didn’t choose to be born as a half grizzard outcast. He is just trying to survive and do what’s right like the rest of us. In fact, most of us in Hikari are just here because our parents expected us to become daemon knights. He chose this. He wants to protect people who need it and take down the evils of the world. He was given a daemon in the shape of a shovel that doesn’t like him and he still doesn’t give up. You’ve always had everything handed to you and you have the gall to talk crap about the one of us that actually had to work for this. Your place in Hikari, just like mine, was assured before you knew how to suck on your mom’s tits.”
At that last comment, Prolier lost what little composure he still had. He swung at Marnie, but his claw was stopped by Renala’s halberd. Marnie had simply stood there, mouth agape, while the swipe was coming. She couldn’t believe that Prolier had swung at her, especially with his weapon. If Renala hadn’t stopped him, she would have some serious facial scars at the very least. As the ring of steel on steel left the air, Prolier’s face showed that he knew exactly how close he’d just come to losing everything.
Prolier hung his head. “I’m sorry Marnie. I didn’t mean to do that. I don’t know what came over me.”
Marnie’s shock left her quickly. For a moment she was angry, but that left quickly too. It wasn’t Prolier’s fault that he felt the way he did. His parents had trained him from a very young age to hate. “I know you didn’t, but do you see what hatred does to people? You could have killed me just now. You have to let it go or it will destroy you. We all know that story of Crawford don’t we?”
They all nodded. Theodore Crawford was the only black smudge on Hikari’s otherwise spotless record. He was a trainee daemon knight that was in the same team as Master Carter many years before. Master Carter had been an unexpected prodigy, and coincidentally, Lethen’s personal hero. He had outshone not only everyone in the same year as himself, but many of the older students as well. Crawford had become jealous from the first, probably when Carter had become the first ever student to force a yield during initial testing, though that part wasn’t part of public record. Crawford had originally been seen as the best prospect of the newbies. Eventually his envy had blossomed into abject hatred that had caused him to attack Carter. Carter’s superior skill had made the fight a quick one, and Crawford had been executed for his betrayal.
Prolier swallowed. He knew that if anyone in his team were to tell Angus or the headmaster about his clawed swing at Marnie, he would face the same fate. Harming a fellow Hikari student outside training was one of the few crimes enforced by the academy, and harming a member of your own team was considered especially heinous. Killing a teammate, or even attempting to, was grounds for immediate execution.
Marnie spoke as thought she was reading his mind. “I have no intention of telling anyone about what just happened. We are a team and we need to protect each other, even from ourselves. This is an idea you’d better get used to. Like it or not, Lethen is part of our team and we need to be closer than family if we ever want to complete our training.”
Prolier nodded. “I will try,” he said simply, and part of him wanted to try, but old habits are hard to break. He’d been hating Lethen for many years, and his mind still wanted to find a way to get rid of him. He knew that he couldn’t attack him directly, but he wasn’t sure he’d have to. His mind turned the problem over without his consent. He knew Marnie was making sense but his brain couldn’t accept it. Perhaps the lessons of the past could be used in the present, just as old people always told younger ones.
Crawford was executed for going after Carter, and Lethen’s fight with Silva showed that the half-breed had a temper to him. Maybe Prolier could make Lethen attack him. If he could goad Lethen into action, the problem would solve itself. What had Brascko called him, a berserker? That didn’t sound very stable. In fact, he remembered hearing their sensei telling Lethen that whatever had happened when he fought Silva was not something the academy would approve of. He had no idea of exactly what was going on, but he was certain that he could find a way to bring Lethen low, perhaps even get rid of him permanently.
While they all moved back to their training positions, Prolier allowed himself a small smile. He slipped up today, but he would stay focused from now on. He had already forgotten the lesson Marnie had tried to teach him. He wouldn’t let Lethen finish the year.