As he was making his way out of the jade apartment, Lethen paused to ask a final question. “Since you could see into my daemon’s mind, could you tell me about the daemon I drained?”
Cheyenne’s looked at him. “I can indeed, and I must admit that I am very concerned about you being allowed to drain just after the state you were in. If you lose control after draining too many daemons, you might be difficult to stop. I did enjoy seeing him yield though, Silva has always been an ass. You already know about the weapon form. That cumbersome looking club thing. His daemon’s true form is that of a kangaroo, and it grants him, and now you, an incredible jumping ability.”
Lethen smiled. “How far can I jump?”
Angus answered. “You won’t know until you try, but right now, probably no more than any other kids your age. It will take practice, and first you will have to unlock your daemon’s gift. Once you know how to use that, the others will become accessible.”
“And what is my daemon’s ability?”
“That is something I cannot see,” Cheyenne said. “He has not used it since being bound. Even if I did know, I believe that is something you should learn from him.”
As they made their way back across the campus, Lethen considered everything that had happened since he woke up that morning. He had more questions than answers and had the feeling that still more were to come. He might be able to get a few answers from Angus. “Sensei, what did Cheyenne mean that she owed you?”
Angus didn’t answer for some time. When he finally did, he was smiling. “Cheyenne is a unique girl. She was in the year below me and for a few years she was the reason her squad was designated C. She was shaping up to be a below average daemon knight who couldn’t even access her daemon’s gift while others around her already had extra ones they had drained during missions. She was a nice girl, pretty too, but painfully timid. Once she finally gained her gift she blossomed. She became a twirling, twisting creature of infinite grace during combat. She remained undefeated throughout the rest of her time in Hikari.”
Lethen thought back to the almost sickly looking creature, living in a place that resembled a cave more than anything else. “What happened?”
“As far as I know she’s still undefeated. She had become one with her daemon, working in harmony. It was an exquisite thing to watch and still is.” Angus’s face grew more serious. “During her entire time here, with all of her wins and successful missions, she had still never forced someone to yield. Once she was out in the world as a real daemon knight, it happened almost instantly. She drained the other daemon and started screaming. She didn’t stop until she went into a coma later that day. It lasted for a week and when she awoke, she was talking gibberish. This went of for weeks. She didn’t even recognize her loved ones. There was talk of destroying her daemon.”
“Slowly the mumbling started to make more sense. Not that they made sense in any useful way, but there were actual words in them. They were random, but they were there. Slowly that gave way to partial, then complete sentences. Her memory started to come back in time, but she was never quite the same. That second daemon did a number on her mind. Damn near broke her. Once she had herself back as fully as she could, the three decided that she was a risk to keep out in the field, but her skills made her an ideal teacher. Hikari brought her in and gave her a squad of fourth years.”
“Is she a good teacher?”
“The best. Her daemon tells her everything about her students’ fighting styles and their weaknesses. She’s only been here for three years and every year, her class becomes the A squad when they hit fifth year. Pray you have her as sensei when you get there.” Angus looked at Lethen’s shovel. “If you make it that far.”
They arrived back at the factory shortly after, the rest of the run spent in silence. Both Angus and Lethen were lost in their own thoughts. One focused on the the past, the other, the future. As they came to a stop they noticed that training had been suspended among the four who’d remained behind. It looked as though Marnie and Prolier were arguing. It seemed heated, but not quite loud enough for Angus or Lethen to understand.
“What the hell is going on here?” Angus bellowed. “You four were supposed to be training and learning to get along, and I come back to this? Can’t I leave you unsupervised at all?”
Prolier was the first to speak up. “It was all her fault,” he said, pointing at Marnie. “She-”
“Shut up,” Angus interrupted. “I don’t care who started it, or even what it was about. I don’t care what history you may have or emotional baggage you may carry. Leave it at home. When you’re here with me, you are a team. A team that had better learn to get along if you want to survive the coming months and years. We will have our first real mission within the next few weeks and you’d better be ready for it. We don’t have a lot of time here kids. Time to put your grown up pants on and get serious.”
The talk had worked on the team. Even Prolier managed to look a little embarrassed. Lethen had a funny feeling he knew exactly what the argument had been about. Once again he wondered whether he and Prolier could coexist in the same team without killing each other.
“Angel and Prolier, I want you to continue exactly as you’ve been doing. Renala, I want you and the half-breed to spar. He can be vicious when he gets in close and I want to see how your daemon handles that. I have to know just how impenetrable your defense is. If he can’t land a hit on you, it’ll be Prolier’s turn. Marnie I want you over here with me.”
The team dispersed and Lethen went to join Renala. She was such a sweet and innocent looking girl that he had a hard time coming to terms with attacking her. At first. It didn’t take long with him doing halfhearted swings and being rebuffed at every motion that he began to appreciate how quickly her daemon reacted. It seemed that no matter how quickly he swung his shovel, that giant halberd was already deflecting the strike. He was starting to get frustrated when he took a step back to breathe.
“Holy crap,” Lethen said. “How do you move that thing so fast?”
Renala’s face reddened. “I don’t do anything but keep a gentle grip on it, the daemon does the rest. He’s been protecting daemon knights in my family for five generations. He’s very good at it.”
“He is,” Lethen agreed. He wished he’d watched Marnie sparring with her, tried to get some idea of how to get past the weapon. Being this close it was hard to watch all of it’s movements. All he could see was that it was constantly in the way. There had to be something he could do. He tried for twenty minutes to get past the halberd. Tried everything he could think of and never came within six inches of hitting her. By the time Angus called them back together, he was drenched in sweat while Renala looked as if she’d just jumped right out of the shower, not a hair out of place.
Angus looked at his assembled class. “Let’s change things up. Prolier, maybe you’ll be quick enough to get through Renala’s defense. Angel, I want you sparring with Marnie. She’s a good all rounder and you need to get used to what happens if someone gets to you. You will stick to close combat, learning to use your rifle in hand to hand. You won’t always be able to keep your distance. Half-breed, I want you back with me. We’ll work on your footwork. When you were sparring with Renala I noticed you moved pretty quick, but you’re clunky. If you get used to stepping properly and learn proper weight distribution, you could easily triple your speed. Maybe more.”
Once again they split off into their pairs. Lethen stood opposite his sensei, worn out from his clash with Renala. He would find a way to get past her halberd. If he couldn’t even do that, he would never be a successful daemon knight. There must be some trick to it.
Angus came at him before he was ready, swinging his staff in wide arcs that Lethen easily dodged, for about half a second. As he tried to avoid the third hit, his feet got tangled and he fell on his side. He got up quickly, expecting Angus to continue the attack, but he hadn’t. He just stood there watching Lethen pick himself up. “Do you know what happened there half-breed?”
Lethen sunk down into his fighting stance. “It means I wasn’t ready. I shouldn’t have been standing there so casually during sparring.”
Angus smiled. “Well that too, but that’s not what I was getting at. I don’t know if it’s the grizzard in you, but you’ve got some speed. Your form, on the other hand, is terrible. I told you I watched while you fought Renala, I saw the way your feet moved as you changed direction. I made you dodge in a pattern that caused your natural reactions to get confused. If you can learn how to separate and slide your feet to match your opponents moves, you’d be much steadier and faster. Once you can do that, you will learn how to confuse others and force them to adapt to you.”
Lethen launched into an attack with no warning, but Angus was more than ready for him. As soon as Lethen got close, Angus caught his hand, twisted it, and launched him into the air. The staff changed into a whip and shot out, scoring a gash down Lethen’s face, from his temple to his jawline. Blood poured freely from the wound.
Angus’s weapon returned to staff form and was pointed down at the felled student. “Don’t make me hurt you half-breed. If I think you’re going feral, I’ll put you down myself.”
The other pairs had stopped to watch when they’d heard the crack of the whip. They all knew what that meant. The first scarring had happened. One down, four to go. No one got out of Angus’s class without at least one.
Angus looked up at the others, then at the darkening sky. “I guess we’ll call it quits for the day. I will see you in the morning at six. Sharp. Anyone have any questions?”
Lethen raised his hand, to which Angus nodded. “Can I continue training for longer? I have a lot to work on. I know that until third year we aren’t allowed to be out of our dorms unattended after dark.”
Angus laughed. “Who said you’re going back to your dorms? Hikari isn’t just combat training. We are the best because we teach everything, including survival. Do what you want, I’m going to have a seat and relax.”
Lethen walked over to Renala, who was still standing with Prolier. “Will you spar with me a while longer. I wanna learn how to beat the best defense.” She nodded and followed Lethen to an open area in the factory where they squared off.
Angus watched and smiled.
Prolier watched and glared.