Squad 1C trained every day for two weeks, and at no point did they go back to the their dorms. They slept rough and spent every spare moment trying to best each other in combat. Angus had managed to score one hit on Renala during that time, and Lethen was pretty sure it was just to prove that it could be done. Angel was actually able to fire shots that felt like being punched, albeit not terribly hard. Prolier was just as surly as ever but even he was improving.
Lethen’s footwork was something he was having a hard time with. He had gotten the basic concepts quickly enough, but changing the whole way you move at an instinctual level wasn’t going to happen overnight. Every time he thought he’d mastered a certain movement, Angus would change it up and he’d end up on his ass again. He’d had seventeen years of getting his body to move the way he wanted it to without thinking, and now he was trying to change that. Any time Prolier could watch he would, and he laughed with each of Lethen’s trip ups.
Angus had just finished berating Lethen once again for being forced off his feet by a series of attacks when he called the group together. “I’ve noticed some improvement in all of you, but there is a long way to go. I’d rather have waited a little longer for this, but today I received word that our first test has been decided. It’s to be a game of sorts between you and 1A. The format hasn’t been decided, but it could be anything from capture the flag to a straight up brawl. You guys had best bring your A game, or you will be crushed.”
“Are our chances really that bad?” Renala asked. “Is 1A that much better than us?”
“I can’t be a hundred percent sure, but likely yes. 1A is always made up of the best trained new students, whereas 1C is always the random others or niche fighters.”
“Niche fighters?” Lethen asked.
“Yeah, people who specialize in one area but are lacking in others. Like Renala with her virtually impervious defense or Prolier with his speed. Angel is above average for a starting sniper, but his hand to hand is seriously lacking. Marnie is our only member who is decent all around. Lethen has tenacity, but poor technical skills.”
Lethen considered his assessment of the team and couldn’t really dispute any part of it. He could keep up with his fellows but only because he refused to go down. All of them could score more hits on him than he could return in a timed exercise, but he would get right back up and keep coming. With the exception of Renala, he could probably outlast any of the others given a long enough fight. Then again grizzards were known to be a hardy race. Their stamina and ability to take a beating was the only thing that kept the war going as long as it had.
After letting his assessment sink in, Angus continued. “We may not know what format the battle will take, but we can strategize to some degree.” He pulled a stack of folders from a bag he’d had off to the side. “Here I have dossiers on every member of 1A. Obviously it’s not all their information, more rough guidelines on their fighting styles and primary weapon forms. I’m gonna go through each one with you and tell you what I think will be the best way to combat each of them.”
“First up we have a kid by the name of Ventrus,” Angus said. “He carries a crossbow and is their ranged support. That means he’s you’re responsibility Angel. Your job will be to find him and keep him busy. It will probably one of the others that finishes him off, but if you can keep him pinned down, everything will go much smoother. I’m hoping that your accuracy will give you the edge over him, but we can’t guarantee that. Once we’ve taken care of him, you will be able to support the others.”
The second folder contained a picture of a striking brunette that needed no introduction for the team. “Next we have someone everyone is familiar with: Lena Tortuga. Since the Tortuga family was one of the three families that created Hikari, she will be a tough opponent. Her khopesh will be difficult to defeat, and I would suggest Renala facing her if at all possible. The only real chance we have to take her down will be to hold her up until we can put more than one of you against her. Remember, for these inter-squad matches, I will be unable to do anything more than coach you.”
“The next one on the list is Gianni Sartori. He fights with a folding long knife. It can be used folded as a club, or can be unfolded to make lengthy weapon. The blade is about two feet long, and once unfolded, the whole thing reaches about 4 foot. I’m assuming he’s pretty good with it, but I haven’t seen him in action. Half-breed, I want you squaring off against him if possible, you’re best in close and that’s where a weapon like that will falter. Being able to switch styles in combat makes for a dangerous adversary, so try to keep him from having the flexibility he’ll want.”
“Marnie, I want you to take this next one. Her name is Gail and your technical skill should serve you well. She is a zhua wielder, which is a weird looking weapon by any account. It’s basically a metal hand with sharp claws on the end of a stick. Don’t let those claws touch you under any circumstances. It’s an unwieldy weapon, but dangerous if you can’t parry it. I’m hoping your swashbuckling style will be able to keep it at arm’s length. Be careful though, one of the primary uses of a zhua is to disarm an opponent.”
“Last we have a guy who uses nunchaku named Mikael. He’s from a proud family with a long history of daemon knighthood. He’s yours Prolier. He may be even quicker than you, so you’re primary focus will be dodging. Any strikes you can get in are great, but the speed an unpredictability of his weapon will test your skills to the limit.”
“Now,” Angus continued after allowing the team to digest the information, “as you can see, this plan requires two of you to simply hold up your foes. That means it will be up to Prolier, Marnie or the half-breed to defeat their enemies one-on-one in order to support the others. If any of you three can take someone down, the odds swing in our favor. All I ask is that you don’t yield. Almost every year, one first year yields to another during these trials. That team invariably ends up as squad C the following year. Yielding isn’t the greatest dishonor a daemon knight can face, but it’s damned close to it.”
“Do we know when the battle will start?” Prolier asked.
“Yes,” Angus said. “It will begin at ten in the morning tomorrow. We don’t have a lot of time to prepare. There will be an announcement at nine, telling both teams which section of the campus to report to, and the format of the game. That will give you one hour to prepare. Use this time wisely. Search the area and find good vantage points, bottlenecks or any other strategic advantage you can get, but for the love of God, stay out of sight. Combat doesn’t start until the stroke of ten, but if someone sees you, they can follow you and prepare an ambush. They have the same ear-buds we do, so they will be able to coordinate with each other. On the same note, if you spot one of them, inform the team.”
“Anything more you can teach us today that will help?” Lethen asked.
“Tons of things but I think we should have a trial run. Half-breed, you, Renala and Angel will be one team. Prolier, Marnie and I will be the other. We’ll have a game of capture the flag.” Angus walked over to a small building, disappeared inside and reemerged carrying two long poles with flags on them. One red, one blue. “We will be red and you guys will be blue. You have twenty minutes to find a hiding spot for your flag, and set up to protect it. We will use just this block as our arena. Anyone found outside will be disqualified.”
“Just before you go,” Angus added, looking at the blue team, “take out your ear-buds and switch to channel two. That way the teams can have separate communications. I will play fire support for our team. When the prep time is up, you’ll know. Now go.”
It took only a moment of staring at each other before the teams dispersed in opposite directions. Lethen, Angel and Renala headed toward a building toward the boundary of the combat zone, hoping to find an out of the way place to stash their flag. When they neared the road that marked the edge, they spotted a small building. Once inside they knew they’d found their place.
The smell of oil hung in the air of a room filled with random bits of broken down machines, the perfect place to hide a metal rod. Angel shoved it into a pile of similar bars before they got down to the business of planning their defense.
Looking around it quickly became obvious that while it was a great place to hide the flag, it was a terrible place to hide. All the broken machine parts were too small to be decent cover, and the roof was too low to provide Angel a sniping position. The only upside was that it had only one door and no windows, making it easy to keep an eye on.
Lethen looked out the door. “I think our best bet is to have Renala defend in here, just make sure no one can get the flag. Angel, do you think you can find a nice high place that allows you a good view of the area while keeping the doorway in sight?”
Angel nodded. “I will do the best I can, what are you going to do?”
“I’m gonna try to get their flag. We’ll never win by hiding out in here. I will start by staying where you can watch my flanks, but I’m sure you won’t be able to keep an eye on me the whole time. I’m heading out now. Hopefully I’ll be in a decent position when the game starts. Stay in contact everyone.”
Lethen and Angel left at the same time, but immediately split up. They had very different missions and Lethen had to trust each of the others to do their part. He would’ve liked to had Marnie on his team, but as long as he didn’t have to put up with Prolier, he couldn’t really complain.
He skirted the edge of a small building and peered around the edge. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first, but just as he was about to break cover, he spotted Prolier creeping in Renala’s direction. “Incoming. Prolier.” He whispered.
“Got him.” Angel said. “He’s stopped just on the other side of the same building you’re hiding behind. I think he might have seen you. He’s just waiting there, looking in your direction.”
Lethen had no idea how Angel had gotten into position so quickly, but was thankful he had. Lethen was about to try to find a way to get behind Prolier when a horn sounded in the distance.
The game had begun.