“Sucker punching pussy.” Prolier spat on the ground.
Lethen smiled. He’d gotten the jump on Prolier with Angel’s help. Sneaking up behind Prolier had been easy with a spotter and he’d landed a solid hook to Prolier’s ribs. The shovel had long gone back to being ornery, so he was basically fighting with his fists while holding a daemon, rather than actually making use of it. This was the fighting style he knew better though.
“Do you really believe you will ever be accepted here?” Prolier asked. “Hikari merely tolerates your presence until the three can find a reason to throw you out. To think that I got stuck with you. Soon I’ll have to compete and work with a four man team. Do you have any idea how much of a penalty that will be? Even a useless fifth can be used as bait.”
“It’s gonna take a lot more than your empty words to kick me out of here,” Lethen said. “If the three or anyone else wants me gone, they’ll have to send someone bigger and meaner than you. We’re winning this game and you are the weak link of your team. For you guys to have a chance, you are, at best, a distraction. Marnie is far stronger than you.”
“And what makes you think Marnie isn’t walking back with your flag right now?”
“Because she’s unconscious. She was taken out by Renala just a few moments ago. How do you not know that? She’s on your team.”
Prolier paled. He pulled his ear-bud out of his pocket. Clearly he hadn’t wanted anyone else hearing what he wanted to say to Lethen. “Marnie?” He said after shoving the piece of plastic into his ear. His face paled even more as he listened to what was being said. “Sorry sensei, it will never happen again.”
Lethen took the opportunity to aim a sweep kick at Prolier’s feet, taking him down. “Get your head in the fight. I don’t want you trying to say that you were distracted after I beat you down. I want it to be known that I won in a straight battle. You want me gone? Come get rid of me yourself.”
Lethen grinned as Prolier snarled and shot forward directly into a knee to the stomach. He had baited Prolier. “You’ve never been able to beat me without Dellman by your side, holding your hand. You’re on your own out here now. What do you think you can do?”
Prolier wasn’t falling for the same trick twice. As he stood coughing, he just watched his opponent. Lethen had hoped to get at least a few uses out of that ploy, but Prolier hadn’t turned out as stupid as he’d expected. He was still fairly confident that he could take the claw wielding brat, but it might be a bit harder than expected.
“What right do you have to lecture me half-breed?” Prolier asked after getting his breathing under control. “You don’t even use your daemon when you fight. When we fought before I didn’t have ‘Eagle’s Talon’ here to back me up. I’d say the chances have swung in my favor.”
Lethen got into position when he saw Prolier burst forward again. Lethen was just about to catch him with a jab to the nose when Prolier dodged around his strike. He drew the claw across Lethen’s ribs as he passed, leaving a trio of painful wounds. Lethen turned to see Prolier just standing there waiting for him, a twisted smile dancing across his face.
“You’re not the only one who’s been training against Renala,” Prolier said. “I can almost break her defense. Compared to that, yours is nothing.” To illustrate his point, he shot toward Lethen again, this time rolling under a kick that was meant for his head. When he popped out the other side, Lethen had sprouted three more cuts on his shin. They weren’t very deep, but enough of them would start having an effect. Lethen had to find a way to get around Prolier’s speed.
One problem was that Angus was fully aware Lethen and Prolier were less than the best of buds. Angus didn’t want a training accident this early in the school year, so he hadn’t made them spar each other yet. Lethen had always known Prolier was faster than him, but the guy’s attacks had done no damage. Now Prolier had his daemon claw and it put a lot more punch into his weak strikes. Before he’d been a gnat, nothing more than an inconvenience. Now he was more like a hornet. That stinger took him from irritation to threat.
“Oh,” Lethen said, “that’s how it’s gonna be is it? You dart in, get one little lick in and run away? Your family must be so disappointed.”
This time Prolier did take the bait. He dashed in a dodged Lethen’s attack, but it had been a feint. As soon as Prolier ducked under his swinging arm, Lethen dropped his elbow on the back on Prolier’s neck. He fell to the ground but managed to turn it into a roll before Lethen could hit him again.
“Don’t you dare talk about my family. No Prolier could ever be defeated by a half-breed like you. In fact, as much as my daemon has no need for a shovel form, I will make you yield by the end of this fight. You will submit to me, the way the world should be.”
“Don’t count on it,” Lethen said, but even as he said it, Prolier darted in and scored another hit on him. This time it was it was his thigh. The wounds still weren’t debilitating, but he would definitely have to replace his pants. “For us to win tomorrow, I hope you’re as dangerous to our enemies as you will be to their clothes. I don’t think getting them naked counts as a victory.”
“No, but how much more humiliating will it be if you are stripped down to your skin when you yield to me. I may get some kind of award from the city for putting you in your place. If I can make you cry, there might even be a parade.”
“Want me to knock him down?” Angel asked through Lethen’s ear-bud.
“No thanks,” Lethen said. “I’ve got this punk. Support Renala and go for the flag. She’ll need your help to get past Angus. When I get done here, I’ll catch up and help you look for it. I shouldn’t be long.”
“Such misplaced confidence. You are right that it won’t take long though.” Prolier stopped to fill Angus in on what he’d just heard. After he finished, he flew at Lethen again.
Lethen was expecting another quick hit and run. He was caught off balance when Prolier didn’t dash away once he’d struck a hit. Instead he started changing direction erratically. He was moving too fast for Lethen to protect himself and managed to score a number of slashes on the half grizzard’s body and limbs. Now Lethen was beginning to feel the wounds slowing him down, and any decrease in speed would make it even more difficult to stop that claw. Lethen’s daemon wasn’t helping either. He wasn’t actively using it, but it was still able to slow down his right arm with it’s wriggling.
“Must take a lot of energy to dash around like that the whole time. Think you can keep it up?” Lethen knew he could outlast Prolier. Nine times out of ten Prolier will get his lick in, but that one time Lethen got his in would do more damage than twenty little scratches from that claw. He had this fight, it might just take a little longer than expected.
“I can do this all day long,” Prolier said. “Need me to slow down for you? Are you finally understanding how outclassed you are? I don’t need to be able to take you out with one strike when I can get a hundred before you can turn around. This fight is already over. Don’t you see that yet?”
Lethen was about to say something when he noticed that he felt a little out of sorts. Just a little lightheaded, as if he’d lost too much blood, but his wounds weren’t that serious. He could feel his reactions slow down. See his vision get fuzzy. Now he understood why Prolier thought the fight was over. That little bastard had poisoned him.
As he tried to get his mind right, Prolier sprang in and landed a few strikes in a mixture of punches and kicks. Lethen barely noticed it happening. He knew he would feel it later, but for now, it took everything in him to stand. As Prolier came in for a few more hits, Lethen saw him slip the ear-bud out again.
“Can’t cut you up any more or I might leave enough in your system for them to detect when this is done.” Prolier smiled, his face inches from Lethen’s while he whispered. “Now watch as I show you what lengths a true daemon knight will go to for victory. This poison won’t kill you in these doses, but you won’t be able to do much but watch while I beat you. Sadly you won’t feel most of it until you wake up, but it’ll still be worth it.”
“Lengths?” Lethen asked. “Using poison on a member of your own squad during a training exercise is just being an ass. This isn’t a life or death situation.”
Prolier jumped back. “You shouldn’t be able to speak. My doses were very precise. How are you still able to move at all?”
Lethen fell to his knees but stopped there. He would not give Prolier the satisfaction of seeing him all the way down. “I guess you didn’t take into account that my grizzard half makes me a little more resistant to drugs and poisons. Nice try but you know nothing about what it means to be a daemon knight. It’s about honor and helping your teammates when they’re in need.”
“What do you know about honor?” Prolier shouted, bringing his knee up into Lethen’s face. “Your existence is a dishonor to the human race as a whole. Your dad got exiled because of the depth of his dishonor. Humiliating and destroying you is the most honorable thing I could ever do.”
That last blow to the face buckled Lethen’s arms, but he still just managed to stay up. Blood dripped from a cut on his cheek where Prolier’s knee had split it open. “You will never understand honor. Until you know how to put others before yourself, you will be incomplete and you will fail again and again. You think you have this fight won, but you’ve got no chance.”
Prolier laughed. “How do I have no chance? I can finish you anytime. I just like watching you squirm.”
Lethen tried to chuckle, but it came out as a wet cough, painting a small portion of the path with a red mist. “I’m about to teach you what it really means to be a daemon knight. You think it’s about personal glory and winning at any costs, but there’s something much more important than that.”
“Really? Enlighten me, oh great and powerful sensei.”
“Teamwork,” Lethen said. “Angel, light him up.”
Prolier turned just in time to catch a shot between his shoulder blades that threw him to the ground face first.