It had been a last second decision to change the target of his Shot, but Angel had faith in his choice. As the bolt of energy flew down at the pair, both reacted instantly, raising their weapons to block the shot. Angel prayed that he’d put enough power into it.
The blast slammed into Renala’s shield hard enough to make her take a step back. It bounced off and connected with Angus’s ribs, just below his armpit.
The shot knocked Angus to the ground, but he was up immediately. He looked up at Angel with a pained grin. Angus approved of the tactic. When he looked back to Renala, she was already through the now open section of wall. She was almost to the corner.
“She’s through,” Angel said.
“Lethen,” Angel said, “She’s through, close the wall.”
Still nothing happened.
“Crap. Renala, I think Lethen’s succumbed to the poison in him. I don’t know how many doors he managed to open, but hopefully it’s enough for you to escape and get into an area with more space. I’m gonna go check on Lethen.”
“Hurry,” Renala said. “I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep away from him. Even if everything is open, he’s faster than me. That shot barely hurt him. Speaking of which, please warn me next time you’re going to shoot at me.”
“I knew your daemon would protect you,” Angel said. “I wasn’t sure if I was judging the angle right, but it worked. I knew if I shot directly at him, he’d just swat it aside. It was risky.”
“Well go get Lethen,” she said. “If he’s down, I may need you to open some walls.”
“Understood. Keep me updated.” Angel ran along the roofs above the alley maze. He wasn’t far from the tower, but there was nothing uniform about the height of the buildings around here. He had to take an indirect route and climb at points. When he got to the stairs leading up the outside of the tower, he could see that the door was already open. That wasn’t a good sign.
He ran up the stairs three at a time. It didn’t take long for him to spot Lethen’s body.
The half-grizzard was slumped across some kind of console. Angel assumed it controlled the walls in the maze below. He ran over and placed his fingers against Lethen’s neck. It took him several seconds to find a pulse, and it was weak when he did.
Angel pulled Lethen to the ground and laid him down. He had to get Lethen help, but he also had to make sure Renala was safe. Looking up at the console, it didn’t take him long to figure out roughly how it worked. Lethen had put in a command to open all the walls. Good.
“I found Lethen,” Angel said. “He’s not doing good. On a brighter note, all the doors should be open.”
“I think I’m almost out,” Renala said. “This isn’t the way I came in, so I’m guessing, but this block can’t be too big. I have to be approaching an edge soon. I haven’t seen Angus following me yet, but he could be anywhere. I’m sure if he wanted to get ahead of me he could’ve.”
The door to the control room slammed against the wall.
Angel looked up. “I’ve found him. Try to climb up somewhere and find your way to the tower. I won’t be able to hold him off for long and I’m not sure I should even try.” He glanced back down at Lethen before locking stares with his sensei. “If we were on a real mission, it would be one thing, but this is just practice and Lethen is dying over here. If we forfeit will you get him looked at right now?”
“There’s no need for that,” Angus said. “I’m declaring your team the winners. If you had used that tactic with the shield against a first year, the fight would’ve been over. You took out the other two.” After walking over and checking Lethen’s vitals, he pulled a small radio from his belt. “We need a medic in the tower immediately.”
“Yes sir,” came a tinny voice through the speaker.
“Has Prolier woken up yet?”
“No sir, but he’s stable. We can wake him up if you’d like.”
“Please do and bring him up here. I have a few questions for him.”
Angus clicked the phone back to his hip. “Now we wait.”
It didn’t take long for Angus to extract the name of the poison from Prolier, and once the medics knew what they were dealing with, it was neutralized in short order. Everyone apart from Angel was hurting, but recovering nicely. Prolier hadn’t spoken a word since the game finished and they made camp. So far no punishment had been meted out against him, but he knew it was coming. He cowered every time he accidentally caught Angus’s eye.
After Angus cooked them a light dinner, they all sat around their small cooking fire. “We had an interesting game today, that went about how I expected, with a few exceptions. I figured Renala would be able to hold Marnie up until she could get help, but her forethought in preparing their battleground was quite impressive. I knew Lethen would defeat Prolier. That he did it while poisoned adds a layer of respect to that. Those three will lead the squad tomorrow. Their teamwork was very well coordinated for a trio of first years.”
Angus glared over at Prolier. “Which brings us nicely to the other matter that needs to be discussed tonight. You were so eager to win that you purposely endangered another member of your team. Outside Hikari you would be in police custody for attempted murder, but we have a different way of dealing with people like you. The one you wronged decides your fate.”
Prolier’s already rather pasty looking features went a shade of white usually reserved for bleached linen. “But, I –.”
“Shut up!” Angus snapped. “You poisoned and almost killed one of your own teammates. Lethen has every right to retribution. By the laws of Hikari, he even has the right to request your head and it will be done. You broke the most basic rule of daemon knighthood. You don’t intentionally harm other students, especially the ones in your squad. Students have been executed for that.”
Prolier went from white to almost transparent. The person with the most right to hating him now had his fate in their hands. He opened his mouth to plead with Lethen, but one look from Angus told him all he needed to know about how much say he would have in this.
Lethen sat for several minutes just staring at the guy who had tried to kill him. Part of him wanted to just get rid of the pest while he had the opportunity, but then he’d be no better. “I ask for nothing. As much as I’ve like to see him beaten or beheaded, I wouldn’t do that to a member of my team, we might need him tomorrow after all.”
Prolier exhaled the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.
Angus nodded. “Okay. If that is your choice it will be. Prolier, go to your bedroll, I’m tired of looking at you.”
Prolier knew better than to question his good fortune and was about halfway to his sleeping bag when a line of pain erupted down his back. He dropped to the ground and looked back at his sensei.
Angus had his daemon in whip form and just stood there staring at him.
“I thought there was to be no punishment,” Prolier said. There was a stripe of blood from the left side of his neck all the way down to his right hip.
“There will be no official punishment from the school of Hikari,” Angus said. “I am your sensei though and I can punish any and all transgressions as I see fit while you are under my care. You’re lucky that’s all I’ve done. I’ve never been so disappointed in one of my students in all the years I’ve been teaching here.”
Wisely, Prolier went to bed with no further comments. The second student of the year had been scarred.
The following morning they were all up before seven to warm up and talk strategy. After the trial run of the previous evening, Angel, Lethen and Renala were running the show. Lethen had unofficially been elected leader, while Renala and Angel were his tactical advisors. They would stick together for the beginning of the preparation time, splitting up after they had some basic strategy in place, but as they didn’t know the location nor the format of the test, they couldn’t plan too much.
Angus watched as they planned. “Renala, can I speak to you for a moment?”
Renala nodded and followed the sensei to a more private area in the small camp. “What is it?”
“Your shield. Have you told the others about it yet?”
“No, should I?”
“No. Usually you would share things like that with your team, but I’m not sure how much you should trust certain members.”
Angus nodded. “He’s unstable and you may have to defend yourself from him. It’s best that he doesn’t know everything you’re capable of. Also, during the game, don’t use it unless you absolutely have to. You never know who will be an enemy in the future.”
Renala’s brow furrowed. “Even amongst other students? Surely we’re all on the same team.”
“For the moment you are, and Hikari has an unequaled reputation for students that become excellent daemon knights. A lesser know fact is that due to our top class education, the few that turn from the path become the most dangerous rogues. You know how I told you that shield came from Bernard the warlord?”
“He was a Hikari student before turning his back on our way of life. He graduated and looked like he would be an exemplar of the daemon knight way of life. Something happened to him and he went bad. He and his men killed thousands before your father took him down.”
“What happened to him?”
“As to what turned him, I don’t know. Now he’s in prison. They would’ve executed him years ago, but even to this day he still holds information that he barters for his continued existence. He will never be free, but he knows about criminals that are still out there. As much as we want to kill him, we keep him alive as long as he can still save lives.”
“How does he still know anything relevant after almost twenty years?”
“He must have contact with the outside world somehow. We still don’t know exactly how. If it wasn’t for his intel, he would’ve been deemed too dangerous to keep alive a long time ago.” Angus looked at his watch. “We should go join the others, it’s almost time.”
As they rejoined the rest of the team there was silence. It was the calm before the storm. They all knew that it wasn’t long before the game would begin. Prolier was off to the side some, but his expression matched the others. The tension in the camp was palpable. Each glance between the teammates lasted for only a second before eye were cast earthward once more.
It wasn’t long before the moment came. A man’s voice came from hidden speakers. “Will squads 1A and 1C please report to the desert section of the campus.”
A collective breath was released. The hour of prep time had begun.