The team rose early the following day, preparing themselves to go into battle. They set off toward the jungle region even before the announcement. They wanted a chance to scope out some of the terrain before entering. They had decided to move clockwise around the perimeter and look as deeply into the jungle as they could. Sadly they couldn’t see terribly far through the mass of vines and undergrowth.
They were halfway around the area when the speakers present throughout the campus blared to life. “Will squads 1B and 1C please report to the jungle section of the campus.” The announcement meant that they now had one hour to get into the area and prepare anything they could before the real fighting began.
They were discussing whether to continue their circuit or simply head straight in when they heard voices from behind them. They became silent and hid. As the voices approached, the sound of a Russian accent told them that it was their enemies who were coming. They watched as the team of five walked past their position without a care in the world for stealth. Then again, they wouldn’t be expecting any trouble during the prep time.
Lethen considered the team as they tromped into the jungle. Their course of action was obvious. They would follow their enemies and see what they had up their sleeves. Any tactical decisions would be based on the actions of 1B. Poking his head out of his nook, Lethen nodded to his team. Unlike the last trial where Lethen had been given the mantle of leadership by Angus, this time they followed him simply because he had proven that he could do it.
While the first trial had been simple combat, this one was in a king-of-the-hill format. Once their hour had elapsed, a flare would be fired up from somewhere in the zone. Both teams would converge on the area and attempt to hold it against their foes. As long as members from only one team were in the designated area, a clock would count the time. The game would be over once either team’s clocks reached one hour of control.
The nature of the game rendered the prep time all but moot. You could set up all the defensive measures you could dream up, only to find that the ‘hill’ was at the opposite end of the jungle. Lethen and the others had only one goal for their hour: keep the B squad in sight. It didn’t prove to be terribly difficult.
1B seemed to be completely without restraint or care. They smashed their way through the foliage with abandon. They constantly shouted at each other, enabling Lethen’s team to know their positions even when the jungle conspired to block their vision. If they weren’t in Hikari right now, Lethen wouldn’t have believed that these five were elite enough to be considered worthy of the renowned academy. It looked less like a squad of future daemon knights and more like a posse of English football hooligans who were lost in a strange land.
“How would you guys like to do this?” Lethen asked as the preparatory period neared it’s close. He didn’t need to elaborate as they all knew what the plan was. Wait until the announced start of the fight and ambush the B squad.
“I can start things off,” Angel whispered, though he needn’t have bothered. 1B was making so much noise, they could probably have shouted and not been overheard. “If I peg one, they will come to me. I doubt they will even hesitate. This doesn’t seem like a team of MENSA members here. I don’t imagine they will suspect or prepare for a trap, they’ll just run in swinging.”
“Don’t underestimate them,” Marnie warned, memories of Gail still fresh in her mind. “They are the strongest of the teams in terms of raw power. We may not want to face them all together. Unless you can be sure to knock one of them out with that first shot, I think we should separate them before we engage.”
“I agree,” Lethen said. “The question is, how do you suppose we should do that?”
“The dossiers said almost all of them were quick to anger,” Renala said. “Maybe we can just taunt them into fighting us individually.”
“Wait,” Prolier said. “It looks like they may be doing our job for us. They’re separating and heading off in opposite directions. I guess they did have a plan. Try to cover as much ground as possible so that one of them would have to be near the control zone.”
Lethen watched as Prolier’s words were proving true. “Okay everyone, follow your person and stay in touch. This thing goes live in about ten minutes. Be ready to pounce on whomever your target is. Maybe this one will go by the book.”
Lethen heard Prolier scoff over comms, but didn’t have the heart to argue. He disliked the negativity in his teammate, but couldn’t say that he truly believed that everything would go according to plan. There were a lot of variables and Angus had told them to stay together. The only problem with that was the format of the trial. If they let one or two wander off in order to outnumber others, the ones they weren’t following could make it to the control zone and possibly win while the others were occupied. Both plans had risks, but this one had fewer. Each of them would have the element of surprise and could possibly win before things even really got started.
Lethen followed Dmitri to the southwest. He couldn’t make a move yet, both because the time hadn’t started and because he needed to be farther from his team. He didn’t want anyone interfering with his interrogation, though he still didn’t know what he was going to do. He wasn’t a sadist. He had no interest in causing this person pain, but he knew that he would have to do something drastic to get him to talk.
He was so deep into his thoughts he very nearly screwed the whole plan. He took a step and heard the crack of a twig. He had to duck quickly to avoid the gaze of the Russian, who only took a quick glance before continuing on his way. A trained daemon knight would never dismiss something like that with nothing more than a glance. Was Dmitri really so sure of himself that he doesn’t care if he’s being followed?
Lethen watched his quarry carefully and didn’t allow his mind to wander again. There was only about two minutes until the game began and he wanted to be ready to spring into action the second the announcement was made. This Russian would regret not investigating that noise.
A horn sounded around them, causing Dmitri’s head to snap up. A moment after the horn, the now familiar voice echoed around them. “Prep time is over. Engage the enemy.”
Both Lethen and Dmitri watched the skies as they waited for the flare to shot into the air. When it appeared, Lethen could tell it was in the exact opposite direction they had traveled. Lethen prayed the others were going to be able to get to it a little quicker than he would.
What happened next caught Lethen off guard. He was expecting Dmitri to turn around and run toward the flare. Instead he started walking away from it again. In a way, Lethen was glad. For Dmitri to have headed toward the flare would’ve taken him right past Lethen, and he wouldn’t have been able to hide from him in close quarters, not without making some noise at least. What was Dmitri up to?
As Lethen followed he noticed that his quarry kept glancing around, as if searching for something. After only a few more minutes he stopped, apparently finding what he was looking for. He sat down on a stump and started rummaging around at it’s base. Lethen had no idea what he was seeking, but if something had been hidden there for him, it was a clear violation of the rules of the trials. There was no be no outside interference or help apart for some minor counseling from the senseis.
Finally Dmitri removed his hand and in it was a small walkie-talkie. He stared at it for several long seconds before pressing the small button on the side. “I am in position. Are you sure the cameras can’t see me here?”
“I am positive.” The voice from the speaker carried a Russian accent even more severe than Dmitri’s. “Are you sure you weren’t followed?”
“Everyone else should be heading toward the control point. If someone had followed me out here I’m sure they would’ve made their move by now. What is so important that I would need to risk my cover to communicate during a trial?”
“Your father wants his daemon back. He had no idea when he ordered Silva to deliver it to Hikari for that half-breed that it held the power of earth swimming. While it would be entertaining to watch it slowly get out of the grizzard’s control and eat him, it’s worth far more in our hands. Your mission is now changing from simply one of reporting events to a more active role. You are to ‘accidentally’ kill the brat and send the daemon back here.”
“How am I to do that? I know how to kill, but doesn’t Hikari take possession of any daemons left behind by dead students? How will I get it back to the motherland?”
“We have people within the school, don’t you worry about that. Just make sure it looks like an accident so you can stay in the school. If they believe it was intentional, they will execute you. If that happens someone else will have to send the daemon back and you will be missed.”
Lethen could see by the slack jawed look on Dmitri’s face that he wasn’t happy about being so casually tossed aside. “I will do my best.”
“Make sure that you do, and remember: killing Lethen is the primary mission, your survival would just be a happy bonus. Now turn this thing off and store it in your pack until you can dispose of it without witnesses.”
Lethen watched as Dmitri clicked the small machine off and sat for a moment longer, digesting everything he had been told. He held the device in his hand, staring at it, as if he could will it to not be true. Lethen didn’t imagine it was the killing that bothered him, but rather the fact that his own family was more concerned with his mission than his life. Lethen had experienced many forms of hatred in his life, from sneers to violence, but never had he been on the receiving end of such apathy.
“Lethen.” Angus’s voice came through the ear-bud so suddenly that Lethen almost jumped. He had been so focused on the conversation before him that he’d completely forgotten that he was even wearing the device. “Where are you? I saw you following the Russian but then you seem to have gone into an area that doesn’t have camera coverage. Are you okay?”
Now was not a good time to respond. He’d had to get closer to Dmitri than he’d planned in order to hear what was being said. Even a heavy breath would alert his foe. He didn’t like ignoring the sensei but it was all he could do for the moment.
Dmitri rose from his seat and walked straight toward Lethen.
Lethen ducked behind a small bush and prepared to spring. He wouldn’t be able to stay hidden for much longer. The time was now. He leapt from his concealment just as Dmitri got within range, bringing the shovel down on the other boys head.
Dmitri moved with the blow but was still knocked to the ground. His eyes widened when he saw who had been lying in wait for him.
“So they want me dead, huh? Good luck with that.”