Marnie had followed Dellman almost to the edge of the arena when the flare went off and they were almost right on top of it. They both moved into the largest clearing she’d seen since entering this dense brush. A large white circle had been drawn on the ground delineating where the edge of the control zone sat. Two large clocks hung above the space, one red and one blue. Dellman, being ahead of her, got into the area first and the red clock started ticking.
Figuring that she had some time, Marnie assessed the situation. The area was probably only fifteen feet or so in diameter. Swashbuckling used a lot of space and required a ton of movement, but she could work with that. The circle was right at the edge of the arena, but on most of the sides she would have some room to move. She wanted to stay inside the circle, but she didn’t have to.
The main problem with it being so close to the edge was that Dellman had much less area to watch for approaching foes. She wouldn’t be able to sneak up on him. She tried to find a way, but unless he took a nap, she was out of luck. Instead she just walked out with her sword pointed at him.
“You won’t be holding that for long,” she said.
Dellman smiled. “You think you can beat me?” He looked around for signs of the rest of her team. “And you didn’t even bring your little lapdog.”
She could see that although he was acting tough, he was relieved to see the Lethen was missing. Before they became knights, Dellman might have had the edge over Lethen, but now that they had their weapons, Lethen had shown himself to be potentially the most powerful of the first years. Dellman was very lucky that Lethen wasn’t there and he knew it.
“I don’t need backup for the likes of you.” She darted forward into the circle.
Angus watched as the fights broke out all around the jungle zone. Unfortunately, due to the excessive foliage, it was hard to see everything going on. Add to that the fact that Lethen wasn’t visible at all and Angus found it difficult to know who was winning. The only clear pictures were coming from the fight between Marnie and Dellman. That area had been cleared specifically so that the finale could be witnessed.
He watched Marnie charge forward and start working on Dellman. The kid was clearly outmatched, but as long as he could survive and remain inside the white line, he would stop Marnie from gaining any time. If he could stall her for long enough, one of his teammates might show and turn the tables.
Angus glanced up at the clocks to see how much 1B was ahead and found that their clock was still running.
“What the hell is this?” He barked.
“What the hell is what?” The headmaster asked calmly. A little too calmly in Angus’s opinion.
“Both teams have a person in the circle. Why is 1B’s clock still counting time?”
“Hmm,” Turiel said, “That is odd. Must be a technical glitch.”
“Technical glitch?” Angus wanted to throttle Turiel at that moment, but knew it would do no good. The headmaster had obviously fixed the game so that his team would lose. “If it’s just a technical glitch, fix it.”
“I’m sorry Angus, once the game has started, none of the equipment can be changed or tampered with. It seems fate has conspired to give the B squad a handicap. Surely your squad of super knights can handle something as minor as a little handicap.”
Fate my ass, thought Angus. “Marnie. If you can hear me, can you try to get Dellman outside the circle for a few seconds?”
He heard a grunt from his ear-bud and watched as Marnie rolled toward the center of the circle while slashing behind her. Dellman hopped back and as soon as Marnie was on her feet again, she pushed him back over the line. Now she was the only one within the control zone.
Angus looked up to find that red clock was still ticking away while the blue one remained at zero. He looked at the headmaster. “A little handicap, huh? Looks to me like someone has set this game up to ensure 1C loses.”
“That’s a hefty accusation to be flinging around. Who exactly do you think would’ve done something like that?”
Angus fumed. It was far too early in their investigations to go after Turiel directly. Plus, knowing how the headmaster orchestrated the whole binding thing with the Russians, Angus knew the headmaster wouldn’t have done anything directly. He had many minions that could have tampered with the equipment at a time when he had a perfect alibi. Although it pained him to do so, he had to act as if he knew nothing.
“It could’ve been anyone. There are enough people around here that hate Lethen and want nothing more than to see him fail. With everything he’s achieved so far, trying to find which hater did this would be like trying to find a grain of rice in a snowstorm. The number of suspects is just too long.”
Turiel held his chin in his hand. “That is true, but this is a heinous disregard of our rules of fairness. It should be investigated with all haste.”
“Don’t bother. It probably is nothing more than a technical glitch as you say. It happens. We will win anyway.” Angus knew that the only reason the headmaster could have for wanting an investigation would be to get rid of someone else. Turiel wasn’t exactly the most loving of people and his list of hated students and teachers was extensive. Angus had no doubt that Turiel had browbeaten someone into tampering with the clocks so that he could get rid of them later.
“Are you sure you don’t wish to pursue this? If it’s more than a glitch, we should get answers.” Turiel said, a little thrown off.
“Yeah. Like I said, there are too many suspects. Even people who aren’t racist against the grizzards are likely to be jealous.” Angus knew that even though he couldn’t accuse Turiel directly, he could certainly piss him off. “Lethen has only been here a couple months and he’s done some incredible things. The draining on the first day, followed by unlocking a gift after just a month. He’s set a high standard for next year’s first years, that’s for sure. Not even you managed that in your first month did you, Turiel?”
Turiel’s face darkened. He looked like he was ready to punch Angus, but got control of himself. “He truly has exceeded expectations,” he said before walking away.
“Team,” Angus said, “listen up. Due to a technical glitch, you now have fifty five minutes to disable the other team. Forget the control zone. Just take them out as quickly as possible.”
Lethen watched as Dmitri sat up.
“I’m guessing you heard the entire conversation then,” the Russian said.
“Yes, and there’s no way I’m falling to you. I’ve worked far too hard to become a daemon knight to have it taken away from me.”
“Honestly, I’ve got nothing against you. We stayed out of the war on the grizzards. In fact, we were kinda hoping that your people would do better than they did. Enemy of my enemy and all that, but I have orders. Sorry.”
Lethen pounced on his downed foe, letting the anger well up inside him and quashing some of his daemon’s resistance. He showered Dmitri with blows from his shovel, forcing him to block with the shaft of his flail. After several seconds, Dmitri managed to get his foot planted in Lethen’s abdomen and kicked him off.
The Russian rolled to his feet. “I will allow you to live if you give up the daemon.”
Lethen laughed so hard he almost peed. “Never. Gonna. Happen.” He ran forward.
Dmitri was waiting for him. He swung the flail, forcing Lethen to duck, but one of the weights caught him in the shoulder.
Lethen cried out when he felt not only the small ball hit him, but also a jolt of electricity rip into his upper arm.
“Did you think you were the only first year to have unlocked a daemon gift?” Dmitri smiled. “When this daemon was first bound and it’s gift was unknown, the handle was made of wood. Once my father had gotten strong enough, he rebound the daemon in a form made entirely of metal so the gift could be used more easily. Still think you can win?”
Lethen got his breathing back under control before responding. “I know I can.” He spoke with confidence he didn’t feel. He had taken only one hit so far and his shoulder was on fire. It wouldn’t take too many before he’d be unable to continue the fight, and if that happened, it would mean his death.
Lethen focused his mind through the pain that was slowly fading. Unfortunately, as it went away, it was replaced by numbness. He rotated his shoulder in an attempt to work some feeling back into it. It wasn’t working too well and he had difficulty moving it at all. Lethen was glad that it was his off hand side or this fight might be over before it got started. He had to avoid that flail.
They swung at each other for a few minutes, with Lethen’s concentration squarely focused on avoidance. Using the best his limited footwork skills had to offer, he put Dmitri off balance long enough to get inside one of his swings. As he did so, he tucked the shovel against his arm as Angus had taught him to do and punched Dmitri in the jaw.
Another jolt shot up his arm as he connected, causing him to fall back. His retreat earned his an electrified strike to the thigh.
Dmitri rubbed his jaw. It had been a pretty solid hit. “Did you really think the flail was the only way for me to zap you? It’s my gift. The all-metal daemon is just an easy way to discharge the voltage. It’s just as easy for me to do it through direct contact. There really is no way for you to defeat me.”
Lethen wasn’t sure he could disagree at that moment. If he couldn’t take hits from his foe and he couldn’t hit him, what was he supposed to do? He needed to find a way to neutralize Dmitri’s gift, but sadly he didn’t carry a rubber suit with him. Hell, he’d have killed for just a pair of rubber gloves.
He charged his opponent but stopped when Dmitri swung. As soon as the flail had cleared him, he jumped forward and kicked his foe in the chest. The rubber soles of his shoes insulating the current.
Dmitri was knocked back a couple steps. “Well done. In all my sparring with my team, they never tried that. But now I know that it works, I just have to watch out for your feet.”
Lethen realized he played his hand out too early. He should have saved that for a finisher. He tried to get in close again when he spotted Dmitri’s feint too late.
The Russian’s swing stopped, but of course the ends of the flail didn’t. Lethen managed to dodge two of them but the third wrapped around his arm.
Lethen howled in agony as his forearm felt like it was being immolated from within.