Prolier had watched as Marnie had led Claire away from him and felt both thankful and ashamed. He had yet again failed to perform in any meaningful way. He had come into the trial full of optimism at the chance to prove himself, after the first, where he could have been best described as pathetic. Now he was lying here with a broken leg and without even a single knock out to his name.
He felt ready to cry.
Snap out of it, he thought. So you’re down, but you’re not out yet. Get up and make something of yourself. Grab a stick and hold yourself up. There must still be something you can do.
He started to rise and pain shot through his leg. This wasn’t going to be easy. He got his uninjured leg beneath him and hauled himself up. He saw a good amount of blood staining the leg of his pants and was almost too afraid to lift it and see the damage. Almost, but not quite.
He pulled the clothing up and saw a gaping wound just below his calf, but didn’t see the bone shards he expected. In fact, his leg looked more or less straight. Very bloody and even more painful now, but possibly unbroken. He looked down and started laughing.
Where he had just been lying, there was the broken end of a small tree stump, covered in blood. Well that explains the snapping noise.
He put some weight on the damaged limb and found that he didn’t collapse. It still hurt more than anything else he’d ever experienced, but it seemed that the bones were still intact. It was just a flesh wound. He would be able to walk on it. After a few experimental steps he found that he could fight through the pain.
“What are you doing?” Angus asked. “If your leg is broken, you’re just going to make matters worse. Stay down and wait for a medic.”
“It’s not broken. The sound you heard was a tree breaking. The remains of the trunk stabbed me pretty good, but I can still fight.”
“Glad to hear it,” Marnie said. “Now head southeast and try to find Lethen. Angus can’t tell you exactly where to go without breaking the rules, but he can probably tell you if you go off camera. When that happens, you’ll be close.”
“That I can do,” Angus said.
“I want to finish my fight with Claire,” Prolier said. “She was my responsibility and I need to take her down.”
“No,” Angus said, “Marnie is right. Lethen and two people from the other team are off camera in the same area. There’s only twenty minutes left before B automatically wins and we need to find out what shape Lethen is in. I know you want to get her, but you have to do what’s best for the team, not your ego. Lethen might need help and everyone else is either down or busy.”
Prolier frowned. The absolute last thing he wanted to do was rush to the half-breed’s aid. He didn’t like Lethen and he hated the fact that so much attention was on him. Prolier should be the top first year, but circumstances beyond his control conspired to keep him looking the fool. The only upside to the whole situation would be that he would be able to hold the rescue over Lethen’s head for months to come.
“Alright,” he said finally, “I’ll go save him, but only because it helps the team. I want to beat Claire’s face in, but I want to win the trial even more.”
Angus was starting to worry as he watched the trial continue. He hadn’t seen or heard from Lethen in about forty minutes and surely something should have happened by now.
Marnie was making good time toward Renala and Ankur, who were working together nicely. The foliage made it difficult to see exactly what their plan involved, but they had clearly made peace for the moment. Ankur seemed like a good guy and Angus found himself wishing that he could trade Prolier for him.
Angus had taught many teens over the years, but never had he had a student quite so irritating. It wasn’t that Prolier was a bad daemon knight, just that he was egotistical, and spiteful. Angus understood that since the war had only ended ten years past, there was still a lot of bad blood. Since many daemon knights had fought and lost their lives during that, it made sense that Hikari would be a hotbed of anti-grizzard sentiment, but as far as he knew, Prolier had no special reason for his hatred. Chances were that he simply jumped on the bandwagon with the rest of them. It was sad really.
Angus shook his head when he noticed a movement on one of the monitors. It was far off the to the side, and he couldn’t tell what was going on. Everyone including himself had gathered around to watch the unfolding drama of Claire’s berserk fury. Before walking over to investigate, he looked at the other observers and could tell that he was the only one that had spotted the movement. He slowly backed away from them and headed over to see what was going on.
As he looked at the screen he saw Lethen approaching the camera.
After baiting his trap with Dmitri, Butch was easy to take down. Sink him to where he couldn’t hit back, then smack both of them in the head enough times to knock them out. He didn’t want to have to hurt them, but the rules of the trials stated that all the enemies had to be unconscious or give up willingly. Oddly, neither of them were willing to quit. He wasn’t surprised by Dmitri, but the American had shown some backbone in refusing once he’d seen Lethen bludgeon his teammate into senselessness. Well, backbone or stupidity. Either way, Lethen was quietly impressed.
Once he’d taken them out he started making his way back toward the others. He had no idea what had happened since he started fighting with the Russian. After getting the chain wrapped around his arm and shocked, his ear-bud seemed to be on the fritz. He pulled it out as he walked and saw why. What had once been a shiny white piece of plastic was now a golden brown, cracked lump of useless technology.
Crap, Lethen thought. Now I’m alone and have no idea where to go to help. The last thing he’d heard before his ear-bud got fried was that the game had been rigged so that their time was limited. Since then, nothing but static. He had a rough idea of which way the flare was, but that was less than useful since there was now no reason for anyone to be there. He knew that Marnie had been the one to discover the issue, so she should be in that direction.
He spotted a camera and hoped that Angus was watching out for him. He walked up to the camera and waved his fried ear-bud in front of it. If his sensei was watching, he would know that Lethen had no comms. Maybe he’d be able to figure something out. If not, he’d have to get extremely lucky to find anyone soon enough to make any sort of difference.
Lethen continued his gesture before the camera for a moment longer before dropping it to the ground. By now, Marnie had most likely torn Dellman apart, but that was his only real reference point for which way to head. He’d have to trust in his team and his sensei.
Lethen got a rough bearing and started running.
“Lethen’s back in the game,” Angus whispered through comms. He had seen the gesture and looked back to the main group of observers that were still glued to the monitors displaying the Claire situation. “His ear-bud has been damaged so he can’t talk or hear us, but I think we should try to get him back into play as soon as possible. Prolier, if you head roughly southwest, you should intercept him. When I tell you to, start making as much noise as possible. If you can make contact, we can get you both to the fight before it’s too late.”
Angus walked back over the rest of the group and watched the screen with them. He wanted them to stay there if at all possible. The longer he could keep Lethen a secret the better. Most of them probably thought this was going to be decided two-on-two, but if they could make it four-on-two, they might still be able to win. The only wild card was Claire. No matter the odds, if they couldn’t get her out of that state, they would still probably lose.
As he watched the faces of those with him, he noticed that Justin, 1B’s sensei, wasn’t among those watching. Angus looked around and found him back in the corner, and he was staring directly at Angus. It was obvious that he knew.
Angus walked over to join him and just came out with it. “You know what’s happening don’t you?”
Justin nodded. “That half-breed took out Dmitri and Butch. I saw you walk over to the monitor that showed him on it. Right now numbers are in your favor, but time is on our side. Your kids don’t have long and one of mine is helping you because he thinks he’s in love.”
“Love or not, I would hope that if the situations were switched, my team would do the same.”
“You always were a sappy old fool. You would want your kids to help the opposing team in a mission?”
“Claire is out of control and this trial isn’t worth the lives of the students of either team. If they were fighting real enemies it might be a different story, but this is nothing more than a game. Would you really want to watch students of either team get slaughtered?”
Justin just shrugged.
Angus shook his head. It was terrible how some of the senseis in Hikari thought. Daemon knights were meant to be a force for good in this world, and that required a good heart. No matter how many bad guys you took down, what did it matter if you were in it for the wrong reasons? Their enemies killed because it was useful or fun. Some of the knights he’d encountered in the past had similar reasons. You kill us, we kill you. In that case what really made the sides so different? The fact that they would then put those twisted knights in charge of students just insured another generation of corrupted troops.
Angus walked back over to the monitors so he could watch what was coming.
Lethen was running toward roughly where he’d seen the flare go up when he heard someone crashing through the brush like a charging rhino. He hid until he heard the accompanying shouting. He knew that voice.
“Prolier,” he shouted, “what’s going on? I lost comms and have no idea what the situation is.”
“You look like crap.” Prolier said.
“You’re a little rough yourself. Looks like you got yourself quite the limp going on.”
Prolier filled Lethen in quickly as he led him in the direction of the remaining team members. Neither was as fast as when at their peak, but they were making good time with Prolier relaying information between Lethen and the others. It seemed that Ankur and Renala were almost in position, which was fortunate because Marnie and her tail were almost on top of them.
“Tell them we’ll be there as soon as possible,” Lethen said. “Just keep an eye on Ankur. I don’t know if he’s as honorable as he seems. This might be a ploy to let our guard down.”
Prolier nodded as he passed on the message. “Let’s go kick some ass.”