Lethen’s eyes told Nestor the answer to his request long before he opened his mouth. “Over my dead body.”
Nestor smiled. “That, of course, can be arranged, but I’d rather keep things civil between us. You did me quite the favor in forcing Silva to yield, and I’d hate to repay that with violence. The problem is that the revelation of your daemon’s gift has caused a stir with the leaders of our group. That daemon is incredibly valuable and by securing it, I also cement my position here. As much as they won’t be too mad about Silva’s death, I could also use something to show that I am the natural choice to replace him. If I can’t prove I can do the job, I will be quickly replaced.”
Lethen hadn’t moved during the entire monologue apart from tightening his grip on his weapon. “I don’t care about your position any more than I cared about Silva’s. You got the information you wanted and you’ll have to be happy with that as proof of your abilities.”
Nestor gave a little flick of his wrist and the men at the rest of the tables got to their feet and began to advance slowly toward them. “I’ll make you a deal. We will bind you a new daemon in the same shape and no one will have to know what happened here. You can retain your status and we can part on peaceful terms. Do you really believe that if you resist there will be any outcome other than the deaths of you and your team? How long have you been a daemon knight? Wait, not even a daemon knight, a trainee. A few months? I have been doing this for years. Any of the men here could defeat you singly, and you have to face them together. Don’t throw away your life for a daemon.”
Lethen smiled at Nestor. “Obviously you don’t remember how I defeated Silva and helped you so much. That was the first day of my training. I would have killed Silva myself if my team hadn’t restrained me. If I choose to, I can go into that state again and this time no one will stand in my way. I will slaughter you and all of your men without a second thought.”
The men behind them stopped in their advance and looked at each other. Some of them were present at Silva’s humiliation and had seen Lethen in action. The ones who hadn’t been present had heard the tale and weren’t eager to see it firsthand.
Nestor leaned forward, looking directly into Lethen’s eyes. “You’re bluffing. I know that you need something to set you off. It happened last time because Silva smacked your little girlfriend over there. You became enraged and that’s when your daemon took over.”
Lethen’s eye widened some. He tried to hide his surprise, but Nestor obviously noticed it because his grin widened.
“I told you I’m not like Silva,” Nestor said. “I do my research. I know those glowing eyes and that ferocity only comes from a daemon taking over it’s owner’s body. In order for that to happen, the master must be in a mental state that brooks no control. You can’t voluntarily do that to yourself. Your little pet will only come out if we do something to piss you off in a major way.”
“You mean like attack my team and try to take my daemon away?” Lethen asked.
Nestor stopped. Apparently he hadn’t considered Lethen would be this stubborn. Trying to take the daemon by force might be enough to set him off again. He had hoped to scare the boy into giving it up voluntarily, but now he was in a tight spot. If he let the boy go, he would appear weak and it wouldn’t be long before he shared Silva’s fate. If he attacked, he could be facing an enraged, daemon-possessed kid who defeated his former boss in seconds. He might not have liked Silva, but the prior leader wasn’t really that weak. He may have kept his position due to his blood connection to the higher ups, but he’d gotten there the same way Nestor had. He’d killed his way to the top.
He needed to do this without a fight if possible. “Do you really want to risk yourself and team on the assumption that your daemon might take over once they start falling to our blades? How many will have to die before you lose control? I know to stay away from the tall girl, but what about your sensei? Or the claw brat who called you a half-breed when we last met? Perhaps if I kill them in a certain order, we will be able to face you alone. Even with your super powered state, I don’t think you could take all of us.”
This time Lethen actually laughed, taking much of the wind from Nestor’s sails. “You seem to think that I’m the only threat here. You’re acting like killing any of the others would be a walk in the park. All of us were on our first day when we last met. You have no idea what we’re capable of now.” He motioned to Prolier. “This guy is the fastest killing machine I’ve ever seen.”
When all eyes went to Prolier, Lethen used the opportunity to mouth the word ‘fade’ to him while he wasn’t being watched. “This guy could probably take half of your men out before they could put up a fight, and the rest while they tried to get themselves together.”
Next he pointed to Renala, who was at the other end of the table. “And this girl may look silly with a weapon almost twice her size, but don’t underestimate her. As of yet, I haven’t seen anyone able to even put a scratch on her. Between her reach and reflexes, she can block or dodge any attack.”
Lethen spotted one of the men who had faced her during their first day. “You there, I’m sure you remember exactly how many hits you managed to score on her first day. By that dumb look on your face I can tell that you do. Not a single damned one. A big, experienced guy like you against a girl that has to stand on a chair to break five feet tall, and not a single hit.”
This got a laugh from the rest of the group as the man’s face reddened. He chanced a look over at Prolier to see how it was coming and found his chair empty. Excellent.
“And you,” Lethen said, turning back around to face Nestor directly. “You of all people should remember that it doesn’t take my daemon taking over completely for me to be effective. I won the fight between you and I that day without my eyes glowing. Granted, you may have been under orders not to fight at your fullest, but I know just how hard I hit you that day and even if it didn’t actually knock you out, I know you had a lump for a few days. That was then. Now I’ve had some training and I’ve got a taste for the violence. Do you want to know why you’ll never find Vitaly’s body? I buried him alive after he killed Yuri, and I enjoyed every second of it. I also defeated your pet wolf daemon while I was trapped in it’s room. Did Gregor tell you about those things?”
Nestor was truly uncomfortable now. He knew this had to come to a fight now and he wasn’t sure of his chances. Lethen had called him out and his choices were fight or appear weak. He could not do the second one, especially not on his first day as leader. He’d overplayed his hand and had to do damage control now. He needed to take them by surprise. Kill Lethen before he could go berserk. He needed some kind of distraction so he could get someone into place.
Nestor looked over the team with new respect when he noticed one of the chairs was empty. “Where did the kid with the claw go?” He looked under the table and saw no one. “Where did he go? Tell me right now!”
“I told you he was fast. It’s a shame you didn’t bother to check our bags when we came in. By now he’s covered half your base with explosives. When he’s done, you won’t have an organization to run.”
Nestor shook his head. “No, he wouldn’t do that. Not with you still inside. That’s not the Hikari way. If anything he’s going to get help.” He looked at his men. “Spread out, find him. Do not let him escape.”
About two thirds of the men filed from the room to begin their search. So far, Lethen’s plan was working better than expected. With most of the minions gone, the odds were swinging further in their favor. The ones that stayed behind formed themselves into a ring around the head table, weapons at the ready. If the team made a move, it would have to be quick and decisive, but that’s exactly what Lethen had in mind.
Nestor glared at Lethen. “You are proving to be a troublesome opponent. I never expected a kid to have balls like you do. Silva was right. It will truly be a shame to have to kill you. You could make a powerful ally if you weren’t so stubborn. I would offer you a position within my ranks, perhaps even as my second, but I know you wouldn’t take it. Such a shame. Together we could proabably have even overthrown the main bosses and been rich beyond imagining. If I had ten men like you, I could rule the world.”
Lethen nodded, accepting the compliment. “You are right. I would never join you. I would never involve myself in profiting from pain and misery as you do. People like you make me sick.”
Nestor cocked an eyebrow. “Is that so? Are we really so different, you and I? Daemon knights don’t work for free and many of their jobs involve inflicting the very pain and misery you claim to abhor.”
“Maybe, but we only do that to people who truly deserve it. Like you.”
Nestor’s grin returned. “You naïve fool. You do what your masters tell you. You are merely a tool, a blunt object they can use to bludgeon their enemies into submission. Let me ask you this, half-breed: did all of those grizzards deserve to die during the war? Daemon knights were sent in there to slaughter your people under the orders of the men you consider so noble. Hikari’s best and brightest were probably responsible for the deaths of some of your relatives. Is that the kind of thing that entitles you to sit up on your high horse and judge me? If I’m not mistaken, your sensei here was involved himself. How would you feel if you found out that he killed your cousin or something?”
Nestor may have thought he scored a point, but Lethen had already been through all this in his head. It wasn’t lost on him that as the closest daemon knight hub to the Kraxid caves, it likely was Hikari knights that killed some of his relatives. Nestor obviously didn’t know that his relatives hated him for his mixed heritage. War was hell and while the generals were the ones to blame, the lowly soldiers suffered. Simple fact of life.
Lethen shrugged. “I think you talk to much. Prolier, go ahead and finish this fool so he’ll shut up.”
Confusion flashed across Nestor’s face, to be replaced quickly with shock. He moved to speak and blood poured from his mouth. He looked down to see Prolier materialize with his claw thrust up under his ribcage, into his heart and lungs.
* * * * *