Classes had wrapped up for the day and it was finally time for Stronghold tryouts. Bart decided he’d give the sport a try, if August could do it, he could too ...right?
Bart and Rena walked back into the Hunter Training field where tryouts are being held. The field was about the same size as the training building, but there were trees and boulders scattered throughout. At each end of the field, there were two stone structures. Rena went to sit in the stands while Bart joined the group of first years.
“Alright hunters.” Mr. Parkinson was standing in front of the group. “Here’s how the tryouts will go down. There’s 14 of you, so you will split into 2 teams and do sort of a mock match of Stronghold. Myself, and the Captain will pick the best 5 out of all of you and you 5 will go to the next round of tryouts will be held tomorrow with the upperclassmen.” The group stirred as if everyone was uneasy.
Next to Parkinson was a girl with light brown hair that was pulled into a tight ponytail, who wore a captains mark on her shirt. She must be the Team Captain. She looked over each of the first years calculatingly, her gaze was intense making everyone squirm “This is Sonya Michaels, the Hunter’s captain, she and I will be watching very carefully to see which of you will advance forwards. Now, let us begin shall we?”
Mr. Parkinson split the teams down the middle and sent them their appropriate sides. Bart clenched Dragonbreath tight. He has volunteered as an attacker. It was his job to get the treasure without getting hit. Before the teams were split, Mr. Parkinson has enchanted everyone’s weapons so that they would only stun upon impact.
‘Steady now.’ Bart thought to himself.
“Let the match begin!” Mr. Parkinson yelled over an intercom.
Bart pulled an arrow from his quiver and took off through the trees. He dashed from one tree to another taking cover as he advanced. Movement can be heard behind him as his back is against a large tree and towards the opposing force.
‘Steady breaths Bart, steady breaths.’
The sound of a branch crunching could be heard maybe 5 to 10 feet away? Bart couldn’t know for sure. But he had to do something. He knocked his arrow stepped from behind the tree, with a split second reaction, and released.
The arrow zoomed towards the opponent, going straight past his head and hitting a tree right behind him. It was Henry Kissinger and Bart had missed. Henry stood frozen, slowly looking at the arrow that almost hit him in the face. He looked at Bart and then gave a deviance smile.
“Oh crap.” Bart mumbled to himself. Henry started towards Bart Swinging his flail.
“Well that doesn’t look good.” Hope came and sat by Rena in the stands.
“Why aren’t you at the Architect tryouts?”
Hope laughed. “Architects are all nerds. Not many people want to play stronghold so when I told my headmaster I was interested she said that I was on the team. Starting too. So I thought I would come and watch Bart at his tryouts. Looks like he might be in trouble.”
Bart stumbles backwards as he reached for another arrow but it was too late, Henry was already upon him. Henry gave a big swing of his flail that Bart blocked with his bow. Without thinking Bart took this opportunity, grabbed the chain of Henry’s flail, and yanked him towards him and shoved his arrow as hard as he could into Henry’s chest. The arrow was blunt, of course, but Henry went limp and fell to the ground.
“Excuse me, coming through. Watch those legs, boy.” There was Ali, pushing through the students on the bleachers to get to where Rena and Hope sat. “Aye, what I miss?” The Irish teen had a bottle of water and a bag of roasted almonds in hand.
“Just starting. You know, it’s really nice of you to come support Bart.”
Ali looked puzzled. “Support? This is a scouting session, bean.” He places his feet on the bleacher seat in front of him and relaxed into prime viewing position.
Rena rolled her eyes then smiled noticing Sor approaching the group. “Sor! Come on, you’re missing all the action!” She continued to cheer and clap her hands loudly.
Chuckling at her roommate, Sor sat herself between Ali and Rena, throwing her bag at her feet “You told me you were a fan, but I didn’t expect this.”
Rena grinned “Oh I’m a huge fan, this is nothing anyways. Wait until we watch a REAL match.”
Bart took off into the forest pulling out another arrow. He had a real confidence boost from being able to knock out Henry. He saw the enemy stronghold. He ran for it but out of the corner of his eye caught the reflection of a scope. He dove behind a tree as a shot hit the tree behind where he was running. Another hunter slid to the tree Adjacent from Bart.
“Leonard right?” Bart breathed out. The boy nodded his head letting out soft pants. He was carrying an m14 rifle with him. “You go right, I’ll go-”
“WATCH OUT” an opposing boy stepped out on the flank of Leonard, Bart stood up nocked an arrow and released hitting the opponent in the arm, sending him spinning to the ground. Bart turned seeing the sniper distracted, and darted the other way running as fast as he could towards the stronghold. The sniper shot two shots but they both missed. He darted into the stronghold bursting through the door. The hall he was in seemed empty.
He hung his bow on his shoulder and pulled out his pistol slowly opening the door. Suddenly Bart was hit in the back of the head, it was an ambush. He fell to his hands and knees in a daze. He saw a figure walking towards him with a sword drawn.
“Stay down.” A muffled voice from behind him said. He looked at the blurry figure in front of him, now seeing two. “Am I seeing double?” The last thing he remembered was pulling his pistol up and firing three shots before he was hit once again.
He woke up on the side of the field. Rena, Ali, Sor, and Hope were standing above him looking down.
Bart sat up slowly, wincing and grabbing the back of his head. “I’m guessing I didn’t do so well. My head is killing me.”
Ali had a smirk on his face. “Yeah man you su-” Rena hit him in the arm.
“Actually, you did pretty okay all things considered.” Hope said kind-heartedly. I mean, you had 3 people on you after getting hit in the head and managed to spray your shots and hit two of them before getting knocked out. One in the chest and the other in the hand. Pretty decent in my books.”
“You got your team 40 points, so that’s a solid effort. The match didn’t go much longer.” Ali chimed in, less to be comforting and more to recap the action and stats of the scrimmage.
Mr. Parkinson gathered the students around. “Good job everybody. We have come to a decision on who will move on to tomorrow’s scrimmage. I will go ahead and get this out of the way, seeing how he was the only person on both sides to make it into an enemy stronghold, no matter how brief it was. The first to move on to tomorrow’s tryouts with 4 hits out of 6 shots is Bart Winchester.”
Bart started, so stunned that he made it he didn’t even hear the other 4 names. “I was the only one? How? There has to be a mistake.”
“As shocked as I am, I think not being familiar with the game actually helped you here. Rena said you just ran through the field like a madman straight for the stronghold. Pretty badass, lad. Everyone else was too busy overthinking it.”
Rena nodded “I wouldn’t question it too much Bart. You did great out there.”
“I guess so. I’m starving. Let’s go find Trevor and Garrett and go get some food.”
The group met up with Trevor, who was looking very glum and disappointment. Seems as if his tryouts didn’t go as well as Bart’s, and Garrett as Ali led them to Mama Zion’s.
The group finished their meal and made their way out the door. “It’s still early enough. What’s there to do around Dry Ridge?” Sor poses the question towards Ali and Garrett, hopeful they’d have some fun ideas. “Well, there’s a retro arcade that’s kind of hidden away. All the games are free...and also from the 80s? It sounds more lame out loud. We could go to the park and toss ’round a ball or something...we could...” Ali’s train of thought wandered off at a sound nearby. As he turned to look into the ally, he noticed two distinct figures that each fell forward with a thud, one directly on top of the other.
Bart turned with a confused squinting look trying to see. There was no light so all the group could see were black outlines. One figure was crouching directly over their other bending down towards it. “Hey!” Bart yelled out. “Are you okay?” The crouching figure jerked towards them and then a fast as lighting bolted the opposite way of the ally and up the brick wall so fast that Bart could barely process it.
“Did he... go up that wall? No, it was a man. But..” Bart has trouble processing what had happened
A portion of the group was already running towards the scene of the crime. “Are you alright, lad?” Ali yelled out as they approached.
Under night fall, the skirmish was indescribable. As the young students got closer, however, more became apparent. There was a struggle and a clear train of blood from where this person had no doubt crawled away from his attacker. The man...no, student looked up at the group, helpless, wide eyed. Whatever little life was left slowly faded as he gave out one last, strained breath.
Bart was the last of the group to come up upon the body. He jogged up eyes still on the top of the buildings around them looking for the figure. His hand behind his back grasping the handle of his sheathed knife - the only weapon he was allowed to carry off campus.
“He’s dead..” Bart heard Hope’s voice but had to pry his eyes off the rooftops to look down at the body. He stared in disbelief at the body sitting in a pool of blood. “That’s Henry Kissinger..”
Ali paced around the scene. “We’ve got to alert somebody. Nothing like this has happened here. ’Least not in my lifetime.”
“And we’re going to say what? We just so happened to find this dead body?”
“They wouldn’t think we’d do this, right?!”
“Do you see anyone else around here?? That other person vanished! They could be in another town!”
The arguing from everyone was rising to the boiling point.
“Will you all shut up!” Everyone went silent staring at Garret, for they had never heard him speak so loud to anyone. “Ali, you live up the street yeah? Go and get your dad now. Trevor go with him. Bart and Sor, go get someone from the diner.” No one moved, staring at him still in shock of the whole situation. “Get a move on!” He said loudly.
Bart and Sor darted back towards the front of the diner and disappeared around the corner
Rena smirked at Garret, “Nice job of getting those guys to shut up.”
Hope stared at Henry’s lifeless body. She looked like she was going to be sick. “Di-did you see whoever that was? It took off up that building. W-who could do that?”
Garrett shook his head in thought. “A number of things..”
A small amount of time passed before Mr. O’Malley arrived in front of the diner with Ali and Trevor. The tall man, who was never what one would say as calm, was much more stern and meticulous than usual. “We have alerted local authorities, OMA agents as well as Mr. Kissinger’s parents. Is everyone alright, hm? Is this the whole group, here and accounted for?”
There was a murmur of confirmation among them. Bart and Sor has returned before Mr. O’Malley has arrived. “Mr. O’Malley” Bart started off slowly. “The person that we saw. He ra-”
“So you said you saw someone run down the other side of the alley, hm?” Mr. O’Malley show Bart a warning look that made him go silent. The group saw this look as Mr. O’Malley turned to each of them with it. They all nodded their heads, not sure if it was allowed. “Okay then. The authorities will want to question you. You can tell them that’s what you saw.”
The group had to stay outside of the restaurant for another 45 minutes answering questions about what they had seen. While they all left out the part of the culprit taking off straight up the wall. By the time they were done, Henry’s body had already been taken and the crime scene was being cleaned up.
Mr. O’Malley looked up from a conversation he was having with a slender man in a black suit, definitely an OMA agent. He walked over to the group as they exited the alleyway and grouped them up around him to talk quietly.
“You seven listen up, and I don’t want any arguments, hm?” Mr. O’Malley looked over the faces of each of them. “I don’t know who it was that all of you saw, but it doesn’t matter. You’re not even into your second days most of you. So I don’t want any of you talking about tonight with anyone. And no asking around either.” Mr. O’Malley said.
Bart and Ali were about to open their mouths. “Head to your dorms. Nobody is to be alone. Sor and Rena, you can walk Hope to her building before heading to your own. Get going.”
The group walked back to the school grounds in silence. The patter of steps and the easy wind we’re the only thing keeping the world from complete quiet. What were they just witness to? The logical answer would be that they were at the wrong place at the wrong time, becoming unwilling observers to the death of a classmate. But something was off; the reaction from the officers on the scene, the urgency in Mr. O’Malley’s plea - there had to be more to this story. “Sooo,” Ali finally spoke up, naturally being the one unable to bear the silence. “I mean...what just happened?”
“We don’t need to talk about it Ali.” Rena snaps glancing around nervously then narrowing her eyes at the Irish boy. “You heard your dad, we’re not supposed to talk about it.” She emphasized as the group continued to walk. Tucking her hands in her jacket once more walking ahead of everyone else with Sor following behind.
Bart couldn’t stop looking all around them as they walked. After a night like tonight, he couldn’t help but feel like they were being watched.
They came to a spot on campus where Ali and Garrett would be splitting off from them to go to their dorm. They all said goodnight and went their separate ways, thoughts consumed by tonight’s events.