The next morning, Siel showered and headed to the mess hall with the others for breakfast. Siel had been the last to shower, so he was cold until he got some hot stew into him. The stew wasn’t too good, just heated and reheated warg meat with water added. Wargs were the common version of cows. Cows were reserved for nobles. Siel forced it down and drank his water enhanced with proteins and minerals.
Then they headed for the first training exercise. It was an exercise for groups to learn to work together. Siel did as he was told, staying out of the way until someone told him to do something. He learned to hold a battle knife (guns were useless against the other species and were only used by royal guards), and turned out to be quite deft with it, since he was used to holding one to harvest tobacco. This one was heavier and sharper, but he slashed points on the training dummy to disable it. Alicia said that he might be useful in taking down multiple enemies without killing them. Urliel said he would need more practice before he was close to ready for combat. Marci scoffed with disgust, “we should just kill him now. Weakness is deadly.”
Weeks went by and Siel got better with a knife, though the others excelled far ahead of him. He always ached at the end of the day, and getting out of bed in the morning was a struggle. However, the group seemed to accept him, with the exception of Marci, though they still treated him with contempt. Urliel even praised him upon occasion, and Solomon had taken up the habit of ruffling his hair. He felt like the child of the group, though that was better than being ignored completely. He still followed orders. Then, after two months, they had their first training exercise with another group. The object was to capture the other group’s flag before they got to yours, and to bring it back.
The group they faced was a harsh and tough looking group who seemed to work like fine machinery. They sneered and whispered amongst themselves. Siel was nervous, especially when the anti-gravity field was activated. That was a surprise to both groups, but they would have to cope. The arena was large, and there were many barriers and mazes set up. Each group had time to hide their flag. Marci was the designated guard.
They had on special suits and training knives, so while they wouldn’t hurt each other, the damage would still be simulated. Siel took a deep breath. Urliel put a hand on his shoulder, “stick with me, understand?” Siel nodded.
The buzzer went off, and the arena went dark, with only dim red lights to give them sight. Marci perched just above the flag with two knives in her hand. Siel’s was tucked into his belt. He pushed off the ground and barriers, doing his best to keep the quick-moving Urliel in sight. He barely kept up.
Siel let out a startled shriek when a large figure moved between him and Urliel. Urliel turned in time to block a blow from a member of the other group. Siel drew his knife as one of them came behind him. The woman grinned and boosted herself towards him, Siel pushed off a wall and barely managed to move out of her way. She barreled into her teammate, and Urliel escaped. Siel lost sight of him and chose to go off on his own rather than risk points from his team by getting taken down.
He moved quickly from wall to wall, unsure of where he was or where he was going. All of a sudden, he saw someone crouching in front of him with their back to him. He could hear Solomon whispering just beyond them, and saw three other figures crouched along a wall. Siel boosted himself forward into the figure, pressing his knife against their back. Their suit froze them, as he had “killed” them. The others crouching didn’t seem to notice, so Siel pushed the figure away and knelt in their place.
Solomon and Alicia were just below, whispering and moving cautiously, unaware of the ambush above them. Siel moved along the wall as silently as he could, which was easy without gravity, though clumsy, and managed to take down two of the three before the third realized that he was alone. He began looking around frantically, and Solomon and Alicia passed by without ever knowing what had happened.
Siel went after the final man, who spotted him just before Siel touched his blade to the man’s neck. However, the man had enough time to scream before he “died,” and Siel knew that others would likely come to his rescue. He quickly boosted away just as two others came across the scene. Siel felt pleased with himself.
Siel wandered around aimlessly, until he spotted someone standing as if he were guarding something. He saw a flash of coloured cloth behind the person. The flag! Siel knew he shouldn’t try to go for it himself, but when he looked around, no one from his team was nearby.
That is, until a hand covered his mouth. “Stay silent and still,” it was Caitlin. Siel didn’t move, even when she let him go. Caitlin observed the scene. Siel spotted another poised on the wall behind the flag and pointed her out to Caitlin. Caitlin nodded, calculating the best plan of attack. She looked over her shoulder, holding up six fingers. Siel grinned and held up two. Caitlin looked surprised, but nodded.
Caitlin motioned for Siel to go around and attack the one on the wall. “I’ll distract the first,” she breathed. Siel nodded and crawled on his belly towards the girl on the wall.
Caitlin started a fight with the first. However, before Siel could get to the woman, she joined the first. Siel reached down for the flag and noticed a wire attached to it, which ran down to what looked like an alarm. With delicate fingers, the same used to pluck worms unharmed from the leaves of tobacco, he slid the wire off the flag and crawled away. Caitlin had been “killed,” but that didn’t matter. All Siel had to do was get back to his own flag before the guards noticed that theirs was gone.
Siel had just crossed the border when the alarm went off. The two guarding their flag must have set it off to warn the others that their flag was gone. It was only a race to get back now. Siel went down rather than up and crawled along the floor while the remaining two on the other team searched above.
Marci spotted him and hissed, “what are you doing? Where’s Urliel?” Siel shrugged and held up the flag. He placed it on the stand beside his own flag, and the lights came back on. “Team eight wins.” A robotic voice announced. The gravity went off. Siel hit the ground with a thud and a groan. Marci landed cleanly on her feet. The barriers went down and members of both teams stood. Siel looked up at the board that showed the results, to the side where his own team was.
Caitlin: 0 kills, dead - 0 points
Anders: 0 kills, dead - 0 points
Solomon: 0 kills - 1 point
Marci: 0 kills, guard - 2 points
Urliel: 1 kill - 2 points
Amai: 1 kill, dead - 1 point
Alicia: 0 kills, dead - 0 points
Siel: 4 kills, flag - 8 points
Total: 13 points
Siel was stunned. He had gotten more points than everyone on his team combined. Each kill was worth one point, staying alive was worth one point, and the flag was worth three, one for taking it, one for not setting off the alarm, and one for bringing it back. The other team had only gotten six points total. Siel was about to grin when Marci pounced on him with a vicious snarl. He fell back to the ground with her hands at his throat. “Who the hell do you think you are?” She hissed. Siel struggled to breathe, “an ambush,” he gasped. Marci loosened. “What?” She snapped. Siel breathed deeply, “there was an ambush over Alicia and Solomon, I took them out. Caitlin distracted the guards and I took the flag.”
“How did you get the flag without setting off the alarm?” Caitlin asked, hauling Marci off of Siel, who sat up, trembling. He was about to answer when Urliel replied for him, “delicate hands.” He pushed up his glasses and helped Siel to his feet. Siel struggled to remain standing.
They each received five additional points for winning the game. Solomon ruffled Siel’s hair, “well done.” Siel smiled a bit despite the venomous look Marci gave him. “He got lucky,” she muttered. “Pure luck.” Amai shook his head. “Not luck. Timing. Both times, he had a distraction. It makes sense.” Marci smirked. “So he’s useless if working alone. Good to know.”
Siel followed the others to lunch, keeping his head lowered as they entered the mess hall. He risked a glance up at the leaderboard to find that he was third out of two hundred that had completed the exercise. (Three of the groups had to go together since there was an uneven number of teams.) The first two were expected, since they were the strongest and most experienced, but Siel got some strange looks as he entered the hall. He kept his gaze on the feet in front of him, ears burning.
They got their lunch and sat together. Siel ate his lunch quickly, hoping to get back to the room for a nap, which he always got if he finished early. However, when walking down the hall, he was cornered by the two men in first and second and the woman in fourth. “Hey there kiddo,” the man in first put an arm on the wall beside his head. Siel gulped, “wh-what do you want?” The woman laughed, “this is the kid who beat me? Not possible.”
The second man kneed him in the gut all of a sudden, and Siel fell to the floor with a pained cry. “Someone’s gotta put you in your place, kid.” Siel tried to crawl away, terrified, but a foot was on his back, keeping him in place. “Maybe break a few fingers,” the woman suggested. “Such pretty fingers.” She stood on his wrist, holding his fingers out while the first man raised his foot over them. Siel closed his eyes.
The pain never came. There was a startled cry and a thud as the first man was flung back. Siel opened his eyes when the weight of the other two was off of him. A slender man dressed in black and navy with hair the colour of honey stood facing the offenders with his back to Siel. “WHO-“ the first man abruptly cut off his roar when he caught sight of the man. The man had a smooth voice, and something about it reminded Siel of Master Hitachiin. “Ganging up on a little boy? How unfair,” the man cracked his knuckles. “What was it you said?” He took a step towards the three as they shrank back. “Someone needs to put you in your place.” The man was smaller than the three, probably not much taller than Siel, but the three seemed terrified. The turned and ran, stumbling as they went.
The man turned towards Siel and his stormy green-grey eyes met Siel’s sapphire ones. The man was relatively pale, though not as pale as Marci, and had freckles across his nose. He held out a hand to Siel with a smile, “here.” Siel took it and let the man pull him to his feet.
“Th-Thank you, but…. who are you?” Siel asked timidly. His attackers had been afraid, so he figured he should be, too. The man chuckled, “you have no reason to fear me, Siel. My name is Cato.” Siel nodded and glanced over the man. “Your clothes… are you part of that Order?” Cato nodded, “I see that no one has told you what we really are.” Siel shook his head.
“I’ll have to tell you next time we meet. You needn’t worry about being attacked in the halls again, alright?” Siel nodded and Cato walked swiftly down the hall, leaving Siel wondering what had just happened.