Siel was woken a few weeks after the incident with a bucket of ice being poured on him. He sat up with a shout, frowning at Alicia and Amai, who had committed the crime. “Time to wake up, little shadow!” Alicia sang. Siel shoved ice onto the floor and shivered as he got his clothes for the day.
His team had begun calling him ‘little shadow’ after the first exercise with the other group, and the name had stuck after he pulled similar feats with the next two. He didn’t really like the attention he got from the other groups, because he had kept his third place standing, and his group was in first, but apparently word about the incident with the member of the Order had gotten around, because no one bothered him.
Siel got in the shower. He was still the last one to shower, but he had gotten used to cold water. Today they were going to start practice for fighting other species, and though they had studied the weakness of other species since they arrived at the academy, Siel was anxious. He heard Urliel shouting at him to get moving. He let out a deep sigh and rinsed off before getting out, drying off, and getting dressed. He headed out to where the others were waiting on him. Marci looked excited, while the others didn’t seem any different.
Urliel lead the way down the hall. Siel followed the group, still at the back, and thought about Cato. Why had a member of the Order saved him? Why did everyone seem so afraid to even mention the name of the Order? What did they do? So many questions plagued his mind, he didn’t even notice that the group had stopped until he ran into Solomon. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said quickly. Solomon just ruffled his hair and kept walking.
They reached the arena where they would be practicing. A woman wearing the imperial soldier uniform stood in the middle and addressed them with the smooth efficiency of the military. “Today, you will fight your first alien. We’re doing the hardest part first. You will fight as a group, but you will be fighting a starsnake.” There were uneasy murmurs from the group, but Siel was clueless as to what a starsnake was. Urliel cleared his throat, “pardon me, ma’am, but we haven’t been trained to-” She cut him off. “You’ve been trained to fight the various serpents, this isn’t any different. Just a bit more dangerous. You will have one minute to strategize, and the beast will be released. Begin.” She walked out of the room.
The others circled up, and though Siel was included in the group, he had no idea what they were talking about. Urliel told him, “you stay back and look for an opening. If you find one, take it.” Siel waited until there was a pause in the talking. “Um, what is a starsnake?”
His question was never answered. Just then, doors at the side of the arena opened, and a massive white snake at least the size of a large car slithered out. It’s eyes were solid yellow and its fangs were too long to fit in its mouth. “That’s a starsnake” Marci sneered. Amai drew his knife, a real one this time. Siel gulped and stepped back.
Just then, beams of light flew out of the snake’s eyes and scorched the ground right in front of Amai. Urliel shouted “it’s blind, but be careful! It can hear you just fine!” The snake slithered towards them at an alarming rate. Siel darted back to the wall and began to think. If it was anything like the other snakes, it would have a tough hide but a soft belly and throat. He watched as the others darted around, slashing at it when they could, basically just making it mad. Siel saw that its belly was just as hard as the rest of it. He had no idea what to do.
There was a screech of pain as one of the beams of light brushed Alicia’s arm. Amai pulled her out of the way and defended her from the beast’s onslaught. They were trapped and the shouts of the others weren’t distracting the snake at all. Siel saw his chance and ran on light feet towards the snake, just as if he were running through the tobacco fields without crushing the plants.
He stepped on the snake’s tail. It whirled around, and Siel barely had time to duck. He could feel the heat right over his head. He tried to stab it, but the throat was also tough. Siel wondered if it could even be killed.
Then he was staring the snake in the eye. He held very still, the snake couldn’t see him and had no sense of smell. It was inches away from his face, and he didn’t dare to breathe. The shouts around him faded as he stared into the dead eyes of the beast. Despite the shouts, the snake seemed to be in the same trance, as if it knew he was there. But why wasn’t it killing him?
Then he realized. The eyes. Of course, the eyes! Siel very slowly raised his blade, trying not to make his clothes shuffle. The snake looked almost sad, with those blind eyes that still saw way too much, and Siel got the sense of feeling very lonely. Stolen from his home, his only family, and shoved into a new place with strange surroundings and dangerous people who tried to hurt you, Siel could very much relate to the starsnake in that moment. Siel paused and held his blade just over the right eye of the snake. His heart twisted in pity. He let out a soft breath. The snake shifted his head just a bit, but otherwise did nothing.
The snake turned and slithered away, back into its hole, and the world returned to normal. A wave of noise rushed over Siel and he stumbled back, the blade falling from his hand. He didn’t realize it then, but the whole encounter had only taken a few seconds.
Then Marci was upon him, grabbing his throat and shoving him against the wall. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” She screeched, squeezing until Siel was blue. He often had bruises on his neck from Marci, but she had never hurt him this much. Anders pulled her off easily, “Marci, you’re going to kill him.”
“Starsnakes don’t show mercy!” Marci screeched and struggled to get free from his arms. “He’s done something!” “Calm down, Marci,” Urliel pushed up his glasses and knelt beside Siel, who had collapsed to the floor, gasping for breath. “There was nothing he could have done. I cannot explain it, but the battle is over and we’ve won.”
“I need some help over here!” Amai shouted. Some medics ran out, examining Alicia’s arm. She was badly burned, so they took her away to the infirmary.
The woman from before entered the arena again. “I would say well done, but I’m not entirely sure what happened there.” Siel was hardly paying attention. He was looking at the figure looking through the glass from over the arena. It was a familiar figure with honey blonde hair and a navy and black suit.
“Now you’ll do individual trials.” Siel’s attention snapped back to the woman when she said that. He began to sweat, he couldn’t fight on his own! Marci scoffed and smirked in his direction. The woman continued talking. “You won’t be fighting something so dangerous, but nevertheless your battle will be difficult. Your team holds the highest hopes, so your aliens will be stronger than those of the other groups, but you needn’t worry. You will each have a different species, but be sure that you watch the others and learn from each fight. Amai, you will be first.”
Siel followed the others out of the ring and up to the glass while Amai remained behind. Cato, or at least Siel thought it had been Cato, was gone. Solomon stood next to Siel, and kept glancing over to where Marci was ranting to Caitlin. Siel felt bad, “she really hates me, doesn’t she?” Solomon sighed. “It’s not your fault. The ice planet is not an easy place, and she believes that life has to be earned.”
“You know, that’s the most words you’ve said at a time.” Siel smiled up at him. Solomon ruffled his hair and grabbed his head, turning him to look down into the arena. “Watch.” Urliel stood on the other side. “That,” he motioned to the clay-like creature facing Amai. “Is a kiln. They’re dangerous, but easy to kill. They shatter like clay, but they’re quick. Amai is weak to them, because he lacks precision. Also, he fears them because one swallowed our mother.”
Amai looked focused, but his hands were shaking. He held his blade tightly and watched the kiln sneer at him. It darted forward suddenly, and Amai struck, but it darted out of the way. Amai went after it, but his movements were sloppy and he stumbled. The kiln was on him in a flash. Amai managed to fight it off and it shattered into pieces over him, but he was bleeding from several deep cuts. He limped out of the ring to the waiting medics.
“Marci, you’re next.” Marci waltzed into the arena, smirking confidently. Urliel crossed his arms. “This should be interesting.” Siel watched as the doors opened and a blue gas seeped out. Marci’s smirk faded and turned to a snarl. Urliel raised an eyebrow. “A vapri, how interesting.” A vapri was a creature made of water in the shape of a child that breathed blue gas that made the victim hallucinate. It then drowned them in its own body.
Marci watched as the child-like creature with glowing blue eyes and gas leaking from its mouth walked out with an eerie smile. “Play with me,” the watery voice sang out. Marci cried out in fury and rushed at the thing, but it dissolved and reformed a few feet away.
“How is she supposed to kill it?” Siel asked. Urliel replied, “normally they’re killed with heat of some sort, or by being frozen, but they can be killed if their life crystal is stolen. See the little glow in its chest?” Siel nodded. Urliel said softly “Marci cannot kill it. She is too angry and her hallucinations will get the best of her. She lacks the emotional control.”
Marci lost her fight. She was just about to drown when an alarm blared. The vapri hissed and rushed back to its hole. Marci gasped for air and coughed up water onto the floor. She stumbled out of the ring, and the ring was cleaned.
“I see,” Urliel mused aloud. “They’re sending in the creature that will be the most challenging. I’ll wager that all of us will be hurt in some way by the end of it.” He looked down at Siel. “I wonder what they’ll give you.”
“The Order candidate is supposed to be revealed today,” Alicia said as she walked over to them with a bandage around her burned arm. She was still expected to fight. “I overheard the nurse talking about it.” Siel moved towards Solomon so she could stand between him and Urliel. She leaned on the railing. “No doubt we’ll hear about it at supper.”
“Anders, you’re next.” Anders made his way down to the arena. A weapon rack had been placed there, with a dagger, a sledgehammer, and a bucket of water. Anders was confused, then realization dawned on him as the doors opened. “Uh oh,” Urliel said, not seeming concerned at all. “A golem.” There were various types of golems, but this one was made of iron with a fire burning through the plates. “Born in a star,” Urliel commented. “Anders will be weak to them. He is used to having mastery over iron and fire, and now it has turned on him. What will he do?”
Siel watched as Anders picked up the hammer in one hand and the dagger in the other. Siel doubted that he himself would have been able to lift the hammer, but Anders held it in one hand like it was a toothpick. He taunted the golem, and the creature roared and charged at him. He jumped aside and slammed the hammer down on its head. The creature stumbled and Anders jumped on it. He screamed as his feet were burned, but ignored the pain and pried off the head plate with the dagger, throwing it away as it burned his hands.
The golem turned on him. Anders fell back and stood by the bucket. Urliel let out a soft laugh, a rare thing. “Look at that. He’s mastering the golem. I’m impressed.” The golem charged again, and this time Anders moved aside, pouring the water on the head where the plate had been pried off. The golem steamed and fell to the ground, dead.
Anders collapsed to his knees, screaming in agony about the burns on his hands and feet. The medics took him away, and the body of the golem was dragged out. “Caitlin,” Caitlin nodded and went down to the arena. She looked concerned after all that had happened to the others, but she was determined anyway. Weakness was hardly tolerable at the academy, and fear was the worst kind.
She fought a Manx, a massive cat-like creature with fangs of steel and tail feathers of an eagle. Urliel commented, “a less intelligent creature, but dangerous nonetheless. Caitlin is allergic to cats.” Caitlin started sneezing, but she still managed to drive the Manx back enough for it to be considered a victory. She had some nasty cuts and her face was red and blotchy.
“Siel, your turn.” Siel gulped and wondered what sort of heinous creature he would be battling. He walked into the arena, too nervous to hear the footsteps behind him. He watched the doors, wondering what sort of creature he would fight.
He expected many things, but the monstrosity that came out of those doors was not even close. It was a Comemetum, a fear eater, a being that the textbook specifically said not to engage under any circumstances. A massive black creature with the body of a cat, the legs of a spider, the tail of a snake, the head of a centipede, and a very pale human face with a wicked grin and endless shark teeth going down its throat, the fear eater was born in a black hole and was a creature that incited fear in the hardest of men and swallowed them whole when its jaw unhinged. They were considered impossible to kill by normal means. Only reapers engaged them, and only the best escaped with their lives. No one outside of the Order knew how it was done. The real question wasn’t why Siel was facing one. No, the real question was who wanted Siel dead?