Chapter 3

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I wake up at 5:45 AM, precisely, just like normal. But now, I feel different somehow. As I look at myself in the mirror, I realize what it is. I killed someone last night. I still have the sword I took from his hands under my bed.

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to feel bad or something, but I don’t. I just think about how the knife went right where I’d aimed: his throat. How the blood had gushed out, soaking my hand as I’d pulled the knife out.

I check the time. Breakfast is in about ten minutes. I get ready for the day. No weapons allowed during the day, so I leave them be. Besides, I don’t want to touch them. Not for a while.

But at least now we have some allies. And we know that there’s another faction besides the Wolves. The group will sit together at lunch, just like usual, and I’ll inform them about what happened last night at that point.

 As I walk toward breakfast, I realize something. I no longer have a scratch on my right hand, or on my ribs, or any of the assorted bruises I had only a few hours ago. In the place of the scratches, I have a couple small, hardly noticeable scars. My eyebrows furrow. They shouldn’t be gone that quickly. I think. Then I shrug. I guess my body just healed rather quickly.

I go to breakfast, and eat without tasting the food. All I can think about is last night. After breakfast, I have Sword Class. I’m decent with it, but nowhere near as good as many of the others, such as Corith.

I and my group walk to the class together, to prevent any attacks. Ever since the fights during the night have started, near the beginning of Phase 2, the guards during the day have at least doubled. But during the night, they’re nowhere to be found, unlike before.

I enter the class, and go to my spot in the room, a circle marked with my number, 1498. Each time its position changes, but for what reason, I don’t know. As I choose a training sword, something seems different. And it’s not just that last time I pick up one of these, it was from the hands of a dying boy.

I raise the sword into a guard position, just as I’ve been taught. Then the target drops down in front of me. A small holographic circle appears to my right, and I strike at it. As soon as I hit it, another appears somewhere else.

I hit circle after circle, going faster with each second, until I’m a blur. Then I start to think. I was never this fast. My rhythm is thrown off, and I slow down. That was our warm-up for the day. Now we go and duel an instructor. Each of our circles expands to about ten feet in radius, like the sparring rings in Hand-to-Hand.

An instructor steps into my ring. He’s about 25, tall, broad shouldered, and swings the sword like it weighs nothing. Across the room I notice an instructor that’s not paired off with any student.

Garith. The Head Instructor. Why is he in my class?

Then I have no more time to think, and am under attack from the instructor. The point of the exercise is to sharpen our skills, both on offense and defense, but my partner doesn’t seem to have gotten the message.

He unleashes a flurry of hard, fast blows that drive me back quickly. Then I duck a blow, and stab at him. He blocks clumsily, surprised that I haven’t been driven out of the circle. He knocks my sword aside on his next blow, and strikes at my arm. I dodge the blow, which seems to be slower than his other ones. I stab at his chest, which is now open.

The instructor throws himself backwards to avoid the attack. He somersaults to his feet, sword at the ready. Instead of moving in quickly again, we circle each other.

I feint at his feet, and then slice at his arm. He parries, and tries to twist my sword out of my grip. I disengage and fall back. As he prepares to attack, I beat him to the punch, so to speak.

I use a carefully practiced pattern, which I usually am not able to use very effectively. A stab at the face to distract. He takes a step back, which I follow. Then a slice at the side, to engage the sword. He blocks.

A twist of the wrist, to make him believe that I’m trying to disarm him. He counters by skipping backward, nearing the edge of the ring. I follow up my advantage with several hard, swift blows at his torso. He blocks each one, but by the last is looking uncomfortable.

As I strike again, he ducks, my sword whistling above his head. Then he stabs at me, and I’m forced to fall back. We face each other at the center of the ring, swords raised. Then we attack at the same time.

We stand chest to chest, blows raining down on each other, both refusing to give ground. Our strikes come, faster and faster, until I think we’re both blurs, relying on instinct rather than design to protect ourselves.

Then he seems to slow, and I go faster. Soon I’m giving two blows to his one, forcing him toward the edge of the ring. Then I twist my sword around his and disarm him, before he can react. The sword clatters to the ground. He reaches for it, by my sword at his throat convinces him to stop.

I step back and lay down my sword. The instructor picks up his and gives me a strange look, then leaves the ring.

A few of the others have also beaten their instructors, which is part of the point of this. The instructors could almost certainly beat us, but we’re trying to learn here, and if we’re constantly beaten, over and over, we won’t learn as effectively as if we have both successes and failures.

***

At lunch, I get my food, and wait at the table for the rest of my group to arrive. After they’re seated, I tell them about what happened the previous night, except for the elevator buttons. It didn’t seem to be relevant. They smile and congratulate me, and I accept the compliments. Then Lee says something.

I blink. “Could you repeat that?” I ask her.

She nods. “I was talking with some of the others, and I figured out the casualty report for last night.” She counted on her fingers. “Eight dead, and at least a dozen reported fairly major injuries.”

Her announcement is met with stunned silence. The past couple months have had a little over half that many deaths, and about the same amount of infirmary visits.

“Well, the good news is that now we have allies, and there’s another group out there that doesn’t like the Wolves either.” Says the dark haired boy, Aidan. The tall, blonde boy, William, speaks. “Speaking of the Wolves, they have a name, as do the Eagles. But I don’t think that we have one.”

I interrupt him. “Maybe what we should be worrying about, rather than names, is who the third group is, and whether there’s any more, and how friendly they are to the Wolves.” I get up from my spot at the table, as the group starts to discuss both topics. “Also, do any of you know where everyone’s getting their weapons?”

They stop and look at me. “I mean, I was able to smuggle a knife out of the Weapons class, but a training sword? That’s way bigger. And I saw at least two of them last night, as well as sections of pipe, and various other assorted weapons.”

I look around the table, and see each of them shake their heads. I smile wryly. I guess that’s another thing to add to my list of things I don’t understand.

***

That night as I lay in bed, I think about the death count. Eight from last night, plus five before that, spread out over four weeks. I frown. Thirteen dead, out of eighty. I’m not sure how long Phase 2 is supposed to last, but if this kept up, there wouldn’t be anyone left to graduate. Then I begin to think of a plan. One that will, hopefully, start to relieve the death toll.

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