Slayn Redeem had been briefed with Zathract over the phone that morning. Apparently there was some war that was going to break out or something if they didn’t do something or something. She hadn’t really been paying much attention. She never really was. She had only come because she had been promised good fighting and lots of it. She had also been told there was a traitor and then something about it not being him, someone with a name she couldn’t be bothered to remember, another person with a weird name and then one last person with a strange name. Strange. Or something.
Slayn wasn’t really paying attention. She never really was, after all. She didn’t particularly care either. If the world came to an end, then she would probably care, she figured, but that also remained to be seen, for it had not come to a near-end yet and as such, Slayn could not make an accurate assumption on how she would act if it did.
Slayn could be pretty sophisticated when she wanted to be. It wasn’t often.
Of course, she wasn’t in favour of another war. She had heard the stories of The War from her father and her mother and her older brother and one of her older sisters and it certainly seemed like one of the most horrid things Slayn had ever heard about.
Either way, Slayn was there now. She had only really managed to remember two things Zathract had told her; the first being whatever war that would soon break out and the second being that he needed her to train some people in combat. That particular thing was what Slayn was looking forward to…
She strode into the Sanctuary in her usual cocky, carefree manner with her usual cocky, carefree smirk on her face. The Cleavers didn’t block her path, didn’t even give her a second glance. Her brother was one of the Elder Council. It was probably a criminal offense to block her way or something. Rounding the corner, she saw the group at once. Around ten or so people all standing, spread apart, but close enough to hold a discussion. And addressing them was Zathract. Catching sight of her, he said something to the group, gave her a nod and said “her”.
At his word, the rest of the group turned to face Slayn and she kept her smirk up as she approached them.
“Hey,” she said to Zathract casually. He nodded with a smile in reply but said nothing. “So, what’m I doin’ then?”
The vast majority of the group were staring at her. At first she thought they were all far too easy to impress with first impressions, but then a glaring teen dressed in a leather jacket with brown hair spoke up.
“This is the person training us?” he asked incredulously.
“Yup,” Zathract said.
“Why do we even need to be trained anyway?” another person in black turned to Zathract again. “I’m an ex-Cleaver for god’s sakes. I think I can handle myself.”
“Ex-Cleaver?” Slayn asked Zathract as well. “He thinks he can hold his own because of that?”
“He does,” Zathract confirmed. “He’s better than an average Cleaver, though.”
“I’ve beaten seven fully trained Cleavers on one,” the person in black said, raising an eyebrow.
“Still failing to see why I’m meant to be impressed.”
“In fact, a lot of the people here don’t think there’s much room for improvement in their fighting skills.” Zathract continued, ignoring the interruption.
“They’re in for a beating then,” she said.
The boy with the brown hair was half glaring and half raising an eyebrow.
“I doubt it,” he muttered.
“Who’s he?” Slayn asked.
“He’s Nixion Strange,” Zathract shrugged. “You’ll either get used to him or hate him forever. And knowing you it’s probably the former.”
“Nixion’s too long,” she said. “Imma just call you X.”
“What?” he asked. “No. No, don’t call me that.”
“Hush, X,” Slayn said, her cocky tone taking charge again.
“Yeah, he’s going to hate you even more than you hate him if you keep calling him that,” Zathract said.
“Huh?” asked Slayn, her attention span waning again already.
Zathract rolled his eyes.
“Okay,” he said. “Cutting to the point here. Slayn, this is you, you’re training these guys to fight, much to their distaste.”
“Figured,” she grinned.
“There’s a room down there,” he pointed to the next corridor. “Large, built for fighting. If you don’t want to use that, take them to your house, I don’t care. You aren’t allowed to, and listen here, aren’t allowed to kill anyone or seriously injure them. Feel free to shout though.”
“Joy,” she grinned.
“Try to keep off their bad sides, if you would,” he said.
She stopped grinning.
“You’re working alongside us now, so it’s not going to end very well if people hate one another. Don’t call Nix ‘X’.”
“Can I call him ‘Nix’?” she asked.
“No,” Nixion growled.
Zathract shrugged and started walking. “Stavan, Neon, Kali, this is us.”
Three of the people detached themselves from the rest of the group and followed his lead to the exit of the Sanctuary.
Slayn smirked at the group in front of her.
They stared back, mostly blankly.
This was going to be fun.
Neon Dark, Kali Nole and Stavan followed Zathract Mist up the pathway to Gabriel Cobalt’s house. They reached the door and Zathract knocked once. Once was enough. A moment later the same pale young woman that had greeted Zathract and Nixion a week or so previously opened the door, surveyed them for a few moments and then stepped aside to allow them entry once again.
The four stepped over the threshold and led themselves into the same room that they had spoken to Gabriel Cobalt in their previous visit. Dark and Kali sat on the couch while Zathract and Stavan remained standing, waiting. And then he walked in through a door in the back wall. Gabriel caught sight of them, sighed, and took his seat in front of the desk.
“You’re back,” he said bluntly, addressing Zathract.
“I am,” he replied, matching the flat tone.
“So? How did it go?” asked Cobalt. “Have you saved the world from the brink of war? Have you destroyed this organisation in their tracks and completed another investigation with success? Have to adopted the title of ‘Hero’ in the Sanctuary once again?”
“You sound annoyed,” Zathract smiled.
“Very observant,” Gabriel placed his hands on the desk and looked at him intently.
“You know why we’re here,” said Zathract after a lengthy pause in conversation. “We need help.”
“What makes you think I’ll give it to you?” asked Gabriel.
“It’s in your best interest,” Zathract said, controlled. “As I told you the last time I was here, Cobalt.”
Gabriel raised his eyebrows, amused.
“I don’t ‘play the hero’, as you know,” He said. “I don’t do what you do. I prefer to sit here and watch from the sidelines, as you also know. Which I have been content in doing so far and will continue doing so.”
“But you can’t escape the fact that you think we’ll fail without you, and at the moment, you need us to succeed.”
Gabriel didn’t speak for a moment.
“Fine,” he nodded. “Whatever. After I give you the information, will you promise not to bother me again?”
“For at least a day,” Zathract said, raising his hand in a mocking oath.
“I should have suspected as much,” Gabriel muttered again, then waited for Zathract to continue.
“We need some information on The Remaining, Gabriel,” Zathract said. “We need a lead.”
Cobalt nodded. “Of course you do,” he said, and picked up a pen. As he wrote on a small notepad, he continued. “As you know, very little is known about The Remaining. I myself know very little about the organisation. Surprising, yes?”
Zathract took the note from Gabriel as he passed it to him and looked at it, not bothering with a reply.
“Those are the coordinates for a supposed abandoned base of operations used by Charles Hammond back in The War,” Cobalt said, settling back into his seat.
Zathract examined the writing for a few extra moments, then nodded and placed the note carefully in his pocket.
“Anything else you can tell us about them?” Stavan asked.
“Nothing as of yet,” Cobalt replied. “Give it a few months and I may have something new, but by then your supposed war will probably have arisen.”
“Thank you for your time,” Zathract inclined his head slightly, then turned and walked away.
“That was a short visit…” he heard Kali mutter as they stepped over the threshold again and made their way back to the car.
“We got what we needed,” he said back to her, but did not get a response. He did not think Kali had expected him to have heard her.
Zathract climbed into the passenger seat of the car while Kali took the driver’s and Stavan and Neon settled into the back seats.
With that, they drove off back to the Sanctuary.
Nixion. Hated. Slayn.
There were multiple reasons for this, of course, even with the natural default attitude of dislike he had towards new people aside. This could be because Slayn Redeem seemed to insist on calling Nixion ‘X’, even after Mist had told her not to. It may also be due to the fact that she had an annoying habit of lecturing everyone, though mostly him, on how sloppy certain aspects of their fighting technique was. But to Nixion, all these things would have been almost ignorable. Because above all else, Nixion’s utter hatred towards Slayn Redeem would most likely be due to the fact that now his back was aching.
Nixion did not like most things, pain of which was high on that list. However, while he could deal with most pains he experienced, Nixion could not tolerate pain in his back. It hurt, sure, but back pain was also plain annoying. Back pain prevented him from doing a lot of things. Bending over, ducking, spinning, back kicking, side kicking and round kicking were a few of these preventions. And in a fight, having these limitations is not good.
And it was Slayn’s fault that he had this pain.
Yet, Slayn also hated it when these limitations Nixion now had due to what she had done became apparent in his fighting. Nixion assumed that this was why that, at that moment, he was the only one Slayn was now focusing on. She called it training. Nixion called it a punishment.
“It’s a good idea to block, you know?” Slayn Redeem said as she sent a careless back-fist his way, which Nixion ducked under. “Dodging uses too much energy.”
Nixion gritted his teeth, not bothering to reply, and came up with a punch to the gut, which Slayn pushed away. Nixion had expected this, however, and swung his other hand up and around, flying for Slayn’s temple. She twisted her body to avoid it, but his fist managed to clip the side of her head. She staggered sideways, but flipped and twirled through the air before letting her left leg swing out and Nixion did not have time to bring a guard up against it. He was pushed backwards, his chest aching as well now, and Nixion tried to breathe.
Slayn landed and surveyed Nixion, not bothering to raise a guard. Nixion stood his ground and scowled at her, really wanting to get out his machete that Slayn had taken and left outside along with all the other weapons people had on them. Lyra had been particularly annoyed at this. Seconds stretched by and no one made a sound, not even the others who were watching them, their own training battles abandoned.
Finally, Slayn simply straightened her shoulders and asked him, “What’s your magic discipline?”
“I break bones,” Nixion replied, his breath back.
“I’m happy for you,” nodded Slayn. “But what’s your magic discipline?”
I’m a bone breaker,” Nixion said, beginning to frown. “I break bones.”
Slayn didn’t even bother to answer this time and just gave him a look.
“Nixion uses his magic to influence the strength and stability of bones inside any portion of the human body with a tap,” Lyra spoke up from the audience.
“What?” asked Slayn.
“I break bones,” Nixion repeated.
“Oh,” she rolled her eyes. “Why didn’t you just say that?”
“Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t make a difference now,” Slayn said, and moved faster than Nixion could have expected. Within seconds, he was on the ground, wondering what the hell had just happened.
Grasping the fact that they were fighting once again, Nixion rolled quickly to avoid having his head crushed by Slayn’s descending boot and leapt back to his feet. At once, he was knocked back on to the ground again as Slayn lashed out with a back kick. Disorientated at how quickly he had gone from standing, to on the ground, to standing and then back down again, Nixon instinctively bought his arms up to protect his face at the sound of a running opponent. Slayn’s fist hit Nixion’s left arm and he gritted his teeth in pain.
He wanted to curse, and he wanted to yell, but he knew that that would accomplish nothing, so instead Nixion lashed out wildly with his uninjured arm and felt it make contact with flesh. The fist withdrew and Nixion got to his feet again as quickly as he could. Slayn came at him quickly again, a fist already blurring towards Nixion’s jaw, but he spun sideways, letting it miss, and rammed into Slayn hard which sent her staggering again.
She spun quickly, regaining balance, then stopped and observed him once more, frowning.
Not having a clue what was going on, but not exactly caring either, Nixion did not stop this time, and came forwards, fists and elbows flying at Slayn. She parried and blocked and dodged them all, but kept the frown on her face as if she was trying to work out the answer to a particularly hard question. Annoyed that she wasn’t even showing signs of worry that he was attacking her, Nixion quickened his pace, attacking viciously and with wild techniques. The more wild and more aggressive his attacks became, the clearer the look on Slayn’s face was. Until finally, when Nixion bought both his fists into the air and attempted to smash them down on her temple, Slayn let out a weird “Ooh,” of realisation. And she grabbed the descending fists with one hand, twisted them so Nixion lost his balance and bought the back of his head crashing down onto her rising knee.
Pain and white light exploded everywhere, and Nixion did not even realise he was on the ground again, face down. Time lost meaning, and he lay there, staring at the cold grey surface that was the floor, a frown on his face as he tried to work out what had happened.
The back of his head hurt. The back of his head hurt a lot. His arm hurt. His back hurt. His chest also hurt. The rest of his body seemed to be okay.
Slowly, very slowly, he rolled over onto his back, intending to look up at the ceiling, and was greeted with the mostly concerned faces of the people still in the room, save Slayn. At once, irritation and bitterness rose back up inside him and Nixion shot to his feet, ignoring the pain in his head that suddenly made him want to throw up.
“Get out of my face…” he muttered, pushing someone aside with a weak arm. He looked around for Slayn, not exactly eager to continue the battle, but too stubborn to refuse to either. She tapped his shoulder and he wheeled around to face her, feeling sick already.
“Your technique is wild and unpredictable,” she said, handing him his machete. “Which is good. Unfortuntely, it’s also rather clumsy at times, and rage can make you predictable.”
Nixion looked at his machete dully.
“Take a shower,” she said next. “You stink.”
Nixion frowned at her, then asked, “Where’s the bathroom, then?”
“Huh?” Slayn looked up at him, having already lost interest in the conversation.
Nixion rolled his eyes and stumbled from the room, the back of his head throbbing.
It took him a while, but Nixion managed to find the bathroom of Slayn’s house. At least, he found one of them. Judging by the size of her house, there was likely to be at least half a dozen more scattered around the place. This would be because the term mansion better described the place Slayn accommodated. After he had showered and was successfully cooled down again, Nixion dried himself off and pulled his clothes back on, pleased to find that they weren’t too sweaty.
After this, Nixion left the bathroom and headed back to the Dojo. Or at least, he tried to. Because, as he had noticed, the house was painfully large. As such, Nixion became lost fairly quickly and found himself wandering through corridor after corridor, turning corner after corner and wondering all the while where the bloody hell he was. Eventually, Nixion came across something that he recognized vaguely as a kitchen of sorts. It would seem perfectly normal for a kitchen, if it were not as large as half of Nixion’s entire house.
“How big does a place need to be for someone to live in?” he muttered to himself incredulously, making his way to one of the five fridges that filled a small portion of the room and opened it. Peering inside, he saw that the fridge was filled with vegetables and vegetables alone. Nixion paused, then shut the fridge and moved on to its neighbour. Opening that one, Nixion was greeted with the sight of meats, meats and more meats. The next held sweets, chocolates and other junk foods, of which Nixion grabbed a handful of things from. The one after that had butter, cheese and other similar things. The last one held assorted drinks, mostly coke, and also ice.
Muttering again, Nixion tore the wrappings off a chocolate bar and proceeded to try and find his way back to the Dojo again. It took him an entire half an hour to do so, but he finally managed to get back to the training area, by which time his clothes were finally dry again. Nixion entered the Dojo just in time to see Lyra bat a fist away from Slayn and send a powerful kick aimed at her chest. Slayn parried it and spun, ducked under a second kick and came up with a fist that Lyra blocked.
As Nixion joined the rest of the group that had once again abandoned their own battles to watch, Slayn and Lyra exchanged fists and elbows and kicks, neither making a noise. Punches were knocked away, kicks were parried and blows were countered. Neither seemed able to hit the other and seemed, for the most part, evenly matched.
After a while, however, Lyra’s energy seemed to be draining and her posture begun to weaken. This continued until finally Slayn knocked away a punch and sent one of her own to meet Lyra’s stomach, and she stumbled away.
“Well done,” Slayn said to Lyra as she looked up again. “You’re actually managing to hold your own against-”
Lyra had used this time to launch herself towards Slayn again with a second fist which had caught the woman off-guard. Slayn, obviously not expecting this, managed to move her head to the right in time to dodge the punch, but did not have time to do anything about the powerful round kick that came crashing into her ribs following it. Slayn stumbled to the side, let herself fall to avoid the reverse round kick sent at her and came up with an elbow that collided with Lyra’s chin.
Lyra fell backwards onto the ground and when she looked back up again, Slayn was standing over her, laughing.
“Well done,” she laughed. “You’re actually very good. You probably would have had a chance of beating me if you hadn’t begun to tire when you did. That can be fixed with training, though.”
Slayn offered a hand to Lyra which she accepted and got to her feet. Lyra did not speak, but studied Slayn for a few seconds longer before returning to the bulk of the group.
“I can’t exactly say I’m disappointed,” Slayn said to the whole. “I expected about as much from this group, after all. So all this means is that there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Nixion stopped listening around that point and started chewing on a second chocolate bar. He was annoyed. Lately, he had been beaten far too often. Lyra had beaten him. Keeve had beaten him. Stavan had beaten him. Loader had beaten him. Now Slayn had beaten him too, or as good as.
He had been training his fighting skills ever since he was eleven, or there about. He wasn’t meant to be beaten in fights. He would admit – only to himself, of course – that there were people in the world stronger than he was. But he was not meant to be beaten by so many people in less than two weeks. It was humiliating.
Just as well no one in his new group of Sanctuary dogs particularly enjoyed mocking him. Well, save Stavan, presumably…
There was really only one obvious solution. Train. Get stronger. He trained every day, but evidently it was not enough. The only problem was that he was now spending most of his time on the investigation of The Remaining, and when he wasn’t, Mist would probably want him to spend most to all of his time training with Slayn. He could not see Slayn helping him anytime soon. She could fight, sure, but he had a just a slight suspicion that she was not a great teacher. And recently, Nixion had pretty much done whatever Mist had told him to.
But then again, maybe it was time for that to change.
Nixion had to admit, he was feeling much better towards the Sanctuary. It may have been because this place had been where they had been healed each time they returned from a beating in the past few days. He didn’t necessarily like the people in the Sanctuary any more, but the Sanctuary itself was growing on him. However, Nixion had a feeling it was more because he had so many more people and so many more things to hate recently that he had no time to go around loathing the Sanctuary. He hoped it was that. The idea that the idiot healers were beginning to grow on him was-
“You look like crap,” was Stavan’s greeting to him upon his arrival. The rest of the group filed past him and Nixion rolled his eyes at Stavan.
Fifteen minutes later, Mist had arrived at the Sanctuary again, by which time Nixion’s suspicions about him being a traitor had risen again. It was not like Mist to be late.
“Where were you?” Nixion asked Mist, not bothering to try and sound polite.
“The Grand Mage wanted a ‘report on current status’ as he put it,” Mist replied. “He’s anxious about the threat of war. Apparently Australia as a whole will be blamed if another war breaks out, but a lot of the accusations will be aimed at him. So really, we’ll be responsible for the hatred of this country for the rest of our lives if we fail.”
“No pressure, then,” muttered Nixion as they joined the larger group.
“Okay!” Mist said, raising his voice and addressing the rest of the group again. “Cobalt gave us an address for the head of operations Charles Hammond used in the war. That’s where we’re headed.”
He gave a quick look to Nixion, Stavan and Lyra as if reminding them to stick with their assignment partner, then nodded and started walking for the exit.
Nixion followed, the need to punch something becoming very strong again.