“I’d pair us up, just like how Coach told us to pair up during the last battle. Salem with Reuben, me with Damien, Stuart with Denny, David with Butch, and Max with Harvey. That way, everyone has someone looking out for them whose gift complements theirs in some way.” The rest of the squad nodded, seemingly pleased with the plan.

“You wouldn’t decide to simply charge into the battle as a whole to compensate for not having us with you?” I asked, pursing my lips.

“No, because we’ll already be shaken by you guys not being there. The worst thing to do would be to deviate from what we’ve been trained to do. We’d stick to what we know.”

I smiled. “Excellent answer.” I spoke to them all then. “We’re your commanders and we’re powerful, but we’re not invincible. If something were to happen to us, you will still be expected to fight alongside the other squads. You cannot afford to dwell or to have a moment of doubt. You need to turn any emotions you feel into fuel, and you need to protect this place and the people within it.”

“I know what it’s like to suddenly find yourself without a commander,” said Jared, beginning to slowly pace. “It happened to the squad I joined when I was first accepted into the legion. It’s scary. It’s a shock to your system. It can shake your confidence. And that’s exactly what your enemy would be counting on in that situation. No other commander would try to lead you because they wouldn’t know enough about you and your capabilities. It would mean that you guys were on your own.”

Unease snaked around the entire squad as they cast each other nervous glances.

“But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” continued Jared. “You know each other inside out. You know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You know who the best strategist is, who is the fastest, who is the stealthiest, and who is physically the strongest – you know all of this information, and you can take advantage of it.”

“We’re going to try something a little different now.” Tapping into the energy of the earth, I built a large wall near the far end of the arena. Following that, I added a few ledges to the rear of it before springing to the top and perching myself on the edge. Jared joined me. “I want you to imagine that this wall is the entrance of a building. Commander Michaels and I have been captured and you suspect that we are being kept behind it. For all you lot know, we could in fact be dead?”

“Until we knew for sure, we wouldn’t assume that you were dead,” growled Chico. “We’d do our damn best to get into that building.” The others all nodded, looking resolute.

I couldn’t help be touched by that. “The problem is that it’s well guarded. The other issue is that you’re being pursued from behind. Wouldn’t it be best to concentrate on keeping yourselves safe?”

“You wouldn’t leave us behind, and we wouldn’t leave you behind,” Salem firmly stated, and I knew he was referring to the assignment that had led to me being tainted.

“Exactly,” said Denny.

“So, then, what next?” Jared asked Chico.

“Next, I’d do what you guys would do: I’d split the squad into two. Five of us would work on getting into the building while the other five covers us. I know it would mean deviating from pairing up, but that particular situation would call for it.”

Pleased, Jared gave him a nod of respect. “How exactly would you split the squad?”

“I’d have Harvey, Reuben, Damien, David, and Butch cover Salem, Max, Denny, Stuart, and me.”

I smiled. “Good thinking, Chico. I’m going to ask you all to split up just like that now.”

Brows drawn together in confusion, they obediently divided into two groups.

“Chico, you and the four who you believe would be the best choice to invade this building are going to try to do exactly that.”

“Are you and Commander Michaels going to fend us off?” asked Stuart, getting into position in the middle of the arena with the rest of his team.

“No. Harvey, Reuben, Damien, David, and Butch are going to do that. I agree with you, Chico – they make a good defensive team. Now it’s up to you to get past them in order to save your commanders, assuming we’re still alive, that is. If any of you receive what would be classed as a ‘fatal’ hit if Reuben hadn’t weakened your gifts for the training session, you’ll be expected to sit in the spectators’ area. Harvey, I’m making you leader of your team.” He grinned at that and pulled his members aside.

As both teams engaged in a huddle, Jared and I jumped down from the wall and sat in the front row of spectator seats. The commanders had now been removed from the equation, and the squad had to think for themselves.

From where they stood in the centre of the arena, Chico’s team made the first move. Chico aimed a spray of thorns at Butch, who was covering David, the strongest link, at the top of the wall. They both ducked by squatting on one of the ledges that I’d added to the rear of the wall. Instead of retaliating, David psychically ‘zapped’ Max before he had the chance to rob their senses, taking him out. But it was no more than a minute later that a psychic hit from Salem removed Butch from Harvey’s team. Salem had obviously thought that he would then have a clear shot at David, but he’d greatly underestimated him. David did very well at using the building as cover. Jared and I had trained him never to rely on Butch, to be prepared to protect himself if the need arose, and he had clearly listened extremely well.

Each time anyone from Chico’s team came near the wall, Reuben would dash from behind it – the bloke was seriously fast – and attack, simultaneously weakening their gift. At that point, Harvey would send their ‘attackers’ flying away; never attacking from the same spot twice. Damien worked at diverting the attention of Chico’s team by making them target his astral self while he kept his physical body safe behind the wall. This then gave David a chance to eliminate those who were distracted by Damien. In no time at all, David had gotten rid of Salem and Stuart. Denny eventually snatched Reuben with his yellowy-green ooze, chucking him aside. That then left Harvey, Damien, and David against Chico, Stuart, and Denny.

Stuart repeatedly did his best to get near the wall in particle form, but Harvey always managed to send those particles swishing away. Apparently determined to get rid of Harvey, Denny took a massive chance: able to leap high distances like a copepod, he abruptly jumped to the top of the wall, where Harvey was currently situated. He wrapped himself around Harvey, and took him to the ground – eliminating them both from the exercise, but giving his own team a better chance.

Tags: Suzanne Wright Deep In Your Veins Vampires
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