Left! Left! Right! Left again, forward, twist, right there…! An opening…!
Leo’s foot came into contact with the soldier’s skull, smashing it straight into the ground with abnormal strength. The other soldiers raised their guard, but it was too late, their formation had been broken. Leo was free to move. “Rah!” Leo yelled in effort as he dug his fist in a man’s kidney with more speed than his opponents could react to. Pushing the man aside, he leaped from his previous surrounded position to join with his comrades.
“Sir!” a messenger shouted with urgency. “Battlemaster Hanin!”
“Gah!” Leo was off before the messenger could relay any more. He would hear from Lea herself. His soldiers would deal with the situation there. Reshaping his body into lightning, Leo leaped across the battlefield to Lea’s half of the caravan. He finally spotted her, surrounded much like he had been. He darted to her location, reforming his physical body. Still half-composed of electricity, Leo executed a flying kick into one of Lea’s foes. That should impress her, thought Leo. Leo proceeded to launch a barrage of somewhat fanciful attacks, disrupting the group about Lea. Rather than face two nonhumans, the enemy broke off to regroup and prepare for an attack in better conditions.
“I was fine. You should have held your half.” Lea spoke coldly.
“Geez baby, you don’t gotta lie to me.” Leo wondered what she was really thinking, feeling. He would rip apart that apathetic barrier of hers. “I accept your thank you, but really it dudn’t even matter. I’ll always be around.”
Lea ignored the words, her body displaying no deferment. “Imperial Agent Honlo?” she pointed out.
Leo gritted his teeth. Now that she mentioned it, he hadn’t seen a trace of the imperial, despite the fact Leo had charged through the entire battlefield. “He ain’t around.” Where was the agent anyway? It was Honlo who drove the food caravan provided by the empire for Cadkis through the Narrows, an area well-patrolled by Safron. Imperial aid was so bittersweet. “How long do you need?” asked Leo, changing the subject to more immediate concerns.
“Not long.” she replied. Some of Lea’s bodyguard appeared. Oh, and where were you when Lea was in danger? Leo didn’t appreciate their appearance.
“You four,” he said. “Go figure out our opponent. I’ll guard Lea until we know that much.”
“Sir!” the soldiers complied. Suddenly, one of the soldiers pulled back his comrade sharply enough to hurt him. “Back!” he warned. Leo reflexively tackled Lea to the ground with sufficient force to roll them aside. The ground the group previously occupied found itself decimated by explosions.
“Excellent work soldiers! I now know who’s attacking us.” And Leo wasn’t in the least bit happy about who it was either.
Drillmaster's Office, Cadkis Bloodfort
Bullwinkle worked in the illumination of the Bloodfort, red tinted light glimmering from its ruby-like surface. His office, like every other room within the Bloodfort, was shaped irregularly. The Bloodfort hadn’t been raised by Cadkis for people to live in; it had been raised to kill. It was later adapted to the ‘fort’ purpose as its bloodstone composition couldn’t be damaged by conventional means. The Bloodfort actually resembled an internal organ more than a structure, complete with random valves, chambers, and veins, which were used as doors, rooms, and corridors respectfully. The floor could change elevation drastically over a short distance, and not all corridors seemed to have a purpose. Sometimes valves appeared in the middle of a room. It was all random, even the surface itself could become incredibly jagged in nondescript parts of the Bloodfort.
Bullwinkle favored those jagged parts. He had learned in his early days as a drillmaster that dragging the face of some incompetent recruit across the jagged surface could create competency where it didn’t exist before. He hated his office though, it was one of those chambers without a valve so you could hear all the humans clamoring in the corridor. Worst of all, their stench easily permeated into his abode. Of all things in the world, a human’s stench was the worst. It was a constant reminder of the day Bullwinkle’s homestead had been burned and his kin either murdered or enslaved. Minotaurs were not meant for human work, it was difficult for Bullwinkle to even write at his desk.
Bullwinkle sighed and stopped his writing. Why had it come to this? He wondered how Lea was faring under her new warmaster. Before his unconnected thoughts could go on, a human passed through the hide that Bullwinkle used as a door. “You?” Bullwinkle exclaimed, a bit surprised. “What are you doing here, prisoner?” Bullwinkle’s voice carried malice.
“I… I was sent to inform you the recruits have gathered in the assembly chamber.”
Bullwinkle rose from his desk and walked to the door. He then lifted his battleaxe from its mount on the wall. “And who sent you, exactly?”
“Oh, is that so?” Bullwinkle grinned in such a way as to unnerve the Safron prisoner. “I’ll have to thank her later.” The prisoner had hardly the time to scream before the axe passed through her neck. The blood splattered the office walls, only to be absorbed by bloodstone. “Curious, I’ll clean up later,” was all the prisoner would ever receive as a eulogy, her death almost forgotten as Bullwinkle made his way to the assembly chamber.
Assembly Chamber, Cadkis Bloodfort
Kav stood uncomfortable, nervous, and ultimately, scared. Two steps in any direction would bring him to some figure as capable and as dangerous as himself. Kav was used to being the big dog, but here, in the crowded assembly chamber, it was anyone’s game. More disturbing was the concept that the Cadkis military was able to keep this power in check, since half the people in this room were unwilling conscripts. Kav himself was still split on the issue. On one hand, he could not stand having his freedom ripped from him on threat of his life. Yet, on the other, where else could he gain the strength to take back his lair if not this room of skilled combatants? The ratio of nonhumans to humans was way out of proportion, and any human in the room had a look in their eyes that said they belonged.
A wall, or rather valve, as Kav had been told, opened up and admitted two figures. One, a minotaur, and the other, a being that appeared to be a walking corpse, death-colored skin with a fatal gash arcing from collarbone to waist. The minotaur began speaking as soon as he entered the chamber. “I am Drillmaster Bullwinkle, and this dead man is Drillmaster Janthir. Amongst our unreal amount of duties it is our job to train conscripts.”
“However,” Janthir butted in with a raspy, decaying voice. “You would not be in this room if you were not already expected to be an excellent candidate for the military. It will not be long before you begin service.”
“What little time you spend here,” continued Bullwinkle, “will be spent determining how you are best to be used.” It was at this moment nearly everyone but the two drillmasters experienced the flight or fight response as small objects shot up from the ground in front of the new recruits. Kav was no exception, taken aback by the blood-red parchment that had appeared in front of him. It fell back to the ground before Kav gained enough sense to retrieve it.
“The letter addressed to you has instructions on how to reach your room from here. It also tells you how to get to either mine or Bullwinkle’s chamber. Finally, some of you have been placed into random squads. The race and name of your squad mates will appear on the letter. You share a room, get to know another well. You life may depend on it.” Kav’s own letter gave instructions to Janthir’s chamber, and listed his squad mates as ‘Areol – Mitotic’ and ‘Min Coek – Human.’
“Don’t get to homey though, we will unmake and remake squads as we see fit,” added Bullwinkle.
“Your official evaluations begin tomorrow. Until then, feel free to wander the Bloodfort or rest in your room,” said Janthir, as a matter of closure.
That closure did not satisfy Bullwinkle. “You should go to the training grounds where the normal troops spar. You could learn there, and get ready for tomorrow. The instructors there will answer your questions, so ask them before you come to Janthir or me.” With that, the two drillmasters departed the assembly. Kav made a mental note that Bullwinkle wasn’t one that got too personal, and was rather relieved that he would be dealing with Janthir. How could someone like Bullwinkle become drillmaster? Whatever the reason, Kav had others things that should be on his mind. He read the letter again, making his way to his room.