In the meantime, the elders had taken Xaine’s advice and appointed Torin as acting commander of Kreila’s forces and Xaine as second. Xaine, Torin and Galvin, who would have been next in line for the leadership roll, planned what to do with the men. It was for these reasons that Xaine found himself in a familiar clearing.
They had arrived at the traditional training grounds just after dark the previous day and had not hesitated to set up camp. The party occupying the grounds, however, was much larger than Xaine’s original group. Every able bodied person that could be spared from the town had been assigned to the task. Even those that were on previous assignments were recalled and only the few it required to protect the town were left behind.
Xaine was surprised that Kreila had so many active warriors. The clearing that once had so much space was now barely large enough for all the warriors and their tents. Some of them having to pitch their tents at awkward angles in order to fit between rocks or tree trunks at the edge.
With all the meetings, planning, and traveling Xaine had barely any time at all to ponder what he had seen earlier in the week. But as the warriors formed up he allowed his mind to wander. He had been chosen by two ancestors like Corey had. However, he had only received one weapon. Did this mean he would have more powers like Corey did, or did it mean that his one power would just be more effective?
Xaine was pulled from those thoughts, once again, as Torin asked Xaine to instruct the awaiting warriors for their training. Torin had just been addressing them.
He walked over away from Galvin, Nab, and Ailee who he was standing with off to the side, and stood in front of the company. He found it very unnerving to be so young and to be addressing such a large group of people, most of which had many years more experience than he did. Nevertheless, he took a deep breath and began.
“Many of you have never experienced the enemy we will be facing. In fact, most of you have never even seen a darkgon at all. This puts you all at a great disadvantage. Darkgons are not humanoid, but they are extremely intelligent. They have immensely tough skin, razor sharp teeth, and can breathe poison.
“They have wings but we know they can’t typically use them to fly,” He glanced at Nab whom this information had come from. “They can glide, however, and their last and possibly most deadly trait is their stealth. Because of this, we will be splitting up the company. This training will be similar to our very first training assignment typical for new trainees. The first group, which will consist of those of us who have encountered and tracked the darkgons already, will leave first. We will set up traps and otherwise try to take you out the way the darkgons would. We will also be taking all of the trackers with us.”
“The job of the second group will be to find us and take us out before we do the same to you,” Xaine paused for breath and a man raised his hand and spoke up.
“Not to question the method but will taking all of the trackers from us really be realistic? We should be able to track them should we not?”
“In our last encounter,” Xaine answered. “The darkgons seemed to have figured out the range our tracker could see them and held just outside of it until they surrounded us. So we, unfortunately, were blinded to the trap they have lured us into.
The man, as well as several others, looked taken aback.
“Now the first thing you need to know is that one darkgon controls the others. This is the Queen. Other than survival, killing her is the top priority. Your Queen, for the time being, will be Nab,” Xaine gestured to him, daring chucklers. “Nab has been tracking the darkgons for a very long time and knows them better than any of us and it will be your top priority to find him and land a killing blow.
“This, however, will not be the end of the wargame. The Queen carries some sort of orb that seems to allow her to control the other darkgons. The darkgons cannot seem to resist the orb and when the queen is killed they swarm on her and try to be the next to take it.
“This will be represented by the black ball Nab will carry somewhere in his pack or pouches. If you do strike a killing blow on him he will blow a whistle and you will need to find and take the ball before the rest of us show up, kill you and take it. If you get the ball before anyone else does you will win the war game. If any of us take it then the games start over and those killed will add to our number.”
“Wait a moment,” said another man in the group. “Do they use dead bodies to fight for them?”
“No- and I apologize I should be clearer. I forgot to mention that the darkgons also reproduce when the orb is removed from the Queen. Meaning as soon as the orb is removed there will be more Darkgons. So those who failed to take the orb after killing the queen will come to our side to be the new Darkgons. And before you ask, yes they are babies, but not for very long. They grow very quickly and are still dangerous even when they are small.
“Now those of you who were with us in the previous encounters and any trackers will follow us out into the woods first. The rest of you will start your search at midday. Are there any questions?”
After a few clarifying questions and answers the group was dismissed. One person did ask to see the ball they were after but were denied seeing it as nobody but Nab seemed to know what it looked like and they wanted to keep the training as difficult and realistic as possible. As Xaine left with their small company they could hear some of the warriors complaining about how impossible the task seemed to be and others telling them that’s how the real situation is.
Once they were in the forest they split up into smaller parties of two or three at Nab’s instruction. Each group with a tracker if possible. Nab had given them all instructions on what sort of tactics the darkgons used and the types of traps they would set for prey.
They had planned to put the most experienced tracker with Nab to give him an advantage over incoming enemies but he protested, saying he could manage on his own just fine. Xaine, still not knowing what powers Nab’s dagger held, if it held any at all, and wondered if he might be a tracker himself.
Xaine, Torin, and a tracker named Daniel were finally in a good and hidden position. They had split up to give themselves more maneuverability to attack with but kept within eyesight and earshot of each other. They had been waiting for someone to approach and Torin and Xaine would regularly look back to Daniel to see if he had spotted anyone.
Not long after the war game had begun Daniel had given the signal that someone was approaching. Once he had both of their attention he indicated the direction they were coming from and that it was a group of five.
It was five men that Xaine was mainly unfamiliar with, other than seeing them occasionally in town and at camp. As was planned, Daniel let himself get spotted and tried to make it look like an accident. Xaine and Torin watched and waited for the men to take the bait.
Once the men had signaled to each other that they saw someone they moved slowly and silently toward him and Torin and Xaine moved around the outside edges trying to surround them. The group of five broke up using a similar tactic. As they were moving apart from each other one of the men moved closer to where Xaine was and he paused his movement.
The man was either inattentive or so focused on Daniel that he had not looked the small distance to his right where Xaine was hiding. Finally, he had gotten himself so close to Xaine while sidestepping that Xaine simply rested the flat of his blade on the man’s shoulder signifying a killing blow.
The man started and Xaine made a shushing noise before he exclaimed in surprise. “Stay here,” Xaine told him with a whisper and quietly moved on to his next victim.
Xaine spotted him walking in somewhat of a crouch toward’s Daniels position. He had a good distance to go before he was able to join back up with his party. Snuck quietly up behind him trying to make as little sound as possible.
When he was almost close enough he moved without taking his eyes off the man. This, however, turned out to be a mistake, as he kicked the tip of a rock and stumbled forward. The man stopped and stood slightly straighter. As he started to turn around Xaine aimed a shockwave at the back of his knees and the man fell over backward.
Xaine moved in on him quickly and signified another killing blow. “I about messed that one up,” he whispered quietly and the man grimaced a smile from the ground. “Stay here until my group or your group wins.”
Xaine spotted the third man and moved forward slowly, trying to get behind him. This one was much more difficult and get kept well aware of his surroundings. Several times Xaine was almost spotted as he edged forward then had to stop and duck behind some sort of cover.
As he had nearly gotten behind him Daniel had begun to contend with one of them as well. Xaine took the distraction to move in for the kill. Just as his sword was moving into position the man turned and swung his own sword at Xaine.
For an instant, Xaine wanted to parry the sword but thought better of it at the last moment and ducked. The man clearly knew what Xaine was up to as he shouted to his comrades “There’s another!” Giving away their position.
Unfortunately for him, however, Torin had already gotten the man near him and was able to join Xaine to flank him. Xaine swung at him and the man parried just as Torin swung behind him as well. The man quickly ducked Torin’s strike and swung his sword at his hammer.
Xaine thought it was a useless move as he had already dodged the blow but soon found out why it was made. Xaine and Torin swung again and the man didn’t even need to block anymore. His metal armor seemed to have some sort of force the repelled their attacks without them even touching it.
Soon, even though they were fighting two on one, they found themselves dodging quick attacks. Neither Xaine nor Torin could parry any longer either. The hammer and sword seemed to be repelled by the man's weapon as well.
Torin had begun to use more speed as his power allowed him and Xaine could see that his hammer was getting closer and closer to the man’s armor. Dodging another swing from the man Xaine stepped back and swung a shockwave at his feet. As he fell to the ground Torin raised the hammer high above his head and swung down.
The man lifted his hands in front of his face and said: “I surrender!” And Torin stopped the blow instantly. Torin and Xaine ran to assist Daniel but he had already subdued his target. They all joined up with the defeated team and instructed them to wait back at the camp for the war games to finish.
“Do they really use those kinds of tactics? Baiting and such?” one of the defeated men asked.
“Yes, like we told you they are very smart. You’ll do well not to underestimate them,” replied Torin.
The men left for camp and Torin, Xaine and Daniel continued their hunting. They repeated their tactics several times throughout the day and a few of them including Xaine were taken out. The war game lasted into the night as the most experienced warriors took much longer to weed out and trick.
Finally when everyone had returned to the game they were surprised that not one person was able to get a killing blow on Nab. Somehow by himself in the woods, he had managed to evade capture and even landed killing blows on several of their experienced warriors. Even Xaine had to grudgingly admit he was quite skilled.
The war games went on and Nab wasn’t caught on day two either. Finally, on day three they managed to catch him after nightfall and day four it was about at sunset. The men were getting more and more used to the games and found Nab faster each day. Xaine had found himself in parties closer and closer to Nab until finally he was actually joining Nab as a rear guard.
He found a lot of similarities in how he moved with the more experienced warriors. However, he was completely unmatched by anyone in stealth. Several times while he was actually with him and knew where he was, Xaine would lose track of him. The way Nab moved in the shadows and seemed to sway with the trees and leaves showed years of practice and dedication.
The more they worked together the more Xaine even found himself protected or relying on Nab. That day where he saw him trying to steal from the pockets of bystanders seemed farther and farther away.
Xaine thought he was finally beginning to understand his father's words. He knew Nab was a thief but that didn’t really mean he was a bad person. Maybe he really was stealing out of necessity. Maybe that really was his one mistake. He actually began to wonder why he had returned the stolen item that first day. Was it because he was afraid of getting caught like Xaine originally thought? Or was it actually because the people he stole from had nothing else left?
Whatever the case, Xaine found himself in Nab’s company more often. Xaine was always spending time with Torin and Ailee, but now it was rarely ever just Xaine and Ailee or Xaine and Torin. Finally, Torin, Xaine, Ailee, and Nab were counseling together about the training.
They had just finished the war games which didn’t last nearly as long this time. It was the quickest capture yet. Kara had somehow managed to find, sneak up on, and take down Nab before the others had noticed. Once the whistle was blown, she had already gotten the ball from him and the game was over.
“That girl is almost as good as I am at sneaking around,” Nab said smiling.
“I wouldn’t count on that,” Nab replied with a raised eyebrow. Though they were practically friends now, Xaine still liked to prod him jokingly about his more shady attributes.
“After today, I don’t know if this training will be of much use anymore. I think it’s time we moved on to the next step,” Torin suggested.
“What is the next step?” Xaine asked.
“I think we need to do more of the type of training we did with you and your father,” Torin said. “We have a lot of warriors here that have never been on missions with each other. We do training at home but not everyone is familiar with each other's powers and how to compliment them with their own.”
“Do we have time for all of that?” Ailee asked predictably.
“We will need everything we can get and the scouts haven’t reported anything yet. That means the darkgons aren’t currently too close to any settlements. Which means we still have time.”
“That or they’re dead,” Nab replied harshly.
“What do you think Xaine?” Nab asked. Xaine took a moment to consider the options.
“Well, I think Ailee has a point. We have underestimated these things and let them run around long enough. People have died because we didn’t act before. I think if we spend any more time here training it needs to be minimal and maybe we can continue to get used to each other on the way there.”
Torin didn’t speak, he his elbow in his opposite hand and rested the other hand on his lips in a posture of thought.
“We know as well that they move quickly, they could be so far away that by the time we are able to reach them in the event of an emergency it could be too late,” Xaine added.
“Ok then,” Torin sighed. “We’ll train until the next intel report comes in, which should give us their location. We will leave the following morning and continue to train on the way as you suggested.”
Torin looked around at the others as he finished speaking. Xaine nodded and saw similar expressions of agreement on Ailee and Nab’s faces and Torin took it as unanimous.