I will. If Mom can do it, so can I.
“Until you’re chosen by one of the leaders, I’m doing your mom a favor training you.”
“Chosen?” I ask.
“It’s tradition. It will happen in a couple of days.” There’s a weird expression on his face I can’t place.
“What kind of tradition?” I get the feeling I’m not going to like it.
“Nothing you can’t survive.”
Well, that tells me nothing.
“Off to bed with you.” Kenzo nudges me out of the enclosure. “You need all the rest you can get for tomorrow.”
“Okay,” I mutter. “Good night.”
Walking to the sleeping quarters, my mind turns to Mom. I can’t wait to see her. I’ll work hard and make her proud.
As I kick off my shoes and lie down on the mat, I realize I’m already changing. I don’t feel guilty about being proud of my achievements.
No, I feel empowered.
My mouth curves into a smile as I realize the emissaries are wrong. The seven virtues don’t matter to me any longer. The only important thing is becoming stronger.
And maybe one day Chance will look at me with a pleased smile and say those words to me he said to the car.
I grin into my pillow, and with the memory of him hugging me, I drift off to sleep.
I was woken early by the first crows of the chickens and after getting ready for the day, I’m jogging slowly around the arena while waiting for Kenzo.
He’s not the first to come, though. Idris stalks in with a subdued-looking Aaron on his heels.
My face flushes red when I see Aaron’s only wearing underwear.
What’s going on?
I keep jogging as I watch Idris walk to the concrete floor. He presses all the buttons on the stand, and the air fills with noise as everything moves into place for training.
“You can run, jump, and climb,” Idris says as he walks to a cabinet. He pulls bags out of it, then glares at Aaron. “Let’s see if you can do it under pressure.”
I almost trip over an untied shoelace and quickly crouch to tie it. My eyes keep darting to Idris and Aaron.
“You will run the full course. If you fall, you start over.” Idris opens one of the bags. “Pretty easy for a strong guy like you.” I watch as he takes two metal balls from the bag, then he nods to the path I’m on. “You better get going.”
Aaron lunges forward and runs to the opposite side of the path than me. As Aaron jumps to the first scaffold, Idris throws a ball at him.
I stop running when the ball hits Aaron in the stomach, stunned by what I’m seeing.
Aaron’s arms wrap around his waist, and he slides right off the first scaffold, hitting the floor hard.
I cringe, taking a step back. My eyes dart between Idris and Aaron, fearing what this exercise will escalate to. Chance said there were times he wished he was dead.
Did Idris do this to him too?
“Up and at it!” Idris’ voice thunders, and I take another step back, away from the hostility filling the air.
Aaron gets up, and as soon as he starts to run, Idris throws the next ball. I move to the side as if I can make Aaron move with my actions, but it whacks him against his leg.
Come on, Aaron. Duck away. You can do this.
My heart starts to race faster as Idris lifts his arm, and I want to shout a warning.
Aaron runs and jumps, and the next ball smacks hard into his collarbone.
I slap a hand over my mouth to keep myself from calling out to Aaron as he slides in between the two scaffolds. He grunts and falls.
“Come on, newbie,” Idris sneers. “I’m only throwing a ball. What will you do if I start shooting bullets?”
He throws another while Aaron is still getting up. It smacks him on his lower back, making him sprawl over the floor.
“You were fast when the trackers attacked right outside the ward,” Idris says, his voice booming against the walls. “You were quick when you left Ethan behind. Where’s that speed now?”
Idris throws two balls in quick succession. They both smack hard into Aaron’s back, and he stumbles before dropping to his knees.
My heart is pounding in my ears. I might not know Aaron that well, but this isn’t humane.
I wish I could help him.
“A few millennia ago, there was a powerful empire. They called themselves Romans. They were a supreme force because they fought as one.” Idris takes more balls from the bag, then turns toward Aaron.
As Aaron gets ready to jump to the scaffold, my breathing speeds up, and I fist my hands at my sides.
“Did you know the Romans considered a left-handed man to be disabled? He was useless as a Roman soldier. He couldn’t hold a shield, and those men-” Idris throws a ball as Aaron lands on the second scaffold. It smacks into his leg, leaving another red welt on his skin.