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“Well, you weren’t considered a man if you didn’t make the army. We need the best in our army, Aaron,” Idris shouts at him. “Are you the best?”

Aaron manages to hold his balance, and he launches himself at the third scaffold. A ball smacks against his face, and he drops.

When Aaron screams for the first time, I can’t stop myself and run toward him. The scaffolds slam together, pinning him for a second. He falls, and I reach him right after he hits the floor.

“If a soldier dishonored his group, he was stoned to death,” Idris continues, rage coming from him in waves.

I take hold of Aaron’s arm, and he groans. He isn’t all here with me. I can see his eyes are glazing over, his skin pale and clammy.

“Let me help you up,” I whisper. I’m scared to death of Idris, but I can’t leave Aaron like this.

I manage to pull his arm around my shoulders, but he’s too heavy for me to lift.

“If you leave a man to die, you dishonor this ward,” Idris snaps. His voice is cold, and it sends shivers down my spine.

“Can’t you see he’s hurt?” I cry, my voice unsteady with fear.

Idris tosses a ball to his right hand, and I freeze. “Ethan was hurt as well. Aaron was nearest to him. Did he stop to help him?” he asks.

No. He didn’t even look back and ran for his life.

I clear my throat, and with a quivering voice, I admit, “If it’s anyone’s fault Ethan is dead, it’s mine.”

My eyes stay glued to Idris’ right hand, his fingers rolling the ball in his palm.

“Could you have carried Ethan?” Idris asks.

“I…” The answer is no. I’m not that strong, and I wasn’t close enough to help him. Still, I answer, “I could’ve tried.”

“If you can get Aaron to the entrance, I’ll pretend, this once, you didn’t interfere with my training session.”

What? Really?

I look at Aaron. I won’t be able to carry him, but I can try to drag him. I take hold of his arms and yank. He only moves an inch or so.

Shoot, this is going to be difficult.

Aaron groans and tries to pull himself up, but he only manages to drag me down. I stumble onto my knees, and my eyes lock on the two bags of balls lying at Idris’ feet.

Standing up, I move behind Aaron and hook my forearms under his armpits. I pull with all my strength and begin to drag him across the floor. Aaron groans whenever I yank him, but I don’t care, because we’re moving.

When a ball smacks against my thigh, I’m shaken to my core. The realization of what Idris just did slams the breath out of my lungs, and I almost let go of Aaron. Pain shoots through my leg, then it stings where the ball hit.

“You’ve just been shot, little girl. What do you do?” Idris asks, dead serious. “Do you leave your man behind and run for your life or help him?”

The thought that Idris will keep throwing balls at me is terrifying, but I can’t leave Aaron behind. He’s barely conscious.

I tighten my grasp on Aaron, and I yank at him, pulling harder. All the while, I keep my eyes on Idris’ hand. I make it to the stand when he lifts his hand. I tense up, and when the ball flies toward me, I duck out of the way. It sails past my hip and smacks into the ground.

Rushing, I grab Aaron, and ignoring his groans, I drag him a couple of feet farther while watching Idris.

I’m exhausted, and my breaths race over my lips, but I can’t stop.

The next ball flies through the air, and I duck to the side. It slams into the wall and rolls down the slope of the pathway.

When I grab Aaron and pull, the muscles in my arms protest painfully. His head wobbles to the side, but he doesn’t groan this time.

“Aaron?” I call. “Wake up!”

I want to stop and check on him, but another ball flies, and I let go, scrambling out of the way. It thwacks hard into the wall and rolls away.

The balls come faster, and it feels like it’s taking me forever to get Aaron to the entrance, but finally, I reach it. I scramble over Aaron and lift his shirt. There’s already a line forming on his chest from where the scaffolds pinched him, but it doesn’t look that bad. The bump on his head from where the ball smacked him is red and swollen. I don’t know if he passed out from that.

“You made it,” Idris sneers behind me. “You only got shot in the leg.”

He doesn’t sound impressed.

I glare up at him, not understanding how this is training.

“There’s a deviant in you, after all, Jasper Matthias.” He crouches next to me until we’re eye to eye. “At least I know you won’t leave a man behind to die.” He stares at me for a second. “Train hard, Jasper, and get some muscle on your arms.” He rises to his feet and walks to the archway. “When you eventually figure out a way to get the coward to a bed, pick up all the balls.”