Someone grabs my shoulders from behind. I don't hesitate as I turn and kick their legs out from underneath them. They're on the ground in an instant and I put my foot on their stomach. No way they're getting anywhere until I let them up.
"Really, Bryn? You had to do that?"
Guilt floods through me when I recognize Merith's voice. It's rather dark under the cover of the trees so I didn't see more than a silhouette. It could've been anyone. I retract my foot and offer a hand to help her up.
"No, no," she says as she pushes herself off of the ground. "I don't need your help. At least leave me with some of my pride after you beat me up."
I laugh. "I didn't beat you up. I pinned you down."
"Same difference. I just got owned by my best friend."
"Maybe you should take some more combat lessons then." I can't hide the smile that's tugging at my lips.
"Shut up will you?" Merith snaps. But a smile dances across her lips quickly after. Will says one of these days one of us is going to make a joke and it won't be funny at all. The fact that Merith and I share the same sense of humor though makes that seem impossible.
"Quiet!" Will hisses in my ear. "Someone's close by."
"Who?" I whisper.
There's a click behind me and a cool metal is pressed against my neck. I freeze. "Me." Jordin's hot breath hits my neck. But it's nothing compared to the sharp pain of the barrel.
How did he even get the gun? The professors didn't mention anything about weapons. The rules of exercise clearly state that no weapons are allowed unless provided. I can get him expelled for this. That's something I can worry about later.
"Don't move or I'll shoot." He hisses.
Despite the fear gripping me, I force my voice to remain calm. "You know, everyone says that, but no one ever pulls the trigger."
"How would you know that? Have you been held at gunpoint before?"
"Many times." I snap. Jordin scoffs. He doesn't believe me. I guess he isn't as much of an idiot as I thought. Most people believe my lies. Maybe Colton gave him a heads up. Colton's the only other one besides Merith who can tell when I'm lying.
Speaking of the devil, Colton walks out from behind a tree. "What's going on over here?" He stops when he looks in my direction. "Jordin put that stupid thing away. I told you to leave it in the dorm."
"Whoa, you have this in the dorm?" Merith exclaims. I was thinking the same thing. We might go to a school designed to make agents out of us, but I don't feel very safe knowing someone has a gun stored in their room. Especially when it's someone that isn't all too fond of me.
"Give it up," Colton snaps at his partner. "We don't want to kill them; we just want to find out what they know." Jordin hesitates, but pulls the gun away from my neck. He mumbles about it not being loaded. I believe him, but I'm not about to take any more chances. Lying is something that they teach us early on here.
There are kids running by not too far away from us. I'm not worried about them. They're no enemy to me. I have the only two right in front of me. Besides, if anyone else ran into me and Merith out here, they'd run away before we'd have a chance to chase them. These two goons are probably the only people at Vido's that would dare cross me.
I'm actually thankful for them in a way. This school is supposed to be teaching me my trade. I was already a spy before I came here, but there's more that I need to learn. My parents could only teach me so much. The fact that I can't remember the last twelve years of my life doesn't help either. My training was engrained in my mind so everything is second nature. What I don't remember is what I learned. Not knowing something and being able to perform it anyway is a scary thing. Sometimes I don't even know what I'm doing.
Merith is glaring at Colton. "Why'd you follow us? You know that the exercise is to solve the puzzle with your partner. We weren't instructed to tail anyone."
"Tailing you was an easier solution." Colton explains. I can't argue with him on that one. The puzzles make no sense. I slip one of the pieces of paper out of my pocket. It's a code we're supposed to crack. And whatever the key is, it's not a common one. I've tried all of the solutions that we've been taught to recognize. None of them yield a readable message.
Colton rips it from my hands. I fight him for it, but he only pushes me away. I huff in frustration. "This is the one," he says. "I can't make any sense of it."
"It says to meet at the far wall," Merith snaps. "I don't know how you couldn't figure that out."
"Why would we believe you?" Jordin asks. He crosses his arms and glares at her. I almost laugh at his hard look, which would ruin the entire charade.
"Because I'm just helping you out," she responds in a soft tone. She even smiles at him. "We're the only fifth levels out here who are close to being candidates. Once school is out we're going to be working together. No more of this petty rivalry. I'm willing to help you. And you should be willing to help me."
Jordin seems to be weighing over his options. His eyes narrow, but soon clear up and look curious. His body relaxes and he looks to Colton. "Should we trust them?"
"Merith is legit." He responds. I shoot a thankful look at him, but he doesn't acknowledge it. His eyes are trained on Merith. "What are we looking for?"
She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a small device. It's shaped like a boomerang and fits comfortably in her palm. It's made of freshly polished wood and has hidden sensors on the surface. I can see tiny blue lights flashing, communicating with one another. Once we get these goons away I'll be able to explore this device. I can't wait to find out all of its secrets.
"This is hidden in one of the bricks," Merith explains. "It took me ten minutes to find this one. Get Kellar to scan the area and he should be able to tell you where to find it. The trick is getting the brick free to find this sucker."
Jordin relaxes. He seems to have finally accepted our story. "And there's one of those for each of the partners?" Merith nods. "Awesome. Let's get going!" He slaps Colton on the back and heads out into the clearing. I watch as a group of first levels quickly back out of his way. I smile sadly. I wish I could remember being that young. The only part of first level I remember is packing up my dorm and heading home for break.
Colton moves to follow his partner, but turns back to face me. For a moment, I believe that he's going to call our bluff. But he doesn't. "That gun isn't loaded. It isn't even Jordin's. He stole it from the equipment shed just before we started tonight. I'll make sure it gets back." Without another glance, he turns and heads out into the clearing.
I don't know what to think about Colton. We've never been friends, but we're not quite enemies. He likes to mess with me, push my buttons, get me upset. Because of that, I hate him. Then there are times like just now where he tries to help me. It's almost as if he's fighting against himself, wondering if he should be my friend or not.