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Nyx gritted his teeth hands tight on the rope as he hauled himself upward. Small pieces of fiber dug at his palms. Gregor watched from the side with thick arms crossed, the fabric of his uniform drawn tight seeming too small for him. Nyx pushed himself harder; he wouldn’t give Gregor the satisfaction of seeing him falter. Nyx scaled the walls like a spider, then dropped thirty feet onto the ground tucking into a roll, a small rock dug into his shoulder blade. Back on his feet, he sprinted to the second robe pulling himself up, hand over hand, then jumped the ten-foot gap between the ledges above. When he completed the circuit, he was told to repeat. Gregor kept his arms crossed a smug half smile on his face.

Nyx stopped keeping track of the time refusing to slow his pace for even a moment. He was almost surprised when Gregor called the end of the period, the smile gone from his face. Nyx smirked up at the bear of a man knowingly. He scratched his chin knocking loose drops of sweat.

“It will be worse if you skip again,” said Gregor narrowing his eyes when Nyx shrugged, “what are you doing just standing there, get going.”

Nyx turned and walked away without a word, in six days he would be missing classes again. He had to be ready to put the file he had swiped from the precinct into use, before the sting operation.


 

Nyx was finishing his lunch when he felt the light touch of a hand resting on his shoulder. He looked up, noting the elegant curve of splayed fingers. They appeared dexterous, like a pianist. Vanessa smiled down at him dressed in her white uniform eyes gleaming with mischief. Nyx grimaced back. He wanted to bury his head in his arms and get away as fast as possible.

“Hello, do you mind if I sit with you all?” nobody answered the only sound that of conversations from nearby tables. She looked around at them, “I’m not on a team, I’m in the medical unit. I promise I’m not a spy, I just want to spend time with my good friend Nyx.”

“Sure, I’m leaving you can have my seat if you like,” offered Gabe remembering his usual pleasant smile. While clearing away his food, he winked at Nyx.

Vanessa thanked Gabe and slid onto the offered chair, all grace. Nyx was focused on his food, digging through a piece of overcooked steak. He felt something moist brush his cheek. Nyx jerked his head away realizing Vanessa had kissed him though her eyes were focused away from their table. “I had a great time last night.”

Nyx ground his teeth while Dan and Garry looked on with confusion. Nyx was about to tell Vanessa yet again they could only be friends when he saw Benjamin staring straight at him. The cadet was holding a tray of food, three of his teammates talking boisterously around him. There was a promise of violence in his eyes as he set his tray onto his table and took a seat.

Without saying a word, Nyx shoved back his seat and strode from the central cavern into the passages back to the apartment. He thought he had seen Vanessa angry before, but when he left the table, he swore he saw lightning in her eyes. Great, now he had two angry sibling’s to deal with.

A short time later Dan joined Nyx in the apartment shaking his head down at him. “I warned you to stay away from that one.”

Nyx rolled his eyes. “I told her we could only be friends. What else should I have done?”

Dan groaned, “idiot! Now you made yourself a challenge. If I were you, I would have pretended to be obsessed. Nothing pushes away a girl faster than a desperate guy.”

Nyx shrugged pushing the issue of Vanessa from his mind. It was a minor inconvenience compared to the things he still needed to accomplish.


 

Over the following days, Nyx began to train with a focus that confused the others. He would catch them looking at each other in concern some days. Soon, dark circles formed under his eyes, and he could feel them tugging at his face. He attended all his classes, trained with the brothers in the evenings, then, once everyone was asleep, he would sneak out to the heavenly Chi room and cultivate. After finishing with the heavenly Chi, he pushed himself further sprinting to the freezer facility and then cultivating demonic energy.

His eyelids began to feel like lead, and during the day he found himself dozing in classes. In the morning class, Trudy had taken to smacking him on the head none too kindly waking him, on more than one occasion.


 

The sparring sessions with Nyx in the evenings had started to draw a small crowd. Gabe wasn’t sure how he felt about having an audience, but he continued to give his best effort. If he was ever going to protect anyone he needed the improvement. He was nervous that the other teams were monitoring them for when they would eventually face off in the tournament.

Dan's face was scrunched in focus as he and Nyx exchanged a series of blows before disengaging. Dan tried to hide it, but Gabe could tell he had been down ever since facing the demon. He had tried to talk to him but had just been told to ‘knock it off.' These sparring sessions seemed to be the only thing helping, steadily returning him to his usual self.

A young boy was among the other ten or so cadets watching. He looked on with wide eyes, an eagerness that was different than the others crossed arms and grim. He seemed too shy to say anything, but Gabe could tell he was yearning to join.

“Hold up a second,” said Gabe halting Nyx who was circling them, he nodded over at the boy who couldn’t be older than fourteen, “think it would be a problem if he joined? I mean we can coach him a little on the side. I’ll help him personally, don’t worry.”

Nyx scratched his Chin, eyes ringed with dark circles. He shrugged lowering his weapon, “sure, we can take a break for a bit.”

So often Gabe forgot that Nyx himself was just a kid, only seventeen. It was easy to forget when interacting with him, there was an assuredness to him, and when he spoke, his words seemed to belong to someone much older. Gabe had noticed changes in Nyx over that past week. He looked harder, somehow, more prone to anger. He chalked it up to lack of sleep; they had to do something about it. Nyx had dark rings around his eyes and seemed to be functioning only through force of will. Nyx tried to hide it, but Gabe had noticed him missing most nights, though he could never figure out where he went.

Gabe walked over an knelt in front of the boy. “What’s your name?”

“Kip…” he answered, wiping a curl of almond colored hair from his eyes looking anywhere but at him.

“Kip, grab one of those practice weapons from the rack over there, go through your forms while we spar, after I’ll give you pointers.”

Kip nodded, face lighting up, his kinked hair bobbing as he ran to a rack.

“Ready to continue?” asked Nyx, tapping the inside of his foot with his practice sword.

Gabe nodded and stepped back into the sand. He circled carefully placing his feet so as not to trip himself up. It was one of the first things he learned; how to move. Dan mirrored his movements on the opposite side, trying to get around Nyx and attack from his blind spot. The cold sand felt soothing on his bare feet. They always switched environments, sparring in the various combat circles around the central area.

Swords clunked together as Dan took the initiative, Nyx quickly disengaged then lunged at his brother’s unprotected side. Gabe closed on Nyx's exposed back, but somehow Nyx sensed him and turned his attack into a dive, rolling back to his feet, sand falling from his clothing.

Gabe attacked low with a series of cuts as Dan struck high, they had begun to develop a sense for each other. Nyx’s sword only moved in short bursts, but somehow managed to deflect everything aimed at him.

This time Gabe struck high at Nyx's shoulder expecting him to parry. Instead, Nyx dodged, his riposte coming low. Gabe tried to step back but the sand slowed his movement, and he was leaning too far forward. There was a soft thud, and pain blossomed just below his knee joint. He fell to the ground with a series of curses, grimacing as he felt his shin for a break; there was no permanent damage, but it would bruise nicely. He heard a series of thuds and then his brother yielded. Without him to back Dan up, he had expected as much.

The throbbing became bearable, and Gabe looked up. Nyx was above looking down at him, the blue rings of his iris were barely visible as his pupils had expanded. He had a grin on his face, not a happy one, his promised something sinister. Gabe's intuition screamed at him to run, to get as far away as possible.

“Nyx are you alright?” he asked, careful not to make any sudden moves.

Nyx’s eyes blinked rapidly seeming bewildered for a moment, then his expression returned to his usual stoicism.

“Again,” said Dan, the fire wasn’t gone from him.

Nyx shook his head, “that’s all for tonight, if you and Gabe want to continue then you should do so, I have other things to deal with.”

Dan looked at Gabe raising an eyebrow.

“I’ll stay longer, but only if you let Kip join.”

Nyx had already replaced his sword and disappeared into the tunnel leading toward the dorms.


 

Nyx shook out his arm for the fourth time while walking back to the apartment after sparring with the brothers. He had gotten sloppy, and Dan landed a clean strike tearing a ligament in his shoulder. It was the exhaustion, but he couldn’t stop now, not when he needed to get stronger. He had promises to keep. Through the suffocating haze of dreariness, Nyx felt satisfaction as his body and cultivation strengthened.

In bed, Nyx waited till he was sure the others were sleeping then slipped from his room. On light feet, he whispered across the floor reaching for the door handle. Light flashed on blinding him. He instinctively dropped into a fighting crouch covering his eyes trying to preserve some of his vision. He waited, eyes scanning the room landing on Garry Gabe and Dan standing their arms crossed staring at him. Garry was the first to look away shifting nervously, but Dan and Gabe’s eyes bored into him. Nobody spoke, and Nyx, feeling silly, rose from his crouch. It was the fatigue, he should have known they were there long before he left his room.

Gabe frowned, “Nyx, we are worried about you. This lack of sleep and crazy schedule it enough to kill anyone. You are hurting yourself and the team.”

Nyx shook his head, feeling his anger rise. “I have to do this, none of you understand.”

Dan clenched his fists, “Understand? It’s clear you are hurting yourself, you can barely focus while in class and during sparring you are getting sloppy. We are staying here till you get a full night’s sleep.”

Nyx sighed, it was hard to stay angry when sleep was ever pressing on his mind. “Two nights ago I ran into someone else who said the same thing, guess who?” nobody responded, but Gabe looked down. Nyx rounded on them, “what were you thinking? You guys even told Vanessa that I leave at night! It was you who told me to stay away from her in the first place.”

Dan yelled right back at him, “If you weren’t so damn stubborn and listened to us in the first place I wouldn’t have had too. I thought she might have a better chance of getting you to listen to reason than any of us.”

Nyx was starting to get heated again but stopped himself from responding when he heard a door down the hall open. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes Matt sauntered into the room, “What the heck is going on out here, would you keep it down. Some of us are trying to sleep.” He glared at Nyx obviously thinking the whole thing was his fault.

Garry finally spoke up ignoring Matt, looking at Nyx. “I’m not going to bed. I’m going to make sure you get some sleep.”

Nyx thought about forcing the issue, he could take them if he had to, but Matt was someone he didn’t want to know about his abilities. Closing his eyes, Nyx forced down the beckoning of the Chaos. “Fine,” he said only hoping he would still be ready by the weekend even taking a night off training. Back in his room, he could hear Matt having a whispered conversation with the others, but after four days of no sleep he was having trouble focusing on their words and was soon swallowed by darkness.

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