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Tree Running (part 3)

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“All throughout the training centre are monsters who are attracted to the st“Time’s up!” announced Sir Nichols. Eleven groups of threes were left. Already thirty-three of the eighty-five had failed. Only fifty-one remained, three of which were Rex, Zath, and Shen.

“The first test is done!” The newbies and youngsters cheered.

“Now for the second test!” Shouted Sir Nichols, to be heard over the noise. Soon it died down and Sir Nichols continued speaking.

“This test is on survival and teamwork. You, in your groups of seven will be entering one of our enclosed training centres. You will be in there for five days. During that time I will have some of my men go into the training centre too. They will be carrying three coloured sticks each. The sticks will have been randomly picked from a bin containing all sticks with the colours dark green, maroon, grey, and navy blue. Your goal is to defeat these men to get the sticks before the five days are up. To pass this test, all of the members in your group must have at least one stick that has your colour…”

A boy dressed in grey raised his hand, “You said at least one stick. You mean we can get more than one?”

Sir Nichols nodded, “You can get more than one. And since there is an exact amount of sticks to how many contestants are still in, if you get, let’s say, two more greys, then that means there will be two greys who won’t pass this test. But there is a strict rule to this; you may only get sticks of your own colour. If you have sticks that aren‘t your colour, you will be disqualified.

“If you abandon your group of seven, you will also be disqualified. The only reason you could is if a teammate gets seriously injured. If that does happen, and it will, some men whose jobs are to watch you kids, will come and remove that contestant. They will instantly disqualified if they do not recover before the five days are up.

“You may attack other teams to get their sticks, if you get a stick with a colour that neither of your teammates have, you must thrust that stick into a nearby tree. Anyone will then be able to take it. That is, if they beat the monsters to it.

icks. They have all been sprayed with a liquid that only the monsters can track down. And very well, mind you. If you are attacked by a monster, you are free to kill it. But remember, if you kill a monster you will unknowingly be carrying a scent that is even more powerful than the stick’s. That scent is not one that you want to have….

“Now, to the training centre!” Sir Nichols shot up into the air and landed on the nearest tree. As soon as his feet hit the branch, he darted for the next, then the next, and the next. Rex spun around and eyed each of those on his team.

“Race you?” His eyes flashed. Zath crouched and Shen clawed at the ground with his feet. The remaining four teens shrugged, why not? They were going to beat them easily.

Heh, they’re just kids. We will show them the power of teenagers! One boy cracked his knuckles and grinned.

“Sure.”

The teenage boy bent over, panting. How could they have lost?

They had been in the lead … then … and then … what had happened? The young girl with black hair strode up to him.

“You’re so slow.” She flicked her hair, turned around, and left him there. The boy bent his head. What had happened? They were going as fast as they could. Was that not enough? He thought back to what had happened at the open field…

… “Sure.” Grinned the teenager. Rex rolled his eyes, “On your marks.” he cried, the teenagers crouched down.

“Get set…” Zath held a hand out to Shen and he slapped it.

“Go!” The boys shot upwards and outwards. Rex had stretched his arm out, holding back Zath and Shen. “Not yet,” he whispered, “Let them get ahead, get confident.” Zath stood up and glanced around. Most of the other contestants had left as well. She relaxed her muscles and rolled her neck.

“I guess we should get going now, we don’t want to make them stop and come back looking for us.” Rex yawned and pounced on the closest branch. Zath was close behind him on the branch above. She’d learnt to strengthen her jumping to make up for her height. Shen was still learning, and landed on the branch below Rex.

Rex flung himself forward and flew into the trees. Zath smirked. There was nothing more she liked than racing in the forest. As Zath ‘ran’ she began to gather up speed. Today, she thought, I will definitely beat you, Rex.

Rex spotted her closing in on him. He turned his attention back to the front and began leaping over twice as many trees as before. Even though Zath was fast at tree running, she couldn’t jump as far as he could.

Zath saw this and knew he was using his strength and her weakness to his advantage. She growled and increased her speed even more, but Rex was getting further and further away. Shen shot up next to her. He held out a hand to her and smiled. She grinned back and grabbed his hand. Zath jumped up as high as she could, clasping both of Shen’s hands and bringing him up with her. She then flipped around, making Shen the one above her. Shen pulled his knees up and let Zath fly behind him. And in one quick flick, he threw her.

Zath rolled up into a ball and went propelling through the air. As soon as she drew near a branch, she unrolled and, using the branch, pushed herself even further forward. With the momentum of Shen’s flick still strong, Zath flew across the treetops.

She was gaining on Rex.

Rex saw something moving over to the side. He glanced that way but found nothing. It couldn’t be Zath, she was still far behind. And if it wasn’t Zath? Could someone have caught up to him…?

Rex growled and let his gaze fly everywhere. Still, he didn’t find anything or anyone. Maybe it was just his imagination, but he was sure he saw something. He had left all the other contestants behind. The only one it could be was Zath. Yet, there was no way she could’ve caught up to him. Right?

Just up ahead was the end of the line. Sir Nichols had stopped and was waiting for everyone else to arrive. There were already some contestants waiting with Sir Nichols. Those were the best of the best. Even if he’d tried, Rex couldn’t have beat them.

Anyway, if Zath was catching up, there was no way she’d make it in time. The finish line was mere meters away. There was no way she’d beat him now.

Unless she and Shen …

Something flew past Rex. He cursed; she’d caught him off guard. With one leap he was falling to the earth, he could still beat her. If he hit the ground first…

There was a thud beside him, just milliseconds before he landed. Zath stood up and grinned at him.

She’d won.

It was ages later before the first of the teenage boys arrived. Shen was with them helping one who had landed a bit too heavily on a broken branch and badly cut his foot. Of course, Zath saw the injury as a small cut and found no need for it to be fussed over.

As soon as they landed, Shen left the boy. No need to carry him any longer. The boy bent over, panting. How could they have lost?

They had been in the lead … then … and then … what had happened? Zath strode up to him.

“You’re so slow.” She flicked her hair, turned around, and left him there. The boy bent his head. What had happened? They were going as fast as they could. Was that not enough? …

… The boy was still puzzled over how they were defeated. Maybe those three aren't just three shorties. Maybe they held tons of unknown power. Who knew?

Sir Nichols clapped his hand twice, and then waited for the crowd to die down.

“You remember the rules, correct?” He eyed some of the contestants near to him and muttered, “Sure you do.”

He flung his arm out to the side, “This is the training centre we will be using, and your home for the next five days.” He stepped back, letting everyone get a good look.

It was huge. The circular fence around it was over fifty kilometres in diameter, and sixty meters high; the centre was, for sure, something else. Growing inside the centre was a forest. The trees in this forest reached higher than the fence. Their roots were wider than a man was tall, and showed signs of claw marks. Zath caught her breath. Who would want to meet the owner of those?

“Alrighty, you sorry lot. Line up at a gate and get ready to begin.” There were over fifty gates to choose from all around the perimeter. Zath and Shen followed Rex around the side of the fence to a gate far away from the others. She squinted at the unyielding darkness of the trees.

“Don’t bother.” Rex kicked at the muddy grass. “You’ll only get jumpy and scared of every shadow in there.” Zath glanced at him, then crossed her arms. Shen mimicked her stance.



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