“Is it okay to leave everyone else trapped on the ground floor without a word?” asked Weston, squinting into the darkness.
“I don't want anyone to follow us, or we'll be a bigger crowd,” said Zack. “By the way, Astrid, I thought you should know where the emergency stairs were.”
“No, I don't,” said Astrid. “Sorry we had to force you to take us there, Carter.”
“Whatever,” Carter grumbled, leading the way through a corridor towards a black door. He glanced at Zack. “Except, why are you the one taking charge here? What are you planning?”
“I plan to stop this attack on Synchron,” said Zack. “I'll stop the hacker called Blackray.”
“Don't get overconfident, just because you're Garrett's heir-” Carter began.
“Okay, let's go,” said Zack with a grin, turning into the darkness of the flight of stairs beyond, with the torch.
“Wait! Wait, you idiot!” Weston gasped as he, Carter, and Astrid hurried after him. “We're gonna climb fifty floors to the top?”
“We have to,” said Zack. “I've got to make it there to Sky's office before one hour ends. There's something I can do in this situation.”
He pulled out his phone and opened up something on the screen.
“What are you doing?” asked Astrid.
“Looking for the stairs,” said Zack.
Weston then noticed the phone, and frowned; this was the exact same phone Zack was holding when he managed to transport himself back to the Dome that they had met at, even though he shouldn't know of the return code.
Speaking of which . . . how did he find out about the code at that time? Weston thought.
There was a brilliant blue glow and they turned in surprise at Carter.
“Weird,” Carter mumbled. “And I thought that if the Core is cut off from the Synchron Organization, Gladiators won't work.”
Astrid frowned. “Gladiators is not connected to the Synchron Organization by any link, but to the Core, so of course your abilities would still be able to be used. Otherwise, that guy who's responsible for that explosion won't be able to destroy a wall in the first place. That person was a Gladiator.”
“Oh, right,” said Carter.
Zack freed his key charm and morphed out Galadhar, then clasped the sword to his belt. “From now onwards, I'm carrying my weapon openly.”
“Why?” asked Astrid.
“Easier to grab than when its in key form.”
“Then – say, who are the EAS?” asked Weston. “Blackray said that he's waited for three weeks already for something, like being sponsors for the Gladiators Games. What are they?”
“Sky got a threat from them at that time, right?” said Zack. “I guess that's them.”
“To force us to accept them for the Gladiator Games,” Carter growled. “What is it that they want from us?”
“Sky won't accept it, right?” Weston glanced at Zack.
He'd expected Zack to agree. But Zack frowned. “I don't know. He's probably in a bind, too, right now. An hour to decide whether to let violent sponsors for the Gladiator Games, or to let the Core be destroyed anyway. If he lets them through, we're saved. If he doesn't, the Core blows up. But either way, Gladiators is doomed.” He clenched his fists. “That's why, while I can do something, I'll do it. In other words, I have to get to Sky first.”
They hiked upwards in silence.
Then, on the fifteenth flight, Weston froze, looking up.
Then a bolt of yellow light struck his shoulder, and Weston yelled, grabbing it.
“It burns!” he gasped.
A voice shouted down at them. “You aren't going to escape like rats. Stay where you are, or we'll shoot you again!”
The four of them stood still.
“Weston, does it hurt?” asked Zack.
“Not anymore,” sighed Weston. “Actually, I thought it was a bullet, but it turned out to be Gladiator energy.”
“Makes sense if the intruders were using Gladiators as weapons,” said Carter in a low voice.
“Now, now, don't talk. We're coming down to get you,” said the attacker.
“Sounds like there's three of them,” Astrid whispered.
Zack glanced at the landing below them. “Follow me. And move fast.”
He turned and fired down the stairs.
Weston, Carter, and Astrid followed.
“Hey!” shouted the figures above them, and their walking footsteps became running footsteps.
Zack burst out through the doors.
“We're escaping?” Carter demanded.
“No,” said Zack.
He glanced back, then saw their pursuers coming after them, coming through the doors. Now, he stopped and drew his sword, and a bright red aura blazed from around him, enough to light up to forty meters around him.
Carter noticed, the grinned. “So you didn't intend to run.”
“Like hell,” said Zack. Then noticed that Weston was out of sight.
“You think you can beat us?” said one of the three men as they approached. “Did you know that Gladiator weapons are pretty useful in being normal weapons, too?” The lead of the group raised a large sword and leaned it against his shoulder.
Zack's aura blazed bigger.
The men started. “Is that fire? You're setting yourself on fire?!”
Behind them, one of their men disappeared into the dark corners of the corridor they were in.
Zack charged straight at the leader, and then the two slammed their swords against each other.
“I'm stronger!” Zack's opponent yelled triumphantly. True enough, this person was bigger and stronger.
“That's in physical strength,” said Zack. “I lean more towards power.” The aura dimmed, and Zack freed his sword, before retaliating fast with the sword, making it strike his opponent's sword close to the hilt, making it fly out of his grip. Zack sprang forward, landing a fist into the man's jaw, an uppercut that knocked the man out.