Zack sighed, after knocking out two more guys with easy punches. “These guys crack like eggshells when they get beaten up.”
“Yeah, I mean, even a weak girl like me can hit them and they'll grovel on the ground,” said Astrid with a grin.
“Sadist, you know that, you're a sadist,” said Zack.
Right after the first three had been beaten up by the boys earlier, another group had tried to capture and hold Astrid hostage before they failed, and were defeated with the foursome's Gladiators skills.
“Ugh, the enemy has plenty of opponents for us, and they're too easy to beat,” said Weston with a frown. "Not that a powerful opponent coming to challenge us would be worth looking forward to in this case."
Carter frowned, looking at a small blue holotop he carried. “Um . . . they're all way below Level 30, so for us, it's nothing much.”
“What's your Level?” asked Zack.
“You need to know?” Carter frowned.
“No. Just curious.”
“59,” said Carter. Though he found it impossible not to smile smugly.
“Level 59?! You're that strong?” Zack gasped. “No way, you're closer to the selections this way! You should quit Synchron and enter-”
“No, sorry, I prefer my job to my skills, so I'll stay on the sidelines, thanks a lot,” said Carter.
Astrid sighed. “We're on the thirty-first floor right now, so we've still got, what, 22 more floors to climb?”
“That much left?” gasped Zack. “I'm worn already!”
And despite saying that, he continued back to the stairs and climbed up that.
Astrid followed, carrying the torch.
“I wonder how long he can still go on,” Carter muttered. “I'm surprised his stamina is long.”
“He's only jogging, Carter,” said Weston. “That's so he could keep up with us. Because he could have run full speed ahead or decided to fly with his Gladiators' powers.”
They had passed ten more floors when Astrid called out, “Another force!”
Just as a streak of orange light shot downwards at them.
Weston sprang forward and with Spectre deflected the lights before they struck anything.
“Here!” Carter sprang towards a door.
“We're repeating the same thing again?” Astrid grumbled.
“Unless you can fight on the stairs,” said Carter. “On which, I have a disadvantage. Also, I don't have good night vision.”
“Go, go!” Weston ordered, and they all sprang towards the door again.
“I'm charging through!” Zack yelled, running forward.
“Oh, no, you don't!” shouted a voice, and a heavy figure dropped from above onto him.
With a yell, Zack stumbled and started to fall back towards the flight of stairs, where he might have had the bad fate of breaking his neck, had Weston not been fast enough to catch him.
“I said, we're going! This flight is blocked after that! There's a huge group of people there, and it's packed!”
“What?” Zack gasped. “How could you see?”
“I'm a ninja, moron! I'm trained to see in the dark! Unlike a certain someone.”
Carter shot a scowl at Weston.
“He's right, it's a dead end!” said the shadow's voice gleefully.
Zack freed himself from Weston and blocked a gold and black sword with a large, broad blade. His attacker, hidden by the darkness, seemed the same height as Zack was.
Then Zack parried and turned, running after them.
Astrid covered for them by summoning feather blades and swarming them everywhere around the stranger, as they burst through the door and ran through a long corridor that opened to a large room.
With three doors.
“We should split,” gasped Weston.
“I don't even know where to go after this!” Zack gasped.
“They'll all converge into the same all soon, with different routes,” said Astrid.
“Right, then, Weston and Zack, take the middle door,” said Carter. “Astrid, you take the door on the right. I'll take the left.”
“Why are we going alone?” Astrid asked.
“Because we know how to get to the same hall those two will be going in a straight line towards, and we both have to reach there to regroup,” said Carter. “It's a risk being alone, so go. And mind it, even if we don't get to regroup in time, we'll have to continue running on towards Sky's office, which is the target point.”
“All right,” said Weston.
“I didn't know you're a team player,” said Zack. “You don't look like it.”
“'Strategist' would be the right word,” said Carter with a scowl. “Go.”
Astrid, Zack and Weston left first, and Carter moved at the same time, but then returned when he heard their footsteps softening.
Then the loud footsteps of their attacker – or attackers, since it sounded like the person who so nearly had Zack killed had gotten backup.
He ran into his corridor, and, in his haste, knocked over a large vase as he tripped and fell with a grunt.
Footsteps now charged after him.
“You're stupid to be careless in the dark!” the attacker laughed, his voice distant as Carter sprang up and ran again, readying his crossbow.
“Aleia, draw,” he hissed, and the crossbow extended into a spear. Then he turned to his pursuers. "We'll fight here."
Meanwhile, in her route, Astrid found herself speeding faster than she should.
“Whoa, whoa, slow down,” she gasped, and went to a trot. “Better to save some energy for fighting.”
Before realizing that she had already stepped out into the hall that Carter mentioned they would regroup at. It had a high ceiling that took up another floor, with glass windows that showed out towards the city's towers.
“Okay, I arrived too early,” she mumbled.
Just as a purple light flashed and shone not far from.
A tall figure with a blazing sword.
And she realized that there was a hole in the wall, through which the afternoon sun shone through.
“You're the one who blew up the hole there?” she gasped.
The figure stepped forward, and began to approach her.
“I thought the alarm said that it was a group they were chasing, and I got the girl?” the figure grumbled, and the light showed him.
He had dark auburn hair and wore a black shirt and trousers as well as boots, and a red coat. There was an empty sheath tied against his back. The sword had a slender silver blade, and was very long, longer than Zack's, and there was a strange shape on the hilt of the sword.
But what stood out on him more was the color of his eyes; they were a violent purple, just like the strange aura that he carried.
“So you are an enemy?” said Astrid, recognizing the person's face.
The figure tapped his sword, reverting it to a key that hung around a chain. “I suppose you can call me that.”
Astrid stared, wide-eyed at him, as he continued to slowly approach.
It felt menacing.
“If I'm correct, you're that second Gladiator getting attention faster than Galadhar,” said Astrid, freeing her key from her pocket. “Do you plan to stop me from passing, or are you on the sidelines?” She kept her voice, steady.
“You're a Level 53,” he said. “You won't even be a match for me.”
“You were a Level 40, as far as I know? How can you claim more power over someone ten levels higher than you?”
The stranger changed his key back into a sword. “Because I can see you're not strong enough to fight against me.”
“Then I guess you're going to stop me,” said Astrid, and summoned her sword. “Astrid Lansing. My sword's name is Archaeryx. Pleasure to meet you!”
The opponent nearly stopped moving as the blonde girl attacked first; particularly because she obviously looked too excited to Gladiate him.