"You have an eagle?" Weston yelped as Gates flapped at them when the two of them stepped out of the clinic after patching up their wounds.
Zack laughed, raising his arm, and Gates landed on his forearm. "Gates is a friend. Oh, right, I haven't introduced you guys yet, right?"
Weston winced as Gates spread out his wings.
"Right, right, I guess I left you out here too long, because of Blackray's cyber attack," Zack laughed.
Gates, seemingly able to understand that Zack was not taking things seriously, flapped his wings again, this time more wildly that his feathers brushed Zack's face.
"Ow, ow! Okay, got it! I'm sorry for worrying you!"
"Zack!" called a voice, and they turned to see that Elian was running towards them.
"I was worried!" Elian, bawling, sprang right at Zack, who sidestepped to let Elian run into Weston. Gates balanced himself on Zack's arm.
"Oi!" Weston complained, catching Elian. "And why do you act like a kid, Elian?"
"I can't catch him, Gates is with me!" Zack complained back.
"Am I annoying?" Elian mumbled. "It's because I'm thirteen years old. I'm still a kid. BUT I WAS REALLY WORRIED!" Elian continued to bawl.
"You were?" asked Zack, startled. "Oh, you heard that this building was on lockdown, right?"
"Yeah, yeah! And I thought you might get into danger!"
"You don't need to be a crybaby about it, you know, t's just an incident," said Weston. "And Zack just turned out to be a hacker called Zachariah Kagan. I should've known."
"A hacker?" gasped Elian. "That hacker?"
Zack looked at him in puzzlement.
"Yeah," said Weston. "I mean, as Zack Kagan, you're not famous, because even I didn't recognize you when we met, but when it comes to your hacker name, in the underground, as in Synchron and this world's criminal sides, your name pops up among hackers for hire. Even so, Zachariah Kagan rarely accepts any criminal hacking jobs and if he did, they're usually one to repair online websites or to track a criminal. And how you do your assignments was what made you famous."
"They say he's fast and there are rumors he fixes bugs in Gladiators and the online Gladiators game," said Elian. "Do you do that?"
"Yep, that's me," said Zack. "Though I didn't expect that I'd have to reveal my skills big time in front of Weston or anyone. I was hoping not to let anyone know, though."
"The Director must have been anticipating something like a cyber attack, though," said Weston. "And now, Euphoria is a sponsor for the Gladiator Games. How fun. What's gonna happen now?"
"We're going to play," said Zack. "I'm playing for the Games."
"You will?" said Elian, startled.
"Well – that's another reason I came here," Zack grinned. "To play in the Games. First, there's the Selection. And . . ." he trailed off, eyes looking distant.
"What?" asked Weston, startled.
"I . . . can't miscalculate how I use my powers like I did earlier," said Zack, looking irritated. "I have to be able to fight properly . . . to beat that person. Sawyer Axelrod."
Weston looked at him, surprised.
"Huh? Who's that?" Elian asked, puzzled, but Weston held up a hand to him.
"Zack, you want to Gladiate against the Dragon Knight?" asked Weston.
"Yeah," said Zack. "I can't help feeling like he doesn't belong with Euphoria. Also – the stories of the previous Dragon Knight, Rune, and Garrett, and his sister Annika . . . I don't want our generation of the Core Gladiators to destroy Synchron and the Core. Garrett's generation spent a lot of time trying to stop Rune from doing that."
"You seem to know a lot more about Gladiators than I thought you should," said Weston slowly.
"Maybe, but I don't know the whole story," said Zack. "I only know references made to them, but not the whole story. But I do know enough to know I can't let Euphoria win."
"How will you do that?" said Weston. "Now that Sky's accepted them. I still don't understand it – how hard could it be, just to say no to them?"
"As hard as worrying for the safety of other Gladiators," said Zack. "Not all Gladiators are strong enough to beat a threat, and especially for Gladiators the likes of the Dragon Knight – now that's much tougher. I vow to be stronger than the Dragon Knight – or at least, enough to beat him and stop him from destroying the whole game and the Core that runs it."
He grinned at Gates. "Keep me company, Gates!"
Gates flapped his wings.
"I can't tell what exactly are you saying, but I get the feeling you'll be following me now," said Zack.
"And I thought earlier, you understood what he was saying!" Weston scoffed, cuffing him. "And I'm in, too. I'll also Gladiate; would be interesting to enter the selections and the Games."
"Really?" asked Zack, grinning.
"Me, too! Me, too!" said Elian.
"Okay, that makes three of us," Zack grinned.
"But I've somehow got to reach Level 65 before then," Elian muttered. "I'm a Level 44. It's a long way till then!"
"Same here," muttered Weston.