“Sorry I'm late!” Elian called as he entered an office late that night, running into the Euphoria Association's headquarters.
“You might as well knock first, Elian,” said Dekker Bancroft, glancing at him from the office desk where he stood beside Everard Gaynor.
“It's already nine o' clock at night,” said a man sitting in a chair at the desk, who leaned back in his chair at Elian's entrance. “Where were you?”
The man was tall, had dark hair, and one eye was shut, with a scar running down it, as if there had been a deep cut there. He wore a dark gray suit and a pinstriped tie and seemed completely relaxed among them.
“I'm so sorry, Mr. Reyes!” Elian yelped. “I was really busy getting into being friends with our targets that I joined them for dinner at a pizza restaurant just so I don't get suspected of being a spy on them.”
“So have you made it in?” asked Everard, holding a holotop.
“Yep,” said Elian. “I got through. I'm now a friend of Zachariah Kagan and Weston Ingram. Just a little more, and I'll be able to worm my way in closer. I'm thinking, as far as their chief programmer's offices, especially with that Astrid Lansing. It seems she's close to Zack and Weston, because the three of them became fast friends ever since Zack came here.”
“Carter is close to Astrid Lansing, too,” said Dekker. “But it's interesting, how she has blue hair. Since when?”
“Did you have Carter ask her?” asked Elian.
"He'll ask her," said Dekker.
“Every little bit of detail needs attention,” said Everard calmly. “I can't strategise our plans to take over the Synchron Organization if I can't understand one bit of detail. My work will not be complete, and that's if we're going to succeed with this step.”
“Of course, if its you, Everard, the plans will succeed,” said Miguel Reyes at the desk. “I've never known you to be a failure.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Everard.
“You plan to enter the games through the selections, too, right, Elian?” asked Dekker, smiling at him.
Elian grinned back. “At my rank, it's not good, is it?”
“With the Link Program, it'll work,” said Dekker. “Let's go.”
“The what?” Elian blinked, startled. His smile stopped, puzzled.
“The Link Program,” said Dekker with a frown. “Got a problem?”
“Whazzat?” Elian asked.
“This way,” said Miguel, getting to his feet. “I don't think you were present when I told everyone what it was?”
“Or he fell asleep,” said Dekker, rolling his eyes.
“Most likely,” muttered Elian. “Hey, I'm also about to sleep, too, like, right now! It's bedtime!”
“You can sleep with the Link Program on,” said Dekker.
“So whazzat?” asked Elian.
Miguel led them out of the office, then down a left turn into a corridor, then down three flights of stairs, into another corridor, then through a door into a large room with a high ceiling. There were eight capsules aligned against each other, horizontal, that they looked like beds.
Sawyer was siting up from one of them, rubbing his forehead as two men in white coats removed two metal disks that had been placed on the sides of his head.
“How's your nap?” asked Miguel.
“Fine,” said Sawyer abruptly.
“Hi, Sawyer! I didn't know you were here!” Elian ran over to him.
“Programming your brainwaves to work just the same way as Rune Deatherage's should take a toll on you soon,” muttered Everard.
“Programming? Rune Deatherage?” said Elian.
“This is how the Link Program works,” Miguel explained. “A higher ranked Gladiator lets us record his thought patterns in Gladiating and we then connect it to another Gladiator and modify that Gladiator's thought patterns to raise their level even by just a little.”
“This place is a common room where Euphoria's eight aces will be program our minds to be better in Gladiating,” said Everard. “At least, Sawyer and I don't need to program our minds, so we're just recording our thought patterns.”
“Well, you two have already reached Level 65, techically, but not officially,” said Dekker.
“And . . . us?” said Elian.
“We're going to improve our skills like this,” said Dekker, waving his hand to the capsules. “We're going to link ourselves to those recorded thought patterns, manipulate our fighting skills, and use them to get to Level 65. I'm going to be using Everard's thinking. You're using Sawyer's.”
Elian blinked. “Me? Using the Dragon Knight's thought patterns? But – that's a bit-”
“Thought processes, as in how to manipulate your powers and how to evade or fight against an opponent,” Miguel said. “Sawyer's accepted it, already. And actually, he's doing both the recording, while taking Rune Deatherage's thought process.”
"Him – and the previous Dragon Knight?” said Elian, startled.
“Well, that's to control his powers with Dragos,” said Everard. “That's in a different room, though.” He turned to Sawyer. “What are you going to do now? Take your predecessor's thought process?”
“Not now,” said Sawyer. “I'm going out for a walk.”
He got up and picked up his coat, which had been lying on a nearby chair, then left.
“Right then, let's do this,” said Dekker, turning to Elian.
“Okay, okay! I'm going, too!” Elian huffed, and followed him.
Miguel let a chuckle slip as the two men in white coats began instructing them on what to do.
“What?” asked Everard, raising his eyebrows.
“Zachariah Kagan,” said Miguel. “Were you surprised it was that hacker who just happened to be Sky Travers' brother?”
“And half-brother, to boot,” said Everard. “No wonder that seemed strange. And no, I didn't expect that. I was aware of him, though. But that just proves another reason that our mission to take over the Synchron Organization might be harder, if we don't have our spies gain more trust and leak more information out from them.”
“Do you feel like returning to them anytime?” asked Everard. “You were one of them at one point.”
Miguel chuckled. “Once in a while, perhaps? But for family reasons. My goals, though, are far more important.” His hand brushed against his wrist, at the mark of a unicorn that was imprinted on his skin in black. “I wonder . . . if those people who used to be kids when I died . . . really thought I still died.”
* * *
When he said he would be out for a walk, Sawyer didn't mean a long walk.
Though somehow, he had decided to continue walking. When he came back to himself, he was already a little too far from the hideout of the Euphoria's headquarters.
When he stopped, he was in the middle of a park, standing on top of a hill beside a tree.
The sword pulsed against his back where he kept it in its weapon form. Sawyer caught the hilt of his weapon, drawing it from its sheath. The sword, Dragos, morphed into a solid form of purple.
A serpentine form crawled up his arm and onto his shoulder.
Sawyer touched the tree again.
And now, a purple aura surrounded him, and within a minute, the tree was in flames.
Stepping back to look at his handiwork, Sawyer shook his head. “More power . . . I need more power . . . more strength . . .”