Ariana and her friends barely said a word to each other once they were in their barracks. It was painful for Ariana to see the worry and fear in their eyes. Even Sarina and Aiden were just as frightened as the rest of them. After they got dressed in their night clothes, they all said goodnight to each other and crawled in their beds.
Ariana had a hard time sleeping that night. When she was awake she would just stare at her friends, wishing she could protect them somehow from what they were about to go through. When she fell asleep, she dreamed of moments of all of her friends wrestling with agony while she was forced to watch. The entire night was filled with relentless torture and the band on her wrist seemed to slowly tighten all night.
Waking up in a cold sweat, Ariana heard the familiar beep of her wake-up call. Her eyes darted across the room at her friends, and it was obvious that their night hadn’t gone much better than hers had. No one looked at each other. Everyone just went to their lockers for their clothes then to their dressing rooms to change. As they were getting ready, the female voice came over the loudspeaker.
“Attention all teams. Please put on your provided uniforms and wait in your barracks for your instructions.”
Moving at a slow pace, they hoped to put off the time of their instructions as long as possible. Once they’d done everything they could do they all wandered aimlessly to different parts of the room. Hoping the scenery would take her mind off of things, Ariana walked toward the window. The trees were all black, as if the shadow of the night never left them. The black mist from the previous night was now a grey fog that filled the sky and crawled across the ground.
Ariana didn’t know how long she was standing there, but she snapped out of her trans when the door swung open and Steinblik yelled, “Everyone in a line NOW!” He caught everyone off guard but they formed a line as quickly as they could. Ariana and her friends stood there, and Steinblik flashed Ariana a crooked smile. Ariana merely rolled her eyes as she stood in line.
“Alright,” Steinblik said calmly, “Galina will be here soon with her instructions. She and I were up for a while discussing how we should test you today, whether we should start easier or just go straight to torture. Unfortunately, protocol doesn’t allow me to share with you what level we picked for you today. On the bright side, you will soon find out.” He chuckled softly to himself. “Now, everyone stand up straight when Galina comes in and listen carefully to what she has to say. You will need every bit of information you can get your hands on for this task. Now shut up and stand there!”
Suddenly their door quietly opened and Galina quietly entered the room. Everyone stood up straight with pits in their stomachs. Galina spoke in a soothing voice. “I understand your fear, but take courage in the friendships you have here and take comfort in the arms of your friends. You will all suffer; such is the way of everything. But these friendships will lift your team up higher than you ever thought possible. Do not seek peace in solitude; it will surely lead to your downfall. Seek peace with your companions as you are all tried together. If you pull together you will not fail.”
They stood there sheepishly, embarrassed that she had to inform them of why they were friends and why they needed each other. She continued in a voice with a tone of authority, “Your task today will be a difficult one. It will be your first taste of what you will experience here every day. Captain Steinblik and I have been talking about who your team leader will be. He or she will have a very difficult job. In the end of your discussions it will be his or her job to make the final call. When the days come where your team is tested person by person the team leader must watch each of their teammates suffer through their tasks to see how their strengths and weaknesses could help or hinder the team. They will carry the weight of the team on their shoulders.” She paused to let them all take in the new information she had given. She then took a deep breath and said, “After discussing this with Steinblik, we have both concluded that…Ariana should be the team leader.”
Ariana felt her heart drop to the floor.
“Ariana,” Galina rescued her, “I know you are overwhelmed with this new responsibility. But I will be here to help you, as well as Captain Steinblik.”
“Right,” thought Ariana. “Like a fox after a wounded chick he’ll help me.”
Galina continued, “You will receive separate instructions from your teammates and you can only share this with one person when absolutely necessary. We’ve chosen Merric to be your second in command.”
“Well,” thought Ariana, “At least I’ll have some help. Merric is better at all that tactical fighting stuff than me anyway.”
Galina stood up straighter, looking more solid. “Today for your first task you will need to make your way through a castle, facing whatever you find there. Then you must find the secret way out and go through to the next challenge. You will receive more instruction there.” Galina glanced over at Ariana. “Stay close to each other and take direction from Ariana. She will have more knowledge and understanding of what is occurring than the rest of you. Trust her.” She paused for a moment and then turned to Steinblik. “Alright Captain Steinblik, they’re all yours.” Then she turned and gracefully left the room.
Once Galina left the room, Ariana felt discouraged and hopeless. Maybe if she wouldn’t have been so sarcastic to Steinblik at first she wouldn’t be in this terrible position right now. But something inside told her that she probably would have been chosen anyway for some other reason.
“Ariana! Do you intend on standing there all day?!” yelled Steinblik. “I said to go get into your uniforms!” Ariana jumped at his harsh yelling, and then hung her head slightly. “Sorry sir, I’ll get right to it.” She started to walk to her locker, wishing she could just crawl into her bed and cry until she could go home. Ariana started taking her clothes out of her locker. She turned to go to the dressing rooms only to find Steinblik in her face.
“You know,” he said “for a team leader you’re really starting off with a crappy first step.” Then he snickered, “I’m going to love watching your team crash and burn all because their team leader can’t even stand up and get ready without nearly crying. You won’t last more than a day in this test. You can’t even take charge of yourself let alone your friends.” Ariana looked away, but Steinblik quickly grabbed her jaw and pulled it right to his face. “You’re a pathetic excuse for a human being,” he spat out.
Ariana looked into his dark eyes. A sudden rage boiled up within her. She could feel her face getting hotter and hotter. With one swift move Ariana smacked his arms out of her way, grabbed his shirt by the neck and shoved him against the wall. She pointed a finger right to his face and said with a dark tone in her voice. “If you ever touch me again I won’t hesitate one second to break your neck.” She held him against the wall a few more seconds then let him go.
Ariana started walking off when Steinblik yelled, “Seeing as I am your leader it is my right to touch you whenever I darn well please!” Ariana stopped where she was, turned around and said, “Do you want to bet your life on that?” With that she turned and walked into her dressing room.