• II

    The pain was absolutely unbearable as his eyes shot open and he was staring straight into the dark coverings of his helmet. Cursing loudly, he tried to ignore the pain as he pulled his helmet off and placed it on the charger.

    The room around him seemed a blur, and he wasn’t sure if it was the side-effect of waking up from a virtual or if it was because his eyes were covered by a wall of tears. He moaned. “The back of the neck? Seriously,” he asked sarcastically as he rubbed the area where the sword pierced him.

    “The pain is good for you, Zac,” a baritone voice said from the side. Zac looked over and glared at his commander with revere as well as frustration. Commander Uric stood tall as he placed his helmet on the charger. Although he was always harder on him, Zac admired Uric like a father.

    “I can taste the blood for God’s sake.” He spit furiously and immediately winced. “And my head feels like its been cut off!”

    “Well that’s because it was,” Uric said dryly.
    Zac pursed his lips and forced himself to stand up. After that virtual he’d need at least ten doses of azure—one of the most potent medications on Hydra. Virtuals were good because it allowed soldiers to train efficiently. The only catch was that they felt every wound that was inflicted, and it was just as tiring.

    Zac scowled at Uric before following him out of the room. “What the hell was that anyways,” he asked, irritated that his commander would take such a cheap shot. Uric stopped abruptly and spared Zac a glare so cold and stern that Zac actually took a step back. He’d seen that look before and it was never a good sign.

    “If you had done your reading like you were supposed to then you would have known that that’s a very common Knight strategy. They send only one out to fight and hope that he succeeds, and the others stay hidden in order to catch the victim by surprise.”

    Zac clenched his teeth and averted his gaze away from Uric’s dark eyes. Wouldn’t want to turn to stone.

    “You failed, Zac,” he continued. Zac scowled before following Uric into his office.

    “Oh, come on! I defeated a Knight—alone! There are some top grade Warriors that can’t even do that!”

    Uric met Zac’s incredulous gaze but showed no mercy. “And you were also defeated by one.”

    Zac slammed his fists on Uric’s desk and immediately regretted it after seeing the furious look on Uric’s face. Uric’s eyes widened madly and his nostrils flared, but Zac refused to back down. He sighed wearily. “Come on, Uric,” he said calmly. “Just give me another shot. I know I can do this.”

    Uric sobered, but Zac noticed the tic that worked in his jaw. “I’m sorry, Zac, but you’re my responsibility,” he said. Zac looked at him confused. “There won’t be another chance. You’re suspended indefinitely.”

    Zac’s stomach dropped to the floor, and he felt as if all of Hydra was crashing down on him. “What? Suspended, why?”

    There was little remorse shown on Uric’s face, and Zac couldn’t believe that this was actually happening. How could Uric suspend him? “Zac, after failing that last mission—”

    “That wasn’t my fault!” Zac shouted vehemently.
    “I’m sorry, Zac. I just can’t take that chance.”
    “But where will I go?”

    Uric averted his gaze, not able to meet Zac’s pleading eyes. “Home.”

    Zac inhaled sharply. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Raw fear consumed him. “Home? You can’t be serious, Uric. I haven’t been home in nearly six years. Please…can’t you talk to the Director? Ask him to—”

    “This wasn’t his decision, Zac It was mine.”

    Cold realization silenced Zac. There was no mistaking the look of hurt on his face. How could Uric do this? Why would he do this? His jaw clenched and all emotion vanished from his expression. “Fine,” he said through his teeth. Uric opened his mouth the speak, but before he could say anything Zac pushed himself away from the desk so hard that it jerked violently toward Uric.

    A couple of people around the office stopped what they were doing to see what was happening. Glaring at all of the condescending faces, Zac snarled at everyone staring before storming toward the exit.

    “Zachariah!” Uric yelled pleadingly. Zac’s gaze instantly met Uric’s, his eyes filled with both hurt and hatred. His lips curled up with disgust before leaving the room. Everyone remained quiet as Zac’s aura remained in the room even after he’d left. They were afraid to do anything.

    Uric’s heart clenched at the pain he knew Zac was feeling, and the fact that he was the one who caused it. Uric sighed wearily as he watched him leave. He prayed that Zac would forgive him for this.