"Today we'll be doing something new," Kratos greeted Zephyr as he awoke. "You've made enough progress in the usual training regime that it's time to start putting your training into practise." "What did you have in mind?" Zephyr asked. Kratos said nothing. Zephyr took his cue and gathered his gear and his staff, and followed Kratos through the cavern. He was surprised at how small the room itself was; he had spent so many collective hours trying to cross this room that it appeared laughable how easy it was to traverse unimpeded. Kratos lead Zephyr through a series of halls until he came across the room he was looking for. Before him were five prisoners, kneeling, blindfolded and their hands tied behind their back. "This is not a pleasant lesson, Zephyr, but one you must learn," Kratos announced. Zephyr's gut dropped. He knew what this lesson was, though he hoped his instincts were wrong. Kratos handed him a blade. He was not wrong. "Part of being a soldier is killing other soldiers. The sooner you embrace that, the better your career will be." Zephyr's gut wrenched again. To kill a man, unarmed, kneeling before him, helpless... He weighed the blade in his hand. "Take as long as you need, Zephyr." Kratos placed a hand on Zephyr's shoulder to comfort him. "Just make sure it's done." "What did they do?" Zephyr asked, the words barely escaping his dry mouth. "What does it matter?" "In the heat of the battle I'm fighting an enemy. A sworn enemy with a mutual level of hatred. You're asking me to kill an unarmed, defenceless person whom I have no malice towards. How do you expect me to do that?" Kratos walked over to the first prisoner. "This man abducted and killed over a dozen children indiscriminately." Kratos pulled the man up and sliced his throat. Zephyr felt his head spin, and he began to dry wretch. He had seen death before, but not like this. This was cold. Merciless. Emotionless. Kratos discarded the prisoner's lifeless body and moved to the next. "This man's wife sent his children away out of fear of him. He beat her to death, but not before he had dragged her to the orphanage where the children were hiding. He made her watch as he burned it to the ground." He pulled the prisoner to his feet and held him firmly in front of Zephyr. Zephyr struggled to form words. His voice had left him. "Untie him," Zephyr whispered, pointing at the second prisoner. "What?" "Untie him," Zephyr repeated, his voice slightly stronger in his resolve. "Why?" "I will not kill a man in cold blood. Untie him, give him a sword, and let him fight me. If you want me to kill, it will be on my terms. Not yours." "Very well," Kratos sneered. He lifted the blindfold from the man's head and cut loose his ties, but before he could hand his weapon to the man, the man broke away and sprinted for the cavern's exit. Kratos hurled a dagger at the man and the weapon impaled his spine, dropping him to the floor. Zephyr felt his head spin again, but less this time than it had before. The kill had been quick and clean. Zephyr did not feel the same regret for the man as he did the first. He shouldn't have run. "What about her?" Zephyr asked, nodding to the third prisoner. He had no desire to continue this brutal lesson, but he knew that the sooner he passed the challenge, the sooner he would be able to put it behind him. "The Black Widow," Kratos smiled. "This one was quite a catch. She roamed Portica for years, seducing countless men. She went from town to town, never the same place, but always the same strategy: maim, murder, and mutilate. It actually took our most elite soldiers to track her down and bring her in. Killing her is an honour I'm in half a mind to take myself." "Be my guest," Zephyr said dismissively, knowing that it was not really an option. "Come now Zephyr, I take pride in my teaching more than I take pride in disposing of trash." Zephyr sighed. He nodded and Kratos removed the blindfold from the woman's face. "You run, you die," Kratos explained, pointing to the limp carcass by the cavern entrance. The woman nodded, and Kratos removed her bounds. She walked over to Kratos' dagger and dislodged it from the prisoner's spine. Kratos then tossed another dagger her way. The woman took a moment to stare at the entrance to the cavern, weighing up her chances of escaping. Cowardice was not her way. She picked up the second dagger and circled back around to face Zephyr, before dropping into a battle stance. "You lose, you die," Kratos added. The woman smirked, having sized up Zephyr. Zephyr, young and naïve, was still standing bewildered, caught off-guard by the turn of the day's events. Up until now his training had been mere trap evasion, purely self-defence techniques. Now he was expected to kill. "That won't be a problem," the woman sneered, as she curled her lips and bared her teeth. Zephyr readied himself for battle, but his stance was completely defensive. He could not bring himself to charge the woman, aggressive as she was in her pose, no matter how much he willed it. Zephyr was still in shock from the first two deaths, and he was hesitant to add to the bloodshed. If I don't fight, she'll kill me. Even the fear could not spur Zephyr into action; instead it added to his paralysis. Maybe this is why Kratos is teaching me this. So this doesn't happen on the battlefield. Zephyr summoned all of his mental strength and forced himself to take a step forward. Zephyr's stance became more aggressive, but the change in posture only added to his shakiness. Out of the corner of his eye, Zephyr saw Kratos shake his head in disappointment. Zephyr took another, very deep, breath and took another step forward, but the woman had no intentions of waiting for him to reach her. The woman darted forward and charged at Zephyr, pirouetting around him as she swung with her daggers. One of her daggers ripped into Zephyr's thigh and he dropped to the ground, crying out in pain. While she had the advantage of first blood, the woman had also spurred Zephyr into action. Zephyr rolled to the side as the woman plunged her daggers down into the ground, and he continued rolling to his feet. Zephyr cried out in pain again as he tried to put weight on his leg, and instead let it relax behind him, more for balance than footing. Zephyr lowered himself and blocked a flurry of strikes from the woman, slowly moving backwards as he struggled to contain the onslaught. Once again, the woman had done Zephyr the favour; adrenaline now coursed through his veins and the pain of his leg was irrelevant. Zephyr planted both feet firmly on the ground and pushed his shoulder into the woman in between swings, then pushed her away with his elbow. He charged forward and swung widely with his sword, using the weapon's length to keep her at bay. Zephyr continued swinging at the woman, but she was far too nimble for him to land a blow. She continued to retreat, offering her daggers as soft counters to Zephyr's strikes, until he began to fatigue. As his attacks began to slow, the woman ducked under the sword and brought her dagger deep into Zephyr's gut. Zephyr gasped as he felt the blade twist in his body. The woman, not hesitating for a moment, pulled the dagger back out and thrust her dagger into Zephyr's defenceless torso so many times that Zephyr lost count as he began to black out. He dropped to the floor, feeling his breaths go faint as his blood pooled around him. Kratos stepped up to the woman and paused, taking a moment to stare at Zephyr as he struggled to maintain consciousness. "Finish him, and you walk free," he said, placing his hand on her shoulder. Zephyr's eyes widened in fear. The woman continued to heave for a few seconds, before acknowledging Kratos' offer. She held a dagger above her head and brought it down, but instead of finding Zephyr's limp body she was impaled on Kratos' dagger. He reefed the dagger up and under her ribcage, and twisted the blade as it pierced her heart. The woman dropped to the floor, dead. Kratos kneeled beside Zephyr and placed his hands on Zephyr's wounds, channelling his restorative magic. Zephyr felt the pain of his wounds fade, but the mental scars would not leave so easily. Zephyr's breaths were short and sharp as he tried to comprehend what had happened, but to no avail. Kratos pulled him to his feet and stared him squarely in the eyes. "Next time, I won't intervene. Kill, or be killed." Zephyr had barely come to terms with his surroundings before Kratos had moved to the next prisoner, unbound him and given him a sword. He barely heard nor registered Kratos' explanation of the prisoner's crimes, something about murder, torture and other acts of brutality. It did not matter. Zephyr's survival instinct had kicked in and he was no longer in training; he was now on a battlefield, fighting for his life. Zephyr charged at the prisoner and and unleashed a vicious flurry of attacks; each strike the prisoner defended was so forceful it sent the man sliding backward. Zephyr did not relent for a single moment, forcing the man back until he was pressed against the wall. Zephyr then batted his opponent's sword out of the way and kicked the man in the gut. The kick pressed the man up against the rock, and then he dropped to one knee. "Stop," the man protested, his hands raised defensively across his face. "Please, don't kill me," he pleaded. "Pathetic," Kratos announced loudly, encouraging Zephyr to finish the kill. Zephyr's chest heaved as he regained his senses. This man is no threat, Zephyr realised. He's a coward. "Please," the man continued. "Please don't kill me, I'm sorry, I'm sorry for everything!" Zephyr knew he should bring the sword down. It will be swift. Painless. Over in a moment. He did not move as he tried to convince himself to deliver the finishing blow. He does not deserve to live. He did not even fight to live. Zephyr shook his head. What am I saying? I'm not like this. He took a moment to eye the man up and down. This man is begging me for his life. I'm not a murderer. I'm a soldier; the fight is over, I win. It doesn't need to end wit more blood. "Go ahead," Kratos instructed. "Do this vermin a favour and finish him." "No," Zephyr refused. Try as he might, he could not will himself to strike the man down. He took a step back and relaxed his stance. "I won't kill a man in cold blood." Zephyr turned to walk away. Kratos said nothing. The man, his life prolonged for the moment, saw his opportunity. He grabbed his sword from the ground and charged at Zephyr. Zephyr heard footsteps behind him and turned, barely bringing his sword across to deflect the attack. The man's blade did not reach its intended target: a killing blow on Zephyr. Instead, Zephyr deflected it enough that it merely sliced across his hip. Pain shot through Zephyr, but it was masked by his fury. I gave you a second chance! Zephyr grabbed the man by the throat and slammed him against the wall. He pulled the man back from the wall and slammed him into the rock again, and again. He did not know if the man had survived, but it was irrelevant. He would not make the same mistake. Zephyr continued to slam the defenceless man against the wall until his arm grew tired. He then let the body fall to the floor and drove his sword through the man's torso; if he had survived up until that point, it was a fatal strike. The man's body lay still, and the job was done. Zephyr had killed. Zephyr turned to face the last prisoner. I will not give these psychopaths any more quarter. He stormed up to the prisoner and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him in the air. Murders, all of them. They don't deserve to breathe, let alone get the benefit of the doubt from me. Twice I've nearly died protecting the rights of this scum. No more. Not again. Zephyr brought the man down and drove his sword deep into the prisoner's neck, driving the blade down through his shoulder and into his torso. The kill was instantaneous. The body twitched and jerked, held in place by Zephyr. No more. Zephyr's senses slowly regained control, and he heard the distinct sound of clapping. He turned his head to see Kratos behind him, a large smile across his face. "Very good, Zephyr!" he praised. "Very good!" Zephyr turned back to the lifeless body, still twitching, still in his hand. What's good about this? Zephyr let the body drop to the floor and turned back to Kratos. "What did he do?" Zephyr asked coldly. "It doesn't matter," Kratos replied. "It only matters that he is dead, and not you." Zephyr's fury overcame him again, and he grabbed Kratos by the shirt and held his sword across Kratos' throat. "What did he do!" Zephyr asked again, this time yelling. "He was a thief," Kratos explained. "He stole some jewellery from a merchant." The realisation hit Zephyr like a wall. "No," he rejected. He wasn't a killer? He wasn't even violent? "No, no, no," Zephyr repeated, overcome with guilt. I killed him, I didn't even give him a chance. I just killed him. Zephyr's head began to spin and he felt his stomach turn. The room spun violently. Why was he even here? Why was he last? Kratos did this on purpose! Zephyr could not shift the blame. It doesn't matter, I killed him. Kratos said nothing as Zephyr was consumed by killer's guilt. He didn't deserve to die... Not like that. The room spun faster and faster and Zephyr's head began to pound relentlessly. He stumbled over to the wall and placed his arm against it to brace himself, but to no avail. You're a murderer. You killed him in cold blood. He could hear the faint sounds of Kratos' voice, but they were drowned out by the intense ringing in his ears. It was him or me. Zephyr looked up at Kratos to see him reaching out for him, but Zephyr succumbed to the wave of emotion. It doesn't matter what he did. All that matters is that you're alive. Zephyr had a brief moment of clarity, and realised that his hands were covering his ears and he was screaming. The room began to whir in a sea of colours, Zephyr's head thumped unbearably, the ringing in his ears became deafening, and he blacked out.