Chapter Three: Training

Sting grumbled in frustration as she shut off her communicator. She turned her head towards the nearest person, a horse Chimera in animal form, and scowled. "You."

"W-What?" the horse snorted fearfully. If there was one thing he knew about survival, it was to never accept a sparring match from Sting when she was in a bad mood. "I c-c-can't stick around. I have to, um... iron my... taxes." Her scowl did not falter. "Oh, C-Commander Gar! It's an honor to meet you!" She didn't even blink. "Not buying it, huh?"

"Suit up," Sting said curtly, allowing her tail to slide out of her cloak and swipe through the air threateningly. "I'm not in the mood for games."

"Oh, you poor, poor thing," a condescending voice announced, followed by an arrogant chuckle. "Is the little scorpion upset?"

"Fang..." Sting turned around to see a young woman in green training gear walk out of one of the sparring chambers. "What do you want, you miserable snake?" Her gear covered most of her body, though they left her arms completely exposed. At her hips rested two daggers with bulky handles and slightly hollowed blades.

"I heard that you three just got back from a mission. I wanted to hear how well the other two did; since we both know you were useless." Fang brushed her fingers through her long, brown hair and sneered. "Really, how do you expect do get anywhere doing things halfway all the time?"

"I know what I'm good at," Sting answered, glaring at Fang.

"Good at?" Fang said, barely holding back a laugh. "I bet I could beat you in a fight."

"Bring it," Sting growled as she drew her weapon, a long staff. "I'm going to smack that smug look off your face."

Liam had barely left the communications station when his communicator began to pick up a deafening noise. "Gah!" Liam winced as he responded to the noise. "Ow! Who would sound an air horn into-"

"Liam!" A boy's voice screeched from the other side.

"Wait a second… Roger?" Liam asked. "How did you get this frequency? This is a private comm line reserved for Sting, myself, and- oh, no."

"Ow." Bart was lying on the floor, crying. "I hate kids. So. Much."

"Sorry, Liam. I just wanted to get your attention." Roger apologized.

"Well, you got it now," Liam groaned. Why are you calling, anyway?"

"Mama Kit says that you three gotta show up for special training."

"What kind of training?" Liam asked.

"I don't know. I didn't ask her," Roger answered simply. "But she wanted all of you to get here as soon as you can."

"Okay, well Sting is probably already there, and I'm on my way now. Bart, did you get all that?" Liam heard only groans of extreme discomfort as a response. "Roger, you know I'm taking away that horn when I get there." Liam quickened his pace until he could see the training center. "Hey Sting, did you hear any of that?"

"She can't answer you right now. She's fighting that scary girl." Roger informed the self-proclaimed Lion Prince.

"Scary girl?" Liam stopped in his tracks. "Do you mean Fang?"

"Yup. She's trying to catch Sting, but- Oh, go Sting! Hit her again! Do the thing with the-"

"Roger! Save the play-by-play for later," Liam scolded. "The training isn't that important, is it? Could I just sit this one out?"

"Oh, no, Liam," Bart answered, finally able to think and speak clearly. "Fang or no, an order from Kitsune is not something you can put off. I'm going there too, even though we both know I have no business handling the fighting."

"She probably wants you there for moral support or-" Liam's voice was drowned out by a loud scream in the communicator. "Roger, what was that?"

"It's Sting!" Roger shouted. "She's- she's hurt! She's hurt real bad!"

"What?" Liam barked back. The next thing Liam heard was the tearing of fabric and beating wings. "Roger, find Kitsune and bring her to Sting. I'll be there right away!"

"Argh!" Sting fell to the ground, not even able to glare at her opponent. She clutched her staff with enough force for her knuckles to grow pale. "H-How dare you…" Sting struggled to get up, but found nothing in her legs to allow her to stand; no strength, no feeling, nothing from the waist down. "This was only supposed to be a sparring match." With what strength she had, she lifted her head to her foe, her eyes covered in burning toxins

"Oh, please," Fang sneered, "I'm not going to baby you. Then you would get all inflated, and then what? Would a Beast Killer hold back in this situation? Hmm?" Fang kicked the staff out of Sting's hands and laughed. "I just taught you a valuable lesson, you little insect. Aren't you going to thank me?" Fang pressed a blade threateningly on Sting's left cheek. "Well?" Before Sting could reply, a loud screech echoed through the room, causing Fang to recoil and plug her ears.

"Sting!" Bart crashed into the wall of the room in his giant bat form. "Kekeke!" Bart scanned the room until he could pinpoint his ally. "Oh, this is bad. This is very bad!"

"Bart?" Sting winced. "What are you doing here? This is my fight."

"Drop the tough girl act," Bart ordered. "Just by listening, I can tell you're paralyzed. The damage to your spine is too severe." Bart growled as he turned to face Fang. "I'd say I can't believe someone would so blatantly violate one of our biggest rules in sparring conduct, but since it's you we're talking about, I can't even pretend to be surprised."

"Oh, please, it's not that big a deal," Fang huffed. "And if it was, what would you be able to do about it? If Sting can't beat me, then you know you have no chance." Fang grabbed a small sphere from her belt and rolled it towards Bart. Once it stopped, it emitted a loud noise that made Bart double over, covering his bleeding ears with his wings. "That's a supersonic bomb. Did you know that's standard issue among Beast Killer ranks? They're designed specifically for subduing foes with sensitive hearing." Bart winced in pain as he suffered from the bomb's effects. All he could hear was a sharp ringing that nearly drove him into a frenzy. Fang looked down on the two and smirked. "Now where's Li? He wouldn't just leave you two like this, would he?"

"You tell me," answered a voice, followed by a long whip wrapping around Fang's throat. Liam panted heavily as he glared at the brunette. "Fang."

"Ck!" Fang struggled to loosen the whip from her neck. "Oh, Li~. Why don't you come a little closer?"

"Stop calling me that!" Liam snarled. "What do you think you're doing?"

"I'm just doing what I was told," Fang replied without a hint of remorse. "The fact that it included humiliating Sting was gravy. It's about time someone put that little- Chk!" Liam grabbed his weapon with both hands and slammed Fang into a wall, then swung his arms, leading Fang into another wall. He repeated the motion several times, finishing with an overhead swing that sent the girl crashing to the ground. Once he saw Fang lying on the ground, he gasped in shock and retracted his whip. When she stirred, he sighed in relief to himself before returning to his stern demeanor.

"Who told you to do this?" Liam screamed as he held Fang up by her hair. "Tell me who put you up to this!"

"That would be me, boy," answered a familiar voice. Liam turned around to face the voice's owner, Simeon Von Prime. "No jokes this time?" Simeon's face contorted into a hideous, humorless grin.

"How could you do this?" Liam roared. "Commander or not, those two are not only my teammates; they are my friends! If this was really your doing," Liam growled out of pure rage and activated his sword, "Then I will not let it go without a fight!"

"Do you even realize the rationale behind this little exercise?" Simeon asked. "When I said you were weak, I meant it. It took one girl to completely cow the new Manticore Squadron!"

"Are you stupid? I'm still right here!" Liam prepared to lunge, but his legs suddenly felt restrained. When he looked down, he saw a serpent's tail wrapped around his legs. "Ah!"

"Gotcha, Li~!" Fang, now half-human, half-snake, wrapped her arms around Liam's chest. "You really shouldn't hold back, you know."

"L-Let me go!" Liam shrieked, his anger replaced by sheer terror. His sword fell out of his hand and clattered harmlessly against the ground. He could do little else but squirm futilely.

"Aw, you look so cute, trying to escape my grip," Fang teased. "Squirm all you like. It only makes me want to squeeze tighter!"

"As I said, one girl is more than a match for all three of you. Do you know why?" Simeon walked over to Sting and Bart. "I'll tell you." He grabbed Sting by the tail and hoisted her up.

"Yaaah!" Sting screamed as she dangled in the air. She felt as though her spine was being slowly torn from her body.

"This girl is a fool for fighting in this half-transformed state. A brat with a peashooter could send her to the floor if they struck where the tail and her spine meet." Simeon then grabbed Bart by one of his ears and jerked him up to his tiny feet. "And there's this slacker, unable to fight because it's too loud, but that never stopped Sedric. He had enough focus to function in the loudest environments. But you, Liam, you are the worst. All it takes to reduce you to a sobbing mess is for a girl to give you a big hug. Where's your killer instinct?"

"Mama Kit! It's this way!" Roger's voice echoed as the boy darted into the room in his animal form, a slightly larger than normal raccoon.

"Ah yes, I should thank you, er, whoever you are. It would have been hard to get them all to the training grounds myself." Simeon gave another sinister grin as another person entered the room. "Ah, if it isn't Yuk-" His voice was cut off by a cracking sound.

Simeon turned to see this intruder. Dressed in a silver kimono stood a woman with long, golden hair and a fierce scowl. In her left hand was a hilt connected to four, long, whip-like protrusions. "Simeon!" she shouted as she lifted her arm. "You think you can torture these three like this and get away with it?" With a flick of her wrist, her weapon ignited, giving it the appearance of four fiery tails.

"Calm down, Yukina. I have this under control," Simeon said calmly. "Fang, you've had your fun; fix her."

"Ugh, fine," Fang groaned as she twisted a knob on one of her daggers. "But I'll do it my way." Once she stopped fiddling with her weapon, she drove it into Sting's back.

"Sting!" Liam shouted. "What did you do?"

"It's a new bit of tech I got from one of the higher ups in the Beast Killers; nanobots that can repair any injury in record time. I'd guess this stuff would be used to keep people fighting on the front lines in a battle." As if to prove her claim, Sting's legs began to twitch. "She'll be able to get up in a few minutes."

"That doesn't excuse any of this," Yukina snarled.

"It's simple, my dear," Simeon chuckled. "We are going to war soon. You've seen the situation up there yourself. Chimer is going to rise up and exact the revenge the whole world seeks on the Supreme Kingdom. There's no time to be soft. The great doctor would agree with me."

"I know your methods, and they won't work. I'll take charge of their training," Yukina argued.

"Well, that's very kind of you, but it's not really your call," Simeon sneered.

"You're right," growled a deep voice. Everyone turned to the door to see a towering figure enter the room. Unlike most Chimerae, the owner of the voice showed traits of several beasts. His legs were like those of an ox, with the snout and claws of a wolf. Along his arms were sturdy scales, and his eyes had the piercing gaze of a hawk. "It's not her call, and it's not yours either; it's mine."

"Gar, what those two did-" Yukina began to explain, but paused as Gar raised a clawed hand.

"I know what they did, and I'm not in any condoning their actions," Gar answered. "But in the end, they have a point; these three definitely have dangerous flaws in their fighting styles."

"But," Bart whimpered as Roger threw a large cloth over him, "I'm not a fighter." Once Bart wrapped himself in the cloth, he returned to his human form. "Sting and Liam are the ones who take care of all that; I'm dead weight in a fight."

"Which is why you need this training," Gar growled. "How will your teammates be able to take care of their own business if they have to worry about you? You might not be the strongest, but you need to be able to take care of yourself at the very least."

"I… You're right." Bart hung his head and sighed.

"Oh, by the way, Gar," Simeon interjected, "I got news from Doctor Ivanof himself. Effective immediately, there is an addition to the Manticore Squadron."

"Who would that be?" Gar grunted.

"Why, Fang, of course!" Simeon snorted. "This little display was a test of sorts; if she could best each member of the team, she would become its newest member."

"Oh, just kill me now," Sting grunted. Her strength had recovered to the point where she could stand with the support of her staff, and her vision, while blurred, began to recover. "If you think I'm going to be on the same team as that…viper, then-"

"Then what? You think you can just ignore the words of the great Doctor Ivanof?" Simeon taunted. "That would be treason, you know."

"Enough," Gar shouted, quieting everyone. "If Fa- Doctor Ivanov wills it, Fang will be joining the team. However, since it has just now been made official, she will not be coming with us on this next mission."

"Fine, fine," Simeon grumbled. "Fang, now would be a good time to gather your things; you'll be moving into the Manticore Squadron's living quarters during their mission." With an insincere salute, Simeon and Fang walked off.

"So what's this mission?" Liam huffed. "Another infiltration? A heist?"

"It's actually…" Gar scratched his head, slightly ashamed of the answer. "babysitting."

"It is not babysitting!" Yukina corrected as she put away her weapon. "It is a specially designed training exercise." The woman walked over to Roger and placed one hand on his head. "You will be taking Roger, Kiki, and Hikari to a certain location in the United States. You will be in charge of their safekeeping for the entirety of your time there."

"How is this supposed to be training?" Sting questioned.

"Simple. In your case, this is a mission in a heavily populated area. You must be in complete human form and adapt to the situation; you need more skills than just combat. As for Bart, there will be crowds, and with crowds come noises. He must learn to focus his hearing in order to effectively protect his charge."

"And what about me?" Liam asked, starting to fear the answer.

"Big Brother Li!" a little girl with catlike ears ran into the room and jumped on Liam's back. The young man twitched as he fought off the impulse to throw off the child. "Mama Kit said you all are gonna take us to a real amusement park!" All three members of the Manticore Squadron turned towards their leader.

"Yeah, you will be going to… a theme park," Gar admitted, his voice dropping with each word.

"You're going too, Commander Gar," Yukina added. "And since you are going, you can't go looking like that."

"…Fine," Gar grunted. "I'll be sure to dress appropriately. Liam, I am going to need to borrow a shirt."

"Yeah, right, borrow," Liam grunted as he lifted the cat child off of his shoulders. "Exactly how many of my 'borrowed' shirts have you returned? In one piece?"

"That's- you…" Gar glared at Liam as he tried to retort. "Just grab an extra shirt!" The commander grumbled under his breath as he stormed out of the room.

"I think I'm starting to sense the potential difficulty of this task," Bart groaned. "By any chance, will I be mainly held responsible for Roger?"

"Is that going to be a problem?" Yukina asked with a smile. Bart immediately shivered at the tone in her voice.

"N-no ma'am," Bart squeaked. "When will we be leaving?"

"I've already arranged for your bags to be packed," Yukina answered. "You should be on your way within the day."

"Hm, no rest for the weary," Sting groaned as she rubbed her eyes. "I'm going to get my things now. Hopefully I can avoid running into Fang." Both she and Bart left to prepare for their new mission.

"This'll be great!" Roger shouted. "We're all going to have a blast!"

"Yes, but please don't give Bart too much trouble," Yukina instructed. "And Kiki, I want you to behave as well."

"Okay, Mama!" the children answered in unison before running off. "Oh, Liam, there was one more thing I think you should know."

"Yeah?" Liam scratched his head in mild confusion. "What is it?"

"I picked the United States for a reason. I couldn't help overhearing your promise to sneak off earlier today."

"Oh," Liam hung his head as he tried to avoid looking guilty. "See, I didn't know about-"

"Relax, Liam. I'm not Simeon. I just wanted to let you know that I called Flo and told her about this mission."

"You did what?" Liam gasped.

"I agree with her when she says she wants to introduce you all to her human friends, so I invited her to gather them and meet you there," Yukina explained. "I am proud of her for trying to peaceably bring humans and Chimerae together, but I'm a bit worried at the same time."

"Is it because she's had to hide her identity from them?" Liam asked. "Do you think it would soften the blow if I were to reveal my identity before she does?"

"Don't do that yet!" Yukina ordered. "For now, I just want you to keep your Chimeran identity a secret. I just want you to be there for her when she thinks the time is right."

"Got it," Liam said with a firm nod. "Thank you, Kitsune." The young man picked his weapon up and waved as he walked off.

"Enjoy this time off, you three," Yukina whispered, "you will need it if you are going to endure what Simeon has planned."