The next few days were a cavalcade of difficult training for the employees. The mornings began with grueling exercises and proceeded into seminars and exercises focusing on the certification and specialties of each employee.
All trainees went through weapon and magic practice, with more emphasis on their preferred method of combat. Zap spent a chunk of each day practicing spell use, while To’mas and Steve spent more time at the shooting range, improving their aim and reaction time. Alan and Click went through martial arts practice and evaluation in addition to the basic defense training all employees were subjected to.
All of the training had, however, been largely ‘hands-off’ for the employees. Seminars, target practice and exercises had been the standard fare, leaving the employees tired but seeming more like a rigorous summer camp than the ‘boot camp’-style regimen that many had expected.
But tensions rose as Friday approached, for Friday brought with it the first round of Kekkai exercises. Shift would be pitted against shift to test and strengthen teamwork between employees in a combat situation. Rather than immobile targets, employees would be targeting employees of the same company, real live people who would fight back. While the test was considered safe, those who did not fight hard enough would suffer very real pain and a convincing simulation of death.
With this in mind the employees watched their schedules move inexorably forward, the number of scheduled events between the present and the Kekkai exercises shrinking. Some observed it with nervous anticipation, some with anxious dread, but almost all were so caught up in thinking about it that they scarcely thought about the concert scheduled later that night.
But no amount of anxiety or anticipation could hold the date back. Friday morning arrived, and the groups of employees gathered and went to the all-purpose Kekkai room in shifts.
The Archmage Tea-Time shift was scheduled to undergo their Kekkai exercise at noon. At Alan’s behest, they all gathered in a conference room that he had reserved. The employees arrived more or less on time, sitting in a circle around the conference table and leveling serious gazes at one another. Alan cleared his throat once the last arrival, Matt, had taken his seat.
“The first thing I’d like to get out there,” Alan said, “is that this is not the end-all experience of this retreat, okay? Nobody’s getting fired because of this exercise.
“We’re a good shift,” he continued. “We have diverse talents and abilities and we all respond quickly to dangerous situations. We can do this. Remember that you’re safe out there, so don’t hesitate to do what you have to do. Fight bravely and well and we’ll look good, no matter whether we win or lose. Okay?”
The employees nodded and murmured their assent.
“Okay,” Alan said. “I’m gonna go report to the room and run things through. You all get your stuff ready. Check your weapons and spell reserves and whatever, and meet me in fifteen minutes.”
Alan left the room. The employees fidgeted for a few moments before Steve spoke.
“Anybody know who we’re up against?”
To’mas nodded. “Rose Street early-morning shift,” he said. “I was flirting with a girl from that shift and asked about her schedule. They’re scheduled when we are, so they’re our opponents.”
“Okay,” Steve said.
To’mas tilted his head. “Speaking of flirting, Steve, I saw you talking to a guy at the bar last night,” he said, smiling a little bit.
“To’mas, are you sure this is the time to start talking about flirtation?” Loren asked. “We should be focusing.”
“You call it focusing, I call it dwelling,” To’mas replied. “This helps keep my nerves down. Though if it makes Steve uncomfortable…”
“It’s fine,” Steve said, waving a hand. “It didn’t work out.”
“Why not?” To’mas asked. “Click said that you and he had caught him checking you out.”
“We had,” said Click, somewhat defensive. “I didn’t know he was a jerk.”
“We had,” agreed Steve, nodding. “He got all huffy at me about not liking pigskin, of all things. He was really into sports.”
“Huh,” To’mas said. “Weird.”
“Anyway,” Steve said. “We’re about to do this thing, huh.”
“Sure are,” To’mas said. “It never really gets easy.”
“Any idea how it’s gonna go, Matt?” Zap asked.
“Nice try, little guy,” Matt replied.
“Has anybody here actually been in a deadly fight?” Steve asked.
The table went silent for a moment.
To’mas nodded, keeping his eyes on the table. “Yeah,” he said. “A confrontation between a pair of yuzies on a nasty part of the Rail. They started shooting at each other and weren’t really caring who they shot at. A couple of bystanders got shot, one died. I stood up and shot one of the yuzies, and he was wearing a shield but the shot knocked him down. Another passenger put a gun to his head and killed him. The other yuzie surrendered to the other passengers on the train and was arrested.”
There was quiet again.
“Who’s seen a killing?”
Just about everyone nodded their head, murmuring “once” or “a few times” or “possibly.”
“Then we’re not gonna see anything we haven’t seen before,” Steve said. “Except it’s not real this time. Go all out. Follow Alan’s orders, and if he gets fragged then follow mine. We can do this.”
The employees stood on opposite sides of the multi-purpose room, each one in a line with their supervisor in front of them. The room was filled with simple geometric obstacles; several simple blocks large enough for two people to hide behind lay scattered across the room. There were also a few tower-like structures with a ladder on the side.
A simple battlefield, and two simply-dressed teams—save for the brightly-colored Securemarket™ aprons they all wore. The Archmage Tea-Time employees wore green, the other team orange.
A voice echoed through the room, resonating from the surfaces of the objects and from the walls themselves.
“Employees, welcome to your first Kekkai training. This training will be a simple combat, one side versus the other. Fight hard and well, please, and do not hold back. The Kekkai will keep you safe. If you are disabled, tap the floor twice to drop out of the battle. If you lose consciousness or are killed you will be pulled out of the Kekkai automatically. I will be watching and will pull you out if you are disabled, conscious, and unable to tap the floor.”
The employees shifted uncomfortably, images of their teammates having their arms blown off rising unbidden in their minds.
“Please remember that just like your real employee aprons, the aprons you’re wearing now are an armor-weave. If you’re otherwise unarmored, try to take your hits on the apron. Good luck. Please do not cross the line in front of you until my mark.”
The employees tensed, gripping their weapons. Alan turned to look at his employees, surveying them. All looked back at him, tense and ready.
“Ready…” said the voice.
Alan turned back, looking at the obstacles in front of him. He looked at his employees and made a few quick gestures, indicating to them where he expected them to advance. He turned back and held up a closed fist.
Alan opened his fist and his employees broke into a run.