The fake Barrett was missing just as much armor as the real one. Likewise, the fake Reina looked just like the real one.
“Alright you fake, get over here so I can punch you.”
Both Reinas sat in the back looking slight confused, but also contemplative.
“Yeah, I’d love to watch you two fight it out,” twig-girl said in an exasperated manner, “but I don’t have that kind of patience. Just stand there and I’ll sort out which is which.”
“You know I’m the real one right?”
Twig-girl glared and pointed. Both Barretts moved reluctantly to in front of her. She frowned as she looked over them, first the one on her left and then the one on the right. Suddenly, without warning, she struck out with her palm, striking the stomach of the one on her right. The figure started coughing up mouthfuls of blood and clutching at his stomach… then his figure shrunk and changed.
Barrett looked at the body next to him. “Right, well… now that I’ve determined I’m the real me, we can move on.”
“Unless there are two fakes.” Twig-girl looked at him suspiciously. Barrett grimaced, but didn’t move as her palm struck out. Then he threw a punch at her face, which she blocked cross-armed… though she was sent flying back a handful of meters.
Shanta took a ready stance and Lamont could be seen gathering magic in response.
Barrett coughed out a small mouthful of blood. “You knew it was me all along didn’t you? You hit me harder.”
“Shut up bandage boy! It might have just been someone confident they could take an attack of the same level.” She shook her arms and then rubbed her forearms. “What about you? Trying to break this delicate flower?”
“I wouldn’t exactly call you a flower, twig-girl.”
“Shut up. I have a name, you know?”
“… It’s Nilima.”
“Oh. I’m Barrett, by the way.”
Shanta coughed, “So, I notice the extra one scuttled off. Do you vouch for the Reina with you, Barrett?”
Barrett nodded. “Yep. We should be fine.”
Nilima held up a hand. “Now hold on one minute. The three of us just ran into each other. Maybe you two are fakes.” She pointed to Shanta and Lamont.
“I’m not going to punch them to find out for sure.”
“Of course not, bandage boy. Just come up with something to verify them.”
Barrett nodded. “First, Shanta… How did we meet?”
“Well, I found you bleeding out on the battlefield and treated you. Then you punched August in the face.”
Barrett nodded, “Alright, Lamont, I saw you gathering magic earlier but just in case… What element would you use against me.”
“Depends.” Lamont shrugged.
“What element would you use against me if you hated me?”
“Oh. Fire, for sure.” Lamont nodded.
Shanta put away the needles she had pulled out. “I guess we’re all settled then.”
Reina nodded. “Good.” She looked down at the corpse. “Umm… if you hit him less hard than Barrett… maybe he’s alive?”
Nilima shook her head, “What, you think there are so many freaks like bandage boy… Barrett? Normal people die when you hit their internal organs with large force.” She poked Barrett in this side of the head with one of her nails, “This guy, however, just gets tougher internal organs.”
“To protect against people like you.” Barrett shook his head, “Anyone recognize this guy?”
Shanta was looking over the body, “Hmm, no symbols. Minimal body training. They seem to have disguised themselves with magic. Young, so not a veteran hired to kill uss. Maybe trainees?”
Lamont nodded, “That’s typical of many types of assassins. They love weeding out the weak in… practical combat. They picked a good time to appear, with the rain to dull everyone’s senses.”
“We all got separated from our groups?” Barrett asked.
The others all nodded, and Nilima shrugged, “Those with me got killed. I took a couple assassins out, but I had to run or be surrounded.”
Barrett shook his head, “I didn’t actually get separated due to assassins, so my group might still be fine. If we find them, we should group up. This exercise is already outside of what was expected, so there’s no harm in increasing our numbers beyond the normal squad size.”
Lamont grinned, “I agree. There’s no point in keeping to small groups. We’ve gotten enough live combat experience anyway.”
“Right then, we’ve got to come up with a method to recognize each other just in case… we can’t have Barrett be the only common link.”
Everyone got together, and came up with a system that could work. They weren’t sure if they were still being watched, so they tried to keep their voices down. Reina and Lamont worked together to create a loud wind about them to disrupt the travel of sound. That would have to be sufficient.
The group traveled toward the exit of the forest, but they realized that their enemies might think they would do the same.
Lamont stroked his chin, “It’s an interesting conundrum. Do we do what they expect, because we think they know we would know that they know what we would do?”
Shanta tilted her head, “Unless they know we’d think they wouldn’t know.”
“Stop right there.” Nilima held up a hand and shook her head in exasperation, “None of this no know no nonsense. I say we just fight our way through them if they’re there.”
“…I agree with tw- Nilima.” Barrett nodded. “There can’t be too many of them. Or… if there are, they’ll get us eventually anyway. By now our masters should have realized something is going on. We stand the best chance of finding them there. If we can’t handle ourselves or they can’t handle the situation… we’re all dead anyway.” Barrett shrugged.
Reina shook her head, “You seem pretty casual about that. They’re dangerous, you know?”
“Sure they’re dangerous.” Barrett nodded, “But we know they can die. None of us are weak, so if we avoid being surprised, we can beat them. I can almost guarantee to take down at least one or two with me even in an ambush situation.”
“You realize you don’t have armor, right?”
Barrett looked down, “That’s… true. I’d appreciate if you keep an eye out for deadly ranged attacks then… though the one we killed only had some throwing daggers and poisoned needles.”
Reina looked up at the forest canopy, “Well, as long as it doesn’t start raining again we’ll probably be able to see them from a good distance. Unless they use illusion magic to hide…”
Lamont spoke up again, “We can keep our eyes out for magical fluctuations. They don’t seem to be so skilled as to leave no traces…”
Nilima grinned, “It’s settled then. Let’s go.”