Chapter 1 - Introduction to Hell
“Goddamnit Maximus! You can do this!” I ran down the road into the market district as my opponents, Team two, tracked me. I dove behind a market stand, making sure my Shinohara, a peculiar, curved knife was still on my side case. The market owner gave me a funny look but continued picking out the items his current shopper was asking for. I waited, and five minutes went by, then ten. After fifteen minutes, I ducked out of the corner and back into the crowded streets. I mingled into a crowd of shoppers, all with various produce. I grabbed a basket and tried blending in.
A hand shot out of the crowd and grabbed onto my shoulder, bringing me up and over the crowd and flat onto my back. I lifted my hand and loaded all of my Ichor into my palm, creating a black swirl to appear between my fingertips. I shouted “Diphia” and felt the energy scatter outward in a violent arc towards the sky. The hand grabbed my wrist and sent the spell straight into the ground, dispersing it. After a couple seconds, my senses started returning. I was in trouble. A member of team two, our competitors, stood atop me=. He had on full dark attire, and a black hood veiled his face from view. I rolled to the side, torquing my wrist in the direction he was holding it, rolling it free. I snapped my arm back, loading ichor into my arms, and slammed them into his chest. His mask slipped off his face, revealing a blonde haired boy, not much older than me, maybe twelve or thirteen. He slammed into a market stand and dropped to the ground. The mist around my arms shimmered, dropping in vigor. A shriek filled the air as another member of team two drifted down on me. They slammed into my shoulders, throwing me into the ground. I twisted at the last second and fell with the attacker mounting my hips. I infused the last of my ichor into my right arm, creating an ailing black layer over my fist. Driving my fist into its ribs, and an audible cracking noise emitted. A sharp pain started at the base of my index finger, but I put it in the back of my mind. I threw the body off me and rolled to my feet, ichor draining from my body at an alarming rate. I had to get out of here and fast. I called upon my guardian spirit, Naomi, and continued bolting down the road. It cleared quickly once the fighting broke out, so it was much easier maneuvering it. Naomi finally answered my call, and a soft voice appeared in my head.
“What is wrong, Max?”
“I need you to grant me some of your ichor, I’m under attack and I’ve run my own supply out.” The aura in my head shifted a little, and anger began seeping out of it slowly.
“I thought I told you to call upon me whenever you were fighting, you know we’re a team!” I simply did not have the time for this.
“Ichor now, lecture later!”
“As you wish…” Power seeped into me, slowly at first, but then in great masses. I spotted a silhouette in front of me, and I already knew who it was. Every crew has three members, and I’d already taken down two. My teammates were nowhere to be found, but my anxiety for them would have to wait. The last member of team two had found me. I stopped twenty feet short of him, and drew my Shinohara blade, infusing it with ichor. The blade was only seven inches long, but it could do massive amounts of damage when infused with ichor. I didn’t give my opponent the chance to strike first, I sprinted at him, zigzagging back and forth, diverting his attention. He seemed unaffected by this, and that’s when the bad feeling in my gut started. He was way too calm for someone dealing with a rushing enemy. Once I’d closed to the final eight feet, he whipped out is Kabat, a long, thin staff that was meant to control ichor. I tried stopping, but my momentum was too strong. He pointed it at my head and smiled. He shouted “Nasia” and I felt the ichor drawing towards his Kabat, and I closed my eyes, waiting for the violent blast to kill me. I heard the bellow of released ichor, Felt it disperse, and then continued hearing. That wasn’t right...I should be dead… I opened my eyes and saw him rushing towards me, Kabat lying on the ground feet away with an arrow shaft embedded into it. I reacted on pure instinct, dropping to one knee and throwing him over my shoulder, using his own momentum against him. He landed in a roll, but he gave me all the time I needed.
“Helena, Now!” I pushed my mental shout to the limit, and at first, I thought she didn’t hear me, but I felt the acknowledgment push back. The enemy rolled back onto his feet, teeth bared. He let out a rage induced growl and flung himself at me. A sharp hiss filled the air, and two arrows, one after another, appeared on his chest. He stopped dead in his tracks and fell to his knees as another set of arrows slammed into him. He fell over, dead before he hit the ground. I turned around and saw Helena, one of my teammates, running down the road towards me. Her long blonde hair was still in a neat ponytail, tucked into her collar. Her clothes, on the other hand, were in tatters. We met halfway and gave each other a medical rundown, and we both seemed ok. Except for the broken finger I sported. I quickly reset it and looked at the sky. We only had an hour left to complete the Final exam, and I wasn’t planning on losing it. I looked toward Helena.
“Helena, where’s Axel?” She shook her head.
“He’s injured, I made a quick camp and he’s resting. He got multiple broken ribs, and maybe even a broken back.”
“That guy,” I pointed at the newly appointed porcupine, “Was the last of team two, how many of team three are left?”
“Two.” she looked grave.
“Then we better get moving. Axel’s considered incapacitated, so he’ll be ok, we need to get to the center of town.”
It took twenty minutes to jog to the main square of the town, but we luckily encountered no threats, and we also saw no sign of team three. We knew from rumors that team’s one, two, four, and six were down. That left team’s three, five (ours) and team seven. We ducked behind a building once the town square came into view, and waited. The goal of the exam was the team to pull down the flag from the town square, won. And that team would be the first team to becoming full Pyrla, the second rank of Hunters. We gazed at the flag, looking taunting and cruel being so close yet so far away at the same time. I looked at Helena, and she connected thoughts with mine.
“What’s the plan, Max?”
“I honestly have no idea, I didn’t think we’d make it this far.”
“Well, we have. Now, captain, give us a plan worth fighting for.”
I broke eye contact, closed my eyes, and let Naomi in.
“Naomi, what can we do?”
“I recommend waiting for your opponents, then taking them by surprise.”
“That means they’ll be thinking the same thing.”
That’s when I got it. I looked at Helena and gave her a nod. She nodded back, and we rose out of cover. I walked right into the middle of the square, Helena and Naomi at my side. I Slipped a little ichor into my hand and walked right up to the flag. I sliced the bottom of the flag with my hand, and it teetered and fell with a loud boom. A cracking noise sounded through the air. I dove to one side and Helena rolled to the other. A huge black-covered knife sliced into the ground, inches from my feet. I rolled to my feet and drew my Shinohara. Two people rushed us, long blades drawn and ready. Helena ran at one and engaged him in combat. I looked at my opponent and readied my blade. Ichor coursed through my body, Surrounding my eyes. I shouted “Misika!” and my vision split, one eye in the present, and the other eye two seconds into the future. In my right eye, I saw my opponent lunging at me, and in my left, he was still running. I dropped to one knee and rolled towards him. His lunge missed me, and I slashed my blade at his leg, and a long, deep cut flowed across his leg. He yelled and toppled over, his leg not being able to hold his weight. I whipped one of the three throwing knives on my belt at him, and it struck home. He wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
I turned to Helena’s adversary and saw her in a deadlock with him, and he was clearly stronger. I grabbed another throwing knife and raised my arm back. My right eye twitched, and I saw what would happen if I did that. I Saw Helena twitch at the last moment and take the knife in the throat. I tore my arm down and the knife whipped into the ground, ichor causing the force of it to shatter itself. I ran at the duo, drawing my knife again. I slid the blade into the enemy’s back and he let out a single scream before Helena slit his throat. He collapsed. I turned to an exhausted Helena, the wear and tear of the ichor hammering at me. I nearly tripped walking over to the flag, but we did it. I held the flag up in my hand as the exam teachers came out of hiding. The next couple hours blurred into a distorted image of weariness, happiness, pain, confusion, and sleep.