The Selection

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Chapter 9 - Princess Irene - Ambush!

“Leila, get Irene somewhere safe!”

“Got it! Don’t do anything crazy by yourself!” The wolf in front leaps at me, opening its mouth revealing its sharp teeth and upper two fangs. I swing back my right arm and sidestep to the left. I dash forward while making a horizontal swing to the wolf’s mouth, cleanly bisecting the wolf into two parts. The remains make a sound as they fall to the ground.

The other wolves growl as they stare at me for several seconds. Three of them comes at me; two of them split up, attempting to flank me on each side while the other one approaches me slowly from the front.

I stand still while I wait for their combined attack. I can easily take these E grade monsters one by one, but there’re too many of them… I should stall for time and wait for Leila to back me up.

The wolves charge at me at the same time, preparing to swipe me with their claws and bite me with their teeth. I jump backwards, narrowly dodging the flank attack causing the two wolves to crash into each other. I block the incoming claws in front of me with both swords, knocking the wolf backwards with the force.

The wolf on the left rushes towards me and attempts to pounce on me, but I swing my left sword and strike its head with the blunt surface, causing it to fly and roll on the ground. That should give it a temporary concussion.

On my right, the wolf has both paws in the air, ready to strike me in the next moment. I move my right arm just in time, to horizontally block both attacks. I bring my left arm back, cutting the right foreleg off before pushing it away with my right sword.

Suddenly in my peripheral vision, the middle wolf leaps towards me.

Shit, I won’t make it… I have to dodge! A spike made of stone appears from the ground, instantly impaling the bottom of the wolf’s head. I turn around. Leila is crouched with her hands on the ground. I smile before facing the wolf on the left. It growls at me while still on the ground; it hasn’t recovered yet. The wolf continues to stare at me with its dark, orange eyes while snarling its sharp teeth and growling. I grip my weapons tightly and walk toward it. I’ll put it outta its misery.

“Kai, there’s something strange about the wolf behind you!”

The wolf…behind me…? He shouldn’t be able to move.

I turn around and widen my eyes. Its mouth is open, and I observe fire gathering from the inside, gradually growing larger. These aren’t any ordinary wolves… They’re monsters.

I smile as I sheathe my left sword. This is an excellent opportunity to get back some of my Mana…

The orb of flames from inside the wolf’s mouth eventually changes into a small fireball that flies towards me. Hmm… It’s slower than I expected.

I shoot out a quick burst of my Mana, which envelops the fireball. I stretch my left arm in front of me before shouting, ”Absorb!”

A lustrous purple haze covers the entire front surface of my hand that is placed right in front of the trajectory of the fireball. During impact, I feel some resistance and it pushes me an inch backwards, but I maintain my balance. My hand slowly sucks the fireball dry in a matter of a few seconds. The haze disappears from my hand, but I keep my palm facing the same direction and smirk. My turn…

"Fireball!" A fireball of much greater scorching intensity than the previous fireball but the same size appears and heads straight towards the wolf on the ground. Upon impact, it explodes, scattering the fiery gasses all around the wolf. When the flames disappear, the wolf’s remains are nothing more than smoking, black charcoal.

I frown as I put my palm on my face and shake my head. Damn, I lost more Mana than I gained with that attack… At least we know they aren’t magic resistant.

The remaining wolves growl as they slowly back away. Just when I think they’re going to retreat, one of them howls. The rest of them join. I cock an eyebrow and look towards Leila, who is preparing magic. Leila exclaims, “Idiot, they’re calling for reinforcements!”

I widen my eyes as I grit my teeth all while heading straight for the lone wolf on the left; it’s still lying on the ground. It looks like it still can’t move… This is my chance.

I throw back my right arm preparing to kill it, but it suddenly lunges at me holding both paws up readying to scratch me. I click my tongue. Sneaky bastard…but it’s not enough.

I draw and block both claws with my other sword. My right follows through afterward, and I stab its brain through the eye socket. I pull out my sword and stab it again on top of the head just to be safe. Numerous explosions go off behind me. I smile skeptically. It sounds like she’s having fun…

“Kai, watch out! There’re nine of them headed your way!” I quickly turn my head behind me, immediately finding them charging me at full speed. I waste no time running in the opposite direction as fast as I possibly can.

They’re gonna catch up to me in no time…and I can’t lose more Mana enhancing my speed… I raise my eyebrows and grin. I sheathe both swords, gather the necessary Mana, and release it. I look behind me. Several fireballs are headed my way. I dodge them. The wolves are right on my tail.

Should I make a loop around the other side of the stream or the forest…? I can’t risk the chance that they’ll not follow this path back. If I don’t hurry, there won’t be enough Mana to activate the spell. It’s now or never.

I draw both of my swords and jump forward while turning around. When I sprint forward into the pack of wolves, they launch an assault of swipes on me as I run by them. I attempt to block as many attacks as possible, but I end up receiving some scratches on all four of my limbs. I look behind me, observing that they’re headed toward me on the exact same pathway. I stop running, turn around, and smile.

Good… Just keep running…full speed in this direction. I wait for them to reach the designated destination and activate my magic. ”Open!"

The familiar portal appears in front of the wolves, large enough to cover the entire pathway. The end point is in front of me, perpendicular to the other portal while facing the stream. As they enter through the portal, I indiscriminately launch an endless storm of slashes with both of my blades directly in front of me. I only count the number of wolves that go through. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine…

I take a deep breath and wander my eyes around. The wolves continue to run toward the stream. A few seconds later, they crash into the ground. Some of them drop into the creek, marking it with streaks of blood. My plan succeeded as planned. I thought that given their speed, they wouldn’t be able to react in time to evade running into the portal. Let’s see how Leila’s doing…

I turn around and head back. Leila’s surrounded by five wolves. All of them lunge forward at once. I sigh and sheathe my swords. It’s already over…

"Boost!" she exclaims and jumps high in the air, with a gust of wind at the bottom of her feet. The wolves collide against each other below. ”Dome prison!"

Rocks come out from the ground in a circle, extending upwards into a dome shape, quickly trapping the wolves inside. I know there’s a tiny opening on top of the dome. The trapped wolves growl. The dome shakes but shows no signs of breaking down. Leila lands on top and holds her palm in an upward position.

"Time bomb!” An earthy ball large enough to fit in the entirety of her hand appears. She crouches down, slips it through the hole, and jumps down while slowly walking towards me afterward.

Several seconds later, the dome explodes leaving a trail of smoke. A piece of the dome flies toward me. I dive into the water and point my eyebrows downward with a frown. “Hey, you almost killed me!”

She clicks her tongue and turns away. “Damn...”

I grit my teeth, feeling my head burning up. I relax and ask, “Where’s Irene?”

“She’s safe, near the top of a tree in that direction.” She points to where we originally came. I sigh and get out of the water, laying down next to it.

“Hand me a Mana respirator, would you?” She opens her pouch and pulls out two Mana respirators. She tosses me one and uses the other one herself. I put the respirator in my mouth and inhale as I press the button on the side of it. I hold it in as long as possible and exhale. I try to inhale more, but there’s nothing left. That’s it…?

I sigh, frown, and then toss the useless scrap of glass into the stream. I wish these were a little more effective for me…

A wolf whimpers nearby. I turn toward it, discovering that it’s a wolf Leila failed to finish off, but it already has mortal injuries. “Leila, you didn’t finish it off?”

“Oh, it might have been the unlucky one… It’s only a matter of time before it dies anyway. We should go. Irene is waiting.” As I get up, more rustling noises resound from the direction the wolves came. I scratch my head and sigh.

“We don’t have all day to be fighting these things; we should just ru…” Without warning, a Keor leaps out from a bush; it is a tiger distinguishable from other tigers by its trademark red fur and yellow and orange stripes. It’s classified as a rank A monster.

I widen my eyes as I gradually drop my jaws, but I quirk an eyebrow when I notice that it is bleeding; there are several gashes on the side of its body and blood oozes out of them, quickly forming a puddle around its legs.

A shadow comes from behind the Keor and I simply gape at the ending result; the parts of the tiger fall to the ground after being separated into five parts. My entire body feels cold, but sweat drips down my cheek. Neither Leila nor I move a single muscle.

In front of us is a giant wolf; it might be nearly twice the size of a regular wolf. It has black, spiky fur on its entire body with the exception of white fur on its underbelly. The claws are about five inches long; three times longer than a regular wolf’s. It stares at us with its red eyes and softly growls, revealing four large fangs and razor-sharp teeth. It’s…an Anomaly…

I gulp as my entire body quivers. I recall a painful memory. The black wolf walks up to the nearby whimpering wolf and sniffs it. It wags its enormous tail left and right, creating an unbelievable amount of air pressure with each swing. A few seconds pass and the whimpering stops. There is a brief silence, but then the wolf suddenly turns its head towards us and roars thunderously.

I immediately cover both of my ears with my hands. Its powerful roar pierces my ears, and my entire head swells up with pain while a ringing sound resonates in my ears. The wolf approaches me rapidly while I haven’t recovered. I promptly draw both of my swords and hold it in front of me in an X-shape to block the incoming attack. “Ahhhh!”

The force of the attack launches me backward, and I crash into a tree. As I open my eyes, everything is a blur, and I cough up blood on the top of my hand. With every cough, pain pulses in my upper back; something may have been broken. Leila mumbles among the ringing in my ears.

“Kai, watch out! It’s coming for you!” I feel a surge of killing intent. All of its razor-sharp teeth are in front of me ready to close in.

Shit…need to dodge! I tighten my muscles before shouting, ”Haste!”

I boost my legs for a moment to frantically roll away. The wolf’s teeth bite through the entire tree like butter a split second later. The top of the tree crashes down next to it. While panic-stricken, I gasp for air and attempt to calm down. Vines appear and bind the wolf’s limbs and body to the ground. “Kai, get a hold of yourself!”

I sluggishly stand up, having trouble maintaining my balance. I sheathe my left sword, grip the remaining sword with both hands, and close my eyes. After taking one deep breath, I open my eyes and spring towards the wolf. While holding my arms behind my head, I prepare all my strength into the next blow.

"Strengthen!" Power surges through both of my arms as the wolf still struggles to get out of the vines. Die!

My sword swoops down with amazing speed and power, but my sword snaps in half. The top part flies toward my face and grazes my left cheek. I close my left eye by reflex. There’s no injury to the wolf at the location of impact. I hold my breath and gape at where I struck the wolf. What…? That was made outta Mithril…

“Kai, get back!” I focus back on reality. I quickly jump backward while tossing away the broken sword. Leila puts her hands out in front of her. The wolf’s tail acts strangely. It curls up and hangs in the air.

“Stop! Just run for now!” I exclaim while running toward Leila. She scrunches her eyebrows together.

“What’re you—” I grab her hand while running and grit my teeth as more pain shoots down my back. Still running, I turn my head behind me. The tail stretches out, hitting and breaking the ground. Massive black spikes appear from the ground in front of the tail. These spikes rapidly erupt from the ground, extending all the way across the stream, ending when it collides into a tree. Leila has her eyes widened.

“Listen, that thing is an Anomaly… Most likely his black fur and those spikes are made outta Obsidian.” I inform.

“Obsidian fur and…spikes…? Is that even possible?”

“It is… Anomalies are exceedingly rare but extremely powerful. I encountered one in the past before and barely escaped death.”

“I’ve read about them, but I didn’t believe it… I guess I have to believe it now… What can we do?”

“Running isn’t an option; it’s too fast… ”

I briefly turn towards the sudden roar and loud noises in the area we just left. I close my eyes. Think…! There has to be a weakness we can exploit…its eyes…no…that’s too risky…

I open my eyes and raise my eyebrows. Wait, why doesn’t that black fur cover his entire body…?

I gulp and say, “There is one thing we can try… Its underbelly may be vulnerable, and we might be able to injure him there… The problem is, it’s not gonna let us anywhere near there.”

“What about with your—”

“Yeah, with my portals, we might be able to do it, but you’ll have to stop his movements again.”

She frowns with a sullen look on her face. “What if…it doesn’t work…?

I stare at her with unwavering eyes and firmly say, “We can do it. We’ve made it this far, together… Afterward, we’ll go pick up Irene and have the same usual fun like we always do.”

I reciprocate her emerging smile.

“Yeah, you’re right…” Suddenly, Leila pulls me towards the forest. “Let’s hide in here for now.”

We improvise a plan together in the time before the Anomaly finds us. In the meantime, Leila casts a few weak fireballs for me to absorb and temporarily closes my wounds.

“Hey, Kai… Did we really need to set all of this up…? It isn’t coming.”

“It should be able to track us by smell…even if it doesn’t see us.” I bite my lip. Come on…where are you…?

I scan the area around me with squinting eyes. I come to a stop and raise my eyebrows. “I see him… Let’s do as we planned, no matter what happens.”

Leila nods. “Go-got it.”

I jump down from the tree and draw my sword holding it with just my right hand. I slowly approach the wolf, who I saw afar. As I move closer, I step on a twig creating a crumpling noise that alerts the wolf. It immediately leaps towards my direction, shaking the ground as it lands with its massive body. It stands still and growls while narrowing its eyes on me.

I gulp while drops of sweat drip down my cheek. I position my body so that it is ready for retreat at any time during this confrontation. My eyes dart left and right surveying the environment while still focusing on the wolf.

Suddenly, the wolf charges at me with great speed. I react and leap backward, putting my left hand in front of me.

The first test… I break down my Mana and immediately use it. ”Fire bolt! Fire bolt! Fire bolt!"

Fire in the shape of fat arrows appears out of my left hand. I aim them toward its left leg every time. It dodges two by moving to the right. It jumps over the last one. Good… It’s probably afraid of the damage spreading to its underbelly… I can use this.

The wolf raises its right paw in the air. I turn around while sheathing my weapon. I sprint toward the nearest tree. A loud sound erupts behind me. The vibrations in the ground gradually intensify. ”Ha-haste!”

I take refuge behind the tree in a hurry, disabling the enhancement afterward. With both of my hands on the tree, I peek my head out. Black spikes erupting from the ground approach me on a straight path. I gulp. The second test…

I retreat my head and close my eyes. My heart beats like crazy. Half a second later, the tree shakes violently. Leaves fall on the ground. I open my eyes and sigh. That shaved off years of my life…

I sneak another look at the wolf and smirk. It snarls and growls at me. My smirk dissipates as I’m unsure of my impending safety. It raises both paws. I cock an eyebrow as they shine red. Feeling suspicious, I back away from the tree. I retreat to a tree much farther ahead. The paws strike the ground. Black spikes erupt from two different locations under the paws toward the tree I was at. They curve around the tree and head toward me.

I raise my eyebrows and stare open-mouthed. I rapidly turn my head left and right, eventually running in a direction heading closer to Leila. Shit! Hiding behind a tree isn’t gonna do me much good now… Oh wait.

I jump towards the nearest tree and climb it in a hurry wrapping my limbs around the trunk. The spikes approach me. I smile. Heh… There’s no way that can hit me now.

The spikes continue to dodge the trees ahead of them, but the height of them is too short to reach me. One surge of spikes approaches me from my left and the other one from the right. At this rate, they’ll collide with each other into the tree, right under…me…huh? Is that a coincidence…?

I widen my eyes and kick off the tree with all four limbs posthaste. The spikes collide with each other and the tree. A fissure forms at the bottom of the tree that travels upward while releasing black spikes. The spike punctures through my armor and my stomach, leaving me hanging.

I scream in agony as massive pain disperses from my stomach and with every heartbeat, I feel more pain radiating out from my wound. I firmly grab the spike and steadily pull myself out, while strongly gritting my teeth. Fresh blood rushes out of my gaping injury after I finally pull myself out. Latent killing intent approaches me frighteningly fast.

I barely turn my head left. The wolf is lunging at me with its claws ready. I pull out my sword instinctively and guard with both hands.

"Stren—” I hack out blood and take a small breath. ”Strengthen!”

I block its claws. It sends me flying in the opposite direction. I crash into the ground, sliding across the dirt at least 15 feet. I groan in pain with my eyes shut. I’m unable to move an inch without more pain shooting throughout my body. I figure the injury to my upper back reopened at some point.

Is this where it ends…? Before I accomplish my sole purpose in life…? A wild laugh echoes from my memories. I strongly grit my teeth and clench both fists until I hear them crack. No

I get up sluggishly and survey my current whereabouts. A smile emerges. Is this fate…?

Leila is among the leaves in the tree nearby. She stares at me with a hand over her mouth.

A small puddle of blood forms from where I lay. I use all my remaining strength to get up while using my sword as a crutch. I pant as I struggle my way toward the designated location for the plan. With every stab to the ground, I twitch my eye in pain. With every step, blood gushes out from my wound onto the ground.

Something crackles in the distance behind me. I sense the wolf coming. I raise my eyebrows as high as possible and grimace while continuing to limp my way to the position. It feels like hours have passed, but less than a minute passed since the wolf struck me. I drop to my knees at my destination while still holding onto my sword that is dug into the ground. I…I did it… It’s up to Leila now…

Using the sword, I turn myself around. The wolf runs toward me. That’s right… Keep heading in this direction you bastard… I’m right here.

I glare into its eyes as it charges towards me. Even though I’m on the edge of death…I feel at peace… I wonder why…

"Sprout!" Sizable vines rapidly come out from trees all around the wolf.

"Entangle!" The vines seek in on the wolf, twirling around its limbs and body. It roars and struggles, breaking a few vines in the process, but more vines zoom in on the wolf disabling all movement; it can’t even lie on the ground now. “Kai!”

I let go of the sword and release my Mana with both hands. A purple portal appears on the ground in front of me and slightly above ground under the wolf. I grip my sword and pull it out of the ground which causes me to stumble backwards from the sudden force. I grit my teeth as I fall on my back. “Argh!”

I gasp and slowly get back up while using the sword to help me. As I stare down into the portal, I take a deep breath. ”Strengthen!"

I tightly grip my sword with both hands in reverse grip and stab through the portal with everything I have. It goes through and stops.

The wolf lets out a weak roar. I glance up. The sword is lodged into his stomach. The wolf continues to wrestle with the vines, but without any results. I let go of my sword before shouting, ”Close!"

My weapon disappears in front of me and stays inside of the wolf’s stomach. With barely any energy left, I support my body weight with both hands on the ground and gulp. I stare into its eyes and smirk. Come on… You’re angry aren’t you?

It scowls at me as it releases an ear-splitting roar. I grimace with my eyes shut tightly as an incredible ringing overcomes my ears. Pain throbs throughout my entire body. The wolf breaks free of more vines. Its mouth is open, pointing in my direction. I smile and release Mana toward their designated locations. A massive amount of Mana appears in the wolf’s mouth. It turns black for a moment before turning into flames. It shoots it out toward me after a second. ”Open!"

A horizontal portal appears on the ground under the wolf-like before and a vertical portal forms directly in front of me. I collapse on the ground, desperately trying to roll to the side. The wolf’s magic goes through the portal and comes out under the wolf. All the restraining vines are broken as the wolf is launched vertically into the air. The cries of the wolf grow quieter with every moment.

My vision fades. “Kai!”

I regain my consciousness. Leila jumps down from the tree and kneels down beside me. A drop of sweat runs down her cheek as she puts her hands on the gaping one-inch diameter hole on my stomach. “Why do you look so worried…? It’s only a flesh wound.”

“Idiot…” Tears flow down her face despite her smile. I muster to find the strength in my body to lift my hand to wipe her tears.

“It worked out, just like I said it wo—” I cough out more blood.

“Don’t talk!” Her arms tremble as she tries to heal my wounds.

“More importantly… Did you see if it died?”

“I don’t know…” Uneasiness stirs inside me. Suddenly, something crashes next to us, forming a dirt cloud. We both cough and cover our mouths. A few seconds pass as I gulp my fear down as it finally clears to show the wolf lying on its side with its belly prone to us. Its stomach shows signs of third-degree burns in a circular pattern, and it hemorrhages around the hilt of the sword lodged in the center. It doesn’t move.

“It’s dead…right…?” I gulp and stare at it. My heart skips a beat as its leg twitches weakly. We both gape as it slowly stands back up. It…it’s over…

The wolf turns its head towards us and stares, without making a sound for several seconds. It finally lets out a weak grunt, turns back around, and then walks away. We switch between looking at the wolf and to each other with blank expressions on our faces. Randomly, we both giggle and sigh. “Leila, I’m gonna take a nap…”

“Kai, hang on!” My eyes become heavy because of the blood loss and my consciousness finally fades.

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