The Selection

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Chapter 18 - Academy Year 4 - Tournament

I open my eyes from the sudden banging on my bedroom door. I flip over to my other side and then close my eyes again.

“Kai, are you awake? Kai!” Luna yells from outside my room. She continues to bang on the door. “I won’t bother you about skipping class again, but at least bring our dinner for tonight! Kai, I know you’re awake!”

I ignore her, hoping that she stops trying to disturb me. The banging stops after fifteen more seconds. I sigh and then smile before my consciousness drifts off again.

“Kai, get up!” Luna exclaims as she bangs on my door again. I frown and narrow my eyebrows.

I turn my head toward the door and exclaim, “Can’t you tell I’m trying to take a nap?! What do you want?!”

“You told me to wake you up when dinner was ready! Everyone’s here except you!”

I relax my facial expressions. “Oh…coming!”

I yawn, stand up, and then stretch my limbs. As I’m walking toward the door, I find my backpack against the wall. I cock an eyebrow. What? How’d this get here…? I haven’t moved my backpack in over two years… It should be in the closet… Well, no use thinking about it! I’ll just put it back and head off to dinner! I wonder what’s on the menu for today…

I bend over to pick up the backpack as I imagine the aroma of delicious food entering my nose. I swallow the large amount of saliva in my mouth. I lift the backpack off the ground and then knit my eyebrows. It feels heavier than it should be. What the hell?

I put down the backpack and then check the lock on the door; it’s still locked. I unzip my backpack and then reach in with my hand. The book is still there, but there’s something else. It’s spherical, and the top part is covered in short hairs. I knit my eyebrows as my hand reaches the puddle of liquid. I reach in with my other hand and pull it out.

I widen my eyes and drop my jaws. I’m staring at the ceiling with my heart pounding hard. I get up and then turn my head in all directions. The backpack isn’t against the wall anymore. I rush over to the closet, open it, and then take out the backpack. I open it, finding only the book inside. I sigh. What the hell was that…?

An eerie feeling creeps over me like something is going to pop out of nowhere and attack me. I shake my entire body once as someone knocks on my door. My heart is still pounding.

“Kai, get up!” Luna exclaims. I sigh while feeling some déjà vu. I zip up the backpack, stand up, and then close the closet door.

As I’m opening my mouth to say something, Hiro says, “Give it up, Luna. Ya know how Kai is with his naptime.”

“I know, but… He hasn’t contributed to any of our food supplies in over two weeks, and we’re out of meat for tonight.”

“What?! I’ll get on that right now!” Hiro exclaims with his voice and footsteps getting farther away. “Just let Kai nap and save his energy for the tournament. With ’im at his best, it’s a guaranteed win!”

“Will you be okay by yourself?”

“Yeh, I’ll be fine. We’ve been huntin’ these things for almost a year now.” Hiro’s footsteps and voice resound near my door again. I figure he got his weapon from his room.

“Okay, be careful!”

“I will. See ya later!” A door opens and shuts following footsteps. An uneasy feeling envelops me as I think back to the nightmare just now. On a whim, I clip on my sheaths on my belt before unlocking my door and then run toward the main door without stopping.

“Kai, you’re awake? Where’re you going in such a hurry?”

“You wanted me to get us dinner, right?” I ask while opening the door. I run out and exclaim, “I’m heading out now!”

“You don’t have to do that anymore. Hiro’s already—” Her voice dies out as I run farther down the hallway. I go straight and then make a right turn toward the exit. Hiro’s walking in the same direction with his sledgehammer in hand.

“Hey, Hiro!”

Hiro faces me and then asks, “Huh? Kai, weren’t ya takin’ a nap?”

“I decided that I wanna contribute to the group after all. I feel bad for being lazy as of late,” I reply with a smile.

“What are ya talkin’ about…? You’ve always been lazy… So, what’s the real reason behind your change of heart?” Hiro asks with a suspicious look. He knits his eyebrows and mutters, “Wait a minute…”

A few seconds later, he narrows his eyebrows and exclaims, “Ah, I got it! Ya don’t trust me with a simple task like this!”

“That’s not it…” I deny.

“What is it then?” he asks. Judging by the look on his face; he’s not in the mood for jokes.

“Uh… Well…” I interject while thinking of a viable reason, knowing that he’ll think it’s a joke if I tell him the truth. “It might be hard carrying the prey back with your weapon type, right?”

His facial expressions relax. He grins and says, “I guess that’s true. Very well, you’ll be my pack mule!”

“Whatever. Let’s go already.” After my suggestion, we head into the Academy’s hunting grounds next to the dormitory building.

“Since I’m just the pack mule, can I at least pick what I’m gonna haul?” I ask as I follow Hiro deeper into the forest.

“Sure. You’ll see me in my full glory,” he says with confidence. There’s a chubby bird nearly a foot tall on a tree branch up ahead; one of the non-aggressive creatures available in this forest. It mostly has red feathers with some streaks of white randomly throughout its body. I smile.

“How about that red bird on that tree over there?” I ask while pointing to the bird. “I’m kinda in the mood for bird.”

“Eh… That’s just an ordinary bird… It doesn’t even fight back,” Hiro responds.

“So Hiro the Great can’t bring home an ordinary bird for dinner? Tsk tsk,” I say while shrugging my shoulders, shaking my head, and smiling. Hiro frowns.

“Fine… I’ll easily take care of that bird no problem. Watch me,” he states before turning toward the bird. He raises his sledgehammer behind his head as he approaches said bird. When he reaches striking range, he jumps and then swings down his hammer. The tree crackles as he makes impact; the branch breaks and falls to the ground. The bird is already in the air and proceeds to fly away. I put a palm over my face while shaking my head. Hiro slams down his hammer in front of him and exclaims, “Damn! That lucky bird got away!”

“And the bird leads by a point!”

“Let’s find another bird… It won’t get so lucky next time,” Hiro says bitterly. We eventually find another bird, but the result is the same. He swings widely and doesn’t hide his murderous intent at all, giving the bird enough time to take flight before he connects his blow. This goes on for several more birds.

“Hiro… Don’t you think you need to try a different method?”

“What, so you’re saying I can’t take down a stupid bird?!” I point both of my palms toward him and smile.

“No, I’m just saying what you’re doing isn’t working… Try something else?”

“What else can I do? Hmm…” He knits his eyebrows and narrows his eyes. He raises his eyebrows and exclaims, “I got it! Let’s find another bird now!”

He runs off in a random direction. I sigh. Finally, I can observe what I wanted to see in the first place…

I follow Hiro, eventually coming across another bird. He drops his sledgehammer. I knit my eyebrows as he runs at the bird with his bare hands. He tries to grab it while doing everything else the same. He fails and falls to the ground, the bird already in midair. I close my eyes and pinch the skin between them.

“Damn! I was better off usin’ my weapon after all!” he exclaims while getting back on his feet. I relax my facial expressions and then sigh.

“Why don’t you try using your magic?” I suggest.

“Huh? How’s that help? My Water magic’s useless.”

“What happened to that confidence from last week? You were bragging about completing your keyword…”

“Oh…uhh…” Hiro mutters.

“Unless you were lying…”

“No, I wasn’t! Fine… I guess I’ll hafta show you.” He picks up his sledgehammer, and we go explore to find another bird. He drops his weapon on the ground and then points his left palm toward the bird on the tree branch. I stand near a tree between him and the bird. ”Fireball!"

I widen my eyes and drop my jaws. What?! He’s been hiding his Fire Affinity all this time?!

I relax my facial expressions as a wave of disappointment hits me. A rugged sphere of water comes out of Hiro’s palm. It moves so slow I can follow it with my eyes without any effort. It moves on a straight path toward the bird. It flies away before his magic can hit it. A moment later, it hits the adjacent branch, and the sphere of water expands, splashing water all over. Hiro gapes at the result. He knits his eyebrows, stares at the ground, and mutters, “That’s strange… When I made the keyword, it was faster… I coulda sworn it was bigger too…”

I press a finger into my forehead and ask, “Didn’t you pay any attention in our second year…? Oh, wait… I keep forgetting you didn’t actually pass that written test…”

“Stop makin’ fun of me and just tell me what happened!”

I sigh. “Don’t you know? If you use a keyword that has nothing to do with the magic that you programmed, you can lose up to 50% of its effectiveness… The reason why your magic was weaker this time’s because you used the keyword instead of manually assigning the instructions you did the first time…”

He purses his lips and then interjects, “Oh…”

“It was a good thing you showed me that before you’d miserably fail the keyword test next week…” He puts a hand behind his head and giggles. “I’ll give you one more chance to get a bird…and if you fail again, I’m taking over.”

“I got it…” he says in a conceding voice. We locate another bird, and I stand in a similar position as before. Hiro’s eyebrows furrow as he faces his palm toward the target. It takes a few minutes before he shouts, ”Water ball!"

A sphere of water with a smooth surface appears from his palm, nearly twice the volume of the first one I saw. The speed of the sphere doubles, but I’m still able to easily follow it move the entirety of its straight course to the bird. A smile emerges on my face as the water disperses all over the bird. The bird tries to fly away afterward, but it fails and falls to the ground.

“Good job, you finally beat the bird,” I praise as I walk over to pick up the bird. I cock an eyebrow as Hiro seems awfully quiet about his success. I crouch down to grab the bird still attempting to fly away, but footsteps rapidly resound toward me.

“Bastard, it’s payback time!” Hiro exclaims as the ruffling of grass grow louder.

He wouldn’tI skeptically curl one side of my lips upward. As soon as I turn my head around, his sledgehammer swoops right past me. A liquid splashes on the right side of my face and my right arm following a splattering noise.

“Don’t worry Kai, I got ’im,” he says in a reassuring tone. I turn my head back, finding a bloody mess on the ground. I would have a hard time recognizing it’s a bird if I didn’t know it was a bird before this happened.

"Hiro…?" I ask as I feel veins protruding from my forehead.

“What is it, Kai?” He asks and then faces me. He laughs loudly. “My impact was so strong I even got some of it on ya!”

“Just so you know you’re eating that one,” I say with a frown. He smiles.

“I don’t mind. It’s not like any meat disappeared, right? I wonder why the bird didn’t fly away this time…”

“You used your magic without knowing why…? If a bird gets wet, they can’t fly anymore.”

“Well, you told me to and usually you’re right…but that’s neat! Maybe Water magic ain’t as useless as I thought!”

A smile emerges on my face in light of the trust he put in me. I ask, “Why was your confidence staggering earlier? You legitimately completed your keyword.”

“I was kinda nervous ’cause I just copied the one you showed us last year…”

“I see now…” I say and nod my head. “That’s why the keyword was fireball the first time…”

A few seconds later, a boar squeals in the distance. Some guy yells, “He’s getting away! After him!”

“We should hurry and gather five more birds before it gets crowded in here,” I suggest as I reluctantly pick up the bloody bird with two fingers. Some blood drips onto the ground as I do.

“Sounds good. My revenge ain’t complete yet!”

“Wait,” I say to stop him from running off on his own. I approach from behind and then open the backpack he’s carrying. “Since this is yours, I’m gonna put it in here for you.”

“Hey, wait! That’s…” I quickly drop the bird into his backpack and then close it. I laugh hard inside, but I keep a straight face.

“Damn it, Kai… What good’s a pack mule if he doesn’t carry the goods?” he asks as he gives me a contemptuous look.

“Since you’re here, you can carry your own dinner. I’ll carry mine and everyone else’s,” I say. “Oh, one more thing… You’re not getting your revenge today. You’ll be a good boy and let me do the work after you immobilize them. Understand?”

I put the hand with bird blood on Hiro’s shoulder from behind. I grip it tightly while releasing murderous intent. He turns his head toward me. There are droplets of sweat on his forehead.

“Go-got it…” he answers without his usual light-heartedness.

“Good, let’s go,” I say as I let go of his shoulder, but not before I wipe the blood on him. A few chuckles escape from my mouth as I’m trying to keep myself from breaking into a cackle. We find another bird in a few minutes of searching. After Hiro stops its movements, I pick it up and then snap its neck. We repeat this for the next four birds, finishing our hunt in 15 minutes. Afterward, we make our way back home.

“Kai, what happened?!” Luna exclaims as she runs over to me. “Are you injured?”

“No, this is bird blood. I’m completely fine,” I answer. Luna sighs.

“Thank goodness,” she says while staring into my eyes. “I was really worried because you were gone for so long…”

“Those pesky birds kept on flyin’ away at first…but eventually, I got ’em. You were worried ’bout me too, right?”

“Um, yeah, of course!” Luna says with a smile. She points toward the kitchen and instructs, “Kai, you can put those birds on the counter over there. I’ll get a head start before Marin comes back.”

I go to where she pointed and then drop the birds piled between my arms and my chest onto the counter. Luna counts them with a finger. “Hmm? There’re only five here.”

“Hiro’s bird’s in his backpack,” I explain while pointing to Hiro. Luna’s cocking an eyebrow as she turns her view over to him.

“Kai was bein’ a big baby back there. He didn’t want the bird that I took down. Anyway, I’m goin’ to take a shower,” Hiro says as he sets down his backpack on the counter. He walks over to his room and then shuts the door. The lock on his door clicks. Luna opens Hiro’s backpack. She reaches her hand in and then shrieks softly. There is blood on her fingertips after she rears her hand back.

“Jeez… So that’s how you got the blood on you,” she says while frowning at the backpack. I laugh lightly.

“Yeah, I stopped him after the first one.”

“I’m glad you went with him now! You’re so reliable!” she exclaims with a smile. I blush and look away toward my room.

“It was nothing… I didn’t want my bird to be a bloody mess is all. I’m gonna go shower too and clean this mess off me,” I say as I walk away with my face getting hotter. I open the door to my room, walk in, close the door, and then lock it. I go into the bathroom and then set the temperature of the shower to 106 degrees Fahrenheit as usual. I activate the shower, but no water comes out. I knit my eyebrows. What the hell…? Is it broken again?

I open the lid to where the components of the device lay. There are several Crystals and some mechanics I don’t recognize. Let’s see… Since no water’s coming out, the Water Crystal must be drained, right? Hmm… There’re two blue looking Crystals, though…

I pick up one of the blue Crystals. What do I do with this now…?

I ponder at the Crystal in my hand for a few seconds before deciding to go back to the main room. Luna asks, “Kai, you’re done with your shower already?”

“Uh, not yet. I think my Water Crystal is drained…” Luna turns around holding feathers in her fingertips. She disposes them in the trashcan before walking over to me.

“Let me see that.” I hand her the Crystal, and she walks over to the sink. I quirk an eyebrow as water flows out of the Crystal moments later. She turns back to me. “Umm… This looks fine to me… Did you check the Mana Crystal?”

“Uh, what…? I thought there were only a Fire Crystal, a Water Crystal, and a knob that adjusts the temperature,” I say while recalling my memory with Emdos. Luna laughs loudly with a grin on her face. Not knowing what to think, I blush and frown.

“We learned this in class last year, you know… Maybe if you actually went to class…” she explains as she locks her eyes on mine with her hands on her hips. I continue to frown and look down at the floor.

“Well, we didn’t have to replenish any of our Crystals ourselves until this year… I’ll show you. Let’s go to your bathroom.” We go to my bathroom afterward, and she puts the Water Crystal back. “Okay, pay attention…”

I do as she instructs and focus my eyes where she points. “This is where the switch activates the Mana Crystal. When you turn on the shower, it basically moves this over and presses against the output mechanism on the Mana Crystal. The Mana comes out on the other side, and it passes through this thing, called P-Glim. You probably don’t know what that is either… Basically, it’s like a Glim, but the instructions are pre-defined and depend on what the knob is set to…”

My eyes wander toward her chest. I smile while ogling the portion sticking out of her tank top. “…after that, the Mana goes to the Fire Crystal and Water Crystal. Then the water comes out from over there. Understand?”

I look in a random direction as she looks back at me. “Uh, yeah…”

She sighs. “Okay, look.”

She takes the Mana Crystal from the device and then holds it in front of me. “You can check if the Mana Crystal’s drained by pressing this button. I’m pressing it right now, and nothing comes out from the other side.”

“Oh, I see,” I say as I nod my head. She puts the Mana Crystal back and then takes the Fire Crystal out.

“Take this.” She hands me the Fire Crystal. “Try passing some Scrap Mana through this. You should be able to activate it because you know how to bond Fire magic. Be careful not to burn yourself.”

I do as she says while holding the Fire Crystal at my fingertips. I channel some Scrap Mana into the Crystal, making sure not to bond any of my Fire magic as I do. I try to act as if the Crystal is a part of my body and make my Mana bond with the Crystal. A few moments later, a small spark of fire emits from the Crystal. I smile.

“As expected of Kai! You got it without me explaining how to do it!” Luna exclaims with a smile.

“It’s because you explained everything so well!” I exclaim with the same energy level. I put back the Crystal back into the device where it belongs. I ask, “So, do we have any Mana Crystals on hand for the shower?”

“No, I don’t think we do… I think Drugo left to get some earlier, but I haven’t heard from him…” she blushes and looks away. Her voice grows quiet. “So, um… I guess you can use my bathroom…”

“Oh, really? Thanks!”

I gather my change of clothes as she heads back into the main room to prepare our dinner. I head into Luna’s room adjacent to mine. I close the door and then find my way to the bathroom. The layout of the room is the same as mine. I smile as I take a big whiff of Luna’s lingering scent. My eyes wander around her room, and they stop on Luna’s drawer. Luna’s underwear…

I close in on the drawer and then gulp as I reach my hand to take a peak. As soon as my fingers touch the drawer, the door suddenly opens. I rear back from the drawer immediately with my heart pounding rapidly. Droplets of sweat form on my forehead.

“Ah, Kai! I forgot to mention, but can you use your own towel?”

“Oh, yeah, sure.”

“Thanks!” Her footsteps resound back toward the kitchen area. I sigh and then head back to my bathroom to grab my towel before going back to Luna’s room. I lock the door before using her shower. I take my time, savoring the rare chance of using Luna’s shower. I finish within 20 minutes, and then I head to the main room.

“Kai, what’re you doin’ comin’ outta Luna’s room?” Hiro asks. He’s sitting on the couch. I walk over to the couch, finding a large number of feathers in the trashcan along the way. Two of the birds remain outside of the caldron in front of Luna and Marin. There’s also something cooking in a smaller pot next to the caldron.

“My Mana Crystal was drained, and Luna let me use hers,” I explain as I sit down next to Hiro.

“So, didja look?” he whispers to me as he nudges me with his elbow. I frown.

“No, I didn’t,” I whisper back.

“Damn, so borin’.” He sighs. I turn toward the sound of the main door opening. Sitos and Drugo walk in.

“That smells good. What’s for dinner?” Drugo asks as he walks toward one of the metal chests.

“Bird from the hunting grounds,” I answer. “Are those the Mana Crystals?”

“Yup it is, why?” he asks as he opens the chest, pouring everything in from a bag.

“Perfect. I needed a Mana Crystal for my shower.”

“All the Crystals are gonna be in here Kaister, so take it when it’s convenient,” he says as he closes the chest. Sitos heads into his room.

“I will catch up with you guys later after I shower.”

“Same here,” Drugo says as he heads for his room too.

I listen to Hiro go on about the tournament and how excited he is as dinner is being prepared. By the time Luna and Marin announce dinner time, Sitos and Drugo have finished their showers. Each of us gets an extra large bowl in order to fit the entire bird into it, along with the soup and other ingredients. Marin and Luna split one of the four birds in the caldron and serve Hiro his own bird from the other pot. We sit at the table and eat our own meals.

“Speaking of the tournament, I am going to be pissed if we do not win it this year… This is the last chance to take the 1C room for ourselves, so do not screw this up. Thanks to a few idiots, we failed the previous two contests,” Sitos says.

“And whose fault do you think that is?” Luna asks.

“It was not just me! Kai, Hiro, and Drugo all agreed! Who would have known that fried chicken dressed with peanut butter was a bad idea?”

I don’t comment and simply slurp the delicious soup. I savor the rich umami flavor of the bird in the broth. I look over to Hiro, who is strangely silent. He hasn’t started to eat his meal. I ask, “Hiro, what’s wrong?”

He stays silent for a few more seconds before responding, “Why’s only my soup a dark-red color…?”

He stirs his soup with his spoon and continues, “And I can still see the feathers attached to the bird…”

“Marin made that, you know,” Luna informs.

“It wasn’t my fault… The bird was bloody….and touching it was gross…and the insides were messed up… So…I just threw it in the pot,” Marin explains.

“You were the one who said, ‘I don’t mind. It’s not like any meat disappeared,’ right?"

Hiro grunts before he finally digs into his meal. He raises his eyebrows before saying, “Oh, this is still pretty good. Marin’s cookin’ skills are amazin’!”

“I’m glad you like it…because well… I don’t want you feeling bad…for tomorrow,” Marin says.

I smile and chuckle. Sitos says, “Hiro, if you strike us out two times, I am going to squish you like you did to that bird.”

“It’s not goin’ to happen. I’m confident in my physical abilities!”

I ask, “What if you weren’t allowed to use your physical abilities and you have to use magic?”

Hiro stays silent. “Hiroster, if you need any help with the keyword test after the tournament, let us know now.”

“I don’t need help! Ask Kai, he’s already witnessed my magic!”

“Yeah I witnessed it alright. The first time you used the keyword fireball for a water-based spell. He corrected it afterward, though, so we’re safe.”

“Ya didn’t hafta mention that first part…” Hiro mutters. “What ’bout y’all?”

“We are not idiots like you. Everyone probably has at least a couple of keywords made already,” Sitos infers. Judging by the silence, I assume that it’s true excluding me. I only have two keywords made, not including the keyword I used to learn Fire bonding.

“Ya’ll have it easy… Ya can’t do anythin’ with Water magic other than wet the target!”

“That is perfect… Wet them for me and then I will electrocute them with my magic. Playing support is a fitting role for you,” Sitos says while chuckling.

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Well, if they are still conscious, you can use that ridiculously retarded strength of yours to knock them out. Even with your accuracy, you can hit them after they eat a dose of electricity.”

“Oh! I like that!” Hiro exclaims. We continue chatting about the impending tournament tomorrow as we eat our meals. I head to my room after we finish chatting and eating. I lock my door, brush my teeth, undress, and then lay in bed. I play around with my Mana, eventually expelling it all before I fall asleep.

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