The Selection

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Chapter 20 - Academy Year 4 - Phase Two

Marin and I receive first-aid at the medical station. Phase one ends after thirty minutes pass. We head toward the center of the Arena.

“You all did very well to come this far. Remember that there are ten teams right now, but only eight of those will be able to play in the tournament. In the second phase, you will likely fight a different team for every round that is determined by drawing lots, but you may end up fighting the same team if luck permits. Unlike the first phase, you will have to wait for the other teams to finish before the start of the next match,” Moria explains. I look around. The number of contestants remaining on each team varies; as few as two remain and as many as five remain judging by who’s still wearing the leather garments.

“The rules will mostly remain the same, however, with one small modification. Rich Mana is now forbidden to use for the remainder of the tournament.”

I knit my eyebrows. Before I can let out a few words of complaint, Hiro shouts, “Hey! That ain’t fair! That only puts us at a disadvantage!”

“That may be true,” Moria answers as he turns his head to me. Everyone locks their eyes on me. I look down from the sudden attention.

“Then why? Do you want us to lose?” Hiro asks.

“I do not favor any one team over another…but this is something I cannot ignore. It is our hope that the tournament focuses on teamwork, not individual ability. If it were just about giving the prize to the group of students with the strongest abilities, I would have no problem yielding it to your team. Or are you implying that your team collapses when Kai is weakened just a little?”

The dissent inside me disappears. I sigh and then put a hand on Hiro’s shoulder. “Just let it go, Hiro. I’ll deal with it.”

Hiro looks at me with an agitated expression, but he soon relaxes it.“Well, if you’re fine with it, I won’t say another word.”

Moria smiles and then says, “I will now determine the pairings for the first round.”

He reaches his hand in an enclosed box he’s holding in his other hand. He takes out two pieces of paper and then points in a direction. “In the first platform over there, team five will fight team twelve!”

He pulls out another two pieces of paper and then announces, “In the second platform over there, team three will fight team one!”

I head on over to the second platform with the rest of my group while ignoring the ongoing announcements. The other group soon arrives. They only have three people. Marin’s mother arrives, pushing our cart of weapons. Another man pushes a cart toward the opposing team. Marin’s mother informs, “It looks like both teams are here. We’ll begin immediately.”

She reaches into the usual small enclosed box with her hand and then pulls out a piece of paper. “The first match will be ‘weapons only.’ Please get ready.”

“I’m going,” I say immediately.

“My turn!” Hiro exclaims at the same time. “Kai, you just went!”

“I should be able to go again, though.”

“No way! It’s ‘weapons only.’ This is my realm,” he argues as he begins walking toward our weapon supply. I put a hand on the back of his shoulder to stop him. My lower stomach grumbles. Hiro turns around, but neither of us say anything for several seconds.

“I need to use the bathroom… Just let me finish my match fast, and I’ll be back before I have to fight again,” I explain while walking over to the cart, slightly hunched over.

“What the hell… If ‘weapons only’ doesn’t appear again ’cause you didn’t poop before the tournament, my loss is on you!”

Sitos suddenly bursts out laughing. I quirk an eyebrow as I ask, “What’s so funny, Sitos?”

“Nothing… I just expected the roles to be reversed here,” Sitos explains, unable to hold a straight face.

“Shut up,” I say, blushing a little. The others’ faces are puffed up with twitching lips. A few chuckles escape their lips. I cock an eyebrow toward Hiro, who is laughing too. He stops after a few seconds.

“Wait a minute… You just made fun of me, didn’tcha?!” Hiro yells at Sitos.

I put a palm over my face and shake my head. I can’t deal with this right now…

“Team three, please hurry up.”

“Coming!” I answer in a hurry as I turn to grab the two longest swords. I step onto the starting position on the platform. My opponent wields a thin cylindrical stick about six feet long. Someone actually chose that as a weapon?

He uses an underhand grip with his right hand and an overhand grip with his left hand about two feet apart. I hold my own stance too before the start of the battle. “Fight!”

I dash forward immediately. He charges forward too but stops near the middle as the distance between us converges. I step in with my left foot before striking with a diagonal attack from above using my right sword. He tilts his weapon a little and blocks it, but I find an opening down below. I attack with my left sword. He pushes my right sword back while rotating his weapon clockwise into a vertical position and then blocks my attack from the left. He does a similar maneuver to push my left blade away while sliding his left hand closer to his right hand. My mind is blank as he steps in with his left foot.

His weapon is already coming at me from above. I take a step back while holding up my right sword to block the attack as I draw back my left sword to help. I place it behind my right blade and then push him away. I smile for a moment. The smile disappears as I find that his grip has changed. He comes at me with a blow from below. I jump back as my only option left, but the length of his weapon is too long. I grit my teeth as the blow strikes me on the side of my face. I think I pooped a little. Damn, how annoying…

I focus my eyes on my opponent, who assumes the same defensive stance as before. That weapon is more troublesome than I thought… I lost some of my self-control during the shock of receiving that last attack… I need to end this as soon as possible!

I keep my eyes focused and teeth clenched. Constrained by a time limit, I rush forward while planning a risky move. I’ll just hope that I don’t get disqualified with my next attack!

I throw both of my arms back ready for two overhead blows and jump in the air. As expected, he keeps his arms bent a little to counter me after blocking what he thinks is an attack from above. Good, he’s not attacking me!

I go through part of the motion to swing both of my swords down, but I keep them raised in the air. I land in front of him and then kick him in the balls. He whimpers as he hunches over a little and then lets his guard down. I take a step back and then swing both of my swords toward the side of his legs. He falls on his knees and drops his weapon. “Stop! Team three wins!”

I sigh with relief and turn around toward the weapon supply.“He-hey, he cheated! He used his leg on me!”

I stop. The other referee says, “It is allowed as long as he held a weapon, which he did. There were no rules broken.”

“Damn…to lose to such a cheap trick…” I continue walking away and then deposit my weapons in a barrel on the cart. There are numerous spectators around our platform that weren’t there before. I figure they must be part of a team already eliminated from the tournament.

“Nice one, Kaister. We have some time to observe some teams fight before the next—”

The grumbling of my stomach resounds. While running toward the exit, I exclaim, “I need to leave! Catch you guys later!”

With every step I take, I can feel my limits breaking. I run down the flight of stairs that lead down to the second floor. I race past the people walking in the hallways while heading to the bathroom. The bathroom is just up ahead. There’s someone in front of me. I knit my eyebrows. He wears a red robe with black vertical stripes with the head over his head. Huh…? Is that Moria…?

I stop behind him and then ask, “Teacher Moria, what’re you doing here?”

He stops but doesn’t turn around. “Oh, is that you, Kai? I’m secretly running an errand. So don’t tell—”

“Oh god! I need to go!” I exclaim as my bowels force their way down. I run to the bathroom and then rip open the door. It resounds as it crashes into a nearby wall. I find an empty stall, pull down my pants, and then finally relieve myself. I sigh. I finish up in about 25 minutes. I run back toward the Arena on the top floor.

Damn, ideally I would go back to change my clothes, but I took too long as it is… I wonder what Moria was doing, though…Eventually, I find myself back in the Arena. I scan the various platforms in the farther end of the room, looking for my friends. I find Moria talking to a few adults on my way there. I ask, “Moria, you’re back already?”

He turns toward me, cocks an eyebrow, and then asks, “What are you talking about? I have been here this whole time.”

The other adults look at me too. Oh, right… He doesn’t want anyone to know about his secret errand.

“Uh, never mind,” I answer and then walk away. There are three teams still fighting on the second, third, and fourth platforms. Luna’s on the second one. I run toward the crowd of people around our platform and then locate my group. Luna has her weapon knocked out of her hands.

“Stop! Team twelve wins!”

What…? Was that a ‘weapons only’ match? Those idiots, why didn’t someone else fight instead?

I run toward my group and exclaim, “Hey, guys! Why did Luna fight a ‘weapons only’ match?”

I knit my eyebrows, blinking several times. I rub my eyes and then look again, but nothing changes. Only Sitos is wearing the leather garments.

“Kai, this is all your fault!” Hiro yells into my face.

“Why’s it my fault?” I ask.“If Luna’s fighting a ‘weapons only’ match…that means she’s the only person left who hasn’t fought… So that means you already fought a ‘weapons only’ match and lost… Am I wrong?”

Hiro opens and closes his mouth repeatedly. Sitos says, “Yes, this moron lost. His opponent was using the same weapon your opponent used.”

“Huh? He should’ve been easily able to overpower his opponent… He must’ve let down his guard and did something stupid,” I say as I frown at Hiro.

“He did let his guard down…but I do not blame him for losing in that situation,” Sitos says. I relax my facial expressions and turn toward Sitos.

“What do you mean?”

“His opponent used his weapon completely different than the guy you fought. Hiro probably thought his opponent was going to use strikes like your opponent did…but he initiated with a thrust. Hiro received a clean blow to the gut and never recovered from it.”

“Boo!” I retreat a few steps to the left, nearly losing my balance. I turn toward the direction of the noise. It’s Luna.

“Was that necessary?” I ask, feeling my heart racing. She laughs and smiles mischievously. I sigh.

“I didn’t hear about Drugo’s loss yet,” I say as I face Drugo.

“I let my guard down. I’m a little ashamed.”

“What kinda match was it?”

“It was a ‘no weapons’ match.”

I cock an eyebrow and then say, “Wow, your opponent must’ve been built larger than you to have beaten you…”

“Well…that’s…” Drugo’s voice grows quiet. He looks away while putting a hand on the back of his head.

“His opponent was a girl,” Luna reveals. I open my mouth, but no words come out.

“Yeh, when I saw ‘im chargin’ at ’er with his Abjuration magic on, I didn’t think she coulda done anything… but suddenly she shouted a keyword that unleashed a ray of light from ‘er palm into Drugo’s eyes, blindin’ him. After that, she shot some Earth magic into Drugo’s armor, and it ran outta power,” Hiro explains. In an angry tone, he adds, “To top it all off…it was ‘weapons only’ for Luna... It’s like everyone is in together on a ploy to make us lose!

“It is just shit luck. We already qualified for the tournament, so it does not matter that much,” Sitos says.

“Team five is eliminated!”

“But don’t you wanna get first place in the preliminaries too? We get the best seats in the tournament and a mystery prize!” Hiro says loudly.

“Who said I did not want to win? Kai and I are more than enough for these losers,” Sitos states with confidence.

“Team one is eliminated!”

Soon after that announcement, Moria shouts, “In the first platform, team fourteen fights team twelve!”

A few seconds pass before he continues, “In the second platform, team seventeen fights team two!”

Two teams of six head toward our platform from the third platform. One group has one person left while the other has two people remaining. “Lastly, in the third platform, team twenty fights team three!”

Our group heads over to the third platform along with Marin’s mother pushing our cart of weapons. I notice something strange when we arrive; the long-bladed swords Sitos and I usually used aren’t present.

“Hey, what happened to the long-bladed swords?” I ask while cocking an eyebrow.“I don’t see them here…”

“They were broken during my match, my bad,” Sitos answers.

“The sixth match here will be ‘magic only’! Ready your fighters!“I go to the starting point without hesitation, knowing that Sitos’ magic is not suited for this setting. My opponent is a girl.

“Kai!” I turn toward Luna.“That’s the girl who beat Drugo! Be careful!”

“Got it, thanks.”

“I’d hate to be his opponent…” someone from the crowd whispers.

“Poor girl…”

“I’m glad our team didn’t pass preliminaries… I heard in the main—”

“Fight!”

I focus back on what’s in front of me; my opponent. I stand still while programming some instructions using Unrefined Mana instead of Rich Mana. I focus on velocity and power as I did before. I break down my Mana into Rich Mana, and that into Unrefined Mana, making sure not to overdo it. I keep the highest amount of Rich Mana possible as reserves just in case. Good, she’s not coming for me… Sorry, but… I won’t show any mercy.

I rush forward with my right palm pointing toward the girl. ”Fireball!"

A ball of fire appears out of my right palm with a diameter of about a foot. It goes straight toward the girl. She easily moves out of the way since there is a lot of time to react before it reaches her, but I don’t stop with one.

"Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!" I shout with half a second interval between each keyword. I stop running forward when the distance between us is around 15 feet away, knowing that she can’t react quick enough at this range. She sidesteps, ducks, and rolls to dodge the incoming fireballs. Her dodge reveals people watching behind the girl. My supply of Unrefined Mana gets low, but I break down my reserves of Rich Mana to replenish it. ”Fireball!"

Another ball of fire flies toward the girl on the ground. She jumps a small distance away while in a crouched position. She lands on her stomach flat on the ground. ”Fireball! Fireball!"

I give only a quarter second in between the two keywords. She doesn’t have any room to dodge while both of my projectiles head straight toward her. She points her palm toward them and then shouts, ”Fireball!"

A ball of fire of her own appears, slightly larger than mine. It briefly collides with my magic, but it quickly disperses into the air as my second fireball comes blasting through the first. She doesn’t make a sound as it lands on her torso, flinging her off the platform.

“The winner is team three! Team twenty is eliminated!”

The girl starts screaming during the announcement. She flails her limbs around as she burns from the fire. Their team referee shoots water from his palms to put out the fire on her leather garments. I gaze over the crowd as I rejoin my group. Their words are inaudible. They quickly shift their heads away from me.

“Kai, are you alright?” Luna asks in a worrisome tone.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I answer while knitting my eyebrows, unsure why she asked.

“Don’t push yourself too hard. You have the lowest Mana capacity out of anyone here.”

“Kai’s fine! He probably already reached his maximum potential already which explains why he could use so much magic!” Hiro exclaims. I force a smile as droplets of sweat forms on my forehead.

I’d better find ways to win without recklessly expending my Mana, so they don’t get suspicious…

“Looks like the other two platforms are still fighting. Let us go see what losers fight like,” Sitos suggests. Everyone except Marin heads over to the second platform. One of the fighters is a girl using a shield on her left hand with nothing on her right. Her opponent uses a shield on his left and a long sword on his right. The girl moves backward while blocking his attacks with the shield. There are puddles of water on the platform and around the crowd. The girl points her palm at her opponent.

"Stream!" A stream of water appears from her right palm. Her opponent raises his shield to block it, but the force pushes him backward. He is nearly pushed off the edge, but he jumps to the left toward the center of the platform while blocking the stream of water the girl keeps steady on him. The girl moves toward him as the water shoots continuously for about three seconds. ”Landmine!"

Water suddenly bursts out upward around where her opponent stands. The force launches him about ten feet into the air.“What?!”

"Stream!" A stream of water appears from her right palm, angled upward. It effortlessly pushes her opponent through the air. She runs in the direction he flies in up to the point her magic is stopped by the barrier. Her opponent screams as he is unable to do anything in the air. Eventually, he falls next to the second platform in the second row.

“The winner is team two!”

“Hina, you did it!” a girl exclaims from the other side of the platform.

“Wow! Didja see that?! She won usin’ Water magic!” Hiro exclaims.

“Yes, that was surprising. She used Intermediate magic to launch him into the air. I thought Luna was the only one capable of doing that in our year,” Sitos comments.

I knit my eyebrows and ask, “Doesn’t the name Hina sound familiar to you guys? I heard it somewhere before…”

“Hmm… It does sound familiar, but I do not remember where I heard it either,” Sitos answers.

“Stop! Team fourteen wins!”

Soon after the last match ends, Moria announces the matchups for the next round. “In the first platform, team fourteen fights team two!

A few seconds pass before he continues, “In the second platform, team three fights team twelve!”

Marin and her mother are on their way here from the third platform.

“Since there are an uneven number of teams, there will be another draw after the conclusion of these two fights to determine who fights team seventeen,” Moria explains. Sitos snickers.

I cock an eyebrow. “Sitos?”

He stops snickering but still smiles. He looks at the platform and says, “We finally broke our unlucky streak.”

I stare at the platform for several seconds. I raise my eyebrows. There’s still a 25% chance that it won’t go as he plans…but I won’t jinx it.

I look around, searching for our opponents. There’s a group of six students and a referee coming from the first platform. They have only one member remaining. A minute passes before a referee announces, “Only weapons are allowed during the seventh round here. Get ready.”

I cringe and skeptically curl my lips inward. Sitos is still smiling with his arms crossed. He doesn’t move the slightest bit, not even a blink. I put a hand on his shoulder and say, “Looks like we didn’t break it after all.”

He walks away while holding the same expression, snickering again. He chooses the medium length swords as his weapons and then steps onto the starting position. His opponent uses the same length sword with a shield on his right. “Fight!”

Sitos employs the usual strategy and rushes forward. His opponent does the same. They clash around the center of the platform, splashing water everywhere as they run over it. Sitos launches a relentless combo of attacks with both swords. His opponent manages to parry one side with his sword and block the other side with his shield. He turns his side facing forward, blocking both of Sitos’ swords using his shield. He blocks the next attack and then turns his entire body, swiping his sword horizontally in the process. Sitos ducks and then lunges forward. He strikes his opponent’s neck. “Argh!”

His opponent maintains his balance while taking a step back from the blow. Sitos knocks his opponent’s sword out of his hand with a slash from his other sword. His opponent drops his shield. “The winner is team three! Team twelve is eliminated!”

“Team fourteen wins!” another referee announces simultaneously.

“Team seventeen will fight team three! Let’s see…you can do that at the second platform since team three is already there.”

Sitos offers me his weapons as he rejoins us. I take hold of them, not knowing if I’ll need them next match. It feels sweaty and warm to hold. I take this time to break down more of my Mana into Rich Mana and Unrefined Mana as I see fit. “Anything is permitted during this match! Get ready.”

I step on the platform and then go to the starting position. Everyone’s eyes are on me right now. My opponent has a heavy sword in his hands. Hmm… I’ll take this time to reprogram something that utilizes Unrefined Mana instead…

“Fight!” My opponent holds his weapon in the air while slowly moving toward me. I do the same while I focus my attention on planning my attack. I stop after walking about ten feet forward, not wanting to initiate the attack just yet. He stops too, for reasons unknown to me. The gap between us is about 20 feet. Nearly 25 seconds pass with neither of us doing anything other than stare at each other.

I finish my preparations and dash forward. I position my right arm with my sword over my back, pointing my elbow toward him. ”Fireball!"

A ball of fire appears from my elbow with a diameter of a foot. The settings of this spell are the same as my last match. I send all of the Unrefined Mana I have in the inactive form directly behind my opponent that is more than necessary but gives me more time to decide when to activate it. My opponent yells, ”Gale!"

A sudden strong wind blows against me and pushes me backward. I plant my feet to the ground while trying to shift my body weight forward. The wind dries out my eyes, forcing me to squint them. The water on the platform flows in the same direction as the wind. The referees move off the platform. My fireball doesn’t reduce in speed, but my opponent dodges it and then dashes toward me from an angle where the wind still affects me.

He’s gonna push me off! I grit my teeth before shouting, ”Reverse!"

A ball of fire forms at the point I left my inactive Unrefined Mana at that speeds toward the back of my opponent. It has a diameter of two feet; bonding all my Fire Affinity possible to the Mana. I raise both of my swords in preparation for his attack. He still charges at me with no change in his behavior. I’m currently less than ten feet away from the edge of the platform. I’ll just have to pray… I can’t even move, or this wind will push me off…

He does a full horizontal swing with the additive force of his charge and Wind magic toward me. My heartbeat pounds rapidly as the force of his attack quickly pushes me toward the edge of the platform. The heel of my feet is off the platform. I put strength into my toes and then jump as high as possible. He’s standing right in the path of my magic. It explodes into flames as it hits the back of my opponent. I shift my legs up and then land flat on my back.

I gulp and lift my head up from the ground. My opponent is on all fours, with his weapon dropped next to him. Many seconds have passed since I fell off the platform, but no one says anything. The referees gather around my opponent, inspecting his leather garments. Marin’s mother whispers with the other referee, giving me occasional glances. The other referee stands up and then announces, “The winner is team three!”

I close my eyes, rest my head on the ground, and then sigh deeply while relaxing all the muscles in my body. Cheering from the crowd around me simultaneously breaks out. This is so much work… I need a nap… I don’t care. I’m gonna take a nap right here.

“Ahem,” Moria clears his throat. The cheering stops. “We will move to the second row for the remainder matches. In the second platform, team two fights team three! That leaves team seventeen versus team fourteen in the third platform!”

I open my eyes, finding Sitos standing over me. “Somehow, it does not surprise me to learn that you can use Intermediate magic too. I am going to need those.”

Sitos holds his hands out. I set my weapons on the ground next to my hands. “Take them. I’m gonna take a nap here. Wake me up only when it’s my turn.”

I roll over to my side and then close my eyes as I rest my head on my arms stacked on each other. Sitos picks up the swords on the ground next to me and asks, “You are unable to wait half an hour? You are hopeless.”

He sighs and then walks away along with the crowd. As I filter the noise around me, my consciousness drifts off.

Something cold and wet splashes on my face. I sit up and interject, “Ah!”

Hiro stands in front of me, grinning. “Everyone told me to come getja. It’s time for your match.”

I wipe the water in my eyes with my shirt, stand up, and then walk there, noting that everyone is standing around the second platform in the second row. I yawn.

I furrow my eyebrows and say, “Why’d you pour water on me before my match...? You idiot.”

“Hmm…” he interjects as his eyes point up for several seconds. “Oh. That was a bad idea. Sorry. Well, don’t worry ’bout it!”

He smacks my back a few times and exclaims, “I have faith in ya!”

I force a smile. A referee instructs, “Hurry up and get into your starting position. We’re all waiting for you. Anything is allowed for this match.”

Everyone’s eyes are on me as I walk over to my group. Sitos doesn’t have his leather garments on anymore. Sitos holds the medium length swords in front of him and says, “I hope you enjoyed your 20 minute nap. Now, hurry up and beat those two so we can leave. They are the last team.”

I hunch over and ask, “Do I have to…? We already got second place…”

“Win it for me!” Hiro exclaims. I look at him with a blank stare.

You’re the last person I would win this for…

“I’m curious to know what the mystery prize is… Win it for me too!” Luna exclaims. Suddenly, my perception of my surrounding changes. Her voice echoes in my head, and her smile sparkles in my eyes. For a moment it feels like no one else is here.

“Okay, I’ll win it for you…” I say gently, feeling the heat rising in my face. My heart thumps quickly, and it feels like my chest might collapse. I look away, coincidentally facing Hiro. “…guys.”

“I knew I could count on ya!” Hiro exclaims as he smacks me on my back. I force a smile as usual.

I climb onto the platform at the starting position. My opponent is already standing on the other side, holding two long swords. I take a few deep breaths. The dry feeling in my eyes is gone. I focus my eyes on my opponent as I break down my Mana into Rich Mana and Unrefined Mana. I remember that guy… He’s one of the other people who dual-wields swords like Sitos and me.

“Fight!” I dash forward after the signal, and my opponent does the same. I point my right elbow at him with my arm bent toward my left side.

"Fireball!" The usual ball of fire comes out of my elbow, but he dodges it while continuing to charge forward.

"Firebrand!" he shouts moments before we clash our weapons. Both of his weapons ignite instantaneously the moment we collide our swords.

Enhancement magic?! I grit my teeth and jump backward. He chases after me. I glance at my weapons. The surface of parts of it has darkened.

I avoid his attacks by sidestepping, backing away, or ducking. I can’t let this drag out, or I won’t have a weapon to fight with! It seems like he knows when to expect my fireball… I’ll have to take my time and plan something.

I smirk. He must not be able to keep his weapons enveloped in fire for long. In that case…

I make an attempt to attack him and then clash with his weapon to not get disqualified. I dodge his attacks while leading him toward the center of the platform. I make a slight turn and then back away toward the edge of the platform while releasing inactive Unrefined Mana about ten feet in front of me. As expected, he comes charging toward me all the way to the edge of the platform. I glance behind me and then drop my jaws.

“You got nowhere to run now!” he shouts as he continues to charge at me. I block both of his attacks one at a time. We apply about equal pressure toward each other.

About six more seconds… Several seconds pass with my swords in constant contact with his. He smirks and snickers.

“I’ve won. Your weapons are toast,” he says while my weapons catch on fire. I narrow my eyes and smirk back at him.

“Did you think I really didn’t know this was the edge?” I ask as my magic activates. A ball of fire speeds straight toward his back.

“What?” he asks with knitted eyebrows. My magic bursts into flames on his back. His eyes widen, and his arms lose their pressure. I break his guard and then land a blow on his ribcage. He falls down. I feel something hot around my hands. I drop my weapons on the ground as the flames spread to the grip.

“Team three wins! We’ll immediately begin the final match. Anything can be used. Good luck to both of you!” Cheering intensifies. I raise my eyebrows and then turn toward Marin’s mother.

“I have a question. Am I allowed to bring all of the weapons I have remaining to the platform?”

“Hmm… There’s nothing in the rules to say you can’t.”

“I see. Thanks,” I say and then smirk. I go to our weapon supply. I toss the two light clubs, the heavy sword, long stick, and shield onto the platform near my starting position. I wield the two remaining short swords in my hands and then step back onto the platform on the black square, waiting for the start of the match.

The two scorched weapons I left on the platform are no longer here. My opponent brings only the long stick. He grips it with his right hand closer to the back end of it with his left hand two feet in front pointed at me. He uses an underhand grip with his left hand and an overhead grip with his right. I break down Rich Mana into Unrefined Mana. Hiro exclaims, “Hey, Kai!”

I turn toward him. “That’s the guy who beat me! Make ’im pay!”

I face forward again. Hmm… Sitos said he uses thrust attacks…

“Fight!” my opponent slowly steps forward while maintaining his stance. I dash toward him.

I’ll simply dodge his first attack while stepping in. Then strike him. He thrusts an attack. I dodge it. From this range, he’s mine!

I slash my sword at his head, but my weapon doesn’t reach him. Damn, that’s only if I had my usual long length sword…

He thrusts another attack toward me that strikes me on my chest. It launches me backward onto the ground. I cough a couple of times before standing back up. I charge at him again, dodging to the right on his first thrust. I step closer to him and then strike him. He jumps back before I land it. I charge in again while launching more attacks. He moves his hands closer together on the center and then blocks my assault of attacks by rotating the stick. Several seconds pass with him constantly parrying my attacks.

I take a step forward. He thrusts his weapon, hitting me on my left shoulder. He launches another attack, one after the other while taking baby steps forward. I try to block his pinpoint attacks with my blade while trying to find an opening. I miscalculate and one of his thrusts brushes past my blade. It lands on my chest in the same place he struck me earlier. “Argh!”

I fall backward as the pain radiates around the impact area. I stand back up. I’ll have to use my magic, after all. And I haven’t seen his yet. But as long as it’s not Lightning magic.

I send inactive Unrefined Mana behind him, planning the same surprise attack as before. I expect him to follow the same pattern. He has a habit of going backward when I pressure him. I dash forward as I finish my preparations. I redirect the trajectory of his initial thrust by slashing my left sword to the left while continuing to run in. I don’t attack at this range since he’s going to jump back. He changes his grip to the center of the stick again. Now!

I thrust my right blade toward his ribcage before he has a chance to move his weapon over to my right side. Suddenly, my view changes to the ceiling. Pain radiates from my chin. Huh…?

I point my eyes down. He struck me from below with a strike using the back end of his weapon. Damn, I was tricked!

I fly through the air, landing on my back. I put strength into my legs to stand up, but I stumble and fall. There’s ringing in my ears. I focus my eyes on my opponent. There are two of them now. Marin’s mother’s mouth is opening and closing as if she’s saying something. I figure she’s asking if I can continue, so I say, “I’m good.”

I can’t hear myself. I make another attempt to stand up. My legs are shaky, but I stand up. Suddenly, there’s a flaming ball honing in on me. I widen my eyes and drop my jaws. I immediately jump sideways and then land on my stomach. My heart is pounding. That was close… I nearly forgot about that.

I stand back up again while pressing my knuckles into my temples. My vision and senses return mostly back to normal. I’ll just have to play it safe…but first, I need to engage him before the 30 seconds are up. I could throw my weapons at him, but he’d just come charging at me instead. I need time to prepare.

I run toward him as if I’m trying to attack him like before. I throw my left sword at him in which he knocks away with a quick movement using only his right hand. He thrusts at me. I leap backward. He wears a smug smile and asks, “Hah, so you’ve given up?”

I back away slowly and turn my head left and right. I find the shield I left on the ground seconds later. I hope this works…

I aim my left palm at the shield. ”Fire bolt!"

Fire in the shape of an arrow appears from my palm that hits the shield in no time, setting it on fire. I drop my sword next to it and then aim my left palm at the sword. ”Fire bolt!"

Another fire arrow appears from my palm that hits the sword. “Have you finally gone crazy? Destroying your own weapons…”

I ignore my opponent while I envelop my hands in Scrap Mana. I send commands to it, to continuously emit fire out of my hands outward about half an inch. I flip over the shield on the ground and then pick it up with my left hand. I pick up the burning sword using my right. It’s not hot at all. A smile emerges on my face. I’d better hurry before these weapons burn to ashes.

My opponent stops smiling. I charge at him. I raise my flaming shield in front of me as he thrusts at me. There’s no impact. I put down my shield, finding my opponent further back. His grip has changed to a grip suited toward striking. He sweeps his weapon toward my legs. I jump over it and then launch an overhead blow at him. My elbow happens to be pointing at him. I freeze my arm in place and shout, ”Fireball!"

The usual ball of fire comes out of my elbow. He jumps sideways for the first time. He doesn’t land on his feet and falls on the floor. I quickly change directions toward him after landing on the platform. I slash my weapon from above. He parries with his weapon. Several seconds pass. His weapon catches on fire. He drops it and then rolls off the edge of the platform next to him.

“And we have a winner! Team three has won the preliminaries!” Cheering breaks out all over the Arena. I drop the shield and sword on the platform next to me as I stop emitting fire from my hands.

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