The Selection

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Chapter 21 - Academy Year 4 - Roses Belie Thorns

“This isn’t over,” my opponent says as he gets up from the ground. He points at me and continues, “We’ll settle this for real during the finals. Don’t lose until then.”

He walks away. I step off the platform and then rejoin my group. People make a path for me allowing me to walk through easily. I reciprocate the grins and smiles of my friends with my own.

“Ahem,” Moria clears his throat. “Congratulations to all those who have qualified for the tournament that will begin tomorrow. I will explain the general rules now, so pay close attention. Since you will be allowed to use the weapons you have been using for the past year for hunting, your safety is not completely guaranteed. Your team is always welcome to forfeit if you do not wish to take that risk. At the same time, many referees will be present to observe the players. Do not attack your classmates with the intent to kill. If the referees catch you with this dangerous behavior, your entire team will automatically lose. This is common sense, but I should also mention that sexual harassment is not tolerated.

“You will be given new leather garments at the beginning of each new game. You may receive it more often in some games. If it runs out of magic power or you are unable to fight anymore, you are not allowed to fight or help complete objectives. When this happens, you must take off your leather garments to help distinguish who is left in the game. Attacking someone without the leather armor on is not allowed.

“There are additional rules depending on what game you are playing. You will receive information about the game you will play prior to starting your match tomorrow. You must win two games in order to move to the second round.

“Based on the rankings of the preliminaries, team three fights team five, team seventeen fights team twelve, team fourteen fights team one, and team two fights team twenty. There will be three different settings, so three of the four teams can fight at once. That brings me to my next point. Team three, who has won the preliminaries can decide whether they want to fight first or after the three other teams have completed the first round.”

Moria turns toward us. I turn between Moria and the rest of my group, finding everyone’s staring at me. I sigh as I shrug my shoulders. I answer, “We’ll go first.”

“Very well. Normally you have to draw a lot to decide the setting of the first game, but I will allow your team to make the first selection. Forest, Arena, and Underground are your options. All of these are closed settings where no one can observe, so do not worry.”

“Underground,” I say without thought.

“Excellent. Your team and team five will meet at the front entrance of the Academy tomorrow at 8 AM. Those two teams are dismissed for today. Rest up for tomorrow. Oh, and I almost forgot. Team three, expect someone to be visiting you later today for your reward for your performance in the preliminaries. The rest of you will select lots for the setting you will play.”

We make our way out of the Arena except for Marin, who stays behind. We find at least a dozen people standing in the hallway that leads down to the second floor. We stand there for a moment while looking at them, when suddenly, they rush over to us. “Hey, all of you! Would you like to work for me during your fifth year? I’ll pay ten silver coins a week!”

“I’ll double that! 20 silver coins if you work with us!”

“25 silver coins!” Numerous individuals shout in our faces one after another with no signs of stopping. My mind can hardly keep track on who’s speaking since it’s all mashed together.

“I’ll offer 30 silver coins a week and a generous signing bonus of five gold pieces!”

“In that case, I’ll offer—”

“Fools!” someone from behind the crowd exclaims. The people in front of us stop talking and then move aside. I raise my eyebrows. One of the three people Sitos was staring at earlier walks toward us. “None of you realize this boy’s true value!”

He stops in front of me. There’s a majestic aura emanating from his body. The other two men stand behind him. Our eyes meet. They make me feel uneasy. He asks, “What is your name?”

“Kai, sir.”

“Kai, your skills would put some of my men to shame! I can see it. You have an enormous amount of potential. If you work with my clients, I guarantee a payment of at least one gold coin per week. What do you say?” he asks while holding a hand in front of him. I gulp as I widen my eyes.

A gold coin! Each week?! I smile, grab his hand, and respond, “Yeah, that sounds great!”

He tightens his hand on mine and shakes it before letting go. “Excellent. We will make it official when the time comes.”

He turns around and says, “Let us go.”

I knit my eyebrows as the three men walk away. Are they not gonna catch up with Sitos?

I turn toward Sitos, finding that he’s looking away. Someone mutters, “Damn the Castalia family… They always take the best candidates…”

“We can’t compete with their offers.”

“What about us?” a girl asks from behind us. I turn around. Our opponents for tomorrow stand there; a team with four girls and two guys.

“Oh, you’re that team who barely made it into the tournament. I don’t have any business with you.”

“Don’t say that!” one of the girls runs forward, grabbing onto a man’s arms. The three other girls follow, grabbing various parts of his body. Sitos walks off by himself. I exchange a few looks with the rest of the group before we follow in pursuit. “Come on… We can do more than just be probationary adventurers… Please?”

As we walk past them, the man smiles lewdly. I shake my head and then face forward. We’re not gonna lose to a team like that…

Less than ten seconds pass, when suddenly, the crowd behind is becomes rowdy again. “15 silver!”

“No, 20 silver!”

“30 silver!”

I cock an eyebrow. Seriously? Those adults offered the same amount of payment to us…

The rowdiness of that hallway can’t be heard anymore as we reach the second floor. Everyone is still silent, not saying a word while following Sitos. I gulp and quicken my pace to catch up with him. “Hey, Sitos. What was that about earlier?”

“What are you referring to?” he asks.

“You know…how your dad, brother, and personal trainer…ignored you.”

“Oh, that… Yes, that is normal for me. Do not look too much into it,” he replies without a hint of sadness.

“Normal for you…? No matter how I look at it, that’s not normal. I mean…not even a greeting or acknowledgment you exist?”

“They just do not think of me as family is all. On top of that, my brother has more talent…” he mentions in an angry tone. I refrain from poking into his matters deeper. He furrows his eyebrows and says, “I will make them acknowledge me one day.”

“I’m sure you can do it! You’re strong,” I say.

“Yeh, Sitos! We’ll show them by winnin’ the tournament! Our first opponents are goin’ to be a cinch!” Hiro exclaims. “Over half of ’em are girls.”

“That’s rude,” Luna rebuts angrily. “Or are you implying that Marin and I are holding you back?”

“Well, no… Forget what I said…”

“Lunaster’s right. We shouldn’t underestimate them.”

“Drugo’s right. Do not show them any mercy,” Sitos suggests. We continue our chatter as we make it back to our home. Marin eventually joins us in a few hours. Later, a man comes by asking for what custom designed weapons we want. Apparently, the rewards for the preliminaries are weapons one tier higher than what we currently own.

The rest of the day passes faster than usual, and the next day we arrive at the front of the Academy at 8 AM. Our opponents have already arrived. I raise my eyebrows upon realizing their weapon choice. Three of the girls have a bow in their hands. The boy with the larger build uses the same weapon as Hiro, and the other boy has an axe and a shield. The last seem has a dagger in each hand. She’s dressed in a long-sleeved shirt despite the hot weather.

“Looks like both teams are here. We will explain the game on the way to the Underground location. Follow us,” one of the two referees instructs. We follow them into the Academy.

“Make sure to listen carefully; I will not repeat myself. In this game, each team will have something in their possession before it starts. You will find out what it is before the start of the game. The goal is to take what the other team possesses and bring it back to your starting position. All members of your team must be present during this time regardless if they have been eliminated; this is important. The first team to achieve this will win. Too much damage done to either team’s objective will result in the automatic loss of the team responsible.”

There’s a man in front of a large door. One of the referees takes out a key, unlocks the door in front of him, and then opens it. We follow them down the flight of stairs in a dimly lit passage. The closing of a door resounds behind me. “There are already various referees stationed where you will battle, so remember not to break any rules. Each team will be allowed a ten-minute planning period before we take you to your starting positions.”

After many flights of stairs, we arrive in a huge open room; with dimensions at least half the size of the Academy. There’s limited lighting available, and there are many stone structures present. It is almost like these structures are designed to be ruin-like and broken down. There are neither doors nor windows, but there are spaces in the walls for them. Nearby there are two carts with a set of six leather garments. After we put them on, we are separated from the other team for our planning period. We decide to each propose a plan and for everyone else to reject or accept it.

“I think we should just hide our objective in a good hidin’ spot. Then we move as a team of six and eliminate everyone we see!” Hiro suggests.

“Rejected,” all of us say simultaneously. He throws a fit, but we ignore it and move on.

“How about just the standard approach? Assemble an offensive and defensive team. One to secure their objective and one to protect ours,” Drugo suggests.

“Rejected,” Hiro says in the background of our conversation. The rest of us accept his idea as a possibility.

“I propose something different. We should put our objective in plain sight with maybe one of us guarding it. The rest of us would hide and ambush the other team when they arrive,” I suggest.

“Rejected.”

“That is pretty crafty; I think everyone can agree that can be a possibility,” Sitos says.

“Didja hear me, I reject it!” Everyone nods their heads besides Hiro, who I ignore.

“My idea’s similar to Drugo’s. I think we should have a small recon group to scout what they’re doing. The other group would protect our objective. When the recon group comes back, we make a new plan based on what they’re doing,” Luna suggests. None of us have anything against it besides Hiro.

“That is a good idea too, but how about we take advantage of the rules of the game instead? The rules state that you cannot harm the objective no matter what…but nothing says that we cannot use it as a shield,” Sitos says. Hiro rejects it as usual while the rest of us accept it.

“Marin, what about you? Do you have any ideas?” Luna asks.

“Umm…it’s a hunch but… I think it’s too early to decide on a plan.”

“What do you mean?” Luna asks.

“The instructions they gave us are kind of vague…so maybe…like…they did it on purpose…because knowing might be…game-changing.”

“Rejected.”

One of my eyes twitches. I say, “Hiro, shut up.”

“Now that you mention it, they have not told us the name of the game either,” Sitos adds.

“Hmm… How about we trust Marinster’s judgment and wait until the start of the game before deciding what we’re doing? We only have a few minutes left.” We go with Drugo’s suggestion. We talk out the next couple of minutes open-minded with regards to our plan. A referee comes to get us when the time is up. We come face to face with the other team.

“The name of the game you will play is ‘Hostage Extraction.’ If you are bounded by rope, you are a hostage,” one of the referees explains. I knit my eyebrows as he continues, “Hostages are not allowed to fight or use magic as long they are tied with rope. They are only allowed to struggle to break free and run away once the game has started. Team five, decide on who you want to take hostage from the other team.”

My jaws drop. “Oh, great! We get to decide? That’s an easy choice. We pick him.”

One of the Archers on their team points at me. I knew it…

“That’s dirty!” Hiro shouts.

“It’s taking out the strongest person on your team. It’s not dirty,” the same girl responds.

“We will be taking your weapons for the duration of this round,” one of the referees says. I hand over my swords to the referees. “Each team will be given three ropes and a blindfold. Use them as you see fit.”

Two of the referees give each team the stated items. The opposing team starts by blindfolding me. Both of my arms are grabbed by two people. Based on scent and feel; it’s probably the two guys on their team. “Team three, decide on your hostage.”

“We want your strongest too! Give us that big guy holdin’ onto Kai’s right arm right now,” Hiro requests. My right arm becomes free.

“No, we take that back.”

“Sitos, what are you saying?”

“Hiro, you are banned from making decisions for the team.”

“What, why?! What was wrong with my decision?”

“Shut up; I will explain it to you later so that even your tiny brain can process it. For now, we want to take that Archer girl who was talking earlier.” Someone clicks their tongue near me.

“Why would you…” Hiro’s voice grows quiet. ”Oh… I get it.”

He snickers. My face burns up. “Now then, we can finally start the match. One of the referees will lead you to your starting positions. The start of the match will be signaled by the sound of thunder. Good luck to you both.”

I walk in the direction I’m being directed towards by the two people by my sides.

“Hiro, you are banned from guarding our hostage by yourself too.”

“What?!”

I sigh. How embarrassing…

“You sure have it hard, huh?” a girl asks.

“You have no idea…” I reply.

We walk for around five minutes before a referee says, “This entire space enclosed by these partial walls is your starting position. I will take my leave now. The game is over when you hear the sound of thunder the second time.”

His footsteps gradually resound quieter. “What should we do? They ruined our plan and took Aisha.”

“Just stick to the plan. We still have you and Melody. For starters, we should use all of our rope and tie this guy up,” a guy says. My hands are brought behind my back. They are tied strongly together with rope.

“Hey don’t use that rope yet. I have a better idea. Let’s use that blindfold to gag him and tie him around that pillar around his mouth. We can use that last strand to bind his legs. Then I’ll enclose him in my magic, fulfilling the same objective in our original plan.”

“Good idea. Let’s do that then.” Shortly after, my blindfold is removed, and the big guy tries to shove it in my mouth. I grit my teeth so he can’t put it in. “Damn, he won’t let me put it all the way in. It can’t be helped. Open his lips.”

The other dude follows his orders and uses two hands to open my mouth. The big guy gives up on putting it all in and settles on stuffing it in the space in front of my teeth. I can’t do anything about it, or the blindfold would get pushed past my teeth. They push me toward a nearby pillar and then tie a rope around my mouth and the pillar.

“Tie his legs, and let’s move out,” the smaller guy says. The sound of thunder resounds in the distance. I thrash around my legs, preventing the big guy with the rope from tying me up. I can’t move my head at all or make any noise. I try to break free of the rope gagging me.

“Hey, I’ll hold him down! Take the rope and tie him!” The big guy hands the slightly-smaller-built guy the rope and then he charges at me. I kick him, but he’s unfazed. Eventually, I can’t move as he pushes me into the pillar. The other guy ties the rope around the pillar and my legs.

Afterward, I can’t move at all. I’m only able to move my eyes around my current field of vision. Some portions of the walls are higher than others. There is no ceiling that I can see, but there appears to be a partial second floor implemented into the building. There’s an exit on the right side of the room, but since I can’t see the girls standing there, I presume there is at least one more exit on the left side.

“Are you guys done yet? Let’s go,” one of the girls says. The big guy picks up his sledgehammer while the other guy picks up his shield and axe.

“Right. Let’s go then,” the guy with the sledgehammer responds and then begins to walk away. He stops and says, “Oh, I almost forgot to hide our hostage.”

He turns around and holds his weapon upside down, with the hammer part touching the floor in front of me. In about ten seconds, stone begins to rise from the ground around me. It slowly rises higher and moves toward the pillar, eventually enclosing me in a dark, cramped space.

“Okay, I’m ready. Let’s go,” the big guy says in a barely audible voice. Their footsteps quickly fade out. I sigh.

Well… I guess I’ll take a nap. I’m sure Sitos and the others can win without me. I close my eyes, hoping to fall asleep in this uncomfortable position.

“We did it!” a girl exclaims. I slowly open my eyes, finding that I’m still stuck here. It’s suffocating in this space. Droplets of sweat cover my entire body.

“I can’t believe we actually beat them!” My eyes jolt open. My heartbeat speeds up.

What?! They lost?!

“Their teamwork is a total mess! After I yelled to you guys about their plan to use me as a shield, their plan collapsed.”

What the hell are they doing?! I grit my teeth as laughing resounds near me.

“Luckily, they decided to keep me blindfolded instead of gagging me! Their idea of covering my mouth manually was good but fell short in the end. I heard their entire plan from start to finish. After realizing their initial plan of leaving one person to guard me wouldn’t work, they all came back and launched that plan of using me as a shield. What a bunch of idiots. I almost feel sorry for Kai.”

“Hey, referees! Announce the end of the game! We freed our hostage, and we’re all here!” More sweat forms on my body.

Fine… We just have to win the next two games! There can’t possibly be another game with this concept.

“Hey! Why aren’t you saying anything?”

I knit my eyebrows. The referees are silent.

“Hey, we’re missing Melody!”

“What?!” I raise my eyebrows, slowly realizing my teammates’ plan.

“Did she not follow the plan to fall back? Wasn’t she with you?”

“No, we were on top of different buildings… Aisha, are you sure all five of them were there?”

“I’m sure… I heard five different voices as they dragged me along. They were going to use me as bait to direct the attention on the two with me. Then they were going to lead you into a trap where the rest of them lied in wait… Their plan should’ve been thwarted when Ada blinded them with magic, allowing me to break free and escape.”

“No matter how bad they are at working as a team… They’re not idiots. Especially that guy who chose you as the hostage. Why didn’t they bind more of your movements using the other ropes?”

“This is bad… If they attack us now, we’re totally outnumbered. Aisha doesn’t have her weapon either.”

“Watch out! They’re here!”

"Water arrow! Water arrow! Water arrow!"

“Doris, I’ll handle the fire from above! Take out that girl!”

“I’ll leave it to you, Aisha!”

“We need to leave this building! Before it’s too—barricade!"

A loud smash resounds. There are vibrations under my feet. The stone wall enclosing me crumbles instantly, disappearing into nothing. Another stone wall is present in front of that guy’s sledgehammer. It stretches across the entire room as far as I can see. It’s around five feet tall. Drugo stands in front of Luna and Marin on the second floor. Fireballs are raining from above, but they are stopped by blobs of Mana in the air.

“We can’t leave now! Let’s just use their strategy and use our hostage as a shield!” Before they have a chance to move, an arrow flies toward the center of them. The girl with the dagger parries it. I close my eyes and hold my breath, knowing what comes next. Dirt particles brush against my face. As the opponents cough, the rope binding my head breaks. Half a second later, my legs are free too.

"Gu—Shit! I ca—” I spit out the blindfold in my mouth, being careful not to take any breaths.

“Kai!” Hiro yells as the breaking of a wall resounds. I open one eye, leaving just a slit of space to avoid getting dirt into my eye. There’s an opening in the barricade. I close my eye again and then run toward the opening. As I’m running, a gust of wind blows around me. It doesn’t affect my running. I open my eyes as I clear their barricade. There’s a large amount of water on the floor in front of the barricade. It covers the entire space enclosed by these walls.

“What?! Kai’s free! We need to chase him!” I clear the body of water by the time their footsteps resound behind me. Sitos appears from the entrance on the right side of the room in front of me. When our eyes meet, I smile, and he smirks. I run past him and then appear outside the building.

"Lightning!" Sitos exclaims. Screams from the opposing teams resound. Sitos rejoins us. “Alright, let’s run back and win already.”

I let my team lead the way as they begin running toward our starting position. I say, “You guys nearly gave me a heart attack! I thought we lost when they came running back, bragging about winning the game.”

“You didn’t have faith in me, Hiro the Great?”

No, I didn’t…

“Well, this time was thanks to Sitos. He came up with the entire plan to trick the other team using our hostage,” Hiro admits.

“I heard from them. What happened to that girl you captured?” I ask.

“She should be waking up soon from that shock I gave her earlier. She will not be able to escape from those ropes, though,” Sitos answers.

Eventually, we run all the way to a similarly structured building from the one I escaped from. Once all of us have entered, the same sound of thunder resounds in the distance. Referees soon show up to lead us out of the Underground. They inform us that the next game will occur in the Arena in one hour. We are allowed the time to rest and prepare for the next game. I opt to take a nap. When the time comes, Sitos wakes me up. Our group heads toward the Arena.

The platforms and cylindrical devices are not present anymore. Instead, dozens of miniature obelisks about four feet tall are lined up along the wall of the ground floor. There are also carts full of the familiar leather garments. No audience is present, as expected. The other group stands in the middle of the room by the referees. The three Archers have restocked their arrows.

“We will explain the rules now that you are both here. The name of this game is ‘Defend the Obelisk.’ It is up to you to assemble an offensive team and a defensive team of however many people you wish. You will not know the arrangement of the other team until both teams have decided. We will use a wall to separate you and dissolve it when both teams have decided. Afterward, you may position yourselves however you like around the opposing team’s obelisk. You have a minute to decide on the teams and a minute of preparation before the start of the round.

“The defensive team is tasked with defending a single obelisk. You are not allowed to attack the offensive team unless you stand close to the obelisk. Otherwise, you can only try to negate their attacks. The offensive team can target the player or the obelisk, but the goal of the game is to destroy the obelisk. It is equipped with a barrier slightly stronger than the leather garments. It also counts as being destroyed if you drain the power of the barrier completely. Each round within the game will last a minute. If the offensive team is successful, your team scores one point. Both teams can score or not score in the same round.” Some referees move two obelisks on opposite sides of the Arena.

“This is the only game in the tournament where we will provide new leather garments and heal your wounds after every round in this game if need be. You will not be given any time to restock your supplies, however. When a new round starts, you cannot use the same configuration of players on either the offensive or defensive team as you have previously used. The winning condition is to have at least three points and lead by two points. That’s all and good luck. The signal for the start of the round is the same from last game.”

We split off into our own obelisk area following a referee’s orders. Another referee constructs a giant wall between the other team and us while we decide on a configuration.

As a group, we all agree that we should use three people on each team. I’m placed on the defensive team with Drugo and Marin for the first round. A minute passes, and the wall is dissolved. It looks like their offensive team is compromised of the girl Sitos tied up in the last game and both boys on their team. They evenly space themselves out around the obelisk while standing behind the designated boundary marked on the floor.

“I’ll take care of their Archer,” Marin informs, shuffling herself around the obelisk accordingly. I look between their Heavy and Tank before deducing that Drugo is more suited toward negating the sledgehammer.

“I’ll deal with their Tank,” I say while moving into the proper position. Eventually, I hear the familiar sound of thunder, signaling the start of the round.

My target rushes toward me and then we exchange several attacks. Neither of us land any blows. He suddenly jumps back while pulling his shield back. He throws the shield high in the air. I knit my eyebrows as I follow its trajectory. It won’t hit me. It won’t hit the obelisk. It won’t hit anything. Suddenly, it changes direction sharply. It speeds up as it sinks in height and makes a turn toward Marin.

“Marin, watch out!” I exclaim, but it’s probably too late. I turn my head back on my target. I parry his incoming strike. I turn my head toward Marin. The shield hits Marin on the side. She lets out a scream as she’s knocked onto the floor. Arrows sparkling with electricity fly toward our obelisk from the opposite side. I grit my teeth as I helplessly stand in place. The arrows bounce off the stone surface of the obelisk, but not before releasing electricity onto the surface of it. The barrier reveals itself and shines blue. After the third arrow, it becomes devoid of any color.

“Team five has scored a point!” I put down my fighting stance and then look over toward our offensive group in the far distance. Hiro and Sitos are kneeling down for reasons beyond me.

What’re they doing…? There should be 30 seconds left… Arrows fly toward Hiro and Sitos. They don’t move. Hey!

The arrows pierce them, and then they fall. Luna retreats and then the round ends soon enough. The referee casts Healing magic on the people injured during the first round: Sitos, Hiro, and Marin. Since they are physical injuries, no one has to replace their armor. One of the referees also replaces our obelisk. Sitos, Hiro, and Marin rejoin us when their injuries have been treated.

“What the hell were you guys doing on your knees back there?” I ask.

“We got blinded by that dagger-wielding girl,” Sitos answers.

“You should’ve already known she has Light magic from the last game, though.”

“I thought she would use it directly on us, but instead she reflected the light off an arrow lobbed in the air.”

“I see. They have a lot of tricks up their sleeves… You should be careful around their Tank. He can fling that shield like a boomerang, probably using Wind magic. That’s how he got Marin.”

“We will keep that in mind. For the next round, let us switch Luna with Marin. I think they plan to keep their Water user on defense to counter Luna.” The wall that separates the two teams is dissolved. Their offensive team is comprised of the same people with the Tank switched out with the dagger girl. We agree that Drugo should mark their Lightning Archer, and Luna will mark their Heavy, leaving me with dagger girl. We adjust our positions accordingly as our opponents shuffle around the outer boundary.

As the loud noise resounds in the Arena, our opponents charge toward us. Arrows clanging on metal resounds behind me, probably Drugo’s shield. I keep my eyes on dagger girl.

"Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!" Luna exclaims. In my peripheral vision, several balls of fire fly at her target. Dagger girl charges at me, and we clash. There’s hardly any power behind her attacks. I overpower her and push her back. She points an index finger at me as she still holds onto the dagger. I move my arm in front of me to shield my eyes.

"Blind!" Some light radiates in front of my arm, but it doesn’t affect me. I parry her attacks after she comes at me again. A loud noise erupts beside me. I turn my head to the right where Luna stands. A stone wall is in front of Luna.

“Luna!” I exclaim as I put strength into my swords, pushing dagger girl back.

“I’m okay!” I turn my head back toward dagger girl and then find that she isn’t holding onto her weapons anymore. She’s holding onto some kind of string. Pain radiates from my left forearm. I grit my teeth as the left side of my face distorts. I focus my eyes on my left arm. There’s a dagger lodged in it.

"Blind!" I put my right arm in front of me before her magic shoots into my eyes. A ray of light shoots into my eyes from the dagger and blinds me.

“Ah!” I interject as pain radiates behind my eyes. I stumble backward and then fall down. Another surge of pain radiates from my arm as the dagger is pulled out. Dagger girl’s footsteps resound. Is she going for the obelisk…? No…

“Luna, she’s coming for you!” I exclaim. I try to open my eyes, but the pain worsens, so I keep them closed. Dagger girl’s footsteps and heavier footsteps approach Luna’s position. Shit… It’s my fault Luna’s gonna get hurt and why we’re gonna give up two points...

I smack the floor in front of me with my sword. Luna exclaims, ”Bonfire!"

Hot air brushes the right side of my body. Dagger girl yells, “Whoa, that’s hot!”

“Ada, are you alright?!”

“Moron, don’t come here!”

What’s going on…? Luna managed to thwart the two of them? The pain behind my eyes starts to subside. I open them, seeing double for a moment. My vision returns to normal moments afterward. My eyes widen as I turn toward Luna. Flames spin around in a large circle measuring about five feet tall. The stone wall is gone. Moments later, the flames die out.

Dagger girl and sledgehammer dude are backed away far from where Luna’s magic was. Parts of their leather garments are burnt, so I assume that both of them are eliminated. I look over to see how Drugo is doing as I stand up. It appears that he’s had no problems dealing with Lightning girl, who has stopped shooting arrows.

“Luna, you’re amazing!” I exclaim with a smile as I walk over to Luna. She smiles back.

“Team five has scored a point!”

I knit my eyebrows as I look toward the referee standing by the obelisk. “What?! When did they get a chance to damage our obelisk?”

“Sorry, it was my fault,” Luna apologizes. “I forgot about the obelisk when I used my magic.”

I sigh and then say, “No, it was my fault to begin with. I let my guard down and put you in that situation.”

“That’s a problem…” Drugo says as he joins us. “We gave up two points. How are Hiroster and the others doing this time?”

I look over to the others. It appears that their Tank is keeping Sitos at bay with Wind magic, and the initial hostage girl is keeping Marin’s shots at bay with arrows of her own. Hiro runs toward the defenseless Water Archer, parrying her arrows along the way. One of the arrows leaves behind a puddle of water as it flies in the air. Hiro slips and then falls on his back. An arrow hits him in the shoulder. I sigh and frown.

The second round ends with the opposing team leading by two points. After everyone is in normal condition, the teams regroup at their respective obelisks. Sitos says, “Shit, this is not good. They only need one more point to win. If we let them score one more time it is over. They will attack us with the six of them next.”

“But we still need someone to score our point, or our situation won’t improve for next round,” I say.

“I’ll score our point…” Marin offers. “I won’t be of much use anyway.”

“It seems every round they have had some kinda trick. This next round especially, we should keep our guard up,” Drugo cautions.

“We’re almost out of time. Let’s decide what to do the minute before the round starts,” I say. The wall between the two teams dissolves, and as we expected, all six of them are on the offensive team. The Water Archer and the Lightning Archer stand together on one side. It seems that the other four are moving to the opposite side.

“I’ll take care of the two Archers,” Drugo says as he moves in front of them.

“Hiro, when the round starts, spill water on the floor in front of us,” Sitos orders.

“Got it.”

“The next order of things is to keep their Wind user at bay. I will leave that to the rest of you,” Sitos continues, taking glances at Luna and me.

“Leave it to Kai and me! I’ve already started making my preparations. Good luck everyone!” Soon enough, the loud sound resounds in the Arena. The three people in front of us except the Archer rushes forward.

"Water ball! Water ball! Water ball! Water ball!" Several balls of water appear from Hiro’s palm all aimed at the floor in front of us. The water splashes and covers 180 degrees around the obelisk while leaving the part where we stand dry. They don’t stop their charge. Balls of fire appear on their left and right side that fly toward them. They jump back. I point my right elbow at them.

"Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!" The usual balls of fire come out of my elbow. I aim it at the middle of where they all stand. Now they have to deal with Fire magic from all sides. The Archer shoots arrows covered in Mana. It pierces my magic as if they are made out of flesh. The arrows stay lodged in them until they disappear into nothing. The arrows fall onto the floor. Sledgehammer dude creates stone walls around them.

"Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!" I continue to shout, regardless if they get neutralized. Luna keeps her barrage of fireballs too. I break down Rich Mana into Unrefined Mana.

"Barricade!" the big guy exclaims as he slams down his weapon. A long five feet tall stone wall appears in front of his weapon. The wall is perpendicular to us and blocks one side of Luna’s magic. He runs toward us along the wall.

"Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!" I aim my magic at him, causing him to back off. My fireballs disperse on the wall he created, disintegrating parts of it.

"Water arrow!" a girl yells behind me. Water spills on the floor next to us, joining the bodies of water together.

“Friends! The two Archers over here split up! Be careful! I’m gonna follow the Lightning Archer!” Drugo warns. I stop launching my fireballs for a moment as I turn toward my right. Water Archer is standing there, cocking her next shot.

“The Mana I prepared ran out. They’re coming!” Luna exclaims. I parry the incoming arrow from the Water Archer and then focus back to the three charging at us. Dagger girl throws her dagger at Hiro. Luna looks toward its trajectory.

“Luna, don’t look!” I warn while occasionally glancing over to my right side, parrying the incoming arrows.

"Blind!” A ray of light appears from the dagger girl’s right index finger. It bounces off the dagger into Luna’s sight.

“Ah!” Luna interjects as she moves backward while covering her eyes. Hiro knocks away the dagger when it reaches him. Their Tank swings his axe at Hiro, who parries it, slowly pushing him away. Sledgehammer dude is right behind their Tank rushing toward Hiro. Sitos is kept busy with the other Archer firing arrows at him.

“Hiro, get back!” I warn, but it’s too late.

"Tower!" the big guy exclaims. Simultaneously, the long wall from earlier disintegrates as the floor under Hiro rises. A square shaped stone platform rises quickly, launching Hiro into the air. I raise my eyebrows when the Water Archer hasn’t fired any arrows at me for several seconds. As I turn my head over to her, an arrow covered in water flies past my view.

"Conduct lightning!" another girl yells. I turn toward the voice. The arrow covered in water pierces Hiro in his right shoulder, drenching the majority of his upper body in water. Another arrow is in the air from the opposite side and then pierces him from behind. He screams in pain as sparks of electricity and smoke radiates from his body. He loosens his grip on his weapon, and they both fall to the ground around the same time. Sitos is already engaging their Tank.

Damn, there’re at least 30 more seconds to go! I grit my teeth as I turn to parry more arrows from the Water Archer. I focus back on the opponents in front. They’re getting closer and closer.

“Kai, Sitos, get back!” Luna warns. I jump back immediately. ”Twin flamethrowers!"

A large amount of constant fire emits from both of Luna’s palms in front of her. The flames travel at least 15 feet before disappearing. She moves her palms around to cover a large area in front of her. The three opponents quickly back off.

"Water arrow! Water arrow!" Water Archer exclaims. I turn toward her and then parry one of the arrows. The other one flies by toward Luna’s magic. The water disperses in the middle of the fire’s path creating some steam while some of the flames die out. New flames that emit from Luna’s palm instantly replaces the lost flames. Another Archer covers an arrow with Mana before shooting it at the flames. IT absorbs some of the flames, but soon enough the Mana covering the arrow runs out. The arrow catches on fire and falls to the ground.

Sledgehammer dude creates a wall between them and Luna. It disintegrates within a few seconds. I gulp as I gape at Luna’s magic. I focus back on reality as I go stand by Luna’s side to protect her from arrows shot by Water Archer. The three in front of us aren’t trying to get closer.

If I were them… What would I do… I raise my eyebrows, focusing my sights on their Tank. He throws his axe and shield in two different directions.

“Hey, Sitos! Incoming!” I warn as I follow the shield honing in from my side. I run forward to avoid collision with Luna as I go to stop the shield. I follow its trajectory precisely, adjusting my position every passing moment. Dagger girl runs around Luna’s magic toward me. The shield changes direction and heads straight for where I predict. I cross both of my swords as they hit the shield. The force of the attack knocks me back a few feet. The shield drops onto the floor. Another metal object clangs on the floor nearby at the same time.

“Hey, Drugo! Switch with me quick!” Sitos exclaims.

I keep my eyes on dagger girl. She has tied the string absent from the dagger she threw earlier with the other swing. She swings the dagger rapidly in the air as she runs toward me. I focus on the dagger. There’s only one thing she can possibly do when there’s so little time left… She can’t harm the obelisk and harming me won’t do a thing.

The dagger stops in midair in front of me. I move my right sword in front of me and then angle it toward her eyes. ”Blind!"

The familiar ray of light appears from her right index finger. It reflects off the dagger and then off my own weapon. It reflects straight into dagger girl’s eyes. She screams, dropping her weapon on the ground. I walk over and then cut the mystery string with a stab. I kick her weapon far away. Water Archer isn’t firing anymore. I figure she’s out of arrows. I face the others and find a sledgehammer in the air spinning horizontally toward the obelisk. I widen my eyes as I run toward it. Luna has stopped emitting flames and stands behind Drugo. She supports his back with both of her hands.

In midflight, stone covers the head of the sledgehammer. The rotation speed of the hammer greatly increases as it moves straight toward our obelisk. Drugo drops his sword and then holds his shield with both hands. Mana pours out of his arms that envelop the shield.

"Conduct lightning!" Lightning Archer shouts from afar. An arrow flies toward the puddle of water under all of us. My palms get sweaty and my heart races. My fears are lessened when Sitos easily stops the arrow in its tracks.

Drugo makes contact with the sledgehammer. It continuously pushes him and Luna backward. After two seconds, Drugo punts the sledgehammer into another direction. Parts of the stone surrounding the hammer fall onto the ground next to him. The hammer happens to be launched right at me. It sinks in height, but not low enough for me to jump over. I drop my weapons and then dive forward. I manage to duck right under it before its height reduces too much. I hit the floor. Dagger girl is now in the hammer’s path.

One of the referees picks up the girl on the ground before the sledgehammer reaches her. Afterward, the hammer crashes onto the ground and slides along the floor for a while. It travels for around 30-40 feet before stopping completely.

The round ends shortly after. Just when I think that there are still more rounds to be played, it seems that the other team has given up. All three Archers have run out of arrows, and several of them can’t use magic anymore. We have won the first round of the tournament.

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