The Selection

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Chapter 22 - Academy Year 4 - Tricksters

Our match ends a little before 11:00 AM. The referees inform us that the details about the next game will be determined once the other teams have finished their matches tomorrow. We spend the remainder of the current day resting.

By next midday, we learn that we are fighting team seventeen in the second round of the tournament. All of the teams participating in the second round meet right outside the dormitory with Moria present. After drawing lots, it is determined that our first game will take place in the Forest. Moria instructs us to meet in this exact location at 8:00 AM tomorrow. I continue about my day while completing my standard training regimen. Finally, the next day arrives.

Our team stands still, facing the other team in front of us. I knit my eyebrows as I focus my attention on the two dual-wielding identical large shields. One of them has a pair of large, circular shields with a diameter of about two feet while the other one has a pair of tall, elliptical-shaped shields that measure about 1.5 by four feet. I recognize the boy wielding a two-handed axe beside them; the guy who pushed me off the platform with his Wind magic during the preliminaries. The two standing to the right of him are the only two girls on their team. The one who is unarmed, I assume is their Mage, while the other girl appears to be using a spear measuring around seven feet.

That guy will be using a spear like this too… This will be good practice. The last member of their team wields a bow. Not too much time passes before the referees arrive.

“The game you will play this time is called ‘Convoy Escort.’ The rules are simple. There is an offensive and defensive role. The defensive role involves leading this convoy over here to the finish line or as far as possible,” a referee explains as he points to two convoys by the entrance to the Forest. There are two horses attached to each of them.

“The team in charge of offense may enter the Forest ten minutes earlier than the defensive team to devise a plan. The goal is to either damage the dummy located inside the convoy or immobilize the convoy to the point that it can’t be moved anymore. If the time passes 30 minutes from the start of the game, then that will also mark the end for the defensive team. When any of these three conditions is met, the distance from the finish line will be marked by us, and then teams will switch roles. Are there any preferences on who wants to escort the convoy first?” His question is met with several seconds of silence.

“Alright, then Team three, you guys will be on the defensive team. Team seventeen, you may enter the Forest now.” The Wind user from before turns his head to me and smiles before he and his group go into the Forest.

“Your ten minutes starts now. You may want to get into your positions now. I assume at least one of you knows your way around a horse?” Everyone except Hiro and Drugo is nodding their heads. I haven’t had any experience, but I’ve seen other people do it. I assume it’s the same for everyone else. “Good. I’ll let you know when you can begin.”

We head to the convoy in question and then discuss our formation. We decide to put the girls on the roof with Sitos in charge of the reins. Drugo stands in front next to the horses while Hiro and I are diagonally behind the vehicle on different sides. The referee says, “You may begin.”

Sitos snaps the reins that cause the horses to start running. They’re moving faster than the speed we had previously planned.

“Ah!” Marin interjects as she flails her arms around while tipping backward. Luna, who is behind her appears to be in a similar situation. The horses stop. Marin manages to retain her balance. Luna lets out a soft scream as she falls backward. I immediately drop my weapons. I run over while holding my arms out, catching her. Our eyes meet.

“I heard Luna scream, is she okay?!” Sitos asks as he runs toward us along with Drugo.

I look away from Luna and say, “Uh, yeah… She’s fine,”

I let her down, blushing lightly. My heartbeat is racing. Luna exclaims, “I’m fine thanks to Kai!”

“I see… Sorry about that. It was my fault; I used too much force,” Sitos apologizes. “I will be more careful next time. I will help you up there again.”

“No, I don’t trust you anymore,” Luna answers, crossing her arms and looking away with a frown. Sitos opens his mouth but doesn’t say a word.

“Come on, Lunaster. This is no time to be acting petty,” Drugo says.

“He’s right, Luna. We need to get going, or we’re gonna give the other team more preparation time,” I say.

“I guess you’re right…” Luna responds with a conceding voice as she turns toward Sitos.

“Great, come over here, and I will give you a boo—”

“I want Kai to do it.”

“Why do I have to…” Luna stares at me with a pout. I sigh and then say, “Fine…”

I walk over to the front of the vehicle. Luna follows me and interjects, “Yay!”

Sitos frowns with slightly parted lips. He’s gritting his teeth. What’s with him? He doesn’t have to be so upset over something like this… I’m the one who should be upset in this situation.

I climb onto the front of the convoy behind the horses. I bend over slightly as I make a platform with my palms. Luna steps on them as she grabs my face for balance. I slowly lift her up. She lets go of my head and then climbs on the roof of the carriage. Afterward, I go back and then pick up my weapons. Sitos signals the horses to move again. This time, they move at a snail’s pace.

We move along the trail in the Forest for several minutes with no encounters. I constantly look around my surroundings to see if anyone is there. Only a referee atop a tree is in my sights.

“Someone is up ahead!” Sitos alerts. There are two tanks standing side by side with their shields in front of them. Their Mage and spear user are behind them. The Archer and Wind guy are nowhere to be found.

“Be careful guys! There’re still two people unaccounted for,” I warn as I join up with the others are the front.

“Hiro!” Sitos exclaims.

“I’m on it!” Hiro answers while swinging his hammer around, letting it rest on his left shoulder while supporting it only with his left arm. He points his right palm toward our enemies. ”Water ball!"

A sphere of water comes out of his palm that head toward the middle between the two Tanks. Sitos jumps off the convoy and then sprints toward them. In the split second before Hiro’s magic lands, the skin color on the Tanks’ faces turns bluish. Hiro’s magic bursts upon impact, clearly drenching the shields and the ground below them in water.

"Volt thrust!" Sitos yells while thrusting his right blade toward the Tank with the circular shields. His sword stops short about two feet from him, but Lightning magic envelops his weapon, also filling the gap between his blade and him in the shape of his sword. None of them move a muscle, when suddenly, the spear user thrusts her weapon at Sitos between the two Tanks. The tip pierces Sitos’ right arm. He jumps backward before it goes through completely. Drops of blood fall on the ground.

“Sitos!” several of us exclaim.

“I am fine. More importantly, what was that?”

“I think they covered themselves in Abjuration magic before Hiro’s magic landed. It looks like it’s the reflective type,” I say.

“I see. It looks like it covers their entire body… Luna and Kai, hit them with concentrated attacks,” Sitos replies.

I start preparing an ambush with my magic. I focus on having multiple very small-sized versions of my fireball that would converge on them from various angles.

“Enemy attack from behind!” Marin’s warning interrupts my focus. I turn around, finding a volley of arrows covered in fire falling from the sky. It would land on the roof of the convoy if left unchecked. Marin shoots several arrows that collide with the enemy’s arrows, knocking them away from their path. I raise my eyebrows. I look at the wall the two Tanks have created.

So that’s why they’re in a defensive position right now… I need to hurry. I continue programming instructions for the ambush.

“Marin, do ya see the enemy?” Hiro asks.

“No…the arrows were lobbed from the Fo—wait there’s someone behind us! It’s the axe user!” Marin warns as she shoots more arrows.

“Hiro, come with me,” Sitos says as he disappears from my sights.

“I’m already on it! Water ball!"

"Whirlwind!" the axe user yells from behind me. The sound of wind blowing resounds.

“What the hell is that?!” Hiro yells.

“Pay attention, idiot! Just stop him with your weapon!” Sitos responds.

Alright! My magic’s ready. Now all there’s left is to send out my Mana…

As I’m sending out my Mana, Hiro interjects, “Gah!”

“Ah!” Sitos interjects at the same time. I turn my head around to check out the situation, dropping my jaws in response. The Wind user spins rapidly in a circle while slowly approaching us. There’s some dirt rotating around him. It looks like a miniature tornado. Hiro’s Water magic is in the vortex, rotating in the same direction as the Wind user’s blade.

“You two, get back! I’ll stop him! Hiro, hurry and disperse your Water magic!” Luna exclaims as she sits on the edge of the roof and then drops down.

“What?”

“Shout your magic anywhere except at that axe guy, you moron!” Sitos exclaims.

Hiro points his palm toward my direction and shouts, ”Water ball! Water ball! Water ball!"

The water in the vortex has disappeared. I smile and face forward. Good, my magic’s just about to activate… Hiro’s magic will weaken—

I widen my eyes and drop my frown. The two Tanks are charging at us. Hiro’s magic bursts on their shields like before. Damn, a second too late!

My magic activates. 20 miniature fireballs in total fly from various angles toward the two girls behind the two Tanks. Drugo steps in front of me as the Tank with the circular shields rushes toward me. Meanwhile, Luna shouts, ”Bonfire!"

"Barrier!" the unarmed girl yells.

"Ahhh!" the Tank with the circular shields yells as he bashes one of his shields against Drugo’s shield. The impact knocks Drugo on the ground.

What?!

I jump back and point my right elbow toward the two in front of me.

"Fireball! Fireball! Fireball! Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!"

I shoot out my usual flaming balls of fire out of my elbow, alternating my aim between the two Tanks in front of me. They stand still while holding their shields near each other. My magic bursts into shapeless forms of fire as they make contact with the shields. Some of it makes its way past the shield, but the protective Mana around them pushes it away. The skin on their faces turn to a normal color as the last of my magic fades away. I break down my Mana from Rich Mana to Unrefined Mana to prepare for a second volley.

"Dirt arrow!" Marin shouts. An ordinary arrow flies past me toward the Tank with the circular shields. ”Scatter!"

A cloud of dirt appears all around the arrow. The Tank squeezes his eyes shut and flails his arms around while moving backward. Hiro and Sitos sprint past me. Hiro swings his hammer and then knocks away the shield on his right. Sitos follows up with a vertical slash on his right bicep. He lets out a scream of pain.

My attention shifts to their teammates behind the guy with circular shields. The other Tank stands by the unarmed girl, not affected by Marin’s magic. I don’t know how the unarmed girl escaped my magic unscathed. The spear user is missing.

I find her near the convoy about to thrust her spear into the horse. I immediately throw my right sword at her. Both of our attacks land simultaneously. She lets out a shriek of pain and distorts one side of her face as my weapon slashes her left shoulder. It stays in her flesh for a moment, but it falls and drops to the ground. She takes back her spear and falls back.

Meanwhile, the horse has been screaming and furiously running forward. It pulls the convoy with so much force that one horse alone moves the wagon at a speed greater than our pacing before. Marin shrieks softly as she falls from the roof. The other horse starts moving too. I immediately cut off the reins that tie the injured horse to the convoy and then pull back the reins of the other horse. The injured horse gallops off in a random direction as the vehicle comes to a stop.

“Retreat!” one of them yells as they run back into the forest. I turn around, finding the axe user on the ground with an arrow in his chest.

“Are you okay, Marin?” Luna asks, giving a hand for Marin to grab onto.

“That was so unexpected… I think I have a bruise, but otherwise fine,” Marin responds as she grabs a hold of Luna’s hand and then stands up. I walk over to where the Wind user lies.

“Is this guy unconscious?” I ask.

“Looks like it. He is injured enough to not be a threat anymore,” Sitos says.

“We took out one of ’em and injured two!” Hiro exclaims. “Let’s win already.”

We take some time to refresh our formation before continuing forward. We move at a slower pace than before since we only have one horse tied to our vehicle now. We pass several turns. I recall that after the next U-turn, it’s a straight path to the exit. There’s a wall blocking the straight path measuring about 20 feet high and 5 feet wide. The enemy isn’t in sight.

“I will move the convoy a bit closer before stopping. Everyone watch out for their ambush,” Sitos cautions. I keep my eyes on the right side of the woods.

“There’s no need to stop. I’ll go knock down that wall right now!” Hiro exclaims as he quickens his pace.

“Wait,” Sitos says. Hiro stops and turns his head around. “It looks like you do not have to. They are showing themselves.”

The Tank with the elliptical shields comes out from the left side of the woods. The convoy comes to a stop about 25 feet away from the wall. A volley of arrows covered in flames is launched from the other side of the wall. I raise my eyebrows. So that’s how their Archer knows exactly where to hit us…

“I’ll take care of the arrows as usual!” Marin informs as she shoots her own arrows toward the enemy’s arrows. Her arrows disrupt the trajectory of the arrows flying toward us. I focus my attention the side I’m covering. There are no noises or sight of any enemies. It feels like the convoy has moved closer to the wall, but I know the convoy hasn’t moved. I knit my eyebrows as I stare at the wall.

I shift my gaze toward the Tank with the elliptical shields. He’s standing still while making no movements. Drugo and Sitos are not doing anything other than keeping their stances up.

“Hey, Sitos, Drugo! Is the wall moving closer?” I ask.

“What are you talking about, Kai? Walls do not move.”

“Wait, Sitoster… We seem to be closer to the wall than before.”

“Now that you mention it…” A small smile emerges on the elliptical guy’s face. I raise my eyebrows.

“Hiro, knock down that wall fast!” I exclaim.

“On it!” Hiro runs toward the wall with his hammer overhead. Drugo and Sitos cut the Tank off from a path that can reach Hiro.

They’re clearly trying to do something with the wall…but what do they accomplish by moving it closer? The wall suddenly tips forward before Hiro reaches the wall. Their Tank falls back as soon as that happened. I raise my eyebrows. The Archer appears and then shoots an arrow toward Hiro. Hiro jumps back. I run toward the open space on the right side of the wall.

“Kai, where are you going?” Sitos asks, but I ignore him. The wall crashes down and resounds loudly as it collides with the convoy. The Archer, Mage, and elliptical shield guy are at the bottom of the wall, the girl apparently holding onto the circular shields. The other Tank is on top of the wall. He’s holding onto two handles attached to the back of it. The Archer cocks an arrow and points it at me while the elliptical shield guy guards him. My attention shifts to the other Tank guy. He stands up as he holds onto his right bicep with his left hand.

I point my right elbow toward the three grouped together and exclaim, ”Fireball!"

A ball of fire comes out of my elbow and then flies toward the three in front of me. Immediately, I charge toward the unarmed Tank on the platform. He smiles. I knit my eyebrows as I prepare to cut him with my sword. He removes his hand from his arm, revealing that there is no injury. I widen my eyes as I look behind me. The Archer is no longer pointing an arrow at me, and they’re standing still.

I face forward as Luna and Marin scream. Luna falls off from the back side of the convoy while Marin slides down the wall on her back for several feet. The Wind user emerges from atop a tree and then smashes the roof of the convoy with his axe. He removes his weapon, and then the spear girl falls from the same tree with her weapon pointed downward. Her spear goes through the hole made by the axe user.

“That is it for the first half! Team seventeen has damaged the dummy located in the convoy! Report back to the starting point for the second half. Some of us need to stay and clean up the mess made from the first half,” a referee announces.

We do as he instructs and head back to the beginning of the Forest. It takes ten minutes to walk back and another ten minutes for the referees to come back. They notify us that we can go back in to have our ten minute planning period, and we go in.

“I… I already came up with a plan…that will probably work…but it will take some time to set up…”

“That’s perfect, Marin. Their plan of pushing down that wall gave me an idea too. It is definitely capable of buying you enough time,” I say. “Then…two of you come with me while the rest helps Marin set up her trap.”

“I’ll go with Kai!”

“Count me in too.” Luna and Sitos stay with me while Marin and the others run off to a farther part of the trail.

“So, what’s the plan?” Sitos inquires.

“Basically, we’ll pre-cut the trees closest to the trail right now. When they come, it will just take a little more force to make the tree fall toward the path. Luna and I can set them on fire too.”

“Hmm… I see. That could work.”

“On that note, I have an idea too,” Luna says. We listen to Luna’s suggestion and then start making preparations. Sitos and I take different sides to pre-cut some of the trees in the same area. To utilize Luna’s idea, we cut several trees down before the area filled with pre-cut trees appears. By this time, ten minutes have almost passed. Luna sets the cut-down trees on fire with her magic. Afterward, she uses Wind magic to blow the smoke toward the side of the path they will come from.

I figure it will be a while until they reach this portion of the Forest. I sit and lean against the back of a tree. Something rumbles in the distance for a second. I cock an eyebrow as the noise dies off. Was that the sound of the convoy…?

Several seconds later, rumbling noises resound again. I raise my eyebrows and stand up. They’re speeding through!

The convoy is in our sights. The spear user is on one of the horses while the axe user is on the other. The two Tanks are in the area at the front of the convoy. I assume the last two are inside.

The horses continue to charge toward us. They stop amidst the smoke Luna’s blowing toward them. They stand on their hind legs and neigh. I smile.

The horses change directions toward the woods, but the Tanks pull them back with the reins.

The axe user points his right palm at a 45-degree angle in front of him and yells, ”Drift!”

The smoke that Luna’s blowing toward them moves in the direction of his palm. The horses continue along the path.

“Luna, retreat! They found a counter to your plan already!” Luna stops casting her magic and then runs into my side of the forest. Suddenly, arrows fly from the deeper ends of the woods. I widen my eyes. That trajectory is…!

The arrows fly toward Luna and then pierce through her. She screams and falls. I run toward her.

“Luna!” I yell as I look in the direction where the arrows came from. The Archer is atop a tree. Damn! So he wasn’t in the convoy…

I kneel down next to her. She’s shedding a few tears. I grit my teeth. One of the arrows pierced through her hand while the other one is lodged in her abdomen.

“I think I’m thr-through… The rest’s up to you…” Luna says quietly with little energy.

"Water sphere!" a girl yells near me. The flames that envelop the trees start to burn less intensely. I stand back up. One of the referees is heading this way.

I frown as I get back into my position next to the pre-cut trees. It’s my fault Luna’s in pain right now… I didn’t consider that they would try to ambush us instead.

The Archer atop the tree is no longer there. The axe user is cutting the cut-down trees into smaller pieces. Their Tanks bash the smaller pieces of the tree away from the center of the path. I turn toward Luna. The arrows lay on the ground next to them, and a green glow emits from the referee’s hands. I turn back to the path as the convoy rumbles forward. Now!

I cut the tree in front of me, and Sitos does the same on his side. The horses stand on their hind legs and neigh again as their path is blocked off. I run and cut the trees preceding the one I just cut while Sitos mirrors my actions. Their Tanks split up on each side. Both of them raise their shields on the first falling tree’s path. The circular shield guy is on my side.

"Ahhh!" he yells, subsequently pushing with enough force to cause all the trees I cut to fall toward the woods.

I gape at his ridiculous strength. Are you serious…?

"Wall!" someone yells from the other side. A tall vertical wall appears on the other side. The trees from the other side fall against it. I snap back to reality and then cut down more trees. All of them converge toward the convoy. After cutting the last tree down, I point my elbow at the convoy.

"Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!” I fire off my magic indiscriminately.

The spear user appears in the direction of my magic and exclaims, ”Water sphere!"

A ball of water surrounds the tip of her spear. She moves the tip toward my two of my fireballs and then extinguishes them. My other fireball ignites a tree on fire. They don’t do anything to stop the fire. ”Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!”

"Water sphere!” The spear user nullifies two of my fireballs again while the other one spreads the flames further. Leaves crackle behind me. I turn around.

Shit, I forgot about that guy! The Archer runs past me without looking at me. He heads toward the convoy. I raise my eyebrows. Shit!

I run toward the front of the convoy while still staying inside of the woods. The axe user and the two Tanks have cleared the two trees blocking the road. With no other options left, I run in front of them. Sitos joins me.

“Kai! What happened to Luna?”

“She got eliminated… It was my fault,” I say while keeping my focus on the enemies in front. The Archer holds onto two arrows in his open hand. He quickly cocks them one at a time, shooting them in succession at me. Someone chuckles near me as I deflect them. I cock an eyebrow as I turn to Sitos. He’s frowning, and no one is chuckling. I guess it was my imagination… There was nothing funny about what I said.

“Finally, you guys will finally fight us instead of these cowardly tricks?” the axe user asks.

“I will hold these chumps off for a little longer by myself. You join with the others!” Sitos exclaims and then charges toward the enemy. I click my tongue. I don’t want to waste the chance he’s given me and run into Sitos’ side of the woods. The sound of metal clashing resounds as I run deeper into the woods. Eventually, the crackling of leaves beneath my feet drowns out all other noise. I use this time to break down more of my Mana into Rich Mana and Unrefined Mana.

Later, I find Marin and Drugo in my sights at the final U-turn before the straight path to the exit. I join up with them. Drugo’s sitting against a tree, panting. Marin asks, “Where’re Luna and Sitos?”

I shake my head.

“I see…” she answers with a frown.

“So… Did you guys complete your trap?”

“Yep... Everything’s ready…but it’s up to Hiro whether the plan works…or not...”

“Say what?!” I exclaim and widen my eyes. Marin smiles lightly and laughs.

“Don’t worry. It’s a role that’s…hard to screw up. Come. I’ll show you,” she says as she walks further along the trail. There’s a wall about ten feet high and fifteen feet wide, covering the entirety of the trail. It’s located on at the beginning of the straight path. The most they can travel is an L-shape. “Did you notice anything…unusual? When you walked…over here?

“No…?” I answer in a confused tone. Marin giggles.

“The ground under you is hollow from here to over there,” says as she points at the indicated points on the ground. I raise my eyebrows.

“I see! That’s an amazing trap you came up with! How did you set it up so fast?”

“It was nothing… It was thanks to Hiro and Drugo doing the manual labor. I used my magic to separate the dirt into blocks that could be transported elsewhere so no dirt piles would be visible near here. Hiro took care of that while Drugo prepared the wood that was inserted near the top of the hole. Then dirt was placed on top of the wood to make it completely unnoticeable!” she explains with enthusiasm.

“You even took into account that they wouldn’t see the wall until after they enter this part of the trail, guaranteeing that they would be in this position!”

She smiles. I feel bad for Sitos… He sacrificed himself for no reason…

“They’re coming! We should hide!” Drugo exclaims as he runs over to us. The rumbling noises in the distance close in on us. We hide behind some trees in the deeper end of the woods near the L-shaped path. I peek my head out. The convoy is on top of the trap. A few moments later, cracks form on the ground. A loud noise resounds as the convoy falls through the ground, forming a dirt cloud.

“What the hell?!” one of them yells. We run toward the trap. Someone tries to open the convoy door, but the hole is too narrow to allow that.

“You damn cowards and your tricks!” the axe user yells from the bottom of the hole. He’s no longer on the horse.

“It’s apparent that Team seventeen’s unable to move their convoy anymore. Therefore, their distance traveled ends here, and Team three wins the game!” a familiar voice announces. “You did well, Marin.”

“Mom! How long have you been watching?”

I turn around. Marin’s mother stands there. She pats Marin on the head and responds, “I saw everything.”

Her mother laughs. I walk next to Marin. Her cheeks are flushed red. I ask, “Say, what happened to Luna and Sitos? I think they were both eliminated.”

“They should be waiting for you at the entrance to the Forest.”

“I see.”

“By the way, the other two teams have already finished their match. So the next game will start at 10 AM. It’s been determined your next game will take place in the Arena. So you’ll meet there when the time comes.”

We rejoin with Luna and Sitos. They seem good as new with no apparent injuries. They aren’t wearing their leather garments, though. There are various blood stains on their clothes.

“Our next game’s gonna be in the Arena. We gotta meet there at 10 AM,” I inform the two. I walk back toward our dormitory and say, “I’m kinda hungry… Luna, make me some food.”

“No, Kai, you dolt. She is not going to make you anything after you—”

“Okay! What do you want?”

“I don’t know… let me think about it a little more. What were you saying, Sitos?”

He clicks his tongue and then says, “It is nothing important.”

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