The Selection

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Chapter 26 - Academy Year 4 - Ancient Race

“How long are we gonna fall?! We’re gonna die!” Hiro exclaims in the darkness. I use all the force in my limbs to push the couch further down.

I point my right elbow down and shout, ”Fireball!"

The familiar flaming ball of fire comes out and then lights the couch on fire.

“Everyone hold hands! I’ll use Wind magic before we hit the ground!” Luna exclaims. I join hands with Luna on my right. Hiro’s still holding onto his weapon on my left.

“Hiro, let go of that stupid hammer already!” I exclaim.

“But—”

“Do you wanna die?!” He frowns and lets go of his hammer. I join hands with him. Luna and Drugo are on the ends with an open hand. We line ourselves up so that we are equidistant to the ground below us. I gulp as I stare at the burning couch about ten feet below us.

The narrow walls around us expand into a large open area. The burning couch illuminates the surrounding area. Hiro loosens his grip on my hand and exclaims, “Look! There’s water below us!”

“Don’t let go, Hiro! We don’t know how deep that water is!” I exclaim.

“Everyone, get ready!” Luna exclaims. The couch falls into the water, and a loud splash resounds. The water seems deep. Luna points her right palm below us and releases Wind magic. I tightly grasp both of my hands as the force of her magic forcibly pushes Luna above us while Drugo swings to the bottom. Our descent slows down a little. Drugo falls into the water first while the rest follows in order. I let go of Luna’s and Hiro’s hand as I dive into the water.

There are luminescent florae on the floor of this body of water along with various types of fish. The couch and Hiro’s new weapon sink into the depths of a cliff. I note the location of the cliff and then swim back to the surface. The cave is pitch black with no signs of light other than underneath the water. Everyone else surfaces too. A waterfall resounds nearby.

“Well, looks like we’re still alive,” I say.

“But my hammer… Maybe I can still get it back.”

“Don’t bother, Hiro. What’s more important? Your life or that hammer?” I ask. Hiro gawks down into the water.

“Where’re we?” Marin asks.

“I think we’re in a cavern,” Luna says.

“Let’s talk after we find some dry land,” I suggest, recalling the direction of the cliff. I release some Fire magic out of my forehead, focusing on volume instead of burning intensity. It lights the area around me. I swim toward the dry land nearby. The others follow and do the same. I turn back. The waterfall I heard is actually water dripping down from a hole in the wall.

“It’s cold down here. I’m freezin’!” Hiro exclaims while shivering. I shiver a little too.

“I’ll make us some wood,” Marin says.

“That’s so useful, Marin!” Luna exclaims. “We can always count on you!”

We sit in a miniature circle as we wait for her to make us some wood. I blush and avert my eyes from Marin and Luna. After about 15 seconds, several short, thick pieces of wood appear in the middle. “Hurry up and heat it up, Kai!”

“Not yet, Hiro. Look, Marin’s still concentrating,” I say. Marin still has her palms focusing on the wood.

“What’s the holdup…?” I sigh and then look at Drugo. He smiles and chuckles.

“Right now that wood’s in a magical form. If Kai tries to heat it up now with his magic, both of them would collide against each other. After Marin converts it into a physical form, Fire magic will be able to light it on fire,” Drugo explains.

“Did you really not notice when she used it during our first ‘Eliminate the King’ game?” I ask.

“Nope.”

“It’s ready,” Marin informs. I let out a small stream of fire out of my right palm using Scrap Mana. I keep it going until the wood catches on fire. A wave of heat radiates the front of my body with warmth.

“This sucks… First I lose my hammer, and now we’re stuck here…” he says and then sighs. I frown and shake my head.

“I don’t wanna hear anything about that shit hammer again. We wouldn’t be down here if you didn’t trip and break the floor. And then there’s that. All of you jumping on me without thinking about the consequences…”

“We’re sorry,” they say in unison. I sigh.

“Well, don’t be so upset, Kaister. There might be some upside to this.”

“This place might finally cure your boredom,” Sitos says.

“We might find some new things to cook too!” Luna exclaims.

“Yeah! Explorin’ the unknown…! Like adventurers would! Let’s go explore this cave!” Hiro exclaims as he stands up. He shivers and then says, “It’s cold…”

He immediately sits back down near the fire. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in exploring this cave…but we also don’t have any of our weapons. If we do run into some monsters who knows if we can even survive… Even if we do kill them, we don’t have any of our cooking supplies so it won’t taste good.”

“Sorry…” they say in unison as they look down. I sigh.

“Well, what’s done is done. We’ll probably be fine because I can use my Rich Mana for anything vicious that comes at us,” I say with a smile.

“Wow, you’re so reliable, Kai!” Luna exclaims.

“Yes, I feel safe with you around,” Sitos says.

“We won’t have to be afraid of anything with you around!” Luna exclaims.

“Nah I’m not that strong…” I say and then grin.

“So you’ll forgive us?” Luna asks.

“Huh? Yeah, sure,” I say while still grinning. Praise me more… Huh…?

No one is paying attention to me. “Marin, I think we can make the cooking work if you make us a pot with your magic. We can use my magic as the stove, and you can make everyone bowls and eating utensils!”

“Yes, and some makeshift weapons too to kill anything that wants to screw with us.”

“Make me a hammer and I’ll kill everything!”

“I’ll be glad to. It will take a while, though.”

“You don’t have to worry about that, since we’ll be drying our clothes for a while.” My grin turns into a frown as I realize what just happened. “Don’t just sit there gawking, Kai! We all share an equal amount of responsibility in this.”

“Yeah, Kai! Ya can’t laze around doing nothin’ like ya usually do!” Hiro exclaims. My lip twitches.

“As the mighty protector of all of you guys… I’m gonna rest up my strength for when we need it,” I say and then lie down and close my eyes.

“I think that was too much…” Luna whispers.

“He will forget all about it when he wakes up. Let him nap.”

I’m not gonna forget this, Sitos… Ah, whatever.

“Kai, we’re all ready!” Luna exclaims. I open my eyes slowly and then get up. Everyone is standing up holding onto something. I rub my eyes. Hiro’s holding onto a weapon shaped like his usual sledgehammer while Sitos and Drugo hold onto a single edged long blade made out of only stone.

“I made one…for you too,” Marin informs as she holds out the weapon in her palms. I stand up and then grab it with my right hand. I swing it a couple of times in front of me. “It might be a little heavy…to stay durable…”

“It’s fine, Marin. This will work,” I say with a smile.

“Hiro, you cannot swing that hammer around like you usually do. It will break.”

“I know Sitos!”

“Friends, let’s go explore and find the way out before it gets too late,” Drugo says.

“I’ll lead the way,” Luna says as she lights a flame like torch in the palm of her hand. She walks toward the darkness in front of us. We follow. I look around. The ceiling is much shorter in this passage than the ceiling above the body of water. The walls, ground, and ceiling are very uniform with no unevenness whatsoever. The dimensions of the passage seem to be like a perfect square with sides measuring at least 30 feet. There are no rocks or plant growth anywhere.

“Hey, friends, wait,” Drugo says and stops following Luna. He walks over to the wall on the left. He puts his hand on the wall. “This is strange…the walls aren’t made out of stone. They’re made out of dirt…”

“Have you noticed how fucking even these walls are? It looks like something dug out this tunnel.”

“I saw. I haven’t seen any living creature besides some bugs,” I add.

“Uhh… I don’t know how I feel ‘bout explorin’ this cave anymore… Can we just dig our way back up…?” Hiro asks.

“Don’t be a wuss, Hiro. You were so excited just a moment ago. I’m pretty sure the tunnel might collapse on us if we do any unnecessary digging,” I say.

“Kaister’s right. Let’s follow the path,” Drugo suggests as he rejoins us. We continue forward.

“I think I see something on the ground,” Luna says as she quickens her pace. She stops in front of something and doesn’t say anything. I cock an eyebrow and then catch up to the others. I widen my eyes. Skeletal remains lie on the ground clad in armor. A strangely designed sword lies beside it.

“Is it… Human?” Hiro asks. Sitos sets down his weapon and then turns over the remains on its back. A tail is revealed along with a thin horn that curves upward on the back side of the skull. I figure the other horn broke off somewhere. “Do-do you think this is one of the Xogs…?”

“What the hell else can it be?” Sitos asks while still crouched down. He picks up his weapon as he stands back up. We continue forward, discovering more of these skeletons along the way. We come to a new area. There’s an abundance of bedrock along the walls. Carts are knocked down next to them.

I say, “Hey, this is really starting to look like…”

“An ancient civilization. There has got to be treasure here somewhere,” Sitos says with a small grin. We walk the rest of the way without saying a word as we observe our surroundings. After about five more minutes, we discover a broken down looking entrance. Several skeletons lie near the entrance surrounded by various types of weapons and armor. There are pillars knocked down and broken. The doors are around fifteen feet tall, and the structure seems to be built inside the dirt.

“Have you guys noticed that there weren’t any other types of skeletons? They were all of the same type wearing the same armor… So either it was a civil war or…” I say and then gulp as we make our way inside. The building appears to be made out of stone.

“We do not have to worry about that. It has been at least a thousand years since anyone has inhabited this place,” Sitos says. We make it inside and find ourselves in a straight hallway with the ceiling as tall as the door. We find a room on the left and right with normal-sized doors. “Let us split up. Drugo and Marin, you two go with Kai. Hiro and I will go with Luna and explore the room on the right.”

“Sounds good,” I say as I light a flame out of my forehead with Scrap Mana as I did earlier. I move toward the door, immediately finding some strange writing on the door. I ignore it, open the door, and then go in. There are dozens of swords lined up along the walls. I drop the weapon Marin made and then pick up one of the swords. There are cobwebs all over it, and it looks rusted, but it’s lighter. I swing it several times in front of me and then strike the weapon Marin made. The sword doesn’t break, but Marin’s weapon does. “Oops… Sorry, I broke the weapon you tried your best to make.”

“It’s okay… It just means that sword is better,” she responds with a smile. I set down the sword I picked up just now and then try picking up a few other swords. I try a variety of swords, but the lightest was the one from before. I find an identical sword to take with me. Drugo takes one of the heavier ones I tried. “Kai, there’s another room over here. Can you come here?”

“Yeah, sure,” I reply as I walk over to Marin. There’s another room with no door attached. There are dozens of boxes and an anvil in the middle of the room. There are various types of ore inside the boxes. “Wow… There’re a lot of different types of metal here that I’ve never seen…”

“I think there’re more swords over here,” Marin says. I walk over to her. There’s a barrel full of swords next to her.

“Hmm… I think I’ll just keep the two I have, but Sitos might wanna check some of these out.”

“Kai! Did you find anything?” Sitos asks.

“Yeah! I found a ton of cool weapons! Come check it out!” I exclaim.

Sitos and the others find their way to us. I show him the weapons I found and the barrel full of more swords. After some digging around, he finds two more swords made of the same metal, but they are longer than mine.

“No fair! Where’s my weapon?” Hiro asks.

“You will find it soon enough,” Sitos says.

“How can you be so sure, Sitos?”

“Have you not noticed, moron? The room that we were in had only armor. Now this room has only swords. These rooms are where they manufacture various weapons and armor.”

“Oh! Let’s go find some more rooms then! Luna, follow me!”

“Okay!”

Shouldn’t it be the other way around…? I sigh and then follow them.

“Hey! What gives?!” Hiro yells before I reach the hallway. Hiro and Luna are just a little bit ahead. A pile of rubble covers the entrance of both doors on the sides. “These stupid rocks are blocking the way to these rooms!”

“Just keep moving forward. There are bound to be more rooms,” I say as I toss both of my weapons over the rubble. I jump up, climb over it, and then pick up my swords again. Apparently the rubble covers the entire length of the hallway from what I see at this spot. Hiro’s hammer falls near my foot.

I turn around and shout, “Hey! Watch where you’re throwing that!”

Hiro and the girls climb over. Drugo and Sitos hand their weapons over to Marin and Luna while they climb over. Hiro exclaims, “Kai, point the light over here!”

I face forward, showing Hiro the cruelty of what reality is. I gather some Scrap Mana around my left elbow and point my elbow forward. After binding some Fire Affinity to it, I let it out. A ball of fire speeds down the hallway. The rubble continues for a long distance. It ends far down the line. “Sitos… You said I’ll find my weapon, right…? Right?”

“Let us move forward. Forward!” Sitos exclaims and continues forward without looking at Hiro.

“Cheer up, Hiro. You still have the weapon Marin made for you,” I say before following the others.

“I guess…” As we travel across, we find more remains scattered about. We make it to the end of the rubble and then find two more rooms. There is only some strange clothing in both of them. We continue forward and then find stairs that lead down. The ceiling reduces to ten feet as we reach the new floor, but the hallway is still plenty wide. We find ourselves at a crossroads with two possible ways to go.

“I suppose I’ll go left again with Drugo and Marin. Yell if you find anything.”

“Sure,” Sitos says.

“Be careful,” Luna cautions.

“You too, Luna.” With that, I lead my group into the left hallway and then go toward the first door on the left. As I open the door, random dust particles get scattered on my face. Some of it gets into my throat, and I cough several times before going in. The room is very cramped with dimensions probably half the size of our old bedrooms. “Is this a bed…?”

I kneel over to the strange rectangular shaped material on the ground and then sit on it; it’s hard and bouncy. Marin and Drugo examine the table next to the bed.

“There’s a book here, but I can’t read it,” Marin says.

“It doesn’t look like there’s anything else here,” Drugo adds.

“Let’s move on then.” I get up and then go back into the hallway. We discover similar rooms down the hallway and don’t bother exploring them fully past opening the door. Eventually, we come across three different paths, and I pick the one on the right. There isn’t anything different in the rooms we find here, but sometimes the rooms are slightly bigger. The hallways and rooms seem to be in better shape than the floor above us. We haven’t found any skeletal remains either. Marin suddenly screams and grabs onto my back.

I turn around and exclaim, “What’s wrong?!”

She lets go of me and then blushes. “Sorry… There was a rat…”

“Oh…” I sigh and keep going forward. Girls will be girls I guess… Oh, I see something!

I quicken my pace and then come across a room with no door. I go inside. As I look around, I say, “Wow, this room is huge! It reminds me of the Arena.”

There are seats in the stands too. Marin exclaims, “Ka-Kai! Look in the middle…”

“Hmm?” I widen my eyes as I look toward the middle. Skeletal remains are in my entire field of vision. I point my left elbow forward and then shoot out a ball of fire using Scrap Mana as before. It reveals that the skeletal remains continue for hundreds of feet. There’s a statue-like thing in the center of the room. I walk toward it.

“Kaister, look at the orientation of these remains… They’re all facing the center,” Drugo says. I stop walking as something resounds behind me. I turn around and listen carefully.

“Kai! Where’re you?!” Hiro exclaims.

“It’s Hiro. Let’s go back for now. The others might’ve found something!” I exclaim as I run back the way we came from. I see something move in the stands and then stop as I focus my attention there. I squint my eyes and wait. Was it my imagination…? I thought I saw something blue over there…

“Kaister, what’s wrong?” Drugo asks.

“Nothing… I thought I saw something, but it was probably my imagination. Let’s go.” I resume running back to where we came from toward Hiro’s voice. Eventually, we regroup. “Hey, what did you guys find?”

“We found where they stored the books! It’s just down these stairs,” Luna informs.

“Books…? How does that help us if we can’t read them?” I ask.

“That is not the only thing. There were some strange murals on the walls and pictures in some of the books. It will take forever to go through them on our own. What did you find?” Sitos asks.

“There was this huge room like the Arena with hundreds of skeletal remains! They were all pointed toward the center where there was a statue-like thing. Before we got close enough to examine it you guys called us over,” I explain.

“Statue-like thing? Well, whatever. We will head over there eventually,” Sitos says as he heads down the stairs with the others. We follow. There are more steps in this staircase than the previous.

“This place is so dark. Did people really live here?” I ask.

“Whoever did probably adapted night vision. We didn’t see any candles, lanterns, or anything for a light source in the rooms we checked,” Luna says.

Eventually, we reach the bottom, arriving in a large, tall room. There are numerous columns of bookshelves. Some parts of the room have random heaps of rubble along with broken bookshelves. Books and random pieces of paper are randomly scattered on the floor throughout.

“Follow me. There is something interesting over here,” Sitos says. I follow him. He leads us to an open space on the other side of the room. There are several tables paired with chairs, but there’s only one table with a book on top of it. Along the walls are the murals Sitos was talking about. There’s an upright beast with two thin horns coming out of the back of its head. It has a tail that has a triangular-shaped bone at the end of it. The arms, legs, hands, and feet look identical to humans.

“I brought over some random books from over there,” Hiro says as he sets a pile of books on an empty table. He picks the book on top and then flips through it. “I can’t understand any of this.”

He tosses away the book and then repeats the process with the next book. I ask, “Well, it’s interesting to see what these people looked like, but this can’t be everything you wanted to show us.”

“Take a look at this book. We figured it was some kind of diary based on the headings… By we, I mean Luna and I,” Sitos says. I let the book rest on the table as I flip through the book.

“I see, so that’s why you thought it was some kinda diary… The dots mean ‘0,’ the circle means ‘1,’ the line means ‘2,’ the triangle means ‘3,’ and the rest of the shapes represent the rest of the number system. How archaic…” I say while flipping through the book. I reach the last page of written content. “It ends on day 20…”

“You think this is worth taking back with us?” Sitos asks.

“Yeah, we can discover what language this is at the Academy!” I exclaim.

“Put this shit in your backpack and let us move on,” Sitos says. My joints turn stiff, and I hold my breath. “What are you waiting for?”

“Uh, yeah, but let’s grab it later.”

“Huh…? What the hell are you saying? We do not know if we are coming back to this place.”

“Look! It looks like there’s more to this room over there!” I exclaim while pointing toward a direction I haven’t explored. I run there. Oh! I’m in luck… There’s a hallway! Hmm?

I stop for a moment and then turn my head to the right. I think something was moving here just a second ago. I search the area, finding nothing. Was it really just my imagination again…?

“Kai, what the hell are you doing now?” Sitos asks.

“Nothing… I’m coming!” I rejoin with the group and head down the hallway. “Did you guys see a blue creature or anything?”

“Huh? Blue creature…?” Sitos cocks an eyebrow.

“Yeah like something blue moving in the shadows…”

“I have not seen anything like that. Nothing other than rats and bugs would still be living down here. Has anyone else seen it?” Sitos asks as he turns his head toward the others. Everyone shakes their heads. “What did it look like?”

“I’m not sure. I just saw something blue move for a moment, that’s all I saw.”

“Was it some kind of bug?” Luna asks.

“Maybe…”

“There’s somethin’ up ahead!” Hiro exclaims. Luna and I light the way, revealing a giant pile of rocks blocking the way. The ceiling caved in. “Damn, so boring… Why’re there so many piles of rocks?”

“Probably damages from the battle they had,” I answer as we turn back to where we came from. “This adventure turned out to be a disappointment. I was kinda hoping we would find some kinda huge monster to defeat…”

I sigh.

“We didn’t find any new creatures to eat either…” Luna says and then sighs.

“We discovered this place and these weapons, though. I bet the Academy will reward us generously for it,” Sitos says.

“Yeah, I gu—I see the blue thing!” I exclaim as I sprint toward several blue things in the distance. They’re in the area where the tables were. I knit my eyebrows and stop moving as I reach them. The books Hiro threw on the ground and the book on the table are glowing blue.

“What the fuck is going on here? Kai, is this the blue thing you were talking about?” Sitos asks.

“I don’t think so…” I answer, feeling an eerie feeling creep down my back. The blue glow feels familiar to me.

“Wow, I’ve never seen a blue as bright as this!” Luna exclaims. I raise my eyebrows.

This blue… Is it the same color as my Mana?

“Friends, look! For some reason, this diary is readable now!” Drugo exclaims.

“What?!” several of us shout in unison. I pick up one of the books Hiro had thrown on the ground earlier. I widen my eyes. The blue glow forms letters in the Human language on top of the unknown language.

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