The Selection

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Chapter 27 - Academy Year 4 - Harbinger of Death

We sit around the campfire Marin and Luna set up with the glowing books in hand. I spend several minutes flipping through a book while the others do the same. Sitos flips the page from the diary on the ground. Hiro exclaims, “Hey! I wasn’t done with that page yet!”

“You are too slow. Find another book to read, dimwit.”

“You’re the dimwit, dimwit! Why don’tcha do that instead? I wanna read this one,” Hiro says as he turns the page back. Sitos sighs. I chuckle and close the book I’m holding.

“Kai, you’re done with that book already?” Luna asks.

“Yeah, I think I got the gist of it. This is a history book on the Leps, who I think these people were called. Apparently they were frequently at war with other races for a long time, and they finally decided to travel across the ocean in search of a new home. The book ended there.”

“Travel across the ocean? Outside Sholoth?” Luna asks. “Doesn’t that mean…”

“Yeah, they came from the ‘Cursed Territory.’ Maybe these other races are the reason why no one came back from any expeditions across the ocean…” I answer as I toss the book aside and then pick up another one.

“The Leps must’ve been really strong! They came from the ‘Cursed Territory,’ yet they survived and came to Sholoth. According to this book, the Leps separated their race into six different groups: Arius, Selenas, Giso, Melle, Tuluin, and Bigelis,” Luna informs while still reading. “They each have their own set of values.”

Drugo turns a page. “I’m still reading this book, but it’s about the techniques of the Arius clan about digging and building new habitats.”

“Hiro, you’re being pretty quiet over there. Did you guys find something interesting?” I ask.

“Shh! Quiet, Kai! We’re getting’ to the good part!”

I cock an eyebrow. Hiro’s interested in a book? Now I really wanna know what they’re reading in that diary…

“Marin, you look focused over there. Is there something interesting in that book?”

“Yeah, it’s a cooking book.”

Luna immediately drops her book and exclaims, “Oh! Let me read that with you too!”

She scooches over to Marin’s side and then reads alongside her. I pick another book from the pile of books Hiro tossed aside and then open it. Hmm… Looks like this one’s about weapons. I guess I’ll read some of this.

Several minutes pass. Sitos quietly says, “We just finished this diary…”

“And? What was it about?” I ask while still reading the book in my hands.

“It’s too much to explain! Just come read it yourself.”

“That will take too long, dimwit. Everyone, stop what you’re doing and come here. Read the first-day entry, and I will summarize the rest,” Sitos says. I close and set aside my book while others do the same. We gather around the table and then gaze down on the first page of the book.

To my fellow Lep, A week ago, we sent a group out to Vorgium to propose the underground tunnel plan, but they never came back. And a few days ago, I and a dozen other warriors set out at midnight toward Vorgium to discover what happened. The place was completely and utterly destroyed. Multiple large craters opened up the village underneath, and everyone lay lifeless on the floors of Vorgium. It was eerie to find so many of our brethren dead on the ground, yet there were no signs of what or who they were fighting…

That’s kinda like what we found here…

On our way back to Sestai, we encountered something.

Is that the name of this place?

It hovered in the air above us, despite that it didn’t have any wings. Its entire body was covered in metal or some kind of rock while it held onto a large mysterious weapon.

I knit my eyebrows, thinking about what I saw earlier.

We tried to communicate with it, but it attacked us immediately. Magic and physical attacks proved ineffective. In the end, my brothers sacrificed their lives in order to let me escape. I came back to the capital and informed everyone what I had witnessed. We immediately sent out messengers toward the villages where we had already implemented the underground tunnel plan though it may have been too late. Only one of the five messengers we had sent out came back, and only half of the village arrived while the rest apparently were dead. We caved in all of the connected tunnels and prepared for possibly what may be our last battle. I assume every other village has fallen as I write this diary that may log the last moments of the Arius clan.

I finish reading. Everyone else finishes up within fifteen seconds. Sitos says, “Okay, I will summarize the rest.

“They prepared for battle after day one. They were desperate and equipped every Lep, trained in battle or not. The less experienced were put in the backline. On the 19th day, a scout notified them about it coming during the night who they named the ‘Harbinger of Death.’ They sacrificed over a thousand warriors to the surface to intercept it, leaving the best fighters behind for the second line of defense. It’s weapon shit on every kind of magic and physical attack the Leps threw at it. They—”

“Fought valiantly the entire night!” Hiro exclaims. “Then they retreated back inside their base. But the ‘Harbinger of Death’ didn’t let ‘em. They continued their battle inside their village underneath, which eventually led into the coliseum, where their best fighters stood. They battled for 12 hours straight and finally brought him down at the cost of thousands of lives. Their population reduced to mostly women and children with less than a hundred capable fighters left. For the next seven days, they note the passin’ crisis and how they’re rebuildin’ the place…but the diary entries mysteriously end there… I bet that ‘Harbinger of Death’ or whatever wasn’t actually killed and came back to life and killed them all!”

“Nah… I think we found it in that coliseum room earlier. I saw some statue-like thing in the middle of the room,” I mention.

“The room you said with those corpses pointing toward the middle?” Sitos asks.

“Yeah. Let’s go back up there and take a closer look at that statue… Maybe we’ll discover some—watch out!” I exclaim and shove Sitos aside as something falls from the ceiling.

Sitos falls on his butt and mutters, “Kai, what the…”

No one says a word as some gooey slime drops onto the floor where Sitos stood previously, a foot away from several of us. The color of it matches the glowing blue text on the books. We jump back as it starts to move.

“What is that?!” Hiro exclaims.

“Stand back, I’ll use my magic!” Luna exclaims. ”Fireball!”

A flaming ball of fire with a diameter a little over a foot comes out of Luna’s palm that flies toward the mysterious blue slime. It bursts into flames, covering the entirety of the slime. It stops moving as it burns. I gather some Rich Mana in my right hand and prepare the instructions just in case. A moment later, the flames die out, revealing that the slime looks exactly the same. Hiro picks up a book.

“Take that!” he exclaims as he throws it at the slime. Some of its body splashes apart as the book slowly sinks into the slime. The parts of the slime that separated move toward its main body. They combine together and then glides along the floor toward Drugo beside me, leaving the book behind. I point my right palm toward it.

"Fireball!” A flaming sphere with a diameter of a foot comes out of my right palm toward the blue slime. I break down more of my Mana into Rich Mana and then pool it in my right hand. ”Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!”

All of them hit the slime directly and burst into flames every time. The flames continue to burn with no signs of anything moving. I rear back when the slime emerges from the flames unscathed despite still on fire. It continues to move toward Drugo. Sitos shouts, “Hiro!”

“I got it! Water ball!” A ball of water comes out of Hiro’s palm that splashes on the blue slime, extinguishing the flames from my magic. Sitos charges at the blue slime with one sword.

"Lightning!" A yellow bolt of lightning comes out of Sitos’ left palm toward the blue slime. Electricity sparks on the surface of the slime. He slams down his weapon on the slime from above, cleanly bisecting it. The slime instantly moves again, rejoining into one while creeping up Sitos’ sword. He drops his weapon, jumps backward, and yells, “What?!”

A moment later, Sitos shouts, “Look out above!”

There are more slimes dropping from the ceiling on the others. Luna, Drugo, Marin, and Hiro jump back before they fall on them. One of my weapons is near a slime. I ignore it and only pick up my sword nearby. I walk backward toward the other hallway we haven’t explored. I exclaim, “Let’s get outta here!”

The others gather around me, Sitos arriving last. He has abandoned the sword he dropped earlier. I illuminate the dark passage with fire coming out of my forehead. I lead the group at a speed everyone can keep up with. Hiro exclaims, “We’re screwed if this is a dead end!”

“Stay positive! We don’t know if those things are dangerous yet,” I say.

“Then why’re we running?”

“I don’t wanna stay to find out.”

“Friends, there should be an emergency exit near the bottom of this place,” Drugo informs.

“How do you know?” I ask.

“It was mentioned in the book I was reading. I figured I might find something like that in there, so I kept reading.”

“Nice one. If only the dimwit found something too…” Sitos says.

“Who’s the dimwit, dimwit? You coulda left to read another book…”

“What are you talking about? I am the one who found that book.”

“Guys, stop bickering!” I shout.

“Yeah, Kai’s right! We need to work together and leave this place!”

“Didja hear that, Sitos? Mom and dad are mad at us now.” My face burns up. I fantasize about marrying Luna one day.

"Shut up!”

“Ya don’t need to be that mad about it…” Suddenly, I lose my footing, snapping back into reality at the same time. The floor below me breaks. I fall into the darkness below.

“Ahh!” I interject.

“Kai!” Marin exclaims. I let go of my sword. Marin barely grabs a hold of my fingers. Her hand slides off and then falls down too. Drugo catches her from behind. I fall for several seconds. I grimace as I hit the ground below me.

“Kaister, are you okay?” Drugo asks.

“Yeah, I’m fine!” I inform. It looks like they’re over 25 feet above me. “I’ll catch up with you guys eventually! We just need to keep going down, right?”

“Yep, be careful!” With that, Drugo and the others move away from the hole I dropped into. I locate my sword, pick it up, and then get up from the ground.

What is this place? I look around. The walls and ground aren’t made of stone anymore. There’s dirt everywhere, like in the cave we were in earlier, but the width of this passage is much smaller. I walk in the same direction as everyone else. There are small holes along the edges of the wall. I flinch as something appears in my vision. A small white lizard stays still in front of me. It doesn’t have any eyes. What is that…? Luna and Marin would probably be excited if they saw this. Maybe I’ll kill it and put it in my backpack.

The lizard crawls away into a nearby hole. I sigh and then continue onward. Eventually, the passage breaks into three possible ways; one continues forward while the others branch left and right. I choose to follow straight. Something squeaks. I turn around to check. A rat runs into the intersection from the left. Oh, it’s only a rat…

I stare into its eyes. Several seconds later, it turns back into the passage on my left. It squeaks again as I’m facing forward again. The squeaking is much louder, as if it’s in pain. I gulp as I slowly walk toward the intersection. Suddenly, blood splatters toward the center of the intersection. I stop, my heart pounding hard. I prepare myself to run at a moment’s notice. I gulp again, slowly creeping toward the corner. I take a peek around the adjacent passage with only my head. I widen my eyes. A familiar blue slime oozes across the floor. It disappears into the darkness, leaving the bloody dead rat behind.

Holy shit! Okay, blue slime, dangerous, confirmed! How’d those things catch up so fast…? At least it didn’t notice me… I turn around and then continue forward, hoping to find a specimen to take home. It doesn’t take long before the path splits into three paths again ahead. Suddenly, the path on the left becomes progressively brighter. Two seconds later, Luna comes out with fire coming out of her right palm. “Luna, what’re you doing here alone…?”

“Oh, hi Kai! We got separated after you fell…”

“What happened exactly?”

“Well… Marin suggested that we carry around torches in case we get separated in the future, so I don’t have to be the only source of light. Marin created a few sticks, and I lit them on fire. At some point, the floor around broke apart, and Marin fell. But we continued forward after she had said she was fine. I fell down too because I’m a klutz…”

It feels like her voice entrances me as we stare into each other’s eyes. “I see…”

“I think Marin’s this way…” She points toward the path on the right.

“Let’s go this way then,” I say with a smile as I walk in that direction.

“Wait!” She runs directly in front of me and then turns toward me.

“Wh-what?” I ask. My face burns up as she presses her breasts together with her arms.

“Can you wait here for me…? I promise I’ll come back in a bit.”

I knit my eyebrows and answer, “Uh, sure.”

“Thanks, Kai! You’re the best!” she exclaims as she runs deeper into this passage.

Something feels off about her… Maybe she’s not afraid to show her charm when she’s alone with me! I fantasize about her for an entire minute. The blue slime comes to mind, and I stop smiling. Wait… The direction Luna’s heading in now…is in the same direction as that slime…

I gulp as I stare into the darkness Luna headed into a minute ago. “Hey, Luna! Are you there?!”

There’s silence. Several seconds later, a high-pitched scream resounds. I immediately sprint into the passage. Did something happen to Luna?!

I find myself in a large open room after about 45 seconds of running. The room is filled with vegetative plant growth of those I’ve never seen before. The trunk of a tree goes through the ceiling of the room. While walking around, I ask, “Luna, where’re you?”

The ground below me is mushy; it’s mud. Is there water running down here…?

A drop of water hits my head. There are drops of water leaking from the ceiling. “Luna!”

I continue exploring the room for several minutes. There’s someone on the ground ahead. I run closer, discovering Marin. I drop my sword. “Marin!”

I kneel down near her, lift her head off the muddy ground, and then lightly slap her cheeks. “Marin! Hey, Marin!”

Her eyelids twitch several times. I sigh as she slowly opens her eyes. She quietly asks, “Kai…?”

She widens her eyes. ”Kai?!”

She quickly sits up. A moment later, she grips one side of her head with her hand, grimacing. “Marin, are you okay?”

“Yeah… I’m fine…”

“What happened to you?”

“I don’t really remember… I remember I got separated from everyone else when I fell into a hole like you… After that, I found this room and… I think I screamed when I lost my footing. I probably hit something with my head as I fell…” I look around. There aren’t any rocks nearby. There’s only a stick near her with one end burnt.

That’s right… Where’s Luna?!

“Marin! Kai! Are you out there?!” Luna exclaims in the distance behind me.

“Yeah! We’re both over here!” I yell as I stand up. I offer my hand and ask, “Can you stand?”

“Thanks…” She takes it and then gets up while looking away from me. Something about her face makes me lose concentration.

Was she always a beauty…?

“Um… Kai?” she asks. I’m still holding her hand. I snap back to reality and let go.

“O-oh, sorry… Le-let’s go!” I exclaim as I quickly pick up my weapon and turn around, heading in the direction of Luna’s voice. What’s wrong with me? Why am I nervous when I have Luna...?

I shake my head. Eventually, we rejoin the rest of the group, and they lead us to the stairs they found. I think back to the moment I was with Luna alone. I walk next to her and then ask, “By the way Luna…are you hurt at all from when you fell?”

She turns her head toward me and quirks an eyebrow. “What’re you talking about?”

I knit my eyebrows and then say, “You know, when you found me at that intersection not that long ago. You said Marin suggested making those torches everyone else is holding…and you told me to wait at the intersection for to explore the passage on the right.”

She continues to give me the same confused expression. “It’s true Marin suggested that…but…”

“Kai, have ya gone crazy? Luna’s been with us the entire time,” Hiro informs. An ominous, cold feeling creeps down my back as I look down.

What? Did I imagine Luna doing all of that?

“Have you been drinking enough water? Dehydration can cause hallucinations…” Luna informs. I close and open my mouth repeatedly. The inside of my mouth is incredibly dry, and my lips are chapped.

“I haven’t been, actually… Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me,” I say weakly.

“Be glad that I can use Water magic!” Hiro exclaims. “I’ll make ya some right now.”

“Dimwit, do not do that. He cannot drink the water you make,” Sitos says.

“What’s that supposed to mean?!”

“Calm down, Hiroster. He’s just referring to any kinda water created by Water magic. It’s unhealthy to consume magical water as it’s not the same thing as consuming actual water,” Drugo informs.

“Oh, alright then… Sorry ’bout that, Sitos.”

“I am used to it.”

“Then what ’bout earlier? Well, never mind.” We reach the staircase they mentioned a moment ago. They are made of the same stone as the rest of the structure we were in previously. We take the stairs down.

“By the way, I encountered the blue slime again earlier… We can’t let it touch us at all,” I say.

“Did it touch you? Are you hurt?” Luna asks as she grabs my left arm. I pull it away immediately.

“I’m fine! It didn’t touch me at all, but I saw it touch a rat, well, I didn’t see it, but it definitely did.”

“Did you see it or not? Explain clearly,” Sitos says.

“So I saw this rat… Then it started squeaking frantically after I lost sight of it around a corner. Several seconds later, blood splatters all over the ground. By the time I checked to see what happened, the rat’s bloody corpse was on the ground, and I saw the blue slime going deeper into the passage,” I explain.

“That sounds scary…” Marin says.

“Seriously? Holy shit. It almost got to me when it started creeping up my sword earlier…”

“What’re those things anyway?” Hiro asks. “I don’t think I’ve seen ’em in any book at the Academy.”

“I don’t know, but maybe one of the teachers will! When we get back, we should tell them everything!” Luna suggests.

“Don’t you think it’s weird we haven’t seen any of them since?” I ask as we ignore another floor we come across, going only deeper down.

“They are just slowpokes,” Sitos says.

“Yeah, but there was that one I found creeping around. There might be more around here.”

“You are worrying too much,” Sitos says. We eventually reach the bottom after hundreds of steps, but there’s no exit in sight.

“Where’s that exit you were talking about?” I ask.

“Hmm… It should be around here…” Drugo says as he goes toward a nearby wall, banging on the wall with the hilt of his sword. I nod my head and then go to a separate wall to do the same thing. Sitos and Hiro do the same thing on another wall. A noise resounds from Sitos’ direction.

“It is here,” Sitos informs. We gather near the wall in front of Sitos. Drugo and Sitos attack the wall with their weapons repeatedly at the same time. The wall eventually crumbles, revealing a secret passage. It feels like something is coming behind me. I turn around and then widen my eyes.

“Guys, we need to leave, now!” I exclaim as several of the blue slimes drop from above. They’re combining to form bigger globs of goo. We hurry into the secret tunnel. The walls and ground are made out of rough stone, but the color is brownish rather than smooth gray stone in the place we were just in. The ceiling is just a few feet taller than me, and the width is only wide enough to comfortably fit the four of us running next to each other.

I turn around and then shoot a ball of fire from my left palm ahead using Scrap Mana. It illuminates the path behind us, revealing a wave of blue slime approaching us. As I continue to run behind the rest of my group, I exclaim, “Guys, it’s catching up really fast! We need to do something!”

“Do what? We can’t do anythin’ to it, remember? I wish it stops followin’ us instead,” Hiro says.

“Wait… That is it! Hiro the Great, you said something useful!” Sitos exclaims.

“What’d you get from what he said?” I ask.

“Yeah, what’d I say?”

“We can make it stop following us…by creating a wall between us.”

“You aren’t suggesting that we…” I don’t finish that sentence, aware of the dangers that it may bring.

“It is our only shot here. We have to take it. Bring down the ceiling,” Sitos says. I stop running and then turn around. I point my right palm toward the ceiling with an underhand position. Luna stands beside me on my left side pointing toward the same point with both of her palms with underhanded positions too. Marin stands on my right and puts her hands on the wall next to her. I break down my Mana into Rich Mana.

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

"Twin flamethrowers!" Balls of fire fly out of my palm that bursts into flames on the ceiling. At the same time, a large amount of fire comes out both of Luna’s palms toward the same point on the ceiling. The flames are constantly flowing out in a cylindrical-shaped fashion. I assume Marin is doing something within the ceiling. The blue slimes are closing in on us up ahead.

“Okay, Hiro the Great will assist you!” Hiro exclaims as he lunges forward with an underhanded swing. His weapon impacts with the ceiling. The force of his blow breaks the head of his hammer, but something vibrates and rumbles around us. Luna and I both stop using our magic and take several steps back. Hiro does the same after he tosses away his broken weapon. I close my eyes and put my hands in front of my face as small particles blow against my face.

“Kaister, get back!” Drugo exclaims. Someone pulls me back. Loud rumbling continues to resound for several seconds. I open my eyes. The path is completely blocked off by rocks.

It looks like those things aren’t coming now… I sigh.

“Looks like the crisis is over. Good job, you four,” Sitos says.

“You guys did good too. Drugo for discovering this passage, and you for coming up with the plan,” I add.

“Wow! That’s the first time Sitos ever complimented me!” Hiro cheers.

There are pink marks covering the back of Hiro’s hands. I ask, “More importantly, are your hands okay? You were pretty close to the fire…”

“Oh… Ow!” Hiro exclaims as he shakes both of his hands.

“That’s just like you, Hiro,” Luna says and then laughs. We all laugh. For some reason, Hiro’s laughing too.

“Why’re you laughing…?” I ask with doubt.

“I was just remembering that time I chased you around with the carrot again.”

“That was hilarious!” Sitos exclaims. The laughing switches to me. I frown as I pinch my glabella between my thumb and index finger for a moment. I walk past everyone, continuing down the passage.

“That’s enough standing around. Let’s get out of here!”

“It’s okay, Kai! I still like you,” Luna says. I blush.

“Yo-you like me…?”

“Yeah, I do! And I like everyone else too!” She says with a smile. My heartbeat races as I reciprocate her smile.

“I see… I li-like you too…and everyone else, of course,” I say as my eyes wander between her eyes and the wall behind her. Sitos suddenly walks between us.

“Let us leave. We have been standing here for too long,” he says and then continues down the path. We follow him, going down the passage for nearly 20 minutes before there’s an exit ahead, accompanied by the sound of rushing water. We stand at the edge of the exit. Apparently the exit leads to the back of a waterfall several hundred feet in the air.

“Uhh…” Hiro interjects. I chuckle at first, but I break into an uncontrollable laugh as I stand behind everyone. Everyone slowly turns their head around, saying nothing for several seconds.

“Umm… Kai…?” Luna asks.

“Wait, Kai…do not…” Sitos mutters. I don’t let their words phase my determination. I stop laughing, but I grin at them and spread out my arms in preparation.

Hiro exclaims, “Kai, wait! I need to mentally pre—”

I run while jumping and pushing forward with all my strength. I laugh loudly as I fall along with everyone else who is screaming their lungs out.

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