The Selection

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Chapter 29 - Academy Year 4 - Home

“Hiro, don’t just stand there!” I exclaim. He turns tail while the others catch up. I run with him before facing the two charging at us when Sitos catches up.

“I’ll take the guy on the left,” Sitos claims, preparing to swing his sword.

I focus my eyes on the one ahead of me. We clash our swords a few seconds before the one behind him clangs his weapon against Sitos’. All the joints in my body ache as he pushes my sword back. Sitos is also having trouble. I grit my teeth and grimace, putting all my strength into pushing him back. It doesn’t work. I need to get away!

Before his weapon nearly pushes my own into my neck, I want to jump backward, but my legs don’t respond. Move damn it!

The man in front of me clicks his tongue and looks toward Sitos. My legs give out as the man pulls back, apparently switching his attention to Sitos.

“Sitoster, watch out!” Drugo exclaims as he runs past me.

A flame sphere appears behind the man Sitos is fighting. It goes on a straight path toward his back, bursting into flames. “Argh!”

Sitos jumps back, joining up with Drugo. The man hit by the flame sphere drops to his knees. “I felt somethin’ hot behind me. What the hell was that?”

“I saw some fireball appear behind you,” the other man explains, making way back to his comrade. “These aint yer average kids.”

I find the energy to stand back up, making my way to Sitos and Drugo in front of me. The others stand behind us.

“Six against two. Give up,” Drugo says. The two men drop their weapons on the ground almost simultaneously.

Both men grovel, and the one hit by Fire magic says, “Okay, okay! We give up!”

I drop my stance, as do the others. Their other friend comes running toward us. “What’re ya two doin’?!”

I tense up and ready my weapon, but one of the two on the ground says, “Bro, we can’t win. Let’s just give up.”

The man drops his weapon, puts his hands in the air, and walks toward us. I relax.

“What do we do with these people now?” I ask.

“That couple over there will know what to do,” Drugo says.

“Marin, let’s go talk to those two.”

“Sure.” With that, the two girls run toward the couple. Suddenly, the man walking toward us changes direction. Before any of us can react, he grabs Luna and pulls out a dagger with his other hand. He points it to her neck.

“Luna!” Marin screams.

Damn, doesn’t he care about his two friends here?! I grit my teeth.

Drugo exclaims, “Hey, what’re you—”

The two groveling men suddenly have weapons in their hands. One of them stabs Drugo through the leg while the other one slashes with a sweeping motion toward me. I hold up my weapon at the last second, jumping backward at the same time. My guard breaks easily, and my legs suffer a shallow cut. Sitos jumps over the sweep and cuts the man across his shoulder, between the gaps of his armor. Drugo retaliates and stabs the other man through the arm that stabbed his leg.

“My arm!” one of the men screams. Sitos kicks the other man to the ground, pointing his sword in front of his face.

“Whadaya think yer doin’?! I have yer friend right—” The man holding Luna hostage suddenly trips as he’s walking backward and interjects, “Argh!”

He lets go of her as he’s pushed away by Luna. There’s something smoking around his abdominal region.

Sitos says, “Give up. Don’t move or I will—”

The man under his foot attacks him. Sitos pulls back his weapon to defend, but his arm gets cut in the process. He pulls back and clicks his tongue.

“Or you’ll what?” the man asks and snickers. He gets back on his feet and continues, “Yer only kids after all.”

“Don’t forget ’bout me!” Hiro exclaims, running around the man. He points his right palm at the man and shouts, ”Water ball!"

A sphere of water appears from Hiro’s palm, eventually bursting on the side of the man, drenching him in water. Sitos charges at the man, pointing his left palm toward the man. ”Lightning!"

A yellow bolt of lightning comes out of Sitos’ palm. Sparks of electricity fly all around the man. He screams a cry of pain before loosening his grip on his weapon and collapses on the ground.

I walk over, pick up the sword, and toss it in a random direction. The other man lies on the ground unconscious with a small pool of blood forming around his right arm. Drugo in a crouched position still has a sword stuck in his leg. A bad feeling envelops me as the sound of a man screaming pierces my ears. I focus my attention toward Luna. Fire comes out of both of her palms on a straight path on the man. The flames cover the man as he rolls on the ground.

“Luna stop!” Marin exclaims while grabbing Luna from behind. Subsequently, she stops, but the man still rolls on the ground as he flails around his body parts. He continues to burn.

“Hiro put him out!” I exclaim as I run toward the burning man. He follows me. By the time we get to him, he stops burning, and his body smokes. He doesn’t move. Glimpses of the skin that’s visible on his arms, neck, and face have a bubbly appearance. Parts of his skin bleed, whereas other parts look pinkish or black.

I cover my mouth as a nauseating, thick smell enters my nostrils. It resembles a mixture of metallic and sulfuric odors. I’m unable to control myself and vomit on the ground, but the smell lingers as if I taste it inside my mouth.

“Kai, are you okay?” Luna asks, apparently unaffected by the odor. Marin runs away, probably to throw up too.

“Yeah…” I gulp before asking, “Is he dead?”

“I don’t know. Maybe?”

I kneel down to the pan and put a finger on his neck. He has no pulse. I gulp before announcing, “He’s dead.”

I get up and wipe my finger on my pants.

“Oh well. I don’t have to feel bad since he left me with no choice, right?” Luna asks, smiling.

Is this my fault…? I did say all that...but...talking about it and doing it are different matters.

I don’t want to say anything that might make her sad. I ignore the uneasy feeling and with a smile say, “Yeah, it’s his fault.”

Still tasting the vomit in my mouth, I step away from the corpse. The middle-aged couple approaches us.

“I don’t know who you are, but thank you for saving us,” the man says. They both bow. “We don’t have much to give you as a reward, but we can surely reward you if you accompany us back to Beltan.”

“That won’t be necessary. Can you tell us how to get to Drymo? We’re a little lost,” I explain. They briefly turn to each other before looking back at us.

“We don’t mind, but…it looks like your friend over there won’t make it,” the man says, pointing in a direction behind me.

I turn around. Drugo’s on the ground with the sword still lodged in his leg. His right arm is supported by Sitos.

“Drugo!” I shout as I run over to him. He breathes hard and sweat drips down his face.

“We need to dress that wound. Take that sword out of him, and I’ll wrap his leg around this,” the man says, carrying his shirt in his hands. Sitos and Hiro hold Drugo down as I grab on the sword. Drugo’s body twitches as I pull out the sword. Blood rushes out of his wound. The man rolls up his shirt and ties a knot around the injury. Sitos and Hiro help him stand him.

“Our village is not that far from here. Hang on until then,” the man says. Marin joins back with us before the couple leads us to their village. We keep a slow, steady pace, eventually arriving at their village within the hour.

“Wait here,” the man instructs. The couple walks ahead of us and talks to the guards in front of the gate. After about a minute, the guards open the gate, and the couple comes back. “We’re nearly there.”

We follow the couple into the village, eventually leading us to a large farm. Plentiful amounts of produce litter the fields and dozens of cows graze in the grassy plains on the side. We enter the house at the end of the field.

“Mom, Dad, is that you?”

“We’re back. Is Derek still sleeping?”

“Yes, welcome ba…” a young woman appears from the hallway and asks, “Who are our guests?”

“We only made it back safely because of them.”

“Oh, no… Wa-was it him?”

“No, it wasn’t. But they recognized us. Sorry Ariane. But there’s no hope for him now.”

“Th-there has to be a misunderstanding! Ragnar would never—”

“People change.”

“But—”

“Not another word. We need to leave to bring the doctor here. This child needs prompt medical attention. Take care of them while we’re gone.”

“Wait!” The door closes behind them. Ariane sighs before saying, “Bring him over here. I’ll take a look at him.”

Sitos and Hiro help Drugo over to a chair. She unties the blood-drenched shirt and puts her palm over his wound. A faint green light glows around her palm. I raise my eyebrows before asking, “Is that Healing magic?”

“Yes.”

“That’s amazing. You have a rare talent! When did you graduate from the Academy?” Luna asks.

Ariane frowns before answering, “I didn’t go to the Academy.”

“Are you like Kai then? A renowned person had taught him before he enrolled at the Academy,” Luna says.

“I learned from Ragnar,” Ariane says with a smile. “Your leg should be fine now. Why don’t I look at the rest of you now?”

Drugo stands up and stretches his legs, bending them several different ways. “Yup, I think I made a full recovery.”

“I don’t understand. Why’re your parents getting the doctor if you could just do that?” I ask as she moves to look at everyone else’s injuries.

“My parents don’t approve of magic. They often reprimanded me for practicing.”

“That’s weird. Why would they disapprove?” I ask.

“It’s a long story.” My stomach grumbles. She laughs before saying, “Why don’t I get you something to eat first? You must be starving.”

She brings us some bread to snack on before continuing her story. “People with magic talent were a rare thing in our village, but there was a talented pair that appeared about 40 years ago. They were Ragnar’s parents. They learned magic on their own and were the pride of the village. Tourist attraction, wealth, trade, business…everything increased over the years they racked up achievements in other places around the world. It was known that they were born and raised in this village. The years after that, the children of age of this village were entered into the Academy in hopes of cultivating unripe fruit.

“The villagers say they never heard back from those children again. They only learned of their demise nearly a decade down the line. About two years after Ragnar was born, his parents met an unfortunate end. My parents who were close friends with his parents say that their fame attracted all kinds of bad people. Among them were those who hunted the strong. Ever since the news of their deaths reached the village, it has been taboo to use magic.”

“I’ve never heard of magic usage being taboo,” I say. “Is Ragnar a close friend of yours? It sounded like he was in some kinda trouble.”

Ariane sighs. “Yeah… Sorry, just listen to me talk for a while longer. I just want someone to hear this. I told you earlier that Ragnar is the one who taught me how to use magic. Like his parents, he was highly gifted in magic. He learned on his own behind the backs of his grandparents and the eyes of the villagers. He wanted to go to the Academy, but he never got to. Neither of us did. He dreamed of going on adventures like his parents did. He was always happiest when he talked about exploring the world.

“Two weeks ago, he was tasked with a job to establish new business relations with a nearby village. Since his grandparents wanted him to inherit their business, they wanted to give him experience in that sort of thing. But, he never came back. We feared the worst. A few days ago someone thought they witnessed him together with some hoodlums. The village organized a group to rescue him, but yesterday he suddenly returned. He said, ‘I got away,’ and we left it at that.

“I was just glad he was back, unharmed. There was an air about him that was different, but I didn’t know exactly what. He started asking me questions like if I wanted to explore the world with him among other things. I regret I didn’t give him an answer… Later that night I heard he knocked out the guards and opened the gate for the same hoodlums he was with earlier. They took a large chunk of the village’s supplies and rode off. My parents said he was leading them…the bandits. Even if it’s true, I won’t believe he’s doing it out of malice. I’ve known him my entire life. There’s no way he’d hurt anyone. Everyone’s eyes are clouded.” She grits her teeth.

“It doesn’t sound like he’s a bad person. Right, Marin?” Luna says.

Marin smiles. “Yeah, I hope you clear up the misunderstanding.”

“Thanks,” Ariane smiles before continuing, “I feel a lot better now.”

The door opens. “We’re back.”

The couple enters the living room along with another man. The couple widens their eyes as they look at us. They turn to Ariane before exclaiming, “Ariane! We’ve told you again and again! To never use your magic! You’ll be happier in the end. You don’t understand now.”

"Happy? I’ll never be happy as long as you treat Ragnar like some criminal!”

“Darling, it’s done. We reported to the head, and he officially exiled him from this village. By tomorrow, all of Drosera will learn of his bounty. Forget about him.”

“Wha-wha-what…” Ariane mutters while gaping at the floor. Nearly five seconds pass before she grimaces and shouts, “I hate you!”

She storms off, opens a door, and slams it behind her.

“Sorry you had to see that. She’s been very unstable over the past week. Since the doctor is already here, why don’t you let him take a look at you?”

“Sure,” Drugo answers, following the doctor into another room. The door closes behind him.

“I understand you guys want to return to Drymo, where the Academy is located. I can arrange for transportation to leave today if you’d like. I hope you decide to rest here for at a least a day so we can repay you, but we won’t force you to stay,” the man informs.

“Guys, I just remembered… We have the keyword test tomorrow! What’re we gonna do if we don’t make it in time?” Hiro asks.

“Not tomorrow. The day after tomorrow, moron,” Sitos corrects him before continuing, “There is no problem if we stay here for a day.”

“So that’s how it is. Do you guys have more food around here?” I ask, feeling like my stomach is bottomless.

“Of course! We don’t live on a farm for nothing! We’ll do our best to deliver you the best meals until you depart tomorrow!” the woman exclaims.

We enjoy a mini-banquet of food dishes we rarely got to eat at the Academy. We alternate the remainder of the day between eating and sleeping. It continues to the next day.

“Good luck! Come back anytime!” the man shouts as our wagon leaves. Ariane, her parents, and her little brother wave as we ride away from the village.

I sigh. “The last two days felt like forever. I’m definitely gonna take a nap in our old room when we get back.”

“How the hell can you say that after sleeping for an entire day?” Sitos asks with doubt. “Take your nap after we inform the teachers on what happened.”

A chill goes down my spine as I remember the lost book. What am I gonna do…? I have to convince everyone to keep everything a secret…but how…?

My head plays out several different scenarios, but none of them seem viable. I stop thinking when Sitos suddenly asks, “Kai, do you have anything else to add?”

“Huh?” I ask, unsure of what he means by that.

“Are you deaf? Like I was saying… We plan to tell the teachers everything what I just said. Do you have anything you want to add?” he asks again, but I have no idea what they’ve said.

“Uhh…well…I don’t think we should tell them anything,” I answer. “We ended up ruining the floor and lost the couch. They might kick us out because of that or make us pay for it. I don’t wanna take that chance.”

Sitos laughs. “The damages were not that bad. I am sure someone could easily fix that hole we made. More importantly, I bet the reward we would get for reporting everything we found would be worth a lot more.”

“Yeah! Maybe we’ll be famous too! And they can make me a new hammer.”

“So no one wants to add anything else?” My mouth opens, but no words come out. “Then it is settled.”

What am I gonna do if they find that book? What am I gonna tell Emdos…? Shit! Why did I have to lose it in the first place?! I recall the unexplainable occurrences revolving around the book throughout my years.

“Kai, what’s wrong?” Luna asks. “You look pale.”

“It-it’s nothing…I’m just tired. I’m gonna take a nap,” I say and close my eyes, lounging my elbows over the edge of the wagon. Several of them laugh.

“Un-fucking-believable,” Sitos says.

I can’t help but keep thinking about the book. Hiro asks, “Do ya think we’ll encounter any monsters around here? After…and…”

I open my eyes forcefully while jerking my body forward, feeling like something grabbed me. Huh? What was that…?

I look around. A familiar setting surrounds me. This is…the Residential District…

The others look at me blankly. I scratch my head and smile. “I just had a bad dream. By the way, did someone grab me before I woke up?”

They look at each other before turning back to me. They respond nearly in unison, “No…”

Something still lurks at the back of my mind, so I ask, “Did you see anyone suspicious?”

They give each other confused looks before Sitos asks, “What the hell are you talking about? That must have been a really bad dream.”

Feeling the atmosphere tensing up, I laugh. “Yeah, never mind.”

“Did someone chase ya with a giant carrot?” Hiro asks with a straight face then breaks into laughter.

I frown and narrow my eyebrows. “No, what the hell? I’m not scared of that anymore!”

“Then tell us what ya dreamed ’bout!”

“I didn’t have a dream,” I say accidentally, realizing my mistake after the fact. Hiro gives me a neutral look before melting into a grin.

“Kai’s in denial! He’s still scared of carrots!”

“No, that’s not true!” I say, feeling hot puffs of air exit my nostrils. I sigh then say, “Never mind…”

The wagon rider takes us all the way to the bottom the hill that leads up to the Academy. We thank him before heading up to the entrance. The two guards standing by the main entrance give us a few strange looks.

“Wait a minute. What is with all that blood staining your clothes? You are not 5th-year students yet, are you? I have never seen those weapons before either…”

“Let us pass. We have something of foremost importance to pass to the teachers,” Sitos says.

“That will have to wait. We need to verify who you are first.”

Fulharm walks into our view and looks our way. “Oh! If it isn’t Emdos’ pupil, Kai!”

“Emdos? Glacius?” one the guards asks.

“That’s right,” Fulharm says.

“Oh, we are sorry about that mix-up! You and your friends can pass!” one of the guards says.

I raise my eyebrows. Wow, if I had known how people would act if they knew Emdos taught me, I would’ve mentioned it so much sooner! Is Glacius his other name…?

“Fulharm, we have something to tell you,” Sitos informs as he leads us to a secluded area. Fulharm stares at the weapons in our hands.

“I’m a little interested in where you got those weapons…”

Sitos give him a summary of everything that happened.

“I see…” he says as he rubs his chin. “I’ll let some of the other teachers know about this, so don’t tell anyone else. Fixing that floor for you won’t be a problem. I’ll do it myself.”

“Whatabout our reward?” Hiro asks.

“Hmm… I’ll mention it after I pass it along some of the other instructors, along with a replacement for that hammer. In the meantime, I’ll take those weapons off your hands.”

We give him the three swords. He heads off in another direction. “I’ll be in your room, 1C, to fix the floor after I store these weapons.”

With that, we head back to our dormitory. I say, “Well if you’ll excuse me…I’m gonna go take a nap in my old room.”

I wave at the others before going into our old home, the door unlocked. I lock the door, take off my empty backpack, and then fall on my bed. It’s nice to finally sleep in my own bed…

I fall asleep.

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