The Selection

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Chapter 34 - Academy Year 5 - Shadow

I grimace as the odor of urine and feces enter my nostrils. Hiro exclaims, “Gross!”

“Shh,” I interject loud enough for him to hear. “What if they hear you? We don’t want them to know we’re here.”

A stream of yellowish water containing lumps of poop flows down the middle. We run toward the downstream, down the dimly lit pavement on the side of the passage. The passage splits into other paths. I knit my eyebrows. I point at the intersection and then say, “Look. They’re flowing in the same direction.”

“You’re right,” Drugo says.

“I’m not goin’ over there if that’s where we’re goin’,” Hiro says.

“Where do you suggest we go then?” I ask.

Hiro faces a passage right next to where we came. “Let’s keep goin’ this way. We don’t hafta jump over this nasty sewage.”

“That’s the problem?” I ask and then sigh. “We’re leaving you here then.”

I jump across the stream and then Drugo does the same. “I can’t believe Hiro the Great’s scared of jumping over some water…”

“What?! I’m not scared! Watch me!” I ignore him and run down the passage. “Hey, didja see that? Hey!”

We continue following the downstream for several more minutes, jumping over the stream when necessary. We ignore a ladder we discover. Something flickers brightly in the distance at the next intersection. I knit my eyebrows and slow down my pace to a walk. I straighten my palm vertically toward the two behind me. We quietly walk toward the light. I straighten my back on the wall and peek out with my head.

The stream flows into a hole emitting tons of smoke. There isn’t anyone in sight. I walk in and look around. There seem to be seven separate streams flowing down into the hole in the middle. I presume there’s an eighth stream behind the pillar of smoke rising from the middle. I gag when I’m a few feet away from the hole. I hold my breath.

The sewage flows down in a separate opening from where the smoke rises. I can’t make out what’s at the bottom of the hole, but it’s warm and bright. I figure they’re flames. I put my hand into the smoke, feeling a draft of air flowing upward. It goes into an opening in the ceiling. I jump across several streams to check out the blind spot I can’t see. I widen my eyes.

“Luna!” I exclaim as I leap over the remaining streams. Luna and Marin lie on the ground near the entrance to the room on the other side. They aren’t moving. I take out the key to the cuffs in my pocket and then unlock the cuffs on Luna. I take them off, grab her arm, and then shake her body. “Hey, Luna!”

I put a finger on the pulse on her neck. It’s still beating. I sigh. Marin’s also still alive. I unlock her handcuffs too and then toss them aside. Drugo catches up with me. He immediately picks up Marin and then dangles her over his shoulder. He says, “We’d better get outta here while we can.”

I look around. Where’d they go…?

I don’t think about it anymore and then pick up Luna. I hang her over my left shoulder and then say, “You’re right. Let’s get outta here.”

I turn around. Hiro’s slowly jumping over the streams. After Hiro catches up, we exit through the closest opening ahead of us. I smile as Luna’s scent cancels out some of the rancid air lingering these passages. We continue for several minutes, and I stop when Luna moves a little. I set her down on the ground. She rubs her eyes.

“Kai…?” Luna asks and then looks around. “Where’re we…? Wait… I remember. We were following those people, and they discovered us. I was running away when suddenly I lost all my strength... Oh! I woke up with rope binding my limbs. I burned them off, but they threw some kinda ball on the ground. I think I lost consciousness again after that…”

It appears she doesn’t remember anything else, so I don’t ask about the possible men that carried her here. Drugo sets Marin down and then she wakes up soon after. We explain the situation as we understand it.

“Yeah… I think I got it… Can we get out of here as soon as possible?” Marin asks with a frown. “It smells horrible here…and I’m still covered in this mess.”

She lifts up her arms, emphasizing the blood and sludge covering her body. Hiro pinches his nose and then says, “Yeh that’s really gross… Smells bad too.”

Marin frowns, narrows her eyebrows, and mumbles something I can’t make out. I twist one side of my lips and shake my head. Hiro’s barking up the wrong tree…

I jump across the stream and then say, “Well, let’s go then.”

We continue for several more minutes, when finally, there’s a ladder in the distance. I exclaim, “I see an exit!”

I wait for the others to jump across the last stream. Hiro still hasn’t jumped over. I sigh and then say, “What’s taking so long, Hiro the Great?”

“I’m preparin’…” he says and then starts a sprint. “Yah!”

Suddenly, a rock appears and then lands on Hiro’s head right before he jumps. He falls into the stream and then the rock disappears. I jump back before some of it splashes onto me. Marin’s smiling. Hiro stands up immediately, the water reaching up to his knees. He spits out some murky water. There’s brown residue in it. “What—”

A green-yellowish liquid spews out of his mouth as he gags. My eyes lock on Marin, who is looking away. I shake my head and then turn back to Hiro. “What’re you doing?”

He pants for several seconds before exclaiming, “Didja see that?! Somethin’ hard hit me on my head!”

“I didn’t see anything. Did you guys?” I ask and then turn toward the others. Drugo is apparently already climbing the ladder. I smile and chuckle.

“I didn’t notice anything. What about you, Marin?”

“Nothing here either. You probably made a mistake and fell. Please don’t come near me. You smell awful,” Marin says and then heads up the ladder. Hiro grunts.

“I’m not lyin’! I’ll find it!” Hiro closes his eyes and then dives into the water. I grimace. A hand resurfaces first. There’s a clump of poop in his hand. He resurfaces completely afterward and exclaims, “I found it!”

I shake my head and turn around. I follow Luna up the ladder. “Gross! I picked up the wrong thing. I’ll prove…”

His voice dies off as I climb all the way to the top. I find myself in a very cramped room. The only thing in it is the ladder leading down into the sewers and a door. There are footsteps on the other side of it. I whisper, “I’m gonna open the door.”

After everyone nods their heads, I turn the knob on the door and then pull, but it doesn’t open. Pushing the door doesn’t work either. Someone nudges me from behind.

Marin says, “Kai, let me try.”

I stand aside. Marin puts a fingertip on the keyhole on the doorknob. Nearly 15 seconds pass before she pulls her hand back, revealing a stone key in the lock. She turns the key and then something clicks. The stone key fades away and then she opens the door. We find ourselves in a spacious hallway. There are fancy paintings along the wall and vases atop miniature stone pillars. Someone exclaims, “Intruders!”

Several armed guards run over to our direction. I draw my weapons. More guards in the distance run toward us. They surround us. I raise my eyebrows and then sheathe my weapons. I put my palms in front of me and then say, “Wait, there’s a misunderstanding…”

“You broke through that door which means you came through the sewers. There should only be three entrances, and all of them are closely guarded by us. What’s your motive?” one of the guards says.

“What’s all the ruckus over here?” a familiar voice asks.

“Oh, General Zarus! You came at a good time. A group of kids broke through the sewer doors…”

“I’m retired, remember? Just Zarus is fine.”

Zarus…? The guards make way for someone behind them. I raise my eyebrows. It’s the old man from before.

“Oh, aren’t you Kai? What’re you and your friends doing here?” Zarus asks. “Hmm? It seems two of you are missing.”

“Gen—Sir Zarus, you know these kids?”

“Yes, there’s no need for alarm. Continue your routine patrol.”

“Yes sir!” a guard exclaims as he salutes him. The guards disperse afterward. We explain everything that happened to us. Hiro rejoins us midway.

“Hmm… I see. Don’t worry about Sitos. If they’re looking for money, they won’t hurt him. I’ll pull some strings with some people I trust. For now, I advise you five to hurry to the Castalia residence. The culprits are probably still there,” Zarus says. “I’ll show you the way.”

With that, he escorts us out of the castle. He points to a direction and says, “You’ll reach it if you keep heading that way and take the first right.”

We follow this direction, eventually finding ourselves in familiar territory again. We arrive in a few minutes. There’s a crowd of people in front of Sitos’ house. We walk closer. There are over a dozen guards in front of Alios and Sitos’ older brother. Opposing them are Sitos’ kidnappers. There are 13 of them. Sitos is handcuffed and has a blade on his neck. I exclaim, “Sitos!”

The lot of them turns over to us. Sitos looks at us and then turns away. Alios smiles and the culprits turn pale. One of them says, “Wha-wha-what are yo-you kids doing over there…?”

“It seems our deal has fallen apart. It was all of them or nothing,” Alios says.

“Shut up! We still have your son!” a man exclaims. “We’ll fall back on our previous offer. 200 gold coins.”

Alios stops smiling and then says, “Fine. Give him the money.”

Sitos’ brother picks up a bag next to his feet and then throws it over to them. Many coins clang inside the bag. One of the culprits picks up the bag. He looks inside the bag and then says, “Ve-very well… After we’ve escaped the city, we’ll let him go…but only until then.”

They start running, dragging Sitos along with them. An arrow comes out of nowhere and soars through the air. It completely pierces the back of a man’s head. He happens to be the one carrying Sitos. He falls forward instantly and drops Sitos. The other men are still running forward. I widen my eyes and run toward him.

“Wait! We just lost the kid! Get him back!” one of them exclaims. They run back to where their comrade fell. I point my right elbow toward them

"Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!” Balls of fire appear out of my elbow in succession. I spread them out evenly across them. They stop their advance and run to the side. Sitos rolls along the ground toward us. I take out the key for the handcuffs and then yell, “Sitos! Face your back toward me!”

I quickly unlock Sitos’ cuffs when I reach him. The culprits stop their advance and stand still. They drop their weapons and then put their hands up. The guards nearby surround them. They walk them back to Alios. I look in the direction where the arrow came from. There’s no one on the roofs nearby.

“What should we do with them?” one of the guards asks.

“Take them to the castle. I will let Zarus know what happened,” Alios responds.

“We already met with Zarus. We told him everything,” I mention.

“Excellent. I will just let him handle it.”

“Wait!” one of the culprits exclaims. He stops walking despite guards pulling him. “If you’re going to take us there, please keep an eye on us!”

The guards pull harder and then drag him away. “Keep an eye on us! Please!”

The ramblings of the man goes on until his voice dies out. We report everything that happened again to Alios. He compliments, “You have done well. Kai, if not for your efforts, we would have suffered a 1500 gold blow to our funds.”

“It wasn’t much… I just did what I could…” I say while looking away. Sitos is looking down.

“No, no, no. You have really outdone yourself this time. If only Sitos had a shred of your talent.” I force a smile. “You and your friends should join me for dinner tonight. You may also use our luxurious bathhouse…”

“I-I appreciate the offer, but I promised to meet someone…”

“That is a shame… I will take those keys off your hands before you go.” I take out the cell keys and handcuff key and then hand it to him. He hands them to Sitos’ brother. “Go check it out.”

“Yes, father,” he says and then leaves.

“Sitos, we are going to go have a long discussion.”

“Yes…” Sitos says with a frown and then starts to follow Alios into the mansion.

“Hey!” I exclaim. “We’re gonna visit Emdos. Do you wanna come?”

Sitos stops walking and then glances at me. With an expression devoid of energy, he answers, “Nah…”

I cock an eyebrow as he turns back around into the mansion. After all those years of him asking me questions about Emdos…

Afterward, we head to Emdos’ place. I introduce everyone. Apparently he has already prepared a huge meal course. My stomach growls. We take our seats at the dinner table and then eat. I explain everything that happened for the fifth time, but I haven’t grown tired of it.

“Sounds like you’ve had quite an adventure today. Save some room for the soup,” Emdos says as he points a thumb behind him. I look up while continuing to chew my food. “It’s your favorite. Harpy soup with carrots, potatoes, broccoli, milk—”

I spit out my food and then cough. Horrible memories resurface from my mind. Luna asks, “Oh, is that the soup you fed him on the first day? He’s told us that story before!”

Hiro laughs and then says, “I remember! He suddenly woke up and then puked everywhere! I almost couldn’t stop myself from laughin’.”

Emdos scoots his chair away from Hiro. I look down at the table while a sour feeling stirs in my stomach. Emdos asks, “Kai, what’s wrong?”

I knit my eyebrows and frown at him.

“What’s with that look?” he asks and then laughs. “I’m just kidding. It’s just some ordinary beef stock soup with things you like.”

“I-I’ve heard that one before…” I mutter.

“Oh? You don’t believe me?” Emdos asks and then stands up. He takes out a bowl and then serves the soup in the pot. He places it on the table in front of me with the spoon already in it. I widen my eyes and then smile. I immediately take the spoon and then enjoy the soup.

“Emdos, I just remembered,” Hiro says. “Ya were called Glacius, right? The teachers at the Academy said ya could use Ice magic! Is it really Water magic?!

Emdos laughs and then puts his finger in Hiro’s glass of water. He freezes it in a second. “You mean like this?”

Everyone lets out sounds of amazement. I’m still slurping my soup. Hiro exclaims, “Yeah! I always thought my Water magic was weak… Could…couldja tell me how to do it?”

He puts his finger on top of the ice in Hiro’s glass. A moment later, it turns into water again. He laughs and then asks, “What’s the fun in that? It is indeed Water magic.”

Marin stands up and then says, “I think I’m going to head back. Thanks for the meal.”

Luna and Drugo stand up too. “I’ll come with you, Marin! Thanks for the meal.”

“Come on, Hiroster. Let’s go.”

"What? But I wanna ask Emdos more questions!”

“Ask him another time,” Drugo says as he drags Hiro away. “See you later, Kaister.”

“Damn… Fine.”

I wave and say, “Yeah, see ya guys later.”

The front door opens and then shuts. I smile as I finish eating my soup. They didn’t get to have any of this delicious soup…more to myself.

“So… What was it you wanted to tell me?” Emdos suddenly asks. I stop smiling as the atmosphere in the room intensifies. I gulp.

“Oh, yeah… Uhh…” I say while mentally preparing myself. I raise my eyebrows. “I wanted to tell you that I’m the last hope…according to my father.”

“Oh? You met him?”

“No…it was written in the book you gave me. I didn’t bring it with me.”

Emdos smiles and then says, “Because you lost it, right?”

My heart skips a beat, and a shiver goes down my spine. My mind stops. As my face gets hot, I burst out into laughter. Emdos doesn’t laugh and continues to stare at me with a creepy smile. I continue to laugh. Suddenly, he laughs too.

With my heart pounding rapidly, I say, “That was a good joke, Emdos.”

“I couldn’t trick you this time. You’ve improved.”

“So, did you know what my father meant by that?”

“Hmm… Perhaps he meant that you’re the last person left with your parents’ genes. It’s up to you to pass it on,” Emdos says and then smiles. “It seems you really have matured since the last time I saw you… I never taught you how to seduce women.”

My face flushes red. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“You fancy that girl, right? Her name’s…Luna. You’d better hurry before she swims away.”

Droplets of sweat form on my face. I pout and mutter, “N-no…”

After several seconds, I relax my facial expressions. “You were adventurers with my parents, right?”

“Yeah, I’ve told you that before.”

“Were you famous? Did someone hold a grudge against you guys?”

“Why do you ask?” I think of my meeting with Hina, but I refrain from mentioning it. I raise my eyebrows.

“Yo-you said my parents died in an accident, right? I thought maybe it wasn’t an accident…and you just said that because I was young.”

Silence follows. Several seconds pass before Emdos responds, “Yes, we were well-known…and there may be some people who didn’t like us. But, your parents were not killed out of hate.”

“So…they were killed by someone? What happened?”

“I can’t say. Your parents didn’t want me to tell you until you’re older. I’ll tell you when the time comes. For now, how about you demonstrate me your progress on the book?” Emdos asks with a smile.

Oh, shit… I smile before replying, “Su-sure…”

I stand up, prepare my Mana, release it, and then activate it. A purple portal appears behind me and in front of me. I walk into the one in front of me and then appear in the one behind me. I end in the same position I started in. Emdos’ eyes are widened with his lips slightly parted. He smiles before saying, “Very good… What else have you learned?”

My mind races as I’ve run out of ideas, but an epiphany hits me. I smile. “What’s the fun in showing you everything in one go?”

He cocks an eyebrow and says, “What?”

“You won’t have anything to anticipate the next time I visit!” I exclaim and then laugh. He laughs too after several seconds.

“You got me. You have a fair point.” My purple portals fade away.

“Well, I think I’m gonna head back. I’ve had a long day,” I say as I walk toward the exit. Emdos follows. I open the door and then turn back. “See ya later, Emdos.”

He smiles and then says, “Yeah. Sleep well.”

I run back home, finding everyone’s doors closed. I go to my room and then attempt to take a shower, but it doesn’t work. I open up the lid on the shower and then take out the Mana Crystal. I press the button on it. Mana comes out of the other side. I put back the Mana Crystal, take out the Water Crystal, and then toss it in the trash. I go into the main room. I open up the chest containing our supply of Crystals. There isn’t a single Water Crystal here. I sigh. I guess no shower…

I go to my room, undress, and then hit the sack. I wake up the next morning and then get dressed. I guess I’ll stock up on our Water Crystals.

I head to the main room. “Morning, Kaister.”

“Oh, hey Drugo,” I say as I walk over to the chest containing our money. I take a handful of silver coins and then store it inside my pocket. I take an empty bag from the chest too.

“Going to the Trade District?”

“Yeah. My Water Crystal ran outta juice,” I answer as I head for the door.

“I’ll go with you. I was thinking about visiting the orphanage ever since I got back from Emdos’ place yesterday.”

With Hiro’s door closed, I ask, “Don’t you wanna wake up Hiro?”

“Nah. It sounded like he was beat from yesterday. I’ll let him sleep in.” We head out for the Trade District.

“Do you have anyone you’re visiting in particular? It’s been over five years. Couldn’t you see most of them here at the Academy?”

“Not everyone decides to attend the Academy…and you’ve seen some drop out. I know a lot of the younger kids too, so it’s almost that time they would enroll into their first year. The director has been good to me as well.”

“I see.” We arrive at my destination. Apparently they’re out of stock too, so we wait for them to check out their storage. We lean against the building. Across from us is a toy shop. There’s a barefoot kid dressed in tattered clothes standing near it. He swipes something from the shop while the shopkeeper isn’t looking and then walks away.

I cock an eyebrow as Drugo jogs toward the kid. He catches up to him and then grabs his arm. I can’t make out what he’s saying, but his eyebrows are narrowed. They appear to be yelling at each other. After about a minute, the kid looks down and frowns. Drugo walks back to me and says nothing.

I’ve never seen him like that before… I ask, “What was that about?”

“He reminded me of my old self… I couldn’t ignore it,” he answers. I raise my eyebrows as I look back at the kid, still standing in the same place.

“That kid was you at some point? I find that hard to believe…”

Drugo laughs and then says, “I’m sure everyone at the orphanage would have a hard time believing too.”

“What happened?”

“Not much, really. The orphanage was poor, despite having to support so many of us. The meals they served us didn’t satisfy me, so there were times I tried to take food without anyone noticing. I got caught several times. The director scolded me and told me not to do it again, but I didn’t feel bad because I was hungry. I did it again, and again, and again. One day, the director threatened me that he’d hit me if I did it again.”

He smiles before continuing, “Soon enough, my stomach growled during the night. I went into the kitchen and ate until I was full. The next morning, there wasn’t enough to feed everyone. It was clear someone had eaten the food overnight. He looked at me with an angry expression and asked if I ate it. I didn’t wanna be hit, so I said no. A lot of the kids gave me a nasty look.”

“Then suddenly, someone said, ’It was me. I ate it ‘cause I was hungry. Does anyone have a problem with that?!’ Everyone’s expressions lightened up. The director still took him to a room and gave him a spanking.”

“Wow, that guy who covered for you sounds like a great person.”

Drugo laughs and then says, “Yeah he is. You know him very well.”

I knit my eyebrows. I know him very well…? Wait…

I raise my eyebrows and exclaim, “That was Hiro?!”

“Yep. After that day, I became good friends with him. He gave me portions of his meals too. I decided I wouldn’t be dishonest anymore. I’d give everyone the benefit of the doubt.”

Hiro… I’ll see him in a new light. Soon after, the shopkeeper notifies me that he brought back the Water Crystals. I say my goodbyes to Drugo before purchasing a dozen of them. I store them in the bag I brought. Before I head home, I look at the scene unfolding on the other side of the street. The shopkeeper is yelling at the barefoot kid from before. He stops and then holds the toy the kid stole in an open palm in front of him. The kid smiles and takes it from his hand. I smile and then head back home.

As I’m about to turn the knob to the main room, someone says, “Sorry.”

I quirk an eyebrow as silence follows. A few seconds later, someone else says, “I see.”

Someone’s footsteps resound toward the door. My heart beats rapidly. I turn back to where I came from and then run. The opening and closing of a door resound ahead. I walk back as if nothing happened. I find Sitos walking out with his head down. He’s frowning.

“Hey, Sitos! You’re back?” He doesn’t answer and walks past me. “Sitos?”

“I am going to go train,” he says quietly.

What was that about? I open the door to the main room and then go in. Luna’s standing there.

She smiles and then says, “Welcome back, Kai!”

“What were you guys… What happened? I ask as I walk over to the chest with the Crystals. I open it and then dump the contents of the bag inside.

“Nothing. What do you mean?”

“Never mind.” I take one of the Water Crystals and then store it in my pocket. I empty the coins in my pocket into the money chest. I stare in the chest while thinking about something. I close it and then head for the exit. “I’m going out again.”

“Why don’t you stay here for a bit while everyone’s still asleep or gone? I’ll make you some food…”

I stop and look at Luna for a moment. It’s tempting with her smile, but I answer, “I’ll be back later.”

I head out, closing the door behind me. I run toward the training room we frequently use for training. Sitos enters the room. I catch up to him in no time. The room is empty. Sitos turns to me.

“Kai, you came at a good time,” he says as he unsheathes his weapons. He smiles. “We have not had a serious duel in a while… Fight me.”

I cock an eyebrow. He sounds normal again… I guess I’ll play along.

“Sure,” I respond as I take out my weapons. We ready our stances and then stare at each other like we usually do. I look at him in one spot, never letting my eyes waver away. I analyze his stance. Hmm… Is that an opening or a trap?

I charge forward and then attack him in that possible opening. He attempts to block, but it is too late. One of my swords cuts him on the arm. It doesn’t bother him as he abandons his defense and switches to offense. He launches a fury of slashes at me with a wrinkled nose and narrowed eyebrows. They’re unrefined attacks, unlike his usual self. I dodge half of them while parrying others. I cut him lightly on the arms and body when I dodge. He jumps back.

The gap between us is only a few feet, but we have our staring contest again. I look at him at a single point as before. He’s showing the same opening as before. Is he not in the right mind today…? No, wait…

I lunge forward and prepare the same attack I used earlier on his opening. I snap my arm forward as before, but I plan to stop my arm midway. I smile as he suddenly changes his stance, revealing his feint. He attempts to attack me with a counter attack, but I’ve already seen through it. I counter his counter, flinging his sword out of his hands. I point my other sword at him and then say, “It’s my wi—”

"Lightning!” A yellow bolt of lightning comes out of the palm without a sword. I widen my eyes as it hits me in the arm I used to knock his sword out of his hand. My arm throbs with pain as it shakes uncontrollably.

“Sitos, what the hell? We never used magic—” He knocks the sword out of my weakened arm. I jump backward. He changes to a two handed grip and then follows with a relentless assault of slashes. Most of them break through my last ditch guard and cut me around my entire body. “Sitos, wait a se—”

He draws his arm further back. I hold my sword with both hands too. I attempt to block his attack, but it has too much power. The force knocks me on my back. I knit my eyebrows as a wave of murderous intent seeps out of Sitos. He jumps toward me and then stabs his sword downward. I widen my eyes and roll sideways. His weapon is stuck in the floor. He takes it out and then faces me again. He’s still frowning with narrowed eyebrows.

I click my tongue and then grit my teeth. I clench my fingers on my grip. He runs at me with his sword in the air. I block the first blow and then follow with slashes that parry every one of his attacks. It feels like I’m putting all my strength into every blow. This carries on for several minutes until I finally knock his weapon out of his hands. I knock him on the ground using the blunt edge of my sword. I step over him and then point my sword at him. Panting, I say, “I-I win.”

He doesn’t say anything. I sheathe my sword and then hold my hand out in front of me. “Good match.”

He slaps my hand away and scowls at me. I stare at him with a blank expression. After several seconds, he relaxes his facial expressions. He looks down and in a tone devoid of energy, he says, “Sorry. It was a good match. You have really improved. I will admit it. You are better than me. You win."

I’m not sure how to respond, so I don’t say anything. I only frown. He looks up at me and then asks, “Hey Kai…are you hiding something?”

“Wh-what do you mean?”

He smiles and then says, “It is nothing. I want to be alone right now.”

He presses a hand over his eyes. A few tears seep through. I pick up my other sword before turning to the exit. I figure any words of praise or pity won’t do him any good. “I’ll see ya later then.”

I head back home. Sitos doesn’t come back even after several days pass. A messenger notifies us to report to our usual place for our mission briefing. We arrive there where we find Alios waiting for us as usual. A bow and quiver are on the ground next to him. Marin runs over to them.

“Oh, you found my equipment!” Marin exclaims.

“Affirmative, we found them exactly where Kai said they would be.”

“Did you arrest those other guys we left there?” I ask. Alios doesn’t answer immediately.

“No, we did not.”

I cock an eyebrow and then ask, “Why?”

“Because they are dead. All of them, except one of my men who said a kid with a hammer suddenly attacked him,” he explains as he looks at Hiro. I knit my eyebrows. Hiro looks away and whistles.

“Wait… I didn’t kill anyone, right Drugo?” I ask.

“Yup. Those people dressed as guards were still breathing when I checked. We didn’t fatally wound any of the other people either.”

Alios sighs and then says, “Well, no matter. You will not be penalized for killing them. They are better off dead. Zarus has informed me that those men I sent to him committed suicide. You can rest at ease.”

I don’t say anything else, feeling that he won’t believe me. I change the topic and ask, “Where’s Sitos?”

“He is taking care of something else right now. You will continue without him for now.”

“But we’ve never done a mission without all six of us…”

“With your skills and teamwork, I am sure you will be fine.” We continue the mission without Sitos, but something feels different. It’s lonely without him.

Nearly two weeks pass since the disappearance of Sitos. We’re eating lunch in our home during one of our free days. Someone’s turning the knob on the main door. I raise my eyebrows and stand up. “Sitos’ back!”

The door opens and then Sitos walks in, but someone else does too. They’re holding hands. She looks a little older than us. She has long, black hair and wears an elegant white dress. “Everyone, I want you to meet my fiancée, Sofiel.”

“Fiancée?!” all of us exclaim.

“Good afternoon. My name is Sofiel,” she introduces with a bow. Something feels off. Sitos’ eyes have no shine to them, despite the smile on his face.

Our days resume back to normal now that Sitos has returned.

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