The Selection

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Chapter 36 - Princess Irene - Truth

Nearly the entire area around Leila is on fire. The giant flower is gone. A few guards are entangled by vines coming out of the pollinated flowers near them. Balls of fire appear in the air and descend toward Leila. Marin shoots arrows toward Leila. Leila takes a seed from one of her back pouches with her right hand and then throws it in front of her.

"Sprout!” Vines extend outward from the seed. Some of them dig into the ground. It creates a rough wall in front of her. She points her left palm toward the incoming balls of fire and shouts, ”Water ball! Water ball! Water ball! Water ball!”

The balls of water collide with the balls of fire. Steam rises from the center of each collision. Marin’s arrows penetrate the front of the vine wall. I shout, “Leila!”

The balls of fire disappear as parts of Leila’s Water magic keep flying straight. Leila glances at me and yells, “I’m fine here! I’ll catch up later!”

I grit my teeth while staring at her. I click my tongue and then run toward Byzia.

“Kai, wait!” Marin exclaims as she chases after me. An arrow flies toward me. I draw a sword and then deflect it.

One of the guards exclaims, “Lieutenant Marin, we’ll come with you!”

“No, Sergeant Jetia needs your assistance. He’s probably still alive in the woods somewhere.”

“But—”

“That’s an order.”

“You heard her! Let’s go!”

"Celerity!” Marin shouts. The frequency of her footsteps increases.

"Haste!” I shout. Power surges through my legs. What’s she planning? Does she think she can take me out by herself…? We’ve almost reached the woods.

I dodge three arrows by moving to the side. They pierce three different trees up ahead. ”Zephyr!”

Wind blows against me from the arrows in the trees. It slows my advance forward. I click my tongue. She’s learned a few new tricks of her own… Can I not avoid using more of my Mana?

I unsheathe my other sword and then turn around. Marin’s aiming three arrows at me. I ground my weight behind me as I put my blades in front of me. I prepare instructions for my magic. She shoots the arrows. I knit my eyebrows as they miss me completely and hit the ground around me. My eyes widen.

“Wind Trap!” Wind blows on me from every angle. I stab one of my swords into the ground as it feels like I’m lifted up into the air. I squint my eyes, leaving only a small opening of sight. Marin unleashes a wave of dirt from her palm. It obscures my vision around me, and the wind blows it into my eyes. I close my eyes and hold my breath.

I adjust the instructions for my magic and then release my Raw Mana through the opening above me. I grit my teeth as an arrow pierces me between my arm guards. Where’s she gonna shoot from next…?

I imagine what I look like inside my mind. There’s an opening on my left side. I wave my sword on my left. I knit my eyebrows as my blade collides with air. Just a moment longer…

"Open!” I shout, take my sword out of the ground, and then jump up with all my strength. I crash into the ground at the edge of the woods. I open my eyes as I begin to stand up, looking behind my shoulder. Marin’s nowhere to be found.

“I knew you were going to do that,” Marin says, apparently on my right behind a tree. She approaches me slowly with three arrows pulled back on her bow. I gulp as I stand up completely. She smiles. “You know…someone succeeded General Nero.

I smile and then say, “Oh, someone finally got rid of that scumbag? What happened to him?”

“He was found dead on the floor in his room. Almost all the bones in his body were broken.”

“There must’ve been a huge commotion when he was found.”

“Yeah…there was an uproar for a while since there were no traces of anyone entering or leaving his room. A huge investigation was conducted, but in the end, no one was punished because no one knows how General Nero died.”

“He wasn’t attacked by a blunt weapon?”

“That’s what they thought, but no possible murder weapon could be found. If you ask me…it looked like he was dropped from a tall height, but there’s no hole in the ceiling.”

I stop smiling. “Well, it doesn’t matter how he died or who killed him. You’re probably better off without him.”

“That’s true. Living conditions have greatly improved. Why don’t you come back?”

“That’s great to hear, but I’ll decline. I can’t accomplish my goals confined to the army.” I sheathe my swords and then inch closer to Marin. I pull out the arrow in my arm.

“Don’t move! Stop!” she exclaims, her eyes quivering. She slowly takes a few steps back. Her back is against the trunk of a tree. I stop in front of her. Her weapon is pointed toward my face.

“I figured out why you ordered those guards to help Jetia instead of pursuing me,” I say with a smile. “You hesitated on an opening just now too.”

“I’ve strengthened my resolve since you left,” she says, her arms shaking. A drop of sweat drips down from her face. I slowly reach for the arrows on her weapon. “I’ll re-really do i-it…”

I snatch her arrows and then drop them to the ground. Her lips quiver. I sigh and pull the bow from her hands. There’s no resistance. I drop it to the ground. “Funny you should say that. I’ve strengthened my resolve too.”

I grab her chin, pushing her against the tree behind her and then point the arrow in my hand toward her neck. Her eyes are trembling as she asks, “Yo-you wo-wouldn’t hurt me…would you…?”

I smile and then say, “I won’t hesitate if it’s necessary to carry out my goals.”

“Kai…you’ve changed…” she says quietly with tears flowing out of her eyes. The tip of the arrow barely pierces her neck. A drop of blood trickles down. I grit my teeth and then let her go. Her legs give out as she slides her back down the tree. She wraps her arms around her knees with her head down and continues to cry, occasionally sniffing up snot.

I drop the arrow in my hand and then run toward Byzia. I frown. Maybe that was a little too harsh… Well, at least now she won’t be entangled in this mess.

I slow my pace to a walk as I walk into the city and then run again. I burst into ‘Bolt’s Inn,’ sprinting up the stairs. I turn the knob to our room, apparently unlocked. I open it. As expected… No one’s here.

I close the door and then head out. I make my way toward the castle. There are a lot of people gathered in the city square outside the castle. I raise my eyebrows. That’s right… They’re expecting Reid—no, Osmir to give them the rundown on how he’s redistributing the wealth. I don’t wanna attract any attention here…but how did Xedeus…

I raise my eyebrows. The secret passage! That’s a long detour. I can catch up.

I walk to a street adjacent to the castle. There are still people wandering about here, but not as much. The outer wall of the castle is 20 feet high. How should I clear this wall without being seen…?

I look over to my right. I could climb to the roof of those buildings and then connect a portal between there and the castle... No, people will see me climbing it. I guess I’ll have to use that. Thirty seconds’ more than enough.

I walk up to the wall and then count my steps all the way to the side of a building across the street. I turn back around. I rest my back against the wall of a building, facing the wall. A few people glance over to me, but their eyes don’t linger for long. I break down some Raw Mana into Rich Mana, immediately using some to augment my legs. Afterward, I prepare instructions for my Raw Mana. I wait for the moment no one is looking at me.

I release my Raw Mana and then immediately activate it. I wrap two one-sided portals around my body. My entire vision is the familiar purple haze. I run forward while counting my steps. I slow my pace as I approach the wall. I put my hand out, touching the wall. I jump up and then climb over the wall. I land on the other side. I know people will see me from the front of the gate if my mantle disappears now.

I prepare more instructions for my Raw Mana and then release it. It immediately activates. I extend my left arm toward my left. The purple haze around my body fades into nothing. The familiar portals are on my left and right. My arm is inside the portal on the left. It appears out of the portal on the right. I find the closest window on the second floor of the castle. I prepare my magic and then release it, subsequently activating it. A purple portal appears between the two by my sides and inside the castle. I extend my right arm into the portal in front of me before taking my left arm out of the other portal. I walk forward and then appear in the castle.

"Close!” I exclaim. All four of my portals fade away. I look around. This hallway’s familiar… The library’s close!

I find the library and then gulp. I take out both of my weapons and slowly walk into the room. It’s too quiet… Maybe he hasn’t arrived yet?

I widen my eyes and stop walking. Irene’s on the floor in front of the vault. Irene! That means Xedeus’ already here… This is clearly a trap.

I look around. There’s no one around. I check through all of the columns of shelves. There’s nothing. I knit my eyebrows. Did Xedeus already obtain what was inside the vault…?

I relax my guard and then run toward Irene. Something pushes me from behind. I fall forward, widening my eyes. My weapons drop to the floor next to me. I can’t move. A cold shiver goes down my spine. This is…!

A slow clap resounds, steadily moving closer to me. A man in a hooded white uniform appears from somewhere. I have no idea where he came from. He’s wearing a Cascabel mask. I grit my teeth and then shout, ”Xedeus!”

“Well done, Kai. Well done,” Xedeus says. “You arrived a few minutes earlier than planned. Did you enjoy the little game I prepared for you?”

I cock an eyebrow and then ask, “Game? What game?”

He laughs and then responds, “I knew you would help Irene in the middle of your mission because you’ve grown weak. You were the same three years ago.”

"Weak?! I’ve become much stronger since those days!”

“Then why didn’t you kill Reid? The Kai from a year ago wouldn’t have hesitated,” Xedeus says. I open my mouth but don’t say anything. “I’m really disappointed in you, Kai… I had hopes for you. I spent all this time preparing this game for you…to help you realize your true self. This is how you repay me?”

I grit my teeth and force my fingers into a clench, but my fingers don’t move. The tension remains in my hands. “Do you think I’ll ever be grateful after what you did?!

He doesn’t answer for several seconds. He tilts his head sideways and asks, “What’re you talking about?”

“Don’t play dumb, you fuck! You killed them!”

“Hmm… I’m afraid I don’t know who you’re referring to. I don’t keep track of who I have or haven’t killed.” My chest feels like it’s about to burst from anger. Hot puffs of air escape me as I stare at the man in front of me. “I like those eyes.”

“Sitos… Drugo…”

I squeeze my eyes shut, pausing for a few seconds. I continue, “Luna… Those are the names of my friends you’ve killed. You’ll regret it if you forget their names again.”

“Sitos, Sitos… Ah, yes… I remember him,” he answers and then laughs. “I still have no idea what you’re talking about. Who…killed who?”

“You mother fu—”

“You should get your memory checked out before you attack me with slander.”

"Liar! You know it was your fault! It was your fault they died!”

“I only gave them a little push,” he explains and then laughs. “I helped them realize their true selves.”

I grit my teeth as I think about Sitos and his final moments. I squeeze my eyes shut, thinking about Luna. My eyes burn up as I remember her smiles and the morning of the incident. Tears pour out of my eyes. “Bring her back…”

“What was that?”

“Bring her back…! Bring her back!”

“You’re talking about your—”

“Bring her back! Bring—”

"Bring her back, bring her back!” Xedeus exclaims and then laughs loudly. “You’re persistent. It’s annoying. Since you’re so adamant on the fantasy that I killed her… I’ll grant you your wish.”

I still can’t move my limbs. My fingers move a little. Damn it! I’ve come all this way…and I still don’t know what he’s doing.

“Kai!” Leila exclaims. I open my eyes, calming down a little. “Where’re you?”

“Leila! Don’t come over here! It’s a trap!” I shout. Her footsteps resound louder.

“Kai!” Leila shouts from behind me. Xedeus moves away, probably from her line of sight.

“Idiot! I told you, don’t come any closer! Stop!” Her footsteps resound closer and closer. She falls next to me. I sigh. “I told you it was a trap… Are you deaf?”

She cocks an eyebrow and asks, “What’re you talking about? You’re the one who told me to come over!”

“What do you mean I told you to come over? I told you the exact opposite of that! Don’t blame me for walking right into the trap.”

“This is the thing about you, Kai. I—” Xedeus’ footsteps resound as he walks toward the vault.

“Another actor has arrived. Welcome, Leila,” Xedeus says. “You played your role well in the script I laid out for you, unlike Kai.”

“Xedeus…” Leila mutters. “What’re you talking about?”

“Use your head. The mission, the information you received, your deductions, your movements… All of it…was just as I calculated,” Xedeus informs. My eyes widen.

That possibility lurked at the back of my mind…but I refuse to believe it. It can’t be true. It’s a lie. The past year flashes through my mind. I raise my eyebrows and then say, “That mission eight months ago… You let Dae discover the cargo on purpose…?

Xedeus claps and answers, “Correct. You’re finally getting it.”

I frown and shut my eyes. It’s hopeless… We’re completely in the palm of his hand.

“Kai, what’s with that look? Have you forgotten what we did?” Leila asks.

That’s right… I can’t let myself get caught up in his pace. I gulp and then exclaim, “That’s right! You predicted everything? That’s one hell of a bluff. You didn’t even figure out that we’re the ones who shut down your slave trafficking operation.”

“What?!” Xedeus exclaims with widened eyes. “You two were the ones responsible…”

I yell, “Yeah it was us! I savored that moment you threw a fit of rage.”

“Impossible…” he mutters and then laughs loudly. I knit my eyebrows. “Is that how you wanted me to react? Did you really think that I wouldn’t know about what you were doing behind my back? Of course I knew.”

“Liar! If you knew, then why didn’t you do anything—”

“It didn’t matter to me… Whether you destroyed that operation or left it alone, it didn’t interfere with my plans.”

“What’re you talking about?! That operation was the main source of income for—” Irene moves slightly. She makes a small noise. My eyes widen. “Irene!”

“Oh? It looks like our princess finally woke up. It’s time to continue our game,” Xedeus says as he walks toward Irene.

“Get away from her!” I yell. He grabs her hair and then pulls up, forcing her to stand up. She screams. I grit my teeth. I prepare instructions for my magic. “Stop!”

He faces her toward the vault and says, “Open it. You remembered now, haven’t you?”

“N-no… I wo-won’t open it…” Irene says quietly. Xedeus turns her around and then punches her with a hook. Another scream resounds as she falls.

“Irene!” Leila and I simultaneously exclaim.

“Open it!” Xedeus shouts as he picks her back up.

“I won’t open it…no matter what. No matter how much you beat me up…or even kill me.”

What the hell’s she saying?! Damn! I still can’t move.

“We’ll see about that,” Xedeus says as he holds her by the hair. He punches her repeatedly with his other hand. Each impact resounds clearly.

“You fucker! Stop!” I exclaim.

“Is she really that important to you?” Xedeus asks as he continues to pummel her. “This is what I don’t understand. How can one random girl affect you so much?”

I grind my teeth. He lets Irene go, and she drops to the floor. She whimpers and cries. “You’re a stubborn girl. We’ll see how determined you really are.”

He laughs and then turns around, walking toward Leila. I raise my eyebrows.

He’s trying to keep Irene alive… This is my chance! Luckily, he doesn’t know about Void magic. I adjust the final touches to my magic and then release it. A ball of fire appears above Xedeus that drops down. It’s positioned a little bit on his left side. He looks up and then jumps to the side on his right. I widen my eyes and shout, ”Open!”

Four one-sided portals appear. Xedeus goes through the portal in his path and then falls from the air directly above the fireball. The ball of fire enters a portal above the floor and then appears through the last portal in a perpendicular direction as the one Xedeus falls from. My magic will collide with him in a moment.

Xedeus moves his legs and then launches himself out of harm’s way. He lands on his feet. My magic eventually collides with the wall ahead of it, bursting into flames. My eyes tremble. No way… How’d he react to that? I can’t win…

He draws his sword and says, “Hmm… Not bad, but not good enough.”

He walks closer to Leila. Irene suddenly shouts, “Stop!”

Irene slowly stands up, her face bloodied. I exclaim, “Irene! Don’t push yourself!”

“I’ll open the vault for you…so don’t hurt Leila or Kai…” she says. Xedeus turns around and walks toward her.

“Excellent. Open it, now.” Irene puts one of her palms against the transparent circle at the center of the vault. A few seconds later, the front of the vault moves down into the floor. He pushes Irene down and goes inside.

“Hey, Leila… Did you figure it out yet?” I ask.

“No… This is the first time I’ve encountered something like this. Wind magic must be a component in his trick.”

“We’ll have another—”

"Elf! Where’re ya hidin’?!” Ruby exclaims nearby. I widen my eyes.

“Damn, that bitch’s persistent. I thought I lost her,” Leila says.

“How’d you get into the castle without being seen?”

“I took the secret tunnel. I covered my tracks too.”

My heart beats faster. “This is bad. This is very bad…”

Her footsteps resound progressively louder. ”Elf! I found ya! Die!”

Ruby launches a large ball of fire from her palm. A similarly sized ball of water appears in front of its path near Leila, standing still. Their magic collides, and steam rises from the center. Several seconds later, the fireball fades away. Xedeus walks out of the vault holding a book in one hand and his sword in the other. He looks toward Ruby and says, “It seems our final actor has arrived.”

I raise my eyebrows. No…

Ruby stares at him. She suddenly bursts into flames. Fire covers her entire body, but she doesn’t seem to be in pain. She glowers and screams, ”It’s you!”

“Ruby, run!” I yell.

"Everything’s yer fault!” Ruby runs toward Xedeus. ”I’ll kill ya ‘n’ take Kai back!”

Xedeus laughs and stands still. He says, “Kai, I finally understand…”

Several balls of fire appear at various angles. They all fly toward Xedeus, who’s standing still. A loud sound resounds one after another. The balls of fire instantly fade away with every bang. “Your attachment to that girl, Irene.”

"Fire tornado!” Ruby exclaims and then a tornado comprised of flames appears between her and Xedeus. Some of the wind and heat reach me from this distance. The tornado moves toward Xedeus. Suddenly, the tornado shrinks in size, the flames dying too. It fades away in seconds. Xedeus continues, “You really are cruel.”

He’s right… I bite my lip as he slowly walks toward Ruby.

"Minefield! Inferno! Firestorm!” Over a dozen small balls of fire appear between Ruby and Xedeus. A blanket of fire covers the ceiling and rains down flames. Flames erupt all over the ground. Xedeus continues his slow pace, swerving around the small balls of fire in front of him. The flames dropping from above fade away before hitting him. ”Explode!”

The small balls of fire explode, releasing a gust of wind and flames outward. Xedeus is at the center of it all. ”Flame pillar! Fire explosion!”

I widen my eyes as a large amount of flames erupt in the area where I last saw Xedeus. Flames cover everywhere from the ground up to the ceiling in a large area. Leila has a shield of water covering us. ”Furnace! Burning prison! Fire explosion! Fire explosion! Fire explosion! Flame pillar!”

Flames erupt constantly. I have no idea what’s going on. I think about Xedeus’ words and bite my lip hard enough for it to bleed. Damn it… What have I been doing these past three years…? To end up here again… Powerless.

"Meteor!” A large spherical flaming object appears behind Ruby’s active magic. It descends into the cluster of flames. The flames covering Ruby fade away as she falls on her bottom. My eyes quiver. I gulp as the remains of Ruby’s magic clears up.

Xedeus appears at the center, seemingly unharmed. The book is still in his hand and the sword in the other. He laughs loudly. A gust of wind blows Ruby down on her back. He walks toward her. No…no…no!

“Watch closely, Kai. It’s time to end this game,” he says. My body is more responsive now, but I still can’t get up. I clench my fists and grit my teeth tightly. Tears flow out of my eyes before I know it. It’s too late to assist her with magic at this distance. I squeeze my eyes shut.

No…it can’t end like this. Before I could apologize… Before I gathered the courage to... My memories of her flash rapidly inside my head. I open my eyes, Xedeus now standing over her. His blade is pointed toward her neck. She isn’t moving. I widen my eyes as he lifts his arms up. My heart pounds rapidly. He thrusts his arm down, and I scream, ”Luna!”

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