The Selection

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Chapter 3 - Academy Year 1 - Talentless?!

“Kai, it’s time for breakfast, I made your favorite.”

Huh? Did I just wake up? What was I doing just now? I follow Emdos’ voice into the kitchen where a bowl rests on the table, automatically assuming that it would be soup. I feel like something has happened like this before, but I don’t remember. While ignoring the feeling of déjà vu, I rush over with a smile on my face and then peer into the bowl. My smile quickly dissolves into a frown as I open my mouth wide.

“Now eat it, Kai. I’ll make it easy for you.” Emdos takes the bowl with the spoon in hand and moves in on me, closer and closer. Out of instinct, I want to run away, but I can’t move. I glance at my legs and arms, realizing my limbs are tied to the wall. Emdos is right in front of me laughing with an evil smile as he scoops up the contents of the horrifying soup. “It’s time for your punishment Kai.”

"Nooooooooooooooo!” I scream, forcing my eyes to shut tightly. I keep them closed for several seconds. When I realize that there’s no noise, and I can wave my arms around, I very slowly inch an eye open to check if Emdos is still there. When neither the spoon nor Emdos is there, I sigh and then open my eyes normally. A stone ceiling is ahead.

Was I dreaming just now…? Where am I? I sit up and look around; an old man is standing in front of me, leaning backward. He is wearing a red robe with black vertical stripes on it. His gray hair is tied up in a knot and holds something in his right hand. On my left, there is a large crowd of kids like me. They are seated on seven different elevations with about 20 seats per row. Some of the seats are empty, but I estimate that there are at least 100 of them. On the left and right side of the room, stone steps lead up to closed doors on top of each stairway.

I’m sitting on what appears to be dirt and grass on top of a table. On my right, there is writing on a blackboard. As my eyes continue to wander around the room, I realize everyone is staring at me, so I smile nervously.

“It looks like you are finally awake. The guards have updated me on what happened. I have casted some Healing magic on you so you should feel fine now, but you should take it easy. But since you were late, I will have to give you a punishment,” the old man informs.

“Punishment…?” I immediately think of the soup and cover my stomach with both hands. I hear my stomach rumble as I feel my insides burn. By instinct, I open my mouth as I turn my head towards my left and face the ground and without warning, I feel hot air rush up my esophagus like I’m burping. I make a gagging sound, and then a burst of dark, yellow liquid waterfalls out of my mouth, onto the floor creating a splattering sound. I taste my vomit in my mouth with trace amounts of the soup and then gag once again spewing more of my breakfast onto the floor.

“Gross…” Several kids are whispering among themselves in the crowd. I raise my head as I wipe my mouth with the sleeve of my shirt while looking back at the old man afterward.

“Um, sorry I wasn’t feeling good…” I give a small smile and laugh a little.

“If you are still not feeling well, the punishment can wait.”

“Um, I’m fine… I’ll take my punishment now…” I’m scared of what my punishment is going to be, but I figure that it would be better to get it done sooner than later. I think of all the horrible punishments I got from Emdos, sending shivers down my body. I gulp. “Are…are you gonna make me eat carrots?”

There is a brief silence, but then I hear giggling from some of the kids. I realize they are laughing at what I said, so I turn my head towards them with raised eyebrows and respond, “Yeah, carrots! They’re scary!”

The room bursts into laughter. I feel my face burning red, and I can’t help but look down. Even the old guy is laughing.

“Haha, you are a funny one are you not? I am not going to feed you carrots, but I am going to have you wear this on your head.” The old man holds something that has the shape of a bowl in front of me. I reach out my hands, firmly grabbing it with both hands.

“What’s it do?” I ask as I knit my eyebrows. My frowned lips tremble, expecting some horrible consequence.

“This is a magic item that measures your Mana capacity potential. You see, there are three grades of Mana. Scrap Mana is the lowest quality of Mana, Rich Mana is the highest quality, and Unrefined Mana is in the middle. After putting this on for a few seconds, it gives you a rank depending on how much you have of each type. S is the highest and E is the lowest. It does not hurt, and you will not feel anything. Everyone else has received their results in private, and you would be the only one left who needs to measure his Mana capacity potential. As for your punishment, I will reveal your results to everyone.”

My eyes and mouth widen in fear as a cold sweat drips down my forehead towards my cheek. I instantaneously recall my conversation with Emdos from yesterday. I can’t put this on in front of everyone, or everyone’s gonna find out about my Mana and no one will wanna be my friend…

I simply stare at the magic item in my hands while holding my breath. I immediately come up with a question and then ask, “How do I know this won’t hurt me? I’m kinda scared.”

“Haha, it cannot be helped. Would someone volunteer to take the test again?”

“I will!” A girl in the front row stands up and walks towards me. She is shorter than me with long, straight, brown hair down to her waist and wears a long, white blouse pairing with red shoes. Although she makes eye contact with me and smiles, I blush and look away.

She’s pretty… She stands in front of me for reasons beyond me. I gulp before muttering, “Wh-what?”

“Can you give me that?” she asks as she points her finger towards the magic item in my hand. I forget that I’m still grabbing onto it, and I hold it out in front of her with a loosened grip.

“Ah. Here you go.”

“Thank you,” she responds as she takes the item from my hands. I blush lightly; feeling like her smile pierced my heart. She puts on the device as she begins walking to the old man, stopping in front of him inches away from where he stands.

“Teacher, is it ready yet?”

Oh…so that’s who the old man is.

“Let me see… Oh my, yes, I remember you now. Your name is Luna right?”

“Yes!”

“Luna, your Scrap Mana rank is S, your Unrefined Mana rank is B, and your Rich Mana rank is A.”

I raise my eyebrows as I smirk.

Isn’t that kinda good…? This means I’ll be her only friend… I begin to grin, but I relax and turn towards the crowd of kids when I suddenly hear them roaring.

“Wow, that’s amazing!”

“Awesome!”

I realize that the kids are cheering for Luna. I cock an eyebrow as I skeptically frown. What? They aren’t jealous? I thought for sure they would hate her… “Umm… Teacher, are her results that…poor?”

“No, on the contrary, they are quite impressive! Over the history of this Academy, only 5% have tested S for Scrap Mana, 25% have tested B or better for Unrefined Mana, and less than 1% have tested A or better in Rich Mana. These percentages are not mutually exclusive. A few other students this year had quite some impressive results as well. Ahh… Do not worry, most people fail to get anywhere near Luna’s results so do not be disheartened. Now it is your turn.”

I’ll show everyone my greatness, and I’ll be friends with everyone! I grin before declaring, “Alright! My name’s Kai, remember it!”

Luna turns around, walks towards me, takes off the magic item, and then holds it in front of me. “Good luck, Kai,” she says with a smile.

I take the magic item from her and put it on my head. “Thanks Luna, don’t feel bad when I have better results.”

“Um, okay.” she forces a smile before walking away.

I cross my arms and puff my chest out while holding my smug smile. Luna sits back in her seat while the teacher comes over and examines the device. He knits his eyebrows together and frowns.

Is he shocked at my talent? What’s taking so long…? The room is silent, and I can only hear my own breathing.

“Hmm… This is troubling indeed.”

“Emdos said I’m special, so I must have some great results right? Now tell everyone my results.” I hold my current position and don’t move.

The teacher scratches his head before finally saying, “All of your ranks are grade E.”

I stop smiling and relax my facial expressions. Did I…mishear it?

Unsure if I heard him correctly I utter, “What?”

I focus my hearing to the upcoming words from the teacher, and I frown as I drop my arms to my sides. “Your Scrap Mana rank is E, your Unrefined Mana rank is E, and your Rich Mana rank is E. You have no talent, I am sorry. I did not want to announce it because it seemed too cruel even for punishment…”

My eyes and mouth widen in disbelief as the teacher responds. All of my thoughts stop, losing my sense of hearing as I stare into the distance and being unable to bring my eyes to focus. I shake my head, trying to get back to reality. I regain some confidence when I think back to moments when Emdos praised me. “Umm, there must’ve been some mistake? Emdos said I’m special…”

“Hmm… I am sorry there is no mistake. You are indeed special… You are the first student to enroll here to receive the E rank in every category in the history of the Academy…” I stare blankly at the teacher. There is a brief silence until I finally hear the crowd of kids explode into laughter in unison.

“Haha, he’s special indeed!” I frown and look at the floor, feeling my face burning up.

“Hahaha! Didja see how confident he was?”

“His name was Kai, right?”

I listen to the students continue their gossip and laughter. On my left, Luna laughs through her mouth even while she covers it with her right hand. I tilt my head down as I clench my teeth and my fists, at the same time scowling in anger. I feel the insides of my chest burning and all of my muscles feel tense as my heart rate speeds up. I take a deep breath. ”Stop laughing! I’ll show you my power!”

The room becomes silent, and I hear nothing except my own labored breathing. I close my eyes as I start to focus all of my Mana into my right arm. I fully extend my right arm in front of me just like how I did when I trained. I want to gather as much Mana as possible, so I create a barrier on my hand similar to this morning. This is about right. I’ll show everyone…

I open my eyes wide preparing to break the barrier in the next moment, but suddenly an icy feeling overwhelms me, and I can’t move. I feel so cold that I can’t move any part of my body and for some reason I can’t even break the barrier. Almost naturally, I think of the moment I stared into Emdos’ eyes yesterday and feel fear. My entire body shudders, and it’s difficult to breathe, feeling light-headed while hearing ringing in my ears; I couldn’t clearly hear anything around me. For some reason, I’m able to dissipate the Mana in my right arm, and I do just that. A moment later the icy feeling is gone, and I take a deep breath, calming down. I spin around, surveying the room, but there’s no one suspicious.

What was that...? Was it Emdos…? I have a bad feeling. I’m just gonna do what he told me and not reveal my Mana to anyone. Focusing back on reality, I’m still holding my arm in front of me. Everyone stares at me silently. I put my arm down and then scratch my head while smiling.

“Just kidding.” I laugh out loud as if it’s a really funny joke. I expect everyone to react negatively, so I mentally prepare myself.

“What the hell? Don’t mess with us!”

“I was scared for a moment… I thought he was actually going to do something.”

“Hah! I knew he was bluffin’ all along.”

I keep a neutral facial expression as boos emanate from the crowd. I glance over at Luna to see how she feels about me. She makes eye contact with me and then chuckles. I smile in response.

I’m glad she doesn’t hate me. I sigh, relieved.

“My, you are a funny one are you not, Kai? Well, how about you go take a seat? We still have some more time before my lecture ends.”

I look around for a seat, and my eyes naturally wander to where Luna sits; the furthest left seat on the first row. I walk over to the empty seat next to her and sit.

“Kai, you’re so funny!” she exclaims with a wide smile. I smile back as I blush and then look down at my seat, only to look up again when the teacher clears his throat.

“I will continue where I left off earlier. Every living organism in this world has Mana, it is a necessity of life. But, too much Mana is toxic to all life. When we magicians use magic, we must activate our Mana. We slowly recover the lost Mana through breathing. The remnant of casted magic diffuses into the air in the form of inactive Mana, and when you breathe in air, you breathe in Mana that is bound to oxygen. Your lungs absorb the Mana, and you are able to slowly regenerate your Mana. When the amount of Mana has reached your maximum capacity, the excess amount exits from your body through the skin and diffuses into the air to prevent the toxic effects of Mana.

“Remember, there were three grades of Mana… Scrap Mana…” The teacher raises his right arm in the air and emits Mana into the air. It has a very faint, light blue color, like an ice cube.

“… Unrefined Mana…” The Mana that emits into the air from his hands changes to a deeper tint of blue, almost like the color of the sky.

“… Rich Mana…” The flow of the Mana suddenly becomes fiercer and the color changes to an even deeper tone of blue, like a sapphire.

I close my eyes as I purse my lips, thinking back to the training I had done with Emdos for the past five years. The color of my Mana never changed, and it matched none of the three the teacher just presented… It was a much…deeper blue…maybe darker…

“…but each has their own advantages and disadvantages. The more pure the Mana, the harder it is to control and the slower it can recover. You can see that I am having some difficulty controlling the highest Mana grade, despite that I have trained for a very long time. Those of you who received good results in higher grades of Mana shouldn’t be happy with just that. You must still work hard to achieve full mastery of your Mana. Those who have a low capacity for Scrap Mana, should not be discouraged. When you can freely manipulate your Mana, you are able to break down the higher grades of Mana into larger quantities of a lower grade Mana. ” The teacher stops releasing his Mana and puts his arm down.

“But beware, you can give yourself Mana poisoning if you are not careful. For an example, you spent all of your D ranked Scrap Mana, but have all of your B ranked Unrefined Mana remaining. If you break down less than half of Unrefined Mana as Scrap Mana you spent into Scrap Mana, you’ll have just about all of your Scrap Mana recovered. If you break down too much, however, you will exceed the capacity you have for Scrap Mana, and it will become toxic to you. While you can downgrade your Mana, you cannot combine lower qualities of Mana to become a higher quality of Mana. Knowing when to break down your Mana and how much of it to break down will determine the tide of a battle. Any questions?”

“Ah yes, Luna?”

Luna has her hand raised. “If there’s Mana in the air, why doesn’t it have a color?”

The teacher rubs his chin as he pauses for a moment before answering, “Good question, that is because the Mana in the air is inactive. Remember what I said about that magicians must activate Mana to use magic? The Mana in our bodies stay inactive until we activate and manifest them. Only manifested Mana will have a color. One of the reasons why higher grade Mana is harder to master is because activating them is harder than a lower grade of Mana. Any other questions?”

There is a long silence in the room.

“I think that is enough for today. Next, you will break into the groups you were in earlier. We will meet outside, at the entrance of the Academy at eleven.”

And with that, the students around the room get up and talk amongst themselves. The teacher starts to walk up the stairs next to Luna towards the exit. I get up in a hurry chasing after him and exclaim, “Teacher! Um, I don’t think I have a group…”

“Oh Kai, right you were late. Hmm… Everyone is already broken into a group of six…” The teacher raises his right arm, and I hear him mutter a few words. I observe a bubble forming right over his hand, and when it pops, I hear a thunderous noise. Instinctively, I cover my ears with my hands, but it still manages to penetrate my ear drums, and some pain lingers. The room is silent again. “Ah yes, sorry for the interruption, but Kai needs a group. What group wants to take him?”

Everyone averts their eyes away from me, and the room remains silent. After what happened earlier, no one wants me in their group… It’s not a surprise, even Luna won’t…

I sigh and frown as I look down in dejection. A brief moment later, someone answers from the front of the room; it’s a warm, gentle voice that makes my heart skip a beat.

“We actually need one more. We’ll take him!” Luna has her arms raised in the air at the front of the room.

“Are you sure? Alright, you will be responsible for him from now on.” The teacher’s footsteps get farther away. “Hmm? Was this door open this whole time? Oh well.”

Around the room, the other students that have gotten together in their own groups start to leave as well. I focus on the voices around Luna.

“What! Luna are you crazy? We do not need a talentless scaredy-cat who is afraid of carrots.” My eye twitches once in response to that comment.

“Yeh, he’ll drag me down.”

“Don’t worry!” Luna exclaims. I nod and smile to myself, knowing that she will defend me. “The strong have to protect the weak right?”

Yep…wait what? No, that’s not right… Being protected by a girl is… I point my eyebrows downward as I protest, “I’m not weak!”

"Right, you’re actually holdin’ back your real power, sure.”

“But it’s true…” I pout and mutter my words so no one can hear me.

“Hiroster, don’t be like that. If he trains hard, he won’t hold us back too much. I agree with her on this one, we do need one more after all.”

The boy that was mocking me a moment ago sighs. He’s about the same height and weight as me with orange, spiky hair and wears an orange, sleeveless shirt pairing with brown pants and black shoes.

“Drugo, you’re too nice. Fine, I’ll make up for his lack of strength with my amazin’ talent. Consider yourself lucky, Kai.”

I can’t let myself get angry again; I’ll play along. I walk down the stairs towards Luna’s group, forcing a smile as I laugh lightly before saying, “Thanks, your name was Hiroster right?”

“That’s Hiro the Great to ya.”

I can feel veins popping out of my head as I smile against my will. “Ah, Hiro the Great, could you tell me what you received on your test?”

“Oh…that’s… I forgot.” His voice gradually lowers in volume.

“Hiroster, how do you not remember? You told me what you got not that long ago. A, C, and D in that order right?” The largest kid in the group responds.

Hiroster…? Well, I think that guy’s name was Drugo… He’s clearly taller and weighs more than me. His black hair is styled into a buzz cut, and he wears a gray long-sleeved shirt pairing with brown shorts with no footwear. I knit my eyebrows as my eyes focus on his bare feet. Is he poor or something? I think I saw someone like that before…

My thoughts roam to the memories where I walked around the Residential District with Emdos. I scrunch my forehead as I narrow my eyes and purse my lips, while lost deep in thought. When I realize I can’t remember I relax my facial muscles and sigh.

“Idiot! Don’t tell ’im.”

“Why not? He’s part of our team now you know.”

Hiro clicks his tongue and then crosses his arms as he frowns. I smirk and decide to tease him a little bit. ”Hiro the Great, surely you meant it the other way around right? A in Rich Mana, C in Unrefined Mana, and D in Scrap Mana. It would only be natural for someone as great as you, right?”

Hiro stares at me blankly, but then he smiles as he raises his eyebrows.

“Huh? Oh yeh… That’s right. I made a mistake on my part. I’m glad ya realized my greatness! Haha.” Hiro sticks out his chest in pride.

Ahh, this guy’s predictable, and to think he’s gonna be in my group… Hmm, so we have Luna, Hiro, Drugo, and me. Where are the other two?

Looking around the room, only our group remains. Someone is sitting down next to Luna; it’s another girl. She is slightly taller than Luna, but still shorter than me, with red, straight hair that rests on her shoulders. On top of her head is a white headband. She wears a light-blue colored short-sleeved shirt coupling with a light-green skirt and dark, blue shoes looking generally frailer than Luna.

“Ah, this is Marin.” Luna’s hands are pointed towards the girl seated next to her. The girl stands up and faces me. She doesn’t make eye contact with me for more than a second as she moves her head around in other directions.

“Umm… My name is…Marin… Nice to meet you…” she says quietly as she smiles slightly while bowing her head. Afterward, she sits back in her seat.

“It’s your turn to introduce yourself, Sitos.” Luna steps to the side and reveals a guy with his arms crossed standing right behind her. I immediately recognize him; it’s the guy who called me a scaredy-cat. He is slightly taller than me with a slightly bigger build, and his long, black hair is tied into a ponytail behind him. He also wears a black kimono with splotches of red and a white sash around his waist. Black boots cover his feet.

“What’s with that outfit?” I frown as I cock an eyebrow in disgust, instantly relaxing my facial expressions when I see Sitos walking in front of me.

“Ahh...let me see… I am Sitos. I am from the Royal District. Do not get in my way,” he says in the lowest energy monotonic voice possible.

I frown as I grit my teeth, feeling like veins are popping out of my head. I don’t think I wanna be his friend…ever.

Luna claps her hands together in front of her.

“Now that everyone knows each other let’s head over to the front of the Academy! It looks like we only have a few minutes to spare,” Luna says as she slowly walks up the stairs. I follow behind her with a smile on my face.

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