The Selection

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Chapter 45 - Enlistment - Lesson

“Hmm… It’s a shame about Lieutenant Petrus,” Major Gaius says. “Corporal Kai, why’d you choose to go into the passage by yourself?”

“It would take too long, sir. The masked man would’ve been gone by then.”

“I’ll commend your bravery. Keep up the good work. Lieutenant Elinnore, drop a full report in my office by the end of the day.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let’s get going to the Crossroads,” Major Gaius suggests as he walks into the Castle. We follow and take the right path toward the entrance. “They’ve probably already finished the opening speech. All of you except for Corporal Kai’s team will need to follow me. I’ve left the documents from the recruitment inside my office. You’ll also need to get the instructions from the orientation. It’s a pain to explain everything, so I’ll leave that to you Lieutenant Elinnore.”

“Yes, sir.” We arrive at the entrance on the furthest right of the structure. The outer castle wall is next to the entrance. It’s smaller than what I expected; bigger than the average double door, but not large enough to fit a wagon. Inside, there’s a very long hallway in front of me and on the left. We proceed straight. I feel like I’ve been here before.

We turn left into another long spacious hallway about halfway into the first one and proceed straight. I raise my eyebrows. This was the hallway we were in after we came out of the sewers last year!

We pass by the sewer entrance about halfway through. At the end of the hallway, we find ourselves in a roomy square-shaped area. There are a considerable amount of stone steps leading up in a spiral. It looks like there are some going down too on the other side. Major Gaius says, “Welcome to the Crossroads. Here you’ll be able to access the clinic, training area, cafeteria, and request center.”

“Kai, Ruby!” Marin exclaims as she runs over to us. “Where’ve you been? Kama said you went on a mission.”

“I’ll leave it to your friend to explain what you missed, Corporal Kai,” Lieutenant Elinnore says and then continues with the group following Major Gaius toward the staircase leading up.

I smile and wave. “We were at the Academy.”

“The Academy? What for?”

I look away and hesitate for a moment before answering, “Moria needed reinforcements. They suspected remnants from the attack were down there.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? I would’ve gone too.”

“There wasn’t any time.”

“You’re always doing dangerous things by yourself,” she says with a frown.

“I promise I won’t leave without everyone next time. Besides, Ruby was there too.”

“Yep! I kept Kai safe.”

“You have to tell me what happened over there later. For now…take this,” Marin says and then hands me a key. She gives one to Ruby too. ‘B350’ is engraved on my key. “It’s your assigned room key. We’re all in the B sector.”

“Next is your locker key,” Marin says and then hands me a key. She gives one to Ruby too. “Kai you have locker 773, Ruby has 782, and I have 780.”

“Why’re they spread out like that?” I ask and then put both keys in my pocket.

“Beats me. Oh and…we still need to get our ID cards. They said they would take longer to make and would be dropped into our lockers by tomorrow morning. We have to use the ID to access most of the facilities in the Castle. And…there’s still the general rules: we can’t leave the premises without permission, we have to check our lockers frequently for new orders, and respect and obey superior officers.”

“We need permission to leave…? What’s with that?” I ask.

“Yeah… If we want to do something, we have to go to the request center over there for permission,” Marin explains as she points to the entryway under the stone steps leading up. It’s to the right of the northern hallway entrance from this room. “We need our ID’s to do that too. Oh and…meals are served for free three times a day in the cafeteria at 6 AM, noon, and 6 PM.”

“We need our ID’s to do that too, right?”

“Yeah.”

“We can’t eat, and we can’t leave… This is terrible,” I say with a frown and then sigh.

Marin takes out something from her pocket. “We have these for today.”

She hands me and Ruby a small red square-shaped piece of paper. “It’s a meal ticket.”

Ohh, this is great. I’m starving. Which way’s the cafeteria?”

“We have to meet up with our full platoon first on the second level outside the D sector. I think it’s almost the meeting time,” Marin says and then heads for the stairs leading up. We follow.

“Full platoon meeting… So there’s gonna be three more besides Kama and Vicki,” I say and then sigh. We go up the steps which seem like never ends. We arrive in another square-shaped room. Aisha and her group are waiting next to an entryway on top of the staircase. Ada glares at me and then turns away. I try to not look at them as we head to the south side of this room.

There are other groups of people standing around in the other entryways and corners of the room. It appears there is only one hallway on the east side on this level. Vicki and Kama are standing next to an entryway on the left side of the south wall. There’s a large ‘D’ engraved above it. They wave as we approach them.

“Hey guys,” I greet.

“Hello,” Kama greets.

“Good evening,” Vicki greets.

“I think I’ve got the hang of the technique you showed me, Kai. I’m ready to learn more!”

“That’s good to hear. We can continue after dinner.” No one says anything for several seconds, and only other chatter around the room resounds.

Marin suddenly asks, “Vicki, how’s your training going?”

“Well, in the fifteen minutes you left me alone, I was finally able to shoot an arrow!”

“That’s…good to hear,” Marin says a forced smile. My eyes bounce between everyone’s expressions. I force a smile too, feeling out of place. There’s a silence again for several seconds. Footsteps resound behind me.

“Is this Sigma 4?” a man behind me asks. He has black hair tied into a top knot.

“Yes,” Kama answers. The top knot guy walks over to Kama.

“It’s nice to meet you, Kai. I’m Jetia,” Jetia says with his hand out in front of him.

“Umm…Kai’s over there,” Kama says while pointing at me. Jetia looks over to me and then frowns.

“Are you kidding me? This kid’s the leader of our platoon?” I knit my eyebrows and frown.

“Kai’s very capable. He fought the masked men at the Academy and came back alive,” Kama says with confidence.

Where’d he hear that? I think to myself before speaking up, “Actually—“

“This kid? Hah. I wouldn’t believe it for a second.”

“Jetia!” a man exclaims as he and another guy walk toward us. They are more or less the same age as Jetia which is a few years older than us. They both have buzzcuts. It’s hard to tell the difference between the two.

“Dano, Banni!” Jetia exclaims with a smile. “It’s good to see you two. How long has it been?”

“A few months I think. We were in the Alpha Platoon 3 stationed at Runswick,” one of the two men answers.

“Right, right. I remember now. Those pesky wolves didn’t come back after their first failed attack. It’ll be good working together again.”

“We’re gonna be unstoppable with the addition of these former Adventurers,” the other man adds while looking our way. Jetia’s smile drops into a frown.

“Are you serious? We have to accept this kid as our leader just because he was an Adventurer? We’ve been here for over five years, and we’re stuck as Soldiers. This kid waltzes in and now suddenly he’s a Corporal.”

“Well, they’re Academy graduates after all. They’re in a higher class than us.”

“He’s not a higher class; he’s a kid. Look at him. He looks like he graduated yesterday. It doesn’t sit well with me.”

“Actually, we graduated three months ago…” I say, smiling lightly.

“So, yer a kid is what yer telling me. Do you think yer special or something?”

I stare at him. What should I say…? My position as a leader would be questioned if I let him step on me…but I can’t be too harsh either…

“I do, Jetia. Teacher Moria said I’m one of the most talented students to graduate from the Academy.”

He only stares at me for several seconds before finally interjecting, “Hmph. Better not let us down.”

A few groups around us start heading out. The inside of my mouth salivates. “Now that we’re all here, how about we introduce ourselves? You guys know me, Kai.”

Everyone introduces themselves, and then we head to the cafeteria on the first level. There are two people sitting behind a table near the start of the line. There’s a sheet of paper, a stack of meal tickets and a pouch of coins on the table.

“They said we don’t have to check in today. I think we can wait over there,” Marin says while pointing at the back of the line. All of us except Jetia, Banni, and Dano move to the back of the line. The three of them check in and collect a meal ticket at the table before joining us. There are over a hundred people ahead of us, but the line moves fast.

Eventually, it’s our turn to get our food. I smile while handing over my meal ticket. A woman hands me a tray of food. I frown and stare at the food on it. There’s one piece of bread, a hard-boiled egg, a few pieces of mystery meat, a few pieces of carrots, and a cup of water.

“Yer in the way. Move,” Jetia says behind me. I take the tray of food and then look for a place to sit. I lay the tray on top of an empty table and sit down. The seven others follow.

I continue to stare at the food in front of me for a while before finally picking up the fork on the tray. I start with the meat, finding that it’s nothing like anything I have ever tasted. “Is the food always so…bland…? And lacking?”

Jetia gives me a weird look. Banni picks up his bread and says, “Give it a few weeks. You’ll get used to it.”

“If you feel like spending, you can purchase additional meal tickets at one silver coin each,” Dano informs.

“One silver coin?! That’s the cost of staying at an inn for a night!” I exclaim. “I could eat two full meals with that amount of money! It wouldn’t be worth it even if they gave me three trays of this... Unless they serve soup…it could be worth it.”

“I’ve been here for seven years, and I can tell you they don’t serve soup,” Dano says.

“Whoever’s in charge of making the meals has poor taste. They don’t make soup…and instead they give us carrots and bland pieces of meat and bread.”

“Yer a spoiled brat,” Jetia says while giving me a look of disgust. “Not everyone has the luxury of being pampered at the Academy.”

He’s getting on my nerves… I grit my teeth before asking, “Anyone can sign up to attend the Academy, right? Everyone has that option.”

“Not only yer spoiled but also ignorant.”

“Well, everyone has their own circumstances,” Banni adds. “14 is the oldest age you can be to attend Drosera’s Academy. I was too late.”

“Really? I didn’t know that. I’ve always wondered why some of my other classmates looked older.”

“I’ll still be able to learn magic, though.”

“How? You can’t go to the Academy anymore.”

“There are seminars offered here at the Castle from time to time that you can attend if you pay the fee.”

“Oh, that’s convenient. How much does it cost?”

“It varies depending on the content in the seminar. The one I’m going to costs a gold coin.”

“Everything’s so expensive here…” I grab the bread and then eat it. Only the carrots remain. It took him seven years to save up for a gold coin? That’s how much we made in a week last year…

“Kai, I’ll trade you my egg for those carrots,” Marin offers.

“I won’t refuse your offer,” I say with a smile and then exchange the food.

“Ya can have my egg fer free, Kai!” Ruby exclaims and hands me her egg.

“Thanks, Ruby.”

“Can you tell me what happened at the Academy today?” Marin asks.

“’Kay! We went ta the Underground area with Teacher Moria and found lumps of meat. ‘N’ then we found bigger lumps of meat. ‘N’ then we found kids still alive and helped ’em. ‘N’ then a guy with a mask showed up, ‘n’ Kai attacked ’im once ‘n’ got knocked back. He used a girl behind ‘im so we couldn’t do anythin’. He let her go but then… Boom!” Ruby exclaims with her arms raised up.

“A wall of water protected us, but the girl turned into burnt meat. I chased ’im with Kai, but they were too fast fer me. I told everyone ’bout a suspicious rock I found ‘n’ gathered everyone. ‘N’ then the rock moved out, and Kai came outta the hole! That was it.”

Marin looks at me with a cocked eyebrow. I add, “I found the same rock before Ruby and went in immediately. It led to the sewers. I didn’t see any traces of the masked man, so I went back.”

“Is that really all that happened?” Marin asks. A rowdy group of people sits at a table behind us.

“Well…Lieutenant Petrus was killed, and we don’t know who did it. The girl he was escorting out was gone too.”

“I knew you didn’t really fight them off, fraud,” Jetia says.

“I never said I did.”

“It’s my fault,” Kama apologizes. “I went to the front of the gates to see what was going on. Everyone said a group of people from there went to the Academy to battle remnants from the attack.”

“He didn’t correct you, so it’s the same.”

“Well, I’m sorry for this misunderstanding,” I say. Even though it’s really not my fault…

One of the people behind us says, “With all the funds stolen from the vault at the Adventurer’s Hub, the idiots that left for the Cursed Expedition got nothin’ left to show when they come back.”

“They’re not coming back. They’re dead, remember?”

“Right!” a man exclaims. The group bursts out in laughter. Marin stops eating and frowns.

“Just ignore them. They don’t know what they’re talking about,” I say.

“You’re wrong ’bout that though. One of them came back alive.”

“Oh, I forgot about him. Maybe he can finally tell us what all the fuss about the Cursed Territory is.”

“Whatever it is, it wasn’t worth havin’ our capital demolished for it. Idiots, all of them. Our city would still be whole if they didn’t embark on that pointless request. What the fuck were they thinkin’?”

“Don’t question the average intelligence of an Adventurer,” someone says, and then the group bursts out laughing again. Marin’s eyes tear up. I clench my fists, stand up, and then turn toward them.

“Hey, all of you guys, shut up. You’re upsetting my friend.”

“Who the hell are you?” one of them asks.

“He’s probably one of the new recruits,” a man wearing armor deduces. It doesn’t look damaged at all. An eagle with its wings spread out is engraved on the front of his armor. There’s a weapon on his back. “Look at his armor; it’s broken. He was clearly an Adventurer. He’s only joinin’ because he was too weak to fight against the invaders.”

I grit my teeth before asking, “What the hell were you doing when they attacked? Sitting here and nibbling on bread?”

He laughs. Another man asks, “Weren’t you ever taught to respect your superiors?”

“What do you expect from an Adventurer? No smarter than a monkey. I’ll have to thank the invaders later for exterminatin’ some of the apes in our city.”

The back of my throat burns. “Shut up!

“Did I hit a soft spot? I’ll say it again. I’m glad the bandits came and claimed the lives of your former companions.”

“Take that back, or I’ll make you regret it!” I exclaim while gripping onto one of my scabbards.

“Are you threatening me?” the man asks as he walks closer to me. “Me, Captain Albius?”

I widen my eyes. My joints stiffen up. He smiles and then continues, “Sure, I’ll take it back and give you and your friend the most heartfelt apology and whatever else you want me to do…but only if, you duel me and win. Or you can apologize to me right now for disrespect. I’ll let you off the hook since you’re a greenhorn.”

I can’t let him go for spitting on Drugo’s, Sitos’, and everyone that died in the attack. I can’t…but…

Marin sniffles and then says, “Kai, apologize. I’m okay. Don’t forget what Hina said.”

Yeah… I shouldn’t be picking fights especially with someone higher ranked… I need to worry about ranking up to find them instead of picking fights here. I take a deep breath and then look at Captain Albius. “I—“

“Take her advice. Don’t challenge him. He’s too much for you to handle,” Jetia warns. I bite my lip and clench my fists.

“Fine… I’ll duel you.”

Captain Albius smiles and says, “Great. Follow me to the training grounds. Someone get me that. Make sure to bring them too.”

Captain Albius leads us out of the cafeteria. We follow after his group of men. The weapon on his back is a massive hammer. I gulp. What’d I get myself into…?

“Kai…did you say that because of me?” Marin asks.

“Yeah but… I can’t forgive him for saying that everyone’s better off dead.”

“In other words, you couldn’t keep yer emotions in check. Like a child having a tantrum. And you call yer self our leader? Pathetic.”

“Shut up. I just have to win.”

“I doubt it. He’s a Captain. Less than 20 people hold that rank or higher in the whole military.

“I’m planning to climb to that rank as fast as possible. I’ll prove myself by winning.”

We arrive in a large room with many white circles on the ground throughout it. The circle is about 30 meters in diameter. Dozens of other people are fighting each other in pairs. Captain Albius drops his weapon on the ground and then takes off his armor. We’re doing this without armor?

Before I take off my armor, Captain Albius says, “Keep your armor on for your safety. I wouldn’t want to injure a new recruit.”

I frown. He’s underestimating me…

“I’ve brought it, Captain!” one of his men exclaims and then hands him a long wooden sword. I knit my eyebrows.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“This weapon’s all I need to teach a monkey a lesson.”

“You’ll regret that,” I say while drawing both of my swords.

“The rules are so simple a monkey can understand. We start on opposite ends of this circle. You’re out if you get knocked out or leave the circle. Magic’s allowed.”

I smile. Magic’s allowed? This’ll be a cinch. My fireball keyword will shoot out of my right palm made of Rich Mana. I can’t use my fire bolt… I’ll be in trouble if I kill him…and there’s still my promise with Emdos.

I look around as a crowd gathers around us. Someone from the crowd asks, “What is going on? Who is Captain Albius fighting?”

“I’m not going to be held accountable if you get hurt, right?” I ask. “I’m also worried about everyone around us…”

“You won’t be able to touch me,” Captain Albius says as he walks to the end of one side of the circles. I move to the opposite side of him.

“We’ve brought them, Captain!” one of his men exclaims. There are four of them carrying some kind of device. It looks like the ones responsible for the Mana barrier in the tournament. They place them a few feet from the circle forming a square.

“And you won’t have to worry about our spectators. Any magic you’re capable of won’t break the barrier.”

I’ll teach him a lesson for underestimating me… I sheathe my right blade. It’ll be over once I destroy his weapon or graze him with my Fire magic. He’s probably thinks I can’t utilize Rich Mana... I’ll show him.

“Give us the countdown,” Captain Albius orders. He’s holding his weapon with just his right hand.

One of his men nods. I gulp while clenching my weapon. “Three…two…one…go!”

I charge forward while pointing my right palm toward Captain Albius. “Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!

He’s fast! He charges toward me in a straight line moving into my magic. Rich Mana suddenly envelops his entire weapon. He slashes my fireballs vertically. I widen my eyes as my magic is split in half. The halves go off course as if they have been reflected. Fine! I’ll cut off his flimsy sword instead. There’s nothing he can do to me up close.

I unsheathe my other weapon. He’s in my range. I launch a flurry of slashes at him. He dodges them all simply by weaving his body around. He smiles and says, “It’s time to end this.”

His speed increases as he moves in from my right. He throws his sword into his left hand. He bends it toward his body. It’s a feint. He’s gonna toss over to his right hand and then attack from my left.

He quickly moves toward my left and throws his weapon into his right hand. I smile and move my weapons over to my left side. I’ve won!

Huh? Before I notice, he’s already back on my right side. His speed has increased by almost twofold. Both of his hands are on his weapon. I jump back and attempt to block, but it’s too late. He’s too fast. Shit!

A loud clank resounds as a strong force knocks me back. I crash into the ground and then slide on my back across the room. I lie there and stare at the ceiling. Captain Albius walks over to me with a smile. Marin, Ruby, Jetia, Kama, Vicki, Banni, Dano, and the crowd are behind him. “I’m waitin’.”

I lower my head and sigh. “I’m sorry for disrespecting you, Captain Albius.”

“That’s not goin’ to cut it now. You had the gall to challenge me, and you lost. Put your hands on the ground and beg for my forgiveness. Things won’t end well for you if General Nero finds out about this incident.”

I bite my lip. I sheathe my weapons. I lean forward on my knees and put my palms on the ground with my head nearly touching the ground. I scowl. “I’m deeply sorry, Captain Albius. Please forgive me.”

Suddenly, my forehead hits the ground. Captain Albius presses his heel into one of my pressure points. I grimace. He twists and turns it while pressing deeper into my body. “You’re too cocky for someone who hasn’t learned the first thing about Enhancement magic.”

“What’re you—“

“Shut up, monkey. Repeat after me. Say, ‘I’m a stupid monkey.’”

I clench my fists and grit my teeth. “I’m a stupid monkey.”

“Good,” he says and then removes his foot from my neck. “Stay like that and repeat that line ten times, and we’ll put everythin’ behind us.”

“I’m a stupid monkey. I’m a stupid monkey. I’m a stupid monkey. I’m a stupid monkey. I’m a stupid monkey. I’m a stupid monkey. I’m a stupid monkey. I’m a stupid monkey. I’m a—“

“Stupid, pathetic, and disgraceful monkey,” Jetia says. I look up, finding that Captain Albius has already walked away. He’s putting on his armor. The crowd has dispersed. My platoon stands around me. I sit back with my head lowered. “One of the most talented students to graduate from the Academy, you say? I’m ashamed to be a part of this platoon.”

“I have no excuses,” I say with little energy.

“Kai, are you okay?” Marin asks.

“I’m fine,” I say and then sigh. I stand up.

“That’s amazing. He broke his weapon in half with that blow, but you’re not hurt,” Kama says.

I smile and say, “That’s what armor’s good for.”

I look around. My heart skips a beat, and I stop breathing for a moment. Ruby is not here.

“Captain Albius, watch out!” someone exclaims. A large ball of fire flies toward Captain Albius’ back. I run towards him. He turns around and puts his palm in front of the magic. He releases a circular wall of Rich Mana the size of the incoming fireball. The fireball crashes into the wall and disappears.

“Ya bully! Don’t be mean ta Kai!” Ruby exclaims. A dozen men form a line in front of Captain Albius. I reach her and push her behind me.

“Stop it, Ruby. Don’t fight him.”

“Kai?”

“I’m sorry about this. It was my fault. I didn’t keep an eye on her. I’m just a stupid monkey,” I say quickly with my head lowered.

Captain Albius laughs and then says, “It’s fine. I sensed killing intent directed towards me, so I was able to prepare.”

I raise my head. Captain Albius walks over to us. “So you’re Kai? Who’s she?”

“Yes, sir… She’s Ruby.”

He smiles. “She’s cute…for a monkey. I’ll let her off the hook.”

He turns around and then says, “Let’s go.”

His men leave with him. I sigh and then turn back toward Ruby. She’s pouting. Marin and the others are behind her. “Why’d ya stop me, Kai?”

“Listen, Ruby. We don’t want to fight with anyone in the army. They’re not our enemy. This fight was my fault… I shouldn’t have challenged him. From now on, we need to respect our superiors and follow our orders. It’s the fastest way to progress to a higher rank.”

“Ya wanna be a higher rank?”

“Yeah. It’s the only way we can look for them. The masked attackers.”

Ruby smiles. “’Kay! I understand now!”

’Well. Now that we’re here, let’s split off and train,” I suggest.

“Vicki, do you want to go back to the archery range?” Marin asks.

“Yes, that would be good,” Vicki answers. The two of them leave. Ruby goes off on her own.

“Can we continue with my training?” Kama asks. “I asked a man earlier. He informed me that there are three floors to this training area. There’re rooms on the second floor with practice weapons.”

“Right. Let’s go there then,” I say and then turn toward Jetia and the other two. “You guys go train or something.”

“We’ve been told to help with the training for the new recruits. We’ve completed basic training. A stupid monkey isn’t fit for training others,” Jetia says.

“Is that so… Well, you guys can take care of Kama. If you have questions come find me,” I say and then walk off. I head to a secluded area of the current room. They head in the opposite direction. I have to get stronger. Much stronger.

I train on my own for about two hours and then head to the second level. I go into the area with the letter ‘B’ embedded into the top of the entrance. I look for my room, B350. After some wandering, I realize that this floor only goes up to 200. I head up the stairs, eventually finding room 350. I insert the key and then head inside, closing the door behind me. I frown.

This room is smaller than the first room I lived in back at the Academy. I turn on the lantern. There is a bed, a dresser, and a clock on the wall. I take off all my armor and lay it on the ground. I search the drawer. There is nothing inside. I sigh and then undress. The bathroom is smaller too. I take a shower and then put the same dirty clothes on.

I rest on the bed while practicing Mana control and Void magic. I practice configuring the gates in various ways without the use of keywords for a while. Someone knocks on the door.

“Kai, are you there?” Marin asks. I get up and then open the door. “Can I come in?”

“Sure.” I move aside for her to come in and then close the door. Suddenly, she hugs me. A few seconds later, I interject, “Uhh…sorry if I smell bad. I changed into the same clothes.”

“Yeah,” she replies with little energy.

“It’s a shame how these rooms are smaller than the ones at the Academy. We’ve downgraded.”

“Yeah.”

“So… We’ve gotta go to the request center for permission to leave right? We need to get our belongings from the inn…”

“Yeah.”

I sigh. I push her slightly away from me. Her watery eyes draw me in. I kiss her and then push her onto the bed.

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