The Selection

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Chapter 47 - Enlistment - Execution

The mob disperses some time after the man’s announcement. The other soldiers leave too.

“I will handle things from here,” Moria says. “Stay well, Kai, Marin, and Ruby.”

Moria walks away. I continue to stand in place while looking at the ground. Marin asks, “Kai, what’s wrong?”

“The execution’s been moved up a day…and I don’t know how to save Sofiel,” I answer after a few seconds.

“Let’s think about it together while heading back,” Marin suggests. “Right, Ruby?”

“Yeah! Who’s Sofiel?”

“Don’t you remember? She’s…” I stare into Marin’s eyes and shake my head slightly. “She’s someone important to Kai.”

“Really?” Ruby asks while staring into my eyes.

“Ye-yeah… She’s acquainted with Emdos. I met her on a few occasions.”

“’Kay! Let’s finda way ta get ’er out!”

With that, we head back to the Castle while brainstorming ideas on how to break Sofiel out. We head the mail station. We pass by General Nero and exchange greetings. I unlock my locker, finding three pieces of paper. The one on top is signed by General Nero.

Sigma 4 has been chosen to oversee Alios during his public beatings tomorrow. Your tasks are to escort him to the plaza in the Royal District from his cell by 7 AM and keep him alive until his execution.

I crumple the paper a little. With this, our current ideas won’t apply…!

“Kai, what’s wrong?” Marin asks. I toss the paper away.

“I’ll be right back!” I exclaim and go back toward the center. I look in all directions. General Nero is walking in one of the hallways. I run after him. “General Nero, wait!”

He stops and turns around. “Oh, it’s you Kai. What is it?”

“Can you leave Sofiel in our platoon’s care instead?”

“Aren’t you satisfied with overseeing Alios? He’s the most important criminal, so success will bring you closer to the promotion you wanted. Why do you want to change?”

“Well… Sitos was a really important friend. I feel like I have a responsibility to see things through with Sofiel.”

“That’s right. Sofiel was his fiancée. Very well. I’ll allow it. I’ll drop off an updated mission briefing later,” he says and then walks away. I head back to my locker area. Marin and Ruby are waiting.

“Kai where’d you go?” Marin asks while holding our old mission instructions. “What would happen if we lost this piece of paper? Be more careful with it.”

“I went after General Nero. I convinced him into leaving Sofiel in our platoon’s care instead of Alios. We still help Sofiel escape.”

“Oh, that’s great!” Marin exclaims. She looks at the paper in her hand for a moment before tossing it. I go to my locker and check the other two papers. The first one is the request we put in to leave the Castle to gather our things at the inn. It’s signed by a Lieutenant. The last paper is the order to give the Academy backup. I toss that one away and keep the other one.

“We got our request approved. Let’s gather our things at the inn and find a path for Sofiel,” I suggest. We go to the stables outside the castle. I show the guards stationed there our request to rent out a horse and a wagon. We show our ID’s for proof we are Sigma 4.

We get in the transport and lead the horse to the entrance of the Castle.

“Halt!” one of the guards exclaims and walks up to our wagon. “Do you have permission to leave the premises?”

“Yeah,” I say and then show him our ID’s and our approved request.

He takes the paper from me and says, “Okay, you are free to pass.”

The other guard presses a button on the wall. Something inside the wall rumbles. The gate rises slowly afterward. We leave and head toward our inn. We park the transport outside before gathering our things inside. I neatly stack my clothes in one corner of the wagon.

“Hurry!” someone yells. Several guards are running toward us. There’s another man with them.

Did they appear?! I stand next to their projected path. As they approach, I say, “Corporal Kai here. What happened? Is it the enemy?”

One of them stops and says, “No. The expedition survivor’s condition has deteriorated suddenly. He was found bubbling at the mouth. We’re escorting a healer to him immediately.”

He runs after the others. I knit my eyebrows. Bubbling at the mouth…? Didn’t someone from Hina’s group say something similar?

“Kai, what’re you doing? Did you already finish?” Marin asks. She stacks her clothes in another corner of the wagon.

I can’t tell Marin about this now…

I smile and answer, “No, I thought I saw Emdos, so I zoned out for a bit. Can you tell Ruby to bring our remaining funds along too?”

“Okay.”

I go back inside and then finish transporting the rest of my stuff. Once everyone has finished packing, we use this opportunity to eat outside the Castle before heading to the Royal District. We spend the next several hours mapping out an escape route for Sofiel.

We head back to the Castle. We show the guards outside our ID’s, and then they let us in. We reconfirm the ID’s with the request paper one of the inner guards have. He says, “You’re free to go. Take the back entrance from the left path.”

We lead the horses on the left path, past the stables and along the trail on the left side of the Castle. We eventually arrive at the archery range at the back. There’s an open entrance as wide as the front gate on the backside of the castle close to the path we are on. Another two guards are stationed here. I pull the reins back as one of the guards straightens his arm and palm toward me.

“What are you carrying?” he asks.

“Our belongings from the inn we stayed at. We’re one of the new recruits,” I answer.

“I see. You can use the Elevator north of the Crossroads,” he says and then moves out of the way. I signal the horses to move inside and toward the left. There are three more guards stationed at the intersection ahead. Under them is an elevated black platform. A small ramp leads up to it. There’s room to go around it as it doesn’t take up the whole hallway.

“Which level do you want to go to?” one of the three guards asks as I move the transport on top of the platform.

“Two,” I answer. Two of the guards move off the black platform. Under the platform is a small amount of open space. On the side closest to the wall, there are four buttons on the floor. The guard still on the platform presses the second button from the left. Moments later, we move up slowly. The empty space under us is filled with stone. The space above us goes very far; presumably up to the fourth level.

We stop at the second level. “Bring the transport back here when your business is finished.”

I lead the horse to the outside of the entrance of the area marked with the letter ‘B’ above it. I hop off the wagon and then start carrying everything into my room. It takes a few trips.

While Marin and Luna finish unpacking, I deposit the remaining of our team funds into my locker leaving only a silver coin on me. I find our new mission briefing inside too. Everything is the same except that we’re in charge of Sofiel instead of Alios. I put the paper back into the locker for now.

I meet the other members of our team at the cafeteria. I purchase an additional meal ticket. Disappointingly, I don’t even receive twice the amount as I would with only one ticket. The food type on the tray stays the same. I sit down with my platoon and inform them about our assignment for tomorrow. Marin and Luna join us momentarily.

We split off on our own after the meal. I continue my own training with the sword for a little while before retreating to my room. I take a well-deserved shower and then sit on my bed. I continue training Void magic as I did the previous night. I expend nearly all of my Mana.

A knock resounds outside my door. I get up and then open it. It’s Marin as expected. She comes inside and closes the door behind her. She spends another night filled with sorrow with me after I give her the news I heard earlier.

Morning arrives. We continue the day as normal. After eating breakfast in the cafeteria, I head to my locker to grab our mission briefing paper. I head down to the prison with it in hand. Along the way, I pass by Zeke’s platoon. I think they are escorting Sitos’ older sister. I continue down. There’s already a putrid smell in the air before I fully reach the lower level.

Our entire platoon is waiting outside the open door that leads into the prison. There are three guards here instead of the one from yesterday. I give one of the guards our mission briefing. He takes it and puts it on top of other papers stacked on a table nearby.

“Wait here,” he says and then goes into an adjacent room. Another guard and Aisha’s group comes from the passage inside with Alios. I avert my eyes from them. The guard we talked to comes back in a few minutes with a key in hand. “Follow me.”

We follow him into the foul-smelling, dark passage. He leads us to Sofiel’s cell and then unlocks it. She’s sitting against the wall with her head buried on top of her legs. The guard says, “Hey, get up.”

He moves toward her, but I step in front of him. “I’ll get her up. It’s our platoon’s responsibility from here on out.”

“Oh, alright,” he answers. Sofiel moves slightly from her position as I approach her. I kneel down next to her.

“Stay right where you are and don’t move,” I whisper and then grab her arm. I speak up, “Hey, it’s time to go.”

While lightly pulling on her arm repeatedly, I continue in a whisper, “When you see me stretching my arms, the direction my fingers point is where you should run. Take Marin’s knife, stab me with it, and run. Take the first left and then the next right. There’s a spare set of clothes inside the third barrel and some money. Good luck.”

“Pull her up already,” Jetia says.

I pull more strongly and say, “Come on. Stand up.”

Sofiel stands up. The guard holds out handcuffs. Jetia takes them and walks over. “Hold her still. I’ll cuff her.”

“Let’s get out of here first,” I suggest. “Don’t wanna stay here longer any more than I have to.”

I lead everyone out while holding onto Sofiel’s arm. She stops walking and covers her eyes with her other hand as we arrive on the first level.

“Alright, I’ll cuff her now,” Jetia says as he grabs her other arm.

“Stop,” I order. Jetia stops. “We don’t have to cuff her. We were only ordered to escort her.”

“That’s not a good idea. She’ll escape.”

“It’s no way to treat a girl… Besides, she doesn’t look much like a fighter or a runner. We’d easily be able to catch up.”

“Tch. You take responsibility for what happens.”

I gulp and answer, “Of course.”

I lead everyone outside. The outer gates are already open, and the guards let us pass. My heart pounds progressively faster as we approach the point where we execute our plan. Screaming and yelling resound in the distance.

“Marin, can you hold her for a second? I need to stretch.” Marin takes hold of her other arm. Sofiel looks my way as I stretch my right arm above my head. I point my fingers toward an alley on our left up ahead. My palms are sweaty. I relax my arms. “I’ll take her back now.”

I lightly hold onto her left arm with my right arm. Sofiel takes the skinning knife from Marin’s belt and then stabs me in the right arm with it. I let go of her arm and fall.

“Argh!” I interject. Sofiel runs toward the alley. “Catch her before she gets away!”

Marin, Ruby, Jetia and the others chase after her. At this rate, they will catch her. I look toward Ruby and Marin. I stand up while holding onto the knife in my arm. I clench my teeth and my muscles and pull it out. It’s up to you guys now.

Sofiel makes it into the alley. A small gust of wind appears. It blows against the pursuing squad but not strong enough to push them back. I cover my eyes from some dirt particles. Jetia exclaims, “The timing!”

The wind stops. Sofiel is gone from our sights. The others run into the alley in an attempt to find her. A few minutes later, they return empty handed. Jetia frowns at me and says, “You stupid monkey… I told you she’d escape. This is on you.”

“You’re right. I’ll explain it to General Nero.”

“He’s new here. Don’t blame him too much for it, Jetia,” Banni says.

“It’s pathetic how the genius let a civilian get the better of him. It’s inexcusable for the leader.”

“What’s done is done,” Kama says. “What should we do next, Kai?”

“Right… We should go to the plaza and find General Nero,” I answer and give the knife back to Marin.

“Kai, is your arm okay?” Marin asks.

“Yeah, it’s fine,” I say and then lead the way to the plaza. The roars coming from there increase in volume gradually.

We arrive in the plaza. There are 12 lines of people in front of a large crowd in the back. At the very front are groups of eight people. Hina’s group is on the far left. General Nero is on the other side with other guards next to a large layered cage. There’s one person lying on the bottom, and the upper part contains wolves. I head over to him.

“Kai, did you receive the new mission briefing?” General Nero asks. “I don’t see Sofiel with you.”

I notice Sitos’ body is the one in the cage. His clothes are removed. My eyes quiver. The guards said he would be fed to monsters…

I look away and answer, “Well… The truth is… She caught me off guard, and she escaped.”

General Nero shifts his eyes toward my injury. “What happened?”

“She took Marin’s knife and stabbed me with it. A sudden gust of wind stopped us from chasing her. She was gone by the time it had passed,” I explain, my palms sweaty. “Everything’s my fault. I should have cuffed her, but I wanted her to feel free in the time she had left. I didn’t think she would do that.”

“No, you knew she would do that. You let her get away on purpose, didn’t you?” Ada asks. My heart beats faster, and it’s hard to breathe.

“What? No…” I respond. I find her walking closer to us. The platoon next to us is overseeing Alios. It’s the rest of Ada’s team. The man in front of the line is pummeling Alios with his fists.

“It wouldn’t be strange for someone who’s one of them. I bet you met them when you went off by yourself at the Academy two days ago,” Ada accuses.

How’d she know about that? General Nero frowns with narrowed eyebrows, and the atmosphere feels heavy. I gulp. Several seconds pass.

He walks closer to me and puts a hand on my left shoulder. He smiles and says, “Don’t worry about it. It could have happened to anyone. We can always look for her later. All the exits to Drymo have been blockaded since the attack. She won’t be able to escape.”

What?! A blockade?! I hope Sofiel doesn’t get caught…

He turns toward Ada and says, “Those are some serious accusations you’re alleging about Kai. I suggest you drop it unless you have evidence. Slander isn’t tolerated here.”

Ada bows her head and says, “My apologies, General Nero. I was out of line. Excuse me.”

With that, she leaves and heads back toward her group. I ask, “Should we search for Sofiel now?”

“No, that’s not necessary. I’ll send out a separate team to sweep the entire city for her later. Stay here and witness the last moments of your old employer. You have the front row seats,” he says with a smile.

I turn toward Alios lying on his back in front of Aisha’s team. Several people are attacking him at once. Punching, kicking, and stomping. The other prisoners receive similar treatment across the plaza, including the women. After a minute or two, the ones in the front move into the back of the crowd and the line of people move forward.

Two hours pass. A horn sounds in the distance from the path we came from. Everyone in the plaza goes silent. The only sounds are the wolves bashing the bars of the cage and their growls. A small convoy led by a horse comes this way. It stops behind us. The driver hops off the front and then opens the door. The king comes out. General Nero kneels and lowers his head. “Your majesty, we are ready to proceed whenever.”

Jetia, Banni, and Dano kneel and lower their heads too. The rest of us do the same. The king walks over to General Nero and says, “Yes…let us proceed. You will give Alios a sedative agent as we discussed before his execution.”

“Of course,” General Nero says with a smile. “He will not be conscious at all…”

He faces the crowd and announces, “It’s time for the main event you’ve been waiting for! Sigma platoons, bring your targets into the cage.”

The crowd cheers as the criminals are brought over to the cage. A guard nearby opens the cage. Ada and another guy drag Alios by his arms into the cage next to Sitos. His face is hardly recognizable. His front teeth are broken, his nose is bent, and lower jaw is broken. Bruises and cuts span his entire body, visible to all because his clothes were ripped off.

General Nero walks into the cage and squats next to Alios. He puts something in his mouth. He leaves the cage and goes toward the king. The other prisoners in similar conditions are brought into the cage. The Sigma platoons huddle around us and the other side of the cage while the crowd moves a bit closer. A guard closes the cage door and then locks it.

My eyes shift to Alios. His eyes are open wide, and his mouth stays open. Drool comes out of his mouth, snot runs down his nostrils, and tears stream out of his eyes. Sitos’ siblings get together and wrap their arms around each other next to Alios. They tremble and cry. My eyes quiver. The older sister’s nipples are now a bloody mess. The younger brother’s eyes are closed with blood streaming out of both of them. Is this how the army does things…? Is this really right? This is no different than…

Two guards pull on something out of the cage. The platform separating the top and bottom part of the cage slowly comes apart. Alios’ fingers and toes start twitching. One wolf drops into the cage. The other five following soon after.

Sitos’ older sister is the first victim. A wolf pounces on her, separating the other siblings. It feasts on her chest. She flails around her limbs and screams, audible even with the crowd cheering. Sitos’ older brother tries to help her, but it’s futile. I don’t look away.

Another wolf joins in and bites on her leg. A crunch resounds, reminding me of that day. I shake. Someone holds onto my hand tightly. They’re shaking harder than me. I turn to find Marin next to me facing forward. Ruby is next to her, but I figure she won’t notice. I turn back to the cage.

Alios’ entire body convulses. He urinates and defecates himself, though he hasn’t been attacked yet. But then, two wolves jump onto him. I grit my teeth as a wolf jumps on Sitos’ body. Alios’ eyes point toward him. I knit my eyebrows. I thought he was unconscious?

The king stands with General Nero a bit farther away. He isn’t acting unusual. I turn back to Sitos. My lips shake as I try to smile. A tear drops down my face. Goodbye, Sitos…

The slaughter continues for a good hour, blood splashing everywhere. Eventually, the crowd disperses, and we head back to the Castle.

Later, I discover that Sofiel was never caught. I sigh and then smile. I was able to save her. Sorry, but she won’t be joining you yet, friend.

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