The Selection

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Chapter 4 - Academy Year 1 - Weakling

When we arrive outside, I shield my eyes from the blinding sunlight with my hands. As my eyes adjust to the light, I notice a crowd of students standing on my right. The teachers and many other adults are lined up in front of them. “It seems everyone has arrived, and you must all be wondering what you are doing out here. You will now designate your own roles within your group. A balanced group will ensure a higher survival rate in the future. Typically, adventurers carry out their missions in teams of six or more which is why you split into a group of six. These will be your teammates for as long as you are students at this Academy.”

I can handle being together with Luna for five years… Drugo, Hiro, and Marin aren’t that bad either…I grin as I close my eyes and fantasize about having friends.

After opening my eyes, I find Sitos staring at me. He lowers his eyebrows as he wrinkles his nose all while frowning at me.

“Great, I will be stuck withthis…for five years…” He sighs as he shakes his head.

I narrow my eyebrows and rebut, “I’m not happy aboutyoueither!”

I loosen my facial expressions, tilt my head down in dejection, and then sigh.My dream…

“It is recommended that you include one of each role to ensure that you cover and balance each other’s weaknesses. The five basic roles are Tank, Mage, Archer, Heavy, and Light. The job of a Tank is to distract and defend against attacks; they use a shield and a weapon in the other hand. A Mage would stand in the backline and either cast offensive magic or support spells to help the group. Despite being at the back, they still carry a weapon or shield to defend themselves. Archers specialize in ranged combat and supports the team in the back. Heavy are users of cumbersome and powerful weapons, requiring the use of two hands to wield. Light focuses more on speed, but they can also be powerful.”

I wanna be a Mage but… I can’t… I’ll have to keep my promise to Emdos.

“Here are five weapon trainers who specialize in each basic role. Why do you not take some time and decide amongst yourselves what role you will fulfill? When you are ready and have chosen a role, you will follow them and then decide on what weapon you will train in.”

The chatter around me gradually increases, eventually filling my ears with indistinguishable sounds.

“This can be our Tank,” Sitos says as he points to me.

I cock my eyebrow and point at myself.Sitos trusts me with such an important role...?

“Even if it is worthless, it can still take hits for us.” I quickly frown, my patience waning from the blow to my pride.

I’m thinking about saying something, but Luna suddenly intervenes. “Now, now, Sitos, you should be nicer to Kai. Hmm… Wouldn’t Drugo be a better fit for a Tank? He’s the biggest one out of all of us. You can do that right, Drugo?”

My frown melts into a small smile as Luna speaks.Luna’s so nice… I wonder what I’ll be then if Drugo’s the tank…

“Yup, I can do that. I was actually thinking about that role from the start.”

“Only Heavy will be suitable for the great me!” Hiro suddenly exclaims.

Marin steps forward as she slightly raises her right hand and quietly says, “I think I’ll be Archer.”

I purse my lips while still lost in thought thinking about my role when suddenly someone shoves me aside. I fall backward landing on my bottom. I scowl at Sitos’ back in front of me.That guy’s getting on my nerves…

“Hey, Sitos…ter…” someone mutters as I’m still glaring at Sitos, but I relax my facial expressions while thinking about my role.

“Then it is settled. Luna will be Mage, and I will be Light.”

“Eh? What about me?” I ask as I frown with slightly parted lips all while pointing at myself.

“We do not need you. Shoo, shoo,” Sitos says as he waves his hands in a shooing motion towards me and turns around.

“Sitos, stop that… Kai, you can be anything now.” I don’t process the words someone says while I’m focusing on Sitos.

I squeeze my eyebrows together in a glower, tightly clenching my fists. “You bastard…”

I push myself up using my arms and legs, and I try to tackle him, but he steps aside, and I fall landing face first on the ground. While ignoring the pain that throbs around my forehead, I get back up while covering my face with my left hand. I throw my right arm back getting ready to punch him, but someone grapples my chest from behind. Judging by the thickness of his arms I figure it’s Drugo. I attempt to push him away by furiously waving my arms around and using all my strength to run forward, but I can’t get out of his grip. Sitos smirks at me with a dirty look.

Bastard!" I yell as I snarl all while continuing to struggle in Drugo’s lock, somehow inching closer to Sitos.

“Stop…don’t fight... You too Sitos…ter… By the way Kai…ster, all of our roles are filled so you may choose whatever you wish to be,” Drugo says, letting me go after I relax my muscles. I feel the hoarseness in my throat as I breathe out hot puffs of air.

One day, I’ll sock him good…Luna suddenly steps in front of Sitos and slaps him leaving a red hand mark on his left cheek. The sound echoes off of the Academy walls. The conversations around us stop. Everyone’s eyes are on us too.

Luna exclaims, “Sitos! You need to apologize to Kai! We’re a team now and how you’re treating him isn’t acceptable!”

I smile slowly as my eyes become slightly watery all while glimmering at Luna.Luna… She’s always on my side...

She faces Sitos with her arms on her hips. Sitos is silent for several seconds with his eyes widened and lips slightly apart. He looks away from me and apologizes in a barely audible voice, “Sorry…”

I narrow my eyebrows.What the hell… If you’re gonna apologize, then do it right...

I relax my facial expressions before asking, “What was that? I didn’t hear you.”

Sitos points his eyebrows downward as he glares at me. “You bas—”

“Sitos...?” Luna asks, silencing him. Sitos’ lips twitch as he looks at Luna for several seconds.

Soon after, he relaxes his facial expressions as he sighs, looks down, and then mutters, “I am sorry…”

I get closer to him and raise my voice. “I can’thearyou, say it more clearly!”

Sitos’ entire body begins to shake. He widens his eyes as he raises his eyebrows all while taking a deep breath. ”I am sorry… Be whoever you want.”

Sitos’ voice dies out towards the end, and he turns around. Although I discern some tears welling up in his eyes before he turns around, I’m not going to let him that off easily. I narrow my eyes as I think about what would make him the angriest. I raise my eyebrows and smirk. “I’ve decided...I’m gonna be Light.”

“I’m glad you were able to decide so quickly, Kai!” Luna exclaims as she turns to me. A second later, Sitos clicks his tongue. Luna smiles as she asks, “Sitos, that’s okay, right?”

I gulp as my eyes focus on her face feeling like I’m staring at a ferocious lion. I feel hostility seeping out of her smile that sends shivers down my spine.

“Ye-yes…”

Luna can be scary sometimes…

Luna grins at me, and I smile back hesitantly. Before I know it, everyone has continued their conversations around me. But my group remains silent, only exchanging glances at each other and smiling. One of the teachers suddenly shouts, “Listen up! My name’s Fulharm and I’ll be in charge of the ones in the Light category! We’ll be going back into the Academy to our training room, so follow me.”

He’s a muscular, tall, bald man probably in his 30′s with dark brown skin who is wearing a white, sleeveless shirt, black trousers, and brown boots.

Sitos avoids eye contact as he passes me following Fulharm. I walk after him and look back, immediately noticing Luna waving her hand with a wide grin on her face.

We go inside the building, where kids older than me walk around. Instead of turning right into a straight corridor containing the lecture room, we go left into a similarly long passageway. The sound of metal clashing reverberates in my ears. While wondering what the noise is, I stop following the group and slowly approach the room I heard the noise from. I slowly turn the handle and carefully open the door just wide enough to fit an eye. I support my weight against the wall as I peek inside with my right eye.

There are at least five pairs each dueling with real metal weapons. The one closest to the door, however, catches my attention the most with his ambidexterity. My eyes twinkle in admiration at his skill of being able to use two swords at once. His opponent wields only one sword, and he’s constantly being pressured by the relentless assault of two. The twin swordsman’s attacks didn’t end until he finally knocks his opponent’s sword out of his hand, causing it to clatter across the floor.So cool! I’ve decided… I’m gonna train hard so I can be like him!

I close the door without a sound and then turn to the hallway again, excited to start my training. However, in my distracted admiration, I lose the rest of the group. Panicking, I eventually find them.

“We’re here. We’ll be going into this room.” Instructor Fulharm opens the door and then goes in while the rest of us follow; I’m the last one to enter. It is a large, rectangular, flat room slightly larger than the dimensions of the lecture room earlier. The floor is made out of fine wood, which is much different than the hard black and white tiles in the hallways. At the end of the room, there are a bunch of wooden swords of various sizes inside of open barrels.

“Go ahead and go over there and pick something you like. These are all light weighted training swords to build your foundations in combat. Once you have mastered this, you can practice with a different kind of weapon if you wish.”

While the crowd runs over to pick up a sword, I walk over to the instructor and ask, “Instructor Fulharm, is it okay if I take two swords?”

“Hmm, that should be fine, but are you sure you can carry that much weight?”

“But aren’t they light weapons?”

“Correct, but you haven’t developed your body yet so it may be difficult.”

I walk over to the weapon selection as I curl both lips in my mouth.Hmm… If it’s difficult, maybe I can start with the medium length sword?

I go to a weapon barrel and spot a blade that appears to be the medium length sword. I grasp it with both hands and attempt to lift it in the air.So heavy…

I try to straighten my back and stand up while holding the sword in the air, but I find it difficult to maintain my balance and wobble as a result. I put the sword back in the bin and scramble around looking for the smallest sword available. I see a candidate and lift it with my right arm realizing that it is quite light. Although it only has a wooden blade of around two feet, I can comfortably lift it with just one arm and swing it around. I search the barrel for an identical sized sword and hold it in my left hand. Yeah, this’ll work.

“It seems everyone has chosen a sword for now. I’ll have you kids practice swinging before you do anything else.” Fulharm picks up one of the longer wooden swords in the barrel near me, goes back towards the middle of the room, and holds it in front of him.

“You can use both hands if you need to for this training portion. Grip it with your dominant hand above the other hand. Hold it in front of you, raise it, and then swing it downward. Swing it by combining the forces in both in your arm and the elbow. You’ll practice this until you can do this with proper form. It should look something like this.”

The instructor lifts the sword above him and swiftly swings downward. The hair of the kids in front of him gets ruffled, and the sound of his slash resonates around the walls of the room, slowly dying out in a few seconds.Wow…

“Well, I don’t expect you to master it to the extent that I have. Go ahead and try it for yourselves now, I’ll be looking at your form.”

Everyone spaces out around the room in order to practice their swing. Coincidentally, I end up standing next to Sitos on my left. He’s using the same weapons that I chose. I point my left sword at him and exclaim, “Hey you copied me!”

Sitos turns his head to me and quirks an eyebrow. “Huh? If anything, you copied me because I have been training in the art of dual-wielding for a year now.”

What? You liar.” He narrows his eyebrows and widens his mouth as if about to say something, but he just sighs. He turns back around and starts swinging his swords.What’s with him?

I squint my eyes focusing on his swords and then at mine. My eyes widen as I open my mouth.Wha… He’s using the medium-sized swords! How’s that bastard so much stronger than me?

I narrow my eyes and stare at the ground. I figure he was actually telling the truth about his training. The thought of him being better frustrates me. I clench my teeth, squeezing the grip on my swords until my knuckles turn white. I position my left foot sideways slightly behind me and my right foot slightly forward.

I picture Sitos’ smug face as I lift my right blade in the air in front of me, and I alternate swinging between my right and left arm while keeping both legs slightly bent. I use as much force as possible between every swing to release the pent-up anger inside of me. I only think of smashing his face while I swing each sword downward.

Ten minutes pass by, and I can’t seem to get enough air into my lungs despite that I take deep, heavy breaths. I feel like my entire chest is on fire as sweat drips down from my entire face while also feeling the back of my shirt that is drenched in sweat. But I still swing down my swords; with every new swing, it feels like my arm can fall off at any moment.I can’t…go…on…

I let go of the swords and fall forward. While still gasping for air, I turn my head left, glance over to Sitos, and widen my eyes. He’s still swinging his swords as if he isn’t affected by any fatigue at all. He turns his head towards me making brief eye contact with me and smirks. I frown bitterly and look away, staring at the ground below me.Damn it…! I’m so weak!

My eyes burn, and I shut my eyelids as far as my muscles would allow. Hot tears leak out of my eyes as I clench my fists with what little strength I have left in my body. I press my forehead to the floor to stop anyone from seeing my current state. My entire face, including my lips, twitches uncontrollably, but I force myself to not let even the quietest sound out. Warm mucus drips out of my nose onto the floor, being careful not to sniff which would create noise. I hold that position and cry to myself. I don’t know how much time passes, before someone calls out to me, “Are you alright? You’ve been on the floor for over five minutes now.”

The sudden attention frightens me, and I empty out my thoughts, attempting to calm down. I recognize the voice as the instructor Fulharm. I turn my head slightly to the right and peek through the corner of my right eye. He’s squatted down next to me. My pulse shoots up rapidly.What do I do…? I don’t wanna be seen…

My head shakes uncontrollably as I continue to stare at the floor. I can’t breathe through my nose at all due to the congestion so I breathe deeply through my mouth in an attempt to stabilize my breathing pattern. I try to imitate my normal tone and say, “Yeah, I’m just tired from training, so I’m lying down.”

“In that position?”

My face burns up in fear of being found out. I open my eyes wide while emptying out all unnecessary thoughts from my mind and focus on trying to come up with a good excuse.What’s it matter to you? No. I’m too tired to move outta it… No. Damn, I’m running outta time!

“It’s comfortable.” My face burns even more, when I register what I just said.

What?! Why’d I say that…? Kai, you idiot! Even I wouldn’t believe that!My heart beats like a drum as fresh sweat drips down my forehead. I hope that a miracle happens, and he leaves me alone.

“I’ll leave you to it then…but you should gather your strength soon for the next activity.”

He bought it?! Shortly afterward, he stands up and walks away. I sigh and realize I have stopped crying. I conclude that the fear of being seen probably overwhelmed my upset feelings.

“Attention! You’ve worked hard for your first day, but it’s almost time for the next segment for today. Put away the weapons and conserve the rest of your strength. You are to report back to the front of the Academy for your next set of instructions. See ya kids tomorrow.”

Footsteps in the direction of the hallway slowly fade away. Soon after, people groan and chatter around the room.

“I’m so tired.”

“Me too… I couldn’t even last five minutes before I had to take a break.”

I feel relieved, hearing everyone’s troubles with the training like a heavy load is lifted off of my shoulders. I rub my eyes on my arms trying to get rid of the last tear drops. I lick my lips and taste the saltiness of snot that stained on my upper lip. I rest my head on my arms until all the footsteps leave the room. I slowly push myself off the ground and stand up, then suddenly hear a voice from behind me. “Finally done crying, weakling?”

I feel a shiver go down my spine.Wha… Someone was still here?!

I slowly turn around. Sitos stands there with the same smirk from earlier. I raise my voice and rebut, “I wasn’t crying! And I have a name, you know!”

“Huh? You areweak,so I’ll call youweakling; it is a befitting name for you. Besides, your eyes are completely red.”

“No…that…I…it was the sweat! The sweat got in my eye and it burned, that’s all! If anyone was crying it was you earlier!”

He blushes as he leans back slightly. “Wha-what are you talking about? Something is wrong with your eyes… Whatever, you are not even worth talking to anyway.”

And with that he walks out the door.Damn that Sitos… He makes me mad, but even though I hate to admit it, he’s stronger than me. I’ll train hard and make him acknowledge me.

I pick up the two swords that I practiced with and return them to the barrel they were in. My stomach suddenly growls as I look around the room noticing that I’m the only person left.Ugh… I’m so hungry…especially after that unappetizing breakfast…that I threw up. I hope I can eat something good soon.

I head for the door, but I feel the sudden urge to practice my Mana control. I get into my position and focus my concentration on my right hand, particularly on my right index finger. I want to see if I can repeat the same thing from this morning. I release my Mana and witness the dark blue Mana flow out of the tip of my finger.

I think I’m getting used to it. Hmm… But I’m still confused about what the teacher was talking about in class. He said the types of Mana were called Scrap Mana, Unrefined Mana, and Rich Mana, but none of them looked like this Mana I’m releasing right now…

I try to bring Mana from other parts of my body to the tip of my right index finger and release it as usual, but no matter where I get the Mana from, what comes out is still the same deep, dark blue color.Argh, I give up… I should probably head to the front of the building. I spent too long playing with my Mana.

I leave the room in a hurry, running in the direction I came from towards the front of the Academy again. Before I reach the entrance of the building, I bump into the Teacher from earlier.

“Hmm? You are Kai, correct? What are you still doing here? I thought everyone was already outside when I announced the instructions... You must be feeling hungry, right? If you want to eat, you will have to go to the other side of the Academy. The only rule is that you cannot go through the central corridor of the Academy to go straight there. You will have to use the right path on the right side of the Academy. There is no time limit… but you should probably hurry. Oh, I almost forgot, you should take this.”

He hands me a small piece of red paper. I ponder for what it would be used for, but I decide to put it in my pocket and follow his instructions for now.

I run outside towards the right side of the Academy. When I look closer, there is space between the building and the fence that surrounds the entire building. The space between the fence and the building is much wider at the front of the Academy compared to the sides. I face the path leading to the backside of the Academy and don’t see anyone in the far distance at all, so I figure that I spent longer than I thought playing around with my Mana.

I don’t waste any time and start to run down the path. I imagine what kinds of food would be served, and I swallow my saliva in anticipation.

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