The Selection

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Chapter 57 - Inteiru Expota - Discovery

I take the clinic entrance from the Crossroads not because it’s closer, but it’s the only entrance for non-emergencies. I haven’t personally seen the back entrance be used since my time here. I imagine that it was used heavily after the attack transported through the back entrance.

“How can I help you today, sir?” a woman at the reception counter asks.

“There should’ve been a girl with blue pigtails that came by not that long ago. What room’s she in?”

“Oh, yes. May I see your ID?”

I hand over my ID. She begins writing the information on a piece of paper. It’s a pain how everywhere you go, you need to show your ID. The army keeps track of all your activity and stores them in the Record Zone. Higher ranks go there and inquire on specific people to see what they’ve been doing. In a way, that’s a good thing. If Captain Citrio finds out that Hina was injured and I didn’t visit her as her boyfriend, it would be questionable.

“Thank you, Sergeant Kai. Here is your card,” the woman says. I store it back into my pocket. “You will find Sergeant Hina on the first floor in room 036. Have a good day.”

“Thanks,” I answer and head down the only hallway. I find the room 036 and go in. Just Hina and Luke inside. Hina is lying on the bed with Luke seated next to her on a chair. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Hina greets weakly.

“How’s the arm?” I ask while walking in. Hina’s left arm is wrapped in white bandages. The sweater is completely burnt off from that side. It goes all the way toward her upper shoulder.

“Still hurts…a lot,” she says. “I only got spot treatment right now. Doctors with Healin’ magic aren’t in yet. My case isn’t an emergency, so it’ll be a few more hours.”

“Where’s Ruby?” Luke suddenly asks. “What happened after we left?”

“Well, not much. I explained things which calmed her down. Major Galan came to check up on things. Went to see General Nero and we got a warning. We parted ways after that, so I’m not sure what she’s up to.”

“She’s not gonna apologize to Hina? She tried to kill her for no reason! I can’t believe she was off the hook.”

“It was a misunderstanding. It won’t happen again.”

“Misunderstanding or not, she tried to kill her! She didn’t reason things out and wouldn’t stop no matter what we said.”

“Just calm down, Luke. You know how Ruby is.”

“I don’t. She’s a complete nut case from what I saw. So you’ll forgive her because it’s Ruby? What if it happens again?”

“I’ll forgive her because of our history together and that it was a misunderstanding. It won’t happen again, I’m telling you.”

“I’m asking what if it does. Whose side are you gonna be on?”

“Luke, it’s fine. Let it go,” Hina says.

Luke clicks his tongue and stands up. He walks toward me. He puts a hand on my shoulder and then whispers in my ear, “Look, Kai. You’re a cool guy, and Hina’s really into you, so I support your relationship with her. But you’ve got to get your priorities straight. It’s your job to protect and make her happy now. I won’t forgive you if you hurt her in any way. We all know your history with Ruby and why you’ll choose to let this go, but think about what that does to Hina. She still thinks about Lucius too. Don’t give her more reasons to be sad.”

“I’ll give you two some privacy. See ya later, Hina,” he says while leaving the room.

“See ya,” Hina says. I go take the seat he was sitting on. “What’d he say to you?”

“Nothing really that important. So, what exactly happened with Ruby this morning?”

“Well, I was havin’ breakfast with my platoon until she screamed my name. I knew from that moment she found out about us. I stood up and walked toward her tryin’ to explain what was goin’ on. That’s when she suddenly attacked. Didn’t use a keyword so it completely caught me off guard. I protected myself with Water magic before it was too late. Thankfully, she didn’t attack immediately. Otherwise, things could’ve turned out much worse. With other members of my platoon caught in the attack too. Moments later, everyone fled the cafeteria. I did whatever I could to stall her attacks until you arrived to calm her down.”

“I see. I’m sorry.”

“What’re you apologizin’ for? You couldn’t have known that she would return from her mission so early.”

“Yeah but, I should’ve been there. I’m usually there for breakfast on time, but…” I say and look toward the door. I can’t have anyone find out about how things really are.

Hina whispers, “Last night…Marin?”

I nod.

“Did Luke… This mornin’?”

“He doesn’t know, obviously. Managed to fool him. I’m sure Marin’s out of the danger zone now,” I whisper. I continue in an audible voice, “What I’m really interested in is how you managed to make those tables float inside your Water magic.”

Hina smiles and says, “That’s one of my new tricks. Amazin’ isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s amazing. How’d you do it? It didn’t look like the Water was moving, but I wasn’t close enough to really see.”

“Not really sure how to explain it. I’ve been messin’ around a lot with my magic tryin’ different things. I wanted to make it possible to put somethin’ inside my Water magic. At first, I tried pushin’ the water with Wind magic but it wasn’t efficient, and it didn’t work. I tried havin’ the Water move in circular motions, but it was sloppy and didn’t keep the object in place. It also won’t work for larger and heavier things. I knew I had to incorporate some sort of internal pressure, so I kept tryin’. Eventually, it worked.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Heavy objects don’t float like that.”

“How about I show you?” Hina asks. She sits up and lies against the bed frame. “I’ll make that chair float.”

“Sure,” I say and sit up. I move the chair in an open space in front of the bed. This chair usually wouldn’t be able to float since it’s made out of stone. I stand back next to Hina.

She extends out her right arm. A few seconds later, a clump of water appears around the chair. It has the chair completely surrounded in water. The water moves upward off the ground and forms a sphere, taking the chair with it. The weirdest part is that the chair is at the bottom edge of the bubble. It looks like it’s about to fall through, but it isn’t. What the?

“Cool, isn’t it?”

I walk around her magic. The water doesn’t look like it’s moving at all. Why isn’t the chair falling through? No movement in the sphere. It’s just stationary. I ask, “Yeah but…isn’t it weird that the chair isn’t in the middle? You said you incorporated some kinda internal pressure, right?”

“Yeah. Well, I only got this workin’ recently. Haven’t tested it much.”

“Hmm…” I interject. I don’t want to wet my clothes, but I’m curious about how this chair isn’t sinking through the bottom. I extend my arm out to put it in, but something stops me. I knit my eyebrows.

My hand isn’t going through the sphere of water. It doesn’t feel like regular water at all. It’s wet, but it almost feels like I’m pressing into a firm mattress. The water around my palm bends inward and spreads around it. “What the hell? You’re telling me this is normal water?”

No way. Then that means she managed to do what I couldn’t? She did what Ragnar did…and if she did this before I told her about it, she just happened upon it by complete accident? That must have how Ragnar discovered it too… Doesn’t that mean she’s more talented than me…? I really don’t want to admit it.

“That is weird… I never thought to touch the water yet. I was goin’ to test if I could levitate in the sphere of water eventually.”

Floating in the water? I don’t see why that wouldn’t be possible. Water magic really is incredible. If only Hiro could see this now… Maybe Void magic has some special properties as well. Something I can change to make it do something different… I won’t lose to Hina. I’ll make cold fire eventually too. It seems she hasn’t realized that she changed the properties of water, the special property of Water magic. She’d definitely brag about this. The more I mess with this weird water, the more likely she’s going to realize.

I freeze up when she says, “Hey… Doesn’t this mean that I changed the special property of Water magic?”

Damn. She caught on.

She laughs, “I told you I’m more creative than you! I figured it out before you did.”

“Shut up. You didn’t figure out anything. You just got lucky and did it by accident. You don’t even understand what you did. If you figured it out, what exactly did you change about water? Can you make it heavier?”

“You’re just jealous. How cute.”

I frown. I am jealous, but I won’t admit it.

“I’ll figure it out eventually. It doesn’t change that I did it before you.”

I almost feel like spilling the beans about my unique magic. Never to be seen Void magic and Mana. Not even known to the Academy. Although, Moria did leave out a few details. But this is different. We learned all the Mana types and magic categories. There’s no way he would leave out a branch of magic. It would be like only mentioning Scrap Mana and Unrefined Mana. And never mention the existence of Abjuration magic. But is Void magic under Evocation or is it its own branch of magic?

“Are you at a loss for words? Can’t handle the truth?” Hina asks with a smirk.

“Okay, okay. You got me,” I admit. But I know that I’m still ahead in talent. I’ll let her have her glory for now. I’ll keep shut about my secrets. I can’t be telling everyone. I’ve only ever told Marin. It would be a punch in her face if I easily revealed it to someone else.

“Wow. I didn’t think you’d admit it. You’re pretty stubborn, you know.”

“Yeah, well. It’s true I haven’t made cold fire yet. I’m still curious about this water you made though...” I say. “How do I put my hand in the sphere of water? Maybe I have to rip it open...”

“Who knows. Try forcin’ your way in.”

I put my palm on the outer surface again. I gradually put more force on the water. It’s weird because the sphere doesn’t displace at all. The shape is more distorted the harder I drive my hand into it. The dent created enlarges the harder I press. The water I push inward spreads out around my palms along the outer surface. At some point, my hand finally pierces through the bubble. It was a bit sudden, and I almost lose my balance but maintain my ground.

Inside is the strangest feeling. It’s like something is pulling on my arm near the edge, but inside it’s not really pulling. The water tingles my skin. I move my arm around, feeling like this water is some thick sludge. But it’s not because it felt like ordinary water when I touched the outside. This is mysterious. My hand looks a bit swollen too.

Before I know it, my entire right arm is inside the water. I didn’t think I put my arm that far. I’m going to be drenched entirely at this rate.

“Kai!” Hina suddenly exclaims with an urgent tone. “Loo-look at your arm!”

I look down. The point where I pierced the water is weird. It’s not a dent in the water anymore but the opposite. It’s like a tall hill growing taller with every moment. It’s literally creeping farther into my body. “What the hell?!”

I immediately pull my arm back with all my force. My eyes might deceive me, but the sphere of water displaces toward me instead of staying in place. I place my other hand on the sphere to stop it from moving closer to me as I tug away. It turns out to be a mistake. My other hand pierces the water too. At this rate, I’ll be swallowed wholly.

All the water disappears immediately, and the chair makes a thump on the ground. Hina deactivated her magic. My clothes aren’t wet anymore. I turn to Hina and exclaim, “What the hell was that, Hina?”

“I-I don’t know…”

“It was like that water was alive! What’d you do to make it like that?” I ask, even though she doesn’t know.

“I didn’t know that could happen.”

“So, other than the thing you don’t know you did, you don’t know anything else?”

“Well…it uses more Mana than a regular ball of water of that size would require. That’s what I noticed about utilizin’ it. It’s like the Mana’s more compact or somethin’.”

More Mana? Maybe that’s the trick. I have to find a way to compress the Mana into a smaller space. Then perhaps I’ll be able to make cold fire.

“There’s somethin’ else I didn’t mention.”

“What’s that?”

“The truth is… I could only get it to work less than 50% of the time before the fight with Ruby.”

Less than 50% of the time? I don’t know what she means by that. She’s just doing some weird instructions that she doesn’t understand. So does that mean she’s assigning new directions every time?

She continues, “There’s this feelin’ that’s present every time it worked. Durin’ the fight, I did it purely by feelin’ instead of thinkin’. I don’t know how else to explain it. I haven’t changed anythin’ else.”

“So you’re not writing new instructions every time you try to make it work?”

“I don’t think so. At least not on purpose. I’m not sure, to be honest. I’ll study it more in my free time, and I’ll let you know if I find anythin’ new.”

So it really was fully by accident. She’s not more creative than me.“Yeah, you better.”

Hina grins. “I like the jealous side of you more. If you ask nicely, I’ll try to explain step by step on how I did it. I feel bad after my new trick almost drowned you.”

I frown. She’s never going to let go of this. I wasn’t planning on showing her this, but I don’t want to give her the satisfaction of besting me at something. “Hmph. Well, I have a trick up my sleeve that you don’t know about either. I’ll show you.”

“Oh, yeah? What kind of trick uses Fire magic? You’re not goin’ to blow up the room, are you?”

“You’ll be practically begging for me to tell you after I show you this,” I say and prepare instructions for my Mana. I check to see if anyone is in the hallways or nearby. No one. Perfect. I shut the door. I can’t have her see any visible part of my magic. I’ll put a one-sided portal facing up under the bed and one in front of me facing me. I’ll have it set so that it automatically deactivates my Void magic after 15 seconds. I send out my Mana and activate it. A purple portal appears in front of me, blocking my view of Hina. The length of it covers the entire area in front of me leaving no gaps from under. She won’t see me unless she gets up from the bed.

“Oh, I can’t wait.”

“Watch closely. When I snap my fingers, I’ll disappear from this world. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it,” I say while keeping an internal clock of how long has passed. I’ll time it so that in case she stands up, the magic will have already ended. I raise an arm in front of me close to the entrance of the portal, pressing my thumb against my middle finger. With only a few seconds left to go, I snap my finger and move my hand into the gate. I don’t use too much force because the underside of her bed is literally in front of my hand.

“What?!” she exclaims.

I quietly take a step or two to my left so that I reappear at a different location. At the moment my magic deactivates, I snap my fingers and do a frontal flip forward. Her jaws are dropped, and eyes widened.

“How’d you do that?! What’d you do? That was amazin’!”

“Like I said. I have my own tricks up my sleeve,” I say with a smirk. Now, I have the upper hand. She’s going to offer to help me make cold fire willingly to find out what I did.

“That’s so cool. I guess we’ll both have our secrets then.”

Huh? That’s not how it was supposed to work… A bit disappointed, but at least I have something to rub in her face now if she brings up that I can’t make cold fire. Although, I’m not sure it’s the same effect because she can’t replicate it while I can…

‘By the way, Kai. We’re goin’ to need to start callin’ each other differently with anyone else around. Since we’re doin’ this,” Hina says.

“Oh, sure,” I answer. She did use nicknames with her old boyfriend. Footsteps resound closeby. A lot of them. I quickly move the chair back to its original position but closer to the bed. I sit in it and grab Hina’s hands. The footsteps seem to stop in front of this room. I signal to her what’s happening by looking between her and the door and raising my eyebrows.

She smiles. Oh, no. I know that smile. That’s when she’s probably up to no good. I shake my head. Her smile only stretches farther.

“Darling…not there…” she says. I glare at her. What kind of lousy reputation is she trying to give me? I already gave Luke a negative impression, thinking back on his words. None of it really applies to us because she knew what to expect going in. Even if this relationship is a lie, it might make her feel less alone. We’ll both have to keep up the act regardless. It might also be one of the few things keeping her emotions stable.

“What about here?” I ask. I don’t need Luke to be on my back for not showing enough affection to Hina. Having a bad reputation is better than everyone discovering our lie. She moans. I think back to our moment yesterday. Can’t help but feel excited. I try to stop thinking about it.

It doesn’t look like they’re coming in. Probably better that way. It’ll be harder to leave when there’s a crowd of people in here.

“Yes, right there!” Hina exclaims. She’s crazy. What if they come in and nothing is going on? Then our whole cover could be blown. I’d better be prepared to jump on her if I that door knock turns even a little bit. Which may be a bit painful for Hina considering her arm. But she asked for it.

Instead of the doorknob turning, the footsteps fade away. They must’ve gone back. I sigh. I whisper, “You’re insane. Who else knows what happened to you? Those were a lot of footsteps.”

Hina smiles and whispers, “No one except for my team. Luke must’ve brought them together. I don’t know if he’s contacted anyone else.”

“Well, I’m gonna get out of here before it’s too late,” I whisper.

“Okay. I’ll see ya at dinner. We’ll still need to discuss in private about how often we’ll meet. Good luck later today,” she whispers and then continues in a normal voice, “See ya later, Darling!”

What does she mean by good luck? She knows about the training session later? I need to think of a nickname for her. Cookie, because she’s sweet?

No. I mean, she’s not really that sweet. She screws with me too much. Then it would have to be something that shows her worth to me. Something that would match her person somehow. Well, she has high Affinity for Water magic. I stand up and say, “See ya, Pearl.”

Couldn’t I have thought of something better? It doesn’t sound very affectionate now that I think about it. She’s definitely going to make fun of me later. I grab onto the doorknob but hesitate. Those people are going to be waiting outside somewhere. Should I leave out the back entrance? No one will probably notice so I won’t get into trouble. It’s still early morning. I open the door and walk into the hallway. I check the reception area from here. Two guys are directly looking at me. Damn. No choice but to go out the front.

I try not to make eye contact with anyone on my way out. Luke, Dennis, and Simon are all here. Presumably, the rest are part of their platoon from the army side. Unfortunately, my eyes meet Luke’s by the entrance of the clinic. He glares at me but doesn’t say anything. No one does. Not even the woman behind the counter. She seems to have read the heavy mood.

Feels like an eternity has passed, but I finally walk out of there. I sigh. I’d better meet up back with Marin. She’d probably be out of my room by now. The cafeteria maybe? But then again, it was just a battlefield. Maybe they canceled breakfast to reorganize the place. I head over there anyway. It’s literally right across the room.

It’s a bit noisy over there. I walk over to see what’s going on. It’s way past the usual time for breakfast, and there shouldn’t be meal handouts. Most of everyone here is reorganizing the tables to their original general locations. Some people eating on the floor near the place where they hand out the meals. I suppose they made an exception for today since they couldn’t properly hand them out due to the situation.

I expect to see Jetia and the other goons somewhere, but I don’t. They must’ve one of the early birds and finished eating before it happened. Some people are idling around either wandering or sitting. I make sure I don’t miss anyone between the cracks. Not much to do now but check upstairs. There should be additional instructions about the Rising Champions. That must be what Hina was talking about when she made that remark.

I head up to mail station on the third level. Inside is a new piece of paper as I suspected. It’s more information regarding the Rising Champions. Most of it are things I already know from Hina asking those two men. Nothing on it about its real purpose as Captain Albius informed me. There’s a lunch meeting between our matched platoons. Says to bring our equipment. The battle is in two weeks from today, and our opponents are from Xantho. The battleground is to be determined.

I sigh and toss the paper. So there goes my plan to pre-prepare Jetia and the goons before this happened. At least there are two weeks before the battle. I head down one level and check my room. No one here. I close and lock the door before walking over to Marin’s room. There’s someone nearby, so I don’t stop at her door. I walk to the end of this corridor before turning back. He’s gone, so I head back to Marin’s door and then knock. “Marin, it’s me.”

She opens the door without saying anything and then goes back inside. I look in both directions of the hallway to make sure no one’s looking before walking into her room. Marin is lying on the bed. She must be really down about the fight between Ruby and Hina.

I skip the small talk and say, “So, I don’t know if you went to check the cafeteria…but the battle was pretty serious. Ruby used Rich Mana from what I saw. Hina suffered some pretty bad burns on one of her arms, but she’s fine. She’s staying in the clinic until the doctors with Healing magic come in late morning.”

Marin trembles. I walk over and then lie on the bed next to Marin. I hug her from behind and ask, “What’s wrong?”

“I’m…scared.”

“Why?”

“Of what’s going to happen if Ruby finds out about us. I did go downstairs to check the damage. It was more than I expected. And you told me she used Rich Mana. Ruby was seriously trying to kill Hina, wasn’t she?”

“Yeah, but I cleared up the misunderstanding. Told her everything she needed to hear. That it’s a fake relationship and none of the things she heard was true.”

“What’d she hear exactly?”

“I don’t know,” I answer. Now that I think about it, who did she hear it from? I should’ve asked her when I had the chance. “She won’t find out about us because we’re keeping it a secret. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“If she finds out, do you think she would try to kill me too?”

If she does…which she won’t but…I don’t think she would.”

“I thought that too but…”

“I mean, you two were so clo—“ I cut myself off. We’ve both only known Ruby for seven months. They’ve gotten along, but wouldn’t say they’re that close in that duration of time.

“I think I was in denial about her. Other than the way she spoke and her appearance… I wanted to believe she was always Luna at heart. But she would never do something like that…”

“Stop thinking that way. I wanted to think that way too, but they’re not the same. They’re similar but Luna’s dead. Don’t forget it.”

She turns around and buries her face on my chest. I let her cry it all out. She just realized that she lost a close friend. I can’t help but feel sad too, and a few tears escape. I tighten my embrace.

Eventually, she calms down and stops crying. She sniffles and looks up to me. “There’s something I have to tell you.”

From the look of her eyes, this seems serious. She continues, “Jetia knows.”

Jetia knows…? It takes a moment to register on what she means by that. No way. Does she mean that Jetia knows about us?!

“He was looking for me when the fight was happening, but I wasn’t answering my door. So, he had no choice but to look for you. That’s when he came banging on your door. I was still inside getting dressed…”

Oh, shit. I didn’t lock my door. Not that I could’ve in the situation that unfolded. “He saw you bare?”

It’s a dumb question that doesn’t need to be answered right now, but I asked without thinking. She explains, “Um, no…but I was in my underwear when he barged in. He closed the door and gave me privacy to put on the rest of my clothes.”

Good. If he didn’t, I’d beat him senseless. She continues. “He wanted an explanation, so I revealed everything. I told him to keep it a secret, but I don’t know what he’s going to do.”

So, that’s the other piece making Marin feel uneasy right now. Knowing how Jetia only out there to screw me over most of the time, I don’t know what he’ll actually do. If Ruby finds out about us from someone else, it definitely won’t be pretty. But what if confront her and confess face to face? Maybe then, it won’t end as violently. I really don’t think we need to take such drastic measures yet. If he turns us in, there’s no way I would fund everyone’s first Mana manipulation seminar.

“He won’t tell anyone. At least not yet. I’m willing to bet that he’s going to leverage this into coursing me into doing whatever he wants. Something like continuing to fund everyone’s magic lessons. But, I’ll stay with you until lunch if it makes you feel safer. Ruby wouldn’t dare try to hurt you if I’m around in her way.”

“Okay…”

“We can’t just stay here the entire time, though. I’m gonna pick up my equipment in my room. We’re probably gonna end up with group training after lunch. I’ll meet you outside the ‘B’ block,” I say and then leave the room. I go into my room to use the bathroom first. After, I put on my armor, clip on my belts and attach my sheaths. I lock my room on my way out and head to the meeting point.

Marin is there waiting. We could go to one of the private training rooms on the second floor of the training area, but then Marin can’t get much training in. The space inside is mostly confined meant for close quarters training. So, we go outside not in the back where the archery range is. In the front. I’ll be the target for Marin. I’ll try to parry from whatever angle she shoots at me.

Several hours pass. It’s almost time for lunch. We head over there before the line is too long. Usually, people are already waiting before it’s exactly noon.

Upon arrival to the cafeteria, man nearby says, “Hey, Sergeant Kai.”

I recognize him. He’s in Captain Albius’ platoon. He continues, “Captain Albius’ waiting at one of the cooking stations. Meet him there when you have your entire platoon gathered. Sigma 3’s already there. Food’s waiting as well, so there’s no need for you to wait in line.”

He walks away, presumably to the cooking station. That means, we just need to wait for everyone to show up. I’m not worried about Jetia and the goons. Ruby’s attendance, on the other hand, doesn’t have a good track record.

“Kai!” Ruby exclaims. “I’m here! Am I late?”

She runs up to us, panting. Her hair is dripping wet. Always rushed as usual.

“You still had some time. Why’s it always look like you got out of the shower?”

“I was trainin’ really hard ‘n’ lost track of time. Didn’t wanna be sweaty, so I hopped in the shower. But I didn’t wanna be late either,” she says, still out of breath with a hand over her stomach. Her legs are wobbly. The same excuse every time. It’s strange how she isn’t used to her routine by now. Is she really training to the brink of exhaustion every time? I know she’s working hard for my sake, so there’s no reason to ask.

“Well, whatever. Sit down over there,” I say pointing to the nearest wall. Can’t have her sit in the middle of the open and block people’s way. “ You look like you’re about to collapse. We still have to wait for Jetia and the others.”

“’Kay…” Ruby says and then limps over to the wall. We follow closely behind. Now is a good time to ask her about the other matter.

“By the way, Ruby, who’d you hear from about the relationship stuff between Hina and me? I was looking for you the previous day, but Captain Albius said you were on a separate mission, so I was gonna tell you first thing in the morning, but…”

She reaches the wall, turns around, and practically falls right on her bottom. “Well, I came back from my mission early… ‘N’ I was hungry, so I went ta the cafeteria. Someone was talkin’ ’bout how Hina confessed ta ya the day before. ‘N’ she took ya ta ’er room.”

“So you decided to kill Hina after that…?”

“Yeah, but I’m sorry. I didn’t know ya were pretendin’. Hina’s fine now, right?”

“Yeah, she’s fine. But seriously. Next time, try to talk it out first. Don’t randomly try to kill people, okay? That’s bad.”

“’Kay.”

“How’re you feeling? Seems like you’re always clutching onto your stomach.”

She clutches her stomach tighter and answers, “I’m fine…”

“You don’t look fine…and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen you like this either.”

She looks down. “I’m just…constipated. Been havin’ stomach issues fer a while now. I didn’t wanna bring it up.”

That can’t be the reason. She’s using that as an excuse for something else. I’ll get to the bottom of this right now. “When did that start? You were fine before we joined the army.”

Well, technically I’ve only known her since the day we joined… But who she used to be, never had that issue.

“I don’t know…maybe a month after we joined? It started outta the blue.”

“Did you do anything around that time to trigger it? Anything change in your daily routine?”

“I think it’s the food… Doesn’t make me feel good.”

“The food…?” I question. It’s a plausible reason. The food quality, in general, is much worse than what we ate before. Now it is much worse than we joined too. More the reason I progress to Lieutenant as soon as possible. We’d have access to the cooking stations. “Well, you don’t have to worry about that for much longer. We’ll soon have permanent access to the cooking stations. Today, we’ll be under Captain Albius’ care again for lunch.”

“Are ya happy ’bout that?” she asks. A strange question. Why wouldn’t anyone be happy about that? More importantly, it should resolve her stomach issues.

“Of course. It’ll be better than what we normally have access too. The food’s a lot better so you won’t have issues with your stomach in the future.”

“I see. Then I’m happy too!” she exclaims with a smile.

Sometimes it’s tough to tell what she’s thinking. Other than her random bouts of anger, she’s only trying to help me. It’s a miracle; this was the only time she’s had a real emotional outburst. I’ll keep her closer than how much I’ve been to make sure she’s eating well. “From now on, I want to see you every day at lunch and dinner. No skipping unless we’re assigned to separate missions. This is for the sake of the team too. We’re gonna work together more.”

I think about including breakfast too, but with the complications involving Marin and Hina, it’s best to leave that one out. Most of the time we’re oversleeping anyway. Ruby replies, “’Kay I got it Kai…no more skippin’.”

“Good.”

Jetia shows up with the four other men in our platoon within a few minutes. Jetia is not acting anything out of the usual. I hope he doesn’t plan to bring up what he discovered. We head over to the cooking station area as a group. We find the room Captain Albius is settled in and go in.

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