The Selection

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Chapter 58 - Inteiru Expota - Mock Battle

“Welcome, Sigma 4,” Captain Albius says. He points to the table across from Ada and her group. “Have a seat over there.”

I walk over, avoiding eye contact with Sigma 3 and sit down at the indicated table. Captain Albius’ platoon are all standing at the end of the room in a straight line. Ruby, Marin, Jetia, and the other four take a seat around the table.

“Now that both platoons are here, we’ll move on to the reason why you’re here. Omega 7 has been assigned as an overseer to Sigma 3 and Sigma 4. As you already know, you’ll be participatin’ together in the Rising Champions. I’ve already received word about your opponents. They’re from Xantho. You’re our away team, so they’ll have your files and precisely know what they’re up against. I’ve also been informed that they’re under new leadership. For some reason, the king decided to replace all but one general. In fact, the group you’re up against are composed of entirely new soldiers trained by the new brass. So preparation might not be needed to succeed, but my policy’s not to underestimate opponents.

“And so, we’ll be spendin’ the next two weeks preparin’ for the battle. I have several years of experience under my belt as both a participant and an overseer. Those with less experience trick themselves into thinkin’ that clumpin’ everyone in one training works best. They’re wrong. There’s a lot of problems with operatin’ as large groups in training and on the battlefield, especially. It limits movements and strategy. The trick’s to break into smaller groups so that each group has a specialized task workin’ toward one goal.

“So, after lunch, I’ll split you into smaller groups and pit you against each other. Fightin’ each other is a good way of learnin’ the weaknesses and strengths of your allies. You’ll learn to work together and build teamwork for the Rising Champions. I’ll also need to see what you’re capable of before developin’ our strategy. Enjoy the feast we’ve prepared for you.”

Captain Albius and his men move out of the way, revealing many identical prepared dishes behind them. They each grab a plate and set it in front of us.

“Here you go, Sergeant Kai,” Captain Albius says as he sets the plate of food in front of me.

“Thanks for the food, Captain Albius,” I say, and then dig in.

He does the same for Ruby. “And for Corporal Ruby as well. You look like you’re starvin’. It’ll be harsh training for the next two weeks. Make sure you eat your meats if you want to replenish your energy.”

Ruby looks at the food and then glares at Captain Albius. I’ll be pissed if she still doesn’t change her behavior toward him when I told her upfront to do something about it the same day. She looks down at the plate and frowns. Her lips twitch as if she’s overcome with anger. But it could also mean that she’s trying not to react negatively.

The twitching stops several seconds later. She looks up and says, “Thanks….Captain Albius.”

Captain Albius smiles and answers, “Anytime.”

That’s a relief. Ruby is on good behavior. I continue with my meal.

We take some time eating until everyone is ready. Captain Albius has each of us formally introduce ourselves and write down our name and rank on a piece of paper for his records.

“I’ll announce the first two groups for the mock battle. The first group, Sergeant Kai from Sigma 4, Corporal Marin from Sigma 4, Soldier Laud from Sigma 4, and Corporal Ada from Sigma 3.”

Figured he would put me with Ada. But that’s good. She doesn’t know how we’re really scored. I glance over at Ada and smile. She returns a frown and glare.

Captain Albius continues, “Their opponents will be Sergeant Aisha from Sigma 3, Corporal Deniz from Sigma 3, Soldier Powell from Sigma 3, and Soldier Garen from Sigma 4. I’ve reserved one of the large rooms on the third floor of the training grounds. We’ll do the mock battle there. My men will bring the necessary items.”

“Before that, I’d like to sweep any hostility between the platoons under the rug. I’m aware that Sergeant Kai and Corporal Ada have a history. Why don’t you shake hands since you’ll be workin’ together for the next two weeks?” Captain Albius asks and then glances over at me with a slight smile.

“Of course,” I answer, stand up, and then walk over to Ada. With a smile, I say, “I don’t know if I’ve ever rubbed you the wrong way, but I hope we can overcome our differences and win.”

I extend an open palm out in front of me. She stands up and grabs my hand. She smiles and says, “I’m sure you know what you did, exactly. It would be shitty if you didn’t.”

She’s referring to that day. I remember it clearly, but don’t let it show on my face. If I’m not allowed to talk about it, she shouldn’t be able to either. I tighten my grip on her hand. She does the same to me. My smile stretches wider. “Last time I checked, you were attacking me with slander.”

“I remember something different.”

“Well, whatever happened…” I say. I really want to sock her in the face, though. Or even better. Subject her to the same thing I went through. If she’s continuously hostile throughout the Rising Champions, and I suck up to General Nero to get on his good side... Maybe my wish will come true. “I’m ready to move on from it. I’ll forgive all the times you stepped on me, even though I haven’t done anything to you, so we can restart from a blank slate.”

“I stepped on you because you asked for it. If I remember correctly, you liked it. With the overwhelming evidence that the Castalia kid was a conspirator, you still defended him. Maybe you just wanted to be abused. I’ll let Hina know that’s how you get off.”

“Hina has nothing to do with this. Can we restart from zero or not?”

“Fine. Only until the battle’s over,” she says and then releases her hand from mine. She wipes her hand on her pants. I try not to laugh as I return to my previous seat. She doesn’t realize that she’s digging her grave.

“Very good. We’ll be headin’ to the training grounds now, so follow me,” Captain Albius says.

We follow him to the other side of the first level. The training grounds is farthest away from the cafeteria. We go to the third floor and into a large empty room. “My men should be bringin’ the supplies we’ll be needin’ for the mock battle. For the Rising Champions, you won’t be allowed to bring more than basic equipment. Artificial Magic Weapons won’t be allowed, Sergeant Kai.”

“No problem. I’ll use a different one during the battle. I won’t use the magic function on the weapon for this fight,” I answer.

“Good. The rules for the mock battle are simple. Each of you will wear a dummy on your head. Your job’s to protect it like it’s your life. If the dummy’s destroyed, you’re out. Take out the opposin’ team’s dummies, and you win. Since this is only practice, we don’t want to overload the clinic over the next two weeks. You’ll have to make do with this ruleset for the mock battles. Magic’s allowed, but don’t use more than necessary. We’re not tryin’ to send each other to the clinic. Sergeant Kai’s team, stand over there.”

Captain Albius points to one end of the room. He points to the opposite side and says, “Sergeant Aisha’s team, stand over there. If you want to strategize before we begin, do it now before my men arrive. Everyone else, stand by the side around the middle. It’s your chance to learn about your allies.”

I head over to the indicated spot with my assigned group. It’s a bummer we ended up Laud on our side, but they have Garen on the other side. I didn’t know their names until moments ago. They’re both equally as useless. But they also have some guy named Powell. He’s probably a random from The Reserve just like the four useless guys in our platoon. An easy win for us. We don’t need to strategize, but I’ll do it for the gesture. Captain Albius is watching.

“So, what’s the plan?” I ask. “Three members of the opposing team are in Sigma 3, so you’d know best, Ada.”

“Deniz’s going to be protecting Aisha. I’m going to take Aisha out. I know her weakness. Marin, you’ll charge in with me from the right side. I just need you to deflect Aisha’s arrows with your own while I close the gap and deal with Deniz,” Ada says.

She has several daggers clipped onto her belt. She also has metal shoes which are a bit unusual, but they have a sharp blade attached to them. I don’t know how she plans to fight with that setup. If I remember correctly, she also utilizes some strings, but I effortlessly cut those down in the past rendering her weapons useless.

“Okay, I’ll try,” Marin says.

Will she be fine? Marin doesn’t have that type of fighting style. “Well, that leaves me with the two others, then.”

“Uh, what should I do, Kai?” Laud asks.

Oh, right. We have one more member on our team. “I’ll leave that Powell person to you. I’ll take out Garen first, and then help you with Powell.”

“Got it. I’ll try my best.”

Well, he only has to hold him back for literally a second. It won’t take me long to take out Garen. Honestly, doesn’t even matter if he’s not there. It looks like both Garen and Powell are sporting a sword and shield. Seems like the majority of men here like to employ that setup. Deniz has an axe and a shield. Aisha has a bow. If my memory serves me right, Deniz used Wind magic during the tournament, but he could have more capabilities now. Aisha is a mystery. I don’t remember anything about her. Why isn’t Ada telling us about all their magic capabilities?

Either she’s too cocky, or for some reason, she doesn’t want to inform us. Could be because she thinks I’m one of the white masked criminals. Doesn’t want to disclose anything about her platoon’s magic or fighting styles. But that’s only going to hurt her during these two weeks. I consider losing on purpose to spin Ada’s wheels a bit.

But, Captain Albius is also watching. He has a lot of faith in me because of my potential. I can’t go throwing the match just to spite Ada. He’d be impressed if I manage to win this despite not knowing anything about our opponents. So, I shouldn’t hold back. I’ll need to rebind my fireball keyword to my palm. Don’t want to ignite my shirt on fire.

I remember the time I set myself on fire. Luckily, I didn’t use my Mana, but Scrap Mana at the time. It was a hard lesson learned. I can’t force Mana through my shirt, even though there are small spaces for the Mana to pass through. Not all of the Mana makes it through because I set it to move away from my elbow in a big clump. Once it reaches an obstacle, it stops given no other instructions. I would have to figure out how to deal with the Mana left behind in the shirt to use this method. I wish there were a material where Mana could pass through freely. Like a Glim. But I can’t wear that like clothing.

I could move the Mana bound to my Fire Affinity in the space outside my shirt in a roundabout way. The Mana would have to go out my sleeve and then back in the area in front of my elbow. There would be a delay between my keyword and the magic appearing. Not very practical or accurate. It would be like those Artificial Magic Weapons I encountered back with Ragnar. I’d be giving my opponents a heads up, and they could move out of the way by the time my magic appears.

Captain Albius’ men arrive. A few of them carry the magic item responsible for creating the Mana barrier. The other men have something else with them. Probably the dummies Captain Albius mentioned. They give each of us one fighting in the mock battle. It’s a black, close-fitting hat with a wooden stick on top. It has a small wooden figure attached to it. I put it on. The bottom of the stick poking the top of my head is annoying, but not a big deal.

The hat makes us look ridiculous. At least the other three do. I assume I look pretty silly too. The Mana barrier items are set on one side of the room. Two of them placed near the wall with the third one placed in the middle. Behind the barrier are Captain Albius’ platoon and everyone else not fighting in the battle. Except for Captain Albius, he’s closer to the center of the room between our two groups.

“We’re goin’ to start soon. Get ready,” Captain Albius announces. Our group lines up with me on the left side with Laud. If we’re charging in, he might not be able to make it with our dash. I doubt Ada would slow down a little for the sake of him. I’ll just go in by myself at that point. It shouldn’t take that long for him to catch up. No, wait. If I slow my pace down to match his, I’d be able to blame Ada for not having team awareness if she doesn’t slow down.

I think about not using magic, but it’ll be too obvious that I’m trying to lose. So, I still have to create the instructions for the new fireball. Using anything stronger than Scrap Mana will be excessive against Garen and Powell. I move some Scrap Mana into my left palm, bond Fire Affinity to it, and then prepare the instructions.

“On your marks…start!” Captain Albius exclaims.

I wait a moment before running forward. I don’t utilize my full speed. As expected, Ada’s going full speed in with Marin lagging behind her. Laud isn’t a quick runner either, but I match his pace. Our opponents haven’t moved much. They’re taking a defensive position with Aisha in the back and the three others in front of her with about 15-20 feet in front of her. I’ll use my magic from long range to separate them. I point my left palm toward between my two targets and Deniz and then release a ball of fire while shouting, “Fireball!”

“Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!” I continue to exclaim. The balls of fire appear about a foot in front of my palm that flies forward. I break down some Unrefined Mana into Scrap Mana.

“Blinding rays!” Ada exclaims.

Shit. I squint my eyes, expecting to be blind. Does she plan on blinding us too? Several beams of white light appear in the air are diagonally in front of her. They shoot out toward Deniz. For the first time, I’m able to see Light magic without a blinding effect. Is it like the one-sided portal? The beams of light end on a layer of Scrap Mana. When did they set that up? The Scrap Mana blocks our view from their upper bodies, but the three in front haven’t moved. Deniz must’ve set that up knowing what Ada was up to. That’s one way to deal with Light magic.

My magic is still flying toward them, but they haven’t moved. Ada throws two daggers in the air above her. One lagging behind the other parallel to each other with several feet between them. Powell and Garen dodge left, and Deniz goes right as planned. I can’t use any more Fire magic until those my current magic hits the wall and disappears. The troubles of low Fire Affinity and using magic from far away. Ada’s daggers are now past Deniz. Where’s she aiming? That’s not going to hit anything.

Aisha shoots two arrows will deflect them off its path. Before that happens, Ada exclaims, “Wind current! Light python!”

The daggers speed forward and propel light from them toward Aisha. Her arrows miss the target. The light rays move erratically. Ada takes two pairs of knives from her belt. The hilt of one blade is attached to another for each pair by a string. She uses a reverse grip and twirls them around. With every revolution, the strings seem to be increasing in length. She spins the one on her right hand with a more diagonal angle while the other one is more horizontal. It takes some skill to twirl both of those are the same time at high speeds without ever intersecting the strings.

My magic hits the wall and disappears. It still bothers me why they still haven’t bothered to attack. Is it because they know Ada will be aggressive? If they’re going to stand there, I could easily activate Fire magic right in the area the dummy is located. I bond my Scrap Mana with some Fire Affinity and prepare the necessary instructions. I release my Mana and program it to activate upon reaching their destination.

Ada throws the spinning daggers one after another toward Deniz and shouts, “Whirling light! Whirling light!”

The keyword bothers me because if light is released from it, it’ll blind of all us. But there’s no light. A second later, she yells, “Activate!”

A wide cone of light is shot directly above from the center of each whirling set of blades toward Deniz. The magic stays where it appeared, and the daggers continue forward. Again, a wall of Scrap Mana materializes in front of Deniz. But now, he won’t be able to see the incoming weapons.

My magic should’ve activated by now, but it hasn’t. My Fire Affinity is still missing from my body, so I know that it’s still there. Too much to think about now. Maybe it’s too close to them. I send out a little bit of additional Scrap Mana to their location and update my instructions.

Ada grabs hold of two more knives from her hip with no strings on them. A gust of wind seems to slow Ada’s rush forward but doesn’t slow down the weapons in the air. The cones of light disappear, and Deniz runs toward the incoming whirling daggers. He swings his axe at the first one and exclaims, “Propelling cut!”

He easily cuts the string in the middle. One of the daggers fly past him. He blocks the other one with his shield. The other pair of blades are incoming. With the recoil of his cut, there’s no way for him to cut the second pair. He could have dodged the first one or both of them, but he decided not to. Ada mentioned he would be focusing on protecting Aisha in the back. Which means he plans to take the hit?

He doesn’t move as the twirling daggers wrap around his body. There must be more to this attack since that’s not going to injure him in any way or restrict his movements.

Two balls of fire emerge at the ceiling directly above Garen and Powell. It drops toward them. A wall of Unrefined Mana appears over them. Crackling noises resound as my magic collides into it. They flinch and take several steps forward. I don’t know whether it’s Deniz or Aisha covering these two. They continue their slow march forward. That’s not smart of them because I’d be able to deal with them quicker and have no excuse not to assist Ada.

“Burst!” Ada exclaims. Scrap Mana appears around Deniz’s neck spreading outward horizontally several feet before a sphere of light erupts from around him. The light covers his bottom half entirely. Light erupts from two daggers with the string cut between them as well. “Marin, cover me now! Wind rush!”

The Scrap Mana around Deniz disappears, and the light completely swallows him. My previous magic disappeared but the wall of Unrefined Mana is still standing at the same location as expected. I’ve got to focus solely with the two in front of me for a few seconds. I’ll split these two up as well. I point my left palm between them. “Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!”

Garen dodges left, and Powell avoids right. Powell yells, “Now!”

Powell tosses his sword toward Garen while Garen throws his shield toward him. I knit my eyebrows. Garen knows how to use two swords at once? And what’s the point of having two shields at once? Well, now Laud won’t have any problem holding off two bucklers. I break down Unrefined Mana into Scrap Mana and unsheathe my weapons.

I move Scrap Mana into my legs and exclaim, “Haste!”

I dash in with an extra burst of speeds with my swords raised above me. I don’t even need to use finesse. I’ll overpower him straight on. He crosses his blades above him. Our blades clash. There’s little resistance.

“Help!” he shouts while the force knocks him on his back. A mistake on my part, since now it’ll take longer to reach him. His weapons are knocked out of his hands too. Now it’ll be a cinch to cut that dummy on his head. I continue running forward and stand over his body. He covers the figure with his bare hands. Why does he have to try so hard for a mock battle? This is an annoyance.

I use the flat side of my blade to smack both of his hands. He screams and recoils his hands away. I use that time window to cut the dummy.

“Garen from Team Aisha’s out!” Captain Albius exclaims.

Wasted a lot of time dealing with this chump. Suddenly, a gust of wind hits me. What?!

I can’t resist. It blows me away to the left. A wall of Unrefined Mana appears next to Garen, so he hasn’t swept away. As I’m flying through the air, sheathe my left sword. I point my left palm toward Powell and exclaim, “Fireball!”

I have Scrap Mana ready in my palm, but nothing comes out. It can’t come out because this Wind magic is practically surrounding my entire body. That’s probably why my earlier magic didn’t activate. There was an invisible barrier of Wind magic.

Times like these, it would be better if I used a Basic Evocation magic approach compared to an Intermediate Evocation style. Sure Intermediate Evocation magic is more powerful as I don’t have to remove the heat from the sides and back to avoid burning myself, but I can’t activate it if there’s active Mana or magic in the space my ball of fire would form in front of my palm. If I used Basic Evocation instead, the spell would activate upon leaving the body which would collide with the Wind magic, destroying it with enough power.

My recent idea of having this new fireball backfired on me. Sometimes, simpler things are better. I just need to have a counter-measure for situations like this for the future. I don’t want to downgrade my magic just to deal with this specific scenario.

“Ada from Team Kai’s out!” Captain Albius announces.

What?! How’d she get out already? I glance over in the direction of the wind with squinted eyes. The sphere of light is still around Deniz, but there’s a large opening from this side from the orb.

“Flame armor!” Powell exclaims. Fire erupts from his entire body. It covers him from head to toe, but he doesn’t seem to be hurting. The dummy on top isn’t burning away either.

He can use magic?! On top of that, it’s Intermediate Enhancement magic. Why does Ada’s team have some random soldier who can use magic? There’s no way Laud will be able to handle that even if he doesn’t have a weapon. All he needs to do is overpower him and burn the dummy with the fire.

I land on the ground, but the wind is still pushing me. So their strategy is to remove me from the battle? They used Garen as bait… I fell for something so obvious, but I didn’t have much choice since Ada wanted me to deal with the other two. Well, she didn’t say that exactly, but I’m sure she implied it.

We can still win this. It’ll just be Marin and me. Laud screams as Powell tackles him into the ground. My back is against the wall. I use it to help me stand up.

“Laud from Team Kai’s out!” Captain Albius informs.

Is this Wind magic ever gonna end? I should put a coat of Unrefined Mana in front of my body to avoid the effects of the Wind like how they did for Garen. And Deniz used Scrap Mana to block Light magic from his line of sight. Nah, forget it.

I’ll take the loss. This is just a mock battle. Nothing really on the line here. Ada takes most of the blame here for the lack of a better strategy and information on her. Suddenly, a vast horizontal purple wall appears on the ceiling. I widen my eyes. Void magic?!

No, wait. It can’t be Void magic, so it has to be Dark Evocation magic. This is my first time seeing it in person since it was banned in the Academy for its dangers. From what I read, it’s like poison. The aftereffects are trickier to heal than a regular injury because of possible internal damage or the magic goes into the blood. Putting the pieces together, it has to be Aisha that has this rare capability. That’s why Ada wanted to take her out first. Now, I have a longer laundry list of things to blame Ada for. Not informing us of this critical point. This amount of Dark Affinity looks abnormal too.

The Dark magic descends. The Wind magic is gone. I run toward the others and exclaim, “Haste!”

Strength surges through my legs. I don’t want it to make it painfully apparent that I’ve given up. It’ll be difficult to outrun this descending mist, though. Actually, it’s impossible. It’s coming down fast. It’s already reached the top of my head. I unsheathe my other blade and put my arms behind me while leaning forward. I try not to fall over. The mist descends to the point where this won’t work anymore. I roll forward in hopes that the wall stops dropping, but it doesn’t matter to me either way.

“Marin from Team Kai’s out!” Captain Albius exclaims.

Well, it’s just me left, and it’s not looking good. The wall stopped, though. I’ll have to crawl out of this space only to be greeted by three of them. Captain Albius is lying down too far away, probably to check on my status. A pair of feet is waiting for me at the end of this mist. Looks like Deniz. He lies on the floor too. This is the end for me. He’s going to use Wind magic to cut the dummy on my head. I could struggle a bit more by protecting the figure on my head with Mana, but I’ll refrain. Just want to get this over with. Seconds later, the wooden figure on my head falls to the ground.

“Kai is out!” Captain Albius announces. “Team Aisha won the mock battle!”

The Dark magic above me disappears about five seconds later. I stand up and then sheathe my weapons. Marin is with Ada and Laud. I jog over to them.

“How’re you so useless?!” Ada yells. “I gave you one simple task, and you couldn’t do it. It was an easy shot.”

Marin lowers her head and says, “I’m sorry…”

“If only you’d had done your job, we would’ve won.”

Looks like she’s blaming Marin for the loss, but I have some things to say too. Captain Albius is close enough to hear. I catch up to them and say, “No, we lost because you didn’t tell us about your teammate’s abilities. Dark magic? Such a large amount too. Didn’t you think that was important to know? And at the start, you didn’t take into account Marin’s or Laud’s pace, and you went too far ahead by yourself.”

“If Marin hadn’t missed her shot, I would’ve been able to take her out. Then the Dark magic wouldn’t have been a problem. Aisha, Doris, or Melody wouldn’t have missed in the same situation.”

“She missed a shot?” I ask, skeptical. If there’s one thing that Marin excels at, it’s accuracy.

“Yeah… I did. It’s…my fault,” Marin says quietly, her head still lowered.

“See? Told you,” Ada says and then walks away. She walks toward her team members.

Garen returns to us and says, “Wow, I managed to win against you.”

Win? You weren’t anything but a distraction… I don’t let my thoughts show on my face and respond, “Yeah, good job.”

I put a hand on Marin’s shoulder. “Don’t be so down. Be more confident. You’re not lesser in skill by any means compared to the three in Sigma 3. Missing a shot isn’t like you though. Did you get nervous?”

“A little bit. By the time she wanted me to support her, I on my way there. I had to make the shot while running. I don’t have much experience with that,” she explains. In the end, I still think it’s Ada’s fault. She didn’t tell Marin what she was planning and expected her to just run with it.

“Sigma 3 and Sigma 4, you’re welcome to stay and observe the remainin’ battles, train, or go to the clinic if you need to. Just let me know if you’re leavin’.” Captain Albius says.

“I’m gonna go train,” I say. I take off this ridiculous hat and toss it. I need to be able to create an armor of Mana fast when the need arises. Something to defend myself against a magic attack that comes at me from every angle.

“Okay, that’s fine. Corporal Ada, you’ll go with him.”

“What?!” Ada exclaims.

“There’s something I forgot to mention. For the next two weeks, no one will be trainin’ on their own. I’ll have my men supervisin’ to make sure you’re trainin’ together with who I decide to pair you with. Doesn’t matter how you do it.”

“I wanted to watch the remaining battles. You said observing’s learning.”

“Yeah, but Sergeant Kai wants to leave, so you’ll have to accompany him. It’s fine. I have an idea of where to place you and Kai during the Rising Champions battle. You’ll be workin’ as a pair with no direct interactions between anyone else.”

“Fine…” Ada says and frowns. “Let me pick up my weapons first.”

“Someone go with them.”

“I will, Captain,” a man says.

“Thanks. I’ll announce the next two groups for the mock battle after a short break.”

I wait for Ada to pick up her daggers. If I have to train with Ada, I’ll just fight her. I’ll put her in her place. We can use one of the training rooms on the floor below us. We leave as soon as she reaches me.

“Are you really going to go train? Or was that an excuse for you to see Hina?” Ada asks.

“Of course, I’m gonna go train,” I answer, not sure why she would think that. “Why you ask?”

“Just surprised. You haven’t gotten much stronger since the tournament. You’re still using the same magic. Nothing new. And you let yourself get knocked so far by Deniz’ Wind magic. You didn’t protect yourself with Mana or erupt fire from your body. And here I thought you selfishly spent all your money funding seminars to benefit only yourself and your remaining team from the Academy.”

Well, she’s not wrong about anything she said. I’ve been only using our funds to take seminars between me, Marin, and Ruby. I reply, “You’re right because I never had the need to learn new magic. My overwhelming power was enough every time to deal with most situations. In the mock battle, I’m not really trying to hurt anybody. As you said, I’ve been attending seminars. I don’t know which ones you’re referring to. Are you implying that you spent your money training your two new recruits?”

It would explain why Powell could use magic. But that’s pretty impressive. For someone to never manipulate Mana to using Intermediate Evocation magic within seven months. She responds, “Yup. A team’s as strong as its weakest link. We’ve provided all the basic seminars to both of our new members to the team. We had enough to go to several informational seminars as well.”

Informational seminars? I knew about them, but figured it wasn’t worth going to because it’s only information. There’s no magic instruction. I remember a few of the cheaper ones. Something about basic magic strategies. That might be where Sigma 3 learned about using Mana as a defense tool against magic. Who else what other knowledge she has now. I figured we should have learned everything we need to know about the basics of magic in the Academy, but maybe not. Is it because we were in the Adventurer track? Perhaps we would have learned these concepts if we were in the Soldier track instead. If they can fill in some gaps in our knowledge, it might be worth going to.

“You’re lucky. You only have two members to fund. If we did the same thing, it would be nearly three times as expensive. Not to mention, it would’ve been a waste if they quit later.”

“Well, that wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t treat them like shit.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. I’ve heard all the rumors spreading about us in Sigma platoons. I knew it was you because of the way you acted during the Academy. Care-free and cocky. You’re trying to give us a bad reputation so that they’d lose our trust. A perfect ploy for someone who’s actually on the other side.”

“I don’t know why you’re so fixated on that. Where’s your proof? Oh, right. You have none. So, it’s only slander.”

“You defended a criminal. That Sitos bastard. Come to think of it, he was a cocky, rude guy too. His actions don’t surprise me. You’re part of the same garbage bin.”

“Shut up. You don’t know his circumstances or what actually happened. Someone did something to him. He might’ve been cold and harsh, but most of the time, he was misunderstood. You don’t know anything about him.”

“You’d still defend him despite that he killed his friends, your friends. Forced himself on your previous lover and turned her into a psycho.”

I still don’t know how she knows all of that, but I ignore it. It’s best not to get too worked up. I merely answer her question. “He was under the influence of that masked man. It must’ve been magic. He did something to her too.”

“If magic allowed you to control the actions of someone else completely, we’d all be doomed. There’s no way that magic exists. You’re just in denial. I know the real story.”

I bet that she’s come up with some deranged story about how I’m evil. I’ll bite. “What’s that?”

“So, obviously since you wanted to keep your hands clean, you let Sitos do all the dirty work. You had the idiot on your team killed because you got tired of him. And had Sitos do that to your previous lover because you grew tired of her. You already had feelings for Hina at that time and wanted to get with her at any cost. You hired someone else to assassinate her current lover and played your cards right until now.”

I clap. I say with little energy, “Yup, that’s exactly it.”

“Don’t make fun of me. That’s probably not too far off the mark.”

We finally arrive at an empty training room on the second floor. “If you’re sure that I haven’t gotten stronger, why don’t you duel me?”

“Fine by me. I’m not scared of you anymore. I’ve been training out of my mind every single day since the attack. There’s no way I’d lose to someone so lax.”

“Let’s restrict the use of magic to only Scrap Mana. I wouldn’t want to accidentally injure you so that you’d accuse me of trying to kill you.”

“No, don’t hold back. Go all-out. I’ll beat you fair and square. I don’t want any excuses when I win.”

“Don’t blame me If you get hurt,” I say. I can’t exactly go all-out though. She doesn’t know what that means for me. I’ll only use my real power when my life or someone close to me depends on it. Or I meet one of the snake earring members. The masked man. “We’ll fight until the other gives up or there’s a clear winner. Our observer can determine that, right?”

“Sure,” the man says. “I’ll do you the honors of starting the duel.”

Ada and I separate ourselves as far as possible to start off with. I break down my Mana categories so that I have the full amount of Scrap, Unrefined, and Rich Mana. I move Scrap Mana to my legs and arms ready to be activated at any time. I prepare my instructions for my usual fireball with Rich Mana. I’ll employ a Basic Evocation magic style just in case.

I’ve seen a lot of her tricks in the mock battle. I’d be able to deal with some of her Light magic just by using my weapon, but I’d be leaving myself open to her fighting style. The one magic attack she used that covered a large area is troublesome. I can’t use a wall of Mana to defend against that. I can’t let her attach a dagger to me.

Wait a minute… Why am I focused on defense? Instead of a wall of Mana, I could use a wall of fire. There’s one thing I noticed about Light magic is that it doesn’t do any real damage. My Fire magic managed to destroy those Mana barriers during the tournament. Light magic couldn’t do the same thing. So that means that a wall of Fire should be able to destroy any form of Light. It also protects my eyes.

I start writing the commands for this new idea using Rich Mana. I’ll have it create a relatively thin layer of Fire with the shape of a rectangle that covers the entire height and length of the room. I’ll make it approach Ada roughly the same speed as my run.The downside is that it would be possible for Ada to break through more easily and if her Light magic covers the space before my magic activates, she’d have a free breakthrough point. I’ll use all my Fire affinity to create the wall, so I can’t use my fireballs until the wall of fire reaches the end of the room. Luckily, this place isn’t that spacious, so I have the advantage.

I’ll have it released and immediately activated upon reaching the destination. It’ll be sketchy using the Intermediate Evocation method as a keyword. There would be a few seconds delay until the magic appears. She’d be able to occupy the space it takes in that amount of time. Like a doorway for her to walk through. Maybe I should the setup as the keyword and the activation as a trigger word. Or perhaps I should use it as a one time. I’ll pretend to use a keyword, but not really set it in the instructions.

No, I’ll just use a trigger word. I make the appropriate changes and then release my Rich Mana with the commands embedded. I’ll have it activated with the trigger word as soon as the battle starts. If Ada releases her Light magic as soon as the fight starts, my plan will fail otherwise. The man says, “Ready…”

Timing is important here. I’ll have to shout the trigger word as soon as the battle starts. Light magic travels quickly, and she could easily occupy the space my Mana is currently located in. Or maybe she’s thinking of the same strategy and already has Mana covering the room. I’ll close my eyes as the battle starts for precaution. The man continues, “Go!”

“Fire wall!” I exclaim and close my eyes.

“Flash!” Ada exclaims a split second later.

A bright light emanates from somewhere in the room. Our observer screams. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about my magic hurting him since he’s on my side of the room. I run forward. My magic should be formed perfectly with no holes considering I was faster. The light disappears in a few seconds. I open my eyes and confirm that my wall of fire appeared. It’s speeding to the other side of the wall. I’ll need to close the gap a bit if I want to utilize the space it buys me fully. “Haste!”

I rush forward using my enhanced legs. Two daggers fly in the air past my barrier of fire straight down the middle in front of me. A possibility I didn’t think about, but it’s pretty pointless. She can’t move inactive Mana past my magic. It’s a bluff. I don’t want to lose my momentum, though. I unsheathe both of my weapons. I hold the blades in front of me in the projectile’s path. Two clangs resound as they’re deflected from my blades.

The wall of fire suddenly stop and something crackles. She must’ve placed a barrier of Mana. The wall continues moving but stops immediately.

I continue running toward the wall. With my settings, the fire should be moving to the end of the wall. Ada is trying to stop the wall. I have three options. I could prepare another wall when this one disappears. No, scratch that. I can’t have it instantly replace the one that’s destroyed because I lack the Fire Affinity. That means I can either wait it out or cover myself in Mana and run through. She’d definitely expect me to wait it out. What kind of moron would run through their own magic?

Well, a barrier of Mana around me wouldn’t really work now that I think about it. The wall of fire is a magical object, so the activated Mana would collide with the Fire and not come with me as I run through. I’d suffer some damage. I could use some additional Mana to deactivate the magic in a small spot in the wall. Or I could run through like an idiot. I’m not going to put myself through that trauma just to beat her in this duel. I’m not that desperate.

Best not give her that much time. She’s clearly stalling for time. I release some Unrefined Mana to a spot somewhere on the left side from the center of the wall. Not next to the center but reasonably close. I’ll have it create a doorway in the wall of fire and then have the Mana be stationary so that it still acts as a wall for any Light magic in case I need to back out. It’ll activate in five seconds.

I head over to the destination in the wall. It’s only a few seconds detour from the center. My additional commands activate soon after arriving at the location. A vertical rectangular space in the wall of fire is replaced by Unrefined Mana. I break down all my Mana categories to reset my current Mana again. I’m ready to release my Mana at a moment’s notice to defend against her Light.

I run through the opening immediately. Ada hasn’t moved from her starting position. There’s a barrier of Mana at the center. She’s definitely planning something. I dash toward her.

“Blinding rays!”

I stop and release a wall of Scrap Mana in front of my head, instructing it to stay stationary. The ground below my barrier of Mana is brighter. Her footsteps clearly resound since she’s wearing metal shoes. She’s running toward the corner farthest from me. I continue releasing Scrap Mana to extend the wall I made until the ground returns to a normal level of brightness. I make a turn and rush toward the far corner. I try not to focus on the white beams of light to my right. It’s still a bit bright from this angle. I close my eyes for a few seconds, feeling some pain from behind my eyes.

I open them again. Ada has placed a wall of Rich Mana next to her between her and my wall of fire. Wait a minute…

My wall of fire is quickly approaching me. The Mana barrier that she made earlier was destroyed, or she deactivated it. I think about quickly sending out some Scrap Mana to remove the entire wall, but don’t go through with it. It’s better if I let it keep running its course. Ada has the wall of Rich Mana at the very end that will stop it. She’d risk suffering damage from it if she removes that wall too. Which means, she’s baiting me into the narrow opening that would be left. Close quarter combat is where I excel. I’ll take the challenge. I sheathe my left blade.

Not all the fire in this wall is necessary, though. I send out some Scrap Mana instructing a bit over half my magic to deactivate upon reaching the destination. I’d have enough Fire Affinity left to create my usual ball of fire or two. The ground lighting up from under the Mana barrier I created earlier gives me an idea. I can cover myself with a helmet of Mana covering mostly my eye level and leaving a space under me to see if there’s any Light magic active. It just limits my vision, but her footsteps are plenty loud. She’d either be in front of me or in the air, but the ceiling isn’t that tall, so that isn’t a big obstacle.

The only problem is I don’t know exactly how her that sphere of Light magic works. If she were to use that, I’m not sure if I could run through it with this helmet of Mana. I would be able to protect myself everywhere except where the opening is located. Does the Light have to reach my eye to blind me or does it blind everything with no restrictions inside the sphere? If I don’t let her attach anything to me, I won’t have to deal with it.

Actually, I could extend the helmet forward so that the only angle that she could blind me is through the front. Even if she attached something to me somehow and used that magic, the Mana would stop it from moving any farther. I just need to extend the Mana wall forward enough.

I reach the wall Ada initially started by. Half my Fire Affinity returns to me. I continue running toward Ada along the wall. I’ve made my usual ball of fire so many times, it doesn’t take me long to create the instructions for my magic. If I send a ball of fire toward her and in the air above her, she’d for sure try breaking through the wall. I’m tired of this chasing game. I don’t want her to go anywhere else other than the air above her. I’ll shove all the Fire Affinity I have left into one attack.

I point my left palm forward and exclaim. “Fireball!”

A ball of fire appears that speeds in a straight path to Ada. It blocks my view of her. Immediately, I begin crafting the helmet of Mana I envisioned. The wall of fire catches up to us and crackles upon reaching Ada’s wall of Mana. I unsheathe my left blade.

The only way she’d be able to avoid this is by jumping through the air. Or, she could run through the wall of fire or destroy it. It shouldn’t be that hard to destroy considering how thin it is. I hope she doesn’t with the air open to her.

I almost forgot. She has Wind magic too. I quickly command a thin layer of Mana my entire body excluding my head. It wouldn’t be good if she knocks me into my own magic with a gust of wind.

Ada jumps in the air over the ball of fire before it reaches the wall. She throws a dagger toward me. I activate my armor of Rich Mana and create the helmet with Unrefined Mana. She exclaims, “Burst!”

That sphere of light appears around the dagger. The knife and Ada now gone from my sight, but I memorized the general location of it already. If the magic depends on the location of the blade, I’ll knock it away. I can afford to close my eyes for a second to do that. Ada would need another second to land after I deflect this away.

I close my eyes before the sphere of Light reaches my face. A clang sounds as I swing my right sword in the space in front of me. Perfect.

I open my eyes. There should be about a second before Ada’s in my attack range. I won’t lose a head-on fight.

Ada’s literally right in front of me. Shit!

I’m not in a proper stance at all, and I can’t see anything. I send out Scrap Mana immediately to deactivate my helmet of Unrefined Mana.

My vision returns. Ada’s holding onto something unexpected. Two daggers connected by a metal chain. She wraps it around my right sword. So that was her ploy!

“Strength!” I exclaim, feeling strength surging through both of my arms. She tries to pull my weapon from me. I block the blades on her feet with my left sword. I don’t want to put any force into the attack because it’ll give her extra momentum to snatch my weapon away from me. I grip my sword as tight as possible.

I smile. I’ve won this duel. I rotate my body around and move her into the wall of fire. Suddenly, the force that she’s exerting changes. I almost lose my balance as she starts pulling toward the ground instead before she reaches the fire.

“Burst!” she exclaims.

She’s going to get both of us with the light. I close my eyes before the light completely surrounds me. She’s pulling in all kinds of directions now, but I won’t let go of my weapon. She’s completely open now that she’s ignoring my left blade. I don’t want to kill her accidentally if I hit her in the wrong place. I’m sure she’s good enough to avoid a mortal blow at least. I swing my left blade at her.

But something is wrong. I don’t hit anything. It’s empty air. But how’s that possible?

Wind magic! She used it to escape in the air above me and to exert pressure on the daggers wrapped around my weapon. Is it because of the Rich Mana surrounding my body that I didn’t feel it? She has to be behind me. There’s nothing I can do at this point but one thing. I jump backward with all my force. I bring both of us into the air behind us.

I toss my right sword away and reverse the grip on my left blade. Pain radiates from the middle of my upper left arm. Two of her daggers pierce my skin. She digs them deep and slicing outward. My grip in my left hand weakens significantly despite that I have my Enhancement magic applied. I can’t get a hold on it anymore. I drop it.

She must’ve cut a nerve. I can’t let this battle drag on anymore. It feels the distance between us is slowly increasing. She’s still using Wind magic to move around. I have to catch her before it’s too late. I won’t let her escape. I turn my body around and grab hold of her leg above her right ankle, gripping tightly. I don’t have long before she slices me from under my arm with her other foot.

I haven’t done this before, but I have no choice. I move Rich Mana into my right arm, enhancing everything from the skin to the muscle, bone, and muscle inside. I activate my magic and grip tightly, slowly crushing her bones. It cracks loudly like crumpling a piece of paper.

She screams in pain. Her other leg is in the air coming for my arm. I let go of her leg at the last second and grab hold of her other leg in the same spot. I crush her bones on that one too. Some of the bones pierce her skin and blood oozes out. I rotate her foot 90 degrees toward her other leg breaking it in the process.

She throws the daggers in her hands at me. I still have mobility in my left arm just not my grip. I move my useless left arm in front of me to block them. The projectiles impale the bottom of my forearm.

We crash into the ground. Tears stream out of her eyes and she glares at me with a grimace. She grabs the remaining daggers in her belt and throws them at me. I roll out of the way and then stand up. She has nothing left. I break down all my Mana categories replenishing my Scrap, Unrefined, and Rich Mana supply. I move Unrefined Mana into my right palm and write the usual instructions for a ball of fire with a Basic Evocation style.

“You wanna give up now?” I ask. She doesn’t answer, so I’m not sure if that’s a yes or no. Something pierces my back, twice. “Shit! Fireball!”

The ball of fire comes out of my palm.

“I haven’t lost yet!” she screams. Ada moves Unrefined Mana out of her body in front of the path.

She’s too stubborn. Doesn’t know that she’s lost already. She’s forcing my hand. My previous ball of fire disappears. Immediately, I exclaim, “Fireball!”

I start creating new instructions for the same ball of fire utilizing Rich Mana instead. The rest of my Fire Affinity returns. The wall of fire must’ve disappeared. Another blade lodges into the back of my right leg. Where the hell?

I turn around for a moment. The initial two daggers she threw are now gone. The same with the first knife she threw while in the air. She has nothing left. I turn back around and don’t wait for the other ball of fire to disappear. “Fireball!”

A ball of fire of greater intensity appears in front of my hand, and a crackle resounds as it destroys her wall of Unrefined Mana. The fiery gases spread all over the center of her body. “Ahh!”

“St-stop right there!” the observer exclaims, running toward us.

My magic clears up. It looks like she put more Mana out to defend against it after her Unrefined Mana disappeared. But it didn’t stop all the damage. Her armor looks partially melted and rehardened again. The shirt under her breastplate is burnt on both sleeves. I can’t see exactly how much damage she took under the armor. First degree burns cover the front of her neck and bottom chin.

“I ca-can’t lose to you,” she says. “I’ve trained so hard.”

“You think you’re the only one training hard because you lost someone?” I ask. “I’ve been training hard too. More than you can imagine. I’ll do anything it takes to get revenge and kill that masked man. It sickens me that you think that I’m one of them. The ones I hate so much that took everything from me.”

“Oh, man. You guys are really something! You took this too far!” the man exclaims. “Both of you need immediate treatment! I’ll notify Captain Albius!”

Ada stays silent. Not much to say after that. Still, she’s impressive. She doesn’t know Enhancement magic yet, but she almost beat me in a duel. She’s improved enormously since our fourth year in the Academy.

My duels with Sitos were never this close. Not that we took it this far either. We’d stop before dealing the first real blow. And we didn’t use magic except once.

I drop to the ground. I’m losing a lot of blood from my arm. Feeling a bit dizzy.

I learned a lot today. I nearly forgot that I improved the most while dueling Sitos. I’ll grow a lot over these next two weeks. I’m going to take a nap until our help arrives. I can’t take out the two daggers in my back. It’s out of my reach. I fall to my side instead and rest my eyes.

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