The Selection

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Chapter 5 - Academy Year 1 - Friends

I run down the shaded path, chilled by a gentle breeze permeating my damp clothes. With my chest burning from respiratory exhaustion, still tired from training, I look ahead and realize the building isn’t that wide; I’d reach the other side in five minutes at this pace.

There are metal devices sticking out across the entire length of the wall. They are small globular iron contraptions, spaced half a foot apart solely on ground level. What’re those for?

Hot sweat drips from my entire head, still panting from exhaustion. When I move my arms even a little, they feel like dead weights. I run in a slouched position due to burning in my abs and lower back. I distinguish a tingling sensation on the surface of my skin around my body among my muscle aches. I knit my eyebrows. What’s this feeling…? I didn’t feel this when I ran here from home… It almost seems like my Mana wants to come out, but it feels…different…

I think about letting out this feeling to see if it would be different than any other time I released my Mana, but I refrain. I’m at the end of the path. I run past the wall and stop. Afterward, I look down on my arms as I rotate them. That’s strange. I don’t feel it anymore… Oh well, it’s time to eat!

Up ahead, there’s a large, open grassy area between the Academy and another large building. Crowds of kids enjoy servings of food throughout the grassy area. I put my right hand over my stomach as it growls probably in response to the delicious food in front of me. I gulp, anxiously walking around to find where they serve the meals.

“Kaister, over here!” a familiar voice shouts.

Kaister…? Oh, yeah… Drugo calls Hiro, Hiroster, so… I turn toward the voice and then find Luna and Drugo waving. I wave back and run over in excitement.

“Hey!” I cock an eyebrow when I observe that none of them are eating. “Why aren’t you guys eating? Not hungry?”

There’s a brief silence accompanying everyone’s blank facial expressions.

“Whose fault do you think that is?!” Hiro lashes out at me as he clenches his right fist. I only raise my eyebrows and frown while still wondering what he’s talking about. “I’m starvin’! Ya better have a good excuse for this, Kai.”

I wrap my thumb and index finger around my chin. I know why I was late, but I still don’t understand why he’s mad at me… I can’t tell him I was playing with my Mana… Hiro’s glare catches my eye.

“Uhhh…” I mutter.

“Sitos, you’re bein’ unusually quiet, say something to ’im! Weren’tcha two in the same group?”

This bastard… He’s probably gonna tell everyone I was crying and say I’m a weakling… I frown while clenching both of my fists. Sitos turns around with his arms crossed. He wears an apathetic facial expression. I relax my hands as I quirk an eyebrow. Huh…? I thought he’d be furious with me… Why’s it look like he doesn’t care?

“It does not matter does it? Let us get his ticket and eat already.”

“What?! You’re goin’ to forgive ’im that easily?!” Hiro exclaims, meanwhile Sitos stays silent with the same expression.

“Well, you heard him, Kaister. You should’ve gotten a red piece of paper from Teacher Moria, right?” Drugo confirms.

Red paper…? Moria…? Oh, so his name is Moria! I reach for the red slip of paper in my pocket and hand it to Drugo, who takes out five other pieces of red paper and adds it to that pile. He turns around, walks towards an unfamiliar adult, and hands the paper to him. My eyes wander around the scenery surrounding me.

Hmm… Everyone is in groups of six; I wonder why that is? Drugo comes back with six pieces of yellow paper in his hand, giving each of us one. I scrunch my forehead as I stare down at the yellow piece of paper in my hand. “Umm… What’s this for?”

“We can get food from over there with this slip of paper now. Since you weren’t here for the instructions, we’ll explain it to you while we eat.” Drugo explains.

We go to where there’s food spread out on top of several tables. A giant pot of soup catches my attention, prompting me to grab a bowl nearby, eventually going back to the pot. My drool leaks out of my mouth as the rich smell of the broth enters my nostrils. I take the ladle in hand and begin serving myself the soup scooping up pieces of beef and soup into my bowl until it’s full. When I finish, I get a spoon from the silverware table and look around. The rest of my group is already seated on the ground, so I sit with them with the bowl of soup in front of me.

Drugo starts to explain the meaning of the red and yellow pieces of paper, but I lose focus scooping the bits of beef in my soup. I verify that it’s real, genuine soup. Tears suddenly down my eyes when I think back to this morning.

“…Kaister are you lis… Did I say something bad?”

“Huh...? Oh, it’s nothing!” I wipe my tears with my arms. “Sorry, I wasn’t listening. Can you explain again from the beginning?”

Drugo sighs. “Okay, pay attention this time.”

I pick up my spoon and viciously eat the contents of the soup while Drugo explains, “Well, basically there will be goals for each day. When the first objective’s met, you’re given a red slip of paper, and when the second goal’s met, you’re given a yellow slip of paper. Each person has to obtain it individually on their own. On those days, everyone in the same group must present their yellow tickets to eat for that day.”

He momentarily pauses to pick up a piece of sliced steak on his plate. He chews and swallows a piece before continuing, “Today was a freebie, but in the future it could be an individual activity we have to complete or a group activity.”

I slurp up the last of the soup and stare down at the bowl in dejection. “I see… So it was my fault you guys were starving... Actually, I was—”

“Training, right?”

I look up and raise my eyebrows. A cold chill runs down my spine when I make eye contact with who just said that. My lips shake as I anxiously stare at Sitos. No way… Sitos saw me?

Hiro puts down his sandwich and says, “Training? Whadaya mean? It shoulda ended for everyone at the same time.”

It’s over… I look down and close my eyes.

“Yeah it ended, but Kai wanted to train more. He did not want to drag us down, so he stayed and worked himself harder.”

Huh…? My lips stop twitching as I open my eyes and look up. After rubbing my eyes in disbelief, I still see Sitos sitting in front of me as the person who spoke those words. This must be a dream…

I pinch myself strongly on my left arm. Ow…

I look around; nothing has changed. Hiro awkwardly hops closer to me while he’s still sitting down. He wraps his left arm around my neck and laughs. “Why didn’tcha just tell us that? So, ya worked really hard, eh?”

I’m still confused by this unexpected scenario, but I force a smile to play along. “Yeah…”

My eyes wander around our circle. Luna’s smiling as she quietly claps her hands. Beside her, Marin smiles slightly. Drugo next to Sitos gives me a broader smile in comparison. Gradually, the smile that I forced on my face transforms into a genuine grin. I wonder what this feeling is… Is this what having friends feels like?

We make friendly banter until we hear Moria announcing, “Ahem. Everyone, I need your attention.”

Teacher Moria stands in front of the other building that I saw. “I hope you enjoyed your meals today. You will also enjoy a grand meal prepared by us for dinner and every day of this year. Next year, however, you will have to prepare meals yourself.”

The kids around us let out a unanimous groan. “Now, there is a reason we had you take the path outside to get here instead of the center corridor of the Academy. All of you should have felt some tingling under your skin right? The magical items attached to the wall are meant to stimulate the Scrap Mana in your bodies...”

I raise my eyebrows and feel a small smile gradually emerging on my face. Ohh… So that’s what I felt earlier, I can’t wait to try this out later!

“… Now that you have experienced what Scrap Mana feels like, it should be easier for you to release it. Do not worry too much if you cannot do it; on average it takes about a month to actually be able to release it from your body.

“Next, we will assign and show you to your living quarters. This building houses all the students here at the Academy. For this year’s first-year students, you will live on the first floor. Within each room from the hallway, there are six separate lockable bedrooms with the same amenities in each room. In the common room, there is a kitchen, lounge, and storage room. It is up to you to figure out how to utilize these rooms. Stand in line and get your keys here now. You only get one, so do not lose it or you will be penalized as a team. The number on the key matches the room number.”

We line up for the keys as he finishes the instructions. Luckily, we are the first group who gets there because Moria spoke close to where we sat. We follow Luna to the entrance of the building that’s located straight from the back entrance of the Academy, and she goes in first since she carries the keys. After going in, there’s a crossroad in which the left and right sides are completely symmetrical. At the end of each hallway is a set of staircases that lead up. The building is mostly made out of stone, like the Academy.

“Let’s split up while we look for our room. It’s room 46,” Luna says as she walks towards our immediate left. Since Sitos is already exploring our immediate right, we go straight into the other hallways. There are three more identical hallways just like the first one up ahead. Each half hallway contains ten rooms, available only on the north portion of each hallway. I continue to move straight while the others split off into other directions.

I walk straight towards the last hall because the door at the end intrigues me; it doesn’t look like an exit, and the door is the same size as the other rooms. When I reach the last hallway, I turn my head left and right, realizing that there are only three rooms including the door in the center.

I wonder what these rooms are for…? Hmm… Let’s see… This room is 1b… These are spaced apart more than the other rooms… Whoever gets these places are lucky because they look bigger than the rest.

While I’m still pondering, someone shouts, “I found room 46, over here!”

I head to the adjacent hallway, where I think I heard the voice. I look in both directions before finding Hiro waving his hand on my right side. He’s standing in front of the last room down this corridor. I walk over there, and we wait for the rest of our group to arrive. Luna is the last one to come with the keys. She inserts the keys into the door and opens it.

“Wow! It’s so spacious!” Luna exclaims. We quickly run into the room afterward. Immediately in front of me is a long wooden table, with a chair on each end, and two chairs on both longer sides. There’s a lantern that hangs below the ceiling above the table that illuminates this part of the room. Stepping farther into the room, I find the floors are made out of fine wood, similar to the chamber for sword training I was in earlier. Behind the dining table, there are six doors along the same side of the wall opposite to the entrance.

On the right, there’s a storage area; there are two shelves along with three sizable metal chests against the wall, along with a lantern on the ceiling that lights this part of the room. Two familiar magical items useful for laundry are at the end of the wall. I go to the left part of the room which looks like the kitchen area. There’s a refrigerator, shelf, sink, stove, counter space, and an oven. Drawers and cabinets line themselves along the counters. The usual lantern hangs from the ceiling.

Focusing back on the six rooms, I notice that all of the doors are open, except the one on the far left, so I go to that one. I open the door and close it behind me, finding a lock on this side of the door. I realize that this is the bedroom, observing that it isn’t as big when compared to the common room. There’s barely enough room to fit a bed, a drawer, and a shelf. I open the door next to the bed and discover the bathroom. There’s a sink to my immediate right, with a toilet after it, a towel hung on a horizontal bar opposite of the toilet, and a bath in the back built into the whole width of the room. This room is made of stone, rather than wood.

Hmm… There aren’t any windows in this room either… We’re all gonna suffocate in our new home… I frown skeptically and sigh. I spot toothpaste and toothbrushes by the sink below the mirror. Back into the bedroom, my eyes focus on the bi-folding door on my left side, beyond the bed. I open it, finding many hangars available on the horizontal bar, but no clothes. I shut it and check the drawer in the room, but it’s empty too. I dive onto the bed and sigh.

How am I supposed to take a shower with no spare clothes… I spread out my arms and legs while smiling. This bed’s so comfortable… I could lie here forever…

I lay on the bed while losing track of time until I hear voices in the common room. I get up and open the door. Louder voices stem from the hallways. I run toward the entrance of our home to see what’s going on, but someone says, “Hey Kai, you’re still here? Moria made an announcement like ten minutes ago that we can select whatever clothes we want from the outfits available in the hallways! There’s a lot so check it out! I’m gonna go back to get more, see ya later!”

Hiro runs out the door, and I follow him. The hallways are flooded with various outfits hung on racks. I discover that the clothes for boys are in the third and fourth hallways while the clothes for girls are in the first two. I don’t care as much for this kind of thing, so I just grab entirely arbitrary clothes and take it back to my room. I carry as much as I can and soon fill up my entire closet and drawer with a few trips. I also take some new footwear to place on the ground on the closet. The clock on the wall opposite of the bed tells me that I took around two hours getting everything organized.

I decide to take a shower, now that I finally have a change of clothes. I lock the door to my room, take off my clothes, and go into the bathroom. Smiling, I stare at the magical item connected to the bath and recall a memory with Emdos when he taught me how to use it.

“Now Kai, you’re going to have to do this yourself at some point, so listen carefully. You can turn this knob here to adjust the temperature of the water.” Emdos pointed to the knob connected to the magical item before continuing, “It can be as cold or hot as you want, but if you wish to use the same temperature as I have set it for you in the past, turn it towards 106 degrees Fahrenheit. After that, you just activate it, and water will come out.”

“I think I understand, but where’s the water come from? How’s it change temperature?” I said as I knitted my eyebrows. Emdos put his finger to his right temple.

“I don’t think you’ll understand, but do you still want to know?”

“Yeah!” I exclaimed as I grinned with raised eyebrows.

Emdos smiled before explaining, “This magical item is comprised of a water-based crystal and a fire-based crystal as the principal component. The knob adjusts the output of the Fire Crystal, and when you activate the magical item, it lets out the water that is immediately heated by the Fire Crystal. When any of these crystals run out of power, you need to get a replacement one. They are only E grade items so it won’t be expensive.”

I’ll miss his explanations… I set the temperature to 106 degrees Fahrenheit, turn on the water, and go in. The sudden rush of the hot, clean water that flows down my body loosens and relaxes my muscles. Ahh… This feels so good…

The stench and stickiness of my dried sweat quickly wash away, and I feel completely rejuvenated. I take my time with the rest of my shower and finish in around 15 minutes.

I dry myself with the towel and exit the bathroom, dressing myself in the clothes I laid out on the bed beforehand. I go to the common room to see who else is there. Sitos sits by himself at the table. I ask, “Where’s everyone else?”

Sitos turns his head towards me and answers, “I think Luna and Marin are still picking out their clothes… Drugo and Hiro are taking their shower right now.”

“I see.” I walk over and sit down across from Sitos. “Can I ask you something?”

“What is it?”

I pause for a moment, quietly staring at him before continuing, “Why’d you cover for me back there?”

Sitos tilts his head down toward the table silently for several seconds before finally saying, “I was jealous.”

I cock an eyebrow as I skeptically raise one corner of my lips. “What?”

Sitos slams down his palms against the table and then faces his head up towards me. He scrunches his eyebrows while concentrating his eyes into mine. “When I first started training, I only lasted five minutes…but you lasted ten… That frustrated me, so I called you weak. But, I do not think you are weak anymore, Kai.”

I open my mouth, but no words came out. My eyes are probably sparkling very brightly right now. “Sitos…”

I can’t help but to get up and throw my arms around him. “What the hell are you doing? Get off of me!”

Sitos tries to push me off, but I hold on. “Hey Sitos, can you be my friend?”

“If I say yes, can you get off of me?” I grin and let go of him. “I thought we were already friends…”

Thinking I misheard it, I ask, “What’d you say?”

“Nothing… I am going to take a shower too.” Sitos turns around and hurries into his room, slamming the door behind him.

I lay on the ground while fidgeting all of my limbs in excitement. I’m friends with everyone now! Hmm… Maybe not Marin, I don’t know her too well yet.

I relax all of my muscles as I recollect on my day. I suddenly remember when my Mana tingled from under my skin and promptly jump up. I go to my room, lock the door, and sit on the bed with my hands out in front of me. I take a moment to recall the exact feeling I felt earlier. I gather that feeling, activate it, and release it as usual. A smile gradually emerges when the same faint shade of blue color from Scrap Mana demonstration appears in front of me. For some reason, this feels a lot easier to control.

I try rapidly changing the flow rate and release it out of one finger. I’m easily able to accomplish both, but after 30 seconds nothing comes out. I stare at my finger for several seconds. I guess that was all of my Scrap Mana…

I lay my head on the pillow while relaxing my entire body. Ahh… I could just fall asleep like this…

I’m about to fall asleep, when suddenly, I remember the book Emdos gave me, and I frantically roll off the bed. I panic while searching the bathroom and the bedroom, but I find neither the backpack nor the book. No…no no no…

I run out of the room as I repeat words of disbelief in my head. I swing the door open, hearing it make a loud noise when it crashes into the wall. I search the common room finding nothing, so I first think to check the lecture room from earlier. I run out into the hallways trying to avoid collision with students picking out their clothes, and out the entrance to the building. I go straight towards the back entrance of the Academy. Despite how much I ran around earlier today, I still find the energy left to run all the way to the lecture room without stopping for more than a second. I think I take around ten minutes to get to the lecture room because I got a little lost along the way.

I thoroughly check where I sat, and the table I was on earlier. It’s not here… Did I even have it when I woke up?

I’m not sure about anything anymore, but I start running towards the training room as the only thread of hope I have left. I accidentally crash into someone around a corner, and I apologize briefly. I continue sprinting towards the room, eventually reaching it in no time. I swiftly open the door and survey the room. I blankly stare at what I see, and then start to walk slowly back towards the living quarters with my head down in dejection. I lost the book Emdos trusted me with… What would I ever tell him?

I spend at least half an hour getting back to the room. Drugo’s sitting down at our table. “Hmm? Kaister, I thought you were in your room… What’s wrong? Kaister? Hey!”

I ignore him as I walk towards my room. I keep my head down, still depressed about losing the book.

I open the door to my room, close it, and then lock it. My body falls onto the bed, and I crawl onto the pillow while I lay on my side towards the wall. I stare at the wall blankly while my eyes slowly and aimlessly wander around the stone surface. My eyes stop on the door for several seconds, before I knit my eyebrows together. Huh? Did I…close my door on my way out earlier?

I put my fingers on both sides of my temple trying to remember, but I didn’t pay attention when I left earlier to know. While I’m wondering about whether I closed the door on my way out, I find something on the ground.

"What?!” I exclaim as my eyes are glued to my backpack on the ground against the wall. I rush over to open it and find the book safely inside. I put it back and lay down on the bed again while sighing loudly.

“Hey Kaister, hey!” Drugo exclaims as he pounds on my door, but I ignore him.

How’d I miss that earlier…? The fatigue must be getting to me, and I just overlooked it… I seem to have forgotten a lot of things today… Thinking about this isn’t gonna get me anywhere… I’m just gonna sleep. I undress, tuck myself into bed, and fall asleep.

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