Year 2: Selection Day
“Ireela Raevin, please proceed to Stage A.”
As the duel overseer recited his stage, Nox stepped onto the circular platform. Defeating potential Squires was getting tedious, and he wanted nothing more than to retreat into his room and read the historical fiction novel he had started during the journey to the Academy.
His eyes scanned the nervous-looking crowd of students. Grade B’s, judging by his swift assessment, perhaps a few C’s. It was much better than what they had last year when he first enrolled, but he wasn’t expecting much of a good fight. Not with less than two dozen left.
The princess is rubbing off on you.
He blinked at that, and chuckled softly. True, he was starting to think like Estella. And he didn’t realize until now how bored she must have felt before their fateful meeting. The power she wielded that almost no one but a few had withstood, that sense of emptiness when your opponents couldn’t touch you. He no longer wondered why she chose him.
She must be on an assignment by now, he thought somberly. Nox had sent her a letter a month after she graduated, and though she responded swiftly, there were words they couldn’t share with each other through mere pen and paper. Thoughts and feelings that words couldn’t even evoke accurately.
Sensations, like that scorching night after the graduation party.
Focus, his voice chided.
He glanced at the adjacent stage briefly where Erian faced off against a nervous-looking girl with… a twin-bladed axe? One side was wreathed in lightning, while the other was shrouded in searing flames – a dual affinity Wielder, much like Nox was.
Interesting. But as much as he wanted to watch how Erian would deal with it, Nox had his own opponent to test. He returned his attention to the girl in front of him. Raven-haired, with a look of utmost determination that he hadn’t seen from the others. Like the rest of the enrollees, she wore the white uniform and red skirt, and black leggings to complete the ensemble.
Her eyes, the color of the sea on a stormy night, studied him, darting all over, as if she was noting the shape of his body.
The overseer was saying, “No maiming, no killing. Grades will be given based on how long you can withstand the assessor’s assault. Defeat the assessor, and you will be guaranteed the rank of Second Class when you become a Knight.”
She nodded, and Nox was briefly transported to another time, nodding in place of the girl – Ireela – while he scrutinized the Second Princess who was his assessor at the time. Now their roles were the same, and he had to give his best judgement on an enrollee’s performance.
“Sir Nox, if you will,” the overseer said.
Nox’s right hand rose, fingers splayed wide. A cold tingle rushed up his spine, surging to his fingertips as he called within his very being.
“Help me, Erebos.”
In a swirl of shadow and frost, Erebos formed in his hand. The hilt was cold in his grasp, as it always had been, the blade as black as the abyss. Nox swung it to his side then up, its weight familiar, taking a ready stance.
“To me, Aeolus,” his opponent said firmly. There was a rush of wind, ruffling the girl’s hair briefly. When it stopped, a whip was in her right hand. She flicked it to the ground, filling the arena with a sharp crack.
A Wind Wielder, one of the most common Wielders. But a mid-range fighter at that. This wouldn’t be an easy fight. He would have to get close while avoiding that whip.
The overseer raised a hand to the sky. “Begin!”
As the hand swung down, Nox charged. He thrust forward his free hand, palm wide open.
But the ice never captured its target. The girl, Ireela, leapt away in time. Her whip lash out, and Nox swerved to the side, letting it shot past him as he dashed forward.
“Burst!” Ireela barked.
A gust of wind struck Nox from the side, launching him to the left. He cursed as he tumbled, then rolled away as the whip snapped to the ground. Ireela lashed out again.
Nox jumped over the Wind-forged weapon, then a second time as it swiped at his legs. Fast. Too fast, and too long. He would never get near her.
Ireela twirled, graceful and controlled like a ballerina. Her whip coiled in the air, mimicking her movement. Nox tracked it as he drew a deep breath.
And the world went black, to Ireela at least. A bubble of darkness that encompassed the stage. But for him, everything looked bright as daylight.
Ireela paused, cocking her head, listening. Nox pointed Erebos at her.
The whip lashed out in his direction, and Nox vanished.
Shadow Walk wasn’t something he enjoyed using. Everything would go cold as his physical body traveled between two points of space as a shadow, and it had the risk of forever trapping him in darkness. But for this duel, he needed to make an exception.
He appeared behind Ireela and swung Erebos up toward her—
And Nox was blown away by a blast of wind.
When his senses returned, his vision was still spinning as he lay on his back. He blinked at the light, groaning. His back hurt. And why was it so silent?
No, that’s not right. He could hear the birds chirping. It wasn’t his hearing.
Carefully, he rose to a sitting position and stared at Ireela kneeling at the center of the stage, her whip gone, panting heavily. Nox blinked, and glanced at the ground.
He was sitting twenty feet away from the edge of the stage.
Nox glanced at the overseer, equally as wide-eyed as he was. A hush fell upon the crowd. With a groan, he rose to his feet and climbed once more onto the stage, gazing at Ireela.
She looked up, terrified yet hopeful.
For a moment, Nox was reminded once again of his Selection Duel against Ella, when she looked down at him with interest before declaring his grade. Only this time, it was him saying it after being defeated.
He held out his hand to Ireela and smiled.
As always, thanks for reading!