Chapter 10 : Behind the battle
That night, Fran and her teammates got back to their campsite.
‘Dang, I made myself look like a fool today…’ Fran thought, despite the fact that she knew what she had done was a grave mistake.
She sat by the fire and scratched her hands against the soft grass. It was lush, green and moist. She sat down all alone and inhaled deeply.
“Nothing beats the clean air of nature…” She whispered silently to herself.
By then, her teammates were already sound asleep. They had dozed off as soon as they got into their tents, but Fran couldn’t sleep a wink. She kept recalling the events that happened earlier.
“That Hyusune…there’s just something about her that’s unique, right?” Her teammate, Kurosuke, got out of the tent in front of her.
“Kuro? You’re not sleeping yet?”
Kurosuke sat down by the fire opposite her.
There was a long moment of silence. Fran wasn’t in the mood to talk, and all she wanted was a bit of quiet time…alone in her chain of thoughts.
Kurosuke then took out some marshmallows and started to put them over the fire. When they got creamy, he started eating them. Then he offered Fran one.
“Fran, try this.”
“C’mon, try it.”
“Oh ok…” Fran took the marshmallows from him. It was still a bit hot, so she had to blow it before taking a bite. Kurosuke watched silently as she took small bites of the marshmallow.
When she finished eating a few marshmallows, she finally began to talk.
“You know, Kurosuke…”
“I just feel kinda humiliated. You know, we are like a year older than Hyusune’s group and yet we lost to them. It just bothers me. And there’s something weird about that girl…Hyusune.”
“You think so?”
Fran looked up at Kurosuke. She had been staring at the fire the whole time.
“There’s just something in her that we don’t have…” Fran ate some more marshmallows.
“And that…is kindness?” Kurosuke asked.
“Yes…a kindness towards anyone including her rivals. But someday, that kindness will take her life…” Fran sighed.
“Not at all, Fran. She’s stronger than you think. Her kindness isn’t her weakness. It’s her radiance.” Kurosuke replied.
“Yea…that’s just what makes her different.”
“I see… …” Fran’s voice faltered and a tear streaked down from her cheek. She began to realize that she had a besot for trying to win Hatsune’s brother’s heart. She never knew his name, but she was one of Hatsune’s best friends in the past before Hatsune passed away. She knew Hatsune’s brother would be heartbroken, and thus she’d try to love him. But after a while she realized that her foolish obsession wasn’t bringing her anywhere…it was leading her in circles…she was leading her team towards a false goal. Her purpose of winning wasn’t right—the win was to impress Hatsune’s brother, and not for her comrades. She understood how stupid she had been all this while. Tears began to streak down from her eyes and Kurosuke noticed.
Kurosuke went up to her and hugged her while she sobbed.
“Don’t cry…it’s alright…”
“No…it’s not. Kuro, I’ve let you guys down…I’m really sorry…” Fran said as she hugged Kuro.
Kuro’s eyes widened.
“I was wrong. I’ve failed as a team leader…please forgive me…I’m sorry—I’m sorry—” Fran said between muffled sobs.
Kurosuke began to tear. A few tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Fran, it’s okay…as long as we can get up together and move on…” He said in a gentle tone while gently stroking Fran’s hair.
Kurosuke stopped crying and released his hands off her. He then passed her a tissue to wipe her tears. Sitting beside her, he put one arm over her shoulder.
“Cheer up. We’ve got a long way to go.”
“Indeed…Tomorrow lies a new challenge.”
“We should go and rest now. Tomorrow is going to be another hectic day.”
Saying that, Kurosuke and Fran went back to their tents to sleep.
Meanwhile on Hyusune’s campsite, she was sleeping silently when Rima tugged at her shirt.
In a sleepy voice, she replied, “What’s wrong, Rima?”
“I’m cold-desuuuuuuuuuu—” Rima shivered.
“Oh…hang on. I’ll alter the temperature of the air inside the tent.” Hyusune got up slowly and raised the inside temperature.
“Yea…thanks Hyuu-chan!” Rima replied, before dozing off again.
‘Wait…NOW I CAN’T SLEEP! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!’ Hyusune freaked out inside her head.
She slowly unzipped the tent and went out. It was cold outside. She took her jacket and walked barefooted to the river. It somewhat became her habit without her knowledge.
She climbed to the top of the waterfall and gazed at the starry sky. She remembered the day Jellal had brought her here. It was a thrilling day, and it was one of the most exciting days since the camp begun.
The only difference was that she was alone now. But she found that it was much more peaceful being alone. She sauntered back to her group’s campsite, but it was not long until she realized she was being followed.
SWIP SWACK SWIP!
Half a dozen knives flew towards her.
She made a leap into the air and dodged the knives.
“Who’s there?” Hyusune asked sternly as she turned around.
“As expected of you, Hyusune-chan.” Irie Shoichi walked out from the shadows and clapped his hands together.
“Why are you following me?”
“You’re what I’m after.”
“What the heck are you talking about?!”
Irie knocked her against a tree with his magic.
“Jellal……why are you in cahoots with him?”
“He’s my teammate, my comrade. If you dare to hurt any of my comrades, I’ll get rid of you.”
“Oh? I doubt so and you should know why.”
“Why are you even doing this?”
“Looks like you’re clueless…” Irie adjusted his spectacles. “Revenge. You humiliated me, a senior in front of all black ops. You should know what humiliation means to the black ops. Something any black officer shouldn’t even suffer. You are a potential candidate for the scholars, and I am not. I’m just here to retrieve what is mine.”
“You’re after me just because of a position? Doesn’t that just sound cynical to you?”
“No, that’s perfectly sane for us. Positions are more than what you think they are. You’re merely a kid, so you wouldn’t understand.”
“Do as you wish. But if you lay a finger on any of my comrades I will not let you off.” Hyusune shoved him aside, and walked away with her hands in her pocket. “Tch.” She muttered.
When she got back to her team’s campsite, she went over to check that every member was safe and sound, Makoto and Jellal. They were all fast asleep. She slipped into the tent and fell asleep beside Rima.
The next morning, breakfast was at seven o’ clock and Fran’s team was the first to reach the cafeteria.
“Whoa, Fran! You sure are up early!” Rima said as she and Hyusune walked over to Fran’s team. Fran was mulling over the fact that Miname kept everyday’s challenge a secret.
“Yo, Hyusune’s team!” Kurosuke, Jäger, Helena, Evan, Lucinda and Fayne greeted them. Fran was so deep in thought that she didn’t realize their presence.
Jellal, Makoto, Hyusune, Rima, Leandra, Reina and Cintare sat down at one of the corner tables and Hyusune unpacked her cakes for them.
“Enjoy these. I made them with vitamins that will increase our stamina and fighting speed.” Hyusune said as she laid out the cakes.
“Thanks a lot, Hyuu-chan!” Cintare said as she helped herself to the cakes.
“So…are we gonna work out a plan today?” Leandra asked.
“We don’t exactly know what today’s game or challenge is yet though…but it’s probably something that’s training our strength.” Makoto suggested.
Jellal kept silent throughout, as though he knew something but did not want to talk about it.
Once they finished their meal, they gathered in the special training hall.
“Today, we will hold a different match. Yesterday, the east branch, Fran’s team, and the central branch, Hyusune’s team, battled it out in a game of Tyhia’s running man. Today, the North, South and West branches will battle it out in a battlefield.”
“Don’t tell me, this is a death match?” Reina asked as her eyes widened.
“That I cannot guarantee. And today, the Central branch and East branch will be spectators for the match. The North, South and West branches will be playing in this hall, where I will create an illusionary castle which the game will be held within. The first group to reach the 10th floor with the most number of members wins. However, there are added monsters with increasing difficulty on each level. Good luck.”
That’s insane!” Leandra said to them.”
There were several branch teams who kicked up a fuss, but Mr Miname silenced them eventually.
Jellal went over to Hyusune.
“Miname has a motive for doing this…he wants to eliminate the weaklings in the Tyhia chain branches. I overheard the board of teacher’s meeting yesterday.” He whispered into her ear.
‘So that’s why he wasn’t roaming around last night.’ Hyusune thought.
The Central branch team and East branch team went to the spectators’s stand, while the competing teams gathered in front of the castle.
“North, South and West teams, on your marks, get set, go!” Miname fired the magic gun and the teams ran into the castle. There were cameras inside the castle which displayed live footage of what was going on inside the castle.
“It’s pitch dark inside!” Fran exclaimed.
“You’re right…we can’t see a thing.”
Suddenly, the screen lit up. The south team leader, Keira, had lit her light orb.
“That’s Keira Fujisaki, aged 17, black ops member. She’s well known for her light orb variations.” Reina said.
“How do you even find out about these kind of stuff?” Cintare asked as she turned to look at Reina.
“It’s in the branch magazine.”
Just then, the west team arrived at an area with 3 passageways. The camera zoomed out, showing a labyrinth that spread across 9 floors.
“No way…you’ve got to be kidding me.” Kurosuke’s face was overcome by a stern look.
“Kuro, what’s wrong?” Jäger asked.
Hyusune’s team noticed and directed their attention to Fran’s team.
“This…isn’t a castle.”
“There’s no mistaking it. This is a level 9 illusion.”
“Level 9?! So high?”
“And it’s Kyurosen Dungeon of Death. ”
“N-Nine Rosen Dungeon of Death? Are you kidding me?!” Makoto ran over.
“You know about it too?”
“Yea…it’s in one of the ancient textbooks for illusionists. Very powerful ancient illusionary magic. But these textbooks have been destroyed for hundreds of years. How come Mr Miname has this magic?”
“That remains a mystery.”