The area was dark. Yuki was crouched, his eyes open but his mind somewhere else. Behind him, Yuna had her back pressed against his, her soft breathing audible to Yuki’s ears. His fingers played an imaginary melody as his mind synced itself with the air around him. The air flowed around him, his mind’s eye tracking its movements.
A small disturbance caught his attention and he twitched his head a bit before forcing it not to turn. With his elbow, he gave Yuna a small nudge which she replied with a tap on his thigh. He closed his eyes, sharpening his detection and tightened his grip on his daggers.
‘They should be coming soon.’
Yuki and Yuna stayed frozen in their stances. Seconds ticked by slowly as nothing moved. The seconds eventually became minutes. Then he noticed something, a small trickle of mana traveling below them. He felt Yuna tense up behind him, a sharp breath coming from her.
“Move,” he whispered.
He dove forward rolling, Yuna doing the same toward the opposite side as the ground they were standing erupted up, earthen chains lashing out as they tried to grab onto the two. Yuki’s daggers glowed a dull brown as he infused them with earthen mana and he slashed through the chains with ease. Another surge of mana and he leaped to the side, a violet bolt of lightning striking down with a thunderous roar on the spot he just was.
His eyes flickered toward Yuna, judging whether or not she needed assistance. Her longsword flew about in the air, slashing and hacking at the chains that went after her. But she seemed to be holding her own.
Yuki focused on himself again and rapidly gathered mana within his hands, the mana condensing into his daggers as they almost seemed to hum from the power. Then he raised his arms and stabbed his daggers into the ground, the mana exploding out from it and entering the earth. Then with a command, the entire area shook as an earthquake rocked it. The attacks slowed and eventually stopped.
He stood back up, yanking his daggers from the earth and regrouped with Yuna who jumped down from a platform she created in the air from condensing moisture. He gave her a quick nod which she replied with a nod of her own. Then they turned away from each other and focused on the two people rushing towards them.
“Hold Akira, I’ll focus Erica,” Yuki calmly yet quickly.
“Understood,” Yuna replied.
They seemed to freeze for a moment before they became blurs, blasting off in opposite directions. Yuki filled his body with mana a soft golden brown hue surrounded him that strengthened his every movement.
‘Earth Dragon activated successfully,’ he thought as he raced forward. ‘Let’s see how long I can hold it this time.’
A loud crack and Erica’s spear met Yuki’s daggers, one of which he held in a reverse grip. He slid the tip of the spear past himself and struck out with one blade. Erica parried with the butt of her spear, unleashing a thrust that ripped through the air with a flick of her arm. Yuki dodged as his eyes locked onto Erica’s. She smiled a fierce smile. Then she attacked again.
They traded blows with each other, testing the other’s defenses and skills. An unknown amount of time flew by as they fought each other. Each of Yuki’s strikes were blocked and countered seamlessly by Erica, and each of her jabs and slashes were avoided nimbly by Yuki as they engaged in an endless dance.
Then Yuki felt his concentration waver and his mana stutter for a not even half a second. Immediately, he reached into the ground and threw up a wall before gathering a smolder ball of fire at the tip of one of his daggers. He shot it into the air and it exploded with a bang, the explosion lighting up the area briefly before fading away.
All combat stopped and the room gradually lit up as light filled the training room. Yuki waved his hand and the console screen for the room appeared before him. With a touch of a button, the training room returned to its original shape and the broken ground repaired itself.
“Twenty minutes,” he said out loud, looking at the time. “Our longest skirmish so far.”
“I felt like we could have gone longer,” Yuna said walking to where he was standing as she sheathed her sword. Akira was beside her.
“Maybe, but I decided to end it because I failed my end,” he replied.
“You held it for fifteen minutes,” Erica commented. “Longest time so far. Plus, your concentration barely fell. You didn’t need to stop the fight, you know?”
“I had to. My aim was to hold the technique for as long as possible without any fluctuations. I failed that.”
“Improvement is improvement,” Akira said as she joined them. “Do you know how long you can hold Earth Dragon without any interruptions?”
“Without fighting, I could do it for a few hours. Until my mana runs out or my mind tires,” he answered. “But you also improved, Akira. You’ve caught up to us now, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” she smiled. “I hit rank A just a few days ago. I don’t feel much different, though.”
“You’ve improved. I can see it. Yuna did as well. What rank are you, Yuna?”
“I’m still B, but I have gone up two stars,” she replied.
“I see. And Erica won’t go anywhere with this level of training,” Yuki said. He glanced towards her. “I need to come up with tougher training or just have you go off into the Gaeto for sometime and train.”
“You don’t need to do that. I’m fine with training with you guys,” Erica smiled.
“But you won’t grow,” Yuki replied. “I didn’t know you were such a high rank. I thought you were around where I was, if not a little below it.”
“That’s because I was. I got better.”
“I know. You don’t have to go, but one day you might need to. Just a heads up. Unless your growth has stopped.”
“It shouldn’t have stopped just yet,” she said, shaking her head. “I just had to stop for reasons. I can for sure raise it a few tiers at least if I dedicate myself to training. I can feel it.”
“I see. That’s good to know,” Yuki said. “Well. That should be it for today. Tomorrow is the big day. You should get some sleep Yuna.”
“Will do,” Yuna replied with a small nod. “Best of luck in the tournament, Yuki.”
“We’re in the same team. Best of luck to us, you mean.”
“Best of luck to us then,” Yuna corrected.
The four of them exited the training room and saw Yuna off as she went to the transportation room to be sent back to Junction.
“I’ll be dropping by the lab really quick so you two can go on ahead of me,” Yuki said once Yuna was gone.
“Planning to upgrade your weapons or retrieve something new?” Akira asked.
“No. I just want to check up on the thing I was making,” he said. “It won’t be finished in time for the tournament. Not that I was aiming for that of course.”
“Okay. How long will that take you?”
“Thirty minutes at the most. It shouldn’t be long though,” Yuki replied.
“Great,” Akira smiled. “Erica, let’s go.”
She tilted her head towards the transporters and Erica followed her. They left, leaving Yuki by himself. He turned and walked the hallways of the base until he came upon a door that resembled every other door in the base.
“Open up please,” he said pleasantly.
A number of locks and gears could be heard resonating from the door as a beep rang out. It recognized his voice and swung open to let Yuki in. He entered the lab that he and Damian shared and the door closed, the locks reengaging.
‘I wish I could finish it but it’s taking longer than I had anticipated,’ he thought as he made his way to a tall rectangular metal case that stood in a corner of the lab. ‘It’s a good thing that I didn’t focus wholly on it. I was able to experiment with some spells with that time.’
His hand pressed flat against a black glass pane embedded in the metal case. Another beep and the case unlocked for him. He pushed the cover a bit and it popped out gently. He slowly swung it open.
‘I need better materials if I’m going to finish this.’
He stared inside the box, a half constructed skeleton within it. The size of a person, it was built to contain one as well. Or at least that was what Yuki had in mind. But the reality was that the image he had in his head was much harder to materialize in real life.
‘I’ll do it. Eventually. I just need the right materials.’
He looked at his rough skeleton for a bit longer before shutting the case with a click.
“A lot more people joined this tournament,” Yuki observed. He was directing his comment to Yuna who was busy readying her sword.
“It’s because the reward is a position that is rarely ever given out like this,” she replied, not bothering to look up as she applied oil. “I’m just glad that the Academy closes all of their tournaments from outside participation. Otherwise you might see hundreds instead of dozens.”
“I guess. Why are you preparing your sword?” he asked. “If things go as planned, we won’t need to use our weapons for this round.”
“You never know,” she said. She sheathed her blade and stood up. “Plans can go bad.”
“That’s true. I have my staff ready as well. I do have my blades on me, but those are a last resort. Most people only know that I can use a staff.”
“Yes. The tournament should be starting soon, shouldn’t it?” Yuna asked. Yuki glanced at his watch.
“Mhm. This holding room is quite small for the amount of people participating.”
“Well, I’m just glad that we were able to find a small space for ourselves,” Yuna said.
‘Hmm. It’s more like people left that for us. They seem to be avoiding us.’
In fact, there was what looked to be a rough one yard radius around the two of them. Everyone that walked by them seemed to curve their routes around them.
‘I wonder who they’re avoiding.’
“Would those who are waiting in the holding room please gather their belongings and prepare to be guided out,” Raphael instructed in its soft robotic monotone. “The Academy Annual Tournament will be starting soon.”
The room’s energy doubled as gear jangled and people shuffled about as they stood up and gathered their things. Then they went to the door of the holding room, waiting restlessly. Yuki and Yuna had already positioned themselves by the door and so waited seated.
“Welcome ladies, gentlemen, and other beasts,” an announcer’s voice rumbled, a different person than the one who did the first tournament Yuki participated in. It sounded a bit muffled from behind the doors of the holding room. “It is my greatest pleasure to announce the official start of the Academy Annual Tournament! Let’s begin, shall we?”