Chapter 65: Eremus Gate (1)
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Ochre stuck to the ground as the remnants of age-old rocks and stones fluttered in the air. Cracks spread through the arid, dry soil, exposing the roots of the few dead shrubs and trees that could yet stand upright. Even the cunning cacti couldn't outwit the drought as its spikey leaves fell off and spread around the scrawny stump. The cloudless red sky had no lines of silver as the haphazard rose and slumped in the terrain and the unceasing veil of sand in the air made even the wastelands' visibility drop to a null.

Clicking his tongue, Luke Reese pulled up the small bag hanging from his waist and opened it up. The bag, enchanted with spatial magic, stored a lot more than its size would. He pulled out a muffler from inside and wrapped it around his face to shield himself from the sand and the sun. It was something he had brought along in memory of the icy battle in the entrance tests, the cloth back then was too thin.

“These guys have a thing for extreme conditions…” he muttered, placing the bag back on his waist and patting his body all over. With a satisfied nod, Luke walked ahead at a steady pace. His feet kicked up dust as he placed one hand near the enormous greatsword hanging from his back. 

Luke took a glance at his wristband. After staring at it for a few seconds, he ignored its existence and started walking again.

“Being separated from everyone is good.“

His feet sunk down and then raised again as he began his march under the harsh heat. The clouds let down no shade and the sand in the wind only seemed to be a punishment as he walked on and on to nowhere. He climbed up multiple dunes and past the repeating scenery while looking for the smallest semblance of life around him. Even after moving around for 15 minutes, he could not see anything but the forever stretching wastelands around him. No monsters, no people, no birds or insects, no plants, nothing other than him or the desert was around.

Right then, a buzzing sound similar to that of the flight of a bee scratched his ears. Luke's hands rushed to the greatsword and his feet spread into a low stance as his gaze shot up. A silver bird made of metals, a drone was flying above him. Of course, that old man would keep an eye on him and Kristina, their identity wasn't exactly a secret for the faculty anymore. He sighed and loosened his hands—

—And the earth trembled.

Luke's eyes widened. The greatsword scratched against its scabbard as Luke brandished the weapon and held it close to him. Left, right, his eyes darted in all directions, the rumbling in the ground only growing stronger.

Where?

An enemy was approaching….

Rocks on his side… the curtain of sands in front only showed the shadows of dead trees and dunes… He pivoted on his feet and looked to his back, then to his front again. 

He could sense it.

It was coming closer.

“Damn it!“ 

His shoes pressed against his feet, and his body was being pushed up into the air. The cracks on the ground underneath tore apart and ghastly spikes took their place. 

Leveraging the tip of his sword against the ground, Luke vaulted himself away and shot into the air. A ghoulish creature emerged from the position he was standing on. A mouth and eyes above it, the worm-like creature had hundreds of folds on its pink skin that shot out of the ground with half its body. Yellow teeth sharper than the blades of a saw grew haphazardly from its mouth as its purple tongue fluttered around, licking up the sand and spitting it away.

Luke's body formed an arc as he spun mid-air, meeting his eyes with spotted red eyes of the monster in front of him. Before he could land on the ground, the space below him cracked open and a tail emerged from below.

“Wha—ACK!“

The tail slammed into the body of the unsuspecting Luke. His body arched again as pain spread through his spine and he was sent flying through the wastelands. 

Luke Reese crashed against an upturned dune, his body rolled on the ground as bits of stone and sand chaffed his skin. 

The worm's eyes followed him. Was its prey dead? It looked dead. Unmoving. The worm was ready to feast today, it slowly approached closer and closer to the limp boy.

“Ouch, ouch, ouch…” Luke muttered, rubbing the back of his head. “That was rather sudden…”

Luke pulled his knees up and got on his forearms. Regardless of the hit, he wasn't one to let go of his weapon. Slowly, he got back on his feet and turned to the worm. 

“Is giant killer worm the staple here? A taste test… not too keen on that.“

“GRRRR!!AH!“

***

“Bequeath thine points, strange bird!“ 

Three balls of fire sped through the harsh deserts and crashed against the black feathers of an enormous bird. Sitting atop the husk of a dead tree, the large-beaked, bald bird swayed to the front at the sudden impact on its back. The giant fireballs were like tiny bugs in front of their target. Angered, the vulture-like bird moved its long neck and turned back to the source of the attack. Standing there was a red-haired young lady with a spear in her hands.

“Oops…”  Seraphina Exise said, sticking out her tongue when the Vulture met her eyes. She brought her arms to the front and gestured at the vulture to settle down, her feet moving back step after step. “Bird, please. We can talk this out…”

The bird screeched at Seraphina. Its wings spread out wide, crushing away the top half of the tree with their sheer size. “KRAAK!“ It screamed as it leaped off its feet and soared into the sky.

“Tsk, fine,” Seraphina lowered her stance and swung her spear to the side. 

Watching the scenes play out on the monitors, Don Brocious, Artie, and Claudio Alo laughed. The drones were monitoring their top bets for today and the feed was also being transferred back to the academy for more teachers to pitch-in in their funds.

“Sir… none of their vitals seem off yet…” one of the teachers announced, looking at the three of them smirk a sadistic smile.

“Yes? Yeah. Of course.“

They hadn't told the students of it so that they would be more responsible, but monitoring all of their vitals continued without waiting to make sure none of the students face heavy injuries. 

The engaging event had just started. The students separating as they did just added more spice to the exams. After Luke Reese and Seraphina Exise, the eyes of the three went to the next screen.

“Oh? What's this!“ Artie exclaimed in excitement, and the other two followed his gaze at once. “Kristina Steitz and Leone Hendrickson ended up together!“

“What what? Aren't they in different teams?!“

“Hohoho! How exciting!“

The other teachers at the place were weirded out, they truly, really were. But a peek wouldn't hurt, right? After all, the exam was just beginning.

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