ELIJAH KNIGHT’S POV:
As the ear-splitting sound of the bell tower faded into a dull ring, the owner of the same grating voice, who was most likely the cause of all this, cleared his throat before speaking.
“AHEM! TESTING… AH AH… PERFECT!” The sound was coming from the bell tower near the center of campus. “STUDENTS AND FACULTY MEMBERS OF XYRUS ACADEMY—I WOULD LIKE TO WELCOME ALL OF YOU TO JOIN US FOR THE FINAL CEREMONY. I ADVISE EVERY ONE OF YOU TO MAKE YOUR WAY TOWARDS THE BELL TOWER, AS THIS IS SOMETHING YOU GUYS WON’T WANT TO MISS! DON’T WORRY, MY LITTLE PETS WON’T BITE ANYMORE~ I PROMISE.”
Curtis and I gave a quick glance and nod at each other. “Get on, quick!” From atop his world lion, Grawder, Curtis beckoned with his left arm stretched out.
Grawder let out a dissatisfied grunt, but otherwise kept to himself as I hopped onto his back behind Curtis, and we immediately headed towards the bell tower. In hope of easing some of my injuries, I used this time to circulate mana towards the deeper wounds.
As we got closer to the bell tower, I could see flashes of spells going off in the vicinity. “What do you think is going on?” Curtis asked. I couldn’t see his face, but from just his voice I could imagine the sort of anxious expression he had on his frustratingly handsome face.
“Some of the students and professors are firing spells at the bell tower,” I commented with the obvious, not knowing what else to say.
“It looks like there’s some sort of barrier surrounding the bell tower,” Curtis pointed out as a translucent wall flickered after receiving a spell cast by a professor.
It wasn’t long until we came into full view of what was happening for the ‘main event.’ There was a large stone platform that hadn’t been there before, most likely erected by magic. The once flawless marble floor around the bell tower, which marked the center of the academy, was cracked and splintered with pools of wet crimson blood. Various species of discolored mana beasts had gathered around the platform, waiting patiently, almost robotically, ignoring the frightened students just outside the barrier.
[Earthen Javelin Barrage]
After a jumbled drone of chanting, several high-leveled spells were cast in the direction of the bell tower, but despite the huge manifestations of elements bombarded onto a single point, the mana shield that closed off the bell tower only fizzed harmlessly before eating up all of the spells. Seeing that leaves of the trees on the inside of the barrier had not the slightest rustle proved how impenetrable this barrier was.
There was a large crowd of both students and faculty members in front of the bell tower, who were both injured and scared, unsure of what to do as the professors made fruitless attempts at breaking through the protective field.
“Stay here while I try to find the rest of the DC members,” Curtis instructed before dropping me off near the front of the barrier. Before I could say anything, Grawder raced off with his master riding on his back, leaving me anxiously waiting for something to happen.
The crowd of dishevelled students were all anxiously chatting with their friends and peers about the disaster that fell upon them today. Some were crying, while other red-eyed students had already passed that phase and were waiting with hardened expressions. I could only wait as well. With the cage keeping us from leaving the academy grounds and mana beasts that seemed ready to jump and devour any who disobeyed, I could see the hope in their eyes flickering away. We were prisoners of this massacre, awaiting our sentence.
Although most of the students in the crowd seemed only lightly injured and battered—indicating that they’d caved in rather quickly—there were a few fighters whose injuries were more serious. Fortunately, some of the professors were adept in the field of healing. While they couldn’t compare to Emitters, they were able to save a few lives today.
“WELL IT SEEMS THAT EVERYONE ALIVE HAS MADE IT TO THE GRAND FINALE OF TODAY’S SHOW! I THANK YOU ALL FOR COMING!” The high-pitched tenor had a piercing quality that made everyone turn their attention back towards the bell tower.
He appeared… as if manifesting out of the shadows. The source of the jarring voice that sounded like rusted nails scraping against a chalkboard. He wore a gaudy red robe, decorated with an unreasonable amount of jewelry, reminding me of some second son of a king—a figure who was so down the line of power that his only defining aspect was his inherited wealth. The man wore a rather creepy mask that didn’t match his attire. It was a simple white mask with two slits for his eyes, and a crudely drawn jagged smile the color of blood. Behind his mask was a head of crimson hair that flowed past his shoulder blades.
While he had his hands behind his back, it looked like he was holding something, but I couldn’t make out what it was because of his shadow.
At the sight of the bold figure, the murmuring of everyone ceased, creating a rather eerie atmosphere. A deafening silence descended upon the crowd as all eyes fell on the mysterious masked man, depicting both curiosity and fear of what he would do next.
Drip. Drip. Drip. The sound of small droplets splashing on the ground echoed through the entire space, further adding to the uneasy suspense.
All of a sudden, an earthen spear barrelled directly at the masked culprit. Unfortunately, its trajectory ended as it smashed into the protective shield, shattering into pieces.
Unfazed, he stood there as students began chanting in desperate hopes that somehow, the barrier had weakened enough for us to break through.
Strings of curses were shouted out at the masked figure as everyone realized that it was impossible to break through. I heard familiar voices cry out insults and profanities as they didn’t know what else to do at this point.
“Pfft…” The man’s shoulders bobbed up and down as he tried to contain his laughter.
“PUAHAHAHAHAHA!” His manic laughter, unaided by mana, echoed throughout the area, somehow drowning out everyone else’s voices.
I could see a mixture of emotions in the students’ and professors’ faces: fear, anger, desperation, confusion, frustration, and helplessness as they were all stunned into silence by the abrupt laughter.
It was then that the masked man tossed the object he was holding behind his back onto the floor.
With a dull thud, the spherical object rolled into view close enough for the people in the front to see.
It was a hea…
It was a real head.
It wasn’t the sound of water dripping that I heard, it was blood from the head.
It took my mind a couple of seconds of blank staring to process what was going on before a wave of nausea hit me like a bat.
I threw up.
Over and over again.
The stench of last night’s dinner mixed with an acidic twist made me gag more until I was left with only dry heaves and watery eyes.
By the time I composed myself, I could see students and professors alike either looking away, pale-faced, or clutching their stomachs as they continued vomiting on the ground.
I didn’t want to look again, but my eyes were itching to look back at the decapitated head. When I saw it again, I noticed it was a dwarf’s. I’d seen her before, but hair covered some of her face as a pool of blood expanded from underneath with only the bone of her spine jutting out…it was so white.
I was drawn to the gore. My mind was screaming to turn away, but my eyes stayed fixated on the gruesome sight as everything else blurred out of focus.
As his disturbing laughter continued, his whole body shaking in delight, a booming howl caught everyone’s attention.
“NOOOOOOO! DORADREA!” I spotted Theodore as he roared, charging furiously towards the masked man. He knocked aside the students that weren’t quick enough to get out of his one-man stampede.
“DORADREA!” Theodore screamed, his voice cracking as he hammered his fists against the translucent barrier.
There were only two sounds that could be heard. It was the sound of delighted laughter coming from the masked man, and the sound of Theodore’s thunderous pounding against the barrier.
It was one of the Disciplinary Committee members…
The same group Arthur was in…
A crater formed underneath Theodore as the marble floor around him continued to crumble and cave under the pressure of his might. As he continued smashing against the barrier, blood began streaming down his arms as his hands were shattered by his own strength. Despite that, the fury never left Theodore’s eyes as his icy gaze never left the masked man.
“COME OUT HERE AND FIGHT ME, YOU COWARD!” Theodore howled, a deranged look shrouding his eyes.
Suddenly, the masked man stopped his laughter and removed his mask. His face was narrow and sharp, with skin that glowed in a hue of gray. In spite of the sharp and the attractive features he boasted, it was hard to miss the crazy, almost psychotic expression that seemed to have been permanently ingrained into his being. His face was wrinkled in a scowl as he tilted his head to the side, as if he was confused by Theodore’s last statement.
“Coward? Me?” The masked figure began walking towards Theodore with the easy arrogance of someone who knew that everything in the world existed for his taking, every one of his steps seeming to drive a nail into the minds of everyone present.
“Yes, you! Stop hiding behind this barrier and fight me!” He growled back, blood continuing to drip from his broken hands.
“Coward? Me? The mighty and reborn Draneeve… hiding?” The person called Draneeve blinked out of view and appeared in front of Theodore with a speed so fast, Theodore wasn’t even able to react as Draneeve pulled him to the other side of the barrier. He threw the Disciplinary Committee member easily onto the erected platform.
Caught off guard, Theodore landed less than elegantly on his back before squirming to his knees, having trouble putting weight on his crippled hands.
Again, Draneeve blinked in a sudden flash of speed and squatted down to face Theodore. “Why don’t you fight me now?” A sinister smirk curved on the red-haired man’s face.
With a desperate yell, Theodore jumped up, bringing his leg down, executing a heel kick towards Draneeve’s shoulder.
As the platform splintered and a cloud of dust formed, it was obvious that Theodore had imbued enough mana into his leg to crumble a building.
There were a few cheers from the students as we all waited for the cloud to clear. I too hoped that the attack was enough to warrant cheering, but I knew it wouldn’t be that easy.
A howl of pain amidst the cloud of debris rendered the cheers moot as we waited with bated breath. As the dust cleared, none of us were prepared for what we saw.
It wasn’t a secret to everyone here that Theodore was a deviant, capable of using mana to manipulate gravity. Just from the fact that the stone platform shattered like glass, we knew that Theodore hadn’t held back during his attack just then, but what we did not expect was for Theodore’s leg to still be positioned atop Draneeve’s shoulder where it landed… except… Draneeve was fine. Theodore’s leg, however, had been snapped cleanly in half.
We all stood there with our mouths agape. Even the professors were baffled by the clear difference in strength between the two. Theodore’s strength would’ve even made the professors do everything that they could to dodge the attack, yet this mysterious man here had taken it head on and come out unscathed despite the freshly made fissures.
“Come on! The Great Draneeve isn’t hiding. Let’s fight!” The smirk never left his face as he kicked Theodore away like rag doll.
“I’m fighting you like you wanted, right? What’s wrong?” Draneeve tilted his head again in mock confusion as he continued to beat Theodore into a stupor. His face was no longer even recognizable as he was pummeled to a bloody and broken mess. The rest of us couldn’t even do anything… only watch as our fellow schoolmate was tortured right in front of our eyes.
“….cker,” Theodore managed to croak before vomiting out blood.
“Hmm? What was that?” Draneeve landed another solid kick to his side, a loud crack of a broken bone accompanying it.
Lifting his battered head, Theodore looked straight up into his assailant’s eyes with a look of pure hatred and disdain before he spat the blood congealed in his mouth at Draneeve’s foot.
I could see veins popping on Draneeve’s forehead but he simply took a deep breath as he ran his fingers through his red hair, peering down in disdain at the bloody mess that was Theodore like a squashed insect.
“I see you still have a bit of fight left in you! Hmm… it is too bad though, you seem to be on the verge of dying from blood loss. Let me help you with that.”
“GAAAAAAAHHHH!” The gurgled scream was all I could hear as Theodore combusted into crimson flames at the snap of Draneeve’s fingers. That was all he did… snap his fingers.
He snapped them again, extinguishing the flames, leaving a charred and smoking carcass.
I realized by this time that my hands were covered in warm crimson from my nails digging into the flesh of my palms. I was useless at this point. Even if I ended up succeeding in breaking the barrier, wouldn’t I just end up like Theodore?
“Pfft! See! I helped him! He’s not bleeding anymore, right? PUAHAHAAHAHA!” His cackling laugh filled the area as he began clapping for himself in amusement.
Seeing that none of us laughed along, he just shook his head. “Oh poo~ you guys are no fun. Relax, I left him alive for now.”
I peeled my eyes away from Theodore’s decimated body to see Curtis being held back by the other members of the Disciplinary Committee. His mouth was covered by Claire who had a trail of tears streaming down her anguished face. The princess, Kathyln, was holding onto her brother’s arm with her head down so I couldn’t see her expression. I couldn’t see that elf, Feyrith, and the other member, the mysterious one with the narrow eyes. I think his name was Kai…
“NOW! I apologize to you all for the delay! Without further ado, we will now commence with our main event! Fellas, bring them out!”
As Draneeve grandly waved his arm like some conductor, the frozen mana beasts stirred and sat up straight as a line of hooded figures, covered in robes, came out from the bell tower, each dragging with them a student.
It was when I saw her that my mind came to a stop.
I felt like I was suddenly swimming in thick syrup as my hand pressed hard against the barrier. I fell to my knees and just stared out in front of me, in a daze.
Being dragged by her hair, her face battered and bruised while her clothes torn and messy… was Tessia.