Chapter 24: Got You
There was a tree in the forest that had stood unmoved for years. It had fought for nutrients, grown through harsh weather, and witnessed countless battles without falling. But on this day, it tilted, further and further as its worn bark creaked in agony.
…It smashed onto the ground.
Similar throes resounded as other trees shared its fate. For decades these trees had survived the desperate struggles of the participants aiming to enroll in JNIM.
But none of that mattered to Shun.
Just like the participants of the past, his eyes were set on one goal: winning. Everything else was irrelevant.
Where the hell is she?
So even when several trees came crashing down upon him, he only spared them a glance, either dodging or cutting them with a blade of wind as he ran. His eyes scanned the landscape that now resembled a lumberyard for signs of human movement.
I cut down all of these goddamn trees, so she must’ve fallen as well.
Shun weaved around the stumps, his head swiveling like a loose bolt as he sought out his opponent. Not long after, the unnatural shifting of a log grabbed his attention. He dug his feet into the ground to cut off his momentum, before Hermes propelled him toward the disturbance. Nearing his target, he made out a battered figure crawling out from under a fallen tree. A ferocious grin forced itself onto his lips as he quickened his pace.
“There ya are!”
Now a bit closer, Shun saw Haya cough while getting up by using her shaking limbs. When he was within a few meters of her, he saw her head perk up as she made eye contact with him. From the cuts and bruises peppering her skin and her arched back, he could tell that her landing hadn’t been soft. Despite all that, her mouth was twisted into her usual smug grin.
“That hurts, that hurts, that hurts! Isn’t it cruel to send a tree falling at someone’s spine?” She paused for a moment before laughing. “Wait, silly me! I did something similar to you, huh~?”
“Can’t dodge this, can ya!” Shun yelled in glee, stretching his hands toward her neck while still meters away. His coughing opponent grimaced before trying to side-step him. He missed the collar and swiped at her face. She yelled out in pain and stumbled backwards, caressing her cheek.
“Damn it! Why’d ya have to make it so… difficult…” Shun said, before trailing off, his gaze stuck to a certain part of her face.
In that moment, Shun’s voice trailed off as he continued to look at Haya’s face, a storm of emotions passing by on his.
“Hmm? What’s wrong with—Ah!”
Shun saw her hands shift in panic above her left eye, as though checking for something. Although she covered her eye with a hand while searching the ground, his gaze didn’t leave her face. Still, when she lashed at the ground, he tensed for a moment, only easing upon seeing the tattered eyepatch in her hand. But the gaze she sent him then made his heart want to jump out of his chest.
“Hey…” she said, her words a growl. “You saw, didn’t you?”
The short reply was all he could manage to utter. Her thick killing intent drained him of the winning sensation in which he’d been swimming. But in the end, she sighed while narrowing her right eye.
“Well, no point hiding it I guess,” she said, bringing down her hand from her left eye.
A sclera pitch black as night greeted him, drawing his gaze away from the light brown iris within. His stomach churned like a cauldron on fire.
“You’re an Oyama.” It was common knowledge in Japan which people bore these eyes.
He hadn’t expected to meet another person from the six elemental clans after joining up with the Nishiyamas. Still, it explained her skillfulness with darkness spells.
“I was planning to keep this a secret.” Haya glared as she spoke with venom in her voice. “But now you’ve gone and revealed it.”
Shun cursed himself. The easy target with a broken posture and tattered clothes straightened her back. Her injuries did little to weaken the fury in her eyes.
She looks a shit ton more motivated than before. Clearin’ those goddamn trees used up most of my mana, so I don’t have enough ta rush her. In that case…
“Well, that explains a lot.”
I just gotta keep stalling!
“It’s hard ta manage the effects of Curse spells to be precise, right? Takes years of training.” Shun continued to run his mouth, ignoring the sweat running off his back. “Oyamas are the best Dark element users. Makes sense that your spells only paralyzed and did nothin’ else.”
“Oho, Good observation.” The fire in Haya’s eyes diminished a bit. “I’ve been training since I was a kid. After all, I’m the heiress of the clan.”
He put on a grin. “You’re the heiress? Ya gonna send your assassins after me for pissin’ ya off?”
Haya snorted at his words. The pressure on his shoulders seemed to disappear for a moment. Just a bit more, and he’d be ready.
“The Oyama work for the SMC these days, helping out with conflicts and other tedious things.” Although she rolled her eyes, her lips revealed amusement. “And even then, we haven’t actually carried out an assassination since the last century, you know?”
While Haya answered him, Shun moved his feet into position, making sure she wouldn’t catch on.
“SMC, huh? Doin’ what?”
“Oh, mostly intelligence gathering. Now, back on topic… You’ve really made me mad—”
Without waiting for her to finish, Shun poured mana into Hermes and charged. Haya’s eyes shot wide open, but he gave her no time to summon her knives.
Haya summoned another cloud of fog, but he’d be damned if he was going to fall for that trick again. The dregs of mana left within him conjured a small gust of wind, pushing back the fog before Haya could jump away.
“Ain’t runnin’ this time!”
Dashing past her, his fingers closed around the metal collar, and he yanked it off her neck.
“Hell yeah, finally!”
With his mana depleted, weakness spread across his body, as though whole kilograms had been added to his muscles. Nonetheless, he came to a stop a few meters away and flung his right fist into the air, having defeated the fog-shrouded reaper who had come within inches of snatching the metal lifeline at his neck. Chuckling, he eyed the collar in his hand, admiring the spoils of battle. However, something was amiss.
“Huh?” He turned towards Haya. “Still here?”
No matter how many seconds passed, no vortex appeared above her head to transport her away from the exam grounds. Shun stared at the oddity, before realizing that a certain feeling had gone missing from his neck.
“Did you really think my ability obscured vision and did nothing else? Also, you really need to work on your stalling.”
Shun’s fingers went right through the collar in his hand, turning it into fog. He saw her figure dissolve in a similar manner.
The cheerful voice had come from behind him. He grasped his neck, confirming the loss of his metal collar. Before he could turn around, a black hole appeared before him and whisked him away.