"Enough!' Orion shouted out, "You have free thirty minutes before I take you back to your dormitories!"
Tomas and Aren sat to the side, talking about something in hushed voices so I sat next to Eina, meanwhile, Orion finished instructing Lili and pulled out some book to read.
Chopsticks flew off his arm, perching on mine and saying, "It's not as fun when you are not fighting for real."
Wiping my hands, I said to him, "It's just practice anyway, muscle memory and such."
"Speaking of which," Eina said, "You are getting really good at cutting, finally."
"Yeah, I felt it too! Sorry about that shin strike," I said to her, pointing at her slightly quivering leg.
"You'll make up for that later," Eina said, smiling slightly.
Lili skipped to us and gasping for air said, "This was really fun! Also super tiring."
Remembering something, I said, "Give me a moment, I need to talk with General."
"Alright," Lili said, turning to Eina, she was in really high spirits.
Approaching Orion, I saluted and said, "Sir, I would like to report something."
I couldn't help but notice the book he was holding, my Oulic was getting better and I could already read it to some extent, from the title it looked to be some kind of... Erotica? Wide-eyed, I fixed my eyes on Orion's face and tried to prune that information from my mind, I quite certainly didn't want to see what was within.
He peeped from above his reading and asked, "Yes?!"
Startled by his outburst, I took a deep breath and explained my idea about checking the queues for 'Essence Dispersal Theory' book and looking for under five-star students as potential suspects.
"Interesting! I will mention it to the other teachers!" He replied, "Good job Penn, now go back to your friends!"
"Yes, Sir!" I replied, stealing a last glance at the lewd book, it was titled 'Moshanka's exotic adventure'.
Walking back to the girls, I remembered something and pulled out a small crystal orb, changing my direction towards the boys.
"Aren, catch this!" I shouted to him, throwing the orb at him.
Startled, he grabbed it and shot me a confused look.
"Come to the side for a moment," I said to him, pointing with my chin.
"Y-Yes!" He replied, looking overjoyed.
Tomas raised his eyebrow but didn't object, he went to talk with the girls instead.
"What's this?" Aren asked me when we walked out of the other's earshot, he curiously lifted up the ball, examining it up close.
Feeling nervous, I seriously asked, "Did you have anything to do with the murder?"
"What? Of course not!" He replied with a frown.
The orb didn't react in the slightest.
I heaved a sigh of relief, "Sorry about this." Pointing at the orb, I said, "This is a lie detector, you can give it back now."
Aren froze, and after taking a deep breath, threw the orb back to me. His face sour, he asked, "You really suspected me?"
Pursing my lips, I shook my head and said, "I don't know, there wasn't enough time after you left us. I just had to make sure."
Reminded about our yesterday's falling out, he looked down and mumbled out, "I am really sorry about it. It's just..."
"What?" I asked with a sigh.
"I've never felt about a girl like that before!" He blurted out, coughing awkwardly and checking if no one from our group heard him.
"Listen, Aren," I said, crossing my arms. "I am interested in someone else, please stop."
"Who is it?" He asked in a pitiful voice, looking completely deflated.
I bit my lip and said, "You will know if the ball happens, we already agreed on going with each other."
"I see," He replied in a flat tone, his shoulders dropping as low as humanly possible.
"There is also another thing I wanted to tell you, regarding your oath from the first time we met-"
"Please, don't deny me this!" He protested before I could finish.
Raising my hand to shut him up, I said, "I helped you and what do I get in return? You stalking me around the academy." I didn't bother talking quietly, I made sure that the rest of our group could hear this.
Eina frowned at Aren, looking as if she wanted to jump him, I shot her a sharp gaze and discreetly shook my head. Lili and Tomas crossed eyes and pretended they didn't hear a thing while Aren looked like he wanted to bury himself alive.
In a small voice, he replied, "This will never happen again. I swear."
"Last chance," I said to him.
He nodded his head and wanted to add something but a crack of someone teleporting near us caught our attention, it was actually Merron, holding a small package in his hands.
He waved to us and shouted, "You really are there!"
When he walked up, I asked him, "How did you get there? We are on lockdown."
"I asked Miss Sado to teleport me to your location," Merron said to me. He looked at Chopsticks and said, "I've finished it!"
"Finished what?" Chopstick asked, fidgeting on my shoulder.
Smirking, Merron said, "See for yourself."
He opened the package and a small silver bird flew out of it, perching on his extended arm. It was beautifully sculpted, resembling a small pidgeon but with a thicker beak. The girls and Tomas also noticed what was happening and approached us, curiously looking at Merron's creation.
"Interesting!" Chopsticks said, chirping and perching next to the bird, he looked at Merron and asked, "You realize this is a raven's beak on her?"
Merron frowned and scratched his head, "Is it?"
"It's still good," Chopsticks said, pecking the silver bird, "Come on sweety, don't be shy."
I wanted to laugh but something weird happened, everything in my vision elongated and I felt as if something was pulling at me, dragging me into the skies. Panicking, I grabbed the closest thing to me which turned out to be Aren's shoulder. Before either of us could make a sound, we were forcibly brought away from the sandpit, shuttling through the air and landing somewhere in the castle.
Heaving, I threw Aren off me and jumped to my feet, "What the shit?!"
"Marie!" Aren shouted, also getting up, he wanted to say something else but he was left slack-jawed when he looked up.
My reaction was similar, I was standing with my mouth agape, looking at what should have been the sky, instead, it was a perfect reflection of the castle grounds, including the small courtyard we were currently standing in. Getting a hold of myself, I wanted to grab Chopsticks just to realize he wasn't on my shoulder anymore.
"New student, such a beautiful color. That pesky construct is finally gone, it was so hard to grab you alone," a disembodied and distorted voice said.
Clenching my teeth, I poked Aren with my elbow and hissed out, "We got abducted."
"Shit!" He cursed under his breath and protected my back, "Stay near me, I will protect you!"
The disembodied voice sighed and said, "An unwelcome guest made his way in..."
"Surprise. I am assuming you are the murderer?" I asked, nervously licking my lips, erratically scanning the area around us with my eyes.
"Maybe, maybe not," The voice replied.
"Marie..." Aren hesitantly started, he gulped down and said, "I can't summon my Essence and... My bag of holding doesn't open."
My heart revved up to the max, I hurriedly checked and confirmed that he was telling the truth. No matter how hard I tried, my Essence didn't react and the bag somehow didn't want to open even when I pulled at it with all my strength. Panicking, I hurriedly checked my stats and sighed in relief after seeing that they remained unchanged.
"Of course it doesn't work, " The voice said with a chuckle.
"Show yourself," I demanded, trying to control my shaky voice.
Suddenly, a shadow jumped from behind a nearby pillar, melding with another shadow and disappearing completely.
The voice said, "No need my sweet chocolate, ahh, how I longed to caress your skin..."
A shudder ran down my spine, this was something I never wanted to hear in a situation like this.
Aren cursed and said, "Insane freak! Do you think you can just abduct us like this? General is definitely already rushing over!"
A burst of crazed laughter echoed through the courtyard, the voice then said, "He still didn't realize what had happened, we have hours upon hours of fun awaiting us."
A shadowy figure darted at us, I could just barely see it in the corner of my eyes. My body reacted on its own and I swept Aren off his legs, causing the shadow to just narrowly miss his throat. He sprang back to his feet and we stood back to back, grabbing each other forearms so we could pull the other party along in case of another attack.
"Curious," The voice said, "You can see me."
"Marie, we need to get out of there, I can't see it," Aren rasped to me.
"Hallway to my left," I whispered back, pulling him along.
We madly dashed in that direction, my eyes darting all over the place in search for any signs of movement. Our magic and bags of holding might have been sealed but our stats were still intact, my eyesight was keener when compared to Aren's.
"Duck!" I shouted when something black twitched in our direction, pushing Aren into the ground.
The shadow clipped him, leaving a bloody cut on his right shoulder. I finally saw what it was, just the outline but it was enough; it was a person somehow melding with the shadows, carrying something that looked to be a dagger, similarly made of condensed darkness.
We sprang to our feet and hid in the hallway, there were only two directions from which we could be attacked now. As long as the shadow kept targeting Aren and not me, I felt that we had the chance of retaliating, even if only with our fists and legs.
"Shadow element," I squeezed out, "You are a toast once we get out of there."
"You are not going anywhere. I still need to explore you," The voice said, somewhat angrily.
Feeling that I was getting to him, I nervously smirked and said, "You little shit, I could bash your skull in if you didn't hide."
Aren's fingers dug into my forearm as if to warn me to not go too far but I ignored him, completely focused on looking for the assailant.
"A small girl like you?" The voice asked, laughing at me, "Once I get rid of the retard you will be able to see if you can resist me when I press you down."
Spitting on the ground, I snapped back, "That's not very romantic, I'll snap your stick in half."
Aren squeezed his fingers even tighter and shouted out, "You degenerate trash! I will kill you myself!"
This was the straw that broke the camel's back, the shadow of a pillar near the entrance fluctuated and a person cloaked in darkness jumped out, rushing straight at me. I didn't have time to analyze its figure, the shadows wrapped around it like rags, wildly flapping in its wake. It was moving incredibly fast and straight for Aren's back, there was only one thing I could do at that moment.
Gritting my teeth, I let go of Aren's forearm and grabbed out at the mass of blackness in front of me. Piercing pain reached me from my palm, serving as the signal to squeeze my fingers around the shadow and spin on my heel.
Using its own momentum, I twisted the shadowy arm and threw the entire figure onto the stone tiles, it smacked against the ground next to Aren, accompanied by a loud crunch. The pain coming from my palm was unreal, the shadow's dagger pierced through it cleanly, allowing me to grab its fist.
Throwing all my mental stops aside, I ignored the dagger splitting my palm and pulled the shadow into an armbar, wrapping my legs around its body and pulling back, trying to break that goddamn arm. All of this happened in one swift motion and only then did Aren realize what was happening on my side.
He dashed forward, grabbing one of the shadow's legs and instantly breaking it with an ankle lock and a powerful twist, the sound that accompanied it was enough to make my stomach turn. Finally, the arm also gave in under the pressure of my hold, it cracked and bent in the wrong direction before going limp.
"Whore!" The shadow screeched, kicking Aren away with its free leg.
Aren flew away as if a truck ran into him, he bounced off the ceiling and smacked against the floor, lying there without moving, I couldn't even tell if he was still alive. Before I could do anything else, the shadow twisted its entire body and threw me into the air, disregarding the damage its own arm would suffer.
Only now I understood why it was so hard to break that arm, this person was physically stronger than me. Without thinking, I let go of the broken arm and curled up just in time to protect my head from being splattered against the wall, or so I thought because I actually landed in the sand, my split palm squirting blood everywhere.
Shaking my head, I looked at Aren, he was still standing moments ago but he fell into the sand, completely unconscious. Everyone looked at us in disbelief, it looked as if no time had passed since we were abducted.
Chopstick's eyes turned into two fiery stars as he shouted, "Enemy!" He instantly flew to me, enveloping my body in a red protective film.
Gasping for air and trying to control my rolling stomach, I squeezed out, "Aren was kicked, really hard!"
Orion dashed up to us, pushing everyone aside and kneeling near Aren, he cursed and took out a small cube, he said, "We had another attack."
Before any of us could react, crack after crack resounded in the sandpit as a bunch of teachers teleported in. Sitting up, I took out a [Greater Healing Potion] and hastily gulped it down, my entire jacket was red from the blood. My ribs creaked and mended themselves, I didn't even realize they were broken until now, the split palm reconnected itself with a squelch and the pain disappeared.
Awyn approached me and nervously asked, "What happened?"
Gasping for air, I said, "Shadow element, the person has a shadow element."
His face darkened, he glanced at Aren who was being attended to by other teachers and then back at me, "You need to calm down and explain everything to us, Marie."
I nodded my head and sat cross-legged, I squeezed out, "Give me a moment."
Using the visualization and breathing that Nec taught me, I forcibly took the reins that controlled my emotions and did my best to regain a clear mind. When I opened my eyes, I was still shaky but calm enough to be able to explain everything in clarity. Aren was sitting up, holding his chest and quivering from pain, an Alchemy teacher was feeding him some kind of a potion.
"We were dragged into some kind of academy replica," I said and pointed at the sky, "A mirrored image of the castle existed in the sky above us. The attacker hid his voice but said he had hours to play with us."
The teachers exchanged glances and Awyn uncharacteristically cursed under his breath, he said, "Mirror world."
"There's no way! It's an Arcane enchantment!" Orion blurted out.
Gand walked up to me and asked, "Any details on the attacker?"
I shook my head, "No, the voice was distorted and the figure was hidden in the shadows. That person was physically superior to me, there can't be many of them with a shadow element in the academy!"
Awyn and Gand crossed eyes, Gand heaved a deep breath and quietly said, "Marie, there is no student with a shadow element in the academy at the moment."
This was a problem, pretty big one