I was running around in circles. My breathing was heavy. My legs were shaky. I just couldn’t catch him. He was everywhere and nowhere. I didn’t manage to even land one hit on him throughout the morning and I don’t think I’m going to land one in the afternoon either. I let out a scream and laid down on my back. The grass felt soft. I was covered in sweat. The sun was merciless.
Yu was looking down on me.
His face crinkled up. He didn’t seem very pleased by my answer.
“I’m only here because you told me that you wanted to train, lazy idiot.”
“Wow. No need to insult me. And what’s the point? I’ll never be able to catch up to you. How the hell are you even that fast? I can’t follow your moves with my eyes. Let’s do something else.”
We both let out a big sigh at the same time. He kept staring at me but then sat down next to me. The air around him was still sparkling. I rolled away from him to avoid getting an electric shock. I had enough of those for today.
“Let me ask you something. Why did you become an Outliner?”
I looked up at the sky. A cloud was looking like a dinosaur.
“My mother hates violence. She is very protective over me and my younger brother and told me to live a peaceful life. My dad was killed. I don’t know if my younger brother actually got to meet him but even if he did, he probably doesn’t remember him because he would’ve been a new-born baby. My mother told me that I was with him when it actually happened. When he was killed. I honestly don’t have any recollection of that time but the feeling of being weak never left my side since that day. I have recently been reminded of that feeling over and over again. And ultimately, I want to change that. What about you?”
I rolled back over to him again and sat down upright. He seemed composed.
“Both of my parents and my grandfather lost their lives as Outliners. I hated them for choosing their job over their own child. Their own family.”
I was surprised by his honesty.
“So, why did you end up becoming one?”
He went through his hair with his hand and looked up to the sky. The dinosaur was gone.
“I wanted to see what it was about being an Outliner that made them choose it over me. And I was afraid of walking down the wrong path. I still think that they were wrong. Leaving me behind. Forgetting about me. But I guess, now that I am an Outliner myself, I can kind of see why they did it. If me being an Outliner means that another child gets to go back to their parent, a wife will see her husband again or a person will never know what it means to lose their friend, then that’s enough for me to keep going. I’m content with that at the moment.”
I plucked some grass and blew it out of my hand.
“How long do you think you’ll do this job for?”
“I’ll stop the day I become a father.”
His answer was too straightforward. I was taken aback and started laughing.
“You’ll be a great father.”
He looked me into my eyes and poked me with his index finger. A current went through my body and a tingling sensation came over me. My hair was standing upright. He had shocked me.
“Oi, what was that for?”
He didn’t say anything and walked away. I followed him.
“That was a compliment. Why would you shock me for that?”
He suddenly stopped and turned around to face me. I put my arms up and was ready to fight.
“Ayumi, remember what I’ve taught you during these past three months. Make sure to pass the Paroxys Checkpoint Exam and come back in one piece.”
He was strangely serious. I nodded my head and lowered my arms, letting my guard down. That was when he struck again. An electric shock went through my body, and I thought to myself that my hair would stay upright for the rest of my life.
The exam would be taking place on the weekend. We were only allowed to wear our uniforms and bring our Paroxys with us. A bus would be taking us to the examination site. All the Rookies would be attending, including from the other three schools that were located in Kyoto, Sendai and Fukuoka. In total there were 149 Rookies, all from different stages of life. You must pass this exam to go on more difficult missions and be eligible for becoming a Junior.
“I feel nauseous.”
Ohta did look green in his face. Sayuri was trying to calm him down. We were told to form a line and one after the other were blindfolded. The bus started its engine, and we were on our way to the examination site. I didn’t understand why they needed to blindfold us, and they didn’t give us an explanation either. The drive was long but because I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t tell how much time had passed. We got off the bus and were guided to our end destination.
“You can take off your blindfolds.”
I undid the knot and was shortly blinded by the bright light. We were in a massive, empty warehouse. The windows were tinted, and the empty space was lit up by massive lights. In front of us were standing five people, three women and two men.
“It seems like everyone’s here. Shall we begin then? Your goal is to take a marble from either one of us. We have a set number of marbles that we’ll be carrying on our hips at all times. Each of us has a total of forty marbles, so overall between us five examiners we have two-hundred marbles. More than the total number of students here. Meaning that you can choose who you want to go after but after forty students manage to get forty marbles from an examiner, that examiner is out of the game. You’ll have to go for another one. We are giving everyone a chance to pass.”
One of the women was Choko. She held out a string of marbles.
“The rules are simple. Get a marble from any one of us in a set time frame and you pass the exam. You can work together or alone. That’s up to you but you can’t steal marbles from your fellow Rookies.”
Choko was interrupted by the man on the far right. His voice felt strange. It seemed like it echoed in my head. I was keeping my eyes on him.
“What a handsome voice.”
Sayuri who was standing next to me was blushing. I could see that other girls were quite fond of that voice too. Personally, it creeped me out. It was too smooth and even. But there was another reason why that man was creeping me out.
“Ayumi, that guy has been staring at you for some time now.”
Haruto was standing behind me and had noticed it as well. That man’s mouth was covered by a scary looking black oni mask, but I could feel it in my bones that he had a nasty smile on his face.
“Hibiki, shut your mouth.”
Choko was stern.
“The time you will be given is a full day. You’ll have twenty-four hours. If you get incapable of continuing the exam by means of physical exhaustion or incapacity, you’ll fail. And of course, when time runs out, you’ll fail too. It’s simple and straightforward. Now, each examiner will introduce themselves. My name is Inaba Choko and I am a teacher at our Tokyo facility.”
They all were wearing our uniform but with slight modifications or extra layers.
“My name is Yabumi Yasahino. Tokyo is where I teach.”
We had already been informed that he was going to be a substitute for a teacher that couldn’t make it from Kyoto.
“Yo. Name’s Nishi Sachie and I’m from Fukuoka.”
The woman was wearing pink gloves and her top was cropped. You could see her belly button piercing and how muscular she was. Her dark brown hair was put up in a loose bun with several strands hanging out.
“Uehara Yuzuki. Sendai.”
She was wearing a really big, black hoodie. Half of her upper face couldn’t be seen because of the hood. The only thing that was standing out was her short height. And now, it was the last examiner’s turn to introduce himself. He was the one who interrupted Choko earlier. He had a small tattoo under his left eye. His dark red hair was gelled back, leaving one strand hanging in front of his forehead. A silver ring was on his right thumb. Instead of wearing the bomber jacket, he had a trench coat in the same colour. His dark blue eyes were still focused on me. This was the man Yu told me to stay away from at all costs.
“I’m Kawaguchi Hibiki and I’ll be your volunteer examiner.”
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