Darius found himself alone in a forest. His heart beating so fast and hard that it was about to burst from his chest. His senses worked in overdrive as he flinched at the slightest of sounds. His eyes darted back and forth, warily watching for any movements. With every passing second, his grip on his hammer intensified.
He could barely remember to breathe as he stood completely still, watching and waiting.
Meanwhile, from the private rooms within the facility, Lionel sat as far away from his father as possible; his two older siblings had elected to sit between the two. He didn’t dare say a word, fearful of the hostility emanating from his father while they watched his twin, Lara, creep through the arena on a large hologram by the wall.
This was one of those rare moments when Lionel actually felt awkward. His father had been so enthusiastic that morning to watch his two children fight in the arena—only to be met yet again by disappointment with Lionel. He had hoped that Lionel would have finally had no choice but to excel, only to be told he had somehow employed a substitute! He had half-a-mind to force him into becoming a Spiritknight and send the spoiled Prince to the most Spirit-infested hellhole imaginable.
The Emperor was no idiot. He saw through Lionel’s spoiled prince act and knew his son was a lot smarter and capable than he pretended to be. In fact, everyone in the family knew it, much to the Emperor’s severe disappointment.
“Well, Lara’s doing quite well.” The oldest brother, James, commented, trying to ease the tension.
“Yes, she will obviously win this round. I want to see Lionel’s substitute. What was his name again?” The Emperor leaned forward to look at Lionel with a stern, harsh expression. The Emperor was old, and to him, choosing a strong successor was of the utmost importance. And all that had been going well… until Lionel had come along.
“Darius Omen,” Lionel squeaked. The screen immediately shifted to a young man, dark skinned with black hair standing in the center. So gripped with fear was he that he hardly moved.
The Emperor scoffed, and Lionel shrank in his seat. His brothers leaned forward to hide him from their father’s view. They had never seen their father this frustrated with them and were afraid of what he might do.
The Emperor observed the unimpressive young man who displayed no talents or skills of any sort. He glared at Darius with such rage and malice that it was as if he were attempting to kill him through the screen.
“Lionel, why on earth did you pick this young man? What is wrong with you! Do you even intend to pass the test?” Even though he was hiding behind his older brothers, they might as well have been transparent. Lionel looked down. The truth of the matter was that Lionel didn’t expect Darius to pass the test for him. In fact, he was almost sure Darius would die, and he had counted on that. If Darius failed, there wouldn’t be a chance of him becoming Emperor, and then, he could end this facade of being an ignorant, incompetent fool in front of his father and everyone else.
‘Please die, please die, please die,’ Lionel thought. He didn’t dare mumble the words out loud.
Meanwhile, Darius still stood in the exact same place the platform had left him. The challenge was to simply survive the day. Darius’s mind raced. His first thoughts were to find somewhere to hide until it was over, but he couldn’t move with his locked knees. It took all his energy to simply hold his hammer up.
Nearby sounded like some battlefield, humans and spirits colliding in an epic struggle to destroy each other. Then, a bush rustled to Darius’s left. Another one vibrated to his right. His mouth dried as he intently scanned his surroundings. The trees waved; Darius gazed into the canopy but saw nothing.
Then, with a wild howl, three spirits pounced from above and both side bushes. They each had flat, hideous faces and four arms along with two hind legs. Darius didn’t have the time to be surprised at how far he had jumped or his quick reaction time. He was too busy fleeing, the commotion attracting further dangers. Three spirits became six which became twelve. They looked like hairless, eyeless monkeys as they chased Darius through the jungle. Surprised by this human’s speed, they found themselves struggling to keep up with his incredible speed, yet their brief troubles did not matter as they steadily drove him straight into their trap.
Darius sprinted through the dense greenery, various thorny bushes scraping his limbs as he sought to escape the pursuing spirits. He could hear more of them singing from treetop to treetop. Howling was how they communicated. Although spirits didn’t have eyes, they saw far better than any human: they sensed the world around them.
Finally, they had Darius just where they wanted him: a large cliff with a drop off of about two hundred meters. By the time Darius saw this, it was too late. He had two choices: turn and face the monkey spirits or fall off the cliff. As he reached the edge, he stopped to turn around when one of the spirits leaped, disappearing and then re-materializing on top of Darius. Staggering back, he tripped and fell off the cliff ledge. The spirit clung to him as it savagely ripped toward his throat with its incredibly large canines.
Both plunged into the lukewarm river, swept with the current. The spirit was relentless. Darius used the shaft of his hammer to force it away from his throat as it frenziedly snapped and clawed at him. The creature struggled and attempted to use its weight to drown Darius when it suddenly stopped.
It clearly knew something he didn’t. Darius looked back for a moment, and before he knew it, he dropped into an incredibly fast waterfall. The spirit fell just after him. There was now some distance between the two of them, and, seizing his chance, he twisted his body to spin in the air, gaining momentum. With all the strength he could muster, he stretched out his hammer and hit the spirit with all he had.
A thunder-like boom swept through the entire forest, causing all of the spirits and contenders to stop dead in their tracks. a single thought flashing through their minds.
What was that?
The spirit’s body flew up due to the blow’s force. However, Darius’s falling velocity surpassed even his terminal velocity. He fell into the water with a force that propelled him to the bottom of the river bed, rather violently hitting his head on the hard rocks below.
The Emperor leaned forward.
“Who…is this kid?” everyone questioned in their minds. They all intently watched the screen. A much different worry passed through Lionel’s mind as he kept repeating, “Please be dead, please be dead, please be dead…” to himself.
The feat of killing just one of the primate-like spirits was nothing to be amazed by. In fact, Darius having gone through so much trouble to defeat just one exemplified how mediocre he was. What had piqued the Emperor’s interest in him was the way in which he did it. The speed and agility Darius had displayed while fleeing from the spirits had amazed even the emperor. Most people would have been caught quite easily. The boy had even outrun their short-range teleportation, and even though Darius hadn’t noticed this, his lead on the primates had slowly increased. If it hadn’t been for the cliff, he would’ve easily outrun them all.
The next thing that surprised down the waterfall. The shockwaves had been so powerful that they had felt them through the formation used to create the artificial jungle arena space from their room on the two-hundredth floor of the facility. However, the ripples from the shock-wave could only be felt by stronger characters such as the Emperor himself. Little did the Emperor know that there was an old man who was also viewing the exam with much interest from far far away…