The first challenge was done after an hour and a half, almost one third of the total hunters and students were missing. We were now walking toward the site of our second challenge.
"The whip works perfectly," I offered Shizuma. She smiled and went back to her conversation with Koemi and Joanne. Albert and Kyre were trailing behind, talking. Albert had been in a separate platform from us, all I knew was that he overpowered his opponents in less than five minutes.
From behind me I heard bodies clashing and scraping the ground. I turned and saw Neil had tackled Axel to the ground, Neil was now holding Axel's shirt collar.
"How dare you break my father's arm and throw him off the platform," Neil was enraged, he punched Axel on the face. I walked towards them and yanked Neil off Axel.
"Chill," I said, "its just a game, he is going to be all right."
Neil shook my hands off his shoulder and shoved me back. "Don't mess with me," he warned us, then stormed away.
I shrugged and lend a hand to Axel, he pushed my hand away and stood on his own. "I didn't need your help," he said, "I could've taken Neil down this moment."
I rolled my eyes, "save it for the next challenge, if you get lucky he might be your opponent..."
He stared at me with cold eyes and he started walking, catching up with the rest of our friends. I walked silently beside him, in silence we agreed to leave our pending battle after the challenge.
We reached a closed canopy forest, trees were towering in front of us. The close canopy impede the growth of a jungle and sunlight was scarce.
"Welcome to your second challenge," Salazar announced, "unlike the first challenge, this one will be timed." He snapped his finger and his assistant brought forth a bag, "inside there are different colours of handkerchiefs, each of you are going to get one and once inside the forest you will tie it on your body. This challenge will eliminate half of the hunters and/or students. Only the remaining 30 will proceed to the third challenge."
His assistant walked around the hunters, handling each one of them a black bag with the piece of fabric inside. I felt strange having Cadravar competing, by far he was he oldest, that scroll must be very important. I was also wondering where were the eliminated competitors.
"The first was a dueling challenge, the second one is about hunting," Salazar continued, "each one will hunt down the one having their same handkerchief colour. You have thirty minutes to hunt your prey and bring back the handkerchiefs of the same colour back." The sun was now high on the sky, signaling noon time.
The second challenge started, all of us ran inside the forest, to different directions. I stayed with Shizuma.
"What you got?" I asked her.
"Nervous?" she taunted, taking out an orange kerchief and tying it on her shoulder.
I took out a green one and tied it around my forehead. Shizuma laughed at me.
"You will be such an easy target," she said, "see you out there in thirty minutes." She jumped up to a branch and swung her lithe body from branch to branch. I ran aimlessly around me, this was going to be tough. Anybody who didn't make it before the set time will be disqualified. I jumped toward a tree and with a kick I impulsed my body up, I used several branches for support as I jumped farther up. I was certain many of the competitors were up on trees searching for their prey.
I stood on the edge of the tallest branch, this was indeed a thick canopy, nothing could be devised from this height. After standing motionless for more than fifteen minutes my eyes swept the area once more before coming down, I saw droplets of blood escaping from an abrasion on my shoulder as a small arrow brazed against my flesh.
I lost balance and fell, breaking branches and twigs with my back. Finally I fell on the thickest branch, holding my bleeding arm. With a quick scan around me I saw my prey, she had a green bandana tied on her thigh, a crossbow strapped on her right forearm. I recognized her from the academy, Elena.
"You are such an unlucky boy," Elena said, aiming her crossbow at my forehead, "you had to be my prey. Give me the kerchief Wilcaust."
"Catch me first," I said and quickly jumped off the branch to fall into another one, her arrow missing my inches. I flipped out of view around the tree trunk.
I pressed my back against the trunk on the shadowy part of the tree, straining my ears to hear her approaching steps. If I knew anything about Elena, it was her stealthy and quiet prowl. I heard the scraping of tree bark above me and quickly jump away as Elena descended rapidly on me, shooting arrows. Violet spiritual energy engulfed her crossbow. Elena then disappeared around the trunk.
I had to be faster. I slid behind a trunk, took out one of my swords, and encrusted it deep on the tree trunk. I placed an ear close to the hilt, my hands cupping my ears to the hilt. I could hear the vibrations of the tree, giving me a clue as to where Elena was. I dislodged the sword and jumped higher. I had located Elena, she was now some branch levels below me. I sheathed my sword quietly and jumped down on her.
As I landed on the branch, she turned around, her crossbow ready to fire, but I was faster and took hold of her wrist, turning her crossbow away from me. She screamed in pain as I twisted her arm outward, "bastard.." she muttered. She was trying to wriggle free, kicking me and stomping on my foot. Finally I pressed her against the trunk, my hands reached for her thigh and tear the kerchief away. I took arrows from her crossbow and furnished them with my own spiritual energy, then I nailed her loose garment to the tree, burying the arrow deep in the tree.
"Sorry Elena," I said, "hope you can forgive me."
"Get me out of this Wilcaust!" she screeched as I ran away from her, victory in my hands.
I was running out of the forest, when something caught my eye. I hid behind a tree and saw Neil take the white bloody kerchief from a dead hunter. Neil had killed a hunter! Was that allowed? Then I saw Neil walk past another corpse nearby and out of view. I rush out of the forest to found some of the competitors who had finished. I went up to Salazar.
"Are we allow to kill?" I asked in a demanding voice.
Salazar gave me an ill look, "of course not," he said, "this is a healthy competition. I don't favour hunters killing hunters." There was feign honour in his voice.
"I saw some dead hunters!"
"Nonsense," he said, "I have a special force patrolling the forest to keep the game under control, if there were deaths they would've report back..."
"What if they are dead too?" there was impatience in my voice.
"I assure you, young man," Salazar eyes were furious, "there will be no deaths tolerated. Now, leave and enjoy your victory over your prey."
I opened my mouth in protest, but a hand pressed my shoulder, it was Candravar.
"Aldrest, trust in Mr. Dreix words," he said in a low tone. There was something in Candravar's voice and attitude that silenced me and follow him. "Headmaster I am glad you made it out." Once we were separated I told him about the dead hunters.
"Keep an eye open," he suggested and left my side. There were ten minutes left, where were the rest?