5

A line of flames drew a sketch on to blood-stained ground in the shape of a circle. When the ends met on the circle, a huge pillar of flame burst up from the ground. After the flames had vanished, only a burnt crisp of land remained. Luckily for Katalina, she was able to evade the fatal attack.

She knelt on one knee, observing Damien, who held an shining orbs of flame in both hands. She panted, beginning to get exhausted from avoiding all of his attacks. "How much mana do you have?!" she asked, surprised at how she was unable to execute an attack yet. The atrocious scent of dried blood only fueled her temper with Katalina's opponent.

Damien smirked arrogantly, and chose not to respond to her question. He thrust his hand forward, blasting one of the fire spheres straight at Katalina. Instinctively, she jumped aside, therefore completely avoiding the attack. However, the Elite witnessed the devastating power of his magic when she watch the small orb pass by and set a nearby tree in flames. "Filthy cowards...You call yourself an Elite, but you're unable to defeat a mere citizen of the Exile? How pathetic," Damien scoffed.

Katalina was furious at his scornful words, however she couldn't help but feel humiliated to the very core. Despite her internal thoughts and emotions, she calmly rose to her feet. "Very well then, bastard. Looks like I've seen enough. Now it's my turn to attack." She closed her eyes, concentrating on building up her next attack. Suddenly, she felt a blast of heat explode on the ground just to the right of her. She was startled out of her meditation, and watched Damien. The other orb was missing from his hands. He glared at the Elite with deadly, piercing eyes.

He watched Katalina sternly. The vision between them was blurred due to the waves emitted by the blast of flame. Their hair wavered as they both engaged in a sort of contest of the will through the act of staring. "I dare you to close your eyes for just a few more seconds..." he threatened.

Without taking her eyes off Damien, she brushed the dust and dirt off of her Elite jacket. Unlike the other Elites, her jacket was much thicker and looking much more comfortable and modernized than the others. She complemented that white jacket with a pair of long leather jeans. "Same goes for you...Don't you die so quickly on me," she spoke.

Damien didn't respond to her. He formed another orb of fire in his hands and blasted it straight towards Katalina. However, this time, she didn't budge. "Hmph...Not going to move aside this time. Let's just see how powerful your magic truly is, Elite."

Katalina smirked, welcoming Damien's attack. With a simple wave of her hand, a crystal wall of ice formed, blocking against the attack. Still, the blast left a remarkable dent on Katalina's shield. "Is that all you've got?!" she ridiculed.

Damien was unshaken by how simply his attack was negated. "What sort of foolish question is that?" The fire mage raised both of his arms to the sky and held them up. "Not even close," he mumbled, narrowing his eyes on the Elite.

Katalina was unsure of what his actions were for. She glanced around, but saw nothing unusual. "What's he planning?" she thought. A strange white crystal suddenly enveloped both of her arms in preparation for the next attack. "Is it another one of those explosions from underground?...or maybe...Wait a minute." She noticed an ominous glow that was being emitted by the orb that Damien had thrown beside her.

Damien chuckled, bringing both of his arms down. There was no time for Katalina to react to the attack. The orb rotated violently and exploded in point blank range. A huge cloud of dust and other debris blasted up into the sky, shrouding the entire battlefield.

vvvvvv

An incredible sound roared straight through the open hole in the front gate, alarming all nearby citizens. Among these many residents was Aven, who was completely infuriated at the noise. She stood at the front of her home, stomping her feet. "Those idiots!" she yelled. "I thought I told them not to fight!"

In front of Aven was an elderly woman sporting a small cane that complimented her puny size, being not even half of Aven's mediocre height. Her worn-out gray hair was tied in a large bun behind her and she wore baggy clothes fit for women of her age. "Aven...Whenever Fabian stops by, he tells me that you're crazy each time, and I didn't believe him...but...now that I see you talking to yourself...and you're killing the poor ants..."

Aven knew that it was too late for her to go stop the battle for she had already arrived home. The last thing she'd ever want to do was to hurt her old adoptive mother who had taken care of her since birth. Hurriedly, Aven helped her mother back into the house. "No no, Mom...You've got it all wrong...It's just that I know about something that's happening outside the capital right now..."

Mrs. Rostek playfully continued her jokes. "So you're a witch then, Aven? That clairvoyance must be a real joy to have," she spoke with a slight chuckle.

"Moooom..." she complained like a little girl, tired of her mother's fun charade. "I'm not a witch...nor am I anything else for that matter!"

Mrs. Rostek frowned. "Are you not my little girl, Aven?" she whimpered, faking the act of sniffling. "How could you?..."

Aven set a hand on her face and sighed. "Aren't you too old for these jokes, Mom?" Aven asked, helping her mother onto the soft couch. Her house was composed of two stories, a common pattern seen all throughout the houses of Goldhart. Every piece of furniture and every single item was so organized inside Aven's home. Dust collected in great masses near the corners of each room and on top of the furniture. It seemed as if not much of the house had been touched in a while due to Aven's constant duties and Mrs. Rostek's old age.

Using her arms, Mrs. Rostek motioned for Aven to bend over. Following her mother's command, Aven willingly did as she was ordered. Gently, her adoptive mother kissed Aven on the cheek. "It's been a while since you've stopped by, Aven," she spoke sincerely.

Another explosion could be heard from afar, startling Aven. She turned her head towards the sound and then placed her attention back on her old mother. "I miss you too, Mom. If it weren't for all the work I had to do, I'd visit you every day," Aven replied with a kind smile. She sat on the couch with her mother and hugged her. "Being a bounty hunter isn't as lenient as being an Elite is, sadly."

Mrs. Rostek nodded. "True true...but you gain so much more than they do," she responded. "Even though both Katalina and Fabian visit me from time to time, they're really only limited to the city. You, Aven...You get to explore the vast world and observe the masterpiece that's in store out there in the Exile. There aren't many active bounty hunters in the United Government. I guess you could say you're one of those lucky few that get to know the secrets that the outside world contains."

Aven's heart was deeply moved by her mother's explanation. She hugged her tighter, but not with enough strength to harm her. "I love you Mom..." she spoke. Pleased with such a warm meeting with her mother, she kissed her on the cheek and stood up. "I wish I could stay with you longer but-"

Mrs. Rostek nodded with a sincere grin. "Go ahead, Aven. I'll look forever to seeing you again, but don't stress your body. It's not healthy for those boobs of yours. Compared to the young ladies that I've seen walking down the streets, yours don't compare."

Aven flushed red. "Moooom..." she complained.

Her mother smiled. "Have fun, Aven! And take care!" she spoke, waving her free arm in farewell.

vvvvvv

Damien stood speechless at the incredible spectacle that lay before him. Just moments ago, a sharp spike protruded from the ground and pierced straight through his left hand. The dust had long cleared, and from it stepped out the Elite Katalina van Heiden.

She laughed arrogantly. Her entire layer of skin up to her neck had been layered with cold ice. Each step she took created a lasting mark of frost on the ground beneath her. "How does it feel now? First, you try to blow me up with that cheap orb trick...and then you launch another despicable blast at me when the dust shrouded the entire area. How dare you call me pathetic..." she spoke with spite. She narrowed her eyes on Damien, gritting her teeth at the young man's stagnant facial expression. "You still think you're so tough, huh?!" She clapped her hands together. Immediately, a chain of frozen spikes projected from the ground at rapid speed towards Damien.

Instinctively, he pulled his hand out of the former spike and jumped aside. Massive amounts of blood burst from his hand. Damien, dropping to a knee, stood at Katalina's mercy. "Pitiful Elite...You would use your trump card on me? Your Final Break...You'd use it on a mere, Exile?" he asked.

Katalina gritted her teeth. "Hey! How do you know about Final Breaks?! I demand an answer!" she roared. She dropped a palm on the ground, forming a pillar of ice at where Damien was standing, but he jumped aside just quickly enough. "Wait...Don't tell me..."

Damien, however, insisted on interrupted her. "So you want to know? I've seen a lot of fools like you who wield such a deadly power and put it to waste by serving the United Government. Of all those people, there was one that I loved more than anything in the world." Damien's right hand formed a hot ball of flame. "She was the only Exile I knew who possessed the Final Break...the ultimate and final attack that mages can use...And you ask how I know?...Wait...There's more..." He smashed the orb of flame into his bleeding left hand.

Katalina was shocked at his sudden actions. "...Hey! What are you doing?!" she yelled, assuming that the man was trying to take his own life.

Excruciating pain gnawed at the skin around his arm, but the wound was closing. Despite the extreme pain he was experiencing, Damien endured it. "I have no idea what your Final Break does...but it seems pretty dangerous. Though...even with that...you won't be a match for me..." Damien split his hands from each other. His left hand's wound had been replaced with a large burn.

Surprised at his will to battle, the frozen skin that layered Katalina's skin began to vanish. "Exile...I mean...Your name is Damien, right?" she asked, forgetting what his name was after such a short time. "Doesn't closing your wounds with intense heat...hurt?

Damien narrowed his eyes on her. "What are you asking? Are you giving up?" he asked.

Katalina gritted her teeth. "Give up? Please...You must be dreaming," she replied, forgetting about what she was about to tell him. "I simply won't use my Final Break on you anymore. It's a waste to use it on mere Exile who doesn't even have a Final Break of his own."

Before Damien was able to reply, a small group of soldiers of the Magus entered through the entrance and surrounded the young man. "An Exile!" one yelled with distaste.

One soldier approached Katalina and saluted her in respect. "Madam Van Heiden! You're hurt!" he spoke. Once the cloak of ice faded away from Katalina's body, the full extent of her wounds were revealed. There were some scratches on her right cheek, cuts in her jeans and legs, and also multiple injuries on her right arm due to Damien's explosive blasts.

Katalina examined her wounds and stood speechless at how many there were. "Did he...Did he really best me in a battle?" she thought to herself, knowing that the only real injury she inflicted on Damien was when she activated her Final Break.

Damien held his hands high, glancing each soldier in the eye at least once. "So looks like I'm caught," he muttered to himself.

They all held their magic-powered blades at hand, but kept their distance from Damien, seeing as to how much he had hurt the Elite. "Keep your hands up, damn Exile trash!"

Damien tried his very best to keep from destroying each and every one of them, but he found it an extremely difficult task to do so. "Damn it...Aven...Show up already!" he thought to himself. He clenched his fists, ready to bring death to those in the area.

"Filthy garbage!" one yelled.

"Damn bastard deserves to be locked up in a cell forever," another spoke, spitting at Damien, but failing miserably.

Suddenly, Aven ran out from the entrance of the gate. "Kat! Soldiers! Stop it!" she yelled.

The soldiers turned their heads towards Aven, surprised at her entrance and her order. "It's bounty hunter Aven Rostek!" a soldier whispered to a nearby ally.

"Yeah...and she wants to protect this fellow Exile. How cute," he replied.

Damien was relieved at her arrival. He let go of his fists and approached Aven. "About time you decide to show up aga-"

A soldier jumped forward and threatened to attack Damien with the weapon. "Go back to where you were standing, and put your hands up!" he demanded.

Damien complied with his order and did as he was told. Continuing from where he left off, he spoke, "It's about time you decide to show up, Aven..."

Aven shrugged. "I'm so sorry..." she apologized, but then she thought about it. Why was she apologizing? Quickly, she pounced on Katalina, knocking her down on the ground. "Why were you guys fighting?! I thought I told you not to when I left!"

The soldiers looked at one another in confusion. "Aven and the Exile know each other?"

Katalina frowned, trying to avoid getting the bloody dirt in her mouth. "Aven! Get off of me! That hurts!"

"No!" Aven replied quickly. She sat on Katalina, completely oblivious to the wounds she received prior to this. "Yep...I'm going to sit on you until you admit your mistakes. You've been really bad today, Kat."

The Elite pouted, giving up on struggling for escape. "I thought you promised to stop doing this to me when we were kids..."

"Nope! I'm bringing it back now!" Aven scolded, finally deciding to get off of her friend. "Jeez...Now you're both hurt...and for what cause?!"

Katalina picked herself up and looked Aven in the eyes. With a snap of her fingers, she gave an order to the soldiers. "Take the Exile to the king's castle immediately." Pleased with the order, the soldiers stuffed their weapons back into their sheaths and surrounded Damien.

Aven's eyes widened. She set her hands on Katalina's shoulders and shook her back and forth. "Kat! What do you think you're doing?! You can't arrest him!" she yelled.

Katalina smiled, placing a hand on her friend's shoulder. "Don't worry, Aven...That fight we had moments ago...I can see his skill and prowess in fire magic..." she spoke. "He's going to become an Elite."

The soldiers were stunned by this revelation. They remained motionless until Katalina snapped her fingers once again, bringing them back to their senses as they hesitantly carried out her order. "Hey, did you hear what she said? This fool is going to become an Elite!"

The soldier bumped the previous soldier's elbow with noticeable force. "Shut up! If this guy really does become an Elite, he's gonna show up at your door and then you'll be crying for mercy, so don't talk crap."

Katalina and Aven followed the group of soldiers through the entrance of Goldhart. Once they had passed the pool of blood that Zenkatsu had left behind in his intrusion of the capital, Katalina blew a whistle noise with her fingers. "One of you call a car over here to drive both the Exile and myself to the castle."

Aven was overjoyed. "Kat! When Damien becomes an Elite, do you know what will happen?!" she spoke, unable to control her thoughts from leaking out of her mouth.

Katalina nodded. She knew all too well about her closest friend. Her never-ending strive for peace was evidence since they met as children. "Of course I do, Aven. Once Damien becomes an Elite, it'll begin a chain of events that will ultimately lead to peace between the UG and the Exile...and then maybe...society will revert back to the old days...just like what your mom talks about!"

The car that the soldiers had prepared had arrived on time. Immediately after the car's door opened, the group of soldiers dumped Damien into the back seat and slammed the door shut.

Katalina approached the solid black car, waving goodbye to Aven. "Well, I'll see you later, Aven. I'm going to have to be there if he's going to be allowed to take the test."

Aven waved back at her with a gleeful smile. "Bye, Kat! Good luck, Damien!" she yelled. A couple of the soldiers shot hateful glances at her as they wandered back to their other duties. She couldn't help but feel disturbed by the racism they expressed, but she had gotten used to it since she had arrived at Goldhart. Deep down in her very core though, she was glad that they had shot such angry looks at her. She knew that it wouldn't be long until they'd be smiling at her as equals.

Before Katalina was able to enter the front passenger's seat of the car, the speakers placed on nearby building began to sound. "Attention all citizens of Goldhart. For the second time in the history of Goldhart, the southern gate has been attacked. They were a group of about twenty strong men of the Exile, each armed with the cursed metal Magebane, which is able to cancel out all types of magic. There were many, many tragic losses today. Hundreds of our dedicated soldiers of the Magus had been slaughtered by this shameful group and among these were three of our Elites: Jeremy Stark, Kevin Steel, and Baron Gallagher. The flag of the United Government will be raised at half-mast today to mourn these losses. We will do all we can to support those who have lost their loved ones. Do not panic though, the attack has been put down. Our own Vance Lightland, Katalina van Heiden, and many others fought with all their effort to stop these intruders. We were able to take the lives of nearly all of the Exile intruders, leaving one alive. His name is Yamazaki Zenkatsu and in exactly three days, the court has decided that he will be publicly executed. Our sincerest condolences are given to those who have been affected by this tragedy. The United Government will try even harder to improve the welfare of its people. Never again will an event such as this happen. The United Government will live forever!"

The speakers shut off immediately after that final sentence. Katalina looked back at Aven, noticing her sudden change of attitude. She couldn't figure out as to why Aven would respond so glumly to news of the execution of the murderer. Though, she might have a good idea as to what she would have been upset about.

Damien, in the back seat of the car, looking at Katalina with his threatening eyes. "So the United Government chose not to be honest...I heard that only a single man brought havoc at the front gate. You people of the United Government call us impure...but you don't see how hypocritical that is."

Katalina was angered by Damien's spiteful words, but she knew they were all too true. "I guess the government does show its negative aspects sometimes," she spoke, looking up into the clear blue sky. "It would be embarrassing to announce that it only took one man to kill hundreds." The Elite raised a hand and reached for the sky. "Everything is impure...Take a good look at the sky," she added, clenching her raised hand into a fist. "Not every day is going to be like this. Clouds will stain its perfection and block the light of the sun."

Katalina dropped her hand back down and entered the car. "To the king's castle, please," she asked of the driver. The engine of the car started up and the drive to the castle had begun. The road was flat and void of any bumps. It was as if the construction workers of Goldhart had worked decades mastering the art of creation. However, in reality, this was done solely through the power of magic.

Damien crossed his arms, watching Katalina carefully through the front mirror of the car. "You're just saying that to defend the United Government," he criticized. "Your analogy only implies that everything has its ultimate dark side, but I'd like an honest answer...can you tell me the dark side of the Exile?"

Katalina remained silent the entire drive towards the castle. For the whole hour that they were in the car, the Elite was thinking solely of Damien's final question. She wasn't able to come up with a decent response at all during the entire drive. Damien watched the frustrated young woman and couldn't help but chuckle. Ultimately, she chose to put it aside for another time. There was more important matters to deal with: the induction of Damien Salinger into the status of Elite.