Chapter 36

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Hiding in the vegetation of the forest after being told to scatter, Floris, Alvis, and Kathrina each peered out from a decent hiding place where they could keep track of Flare- who was still standing in the same place he was before, and not making any moves to advance on them. Floris, who was kneeling behind a bush, looked around to spot his teammates. Kathrina was hiding behind a tree trunk a few meters to his left, looking around it over her shoulder. Alvis, however, was a few meters behind him and laying on his stomach underneath a shrub. He then returned his attention back to Flare to see he was still standing out in the open, practically begging for the three to charge him.

Knowing that it was a trap, Floris narrowed his eyes at Flare as he whispered to himself, "What's your game, Flare? I know there's more to this test than what you're letting on." He quickly looked at his teammates again, then skimmed the ground around him, looking for a way to get their attention without giving his position away. He found a few pebbles at his feet and gently threw them at Kathrina and Alvis, getting their attention. He waved for the two of them to come to him, which they did.

Kathrina kept an eye on Flare through the trees and bushes as she quickly and quietly made her way over to Floris, resting on both her knees when she got close enough for the two to whisper to one another. "This sucks! Of all the Elementals, why'd we have to end up with this jerk?"

Floris waited to answer Kathrina's question until Alvis crawled up next to him. Floris looked at Kathrina and responded, "I don't think this test as nearly as bland as he wants us to believe, Kathrina. There's something else to this that he didn't tell us."

"What do you mean by that?" Alvis asked.

Floris looked down at Alvis for a moment, then looked at Flare again as he whispered his response, "I'm not sure yet." He continued to study Flare and the area around him for a bit, then turned to look at his companions again, "We're too bunched up here. If he decides to advance, we'll all be caught at the same time. We need to spread out a little, but keep within sight and earshot of each other. Before we act, we need to have a plan."

Kathrina nodded in agreement, "I agree. Even three on one, a head on attack would be suicidal against an Elemental Guard. Patience is the key to success here."

Floris nodded at Kathrina and said, "Exactly. We're against a superior foe. If we fight him one on one we're doomed. If we attack him in an unorganized fashion, he'll still pick us off."

"Do you at least have a plan, Floris?" Alvis asked.

Floris looked at Alvis for a brief moment, then looked at Flare through the bushes as he replied, "Right now...we just need to play for time."

Alvis thought quietly for a moment, then sat up on his knee and said, "Does he seriously want us to try and kill him? How are we supposed to learn any spells or magic if that happens? What good is he to us if he's dead?"

"Were it so easy..." Floris said. He lowered his head as he sighed quietly, then looked at his teammates again, "We need to scatter before it's too late. I'm willing to bet that he knows where we are."

Kathrina and Alvis nodded, and quietly snuck away from Floris to different positions, hiding in some thicker vegetation. Kathrina hid behind another trunk of a tree several meters to Floris' left, but also a little behind him, while Alvis crawled on his belly to another bush.

Floris continued to monitor Flare for a bit, eventually looking at Kathrina and whispering, "Psst! Hey, you're the one who actually has some experience here. What do you think would be a good course of action?"

Kathrina looked at Floris for a moment, then returned her attention to Flare as she thought about her response. She pondered for a while before returning her attention to Floris and saying, "I'm really not sure. Maybe Alvis and I can distract him while you shoot him from a distance?"

Floris thought for a moment, going over the scenario in his head a few times before giving his response, "It could work. More than anything, we just need some time. I need to find out what he really wants from us." He closed his eyes and started playing with a rock he picked up off the ground as he ran through some situations. He eventually came up with what he thought was a decent plan and looked at Kathrina again as he explained his idea, "Here's what I'm thinking. You and Alvis run out and distract Flare any way you can, and give me some time to figure out what his plan is. I'll climb up to the top of a tree to observe what's happening. Once I think I've got it figured out, I'll shoot at him with an arrow; this will be your signal to retreat back into the vegetation and link up with me so I can go over our next move."

Kathrina looked at Floris with a hint of shock and surprise on her face. She knew Floris was intelligent, but she never figured him for a strategist. However, it also occurred to her that the two boys grew up in Fiorra's South Swamp, so they probably had to plan out ambushes while hunting and taking down large prey. This training scenario probably wasn't too different from what they were used to back in the swamps. She shook her head to clear her thoughts, then nodded at Floris and said, "That's not a bad plan, Floris. Not bad at all." She raised her head to look at Alvis and motioned for his attention before asking, "Did you hear all that?"

Alvis nodded at Kathrina, "Yeah. I'm ready when you are."

"Then let's do it." Kathrina said.

Alvis hopped to his feet and started shouting, "OH, YEAH! FINALLY SOME ACTION!" He started running straight out of the bush, right past Floris and Kathrina as they tried to stop him. He ran towards Flare at full speed with his knife prepared and ready for the kill.

Flare smirked quietly under his mask and held out his right hand. A small ball of fire started to form in his hand, but it soon erupted into a massive flaming vortex that went straight past Alvis, scorching the ground and vegetation it came into contact with, disbursing once it hit a boulder in the distance.

Alvis stared at the scorched ground next to him with eyes as big as dinner plates, then sheathed his knife and spun a 180-degree turn on his ankle, "Okay, well, crap, I'm gonna be running this way now..." He said before running back in the direction he came.  

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