Chapter 18

An Unexpected Mentor

Friday, October 19th 2063

Contrary to his wild chase on the other side of the ocean, Tatsu Jin’s days at the Elite Magic Academy were way more peaceful. Pretexting a personal issue, he managed to slowly wear down his classmates’ curiosity little by little.

 

He was a bit disappointed at his surroundings at that exact moment. Usually, students would meditate outside on Fridays. This time around, the session was taking place in a room of the Training Grounds. These classes were his favourites, and he sighed at the sight of his plain environment.

 

At that exact moment, he was longing for fresh air to enter his body. The thought of a slight wind playing with his hair saddened him as well.

 

Tatsu Jin decided to focus on something positive. Because the transfer student had been caught hiding his proficiency in Ether meditation last month, he was now free to concentrate all his will on it. Since meditation had most of its effect inside a magician’s body, he did not have to worry about any irregular external signs.

 

Still, the peacefulness with which he dealt with his training kept on attracting many gazes from his pairs and teacher. However, he did not seem to care about that at all. At the expense of his training’s effectiveness, the mind of the transfer student was troubled.

(Mia had been acting strangely these past couple of days… Did I make a mistake somewhere?)

Every moment he had spent during their last few meetings floated in his mind. There was a part of the puzzle he was missing, and it frustrated him. Living his teenage years under the Elder Sage’s tutelage, close contact had never been something he needed to be embarrassed about. So, he had no clue how Mia had been feeling about the events on Monday.

(Why are relationships not based on a power dynamic so hard to understand…)

Quickly, frustration turned to exasperation. Only a couple of his classmates spotted his expression change but decided to not disturb him. It was mainly because they also had their own training to deal with.

 

Class-1B students had showcased great progress over a month of training. A majority had understood and applied the basics, leading to better handling of Ether. With that in mind, some students even managed to double their meditation time, proving how their body was slowly adapting to a better refining process.

 

Aside from the transfer student, the most talented of the bunch even passed the half an hour milestone. Seconds after falling out of concentration, that male student got a decent amount of praise from his friends and teacher.

 

Focused on their comrade’s accomplishment, no one seemed to mind the transfer student anymore. While Tatsu Jin could have gone through the whole period without flinching, he decided to take a break.

 

He had felt his GLASS vibrating, and decided to take a peek at what it was. When he saw that the sender was Mia, he immediately unlocked his device to read her message.

       Jin, you need to see this! Come to the Center Garden under the huge tree. I’m there with Yumi right now.

Tatsu Jin massaged his forehead, hesitating on what to do next.

 

Sitting cross-legged on the floor, his GLASS was resting on his thigh. He had two options: making an excuse to go now, which would attract attention, or wait until lunch break to go there sneakily. Rereading the message word by word, his eyes lost focus completely.

(Of course… no details. It’s like you did it on purpose… It could be completely catastrophic or simply a simple surprise. Why are you doing this to me…)

Being on top of every situation was a staple of his life, so he went for the safest option. Standing up from his position, the transfer student went up to discuss with the supervisor. First reluctant to let him go, he slowly got convinced by his arguments. Apologizing and bowing to his classmate, Tatsu Jin walked out of sight at a normal pace.

 

As soon as he was out of sight, he accelerated his steps towards the Center Garden.

 

Five minutes later, the transfer student finally reached his meeting point. When facing the biggest tree of the garden, he quickly glanced at the plaque beneath it.

2063-2064 Naming Contest.
Propose your own nickname for the tree.
The winner will have his proposition carved onto this stone.

Tatsu Jin immediately sent this information to the garbage can within his mind. Instead, he walked around the tree to finally find what he was looking for.

 

He saw Yumi and Mia training with wooden sticks under the supervision of a man.

(You’ve got to be shitting me…)

Brushing his short and blond hair away, the man seated on the bench before Yumi and Mia kept yelling advice to them. With a pair of crutches near him, it was obvious that standing up required a lot of his energy. Furthermore, a cast was taking over most of his left arm.

 

However, the World Eater’s sarcastic personality remained the same, voicing away cheeky comments.

 

It was only when the transfer student entered his line of sight that his expression became serious. Focusing his energy onto his fragile legs, the World Eater cast a simple Flying Magic.

 

Even though he hid it pretty well, Tatsu Jin saw through his act. Every time Ether flew into the World Eater’s legs, a rictus of pain went through the senior magician.

 

The World Eater was ready to suffer to keep up appearances.

 

Floating close to the one that caught his attention, the World Eater let his habit get the best of him. As if he was greeting a soldier, he extended his right forearm to the transfer student. While the regular way would have been to offer a simple handshake, the senior magician was caught up in the moment.

 

Before he was able to get his forearm, Tatsu Jin grabbed it with a firm grip, answering his martial greeting. As a matter of fact, he felt like he had no other choice. In the military, not sharing this ritual with a brother-in-arm was almost the same as an insult.

 

The transfer student had no idea how much the World Eater had been told by Yumi, Mia, or even someone else. In his mind, there was a tiny possibility that the World Eater knew about his military track record.

 

After seeing the surprise in the World Eater’s eyes, he knew he had just sold himself. Their eyes met for a couple of seconds before a smile rose on the World Eater’s face.

      I see…

      It’s an honor to meet you, sir.

       Right back at you, soldier.

       Not anymore… I should not have given myself away.

       I’ll keep it a secret. How much you willing to pay?

The World Eater made it obvious he was joking, but seeing a brother-in-arms there was reassuring to him. Still, he looked at Tatsu Jin with eyes filled with curiosity.

      I’ve heard a lot about you.

       I guess I had it coming…

       The Archbishop painted me an interesting profile. Knowing where you come from actually makes sense now. According to her, you might be this year’s new main attraction.

       These two are the main attraction, sir.

Imitated by the World Eater, the transfer student turned to see his teammates in action. They stood there watching the two ladies practicing for a couple of minutes. Occasionally, the World Eater yelled to point out a few things to correct.

 

For Mia, who had just been taught the basics of close combat, this drill was already difficult. So, when Yumi started to introduce some rhythm variations, her whole routine fell apart. Before the World Eater was able to say anything, Yumi gave the white-haired girl a piece of advice.

       Keep a close eye on my shoulders and feet. That’s how you pinpoint where the next blow will be coming.

This whole exchange brought another question to Tatsu Jin’s lips.

       Aren’t you supposed to only teach students of the top ten? I understand for Yumi, but what about Mia? She fell off pretty hard in the rankings…

       She’s your teammate and therefore on my radar.

      Really… That’s it?

       Powerful family, strong profile, and Yumi asked to share her session with her…

       I see… What do you think about these two?

       Yumi’s Magic talent is limited. She’ll have to be smart and hardworking to get around it. Mia, if groomed well, she could grow to be a fearsome foe. But I still don’t understand how, with her family’s resources and political power, she is still behind. She should have been ahead of the curve.

Taking some time to think rationally about the situation, Tatsu Jin agreed with what was troubling the senior magician. Going into details about how she could have been sabotaged would be important in the future.

(But as of right now, she’s progressing well… The matter can wait.)

The World Eater, who had been planning this session mainly to get to him, could not suppress his curiosity anymore.

       Miss Hirano, you should take it easy for now. Would you be okay being replaced by your teammate?

      Of course, sir.

Mia bowed down to the senior magician, showing her appreciation for the lesson.

 

On the other hand, Tatsu Jin was now angry beyond belief. The World Eater had just forced his hand by playing his cards well. Yumi, who was honored to receive the senior magician’s teachings, pleaded at the transfer student to take Mia’s place.

 

From the bottom of his heart, the coldness took over his mind. Taking the wood sticks from Mia, he took place in front of the swordswoman and gave her a slight nod.

 

In a span of a few minutes, Tatsu Jin warmed up and finally incremented his own rhythm and strategies. Even though this was not a contest, he needed to let off some steam right now. When Yumi understood that the objective of this session had changed, she sneered at him. After a powerful blow to her thigh, she finally gave her all to the challenge.

 

Meanwhile, the World Eater flew closer to Mia, who jumped in surprise. She was resting on the bench beside his crutches while drinking water and recharging her batteries.

 

Precisely because the transfer student adopted a defensive strategy, the World Eater chose an easier target to gather intelligence.

      Your team leader sounds like a piece of work… What convinced you to let him tag along?

       He offered us to be a part of his team, not the opposite, sir.

       Why did you and miss Ohno accept then?

       I was not sure I did the right choice before my first training session with him. Then, I felt some kind of personal connection… like he… understood me. That convinced me to stay. Yumi wants to beat him so bad that she grabs onto every opportunity to challenge him.

The World Eater looked at Yumi’s expression from afar. It was blatantly obvious that she was striving for this kind of competition. It gave the senior magician a brand-new level of respect for this team leader. Nonetheless, there was still something he needed to know.

       Are you saying he bested her in real combat?

      He beat both of us singlehandedly.

The senior magician was gazing at the transfer student with expert eyes. Analyzing his movements and intentions, it was like his gaze pierced at the student’s soul itself. Tatsu Jin’s martial form was close to perfection. Each and every step he took had a purpose.

       Why is his record so bad then? I just don’t understand… I would still wreck anyone’s shit with this strength…

      He prefers to keep his trump cards hidden, sir.

Now, she definitely had sparked his curiosity. Mia had a sudden urge to put her hands over her mouth, realizing she had said too much. Finally taking a defensive stance, the young lady finally resisted any attempt to get more information out of her.

       You should probably bring the matter up to him. I should not have blabbered about his private business. I hope you won’t take offense, sir.

The young lady bowed down once again before the World Eater laughed the matter off. Soon thereafter, the synchronized sound of a bell reached even their ears.

 

In less than fifteen minutes, a decent quantity of students made their way into the Center Garden, hoping to find the perfect place to eat their prepared lunch.

 

Even though the huge majority of students enjoyed the culinary infrastructure every day, some were still used to homemade lunches.

 

Still, every time a student realized who was teaching these first-years, they remained in that area. They all wanted to spectate the training session without bothering them.

Separator

Someone else had been looking for a peaceful place to lunch after a tiring morning.

 

In addition to her duty as a special teacher, the woman had been on calls non-stop until 1 PM. Her very soul was longing for somewhere to recharge her batteries.

 

Since the sky was pretty much open, she decided to go out for a walk in the Center Garden.

 

During her many trips at the Elite Magic Academy, it had been one of the few places that put her at ease. She was slightly disappointed at the sight of the crowd but still went in. While she was used to attracting a lot of attention, the woman was still surprised to see how students quickly shifted their focus on something else.

 

Curious as to what could stray their attention away, she finally saw who was responsible for this unexpected crowd.

 

An endless storm of anger broke into the Archbishop’s mind as she was seeing the World Eater for the first time in person since that famous interview.

Separator

Meanwhile, the World Eater was still focused on the little details of Yumi’s posture. He prevented himself from giving away indications about her own fighting style. After all, Yumi’s weapon was atypic, and the senior magician had no idea how to wield such a sword.

 

In a heartbeat, Yumi and Tatsu Jin stopped fighting and looked in his direction with wide eyes.

       What ya lookin’ at?

Suddenly, he felt a tempest of Ether triggering around him, but it was already too late. All he was able to do was turn his body to face the threat.

 

The Archbishop, under Medium-Class Support Magic, kicked him forcefully in the face after a powerful jump. The sound of her boot coming into contact with the World Eater’s cheek echoed throughout the whole garden. In addition, she put a great amount of strength into that move, making its target travel quite the distance.

 

Only the huge tree stopped his momentum before the World Eater fall onto the ground, accompanied by a few barks. Every student could pinpoint where the senior magician made contact since the lack of bark on the tree perfectly traced a human body.

 

The Archbishop still had her right leg up, with her body weight resting on her left foot. She took a huge breath, shivered in excitement, and cracked a smile of pure satisfaction.

       That felt SO GOOD! I ought to do that more often…

On the other side, the World Eater was mumbling his protestations, combined the expression of his pain. When Yumi and Mia finally got to his sides and helped him get back up, the senior magician was finally able to focus on cursing his colleague of the Absolute Trinity.

       You crazy woman! Don’t hurt more those already in pain!

      Would you stop crying and acting like a child… Here, you can shut up now.

The Archbishop walked slowly towards him, put her right hand onto his shoulder, and cast the most powerful Healing Magic she knew. Instantly, the pain in his eyes vanished, but still remained his anger.

      Why would I have lived up with a cast if Healing Magic had no cost, you old hag! Did it not occurred in that tiny brain of yours that I want to preserve my life expectancy and avoid that Magic as much as possible?

      With your reckless attitude, you’re going to be dead well before reaching that!

       I’m going to kill you.

      You can’t even walk properly, talk about a threat!

The World Eater closed his eyes, inhaling and exhaling at a slow pace. The Archbishop saw what he was doing and calmed herself as well. At that point, it was almost a ritual between the two, calming themselves in order to finally be able to talk like adults.

       What did I do to deserve this kick?

       Want an exhaustive list?

      Do your best, I guess…

       You made my entire schedule go to hell with your bullshit in Chile. I had to leave everything I was doing to clean up your mess. Furthermore, you leaked my secret link with the Foreign Affairs on live television!

       Oh, that…

       Yes, that. But there is something I’m even more furious about. That story about me and the one who cursed the Holy Light Church? I told you that personal story of mine in perfect CONFIDENCE. How am I supposed to say anything to you now that I know it can end up in the papers… I thought you were better than this.

She was obviously disappointed.

       Since that story got out, no one dared to question my leadership. They’re too afraid to do anything, and it is not a healthy working environment. I need to be told I’m wrong to improve my work. And also…

When the Archbishop remembered what adjectives he had used to describe her in that interview, she looked away with a red face. The World Eater decided it was the wrong time to enquire about her suspect attitude and changed the topic.

       Politically speaking, what are the consequences? How bad is it?

The Archbishop, who got a hold of herself, turned around and looked around her suspiciously.

       In private, everyone is listening right now, even if they act like they are not.

She then took on the duty of helping him move. One step at the time, both members of the Absolute Trinity walked towards the South-West corner of the Center Garden. The Archbishop also made sure no one was sneakily following by shooting a threatening gaze at everyone who tried.

 

The South-West corner of the garden was not crowded at all. This area was almost like a technical floral exposition as if the one in charge had been given all freedom to create the perfect background with flowers. Eighty percent of this place’s surface was covered with flowers, making multiple patterns.

 

Shaped as a pentagon, five paths full of gravel led to a stone arch in its middle. Underneath it stood a single table and two chairs. It was the perfect scenery for a tea party, not much for a lunch with multiple students. Because it was forbidden to sit on the flower patches, students usually preferred other areas of the garden.

 

That area was a perfect place for the Archbishop and the World Eater to discuss secret matters. When he finally sat comfortably on one of the chairs, the leader of the Holy Light Church positioned herself against one of the stone pillars and answered his question.

       It’s pretty bad. The Agency accuses Japan of using its dominant position regarding Magic to act without supervision. While it was only a trend in these last couple of years, your actions finally made enough ruckus for the organization to take it seriously.

      Then?

       With the help of a few advisors, we managed to strike a deal with the Chilean delegation to forget about this issue, but it’s going to come and bite us again if we’re not careful.

       I see…

      They are right, you know. It’s not the first time a Japanese member or organization intervened without authorization. We have to thank the military commander for that…

While her sarcasm was obvious, the World Eater had nothing to say at the mention of his old superior. Tapping her foot on the ground repetitively, the Archbishop was obviously impatient to ask a specific question. Wondering if it was the right moment, she still decided to follow up on her instinct. She looked at him in the eyes, with a serious intention.

       Who put you into such a state?

The World Eater kept contact with her eyes but smiled.

       Our fellow comrade of the Absolute Trinity. We had conflicting objectives; I was out to kill but he spared me out of pity…

       Why do you never listen to me? I told you not to antagonize him…

       I wanted to see him giving all he got… I wasn’t disappointed.

Once again, fulfilling her curiosity took precedence in her mind.

       How was it?

After looking at the ground for a few seconds, the World Eater’s eyes wandered to her own.

       It was beautiful… I will remember the feeling of fighting him for a long time.

A silence broke again before the mercenary had questions of his own.

       What do you see in Tatsu Jin?

       His connection with the Ether is so amazing for his age that it’s frightening. I don’t know about his abilities to refine it and cast spells, but what his body seems to hold is unreal. He saw through my sensing abilities, so I only have a really vague understanding.

       He also answered my military salute. I am a hundred percent certain this guy has a past in the military somehow.

The Archbishop opened her eyes wide in surprise.

      If he has martial training, it explains how he got away from my team.

     How so?

      He requested leave last week from the Elite Magic Academy. I found it suspicious, so I asked people I trust to trail him.

      And?

      He lost them a few hours after the beginning of the chase. There is something to this kid I can’t get a hold of…

Contrary to the World Eater’s expectations, the Archbishop stretched her arms and relaxed her whole body.

       He has three years to go through here. I can take my time cracking this nut. And contrary to a certain someone, I have a FULL-TIME job!

Separator

At the center of the garden, the two fighters were still focused on their training drill.

 

Tatsu Jin felt really awkward with so many students’ eyes on him but managed to concentrate on his exercise with Yumi. With the few insights that the World Eater gave Yumi, the swordswoman’s movements were a little harder to decrypt, as well as a tiny bit more powerful.

(Nothing beats experience. Martially speaking, he would be a better teacher than me.)

The multiple sounds of the wooden sticks clashing at regular intervals reminded him of a well-crafted clock. That association made him remember something important.

Contrary to Mia and Yumi, Tatsu Jin was not excused for the day. He was not part of the first-years’ Top Ten. Therefore, he was not granted Yumi’s special privileges.

(I’ve been spending my lunch break watching these two idiots fight…)

Breaking away from the exercise, Tatsu Jin bowed down for appearance’s sake and gave his wooden sticks to Mia. Facing his two bewildered teammates, he needed to give them a reason for his sudden behaviour.

       Apologies, but I need to go and eat before the second period starts…

      Wait…

Before Mia was able to offer a share of her own meal, the transfer student grabbed his bag and hurried out of this public place.

 

However, the train of his thought brought him back to something he needed to do before that. He made a U-turn and appeared in front of the two young ladies once again.

       I almost forgot… Can you send me the schematics of both your weapons?

Mia was the first one to nod. She was not worried about it as her favorite bow was pretty classic. Instead of mimicking her teammate, Yumi had a worried look on her face. How her sword had been crafted was a secret only her family knew. Only her family itself gave it away carefully to a low selection of trustworthy blacksmiths.

 

Still, she wasn’t afraid of breaking a few rules, and finally agreed to his demand.

Separator

At the end of the week, the Naming Challenge finally reached its endgame. Over the few dozen possibilities, the Student Council President and his team decided to go for the one that brought them the loudest laugh.

 

The huge tree in the middle of the Elite Magic Academy’s Center Garden was hereby named:

 

The World Tree.

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