Chapter 21

Social Pressure

The aftermath of this fateful night with Eleanor left Tatsu Jin puzzled. He had taken the decision to reveal his past and there wasn’t any remorse. But her behavior, consistent with what she showed over the last few years, had started to shatter the image of her he had. Sticking to his paranoia, he had been convincing himself Eleanor was after either fame or power, a least until now.

 

All his attempts to push her away fell short and the idea that she could be in for something else was finally lingering in his mind. After all, instead of asking for tangible things, all Eleanor wanted was him.    

(Does she really care about me?)

Numbers changed on the holographic screen, as it was now 7:42 AM. Sunlight was now making sleep a really difficult goal to achieve, hence why Tatsu Jin decided to wake up early. What he wanted was a distraction, to keep him away from the situation with the Illusion Magic Contractor.

 

His solution was a few centimeters away from him, on his bedside table. Without changing clothes, he grabbed the book and sat on a black leather armchair, which stood on the opposite of his bed. “The Magical Disruption of Agriculture: the savior of the first century” had been on his reading list for a while, but he never quite found an opportunity to allocate it time.

 

But it changed today. Artificial lights turned on to the lowest setting with the wave of his hands, and the book was the only thing in his world. 

“While the population kept growing steadily years after years, another indicator posed a threat to humanity: how humans are dying older and older.

 

We keep on reproducing ourselves and we spend more time on Earth than ever.

 

But still, Humans cannot be treated like blades of grass. As organized societies, we need to account for their most basic needs: food, drinks, shelters, opportunities to socialize, openings to reach their life goals, and the list goes on.

 

We are growing exponentially, but the size of our planet and its resources are limited. With that in mind, entrepreneurs did their best to tackle this issue: how to optimize the space and time we have at our disposal.

 

For example, more and more buildings are now built underground. This has proved to be an excellent solution so far. Of course, inventive solutions bring along new problems.

 

Ventilation became a serious issue, and a new disease had also made an appearance. The “Soliculus Desiderium Syndrome” or SDS, happens due to the serious lack of exposition to the Sun.

 

Sometimes, solutions like this only allow us to buy some time. However, as far as Agriculture goes, Magic literally saved Humanity.

 

Magic researcher Lio Quang won both Physics and Peace Nobel Prices in 2057 for his Applications of Magic in the field of Agriculture. To briefly summarize its principles, a known brand of Healing Magic applied for martial purposes had properties applicable for the growing of plants.

 

After years of study and a vision rivaling all-time great scientists, Lio Quang worked with Magic researchers to develop his own brand of Magic. In addition, in his immense generosity, he decided to share his discoveries for free, quoting the greater good as his principal motive.

 

Magicians capable of using Lio Quang’s Magic had been dispatched all over the globe to revamp how our countries look at Agriculture as a field. Since then, Earth’s food output had been greatly multiplied. After some years, there are now many different outlooks on this brand of Magic.

 

And documenting these are crucial. For this research work, we have traveled throughout the world to present them to all of you.”     

Tatsu Jin noted to himself: Magic and science are two sides of the same coin.

 

But he also felt the drive to push this thought further. 

(How about casting Healing Magic on a newborn? Wouldn’t it accelerate the aging process? Right now, we’re using it on fully formed adults…)

Unraveling the thread of this idea led to even more questions.

(What would happen if there were side effects to using Healing Magic on kids and newborns? Would we be able to skip weeks of newborn development that way?)

Soon, it became philosophical.

(If it does skip periods of development, are some years worth skipping?)

A new priority, although low compared to Arcane Magic, entered his mind: discussing this with experts of different fields, including ethics, psychology, and biology.

 

If the idea was fresh, his involvement could cascade into something of a much larger scale. Years of testing and countless discussion about the consequences of this discovery would be ahead.

 

Suddenly, his brain got at the end of the thread.

(Is that also applicable in fetus development? Could it shorten the amount of time a baby needs to spend in the belly of its mother? In my mind, the only obstacle to accelerating a fetus’ growth is to leave enough time for the mother’s body to adapt…)

In an instant, his smile vanished in a heartbeat, understanding how this would end.

(Wouldn’t this discovery accelerate the rate at which humans reproduce?)

Even he knew they could just not afford it.

 

His alarm then went off. The day was finally about to start. The Chubu region was finally starting to show off its winter vibes, so Tatsu Jin grabbed a couple of sporting clothes and a jacket before heading downstairs, and minutes later, outside.

 

While jogging, Tatsu Jin noticed the tension and uneasiness around him. An unusual number of students shot aggressive looks at him. 

(This is the beginning of the Winter Tournament alright… Everyone is on edge.)

The opening ceremony of the tournament was on his mind. The presence of the World Eater and the Archbishop did not make his plans easy. He knew there was a lot of information to be gathered out of both their speeches. Of course, Tatsu Jin had a smart businessman who refused any invitation sent to the Master of All Magic on his behalf.

 

A hot shower got rid of the slight sweat and he quickly jumped into a fresh Elite Magic Academy uniform. Tatsu Jin drank a glass full of fresh orange juice and gave a final look at the bay window. Like a clock, he was just on time. A subtle smile of satisfaction appeared on his face. Feeling calm, relaxed, and full of energy, he was in a perfect state for meditation.

 

An hour later, Tatsu Jin grabbed his belongings and left his apartment. Unlike when he was running, the cold wind caressed his face and made a mess of his hair. The Class Building was finally on sight. As usual, the only ones who crossed his path inside were part of the staff.

 

Before long, the building was now swarming with students. With the reveal of the official rosters for the Winter Tournament, multiple theories had spread like wildfire. The student body had a bit of trouble figuring out how did the transfer student managed to team up with two first-rate talents like Yumi and Mia.

 

These stories, while most of them were clearly not true, had made him the public enemy number one by a large margin.

 

Before today, Tatsu Jin rarely came across public hostility. He knew he was not popular in any way, but most students chose to keep their mouths shut.

 

But after these stories, this category of people had become unhinged. Because of this new social bias, they decided it was not necessary to hide anymore. Everywhere Tatsu Jin went, there were now people openly expressing their disapproval.

 

Tatsu Jin avoided any direct confrontation, preferring the space of his own mind.     

(I can’t imagine how Mia and Yumi are treated in their own classroom…)

Aoi Fujita, the Magic Theory teacher arrived five minutes left. The current atmosphere was clearly not to her liking.

       I know it’s probably useless… but can I ask you to leave tournament matters out of the classroom? Some people are here to learn.

There was a mix of exasperation and desperation in her words as Aoi Fujita realized she was wasting her breath. Every year, without fault nor exception, the same thing happened again. The definition of insanity, which was to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.

 

In that sense, that definition would soon be applicable in a couple of years. Still, she had a job to do. The topic of today’s lecture was Ether efficiency. 

       We have already covered the particularities of Ether in previous classes. Even though it is self-replicating and self-propagating, we, as magicians, are consuming it to do our stuff. Once we run out of Ether, we have to wait for it to regenerate. Of course, the larger one’s Ether pool is, the longer it takes. While it is possible to impart objects with Ether, there is a limit to what we can output.

Then, the Magic Theory teacher formally introduced “The efficiency in Ether use and its restoration”, a study on the optimal behavior to adopt regarding the management of this extremely important resource.

 

According to the author, magicians should never reach the peak quantity of Ether in their bodies. The Magic Theory teacher explained that Ether regeneration does not function with magicians that are already full.

       And that’s why fields like enchanting and gem crafting are crucial.

Aoi Fujita was almost at her breaking point as only a small percentage of students was actually listening. A student decided to laugh a little bit too loud, and she had enough. She wanted to make an example of that student.

 

She pointed her right arm in his direction and asked him a question, knowing full well he would not be able to answer. 

      Do you know where does the Elite Magic Academy’s stock of enchanted rings come from? Those that are free for you to use during practice, I mean.

      No…

      Does anyone else know?

Many Class-1B students avoided her gaze. However, others dared to continue their provocative behaviors. To them, GLASS displays or strategy meetings were way more important than this class.

 

There was someone else whose breaking point had been reached. Tatsu Jin stood up from his chair and slammed his hands on the desk in front of him. His cold tone, the symbol of his Master of All Magic persona, faded perfectly within his anger. 

       If you don’t give a damn about the class, don’t disturb it. At least, those focusing on their screens keep their mouths shut!

Silence fell on the classroom.

 

Aoi Fujita was frozen, as she had once experienced such a cold tone. On the other hand, Class-1B was also surprised. They firmly believed that the transfer student valued discretion over almost everything. They could not fathom what could be the objective of such an action.

 

Nonetheless, one of the male students stood up too, not hiding his displeasure. 

       If you are so interested, I guess you could at least answer the question?

Tatsu Jin looked at him for a second and turned to face the teacher.  

        May I?

        Sure.

Aoi Fujita was slowly regaining her composure, but remained silent to hear Tatsu Jin’s answer.

      No one asked us, so I take it relates to students from Year 2 and 3?

      Indeed. You’re on the right track.

      Paying for a high quantity of enchanted rings would cost a fortune… while students here are valuable resources. We do waste a lot of our own Ether…

The Magic Theory teacher was actually glad someone had closely listened to her class. Classes after classes, Aoi Fujita’s respect for the transfer kept on growing. She had always felt at home talking to intelligent people.

 

Aoi Fujita decided at that point that, should Tatsu Jin wish to ask for a recommendation, she would give it to him without a second thought. The glimpse of a smile finally replaced her gloomy expression. 

      Do go on.

      The Elite Magic Academy is providing us with empty rings to put our non-used Ether in. Using this tactic has two advantages. First, they reduce costs by not purchasing rings. Second, all of us are allowed to use whatever amount of rings we want, if we at least accept to fuel the system.

The smile on Aoi Fujita’s face kept on growing while she was adjusting her glasses.

       There is another.

Tatsu Jin looked at the Magic Theory teacher with gazing eyes. He never expected his answer to not be incomplete. It was only by combining his former experiences with his mental model of the chairman that a possible answer came to him.

 

So, he took a wild guess. 

      Is the Elite Magic Academy selling the enchanted ring overstock?

      Correct. If there is anything you don’t understand today, feel free to reach out to me after class.

      Sure.

The transfer student fell to his seat and sighed like never before. He knew he had once again acted irrationally and attracted way too much attention that way. Suddenly, a message appeared on his desktop GLASS.  

Can you please remain in the class a bit longer at the end?

We need to talk.

 

T.W

He recognized these initials. This message came from the Class-1B leader Tsumugi Wada. However, she had always been giving him the cold shoulder, at least until now. Tatsu Jin knew she was popular, and therefore involved in all class-related matters. Still, the transfer student was wondering what broke the status quo.

(The balance of power is always fragile… the simplest of moves could set the whole thing on fire.)

His own behavior, which had not really changed since his arrival, was clearly not the trigger. He had immediately set the record straight and warned them. He had his own affairs to deal with. Basically, beyond the usual greetings, Tatsu Jin had not really spoken to Tsumugi Wada.

 

It’s not like he refused categorically to get to know her.

 

He just simply did not see the point.

 

He would rather listen to people like Aoi Fujita, or Lio Quang.

 

Even though his intervention had made him even more unpopular, his classmates dared not to openly make a ruckus anymore. Everything went a little smoother, and the atmosphere remained the same during the afternoon class. When the bell rang, the Magic Theory teacher reminded them of today’s important event.   

       Don’t you all dare forget the important meeting at 6:30 PM in the Alpha Arena.

Everyone nodded, packed their bags, and left the classroom. Most of them were simply too impatient to get back to their teammates. Only Tatsu Jin stayed behind, curious about the upcoming events. He waited for a couple of minutes there, his back resting against the front desk.

 

Three Class-1B students came back.

 

A woman with black hair tied in a ponytail was tailed by two other students. On one hand, Tatsu Jin recognized the man as the one who tried to interject against him sooner that day. On the other hand, he had never interacted with the woman behind Tsugumi Wada, who tried her best to hide the many bruises on her arms and legs.

 

The Class-1B leader obviously had something important to share. Her attitude also betrayed how serious this issue was.  

      I am Tsumugi Wada, your class leader.

      You don’t say…

      It’s not as if you came to introduce yourself. You should learn some politeness.

The transfer student had a bad feeling.

 

This atmosphere was way too dense for a simple scolding about antisocial behaviors. 

       I have been more than patient with you, letting you do whatever you want. The reason? It was because you were pretty harmless. But now, your bad reputation stains us too. I’m sorry but I cannot let this pass anymore.

Something was amiss. He could see the female student behind her trying her best to hide something inside her clothes. The look of shame on her face was also telling a thousand stories.

 

Still, the transfer student was not one to let himself be driven into a corner. 

       Why do you need three people to deliver this information?

      Students from all other 1st year classes are angry. Surrendering your matches shows that you don’t have any respect for this place’s traditions. You’ve been caught lying multiple times. Some people witnessed your outburst against the Chairman.

      That’s none of your business, if I may interject.

       It wasn’t before, but it is now. There are some nasty rumors about you. For example, how you could have threatened Yumi Ohno and Mia Hirano to be your teammates…

       Maybe those rumors are complete garbage?

She sighed and rolled her eyes. Tsugumi Wada knew there was no way he was going to make this easy. She stood there motionless like she drew strength from the ground.

       This is not why they are angry.

      Then what?

      You got rewarded. Best apartment in our Dormitory Building. You’re pretty much free to go outside whenever you want. You train with the Archbishop and the World Eater. You team up with Ms. Ohno and Ms. Hirano, and the list goes on and on… Some of us think of you as a fraud, who reaps rewards without deserving them. And this brings consequences, which brings me to my main point.

       What do you mean?

       For not teaching you how to behave, Class-1B students are put on the spot and some of them ended up seriously injured. Most of it is harsh words, but a few of our classmates suffered slight injuries from Class-1A. The injuries do not last thanks to Healing Magic, but the pain still remains.

Tsugumi Wada gestured and pointed her finger at the poor woman, who had been dealt a bad hand today. She slowly rolled up her sleeves, revealing bruises on both her arms and legs.

 

Despite not being insensitive to the suffering of others, Tatsu Jin crossed his arm. The woman’s presence felt staged as she was just there for her poor state to be displayed.

 

In addition, Tatsu Jin knew that she had plenty time of time to get treated.

 

First and foremost, he was irritated by the implications behind the Class-1B leader’s words. If Tsugumi Wada once had the transfer student’s respect, it was not the case anymore. To him, the way she handled this matter was completely unjust.  

      Let me guess. You want me to behave?

      Yes. At least for a time until the situation calms down.

      The answer is no. Find the source of the bullying and deal with the bullies. You don’t leave them to wander on the streets. As to what all of you think of me, I think your hypocrisy will show in a couple of weeks.

After delivering his answer, Tatsu Jin grabbed his bag. Before going past the door, Tsumugi Wada waved at him. She was not going to let him go without trying one last time.

      Are you okay with knowing your behavior causes harm to your classmates?

      I don’t want anyone to be harmed. Deal. With. The. Bullies.

Separator

Tsumugi Wada sat on a student desk, defeated. This wonderful opportunity had just slipped through her fingers. She signaled to her two classmates that alone time was what she needed. Granting her this favor, they both left, giving her some space to think.

 

The Class-1B leader looked at her portable GLASS, depressed at the idea of announcing the news. She gathered enough courage to make that important call. Fortunately for her, no one picked up the phone. All she had to do was leave a message. 

       Tsumugi Wada here. He refused to comply.

Separator

On his way towards the Alpha Arena, a known figure entered Tatsu Jin’s line of sight.

 

Eleanor was there, bringing her natural elegance behind a casual outfit. It’s been a few days since he last saw his Contractor. She voiced her greetings and immediately offered him some company on their way to the stadium.

 

Eleanor did not deserve to be refused such a simple demand, but Tatsu Jin gritted his teeth at the idea. The last thing he wanted at that moment was to create more drama. And that included revealing to the world who was the Illusion Contractor’s student. He was finally able to relax after realizing people around him were focusing their attention on their own group.

 

Eleanor had time to think about what to ask him the next time she was going to see him. So, she quickly asked about what would be his approach towards winning the Winter Tournament.

 

However, despite her multiple attempts, he refused to give hints about his future battle tactics. After experiencing that the usual distractions were not working anymore, he knew he had to deal a low blow.  

       I’ll tell you everything you want to know. Of course, you need to do the same. How did your very special meeting go?

He put the emphasis on the words “very special”, which managed to take her off guard.

 

Eleanor kept on burning all her potential topics until they finally took their seats in the arena. Tatsu Jin took a minute to admire the Alpha Arena, he who was finally able to contemplate it without the pressure of his own fights.

 

Even at the furthest point from the ring, the visibility was decent. The Alpha Arena was centered around a retractable roof, which was open because of decent weather. It triggered a great theatrical effect as the battlefield was lit up by a beam of natural light.

 

Coming from the ceiling’s speakers, a music fit for a grand entrance reverberated through the arena. A wave of students answered it with cheers and whistles.

 

Hidden within a smokescreen, the Archbishop, the World Eater, and the Chairman slowly took place on the ring. A miniature drone was gravitating between the three, responsible for capturing all of their speeches with a built-in microphone.

 

The World Eater, faithful to himself, waved repetitively at the crowd whereas the Archbishop kept a solemn expression on her face. The Elite Magic Academy’s Chairman was clearly happy to be there and share the spotlight with two of the most powerful magicians on the planet.

 

When members of the Absolute Trinity enter a stadium, the crowd had always gone into an uproar. This time was no exception and an overwhelming quantity of clapping, whistling, and shouting followed every one of their footsteps.

 

The Archbishop walked in front, ready to be the first one to speak. She opened her arms to hype up the Elite Magic Academy.   

       Today begins the Winter Tournament!

     

     All of you, you represent the next generations of magicians, the finest of the finest. It is your duty to do your best. It is your duty to reward those who imparted you with knowledge. The whole world will see some of you, so let us lead by example and show some fair play. You are the Elite Magic Academy! You have a reputation to keep.

 

     Dedicate all of your energy to succeed in your endeavors. But remember, unity is strength! I will be watching you, while in charge of the healing team. I will also monitor the stadium barrier to keep you all safe. Thank you, everyone!

The Archbishop ended her speech with a smile. Feeling in trance with her encouragements, the Elite Magic Academy rewarded her with a thunderous wave of applause.

 

After walking back to her place, she tilted her head and made a snarky wink directed at the World Eater. She was openly taunting and challenging him to make an even greater impact. The World Eater close his eyes, smiled, and whistled a single comment in response. 

       I’ll take that bet.

In a heartbeat, the most regarded Japanese mercenary was facing the arena.

       Greeting everyone. This is a new beginning for all of you, which is why I have some wisdom to share.

     

     We’ve all heard quotes like “Practice fighting, and fight with what you practiced”. This is good and all, but the greatest fighters are masters of organized chaos. They strive to be less lost than their opponents in every single area. Where I am going is…

 

     All of you, please, do not play by the book.

 

     Everything that is within the specter of the rules should be considered and used to gain an advantage. Important scouts from powerful organizations are here to see you perform. So, I entrust every single one of you with a single mission: to impress them by mastering chaos.

 

     As for my duties, I have accepted the role of Head Referee. I’ll have front seats to judge your progress!

In a manner that surprised everyone, the World Eater had taken the role of a teacher.

 

His history with the military had made him adept at speaking in front of his troops. He had a completely different kind of charisma than the Archbishop, but his words imposed the same kind of respect. Furthermore, many students nodded to his point, understanding the underlying meaning behind his arguments.

 

Once again, an intense clapping reverberated through the stadium. A few students even swore that the floor was currently vibrating. Still, the difference between the World Eater’s speech and the Archbishop’s was not noticeable. They looked at each other and decided to let the matter go with a laugh.

 

Finally, Jirou Otsuka slowly took his rightful place, as Chairman of the Elite Magic Academy.  

       For the sixth year in a row, the Master of All Magic dodged our invitation… I will keep working hard so that one day, he may be there with us.

Somewhere in the arena, the Magic Theory teacher allocated to Class-1B chuckled on her drink. The Chairman, who was not impacted by such behavior, kept on delivering his speech.

       Every year, I am amazed by the dedication you all put into your training.

     Every year, I feel like it is our duty to offer you the best opportunities.

     Every year, I strive to go above and beyond, to get rid of all my bias, in order to develop your talents.

     Sometimes, I face the entire board over a disagreement, in your names.

     So, show them I am not wrong. Show them what you can do.

 

     I will follow the World Eater with a few words of my own: “All Magic is to be studied, and their offensive potentials to be analyzed”.

 

     As for my duties, I am the organizer of this tournament. Let’s the 2063’s Winter Tournament begin!

Hair was standing up on Tatsu Jin’s arms.

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