Chapter 23

Dodging Bullets

Sunday, November 18th, 2063

It has been ten days since Tatsu Jin issued his challenge. Because Mia and Yumi refused to speak to him, the transfer student pretty much spent all of his free time alone. Weekends were especially calm and allowed him to finish two volumes of Magic Theory while still being up to date with his homework.

 

Eleanor was the only one he wanted to keep an eye on. It led to an awkward situation in which Tatsu Jin visited her more time in ten days than the whole of last month.

 

What changed most in his attitude was a newfound curiosity for the Elite Magic Academy. He was particularly interested in wandering around the campus during late afternoons. The combination of the sun settling down and the artificial lighting coming to life gave this place an atmosphere of mystery that he longed for.

 

But most importantly, no one was there to disturb him. Over the last couple of days, the challenge between him and the King became the main topic to discuss. To them, this was a battle of dominance, and Tatsu Jin refused to back down. The transfer student decided to not give them even more ammunition. He was living his peaceful days on his own, away from others and their judgmental attitudes.

 

Instead, he was worried about how to patch things up with Mia and Yumi. In his mind, this was particularly bad timing, considering the Winter Tournament had just started.

 

Tatsu Jin entered the first-year Dormitory Building, having successfully completed his jogging. He took a moment to use his microfiber cloth to get rid of all the sweat on his head and arms. His eyes wandered around his environment, noticing he was being watched by more people than usual. He raised his guard a bit more, even after using the elevator to reach the twenty-seventh floor.

(I guess I was a bit paranoid…)

As he unlocked his apartment door, Tatsu Jin suddenly heard people screaming on the other side of the corridor.

 

A running cat took a turn in the corridor and entered his line of sight. Running towards him at full speed, the animal stopped its course in front of him. It gave the transfer student enough time to admire from up close how unique this cat’s fur was. Its body was mainly covered by white fur while its eyes, ears, and legs were completely black. The mix of green and yellow in its feline pupils was also quite the sight.

 

As if wondering what to do for a couple of seconds, the animal decided to run inside Apartment 808. Settling under the main armchair, this was what the cat considered as the safest place available.

 

Tatsu Jin left his door open to give the owner of this cat enough time to come inside. Not a stranger to animal behavior, he let the animal sniff his microfiber cloth from afar, which was imprinted with his own smell.

 

Suddenly, a loud and feminine voice reached his ears. Even though it sounded like a plea, the tone she used was more akin to an order.

       Wait!

When she passed the door frame, Tatsu Jin finally saw who she was: the Queen herself Hideyo Daigo.

 

Her breathing was all over the place as she had been playing catch-up with the cat. After noticing the cat hidden underneath the chair, The Queen pushed a button, triggering the closing of Apartment 808’s door.

 

She put a finger on her lips, which the transfer student understood as a demand for silence. He then saw her use her GLASS to call someone.

       I lost her. Search the other floors. Meet me back at Apartment 827 in an hour if you fail.

Tatsu Jin raised an eyebrow, proof of his puzzlement. He had hundreds of questions, but had trouble organizing them by importance. Coincidences were not really part of his vocabulary, which meant the sudden appearance of the Queen had to be related to the animal. Despite having read her psychological profile, the transfer student had no idea what to expect from her.

 

Hideyo Daigo let go of her domineering attitude and breathed every single bit of air out of her body. The way the Queen sighed gave away how stressed she had been.

       We have to talk.

It was at this moment that the young woman fully comprehended who she was talking to. The situation between her teammate and the transfer student did not help at all. Still, she was surprised to see no aggressivity in Tatsu Jin’s eyes.

       Listen… I would have rather it been anyone but you. I know our situation is kind of… tense at the moment, but I have nothing against you. Hikaru has. The fact is…

Her voice was slowly dying out.

       I need a favor.

Tatsu Jin did not move a muscle whilst his inner Master of All Magic was laughing his guts off.

(Maybe I should make this a career…)

To prevent his inner laughter from breaking into reality, the transfer student decided to focus on the conversation at hand.

        It’s about the cat, isn’t it?

        Yes.

Tatsu Jin walked up to his fridge and took out two little orange juice bottles, one of which he tossed to his visitor. The Queen looked at him funny, wondering how being a good host took priority in satisfying his curiosity. He noticed it and came back with an answer.

       I just ran… I need the extra vitamins.

He decided to slowly sit on the chair which had a cat underneath it, banking on the fact that he did a good enough job beforehand. The feline tried multiple times to hit the transfer student’s ankles with his paws, but his boots took most of the damage. Once the cat calmed down, he stopped trying to hit the transfer student.

 

The Queen saw that as an opportunity to crouch in front of the cat. Unfortunately, all her attempts to get closer was only met with hissing. The owner of the place wasted no time inquiring about what had been done.

        What did you do to deserve that reaction?

        I didn’t do a thing. Hikaru did. I guess I am a bad girl by association.

She was feeling a mix of pride and regret.

      I just… She was not being treated right. So, I kind of… let the door open.

      I see… You did the right thing.

      Can I ask you to take care of her for a couple of days? It’s only so I could a way to sneak her outside the academy without Hikaru knowing.

There was simply no way Tatsu Jin would immediately agree to something like this. He would be the one at risk while getting neither protection nor reward.

       If I am busted, will you tell the truth to support my innocence, or will I be catalogued as an animal thief?

The Queen’s face turned awry. On one hand, her allegiance went to the King. But on the other hand, she could simply not let such a cute animal get this kind of treatment. This was breaking her apart, and the only way out of this was to compromise.

       I cannot directly intervene. What I can offer is to anonymously try my best.

Tatsu Jin’s brain functioned at a high regime. He was considering all of his options, including walking away from all of this. Something inside of him, like a gut feeling, was telling him to keep the feline. In addition, the possibility of having the Queen in his debt did not sound too bad to him.

 

The Master of All Magic was used to dealing with domestic animals. While undercover, taking care of pets often made his disguise more realistic. So, the idea of having a cat was not instantly thrown out of the window. However, he knew this could have huge consequences. He needed to prepare himself if this whole story was nothing but a charade.

 

The Queen’s body language, which showed no sign of lying, was the deciding factor. 

       I accept to grant you this favor.

The Queen exhaled in relief. This was her first time interacting with Tatsu Jin, and she thought he had been more than reasonable until now. The young woman was also impressed by how prudent he was. However, he was not done with her.

       But remember, I will be collecting mine in return.

Hideyo Daigo had no choice but to accept her fate, although there was still something she was curious about.

      You don’t want to know what drove her to escape?

       I’m not usually one to ask questions, I would rather listen to what people wish to share with me. I don’t pry into people’s life more than I’m obligated to.

Hideyo Daigo was only taken aback by how collected and mature he was. She, who had never been in contact with the Master of All Magic, was not able to understand the implications behind this slip-up. Instead, she decided to justify her actions.

      She arrived yesterday, with the single goal of being used by Hikaru. He had his eyes set on a second-year student and this was supposed to be his golden gift. Hikaru does not know how to handle animals and she ended up clawing him. It was pretty funny until he ordered his maids to deny her food to teach her some manners. Then, I had to do something…

       You did well. Being able to not see eye to eye with your allies is a good skill.

Tatsu Jin saw some similarities between what just happened and how Yumi and Mia reacted ten days earlier. When he saw the Queen looking at her GLASS, the transfer student knew there was room for one final question.

      Mia and Yumi were angry after last week’s event. By any chance, do you have a piece of your own wisdom to share?

Apartment 808’s door slid into the wall under a second, giving enough time for the Queen to share her thoughts on the matter.

      It’s often hurtful to see someone you care about treating you like a trophy, or as a betting token. My apologies, but because I speak from experience, I’m with them on that one.

After passing the door’s threshold, Hideyo Daigo hesitated. Something was on her conscience and she could not ignore it anymore. The young woman looked straight into his eyes and gave away her warning.

      Try to not go outside alone. These are dangerous times.

The Queen disappeared into the corridor.

 

Alone once again, Tatsu Jin postponed his meditation to tend to his new roommate. The cat needed all the attention she could get right now. He placed a curved plate full on milk on the kitchen ground, but to no avail. The feline was still hiding under the chair.

 

The transfer student decided to not force anything and be patient. Sitting on the ground, he did his best to show that he was not a threat in any way. Forty-five minutes later, the animal finally felt adventurous, and maybe a bit thirsty. Step by step, look after look, she finally reached the plate, drinking like there was no tomorrow.

 

While monitoring her advancements, the Queen’s words about his teammates floated into his mind. Looking at his situations from multiple angles, Tatsu Jin knew there was one important point to take away from this.

(At one point, Yumi and Mia’s reason for sticking with me changed from me being able to teach them and perform with them to simply considering me a friend. It means they now operate on emotions, and not rational thinking. No wonder my attempt at justification didn’t get through…)

The cat was puzzled by the one, who although in deep thought, was not moving at all. She poked his knee multiple times, moving away with every try. Tatsu Jin slowly caressed the cat with the back of his hand.

      Since you fought your way out, I’m calling you Nakano.

He then spent a considerable amount of time researching online to get up to speed on animal caring. The first-year Dormitory Building provided pretty much every resource he needed. He asked the only doctor with veterinary knowledge to come and see Nakano to make sure everything was in order.

 

When they entered Apartment 808, Nakano was playing in the kitchen.

 

Curious about the multiple buttons, she had been pushing them one by one. Nakano was mystified by how drawers opened themselves automatically. However, when she felt Tatsu Jin and the doctor’s gazes on her, she simply walked away like she was not even there in the first place.

 

They both smiled at her failed attempt for innocence.

 

The doctor gave the transfer a few tips to help Nakano feel at home. Tatsu Jin paid him a hefty sum for his expertise, way more than his normal wage. He knew he was also a weak point in this enterprise, so he needed to ensure his silence.

 

Hours faded away before the sun slowly started to come down.

 

An orange glow took over the entire Elite Magic Academy, reflecting on its many windows. The temperature grew colder after each passing minute so that students only wearing light clothes were left shivering. While it was time for them to find shelter inside, it gave Tatsu Jin the perfect opportunity for a peaceful walk.

 

When the first blade of cold wind flew through him, it woke up every bone inside his body. Step after step, he was trying to match his heartbeat. At that moment, his destination held no importance at all.

 

After all, this too was some kind of meditation.

 

Walking through the Center Garden, the transfer student felt weird. This place, which had always been full of life, was currently deserted. Instead, the wind gave rhythm to the garden, making grass, bushes, and trees dance under its power.

 

Tatsu Jin’s hair was obviously not an exception, floating around his face.  

(It’s been good having time to wander around…)

He felt good, like he had complete control over his entire body. However, his GLASS vibrated and made him come back to reality.

It’s the Student Council President,

I have received notice that you are being targeted. It may be for today. 

 

This information comes from the Academy Secret Messengers, who are smart enough to notice patterns. They let something like this go last year, and it ended badly, so they came to notify me this time.

 

If they engage, activate your location and I’ll be on my way. I believe it would be in your best interest to not fight back.

Tatsu Jin analyzed the situation.

 

Having the Student Council President oversee the Academy Secret Messengers was completely obvious. It was a slap in his face that he never made the link between these two. That way, conflicts could be stopped before they even begun.

 

As Tatsu Jin was not in everyone’s little papers, the one who ordered his attack was unknown for now. Still, he firmly believes that the King was involved, in some way. After all, Hideyo Daigo’s warning had now a whole new meaning.

(She might have even ordered the attack herself…

 

More importantly, does the King already know about me hiding Nakano? Or is this just payback for daring to stand up to him?)

Separator

For the last couple of days, The King had been quietly waiting for good opportunities to corner and weaken Tatsu Jin. Under his mentor’s advice, he decided to be patient. However, losing the cat had made him lose his cool. She was an important piece to secure the loyalty of a second-year student, and he had pulled some strings to make her come to the Elite Magic Academy.

 

Hikaru Tsukumo’s brainstorming session was quick, which resulted in him contacting the only veterinary in the building. He had no time to lose and decided to use his identity and means to threaten him into submission.

 

He demanded to see the camera footage but the doctor refused his request under the argument of data confidentiality. Anger took the best of him as he needed to regain at least some sense of control. After the Queen came back to him, he ordered her to plan a surprise attack on the transfer student.

Separator

Fuji Uchita’s argument about him defending the low ground made sense to Tatsu Jin. He had sacrificed quite a bit to hide his abilities, and a few thugs were not enough to make him change his plans.

 

Tatsu Jin kept walking towards the North-East corner and the second-year Dormitory Building soon entered his vision. This place was shaped more like a regular university campus than the first year’s. Missing the luxury of sightseeing at high altitudes, second-year students enjoyed other perks.

 

There was an adjacent building, which held the official Sports Center of the Elite Magic Academy. The transfer student used his GLASS to find out more about this place, which was the rally points of inter-promotion sporting events. It was also used for events involving other Magic schools and academies.

 

The last information on the page was of infinite value to him. 

(Magic is forbidden inside the building and during practice.)

At that point, he knew that thugs would not dare cross that line. But he, on the other hand, was skillful enough to hide the casting of Medium-Class and Advanced-Class Support Magic spells. All he needed was a crowded place, where the attention would be focused on himself. His salute came in the form of a basketball court, where a basketball game had just started.

 

All the players who participated came from different promotions, with just the love of basketball in common. The suspense was what made Tatsu Jin decide to stay a bit longer. The combination of high jumps, a fast pace unforgiving of those without endurance, technique, and team play led to high-level plays. The transfer student found this package weirdly gracious.

 

Tatsu Jin managed to cast all his spells, but it was only twenty minutes later that he finally decided to leave the basketball court.

 

When Tatsu Jin got out of the Sports Center, the sun had now completely disappeared, letting darkness take over the sky. The transfer student followed the East borders and its network of dark alleys. He had been thinking about how easier it would be to trigger the attack by taking this route.

 

When his sharpened senses made him feel an upcoming sense of doom, the transfer student immediately activated the device’s localization. He knew maneuvering through his enemies was going to be difficult. Choosing to fight in a narrow dead-end was just assisted suicide, which is why he chose this alley instead.

 

Five hooded figures appeared from within the shadows and took positions fit for combat. It was not completely dark thanks to the nearest lamp post. Their eyes and body language betrayed their intentions. One man, who had a faint Ether aura, took a couple of steps forward and pointed his self-defense baton at him.  

      The Elite Magic Academy will soon see what a nasty and manipulative person you are.

       Right back at you. But at least, you’re not wasting my time. You have no idea how much I appreciate that.

Moving into his own fighting stance, Tatsu Jin was by far the most dominating presence here.

      Let us see if you are capable of landing a hit.

The hooded leader instantly engaged in a one-versus-one contest. Behind his self-defense baton, his fighting fundamentals were clearly solid. Drawing power from the ground and building momentum, his blows had lots of force behind them.

 

Tatsu Jin redirected many of his enemy’s attempts by moving his legs closer to his opponent, giving him reach to block his opponent’s wrists or forearms. With that, he was able to completely annihilate the group leader’s offensive potential, even with his baton and Support Magic.

 

The hooded fighter stepped back and looked at his four crewmates, who had used that time to cast their own Support Magic spells.

      What are you doing? Enjoying the show?

The other four moved into their own fighting stance, with only two using self-defense batons. After all, self-defense batons were perfect for dealing heavy damage without risking deadly injuries. These were the perfect weapons for such a scenario.

 

But while the attacking crew had the upper hand with their weapons, the alley was working in Tatsu Jin’s favor. It wasn’t wide enough for all of them to fight at the same time, making it hard to coordinate attacks. With this configuration, no more than two fighters could attack him simultaneously.

 

Two hooded figures rushed to fight him at close range. Their combinations were fast-paced, and their chemistry obvious. Tatsu Jin understood that this first pair was the most dangerous one. Multiple times, these two fighters had gotten closer to his blind spots, almost securing a hit. Drops of sweat ran down the transfer student’s forehead.

(They’re training together for the tournament…)

When they finally retreated to let others fight, Tatsu Jin glanced at his environment. His heartbeat was making loud bangs in his head. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could use to make the fight easier. Instead, he went for something unexpected.

 

When the two hand-to-hand fighters came back, Tatsu Jin took on the initiative to break this powerful association. He had analyzed their pattern of attacks and found a hole. He swiftly positioned himself while dodging a first, using his opponent’s own strength against him. Grabbing his arm, Tatsu Jin projected him onto the ground.

 

Tatsu Jin placed his foot onto the grounded enemy’s chest to get a better grip strength. That way, he could easily tear his opponents’ shoulder with his wrist. He pre-emptively torn it a bit as a warning to his other crewmates. If they tried anything funny, it would result in a dislocated shoulder and a lot of pain. He was even in a position when he allowed himself some taunting.

      Oops…

The group leader hit the ground with his boot in anger, creating a few cracks on the concrete.

      Son of a…

He could not even finish his sentence because of how tired he was. After all, an absurd amount of physical and mental energy had been wasted throughout this fight.

 

Up until now, the transfer student had been skilfully dancing around them, rendering all of their attempts pointless. With such a dire situation, the hooded leader started to think about alternative plans. Their mission briefing stated that they must not, under any circumstances, use powerful Magic spells that could endanger their target’s life.

 

However, his frustration was just too strong.

      Screw this!

A huge Ether aura appeared on the outside of his body. A purplish halo quickly changed to red, and the outside temperature was steadily rising. He was planning on releasing a wide Advanced-Class Fire Magic.

 

Before he could finish the casting of his spell, Fuji Uchita, the Student Council President, finally made his entrance. 

      That’s enough.

He slowly walked up in front of the transfer student.

      Five against one, huh? And I even recognize a second-year student… Have you simply no shame? Stop casting. Now.

Without any hesitation in his voice and small traces of killing intent in his eyes, the five hooded students instantly complied. The purplish aura quickly disappeared, and its owner instantly knew they had failed their task, giving in to his anger.

      We’re acting for the Elite Magic Academy! Doing your job!

       I could have listened to you if you had not been cowards. If you tell me who ordered this pitiful attempt, I’ll make sure to not mention any name in my report.

Hesitating for a second, he knew the Queen would certainly hear about him tossing aside the rules of this mission and going for a powerful Magic spell. Because it made no sense to lose on both sides, he decided to cut his losses.

      Hideyo Daigo, probably under the King’s orders.

       Out of my sight. Now.

All of them quickly ran away, disappointed to have failed this mission, but relieved that their place at the Elite Magic Academy was not endangered.

 

Tatsu Jin accepted the Student Council President’s offer to walk him back to his dormitory. Walking near the Elite Magic Academy’s East borders, they exchanged about plenty of topics, including why the transfer student refused to fight during Ranked matches.

 

When he felt that his millions of questions would be left answered anyway, Fuji Uchita decided on a different approach. Enquiring about Tatsu Jin’s latest classes, both of them ended up debating about the inherent properties of Ether.

 

Reaching the entrance of the first-year Dormitory Building, Tatsu Jin was not one to miss on being polite and thankful.

      Thanks, for tonight.

      I’m pretty sure you would have been fine on your own. But you’re an Elite Magic Academy student, and therefore under my protection, like all the others.

      Are you sure I can’t convince you to focus your attention on someone else?

A sarcastic smile made its way onto Fuji Uchita’s face.

      You can’t. Since you got here, there have been more weird stuff happening than in the last two years! I can feel both you and the King are going to cost me time in paperwork…

       You can already expect it to get worse. Fate has its own to say screw you. I learned that today.

They amicably shook hands and parted ways. At that point, Tatsu Jin was starting to consider the Student Council President as a potential ally.

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