Sunday, December 2nd, 2063
Everyone close to Hideyo Daigo knew how much she loved her Sundays. The idea that, on this particular day, she would always be taking care of herself was dear to her. So much so that it became sort of a tradition.
The most affected by this schedule was her personal attendant Lydia. She had been by her mistress’ side for years, watching her grow into the woman she was now. With her level of dedication and affection, Lydia grew to be one of the Queen’s confident and closest friends. Even though they were both aware of their difference in status, they still treated each other with dedication and respect.
Right now, Lydia was making circles around the Queen, often switching between a pair of scissors and an electric clipper.
Throughout the years, Hideyo Daigo had been the subject of Lydia’s extremely top-of-the-line fashion skills. She never had been disappointed with the results, even once. After all, she had extreme confidence in her attendant’s abilities. Having asked for something in-between short and long, manageable during fights, and also a bit trendy, she was more than impressed after being given a mirror.
Most of the hair on the left side of her head was gone. What was left perfectly faded into her shoulder-length hairstyle on the right side. This style had been a staple at multiple instances over the course of the twenty-first century. The Queen wasted no time to show her appreciation.
– It’s perfect, as always. Thanks, Lyd.
– You’re welcome, Lady Daigo.
The Queen smiled. She tried, asked, and even bargained to try and stop her from being so formal, but nothing ever worked.
When Hideyo Daigo stood up, her eyes stumbled across the main table, and the new flower arrangement. Inside a vase stood multiple flowers of the same species. On every one of these, a core of bright yellow, red, and green surrounded six white petals.
Anticipating her mistress’ needs, Lydia quickly provided the necessary trivia.
– Lady Daigo, these are called “Narcissus Poeticus”, or more commonly known as the Poet’s Daffodil. They are of course linked with the Greek legend of Narcissus, a hunter who rejected everyone’s beauty but his own. He ended up falling in love with his own reflection.
– Sounds like someone I know…
When the Queen learned of Lydia’s interest in flower arrangements, she had gone out of her way to provide her with the best teacher available. As a token of her appreciation, Lydia had made a point of replacing the flowers on the main table every Sunday to show her progress. In addition, she only selected very specific flowers because of their hidden meanings.
Seeing that her mistress was about to head outside, Lydia bowed down and immediately got down to tidying the place.
Hideyo Daigo soon arrived at Apartment 27’s living room, only to see her mood instantly worsen. The King was watching a video on his GLASS Entertaining System, the exact same he had been looking at on playback mode for nearly five days.
While the King barely noticed her entrance, he slightly bowed his head down as a greeting. Hikaru Tsukumo then pointed at a fancy glass, already filled with some high-class whiskey. The Queen was surprised since sharing a drink together was not something they often did.
– Are we celebrating something?
– Yes, we are. Before noon, I’ll finally be able to put a name on who stole the damn animal.
At that exact moment, the Queen entered a state of overwhelming calmness. She, who was already threading a very dangerous needle, could not afford a single crack in her behavior.
So, she finally drank the whiskey all the way down, and with the sensation of an ever-burning fire in her throat, decided to make a final attempt. The timing was perfect precisely because no one was around to interpret his actions as potential signs of weakness.
– I think you should seriously reconsider your interest in Miss Hirano.
Hikaru Tsukumo drank a sip of whiskey and calmly pointed at the screen.
– Can’t you see how incredible she is? We’re the only team capable of using her abilities to their full potential, especially up there, in the sky.
The Queen instantly crossed her arms, putting put two and two together. She couldn’t let him ruin her family’s years of development.
– Listen, this is not going to happen. Our families’ Secret Spell isn’t for something as trivial as winning an Elite Magic Academy tournament. You and I both know we have no right to spoil our family’s ace move for our selfish goals. You’ve got to look at the big picture here, Hikaru…
She could see her argument make waves inside the King’s head.
– As for Miss Hirano, her talent wasn’t that obvious at the beginning of the year. Someone else simply beat you to it and you should accept the loss. You’ve even seen with your own eyes that her allegiance lies with him now…
Being reminded of his failures drastically changed the King’s body language. With a newfound aggressiveness in his eyes, as if he was dictating lines from a book, Hikaru Tsukumo’s tone was flat and cold.
– You’re right. She’s siding him now, but not for long. All I need to do is find the key to her soul. After taking care of the transfer student, I’ll have all the time to figure out how to make her mine.
Hikaru Tsukumo let that information sink in for a moment.
– However, this is now about more than simply recruiting loyal followers. This is about sending a message: no one can play dumb games with me, the future Head of the Tsukumo family, without biting the dust. She has to be mine, or else it’ll appear weak, and I simply can’t afford that.
The Queen knew no argument would make him listen to reason.
Someone else made his way to the living room, improving the King’s mood by a mile.
– I’ve been waiting for you! Tell me you come with good news.
– I do, Lord Tsukumo.
The humble man slowly walked over to the GLASS Entertainment System, sliding his personal GLASS onto the synchronizing pad. The screen transitioned to a folder management system. Soon enough, what the King really wanted to see was now on full display.
It was a security camera feed, showing the inside of what looked like a regular office. An examination bench and other technical furniture were enough to figure out that this was the workplace of a medical practitioner.
The doctor had remained alone, taking care of his administration digitalwork for most of the day, until a first-year student entered his office. The King’s heartbeat was fastening by the minute.
– Come on… show me your face, you bastard.
A minute later, the King was dumbfounded by the identity of the one who dared to steal something from him. Just to be sure, he jumped to his feet and looked at the one he paid handsomely to bring him that tape.
– It’s him, isn’t it? It’s him!
– We have indeed identified this student as Class-1B’s Tatsu Jin, Lord Tsukumo.
The Queen was now panicking. She knew nothing of this investigation and was caught off guard. Although she had already prepared an exit route, she never expected to have use of it now. Nonetheless, her priority was to appear calm and strong, so that she could pretend like she knew nothing of the situation.
It took everything inch of herself to stop the trembling.
On the other side, the King was ecstatic.
– I’m taking you down now.
Hikaru Tsukumo gave the humble man his final task.
– Find the Elite Magic Academy Chairman for me. Take a copy of the proof with you and discuss Tatsu Jin’s expulsion from the Academy and even the legal ground for common action against him for thievery with him.
– On it, Lord Tsukumo.
Seconds after, only the King and Queen remained, with the living room filled with tension. The King tried to focus on his next moves, but his obvious satisfaction made it hard for him to remain in place.
Even though the Queen wanted to be alone, she did not want to act suspiciously. After a minute of thinking, the Queen sat on the opposing sofa and made a suggestion.
– Shouldn’t you be talking with the Tsukumo family lawyer right now? You know it’s gonna take the backing of our families to take him down.
– How I haven’t thought of that is beyond me… Thank you, Hideyo.
Hideyo Daigo exhaled in relief watching the King run upstairs towards the Conference room. She was now alone, wondering whether or not to go through with the plan that she had prepared. The trigger was a simple call, but the young lady had to think deeply about the consequences.
Her head was in her two hands. She knew there was no way to turn back if that was what she really wanted to do. The young lady would have to live with having betrayed Hikaru Tsukumo on her conscience.
It was not even something as simple as a white lie. She was directly conflicting with the King’s main goal: to get rid of the transfer student. While Hideyo Daigo could still act as if the cat was her move to trap Tatsu Jin, it would come the cost of the cat’s health and safety.
The Queen had to make a choice now, between her principles and her loyalty.
Hideyo Daigo knew she had some time, although not much, to make her decision. Looking at her GLASS, she remembered something important. The Queen had forgotten to support Lydia’s endeavors in learning about flower arrangements.
A long time ago, she had promised her attendant to always look up hidden meanings for every flower her attendant decided to put on display. Browsing on the online flower database, she finally found the database page of the “Narcissus Poeticus”. A gentle smile appeared on the Queen’s face after getting to the hidden meaning section.
– Non-returned love and new beginnings. Oh, screw you, Lyd.
Since Yumi heard that Mia sometimes tagged along with Tatsu Jin during his runs, she had also insisted on participating. This Sunday was no exception and some academy students caught a glimpse of Team 27’s exercising outside. This time around, Mia had finally gotten used to the transfer student’s pace, while Yumi instantly adapted thanks to her innate physical abilities.
In front of the Dormitory Building, Yumi and Mia were sweating buckets, needing some time to catch their breath. Tatsu Jin, who had been following this routine every day for nearly fifteen years, showed little to no sign of fatigue. He decided to share something his former master used to say to him years ago.
– You two should put your focus on your breathing. Good synchronization between your legs and your heart is key to reducing the fatigue of your muscles. It’s all about rhythm and letting oxygen flows towards your legs and arms.
Ten minutes later, like a well-oiled machine, Team 27 reached the twenty-seventh floor. Mia, who still needed a few more Ether meditation sessions, went on with Tatsu Jin while Yumi took off on her own. After all, the transfer student had always been an advocate of self-training, which was a great exercise in the self-assessment of one’s strengths and weaknesses.
After a well-deserved shower, Tatsu Jin went over to Mia’s apartment, as they had agreed to swap the host duty once in a while. A round of soft drinks and biscuits later, they sat on the ground, connecting their hands to meditate.
Unfortunately, a couple of minutes into their session, Tatsu Jin’s GLASS began vibrating. Looking at the content of this message left him deep in thought. When Mia felt the Ether connection between them fading, she opened her eyes.
– What was it? Is it bad news?
– Kinda. But don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it later.
Mia, who felt like she was not trustworthy enough to share his worries, was now striving to impress him. Tatsu Jin could feel Mia’s Ether moving faster than usual and upped his pace to match hers. He knew her efforts deserved congratulations.
– It took almost two months, but I think you’re finally up to speed. Keep holding that speed until it feels natural.
– Congratulations, there are still a few things we need to work on, but for now, go out there and enjoy yourself. You deserve it.
Mia bowed down on the verge of tears, showing her extreme appreciation for his lessons. Mirroring her feelings, Tatsu Jin left her apartment with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction he had never felt before.
But right now, he had to think about his summon to the Chairman’s office.
At 3:05 PM, the Chairman’s secretary asked the transfer student, who had been patiently waiting in the lobby, to follow her. Going up a flight of stairs and through a large corridor, she stopped in front of a conference room door. The middle-aged lady stated that all parties concerned are already waiting for him.
Tatsu Jin entered the conference room and was astounded by how plain looking it was. Only furnished with a huge square table and office chairs, only the holographic display was obviously top-notch. It didn’t take for the transfer student to understand what was going on, but more specifically, why this particular room had been chosen.
(You want to keep this off the record… Good idea.)
Jirou Otsuka, the active Chairman of the academy, stood on the other side of the room. Hideyo Daigo and Hikaru Tsukumo shared the room’s left side. On one hand, the young lady looked nervous and was avoiding the transfer student’s eyes. On the other hand, the King directly looked at him, betraying his eagerness to end this once and for all.
The Chairman asked him to seat on an office chair on the right side. While waiting for the transfer student to take a seat, he wasted no time and went straight to business.
– My name is Jirou Otsuka, and as the Elite Magic Academy Chairman, my duty is to arbitrate every dispute with fairness and objectivity. Both sides will be heard, starting from the accusation. After that, I will give my final judgment. Do both parties agree to these conditions?
Tatsu Jin and Hikaru Tsukumo simply gave their approval with a nod. Jirou Otsuka slowly fell onto his chair, inviting the King to step forward.
In a swift movement, the heir of the Tsukumo family got to his feet and slid a GLASS on the synchronization port. The holographic display lit up, smoothly taking on the form of an invoice.
– A few days ago, I made the acquisition of a cat with a unique fur pattern. This was intended as a gift for one of the students under my protection, who felt a bit alone not having seen her parents for weeks. This invoice is proof that the cat does indeed belong to me, and no one else.
Turning towards the transfer student, he made it clear this he was out for blood.
– However, it disappeared a short while after its arrival. To make sure that the animal wasn’t in any kind of danger, I decided to pull in some favor. This is how I got access to the camera feed of the office which belongs to the only medical practitioner with veterinary knowledge inside our Dormitory.
A simple wave over his personal GLASS shifted the display to a new scene.
– Here, you can see that, on the day of the cat’s disappearance, he was the only student who came to the doctor for advice. This is how I was able to prove that he’s the thief who stole my property. I am asking for both the Elite Magic Academy and the Tsukumo family to report this unacceptable behavior to the police together, for him to be immediately expelled and…
The Elite Magic Academy Chairman raised his right arm to interrupt him, figuring out that he had now heard most of what his Class-1A student had to say.
– Let me get this straight: you have confirmed nothing. Mister Tatsu here could have gone to see the doctor for a thousand other purposes than to ask about a cat. Do you have security footage of him with the cat?
– … I don’t.
– Such a shame. We’ll have to rely on Mister Tatsu’s honesty then.
His seat rotated, and the Chairman engaged with the transfer student.
– Are you currently in possession of this cat? If the answer is yes, since when?
For a moment that seemed instantaneous, Tatsu Jin’s and the Queen’s eyes crossed, and he immediately recognize shame in her eyes. Nonetheless, he had no idea if that shame was related to her having betrayed the King, or to her feeding him to the authorities for animal theft.
Still, he thought the truth would prevail.
– I have been sheltering the cat since she disappeared from his apartment.
– Thanks for your honesty, it’ll be greatly taken into account. What’s your perspective on this?
– It’s pretty simple. The first time I met Nakano, she was rushing into my apartment, in a complete state of shock. I wasn’t able to get close to her for forty minutes because of how scared she was. She was also too hungry and thirsty for someone who hadn’t been maltreated. The truth is, even if I wanted to release her, she’d probably come back to me.
Hikaru Tsukumo instantly got up and slammed the table with his hands.
– That’s bullshit! You’re a lying piece of shit, you animal thief! You just hate my guts for having the courage to try and recruit your teammate.
– I don’t hate you, I really don’t. If you really want the cat, I’d be more than happy to oblige. I’m against animal maltreatment, but not at the cost of my own skin.
The transfer student’s calmness angered the King even more. He currently cumulated all signs of anger with a clenched jaw, furrowed brows, and a complexion slightly turning red. The heir of the Tsukumo family was ready to fire another round of insult before he realized that the Chairman had his hand raised once again.
Flipping his chair back and forth, he was waiting for him to calm down and listen.
– Mister Tatsu, that’s not gonna be necessary. You can keep taking good care of the cat. As for you… sit down!
Jirou Otsuka’s hard gaze set on the King, who looked as if reason itself had disappeared from this world. The young man was speechless and could only comply with the order. Meanwhile, the Chairman took out an envelope from his coat, which lied on his office chair, and tossed it on the desk.
– The Academy Secret Messenger came to me this morning with this anonymous letter. In it lies the testimony of someone who I trust to have been an important witness to this incident. The words inside this envelope corroborate the version of Mister Tatsu. Mister Tsukumo, I’ve decided prior to this meeting to hear what you had to say, in hope of better understanding you. However, now that I’ve heard your lies, I can say that the only honest person at this table today is the one falsely accused of animal thievery…
The King went from speechless to shocked. Never in his whole life had someone dared to betray him. His mind and eyes were set on the envelope, with the priority of securing it to find out who sold him.
Taking the Class-1A student’s behavior into account, the Elite Magic Academy Chairman stood up and leaned on the table. What he was about to do required the authority of a senior talking to young adults.
– Listen to me very carefully, Hikaru Tsukumo and Hideyo Daigo. The Elite Magic Academy will not tolerate both animal and data thievery, as well as your lies. You may think your families are above the law, but you’re not. Trust me, you’re really not. There are powers you can simply not afford to make your enemies, and that includes me. Am I making myself clear?
The King looked at the person who held the highest authority inside these walls and nodded. Right now, considering that he had been betrayed, the best that he could do is take the loss. Hikaru Tsukumo had jumped right into the wolf’s den, without even thinking about the consequences.
Hideyo Daigo had tried to tell him that, when Mia Hirano was involved in anything, he had been too quick to pull the trigger. The heir of the Tsukumo family was also thinking about how he went against one of his mentor’s principles:
Think a hundred times before going to battle.
However, Jirou Otsuka was far away from finished.
– I’ve been informed today of another breach of security, for which we haven’t been able to pinpoint a culprit for until you’ve shown me this video. Our data is confidential and hacking into it is highly illegal. And for that, you’ve been stripped of ninety percent of your currency for this month.
– I understand…
– However, you’re our top-tier magician in the first-year promotion, and a scandal in the press is to be avoided at all cost. Your family background has also been taken into account. I have therefore decided to bury this story, under one condition.
– What is it?
– That you never, under any circumstance, go after the cat now. Every document that you have proving your ownership of the animal is to be burned down as soon as possible. The cat belongs to him now.
While stating the condition, the Chairman was pointing at the transfer student. So far, Tatsu Jin had remained silent because that was his best course of action. But now, he was faced with a question from Jirou Otsuka.
– You’re the one being wronged here. The letter mentioned how well you’ve been taking care of the cat. On the behalf of the entire Elite Magic Academy, I thank you for allowing us to solve this discretely. Are you satisfied with these conditions?
– I am. Are we done?
The Elite Magic Academy Chairman, whose schedule was a mess like no other, jumped to his feet, grabbed his coat, and quickly left the room. Inside it remained the King, still flabbergasted about how this had turned into a complete fiasco, and Tatsu Jin, who decided to attempt something.
– It was a coincidence. I am in no way, whatsoever, going after you. In fact, you’re of use to me in your current state, so why would I want it to change? I would like to really thank you for that.
– Go to hell.
– Well, you’ll probably be there before me.
Although Hikaru Tsukumo was fuming with rage, he didn’t forget to take the envelope that rested on the table. Before disappearing into the corridor with Hideyo Daigo, the King looked at the transfer student with condescension.
– This isn’t over.
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