The Impossible Challenge
Sunday, August 26th 2063
Even after a couple of days, the Elder Sage was still very confused. He had spent the majority of his time in the Underground Palace monitoring his former apprentice. He witnessed him meditating, practicing magic, and enchanting weapons. What he really wanted out of this scouting was to assess changes in his character. After all, it has been three years since the last time he saw him. The Elder Sage wanted to avoid making such an important decision on outdated information.
In his eyes, the Master of All Magic seemed to have grown in both confidence and maturity. However, he was still a hundred percent focused on learning magic, which meant that he would sacrifice whatever was necessary to accomplish this objective. In this task, even though he had a deep network, his pupil did not form any deep relationships with anyone. The only thing the Master of All Magic saw in people was their useful set of skills.
The Elder Sage thought that this prevented him from growing as a person. With the education that he had, the talent he developed, and the kind of business he tackled, the Master of All Magic created an armor around himself that he let no one else pierce. In total fairness, he was not gifted with social skills and would rather take part in one-on-one discussions than group meetings. What he wanted most was control, so being outnumbered was nothing but a nightmare to him.
Because he was his master, the Elder Sage’s role was to help his student grow and better himself. With the Master of All Magic’s current personality, he would be completely incapable of teaching others, which was the second most important mission of the Arcane Magic’s keeper.
The keeper of the Arcane Magic had three main duties. First, he was responsible for monitoring the outside world and preventing this god-like power from causing chaos. Next, it was supposed to study it and add profoundness to what has already been discovered. As a matter of fact, the Elder Sage was quite ashamed because he was not talented enough to surpass his former master. Finally, when the time is right, the Arcane Magic keeper has to choose a successor and teach him this incredibly powerful Magic, alongside the rules that come with it.
Choosing the Master of All Magic as a successor was a huge risk. Right now, the Elder Sage was probably gambling with the future of humanity. His apprentice would probably refuse to live his life as a hermit and would keep wandering around the world. He wondered whether or not his former student would have enough force of character to not use the Arcane Magic and not try and play god. In that regard, teaching him this absurd power was incredibly dangerous.
Nonetheless, the Master of All Magic invoked their traditions, and the Elder Sage refused to be shameless and create a challenge that could not be solvable. Adding the fact that his pupil was extremely talented, there probably was no choice: he had to choose him as his successor.
When following this train of thought, the Elder Sage finally found something interesting to bet on. This different approach was a unique way of lowering the chances of a catastrophe happening. He wanted to create a challenge over a pretty long period of time that would shape the Master of All Magic into a magician that would succeed in his mission as a keeper. In doing so, the Elder Sage had to create an environment where the Master of All Magic would be forced to act in the open and rely on other magicians. Experiencing both success and failures with a group was primordial.
While the easy way was to go for a practice challenge, the Elder Sage congratulated himself for thinking further and deeper about it. But still, he now had to build on this idea and make it viable.
However, since he had an early appointment the next day, he went down to rest earlier than usual.
Monday, August 27th 2063
To fulfill this duty, he had to leave his estate and go in the direction of the Elite Magic Academy, a well-known establishment dedicated to the practice of offensive magic. He made sure that no one was either following him up close before entering the academy’s grounds. Since discretion was really important to him, the appointment had been set for 6:00 AM, when everyone else would be sleeping or preparing themselves for the day.
As the plan was detailed, it did not take too much time for the Elder Sage to find the door he was supposed to knock on. However, one thing attracted his attention and surprised him quite a bit. The steel plate carved on the door gave away the position of the man he was supposed to meet.
He decided not to overthink it and made his presence known to whoever was on the other side of that wooden door. Without the sound of someone coming to welcome him, the door slid into the wall, revealing another man seated in a huge leather chair.
When the guest entered the room, the door closed itself, locking themselves in from the outside world. They clearly did not want to be eavesdropped on.
An emanation of power took over the chairman’s office. These two magicians were locked into each other’s eyes and were assessing their strength levels without even moving a muscle. While the Elder Sage’s body was covered in thin covers of Ether, showcasing mastery over efficiency, his opponent decided to use raw power. Everything would be decided by the Elder Sage’s stamina and ability to sustain this aggressive aura. After depleting his Ether pool, the Elite Magic Academy’s chairman smiled and accepted his defeat. He got up from his chair and accepted his guest’s embrace before finally starting the conversation.
– Sorry for my poor performance, I am completely out of shape. If our master could see me from up there, he would be ashamed.
– I am happy to see you, how long has it been? Ten Years?
– Just about. If only you were not so stubborn, I would have been able to visit you more often.
The chairman was a little taller than his comrade but also in a worse physical shape. The combination of his long coat and costume underneath it betrayed the fact that he jumped from fighting and practicing magic to taking a position as a director of a magic school. The Elder Sage never would have thought that such a change could happen.
– Look at you now, who could possibly guess that we once fought against each other for our master’s approval? What are you even doing here?
– I’m in charge here. It’s always been my dream to serve my country as a veteran magician. After losing the inheritance to you, I had to find another way to be of use. This is an opportunity that I’ve earned, and I take pride in teaching the next generations.
– I am happy for you, but what am I doing here? Why go to such extreme lengths to contact me when you know of my circumstances?
What was a warm welcome just a few seconds ago turned toa creeping silence. The chairman slowly walked to his chair and sat down, trying to maintain normal body language.
– I need your help.
– I already figured out that much.
– There is some information I need to share with you. Out of every school in the country that teaches advanced Offensive Magic, the Elite Magic Academy is probably ranked number one. It is funded well enough to attract some of the best teachers to nurture magicians who could become Country-Class casters. It has known nothing but the best over the last twenty years. But now, it is slowly dying…
– How so?
– Over time, our alumni became archetypes, indistinguishable from one another and easily replaceable. The army is using them on the front row without any regard for their life. But they are only looking for specific profiles! They limit their full potential and mastery over magic! But as there is a shift in demand, the offer must adjust to survive. Magic schools, especially those that specialize in Offensive Magic, need to obey the laws of the market.
The Elder Sage started to show his impatience by tapping the floor with his foot. He really wanted to get down to business quickly.
– What do you want from me?
– I need one extremely talented student in a variety of unique magic, as we were once, that can change the army’s mentality. If Japan keeps on lacking vision like this, we are going to be relegated to a second-grade country in terms of magic power.
– WHAT do you WANT from me?
– I want you to stay here and choose your successor between the student’s body. We probably have the best talent out there anyway.
The chairman finally gave up and made the demand he had in mind. Still, there was one thing that could be a threat to his plan.
– Have you already chosen a successor?
– No comment.
Unfortunately for the one who asked, he could have been right if not for a couple of days. When the chairman expected him to lay down his cards on the table, the Elder Sage still kept his knowledge hidden. His plans did not go as smoothly as he thought they would, so he started to feel more desperate by the minute.
– I know we share the same ideology about how magic should be handled. No one should be forced, conscientiously or not, to only study one specific area of it. It will solve both of our problems and we could raise a magician that will change the face of the world.
– Aren’t you just projecting your own failures onto a poor kid?
– It’s easy coming from you! You have been chosen by our master while I was forgotten! I had to grind my way up there with the magic our master taught me!
All the chairman’s insecurities were now on display, which very much angered him. The Elder Sage waited for him to calm down before speaking once again.
– Basically, you want me to stay here, renounce my oath to remain a hermit, and nurture a student, only so he could serve your own political agenda? No, I am not going to play that game.
– You want me to beg you? You want me down on my knees?
– It isn’t necessary to go there. You just gave me a wonderful opportunity.
Nothing could be seen on the chairman’s face except surprise. As a good executive, he has been thinking about many outcomes this conversation could bring, but this one was simply out of his reach. Looking at the situation, the Elder Sage gave his final answer.
– I will send you a first-year student, a once-in-a lifetime-genius that I had encountered a few years ago, as a transfer student for the next three years. I will give him a specific and hidden mission to accomplish. Should he accomplish this hard job, I would deem him worthy of the Arcane Magic. However, this particular young magician is too tough of a nut to crack, even for you. I am confident that you will try to manipulate that person, and that you will fail. In addition, doting on him could end up badly for you, so don’t be greedy and think carefully every step of the way. Am I clear?
His face brightened so fast that the Elder Sage was already questioning whether or not he’d made the right choice.
– Thank you! Even though I did not manage to keep you here, I still have some hope now for what comes next.
– Nothing is set in stone and this future student can still refuse the offer. Hopefully, he should be there next Monday. Can I let you take care of the paperwork to make it happen?
– Of course!
With their business finally done, the Elite Magic Academy’s chairman finally relaxed in his chair. Even though everything did not go as planned, he still had someone to place his hopes on.
Before he was able to say anything else, the Elder Sage made another offer with a sincere smile. Now that they could move to another topic, the tension in the room was slowly disappearing.
– Do you want to pray with me at our master’s shrine? Wherever he is now, he would probably appreciate it…
– I would love to. His guidance would have been so useful these days…
A simple eye exchange was enough to make deep memories come back to the surface. Even though their master had been gone for a long time, their grief was still fresh. As if years did not pass, the chairman put his right hand on the Elder Sage’s right shoulder. The latter activated a Teleportation Magic spell to transport them into the entrance of the Underground Palace. This particular spell allows the user to teleport from waypoint to waypoint with the use of Ether.
There was a tradition in this particular place, stating that only its owner could teleport in and out of it. In addition, there were Teleportation Magic waypoints in almost every room of the Underground Palace. The Elder Sage chose the main entrance as their arrival point on purpose.
The reason why he did this was to prevent an unfortunate meeting between the chairman and the Master of All Magic. Quickly and discretely, they both entered the closed room where their master’s shrine was resting. This place was also completely forbidden to anyone that did not possess the owner’s approval.
After paying respects to the man who dedicated most of his life to training them, they sat on the floor and finally caught up. From the chairman’s story of how he rose through the social ranks of society to the Elder Sage’s conclusion on what Arcane Magic forced its user to be, they listened to each other’s points of view with care and attention.
This atmosphere was completely different from what transpired at the Elite Magic Academy, where they each defended their positions with coldness. A feeling of warmth could be felt through their exchanges, showcasing their friendship beyond their respective duties. For the Elder Sage, who was living like a hermit, this was a particularly precious moment.
It reminded him that he missed these kinds of chats and banter. It reminded him that this was what he sacrificed to become the Elder Sage. At the same time, it reinforced his position on the Master of All Magic. His former student never had opportunities to really connect with real people because of the path he had been set on. So, the Elder Sage started to feel regret about how he handled his student’s education. He thought that it was his duty to provide him with a new and different opportunity.
At that moment, he was now sure that the challenge he had set up for him was perfect. He deeply thanked his friend for helping him sort out his feelings before teleporting the chairman back to his academy.
As the sun came down, it was time for the Elder Sage to face his student one last time before sending him off. In the entrance room of the Underground Palace, these two magicians sat on their chairs to appreciate one last meal together. For some time, the only thing that they could hear was some crackling sounds from the fireplace. The Elder Sage was the one who broke the ice.
– Did you experience any kind of…
– Where were you today?
Unfortunately for the Elder Sage, the Master of All Magic was suspicious of his departure the second he teleported away this morning.
His master did not say anything and sighed. Their last three meetings had been nothing but psychological warfare and he grew tired of it. His student’s single sentence doubled his dedication to allow him a normal life surrounded by1 peers. But still, his ego took over his wisdom again.
– Even I sometimes have some business with the outside world…
– Dodging the question when it shows your hypocrisy?
– My hypocrisy?
– Arcane Magic is a job for a hermit, you said. I guess bending your principles once in a while is not a problem for you. You draw the line where it benefits you!
The Elder Sage understood his student’s anger. After all, he had firmly rejected the thought of teaching him the Arcane Magic at first and also put the blame of this situation on him. All this anger was resurfacing now and the only thing he needed now was time. With sadness in his eyes, he replied with a gentle tone.
– I was outside to do something for you. I went outside to set up your challenge.
Every fiber of the Master of All Magic’s body relaxed as he understood what happened.
– I… am sorry.
– You don’t have to. I understand.
The Elder Sage broke the silence by asking his former apprentice a question.
– What do you know about the Elite Magic Academy?
– Not much. I have always declined their invitations to their two annual tournaments. Still, I had a few experiences on the battlefield fighting magicians that graduated from that academy. They weren’t a problem at all. When gathering intelligence about my opponents that came from this academy, I know exactly what to expect and how to counter them.
Listening to an honest version of what the chairman told him, a discrete smile made its way to the Elder Sage’s face.
– Today, I met with the Elite Magic Academy’s chairman. He shares your opinion and currently thinks that his academy is slowly dying. However, as the academy is depending on the army for both funding and opportunities, he cannot make important changes right now. What he needs is a powerful student that would change the army’s vision through exemplarity. Do you understand where I am going with this?
– You want me to be this student and let myself be used for political agendas?
– No, if you personally want to improve the situation there, that’s your call. What I have in mind is a little bit more specific and way more difficult.
The Master of All Magic was surprised to hear such a statement. In the past, his master had already sent him on a few missions to fulfill political goals. So, his behavior now differed from what his apprentice was used to. Still, the owner of the Underground Palace kept going and explained more about the challenge.
– What I want you to do is spend three years as a regular student of the Elite Magic Academy. Your objective there will be to win every bi-annual team tournament you participate in. However, there still are some constraints in how you can achieve this goal.
– I can’t wait to hear them.
Sarcasm could be heard in the Master of All Magic’s tone. The Elder Sage was already asking for three whole years of his life.
– If the public knows your real identity, you lose. Of course, you can decide to trust an ally with that secret, but it also means that you will have to monitor this person with care.
Many strategies were already floating in the Master of All Magic’s head. With his overwhelming abilities, all he had to do was blast the competition in secret. However, the Elder Sage seemed to understand his thought process and added the final rule.
– Finally, if you make it into the top ten of the Elite Magic Academy, you lose as well.
– What? It’s just… impossible!
– Extremely hard, insanely hard, but not impossible. With this new rule in mind, what is your best bet?
The Elder Sage sat there silently for a whole minute to create an environment where his student could think about the implications of such a challenge. After thinking for a while, the Master of All Magic opened his eyes and showed disbelief.
– You didn’t…
– Yes, I did.
– Let me hear your conclusion first.
Taken by surprise, the Master of All Magic revealed his conclusion.
– The bi-annual tournaments of the Elite Magic Academy are based on team battles. If you add the last rule that seals my own offensive abilities, it means that my only way out is to rely on other magicians to achieve victory.
– Well done.
– But how is such a challenge supposed to assess my worthiness of the Arcane Magic, which is why I am doing all of this?
– Remember, the most important duty of the Arcane Magic keeper is to contain it and share it with the next generation.
Because his argument made sense, the Master of All Magic had nothing to add on the challenge itself. Nonetheless, he saw a contradiction in his behavior that he didn’t miss to point out.
– Around ten years ago, you pointed me on a path to loneliness, on a path to responsibility. And now, you want me to do the opposite. What changed between then and now?
– I changed, after seeing you come back from your missions around the world. I know what kind of people you are dealing with, and it’s slowly eating you up from the inside. You are slowly adapting yourself to this world, making harsher decisions and choices. But it’s not your fault…
– It’s yours then?
– Yes. I made you grow up too quickly. Ten years ago, this was not a life for an eighteen-year-old. You’re now twenty-eight, it’s not too late. So, this is my way to make amends.
The Master of All Magic was completely flabbergasted by what he was hearing. It did not resemble his master at all. This epiphany came at the worst time for him, but there was nothing he could do now. He was now resigned to spend three years in that academy. Still, he had numerous questions, especially about the logistics behind the challenge.
– Is the Elite Magic Academy okay with my policy of not showing my face? Cause you know that if they want me to take the mask off, that’s a no-no for me.
– I have a solution to your problem.
The Elder Sage walked out of the room in direction of his master’s shrine and returned with a small wooden box the size of a wine crate. Inside it was a plain white mask that he offered his disciple. Even though the Master of All Magic had no idea what the item was, he could still feel an incredible magic power coming from it. Before putting it on, he asked his master about the characteristics of this mask.
– What is this? How can I feel that much power from such a tiny item?
– My master enchanted it and kept it safe.
– What does it do?
– It’s heavily enchanted with an Arcane-Class Illusion Magic spell..
After hearing about what this was, the Master of All Magic could swear that he felt its weight double. While the items enchanted by him was worth the net income of some small countries, what he had in his hand was insanely more valuable than this. This was probably the first time in a while that he was surprised by someone else’s enchanting skills. Still, the Elder Sage saw his reaction and completed his explanation.
– A long time ago, when he was young, he had lent this mask to multiple people he trusted to impersonate him. When he needed to be at two different places at the same time, my master gave this mask to someone worthy that acted on his behalf. When you put this mask on, the Illusion Magic spell kicks off and modifies everyone else’s perceptions of your face and voice. With this, you will be able to live the life of a 19-years-old college boy without worrying about anything.
– That’s… insane. Is it energy-efficient?
– Yes, it already draws power from the Ether surrounding it. You can wear it twenty-four seven without having to worry about anything. But there’s still something… just forget it. Can you put it on for me, please?
– Give me a second.
The Master of All Magic stood up from his seat and slowly walked out of his master’s sight. It wasn’t that he did not trust his master, but habits were difficult to fight. He replaced his current dark mask that only hid his face and wore this insanely overpowered item. The first thing he did was touch his face to know if the mask also replicated the sensation of his skin. He didn’t believe what he was feeling as everything felt so real. When he came back to the main hall of the Underground Palace, the first thing he did was voice his emotions.
– This is nuts! That’s amazing! Just imagine what could be done with such power! I am just rediscovering the potential of Magic!
While he was focusing on his inner thoughts, he did not pay attention to what was happening to his master. When he heard the sobbing noises, he focused on his master and saw tears were coming down from the Elder Sage’s eyes. He quickly understood what his master was dealing with: grief.
The Elder Sage kept this item hidden for years because of this. The wound that never healed opened once again. To hide his emotions, he focused on explaining the last remaining thing about the challenge.
– I also took the liberty… of choosing your name.
– Oh… and what is it?
– Tatsu Jin.
– ‘The expert?’ Come on, it’s like telling everyone who I am!
– The chairman is expecting you on Monday, September 3rd.
Now that everything was settled, these two enjoyed their last moment together. The Master of All Magic, who was now named Tatsu Jin, was already thinking about what kind of technology he should bring with him at the Elite Magic Academy. But before this, he had to warn everyone in his network that his schedule will have to be modified.
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