A Hard Choice
Friday, September 14th 2063
Friday mornings were calm for the transfer student since they all began with an Ether meditation class. Like every student, he was sitting cross-legged on a patch of grass listening to his teacher. Once again, the middle-aged teacher was explaining the mandatory steps to trigger a phenomenon that allowed magicians to synchronize with the Ether inside their bodies.
– Remember, Ether is nothing but another part of yourself. It was always there and will always be your ally. Let it flow through you without resistance. However, when it becomes difficult for you to handle, let it go. Don’t overestimate yourself.
He paused to reprimand a student who was not listening.
For Tatsu Jin, this was a complete waste of his time. Fortunately for him, he did not need to close his eyes to maintain his focus while letting the Ether within him do its work.
In order to meditate effectively and improve skills related to handling Ether, it was easier to cut off every parasite that could break one’s concentration. Closing information channels made it easier to concentrate on what was happening inside one’s body. Therefore, sitting in a quiet environment and closing their eyes is the most reliable course of action for students to trigger better synchronization.
However, he had practiced this so much that he was able to bypass some of these requirements. The quiet environment provided by this area of the Elite Magic Academy allowed him to not be obligated to close his eyes. So, his head was slightly inclined toward the ground and his eyes were devoid of any emotions.
He almost looked like he was sleeping with his eyes open. Tatsu Jin was focused on the movement of Ether within him and let the sensation take over his whole body. Even though the transfer student remembered it pretty well, this feeling of power and greatness surprised him every time and made him smile. But as he was completely focused on his inner self, it was not enough to break his concentration.
Because of their own practices, the other Class-B students did not realize what was happening to the transfer student for a while. The teacher was walking among his students to provide advice. The professor stopped in front of a student that was beginning to heavily sweat due to his immense efforts.
– Let it go. You shouldn’t overdo it. As first-year students, more than ten minutes of self-synchronization should cause signs of exhaustion. With more experience, your body will be able to withstand this for extended periods of time.
After nearly twenty-five minutes of meditation, even the most talented Class-1B magicians released their synchronizations and were out of breath. Trembling and sweating, it took some time before they could calm themselves. Many students started to congratulate each other and looked for feedback from their classmates who performed better.
Suddenly, one student pointed at the transfer student and gathered the attention of the others, including the Ether meditation teacher.
– Is he meditating with his eyes open? And since when?
Now that everyone else finished their first round of meditation, he ended up standing out. In addition, there was nothing he could do because he was synchronized so deeply that only a strong stimulus could possibly wake him up.
Two dozen students started gazing at him with both fascination and curiosity. In their eyes, he seemed at peace and completely relaxed. The professor examined what he was doing for a few seconds before turning to the other students.
– That’s definitely the deepest concentration I have ever seen from a first-year student. Meditating with your eyes open is a very advanced technique. We don’t even know when he started to meditate. One thing is for sure, you are looking at raw and pure talent right now.
Even though her words were difficult to believe, they could not forget what they saw. Minute after minute, their teacher’s words made more sense. They now understood the rarity of the event they were witnessing. In their eyes, the transfer student meditated for at least forty minutes and showed neither signs of slowing down or exhaustion.
Because they could not afford to waste any more time, the professor asked them to practice a second time with the objective of challenging themselves a bit further. But what he really wanted was to focus his attention on the transfer student. He clearly sensed that there might be more to this student and just stood there silently observing. The Ether meditation teacher thought that this was incredible, almost mystic. To not create feelings of envy in her students, she did not mention how unique and terrifying this was.
After fifty minutes of meditation, Tatsu Jin still did not realize that something was amiss. He had such a deep connection with his own Ether that nothing around him currently mattered to him. But the professor decided to put his hand on Tatsu Jin’s shoulders, creating enough stimulus to wake him. The transfer student woke up to a dozen students looking at him oddly. Jin immediately knew that something was wrong and tried to defuse the situation.
– Sorry guys, I was completely lost in my meditation. Is the class over?
Everyone gazed at him with anger as they knew he was lying. They were also wondering why he was always underestimating himself in front of a crowd. One particular student did not take this behavior well and started to shout at him.
– Did you hide the fact you can do that since the beginning of term? You were always average in our previous meditation sessions and suddenly, you are the most talented among us? That’s bullshit! Did you also lie about not being talented at Offensive Magic? How can we trust you?!
Her wrath was completely understandable as she was just shouting what everyone was thinking at the moment.
As a sign of defense, Jin put both his hands in front of him with his palms facing the other students while his fellow comrade was speaking. After she was done, Tatsu Jin finally had enough space to answer her.
– I just don’t like to stand out. Is that a crime?
That simple question hovered in the air a few seconds before he realized that he only angered them further. Facing a crowd was definitely out of his comfort zone, but he still had to keep going.
– The Offensive Magic part I did not lie about. How could a decently sized Ether pool have anything to do with a magician’s capability in Offensive Magic?
His classmate was not going to let this matter go easily and used the Master of All Magic’s most dangerous weapon against him: skepticism.
– We’ve never seen you cast any Offensive Magic. I’ve never seen you at practice sessions either, and I doubt anyone has. You are one of the three transfer students, which are recorded in the academy’s history books as extremely powerful. You started with a showdown in Magic Theory, and now it’s Ether meditation. What’s next? You can’t blame us for thinking about the facts.
– I’m not asking you to trust me right now, but you should all come to my match on Saturday. After all, actions speak louder than words. You will see that I am not hiding my abilities to make a power play later.
After Tatsu Jin’s defense, no one had anything to add. Following this moment of silence, the teacher asked once again for everyone’s attention. The rest of the class was tense, and the transfer student was the target of at least a dozen gazes. The sound of the horn that signaled the end of this session was a wish come true. He wanted to get out of there as soon as possible, longing for a safe place to think.
After walking for five minutes, he reached the perfect spot for some thinking. It was a little area between two buildings, taken over by shadows. It was also under the window he had used to sneak in during the night of his first day of class. He sat on the ground with his back on the wall and started thinking. Tatsu Jin was disappointed with himself.
(Damn… I screwed up big time. I overestimated my awareness when meditating. I was able to remain in control for two weeks, why now? Is it related to my talk about Eleanor? No, it can’t be. There is no correlation whatsoever. I need to stop making up excuses.
I should have used the vibration alert of my GLASS to break my concentration. I made a mistake. It’s not the first, and it will not be the last. How I learn from these mistakes is what counts. Still, it’s good I don’t have to pretend anymore during Ether meditation classes.)
That last thought of optimism did not prevent him from sighing. He was sure that the whole academy already knew what just happened. In this kind of environment, gossip was an absolute must that kept the balance the way it was. As he decided to move from his little hideout, he started to hear passing students saying something that he thought was about him. Right now, he probably would have killed to wear the famous coat and mask of the Master of All Magic.
Rapidly, one thing attracted his attention. He was expecting these students to turn and recognize him, but they did not. Instead, they started to run in the same direction.
(Something big happened. It would be interesting to know what is going on.)
He followed the wave of people, making sure to never stare into someone’s eyes. Tatsu Jin was also walking as close as possible to the left side of the road. It came from an old habit of his to improve his line of sight, therefore decreasing his blind spots. The only thing that could complete his behavior would be a window that reflected what was behind his back.
When he saw people were gathering in front of the administration building, he immediately understood that something important had been posted on the bulletin board. However, the transfer student was still puzzled as to why the academy did not just send that particular news over the GLASS messaging app. So, he waited patiently for his turn, hoping that no one would start to pay attention to him.
His turn came by pretty fast and Jin adopted the hive spirit by tapping the board with his GLASS, triggering the download process. With the download completed, Jin walked away from the crowd after taking one last look at the messaging board. He finally understood what was going on.
Students who opened a message on their GLASS devices only cared about what was important. Everything else would be cast aside and forgotten. On the other side, if a multitude of students is waiting in front of a sign to trigger their downloads, there is a marketing opportunity for the academy. While discussing with their friends, they almost always end up looking at the board again to check on the line’s advancements. And of course, on the board were multiple gigantic posters from the academy’s different sponsors.
(I have to admit that I am impressed by how sly these marketing foxes are. They sure deserve a raise.)
When he took a quick peek at the inside of the file, Tatsu Jin immediately decided that now was not the time nor place to read it. The transfer student, who was in the middle of a crowd, could not teleport without attracting attention. So, he decided to walk to his apartment which took around ten minutes for him to do so.
After locking his apartment, he sat in one of the comfortable chairs in his living room and displayed the file on the gigantic holographic screen of his video entertainment system. He pushed aside everything inside his mind to completely focus on the knowledge included inside this file.
2063 Elite Magic Academy’s Winter Tournament Rules
This tournament only involves students from the same year, separated into thirty-six teams of three students (36×3=108). It is a direct elimination tournament, which means that a team has to win five matches in a row to secure its victory.
There are no rules as to whom students would be partnering up with. We leave complete freedom to our students regarding who they want to fight with. After all, recruiting a balanced team is also a skill that magicians should possess. You have up until October 15th to register your team. If a student does not have a team after the deadline, he or she will be assigned randomly to other students in need of teammates.
Then, each team will receive a grade depending on how well its members performed in the ranked matches. This will allow an algorithm to create a fair and balanced tournament program. This gives everyone an opportunity to shine and show their progress in their slow mastery over magic.
To mimic what happens on any battlefield, there are no authorized replacements. Should a member of a team not be in shape for battle, his or her team will have to fight without their missing member.
Each student will receive their notice to fight forty-eight hours before the official fight. To make things interesting, we decided to keep the tournament’s draw confidential to test our students’ readiness for the unexpected. Every fight has a time limit of ten minutes, within which one team needs to incapacitate its three adversaries. If there are still students fighting after the ten-minute mark, the team with the highest number of fighters left standing wins.
Of course, as it is nothing but a contest of skill, killing blows are forbidden. If someone attempts to endanger one of our students, they will be met with the utmost severity. As usual, we have been recruiting a special team of healing magicians to deal with the injuries that come along with fights involving magic.
SPECIAL RULE 1: Every team has the opportunity to cast one magic spell before the fight. However, teams have to announce the category of the spell they used (illusion, fire, ice, reinforcement, healing, etc.)
SPECIAL RULE 2: The winning team and the Most Valuable Magician of the competition will have the opportunity to both have a favor granted by the chairman himself.
After reading it three times, Tatsu Jin finally let his mind decrypt it.
(It is well-crafted yet archaic at the same time. The tournament’s organizers are condemning the use of endangering blows but do not allow replacements.
Basically, I need to be aware of my future opponents’ moves before the fight. They could try to incapacitate us beforehand to gain the upper hand in a three versus two fight. It’s basically not a problem if you are not caught. In that sense, it reflects real-life pretty well.
I also need to be aware that some teams will try a defensive tactic and stall until the ten-minute mark.
The SPECIAL RULE 1 is a dream for someone like me. Most of these students will probably just use it to cast Support Magic and Reinforcement Magic. I am fairly certain that this is a specific rule added by the chairman to suit his political agenda. I am going to use that special rule to bid on the unexpected.
SPECIAL RULE 2 is also an opportunity to drastically improve my chances in the future, especially for the second tournament.
Now, I need to make my move and start recruiting my teammates. I will evaluate potential candidates and then nurture them as fast as possible without sacrificing effectiveness. Sunday is a perfect day to start. Everyone will be focused on their own business.)
At 6 pm, while his classmates were probably practicing and discussing this news, Tatsu Jin went to the Training Grounds to visit the multiple rooms he did not get the chance to see during his first tour. The attendant asked one of his collaborators to show him the way, which he accepted instantly. He preferred to not be seen wandering alone.
The three rooms he missed during the first Monday were completely different from one another. While room number six was based on a shooting range, room number three was a maze. Room number twelve was clearly the most normal one as it featured nothing else than a tatami mat and stands for bystanders. The traditional aspect of the place was slightly disturbed by the fact that there was no natural light. Tatsu Jin was thinking that room number twelve could still be useful, especially in the beginning.
With this new information in mind, the transfer student spent the rest of the afternoon in his apartment, checking on his alter ego’s status. He logged onto the Master of All Magic’s network to make sure that no one was asking for his presence. The world did not stop itself because The Master of All Magic was chasing the Arcane Magic. He still needed to take care of his responsibilities. If anyone had a unique Magic spell that they wanted to exchange a favor for, the Master of All Magic had to be aware of it.
He received a message from one of his network members saying that someone was trying to contact him. Still, his intermediary message also stated that they were using all the usual precautions, so it could take up to a full month to create a secure meeting place and time.
Tatsu Jin was actually very excited at the sight of this news. Firstly, he would finally be able to get away from the academy that put heavy stress on him. Secondly, he felt like an eternity already passed since the last time he learned a unique magic spell. Just the thought of it eased him.
After eating, he studied a book about Magic History for a couple of hours before slowly falling asleep.
After meditating and running, he received an official message from the academy. His first ranked match was planned for today at 1 pm. However, it was the place of the fight that slightly angered the transfer student. He was going to be fighting at the Alpha Arena, the biggest stadium out of the entire academy. While every other student would have been happy beyond belief, Tatsu Jin would rather pass on that opportunity.
In addition to his whole class being there, Tatsu Jin was now expecting several more spectators to come.
(It’s that goddamn director. He probably thinks he is doing me a favor. I would rather fight in any of the lower stadiums. What I do there will be heavily criticized and now, I have to do it in front of the whole goddamn academy!)
During these past couple of weeks, he experienced as many successes as failures. If the Elder Sage wanted him to get out of his comfort zone, he pulled it out flawlessly. Tatsu Jin was now in an environment with a lot of things he did not have control over. Furthermore, making quick decisions was not his strong point.
Coping with that news, Tatsu Jin put on his official uniform and started to make his way to the Alpha Arena. It was in renovation during his first visit to the Elite Magic Academy, which made the task harder. Still, with the use of his GLASS, he slowly walked toward the entrance, attracting gazes from students he did not even recognize. At that point, everything he did was analyzed by the crowd. Because of the recent gossip about his Ether meditation blunder, he was not able to roam around the campus discretely anymore.
The transfer student knew that the whole academy was curious about his real capabilities. He also understood that a real match would be the perfect answer to all their questions. The transfer student could tell that he was the main attraction of the day.
Still, he kept his pace steady and finally reached the attendance desk. Jin asked one of the staff members about the direction he must take to prepare for his match. The attendant explained how to get to the tunnel that leads inside the open part of the arena. Before going on his way, the kind soul that helped him also asked him a question in complete disbelief.
– Where is your gear? Your weapons? Do you already have them set up for you?
– Thanks for your guidance.
After slightly bowing to express his thanks, the first-year student was already on his way.
The attendant was absolutely flabbergasted, but still let Tatsu Jin go out of his sight. After a while, she regained her senses as it was not that unusual to see newcomers having misplaced confidence. She was thinking that these kinds of people were doomed to fail.
Tatsu Jin simply followed the attendant’s directions and reached the Alpha Arena’s tunnel in a couple of minutes. Upon arrival, he looked at three fights between first-year students. Multiple waves of applause rang in his ears along with different fighters coming in and out of the main fighting area. Some were heavily scarred while others not so much. Still, he figured out that fighting here would never be a walk in the park.
To show respect to the Elite Magic Academy’s values, everyone was doing their best. Even though fighters knew that their opponents were stronger, they still fought hard to both get battle experience and showcase their progress. It was almost solemn as every magician was applauded, no matter how good they performed. The assistance was looking at the sum of the academy’s progress.
When he heard the announcement from the tunnel’s speakers, Tatsu Jin got up to his feet and walked through the tunnel. He still took a moment to look around the stadium and feel its atmosphere.
Contrary to previous fights where everyone in the stands was enjoying themselves, now there was only silence and tension. They all did not know what was going to happen but figured it out that it was going to be interesting. There were at least a hundred and fifty students here to witness the transfer student’s first performance. After all, no one had seen him fight, so expectations started to pile up.
Tatsu Jin quickly glanced at his opponent while the teacher acting as the referee was explaining the rules in the meantime.
– Fighters, you have five minutes to incapacitate your opponent. Everything is permitted except deadly blows. The healer will take care of every injury you might suffer from the fight. At the count of ten.
Tatsu Jin’s opponent was wearing heavy armor and wielding an enchanted double-edged sword. A quick look at his weapon was enough for the transfer student to know that this enchantment was nothing peculiar. However, he saw that this second-year student had eyes that betrayed his eagerness for a fight. The sword wielder was probably envisioning the popularity that would be coming from beating the one and only transfer student.
When the horn signaled the beginning of the fight, Tatsu Jin’s opponent rushed to him and prepared a powerful downward strike to end it with one blow. However, he stopped himself after hearing Tatsu Jin whisper two simple words.
He did not believe what he just heard.
– What did you just say?
– I said… I surrender. Congratulations, you win.
Tatsu Jin smiled at his opponent and slowly walked back to the tunnel.
The audience did not hear what he just said and witnessed, stupefied, the transfer student leaving the stadium with the highest stupefaction. Like the transfer student’s opponent, they were waiting for the referee to shed light on the situation. It took a few seconds for the referee to take the microphone and announce the result of this particular fight to the audience.
– Tatsu Jin has surrendered the fight. Victory goes to his opponent.
All gigantic holographic screens displayed the face and name of the second-year student.
Still, the audience could not believe it. Surrendering was against everything the Elite Magic Academy stood for. There weren’t any records of a student surrendering in years, maybe decades. The referee started to run toward the tunnel’s entrance to get a more complete explanation from Tatsu Jin. He came back after two minutes and reported the information he had gathered.
– According to Tatsu Jin himself, he was not strong enough. He considered this fight foolish as he had no chance whatsoever of winning.
When the official reason for his surrendering was made public, the audience went into an uproar. A decent part of the student gathered in the Alpha Stadium started to chant.
– Tatsu Jin… IS A COWARD! Tatsu Jin… IS A COWARD! Tatsu Jin… IS A COWARD!
Nonetheless, all students from Class-1B knew that what he did was planned, that whoever his opponent would have been, his behavior would have been the same. If not, there was no reason to have invited them to see this. At that point, only a student or two from Class-1B were still angry about the fact that he had lied to them.
All day and night, the name of Tatsu Jin was dragged through the mud in both real-life conversations and on the academy’s social network platforms.
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