Chapter 9

Lightning and Fire

Sunday, September 16th 2063

What happened on Saturday was still on Tatsu Jin’s mind. After all, it was a tough decision he had to make in order to remain as far away as possible from the top ten. It was also safer to keep the rare weapons he could use outside Offensive Magic hidden until the last moment. But right now, the transfer student had more important matters to think about.

 

Now that the tournaments’ formats were announced, Tatsu Jin finally had enough information to start recruiting his future teammates. To do so, he had to sort them strategically to create an optimized and balanced team. As the transfer student was opting to be a support mage, he was longing for an absolute powerhouse at vanguard, whose Offensive Magic skills would be on point. On the other hand, a long-range fighter that would be able to have their backs was also necessary. With such a team formation, Tatsu Jin would be in the middle, casting support, defensive, and healing types of magic. He would also be able to maneuver around the battlefield.

 

However, both magic and physical capabilities weren’t the only requirements to be part of the transfer student’s team. Even though he was acting as a reserved student who did not want to stand out, Tatsu Jin wanted complete control over his future team. Therefore, it was completely off the table for him to recruit someone that would fight for leadership.

 

That’s where the files he had stolen on his first day at the Elite Magic Academy finally paid off. So, he sat in his room with ten student files spread out around him. While he found his bedroom almost too spacious, this was a perfect place for such an ordeal. At the same time, his GLASS displayed in front of his eyes the same ten files.

 

After a quick glance, he already decided to pass on the two strongest magicians of his promotion. Both of them were surnamed the “king” and “queen” by everyone because of their social status. As they knew each other for a long time, these two casters would probably be forming their own team. Still, it wasn’t only because of this that Tatsu Jin took both of their files out. What he read in the King’s psychological evaluation almost disgusted him. 

 

The king comes from one of the wealthiest families in the country. So, he had been raised under the impression that everything was within his grasp, that he owned everything. What was worse is that even though he was very conceited, he hid it under a perfect attitude in public. The Master of All Magic already dealt with that kind of person in the past but knew by experience that they were extremely hard to get rid of. The only plan he could use to get rid of him would be to prepare a trap that even he would not be able to escape.

 

After focusing on the remaining eight student files, he decided to continue the elimination process. After more than forty minutes of deliberating, he was finally able to choose who his two comrades would be.

 

His first teammate would be Yumi Ohno, ranked seventh in magic proficiency. Her file mentioned that she was gifted in Fire Magic, but another fact peaked  Tatsu Jin’s interest even further. Her psychological evaluation mentioned that she had been adopted by a powerful family of swordsmen.

 

Knowing this country, the transfer student made the assumption that Yumi had received a martial education with the intention of turning her into either a soldier or a performer. In his eyes, that personality could make for an excellent and obedient sister-in-arms. However, fighters with such a profile only surrendered leadership to someone stronger than them, so he would have to reveal a good number of abilities should he want to impress her.

 

Yumi was among the top ten in his year, which was perfect. Nonetheless, he wanted to avoid teaming up with the five strongest people in his promotion. That would probably attract too many gazes.

 

With this in mind, he chose a woman named Mia Hirano as his long-range fighter. In her entrance exam, she had performed a powerful Medium-Class Lightning Arrow Magic. That display of might was her entrance ticket to the Elite Magic Academy. Furthermore, her psychological profile drew the picture of a borderline shy person that always goes with the flow. She had trouble taking the initiative.

 

Then, she was registered as a magician wielding a bow, which was extremely rare. Archery was a field that took years of expertise to master, so archers were usually extremely devoted to their bow skills. He also noticed the color of her hair, which sparked his curiosity once again. 

(The one who trailed me on my first day also had white hair. Could it be her?) 

Aside from this thought, she was a perfect match for Tatsu Jin and Yumi Ohno. So, he decided that these two would be the ones joining him. Still, he needed to think about how he would convince these two magicians. After scheming for about an hour, he finally found out what he was going to do when suddenly, his clock reminded him of the time.

 

It was 9 am, which meant that he forgot to do his running and meditation. The process he just went through took over one hour, which completely changed the rhythm of his habits. To make it up for the time lost, he decided to go and jog after cooking a light breakfast. It took well under an hour to complete his jog, which was faster than usual. After coming into his apartment and taking a shower, he was ready to meditate when he heard someone knocking at his door. Tatsu Jin wondered who would be bold enough to knock on his door. 

(Could it be Eleanor?)

After looking through the lens of his door from the inside, he was in disbelief it and took a step back. For him, this was too great of a coincidence. Before the transfer student had time to think more about it, the knocking sound made its way through his ears again. He slightly opened his door, so that the person there could only see his face. 

 

Mia Hirano was there with a basket in both her arms. 

      Hello, my name… is Mia Hirano. Happy to make your acquaintance.  

Tatsu Jin was still really surprised as he just read that this girl was not the kind of person to initiate contact. He felt a little suspicious about the situation. In fact, he voiced his concern first instead of introducing himself in response.

      What matters could you have with me?

      I thought… I should get to know my neighbor.

      You live next door?

      Yes.

She had trouble looking in his eyes as it was definitely easier to glance at the ground. Still, the transfer student kept asking questions. 

      It’s been a while since I moved in, why didn’t you introduce yourself when I’d first arrived?

      I was intimidated… I wanted to meet Tatsu Jin-san, but I ended up running away.

      What changed?

       I saw what you did yesterday, at your match, and realized we might resemble each other more than I had thought. That gave me enough courage to come here.

While saying this statement, which was probably extremely embarrassing for her, she slightly bowed and presented the basket in her two arms. Facing such a behavior, Tatsu Jin had no other option than to accept it. 

      Let’s forget about honorifics, I’m bad with those. You can call me Jin. Come inside. 

He glanced at her and adopted an intimidating posture and tone, which was a perfect combination with his natural cold eyes. Tatsu Jin wanted to make her understand that there was no other alternative for her than to come into his apartment. What he had in mind was that he couldn’t afford people misrepresenting their relationship with one another. In his opinion, discussing this outside was just like begging for someone to eavesdrop.

 

Mia surrendered to his command and came inside. He offered her a seat in his living room and a mug of tea that he prepared for himself before his shower. The timid woman sat on her allocated chair and took the mug in her hands before being asked a question by the transfer student. 

      Do you have ulterior motives in coming here other than introducing yourself?

      Yes.

Tatsu Jin asked that specific question just to test out her reaction. He had been waiting for her to deny this accusation, and her face would have told him if she was had been lying or telling the truth. Instead, Mia took the third and unpredictable option, which caught him off-guard. 

      What are these motives?

      Are you suffering from the pressure of being a transfer student? Was your surrendering… a call for help?

After asking that specific question, Mia gave her interlocutor enough time to answer and took multiple sandwiches out of her basket. Without saying anything, Tatsu Jin got up from his seat, grabbed plates from his kitchen, and came back with them. He waited for her to finish setting up the sandwich plate before satisfying her curiosity.

       Sometimes, it’s a bit of a pain, but I’ll survive. When they figure out that I am just a normal student, it will probably stop by itself. But to answer your second question, even if I wasn’t a transfer student, I would have still abandoned the match.

       Really? Why?

       In short, because of my profile, but you’ll probably learn more in a couple of days. Is that all? Do you need anything else from me?

       Is it ok if I come here sometimes to talk? I don’t have people that are that close to me in Class-A and I don’t know why but I feel like I can trust you.

A loud and deep laughter reverberated inside Tatsu Jin’s head. He had been elusive, rude, intimidating, but certainly not trustworthy. In the meantime, Mia got up from his chair, thanked him for the time he allotted her, and left his apartment. Resting deep in his chair, Tatsu Jin took a sandwich from the plate and took a bite while thinking. 

(Holy damn, that was unexpected.

Unexpected but logical.

The director gave me one of the best apartments, in an area where the other powerful students are located. I should have made the connection sooner after seeing some of my neighbors in the time I was here. I can’t allow myself to be surprised again. I am not trained well enough to keep my game face on under a lot of pressure.

Still, it’s good to know that both my targets are living that close.)

Even though he was caught off guard, he still needed to carry out the plan he made earlier in the day. In order to do so, he reached out to a drawer and took out four envelopes, four pieces of paper, and some cash. On two pieces of paper, he wrote the same message:

If you want to know the secret of the transfer student, come with your fighting gear at the twelfth room of the Training Grounds at 9 pm.

Come alone or I won’t be there. 

These pieces of paper containing the message took place in two different envelopes.

 

On the remaining two papers, he wrote the names of Mia Hirano and Yumi Ohno. In the two final envelopes, he included the named papers, the envelopes containing the message, and a bit of cash before closing them off.

 

On his first day of class, during the tour of the Elite Magic Academy, a student came to him and promoted the Academy’s Secret Messengers, a squad that delivered messages in exchange for some pocket money. It was finally time for Tatsu Jin to use their services. The process he went through was designed to prevent anyone from knowing too much information.

 

The message would go through two different messengers, which resulted in a specific situation: no one would be able to figure out both the sender and the receiver of the message. Once the first messenger delivered the envelope to the second one, the latter just needed to open the envelope, take the cash as payment and deliver the second envelope to the person named on the piece of paper inside.

 

Tatsu Jin completely trusted this kind of system as he had often used something similar to carry out important missives.

 

With both envelopes ready to be sent, the transfer student made their way to the first floor of the third-year dormitory building and knocked on apartment door 101. On the other side of the wall, a voice made its way.

      Dear customer, do you have a message to deliver?

       I have indeed two secret messages to send with the express formula. This task needs to be carried out with extreme speed.

Following this, Tatsu Jin walked his way to the Training Grounds and talked to the attendant behind the desk. Unfortunately for him, the twelfth room was already given to someone else at 9 pm. He had to resort to flattery and bribery to make the attendant see otherwise. The unknown team that had paid for the room before him ended up relocating elsewhere. Jin also paid a hefty price to avoid giving an ID to rent the room. So, the twelfth room of the Training Ground had been reserved anonymously between 9 pm and 11 pm.

 

The transfer student returned to his apartment to prepare for the fight that was coming. He opened up his vault and took out a slightly enchanted shortsword and two silver reinforced gauntlets. He needed something to protect himself from Yumi’s sword and also a weapon to deal some damage. 

Separator

When Yumi received her message, she was seriously deciding between attending this secret meeting or not. In her opinion, it wasn’t anything really serious and looked like a joke. Still, she was interested in what the transfer student was hiding. Yumi thought that if Tatsu Jin was really hiding insane abilities, it was to make a power play later.

 

It took her thirty minutes to weigh down the advantages and downsides of such a thing. Around 7:30 pm, she changed into her favorite white quartz and crimson kimono and wore her reinforced boots. The next step was to tie her hair up to prevent it from getting in her eyes. Finally, she placed her sheathed long katana on her waist belt, ready to be used. She was now on her way to the Training Grounds.

 

While walking down the hallway, she spotted one of her classmates who was also wearing battle-ready attire. After a few minutes, she was wondering why Mia was walking in the same direction as herself. Yumi decided to make light of this situation and run up to her to gather information. 

      Hello, Mia. It’s quite late to be wandering around like that.

      Yes… I know… but this is important.

      Where are you going?

      Training… grounds.

      Did you receive a message from the Academy’s Secret Messengers today?

      Yes… wait, you received one as well?

After understanding that they were both in the same situation, they compared the notes they had received earlier this afternoon. Soon, they agreed to go there and find out the truth together. After reaching the Training Grounds, they asked the attendant who rented the twelfth room tonight. However, to their disappointment, they were told that it had been rented anonymously. Without further ado, Yumi and Mia walked down the broken corridor until facing the door to the room they have been summoned to.

 

They entered the room, only to find it completely empty. Yumi was the first to voice her concern. 

      Are we here sooner than planned?

      No… it’s already a minute past 9.

Suddenly, a voice made its way through this training hall. Tatsu Jin walked out of the shadows and introduced himself to Yumi. 

      I already met Mia earlier today, so happy to make your acquaintance Yumi…

      Why are you calling me by my first name? More importantly, are you the one that sent these messages?

      Yes. I wanted to speak to you both. 

With her senses alert, Yumi took a fighting stance with her right hand on her weapon. There was still something that made no sense to her. 

      Why did you ask for us to come with our battle equipment?

While Yumi remained in that position ready to fight, Mia was incapable of moving a muscle. The tension in the air, which was the result of two intimidating magicians clashing each other with words, was a bit much for the bow wielder. There was no sound for a couple of seconds before Tatsu Jin answered her question. 

      I want to fight the both of you, right now. You want answers from me, and I want something from you. 

Yumi finally released her stance after knowing the situation. In addition, in her eyes, he wasn’t that menacing.  

      What do you want from us?

      I want you and Mia to partner up with me for the winter and spring tournaments if you lose today’s fight.

      Us partnering with a coward like you?

       If I am indeed a coward, a team comprised of two powerful Class-A students should not have any trouble dealing with the weak fighter that I am. You currently have nothing to lose. If I win, you are paired with someone stronger than you. If I lose, you walk away with information.

      Can I have a minute with Mia to discuss your proposal?

      Be my guest, I also have to go outside to grab something to defend myself.

While Tatsu Jin left the room, Yumi called Mia over and asked her if she was okay with the conditions of this bet. Despite her previous attitude, her eyes were full of ambition, so she accepted the fight. Mia opened up the case she was carrying and took out a compound bow and a quiver full of aluminum arrows.

 

Mia wasn’t the type to fire multiple arrows in a row, so she opted for the latest technology to ease the physical burden of keeping the bow armed for an extended period of time.

 

Of course, Yumi had already seen how Mia fought during training practice, so she advised her to stay away and fire at long range should an opening present itself. Now that their strategy meeting was done, they remained there and started to concentrate until he came back.

 

When he opened the door, Yumi instantly knew that something was off. The transfer student was now harboring a sadistic, intimidating smile while playing with his shortsword. Cold sweat ran down from Yumi’s and Mia’s foreheads because of the aura he was emanating. Akin to a king, he completely dominated his surroundings. Yumi still warned her teammates of the danger before being taunted by him. 

      Stay sharp, he seemed different now.

      Can we fight now? Do you two need an extra hour? 

All answers she was going to give him would come out of her long blade. Even though her katana was a bit unique and long in length, Yumi needed to close the distance. So, she sprinted toward him and unsheathed her katana in a powerful horizontal blow. To her surprise, the only thing that her katana touched was the metal shape of his shortsword, which he held in a reverse grip.

 

In the meantime, Mia was already concentrating on the process of casting the same Medium-Class Lightning Arrow Magic that made her famous. The only thing she was waiting for was an opening to shoot the transfer student and not her classmate.

 

Weirdly enough for Yumi, the transfer student was clearly outperforming her. She tried every strike she knew but it always ended up being dodged or blocked by his shortsword. It was a new experience for her as she always held the high ground over fighters of the same age. With this difference in speed, Yumi stopped thinking about herself and focused on coming up with a smart trick to crack up his defense.

 

To do so, she kept the same pattern of attack, alternating between compact thrusts and diagonal strikes. Despite the difficult blows, Tatsu Jin was able to keep himself from harm by dodging. He had already understood her rhythm and moved with efficiency around her. As she was in a frenzy, there was no opportunity for him to go on the offensive. He, like Mia, was waiting for an opportunity. However, Tatsu Jin underestimated Yumi.

 

The swordswoman faked a downward strike and was able to land a slight hit via a diagonal strike at the last moment. This was enough to break Tatsu Jin’s guard and cause him to lose his balance. The timing was perfect and Yumi shouted to her teammate. 

         Now!

Mia released her Medium-Class Lightning Arrow Magic, which flew through the air with multiple cracking sounds. When the arrow landed, it created a burst of powerful lightning that flashed everyone. Both Mia and Yumi were sure that the spell landed and completely downed their opponent.

 

But before she was able to get her vision back, Yumi felt two deep cuts in her knees and fell to the ground. She was completely incapacitated and couldn’t do anything except watch her opponent turn to face her teammate. Mia got her vision back quicker than Yumi because she knew first-hand about the result of her own Lightning Arrow Magic. Still, after watching her partner go down, she tried casting another spell but failed miserably, in a state of complete terror.

 

Mia could do nothing as the transfer student walked slowly, his boots thudding with each step, and positioned his weapon in front of her throat. The coldness of his eyes matched the temperature of the room, and Mia really wasn’t used to seeing this kind of ruthlessness. 

         I guess I win. 

Tatsu Jin calmed himself and took away his shortsword. Even though Mia had no injuries whatsoever, he still cast some basic Healing Magic to allow them for a quick recovery. The feeling of his magic slightly appeased the timid woman.

 

Silence took over the room, and Tatsu Jin now understood that this fight created more questions than it answered. Yumi took the initiative as she just couldn’t control her curiosity anymore. 

       If you are so powerful, why did you surrender your Saturday match?

      Do you intend to keep your end of the bet we just made?

      I’ll be happy to see how everything plays out, with you fighting at my side. But do you plan on winning or just using us as a way to advertise yourself? It’s a mystery to me as to why you are laying low with such fighting capabilities.

       I didn’t lose, so I shouldn’t be obligated to answer your questions. However, to show good faith, I will answer some of your questions. 

Preparing to make a long speech, he took a deep breath. 

      My unique skills do not fit that of a single fighter. I am way more effective in a team battle enhancing my teammates’ abilities. My specialty is support, so I am most effective in Reinforcement Magic, Healing Magic, and Barrier magic. I know I just outplayed you a few moments ago, but I only used a powerful barrier to keep Mia’s spells at bay.

 

Also, I don’t want to reveal what I can do in battles. My trump cards should only be used wisely in important battles. In addition, I don’t like attracting attention. So, teaming up with the both of you is a pretty good way of shifting the shine of our victories to you two. 

Surprisingly, Mia was the first one to speak.

      You’re saying that you repelled my Lightning Arrow Magic with a barrier. Was it Advanced-Class Magic?

      Yes.

      Seriously?

      I can… I don’t know many spells of that caliber.

      Wait… you know more than one?

      No comment. 

With this new information, more about the situation suddenly made sense. With Tatsu Jin’s approach, magic secrets were rare and wasting them was not an efficient solution. Both Yumi and Mia, after a glance full of understanding, decided to trust him and nodded in unison. Seeing that his teammates weren’t going to speak, he started to give out orders. 

       First, I would like to train both of you separately for now. Starting with Yumi on Thursday and Mia on Friday. Lessons would happen during the two hours following your fighting practice, so don’t go too hard on yourself there and keep some stamina. After all, you will probably learn more interesting stuff from me anyway. I’ll text you the room at a convenient time. Then, after some time and preparation, we will be able to train together to create some chemistry.

Are you okay with this arrangement?

What he said made sense to Yumi and Mia. They were already well acquainted with each other, so raising their own skills would empower the team. So, with only an exchange of gazes, both women nodded in agreement. 

      Then, you are relieved from your duties, sleep well. 

Tatsu Jin left the twelfth room and teleported to his apartment after making sure that no one was watching him.

 

Even though he wasn’t that serious, he still took a blow from Yumi, a novice of the Elite Magic Academy. It was both good and bad news to him as she would be a great asset to him. As usual after a tiring day, Tatsu Jin took a long hot shower to relax and think. 

(I have almost been bested by two novices in magic. Shame on me.

 

Still, I’m pretty satisfied with how things ended even though a few things bothered me. Mia failed the activation of her second spell, which isn’t a good sign at all. I hope it was just a one-time thing due to my aura. I need a reliable sniper to have my back, not one that would falter should things go south.

 

Then, Yumi did not use any magic. She completely relied on her physical abilities and sword mastery tonight. Maybe she did so in the interest of her collaboration with Mia. I will give her the benefit of the doubt for now.)

After his shower, it did not take long for him to fall asleep. 

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