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Everyone applauds as Sera takes her seat at the table. Celeste brings out the hot pot that she had been cooking in the dorm's kitchen while I start laying the plates and utensils. Its nice to have everyone together for dinner, but couldn't we have gone to a restaurant instead? With everyone here, my dorm room feels packed.

"Amazing!" Celeste exclaims, "Another length of golf braid on your uniform Sera. Soon, you will be recognized as SOPO's most powerful mage ever."

Sera shakes her head and demurs, "I'm still far from Inspector Scott's level. Its only thanks to the training that we have been putting Tensei through that I have managed to advance so quickly."

Ken massages his sore shoulders and agrees, "Yeah. All of you have been improving real quick. I've been sparring with Tensei for the past few days and can no longer keep up with him. I'm feeling a bit jealous here."

I squeeze Kira's hand discreetly as I pass her while laying out the plates and she gives me a thankful smile. I know that Kira has been feeling left out during the past few days. She has no knowledge or interest in fighting and has not attended the sparring sessions. I don't want her to become a third wheel though. All of my friends are important to me.

"You moved into the dorms as well, right Ken?" Rose asks as she begins clumsily doling the hot pot out, clearly not used to menial chores.

Ken rubs his chin worriedly, "Yeah. The hassle of passing border control became too troublesome, especially since I needed to do it everyday. The old man agreed that I should stay at the Academy temporarily. I don't agree though, especially when trouble has shown up at our doorstep."

"What trouble?" I ask as I take over ladling out the hot pot from Rose. Celeste brings a cloth and starts cleaning up the small spill Rose had caused on the table.

"That fake teacher, Gallant." Ken says with a frown, "He showed up at Six Trees recently. Decided to stay there apparently."

Sera looks up from her food and answers, "Makes sense. He can't be touched by SOPO across the border."

Ken continues with worry on his face, "Gallant is completely crazy. Just the other night, I heard that he started shooting people in the street. The old man managed to calm Gallant down and get him to stop, but I have a bad feeling about the whole thing. The old man is scared of him and is treating the nutcase with kid gloves. The family also told me that ORPO came down on the people that Gallant was messing with, telling them not to start any trouble."

"What?" I say in surprise, "Why isn't ORPO bringing him in?"

Sera replies while savoring the hot pot, "We suspected for a long time that Gallant has ORPO connections. That's the reason why Mrs Alley, his accomplice, remains in custody to keep her from talking while he walks around free. ORPO is not going to arrest Gallant."

Kira suddenly pipes up, "Tensei, I've talked to a friend in the Host, and he says that they are willing to help you in your fight against Nicholas."

"That's wonderful." I smile, "Thanks Kira. I know you've put a lot of effort into this."

Rose scowls slightly, "Just helping Tensei? Its a battle between teams of two you know. What kind of help is the Host going to give?"

Kira smiles sweetly back at Rose, but her face oozes with transparent insincerity, "Its confidential. Tensei will be contacted once the arrangements are ready. After all, Tensei is the one that will be doing all the hard work in the contest itself."

Rose looks like she is about to bite Kira's head off and clenches her fist reflexively. Its true that I've been improving faster than Rose throughout the training, but there is no need to rub it in her face like that. Ken quickly nudges me in the ribs and whispers, "Cat fight incoming. Do something fast."

Before I can say anything, Celeste doles out another share of the food for both Kira and Rose. "Its great that the Host is willing to help both of you." she says cheerfully, "We're all in this together right?"

Rose and Kira glare one more time at each other before reluctantly continuing to eat. I give a grateful smile to Celeste and she flashes a playful wink at me. Disaster averted. Really, tensions have been high the last few days during training, and without Celeste regularly visiting us, some sort of quarrel would have eventually broken out. Ken has been on tenterhooks about his family and conflict has been growing between him and Sera. Apparently Ken's family has been tussling with SOPO and trashing private property during the last few days. Ken's been upset about the arrests made by SOPO and Sera sees Ken as a bad influence to be around with.

Rose and Sera have not really been getting along well too. Rose is resentful of Sera's role as our instructor and says that Sera is taking the opportunity to monopolize me. I mean, Sera does need to interact with me during training right? Its not as if I'm complaining about Rose having Irene's full attention during the training sessions. Its just that both Sera and Irene felt that Rose would benefit more from Irene's lectures on battle magic theory while I was sent to spar with Sera and Ken.

Throw Kira into this volatile mix with her own issues and we could very well have had a huge friendship wrecking blow up. Thank goodness for Celeste though. Her friendly calming presence kept everything from boiling over and into something we would all regret. Everyone is playing a part in helping me here. I don't want to lose them as friends, especially not before I am in the position to repay all the kindness I have received.

If anything the last few days have taught me, its that we are stronger together than we are apart. All of us have made great improvements in our skills. Sera has just received a promotion thanks to her increased power. Rose's understanding of battle magic now is on par with most of the Academy's teachers. Kira has worked on her singing and when she sang for us after practice last night, all of us could feel the increased strength of her spirit. Ken lags behind, but even he is trying hard, both for me and himself.

My attention is drawn to the sound of laughter coming from everyone as they laugh at a joke told by Celeste. None of this would be possible without her. This precious feeling that I have, I owe it entirely to her. She really is the glue that binds all of us together.

Celeste notices me looking at her and gives me a warm smile. The kind of smile made between friends. My heart hurts at this sight. Why?

As I cast my eyes across the table, seeing the happy faces, the wonderful food and the hope we all have in the future, I come to a realization. I want these days to go on forever. I want all of us to be together, to face the future with courage, no matter what the outcome may be. I will pay whatever price that needs to be paid to see this dream come through.

So don't lose heart in me everyone. I will never leave any of you behind.

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AweksLear

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