It was early in the morning when Mirai found herself finally level-headed again. The previous night had not treated her well, from a splitting headache to the chatter of her new roommates, she could do little to find any peace of mind. Yet after washing up and beginning the monotonous task of cooking breakfast, her mind had cleared up enough for her to think about the long and complicated process that would be her school year.
While she set slabs of bacon down in a pan, she peered out the window. “I’m already slaving away in the kitchen.” A light chuckle escaped her lips, which rang out throughout the large cabin, following the usual entrancing melody of her voice. Although what she found so humorous remained kept to herself, even when someone shuffled into the room. “Breakfast will be ready in about half an hour. Try to get yourself ready for the day in the meantime,” she called out over her shoulder.
“Okay,” the short reply came, soft yet nervous. Whoever spoke shuffled back out of the lounge, which left Mirai all on her lonesome once again.
Once the bacon was done, the young woman set them on a plate alongside the bountiful amounts of food she had already prepared prior. Next, she picked out a few vegetables from the fridge and began to work on a salad for a select few of her roommates. Ever so slowly, she drifted back into her thoughts while slicing up a few ingredients.
“I’ll have to catalog my schedule in my diary along with the fogginess from that fight yesterday. Perhaps tonight if I find some time. Hopefully, some of my roommates are willing to pitch in with the cleaning though, otherwise, I won’t have any free time. Not to mention how odd it’ll be to make sure those boys aren’t living in a pigsty. At least at home, everyone knew my condition and didn’t make a fuss, but they were just glad someone was cleaning up after them.”
“At this rate, you’re abusing the chopping board.”
Snapping out of her thoughts, Mirai whipped around and pointed her kitchen knife at the unfortunate roommate to have disturbed her cooking. This particular girl was quite a bit taller than Mirai and stuck out with her pale, almost grey, skin. Lowering her knife, the young Senshin apologized, “Sorry, a bit of a habit when I’m cooking and thinking about something else.”
“And what would our little chef be thinking about?” the taller girl asked, her pointed ears twitching with her brimming curiosity.
“Just some plans for today,” she said while she dropped all the chopped vegetables into a bowl, “Nothing beyond cleaning the dorms and taking care of a few personal matters.”
“Cleaning? You’re gonna do all that for us?”
“Only if I have to.” In one fluid motion, she swept up the dishes she prepared and lined them down the dining table. Drawing back into the kitchen, she withdrew twelve plates from the cabinet and brought them to the table too. “No offense, Nora, but by the looks of it, I’ll at least have to take care of the girl’s side of the house. An orphan, a princess, and a warrior aren’t likely to even want to take care of their messes, much less help out.”
“Eh, fair enough. Though I wasn’t really expecting a Senshin to be such a…”
“Something like that.” Drifting over to the table, Nora loomed over the selection of foods before she sat down. “From what I heard, your family was all stuck up fighters who didn’t give a shit about other people.”
“Language,” the blue-eyed girl scolded while she placed utensils next to each plate.
“You sure you’re not too old to be here?” the long-eared girl cheekily remarked.
“Oh, give me a break. My family is mostly composed of idiots with too much power to play with, so excuse me for being one of the few rational ones taking care of them.”
“Hey, I never said something was wrong with that.” Nora raised her heads, mocking her surrender. “Hell, my older sister’s pretty much the same way. Still, I figured I’d be stuck with some snot-nosed brat trying to be the best healer or something.”
“If I have any choice in the matter, I’d rather just go back home after my schooling and take care of all the kids running around the house.”
“Really? Ain’t that a big mess though? My little brother kicks up a storm around the house by himself. I couldn’t imagine taking care of more than one little demon.” Resting her head on a propped up arm, Nora saw Mirai twitch at the sight of her elbow on the table. Naturally, she decided to keep it there.
Turning her head away, the Senshin untied her apron and hung it up. “You just need to know how to entertain them. Then they’re pretty easy to take care of,” she said, “Plus, being a Catalyst helps with all their accidental magic.”
“Still not my thing.”
“Everyone’s different,” Mirai shrugged. Flattening out her uniform’s skirt, she sauntered over to the bedroom doors and called her remaining roommates out for breakfast. Whether or not they were ready, the students ran toward the table as soon as they caught a whiff of the food. So, the small feast was devoured voraciously by most of them, even with the certain diets of the different students.
By the time the food was wiped clean off the plates, the Senshin had already begun washing the silverware and dishes. Meanwhile, the half-dressed boys finally were aware that most of them were topless, much to the girls’ amusement. Although one of them was less than pleased with the barbaric dressings the young men had found themselves in. Nevertheless, the group of students was caught up walking and talking toward the first class of the day with Mirai following shortly behind, texting on her phone.
She was in a lecture hall, a textbook laid on her desk, and she was sitting alone at her desk. Among twelve students, she was the only one in the second row and felt distanced before the class had even begun. Though the distance was not her choice, it seemed almost natural to her, something to be expected from the way everyone acted on the way to class. Whereas she kept to herself, everyone mingled with one another. It was odd how everyone clicked together so easily, she had a few questions about it too, but there were other thoughts on her mind. Such as where is the teacher?
Her phone had told her it was past the time the class should have started and she had double-checked her time table last night to make sure her alarms would be accurate. So where was Professors Gnosis?
Of course, asking students with less information than her proved a fruitless effort, so Mirai was left with few options, none of which she wanted to resort to. Maris would be all too excited to look around while draining her reserves unnecessarily and calling one of the staff to look for the professor would be a waste of time since most of them had to tend to classes of their own.
That was when a ragged man stumbled into the room with one hand sliding across the wall for support. When he reached the lectern, he stood with his left foot tapping the floor. “Sorry for being late. Rough night with the wife, you know?” he joked but only a few laughed. In one slow turn, he scanned the room, making eye contact with each student for a few students. “Looks like you’re all here, so I guess it’s time to start your lesson.”
Linking the voice to the boy with the raised hand, Professor Gnosis rubbed his wrinkled temples. “Yes, what is it?”
“Aren’t you supposed to introduce yourself?” the boy asked with a schooled face rather than the calm of the other students.
A few of the students would notice the eye roll his question queued. “You all can call me Professor Gnosis or just Professor,” he complied with a hint of fatigue tracing his words, “I’ll be teaching Magic Theory and it’s mandatory, so there’s no getting out of class without making up the work. Speaking of, we meet on Mondays and Thursdays and every other Thursday there’s a quiz. Knowing that, you have no excuses for not knowing there was a quiz. Now, are there any other questions?”
For time’s sake, no one raised a hand.
“Good, then let’s get started with some basics,” he began, swinging his arms and making his patched up duster flutter behind him, “You are all here to advance your education and become adept with magic. When you have graduated, you will have become mages and many more opportunities open up to you.” Now, someone raised his hand. “Okay, did none of you hear me when I asked for questions? Whatever; just get on with it.”
“What are mages? Are they different from being a wizard?”
Putting his head in his heads, Professor Gnosis muttered, “Man, this day just keeps getting longer.” When he picked his head up, he looked at the boy and a few others who seemed to have the same question on their minds. “Look, right now, you’re all wizards and witches, the lowest of the low in the pecking order. When you graduate, you rise into the ranks of mages, where you can do most things that’ll set your life on track. If you choose to continue training and learning, you get to the rank of sorcerer or sorceress. After that, the best you can do is train under a sage to be in tune with an element. Once that’s done, you get into the ranks of sages, where most people stop striving and just stay.”
“What about Grandmasters? Aren’t those pretty important?” The same student asked, much to the scruffy teacher’s annoyance.
Then, his gaze landed on Mirai. “Well, you know what? Senshin, how about you explain what Grandmasters are to the class?”
“But sir, you know more than I do about all of this,” she said, doubt lingering on her face when he approached her table.
“Ah, to hell with that! Both your parents are Grandmasters, you ought to know how important they are!” That caught everyone’s attention, and now, eleven more pairs of eyes were on Mirai, all of which were unwanted. “Just a quick thing, then I’ll get back to my whole spiel .”
“Fine.” Once she gave in, he pointed at the lectern and the chalkboard, so she walked over to the board. With a piece of chalk, she wrote the pecking order her professor had just gone over in large letters. Wizards and witches were at the bottom while Grandmasters were at the top. Catalysts were nowhere to be seen. Turning back to the class, she schooled her expression and scratched the back of her nail for comfort.
“No need to stress, just get on with it.”
“Right,” she smiled back at the professor, “Much like sages, Grandmasters are in tune with an element, allowing the perfect control of whichever one they have mastered. To balance this power out, only one exists for each element, so my step-father, Illuctos, can be the only Fire Grandmaster until he relinquishes the position or someone has slain him for it. Though the title not only gives someone unparalleled power, it gives them everlasting youth and other small benefits even after losing the title.”
“Excellent! Couldn’t have said it better myself!” Stepping back up to the lectern, Gnosis took back all the attention, much to Mirai’s gratitude. Meanwhile, she took back her own seat. “Now, you’re all supposed to be some of the best first-year students. How about we test that?” he asked with a malicious, toothy grin.
All at once, the boys gulped.
“Don’t worry, it’s only to see where you are. From the basics to the end of your final year.” Queue another round of gulps added with a few from the female students. “This is something I do every year, but this year, it may be a bit harder. That’s just to say I have high expectations for you,” he made eye contact with Mirai, “I’m sure you’re all off to do great things for the world.”
Pointing two fingers at the desk in the corner, he made a stack of papers glow an iridescent blue before he swiped his fingers toward the students, which directed each packet to find its way in front of a student.
“Now, you have until the end of class. No helping each other and all that business.” He dusted off his coat and let his smile drop. “You may begin.”
Without a second to spare, each student reached into a bag for a pencil or pen to begin writing. A pen in hand, Mirai scanned through the questions, each of them was a short answer question. Then, she flipped back to the first question and stopped.
“How many layers can a spell maintain?” she read with a worried expression on her face. Resisting the urge to check on her peers, she paused to reason out the situation. “They’re in the A-class, so they should know the basics of magic theory, but Astral didn’t know about layers yesterday. Let’s see, Grandmother said it was part of the basics and I know that Auntie skipped over it in her training, which means that these guys don’t know that spells can have an infinite amount of layers. If the rest of this test is the same… Oh, well this is unfair.”
“Professor, may I have a minute of your time?” Mirai asked in her polite, soft voice.
Turning around to face the girl, Gnosis said, “Look, if this is about putting you on the spot, just be glad I didn’t have you to explain what Catalysts are. Now, that would make a good show.”
“Actually, I had a few questions about that test,” she clarified without breaking face. Even if he was going to be difficult, she knew better than to do the same.
“Fine, I have a few minutes.”
When he leaned against the lectern, the Senshin shifted her schoolbag she had slung across her abdomen. “The entire test was on material we would learn in our final year and I know you told us that it would be… advanced, but why, sir?”
“I told you, it’s to see where all you brats are at. But I don’t see why you’re complaining, you got a perfect score,” he said with a shrug, “Figures with all that lady told us.”
“So it was difficult because I was in the class?” Her words were an accusation, but her voice could only find fear rising through its delivery.
“Look, kid, you’re special and we both know that you’re going to do something big, whether you like it or not. It’s my job to make you stronger, so I needed to make sure I could skip all the boring theory stuff with you.” He paused to study her expression, but all he received was a face of absolute terror. “Something wrong, kid? Not like this is something new. All the teachers know what you’re going to be and what we need to do to get you there.”
Averting eye contact, Mirai looked at the ground, finding the wooden floorboards much more interesting than her greying professor. Then, she couldn’t help but close her eyes and bite down, clenching her jaw and nearly grinding her teeth together. Her left hand darted to her school bag, grasping the fabric of the strap to still itself.
“Sorry, you’re just a kid. A kid who’s seen some of the worst shit, but still a kid.” She stepped back and grabbed onto the doorframe. Her hand was shaking. “Okay, it’s not your fault, kid. I made the test hard, so don’t blame yourself. Now, just tell me what’s bothering you.”
“I…” Stopping her stammer, she gulped. “I’ve seen what power does. ItーIt kiーIt destroys people. I don’t want that. I don’t need that. Just… Just treat me like any other student. You need to focus on them. Not me. They’re the next generation of healers. I’m just a Catalyst, a tool, a weapon. I’m not worth the trouble, honest. I’ll just slow everyone down.”
“Woah, kid!” In his interruption, Professor Gnosis grabbed Mirai’s free hand and stroked her palm. It was soothing, yet she still shook. “Not even I would say that messed up stuff,” he muttered, “Believe me when I say I know what you’re talking about. My wife is a lot like your dad; they were great people and sacrificed themselves for their family. Nothing’s going to change that and nothing can. But you gotta let go, even if it haunts you.”
Her other hand let go of the door, leaving a piece of chipped paint stuck to her ring finger. Reaching out, she grabbed onto her teacher’s hand, holding it between hers. The two remained silent as Mirai’s breaths heaved through the room and Gnosis felt something stirring inside of him.
“You miss her, sir.”
“Kid, she’s the love of my life. Always will be,” he said, his eyes softening as the girl looked up at him.
“You couldn’t sleep last night. Her death haunts you.” The girl was soft-spoken in an almost ethereal way that made the teacher feel surreal around her, but he knew she was just another troubled kid that needed a guiding hand. “When my father left, the man who killed him came back. I killed that man. No, not killed. I wiped him out of existence. No reincarnation, no descendants, no trace left behind.”
“You’re scared of him, aren’t you?” he guessed while trying to match the softness of her voice, but his naturally rough voice made that impossible.
She shook her head. “I know he’s gone. I’m scared of what his existence meant. Just his memory made me so scared. It shouldn’t be like this, but I’m getting closer to what he was… what power made him become… an absolute monster.”
“You won’t ever be like him.” She looked up at him, hope flickering in twin sapphire orbs. “He was a monster, but you won’t ever be like him as long as you remember what he was. I know we barely know each other, but you have to trust me: as long as you remember what he was, you won’t become anything like him.”
She nodded. “Thank you, sir.”
“That still doesn’t get you out of lessons,” he reminded, catching her off guard, “Just because you’re scared of getting stronger doesn’t mean I won’t push you. Besides, your Nana’s already got plans for your training.”
“Still, thank you for talking me out of that. I just needed someone else to focus on or it gets a bit hard to stomach.”
With his free hand, he ruffled her hair. “Don’t worry about it, kid. It’s part of the job. But, you gotta get going.” Taking his hands away, Professor Gnosis pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled something on it. Handing off the unintelligible scrawl to Mirai, he said, “Get to your next class. History’s a bit of hell for you brats.”
“I suppose Grandmother didn’t tell you.”
“What? Something I should know?”
“I took the exams to skip history, mathematics, and foreign language classes. So I have Alchemy next.” She put on a proud smile before she took her teacher’s left hand. “Here, to help you get through the day.”
It took a moment for her message to sink in, but when it did, he found her hands holding his with an iridescent blue glow. As he felt energy flowing into him, he smirked at his student. “Thanks, Mirai. That’s just what I needed.”
“You’re welcome, sir,” she replied happily. Once she pulled her hands away, she held the note and swept out of the room, out of sight of the man.