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Cover Chapter 12 Chapter 14
Are you new? You can start with the prologue here: https://www.reddit.com/redditserials/comments/dmamjx/confessions_of_the_magpie_wizard_book_1/ Nagoya, Japan Monday, April 11th, 2050
One of the side effects of living a lie as long as I have is that I frequently have moments of clarity. They usually strike me right after waking, when the enormity of it all hits me at once. I’m not the real Soren Marlowe. I’m thousands of miles from my home, and an ocean separates me from any help. Even if I could reach out to them, they wouldn’t give a damn, since I had been sent to die. It’s an insane, impossible situation I’ve been left in. When I’m in this mood, I’m convinced that I’ve only been lucky so far, that the sword of Damocles will descend at any moment. “Today will be the day,” my subconscious screams at me.
Nowadays, I have means of coping. Petting the cat, going for a walk, playing a video game, all of these and more help me get over the existential dread.
That morning was the first time it ever struck me, and I had no such techniques. It took me ten minutes to stop hyperventilating. I was already sweating as I walked into the gym to meet Rose. As much as I hated pointless exercise, I was itching to throw myself into something.
Rose didn’t seem to notice, thankfully. I didn’t care to explain myself. We went to opposite treadmills and went to work. She kept up her usual patter about herself and her family’s goings on. I barely paid attention at the time; I was too busy running. I couldn’t keep pace with her, which made me thankful for the treadmills. I could match her speed, but not for long, and I was forced to dial it back. I’d have been humiliated to have her lap me so many times. I could pretend to be on the same level, since we were side by side.
About halfway through our workout, Hiro arrived and set to work on the weight machines. I don’t think he noticed us, which is just as well, since I didn’t want to talk to him anyway. While Rose and I jogged, he went through a routine that made my arms ache out of sympathy. If this man thought I would be a good rival, I had my work cut out for me. He didn’t seem like the type who would take no for an answer.
Blast it. I’d been hoping I could relax a little on my mission. Chase some girls, live rent free for a while, pick up some useful spells, and maybe do a little actual spying so they might consider taking me back. But no, it looked like I would actually have to work.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, I slipped and fell in my dorm room. My whims had struck several times over the course of the expedition the day before. Among my booty was a baseball I’d “liberated” from the batting cage. It retaliated by liberating my foot from its purchase on the floor, causing me to fall face first onto a similarly liberated case for a phone I didn’t even own. That one I don’t have an explanation for, besides it seeming very important at the time. But, I almost wished I had picked out that phone, because that case was rather solid.
Rose’s normal grin fell when she saw me outside the divider between the sexes’ dorms. “Soren, what happened to your nose?”
“I fell.” It took what little good will I had to not to take it out on her. “Are the tissues still in there?”
“Yes,” said Rose. “We should get you to the nurse’s office.”
“I’ll be fine. I’ve had worse.” I wanted to keep human doctors away from me as often as I could. You never know what they might discover.
She frowned at that. Switching topics, she said, “Thanks for coming this morning. I’ve been out of practice. I can’t stand running by myself.”
I managed a smirk. “So you mentioned. I just think of it as earning interest in the Bank of Cooper.”
She said, “Oh? And just what do you think the payment will be?”
I replied, “Well, I’d say, but I’d be afraid of causing a hurricane.”
Rose blushed at that. “Oh, you are bad!”
“And yet, I didn’t actually say anything. Who really has the dirty mind?”
“Whose mind is dirty?” Yukiko was right, Kiyo could be positively catlike sometimes, and she was between Rose and I before we knew it.
Rose blurted, “Nobody! Also, good morning!”
“Morning.” Kiyo gave Rose a confused look before shrugging and turning my way. “So?” She posed and looked at me expectantly.
It took me a moment to figure out what she was angling at. “Oh, you took my advice.” It was an impressive transformation. Her skin, while still pale, lacked the faint oily sheen it had possessed the day before. She had a bit more color, and I could make out a hint of foundation around the eyes to cover up the dark circles. Red lipstick made her lips stand out against the white backdrop all the more. The tangled bird’s nest she’d called hair had been straightened out and tied into a side ponytail to keep it out of her eyes.
She cracked a grin. “Yup! But that wasn’t a review. On a scale of one to Hiro asking me to marry him, how soon will I have to send out invitations?”
I couldn’t help but smirk at her absurdity. I scratched my chin thoughtfully as I assessed her. She’d managed to go from cute mess to outright cute overnight. She’d been accurate in assessing her figure, but the black and red school uniform did a decent job of showing off her charms. Her face, though, had this vulnerable quality that made me want to jump her and protect her all at once. But, remembering I was in public with a girl who was already jealous, I settled for saying, “Wait to send the invites; I don’t have my mailbox ready yet.”
Rose furrowed her brow. “What’s this about advice? I don’t remember that happening yesterday.”
“It happened when you weren’t around,” said Kiyo.
“When were you alone together,” asked Rose.
I mentally cursed Kiyo. “When I was waiting for you and Yukiko yesterday. Before you two met.” I shot Kiyo a glare that I hoped she would pick up on.
Kiyo’s eyes lit up with understanding. “Oh, yeah. That’s right.” She added, “By the way, I’m not out to steal your guy or anything. I’m gonna be Kiyo Takehara someday. Marlowe’s a weird name. Hard to say.”
I didn’t rise to the bait; it wasn’t my name, after all.
Rose just chuckled. “Well, I think you look nice.” The look in her eyes told me I wasn’t out of the woods, but at least she was dropping it.
“Oh, there you went,” said a singsong voice. “I’ve been looking all over. You left your backpack in the common area, Kiyo.”
Kiyo’s face went back to the impassive mask. “Whoops. Sorry.”
The new arrival was the first student I’d met at the academy who seemed more a woman than a girl. I was taller than her, but not by much. She wore her hair in a single braid slung over one shoulder, and her square rimmed glasses concealed kind eyes. Honestly, she looked a bit frumpy, but that seemed like an intentional choice. As she handed Kiyo her pack, I caught a good look at her chest, and I had trouble tearing my eyes away from it. Hadn’t Kiyo mentioned somebody who made Yukiko look flat? What was that name again?
“You must be Mariko,” I said.
She hadn’t paid Rose and I much attention yet, but that snapped her out of her reverie. “Yes, but I don’t think we’ve… what happened to your nose?”
“He fell,” said Rose. “I suppose that’s why he’s looking down so much. He’s trying to avoid a repeat.” There was an edge in her tone I didn’t care for, so I forced myself to look Mariko in the eyes. Concern shone in their inky depths, and I found myself thinking of Mother for some reason. I don’t know why; Aleksandra never had much time for me, and her attitude toward injury was that it would make me stronger.
“It looks worse than it feels, ma’am.”
Mariko giggled. “Ma’am? I’m not much older than you. No need to be so formal.”
“Sorry, it seemed appropriate.”
“Maybe in ten years. For now, you can call me Mariko, or Ms. Yamada if you like. But listen to me go on! We need to do something about that nosebleed first. Hold still.” Before I could respond, she shoved her index and middle fingers right in my face. “Trivial Heal!” Runic patterns danced through the air, and the dull ache I’d resigned myself to vanished.
I reached up and probed my noise. Once I was sure I was healed, I removed the bright red tissues. “Much obliged, Ms. Yamada. Soren Marlowe.” I stuck out my hand, which she took delicately and gave only the lightest shake.
“A pleasure. And if you’re Soren, then you must be Rose. Here, I have something for you both.”
“Did they tell everyone about us,” asked Rose.
Kiyo pointed a thumb at Mariko. “I think the last time we got a transfer student was Mariko here. Word gets around fast.”
Mariko pulled out a couple of square boxes, wrapped in handkerchiefs. I wasn’t sure what to make of them until she demonstrated using the cloths as a handle to hold the packages. “I’ve never tried making crumpets before, so I’m sorry if they aren’t quite right. I thought you might like a taste of home.”
“I’m sure they’re delightful.” I had no earthly idea what a crumpet was, but I wasn’t about to reveal that.
I detected a faint whiff of ozone from Rose, but she restrained herself. Her eyes were misty, and all she could manage was a quiet, “Thanks.”
Mariko gave Rose a pat on the shoulder. “It was no trouble at all. I just wish we could do more.”
We made our way to the elevators and rode down in relative silence. Kiyo fumed silently as she played on her GoSato. I think she’d hoped her makeover would be the topic of conversation for longer.
“What game is that?” I thought I would pay her a little attention.
Kiyo frowned deeper as her fighter was devoured by a pixelated dragon. “Invasion of Klayda
. Pretty good RPG. It’s got some fun character customization, but it’s free to play, so if you’re broke like me, it’s too expensive to get anything good.”
“Those all certainly sound like words. And how can something that’s ‘free to play’ be expensive?”
Kiyo’s eyes narrowed. “Oh, right. You’re a newb.”
“He’s beyond a newb,” said Rose. “I don’t think he ever touched a controller until we played Puzzle Garden Gaiden
the other night.”
Kiyo looked at me with disgust. “I don’t get people who don’t play videogames. They barely seem human.”
“I don’t play video games,” said Mariko.
“Yeah, but you like, draw and make sweaters and stuff. You’re exempt,” said Kiyo.
Mariko gave her friend a bemused grin. “That’s a relief.” Her smile vanished as soon as Kiyo looked down at her game again.
We exchanged some idle chit chat on the ride down and the trip to room 3-B. It didn’t take long for us to get there. For the first time since I’d arrived, I found myself crowded. The wall to wall sea of students were, to my eyes, more than half Japanese, with a smattering of people of every background I knew, and many more I didn’t. As I heard the snippets of conversation, I realized something was off.
“Why is everyone speaking English?”
Kiyo didn’t look up from her game; it was remarkable how well she navigated the halls with her head tilted down. “What do you mean? I’m not speaking English.”
I looked down at her incredulously. “It sounds like English to me.”
Mariko pointed at a square device resembling a loudspeaker mounted in the ceiling, encircled by a complex series of runes. “Those fabricata
translate the spoken word into the user’s native language.”
“It was all in the student handbook,” said Rose. “Did you think everyone just happened to speak English?”
“I thought everyone was being polite to Rose and I,” I retorted.
Kiyo looked thoughtful for a moment. “Yukiko and I could have. Hiro can barely ask where the bathroom is in English. Made it awkward when Dad met us in Taipei.” I finally noticed that her lip movements didn’t quite match with the words I heard. It was damn distracting.
“Those must be extraordinarily complicated.” I’d never seen the like back home. Then again, High Demonic and Low Demonic speakers could understand each other just fine, aside from a little slang. I was sure we’d have created better translation fabricata
if the need had arisen. I wondered why it wasn’t translating them into a form of Demonic for me. Either it didn’t know Demonic, or it matched the English I was speaking.
Finally, I saw the wooden sign above the door for our class. The man in the doorway was an imposing mountain of muscle. “Ah, our new students are finally here. Ms. Jones! Put that away. If I see it in class, it’s mine.”
“Yes, Mr. Maki,” she muttered before shutting it off.
Mariko tensed up and practically darted past the teacher. I didn’t pay that much attention, since I felt myself on the verge of another panic attack. I thought I’d recognized that face. I’d seen it printed on bounty posters often enough. “You can’t be Asahi Maki, can you? The Divine Blade?”
His laughter boomed over the dull roar of conversation around us. “I certainly can be, considering I am. At least, that’s what my paycheck says.”
I gave his tepid joke a tepid laugh. The Anti-Demonic League didn’t often launch attacks in those days; the Horde had them on the defensive in every theater. When they did, though, Asahi Maki was always on the front line. He was why humanity had retaken a few islands in the South China Sea and all of the Aleutians. Those were the only reversals we’d suffered to that point. I was lucky enough to have never encountered him, since if I had, you would not be reading this book now. “I-it’s an honor, sir.”
He clapped me on the back, nearly bowling me over. “Calm down, son. You look like you’re going to have an attack. I’m not worth it.” He gave Rose a polite nod. “Good morning to you too, Ms. Cooper.” He looked like he was about to continue, but his face hardened. “Excuse me. Wait at the front of the classroom for introductions.” He stomped down the hall, saying something about some hat not being part of the uniform.
Well, I can follow orders well enough when there isn’t something better to do. It was interesting to watch the class enter in dribs and drabs. I could immediately tell the native Japanese students from those from mainland Europe or Asia just by their body language. The native students just lacked the same sense of fear the children of refugees had. A person moves differently when they’re confident that their surroundings are safe. It was almost quaint; only the smallest toddlers of privilege in the Grim Horde are so naïve, and that is beaten out of them soon enough.
The classroom was laid out like an amphitheater, with each level of seats raised a little higher than the last. There was space for sixty students, but only thirty came to fill it up. Yukiko was already seated in the front row. Her school uniform made her look five years younger than her more professional garb, but she was still trim and proper. Even her tablet computer and stylus were placed perfectly square with the lines of her desk. Hiro sat next to her, and when he spotted us, his face lit up and he waved at us excitedly.
I was spared having to return the gesture by Maki striding in silencing the class with a barked command. Once he had his quiet, he said, “Good morning, class. Let’s say hello to our two new students. Which one of you wants to go first?”
Rose went up and talked about vague generalities. Wanting to be good friends, a bit about her hobbies, how glad she was to be at Nagoya, all that claptrap. She went on a bit long, which was fine by me. It gave me time to plan. How would I present Soren Marlowe? It would make sense to be mild and unassuming. I was a spy, after all. But I knew myself too well to think I could maintain that long term. So, if I couldn’t blend into the background, I needed to stand out in a helpful way. I scanned the room, looking for guidance. Hiro beamed at me, while Kiyo looked on dispassionately. Not helpful. The other students didn’t look terribly interested either. Mariko just looked guardedly at Maki.
It was Yukiko who finally gave me my inspiration. That look of dismissal in her eyes, as though she’d already written me off, made me want to throw her for a loop. So, when it was my turn, I strode forward and said, “Good morning. My name is Soren Marlowe, and I stand before you here the last man to escape the United Kingdom. I did it by the skin of my teeth. I won’t distress you with the details, but sufficed to say, I intend to take my studies seriously. I’m sure there will be good times with all of you, but I can’t forget that bad times are coming should we fail here. I refuse to see it happen again if it is within my power. Thank you.”
Everyone’s looks shifted from disinterest to a stunned confusion. “Most people would just talk about their hobbies,” said Maki.
“I’m not most people.” I looked to Yukiko for approval. Her expression had changed from dismissive to intrigued. Mission accomplished.
Maki assigned us our seats. I ended up next to Mariko, while Rose was off by herself. I worried about that, if only because I didn’t fancy a rainstorm if someone wasn’t there to look after her. I’m not sure when I started thinking of that as my job, but I distinctly remember that thought going through my mind.
“Yukiko told us a little about you, but I didn’t know… I’m so sorry.” Mariko put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. The poor thing was so stricken that her hand was trembling.
I shot a smile back and gave her hand a reassuring pat. “Nothing you did, my dear. Thank you, though.” I was pleased with the tactic I’d chosen. There was so much sympathy in those dark eyes. I’d never made my way into a bed with pity, but I was happy to try.
It would be the last unqualified success of my first day of class. I turned to the page Maki indicated for his Remedial Spellcraft class and looked over the contents as he began his lecture. There were numerous equations made up of runes. My stomach twisted on itself. I didn’t understand a single one of them. I flipped through the pages, and not a single bit of it matched my years of magic training. It was like learning to play piano by ear and being presented with sheet music.
I really was an F class wizard. It was a bit of a blow to the old ego.
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