Chapter 23 – Preparations
by lemuel moo
Zeel and Sunny were sitting around the dinner table, and Sunny was sorting out the letters she received from the mailbox. As usual, Zeel was thinking about Dinah again. He couldn’t find a way to communicate with her since her phone under Mr. Raul’s radar, and she had agents following her the entire day.
Sunny found herself staring at a letter and pushed the letter to Zeel.
“Brother, there’s a letter for you.”
Sunny’s job was to take care of the house, while Zeel was to take care of the shop. Letters to him were usually addressed at his garage, and there were seldom any letters for him at their house.
As he peeled open the envelop and read the contents in it, his hands began to shake with excitement.
“It’s from Dinah!”
It was a very long letter. There were sweet words for Zeel, but also lots of information about Dylan’s involvement in Aelfsige Academy. Lastly, Dinah wrote about herself and her situation with Mr. Raul.
Sunny knew Zeel that he was sending letters to DInah through one of his workers’ girlfriend as a nurse. However, communication stopped ever since Dinah discharged from the hospital as she could not find a way to communicate until now.
All of a sudden, tears formed in the corner of Zeel’s eyes and Sunny was alarmed!
“Why?! What did she say?! Did something happen?!”
“N-No, nothing. I’m just so touched that Dinah risked so much to communicate with me, that’s all.”
Sunny knuckled Zeel’s head in anger and Zeel was wide-eyed at Sunny.
“Don’t just read Dinah’s letter and start tearing all of a sudden without saying a single word! It made me worry that something bad had happened!”
“Then?! Explain the letter! It’s such a long letter with many pages!”
“Err… Okay. So she said she missed me and wished that — Ouch! Why did you hit me again?!”
“MAKE IT RELEVANT! I don’t want to hear about your sweet nothings between the both of you!”
In the end, Zeel gave up and allowed Sunny to read his letter. He immediately went to the bookshelves and took out several books, while Sunny took her time scrutinizing the letter.
Sunny found out that Dylan’s been plotting against Gale for his humiliation after the Babel Square tournament. He hired several skilled 15-year-old assassins, and they were going to enroll themselves in Aelfsige Academy, that they may form a combat team to battle in the yearly school competition. He wants to crush Gale’s side at all costs.
Dylan’s confidence came from his analysis over Gale’s battle, after reviewing with several experts. Thus, he trained hard with newly purchased skills and bragged that he attained to the level of an ‘A’ ranked assassin! He believes he’s on par with Gale now, and he’s only going to get stronger from here on out.
Someone is hidden within Aelfsige Academy as a mole and Dylan received reports from Ivy from time to time. Dinah didn’t know who, but she thought it was important to know.
Lastly, Dinah resolved in her heart that she’s going to do her research about Mr. Raul and the depth of his influence. She had to take a few steps towards Mr. Raul, so she asked Zeel not to feel jealous if he sees photographs of Mr. Raul and her. Dylan’s frustrated with Mr. Raul’s authority at times, and that made Mr. Raul confide to her about her brother. She will be trying to send as much information to Zeel as she can, but he needs to be patient. Also, don’t try to send letters to her by mail. It was going to be a one-way communication until it’s safe to reply.
Sunny saw Dinah signed off as “Love, Dinah”, and she immediately forgave Zeel for tearing unexpectedly. As she turned to look at her brother, she found him surrounded with many dictionaries, thesauruses, and books about love.
“Err… Brother? What are you doing?”
“I’m writing a letter to Dinah!”
“Did you read the last part?! She says not to communicate with her until it’s safe.”
“I know, but I’m not well-educated, so I take too long to write. I will be writing letters and keeping them until I can pass it all to Dinah one day!”
Sunny could not help but find her brother adorable. Zeel was so single-minded with Dinah that Sunny’s disgust with Dylan grew because a pair of lovebirds had to use such a roundabout way to communicate.
Sunny took a picture of Zeel surrounded with books while writing a letter, and Zeel was bewildered.
“What’re you doing, Sunny?”
“Making memories so that I can show Dinah how hardworking you are when you write letters to her!”
“Is that so? I thought it’s a pretty normal thing to write a letter.”
Silly brother. Dinah will love you even more because of this.
In the morning at school, Sunny arranged a private conversation with Gale and Clere. A mole was lurking in the shadows, so Sunny only conveyed Dinah’s report on Dylan to people whom she could trust.
“I need help from your mum, Clere. I heard from my brother that your mum’s the ‘Mistress Of Secrets’, and she runs covert operations throughout the world.
My brother and I may have a lead on Dylan, but we are helpless to do anything about it. We thought if we passed this information to your mother, she could help us out.”
Clere thought deeply within herself. Putting aside Sunny’s reasons, Dylan was a dangerous person with powerful backing, so Agatha would want to help Sunny in whatever way she could. “I see. Your information is certainly useful, and I’m sure my mother will help you out.”
Sunny then turned to towards Gale. “Dylan’s searching your past. He’s trying to find out clues to your strength and find a way to seek revenge. Are you prepared for that?”
Gale was unperturbed. “It would be unusual if he didn’t do that. It’s alright if he tries.”
Sunny and Clere were surprised at Gale’s calm response and looked at each other for a moment. Gale’s spirit seemed so unmovable that they were impressed.
“What’re you going to do about the tournament? Are you ready to gather a team?”
Every year, Aelfsige Academy hosted a competition to measure their students’ combat talents. The World Alliance, a collection of countries under a common treaty, required students to be active in combat training ever since the ‘Hidden War’.
The World Alliance also set the competition format. Students were required to fight in teams of 5, and each member within the group competes individually. The team which eliminates all five other opponents win.
The top two teams who win the school’s competition would represent Aelfsige Academy for the inter-school grand tournament.
Sunny didn’t know if Gale formed a team yet, so she asked. “Do you have space in your team yet? I would love to join your team!”
Gale replied. “Oh, I’m not participating in the tournament.”
Stunned, Sunny exclaimed, “W-Why not?!”
“Why should I?”
Gale’s innocent response caught Sunny off guard, and she struggled to find a valid answer. Even Clere was speechless.
Gale saw the bewildered expressions of the girls, and so he explained. “There’s no real benefit in joining the tournament except for bragging rights. Dylan can win the competition for all I care.
Besides, whether I participate or not isn’t stopping him from harassing me.”
Sunny slumped her shoulders in disappointment. She wanted to see Gale in action, but Gale seemed determined that he wasn’t going to join the tournament.
Sunny kept her hopes up that Gale might change his mind though. “It’s still several months away, and many teams are not even formed yet. Perhaps you might think differently then.
I have a personal request for you. Could you train my brother? I fear that Dylan will keep targeting him and if he’s not going to get stronger, he’s going to get hurt!”
Gale paused for a moment to consider Sunny’s request. “I cannot train anyone without my Aunt May’s approval. Let me ask her first.”
“Okay. Let me know once you’ve gotten your aunt’s approval.
So what do we do with the mole?”
Clere responded. “There’s nothing we can do until my mom gathers enough information for us to act. Let’s limit this information to the four of us — Zeel, Gale, you and me.”
Gale nodded in agreement. “Yup. If the rumor about the mole spreads, it will just cause mistrust and unrest without cause. I’m quite sure the mole has nothing on us that would prove useful to Dylan anyway.”
Both Sunny and Clere felt that Gale was taking it too lightly. “If they know about our weaknesses, they will use that to exploit us!”
Gale yawned at the supposition. “What kind of weakness? Fighting flaws? School work? A treasure that’s yet to be discovered? Or relationships? It’s too vague if we don’t understand our adversary’s motives.
Losing the tournament is trivial. However, if Dylan tries anything funny towards you, I will break his teeth.”
Sunny couldn’t help but smile radiantly when Gale said he would protect her, and a sharp pain pierced through Clere’s heart. Clere looked uncomfortable, so Gale tried to explain himself. “That Dylan tried to take advantage of Sunny while we were at — “
“It’s fine, Gale. That’s very you to protect and only to move when necessary. Both Sunny and us get it.”
Gale looked straight into Clere’s eyes and uttered the following words: “You’re my number one priority for protection here.”
Clere blushed and turned away to hide her embarrassment. Sunny shook her head in exasperation because Gale was too clueless. The bell rang, and it was time to go for class, so the trio hurried away before their homeroom teachers mark them as tardy.
Reynard came running to Gale after school as the latter was preparing to leave.
“I was having lunch with Jacinta today, and Dylan came to me and issued a challenge for a duel!”
Gale and Clere were speechless for a moment. Clere broke the silence and asked. “Why did Dylan issue a challenge to you?”
“Ever since I defeated Anthony from the kendo club at Ms. Kasumi’s house, they spread a rumor that I am a monster in disguise!
Earlier, I tried to get Hideki to train me, but he said he’s busy training himself, so he won’t be able to help. You’ve got to help me!”
Reynard couldn’t keep himself calm, and Jacinta shook her head and sighed.
“I tried training Reynard yesterday, but we both figured that I’m not ill-equipped as a teacher. We approached Ms. Kasumi too, but she has too much on her plate to help on a personal level. Perhaps you can train him? You caused Reynard to grow exponentially during their training that day.”
Gale covered his face with his hand. He was fooling around when he unblocked Reynard’s energy channels within his body because the guys from kendo class were mocking and belittling Reynard. However, it brought infamy to Reynard, and Gale felt responsible for him.
Clere looked at Gale intently and wondered how he would respond. Earlier in the morning, he had told Sunny that he couldn’t train Zeel unless Aunt May allowed. Now, he has to deal with Reynard.
Gale took out his phone and searched for Aunt May’s number. “Give me a moment, let me call Aunt May.”
As Gale was fiddling with his phone, Clere observed Gale’s pained expression and wondered why. “What’s wrong? It’s just a call.”
Gale removed himself from the group when he heard a chirpy voice from his phone. “Yes, Gale? Seems like you’ve finally decided to call me.”
“Hey Aunt May, have you heard about the Babel Square incident that I was recently involved in?”
“Of course! I saw everything in a video! It’s been circulating among the lynchpins in the underworld. Let me ask, is Lucy’s lips soft?”
Gale was embarrassed by the memories of his kiss with Lucy. “Y-Yeah but that’s not why I’m calling you now. Well, it seems like Mr. Raul and Dylan are brewing trouble for my friends. Zeel and Reynard will be in a world of trouble if they don’t get stronger, so they asked me to train them.“
There was a moment of silence before Aunt May started asking questions.
“Is Zeel a girl?”
“Is Reynard a girl?”
“Then no. You’re supposed to make sure to have a girlfriend or fiance by the next time I see you. I want children from you, remember?”
Gale could not keep himself from letting out an exasperated groan. “But Aunt May, I’m only fifteen!”
“So? I was married at eighteen years old. Something’s wrong if you’re not dating now. I am fine with a shotgun marriage too.”
“B-But this is a different issue altogether! They are caught in a — ”
Aunt May cut Gale short in retort. “That has nothing to do with me, my dearest Gale. I want children from you, and that’s all that matters.”
Gale started to tap his right foot impatiently. He knew Aunt May’s response from the start, and that’s why he hesitated to call her. In a flash, Gale thought of something and then asked Aunt May about it.
“Do you know Kasumi Mizushima?”
“That girl from the famous line of swordsmen? If I recall, we went for missions together.
What about her? I heard she’s your combat instructor or something now.”
Sheepishly, Gale started lowering his voice, stuttering, “I-I… err… W-What do you think about her?”
Aunt May’s lightning quick intuition immediately knew what was Gale hinting at.
“Ah, progress! I like her as a person. That’s an excellent choice!
However, I promised Agatha that you would consider Clere or Athena or both. Could you do me a favor and make them fall in love with you?”
“But Aunt May, how can I date more than one girl?!“
Gale’s protest didn’t move Aunt May. “Oh, I’m sure you’re aware that polygamy is legal for royalty, aren’t you? Remember Princess Luna whom you saved a few years back? She made me promise that I will tell her your whereabouts once you’re done with training.
You’re supposed to be done with your silver needles training right now, but you’re refusing to take the needles out of your body! That’s the only reason why I’ve hesitated to call her! Remember, just a word from me, and you will be part of a royal family!”
Gale fired back in retort. “Didn’t we agreed to postpone this issue until we can tell Raine freely about us?!”
“Ah, that. I forgot. I’m sure Raine will understand.”
Gale scowled at Aunt May’s mischief. You conveniently forget what you don’t want to remember, Aunt May!
Aunt May continued. “And why did you throw your phone into the sea to get a new number again?! Princess Luna has been demanding for your new mobile number for a long time, but every time I talk about this, you threaten to throw your phone into the sea!
I can’t even call you myself until you decided to call me today. Shouldn’t you give her a chance or something? She’s a lovely lady.”
Gale had his hand on his head. “Princess Luna’s great but she’s a little too possessive. She never stops trying to call or message me, and I can’t attend to her all the time!”
“C’mon! You’re her first love so cut her some slack. I’ve advised her, and she will get better as she matures in her thinking.”
“That’s just pep talk, and you know it, Aunt May! Princess Luna isn’t going to listen!”
Gale reiterated his stance. “Raine’s going to be fifteen in a couple of years time so let’s hold it off till then?”
“… You’re on your own, my dear Gale. I’m sure Princess Luna will find you out sooner or later. Well, at least you’re interested in Kasumi now, and I shouldn’t be complaining.
So, you want to train Zeel and Reynard huh? Agatha feels right about Zeel, and I’m fine with the lad because he seemed dependable, but Reynard…“
Hearing Aunt May’s hesitation, Gale immediately interjected. “I vouch for Reynard. It was my fault that Dylan wants to embarrass and hurt him.”
“…If you say so. The rules are simple. Help them in what they already know, and don’t teach them anything I have shown you. I know you have your own techniques but refrain from revealing them for now.
On another note, I make plans to live with Raine and you for a while. I want to know Kasumi more, and I need a break from treasure hunting anyway.”
Surprised, Gale asked, “When are you going to live with us?”
“It’s for me to know, and for you to find out.”
Aunt May ended the call, and Gale heaved a sigh of relief. It wasn’t easy to talk to Aunt May if it had nothing to do about getting married and having babies.
After Gale rejoined the group, Clere cast a suspicious glance at him.
“That took awfully long for a simple request. And what ‘princess’?”
Shoot! I spoke too loud!
Gale gave a poker face and uttered these words, “…It’s rude to eavesdrop.” Turning to Reynard, Gale answered the former’s request. “My aunt gave me the green light, and so I am allowed to help you out.“
Reynard was so happy that he rushed up to hug Gale! Everyone was surprised at Reynard’s gesture, and Gale desperately pushed back, saying, “Guys don’t do that!” At that moment, Athena appeared at the classroom door. Pleasantly surprised, Clere rushed up to greet her.
“Why are you here, sis?”
“I have news from Mom, and she wants you home immediately for a discussion.
Gale, I’m going to bring Clere home. We’ll tell you to drop by at our place when we need you.”
It sounded serious, so Clere quickly took her bag and waved goodbye to the group. Gale then turned to Jacinta and Reynard.
“Let’s start our first lesson today then. It won’t be long before Dylan gives you a date for the duel.”
Hideki took a stroll in Aelfsige City with a bamboo sword by himself. He needed some time to think about the challenge from Dylan and how he could improve in a short time.
Hideki initially wanted to train with Zeel since Sunny used her brother as a benchmark, but Hideki hardly made any progress ever since he had his fight with Zeel. Having tasted defeat in Zeel’s hands, Hideki didn’t want to spar with Zeel and lose to him again.
Training with Gale was out of the question for Hideki. Hideki saw glimpses of Gale’s strength, and he wanted to outshine Gale as his rival in his own way.
Hideki then tried to ask Kasumi for advice, and Kasumi said, “Hideki, you’re good with your techniques, but your fundamentals such as strength and agility are lacking. That’s why your techniques aren’t working for you.”
It was a valid point. Gale could crush Zeel’s guard with a wooden sword and simple strokes, but Hideki’s finesse with this techniques could hardly scratch Zeel.
As Hideki pondered about how to increase his strength, a couple walked up to Hideki and introduced themselves. The guy wore an overcoat, with a detective’s hat and sunglasses, while the pony-tailed girl was wearing a sports bra, shorts, running shoes, and a cap.
“You must be Hideki. I’m Hunter, and this is Cindy, my companion. Nice to meet you.”
Hideki was caught off-guard and shook both their hands to greet them.
“We’re from SPAW, supported by the World Alliance where we recruit talents to police civilians with extraordinary abilities. You’ve been in our scouting reports for the past few weeks, and we want you to be part of our volunteer program.”
Hideki never heard that SPAW had such a program. “Volunteer program? What’re you talking about?”
Cindy explained. “We scout volunteers and offer them some training. They don’t have police powers as we do, but it’s part of our plan to identify talented individuals and groom them.
If your strength exceeds our expectations, we want you to be part of our team!”
Hideki thought to himself. This may be what I need now!
“I thought SPAW and the World Alliance scout winners of the inter-school fighting competitions that we have on a yearly basis?”
Cindy removed her glasses and looked at Hideki. Hideki was dazzled by her big eyes as she flaunted her body curves in front of him.
“We do that too. However, many talents hide themselves and they don’t always participate in competitions. That’s why we have to scout by foot.
Moreover, don’t you have a duel coming up soon? Based on our reports, you aren’t ready for Dylan yet.”
Hideki was stumped by what he heard. How did she know? Looking at his stunned face, Cindy explained. “It’s only natural that we keep an eye on Dylan since he recruits assassins to do his bidding.
Dylan’s been analyzing talents in Aelfsige Academy, and he’s been challenging guys who seemed to have a good reputation for combat. He wants to crush you to boost his standing in school, but we don’t know his actual motive.
We are concerned that Dylan may use this duel as a springboard to recruit talents for his organization. SPAW can’t interfere in matches that are officiated by schools, so that’s why we’re hoping if you could stop Dylan on our behalf.”
Upon hearing from Cindy, Hideki didn’t take another moment of hesitation and extended his hand for a gentlemen’s agreement. He had no other alternative to boost his combat capabilities fast anyway, and perhaps Hunter and Cindy could come up with a way to make him stronger quickly.
“I’m in! Tell me what I need to do!”