Chapter 38 – Transactions

  • by lemuel moo

It was Monday and the time drew near for Clere to embark on a school camp in Aelfsige Academy.

Aelfsige Academy runs annual camps for different grades individually, and it was time for the year one students in high school to have their fun.

Gale trained Clere at four in the morning as usual and returned home for breakfast with his family before heading to school. As Clere was about to shower, her phone received a text message, and she wondered who would message her in the morning.

“Hey Clere, Would you want to go to school together? – Hideki”

“Sure. Meet me outside my house at 7:45 am.”

Clere realized Hideki had been asking her to go to school together more frequently before. It felt like five years ago when they shared their childhood times.

However, there was a nagging feeling which Clere could not shake off. What about Satori? Satori had been all over Hideki for a few months, but Hideki maintained a certain distance from her.

After Clere had breakfast with her family, she was greeted at her door by Hideki.

“Good morning, Clere!”

“Hey, Hideki! Good morning!”

Hideki looked a little more hopeful than usual. As they walked towards school, Clere asked. “Did something good happen?”

“Yeah! Uncle Kenji called me and said he would be dropping by sometime soon. I’m hoping to learn more sword techniques from him when he’s around.”

Clere was horrified, but she didn’t show it on her face. She didn’t like Kenji Mizushima because he was an overbearing man, despised children and thought he was better than anyone. When she was little, Kenji pinched her cheeks so painfully that she could still remember.

Clere replied. “Oh, really. How nice. Why is he in town for?”

“It was some time where my sis and I moved out of his house, and Uncle Kenji thought he should pay a visit to check us out.

However, Uncle Kenji is also coming down to arrange my sis’ marriage.”

Clere perked up upon hearing that. “K-Kasumi’s marriage?!”

Hideki nodded. “Yeah. I made my sis hoping mad yesterday because I mentioned Mr. Valerian to Uncle Kenji, and Uncle Kenji is interested in Mr. Valerian as a prospect.

But my sister likes someone else.”

Hideki didn’t want to name Gale because he didn’t want to the relationship between his sister and Gale to spread within the school. However, Clere was aware that Kasumi liked Gale.

Hideki continued. “I tried to tell Uncle Kenji afterward that my sis has another love interest and that she didn’t like Mr. Valerian. So Uncle Kenji wants to check out my sis’ love interest.”

Clere thought to herself. ‘Another trouble brewing for Gale.’

Clere asked. “I didn’t have many interactions with your uncle other than the few times he came over to my house for New Moon celebrations. When you lived with him for five years, how was he like?”

Hideki replied. “He was strict, demanding and brash towards my sister and I, especially during training. However, both of us know we are esteemed deeply in his heart, and that’s why he was especially demanding. He feels we can meet his expectations.

My sis appreciates Uncle Kenji, but she doesn’t like him. That’s partly one of the reasons why we moved back here to Aelfsige City. My sis wanted to come here alone, but I refused to leave her side, so we came together.”

Clere understood Kasumi totally, but Hideki showed a lot of respect to Kenji, so she didn’t want to pour cold water over Hideki’s enthusiasm for his uncle.

“It’s good that your relative is coming to visit you. I’m sure you’re looking forward to it.”

Hideki then asked. “There’s another thing, though. Would you want to train with me?”

“Train with you?”

“Just like old times where we played swords together, we should train together instead!”

It was a sudden proposal from Hideki, and Clere didn’t know how to react. “Well, I can’t reveal my [Cursed Ink Techniques] to anyone as I need my Mom’s permission first. In any case, why are you asking me to train with you all of a sudden? All these time since you’ve moved back here, you have never mentioned this subject to me before.”

Hideki answered. “To tell you honestly, I’ve never felt so weak and powerless until lately. Gale is so strong yet mysterious, and every time I thought I made improvements, he blows my mind with something new.

Then I lost to Dylan in a duel. I was very sure I made great strides in my training, but I failed. Reynard, who couldn’t fight a few weeks ago, managed to injure Dylan, and I couldn’t even put a scratch!

People tout me as someone great with swords, and they think I’m strong, but I was repeatedly shown how weak I’ve been. You and I were so powerless against a common foe at Yildirim Woods together. Let’s train with each other and grow.”

Clere didn’t tell anyone that she was training with Gale, and judging by Hideki’s words, she realized he had been comparing himself with Gale. She thought the best way not to hurt Hideki’s pride was not to let him know that she’s been training with Gale.

“We can spar and test each other’s strength, but actual training will need my Mom’s approval. My Mom mentioned that our [Cursed Ink Techniques] is sacred to our family.”

Hideki asked. “You can’t produce [Cursed Ink] yet, can you? You wouldn’t break your Mom’s words if you trained with me without producing [Cursed Ink].”

Hideki was oblivious of Clere’s current strength and reckoned it had not improved much since the incident in Yildirim Woods. Clere didn’t want to let others know how well she has progressed, so she didn’t answer Hideki’s question.

Clere also couldn’t understand why Hideki wanted to train with her so badly when there were other training partners in school.

Clere replied. “Regardless, the strokes and the form of my techniques are part of the [Cursed Ink Techniques]. I apologize, Hideki.”

Hideki was disappointed but remained upbeat. “I understand. Let’s seek approval from Aunt Agatha first.”

Hideki and Clere continued to engage in small talk until they reached Aelfsige Academy.

———-

The principal called for a high school assembly, and everyone gathered at an auditorium hall for a special announcement. It was out of the ordinary, and the students were buzzing with rumors and stories.

“Why is the principal gathering us today? Is this because of the City Plaza battle that erupted over the weekend?”

“Who knows? I sure hope they aren’t canceling the annual school camp because of it.”

Gale rested his eyes without a care in the world while the rest discussed among themselves. Moments later, Principal Stella walked towards the podium, and the students quieted themselves as they fixed their eyes on her.

The teachers were present on the first row of the auditorium too.

“Good morning, students! I know this is a sudden announcement, but we’ve four new combat instructors who came to our academy today. They will be teaching in high school, and they will also be joining the 1st year annual camp which is happening over the coming weekend.”

The students and teachers buzzed like bees as they were caught entirely off-guard from that announcement. Stella took a few moments to quiet the crowd down before continuing.

“Every class should already have a combat instructor by now. However, there will be an overwhelming number of students who are going to join us in high school for next year. That means we’re going to have more classes and we’ll need every help we can get.

I’m pleased to say that we’ve already found our combat instructors, and I look forward to working with them from today. They will officially take care of combat clubs, such as the kendo club we have, to get used to our way of doing things and our culture here before they will manage their class next year.

Would you join me for a round of applause as we welcome our new combat instructors!”

The applause was courteous and muted at first. But when four beautiful ladies walked up to the stage from the sides, the guys in the crowd roared, and the auditorium thundered with excitement. Cat calls howled from the left and the right, and the school warmly received the four teachers.

Except for Gale. He took a look from his nap, and he realized he was in trouble. Without hesitation, he took out his phone and messaged Sunny, who was still in middle school.

“The Four Abominations officially joined us in Aelfsige Academy.”

It wasn’t long before Sunny replied.

“WHAT?! What are they doing here?!”

As a flurry of messages raced between Gale and Sunny, Clere looked over and wondered what was up with Gale. Gale leaned into Clere’s ear and whispered. “The four assassins whom I fought against in Babel Square are in front of us right now.”

Clere’s eyes widened, and she looked at Gale for a moment. After Clere regained her composure, she immediately reached out for her phone to message Agatha and Athena.

Hideki, Jacinta, and Reynard looked over to Gale and Clere curiously and thought they were playing games on their phones.

The Scrooge walked forward and took the mic from Stella to introduce herself. She wore glasses, had flowing black hair and wore office outfit with black heels on her legs. She looked like a typical office worker in a bustling city.

“Hi everyone! I’m Gwen, and on behalf of my other friends with me, we’re so thankful for your warm welcome! It makes us feel at home here!”

Gwen continued her speech while Gale tried to hide from her as she looked around. Before she finished, she asked.

“Oh — by the way, is Gale Gainsborough here?”

Everyone turned and looked at Gale while he tried hiding behind the seat. It was a useless attempt because everybody was helping Gwen to single him out.

Gwen saw Gale and immediately gave a sly smile.

“Ah, I asked about Gale because some time ago, we played a game and I lost. I’m known to be a sore loser, so I’m coming back for sweet revenge.

So that you know, let me win.”

The audience laughed and warmly received Gwen’s words as they didn’t think she meant it. But Gale knew otherwise.

Clere turned to Gale. “What’re you going to do now?”

Gale shrugged because he didn’t know what to do too.

———-

Shortly after, it was time for class, and Kasumi and Miss Mia held a homeroom session for Class 1D.

Kasumi said. “Our annual school camp is going to be held in the mountain range of Gilbor, a four-hour journey by bus to the north-east of the city.

This is a combat training camp for you to warm up towards the school competition at the end of the year. We’ll be going with the other classes of the same grade, so it’s a time to make friends and know your rivals while having fun.

I’m not at liberty to disclose our training schedules yet, so look forward to it when we’re at camp!”

Reynard whispered to Gale. “Let’s go for more shopping after school! I’ve things to buy before we depart to our campsite on Saturday.”

Gale raised his eyebrows. “Don’t you have enough snacks already? This is a camp for training and not for getting fat.”

Reynard protested. “Camps are meant to be fun! We should snack under the stars and tell stories during our break time!”

A paper clip flew and hit Reynard’s forehead. Gale wasn’t facing Kasumi, but he caught the paper clip with his hands before it hit him. Aunt May often attacked Gale while he was sleeping to sharpen his senses, and Gale reflexively grabbed the paper clip without thinking.

Kasumi shook her head. “And why are you both talking while I’m talking?! Pay attention!”

Gale and Reynard replied in unison. “Yes, Ms. Kasumi.”

Kasumi continued. “Before I forget, Gale, meet me after this. The principal wants to see you.”

“…Do you know why she’s looking for me?”

Kasumi answered. “I’ve no clue. I’m going with you to meet her, so we’ll find out from there.”

Gale nodded his head, and Kasumi continued discussing the upcoming trip to the class.

Afterward, Kasumi and Gale left the classroom and headed toward the principal’s office. Valerian happened to be walking in the opposite direction, and he saw both of them.

Both Kasumi and Gale passed Valerian, and before they were out of sight, Valerian remarked. “Since you didn’t instigate the City Plaza battle, why didn’t you want to come with me for questioning?”

Gale groaned. “Are we going to talk about this again?!”

Valerian answered. “I’ve seen the surveillance camera footage from the City Plaza battle. You did a great job saving a couple of our students from harm.”

Gale was disinterested. “Is that all? We need to head to the principal’s office — “

Valerian sharply interrupted. “Do you not trust me, or do you not trust SPAW?”

Gale steadfastly looked into the eyes of Valerian. “Both. SPAW has never given me any reason to trust them, and you were here less than a week ago.”

Valerian argued. “We’re the protectors of public safety! Why don’t you trust us?!”

Gale turned away and started walking. “Are you stupid or is this the first day of your job in SPAW? I was fighting in City Plaza the whole day, and I didn’t even see a single SPAW operative who came to save innocent bystanders, much less me.

Before you ask those silly questions, talk to your bosses instead.”

Kasumi didn’t say anything and followed Gale, and Valerian walked away.

Valerian had questioned his superiors about why wasn’t anybody from SPAW helping Gale out when he was surrounded. They said they were anticipating attacks from other criminal syndicates and couldn’t afford to deploy any operatives at the scene. It was an unsatisfactory answer for Valerian, but he didn’t have enough facts to back his argument, so he let it go.

Kasumi and Gale arrived before Principal Stella in her office, and she motioned them to sit down comfortably on her sofa.

Stella brought coffee for both Kasumi and Gale before she asked. “I’m surprised you made it out in one piece after the City Plaza battle, Gale! How did someone as strong as you sneak into our school without me knowing?”

Gale replied. “Sneak in? I’m here for an education in Aelfsige Academy, principal.”

Stella continued. “You’ve surprised me when you waved your [Five Elemental Wooden Sword] about and the depth of your fighting experience. However, I didn’t expect you to hold your ground against over one hundred assassins.

Agatha and I have been friends for years, and I’ve been keeping watch of Clere for her sake. But she kept me from knowing about you.”

Gale retorted. “That just shows how much I should trust you. Wouldn’t you agree, principal?”

Kasumi was nervous because Gale didn’t mince his words with the principal.

Stella took Gale’s comment in a stride and laughed. “I agree that the World Alliance and SPAW have significant influence over schools all over the world. It makes sense to be on your guard.

But Aelfsige Academy is a private school, and I intend to prioritize the safety of my students above politics.”

Gale then asked Stella. “So why have you called both of us here?”

Stella pushed a cup of coffee towards Gale and said. “To gain your trust.”

“And how’re you going to do that?”

Stella said. “Do you know why it was imperative that SPAW had to catch you on the very day of the City Plaza battle to make Valerian a hero?”

Gale answered. “Because if they wait too long, the ‘Mistress Of Secrets’ would have gathered enough evidence to refute their claims, and scapegoating me now will make them look stupid. The objective is to win the public’s heart when it’s hot, and if I were caught then, it would just be a string of lawsuits and media manipulation that SPAW was capable of to scapegoat me.”

Stella was impressed. “You sound like a veteran in these things. Did it happen to you before?”

“…If I were caught, I wouldn’t be sitting here having coffee with you, principal.”

Stella laughed. “That’s true. The important question is, who provided the evidence for the ‘Mistress Of Secrets’ to use?”

Kasumi and Gale looked at Stella silently, and the latter continued. “I sent unedited copies of the surveillance cameras’ footage to Agatha. SPAW knew the ‘Mistress Of Secrets’ would’ve got a way to get her hand on, so they didn’t try anything else.”

Gale replied. “…And that earns you a single point of trust. You have ninety-nine to go. What else?”

Stella remarked. “Wow, sharped tongue aren’t you?

I’m suggesting a relationship with you, and I’m not regurgitating my feats to score points. My priority is the students here, and if your presence endangers the rest, I need to do something about it.”

Kasumi quickly interjected. “Gale didn’t mean it that way. He was facing so many enemies — “

Stella continued. “I know, Kasumi. I’m not fond of the World Alliance and SPAW either, and that’s why I have been helping Agatha for years.

I don’t know much about Gale, but it seemed as though his childhood was marked with scars. I understand where he is coming from, and I’m offering him a relationship where I will provide resources and information to him if he needs it.”

Gale pondered for a while before asking. “And what’s the catch?”

Stella answered. “I prioritize the students in Aelfsige Academy above all in all my endeavors.”

It meant that Stella could betray Gale if the students were endangered, and Gale understood why Agatha didn’t share details about him to Stella.

Gale replied. “Very well, and I’m not here to cause trouble for anyone either.”

Stella concluded. “Don’t forget, you are a student of Aelfsige Academy too. That’s your trump card with me.”

Gale nodded his head, and Kasumi was relieved that the topic ended amicably.

Stella sipped her coffee and said. “Let’s talk about something else, Gale. I’ve called Kasumi and you in to discuss the upcoming school competition. This Saturday marks the start of preparations for the school competition, and Kasumi’s your combat instructor so I’ll need her help to organize a team around you.”

Gale replied. “I’m not interested in joining the upcoming school competition.”

Kasumi and Stella stared at Gale, and Kasumi asked. “Why not?”

“I don’t have a reason to join the competition.”

Stella said. “Let me guess. It’s because this is a scouting event for the World Alliance and SPAW.”

Gale added. “Also, I’m a bodyguard to Clere. What good will it do if I raised people’s awareness of my strength? That would endanger her.”

Stella replied. “Valid points, but you’ll raise Aelfsige Academy’s profile if you win both our annual competition and the inter-school competition.

I would like you to reconsider your position.”

Gale asked. “Is this part of your “students above all” mantra?”

Stella nodded and said, “Aelfsige Academy hasn’t been doing well in the inter-school competitions, and I’m not convinced our best teams are going to win one of the top five spots.

We want to get into the top five at the very least and get additional support from corporations and the World Alliance for our students in combat studies and graduations. SPAW isn’t the only organization that is looking for talented individuals for combat, and I’ll want to give my students a good start for their careers by opening doors for scholarships and job offers when they graduate.”

Gale realized that Stella’s mantra could be very problematic if it were not handled properly. “Students above all” didn’t always equate to the best possible situation in some instances for Gale. Moreover, he wasn’t sure what Stella was up to, so refusing her straight may lead to problems down the road.

Gale pondered for a moment before answering. “What if I train a group of students and lead them to win instead? Wouldn’t it be the same?”

Stella paused to ponder Gale’s suggestion and then remarked. “Intriguing. Does it mean you want to be a combat instructor?”

“No, I want to be a student, but I can be Ms. Kasumi’s advisor on training matters. If we get one team in one of the top five spots for the inter-school competition, wouldn’t it be enough?”

Kasumi looked at Gale, and the latter winked. It meant they would’ve got an excuse to spend more time together, and Kasumi nodded.

Stella answered. “An instructor and a participant are vastly different roles. I have no doubts you can fight, but I don’t give my combat instructors the pressure of getting into the top five because it’s not something that I can realistically demand from them. The students must be dedicated and talented to accomplish such a feat.

I have another proposal. Lead a team and claim one of the top two spots for our annual competition. If you can do that, then you’ll lead a team to the inter-school competition. If you can’t, you’re to join one of the top two teams as a member. How about it?”

Gale understood that Stella wanted him to prove his teaching credentials, and he promptly agreed.

“That’s fine. I’m in if Ms. Kasumi’s agreeable.”

Kasumi looked at Gale’s confidence and agreed with him.

Stella responded. “And that settles it. You’ll form a team, and it will be placed under Kasumi’s care.
I look forward to your performance in the tournament.”

After a while, Kasumi and Gale left the principal’s office, and Kasumi asked.

“You seemed pretty hostile towards the principal. Why is that?”

“Principal Stella is like a business person. Transactions that benefit her and nothing else.

Aunt Agatha’s much better in my opinion.”

Kasumi answered. “Nevertheless, Principal Stella cares for her students. She must’ve played a part to make sure you weren’t implicated because of the City Plaza.

Be nicer next time!”

Gale nodded, and both of them headed back to class to continue school.

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