Chapter 18.2: But Even So…
Just as Shun reached attacking distance to Hiroshi, Akane appeared from somewhere and slapped them on the backs of their identical heads. “Knock it off, you two. Jeez! If we didn’t have to fight other people, you two would’ve leveled the testing area!”
Unfortunately, her poor choice of words, and worse choice of actions, only served to rile up the twins even more. This time, however, they had a common enemy. An argument thrice as heated as the last one started up.
“Once again, we don’t want to hear that from you.”
“We really don’t wanna hear that from ya.”
“Girl with a frickin’ screw loose.”
“Who’s a mad scientist with a screw loose?!”
Akira’s head was starting to pound. The three were too caught up in their argument to notice him, so he started walking over to the far end of the clearing. But unbeknown to him, Akane watched his back with a narrowed eye, but she did nothing to stop him.
The clearing had been spacious enough before, but his sister’s experimentation had it doubled in size. It took him a few minutes to reach the boundary.
Akira stretched his body, trying to dispel the stiffness he’d accumulated. Once his joints had stopped popping, he did his best to dust off the soot on a nearby stump and sat down. The racket was diluted by the distance, so he sighed in relief and laid back on the stump.
“Haa… Today’s been eventful.”
In just four hours, he’d experienced a lot: making new friends, seeing a world-ranked maestro, taking the exam, getting ambushed, and grinding using Akane’s strategy. His mind wandering in reminiscence, he started toying with the metal collar at his neck, careful not to pull it off. Despite its seamless appearance, the band could be removed with ease.
He was soon brought back to reality.
“Ugh… Did I actually get an ulcer?”
The nausea was killing him, and the burnt-tree smell didn’t help. A heaviness had settled at the bottom of his gut, as if his heart was oozing with maggots.
Chalking it up to nerves, he’d ignored this feeling for a good while. Busy fighting and carrying out Akane’s strategy, he’d been forced to set it aside. Now that he was free of worries, the sinking feeling had pushed itself to the front of his thoughts.
“Everything is going great, right?” he pondered aloud, grimacing as he held his stomach. “And I didn’t even have to…”
As his voice trailed off, he recalled what Hiroshi had said to Shun. Akira and I were told to take care of other things. We didn’t have to eliminate them, so it’s obvious who’s going to have more points, right?
“Didn’t have to act like an S-ranker.”
The realisation lifted the weight at the bottom of his stomach. His breathing returned to normal.
“I’m practically guaranteed to get into the top Maestro Academy in Japan.”
It was a feat that should’ve been impossible with his condition.
“My group has gotten a great number of points.”
His sister’s strategy had been widely successful, netting them a handsome amount of points. Hiroshi, who’d started at thirty, had long since broken through the hundred point threshold.
From besides his heart, mana began to move through his arm and into his right hand. Ten coalesced next to his chest.
“I’ve done nothing.”
The weight was gone, but he still felt cold.
S-rankers were Maestros capable of single-handedly turned the tide of war: warriors who could raise the status of countries overnight. They were supposed to be protagonists of the era, but he only felt like a side character.
“What’s the use of being an S-ranker when you’re this weak,” he spat out, frustrated at his weakness. “What’s the use of it all.”
On Ten’s polished barrel, there was a figure. This figure was a young man, owning a handsome visage with porcelain skin, strands of hair colored an unusual yet beautiful carmine, and a pair of eyes like chocolate.
And all it’d ever aroused in anyone was pity.
There was no man in the reflection, but rather a doll. The face had been sculpted out of stone. The pale skin seemed to have been created out of sheets of ivory. The color of the hair was beautiful, yes, but far too surreal. The brown eyes laid within its sockets were glossy and hollow. Indeed, it was a doll.
“Speculo… Latin for ‘mirror’. Suzuki Akihiro named it this way because it was a reflection of the soul.
“A Speculo that’s completely useless…”