Silence pervaded the entire room, as the row of administrators, askance to the side, sat like statues. Joran himself planted both of his feet as if he had bore roots deep into the ground. He had no clue how to handle this; this was something completely out of even the scope of possibility for him, let alone happening.
Finally, Hando shot up from his seat and slammed his hands onto the table in front of him as he rang out his disbelief, “WHAT?!”
If it was anyone else, quite frankly, Hando could feel nothing but some surprise that would be overwhelmed by a tsunami of joy. However, it was Joran that got the card… He actually…
At this point, Uranaishi Goureau cleared his throat, having calmed down quite a bit, and held his arms behind him as he spoke out, “It is true, Teacher. This student of yours has truly obtained the Joker Card. If you’d like, you can come and see for yourself…?”
“N…No,” Hando’s voice seemed to almost tremble in the absurdity of the notion, “I won’t question you, nor do I need to verify this… Your words are enough… It’s… It’s just… Joran..”
Hando collapsed back into the chair, his mind in utter chaos right now. Goureau chuckled silently to himself before continuing.
“To think you would save the best for last, this one can only show gratitude.”
Before he could do a slight bow, the woman next to Hando shook her head; she was the Nurse of the Class.
“No, that’s just it, Uranaishi. Joran isn’t the best of the class… In fact, he could be considered the worst.”
A frown appeared within the wrinkles of his face, “Well, just how bad is he? He just obtained the Joker Card. Tell me, what was his faux exam results like?”
Joran coughed awkwardly as he replied the answer himself, “There was a faux exam?”
Almost immediately, Goureau’s eyes bulged out as he shifted his stare from the board of the Class to Joran himself, unsure if he had even heard right.
“... The test you were supposed to take yesterday. It was obviously not some deck to draw from, but surely you…?”
Joran helplessly sighed, “First time I’ve heard of it.”
Hando’s psyche rebalanced itself and promptly explained, “A…Ahem. Aside from the first year, Student Joran has attended class…. 10 times.”
As if his eyes were about to pop out, Goureau could nearly feel his heart stopping right there.
“… You mean… How many times he’s missed class, correct?”
Hando at this point shook his head, feeling a sense of shame about the truth, “No… He’s only come to class 10 times in the last 7 years he’s been here.”
“… I… I see…”
Awkward silence pervaded the room after that, as Goureau finally understood the cause of uneasiness for the administrators.
But before too long, the silence was broken by him, “Well, if this is the case, then that at least means he comes from a prominent family… Only, I don’t remember a family that birthed a ‘Joran’ in recent years?”
Joran spoke up here, now displaying disdain for the direction the conversation took, “Yeah, because my family wasn’t prominent; or even cared about in the first place.”
Goureau glanced over to the student by his side, inquiring, “What’s your family name?”
“I don’t have one.”
“Before the Central Districts, Student Joran.”
Joran sighed, and threw his hands in the air as he gave his answer, “I’m a Gouriki. From the Rooted Clout Family branch.”
Finally, Goureau collapsed on the stage in disbelief. It could be said that the walls he had built over years around his mental fortitude had all been barraged slowly until they finally collapsed, the final blow being the last hope that Joran came from a family that held prestige. The disbelief eventually turned into solemn despair.
“We must hide Joran.”
Before anyone could even recover from the collapse, Goureau promptly called out the command, leaving everyone stunned. Hando’s eyes widened, realizing his motivations.
“You’re worried about ’him,’ aren’t you?”
Goureau nodded, “I’m more worried about what he might do, rather than himself.”
“Uh, excuse me? Could you tell me who you two are talking about?”
The duo looked back to Joran, noticing his clear annoyance, as well as confusion.
Goureau took a few steps towards him, and patted his shoulder, “Joran Gou-, Joran, you are in a position that’s not been seen or heard of beyond legends. The Joker card has always been a myth, something strived for, but never expected. And now, you have it. Except, you have no family, or any influence, and on top of that, you’ve rarely showed up to your Class during your time here. Don’t you think there’d be outrage?”
Joran shrugged, both frankly and lackadaisically, “Isn’t the foundation of our belief built on ‘Potential’? Besides, I didn’t ask for this; I was prepared for a 2 of spades.”
“Well yes, but… Wait, you were expecting a 2 of spades?” Goureau couldn’t help but be surprised, so Hando interdicted.
“Uranaishi’s point being, you’re going to be a prime target for those same families, and there are certain ones you should by all means avoid.”
“That’s the ‘him’ you two were referring to?”
They both nodded, and Hando confirmed, “Yes. Aurumn Hinoyagi.”
“Sounds like a chipper guy.”
“He can be, if you’re on his standing. If you’re someone with lower status, then quite frankly he wouldn’t wait to get you out of his sight.”
At the last line, Joran’s face darkened, and a very visible hatred could be seen brewing, “Oh, so he’s like that? Then no worries, I’ve got nothing to say or do about scumbags like him.”
“It’s not that you will openly join him… I personally understand why you wouldn’t do that, but that’s the problem. We frankly don’t know how he’s going to handle hearing the news of a… Joker holder that’s, well, a commoner.”
“Well, why should I even care. And why am I the one with the card? Are you sure your deck is working perfectly fine, Uranaishi?”
Hando clearly disapproved the question, but quickly became shocked to see Goureau seriously considering the notion, “W-well either way, you’re the one with the card, so we need to take actions to prevent… others from getting to you.”
“That should be something for me to worry about. Besides, it’s not like any of you really care about me?”
The Uranaishi shot a side glance at Joran, and pondered for a bit, “Student, you clearly seem to be someone who cares little for those around you. Did you spend these years alone, or did you have friends?”
“Why does that matter? Well, whatever, yeah, I had a couple friends, so what?”
“If someone caught wind of you with the joker card and found out about your friends…”
Now, Joran was furious, and shouted without fear or care, as he rushed up to the Uranaishi, choking him in the air, “WHAT ARE YOU SAYING ABOUT MY FRIENDS?!”
Hando rushed over without skipping a beat, yelling, “JORAN, PUT HIM DOWN! NOTHING HAS HAPPENED, YET!!”
Joran blinked a few times, before it seemed as though his sense came back to him, and set the Uranaishi down, who started coughing uncontrollably, gasping for air.
“… I’m sorry.”
After a few moments, the Uranaishi got back up, looking a little bewildered at the young boy that lifted him up without care, “You care so little because of how much you care about those friends of yours, huh? Then all the more reason to be worried about them. Who are they, are they in your class?”
“No, they’re from two different classes, one is Drekor, the other is Eliza.”
“Drekor?” Goureau’s eyes began to grow wider.
“As in, Drekor Idaten?”
“The one that got the Ace of Clubs, yes. Is your hearing going out?”
Goureau’s voice trembled in confusion, “Why… How are you two friends?”
Joran scoffed, and then sneered in response, “Oh, so you’re a fan of him, huh?”
“Not necessarily of him, no, just…”
Hando butted in, now curious about his mostly absent student, “Tell me, do you not know the Idaten family?”
“I know that’s the family Drekor comes from.”
At this point, Goureau couldn’t help but sigh helplessly, “Yep, you only went to class 10 times alright.”
Joran gave an apathetic shrug in response, but Hando slowly drew together a conclusion in his mind, “Ok, then what we’re going to do is this:
“We haven’t told anyone beyond this room about Joran. So let’s keep it that way.”
“What, you mean lie about his results?” the Nurse from before slowly churned out her disapproval.
“No, as in, we pretend Joran doesn’t even exist. Let the world move on from this year’s Divination Exam.”
Joran almost refuted, but then thought about how this would mean he’d not be obliged to do anything for a while longer, and he slowly came around to the idea, “Alright, why not.”
Hando was a little surprised but chuckled and continued, “I’ll close down my Class Terrace under the guise of ‘vacation,’ and,” He turned around to his associates behind him, “you guys can choose to take the time off or go to another Terrace to help.”
After the Nurse and the other two next to her shook their heads, he proceeded, “I can do six months of vacation before they’ll ask me to take another Class in. In that time I can try to teach Joran what he absolutely needs to know, and we can work out a plan then.”
“Huh? Wait, hold on, I only agreed because this means I wouldn’t have to do anything!”
Hando shrugged sheepishly, “Who said anything about that? In fact, we’re going to pull you into the Terrace and keep you there until the six months are over.”
Before Joran could refute, Goureau stepped up to Joran and patted his shoulder, smiling warmly, “Think of your friends, do it for them.”
“Wait, no… NO!”
The next day, the valley had considerably calmed down compared to when the ceremony had taken place. All of the Classes that had done their Divination Exams were already preparing to go on their ways to their destinations.
Everyone except Joran.
Of course, people wondered about Joran, so the Nurse and Hando coordinated to explain that before he had drawn his card, he fell ill; so they would be doing a special exemption for him until he got better. For most, this was enough to discard any thoughts towards what card he got, and people moved on.
But there were some that felt this wasn’t the truth, and that Joran in reality truly walked away from the one responsibility that everyone needed to adhere to…
The Terrace with the green and white Class scheme was locked up after the last of the Examinees left. For the next six months, it would be just Joran, Hando, Joy the Nurse, Liam the Dean, and Jeffery the Chef. Naturally, Joran wasn’t too keen to this idea, but now that things progressed to this point, he resigned to the way things were going.
Laying in his bed, he stared up at the ceiling, thinking about what happened the day before. Everything happened rather fast, and even the Uranaishi up and disappeared after the conversation was done. Everyone was already set to move on and do whatever was next.
So what am I doing…?
Joran pulled out the card he had gotten from yesterday, looking at it more closely, he noticed the ornate details on the back, swirls of magenta and a golden eye in the center of it. On the face side of he card were two J’s on opposing sides and corners, as well as a silhouette of a joker uniform in the center of that.
Two days ago, he was prepared for a life of wasted aptitude; but today, with a single card in hand, his fate had been turned upside down, with a chance at success he had turned away.
A knock on the door prompted Joran to get out of his bed, walk over to the door and open it. There, he saw Hando standing there, with a somewhat impatient look plastered on his face.
Joran sighed in resignation, “Already? We’re starting?”
“You already only have six months, and you want to just sit in your room on day one?”
“I know! I know… It’s just habits.”
“Uh huh… Well, at least you won’t have to worry about the class mocking you. Just us two.”
The duo started walking towards the other end of the Terrace where the classroom itself was. The clatter of footsteps rang within the hallway as Joran put away the Joker card, then turned to look at Hando in confusion.
Joran retorted, “What, you really think it was because of the class that I stopped showing up?”
“Well, I haven’t exactly been given anything else as a reason. Besides, the day you resolutely walked out—”
“I walked out because of how people are, Teacher, not because of the people.”
“Isn’t that one in the same?”
“You wouldn’t understand my perspective.”
“I suppose not. But we do have six months to change that.”
Joran looked over to see Hando shrugging, and asked, “Why are you doing this, Teacher?”
“Well, you were always the problem student, but that didn’t necessarily mean I disliked you, you know.”
“No, I mean, why are you doing this?” Joran gestured to the whole of the Terrace, referencing to the job.
“Well, it’s what I was given as a job, no?”
“You can’t tell me someone of your incredibly sharp perception and wits was given something like a Spade card, right?”
“’You wouldn’t understand my perspective,’” Hando said in mockery.
This time Joran, exasperated, threw his hands up and gave up the conversation, “I doubt it.”
They reached the class, and Joran took the same seat as he usually would at first, until Hando looked at him blankly and gestured to the seat directly in front of him. With this, Joran craned his head down in defeat, and stumbled over.
And so, their lessons began. It started off as a recap about the two realms: The Hero Realm, and the Beast Realm. They resided within the Hero Realm, but there was a larger, vastly more expansive realm called the Beast Realm. Humans and domesticated wildlife resided and possessed the majority of the population in the Hero Realm, but the Beast Realm was a carnal, savage wildlands, where only wild beasts, and monsters lived.
Usually, these two Realms stayed separate, except the occasional expeditions from the Mages into the Beast Realms, as well as the attacks from the Beast Realms. Although attacks were relatively common, most of the time it was at the degree of an “Incursion,” minor monsters or beasts attacking, that are usually mitigated. In the History recorded within the Hero Realm, however, there have been a handful of extremely dangerous “Incursions” that were instead dubbed as “Onslaughts”. These Onslaughts comprised of massive surges of beasts and monsters, and not only were the forces immense, the coordination have always been that of absolute precision. It would be safe to consider these Onslaughts as full on wars between beasts and Heroes. This was why the Hero Realm held potential so high; those who had the capabilities to defend against these attacks were the most valued.
Lessons continued on day after day. Some days it was about the ongoing struggle between the Hero and Beast Realm; other days it was about the inner workings of the Hero Realm.
Days went by. Then weeks, and eventually a few months passed by. By this point, the routine had become the norm, and Joran was looking forward to learning more about the world that he’d been so abruptly thrusted into.
One day, during some personal studying, Joran went over to Hando, who was in his personal office, at his desk, “Hey, Hando, I have a question?”
“Sure, what is it, Joran?”
“So when you mentioned the ‘Families of the Terrene Metro’, why did it feel like you were much more detailed about the smaller Divine Eye Sect, compared to the Sovereign Swift Clan, Metal Boulder Sect, and the Earthbound Clout Family?”
“… That’s what you took from that lesson? That I was maybe a little more in depth about the Divine Eye Sect? Did you at least hear me talk about the Bloodhound Clan, and Distilled Mind Family?”
“Oh those two, yeah, something about smell and the mind, but you really were talking more about the Divine Eye Sect. Are you perhaps from there?”
“…Yeah, I grew up within that Sect.”
“Hmm… If I remember right, you mentioned that their Arts lie within sight, right?”
“… I guess you do pay attention then, after all,” Hando chuckled to himself silently.
“I mean you said it yourself, I only had six months to learn what I could,” Joran said with a shrug.
“… Yeah, I’m actually still a part of that Sect, it’s just…
“My Sister and I ended up having a rather large disagreement, and she forced me to leave the Sect, telling me to never return again.”
Upon hearing this, Joran felt awkward having gotten to this point, but he knew that since he already asked he may as well continue, “Well, that seems a bit much for someone to do to you. What did the Sect Master have to say?”
“Well, that’s the thing… My sister is the Sect Master. She’s Vera Jura.”
“…That definitely complicates things… Well either way, it’s been at least 8 years now, right? I’m sure things can be reconciled.”
“Well, yeah, but it’s still a bit of an issue seeing as I’m still here.”
“You can opt to go back, can’t you?”
“Only one condition.”
Silence pervaded the room, Hando stared into space for a moment, thinking about something that seemed to weigh on his mind heavily, finally, he scuffled slightly in his chair, and started talking.
“Hey Joran, would you—” but as if a hook snagged his voice away, Hando looked as if he was going to continue the sentence, but stopped dead in his tracks and shook his head to himself, “No, never mind, forget about my issues with my sister.”
Joran frowned a little bit, but decided not to press any further, and instead pressing a different matter on his mind, “So how does ‘Sight Arts’ work when you have… you know,” he asked while gesturing to Hando’s glasses resting on the bridge of his nose.
Hando was surprised at the question, which then quickly turned into disbelief that such a question would be even asked, “You really think that’s an issue? Also, it’s called ’Sacred Sight Arts’.”
“Ok, ok, but how does it even work? Can you show me?”
At this Hando leaned back into my chair, exasperated at the line of curiosity, “I-it’s not like a magic trick where I can make my eyes glow, even less so something as on display as like holding a water ball in mid-air. Do you think I’m some kind of magician?”
“Well, I never really understood these things. My parents had some form of the Heavenly Clout Arts from the Gouriki family, but it wasn’t anything significant, just to help them in the fields…” Joran’s voice trailed off, and silence entered the room.
A deep, meaningful look appeared on Hando, and he asked, “These Arts are something more like a key for your body. A key to be used to open the door that lets you wield that ability you might possess within. And depending on the door, the key has to be the right one.
“Which is why the Divination Exam is used to see not just potential, but the attribute of that potential. It narrows down the number of keys to look through.”
“And then when you find that key for you?”
Hando gestured with his hands, a door opening, “The rest is up to your potential.”
“… Everyone else has probably gotten their Arts, huh?” Joran thought about the students from his age group, and then about his friends…
“A few months after the Exam? Yeah most likely.”
Joran was dead silent, thinking in depth about how the last time he’s talked to his friends were where he had an outburst. He no longer wanted to be someone that sat in a garden waiting for his friends to show up. Not when they would no longer be able to. And the matter about Aurumn…
With that, Joran took his first true step towards the Hero Realm.
If I’m going to see them again… I need to be stronger, more capable…. I need to be able to protect them when the time comes…
“Hey Hando… Can I see if your Arts would be good for me? If… they would open that door?”
Hando gazed in pure shock, and chuckled a bit, “Well, that’s actually what I wanted to ask earlier, but—”
“But what? It’s just to see if the Arts would be compatible for me, right? If it’s not then I’ll just have to pursue the key that would work.”
“Yes, that’s true. But you’re a Joker Holder.”
“… This is about my card, again?”
“We don’t even know what the Joker is capable of. We know one thing for sure though. You have an affinity for anything.”
“Okay, so what’s the problem?”
“Do you really want my Sacred Sight Arts to be the one and only key for you? What about the Steel Body Arts, or even the Sovereign Realm Arts…? Or… the Heavenly Clout Arts?”
Joran stood there, realizing the magnitude of what he’s deciding. Finally, he understood why the Joker card would be so legendary. Although the potential aptitude is something that isn’t measurable, it shows the person can actually obtain any of the Arts within the Hero Realm.
But just as it is any of them, it might only be just one to choose.
He clenched his hands, and nodded with a somewhat resoluteness forming, bowing slightly even, “I won’t gain anything if I don’t choose something at all. Teacher Hando, please, I wish to learn your Arts!”
Hando continued looking at the youngster before him, tapping his fingers on his desk. A few moments went by, before he cracked a wide smile, and started laughing.
“If that’s what you want.”