Forsaken Qualms

The Begleiter Exam


Dormitory, Barsburg Military Academy, 1st District, 28th February, 6:34 AM

Slowly opening his teal eyes drearily, Toshiro found the usual ceiling wall greet his day. It was not a second nor was it a third time he experience early wake up calls in the morning. Repetitive, obvious and irksome it was. At times he wished the scenery would change once in a while. Unfortunately, the concrete walls that made the very room he was in cannot grant whatever amend he hoped for.

At least it served as an advantage for the boy.

Heaving a weary sigh, the young Rolfe closed his eyes again.

'That dream again...'

Ten years. Ten years has passed by now but still that piece of memory lay intact, etched deep inside; unforgotten. Apparently it developed into a dream in hopes to dissuade his changed mindset and revert back to his place of origin. In a sense, its purpose was to haunt him for his wrongdoings. The words whispered and screamed the same at him.

Once upon a time, if he had had refused to acknowledge it, the guilt and shame riddled upon him would have consumed him. Once upon a time, he would have become insane.

Before enrolling himself into the Barsburg Military Academy, Toshiro had come from a family with strong religious background. His father, alike his predecessors, was appointed as the head bishop of their church. In order to uphold the sacred heredity their father has preserved for years, his brothers undeniably abide by their lineage. And he too shall pursue the path that has been set upon him.

The same level of education was poured down onto him. Words of praises were easily heard – Toshiro excelled throughout the lessons taught by his father and elder brothers thus making him the pride of the family. Bestowed with an astounding gift by God, this further encourages his path of becoming a bishop. Perhaps as an archbishop someday.

…Alas, the Raggs War changed him.

Many have fallen victims to the conflict of two powers – the Barsburg Empire and the Raggs Kingdom – during the war. Though far from the battle site, the impacts of war spread even throughout their region. The land was caught up in riots.

Young Toshiro prayed and prayed, hoping that the gods would stop the two countries' meaningless fight and achieve peace together, resuming their pact. But it seems his prayers had fallen on deaf ears.

Day by day he watched numerous people who suffered from the feud seek shelter from their small cathedral in and out. There were men and women alike, the young and the old. It saddens his little heart to witness their pain. Praying for the safety of their beloved, worry about the missing ones that has yet to be found, grieving for the ones they lost…

He could do nothing but merely help his mother tend to the wounded and those who are in need. Toshiro wanted to do more than that! But he was just a child. Nothing more but a mere, feeble child.

Days passed as though it were years, and yet, things never turn out the better. Doubts show its fangs, and ultimately… becomes a thorn. His faith upon God and the Seven Ghosts the people worship began to waver. Questions played in his mind; questioning the existence of gods, questioning their powers. He questions the truth: The reason why this has come to a tragic end.

Until one day… his immature mind did the unthinkable.

"Where are the gods when we needed them the most? Could they not see these people are suffering?"Every single word was said with spite. Tears accompanied his blaspheme – words of apostasy – as he uttered those final words. "I-if this is how it ends… then there is no God!"

The boy parted his closed eyelids. He pulled his languid body upright to a sit, taking a moment for his eyes to adjust.

Toshiro blinks his strained eyes once, twice, and rubbed away the sleep dust. Shades of gray and dark and blurry outlines he could barely make out of the dimly lit dormitory. The discerning was like staring into the darkness with still closed eyes. Staring into the reminiscent past that no longer mattered. Not anymore.

He shook his head. His resolve was clear, purge from any forms of lingering uncertainty left within. For he swore, no matter how great others had opposed, albeit choosing such abhorred path, Toshiro will not falter. He swore, on what remains of his good name, he will not go back on his word.

He will not go back.


Dormitory, 6:49 AM

Fetching a fresh set of a clean uniform Toshiro changed from his night clothes into them. He buttoned his coat and smoothed the uneven folds. He buckled his boots and wore his gloves, pulling it tighter than it already is.

His bunkmate was nowhere to be seen. Predictable.

Retrieving his sword, a permitted weapon and valued throughout years of autonomy, Toshiro subsequently leaves the dormitory.

It was a calm stroll as he made his way towards the Cafeteria.

Toshiro took the served food and brewed a small tea cup before proceeding to his usual seating. It was relatively the same routine he undergoes on a daily basis. To complete the cycle he took his Deitwegen book brought along with and began to read its contents, resuming to where he last stopped.

It was a pleasant morning.

"Well, well, well… What do we have here?" interrupted a voice.

...And then it wasn't.

The bespectacled teen did not glance up. He knew. Oh, he knew all too well.

Acknowledging encourages familiarity. Seeking friendship is nonexistent. And to allow that person, the very one who has the nerve to break and traverse the very wall he erected when others could not, their amiable arrangements to be genuine… Either it gave an advantage to the fellow or plain stupidity, he did not know. For Shuri, much as Toshiro is one to favour solitude, is his alleged friend.

With him were two of his followers – lackeys, to better describe them in terms of labelling. Toshiro could have sworn those two never left his side.

True. The young Oak is popular amongst peers and educators, but Shuri was more than a simple idol to the former – he is a friend with benefits. Constantly trailing behind Toshiro knew they fawned over Shuri. For the sake of deluding ones' self, believing that they are in the same league as the Oak, those two must have lower their sense of worth for gaining his favour.

'Tis an innocent assumption of course.

"Good morning to you too, Shuri-kun." Toshiro had his attention on the book, flicking over the pages once, twice, thrice, as he read. The brief silence was fun while it lasted. "What brings you here?" he asked tediously.

"Now, now," Shuri said with his prized smile enveloping his features, "you shouldn't say that. We're friends after all."

Simply acquaintances they are, that, the pale blond cannot deny. But friends, he wondered how Shuri view the extent of their relationship.

"Quite the privilege." It was evident the raw tone; Toshiro had replied with it a sarcastic tinge.

Unbeknownst the sardonic gesture, Shuri casually led himself on. He takes a seat across from his companion. Toshiro took note the arrogant smile still present. Though mild, it didn't placate the initial displeasure at the other’s gull.

“Assuming you already knew, that is,” Shuri started, “I’m going to give a speech today.”

Well. That didn’t take long.

Shuri continue to ramble on encouraged further by his little groupie. Judging by the used tone, the Oak’s proclamation suggests the augmentation of his already proud demeanour.

“Then why, if I may ask, are you even here?”

The other mocked a short gasp. “Why. To tell you, of course!”

There was a slight twitch barely held in reserve. Although, aided by the glistening of the lens and long fringe the colour of the palest blond, the deed was hid quite perfectly.

“It’s a shame you weren’t trusted to represent the whole student body. You probably wouldn’t know what to say. I’d be a nervous wreck too if I were you. But not to worry, I’ve dealt before matters much like this all the time.”

Though humble words, it did not quite match with the modest façade he wore. Least Toshiro could see Shuri's efforts in reducing his egocentricity towards him. But he couldn't ignore the insult.

Was he implying that he is incapable of giving a heartening speech?

“That so?” was said coolly. “It might prove to be at your advantage, I suppose, to show your actual worth. Surely you do not plan on making a fool out of yourself.”

At the sound of his book shut sharp, Toshiro feigns a placid smile.

“I have great confidence in you, Shuri-kun. Now, if you will excuse me…”

Carrying his belongings and unfinished breakfast Toshiro stood from his seat. It would be best to leave the area now that he lost his appetite. Without hearing any of Shuri's protests, he abandoned the trio collectedly.


Barsburg Military Academy's Lecture Hall, 8:07 AM

The assembly had started just a few minutes ago with the academy's head, Chairman Miroku, saying words of congratulatory to the students. His foreword included his vision of the students passing the exam with high merits and becoming fine cadets for the military. At the end of the preface, Shuri was then called out onto the stage to present his speech. He had an air of confidence in him, a trait highly regarded to prove one's reliability, as he began.

"As the 315th class of our honourable Barsburg Empire's Military Academy, we are the elite chosen to be potential soldiers of Hohburg Fort," Shuri said. "Let us all endeavour to become superb fighters who will not bring shame to the empire!"

Everyone practically gave a round of applause, immersive in the Oak’s patriotic speech. Toshiro, however, was in a world of his own. The role that was supposed to be rightfully his was out of sight and out of mind but not forgotten.

No. His thoughts were in disarray.

The cruellest yet rewarding exam ever to exist in the history of the academy has the passing rate of below ten percent. It is not for the faints of hearts. The Begleiter Exam is anything but easy. The pressure was on.

It is known that students enrolled in the Special Program can freely utilize an ability called 'zaiphon' to fight.

Those who have the ability to use zaiphon are rare and thought of as blessed by God.

Life source comes in a many different volumes and concentrations. It is ubiquitous; encompasses life in itself. Zaiphon enables one to convert it into various forms of power by the user conveying their emotions into this energy. It depends on a person to tap into it in order to discover and properly use this ability to its fullest. The power that comes from it often takes the shape of words.

Every user's capabilities are different, and in many cases, reflect their nature. They are categorized into three types, according to their rarity in descending order: Offensive zaiphon, healing zaiphon and manipulation zaiphon. It is possible that one can use two types of zaiphon but rare for one to have all three.

Zaiphon is mainly controlled by the hand, though people may use weapons to channel zaiphon.

Unlike most candidates, Toshiro does not possess the common offensive zaiphon – a balanced type in terms of its offense and defense – but instead the healing type, a softer version compare to its aggressive counterpart. As implied, this zaiphon has healing properties and greater strength in the defensive.

Chances are slim for someone like him.

Toshiro undeniably has the talent in manoeuvring his zaiphon with ease and precision. Though lacking in attack power, years spent under strict tutelage and practice makes up for it. He was trained by the best after all however unfortunate he had to part so soon. Yet skill alone cannot guarantee his success, especially one who is out of practice.

All the same, he is determined to be part of that percentage.

Instances passed and Shuri finally ended his speech. Everyone soon exited the lecture hall accordingly; the chairman first, followed by staffs and lastly the students returning to their respective classes.

En route to homeroom, Toshiro heard loud whisperings along the way. It was not too difficult to pinpoint the source came from a certain blond. With his eyes set forward, he ignored everything around him which, however, resulted in his failure to notice two people conversing with each other. The strides they took were in a rather quick pace.

Colliding with one of them Toshiro lost his balance. He ended up landing on his rear as a result. His collider apparently had done the same.

"S-sorry... didn't see you there." Toshiro cursed under his breath as he hoists himself up, brushing away the dust that was collecting on his uniform. "Are you alright?"

“Fine.”

He replied terse as he adjusts his glasses gone askew. Toshiro took in the pair in full, getting a good view of his careless gaffe. He noticed the one he had collided with, judging from his contrite, has green hair passing off as fair. His friend’s the colour of brown. The pair looked rather familiar.

“Apologies. But I sh-”

“You!” startled the fair one, animate. Toshiro blinked in response. “Aren’t we in the same class? Practical 101, right?” Before the other could direct his next sentence, his dark haired friend intervened; “You shouldn’t make friends with strangers so easily, Mikage. Even if it’s some guy from class.”

Toshiro turn his attention to him. Sizing the teen up, rather short for his age, Toshiro could see he had this cold expression on his face. Green eyes reminiscent between jade and emerald crystals reflected hostility and wariness. Nothing Toshiro would have encounter in a person who has an element of enmity in his eyes towards people.

Either that or the kid resent the known fact he has an association with the greatest idiot the institute has ever had.

“You dork,” his friend smacked the brunet good-humouredly at the back, shrugging off the tension he emitted. It was remarkable to see the taller teen could tame such ferocity. “When did that ever stopped me before? If I didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be together now, would we, Teito?”

"Who said I need one?!" he retorted.

Now this is a waste of time, the blond thought quite displeased. The day was not turning out in his favour.

Toshiro, seizing his chance over their small bicker, furtively slipped away. The day was not turning out in his favour. He grumbled some unintelligent words under his breath ignoring the cheery boy who calls out to him. Attending practical class is next on his agenda, where his good-for-nothing bench partners, Mikkel and his followers, await.

The day was indeed not in his favour.


Practical Class 101, 10:40 AM

Lessons should have started by now, but apparently Professor Lloyd began the class with a different approach. Since today is to be the last session he will have with his students, the retired officer explained what they need to do during the exam. Lloyd shared some tips to aid their chance of passing however little or serve to no purpose it may be.

The army’s chief executive officers that will be attending to observe their performance was deeply highlighted.

Shuri was being the centre of attention as usual. The class flow rather uneventful.

The school bell eventually rang, marking the end of the afternoon’s lesson. Students quickly disperse from the classroom.

Practical class may well not be missed it seem, Toshiro muses.

Toshiro considered seeing their professor for the last advice he could ever seek from the veteran, whether there is room for him to make some improvements. Wholly, in mind and body, he was ready. Besides, a little lecture wouldn’t do him any harm.

He emptied his drawer and arranged the daily stationery inside his book bag. The blond was about to leave when two individuals approach his bench.

“Hey there. Fancy meeting you here.”

Morfinn studied the pair in wary, gradually recollecting the company from earlier on. His collider, while jubilant at making acquaintances, was rather animated than he let on. They are indeed in the same cohort program. The other, on the contrary, had a visible frown. He was plainly reluctant. It was fairly acceptable, the sentiment being mutual; Morfinn doesn’t need this now.

In an attempt to end the conversation Toshiro stared listlessly at both. These two, idly he realized, must be whom Shuri has often mentioned in his rants. Mostly about the brunet, but naught were good.

“I don’t believe we have a proper introduction last time,” the taller boy continued. “Let’s start again. I’m –”

"I am aware of who you are," Toshiro cut in flatly. "There is no need to present your selves, Mikage Celestine, Teito Klein."

He clicked close his bag making it clear he was disinterested, their imposition unwelcomed. He stood, pausing at a contemplation.

"Or should I call you 'Young Master' as do the others?"

The collider suppressed the urge to laugh, rather amused hearing the blond's straightforwardness.

"Well, what do you think of that, Famous Young Master?"

A sudden jab flew by – it missed. Narrowly.

"Shut the hell up, Mikage!"

Morfinn stared at the two – well, he supposed they are – friends. It was purely intentional but Mikage easily avoid the attack. A verbal debate started between the two. An unusual pair they were. Opposites do attract each other, apparently.

"Forgive me," interrupted Toshiro. "But they did call you that countless of times if I am not mistaken."

"So they say, but I call him chibi." Another jab flew by and again, missed. "A-anyways… As you said, I'm Mikage and he's Teito. And you are?"

The boy in question puts his undivided attention at Mikage, who he supposed to be a tad shorter than him, with incredulity. He, Toshiro Rolfe, a name he made known to students as well as teachers within the academy not familiar? For once Toshiro felt dumbfounded.

"Rolfe." He searched for any hints of recognition but found none. Typical. He stretched out a hand. “Toshiro Rolfe."

"Toshiro-kun, huh. Nice to meet you!"

The green head, passing off as fair, accepted it with a grin on his face. His friend on the other hand did not. He gave a wary look as he did before instead. But with an exchange of a nudge and a glare, he eventually shared a handshake with him at Mikage’s little push.

"Now that's out of the way, want to practice zaiphon with us?" Mikage proposed. "The more, the merrier. Right, Teito?" Toshiro could see that Teito did not give his consent, yet, judging by his grunt. Mikage continues on.

His gaze searches for their professor. The man was turning off the projector, about to collect papers into his file then before threatening to leave the classroom. There was the option of hearing their request and ignore the man for today. He was curious why many speak ill of the brunet. It was the perfect opportunity to find out. Or opt to risk declining their offer for another day.

“You in?”

Mikage’s voice interrupted him. Morfinn sighed internally.

“Thank you for the offer, but I have to decline. If you," he added, "still insist upon this, perhaps we shall meet later on. I cannot promise you the time or place though.”

“Sure. That’ll be great!” said Brian all enthused. “We’ll have a run outside the school campus. Doubt there’ll be room for us in Simulations anyway,” said Mikage. “Just drop by when you’re free. Me and Teito here would love to have you as a new sparring partner!”

Mikage puts his arm around Teito and beamed, before doubling over from the punch the latter gave him.

Toshiro found himself staring in disbelief at the pair. He hadn't realized the half smile overtaking him as Mikage and Teito exchange banters. They are, he mused, a rather strange twosome. He will certainly look forward to their session spent together.


Outside, 4:43 PM

Bright, intense, deep blue strings materialized on both hands of two figures. Black words constantly vanished but summoned again as more and more blows were delivered. Winds they triggered surround them, dodging the attacks swiftly and agilely while feeling the late afternoon's breeze blown in their hair. Without holding back any ounce of strength, they seize the right momentum and counter the given gap of opportunity with zaiphon.

The once flat concrete floor fall fatality from the impacts as the hardened cements was scraped from its origin by such sharpness. What sounded similar to clashing swords was heard out of the ruckus the two individuals made.

Not far away from the place of happening was Toshiro, watching Mikage and Teito spar with one another as he heads in their direction. It seems that both possess offensive zaiphon.

"Be more serious, Mikage!" he heard the chiding

A ring of zaiphon was fired from Teito's hand. He flung it towards Mikage who, by a hair's breadth, evaded the attack smoothly before releasing the same hue. Both kept exchanging blows after blows, keeping their selves preoccupied with each other to the extent of overlooking their new acquaintance's presence.

Apparently, in terms of comparing the two's fighting skills, Teito is a cut above whereas Mikage has it average. However, Toshiro sincerely thought the latter was fooling around. Always dodging and crafting quirky comments embossed on the ground just to annoy the brunet.

Mikage was first to notice Toshiro. He waved and said, "Glad you could make it!" It proved to be a big mistake on Mikage's part however to let down his guard that quick. For Teito, without compunction, took the opportunity to make his move and attack. Zaiphon wrapped Mikage's form locking its hold so as to restrict his movements. Teito hardly put up a fight.

At Mikage's submission, he won hands down.

"Never one to show mercy, eh," Toshiro commented. He watched as Teito released Mikage from his binding. "Rather callous of you, Teito Klein. I expect no less from Chairman Miroku's pupil."

"Funny hearing that from one of Shuri's kind," coldly Teito replied. "Why aren't you with him? If you're here to bother us, then I suggest you to leave. We have better things to do than deal with you."

Adjusting his glasses, Toshiro smirked.

"If I recall correctly, your friend invited me. Do not delude yourself deeming that I am here to act as a nuisance. I therefore have no obligation to acquiesce to your request. Rest assure that I am here by my own accord. After all-” He approached them, coolly regarding the brunet. “What better way is there to hone our skills if not through constant practice? I, for one, want to graduate with the top seat.

“However...“ The smirk was gone. “I find it rude to be accused of such thing. May I hear an apology, then? Or are you that all high and mighty that I do not deserve the right?”

“Oh, is that a fact.”

Teito gritted his teeth in anger. He resisted the urge to tackle this smart-mouth and punch him in the face right here and then. It was making his blood boil. His summoned zaiphon glows.

“Why should I apologize to the likes of you? What makes you think you deserve it?”

“Ah, I see… It seems that I have to prove myself.” Toshiro too summoned ringlets of words of his own. “I rather not resort to this. But if it will convince you… Shall we?”

"Whoa there, you guys. Shouldn't I get a saying to this?"

Mikage's words of concern were unfortunately left ignored. Teito too summoned ringlets of words of his own.

The two challengers circled one another with zaiphons raised, studying each other's behaviour and read whoever opts to make the first move. Both simultaneously lunge forward.

Teito, superficially seen as the formidable teen amongst the three, expertly launched his summoned zaiphon at Toshiro once they made into contact. He missed with only a few inches away from the latter. If it were not for his opponent's quick response time, Teito might have dealt the first blow.

Toshiro felt a bead of sweat trickle down his face. He jumped back twice, far away from Teito, to regain his balance before resuming his frontal view. Range attacks most likely would not work well in this situation, despite Teito belongs in the offensive which he is in fact proficient at it, and neither does hand-to-hand combat. His zaiphon type limits close ranges. For sure he will be at a disadvantage.

If he were to use his sword against him… No, that would be too dastardly. But as a diversion… Yes, that could work. Zaiphon channelization is the best option, for now.

With his defences up, Teito was about to pursue his target but stopped midway as he saw Toshiro took his stance. It was customary that students were to be taught operating weaponry to channel zaiphon. He never likes fighting with weapons unfortunately so it was convenient that the course was optional. But he never imagined the boy in front is the sort to have one.

Teito watched as he unsheathes his sword from its holster and zaiphon began encircling it. He hastens towards Toshiro to stop him cast his spell. But it was too late. Numerous waves of energy, in the form of bluish white slits, were release here and there. Slickly Teito avoided them all, but somehow… something told him this was not the end of his barrage of attacks.

Behind unstinting slits hid a much powerful wave. A single slit, insubstantial yet firm, tore through the air. Like exploding fireworks giving off its colourful display of lights, it ruptured upon impact. The teen had not seen it coming. The pellets rained and hit the ground, enclosing him as it did so.

Profuse smoke blinded his view, causing him to lose sight on his opponent temporarily. Teito quickly became vigilant of his surroundings. He searched for any indication of movement. There, at his side, a figure was closing in on him. Adroitly he projected coils of zaiphon towards the weapon wielder while erecting another for his shield.

True enough there was Toshiro amidst the fading smokescreen. He remains unscathed. Still was running directly at Teito with full speed, evading countless of zaiphon the brunet throw at him. To think that he can detect his presence at an instant, Teito truly is an admirable opponent.

Toshiro maintain his straight aim at Teito. The latter was about to strike him with his offensive zaiphon but Toshiro counteract by leaping over him. This caught the brunet by surprise. Without wasting time he wrapped Teito with zaiphon causing him to fall face down with a thump on the ground.

The victory was now Toshiro's.

The bespectacled blond sheathes his weapon, concurrently unchains the words that bind Teito. "It would have not come to this if you simply apologize." Toshiro gazes down at said teen, and saw that he was glaring daggers at him. He smiled faintly. "Regardless, it was a pleasure fighting you."

Apprehensive, Teito lower his stare at Toshiro's offered hand. He was frustrated that this person, a complete stranger at that, won hands down. One hit. Only one hit to strike him down. But at those words… somehow it moved a tiny proportion of his closed heart. What is it? What is this feeling?

"Same goes to you. Guess that Teito here's getting rusty."

The cheerful and teasing words broke through the veil of unpleasant silence.

"For someone who just lost, you're one to talk!" barked Teito. A vein popped onto his temple, showing his mixed annoyance and anger. Mikage chuckled as Teito stood dusting the collecting dirt on his lean yet petite frame.

It was fun messing the short brunet like that.

Mikage wanted Teito to freely express himself, to be truly honest and open. He wanted to see more of the different sides of him, the different expressions he makes. His smiling face, his laughing face – heck, even his pissed off face – instead of wearing that sour look he always wore.

Mikage wanted him to share those feelings with others as well. To finally open up and accept them as they would accept him. Perhaps Toshiro could be one of those persons. Perhaps he could help fill that seclusion with the warmth of another soul… of another friend.


Barsburg's Military Academy Hall, 29th February, 10:35 AM

At long last the awaited date has finally come. All of the students have gathered outside the large hall. Faint chatters could be heard as they formed into lines. Everyone was full of energy, presumably had prepared themselves for the exam or feeling confident that they could pass it. Some however did not fit the image of preparedness – particularly two certain friends.

There were some adults at the entrance as well as a female officer, most likely the proctor, with a clipboard. It was rare to see women in the military due to the fact they have weak physique. Even so, they are still needed in a specified area that men lack. A post such as this.

"Okay~!" the female officer started. "Today everyone will finally take the graduation exam! Please form into groups of 10 and enter separate assembly halls."

With that, all and sundry began to scatter to find their designated group as informed.

After enduring torturous odds of resisting the urge to yawn, Mikage let out a deep tired breath. A single tear welled up at one corner of his eye. Maybe it wasn't a good idea in the first place to stay up and fight all night long.

Teito, tired as well from the resultant of last night's agenda, looked peevish. "It's your fault for being such a blabbermouth," he grumbled. "Idiot." His words however were drowned from the former's attention by the time Toshiro cross their eyes. Teito's heart gave a little lurch at this. He didn't understand the lurch. He certainly was not looking forward to seeing him.

"Oi, Toshiro-kun. Over here!" Mikage called. What seems to be a sigh escapes Toshiro's mouth as he commanded his legs to head in the two's direction. "Do you think we get to be in the same group? Sure hope we three could pass this together."

Toshiro raised an eyebrow at the optimistic teen's enthusiasm. "Do you honestly believe that would happen?" He gave a question of his own. "It is favourable. Yes. But the prospect of it is no closer than definite. It would not be a surprise if each one of us is sorted in separate groups. Nevertheless," Toshiro concluded, "passing depends on our performance."

Teito decided to brush the feeling off and said, "We'll pass." He spoke with a confident tone, inadvertently assuring. Basically this Begleiter Exam poses no problem to the brunet. But to Mikage and Toshiro… he wasn't so sure about that.

Unbeknownst to him, his words actually brought a smile to their faces. Just what little amount of confidence they needed.

After a while, the female officer from earlier spotted the trio and rushed over to them. "Good morning you three," she greeted happily. "Teito Klein and Mikage Celestine, you two are in Group A," the officer said, reading from her clipboard. She then briefly glanced up at Toshiro and back at her clipboard. "Toshiro Rolfe… You're in Group B."

Receiving their nods, the officer hurriedly attends to the other candidates.

"Aww… I was really hoping we get to be in the same group!" voiced Mikage, disappointed. True that relieve played an active part hearing he and Teito are in the same grouping. It gave reassurance knowing that his best friend will be by his side. Although it is a shame the three of them couldn't be in one team.

A familiar voice suddenly moaned in disgust. It belonged to Shuri Oak.

"Oh my God! I'm stuck in the group with a sklave!" But when he saw Toshiro, his initial twisted look turned to that of complete surprise. "I didn't expect you to be friends with this sklave. Why are you with him?"

"And your point is?" Toshiro replied indifferently, crossing his arms. What exactly gives him the right to choose who he can or cannot associate with? "As far as I am concern, you and I are not friends to begin with. So does this two. Still," he said. "If the rules may permit me to change groups with you, I would gladly do so. Unfortunately, I cannot."

He then turned to go. "May the best prevail." And Toshiro left the party to join his group.


Group B's Assembly Hall, 10:45 AM

"Okay, Group B will enter this way!" the female officer called out.

Toshiro calmly followed her along with the rest of his group partners. Many he barely recognizes. But amongst them, only one third were able to summon their zaiphon. Definitely not reassuring.

Upon entering a vast room, the red haired began to explain the rules. It seems that the final exam before becoming a full pledge Begleiter was to be held in an arena, a huge dome of glass and metal webbing. There were thick glass walls on one wall outside. Probably as a one-way mirror for observations to take place. She gestured the group to follow her.

Toshiro could see the glass bore not a single scratch once they entered the arena. There were plenty of pits and scratches of dirt on the ground however. He knew that people, ahead of their time, had fought their lives here. The seemingly primitive dirt they stood acts as mementos of the past.

"Listen up, Group B~" said the woman after she walked to an area where there was a barred door. "For the Graduation Exam, you must defeat this prisoner!" She pulled the nearby lever. "If you don't beat him or if you abandon your comrades, you will fail."

The door opens its gate, revealing a balding male criminal hid behind those barred irons. Certainly an odd one he was. The man did not appear like any ordinary felon: Aggressive, bulky with brawn muscles and covered in scars. No, he was far from that. Lesser than that.

Build similar to an average person yet emaciated, one would believe the man in front was harmless. He was not a major threat simply. Even the shackles hung loosely around his wrists.

What actually caused real concern was the great deal of piercings decking his body. It was a wonder how the man could support the weight of those metals. There was not much flesh in that seemingly naked body as well. He was more to a sickly person than a fearsome criminal.

The once held breath was released and was replaced with renewed confidence. Who would have thought the exam could be this easy? "We can pass this!" cheered almost everyone, charging robustly at the anomalous man.

All except Toshiro.

It was too good to be true... This so called Graduation Exam. Why did the criminal not take the first move? Clearly he has the upper hand. Was delaying his action part of strategy? Why didn't he bring any weapon to defend? Something was not right. No question about it.

The odd criminal stood there in wait, observing Group B with great fascination. Their fervent spirit… it was as if the prospect gave a new form of thrill to him. "Will all of you be my sacrifice?" he eerily said, tilting his head. Their target suddenly grew big then, bigger and bigger, exceeding any normal human rate, and burst.

Strictly speaking, burst.

His bloody flesh mixed with dissolved bones was deflected everywhere; on the floor, on the wall, on the students. Is it over? No. It did not. The hellish nightmare was just starting.

Chunks of flesh unnaturally began to accumulate. It seemed to have some kind of magnetic element in them, for that pile of flesh formed into a glutinous, horrid entity. A nauseating smell was released at the same time.

Those candidates who were at the front lines instantly retreated saving their own asses from who knows what that monstrosity could do to them. Some that were petrified could nothing but stare at what seemed like a gelatinous creature. They watched as several elongated limbs were generated.

"Get away from him!"

The warning unfortunately came out a little too late.

Tentacle-like features wrap itself around vulnerable students at their state of confusion. Spontaneously they thrashed about in attempt to free themselves. Its sticky substances null their beatings however, adhesively absorbing the effects.

"Everyone should join forces and put everything they've learned to practical use. Otherwise, you'll really get killed!"

Despite the gentle reminder, many ignore it. Fear was clouding their minds: The drive to flee the arena was great. True, they will die if the aspect of teamwork is not applied. True, they will not pass this exam. But failing did not matter anymore.

It was living.

Toshiro cursed at the luck he was having. His remaining comrades wanted to flee, banging the glass wall to plead for their existing life, but it was futile. The exam would not end until the prisoner lay on the ground dead or they, themselves, gets killed in action.

Pulling out his weapon ready in hand, Toshiro charged at the creature. His plan was simple: Distract the creature by slashing its elongated limbs to pieces. He was unsure whether the others were watching him, but he needed to act fast. The creature was getting restless. Through actions, he hoped his group members grasp the conveyed message so they can proceed to weaken it.

Perhaps he had been too confident with this tactic. Or perhaps he had been underestimating the severity of the situation. Either way, the jelly-like creature is smarter than it looks.

The once captured members were suddenly thrown in his direction. Toshiro with effort dodge the hurled members to which the creature had served as ammo. The sound of flesh rammed against the glass wall ain't pretty. It was clearly a distraction, and a deception Toshiro had fallen right into.

It happened all too fast… A second ago he was on the ground, sidestepping and evading the lashing tentacles waiting for him. And now, before he knew it, he no longer feels the dirt ground but the current of air cloaking his form. The creature swatted Toshiro like a fly! Such unforeseen movement. Finding his blind spot through multitude of jabs before striking the moment he became utterly exposed.

'So this is the cunning of these bastards,' mused the boy in the midst of emergency, unimpressed.

Toshiro swerved his body, avoiding the strong gust from forcing his impact with the wall, and land safely onto the dirt once more. While he recovered from the aftershock, few members – despite the injuries they sustain – stood their ground.

They were willing to fight until the end.

Attacking the creature from various directions and angles, brute kicking and thrashing, and zaiphon administered here and there. They were fast, yes, but their actions only anger it more. With just one swipe from the creature, they were easily thrown off their game.

Shot like bullets the minority were, again in the same manner. Not at Toshiro. But at those who were at the wall. At the ones who lost all hope.


Barsburg Military Academy, 11:00 AM

Meanwhile, at a certain corridor, officers had gathered in lines waiting for their guest of honour to arrive. Salutations were heard as soon as a group of black and gold clad officers marched in, the sounds of their boots alerting the lower soldiers of their presence.

"Welcome and thank you for coming, Chief of Staff Ayanami," greeted one of the senior officers. "We are pleased that you have come to attend this year's final examinations."

There was no answer from this group of individuals. Simply kept a neutral face, they followed the officer politely.

Earlier on Chief Ayanami and the Black Hawks, a unit led by said man himself, had disembarked from Ribidzile, the military's first class aircraft. There were chatters about this year's candidates from officers but were paid no care. Despite the reason their being here was to find a Begleiter for the Chief of Staff.

"How are the students this year?" asked Ayanami the female officer as he and the others entered the observation room. "Do they have some backbone in them?"

The officer opened her mouth to respond, but was interrupted. A student was thrown against one of several window walls. Ayanami turned to its dome and found Shuri Oak banging on the glass wall screaming for help. Is this boy supposed to be the son of the noble Oak family?

"How unsightly," Ayanami coldly remarked. The chief had seen enough.

Had it not been for Miroku's order, he would not have waste his time witnessing this embarrassment. None of the candidates offered satisfactory results. Yet, one fact held him behind: out of two domes drew his attention.

Only left stood in a particular arena was a lean blond carrying a weapon in hand. Ayanami thought little of the boy as he had no handicap to begin with in this stage. Perhaps he was a special case, the academy letting him use it. That does not mean he deserve such privilege nonetheless.

Apparently the prisoner for the boy's group was playing tricks with their minds, judging from the cautious distance between them. It was no surprise at all. The criminal they were given initially has a record of practicing black magic – his ability is that of enabling his entire physique to change into an appalling creature within the beholder's eyes – where it affects his victims mentally and physically.

Rather a cowardly deed he views it.

A good number, if not severe, led to cases of hallucinations. Otherwise, led to fatal cases of suicides. But all that points to murder, simply murder. How the wretched man laugh at their folly. Of course, outsiders see his true appearance than those within his zone. As long as one can extinguish the fear he instil, the criminal will devolve back into just a man.

So there was a handicap all along – weapons are useless at this point on, that blond should realize that. How will the boy fare? He may be worth the consideration.

Then the other dome was Shuri's. This one was different.

Three students remained alive in it – the Oak and two others he could not recognize. Amongst them was a short brunet with green eyes. Captivating, big emerald eyes… It reminded him of that person a long time ago, a very long time ago.

Ayanami shook the thought away. Yet, he was drawn to him.

He could not understand it, he could not comprehend it. Ayanami was engrosses in the boy! Watching as the brunet swung his zaiphon expertly… his eyes never leaving the criminal. That green eyed boy. Ayanami was surprised at why he was so interested in that boy.

Expectation. He expected much out of him.

…But why? He was hesitating! He had trapped the criminal around the neck – he could have finished the job. Yet he continued to stare, stare at the criminal.

The boy was hesitating. No doubt about it. His expression impassive but his hand shook with uncertainty. Never in his life did the Chief of Staff feel utter disappointment.


Group B's Assembly Hall, 11:07 AM

The energetic group known as Group B was reduced to an immobilized group, leaving only one youth left standing. With just one, it was clear they would not survive this.

There merely stood Toshiro in awe and confounded. Things were looking grim.

The mass criminal-turned-monster in front, armed with lashing tentacles, gazed upon the pale blond with cold, blank eyes. The look it gave was emotionless. A shiver ran down his spine. Staring right into that blankness was like staring into darkness. Darkness one could easily succumb to.

Toshiro could feel his body shake uncontrollably, his breath uneven and his knees buckled. Negative emotions began to course inside him. Confidence little by little drained out of him. But he knew he had to stand tall. He was not that powerless, weak of a child he used to be anymore. He had become stronger now.

Strong enough to push this bitterness and despair reign within his heart. Strong enough so he could have the power to save others, unlike the gods that did nothing to save those people and the country back then.

Without doubt he was grateful for being born into this world and blessed with a loving family. But what of it? Does that mean his fate was to serve questionable existence that cannot be seen? Humans are the ones that have the evident power. The army, for example, exists for the protection of its people and nation. There was proof of the greater good.

Then why is there silly beliefs offered to the gods? Would the world change simply by praying to these unseen beings and let fate takes its course? Nay, he would not tolerate for that sort of primitive thinking.

Dashing for his sword slid not too far away Toshiro went for the creature again. It was time to go all out – there is no room for mistakes now. Deftly he swung the weapon to and fro, hacking away a handful of tentacles in his wake. Eyes never leaving the creature, he anticipated its attack before connecting the momentum with a counter.

Strings of bluish zaiphon were then summoned. Face to face with the creature Toshiro wrapped his zaiphon around it. The creature gave no struggle however; it simply locked eyes with the teen. He was, of course, dumbfounded by this. Dismissing the oddity, Toshiro managed to force the creature into submission by tightening his zaiphon's hold.

One thing left was to finish this low life off.

…But why is it difficult for him to execute this simple task?

The creature continued to stare, but its gaze was no longer empty as before. It had a strange glint in its eyes, pleading… Animal-like blank eyes are now filled with the life of a man.

And Toshiro froze.

Simply he froze and stared right through that orbs, telling him he was just a human. A human that had done many wrong things not because he wanted to but because he couldn't resist the temptation. He was not a criminal, he had only sinned. He does not deserve this cruel punishment.

"The exam is not over," spoke a stern voice over the intercom. It doesn't take a genius to know the voice belongs to their pony-tailed teacher.

It broke his stupor, in time for him to realize his grip around the creature relaxed. Toshiro faced forward and eyes on the target still. "To what reason do you need to hold back? I've told you that he must be killed," said Lloyd-sensei. "If you don't, you will fail."

The teen remained quiet. His attention was on the creature now – he really needs to get this over with. Just when he was about to deliver the finishing blow, Toshiro noticed, what appears to be the creature's mouth began to move. Surprised him it did… the words it uttered so clearly.

With glasses glistened white Toshiro ordered his zaiphon to loosen its grip. Blue zaiphon vanished and he lowered his sword. "I withdraw." He turned his back from the creature, now revert back into its original form, and confront his teacher. The man was rather disappointed. "I refuse to take his life. If failing the exam prevents me from killing this man, then so be it." His expression was firm, no hesitation evident in his blue-green eyes. "I –"

Toshiro widened his eyes in shock – having felt a presence looming behind him – he hardly had chance to move out of the way. Sword held up to block whatever was making a fast on him. His eyes caught a sudden glimpse of red, somehow warning him he shouldn't be in its way, to which he comply, and struck the criminal. Instantly killing him on the spot.

He turned to its source finding a group of uniform clad officers. A snowy white haired man with a peak cap drew his attention. With unique set of amethysts that seem to slit ever so dangerously, similar to how a snake stare intently at its prey before the pounce, Toshiro was sure he was the one responsible. Not to mention the air of authority the man gave off, clearly signifies a high ranking officer.

Time as though had slowed for a brief moment, for voices seemed to have travelled long distance away. Toshiro could barely hear what the female officer had said. The group of men appeared before him were the army's chief executive officers!

Awestruck, he was awestruck. Having the honour of meeting them was quite an opportunity but sadly, the timing was unfavourable.

Being unable to finish his task as it should be and not showing his full potential, Toshiro was certain he had not made a positive impression for himself.


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