‘Why me?’ Azure lamented as the Marshal picked him out to babysit the young Lieutenant, ‘Why me?’ Sighing internally, he straightened up and saluted, “Yes, sir.”
The meeting continued for a while after that – an insipid debate on logistics and scheduling that had nothing to do with him. He let his mind wander for the rest of it, thinking instead, of how he could accomplish his duty with the minimal amount of effort. When Teal had volunteered for the Expedition, he hadn’t tried too hard to dissuade her – changing her mind was too troublesome, and often an exercise in futility. Now, he wished he had. He hadn’t expected the mission to be so tiring.
‘A stealth mission,’ he had thought, ‘how much work can it possibly be?’
As a wind mage, at the most, he had expected to be called upon to muffle sounds in rotation with the shadow mages, or suppress scents in collaboration with the other users of wind. Instead, he had to climb a sheer precipice, complete a march that should take days within hours, then battle a swarm of Tier 3 ants. If that wasn’t enough, he had nearly exhausted his mana reserves procuring enough potable water for the camp along with Teal. As for the stealth, he hadn’t needed to lift a finger for that. Should he be thankful, he wondered.
Now, another dollop of work had been piled onto his plate. This protection detail was going to be a pain in the ass, he just knew it. If at such a young age, he had managed to independently take down a Tier 3, his ego would have inflated faster than a dirigible. Keeping the boy from losing his life to senseless heroics was going to be a delicate operation, what with him being outclassed both in status and military rank. ‘Still,’ he thought as he exited the tent after the meeting was adjourned, ‘the boy is a talent and nurturing him is the duty of us seniors.’
But for now, he just wanted to taste his wife’s cooking and relax. He would worry about what to do about the boy later. Turning his gaze to the centre of the camp, his thoughts ground to a halt as he saw his would be ward chatting up his wife.
He took it back. Every word of praise, he took it all back.
“… and then he came back with his hair dyed that eye-popping shade of blue and started rambling on about some ditty he had heard about Azure Winds and Teal Waters and how we were the perfect match for each other. I was so embarrassed…”
I let the words wash over me as I tried to focus on what my new teacher was doing with her mana. This wasn’t a formal apprenticeship of course, those required a lot more commitment. She was just teaching me on a whim but that didn’t mean I was any less grateful. The least I could do was provide an ear for her to gossip at. Teal had turned out to be quite the motor-mouth once she had assured herself that I was invested enough in learning her craft that I wasn’t going to be driven away by her incessant chatter.
“… oh, and at this step, you have to split your mana into two streams and form them into a pair of grinding pans that rotate in opposing directions. You want to rub the mana out of the material, so, the faster the rotation and the higher the density of the mana constructs, the more thorough the extraction will be. Now, you must pay attention to…”
Interspersed within her babble, she threw out commentaries on what she was doing. I paid close attention to these crystallizations of her experience. Father always told me that when you do something for an extended period of time, you start developing tricks to streamline the process. These tricks, developed over a lifetime of dedication are the most valuable things a student can take away from a teacher.
Focused as I was on the flows of her mana, I didn’t notice a man sneaking up behind me. So, when someone slung his hand over my shoulder, I reflexively caught his arm and threw him over my head. His body slammed onto the dusty ground with a ‘whumf’ raising a cloud of dust. When that cleared, I realized, much to my embarrassment that the one on the ground was Teal’s husband, Azure.
“I’m sorry. You startled me there…” I apologized, offering my hand.
Neglecting it, he drew up his legs and got to his feet with a spring. Patting the dust off his clothes and smoothing back his electric blue hair, he shot his giggling wife a glare before turning to me. “Ahem. I take it that you know me.” he said.
“Of course.” I replied with a smile. “Marshal Azure, right?”
“Well, good. Then, I’ll have you know that your recent rashness in nearly getting yourself killed and endangering the mission has greatly displeased Marshal Canis. So, I’ve been assigned to be your chaperone. I hope that you don’t make my mission harder than it has to be.”
I smiled wryly, “That was an unexpected turn of events.” I hoped that they didn’t think of me as some sort of glory hound. “I too hope nothing like that happens again… to any of us.”
He seemed surprised by my quick acceptance of his supervision. Of course, I knew that his experience on the field would bump up my survivability. I’d be a fool to resent Marshal Canis’ good intentions.
“Oh. Well, that saves me some trouble, I was under the impression that I’d have to do a lot more convincing. Since you are so amenable, why don’t I teach you something and you stop pestering my wife? She needs to cook up a meal for us pronto or we’ll all collapse from our protesting stomachs.” His words earned him a smack on the back of his head with a ladle. Teal sure didn’t hold back. The brilliance of his Barrier was nearly blinding.
“Who was pestering your wife? I’m teaching the boy how to cook.”
“Cook? Why does he need to know how to do that? Doesn’t he have a wife for that? Last I counted he had three.” Another solid ‘thwack’ to the back of his head was his answer. “Oi! Watch it, woman. My mana is seeing the bottom. Hit me hard enough and you’ll really brain me with that thing.”
“Hmph!” she snorted, “Serves you right. Why can’t a man cook once in a while? Now take him and get out of my sight. And you, report to me the next time we pitch camp. I’ll expect you to have memorized all the steps I showed you by then. Now shoo! I have a camp to feed.”
Marshal Azure drew me to a clearing at the edge of the camp, within the limits of Hei Lian’s spell circle. “Haah.” He sighed. “That woman will be the death of me. Anyway, what do you know of the aspects?”
“You unearth one for every element every time you advance till Tier 3?”
“Good enough. You seem to be quite adept at using fire. I heard talk of you amplifying the spells of the artillery squad. Mind crystal or not, that’s impressive. And now you managed to beat a fire ant at its own element. I saw the corpse – charred through and through. But I think you’re neglecting the potential of wind by just using it to lighten and accelerate yourself. The fire mages like to say that their element is the best for offense but once you tap into the aspect of lightning, wind has no peer. I comprehended it just recently so I thought I’d help you along while the experience is still fresh in my mind. Be grateful, boy. It’s only because my wife took you on as her first student ever.”
He stopped speaking when he noticed the strange expression I wore on my face. “W-why are you looking at me like that?” he asked. This couple… they talk too much. Raising my hand, I let a tiny spark play in my palm, letting it leap between the tips of my fingers before petering out.
There was silence.
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