Chapter 4: Divergence Point

Wander went straight to his house after he woke up, without bidding Aria and Hiatus goodbye. The two did not even see him leave.

Their friend failed to show up for school the next day. The teachers announced that his request for a long leave had been allowed, so he would not be present for at least 1 week.  There was no nasty talk, at least in the presence of Aria and Hiatus, since other students feared for the fate of their mouths and teeth  if they made any dirty remark. The two seemed really willing to use their fists any moment. Even Jonathan knew that everything had a limit, and it would be more than foolish of him to mock Wander in front of his best friends.

Visitation was out of the question: Wander wanted some time alone and he made his point very clear. Miss Hannah was asked by him to specifically tell Aria and Hiatus not to come to his house. The two acquiesced with much frustration. Miss Hannah asked after Wander sometimes, but only received Aria’s and Hiatus’s shaking heads.

The case of Wander soon died down, since the students of the Xixin Institution were about to welcome the most celebrated event of this semester: the arrival of the Summoners.  The Summoners were akin to the Hunters in terms of duty and purpose, but their methods differed: while the Hunters majorly relied on physical strength, martial techniques, demonic nature to fight and little on magic, the Summoners emphasized the use of arcane arts and magecraft. Their most overwhelming power, though, was their innate ability to summon Familiars- powerful beings from another realm. This ability granted them the name Summoners. One could have supposed that the two species would be on good terms with each other thanks to their common purpose, but most of them felt nothing towards the other besides mutual hatred and contempt. Rarely existed a friendship between individuals of the two species. And even rarer was a life-long one such as that of Principal Xixin and Principal Hamilton.

The Hamilton School’s arrival transpired on a peaceful autumn day in the most tranquil manner possible. No limousine, no trumpet, no orchestra, no crackers. Lines and lines of summoners wearing white uniforms hovered in the air, killing any sound in their vicinity apart from the angelic voice coming from one of their students. They leisurely passed the gate, their formation being parallel lines. The quite sacred atmosphere rendered all the hot-headed Hunters speechless, and their gazes fixed on the march of their rivals. Principal Xixin also looked much more polite and sophisticated than usual in his vest, bowing to Principal Hamilton, who responded also with a bow. The two principals’ appearance bore some striking similarities, the deep wrinkles, the bright, mischievous eyes like those of foxes, and the trimmed moustaches.

 » Did they plan to look the same? Hey Xixin, I think we should trim our beards like this! Ho ho ho! » Hiatus whispered to Aria, his fingers stroking his imaginery moustaches.

Aria and Hiatus were selected to participate in the ( quoted from Principal’s word)  » a glorious theatrical once-in-life-time production of pure genius ». In reality, all the selected individuals just had to draw swords simultaneously and yelled « hah » out load, before sheathing their swords and « hah » again.

 » For God’s sake, at least we don’t have to yodel. » Hiatus murmured to Aria.

 » You know what is worse? »Aria whispered. « Xixin, Xixin, Xiiixiiiiin. »

Hiatus nearly burst out laughing, but managed to hold back. Beside him, Aria was considering a final push, but then discarded the idea out of mercy.

All the students were startled by the loud voice of Principal Xixin as he approached his friend.

 » Hamilton, long time no see! » said Principal Xixin, hugging Principal Hamilton. « Thank you for coming! »

« Of course, that is the least I can do for a friend! » Principal Hamilton replied, before changing his loud voice into a whispering sound. » Money from the ticket profits, 50/50, that’s the deal. »

 » Oh, you still got it in you, Hamilton! How kind, how humble! » Principal Xixin patted on his friend’s shoulders.

The two old man shook hand, before introducing their best students to each other. The touching reunion effortlessly turned into a show-off, and students of both schools that day learned not less than fifty names for international contests and competitions, enough for a life.

Afterwards, Principal Xixin and Hamilton quickly headed for the former’s office to discuss the upcoming versus battle game, while the students were left to their own devices in the Afflia building, ready to initiate their own discussion, but possibly with swords and wands, not words.

______________________________________________________________________________

Fortunately, there was no such discussion, only an awkward silence. The both sides decided to hold a stare contest, with the losers being those who stared longer. The two species sat across each other with a long desk separating them. No one dared to touch the food and drinks placed on the desk. They did not even dare to leave the benches they were sitting on. Most of the hunters and summoners either glanced at their friends or gazed at the outside through the circular window running on the walls, from which sunlight entered.

To the Hunters, their rivals resemble the stuck-up rich kids they saw on television. Expressionless, aloof versions. On the part of Summoners, Hunters were also expressionless and aloof, also resembled people they saw on TV, just not as well-dressed as them.

Every student was ready to run out of the auditorium, when a voice emerged.

 » How do you find New York? » Aria initiated a conversation after 10 minutes of increasingly burdening silence.

That sentence earned her the looks of everyone.

 » It is very hectic and dynamic, noisy, but acceptably so. Oh, and I am Jake Malton, very nice to meet you. » A summoner with smiling eyes replied, extending his large and firm hand to Aria.

« I am Aria Tansine, very nice to meet you too. Please, I would love to hear about Hamilton School.  Maybe you can shed some light on that matter? » Aria said, taking Jake’s hand.

 » I certainly can. » Jake answered with a smile.

Thanks to Aria and Jake, the auditorium became much more lively. Both sides were still a little reserved and diffident, but they managed to overcome the barrier and strived to communicate, hoping to dissolve some misunderstanding and prejudices. Small talk started to emerge everywhere, covering all kinds of topics. Summoners and hunters shook hands, laughed and at times sat in awkard silence. Of course, a few did not join and only watched others with eyes of disdain and pursing lips, leaning back against the wall.

Jake and Aria decided to talk a little more, even though their mission to enliven the place had ended. They positioned themselves near the entrance, where they could see everyone.

 » I have read a lot about you, Aria. You have made quite a name for yourself. I suppose it would not be too wrong of me to assume you are the best student of the institution? »

« No, you’re not wrong. I am the best. »

The unexpectedly blunt answer of Aria surprised Jake. He had expected an attempt on her part to appear humble by answering the opposite. His question was a trick one, for if one chose to be humble, one implicitly said the guest was wrong. The opposite meant that one was arrogant. He wanted to bother Aria a bit.

« But our school does not just have one best students. In this school, there are at least 2 more students who are my equal. » Aria added, smiling.

 » And who is that? » Jake asked, raising his eyebrows.

« Now that is unfair. Why do I keep answering? I suppose it would not be too wrong of me to assume you are the trickiest individual of Hamilton’s school? »

Jake chuckled when faced with the slightly sarcastic tone in Aria’s voice.

 » Ha-ha, you can say that I also lay among the best. Ok let’s play a game then, we will take turn to name our equals. How about that? »

Aria shrugged.  » Sounds good to me. As the host, I will have the pleasure of playing first. Though I do not mind giving that privilege to you. »

 » Oh no, you first. I would not dare abusing my stay. »

 » Okay then. Uhm, the first one I want to mention is my best friend over there, Hiatus Sovanno. » Aria pointed to Hiatus.

Jake turned his look to a boy sitting a few meters away. A very tall, muscular boy who appeared to be sleeping. The type whom Jake believed he could be friend with.

 » Hiatus’s strength did not show on papers or in scores. As his friend, I can assure you that it would be in your best interest not to underestimate him and to send your best candidate against him, unless you long for defeat. »

Jake nodded and stared at Hiatus for a while before starting his turn.

 » Let me introduce you to Victor Axiel, »  Jake pointed to a boy sitting very far from him and Aria, among the groups of summoners who avoided conversations with hunters.   » Years ago, he wasn’t the brightest student, but certainly the grumpiest and nastiest one. Now, it has changed, sadly the  » not the brightest » part only. Do not let that seemingly shy and nerdy face fool you. He is a very nasty individual. A lot of us fear him. He is very strong for a Summoner his age, already able to summon a level 6- a feat not a single summoner his age can achieve. Let me tell you, only a handful of summoners can do what he can do. He is the future candidate for the  » Regis Magus » title, the summoner  of a level 7 Familiar. »

Aria had heard of the « Regis Magus » title before. High Grandmaster Vivien Iridis held the title, even though she could not summon a level 7. Her political influence earned her the status.

 » Quite frightening. And obviously you are better at describing your comrades more than I am. No one has ever summoned a level 7? »

 » Never before. They are legendary. Can you believe it?  All this time and no one has ever succeeded. All of a sudden summoners who can pop up all over the world. But hey, no more extra information. Your turn. » Jake jerked his thumb at Aria.

 » Alicia White… Ah, she is not here. Anyhow, she is from the Eson Halcyon, that Avalon –ish land, and I heard that she’s aristocratic. I have fought her once, in secret, of course, and it was a draw. She is extremely skilled, and her use of the sword is superior to me. And once again, her true ability is not reflected on paper. »

 » I see. Hey, you are not lying to me right. What with the  » not reflected on papers »? Both of them? »

« You have no idea how faulty the classification system of this school is. I swear on my honor, I did not tell a lie. » Aria replied as she looked straight into Jake’s eyes.

Jake was startled by the sudden stare. He scratched his head.

 » Okay, if you say so. My turn. The next one is…me! » Jake pointed at himself.  » Well, I am not as powerful as Victor, but I possess 2 level 5, also quite a feat. I also have mastered the Earth school  of magic and let me tell you it is very difficult to master a school. Oh, and in your word, I am also the trickiest. » Jake finished his sentence with a grin.

« Now that is just grossly unfair. I already knew about you, so you must tell me about someone else.  »

 » I tell you quite a lot about myself, aren’t I? I think that will suffice. Your turn? »

Aria rolled her eyes. « I think our little game should end here. I don’t want you to reveal to me you have split personalities and describe to me each one.  »

 » Come on! It’s getting fun! »

 » Nah, I’m good. I’ve kept you occupied long enough. Some girls over there are checking you out, maybe you should go there and tell them about yourself.  At least they care. »

 » Ouch! That hurts. »

Aria just smiled in return, then walked away from her new tricky « friend ».

After she was out of sight, Victor approached Jake and coldly asked.  » Did you tell her a lot? »

« Just enough. »

« Did you tell her about me? »

« Yes, I did. »

« You fool. You should have kept me a secret. »

 » Give me a break. You are no longer  the most powerful, Victor. You lost that title weeks ago. I kept the most powerful one a secret, so stop complaining. Now leave me alone, I do not want the girls to see me with you. It is going to repulse them, the moment you open your mouth. »

______________________________________________________________________________

The Principal  Office.

Xixin checked out the piles of books his old friend had brough him: thick books with leather covers and a fair share of dust. He glanced at his custom-made desk, annoyed as he thoughr of all the cleaning he had to do later.

 » Samundo is coming back. » Xixin said, nonchalantly, as his eyes rested on the volume 1 of Histoire Lacrium Daemon . » Or should I say, has already come back. »

 » Hmm, so it had been revealed to you too.  Should we buy him a cake? »  Principal Hamilton replied as he sipped his tea.  » Maybe it will convince him to stay dead this time. He may just want a cake. »

That joke had gone bland many years ago. Both of them wondered who started it. Both of them believed that person had died for a few centuries.

Samundo’s returns, as excessive in number as they were, did not qualify as common occurrences. Most of the time, it took nearly a century for the demon lord to come back. Even the shortest interval amounted to 80 years. Halcyon dwellers enjoyed the peace inbetween those returns, while making preparation for the next war. A few generations were lucky enough to never encounter him. It was a long dreamt dream of various individuals to bestow that luck upon the future. Slowly they deemed it improbable.

 » Do you find it strange? He returns too quickly.  Sixteen years, a record. Why the haste? How does he even return at that speed? I have the feeling this is going to be the final battle. This time, if we defeat him, he’s going to stay dead. »

 » What makes you think that? I lost count of how many people had uttered the same thing, but they were wrong. Don’t get your hopes up. »

Xixin turned to his friend, his eyes narrowing.

« The conflicts, they are reaching the climax. All conflicts in the world. »

« Which conflicts? » Hamilton stirred his tea as he said. He raised his almost non-existent eyebrows.

« Halcyon is being stirred up by hundred simultaneous events. The Council is enforcing its grip on the whole Hunter Community, accompanied by the complete disappearance of the Singulus Digiti. The Familiars will pick the new Eternalia Regis a few years from now. The candidates for that title Regis Magus too. M.O.M informed me of the increasing number of apocalyptic prophecies from various species. Something big is happening, don’t you think? »

« They happen because they happen, that’s all. It does not necessarily mean something big is going down. Xixin, our students, their futures are bright. With this event, a new chapter will open for both hunters and summoners, we should focus on that. Remember the Cold Decades? Our friends killed one another even without Samundo. He is the least of our problem right now. We have nothing to do with that beast. » Hamilton said, his eyes closed. » I just hope this time the contest will transpire peacefully. »

Xixin looked up at the ceiling, where his beloved crystal chandelier slighly swung in the air.

« Don’t jinx it, Hamilton. You suggest the contest, shouldn’t you be more confident? Let’s just assume it will be fine. At least we know no demon can infiltrate this place, thanks to you. Ah, and I have been tempting to ask: What happened to your head? »

 » What with it? »

« That burn above your ear, leaves a mark. »

 » I have that? » said Principal Hamilton as he walked towards the nearest mirror. « I do. »

« You don’t know where that’s from? »

« No. I have never seen this mark before. » Principal Hamilton touched the mark, frowning.  » This is bizarre. »

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