While he was engrossed in his reading, a girl approached the bench Asterios was sitting on.
Looking up from his book, he found a cute girl with medium-long dark sapphire hair and blueish eyes. She donned the academy’s outfit for girls, featuring grey stockings, short ash-grey skirt and a white shirt with a blazer on top of it. She seemed to be somewhere around 165cm in height. In comparison, Asterios reached a bit over 180cm recently, so the difference between them was clearly visible when they stood side by side. As for someone of her height, she had quite an ample chest. A hesitant smile painted her lips.
“Tina. Is there anything you need from me?” He assumed the usual distant and cold tone he showed to pretty much everyone else besides his mother and some chosen individuals.
“No, no, no. Sorry to disturb your reading. I just wanted to wish you good luck on your exam.”
“Thanks, but I don’t think anything will change today. It never does.” Showing a little bit of courtesy, he dived back into his lecture.
“Ummm… You never know… That’s why you still keep trying, right?” He nodded to her words. “Well… just do your best. My fight is much later so I’ll come to watch yours.”
He raised an eyebrow at the girl, who was smiling a little awkwardly. Ast wasn’t sure what that would achieve, besides having a decent show of him getting beaten into a pulp. There wasn’t much to learn from watching it. He did not realize though, that not all of his colleagues thought only about their personal gains when getting closer to him. Years of treachery and being used made him doubt everyone’s intentions, making him into a slight loner on the campus grounds.
Tina made a very light bow and walked away hastily. She could barely control herself with how fast her heart was beating and she didn’t want to offend Ast with some unnecessary remark she could have blurted out in the heat of the moment. She looked back at his calm figure one more time and smiled to herself.
Something prodded her mind, sending short messages which could be deciphered as ‘go for it!’. She stopped, blushing a little, and sent a few mental jabs at the consciousness invading her head.
「Shush it, Ori! I’ll tell him after graduation! Yes, definitely then!」
She could feel her partner rolling their eyes through the connection. She slapped her cheeks a few times and resumed heading for the notice board to check which arena Ast was placed in.
Time for the short break ended and Asterios arrived at one of the small coliseums. He never understood why each arena was built with the aesthetics of one. It looked really funny to see a miniature version of the grand fighting ground which could house only like 50 people in the audience, excluding the sections for the ‘VIPs’, where examiners were currently awaiting the contestants.
He walked towards one of the two balconies hung slightly above the arena’s grounds and looked to the opposite side to see who would be his opponent this year. It was a 17-year-old boy with short blond hair. He knew him pretty well. Fate really is mischievous, placing him against one of the students that hate Ast the most.
He sighed heavily and prayed in his mind that nothing goes wrong today.
“Hehehe, look who it is. Is your rabbit ready to become minced meat like that useless ferret you brought in three years ago?” The boy smirked at him from the other side of the arena.
He furrowed his brows. Ast couldn’t care less about any insult directed at him, but his beasts and family was a no-go territory. That rude remark has reminded him of his previous partner, Roy the Soaring Ferret, who unfortunately lost his life during one of the runs in a training course. One of the obstacles suddenly enclosed him between a set of whirring pillars stuffed with countless blades.
Asterios was devastated for a few days after that incident. All obstacles’ moves were known to the trainees beforehand through extensive manuals, so the fact that it moved completely different from its usual patterns just added oil to the fire, clearly pointing out external interference.
He felt a ghostly lick on his cheek and rubbed the place with his hand, smiling faintly.
「Thanks, Mii. I’m okay. Let’s just get it done and go back home. Focus on evading as usual.」
“All contestants, call your contracted beasts into the pit!”
A loud voice echoed through the arena. His opponent was first to follow the command and from a yellowish magic circle under his feet, a yellow-furred wolf jumped out, landing on the ground beneath the summoner. It was what’s called a Thunder Wolf. Quite an impressive summon. It growled loudly, announcing its arrival with pride.
Before Ast could even ask Mii to come out, she popped out from a green smoking circle and hopped down. Mii was a Dashing Rabbit. Their size was comparable to that of a fully grown chicken so she didn’t look utterly hopeless in front of an adult wolf. She stretched her legs and bounced around a few times, sending Ast mental message to leave everything to her.
He smiled at her eagerness to fight for him. He reminded her to run away back to her realm at the very first sight of danger and gripped the balustrade tightly with his hands, readying himself to watch the bout where his partner could easily get hurt.
The speaker announced the start of the fight and the blondie’s wolf roared to the sky, sending down lightning aimed at Mii’s position from it. She swiftly evaded every strike which charred the ground in the place where she had been just milliseconds ago. Speed and agility was her forte and something this predictable couldn’t hurt her even if there were three wolves facing her.
Slowly closing the distance between them, Mii strongly pushed herself off the ground and slammed into the side of her enemy who was still mid-casting with his howl, sending him tumbling a few meters back with a yelp.
Ast pumped his fist. Every single attack that connected would raise his score even more than just dodging.
Mii backed off a bit and sat on the ground, nonchalantly scratching her ear with one of her hind legs. The wolf’s master, annoyed by the fact that it let itself get hit by a puny rabbit, shouted some orders at his familiar.
Soon after, it got up back to its feet and growled ferociously. Mii’s ears perked up and she readied herself for a counterattack. The wolf made a single step… and disappeared. Mii reacted barely in time as the attacker’s fangs passed just by a hair’s breadth from her fur after it used the Lightning Dash ability. One of the most iconic moves of its species.
They started dancing around with Mii bouncing from spot to spot avoiding the wolf’s ferocious bites. Straight close-quarters combat wasn’t her strong point and she quickly started gathering many cuts from the wolf’s fangs and claws while still trying to bite him on its ankles.
「Mii, back off and focus on dodging for a minute or two more. We already passed with what you achieved,」Ast talked to her via their connection.
But Mii rejected that idea and kept jumping around the opponent, wanting to present her master with his very first win. He always cared for her, showering her in treats, pats, cuddles and affection. He never used his will to push her to do anything even slightly against her wishes. During training, he always expended almost all of his mana to support her fragile body. It pained her how she never could exceed her master’s already low expectations and didn’t understand how no strong beasts flocked to a person like that.
Blocking off their connection to some extent, she fully focused on the battle. She could do it. She’d do anything to cheer up her master even a little bit.
With her tiny mind filled with determination, she started burning her mana while increasing her speed. For the next two minutes, the wolf barely kept up with her, but still held firmly under the barrage of her slams and small bites. She slowly started tiring down.
Ast watched her dance around the opponent in unimaginable suspension. Then, he noticed the other guy extending his hand, cutting it with a knife and pressing it against his chest after rolling it into a fist. That was a sign of master sharing a lot of his energy with the summon.
Sensing something bad coming, he shouted to his own partner out loud, “Mii! Get back now! I order you to escape to your realm, now!”
Mii felt a tiny prickle in her brain, forcing her to submit to the order, but she decided to fight against it, knowing that Ast wouldn’t keep it up for long to avoid inflicting more pain. Unfortunately, that was a mistake. Not letting that short moment of hesitation go to waste, the wolf howled loudly again and used all of the transferred mana to invoke an advanced skill - Field of Lightning. Three waves of sparkling walls erupted from it and passed through Mii before she could escape their range, effectively paralyzing her.
“No!” Ast shouted.
“Finally! Now tear that annoying ball of fur into shreds!” The other man ordered his familiar.
The wolf slowly approached Mii lying down and picked it up in its jaws. It started shaking its head sideways and soon a lot of blood began splattering around. Ast could feel Mii’s pain even through the blocked connection.
“That’s enough! Flee already!” he kept shouting desperately, but Mii kept biting on the wolf’s face, not wanting to surrender. Ast turned to the examiners above him. “She lost! End the battle now!”
“The battle continues until one of the beasts returns back to their realm. You know that Asterios,” an older man answered without any interest.
He knew of that rule, but Mii wasn’t doing it! He couldn’t lose her like that, in some stupid exam! Ast grabbed the balustrade harder and began raising his leg.
“Contestant Asterios, personal interference in the examination battle of magical beasts is against the rules and can result in—”
“Fuck your rules!”
Ignoring the nagging of the professor, he jumped down into the arena and broke into a dash towards the summons. He knew he couldn’t contest the wolf with his human strength and there was no chance to force its jaws open. Fortunately, from the length and position of its canines, he knew it was a male, and that was enough for him to figure out what to do.
Ast leaned back and slid under the yellow wolf, grabbing its balls with both of his hands.
“Release her right now or you’ll never be able to use that again!” He squeezed them a little, evoking a yelp of pain from the beast.
The procreational instincts kicked in and the wolf hesitated. His master’s orders rang in its head but losing something so important had a much bigger impact on its mentality. Deciding to choose to anger its master a bit over losing the ability to reproduce, the wolf spat out the bloodied rabbit and backed off after its assailant released the precious jewels.
Ast quickly picked up the heavily wounded Mii and began transferring all his energy to her. Tina suddenly appeared by his side and called forth one of her summons, a young Water Serpent. It knew a bit of healing magic and helped to close the gaping holes in the rabbit’s body.
“Thank you…” Ast whispered while hugging Mii to his chest.
“It’s nothing… I’m glad that she’s okay,” Tina said, crouching by his side.
The examiners came down and informed Ast to await his punishment tomorrow. He didn’t even pay attention to their words and quickly left the arena to take Mii to the infirmary. Tina stopped him somewhere midway, suggesting letting Mii rest in her Water Serpent’s realm, which is much richer in spiritual energy than hers. He didn’t hesitate and took her up on the offer instantly.
They sat down together in the garden while waiting for Mii to recover a little more. Ast stretched himself out on the bench and hung his head with closed eyes to the back.
“She… really was amazing…” Tina praised Mii’s performance in a quiet voice.
“She fought against my orders.”
“Mii tried so hard just for you—”
“She could have died! For what?! Meaningless praise from some old geezers that care only about results?!” He raised his head and shouted while sending her an angry glare, making Tina jump a little.
He covered his face with hands and exhaled heavily. “I’m sorry. I’m still a bit worked up over this. I didn’t mean to shout,” he apologized dejectedly.
Tina smiled seeing his kind nature, but he wasn’t able to see that detail. “It’s okay, I understand.”
They spent the next half an hour just sitting there in silence, parting ways after Mii healed enough to take the rest of her treatment back in her own realm. Asterios walked back home before evening came.
“And? How did it go?” his mother asked the moment he opened the door.
He slammed it shut with an annoyed groan and headed straight to his room. She knew that something must have happened because he wasn’t so easily riled up, no matter how much animosity he was met with at the school. She decided to give her son a bit of space, knowing that he would soon get over it and switch back to his usual, determined self.
Asterios fell lifelessly onto his bed. Mii jumped out of a small portal soon after and snuggled to his neck, still slightly in pain, sending lots of apologies to him through their connection. She started feeling even more guilty when she realized that there wasn’t even a faint glimmer of blame headed her way. It all was directed at himself, for being such a powerless summoner. They fell asleep cuddled up together.