Chapter 141: Offer
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Umara and I stood outside the recruitment center, the noon midsummer sun beating down on us. 

She held my arm as we looked around, Feiden and Tana beside us. It wasn’t crowded. All the third years who weren’t staying at the Magisterium would be processed later, letting us fourth years have more of a streamlined experience. 

Not that it mattered. There were only 23 fourth years now, and some of them didn’t even show up. I couldn’t say I was pleased to see any of them. The rat bastards had left us to die. 

As I ran my eyes around the entrance of the building, my Aerial pinged with a message. 

“Stay where you are.”

My brows raised. It was from Sawn. 

A few moments later, a huge magical vehicle, blocky and utilitarian, slowed to a stop on the road behind us. I felt a pang of pained familiarity as its lines briefly flashed into those of the Steed that had saved our lives just weeks prior, interrupted by its side hatch swinging open. 

Sawn, inside, was sitting behind a table with all sorts of gadgets strewn across it. He waved me in. 

Umara and I glanced at each other before clambering into the cabin. The door gently snicked shut as we moved to sit down. I caught a glimpse of Tana and Feiden waiting outside. 

I didn’t even get a chance to greet the man before he started talking. 

“This will be the last upgrade I give your Aerial. After this, we’ll design a new generation and roll yours out to the mass market. Your current Aerial is the PsyComm-1, designed to be utilized directly with the mind. Summoners are most proficient with this type of communication; they’ll be our market. You’ve done well testing all of its functions. Most people we give prototype products to tend to forget about them and never send messages. You use it like a limb. Put your arm in this cradle. You’ll be able to message and call from within your mind. We haven’t yet figured out how to do the same with visuals so you can’t do the same with images. We’d need expertise in illusory Psykic techniques in order to develop that function. Which brings me to my second order of business with you. I’d like you to come to the Magic Tower under my wing and help me in my research and development division. The resources at your disposal would be vast, should you accept.”

Sawn halted his monologue with that offer, continuing to tinker as I mentally ran through his words one more time. 

It was certainly tempting. The fact he was offering me this right in front of the recruitment center meant he had a way to simply exempt me from service. The method he would use came just a second after that conclusion. The only reason a summoner would enter the military was if they weren’t smart enough to get into the Magic Tower first. They were valued for their intelligence; the Kingdom wanted to put them in places where they could advance technology and give everyone an edge. Things like magic vehicles and the Rails came straight out of the Magic Tower, and the value of those products went without saying. 

And here I was, the strongest summoner yet, about to enter the military. Sawn probably thought it was a waste, and since we were acquainted, he didn’t have any issues simply throwing down the offer. There was nothing stopping me from accepting it right here and ditching military service, living a safe and lavish lifestyle in the most prestigious intellectual institution in the Kingdom. 

Unfortunately, that wasn’t where I was needed. Not yet, anyway. 

“I’m sorry, sir. I can’t accept. I have a feeling the military is where I need to be.”

“... Well, you’re certainly capable enough, that much is obvious. But your mind is approaching a level rivaling my own, even though I sit 4 Authorities above you. I’d hate to let you waste that in that brawny place.”

“There’s still a lot of brain to be used there.”

“Not as much as the brawn.”

“I suppose. Still, things are changing. In the future, I’ll need strength instead of technology.”

“Technology can multiply strength.”

“It absolutely can. Which is why I’d like to propose a counteroffer.”

He glanced up at me from the devices below. My Aerial had been entirely stripped down by this point, and yet even more was being added on. 

I spoke plainly. 

“I’d like to assist in your work anyway. You can send me schematics and ideas, and perhaps I might have some things to add. I can also give you some of my own ideas. Things I’ve thought of, and things from my homeland that don’t exist here. As my girlfriend here can attest, I have knowledge of a different perspective of the world, completely non-magical, yet more than capable of changing the landscape of the Kingdom. I’d like it to be used even if I can’t exploit it completely for my own benefit, because like I said, things are changing. Humanity is going to need every advantage it can get. Allow me to work with you from my position in the military. I don’t even need an official job title.”

“...”

The only sound in the vehicle now was the soft clicking and sliding of wire-thin mechanical arms slotting various strange devices into place. I briefly wondered if they fit because of spatial magic. There was a small pull on my Psyka as every piece was installed, each reaching to form a connection. 

And once it was all done, he nodded. 

“Very well. I accept this counteroffer. You don’t need it, but I will give you a job title, as well as compensation in the form of both a salary and intellectual property rights. Your ideas, should they prove beneficial or profitable, will be paid for. We can negotiate those details as you provide material. I will also provide you with a workstation directly connected to the Sawn Industries network. You’ll be able to access our repository where you can view and submit documents and artifacts. We will also be in direct contact with each other, but none of this can happen until you at least finish basic training. After you get stationed at a base, I will send you everything you need, including a contract.”

“Sounds good.”

“Very well. Until then, we shall simply shake on it.”

He stood as my arm was released, and we grasped hands. 

“I look forward to doing business with you, Mr. Cooper.”

“Likewise.”

“Good luck in basic training, as well as during your assignment. If you ever feel like you’re going to die, just say the word and I can have you transferred to the Magic Tower. Don’t let your mind be wasted.”

“Thank you.”

I smirked a bit before leaving the van with Umara. Once we stepped out and the van left, she looked up at me. 

“Look at you. Already making friends at the top, and yet turning down their most opportune offers. Do you know how many would kill for a job like that?”

“I told you, I need the military to keep me sharp. The Scourge needs to be eradicated, and I need to assist in that goal while advancing my power.”

“Yet your knowledge would revolutionize the world.”

“Which is why I’m still going to work with him.”

“... Tell me again why you can’t just bide your time and advance your Authorities without fighting? You’re a summoner, not a knight.”

She asked as we linked back up with Tana and Feiden and went into the recruitment center, looking for where we needed to sign in. 

“Because draining my power actually helps me advance. Whenever I use up all my Psyka and go to sleep, I have dreams. While I still have dreams anyway, those particular dreams help me with my formations rather massively. I think it’s because I’m recovering Psyka while dreaming so my mind gets pushed in that direction. Either way, the more often I dream, the faster I advance.”

“Hm, that’s right. I still can’t believe you regularly have dreams. I’ve only ever had one, and that was during my enlightenment.”

“I don’t know why that is either. Unfortunately, it also means I need more sleep. I can’t get by with the 4 hours every night like you.”

“Yeah, you’ll have fun with that during basic.”

“Hm.”

I grunted in response, earning a giggle from Umara. Sleep deprivation was certainly going to be my worst nightmare. 

At some point, Feiden nudged me and pointed at one of the desks. A clerk sat there expectantly, sharp eyes peering over squared glasses at the students fooling around in front of him. 

Umara gave him her ID first. 

“Magisterium students, here to report for duty.”

“Ah, yes. Let me check your identification and I’ll be able to get your assignment.”

He lightly picked up her ID and tapped it on a runed pad with practiced efficiency, going through each of ours in turn before filling out some information on a set of forms. 

“John Cooper, you are designated to be Infantry, but you also have the option to go to school for Intelligence. Have you decided if you would like to?”

“Yes. I’ll be doing so.”

“Understood. You will be sent to the school after your time at basic training.”

The clerk stamped my paper before handing it to me. The others got theirs as well.

With that, he filed everything away before nodding to us.

“John Cooper, Umara Talerria, Tana Choron, and Feiden Desmus. You have hereby reported for duty. You are to proceed to your designated Halls and await further orders from your commanding officer. I suggest you get any affairs in order before doing so, because you will not be coming back out except to deploy.”

We chorused in acknowledgement. 

“Then proceed, and thank you for your service.”

With that, he shooed us off before repeating the procedure with some other recruits. While walking away we turned and looked to the Halls he spoke of.

On the other side of the building were signs designating each Hall next to wide doorways. Looking down at our papers, we found the Halls we were assigned to. 

I spoke first.

“I’m in Hall 3.”

“Hall 2.”

Umara responded resignedly. Looked like we wouldn’t be going to the same place.

Feiden was next.

“Hall 1.”

“Hall 1 as well.”

Tana smiled. She would be with Feiden. 

Once at Hall 1, I looked inside and found a couple dozen knights standing around. Magisterium students weren’t the only ones being sent off today. 

However, I also found a familiar face. Ponteck Gulliard.

Umara spotted him as well as the few others from our class, scoffing in disgust. 

“Bastards. We should kill them where they stand. They don’t deserve to live.”

“... Hang on.”

I patted her shoulder before walking in, catching everyone’s eyes as I went straight to Ponteck. 

Tana and Feiden tailed me. They had to be here anyway, but I could feel them primed for battle. If I started a fight here, they’d probably join me.

Ponteck turned, his longsword strapped to his back as it always was. 

Black hair, tall but lean, and black eyes with hues of red. I’d never taken in his features before; I simply never saw much of him. We had never even talked before our battle. He was supposed to be my greatest enemy, being Umara’s prime suitor as well as the strongest Elite besides myself. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to hate the guy. 

In fact, I was here to thank him. 

Once I was right in front of him, I noticed that he was just an inch or so shorter than me. Then, I spoke. 

“You lured the other scorpion away, right? With a Vigor blade?”

“... Yes.”

He nodded, making me smile. 

I had seen a flash of white back when we were running. I didn’t know what it was and didn’t have the time to care then. All I knew was that the second scorpion had been distracted, which saved our lives. 

In retrospect, I realized that there was only one attack powerful enough to catch its attention and make it jolt. And there weren’t any warlocks besides Umara that could do such a thing. The only possibility was that Ponteck was responsible. 

In fact, he was the reason that more of the students had been killed. If he hadn’t lured that thing, then we would’ve had to fight both the scorpions, been killed, and the rest of them probably would have been able to get away. The Puppet Master hadn’t arrived long after, and with our distraction, they would’ve been able to keep running and get saved. 

But this man right here took the heat and gave us a fighting chance. Depending on how you looked at it, we owed each other our lives. 

I put out my hand. 

“You saved our asses. Thank you.”

“... You have no need to thank me. You’re the only reason any of us had a chance to survive in the first place.”

“But you still saved our asses at your own expense. Thank you.”

“...”

He looked at me for a bit before finally shaking my hand. 

I chuckled a bit, smacking his shoulder after that quick shake. 

“We need more good men like you. Don’t get yourself killed.”

“I’d prefer it if more were like you. That disgusting combat power will be valuable against the Scourge.”

“Then let’s agree that we’re not so different. Feiden! Tana! You’ve got some competition!”

“We’ll see.”

Tana muttered with an evil grin. I wasn’t sure if I should feel bad for Ponteck. 

After that, I said my goodbyes to her and Feiden, giving them both hugs. Umara joined and wrapped up Tana with a bit of sorrow.

Feiden smirked.

“See you in Special Operations.”

“Heh, we’ll see if they take summoners.”

“They don’t take summoners, but they’ll take you.”

“Maybe.”

I pat his back before waving, Umara and I leaving the hall.

Then, we stood in front of Hall 2. I heard a barely audible sniffle when we stopped, smiling as I looked down.

Umara’s head hung low. I could see the faint trickle of a tear, its path made visible by the soft ambient light.

I reached out and lifted her head. 

“Aww, you really do love me.”

“W-Well, I don’t see you crying. We’re not going to see each other for months, maybe even years. Why aren’t you a mess?”

“Because I’m super manly and thus incapable of crying.”

“Shut up.”

“Haha, you’re so cute.”

I wrapped her up in a hug, which she returned with crushing force. 

We stayed like that for a while, until the commanding officer in her Hall suddenly appeared. I could sense a vague sort of disapproval. 

I separated with a sigh, only for her arms to wrap around my neck. She planted a deep kiss. Nothing erotic, but one that tried to convey as much love as possible. 

Once the commanding officer started talking, she pulled away, sniffling one more time. 

“I love you.”

“Love you too. Now go on. And try not to kill any familiar faces.”

“We’ll see.”

“That’s my girl.”

I gave her a quick smack on the ass as she turned, making her flush as bit as she had no choice but to walk off. 

I left with a laugh, heading into my own Hall where another officer was talking. 

“... head to the Rails in about 20 minutes. From there you will be sent to Fort Lauder and undergo basic training. Your assignment afterward will be dictated by your performance and or whatever jobs you pick out. Now LINE UP! I want five equal rows 30 minutes ago!”

Everyone scrambled around, myself included, to line up as he ordered. I slipped into the middle of row 2, standing straight yet still feeling like I was sticking out like a sore thumb. The surrounding warlocks weren’t that tall, and my face at this point felt like a household icon. 

After that, we simply had to wait 20 minutes. During that time, a few more people arrived, getting yelled at with enthusiasm equal to that which inspired the initial scramble, eventually evening out the five rows. 

Once that 20 minutes was up, another door slammed open. 

“There it is, trainees! Row 1! Through the door! The rest of you, fall in behind! March!”

The first row moved with his command, following the officer out where he led us to the nearby Rails. We saw all the other Halls as well. There were eight in total of varying sizes. 

I glanced around as we started to line up near one of the docks. I quickly found Umara as well as Feiden and Tana. They found me as well, and the four of us shared a smile before we lost each other in the rush. 

The Rails arrived in front of our docks, the officer yelling as soon as they opened up. 

“Inside, now! You all get the cheap seats in Car Eight! Hurry up, unless you want me to box you all up in the cargo bay!”

Everyone rushed forward into the Rail, heading to Car Eight before scrambling into the cramped seats. 

The officer then waited around some more, chatting sardonically with some of the other officers until it came time for departure. 

“Listen up! We have 3 hours until we reach Fort Lauder. The only reason you’re allowed to get out of your seat is if you’re about to shit yourself, in which case, if you come find me in the next car, I’ll direct you to the nearest window and toss you out! Enjoy these 3 hours while you can, trainees! It’ll be the last enjoyable experience you ever have!”

He slammed the door behind him, leaving everyone alone in the car. 

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