Sage Academy, like Harmony School, is in Hayring, but much farther to the north, near Pinewind. My teacher from Harmony School accompanied me into the stone building, but told me to enter the classroom alone. My mouth was dry with anxiety.
Immediately to the right of the open door was the podium. On the wall in front of me hung the academy’s motto. On my left were amphitheater style seats, where thirty or so students were sitting quietly.
Mr. Endou waved me toward the podium and I felt my legs shaking as I approached. Never before had I been the focus of so many people; I felt naked and defenseless.
I couldn’t even muster up the courage to look up at the class as I stood at the podium. I chanced a fleeting glance and saw that everyone’s eyes were averted. That instant reminded me of something. Not Harmony School, but definitely some place I’ve been to before. What was it? The same ambience hovered over the class like a fog. It was a strange sense of deja vu.
“This is your new classmate, Saki Watanabe.” Mr. Endou wrote my name on the whiteboard. Unlike the Harmony School teachers, he didn’t actually write on the whiteboard. Using his cantus, he somehow made black particles gather on the board in the form of words.
“You’re already friends with students from Harmony School, right? Please get along with those from other schools as well.”
Applause rippled through the class. I realized that everyone was as nervous as I was.
Feeling slightly better, I looked up at the class and saw that Maria, Satoru and Shun were waving at me.
Upon closer inspection, I saw that roughly a third of the students were in the same grade as me in Harmony School. Although students entered the academy separately, it made the most sense to group them according to age. Realizing this alleviated my worries considerably and for the first time I wondered what I would be learning here.
During recess, the other Harmony School students gathered around me like they had been waiting for me for ever.
“Took you a little while, didn’t it,” were Shun’s first words. If Satoru had said the same thing, I would have snapped at him, but I just smiled.
“Sorry for making you wait.”
“Seriously, I was almost tired of waiting,” Maria said, turning my head to face her and rubbing her forehead against mine.
“I’m just a late bloomer. It’s not like the Spirits of Blessing that come earlier are better, right?”
“True, but you’re the last from Harmony School. Whatever the reason, your Spirit of Blessing was too lackadaisical,” Satoru said, completely oblivious of his own shortcomings.
“I see you haven’t changed at all…” as I said this, a question popped up in my mind. “Wait, last? That’s not right, there were still some people left after me.”
Everyone fell silent and their expressions went as blank as a shinshi’s purity mask.
“…we don’t study just theory here, we learn practical skills too. Did you know, I’m the top of the class at surface water manipulation.”
“You suck at force exchange though.”
“The teacher said that what’s important at this point is just the mental image.”
Everyone started talking at once. It all sounded like gibberish to me. They were discussing the classes, as if showing off the knowledge they had learned before me. I didn’t like this feeling. But I fell into the habit that had been ingrained in us, namely, to pretend that certain forbidden topics never existed in the first place.
Since I couldn’t really follow the conversation, I listened intently, and formed a rather strange first impression of the class. Unmistakably, I had felt the same thing at some time, somewhere.
When the bell rang and everyone was heading back to their seats, I suddenly remembered.
Only Satoru’s sharp ears heard my murmur.
“What was that?”
After a moment of hesitation, I answered.