Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 63

Eriksson yelled and blocked two academic stream students' way. One snapped and talked back, which got another roar out of their opponent and the fight finally broke out. Eriksson punched the offending student in the head a couple of times before the other one turned and ran. He chased the poor boy down and beat him up. He only stopped when the kid was completely covered in blood and begging through broken teeth for him to just end it. He kicked the boy twice, once in the ribs and the other between the legs and humphed back to his seat, the boy rolling on the ground behind him in his own blood and piss as his bladder gave from the last kick.

It had become a common sight where Claude's three friends were concerned. They had become thugs ruling the school with an iron fist. Not even the final years dared to mess with the four. Even the teachers were loathed to have to deal with them, not least because of their father's positions.

Claude wanted to laugh when he saw Eriksson strutting back to his seat, a few specks of blood on his clothes. Claude had been a right down thug in his previous scholastic life. Despite what things may seem like in this school, he was quite tame compared to his last time in school. He'd not sent anyone to what was the equivalent of a hospital here, yet, for one. And he generally didn't pick a fight with others without a good reason, for another -- though 'good reason' was subject to extensive interpretation. And he generally didn't have to bother with beating someone up, his three friends were more than happy to do it for him, and if he was tame compared to his previous life, they certainly were not.

He thought about the latest bit of the diary he'd read the previous night. Landes had spent most of his last entry describing the people that had been bullying him lately. He didn't describe them as thugs per se, but there was little else they could be called, and his hatred for them oozed with a thick bile that Claude found disconcerting, especially as he watched the boy stumbling to his feet in the classroom, holding his nose and picking up a few broken teeth.

Krimondo was one of the people that Landes wished would just burst into fire at some random moment, and had actually seriously considered helping do just that a couple of times. Aliya was another. She always made sure to sit next to him in classes so she could berate and embarrass him every chance she got.

Claude admired Landes. He'd written down those experiences in his diary years after they'd happened, he'd clearly not forgotten and was determined to get back his fair share when the time came.

Claude had no doubt he was bullied because they were jealous of him. He often found scorpions of lizards in his bed, or glue in his shoes. He'd even been thrown with the contents of a dustbin a couple of times. Once they'd even stolen his clothes while he was bathing, and he'd found his precious notes torn up on more than one occasion.

It was a small miracle he'd not cracked at some point, Claude thought.

Claude didn't miss a similar glint of hatred in the poor boy's eyes as he stumbled out of class, holding his teeth in his mouth, when they darted over to Eriksson one last time. He found himself wondering what he would write in his diary, and how Eriksson would be remembered by someone several hundred years down the line when they read it. Eriksson might even find himself at the bloody end of a knife in a few years if the child couldn't contain his hatred. For that matter, Claude didn't know what difference it would make that he had never personally hit that particular boy when that time came, either.

He shoved the thought aside with deliberate ardour and went home.

Landes wrote that every time before he slept or went to class, he had to triple check everything to catch as many, though not all, of the traps as possible. He never feared for his life, since murder would beget execution, but his tormentors had no qualms about putting him as close to the edge as they had reasonable certainty he could recover from.

His whole apprenticeship was thus a war of wit with his tormentors, and, as little as he would admit it to anyone, he lost more battles than he won, though he won his fair share. On the days he lost, the sea was good comfort, however, and he would often spend most of the night just listening to it and watching the waves dance under the moonlight.

He suffered a particularly bad defeat one day, and a couple of his tormentors gave him an excellent thrashing. He'd seen a silver ring on the ground and picked it up. He hadn't expected someone to have covered it in transparent glue and couldn't get it off. They claimed they'd been trying to add a protective layer to the ring with the glue, and that he'd ruined everything and beat him up for it.

He went to the cliff as usual to watch and listen to the see, and resolved to never touch gold or silver again, but someone yanked him at that very moment and started berating him. The other person seemed to think he was about to jump off the cliff and commit suicide.

He was about to complain about being yanked away from his vista when he realised the one pulling him was the same grim-faced magus that had brought him there. He later wondered whether his affection for the older man had started there because he'd been the first to treat him without contempt or some obvious alterior motive since he'd come to the tower. But he found himself trusting the magus deeply from that night on. He'd opened up to the man and told him what he'd suffered since coming to the tower.

He'd called the older man 'teacher' as was required by the tower's rules, but the man slapped him on his good cheek and told him to never call him that again. He believed only the tower's master deserved that title.

"Call me 'senior' instead," he'd said, "I won't have anyone call me teacher and won't take any disciples either."

Landes called Tawari senior from that day onward. He didn't even call more senior magi by that title, only his Senior Tawari deserved to be called senior as far as he was concerned.

The older man had just returned from a job outside the tower. He didn't disappoint the unreasonable trust Landes put in him for some strange reason. He punished each of the ones involved in the boy's bullying before sunrise the next morning. Tawari was one of the few in the tower who didn't need the master's personal approval before laying out punishments, and he used it to its full effect that day. He actually didn't care much for people bullying one another, but he considered pushing them to the edge of suicide going too far.

The apprentices stopped their bullying after that, but they never accepted him and kept him as isolated as possible. Not that he particularly minded. He'd never been looking for friends in the tower anyway. He just wanted to be left in peace so he could continue his studies.

One problem had been solved, but that only made him aware of another problem. His teachers didn't like him. He'd failed to notice it before because he'd been so caught up with keeping eyes out for any traps his tormentors might place, but now he was all too aware of it.

His teachers only taught the most essential basics and didn't bother explaining any of the even slightly more complex elements in the courses. This in particular wasn't unique to him, but he had an inordinate amount of questions, which meant that he was the one that most often got in their way, so to speak, and they despised him for it. That was why they so easily played along with the other students when they were bullying him in class and were happy to punish him disproportionately for the smallest mistakes.

He wracked his brain for several weeks but couldn't come up with a solution, so he asked Tawari for advice again.

The man didn't give him an answer, however, but only smiled bitterly. He told him he would learn why they were doing that after he paid some attention. As for getting answers for his questions, he told the boy to come ask him when he had the time instead.

Tawari didn't know what he'd gotten himself into, however, as Landes quickly brought him literal books of questions he noted down over the next couple of days. The boy paid close attention to the magus teachers for a while as well, and quickly realised that most of the other students also noted down questions to ask some chosen senior in their free time. They were careful to bring gifts and trinkets as thanks every couple of times they went as well.

So that was why they so disliked him! By asking his questions in class, he was not only basically challenging their teaching skills, he was robbing them of chances to get stuff from students who came to ask them questions privately!

He realised a week or so into his observations, however, that he was robbing them of more than just chances to get stuff. He realised one of the female students kept on visiting a particular senior at night, and would only come back the next day.

"Information is valuable, and information about magic even more so," Tawari had told him when he'd taken his observations back to the man.

"But..." Landes wanted to say that the illiterate children were taught Hez for three months for free.

"They taught you nothing but basic the absolute basics you needed to study anything else. That's to be expected. They won't do the same with the really valuable stuff. And don't think they wouldn't have skimped on that as well and made you bring them gifts to ask questions if they could. They're even lower ranked than your current teachers and have no choice but to obey the tower master's orders.

"That's also why they disappeared that quickly. They didn't want to waste any more time than absolutely necessary on you. You won't get anything but the bare minimum out of these teachers you have right now and any you might have in the future. You'll have to rely on yourself to achieve anything.

"The more well-off students pay with money, or get their families to help with the funds, others, like that girl you mentioned, have to find some other way to pay for the information. This is very common in the world of magic, and no doubt everywhere else in the world as well. Nobody is willing to just give away what they worked so hard to get, sometimes not even to their own children. Don't you make the mistake of doing that either."

"But I'm poor and penniless. I don't have magic items either. Why are you helping me then?"

"I'm investing in you. You don't have nothing now. You have talent, a great amount of it as well. You'll become someone at the top of the ladder commoners can climb, and I'll come to collect your debt."

Support Ryogawa and his work Black Iron's Glory