~~Five O’clock in the Afternoon, Second Day of the Fifth Month, Ninety-Fourth Day of the War Demon Calendar~~
The sun waned, shining on the land with a bitter orange beam of light. By the time it descended almost fully behind the Far East Wasteland’s horizon, Gaston and Konoha finally met face-to-face with Tūs.
[…I had never expected him to be so… impressive…]
A shock ran through his little body. The person he faced was much taller than he was; so much so that he had to look up at all times.
Konoha, who now looked like a single bean in the whole picture, groaned in astonishment.
[“Master… are you sure he’s not… a monster…?”]
Tūs knit his brows as he looked down. First at Gaston, then at Konoha; the latter shuddered and then froze over.
He then, without a shred of effort to hide how sick and tired he was, heaved a deep sigh at them.
Gaston took a step forward, Asley’s letter of recommendation in hand.
Tūs, glaring at the paper in Gaston’s hand, raised an eyebrow upon seeing the characteristic handwriting on it. It seemed that he could tell who had written the letter based on that alone.
“Master Tūs the High-Order Muscle, Philosopher of the Far East. Today I come with a favor to ask of-“
Tūs, after having declared so, walked past Gaston’s side.
Konoha’s expression was petrified, taken aback by how abrupt the exchange had been. Then, red with rage upon putting all the events in order, Konoha turned around on Gaston’s shoulder and shouted at Tūs.
“You! My Master has trudged all the way here, and you will not disrespect him!”
Konoha continued to admonish Tūs despite the Master’s command. Gaston eventually stopped the former from speaking any more with his wrinkled fingers.
“Remember, we have come here for a favor – from a man who is simply minding his business out here. We are the ones disrespecting him, if anything.”
Konoha, mouth unblocked once Tūs’ silhouette was completely out of sight, looked up at Gaston.
Gaston, despite the dust clouds obscuring his vision, continued to gaze at Tūs enormous footprints.
Before long, the sand piled up, erasing those footprints away.
Sensing another gust, the two closed their eyes, waited for it to pass, and then looked forward once again.
“I don’t intend to abandon this after just one rejection, of course.”
“…Shall we head after him, Master?”
“No, we’ll wait another day.”
Gaston silently pressed his lips together and sat down on a small boulder nearby.
All he did was wait for time to pass; the sun set, and then eventually rose again.
Tūs did not return to this exact location, but that didn’t mean Gaston couldn’t track his arcane energy down.
Over the next three days, Gaston stood up and repeated the routine each time the Biological Clock magecraft informed him that it was ten o’clock.
This last time, after following the signs of concentrated arcane energy, he found Tūs leaning against a rock, arms folded. Gaston presented Asley’s letter of recommendation to him.
“I have been referred to you by Asley. Please, at least hear what we have to say.”
“…Leave me alone. You’re a pain in the ass.”
Konoha was visibly angry, what with its brows twitching, but was restrained by Gaston.
Gaston groaned as he sat down, and then folded the letter up. Konoha scampered up to the top of his staff and then sat on it, arms crossed.
“This isn’t working out, Master. I say we give up before more time is wasted.”
“Hmph, surely you know how persistent I can be…”
“If anything, I do know that you have calmed down quite a bit. All thanks to the Asley boy…”
Though Gaston held his tongue, the edges of his mouth were raised slightly.
[“No denial… how unusual. I see, so that’s how big the boy’s influence had been on me…”]
Eight o’clock in the evening of the same day, Gaston paid another visit to Tūs.
Tūs, beyond exasperated by now, reached into his afro hair and scratched his scalp, sounding quite a loud crunch.
“Hah… you don’t know when to quit, old man. You sure you got time to hang ’round? You’d do more good goin’ home and takin’ care of the li’l ones or somethin’.”
“Now he’s calling our Magic Guardians kids…”
“It’s fine, Konoha. Even I am a child compared to Master Tūs here. He was simply stating facts.”
Konoha was visibly confused, while Tūs clicked his tongue out of annoyance.
“Gah, you little shit…”
“Apologies; I meant not to disrespect.”
“Hmph, just quit these useless talks… and leave.”
Tūs, denying them for the third time, instantly disappeared into the darkness, startling Konoha.
“…He’s even faster than you, Master.”
“That isn’t even a tenth of his capabilities, I say.”
“…I see. So that is why you are being so persistent, then…”
And so yet another morning came, marking the fourth day.
Gaston went to Tūs at ten in the morning and eight in the afternoon, and was once again refused both times.
Each time Tūs refused to even listen to the request, Konoha threw a tantrum, while Gaston remained silent.
Refused the next day, refused the day after, Gaston’s brows were eventually caked with adhering dust.
“We’ve been out here for so long that my once-white body has turned all brown, Master. I think I might look very much like a junk rat now…”
“…Would you prefer to stay inside?”
Gaston hinted at drawing up the House Spell Circle, but Konoha denied the gesture.
“No, I wouldn’t dare – I’ve stayed out for this long. You don’t order me to ‘follow’ you often, Master, so I intend to see this through to the end.”
“…All right, then. Come, it’s time.”
Seventh Day of the Fifth Month, ten o’clock in the morning. Gaston stood up.
As if accustomed to the routine, Konoha climbed onto Gaston’s shoulder. The latter, after seeing for sure that his Familiar was in place, tracked down Tūs’s arcane energy.
Tūs, fully expecting Gaston to turn up again at this point, only started back at the latter coldly.
“…You never learn, old man.”
Tūs tilted his head, perplexed by Gaston’s silence.
Then something unbelievable – even for him – happened right before his eyes.
Konoha was rendered speechless and agape with awe, while Tūs stare grew sharper.
Gaston was down on his knees, his hands rested on his thighs.
“…First in order of the Six Archmages, Gaston the Great Mage of Flame. Surely your honor is not THIS cheap?”
“I say he’s right, Master. Please, stand up!”
Gaston moved his hands down.
He felt the characteristic touch of gravel in his whole palms. Konoha turned away, denying to witness such an act.
“…I beg of you. Please listen to what we have to say.”
Now his head was down. His forehead was right on the ground.
Konoha shivered upon hearing those words.
Tūs continued to fix his eyes on Gaston. The strange span of time lingered, with the latter persisting on his request without even the slightest of movements.
Konoha, unable to bear watching its Master lowering his head, turned to glare at Tūs as he still refused to utter a word.
However, Tūs paid no mind to everything else; he looked at Gaston, and Gaston only.
Konoha closed its eyes, mustering up all its resolve before opening up again – then hopped down from Gaston and kneeled down at his side.
“Ngh…! Please, Master Tūs! Listen to my Master’s wishes. I may be a worthless little critter, but I beg of you!”
Konoha was finally exhausted of patience – so it did the same as its Master had done, for the sake of its Master.
The Lord’s wish, the Retainer’s wish; they were all and the same. Genuinely holding on to that belief, Konoha begged.
Lowering its head to the ground, again and again, the browned fur of its forehead slowly turned a light shade of red.
Gaston and Konoha’s wish – it was unknown whether it actually affected anything within Tūs.
The truth was, however, it did change the tone of Tūs’ sigh.
“Gah… look, just… just stand up.”
“Just stand. Look, even I’d feel bad havin’ an old man and a mouse kneel in front of me. Get up, dammit!”
The two did as told, so as to not disturb Tūs any further than necessary.
Once Tūs pointed at their foreheads, they realized how they were bleeding – and that the former was gathering arcane energy at his fingertips.
Suffice to say, he was getting ready to draw a Spell Circle.
“…I’mma do this only once. Watch closely…”
Although Gaston did not know what Tūs meant to do, at least he knew that he couldn’t afford to miss this particular drawing process.
A delicate stroke in the air of Tūs’ fingertips healed the wound on Gaston’s forehead in an instant.
Gaston saw nothing to it. He only knew what Tūs had done through the utterance of the magic spell’s name.
An advanced-level recovery spell, drawn at blinding speed. It was, in the literal sense, undetectable by the naked eye; the two were at a loss of words.
“…One week, old man. Learn to do this in one week, and I’ll listen to your story.”
Finally, development. But as certain as that was, Konoha didn’t think Gaston would manage it.
After all, the task of self-improvement Tūs had issued was simply so alien of a concept.
Konoha’s Master, on the other hand, had a different attitude.
He subtly loosened his lips, convinced that this tiny progress was in fact a major spurt forward.
“A favor for a favor, then… I cannot face Asley until I repay this gesture. Very well! Gaston of the Six Archmages accepts the challenge!”
The little old man tightly clenched his little fists. For the first time in forever, his heart was racing with appreciation and anticipation.
Konoha took a good look at its Master’s rear silhouette – at all the willpower and ambition piled up on his back.